December 9, 2018

Concert #853 - Mary Gauthier at McCabe's Guitar Shop (December 8, 2018)

It is not uncommon for songwriters to reach their creative peak during their younger years, but that is definitely not the case with Mary Gauthier. A self-described late bloomer, she started writing songs at the age of thirty-five and has been blooming, so to speak, ever since.

Last night's show at McCabe's once again highlighted her incredible songwriting as well as her ability to deliver her compositions in an understated, yet highly effective manner. Indeed, Mary speaks and sings gently, yet manages to hold her audience captive from the minute she takes the stage until the lights go back on. Quite often, she covers topics that are both heart-warming and thought-provoking, as best exemplified by the songs of her Grammy-nominated most-recent album, "Rifles & Rosary Beads". Prefaced by spoken introductions, Marry sang for us five songs from that outstanding album and each of them were very well received by the crowd. The ones I liked the best were "Stronger Together" and "Iraq".

Mary Gauthier at McCabe's
In addition to some of her older gems, such as "Our Lady Of The Shooting Stars" and "Mercy Now", Mary also sang the brand new "Thank God For You", a song that, due to its happy message, stood out from the rest to such an extent that it elicited a humorous remark from Mary herself. "I Try Not To Think About Time" was yet another excellent song that was new to me.

Mary came out with two outstanding musicians whose contribution to the success of the evening cannot be overstated. Jaimee Harris, an outstanding singer in her own right, provided backup vocals, played the guitar and delighted the crowd with her lead vocal performance on "Red Rescue", a song she wrote herself.

Hailing from Italy, Michele Gazich played the violin, viola and piano with great skill. He could have ruined the evening for me with an excessively screechy and whiny violin, but instead, he produced sounds that were rich and warm. I also loved his body language and - by the way - his first name is pronounced Mee-Keh-Leh, with emphasis on the second syllable.

I Try Not To Think About Time
Our Lady Of The Shooting Stars
Thank God For You
Last Of The Hobo Kings
Another Train
The War After The War
Bullet Holes In The Sky
Soldiering On
Stronger Together
Red Rescue (Lead vocal: Jaimee Harris)
Mercy Now
This Land Is Your Land (Encore)

Mary Gauthier at McCabe's, with Michele Gazich and Jaimee Harris
Mary Gauthier & Jaimee Harris at McCabe's
Mary Gauthier & Michele Gazich at McCabe's
For the evening's one-song encore, Mary and Jaimee sang Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land", with the entire audience joining in. I went home totally happy. Let's all hope now that the next time we catch Mary in concert she is introduced as "the Grammy-winning Mary Gauthier".

Michele Gazich at McCabe's
The end of the show
The final bow
The stage
Mary, Jaimee & Michele at the merch table
The merch table

December 2, 2018

Concert #852 - Birds Of Chicago at McCabe's Guitar Shop (November 30, 2018)

Friday night I attended yet another great show at my favorite venue.

In this blog, with very few exceptions, opening acts get mentioned in the closing paragraphs of my write-ups. Daniel Rodriguez is one such exception. As he took the stage, I braced myself for a long and boring set, but it took him no more than a few minutes to grab my full attention. What stood out first and foremost to these ears was his songwriting - there was a lot of variety in his songs and not one of his numbers could be labeled as "filler material". I was most impressed with "Dolores", the final song of Daniel's set, and also with "Take Me As I Am". He's also a skilled guitar player and a decent singer and have I mentioned his good looks? Quite deservedly, he received one of the longest and loudest applause ever given to an opening act at McCabe's. I would have loved to hear a few more of his songs.

Daniel Rodriguez at McCabe's
The Birds of Chicago, the evening's headliners, put on a show that was both entertaining and heart-warming. It was their first time at McCabe's and singer Allison Russell wasted no time to acknowledge the reputation of the venue, with the same kind of words I have heard so may times there: "It's a great honor for us to be on this stage".

With their dissimilar voices, Allison Russell and TJ Nero complemented each other to great effect. Except for Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust', delivered by Allison in French, we heard one great original song after another. With a set as consistently solid as theirs, it is impossible to pick a highlight, but "American Flowers", the catchy show-ending number, is still ringing in my ears.
Allison Russell & TJ Nero at McCabe's
Ten years have passed since I first saw Allison in concert, when she was touring with the acclaimed Po' Girl, a band that also included Awna Teixeira. Allison was a great singer then, but has evolved even more since then. Friday night she stole the show with her exquisite vocals, which could go from powerful to gentle in a heartbeat. Her clarinet solos were also very special, as was her banjo playing, and she did it all while having fun in the process - she smiled and quite often laughed out loud during the show, in a contagious display of joie de vivre.

Allison Russell at McCabe's
With the Birds of Chicago's regular bass player being unavailable, the band called up Andy Stack, a guitarist based in upstate New York, and what a quality addition that was! A top-notch guitar player, Andy provided an understated, but highly effective accompaniment to the duo of Allison and TJ.

Allison Russell & Andy Stack at McCabe's
Andy Stack with the Birds of Chicago at McCabe's
For the evening's one-song encore, Allison called Daniel Rodriguez back to the stage for the singing of "American Flower", which turned into a sing-along that involved the entire audience. All-in-all, it was a fabulous evening of great music and as I walked out, I spotted Jackson Browne heading home as well.

The end of the show, with Daniel and Andy joining Allison & TJ
The final bow
The set list of the Birds of Chicago

Daniel Rodriguez's set list
The stage

The listening room
Birds of Chicago T-shirts for sale at McCabe's

November 24, 2018

Concert #821 - Rhythm Future Quartet at McCabe's Guitar Shop (March 11, 2018)

I'm not into jazz, but I do have a soft spot for the sub-genre known as "Gypsy Jazz". Moreover, I'm instantly attracted by concert offerings that make references to Django Reinhardt and that was definitely the case with the Rhythm Future Quartet, a band whose moniker is actually derived from a Django song.

As expected, it was an all-instrumental concert and, as hoped, it was quite entertaining. The four musicians who comprise the band were all superb. Their leader, the classically trained violinist Jason Anick, kept the crowd informed about their songs and yes, he can play with virtuosity. I was also thoroughly impressed with guitarist Olli Soikkeli, originally from Finland, and also with the band's second guitarist, Max O'Rourke. The interplay between Olli and Max, when they were left alone on the stage for a few minutes, was one of the highlights of the evening. Rounding up the band was bassist Greg Loughman, whose solos were well received by the crowd.

The set list included a few jazz numbers I did not know, a few original compositions - the one that stood out was "Olli's Bossa" - and, surprisingly, an outstanding rendition of "Come Together", the Beatles song.

All-in-all, I had a good time getting acquainted with this exceptionally likeable band and their music.

Rhythm Future Quartet at McCabe's
Olli Soikkeli (left) & Max O'Rourke at McCabe's
Jason Anick at McCabe's
The final bow
The set list
The stage

November 23, 2018

Concert #843 - Mike Watt & The Secondmen and Double Naught Spy Car at McCabe's Guitar Shop (September 7, 2018)

Punk rockers seldom take the stage at McCabe's and that is precisely what attracted me to attend this double-bill in the first place. In retrospect, it was not a good idea. Being unfamiliar with Mike's music did not help. Then there was the decibel level of his performance. In plain English, it was bloody loud.

Mike came out with two Secondmen, a singer/keyboardist and a drummer whose names I sadly do not know. Their energy level was commendable, but the music they unleashed was much too loud. Late in Mike's set, I started to feel some kind of a connection with his music, but then his set ended before I could really get into it. It was certainly an interesting experience, given my minimal prior exposure to punk rock.

After Mike Watt and his band removed all their gear from the stage, it was time for the members of Double Naught Spy Car to set up their respective "work stations" and I had fun observing their preparations.

After Mike Watt's set, I was craving for something more mainstream, but that wasn't in the cards. The band's own web site describes their music as surf noir, jazz on acid, spaghetti middle eastern, and "difficult", and I can confirm that, to these ears at least, it was difficult indeed. The musicians themselves were top-notch, no problem there, but their music did not resonate well with me.

Band line-up
Marcus Watkins - Guitar
Marc Doten - Bass
Paul Lacques - Lap-steel
Joe Berardi - Drums
Danny McGough - Keyboards
Mike Watt & The Secondmen at McCabe's
Mike Watt taking a bow at the end of his set
Mike Watt clearing the stage
Double Naught Spy Car - Setting up for the show
Marcus Watkins (left) & Marc Doten at McCabe's
Paul Lacques at McCabe's
Danny McGough at McCabe's
Joe Berardi at McCabe's
Hiroshi, a frequent McCabe's attendee, with DNSC's set list
The stage
Concert poster

November 21, 2018

Concert #844 - Marley's Ghost at the Claremont Folk Music Center (September 22, 2018)

I went to see Marley's Ghost with just a rough inkling of what the band could do. As it turned out, it took them no more than two songs to make a fan out of me. I was totally taken by the versatility of the band, as they hopped from genre to genre with the greatest of ease - they played bluegrass, country, folk, blues, gospel, a touch of reggae, and they did it with instrumental virtuosity and great vocal harmonies. And speaking of vocals: to these ears, they sounded the best when their voices joined together for the singing of gospel tunes - their renditions of "Shadrack" and "Run Come See Jerusalem" were delightfully good.

Dan Wheetman: Guitar, vocals
Mike Phelan: Guitars, vocals
Ed Littlefield Jr.: Pedal steel, vocals
Jon Wilcox: Guitar, vocals
Jerry Fletcher: Keyboards, vocals
Bob Nichols: Drums

The band's set list consisted of a mix of original music, as well as covers. I liked their delivery of "Ticket To Ride" and also the show-ending "One Love", the Bob Marley classic.

I must also mention their humor: I laughed out loud when Dan Wheetman invited the crowd to buy the band's albums and said that all those unhappy with the purchased CDs may bring them back in exchange for CDs that the band dislikes. By the way, Dan's baritone voice is something to behold.

All-in-all, I had a fabulous time discovering the many talents of this outstanding but little-known band and I know that I will catch them again.

Mike Phelan (left) & Dan Wheetman at the Folk Music Center
Dan Wheetman (left) & Ed Littlefield at the Folk Music Center
Mike Phelan (right) & Jerry Fletcher at the Folk Music Center
Set list - Sheet 1
Set list - Sheet 2
Concert organizer Jerry O'Sullivan introducing the band
Intermission at the Folk Music Center
The stage