I must admit that when The Bottom Line Music Club closed it doors back in 2004 I took it as a harbinger of the mid-level music scene in New York City slowly drying up. To my pleasant surprise I was totally off the mark and live music venues – even around my own neighborhood in Brooklyn – have proliferated. The newest addition to this selection of great entertainment spaces is Stage 48. Located in NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen section (650 West 48th Street, just off 11th Avenue) the club will offer a multi-faceted experience with a two-tiered concert space as well as a third floor restaurant called Z Bar, and roof-top Sky lounge area. At a capacity of approximately 1100 concert goers the main room is a good fit for acts that draw crowds too large for Highline Ballroom but too small for Terminal 5. The restaurant can double as a small music space, which seems the perfect size for showcases, and the main room will additionally serve as a great late night dance hall or event center.
Stage 48 has been in the works for over a year with the finishing touches currently being completed. Though offering a few warm-up shows and events since New Year’s Eve the space is set for an official opening in March. Thanks to Marketing Director Liz P., Ken Pierce of the PiercingMetal website and I were able to get you an early, behind the scenes, look at the expansive complex. Ken has many more details and more of my photos at his site. Click this link to go there. He will also be a go to for some ticket giveaways when the venue launches.
Stage 48 will offer New York Tri-State area music fans another jewel in the embarrassment of riches that is NYC’s concert scene. Don’t miss the opportunity to check out a show in the already growing list of dates coming up at the venue.
On Sunday evening June 26, 2011 Manhattan’s Highline Ballroom heated up for a soul revue featuring The Music of Stax Records. With the neo-soul movement in full bloom and folks intent on partying like it’s 1965, there’s no better time to turn attention to the musicians who originally forged that sound. If you hear song titles like “Soul Man”, “Green Onions” and “Dock of the Bay” you could probably sing, hum or whistle those tunes in a heartbeat. They have become part of the world’s cultural memory. If you hear the names Steve Cropper or Donald “Duck” Dunn, the response might be less automatic. In truth those tunes and so many others like “In the Midnight Hour” would not exist without those gentlemen and their cohorts of the time organist Booker T. Jones and their drummer the late Al Jackson Jr..
As The MG’s and part of the “house band” for Stax Records in Memphis Tennesee, these musicians built on the promise Elvis made ten years earlier with a mixture of country and blues that came to be known as “soul music”. It’s not the Motown kind of soul music which was quite purposefully pop in comparison. Stax stayed a lot closer to the chicken coop and while the label’s stars could spruce it up in shark skin and mohair with the best of them you always got the feeling that Wilson Picket might cut you; Diana Ross – well – probably not.
Raise A Hand!
The evening opened with Cropper and Dunn, working with keyboardist Lester Snell and Paul Schaefer Late Night Band drummer Anton Fig, playing some of their classic instrumentals. They effectively laid out the signature bass grooves, buzzing Hammond B3 and stinging guitar licks of “Hip-Hug-Her”, “Booker-Loo”, “Time Is Tight”, “Soul Limbo” and of course “Green Onions”. Cropper, showcasing his sparse playing style, made every note count on the melody of “Summertime”. “Duck” and Steve have been life long friends and play with an intuitive ease to prove it. It’s all done with an almost imperceptible nod, a half smile, or sometimes a bemused stare. It’s fun to watch these guys having fun.
When singer Eddie Floyd was introduced to the stage and launched into “Raise A Hand” the show shifted to high gear. Just one day past his 74th birthday Floyd was a dynamo traversing the stage continuously, working up a sweat and pulling pretty ladies out of the audience to dance with him. The audience responded in kind, and quickly got on their feet dancing along to classic tunes like “Knock On Wood” and “634-5789 (Soulsville USA)”, both authored by Floyd. “On A Saturday Night” had the audience singing along oblivious to the fact that it was really a “school night”.
Play It Steve!
As expected set ender “Soul Man” blew the lid off the place. Current recognition of the Stax label’s monumental contribution music can be traced in part to the continued success of Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi’s “The Blues Brothers”. A loving and hilarious homage to the music they loved. “It’s always on cable TV” Cropper noted. “New” Blues Brothers joined Floyd on stage for this number, trading lead lines, mock boxing and ultimately genuflecting to kiss the ring of the soul pontif.
The band gifted the Highline crowd with a surprise performance of “Dock of the Bay” as the encore; the posthumously released Otis Redding song apparently one that Floyd had declined to cover. But, with a pinch of “Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)” thrown in for spice it turned into a fitting and respectful remembrance and closed the show with the audience whistling its plaintive refrain.
A Royale Salute
Steve Cropper’s new album titled “Dedicated” is due for release in early August. It’s a salute to the music of early R&B group The “5” Royales and guitarist Pete Pauling. The star studded CD includes performances by Steve Winwood, Bettye Lavette, Sharon Jones, Brian May, Delbert McClinton Spooner Oldham, B B King, Lucinda Williams, Steve Jordan. Promises to be an exceptional listen. Pre-order link is below.
Ride, Rise, Roar
Eagle Vision Blu-Ray DVD
Byrne, Baby, Byrne
David Byrne has continuously expanded his creative horizons. He has taken turns as film director, author, visual artist, record label head, and even urban cycling advocate since first being introduced to the world as the “Bowery Bowie” front man of the punk-ish boho band Talking Heads. This Blu-Ray DVD finds him back in the musical mix.
What It is…
“Ride, Rise, Roar” is a documentary of the 2008/2009 tour which supported the Byrne and Eno album “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today” and was captured at several shows over its course. For this outing Byrne chose to augment his stage band with a dance troupe. So, while a rock concert on the surface; the show also plays out as a modern dance theater experience. Hiring several choreographers whose work he was familiar with Byrne had them organically build movement into the experience. This film encompasses a broad look at the show from inception to stage.
Fans of Byrne will enjoy a look at the process as tour numbers come together in rehearsal and I’m happy to see the behind-the-scenes work integrated into the film rather than banished to DVD extra features. After-all you can’t work with Brian Eno unless the journey is as important as the destination. Practice segments and interviews with collaborators are presented in black and white to juxtapose them with polished performances and footage is often intercut into a single song piece. It’s fun to see rehearsal room shots of a T-shirted Byrne, the cast and choreographer in montage with the finished number on stage.
Byrne is not shy to perform material going all the way back to his earliest days, including Talking Heads milestones “Life During Wartime” “I Zimbra”, and “Once in a Lifetime”. I think many would agree that the definitive live performances of these songs were captured in Jonathan Demme’s “Stop Making Sense”, but that was a long time ago and the material has evolved enough to make “Ride, Rise and Roar” a worthwhile experience. Byrne and company are the essence of cool in white head to toe, including a white Fender Stratocaster guitar. The “big suit” may be in storage but you haven’t lived until you see David and the band perform “Burning Down the House” in white tutu’s. If some of this sounds like loopy pretense it is saved from art school overload by Byrne’s delivery which lets honesty and good humor triumph over artifice. He’s having a great time, you want to indulge him.
Having seen one of the show’s on this tour I can say that the dance movements were designed to make a statement based on the audience’s view of one edge of the proscenium arch to the other. Unfortunately cinematic deconstruction of the set into one, two and three shots, and particularly side shots, often blunts the show’s kinetic power and circumvents the choreographer’s original intent. Though it is the antithesis of modern quick cut film-making more static shots of the entire stage tableau would have better represented the performances.
“The hits” will please the general audience but it’s the newer material comes off really special on stage. Being reintroduced to tunes that got by me when the Byrne/Eno album was released (“Life Is Long” and “One Fine Day”), with live interpretations which I prefer, makes the DVD well worth owning.
My personal reservations about how theater is interpreted by film aside I found “Ride, Rise, Roar” to be a very enjoyable and interesting look into David Byrne’s brain and the methodology of his collaborators.
It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since David Bryne’s performance at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Bandshell on opening night of that year’s Celebrate Brooklyn concert series. It was a great night with a really nice crowd of friendly folks who shared a chat, a love of music, and even some wine (in a box!) Kenny Pierce was there too and his selection of photos from our vantage point is on view at his blog.
New York’s City’s famed Iridium Jazz Club was turned into a steaming juke joint on May 23, 2011. Taking a sidestep from the now traditional Monday night Les Paul Tribute the club hosted an homage to another guitar great, the late Rory Gallagher. Attention to Gallagher’s legacy is deservedly on the rise via ongoing CD and DVD releases of both remastered and previously unreleased material from Eagle Rock Entertainment. Gallagher’s brother and former manager Donal is intrinsically involved in the project and lends historical accuracy and context to projects. If you are unfamiliar with Rory’s story a great place to start is the recent biographical DVD called “Ghost Blues”, which is an awesome overview of his career and his influence over the years.
PANEL DISCUSSION –
The evening began with an informal and informative panel session. After introductions by Eagle Rock President of Operations Mike Carden, radio host “UK Bob” (WRFG, Atlanta) led the discussion. Panelists included Billboard columnist Ed Christman; Elliot Mazer, producer of Gallagher’s “lost” album; Rory’s Brother Donal; writer/editor John Swenson (Rolling Stone, Crawdaddy), Larry Yelen (Clapton Visual Anthology) and Lindsay Brown. The topics ranged from Rory’s influence on current Irish musicians during their formative years, his near induction into the Rolling Stones after Mick Taylor’s departure, Polydor’s inability to expand his career, circumstances of the aborted album recordings now released as part of the “Notes From San Francisco” CD package, and even a hint of a proposed bio-pic.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCES –
Following the panel discussion the music began with mini-sets and jam sessions featuring some the best blues and blues rock talent on the current scene. The sold out audience was treated to great renditions of just about every Gallagher classic including “Tattoed Lady”, “Calling Card”, “I Could Have Had Religion”, “I Wonder Who’s Gonna Be Your Sweet Man” and Junior Wells’ “Messin’ with the Kid”; a Gallagher signature tune. Each musician was clearly thrilled to be included in this tribute and rose to the occasion by playing with both finesse and fire worthy of the man himself. Introducing the audience to such a wide range of talented players who are keeping the traditions alive was a fitting honor to Rory’s memory.
The highlights were numerous. Each performer revealed their unique merits in the blues idiom and the audience responded with long rounds of applause and shouts of approval. It was a collective “blues rapture” that made me glad the world did not end the previous week, as predicted.
WHO PLAYED –
Kicking things off, Les Paul Trio’s Lou Pallo joined John Paris for some slide and harp driven tunes. Scott Holt displayed the fruits of his long tenure in the Buddy Guy band with stinging lead lines and forceful stage presence and Innis Sibun’s energetic set found him stalking the audience with a pink stratocaster. Paul McGilloway rendered a beautiful version of “Danny Boy” on resonator guitar. Jimmy Suhler, of George Thorogood’s Destroyers, played great takes on two of my favorite Rory tunes “Mississippi Sheiks” and “Bought and Sold”. Kerry Kearny shot out slide runs that sounded like liquid fire and guest vocalist Alan Merrill, co-author of the anthemic “I Love Rock N Roll”, took the stage for a rollicking version of “BullFrog Blues”.
Headliner Davy Knowles’ set featured the young guitarist on both acoustic slide and electric. The much loved “phenom” – appropriately clad in plaid – was perfect choice of headliner. Drawing on his Isle of Man heritage he can put a Celtic spin on Clapton-esque Brit-Blues much like Rory did. At Iridium he spoke about those connections and spun off some “She Moved Through the Fair” style arpeggios before sliding into a smoldering cover of “A Million Miles Away”.
The rhythm section changed personnel throughout the evening. Foghat’s Roger Earl and Destroyer’s Jeff Simon held down drum duties and – with the exception of Nate Peterson and Kirk Yano working with Holt and Knowles (respectively) – New York music scene stalwart Kenny Aaronson covered the bass guitar. Aaronson’s musical resume deserves an article of its own but no matter how many affiliations he piles up he will always be fondly be thought of by “Brooklynites of a certain age” (like myself) as the Bass player for seminal hard rock band Dust, along with band-mates Marc Bell and Richie Wise.
Rounding out the jams were Dave Cohon’s rocking barrelhouse style piano and Neal Evans of Soulive doling delicious doses of soulful B3 organ. Talk about a double shot of Hammond heaven; the next night I caught a killer set by Booker T. Jones at The Bell House in Brooklyn. Miraculously cleared up my nagging head cold.
In depth reviews of Eagle Rock’s recent Rory Gallagher releases by both myself and Ken Pierce can be found here, with more to come.