December 4, 2016

Concert #787 - Chuck Prophet & Stephanie Finch at McCabe's Guitar Shop (November 19, 2016)

This was my second encounter with Chuck Prophet and Stephanie Finch, two exceptionally likeable musicians who also happen to be married to each other. Unlike in 2014, when I first saw them, Chuck and Stephanie came out as a duo, without any additional instrumentalists and with Stephanie playing a far more prominent role. Their music, written mostly by Chuck but also by Stephanie, was instantly accessible and thoroughly enjoyable, even to those unfamiliar with their songs.

Chuck made good use of a second microphone that produced special vocal effects, quite often with comedic results.Overall, the show can be described as pure joy, with mostly uptempo songs, lots of humor and great musicianship.

The show had plenty of highlights, among them "Wish Me Luck", "Little Boy, Little Girl" and especially "Don't Back Out Now". Come to think of it, the set list consisted of nothing but keepers.

Chuck Prophet at McCabe's
Chuck Prophet & Stephanie Finch at McCabe's
Chuck Prophet at McCabe's
Stephanie Finch at McCabe's

The set list
Chuck & Stephanie at the end of the show
The stage

November 20, 2016

Concert #786 - Mary Fahl at McCabe's Guitar Shop (November 18, 2016)

This was my second time to see Mary Fahl in concert and just as I expected, Friday night's concert was pretty much in line with the show that knocked me out last year, also at McCabe's - the song selection, the banter and her stage presence were, more or less, a replay of last year's show, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Once again, I was thoroughly impressed by Mary's voice, an instrument that can be both powerful and gentle, depending on what she sings. Her set list included self-penned songs, some from her October Project years, others more recent, from her solo career, and there were a few covers as well, such as Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" and Pink Floyd's "Brain Damage". Heck, we were even treated to one of the opera world's best known arias, Puccini's "Nessun Dorma", delivered by Mary in decent-sounding Italian.

Mary Fahl at McCabe's
Mary Fahl's set list
To these ears, the highlight of the show was "Both Sides Now" and her own "Gravity", a song inspired by her husband, American oceanographer Richard Lutz. By the way, Mary mentioned his name quite often during the show.

Overall, I had a great time and I know that I will see her again, preferably at McCabe's.

Mary Fahl at McCabe's
Mary Fahl at McCabe's
The merch table
The stage
The venue

November 6, 2016

Concert #785 - Benmont Tench at McCabe's Guitar Shop (October 30, 2016)

I have to confess that a few months back, after having given Benmont's first solo album a good listen, I pushed it aside with no intention of ever playing it again. Not being impressed with his music is one thing, but having the chance to see someone of his stature at McCabe's was an entirely different matter, so I grabbed my ticket as fast as I could. Still, Sunday night, while driving to McCabe's, I was questioning the wisdom of my decision to attend and I even had thoughts of bailing out halfway through the show, just in case things got exceedingly boring.

Fast forward to the end of the concert, when I jumped up to my feet, along with everyone else. No, we weren't just being polite toward a deserving artist. We were simply responding to a great performance that, at least from my vantage point, came out of nowhere.

The Benmont Tench who performed Sunday night at McCabe's had little in common with the keyboard player I saw a couple of times in the 1980s alongside Tom Petty. Early in the show, he told the audience that he had performed solo here and there, but had never done a full solo concert, or - the way he put it - "I've never done this and I'm as confused as you are". I can't say that he looked intimidated up there on the stage, but I could certainly detect quite a bit of humility in his demeanor.

Benmont Tench at McCabe's

Benmont's set kicked off with the self-penned "Under The Starlight", a song that immediately grabbed my attention. Good songs came in quick succession, one after the other, and many of them were the very same numbers that failed to grab me when I first heard his album. "Veronica Said", "Wobbles", "Homesick", "Dallas Is A Damn Good Town To Leave", "Today I Took Your Picture Down" and "Welcome To Hell" sounded great and so did all his other songs. 

Supplementing his own material with a few covers, Benmont delivered a rousing boogie-woogie rendition of CSN's "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes", Bob Dylan's "Duquesne's Whistle" and "I Can Hear Music", a song most people first heard with the Beach Boys, but originally recorded by the Ronettes. 

To me, the highlight of the evening was "Corrina, Corrina", the traditional song reworked by Dylan in the early 60s, featuring Benmont's exquisite piano playing and expressive vocals. Indeed, Benmont is not a bad singer. His phrasing is good and there is feeling in his voice. Good diction, too, as every word can be heard loud and clear. And speaking of highlights: Benmont's piano playing was an absolute delight throughout the evening.

While playing seated at his grand piano for most of the evening, Benmont provided his own guitar accompaniment on a few songs, surprising everyone in the process. "You Should Be So Lucky" was one of those songs and it sounded great.

Benmont Tench at McCabe's

Contrary to my initial expectations, the show went on without ever losing momentum and today, almost one week after the show, Benmont's music still resonates in me. I will always remember this show as one of the finest I have ever attended at McCabe's. Will he ever play there again? I certainly hope so.

Benmont Tench thanking the McCabe's crowd
The stage
Accompanied by the ubiquitous Sean Watkins, a young and rather unknown Dominique Arciero opened the evening with an unconvincing set. 

Dominique Arciero at McCabe's

Concert Director Lincoln Myerson addressing the crowd

October 30, 2016

Concert #784 - Carrie Newcomer at McCabe's Guitar Shop (October 28, 2016)

Surprisingly few people showed up Friday night to catch Carrie Newcomer in concert, but I'm sure that the ones who came were glad they did. Just as I expected, Carrie put on an outstanding show that highlighted not only her stellar songwriting, but also her beautiful voice and gentle personality. With the natural warmth that she possesses, she did not sound fake at all when talking or singing about peace, love and understanding.

Not unexpectedly, Carrie put significant emphasis on her most recent album, "The Beautiful Not Yet", released just a few weeks ago. I was unfamiliar with her new music, but everything she sang for us from the new album sounded great. After just one listen, I can now count "Lean In Toward The Lights", "Sanctuary" and "A Shovel Is A Prayer" among my favorite Carrie Newcomer songs.

Carrie Newcomer at McCabe's
I would have loved to hear "Where You Been", the song that years ago opened my ears to Carrie's music, but I was more than happy to sing along to "If Not Now" and "The Gathering Of Spirits", two numbers that are as gorgeous as they get.

Carrie Newcomer at McCabe's
The set list
For the evening's one-song encore, Carrie asked everyone to stand up and join her in the singing of "Room At The Table". Needless to say, the crowd happily obliged.

I must also mention the contribution of Gary Walters, whose piano accompaniment and occasional background vocals added quite a bit to the success of the evening.

Pianist Gary Walters at McCabe's
Carrie Newcomer at McCabe's
The stage
The concert room

September 18, 2016

Concert #783 - Leftover Cuties - "Full Moon Saturdays at Stonywood" Concerts Series in Pasadena (September 10, 2016)


This was my second time to see the Leftover Cuties in action and also my second time to attend a concert in Garth and Trisha's gorgeous backyard in Pasadena. Before I even mention the concert, I must give tons of credit to the hosts, who - as an expression of their love of music, as well as their desire to support deserving musicians - have opened their house to folks they don't even know. Garth shared with me an interesting tidbit: a typical concert in their backyard draws around fifty to sixty people, while the highest attendance ever was eighty-three.

Garth & Trisha's backyard in Pasadena
Garth opening the proceedings
 For unknown reasons, the band's regular bassist, the supremely intense Austin Nicholsen, was not there. His place was taken by the far more reserved, but equally competent Ryan Feves, who I believe was the band's original bass player.   
Band line-up
Shirli McAllen (vocals, ukulele)
Mike Bolger (keyboards, trumpet, accordion, helicon)
Stuart Johnson (drums, percussion, funny sounds)
Ryan Feves (upright bass)

The Leftover Cuties in Pasadena
What made me want to attend the concert was Shirli's voice and singing style. I don't know whether most folks would agree with me, but every time I hear Shirli sing, Madeleine Peyroux invariably comes to mind. Not that their voices or vocal techniques are alike, but both Shirli and Madeleine grab me not with devilish rhythms and stage acrobatics, but with a phrasing and delivery style that is uniquely theirs and only theirs. 

Shirli McAllen in Pasadena
As expected, the band's set list included a healthy mix of songs written by Shirli and quite a few covers. Cole Porter's "Let's Misbehave", the classic "You Are My Sunshine", Billie Holiday's "All Of Me" and Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling In Love" all sounded great. 

Yes, Shirli can sing, but as a songwriter she is no slouch, either. With numbers such as "Sunnyside", "If You Want The Rainbow" and especially "Clarity", I strongly believe that she deserves a much larger audience.

Shirli McAllen in Pasadena
As good as Shirli McAllen is, the Leftover Cuties wouldn't be what they are without the combined talents of Mike Bolger, Stuart Johnson and Ryan Feves. Switching with ease from instrument to instrument, Mike's musical accompaniment was quite a bit richer that most anything you will ever hear. Adding an endless array of bells, whistles and other funny sounds to his drum playing, the utterly humorous Stuart was an important contributor to the success of the show.

Mike Bolger in Pasadena
Stuart Johnson in Pasadena
Shirli McAllen& Ryan Feves in Pasadena
I went to the concert with My Better Half and two good friends, Deborah and Joe. We all had a heck of a good time and we all hope to be back real soon in Garth and Trisha's hospitable backyard.

The set list

July 17, 2016

Concert #782 - Vonda Shepard at McCabe's Guitar Shop (July 16, 2016)

A sentence such as "Vonda is loved by many, but known by few" does not seem to be particularly logical, but somehow, paradoxically, it does ring a bit true. Vonda's appearance at McCabe's sold out in the end, but it took weeks and weeks to get there - this supports the "know by few" part, but let me tell you, whoever was there, showered her with their full love and adulation. Standing ovations are quite frequent at McCabe's, but how often can one witness there a musician performing in front of a crowd that just does not want to sit down? Well, that's precisely what happened during Vonda's final few songs of her set, a strong sign that, indeed, she is loved by many.
Vonda Shepard at McCabe's
I'm not a Vonda Shepard expert. Over the years, I have paid attention mostly to her cover songs, to the detriment of her original compositions, so there I was last week at McCabe's, hoping to hear nothing but covers and frowning a bit every time she launched into a self-penned number. As it turned out, her own material dominated the evening - at first blush, I did like some of her songs, while others would definitely require a few more listens.

I enjoyed tremendously her soulful and passionate delivery of Dan Penn's "Sweet Inspiration" and John Fogerty's "Proud Mary". Equally good were her renditions of "Walk Away Renee" and "Respect Yourself", both well-known radio staples from decades ago.

A few words about Vonda's outstanding band: James Ralston (guitar), Jim Hanson (bass, backup vocals) and Michael Urbano (drums) were very good individually and also collectively, as one would expect from musicians who have been playing together for years. Assuming a somewhat lower-key role, producer Mitchell Froom played his keyboard in the corner of the stage, partially obscured by the other musicians. Vonda sat behind her keyboard for most of the show, but took center stage for a couple of songs toward the end of the show.

Vonda Shepard & Jim Hanson at McCabe's
Comprised mostly of Vonda Shepard connoisseurs, the crowd responded with enthusiasm to her performance throughout the evening, then brought her back for not one, but two encores, each consisting of one song, first Don Covay's "Chain Of Fools", then finally, the much-covered "You Belong To Me".
Vonda's set list
It took me some after-the-concert googling to identify Vonda's unannounced guest, namely Jeff Young, who contributed backup vocals and some spirited keyboard playing on a couple of songs.

This concert will be hard to forget. Vonda's voice and singing ability are something to behold and I will never forget her intensity and, most of all, her gorgeous smile.

Vonda Shepard at McCabe's
Vonda Shepard, Jim Hanson & Jeff Young at McCabe's
Mitchell Froom at McCabe's
James Ralston tuning his guitar before the show
The merch table
More merchandise