Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Monday Open Mic, September 29, 2008

Our fearless leader Ben Krieger was absent tonight, because of the birth on Wednesday of his daughter Marcella Thunderbolt Krieger. Congrats Ben and Kat. It's very exciting news.

Brian Speaker filled in for Ben at the Open Mic last night. Unfortunately I had to leave pretty early, but Brian was doing a great job at the point I left.

Dan Costello and Somer Bingham were also on hand to help out and I was chatting with them during sign up. I hadn't seen them around all that often recently and it was nice to catch up a bit. We were joking around that there should be more impregnation going on among the Sidewalk crew. Somer and I are planning on having a child named Cyclone, it seems.

We were also talking about how some of the group we'd all come to know together was hanging out at Sidewalk less frequently and how there were new faces on the scene. This cycle is an inevitable part of the fabric of Sidewalk, but it has been particularly noticeable to me lately that I've been seeing much less of the cohort of people I've been used to hanging out with...Frank Hoier, Eric Wolfson, Andrew Hoepfner, Lach (!), Ben Godwin, Vin, Dan, Somer, Dan Penta, Erin Regan, and many others. There still is a regular crew of us...Debe, Jon Berger, Justin Remer, Brian, Mike Baglivi, The Telethons, etc. who are there frequently. And I've been glad to get to know a lot of new folks as well. Jon Berger, who has been hanging out at Sidewalk since the 1990s, has said frequently that everyone always looks back and thinks that their time is the best, but that the place keeps rejuvenating . I think this is true, but I also can't help but miss the time when I was first swept up in the incredible, vivacious energy of the place. It was acts like Phoebe Kreutz, Dibs, and Creaky Boards who I remember from the first time I went to Sidewalk and convinced me I would feel at home there. I also remember the foot-stomping energy of folks like Eric Wolfson, Ben Godwin, and Dan Costello, who were such a presence for a few years after I started coming regularly. I think there are many other names I would include in this list too, if I were to take out an old Urban Folk or something to job my memory, but you get the idea.

OK, so much for the nostalgia trip--I'm sure there will be more of those--, like I said, I was sorry I could only hang out for an hour or so last night. Brian Speaker kicked things off with a couple of songs of his "The Alchemist" and "The Bird." Debe Dalton played "When the Walls Came Tumblin' Down" and explained that she'd asked Pete Seeger if he knew any additional verses to the song and he said, no and that she should make some up...and she must have heeded his advice since she then she sang a verse that mentioned Sidewalk Cafe. Debe also explained that she was inspired by David Blaine's recent stunt hanging upside down for 60 hours or whatever it was and said that she plans on her own endurance stunt, busking for 24 hours straight in the subway.....and she's going to start training soon. Debe also played one of her most beautiful songs, "At the End of the Day."

Joe Bendik did a Bendik-esque rendition of "Home Sweet Home," as a warm up to a show he was invited to play elsewhere where everyone is doing that song in their own style. Nice job Joe. Rachel Leah (Lia?) sang a couple songs that were intriguing--with some interesting rhythmic ideas going on there as I remember. The fishnet stockings didn't hurt. She seems like someone who could do well by continuing to play the Open Mic  as a way of working out her stuff.

I was really glad to come across Monica from Norway. This is the kind of act that comes out of nowhere that you wait around to see at Sidewalk. I can't really say what it was about her that was so much fun. Her songs were totally wacky. She said something like "I only know one song" but then she played two songs...They were sort of little ditties really. The first one was something like "When I was a little Girl." She explained that although she was from Norway, she studied in London, which was why she had an English accent. And her teacher was always taking her to Camden...or something like that, so she sang a song "It's A Long Way to Camden Town," but then there ended up being this part about apples and polar bears. My memory gets foggier all the time, and her whole presentation was a little disjointed anyway, but I really liked Monica from Norway....hope she comes back.

Jon Berger was entering as I was leaving and I said a quick hello...that dude really can sweat. I hung out front with....I think it was Brook Pridemore and Jon XXXX (redacted by request)...before dashing off for the bus. 


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday, September 28, 2008, Spurlock vs. Dizozza

Went to see Preston and Peter play one of the "Vs." shows at Sidewalk tonight. Preston and Peter were the only act I was familiar with on the bill. I found it a bit unusual that they were stuck in the middle of an evening of disconnected acts. I guess it shouldn't really matter, but I find it can help make an evening a success if there are some interrelationships among the groups. At least it helps in pulling out a larger audience. In any event, despite that and the Sunday time slot and the rain, I made it down there, compelled by the prospect of seeing Peter and Preston together.

I guess the show could have gone either way, but it turned out to be quite a lovely evening of interplay between the two. It seemed obvious that they abandoned the premise of the "Vs." series, which is supposed to be all about unscripted interaction, but I think it was nice that they spent some time working things out and familiarizing themselves with each other's songs. Even still there was enough of an unfinished/unrehearsed quality to the performance that it seemed fresh. Plus, I think that each performer's contributions to the other writers' songs helped give extra levels of dimension and subtlety to the pieces.

Peter did a lovely song...something about velvet hotels. I'd have to hear it again to say more about it, but I found it intriguing with some nice imagery. Preston did a song called Project Invisibility (or Project Invisible). Peter asked him what that was about and Preston explained it was a failed military effort to make ships invisible. Preston sang Sit and Stew, which I remember him writing...maybe around the time I was trying to get the Handsome Men of Sidewalk together or in the early days of Elastic No-No Band or something, but anyway, I remember him working on that song. I really like the line "hate people then remember that you're one too." They did Peter's songs I Love the Law and Bok Choi, and some covers....Bad Moon Rising and Blackbird. They did the Creedence song in a pretty straightforward way actually...Preston playing chords on his guitar. Blackbird was nice. Preston did this scratchy guitar solo kind of thing. It was really more a texture than a tonal sound he was playing, although he did pipe in with some of the song's melody once or twice. Also, Preston sang a song about the rampant overdevelopment of Florida...a very topical kind of song for Preston, but one that I can relate to from a first-hand perspective having grown up in an archetypal Miami suburb. I think it was in that last song that Peter and Preston did a long musical interlude at the end....very nice, with some good piano playing by Peter. Peter is a very talented musician. I am envious of his piano playing skill and his innate sense of music. Actually both Preston and Peter have innate musicality in their own ways.

Peter and Preston sat side by side on stage. Peter had his Yamaha keyboard on his lap. Preston sat with an electric guitar on his lap and a small Yamaha keyboard on a stand in front of him. Preston kept the guitar in his lap the whole time, even when he playing the keyboard.

In the audience: Bernard King, Jon Glovin, Neil Kelly, Heiko, Regan Spurlock, and Peter's friend who videotapes all his shows (I've met him before but can't remember his name).


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Setpember 24, 2008 Goodbye Blue Monday

Elastic No-No Band played Goodbye Blue Monday last night for Justin's birthday show.

Toby Goodshank was mic-checking when I arrived. He and Justin got together for a couple songs at the end of his set.. As a last minute attraction a friend of a friend of Justin, performed African dance in what appeared to be authentic attire. The dancer performed a rather remarkably energetic set considering that he was confined to a very tiny area on stage. The Telethons seemed a little low key--for them--but that was still way more energetic than the rest of us ever get. I love their Bird Watching song, which was sung with Deborah T. I also requested Fight Club. Justin performed at the end with The Telethons too. The Elastic set was pretty upbeat and rockin. At one point I looked over and Justin had his shirt off, which was the first time I've seen him make that powerful statement. The house was up on their feet dancing at the end. Lots of good energy. In the crowd: Joe Crow Ryan, Deenah Moffie, Susan Hwang, Julie Lamendola, Deborah T....lots of Justin's friends. Thanks to Justin's mom for the cookies and also to whoever made the cupcakes. The ride home was miserable. Four subways and a shuttle bus.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Monday Open Mic, September 22, 2008

Lach said in a New York Times interview once that certain themes and styles can take over at Sidewalk at any one time depending on what's in the air at the moment. I guess after the Moldy Peaches became popular, for example, a lot of performers were writing and playing the kind of child-like sing-songy stuff that might seem to characterize the Peaches. For the first time tonight I noticed that a full-out roots revival seems to have taken hold at the Open Mic. There were heavy duty blues jams, some funky rock, real folk (as opposed to anti) and lots of other stuff that in this context seemed to tie into the sphere of American music traditions.

Ben Krieger kicked things off by explaining that he thought he'd be on hiatus this week, but he and his wife are still waiting for their baby to come and are getting eager for things to happen already in that department. After Ben played a couple tunes, Peter Dizozza started off the regular list. Peter mentioned "Paradise Found" which I gather from the flyer he passed out later is a theatrical staging he's involved in of works based on Paradise Lost. However with that introduction he led into a song that he then said was by Yeats. It was lovely, actually, but I couldn't quite follow if there was supposed to be a connection between Yeats and Milton. Peter is performing a "Vs." show against Preston Spurlock, this coming Sunday.

Isaac Gillespie was one of the early performers to play--and is one of the guys I notice who is really tied into that whole roots thing I mentioned. I know that he's really into the Dead and The Band among others and it shows in his songs. Another early performer was Jonathan Roberts, a first-timer who showed some strong piano skills. A fellow named Benito performed and displayed his powerful, booming voice, and it was Sam Barron who played the funky rock stuff.

Debe Dalton performed her Big Bad Wolf song and the tune that has the line"The Struggle to Be a Better Human Being." These songs are so achingly beautiful it's almost hard to believe. I'm so glad that after a long while I've gotten to know Debe somewhat, but I'm still amazed when I hear her perform. She is unique.

Jon Berger did some poems sitting in a chair, which was unusual for him. He was followed by Maggie, who told the story of the elephant that was kept in the country's "worst zoo" in her home town of Scranton. Brian Speaker is on a quest to write a song every day for 365 days, and he played numbers 14 and 16 tonight. Both of the songs were nicely done, especially considering that he wrote them as a sort of an exercise. One was called, I think, "Hope," and the other was titled "Generic." Brian asked us all to make insect noises (lots of buzzing etc.) at certain points of the second song.

Alex P. sang Drown in My Own Tears with Julie Hill and then moved into a straight ahead blues tune with Ariel Bitran. He and Ariel each played really strong electric guitar solos. They were a little bit testosterone infused, but I think that's ok with this type of thing. It was actually nice to see some solid guitar flair demonstrated. Mike Baglivi came on next and Ariel, who plays in Mike's band The Open End, stayed on stage and played two songs with Mike. It was a nice combination and Ariel helps emphasize the rock and roll dimension to Mike's songs. It was Andrew Duncan who sang "Been Down So Long Looks Like Up to Me," which was in the vein of traditional tunes he frequently chooses. Brief View of the Hudson was also on hand and played, although I must admit I stepped out of the room for a few moments there and didn't catch their whole set.

I came back in as a guy calling himself Tony Wiseguy (?) was singing a comic send-up of a classsic rock tune (the name of which is escaping me now) but his rendition seemed to revolve around corny lesbian jokes. I think it was supposed to be intentionally over the top but.... Chewing Gum spoke and sang almost entirely in Italian (that was Italian right?) although I had the sneaking suspicion that rather than visitors from abroad they were really NYU undergraduates from Scarsdale acting up (not really, I think they actually were from Italy). In any event they were funny and entertaining, even with the difference in language.

Around this time I noticed a little clump of folks in the back half of the room who were chattering away. It took a few rounds of chiding over the PA from Ben and Brian to finally get them to quiet down. One of the things I've always loved about Sidewalk is that people actually listen to the artists on stage. There is a relatively low amount of chatting that goes on and whenever people do talk they usually manage to do it in an under-the-breath manner that isn't too disturbing to the performers or audience. I hope tonight's crowd wasn't an indication of where things are going in that respect. 

I did a little bit of schmoozing out in the bar area, so I guess I missed some acts and then I had to leave by about 11:30 anyway. I realized that many of these write-ups are going to be circumscribed, since I almost always have to leave by a somewhat reasonable hour in order to function decently at work the next day. I do wish I could stay later as that's often when amazing things happen at Sidewalk. Of course, anyone who wants to fill in more details is welcome to help by sending something that continues from where I left off or overlaps or whatever. Also, knowing me I'll probably be waging an internal debate whether it even makes sense to do this. Maybe it's better to just let these nights happen and live on in memory rather than freeze them in writing. Well, I'll carry on for now and see what happens.


Sunday, September 21, 2008


This blog is about the community of artists centered around Sidewalk Cafe in New York. It remains to be seen exactly how that will be defined, since there are so many threads and extensions of that group, but the idea is to create a place to document the Monday night Open Mics and other activities within the community. I intend to write as much as I can based on my own attendance at the Open Mic and other events, but I hope that others will pipe in also and add details and perspectives. This is not meant to supersede other sources like Ben Krieger's official Sidewalkmusic.net site or message boards, particularly OliveJuiceMusic.com, which is a great source for community interaction, but to create a place for more detailed journal-like entries about what's happening. I'll also probably at times muse about stuff that is on my mind, particularly as it relates to music and what's going on in the world of Sidewalk.

So anyway, last night I played with Elastic No-No Band at Pianos as part of a great bill made up largely of artists connected to Sidewalk Cafe. The interesting thing is that the groups came from a variety of eras, and although the connection to Sidewalk seemed to be a unifying thread, there were groups that I'd never had much exposure to. For example, I had the chance to hear Ish Marquez for the first time, who I'd read a lot about on the OJ board and elsewhere, and I was really glad I did. I found the sound a bit troubling at Pianos upstairs, but I got a sense of why everyone is so interested in Ish. His music really mixes a variety of interesting sounds--I was surprised how influenced he is by reggae. Plus his voice is great and he did some really uninhibited vocalizing. I hope to hear him again sometime when I can have a better opportunity to absorb his lyrics.

Shilpa Ray and the Happy Hookers preceded Elastic No-No. Shilpa was accompanied by Andrew Hoepfner on a small Casio keyboard and a drummer I didn't know. I've always loved Shilpa since I saw her play at Sidewalk around the first time I started going there in 2004. She played a laid back set at Pianos, but it was nice. There is something utterly charismatic about her.

It was hard to tell from my position on stage how the Elastic No-No set went. It felt like lots of people in the crowd were talking rather than listening, but I get the sense that at least a small group was paying attention. It's always a problem for me to play a club that doesn't have a piano, and this time I borrowed a Casio from Major Matt (thanks Matt). He definitely saved the day for me on that one, but based on the wisecracks from my bandmates, the sound of the Casio left a little to be desired. I probably could have gotten a better sound if I'd had time to play around with it, but anyway, it seems as if the moment is here for me to buy something portable that sounds good for situations like that. Anyone got any recommendations for a good-sounding keyboard that can be transported relatively easily? Dan C. suggested a Roland synthesizer that he uses. 

I didn't make it to hear any of the bands playing in Pianos's downstairs room. The place got really crowded with people out for a good Saturday night and I all of a sudden felt like getting out of there. But Creaky Boards played (overlapping with Ish's set) as did SpaceKamp, a group that I learned is headed by Steven Mertens and features Adam Green. I was not familiar with the other groups on the bill--Black Whales and Tereu Tereu. I know that Andrew H. is a big supporter of Drink Up Buttercup, another group I hope to hear at some point. I was sorry I missed Ching Chong Song, who played before us upstairs and then left for a gig in Connecticut--but I was busy picking up my borrowed keyboard at that time.

Friends and folks in attendance who I noticed included Brian Speaker, Jen and Uchenna of The Fools, Jon Berger, Bernard King, Deenah Moffie, the folks from Brief View of the Hudson (I think), J. J. Hayes and Jeannie, plus Dan Costello, Michael Campbell and Darwin Deez (all of whom I believe were playing with Creaky Boards), and Octavio, Dan Fishback, Angela, and others who I am probably forgetting or didn't run into.

On the way home, in the subway, I ran into Christopher (Horizo Bopdittle) who was heading to a party at Feral Foster's. We are the world, aren't we?

That'll wrap it up for now. Honestly I never thought I'd start a blog, but I was in this "New Media" workshop recently, part of which involved creating an account for one. So I already had the blog set up, and all of a sudden it seemed the thing to do. I really do hope that others will add to this, so if you have something relevant to say, please chime in.