Monday, June 30, 2008

Sam Phillips and The Section Quartet at the new Largo

This is going to be a long post. There is so much to cover here...

I arrived at the new Largo Thursday night and immediately felt like it was home. You walk past an iron gate into an outdoor patio. To the right is The Small Room. Inside that room there is a bar and a small stage with a flat screen behind it. There are cocktail tables that fill the room. This should be an excellent place to see up and coming acts. Straight ahead were the side doors into the theater. To the left was the entrance and the waiting room. At the back of the room was a small bar where merchandise is sold. On top of the bar is a small portable record player. That is what they used to entertain the crowd before the show. An Andrew Byrd vinyl was placed on it which really seemed to fit the room. There were a few cocktail tables off to the left allowing people to buy a drink in the small room and then hang out by the entrance until show time. The theater itself is a standard style auditorium/theater, with auditorium theater seats (it seats about 220 I believe). The stage is bigger than the original Largo, but not huge. There were 7 people on stage at one point and Eric later said it felt pretty tight up there. The big potential negative is that the sound board is upstairs. When I talked to Sam's sound guy, Stacy, after the show, he was really surprised how easy it was to get the sound right and didn't need to run up and down the stairs to check the sound. More on that later. There are pieces of Largo everywhere: old pictures, bits of furniture, but it is very much a new theater. The combination of the two rooms and maybe the only 200 person sit down theater for rock music in the city, gives the new Largo the potential to be one of the hottest showcases in town. Flanagan did a great job converting the old Coronet Theater.

When I got there, Sam was still rehearsing, but Sam's manager was there, guessed who I was and lead me to the bar. He gave me some seed money and some water and I went right at it. I had been told there was new merchandise, but for some reason didn't think about The Section Quartet needing space. They had already set up in the corner of the bar. Daphne and Leah came up and said hi and thanked me for helping out. "Oh, you want me to handle your merch also? No problem". Actually, I really enjoy their music and have no problem selling them to people, so it really was a pleasure taking their stuff on too. Sam had added Baggu's (its a vinyl shopping bag) to her table as well as 10 signed and numbered "anti tour books". They were hand made collage based hand stapled 8 1/2 by 11 books. There is nothing about the tour in them, just Sam having fun with pictures and old advertisements and such. I love the pictures of Sam with guitar and her comments on them.

At 8:05 the doors opened. By 8:15 the tour books were gone. Even at $30 a piece, not a single person balked. I sold every one that I showed. Sam has a whole summer to make more. Hopefully, she will be bringing them on tour with her. For a good half hour, it was non stop selling. I sold t-shirts and Cd's of course. One Baggu sold, but I know there were a few people who were going to wait and buy them online. It is a pretty cool concept, especially if you are into the environment. My online friends Bill, Ralph and Jen came by as did Kristy Hanson who I spin on my online station. PJ Harvey was there also, although I didn't get a chance to meet her. And apparently a friend of Pete's figured out that we knew him in common. Thanks for the email Pete.

At about 8:30, The Section Quartet went on. I missed most of their show because I got into a very interesting conversation with Sam's manager. Everyone Sam surrounds herself with are good people. We had a great talk about religion and rock and roll and our place in the world. Heavy stuff to be talking about at a "rock show". I loved it. TSQ played 5 songs. I caught the last one. They are always such a fun and interesting act to watch and listen to. Eric's selections of songs to perform show a keen eye toward what is truly musical in rock and roll. And his arrangements are second to none. They play with a passion that is generally reserved only for traditional rock acts.

After about a five minute brake, Sam came on stage with the Section Quartet and started her show. I left the merch table high and dry, knowing that Sam's fans would be respectful. Of course, I took the money with me. I'm no fool. :-) Actually, I sat in the back row so that I could peak out every so often and make sure no one was hanging around it. Even from the back, you are close enough to see that look in Sam's eyes when she is pretending to be confused. The sound was excellent. I think they found a good sound guy in Stacy Parrish.

So... Sam started with the Quartet then added Jay Bellerose on drums and Chris Bruce on bass and electric guitars. Now, I've gone on and on about how good Jay is. And I loved watching him on the A Boot and a Shoe tour. But the music from "Don't Do Anything" really focuses a lot on Jay's drumming, and when he was added to the show... WOW. At one point, Sam said after a song something like, "I don't know what Jay was doing over there". He brings so much energy to the stage with songs that are so ready to explode. And explode they did. I loved the ABAAS tour, but this upcoming tour is going to be something special, for you have the contrast of the beauty of Sam playing in front of the Section Quartet and then the power and emotion when you add Jay's drumming to it. And then there is Eric Gorfain, who played not only violin, but guitar, piano and banjo. At one point he had the banjo in his lap, was playing the piano and then would pull up the banjo and play; going back and forth throughout the song. "My Career in Chemistry" was one of the killer songs in the set as was "No Explanations". Ultimately, it is about Sam, and her voice was well prepared for the dynamic changes in the sound as she performed most of "Don't Do Anything", and a few songs from ABAAS and Fan Dance. She also brought back the Stephin Merritt penned "Underwear", which is, as one review called it "wicked". "Sister Rosetta" and "Signal" have become staples in the set list and they were beautifully done. I have to believe it must be a bit weird for Jay to be performing "Sister Rosetta" after playing a slower version all spring on the Plant and Krauss tour, but he claims it isn't. Sam played about an hour, joked around a lot, and overall put together one of the best shows I've seen her perform. I can just imagine what it is going to be like when they get a few shows under their belt.

After the show, I continued to sell merchandise, while the fans along with Sam and members of both bands hung out on the outdoor patio. After closing up shop, I went outside, chatting with Sam, some of her family, Eric, and Stacy. Stacy, by the way, has a really good voice. You can check him out at http://www.simple-music.com . I plan to add his CD to my station. He did a great job of mixing the show. The band, even when playing loudly, never overwhelmed Sam. Everyone was very happy about the show. Sam talked about wanting to play the small room someday. At the end of the evening I was totally satisfied. There was great music, wonderful conversations and a feeling that I had helped out a bit. Both Sam and Eric thanked me many times for my help, but it is really I who should thank them. It isn't often you get a chance to help out an artist who you love. And then to be even a little part of the experience was just amazing. Back during ABAAS I saw Sam a dozen times over a 12 month period. That year was so special. It will probably never happen to me again. But these three shows may have equaled that (although my cookie story will never be eclipsed). Thank you Sam. Thank you Eric. And for those of you who got this far, thank you for indulging me.

Friday, June 20, 2008

On the Road with Sam and Eric

Okay, the heading is a bit of a joke. The show last night was within driving distance for all of us, but Tim's comment, "More stories from the road" inspired it. Thanks Tim.

Night 2 of my 3 night stand as Sam Phillips merchandise guy was way different than night 1. First, I left my daughter at home. Second, we had a long drive to get out of Orange County and all the way across L.A. county, on a work day, right during rush hour. It wasn't fun folks. But we actually made it to the Canyon Club about 20 minutes early, interrupting Sam's sound check. The Canyon Club is a very nice dinner theater with round tables and even a few tables with signed guitars embedded under glass. The sound system was good and the staff friendly. They had a nice table in front of a booth waiting for us and so Maria and I set up the t-shirts and kicked back for an hour. Sam and Eric were pretty busy so we barely saw them before their show. We did meet Marc Cohn's road manager. It seems that Marc figured that during his little tour he would just have someone from each club run his "merch" table. Well, the Canyon Club's staff was pretty busy and... well... we said, "Sure". This should be interesting. And so the third difference from the night before was that we were going to be handling all of the people buying CDs and posters from the main act. This was going to be a lot more work. He offered us money but we refused. As I told Eric later, if the money didn't tie out and we weren't getting paid I could go tell him to... well you get the idea.

At 10:30, the Canyon Club turns into an 80's disco; shifting everything up an hour. The crowd was let in at 6pm and Sam and Eric went on at 7pm. This meant, as Sam jokingly said to the crowd during her show, that she was going to be interrupting their salads. That has to be so tough for an artist to play while the crowd eats. Sam did her best, but it was so noisy, even those people who might have been interested didn't get much of a chance to hear her. Sam only did about 30 minutes, dropping the Steven Merritt song. My gut tells me that if she had gone with a more electric guitar based set she would have done better. The only way to get past someone's dinner is to play louder than the table conversation. But, Sam and Eric did a good job up there. The sound was much better than at the Coach House. We were off to the side instead of in the back, so we had a much better view. But it was so disappointing to hear people talking during the show.

After the show, we sold several CDs to new fans. I don't believe one person came up to us and said they knew who she was. That was very weird. Even in Orange County, we got a few fans coming up to us telling us how surprised they were that she was on the bill and how excited they were to see her. Actually, there was this couple near the booth who seemed to know her music and were always the first ones to start clapping after her songs. I was hoping they would come up to the booth. I'm sure there were more out there. I just didn't get a chance to meet them. A big thank you goes out to Rich who came to the show based solely on my recommendation. He kept coming over to the booth to get his CD signed and kept missing Sam who was bouncing around the venue after the shows. I also met a guy who did audio/video reviews. I couldn't resist going for the small world concept: Do you know my friend Kim. Of course he did. He knew who she used to work for and what she was doing now. It really is a small world.

Marc Cohn (I believe I misspelled his name last night... Sorry Marc) came out at about 8pm and did a solid show, singing songs from his new CD as well as classics like "Walking in Memphis" and "Silver Cadillac". There is a song called "29 Ways" that Maria and I just loved. He's got a great voice and I really found all of the songs that night to be enjoyable. After the show a lady walked up to me and whispered, "Why isn't he more famous"? Good question. The voice is there. The hooks are there. The band plays with a lot of energy.

After the show, the rush started. We sold about 50 or 60 CDs and a handful of posters. Marc came out after about 15 minutes and sat down at the table next to us. He pretty much ignored us, probably assuming we were Canyon Club staff. You get spoiled when you're hanging with Sam and Eric. Sam came by and brought us a plate of cookies. She is so thoughtful. I hope she doesn't think we are even though (I brought her home made cookies back during her Boot/Shoe tour). I should also mention that they fed us both nights. That was very nice of them to do.

At the end of the evening we didn't tie out. Off by three whole dollars (someone must have stolen a poster). Marc's manager was very happy with that though. We asked for a couple of CDs which he happily gave us and he then offered to get them signed. We followed him into the back and actually met Marc, who seemed a bit tired but was very polite. By 11:30 we were in our hotel room in Valencia (we're headed to Sacramento for the weekend) exhausted but happy.

The final leg of this mini tour is next Thursday at the new Largo. Maria is staying in Sacramento and I'll be manning the booth all by myself. Those of you who are coming to the show, please be patient... and please bring correct change! Largo is going to be great. Sam told me that they are going into rehearsals starting today for that show with Jay Bellerose taking time off from the P/K tour to rehearse with them. And the Section Quartet will be there too. It is going to be a great show. Oh, I said that already, didn't I. Well it is. And if you live in So. Cal. there is no reason for you to miss it. Hope to see some of you there.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Hanging with Sam Phillips and Eric Gorfain

Last night was an absolute blast. I had asked Eric Gorfain at the Borders show if they needed any help with any of the upcoming Sam Phillips/Marc Cohen shows and Eric says, well, we don't have anyone set to handle the merchandise table. And so... Sam was opening for Marc Cohen at the Coach House here in The OC. This is an old stomping ground of mine. I've been to dozens of shows there. This was going to be fun. We get there a couple of hours early and are lead upstairs to Sam's room. It has been a few years since Jessie, my daughter, has been to one of Sam's shows, so she was thrilled to get to talk to Sam again. The 5 of us (Maria my wife, Jess, Sam, Eric and I) spent some time talking... about lots of stuff. The Coach House gets plenty of credit for actually hanging paintings in the room and having a motif. And Garrett, Sam and Eric could not say enough nice things about you. We then headed downstairs to set up the table while Sam and Eric put their work clothes on. We chatted with several fans and soon to be fans before the show. Those of you, who know me, know how much I love to sell a favorite performer of mine. I was in heaven.

Finally, at 8pm it was show time. I NEVER watch Sam from the back of the room, so this was a different experience for me. But, like I told Sam later, it allowed me to sing along with the songs without bothering anyone. This not being her crowd, I thought Sam made a wise choice and opened with "Sister Rosetta". The odds are, people are a bit familiar with it. I made sure to bring up that song to new fans before the show; "Have you heard Raising Sand"? She did several songs from the new CD before pulling out the tape player for her solo rendition of "Animals on Wheels". I think some of the crowd was scratching their heads at that one, but others got the humor in the piece. She then covered a Steven Merritt song (Sorry, I should have asked for a set list) and finished up with "One Day Late" (a bunch of people clapped along to that one) and "Reflecting Light". The mix was not too good in the back, so it is hard to comment on the quality of the show, but Sam's voice was as beautiful as always. Interestingly, Eric's electric guitar was not very loud, but that may have just been my location. Sam did seem a bit timid in between songs this time around. Maybe it was because it wasn't her audience. She did joke around after awhile, asking the audience if she should do 1 or 2 more songs. Ralph, yelled "three". Sam loved that.

After the show, several old and new fans came over and got a chance to meet Sam. She was her usual charming self. And when the crowd went back to their seats, the five of us continued talking. Jess talked to Sam about using her music in her animation pieces (my little girl knows how to network!) and Maria questioned Sam on the meaning of the t-shirts. I chatted with Eric about the 39 things a band shouldn't do when booking a show.

It was so much fun talking music, hanging with these two wonderful people and... I get to do it all over again tonight in Agoura.

Garrent, Sam wants us all to get together. You need to come out to the coast (west coast) for one of the shows.

Ralph and Jeni, I'm expecting a review on the Marc Cohen show. And Jeni, it was a pleasure meeting you.

Rich, hope to see you at the show tonight.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

New Music for June 2008

It seems like it took forever to get this batch of CDs onto the play list. I've been sitting with some of these for well over a month. I'm excited about the indie artists this time around, including: Ruby James, John Batdorf, Mason Brothers, EZ Powell Band and Corday. But the more established artists are just as exciting with Sam Phillips, Tina Dico, Kathleen Edwards, R.E.M., Drive-By Truckers, Jackson Brown and Liam Finn all releasing excellent CDs.

Ruby James - Desert Rose (2007)
Persistence... Ruby wrote to ask if I had checked out a link her publicist had sent. I hadn't. A quick listen told me that she was someone who belonged on The Promise and so an email or two later and the CD was on its way. Another nice CD to add to the play list. I wasn't expecting to be so taken by this CD though. The best "Americana" bends the boundaries and "Everything Good Goes Away" was the song that hooked me, with a style that was more Allman Brothers then Emmylou. I love the arrangements on these songs: The slide guitar gliding lightly on top of the acoustic guitars on "Desert Rose", the bluesy feel in "Mistress of the Devil". She's working on a new CD and already I can't wait. http://rubyjames.com/
John Batdorf - Home Again (2008)
Half of the acoustic guitar team, Batdorf and Rodney, John Batdorf has recreated that sound on his new CD, taking beautifully inspired lyrics filled with hope and combining them with near jaw dropping acoustic guitar soloing. A beautiful CD that will inspire you on several levels. You can pick the CD up at CDBaby, http://cdbaby.com/cd/batdorf
Mason Brothers - The Sun The Moon and the Sea (2007)
I believe I could play this CD in the background for hours at a time without needing to turn it off. It is a beautiful, soft acoustic work of art; gentle and yet still exciting. This fits really well next to John Datdorf. http://www.masonbrothersmusic.com/
The EZ Powell Band - Bedroom Eyes (2006)
The EZ Powell Band is a one man band with plenty of potential. The production is very sparse but if you look past the rough edges you can see a talented songwriter trying to be heard. Someone we will be keeping an eye on. http://www.ezpowell.com/
Corday - Superhero (2007)
Jennifer Corday has been playing The O.C. and elsewhere since... well, since it was hip to be a female singer/songwriter. The potential has always been there and now she has arrived with this excellent CD. The songwriting is as good as she's ever done. The production on this CD is the best she has ever had. If you live in the O.C./Long Beach area or have the chance to catch her when she does festivals around the U.S., do so. This new music along with her charisma at live performances will continue to make her one of the most respected acts in the county. Watch out world. http://www.corday.net/
Sam Phillips - Don't Do Anything (2008)
I've already talked about this fantastic CD. See below for reviews of the CD and a recent Borders performance. There will be plenty of this CD showing up on the station. A must buy. http://samphillips.com
Tina Dico - Count to Ten (2008)
Tina's last CD was my CD of the year. I'm not sure if this one will get there, but it stands up very nicely next to her last, "In The Red". A woman on her own, singing about her life and lovers, Tina does it as good as anyone I have heard since... Maybe since Joni did it in the 60's/early 70's.
Kathleen Edwards - Asking for Flowers (2008)
Kathleen continues to grow and develop as a writer. She continues telling stories about people from small towns. And they continue to grab you and make you feel. But nothing she has done, prepared me for the power of "Alicia Ross", where she takes on the role of a young woman who was killed by her neighbor; singing to her mother about her death. Saying goodbye. One song worth the price of admission. The rest of the CD is gravy.
Drive-By Truckers - Brighter Than Creation's Dark (2008)
Jason Isbell has left the band and the writing slack has been picked up by Shoona Tucker, the bassist in the band. What we have is a sometimes gentler sound. When they want to sound like the Stones though, they can rock with the best of them. Another good CD from the social/political storytellers of the South.
Jackson Browne - Solo Acoustic vol. 2 (2008)
It's Jackson Brown, live, telling stories. What else do you need to know?
Liam Finn - I'll Be Lightning (2008)
This is an exciting CD from the son one of rocks finest songwriters, Neil Finn. This is a solo effort in all it's glory with Liam playing most if not all of the instruments. He showed us how it was done in concert last year, and now as I listen to the finished product, it all seemed to come back. The songs and melodies have great staying power. This is someone to watch out for.
R.E.M. - Accelerate (2008)
Returning to the sound that made them the darlings of the media and gave them a huge following, R.E.M. has found their voice again. This is the first R.E.M. CD I've fully recommended thismillennium.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Sam Phillips Live at Borders in Hollywood

Sam Phillips - Live at Borders in Hollywood It's been a year since I last saw Sam Phillips live and with the new CD being released today, the anticipation was almost overwhelming. At exactly 7pm Sam and Eric Gorfain came out to the top of the stairs inside the store where they had created a makeshift stage and the show was on. With a good 50 to 60 people in attendance, the area was packed. I was a little concerned about how they were going to perform these drum heavy songs, but with Eric switching between violin and electric guitar, the essence of the songs showed through. They opened with "Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us" and let me tell you, if you've been listening to the Plant/Krauss version, you're listening to the wrong one.

This was a nice safe start, since she has been performing this song for a couple of years with and without drums. "Little Plastic Life" also fit very nicely as a duo. But how would "No Explanations" do? That song has Jay's drumming all over it. Turns out, it didn't really need it. Eric switched to electric guitar and it continued to have the edge that makes it such a powerful song. Sam sang beautifully throughout the show and Eric's violin was the perfect compliment. She had a few problems with her guitar (it was their first show) but that was the only blemish to a perfect if not short (30 minutes) evening. Okay, there was the aborted attempt to perform "Can't Come Down", but even that problem turned into a fun moment for everyone. Sam was in great spirits, introducing herself, as usual, and also welcoming shoppers to Borders as they walked by her in between songs. This is going to be so much fun watching this show grow and develop over the next few months. After the show was almost as much fun. We ran in to Lynne and caught up. Vickie came out from Costa Mesa to see the show. Thanks Vickie! She bought a CD too. I ran into Kristy Hanson and Mike Chiaburu. Mike produced Kristy's latest CD (do check it out at http://myspace.com/kristyhanson ) and will be performing this Sunday at Sundays on Sunset @ Libertine at 8210 Sunset Blvd (8pm and only $5!). I've never actually met either of them before, but several months ago, Mike saw my picture on Myspace and recognized me from some Sam shows. He sent me Kristy's CD which I really liked. Tonight I was trying to get by him when he stopped me. The two of them are so unassuming. And when you've just spent the last couple of hours watching people in Hollywood, unassuming is way off from the norm. I chatted with Eric for awhile (it wasn't the Dodger's night) and finally got a chance to say hi to Sam. She signed autographs for close to an hour, because, as those of you who have met her know, she really enjoys meeting people and she treats you as if there is no one else in line. She finally met Maria (who loved her) and recognized that it was Maria who yelled out "Obama" when Sam asked what the score was. That's my Maria. If you're in L.A., don't forget, Sam will be playing the new Largo on the 26th of this month. And for the rest of you, check Sam's Border's tour schedule at her website http://www.samphillips.com .

Music Hall Link - Cowboy Junkies 4-1-1996 listen