May 23, 2017

Concert #802 - Jackshit at McCabe's Guitar Shop (May 21, 2017)

Even though this was my thirty-seventh time to see Jackshit in concert, I'm a totally normal person (or so I think), but clearly, I'm not able to control this primal instinct of mine, this inner voice that keeps telling me "Go, Gabe go" every time my favorite band is announced to play at McCabe's. So Sunday evening I went again and I'm super-happy that I did, as the Boys from Cochtotan delivered a set that was two-hours long, possibly their longest set ever at McCabe's and once again I was amazed by the talents of these incredible musicians.

Sunday's show was not radically different from the many others I have covered on this blog, so let me just throw out a few random thoughts that, I hope, summarize the show:

  • The band played many of the songs that form the backbone of their repertoire: "Christine's Tune", "Ghost Riders In The Sky", "Drinkin' Or Drivin'", "Long Black Veil", "2x4", "Pretty Polly", etc.
  • There was no "Bull Rider"
  • For the first time ever, Johnny Horton's "I'm Comin' Home" was not the closing number of the set, but we still got to hear it, as the band's one-song encore.
  • Recent additions to the band's repertoire: David Bowie's "Ashes To Ashes", The Sweet Inspirations' "Chained", Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning", Wynn Stewart's "Big, Big Love", the Band's "Time To Kill" and "Goddamn Lonely Love" from the repertoire of the Drive-By Truckers.

  • Shorty's bird-calling skills have remained undiminished over the years.
  • Beau's guitar playing on "You'd Better Get Right" was out of this world.
  • "Ugly And Slouchy" and its incredible Rock & Roll Medley is the embodiment of what Jackshit is all about: variety, intensity, humor and most of all, fantastic musicianship.
  • The band did not bring out any unannounced guests, which they quite often do. 
  • Courtesy of Wayne Griffith, the veteran sound engineer at McCabe's, we once again enjoyed the perfect sound my favorite venue is known for.
Val McCallum at McCabe's
Davey Faragher at McCabe's
Pete Thomas at McCabe's
The set list
Val McCallum feeling the music at McCabe's

One of the many pleasures of attending concerts at McCabe's is meeting folks with whom I share common musical interests. Sunday night I bumped again into Stacey and Cindy, two exceptionally friendly ladies, whom I had met once before, also at McCabe's.

Music fans Stacey & Cindy
The stage
Val's guitars

May 21, 2017

Concert #801 - Jerron "Blind Boy" Paxton at McCabe's Guitar Shop (May 12, 2017)

Jerron "Blind Boy" Paxton ... what a talent! It's hard to believe, but this musician is only twenty-eight years old, yet he can mesmerize a crowd with songs few folks have ever heard and may never hear again. What's his secret, one might ask? Well, he is a good singer and a top-notch multi-instrumentalist who also happens to be funny, warm and friendly. Being the embodiment of likeability will certainly help any musician, but ultimately it's the music that carries the day and that's where Jerron excels. I have seen many other multi-instrumentalists in action, but few have impressed me as much as Jerron did. It's not only that he switches from one instrument to another with the greatest of ease - this guy can make each of those instruments sound like they come from an era that predates his existence by many decades. Indeed, throughout his performance last weekend at McCabe's, Jerron exuded a sense of genuineness that one would not expect from someone of his age.

Jerron "Blind Boy" Paxton at McCabe's
Kicking off the evening with "Michigan Water Blues", Jerron delivered a generous set that clocked in at exactly two hours. There was no predetermined set list, but he knew exactly when to switch, back and forth, between his guitar, banjo, harmonica, fiddle and piano. I can't name too many of the songs he played, as they were mostly obscure blues and ragtime songs from, I suppose, the pre-World War II era. "The Very Thought Of You" and "Alabama Bound" were among the handful of numbers that I did recognize and they all sounded great.

Jerron "Blind Boy" Paxton at McCabe's
Jerron "Blind Boy" Paxton at McCabe's
Jerron is not endowed with a huge thunderous voice, but he can certainly add a lot of nuance to everything he sings, with the end result sounding truly genuine to these ears. Then there was the humor ... it was absolutely amazing to see how much laughter this young musician was able to generate from the very moment he took the stage. And he saved his best for last, the hilarious set-ending medley consisting of "When An Ugly Woman Tells You No" and "I Ain't Got Nobody", and old song I first heard with Louis Prima. Needless to say, Jerron received a warm and well-deserved standing ovation. I went home extremely happy and I know that I'll be back for more.

Jerron "Blind Boy" Paxton at McCabe's
The stage

May 13, 2017

Concert #800 - The Reluctant Apostles at McCabe's Guitar Shop (May 8, 2017)

Sunday night I got to enjoy yet another one of those relaxed concerts that felt just like being in someone's living room.

Few people have heard of the Reluctant Apostles, and until not too long ago, I was one of them. So what made me want to see them? That's easy to answer: to me, the main selling point was Katey Sagal's participation, even though actors-turned-singers don't get instant credit from me. I first witnessed Katey's talents as a singer at a Randy Newman tribute show in 2010 at the Mark Taper Forum, when she thoroughly impressed me with her soulful rendition of Randy's "Feels Like Home". Also, I was further enticed by the presence of bassist and singer Davey Faragher.

The band came out as a quintet consisting of Katey Sagal, Davey Faragher, guitarist and vocalist Bob Thiele Jr, keyboard player John Philip Shenale and Katey's son, Jackson White, on percussion. With three good singers, lots of humor and a repertoire consisting exclusively of covers of mostly well-known songs, the band put on an entertaining show that was well received by the crowd.

Bob, Katey & Davey at McCabe's
The band's set mirrored to a great extent their debut CD, appropriately titled "Introducing The Reluctant Apostles". To these ears, the evening's best songs were Bob Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece" (sung by Bob), Solomon Burke's "Cry To Me" (with lead vocals by Davey) and the more obscure "Temptation Took Control Of Me" (featuring Katey's passionate singing). By the way, the "Temptation" song was written by a certain Eric Kaz, a prolific singer-songwriter whose entire career managed to elude me.

Katey Sagal at McCabe's

Davey Faragher at McCabe's

For the first song of the band's two-song encore, Bob Thiele sang "What A Wonderful World" and he made absolutely no attempt to even remotely follow Louis Armstrong's original recording. While listening to Bob's version, I remember thinking that I had no idea who wrote that famous song. The answer came a lot sooner than I thought, when Bob told the audience that it was his father who authored this true gem. I was impressed.

Bob Thiele Jr. at McCabe's

John Philip Shenale at McCabe's

The stage
Same stage, different angle
T-Shirts for sale
Autographed CD !!

Concert #799 - Peter Himmelman at McCabe's Guitar Shop (April 23, 2017)

I have a confession to make: I suffer of an incurable mental condition called Himmelmania. My first symptoms appeared in the summer of 1993, when KCRW, Santa Monica's much-respected radio station, played Peter Himmelman's "Impermanent Things" - the song hit me so hard, that I ran straight to the nearest record store to buy "From Strength To Strength", Peter's then-current album and. I've been a himmelmaniac ever since.

A few weeks back I went to McCabe's to see Peter in concert for the twenty-second time, a clear sign that the passage of time has not diminished my interest in his music. Overall, the concert did not disappoint. I enjoyed everything Peter sang and said and I was particularly happy to see that his ad-libbing skills remained as strong as ever. I had a good laugh listening to his soulful, albeit brief, version of Prince's "Soft And Wet", followed by "Fireman" and "Baby Let Me Be Your Cigarette", Peter's own and most decidedly humorous attempts to write songs in the same vein.

Peter Himmelman at McCabe's
Peter's set included many old favorites, among them "Mission Of My Soul", "Measure", and "Seven Circles", but also quite a few newer songs - the one I liked the best was the uptempo "In The Hour Of Ebbing Light".

Seeing Peter's evolution as a singer-songwriter over the decades has been a joyful ride that is still ongoing.
Peter Himmelman at McCabe's
Peter Himmelman with a fan at McCabe's
The set list
The stage

April 16, 2017

Concert #798 - Ruthie Foster at McCabe's Guitar Shop (April 15, 2017)

I'm afraid I'll run out of superlatives half-way through this write-up. Simply put, anything and everything Ruthie did last night at McCabe's was at a level of musicianship that can be seldom seen on any stage, anywhere, yet her show was so much more than just great music. With her warmth, humor, humility, and most of all, with her incredible smile, Ruthie put on a show that few other musicians are capable of. With the greatest of ease, Ruthie held the audience in the palm of her hands for almost ninety minutes, a feat accomplished with nothing more than her voice, personality, an acoustic guitar, some captivating storytelling and a massive helping of musical credibility. Indeed, with lots of old-school church music in her DNA, Ruthie picked me up and transported me to a different world, and yes, when she unleashed that divine voice of hers, even my secular self felt the full intensity of the spirit.

My introduction to Ruthie Foster, many years ago, did not go well at all. I first heard of her in 2002, when the Folk Music Center, a historic music store and occasional concert venue in Claremont, California, announced a show with one Ruthie Foster. That was many years before YouTube, so I couldn't check out her singing anywhere on the Internet. Still, one month before the show, I bought two tickets just on the strength of a complimentary article I had read somewhere on the web. One week before the show, I talked two friends into joining us, so I went back to the venue to buy two more tickets. Well, there was a problem, they said, the concert got cancelled. Why? I asked. Because we only sold two tickets, they replied. I pulled out my two tickets from my wallet and asked: You mean these? True story. The good news is that I caught Ruthie the following year, when she performed at the Boulevard Music in Culver City and I've been a huge fan ever since.

Ruthie Foster at McCabe's
Ruthie opened her set with a couple of songs from "Promise Of A Brand New Day", her outstanding new album. She pretty much followed her written set list, but skipped "Richland Woman Blues", "Stone Love" and "Ring Of Fire". Ruthie is a good songwriter - her self-penned "Small Town Blues" was one of the shows many highlights - but she also excels at covering stellar songs written by others. I particularly liked Chris Stapleton's "What Are You Listening To" and Terri Hendrix's "Hole In My Pocket". Patty Griffin and Lucinda Williams were also represented by one song each, "When It Don't Come Easy" and "Fruits Of My Labor", respectively. Ruthie spoke highly of Mavis Staples, before launching into a soulful rendition of "The Ghetto", from the repertoire of the Staple Singers.
The set list

For her two-song encore, delivered without even leaving the stage, Ruthie sang two gentler songs, Sam Cooke's "You Send Me" and a slowed-down version of Steven Foster's "Oh Susanna". Usually I prefer shows to end with a thunderous crescendo, but last night, after being treated to a show of unmatched intensity, these final mellow moments provided a smooth return to the real world.

I hope and pray that Ruthie will become a regular performer at McCabe's, a venue that is perfectly suited for her many talents.

Ruthie Foster at McCabe's
Ruthie Foster at McCabe's
Ruthie Foster at McCabe's
Ruthie Foster at the end of the show
The stage
The crowd settling in
Concert poster

April 4, 2017

Concert #796 - Tom Paxton at McCabe's Guitar Shop (April 1, 2017)

This was my fifth time to see Tom Paxton live in concert and, based on the fine form he demonstrated Saturday night at McCabe's, I'm pretty sure that I'll catch up with him again. At the tender age of seventy-nine, Tom is not ready to call it a career, and why should he? He still sounds good, still writes great songs and certainly has enough energy to complete a decently long concert with a smile on his face. Good for him. Even better for us.

Two days after the concert, the positive vibes I felt at the end of the show are still with me. When thinking about the quality of Tom's newer compositions, all I can do is shake my head in disbelief - his melodic sense is still there and his words are as captivating as ever. One would expect a singer of his seniority to occasionally fumble the lyrics and maybe even scramble to find the right words, but Tom's show progressed without a glitch, from start to finish. Granted, Tom's songs are not particularly difficult to sing, but even so, I was impressed with his precise singing, with all the right notes delivered at the right time.

Tom Paxton at McCabe's
Indeed, Tom Paxton was great, but thanks to the DonJuans, the show had so much more to offer. Not too many folks know who the DonJuans are, and until not too long ago, I didn't either. Their tongue-in-cheek moniker is derived from their first names, Don and Jon, and not from their unproven amorous conquests. As a songwriting team, Don Henry and Jon Vezner earned a Grammy in 1990 for "Where've You Been", a song first recorded by Kathy Mattea. By the way, Kathy and Jon are married to each other. Many more songs that Don and Jon wrote, either together or separately, got recorded by some of the greatest names in music. Songwriting may be their strongest asset, but they can sing, play a few instruments and make us laugh as well.

Don Henry (left) & Jon Vezner at McCabe's
The evening was kicked off by the DonJuans, who sang four catchy songs that included the Grammy-winning "Where've You Been" and "Garden Of The Dead", which became a humorous unsolicited sing-along. Then Tom Paxton joined the duo and together they launched into "How Beautiful Upon The Mountains". From that point on, it was one great song after another. Mississippi John Hurt and Dave Van Ronk were each given a musical tribute. Don Henry sang his own "All Kinds Of Kinds", a hit song for Miranda Lambert a few years back.

The place went crazy when Tom invited Paul Stookey to join him for the singing of "Ramblin' Boy", one of Tom's handful of signature songs. Needless to say, Tom did not forget to credit Pete Seeger for having put this great song on the map, in the early sixties.

Paul Stookey and Tom Paxton at McCabe's
Unexpectedly, "The Last Thing On My Mind" was given a new treatment and I loved every bit of it. Instead of opening with "It's a lesson too late for the learning", Tom started out with the chorus "Are you goin' away with no words of farewell". Like most folk music fans, I know the words of this gem of a song and it was an absolute thrill to sing along with the one who gave it to us.

The show ended with "Dream On, Sweet Dreamer", a gorgeous song from "Boat In The Water", Tom's brand new album. I went home with a warm feeling in my heart.

The end of the show
Don Henry at McCabe's
Jon Vezner at McCabe's
The set list
Another set list