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 . 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.


Unknown said...

Hi Bruce,

Thanks so much for the concert review. I wanted to see Sam and her band very badly, but I'm in Northern CA and it didn't work out. Do you have any info at all about when they will be posting the tour dates for the fall? I hope there will be some advance notice - I'm keeping my calendar wide open until I find out!

Bruce Greenberg said...

Keep an eye on Sam's website . The tour should start at the beginning of September, but I don't know what coast they will start on. Hopefully there will be one or more shows in L.A. before she takes off.

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