Saturday, November 29, 2008

Concert Review - David Bromberg @ Newburyport City Hall Auditorium

Wow. This was special. David Bromberg played a solo acoustic show last night at the Newburyport City Hall Auditorium. I have seen David play in all sort of configurations - with the David Bromberg Big Band, with the acoustic David Bromberg Quartet, with the Angel Band, and with Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassidy in an acoustic Hot Tuna Bromberg format. But solo acoustic is a rarity and a special treat.

David Bromberg ticket stub, November 28, 2008
David Bromberg ticket stub, November 28, 2008
Like so many other supremely talented musicians, Bromberg isn't as well known as he should be. He plays an eclectic range of styles that mixes bluegrass, blues, folk, and rock in his own unique way. As a music major at Columbia University in the early to mid 60s, Bromberg was shaped by the Greenwich Village music scene of the time. He studied finger-picking blues guitar from the Reverend "Blind" Gary Davis by exchanging lessons for helping to lead the Reverend to his gigs; imagine being a human seeing eye dog for a blues guitar legend! Bromberg has been a sideman studio guitarist on literally hundreds of albums, including records by Bob Dylan, The Eagles, Ringo Starr, Willie Nelson, and Carly Simon. He co-wrote one song, "The Holdup" with George Harrison, and has played with the likes of Jerry Garcia (who appeared on two of Bromberg's albums), Tom Rush, Vassar Clements, and more.

The Newburyport City Hall was built in 1851, and it includes an honest to goodness auditorium right in it. It's not ornate, but it does have surprisingly good acoustics. The sound was bright and clear with no noticeable echoes. The floor was set with folding chairs; I estimated about 250 chairs on the floor and probably another 100 or 150 seats in the balcony that ringed three sides of the hall.

You know those crystals that swell to one hundred times their size in water? Bromberg reminds me of that. I mean, when you look at the man you think nothing of him. In his own words you just see "an average, overweight, middle age, Jewish guy." But like those crystals in water, he swells to a hundred times his normal size on stage. He has a command of the stage, and a performing presence, that strikes awe. This is equally true when he is performing something slow and sad, such as "Watch Baby Fall" or rip roaring like his unique version of "Statesboro Blues."

We got the full range of Bromberg's styles during the 90-minute set. Some of it was Bromberg's own humor infused songs, including "Demon in Disguise", "Black and Tan", and "Tongue". His cover of Big Bill Broonzy's "Long Tall Mama" fits equally well in this category:

I got a long tall mama
She stands about seven foot nine
I got a long tall mama
She stands about seven foot nine
When it comes to making love she hollers
Lordy, Davey, take your time

We also got a good mix of the heartfelt, including a beautiful show version of Dylan's "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry" Bromberg's own "Watch Baby Fall" (there's a song that can make you cry), and Ian Tyson's "Summer Wages". The latter is a song that I consider signature Bromberg, even if it is a cover; his version is so fine he simply owns the song. He called Annie Raines up to the stage to accompany him on harmonica for a rare "Going to Germany", a World War I era song he was inspired to do because of the WWI memorial plaques lining the downstairs hallway in the city hall. Another treat was an instrumental "Over the Rainbow", as well as the show ending "Mr. Bojangles".
And we had our fill of the blues. From the traditional "Delia's Gone" (a song about the murder of fourteen-year-old Delia Green in Savannah in 1900), to Robert Johnson's "Come On In My Kitchen", the Reverend Gary Davis' "Maple Leaf Rag", and Tommy Johnson's "Big Road Blues."

Most of the set was solo Bromberg, but he did call his wife, Nancy Josephson, to the stage a little more than half way through his set, and she accompanied him on a standup electric bass and with harmony vocals. There were a few humorous moments between them when David started playing songs which she has never done before, but she was a trooper and it all went without a hitch.
I looked around on YouTube for something that would capture what Bromberg is like today, and this studio piece of him talking about the Reverend Gary Davis and then playing "Maple Leaf Rag" seemed to be the overall best to give you a sense of the man:

The opening act, Paul Rishell & Annie Raines, was a fantastic surprise. Although their names were familiar to me, I was not familiar with their music at all. Their acoustic blues floored the entire audience, with Paul playing a National Steel guitar and Annie on kick-ass harmonica, and both sharing vocal duties. Their thirty minute set ranged from Spider John Koerner's "Good Luck Child", to Scrapper Blackwell's "Trouble Blues", to their own infectious "Got To Fly" which included an audience call and response. More than a handful of us headed to the merchandise table to pick up their CDs at the break.

I was disappointed that I couldn't find a version of "Got To Fly" on YouTube, but here's a small snippet of Paul and Annie performing "Louise" that very much tells the tale:

The set list...

David Bromberg
Friday, November 28, 2008
City Hall Auditorium, Newburyport, MA

Demon In Disguise
Black and Tan
It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry
Try Me One More Time
Come On In My Kitchen
Delia's Gone
Maple Leaf Rag
Big Road Blues
Long Tall Mama
Levee Camp Moan
Watch Baby Fall

With Nancy Josephson on upright electric bass:
Don't Let Your Deal Go Down
Summer Wages
Who's Lovin' You Tonight
Dark Hollow
Going to Germany
Over the Rainbow (instrumental)

Encore 1 (solo):
Statesboro Blues

Encore 2 (w/ Nancy):
Mr. Bojangles

Opening Act
Paul Rishell & Annie Raines:
Custard Pie
Honey It Must Be Love
It'll Be Me / I'll Be Looking For You
Good Luck Child
You Been A Good Ol' Wagon
Trouble Blues
Got To Fly

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Concert Report - Janis Ian @ Tupelo Music Hall

Janis Ian at Tupelp Music Hall, November 20, 2008
Patti and I were back in our front row seats at Tupelo Music Hall this past Thursday night for an evening with Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter Janis Ian.

For many in the audience, Janis is an icon and a legend and we greeted her warmly and paid rapt attention to her every word. Janis' concerts have a leisurely pace, and are as much about her stories as they are about the music. Three stories from Thursday night stood out for me.

The first was her recounting of the events surrounding her first hit single, "Society's Child" in the mid-1960s. This song is about an interracial romance between a white girl and her African American boyfriend, and the societal pressures that ensue from the girl's family, classmates, and teachers. Written when Janis was just 14 years old, it thrust her into the spotlight of the civil rights movement, and propelled her from playing 50 seat clubs to 1,500 seat halls almost overnight. She told of the controversy it generated in those racially turbulent times - a radio station in Atlanta was burned for playing it, and disc jockeys who played it were fired. And she told of hateful racial epithets being hurled at her as she sung the song, and her discovery of courage and the power of song to overcome hate and racism. Imagine a barely 5 foot tall Jewish teenager from New York mustering the courage to face bigotry and racism with lyrics and guitar (Janis mentioned the slogan written on Woody Guthrie's guitar: this machine kills fascists).

Come to my door, baby,
Face is clean and shining black as night
My mama went to answer
You know that you looked so fine
Now I could understand the tears and the shame
She called you "boy" instead of your name
When she wouldn't let you inside
When she turned and said
"But honey, he's not our kind."

Janis ended the first set with a long and well-practiced story of her mom. It built from the innocence of her mom's clumsy ways as a source of family humor, to the sober realization of the slow onset of multiple sclerosis as the real cause of mom's pratfalls, to the onset of depression and dementia. The description of her mom's last night left not a dry eye in the house, and was followed by "I Hear You Sing Again", a song that Janis finished based on unreleased Woody Guthrie lyrics:

If I could only hear my mother sing again
If I could close my eyes and hear your voice as then
All the friends and family
would sing along with me,
and set your spirit free
In my heart I hear you sing again
Every note as natural as then
and when I sing those songs
for family and friends,
in my heart I hear you sing again

The third story preceded the humorous "Married in London." Janis is openly gay, and she recounted getting married to her partner in Toronto, and the amazing feeling of being treated as "normal" for once in her life. As much as we were all crying when she spoke of her mother's death, we were all bursting with joy and pride to hear this story of love and committment.

We're married in London
but not in New York
Spain says we're kosher
The States say we're pork
We wed in Toronto
The judge said "Amen"
and when we got home
we were single again

One nice surprise was the slow treatment given to John Lennon and Paul McCartney's "Love Me Do." It's nice to hear such a familiar song given a well-done alternate delivery. We also were treated to, of course, Janis' most famous song - the 1975 Grammy award winning "At Seventeen." It's likely that if you have no idea who Janis is, you have heard this song:

I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
and high school girls with clear skinned smiles
who married young and then retired
The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen I learned the truth
And those of us with ravaged faces
lacking in the social graces
desperately remained at home
inventing lovers on the phone
who called to say - come dance with me
and murmured vague obscenities
It isn't all it seems at seventeen

Want to learn or hear more? Head over to the Free Music Downloads page on for some free MP3s; count Janis among the enlightened musicians who understand that freely sharing her music is the absolute best way to sell more music and concert tickets. And, as always, YouTube is our friend...

"When The Party's Over" is a song that you might recognize from some FM airplay:

Another interesting thing that YouTube allows is to compare Janis "back then" and Janis today. Try these:

Finally, how about a little humor? "Married in London":

Oh, the photo at the top of this post is mine. I have a few more that I took posted on flickr.

The set list:

Set 1:
Through The Years
When The Party's Over
Society's Child
From Me To You
Silly Habits
My Autobiography
I Hear You Sing Again (Woody Guthrie/Janis Ian)
Set 2:
Love Me Do (Lennon/McCartney)
Tea & Sympathy
Light a Light
Married in London
At Seventeen
Encore: Jesse

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Concert Report - John Gorka, Cliff Eberhardt, & Eliza Gilkyson @ Tupelo Music Hall

Humorously billing themselves as "Longing for Eliza", or even better yet, "Laugh Laugh Laugh" (see this if you don't get the reference), John Gorka, Cliff Eberhardt, and Eliza Gilkyson took to the Tupelo Music Hall stage last night. Once again Patti and I were sitting up front, not more than about 6-feet from John and Eliza, and maybe a whole 12 feet from Cliff!

John Gorka at Tupelo Music Hall, Nov. 15, 2008

We've seen all three of these Red House recording artists solo before, but tonight they were all on stage together in a songwriter's circle format. Unlike Cry Cry Cry, they stuck to their own songs with minimal backing vocals and guitar here and there helping each other out. The notable exceptions to this were the opening and closing numbers, both Gorka tunes, but executed as a trio, ala Cry Cry Cry. The energy and power of these two tunes made me wish for more of this, rather than the one at a time format; "Good Noise" indeed, as that closing song reminded us.

As with Cry Cry Cry a decade ago (has it been that long? wow.), you could feel how much these three artists were enjoying the company and companionship of each other. The solo artist gig must feel a bit lonely after a while, and sharing the road and stage for a change was clearly uplifting to all three. It was particularly interesting to see Eliza concentrating on John and Cliff's songs, learning parts and softly singing away from the microphone.

Eliza Gilkyson at Tupelo Music Hall, Nov. 15, 2008

The show was two sets, with the first lasting nearly 90 minutes and the second around an hour. Some of the length was due to the leisurely banter between the artists; there was no hurry, but the audience didn't mind.

Highlights? I was surprised by Gorka pulling out his classic "I Saw a Stranger With Your Hair" early in the first set; I expected this to show up more towards the end of the show. No complaints from me though, as "Stranger with Your Hair" and "Heart Upon Demand" are I think Gorka's two best songs ever; we didn't get the former though.

The best song sequence of the night was Gorka's "Writing in the Margins" followed by Eliza's beautiful "Jedidiah 1777." Gorka's song was inspired by a conversation he had with an Iraq war veteran. It is written from the perspective of a soldier, writing a letter to his loved one back home. Eliza's "Jedidiah 1777" is based on letters written by her ancestor, Brig. Gen. Jedidiah Huntington. Jedidiah fought in the Revolutionary War with George Washington, and participated in the dreadful Valley Forge winter encampment in 1777.

Cliff Eberhardt at Tupelo Music Hall, Nov. 15, 2008

As always, I encourage you to check out some YouTube samples if you aren't familiar with these three wonderful artists. Recommendations:

The photos above are mine, and you can see a few more that I took on Flickr.

The set list:

Set 1:
When She Kisses Me (Gorka)
The Party's Over (Eliza)
Money Don't Care for Me (Cliff)
I Saw A Stranger With Your Hair (Gorka)
Think About You (Eliza)
It's Home Everywhere I Go (Cliff)
Writing in the Margins (Gorka)
Jedidiah 1777 (Eliza)
Only in Heaven (Cliff)
Branching Out (Gorka)
He Waits for Me (Eliza)
The High Above and the Down Below (Cliff)
Set 2:
The Long Road (Cliff)
When You Walk On (Eliza)
Ignorance and Privilege (Gorka)
Love Slips Away (Cliff)
Mama's Got a Boyfriend (Eliza)
Mean Streak (Gorka)
Sugartown (Cliff)
Beautiful World (Eliza)
That's How Legends Are Made (Gorka)
That Kind of Love (Cliff)
Wildwood Spring (Eliza)
Good Noise (Gorka)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Concert Report - Rory Block @ Tupelo Music Hall

We were back at the Tupelo Music Hall last night for a nearly two-hour solo set by Rory Block, a master of the Mississippi Delta Country Blues style.

Rory Block at Tupelo Music Hall, November 14, 2008

Patti and I have seen Rory, oh I dunno, maybe five or six times going back to around 1990 or 1991. Each time I am struck by both her mastery of the acoustic blues, as well as her encyclopedic knowledge of the blues masters. She is a walking history book, telling tales of Robert Johnson, Son House, Muddy Waters, Mississippi John Hurt, Reverend Gary Davis, and others. Some of this is first-hand knowledge, as she left home at the age of 15 to seek out and learn from the blues pioneers who were still alive. Her stories give insight into the men and the music. I never tire of hearing her compare and contrast the guitar styles of Robert Johnson and Son House, or of her demonstration of how to find the tuning for old country blues songs.

Patti and I were right up front at Table 3, and my seat couldn't have been but about six feet from her. I was so close that I was hesitant to take too many photos, but you can see how close I was from the photo at left, as well as three others I posted to Flickr.

As is typical of her shows, the set started with a bunch of Robert Johnson and Son House tunes. We also got our fair share of her own songs, including "Lovin' Whisky", "Like a Shotgun", and at fan request both "Silver Wings" and "Gypsie Boy." She told a wonderful story of Stevie Wonder singing on the latter tune on her 1986 I've Got a Rock in My Sock album. (Side note: David Bromberg and Taj Mahal also appear on that album.)

As with most artists these days, you can get a good feel for their live shows from YouTube. If you aren't familiar with Rory, here are a couple of clips to get you started:

The set list:

Crossroad Blues (Robert Johnson)
County Farm (Son House)
Me and the Devil (Robert Johnson)
Death Letter (Son House)
Preaching Blues (Son House)
Rambling on My Mind (Robert Johnson)
Lovin' Whiskey
Don't You Mind People Grinning In Your Face (Son House)
Like a Shotgun
I Be Bound (Muddy Waters)
From the Dust
Silver Wings
Gypsie Boy
Encore (a cappella): Ain't No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down (Claude Ely)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

City of Manchester Half Marathon - A Fine Box of Chocolates

As a runner, the Forrest Gump quote about life being like a box of chocolates resonates with me. When going out for a run, or starting a race, you never know what you're gonna get. Most of the time, of course, it is average. Sometimes it really sucks. And every once in a while, it is really, really special. For me, for today, the City of Manchester Half Marathon was one of those really, really special days. Far better than I could have dreamed.

Going in, I wasn't at all confident. A week ago I had a Charley horse type of cramp in my left foot, and I've been worried about the resulting soreness ever since (shhhh, don't tell Patti!). The higher my weekly mileage goes, the more I get unexpected cramps in my legs and feet. I am fairly certain I get enough potassium, so I suspect I'm not getting enough magnesium.

And then this morning, when I saw below freezing temperatures at 6am, I started to question my sanity. The weather forecast was for 34 degrees Fahrenheit at the 8:50am start time. "Ugh, I'm doing this why?"

I met up with Dan and Marty for the start. These two guys are even more nuts than I am - they're doing the full marathon. But we're compatible runners, and Marty and Dan decide to run with me despite my warning them that I was planning on running steady 7:50 miles for a 1:42:00 target finish time. Dan's pace in this same race a year ago averaged out to 8:17 miles, and Marty's averaged to 8:23. Using me as a "rabbit" for the first half of their marathon really didn't seem like a smart idea to me.

We were shivering at the starting line. The wind was whipping down Elm Street, and we were standing in shade. The loudspeakers played the slowest version of the national anthem known to exist, making the starting gun anticipation all that much worse. And then we were off...

I thought the first mile would be really slow. After all, we were mid-pack, and it takes a long time for the pack to thin out. The first quarter mile, in particular, felt like a shuffle. And so I was shocked (as were Dan and Marty) when we passed the Mile 1 clock at 7:44. Really? 7:44? How could that be? It felt so slow.

OK, I thought, let me just find that 7:50 pace. I'm usually good like that - I can find a pace and lock into it with little variance, often just plus-or-minus 5 seconds per mile. Mile 2 passed in 7:55. OK, not bad, maybe a tad slow. Then a 7:36 mile 3, despite the first half of that being all uphill; I swear Marty set the pace on that hill. But, woah, that was way faster than I expected. On the other hand, I felt great. This is a stroll.

And so it went. When I felt really strong after a 7:30 mile 8, I decided I could pick it up for the final 5 miles. I dropped Dan and Marty with a 7:18 mile 9; good to know those guys have some sense.

Me, Marty, and Dan at Mile 8; my smile is from Patti's cheering:
Me, Marty, and Dan at Mile 8

And the rest of my race went like a dream. Each of the last six miles was under 7:30, with an extra kick (somewhat gravity assisted) 6:53 mile 13. Runners dream of "negative splits" when they race - running the second half of a race faster than the first half. It is far easier said than done, but that was my box of chocolates today - a perfectly executed negative split half marathon.

My final finishing time: 1:39:39 (7:36 pace). I'm still waiting to hear how Marty and Dan made out; I'm predicting they paid the price for those first 8 miles.

All sorts of serious at fifty feet from the finishing line:
Fifty feet from the finishing line