April 21, 2018

Concert #823 - Peter Himmelman at McCabe's Guitar Shop (April 15, 2018)


It's hard to believe, but thirty-one years have passed since I first saw Peter Himmelman in concert. Back then, in 1987, he did not make an instant fan out of me, but his 1991 album, "From Strength To Strength", was nothing short of a life-changer for me, in a musical sense. Peter's Sunday night appearance at McCabe's was my twenty-third time to see him live, a clear sign that the passage of time has done nothing to dampen my love for Peter's music and his idiosyncratic stage act.

Performing in front of about one hundred loving fans, Peter delivered a set that had quite a few newer songs, but also a healthy dose of oldies, such as "Impermanent Things", Mission Of My Soul", "Measure", "Waning Moon", "7 Circles" and the epic "Been Set Free". The vocal cord surgery that Peter underwent in 2015 must have been a success, as the voice I heard Sunday night was as strong as ever.

There was nothing in Peter's act that appeared to be scripted - there were lots of spontaneous remarks, improvised songs and, of course, the unpredictable crowd response - yet the concert had something I had never noticed before: a predetermined set list!

Peter's set list, featuring his unmistakable penmanship

Peter Himmelman having fun at McCabe's
Peter Himmelman at McCabe's
Peter Himmelman singing "Been Set Free"
Peter Himmelman at the end of his set
Concert announcer Brian Rodriguez
The stage

March 25, 2018

Concert #822 - Dave Alvin, Syd Straw & Peter Case at McCabe's Guitar Shop (March 24, 2018)

This was the second in a series of special shows celebrating the 60th anniversary of McCabe's, with a portion of the proceeds going to Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation. Featuring three of my favorite singer-songwriters - Dave Alvin, Syd Straw and Peter Case - the show did not disappoint.

Seated side-by-side, Dave, Syd and Peter delivered a round-robin set that included lots of storytelling  and yes, also an occasional song, here and there. Normally I would complain about shows where the spoken word outweighs the music, but last night the spoken word turned out to be hilariously funny, the music was great, as expected, so I went home totally happy.

The proceedings were kicked-off by Peter Case with an outstanding rendition of his "Try Me One More Time", followed in order by Syd, Dave, then Peter again and so on. Needless to say, this was an extremely casual affair, with no scripted lines and no set lists - at times it felt like I was in a living room and having a good time with a bunch of musician friends.

To these ears, the evening's best moments were Syd Straw's epic delivery of "Love And The Lack Of It", Dave's low-key "Downey Girl" and Peter's "Somebody Told The Truth". Another highlight was George Jones' "What Am I Worth", performed with intensity by Dave and Syd at the end of their set. And speaking of covers: their extended encore included a thoroughly funny interpretation of Chip Taylor's "Wild Thing" and also a sing-along, Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land". For the latter, our main protagonists were joined on stage by the exuberant Cindy Wasserman and Frank Drennen, collectively known as the Dead Rock West, and also by Cindy Lee Berryhill.

I can't wait for the third special anniversary show!

Dave Alvin, Syd Straw & Peter Case at McCabe's
Dave Alvin & Syd Straw at McCabe's
Peter Case at McCabe's
Syd Straw at McCabe's
Dave Alvin at McCabe's
The Grand Finale: This Land Is Your Land
Dave Alvin & Dead Rock West at McCabe's
The stage
Sign in the window at McCabe's

February 24, 2018

Concert #818 - Dave Alvin at McCabe's Guitar Shop (February 3, 2018)


Dave Alvin is one of those few artists who just get better with age and that is why, twenty-eight years after I first saw him in concert, I still can't stay away from his live appearances at my favorite venue.

Dave's show in early February ranks right up there among his very best. Here are a few random recollections, written three weeks after the show:

Dave played mostly electric, but also acoustic. Was in a humorous mood. Delivered just the right mix of music and spoken word.

The band: Rick Shea (guitar, mandolin), Steve Mugalian (drums), David Carpenter (bass) and Jack Rudy (harmonica). They were top-notch. At times they raised the decibel level to unexpectedly high levels and we all loved those moments.

The surprise of the evening was drummer Steve Mugalian, who provided outstanding support with nothing more than a snare drum. At times, Dave picked up the pace of his guitar playing and, with a "catch-me-if-you-can" look on his face, challenged Steve to keep up with him - Steve obliged, and those were some of the evening's most enjoyable moments.

Dave Alvin at McCabe's
About the set list: I could not have come up with a better one, as all my favorite songs were there. The evening's first set had California as its well-defined theme and there was no filler material there. The highlight of the first set was "Out Of Control", a song that always triggers movie-like imagery in my mind.
Song list - First set
After an intermission, Dave came back to deliver his generously long second set. Again, not a single second-rate song. The highlights of the second set were "Jubilee Train", a song from the repertoire of the Blasters, and "Ash Grove", from Dave's solo years.
Song list - Second set
Rick Shea & Dave Alvin at McCabe's
Steve Mugalian at McCabe's
Dave Alvin at McCabe's
Jack Rudy (left) & David Carpenter at McCabe's
For the evening's closing song, Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land", Dave brought out Frank Drennen of Dead Rock West and the Mastersons, the Los Angeles-based husband & wife duo. Needless to say, the entire audience joined in.

Frank Drennen singing "This Land Is Your Land"
Rick Shea & the Mastersons
The stage
Dave Alvin's gear

January 15, 2018

Concert #817 - Richard Thompson at McCabe's Guitar Shop (January 12, 2018)

If asked to summarize Richard Thompson's concert last Friday at McCabe's in just one sentence, I'd say that it was a display of undiminished skills by a performer whose next birthday will be his sixty-ninth. Indeed, the passing of time has had little effect on Richard. Twenty-three years have passed since I first saw him live, but I'm yet to see any trace of a decline in his songwriting, guitar playing or singing.

This concert was the first in a series of yet-to-be-announced special shows celebrating the 60th anniversary of McCabe's, Santa Monica's beloved guitar shop, with a portion of the proceeds going to Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation.

The event also marked the end of an era: Lincoln Myerson, the longest-serving Concert Director at McCabe's, passed the baton to Koko Peterson and Brian Rodriguez, two youngsters who have been working at McCabe's for years, but in less visible capacities. My heartfelt thanks go to Lincoln for all he has done for McCabe's and us, the public, and I look forward to seeing Koko and Brian in action. 

Richard Thompson at McCabe's

Richard delivered a generously long set, one hour and fifty minutes in all, and my impression was that he enjoyed every minute of it. He took no detours from his handwritten set list which covered no less than fifty years of his illustrious career.

From his Fairport Convention days, he played "Who Knows Where The Time Goes". From his Linda & Richard period he delivered "Dimming Of The Day", "Tear Stained Letter", "Down Where The Drunkards Roll", "Wall Of Death" and "I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight". Everything else was from his solo years: a few oldies, such as "Beeswing", "Valerie", "1952 Vincent Black Lightning", "I Feel So Good" and the delightful "How Will I Ever Be Simple Again" and also two brand new, still-unreleased songs, "Push And Shove" and "They Tore The Hippodrome Down".

Faithful to his long-established tradition of including at least one humorous song in his set, Richard sang the hilarious "Hots For The Smarts", a song that makes me laugh every time I hear it. And, by the way, "Crocodile Tears" was funny as well.

Richard's guitar playing was out of this world - case in point: the second half of "Valerie", essentially one rousing extended guitar solo that no one else can deliver with just an acoustic guitar.

Overall, it was a fabulous concert - without any support musicians or guests, Richard kept us mesmerized for close to two hours. Can't wait to catch him again.

Richard Thompson having fun at McCabe's
Richard Thompson, a bit more serious
The set list
The stage

December 3, 2017

Concerts #814 & 815 - Jackshit at McCabe's Guitar Shop (December 1-2, 2017)

If you don't know jack about Jackshit, just run a simple Google search and I promise that you will be thoroughly impressed by the rich musical careers of Val McCallum, Davey Faragher and Rock-n-Roll Hall-of-Fame inductee Pete Thomas, the three musicians who occasionally perform together under the Jackshit moniker. Or you may read about them elsewhere in this blog.

The band's annual Christmas extravaganza has grown into a cult-like event, with tickets selling out in no time and fans starting to line up at the venue as early as 3 PM. Then there are the rampant rumors and speculations as to who the possible surprise guests might be, so let me jump straight to this year's guests.

Friday night we had Jackson Browne, Jenny Lewis and Molly Lewis. While most of us know a thing or two about Jackson and Jenny, we were all caught by surprise by Molly, who's not a singer, nor an instrumentalist, but has mastered the art of whistling like few others. She delivered two songs: Patsy Cline's "Crazy" and Ennio Morricone's "A Fistful Of Dollars", the spaghetti-western theme first heard in one of Clint Eastwood's earliest movies.

Jackson Browne, a frequent guest of the band, sang "Crazy", "Call It A Loan", "The King Is Gone", "Carmelita", "Take It Easy", "Our Lady Of The Well" and "Lawyers, Guns and Money", one of Warren Zevon's finest songs. This may have been Jackson's best-ever appearance as the guest of the band.

Jenny Lewis delivered a stunning rendition of "Crazy" and her own gorgeous "Pretty Bird". I absolutely loved her voice and singing style, but sadly, she only solo-ed on those two songs. Jenny came back a little later to sing backup vocals on some of Jackson Browne's songs.

Just in case you are wondering why all three guests performed "Crazy" - well, the "Crazy Challenge" is an old routine of the band, whereby amateur singers are dared to take the stage and sing Willie Nelson's gem that is known by most. This time there were no amateur takers, so the professionals had to step in!

For Day 2, the band had a few new guests and also a repeat one. Introduced as the Deershits, guitar and mandolin virtuoso George Doering and his wife Jo Ellen sang Bo Diddley's "Don't Judge A Book By Its Cover" and "The Letter", the song that made the Box Tops famous in the sixties. Most of us, myself included, could not figure out the true identities of the Deershits until after the show, when a Google search took me to the web site of the Brombies, George's Burbank-based bluegrass band.

I was a whole lot more familiar with Saturday's second guest, guitar wizard John Jorgenson. He sang "Daddy Looks A Lot Like Santa", Joni Mitchell's "River" and "Gonna Paint The Town", an uptempo bluegrass number that brought the house down. His guitar playing was something to behold and his singing wasn't bad either.

Saturday's third and final guest - notice, I did not say surprise guest - was once again Jackson Browne, who sang some of the same songs from the day before: "The King Is Gone", "Call It A Loan", "Take It Easy" and "Our Lady Of The Well". I would have loved to hear something else.

But enough about the guests. Undoubtedly, the stars of both evenings were Val, Davey and Pete, who played their hearts out and somehow managed to raise the level of their performance to yet a new high. Cases in point: the expanded version of "Ugly And Slouchy", their incredible rock & roll medley, and Pete's best-ever drum solo on Johnny Horton's "I'm Coming Home". And let's not forget about Davey's high-power vocals on a number of songs.

I counted two songs that the band had not played before and they both sounded great: Tom Petty's "You Don't Know How It Feels" and "Victoria", the old hit of the Kinks.

Val McCallum deserves special kudos for daring to touch a virtually untouchable song, Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning". I liked Val's version and based on the applause, so did everybody else.

Both evenings kicked-off with a short set delivered by the very young but definitely talented Alex and Brody Gage, whose harmonica playing and singing was very well received by the crowd. They played "Jambalaya", "The House Of The Rising Sun" and an Elvis Presley Christmas song.

By the way, with these two concerts, my current Jackshit concert count is up to thirty-nine. I guess I'm a fan.
Val McCallum at McCabe's
Davey Faragher at McCabe's
Pete Thomas at McCabe's
Jackson Browne at McCabe's
Jenny Lewis at McCabe's
Molly Lewis at McCabe's
Val McCallum & Jackson Browne at McCabe's (Friday)
Val McCallum & Molly Lewis at McCabe's
Jenny Lewis & Davey Faragher at McCabe's
George & Jo Ellen Doering at McCabe's
John Jorgenson at McCabe's
Val McCallum & John Jorgenson at McCabe's
Val McCallum & Jackson Browne at McCabe's (Saturday)
Set List (Friday)

Set List (Saturday)
The stage
The concert room
The Brothers Gage
Val McCallum & Jackson Browne's guitars
Val McCallum's gear
Pete Thomas' Christmas drum