July 1, 2018

Concert #836 - Gal Holiday, Nocona & KP Hawthorn at McCabe's Guitar Shop (June 29, 2018)

This was a triple-header of sorts, with three different acts delivering sets of decent lengths, all this for a whopping twenty dollars ... I wonder how these musicians can support themselves via making music.

KP Hawthorn and her band took the stage just a few minutes after 8 PM. Her set was the shortest of the three. I did not know any of the songs she sang for us and, except for the set-opening "405", neither of them was an instant hit with me, as is often the case when I hear new music. KP's band included Rick Shea on guitar and KP was gracious enough to allow him to sing one of his own songs, "I'm No Good Without You".

KP Hawthorn & Rick Shea at McCabe's
KP Hawthorn's set list
After an intermission, Nocona took the stage and played a set of music that was all new to me. While rooted in Americana, their sound had all sorts of other influences, including psychedelia, believe it or not. Just like KP Hawthorn's set, Nocona's music was not instantly accessible, at least not to these ears. The band included Chris Isom (vocals, guitar), Adrienne Isom (upright bass, vocals), Justin Smith (drums), Elan Glasser (mouth harmonica) and Dan Wistrom (pedal steel guitar). By the way, Chris and Adrienne are married to each other.

Nocona's Chris & Adrienne Isom at McCabe's

While I had some trouble embracing the music of the evening's first two acts, I had an instant connection with Gal Holiday's far more accessible songs. Accompanied by her band, the Honky Tonk Revue, Gal delivered a joyful set of mostly original material and also a cover or two. One of the covers, John Prine's "In Spite Of Ourselves" turned out to be the evening's only song that I knew. I loved Gal's voice and singing style and I was totally taken by her relaxed but confident stage demeanor. She received excellent support from her band, which included Matt Slusher (electric guitar), Justin LeCuyer (acoustic guitar), Rose Cangelosi (drums) and Corey McGillivary (upright bass).

Gal Holiday at McCabe's
Gal Holiday and bassist Corey McGillivary at McCabe's
Gal Holiday's set list
The stage
The merch table
Concert poster
Sign in the window at McCabe's

June 26, 2018

Concert #834 - Steve Poltz at McCabe's Guitar Shop (June 24, 2018)


Sunday night I witnessed an amazing show put on by the immensely likable and zany Steve Poltz, the Canadian-born singer-songwriter I had been unwittingly neglecting for years.

My introduction to Steve's music took place in 2005, also at McCabe's, where Steve shared the stage with three other musicians, namely Adam Carroll, Beaver Nelson and Jud Newcomb. The round-robin format of that evening offered a good variety of styles, but was not the right framework for any of the musicians to really show what they could do.

I went to Sunday night's show not really knowing what to expect, but Steve made a fan out of me with his very first song, the hilarious "Born In A Band", featuring immortal lines such as "I'm not Christian, I'm not Jewish, my religion is Jerry Lee Lewis" and "When the doctor put the stethoscope to the womb, my very first words were Wop Bam A Loo Bam Boom". What followed was an avalanche of funny stories, intertwined with songs that, even at first blush, sounded great. The ratio of spoken word to music may have been a little high, but that did not bother me at all, as - without exception - Steve's stories were thoroughly entertaining. Moreover, with a show that clocked in at a little over two hours, music was definitely not in short supply.

Steve Poltz at McCabe's
Quite a few songs stood out to these ears, among them "Windows Of Halifax" and "Folksinger". Another highlight was the appearance of Lisa Sanders, a San Diego-based singer, with whom Steve sang "Rainbow" and "You Were Meant For Me", the big hit written by Steve for Jewell a few years back.

Lisa Sanders & Steve Poltz at McCabe's
In addition to his own songs, Steve also played a couple of covers. John Hartford's "Presbyterian Guitar", the evening's only instrumental number, was an absolute delight, while the Grateful Dead's "Box Of Rain" may have been the evening's only low point. Indeed, I'm yet to embrace the music of the Dead, not even when it's performed by others.

I can't post a set list, as there wasn't any, but I do remember a few other songs that I really liked: "Devices", "Silver Lining" and the set-closing "I Want All My Friends To Be Happy".

As good as the whole show was, Steve saved his best for last: standing on a front-row chair and assisted by Lisa Sanders, he whipped the crowd into a frenzy with his humorous rendition of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land". It was one of the best moments I have ever witnessed at McCabe's, or anywhere else, for that matter.

Steve Poltz & Lisa Sanders - The Grand Finale (Photo 1)
Steve Poltz & Lisa Sanders - The Grand Finale (Photo 2)
Steve Poltz is a truly special performer - I can only think of two other musicians whose live act is somewhat close to what Steve does: Loudon Wainwright and Peter Himmelman.

Shaking hands and exchanging a few words with Steve after the show put an end to an incredible night that I definitely want repeated.

The end of the show

The stage
My friend Steve chatting with Steve Poltz after the show
T-shirts for sale at McCabe's

May 6, 2018

Concert #828 - Andre Watts at the Segerstrom Concert Hall (May 3, 2018)

Even though I practically never initiate outings to classical music events, I do not kick and scream when my Better Half asks me to accompany her to such events and, quite often, I find these outings surprisingly rewarding. No better case in point than Andre Watts' appearance last Thursday at the Segerstrom Concert Hall, which turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Andre Watts played Beethoven's Concerto No. 5, also known as the "Emperor Concerto", a piece of music I knew quite well. From our seats we could see Andre's finger-work with great clarity and the sound was outstanding as well. The music grabbed me from the very beginning, so at the end, along with everyone else, my Better Half and I gave Andre Watts a well-deserved standing ovation. There was no encore, though.

Waiting for Andre Watts' arrival

During intermission, I expressed some apprehension about the evening's upcoming second part, namely Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10. Featuring a total of fifty-seven minutes of music I was unfamiliar with, this certainly had the potential of ruining an evening that, up to that point, had been going well. As it turned out, the power of the music, the variety of the instruments that all had their moments in the limelight, and especially the multiple full-orchestra crescendos, got me hooked from the start and kept my mind from wandering away.

I was very impressed with the Pacific Symphony Orchestra, its conductor, Carl St.Clair, and the venue itself. The sound was loud and clear, even though there was absolutely no man-made amplification. I know we'll be back for more.

Carl St.Clair
The end of the concert
We went to the concert with our good friends Hans and Valerie, two people who are not only connoisseurs, but also supporters of classical music.
My Better Half (left) and Valerie 
The Segerstrom Concert Hall
The Segerstrom Concert Hall

April 29, 2018

Concert #827 - Benmont Tench at the Largo (April 28, 2018)

This was my second time to see Benmont Tench in a headlining role. Announced as "Benmont Tench and (hopefully!) Friends", the show did not disappoint, not in terms of Benmont's own performance, nor the number and caliber of the "friends" who supported him last night at the Largo.

Benmont, the solo musician, has little to do with Benmont the Heartbreaker, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. That just shows the wide range of his musicianship, and while I count myself as a fan of Tom Petty's work, I can also fully appreciate Benmont's alter ego, the sensitive and occasionally sentimental balladeer that he undoubtedly is.

As expected, Benmont played quite a few songs from "You Should Be So Lucky", his first and, until now, his only solo album. I know his music quite well, so I enjoyed very much listening to live renditions of  "Hannah", "Veronica Said", "Wobbles", "Today I Took Your Picture Down" as well as the album's title track. We also heard lots of newer tunes, but sadly, I don't know their titles.

The only semi-nod to Benmon't work with Tom Petty, was "Welcome To Hell", a song from Mudcrutch's second album. It sounded great.

A few words about Benmont's unannounced guests. While Mike Campbell's appearance was not only anticipated, but almost expected, we all got a thrill when he took the stage along with England's Hattie Webb, who is best known as one half of the Webb Sisters - you may remember them from Leonard Cohen's world tour that kicked off in 2008. Accompanied by Benmont and Mike, Hattie sang "The House Of The Rising Sun", followed by her own number, "River", culled from her 2017 solo album. For the latter, Hattie accompanied herself on harp. Very nice.

Hattie Webb
Mike Campbell

The evening's other guest was Regina Spektor, who was received by the crowd with great enthusiasm. She opened her mini-set with a gorgeous rendition of "Over The Rainbow", the well-known tune from "The Wizard Of Oz". Next, Regina sat down at the piano to perform "The Flowers", a self-penned tune whose coda had elements of Russian folkloric music, or so I thought.

Regina Spektor
Throughout most of the evening, Benmont and his guests benefited from the exceptionally good accompaniment provided by Sebastian Steinberg on upright bass.

Sebastian Steinberg

Benmont ended his set with a free-for-all, as he called it. Together with Mike and Sebastian, he unleashed a rousing rendition of Bob Dylan's "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat". 

The entire concert was great, but to these ears, Benmont saved his best for last - his two-song encore, first the traditional "Corrina, Corrina", followed by "Why Don't You Quit Leavin' Me Alone", also from his solo album, were absolutely superb.

I went to the concert with two dear friends, Scott and Odette, who both had a great time, particularly Odette.
My friends Scott and Odette (center), checking in at the Largo
The stage (right side)
The stage (left side)
The stage (left side, different angle)

Concert #825 - Martha Redbone at the Richard & Karen Carpenter Center (April 26, 2018)

Martha Redbone is one of the few performers who can make me attend a concert at a venue other than McCabe's Guitar Shop, so there I was last Thursday at the Richard & Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center on the campus of California State University in Long Beach, to catch a singer that I truly admire. I'm glad I went.

This was not your typical concert. Titled "Bone Hill - The Concert" and weaving together spoken word and music, Martha and her ensemble recreated for us the eventful history of her multi-ethnic family, starting with her Appalachian Cherokee ancestors, a few generations ago, and continuing to her present life. Whether speaking or singing, Martha's delivery was something to behold - even though she was surrounded by a number of musicians who all contributed to the success of the show, it almost felt like I was attending a one-woman show, that's how strong Martha's stage presence was.

Covering multiple genres, the songs Martha sang for us were all thoroughly enjoyable, even though they were all new to me. The ones that instantly stood out were "Caught My Eye" and "Mamah Mason". By the way, all songs were written by Martha and her piano-playing husband and frequent musical collaborator, Aaron Whitby.

The Carpenter Center is a great place to catch a show, but sadly, only about three hundred people showed up for Martha's performance. As far as I am concerned, I will continue to follow her itinerary and whenever she's within driving distance from my place, I'll be in attendance.

Martha Redbone (left) & Soni Moreno at the Carpenter Center
Martha Redbone (center) and her cast
(Aaron Whitby is second from right)

Excerpts from the evening's program
The stage
The Richard & Karen Carpenter Center
On display in the lobby of the venue
On display in the lobby of the venue