March 5, 2017

Concert #794 - Peter Rowan at McCabe's Guitar Shop (March 3, 2017)

This was my fifth live encounter with Peter Rowan, an event that came exactly twenty-two years after I first saw him - surprise, surprise - also at McCabe's. Yes, years have past, Peter is now in his mid-seventies, still recording, still touring and I felt that I just had to be there to see him, quite possibly, for one final time.

His Friday night show at McCabe's cannot be described as a high-energy event. Not that anyone was expecting it to be. Accompanied by yet another famous septuagenarian, Jack Casady, Peter delivered a fairly long set, ninety minutes in all, and that was only his early show - as he was wrapping up his set, people were lining up out in the street to attend his 10 PM show.

Peter Rowan (right) and Jack Casady at McCabe's
My hopes of hearing a retrospective of Peter's long recording career did not materialize. Instead, Peter played for us his latest album, "Dharma Blues", in its entirety. The music wasn't bad, but there were just too many songs there that I didn't know. By the way, the album was produced by the late John Chelew, who - prior to becoming a producer - was a successful concert director at McCabe's Guitar Shop.

Peter Rowan at McCabe's

Peter opened his set with "Have You Seen My Aloha", a song that served as his vocal tune-up. In addition to the songs from "Dharma Blues", he also sang "The Ballad Of Ruby Ridge", Elizabeth Cotten's "Freight Train", a few snippets from "Mule Skinner Blues" and "Panama Red".

Seated right next to Peter, the legendary Jack Casady played his oversized acoustic bass guitar with great competency.

Jack Casady at McCabe's
Late in the show, Peter brought out Katie Skene, a young singer and guitarist who made a good impression on the audience. She sang backup vocals, played the guitar and soloed on Bessie Smith's "Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out".

Peter Rowan & Katie Skene at McCabe's
The show ended just as I hoped it would: accompanied by Jack and Katie, Peter sang "Midnight Moonlight", his signature song and to me, that was the highlight of the evening.

The sheet left behind on the stage only lists the songs from "Dharma Blues". Surprisingly, Peter's last name is not spelled correctly.

Dharma Blues song list
The stage

Concert #793 - Griffin House at McCabe's Guitar Shop (February 10, 2017)

This was my first time to see Griffin House in concert. The event took place on a Friday night, at the end of a long and tiring week. Indeed, at that point in time, what I needed was a massive adrenaline shot, something I often get while listening to live music. Well, there wasn't much adrenaline emanating from the stage, as Griffin delivered his entire set by standing still right in front of his microphone stand, a place he never left for the entire duration of his show.

Okay, so Griffin may not be the world's most dynamic performer, but in all other respects, his show was totally fulfilling. His compositions, even the ones I had not heard before, were instantly accessible. Starting with "Games", the show opener, and ending with "Liberty Line", his one-song encore, he delighted us with quality songs that came in quick succession, one after the other. The ones I liked the best were "I Remember (It's Happening Again)", "A Painting By Hieronymus Bosch" and "The Way I Was Made".

Griffin House at McCabe's

I'm relatively new to Griffin House's music, but based on his performance at McCabe's, I'm placing him alongside Slaid Cleaves, John Gorka, Richard Shindell and Ellis Paul, right up there among America's finest singer-songwriters.

Griffin House at McCabe's
Griffin House chatting with his fans at McCabe's
The stage
The merch table

February 8, 2017

Concert #792 - The Dustbowl Revival at McCabe's Guitar Shop (February 4, 2017)

I've been closely following the revivalists for exactly five years now, during which time I have seen them thirteen times, at seven different venues. In earlier posts, I have written many times about how great these guys are and how much I have enjoyed their music so in this post I will say a few words about my perception of their musical evolution.

In terms of the band's line-up, the first few years were a bit more volatile, with fairly frequent personnel changes, but lately, things have stabilized quite a bit. Indeed, last Saturday's show featured the same musicians who have been steadily recording and touring with the band for the past two years or so.

Zach Lupetin (vocals, guitar)
Liz Beebe (vocals, washboard)
Daniel Mark (mandolin)
Connor Vance (violin)
Matt Rubin (trumpet)
Ulf Bjorlin (trombone)
James Klopfleisch (upright bass)
Josh Heffernan (drums)

Zach Lupetin & Liz Beebe at McCabe's
Just like the makeup of the band, their repertoire has not stood still. A few years back, when describing their music, I used to say something like "Well, they play a form of old-school music that blends gospel, folk, Americana, jazz and an occasional touch of blues into an infectious mix that appeals to all ages". To a large extent, this description is still valid today, but to these ears at least, their current repertoire is a little bit less old-school and a bit more modern. There's even a touch of experimentation, such as Connor Vance's surprising use of a wah-wah pedal. Nothing wrong with all these changes, which simply reflect the normal evolution of a band that's forging ahead with youthful exuberance.

Connor Vance & Daniel Mark at McCabe's
Ulf Bjorlin & Matt Rubin at McCabe's
The evening consisted of two sets. First, the revivalists delivered a few of their "oldies", among which the "Cherokee Shuffle" and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" stood out. After an intermission, they returned to play their entire yet-to-be-released new album - there were many high-energy songs there and, at first blush, they all sounded good. By the way, I did contribute a few bucks to the making of their new album and you can do that too, via, the self-described online direct-to-fan music platform that's somewhat similar to Kickstarter, but not entirely.

Zach Lupetin & Liz Beebe at McCabe's
Liz Beebe & Matt Rubin at McCabe's
For their encore, the band did something they often do: they stepped off the stage and performed two rousing songs while standing on the floor, right next to their fans. "Down By The Riverside", the song that wrapped up the concert, was particularly good.

The first set
The second set
My friends Daniel & Susanna, fans of the band
The merch table
Band members and fans mingling after the show

January 29, 2017

Concert #791 - Big Daddy at McCabe's Guitar Shop (January 27, 2017)


When you need a few good laughs, you head straight to a comedy club and when you're in the mood for live music, you go to a concert. The question is, what do you do when you need a fix of both comedy and music? The answer is simple: catch a Big Daddy show!

I've been a fan ever since I first heard "Money For Nothing", their brilliant Dire-Straits-meets-Tennessee-Ernie-Ford gem, sometime in the early 1990s. A couple of years later - in my head at least - they became huge, with the release of their highly listenable "Sgt. Pepper's" album. Then they disappeared. Fast forward to the latter part of 2016, when seemingly out of the blue, I once again started noticing their name in local concert listings and Friday night, there I was at McCabe's to see them for the first time in live action.
Band line-up 
Bob Wayne (vocals, theremin, percussion, car horns, wrench, rotary dial phone) 
Tom "Bubba" Lee (vocals, guitar, fiddle)
Don Raymond (vocals, guitar)
Steve Nieves (vocals, sax, flute, congas)
Michael Chanslor (keyboards)
Todd Tatum (drums)
Denny Croy (bass)

Tom Lee (left) & Bob Wayne at McCabe's
I had a great time at the concert, as I got both the humor and the good music I needed. The band was full of energy and with a repertoire such as theirs, the crowd never had a chance to rest. Tom Lee, Bob Wayne, Don Raymond and newcomer Steve Nieves, they all had their solo moments and they all looked and sounded great. Among the highlights I will mention "A Day In The Life", played with some input from Buddy Holly, "Help Me Make It Through The Night", arranged by the Coasters themselves, and Prince's "Little Red Corvette" which sounded suspiciously like "Beep Beep", the old hit of the Playmates.

Steve Nieves (left) and Tom Lee at McCabe's
George Harrison's "Within You, Without You" is the last song one would expect to ever hear at McCabe's, but then these guys also brought Taylor Swift material into our venerable folk music venue. Indeed, Big Daddy's version of Swift's "Shake It Off", as it morphed into "Shout", the old Isley Brothers gem, was one of the evening's finest moments, as was the mash-up of Big Bopper's "Chantilly Lace" with Willie Nelson's "Always On My Mind".

And speaking of mash-ups: who would have thought that the music of Talking Heads and Harry Belafonte would ever be fused together into one single song? Well, Big Daddy did just that, by humorously merging "Once In A Lifetime" with "Day-O", Harry Belafonte's mega hit from over six decades ago.

Taking over the lead vocal duties and sounding not unlike Johnny Cash, Don Raymond blended "Light My Fire" with "Ring Of Fire" in what turned out to be yet another concert highlight.

McCabe's is not a bad place for celebrity spotting, so guess who was in the audience Friday night to see Big Daddy: Jackson Browne, that's who!

Once again, I had a fabulous time watching these musicians, who I hope are not done touring and recording.

Bob Wayne and Don Raymond at McCabe's
Big Daddy performing "Money For Nothing" at McCabe's
Tom Lee (left) & Bob Wayne playing "Little Red Corvette"
Set list
Another set list
Denny Croy
The stage

January 23, 2017

Concert #790 - Richard Thompson at McCabe's Guitar Shop (December 4, 2016)

This was a concert to benefit guitarist Jerry Donahue, who a few months back suffered a career-ending stroke. The concert sold out in no time, in spite of the high ticket price. I reached the venue at 5:15 PM and that allowed me to grab a front row seat.

The evening was kicked off by Freebo, a performer I had never heard of. Later that evening, a quick Google search introduced me to a musician with quite a résumé: in addition to his long-term association with Bonnie Raitt, he has recorded with Ringo Starr, CSN and many other notables. Freebo spoke about Jerry Donahue, sang one song, then he introduced Richard Thompson.

Richard was in top vocal shape and his finger-work was tops as well - he is definitely one of those few artists who just get better with age. Borrowing from different decades of his prolific career, Richard delivered one great song after another and kept us in awe of his musical skills. Late in the show, he brought out Julian Dawson, yet another musician with superb credentials. Showing good chemistry with Richard, he provided outstanding harmonica accompaniment on two songs.

Richard Thompson at McCabe's

When The Spell Is Broken
Walkin' On A Wire
Beatnik Walking
Uninhabited Man
Dry My Tears And Move On
I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
Who Knows Where The Time Goes
Good Things Happen To Bad People
Crocodile Tears
Woods Of Darney
I Feel So Good
Wall Of Death
Down Where The Drunkards Roll
One Door Opens
Cooksferry Queen (with Julian Dawson)
Parchman Farm (by Mose Allison) (with Julian Dawson)
Oops, I Did It Again (Encore)
Dimming Of The Day (Encore)

Richard Thompson at McCabe's
Julian Dawson at McCabe's
Freebo (Daniel Friedberg) at McCabe's

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