December 11, 2016

Concerts #788 & 789 - Jackshit at McCabe's Guitar Shop (December 2-3, 2016)

Not unexpectedly, Jackshit's annual Christmas concerts at McCabe's sold out in about ten minutes and I'm happy to say that I was able to get a ticket for each of the two shows. Here are some of my impressions, as they spring to mind one week after the event.

- The set list was pretty much in line with their previous shows. A few new songs were included, such as David Bowie's "Ashes To Ashes", Bob Dylan's "Well, Well, Well" and "Goddamn Lonely Love" from the repertoire of the Drive-By Truckers.

- Unannounced guests: Jackson Browne on the first night and Shelby Lynne on Day 2.

- Introduced as Browne Shit, Jackson sang "The King Is Gone", "A Child In These Hills", "Call It A Loan", "Running On Empty", "Take It Easy" and "Our Lady Of The Well"

- Shelby Lynne sang "Leaving", "Wall In Your Heart" and "Silver Bells". She sounded great.

- Showing great composure and quite a bit of talent, Stella McCallum delivered a surprisingly good rendition of Priscilla Ahn's "All You've Got To Do Is Fall In Love". Stella is guitarist Val McCallum's daughter. My guess is that she can't be older than five, maybe six.

- It seems that "Ugly And Slouchy" and its delightful rock & roll medley has once again become a permanent fixture of the band's set list. The Christmas version of the medley included "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch", sung by Val with a deep voice.

- There were a few songs that got played on one night only: Randy Newman's "Louisiana", "Bull Rider", "Goddamn Lonely Love", "Ghost Riders In The Sky" and Johnny Cash's "Big River".

- Of all the encores played by the band over the years, "Pretty Polly" is the absolute best.

- All band members, Val in particular, were on fire.

- These two shows brought my Jackshit concert count to thirty-seven. The first time I saw them was in November 2005, when they knocked me out and made a fan-for-life out of me.

Val McCallum at McCabe's
Dave Faragher at McCabe's
Pete Thomas at McCabe's
Val McCallum & Jackson Browne at McCabe's
Val McCallum & Jackson Browne at McCabe's
Val McCallum & Shelby Lynne at McCabe's
Shelby Lynne at McCabe's
Shelby Lynne at McCabe's
Jackshit at McCabe's
The concert room
Val McCallum's guitars
The set list (December 2)
The set list (December 3)

Val McCallum chatting with friends after the show
Pete Thomas after the show
Dave Faragher after the show
Jackshit, with Jackson Browne and Stella McCallum after the show

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