April 4, 2019

Concert #868 - Tim Bluhm at McCabe's Guitar Shop (March 31, 2019)

Neither Tim Bluhm, the evening's headliner, nor the Coffis Brothers, the opening act, are household names, but - as it once again turned out - a household name is not a prerequisite to great entertainment and top-notch musicianship.

I went to last Sunday's show rather unprepared, in the sense that I could not name a single song of either of the two acts that were scheduled to appear. When the Santa Cruz-based Coffis Brothers took the stage, I remember thinking "Go ahead guys, surprise me". And surprise they did, and then some. With catchy uptempo songs such as "Bad Luck", "You And Me" and "Better Days", they made instant fans out of me. Without sounding derivative, their music brought to mind the radio-friendly folk-rock of the seventies and maybe there was a touch of Tom Petty there as well. I found their country-tinged rock & roll tremendously enjoyable even at first blush and, by the way, Jamie and Kellen Coffis, the unmistakable leaders of the band, co-wrote all those great songs.

The Coffis Brothers at McCabe's

Band line-up
Jamie Coffis - Lead vocals, keyboards
Kellen Coffis - Lead vocals, guitar (acoustic)
Kyle Poppen - Lead guitar (electric)
Aidan Collins - Bass, backup vocals
Sam Kellerman - Drums

The band sounded great as they rocked the place - listening to them was pure joy. I particularly enjoyed Kyle Poppen's guitar playing and also Sam Kellerman's understated drumming. Sadly, they were allotted a playing time of only thirty minutes. The brevity of their set left me wanting for a lot more and I do hope to see them again at McCabe's, preferably in a headlining role.

Kellen Coffis, Aidan Collins & Jamie Coffis at McCabe's
After a short intermission, Tim Bluhm came out with an acoustic guitar, sang "Do It Easy", then brought out his band. Proving that he is a class act, Tim proceeded to introduce his musical cohorts before anyone played a single note.

Band line-up
James DePrato - Electric guitars
Josh Yenne - Pedal steel guitar
Dom Billet - Drums
Nick Bearden - Bass guitar

What followed was an outstanding set that consisted of songs from "Sorta Surviving", Tim's just-released new album, and a few of his older numbers. The three cover songs that he sang for us - Johnny Cash's "I Still Miss Someone", Merle Haggard's "Kern River" and "Del Rio Dan", a somewhat obscure song from the repertoire of the Everly Brothers - also appear on "Sorta Surviving". Other than the covers, Tim wrote all the songs that he sang for us and there weren't any duds among them.

Tim Bluhm at McCabe's
With a voice and phrasing that are perfectly suited for the Americana genre, Tim kept the show rolling along with mostly up-tempo songs and minimal talk. Some of the songs I liked the best were "No Way To Steer", "Jimmy West" and "Squeaky Wheels", all culled from "Sorta Surviving", and "Clean Me Up", an older Mother Hips number.

Individually and collectively, James, Josh, Dom and Nick deserve a lot of credit for the success of the evening. Playing like a true band, they provided outstanding support to Tim Bluhm. I was particularly impressed with the band's epic crescendo on "The Only Solution", the third and final song of the encore. Dom Billet deserves special kudos for keeping the decibel level of his drumming in line with the intimate size of the concert room.

Tim Bluhm & James DePrato at McCabe's
Sticking with his printed set list, Tim and his band played for about ninety minutes and we all went home as satisfied customers. Overall, I rate this show as one of the best ones I have ever attended at McCabe's, and that's quite a compliment.
The set list
The end of the show - Tim Bluhm thanks the crowd
The end of the show - Dom Billet (left) & Josh Yenne
At the end of the show, I walked straight to the merch table and bought Tim Bluhm's "Sorta Surviving" and also "Roll With It", the most recent offering of the Coffis Brothers - it always feels good buying music directly from the artist.

The stage

February 4, 2019

Concert #861 - Hubby Jenkins at McCabe's Guitar Shop (February 2, 2019)

Saturday night at McCabe's I witnessed the performances of not one, but two musicians who, in my opinion, fit the "niche artist" label to perfection. Indeed, both Hubby Jenkins, the headliner, and John Reed Torres, the evening's opening act, specialize in genres that are seldom heard, certainly not by the followers of mainstream music.

With catchy gospel songs like "Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley", "The Last Month Of The Year", "Down On Me" and "I Heard The Angels Sing", Hubby Jenkins grabbed my attention from the very beginning. Alternating between his acoustic guitar and banjo, he kept me thoroughly entertained not only with his music, but also with his storytelling. Hubby turned out to be a treasure trove of knowledge about old-time music, as well as the social and racial injustice of those troubled times - listening to Hubby's stories about slavery and black banjo players made me feel a bit like a student in a classroom. But there were also moments of levity, with Hubby reading out loud random parts from a few Choose Your Own Adventure books, with the full participation of the audience. I could have done with a little less of that and a little more music.

Hubby Jenkins playing his guitar at McCabe's
Hubby Jenkins playing his banjo at McCabe's
I was very impressed with Hubby's guitar and banjo picking and I liked his singing, too. His rendition of the music of Blind Willie Johnson, Bukka White, Uncle Dave Macon and others sounded great to these ears. One of the highlights of the show was the thought-provoking "Little Log Cabin In The Lane", a song written more than one hundred years ago by a white man named Will S. Hays, about a slave missing the comfort of slavery, as Hubby put it. "John Henry" and "Coo Coo Bird" were two other stand-out tracks.

In the absence of a predetermined set list, the entire evening had a free-flowing feel to it, very much like spending time in the living room of a musician friend. I'm pretty sure this was not my last encounter with Hubby.

Hubby Jenkins at McCabe's
The evening kicked off with a thirty-minute set by John Reed Torres, a credible ragtime pianist who has played at various ragtime festivals in Europe, South America and the States. His first number, Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag", was followed by five self-penned tunes and one other Scott Joplin composition titled "Gladiolas". In between songs, John spoke with eloquence about the history of ragtime music, a genre that most people know precious little about. While I liked his performance, I think that John's show could have benefited from the inclusion of a well-known rock or pop song re-imagined as a ragtime number.

John Reed Torres at McCabe's
Hubby Jenkins chatting with fans after the show
The stage

February 3, 2019

Concert #860 - The Accidentals at McCabe's Guitar Shop (February 1, 2019)

This was my first time to see the Accidentals in concert and one thing is for sure: it won't be my last.

Friday night at McCabe's, Savannah Buist, Katie Larson and Michael Dause, collectively known as The Accidentals, put on a show that, in most respects, far exceeded my most optimistic expectations. These guys know how to put their musical talents to good use, as they blend disparate genres, like rock, folk, jazz, pop and classical, into an infectious mix that sounded profoundly modern to these ears. I was also very impressed with the speed with which Savannah and Katie switched from one stringed instrument to another. Their use of the electric cello and electric violin, each sporting slimmed-down bodies, was particularly captivating. 

The Accidentals at McCabe's
Some of the younger acts I have seen in recent years put on performances that I found to be excessively lethargic, but that was definitely not the case Friday night. The trio's show was exceptionally well-paced, with just the right amount of spoken word and plenty of dynamic moments - one could just feel the energy building up toward the glorious crescendo that ended their set. Occasionally striking rock & roll stances, Sav and Katie were exceptionally good and so was Michael, whose powerful drumming was an equal contributor to the success of the evening. 

Savannah Buist playing her electric violin at McCabe's
The Accidentals at McCabe's
The Accidentals having some fun at McCabe's
I suppose that most of the songs played by the Accidentals were self-penned and there wasn't a single dud among them. I recognized only one cover, Dave Brubeck's "Take Five", then - for the evening's encore - the trio lined-up at the edge of the stage to deliver what I think was their only other cover song, "Shining In The Distance", from the repertoire of Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys.

The evening's encore
So, do I have anything negative to say about the concert? Yes, I do. The show just wasn't long enough. Indeed, clocking in at only seventy-five minutes, theirs was one of the shortest headlining sets I have ever caught at McCabe's. Still, no complaints, as the trio held nothing back. No doubt, if the band ever comes back to McCabe's, I will be there.

Katie Larson playing her electric cello at McCabe's
Savannah Buist at McCabe's
Michael Dause at McCabe's
The set list
The stage
Katie & Savannah at the merch table, after the concert

January 23, 2019

Concert #859 - Lacy J. Dalton at McCabe's Guitar Shop (January 20, 2019)

I cannot count myself among the followers of Lacy J. Dalton's career, so I used the concert announcement as an opportunity to get up to speed with her music. And you guessed it right, there was a lot of catching up to do, as I could name only one song from her decades-long career. I'm talking about "16th Avenue", Lacy's well-known signature song. After the initial concert announcement, my interest in the event was further heightened by the addition of two more acts, namely Quincy Coleman, a critically-acclaimed singer-songwriter based in Los Angeles and jackiO, a band that includes two former members of Oingo Boingo, a band I have always loved.

Lacy J. Dalton took the stage after a short introduction by Leslie Adams, her manager. The set that followed had two distinct parts. For the first hour or so, Lacy played an all-acoustic set, accompanied by her long-time musical partner, guitarist Dale Poune. At the respectable age of seventy-two, Lacy's voice is a bit deeper now, but she still has the vocal strength and physical stamina to put on a good show. Appearing extremely comfortable on the stage, she sang songs that I had just become acquainted with and also a few that were new to me.

Lacy J. Dalton at McCabe's
To these ears, the best songs of the evening were "The Heart", a song written by the great Kris Kristofferson and Lacy's own "Got No Place To Call Home", the latter featuring Dale's fabulous guitar playing. Two other songs stood out: "Listen To The Wind" and "Black Coffee", both culled from Lacy's older albums.

Lacy J. Dalton & Dale Poune at McCabe's
Lacy J. Dalton at McCabe's
The evening's acoustic set ended with "My Little Yellow Duck", a song that generated lots of laughter,.after the initial few raised eyebrows. Throughout the acoustic set, Dale's accompaniment on guitar and mandolin was top-notch. He also sang backup vocals.

The second part of the show featured Lacy and jackiO, a band of seasoned musicians who had just recorded an EP with Lacy. Two band members, Steve Bartek and John Avila, have played with Oingo Boingo for many years.
Band line-up
Ira Ingber (guitar)
Steve Bartek (guitar)
John Avila (vocals, bass)
David Raven (drums)

We got to hear the entire EP recorded by jackiO with Lacy, but at first blush, none of those songs caught my ear. Still, with so much musical talent right in front of me, I found this part of the show quite enjoyable. After the fourth song, Lacy left the stage, but not before asking jackiO to close the show with a song of their own. That final song turned out to be one of the evening's best moments - I absolutely loved the dueling guitars of Ira and Steve and John's singing was very good as well. Sadly, I don't know the title of the song.

Steve Bartek, Ira Ingber & John Avila at McCabe's (from left to right)
The evening kicked off with a short set by Quincy Coleman and her guitar accompanist, Vito Gregoli. Quincy's  first three songs, "This Could Last", "Heartbreaking" and "Want Me Back", were exceedingly slow and had melodic lines that did not instantly grab me. Things improved quite a bit with her final two songs, "Come Away With Me" and "I'm Coming Home" which I thought were exceptionally good both in terms of songwriting and also delivery. As far as I know, she wrote all the songs she performed for us at McCabe's. In spite of her slow start, I believe that Quincy is an artist who definitely deserves our attention.

Quincy Coleman at McCabe's
Quincy Coleman & Vito Gregoli at McCabe's
Lacy J. Dalton's set list
Quincy Coleman's set list
Manager Leslie Adams introducing Lacy J. Dalton
The stage
Sign in the window at McCabe's

January 21, 2019

Concert #858 - Loudon Wainwright at McCabe's Guitar Shop (January 19, 2019)

In his seventy-second year of existence, Loudon Wainwright has remained the same incredible performer who picks you up the moment he takes the stage and never lets you go. With his trademark mix of humorous and thought-provoking songs and chatter, he touches me like few other artists. His Saturday night appearance at McCabe's was my twentieth time to see Loudon live and - spoiler alert - I went home absolutely elated by the quality of his performance.

With his voice and wit virtually intact, Loudon kicked off the proceeding with "A Little Piece Of Me" and "Grey In LA". What followed was a good mix of newer songs as well as old favorites, such as "The Swimming Song", "Cardboard Boxes", and the hilarious "Grammy Song", which he delivered interspersed with equally funny readings from "Liner Notes", his first and so far only book. Other songs that I really enjoyed hearing again: "White Winos" and "Be Careful There's A Baby In The House".

Loudon Wainwright at McCabe's
Two songs stood out from among those few numbers that were new to me: "Love Gifts" and "Presidents' Day", the latter generating quite a bit of laughter in the room. Late in the show, Loudon surprised me with the singing of Richard Thompson's "Down Where The Drunkards Roll", which sounded great. By the way, Loudon and Richard are good friends.

Loudon also played two numbers on the piano, "Kick In The Head", a song he wrote in the seventies and the much more recent "Song In C".

Needless to say, Loudon also sang and spoke about his father, grandfather and a few other Wainwrights, so there wasn't anything revolutionary in his show but that suited everyone just fine. I loved everything Loudon did and, as I said, I went home extremely happy. 
Loudon Wainwright at McCabe's
Loudon Wainwright playing the piano at McCabe's
The stage
Sign in the window at McCabe's