Saturday, March 28, 2009

Concert Report: Richard Shindell @ Tupelo Music Hall

Patti and I were back at Tupelo on Thursday night, March 26, for Richard Shindell's 90-minute set. It's been just over a year since we last saw Richard play, also at Tupelo.

Richard Shindell at Tupelo Music Hall, March 26, 2009

Richard's new album, Not Far Now, is just weeks old, so I was somewhat surprised we only got two songs from it all night long. One was Get Up Clara, a simple and nearly silly tune in which a weary traveler begs his mule to get up and get going. Set in the Roman empire, the song plays on "roaming" and "Roman" for its lyrical twist. The other song from the new album was Balloon Man, a wonderful description of a character from Richard's adopted town of Buenos Aires who sells balloons to children in the city's parks. The sight of the balloon man makes everyone smile, in real life as well as in my mind's eye:

balloon man's a little bit ragged
his glasses are slightly askew
one lens is cracked and shoes never match
he might have a screw loose or two
his rig is a marvel of equipoise
Leonardo might've designed
bamboo for the wide horizontal
pine for the vertical rise
he's wearing in a flag-bearers harness
he's holding the whole thing aloft
balloons all arrayed, he's a one man parade
if he ran he'd surely take off

Richard's cover of Glen Patscha's (of Ollabelle) Blue Northern Lights was a great and welcome surprise. Richard recently did a small tour with Ollabelle, and he picked this song up during that stint. I also heard at least one audible gasp of happy surprise in the audience when Richard launched into Leonard Cohen's Famous Blue Raincoat.

Richard continued what is for me an unbroken string of messing up the lyrics to Transit for, I think, the third for fourth time in a row. I don't know what it is about that particular song, but Richard seems unable to get through whole thing without a lyrics flub at some point. I sort of love that, though, as it makes him human. He also flubbed the second verse of Fishing, one of my all-time favorite Shindell songs. Fishing is a haunting fictional tale of an INS (Immigration and Naturalization Services) interrogation, and perhaps this is the perfect point for me to include a YouTube video for those of you who are not yet familiar with his music. Watch this:

By far the biggest audience reaction of the night came when he played Are You Happy Now? — isn't it funny how we seem to love bitter breakup songs? This song is set on Halloween night, and our storyteller sits in the dark after his lover has left him. I particularly love the imagery of the second verse:

I smashed your pumpkin on the floor
The candle flickered at my feet
As goblins flew across the room
The children peered into the room
A cowboy shivered on the porch
As Cinderella checked her watch
A hobo waited in the street
An angel whispered, trick-or-treat
But what was I supposed to do
But to sit there in the dark?
I was amazed to think that you
Could take the candy with you too
Are you happy now?

Man! Nothing like a good breakup song to make use feel better, eh? The first verse also contains what I consider to be signature Shindell lyric hooks - look at his use of "role" and "roll", as well as color — black, white, gray, and red:

You left your camera on the bed
Where we played roles in black and white
You left a roll of black and white
I set the timer and thought of you
And put the lens up to my head
I took a photograph for you
What comes out gray is really red

I was thrilled to find this version of the song on YouTube:

Richard mostly played his acoustic guitar, but switched to bouzouki for, if my notes are correct, three songs — Robbie Robertson's Acadian Driftwood, and his own A Summer Wind, A Cotton Dress, and Reunion Hill.

Richard Shindell at Tupelo Music Hall, March 26, 2009

Here's one more video from YouTube, this one of Richard performing A Summer Wind, A Cotton Dress so that you can hear what the bouzouki sounds like:

All in all, a fine night of entertainment by one of my favorite songwriters. As usual, the photos above are my own, and you can view the full set on Flickr.

Richard Shindell
Tupelo Music Hall, Londonderry, NH
Thursday, March 26, 2009
The Island
Acadian Driftwood (Robbie Robertson)
Blue Northern Lights (Glenn Patscha)
Get Up Clara
Poor Wayfaring Stranger (Traditional)
A Summer Wind, A Cotton Dress
Balloon Man
Sitting on Top of the World (Traditional)
Reunion Hill
Are You Happy Now?
So Says the Whippoorwill
Famous Blue Raincoat (Leonard Cohen)
Last Fare of the Day
There Goes Mavis
Encore: Waist Deep in the Big Muddy (Pete Seeger)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Concert Report: Ollabelle at Club Passim

Ollabelle concert ticket stub

Right off the bat I'm going to say that this was not my favorite Ollabelle concert. That's not to say I didn't have a rocking great time, but more an acknowledgement of the fact that this was three-fifths Ollabelle, not the full quintet. Neither Tony Leone (drums) or Amy Helm (vocals, mandola) were with the band for their Boston stop, and I missed them both. Tony's drums wouldn't have fit on Passim's postage stamp of a stage anyway, and Amy gets a pass as she is home with a new baby. But a significant part of the Ollabelle repertoire can't be performed without those two, including the signature knock-you-back-in-your-seat Before This Time, and The Band-channelling Cane on the Brazos. (Tony regularly plays with the Levon Helm Band, and Amy is Levon's daughter, so channelling The Band comes naturally.)

Ollabelle, for those not paying close attention, is best described as a NYC-formed urban, gospel, roots, harmony band named after roots music pioneer Ola Belle Reed (1916-2002). Besides Tony and Amy, the other three members are Fiona McBain on vocals and guitars, Byron Isaacs on vocals and bass, and Glenn Patscha on vocals and keyboards. Early in their career they were taken under the wing of T-Bone Burnett.

On Thursday night the band was joined by singer-songwriter Martha Scanlan on vocals and guitar, and everybody's favorite Boston-based session guitarist, Duke Levine. You may have never heard of Duke, but his collaboration resume includes Peter Wolf, Otis Rush, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin, Aimee Mann, Kathy Mattea, Sleepy LaBeef, Ellis Paul, Dar Williams, Lucy Kaplansky, and Susan Werner - just to name a few!

The first set lacked a little energy for my tastes. Starting with the opening song, Fiona's rendering of the traditional gospel Elijah Rock, there just wasn't the pin-you-back-in-your-seat feel. Could this be partially due to Fiona being well along in her pregnancy? (Word has it the baby is due in April.) Could it be getting used to Martha and Duke? Who knows, but I noticed that Elijah Rock didn't quite rock with the force it normally has. They did jam it out nicely, but just a bit softer than I'm used to.

Fiona McBain

My reaction to the first set could also be influenced by the new songs they are trotting out. The band recently rented out a house in upstate New York, turned it into a recording studio, and went on a writing binge (shades of Big Pink!). New songs were sprinkled throughout the night, including Glenn's One More Time, and Fiona's Remember to Forget - both in the first set.

Glenn Patscha

Martha's singing style was also a factor. She was nearly whisper quiet, even on her own songs. I found myself alternatively struggling to hear her lyrics, and wanting the sound man to add more vocals to the house mix. To be fair to Martha, she sings and plays with intense feeling, and simply brought the house down with her lead vocals on Abilene in the second set.

Martha Scanlan

Not to mention that watching the guitar interplay between Martha and the incredible Duke Levine was a highlight throughout the night. You could tell how much Martha was enjoying Duke's playing, with her eyes closed and head bent in his direction, a look of bliss on her face.

Martha Scanlan and Duke Levine

Oh, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Byron was playing a stunningly beautiful stand up bass. It was so fitting for the small room and tiny stage.

Byron Isaacs

Although the band is writing more and more songs, we were still treated to a good smattering of traditional songs, one Ola Belle Reed song (I've Endured, sung by Fiona), a Buddy Holly treat (Raining in my Heart, also sung by Fiona), and a simply gorgeous and harmonious rendering of Garcia and Hunter's Ripple (Fiona on lead vocals).

While they may have started slow, Ollabelle found its voice in the second set, and we left very satisfied.

Fiona and Martha

Photo note: I took all the photos you see on this page with my trusty Canon Rebel, and you can see the full photo set on Flickr.

Ollabelle, with Martha Scanlan & Duke Levine
Club Passim, Cambridge, MA
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Set 1:
Elijah Rock (Traditional)
One More Time
Gone Today
Remember to Forget
John the Revelator (Traditional)
Seeds of the Pine (Martha Scanlan)
I Don't Even Have to Ask (Martha Scanlan)
Jesus on the Mainline (Traditional)
I've Endured (Ola Belle Reed)
Set 2:
Brotherly Love
Raining in My Mind
Blue Northern Lights
The West Was Burning (Martha Scanlan)
Abilene (Composer?)
Move On
Raining in my Heart (Buddy Holly)
Get Back Temptation
Ripple (Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia)
Encore: ? (I feel like such a slacker for not recognizing the encore!)