Monday, December 31, 2012

Phish 12/30 Review: Digging Up Demons

Those disappointed in Saturday's straight-playing shouldn't have much to complain about now.  When the four members of Phish took the stage tonight, they had a mission: Start excavating some jams so in this banner year for your band, you'll be ready to attempt to make 2012 surpass '95 as the ultimate NYE MSG show.

With a crowd already riled up from having just navigated a confusing new maze of barricades directly inside the entrance (not to mention having the escalator turn into stairs while you're still on it), the energy was crackling as Phish catapulted into "Runaway Jim."  When the song ended with nary a jam, many were caught off-guard.  Following with Talking Heads' "Cities," smiles erupted on faces expectant of funky exploration.  When that too passed without a jam, puzzlement.  By now, Phish had moved into "The Divided Sky," a crowd-pleaser, but with a sloppy palindrome section.  Where would they go from here?  What was going to get them grooving?  As they started "Back on the Train," you could see the crowd shift off.  Phones came out.  People tapped you so they could make their way out to the restrooms.  Even the guy next to me who'd been dancing with his arms like he was fucking Anthony Kiedis stopped.  But I'm a Farmhouse fan, so I kept wiggling.  As the song continued, I noticed more and more people getting into it, and then Trey hit on a Chuck Berry-inspired solo that had people screaming.  The band attempted to capitalize on the mood with a rendition of Blues Image's "Ride Captain Ride," but it didn't really go anywhere.  Okay, so let's try... "Ocelot?"  Those returning from the restrooms traded places with those who were saving their seats.  And then it developed into a nice full-band jam.  "Ya Mar" threw some more gas on the combustible crowd, culminating in a wonderful melodic bass solo from Gordon.  During the pounding end of "My Friend, My Friend," Kuroda left the band in the shadows, hitting the cheering crowd with strobing red lights as Trey's screeching guitar crescendoed into "Run Like an Antelope," which would finish the batch.  Who would have thought that in a set with "Jim," "Cities," and "Divided Sky," that the jamming highlights would come from "Back on the Train" and "Ocelot?"

After fighting with Anthony Kiedis over my own jacket, I went for a pee and some lobsterless mac 'n' cheese.  Returning right before the second set to find my row arm-dancer-free, I smiled.  Disarmed by the first set, we were all ready for Phish to drop the real jams on us.  Kicking things off with "Down with Disease," the boys made it through the main part, and then unearthed a subterranean monster toward its end.  Knowing glances around the room as we lapped up the amazingly funked-out puzzle where all the pieces fit properly.  A not-so-smooth transition into "Twenty Years Later" was a little off-putting, but we were basking in the DWD glow too much to notice.  The "Kashmir" rip-off of a riff that starts "Carini" bugged me a little, but the arena was so full of joy, that I accepted it as part of the journey.  Having found the beast below the crust the first time, the boys went digging deeper.  Unfortunately, most of what was heard was the sound of the drill.  They almost snuck up on the monster again from this drone-angle, but Trey scared him away with an out-of-place lick, so they decided on... "Backwards Down the Number Line????"  A literal step backwards, it was the only set two misfire, because at its conclusion, Phish boogie-woogied into "Julius" to get the whole arena dancing again.  Transitioning into frequent closer, "Slave to the Traffic Light," they sealed their second night in a row with a no-breaks second set.  Oh, and just so things could be even more awesome, Page teased "Little Drummer Boy" from night one as the song wound down.

With two delicious courses consumed, it was time for dessert.  As the reggae intro to "Harry Hood" slinked out, we knew it was a hot fudge sundae.  And then they threw the cherry on top with "Show of Life."  This year's 12/30 has replaced last year's as my favorite Phish show so far.

With only one show left in the so far, so good run, talk has officially turned to New Year's Eve.  What will the stunt be?  Speculations are mounting that 2010's "Meatstick" and last year's "Steam" are starting to spell out "MSG."  Will the arena be overrun with ghosts?  Are the "Drummer Boy" teases hinting at something bigger?  Even though it would be a letdown (and they've already played it), wouldn't it be funny if they did "Grind" and then the countdown happened before the total, and they'd have to do it again to account for the additional day?  See you all tonight for the exciting conclusion.


Runaway Jim / Cities > The Divided Sky / Back on the Train / Ride Captain Ride / Ocelot / Ya Mar / Horn / My Friend, My Friend > Run Like an Antelope

Down with Disease > Twenty Years Later > Carini > Backwards Down the Number Line > Julius > Slave to the Traffic Light > The Little Drummer Boy (tease) > Slave to the Traffic Light

Harry Hood > Show of Life

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Phish 12/29 Review: Getting Phunky

Off to a spirited start with Friday's show, Phish continued what is shaping up to be a good run last night.  The band started things off a minute earlier than 12/28, this time with "Crowd Control."  A relative rarity, and not exactly a rager, it wasn't the ideal opener for the concert that would follow.  Next was "Mound," which has found new life during this era of Phish, and my brother lost his shit, having never seen it in his 50-odd shows.  "AC/DC Bag" was its crowd-pleasing self, leading into an extended take on "Rock & Roll."  "Reba" was a nice jammy centerpiece, especially because it was my first one.  This time, watching the show from the 100 level, Fishman-side, I was more in the thick of it, and discovered the marvel of MSG's second-phase of renovations during "Wading in the Velvet Sea," where trippy lights danced over an ocean of people, only broken up by one tan border between the Madison Suites and the 200 level.  "That first set was like a second set," my brother remarked, though he said the same thing last year on 12/29, and then was let down by set two.  Hopefully they would top it this time.

After a pee break and some lobster mac 'n' cheese, we returned to our seats just as the boys ripped into it with TV on the Radio's "Golden Age."  The glow snakes made their first appearance of the run, breaking into regenerative segments as they squirmed across the arena.  While I prefer TVOTR's original version, I still love the song, and they stretched it out to new lengths last night.  Gordon tacked on what I thought was going to be a funky back end, but then the song spaced in a new direction, which seemed to be the theme of the second set.  There was no break between songs, but the set seemed oddly disjointed to me, switching from hard funk to heady balladry.  The best parts were when they kept with a style between songs to build momentum, from a supremely meaty "Boogie on Reggae Woman" to a Page tour de force on "Suzy Greenberg."  To go to "Bug" after such a high proved less of a relief than a step backwards.  It took the slap bass of "Cavern" into a energized "46 Days" to mend everything back together, but then the set was over.

They returned to the stage for an encore that kept everyone guessing.  After "The Squirming Coil," the guys stood up, leading us to believe that was the end.  When they started walking in the opposite direction of the backstage steps, we breathed a collective sigh of relief as the roadies set up the mics for a barbershop "Grind," with their combined age now over 70,000 days.  That had to be it, right?  Cheers as they returned to their instruments for "First Tube," which could've been funkier given the night, but I won't bitch.  Another solid show, though I preferred 12/28.


Crowd Control / Mound / AC/DC Bag > Rock & Roll / Sugar Shack / Reba / Halley's Comet > Limb by Limb / Wading in the Velvet Sea / Bathtub Gin

Golden Age > Waves > Prince Caspian > Boogie on Reggae Woman > Suzy Greenberg > Bug > Cavern > 46 Days

The Squirming Coil / Grind / First Tube

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Phish 12/28 Review: Wolfman's Drummer

Phish dove into the jams early for their third consecutive New Year's run at MSG last night.  Before I go any further, I'd like to advise the reader that I am not a tie-dyed in the wool Phan.  Last night was my fifth time seeing Phish, and every time has been at the Garden.  That being said, I do review concerts, so I'm going to every show in the run and will be chronicling them here.  Basically, don't jump down my throat if I was impressed by what you considered a ho-hum version of a song you've seen them play 50 times.  Discussion is welcome in the comments, however.

I was fortunate enough to have seats in the highest suite, directly opposite the stage, so I got a great bird's eye view of everything.  I felt like an emperor... or at least Evita.  At 8:20, when Phish took the stage, the Garden still wasn't full.  If you had GA West tickets, you could feasibly approach the fourth row from the stage.  I think they surprised most people who took opener bets when they launched into "Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan," which I never would have banked on.  Thirty seconds in, MSG was filled to capacity.  Having not performed together since September's incredible Dick's run, the boys literally got off to a faulty start, not reaching some high notes in the next few songs or necessarily meshing like they can.  The sound could have just been different at the venue's apex, but Paige's organ was too shrill, and Trey's guitar was too hot.

Five songs in, they found their way with "Tube," segueing into a jammed-out "Stash," which really opened things up for the set.  The second part of "Kill Devil Falls" was urged along by Chris Kuroda's excellent lighting design, and "Free" brought the house down.  The show's shining moment came next, with a funky "Wolfman's Brother" delving into "The Little Drummer Boy."  Three days removed from Christmas, the holiday classic was still fresh in our minds, and everyone had to smile as they brought it into the mix and returned to "Wolfman" at the perfect time before it got cheesy.

One set down, and it got increasingly better.  What would they have in store for us next? We popped down into the concourse in a lower level, but returned to the suite once we saw all the lines.  The private bathroom and beer delivered in a bucket are definite perks to the suite life.  At 10:18, Phish regrouped and started the second set with "Tweezer," sending the guy with the TWEEZER sign behind the stage into a frenzy.  When Kuroda switched on the brights to illuminate the crowd, puffs of pot smoke shot up like geysers all around the arena.  The jammy "Tweezer" eventually ran into a "Maze," and when they finally got to its end, they found not cheese, but another "Little Drummer Boy."  Fishman hadn't gotten a chance to solo in its prior appearance, so he got to run with it a little before they oozed into "Twist."  They revisited "Drummer Boy" at the songs finale before slinking into "Theme from the Bottom," which seemed a slightly odd choice.  Two jam odysseys "Fluffhead" and "David Bowie" closed out the second set by 11:37.

Three minutes later, they returned for an encore of "Bouncing Around the Room," a happy memory for all, but essentially a pop song.  Led Zeppelin's "Good Times Bad Times" followed, somewhat disappointingly for me, who was hoping for "Tweezer Reprise" with another "Drummer Boy" tease to wrap things up with a Christmas bow.

I went the 29th-31st last year, but missed the 28th, which several have claimed was the only good show in a shitty run.  Hopefully history doesn't repeat itself this year.  I'm gonna go check out Mr. Miner to find out how I did, and I'll see you tonight.


Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan / The Moma Dance / Funky Bitch / Army of One / Tube > Stash / Nellie Kane / Kill Devil Falls / Free / Wolfman's Brother > The Little Drummer Boy > Wolfman's Brother

Tweezer > Maze / The Little Drummer Boy (tease) > Twist > The Little Drummer Boy (tease) > Theme from the Bottom > Fluffhead / David Bowie

Bouncing Around the Room / Good Times Bad Times

Friday, December 28, 2012

Top 10 Albums of 2012

The Top 10 Albums of 2012

10. Ben Taylor - Listening
If Another Run Around the Sun is his Sweet Baby JamesListening is his JT: still rootsy but more pop-oriented.  He has a s
imilar honey voice to his father, but made by feistier bees.  The last track "Next Time Around" uses the same progression as James' "Bartender's Blues," which someone should've noticed, but overall, still a solid record.

9. ALO (Animal Liberation Orchestra) - Sounds Like This
When a band meshes so well onstage, sometimes that energy doesn't translate into the studio, but ALO have done it... with the first six songs on this album.  "Cowboys & Chorus Girls" ends with a funky keyboard jam, but then the songs start to sound like different renditions of tunes they've already recorded.  "Bark of a Tree" recalls "The Champ."  "Combat Zone" is "Monday" with different lyrics, and "Room for Bloomin" is similar to "I Love Music."  Fortunately, aside from "Bloomin," they are better versions.

8. Bill Baird - Career
Sound Team's Movie Monster
 is one of my favorite indie records ever. Unfortunately, the band split, with Bill Baird going solo and Matt Oliver and Jordan Johns forming TV Torso. Fortunately, both are still making good music.  Baird took a more experimental route in crafting Career, a noisy grab bag of lo-fi ambition.

7. Gary Clark, Jr. - Blak & Blu
Some are dubbing GCJ a "legend in the making," and while his eclectic major label debut may not confirm that, it's a fun ride.  In fact, Clark had previously released all but 5 of the songs in some manner, but it's exactly these songs that show his experimentation, from the horn-accented opener "Ain't Messin' 'Round" to the Lenny Kravitz-esque "Glitter Ain't Gold."

6. Diamond Rugs - Diamond Rugs
John McCauley rounds up a different batch of friends, including Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, for a 14-song drunken romp.  "Call Girl Blues" is an easy contender for song of the year with its bouncy horns and catchy backup vocals.  I s
aw them perform it straight-through in June, and it holds up live too!

5. Kishi Bashi - 151a
At nine tracks, it's a breeze, but it's the only violin-based album I've been digging this year.  It's clear Kevin Barnes' influence has worn off during his touring with Of Montreal, and yet Mr. Ishibashi manages a sound all his own.  Beat-boxing, loops, and an impressive vocal range only add to its diverse beauty.

4. Jack White - Blunderbuss
First off, I've never liked the White Stripes, so this came as a shocker even to me.  After seeing White and the Peacocks play Virgin Freefest in October, I was intrigued enough to check out his solo debut.  "Sixteen Saltines" is a fucking rocker, the "I'm Shakin'" cover is fun and faithful, and oodles of piano move the album along nicely.  My brother said that Jack White would convert me, and he has.

3. Rayland Baxter - Feathers & Fishhooks
I had to specially order the vinyl from a record store in Texas, and it proved entirely worth it.  It's a beautifully textured country/folk album, with accomplished songwriting that belies Baxter's 28 years of age.

2. Fun - Some Nights
While not as stylistically variant as their debut Aim & Ignite, this collection of songs makes a nice addition to the Fun canon.  The singles were picked correctly, but "Stars" is the hero of the album, with its self-referential lyrics building to an Autotuned climax.  I listened to this album more than any other new release this year, and correctly predicted their Best New Artist Grammy nom.

1. Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Psychedelic Pill

After seeing Neil Young & Crazy Horse play new songs at Farm Aid and Global Festival, this became my number one LP to pre-order.  Though the 27:35 opening track "Driftin' Back" makes this a daunting listen, those who make it through will be well-rewarded.  Fellow 16-minute+ epics "Ramada Inn" and closer "Walk Like a Giant," with its whistling and dinosauric instrumentation, are the best songs on the album.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Deer Tick Finale Ends with Horns, Beastie Boys, and Lots of Beer

I was too exhausted after last night's Deer Tick Brooklyn Bowl finale to stay up and write, but now that I've had some sleep and a shower to wash off the beer, it's time to share.

"We're gonna play a bunch of songs," announced Ian O'Neil, fronting a band of Jeff Bailey, Chris Murray, and Julian Veronesi. Six is not exactly a bunch, but it was anyone's guess as to which songs they'd be playing because so many of Ian's songs are on Divine Providence and the Tim EP, which Deer Tick would be performing later. "The Dream is in the Ditch" started things off right, and the second time hearing it, I was already singing along. Ian revealed that they had stayed up until 5am when he heard Julian playing a new tune that he liked so much, he said, "We've gotta play that tomorrow." And they did, Ian handing over the reins to his former Titus Andronicus bandmate. "Hope is Big" made its third appearance of the residency, making it one of only three songs played every night. For the last tune, the band left O'Neil and Veronesi behind to do "a song we've been playing together for a long time," Chuck Berry's "Maybelline."

Alex Bleeker & the Freaks were next, and they sucked. Jangling between the same two chords on John McCauley's Mustang, Bleeker attempted jams that went nowhere, and sang in a boring, whiny voice. Drinking from a bottle of Jameson, he offered, "Thanks again for hanging out with us," but it's not like we had a choice. All the doors had "NO RE-ENTRY" signs on them.

Shirtless and gripping a pint, comedian Dave Hill had the honor of introducing the band. Although he was told he'd be prefacing Danzig, he chose the same intro: "They're gonna fuck you in the face with hot rock!" Deer Tick took the stage, and McCauley stated, "Ladies and gentlemen, Divine Providence." Within the first notes of "The Bump," the energy was palpable, with the crowd shouting back the lyrics. For "Funny Word," the boys were joined by a three-piece horn section that included Cochemea Gastelum (
The Electric Sound of Johnny Arrow), Jordan McLean (Antibalas), and Dave Smith (TV on the Radio). The fullness of the horns brought so much to the table that they would appear on eleven more numbers throughout the night. After the rowdy punk dash "Let's All Go to the Bar," McCauley remarked, "That's the stupidest song I've ever written, and that was the hardest song to write." "Clownin Around" lacked its circus outro, which was strange, given the horns. Viking Moses played keys on "Chevy Express," though the song was muddled by a disruptive hair-pulling scuffle in the crowd. A surprising twist to the end of the album, "Miss K." transitioned smoothly into "Summertime Blues" before the band departed.

Personally, I feel that Divine Providence contains some of the band's best-written songs, but the album's sequencing doesn't serve them well. It blows its load right at the beginning with three ragers and never gets that mometum rolling again. "Let's All Go to the Bar" should end the album, as it often does their shows, sending the listener out to get wasted as a reward. Using the rest of the album as the soundtrack for the journey to the saloon doesn't work quite as well, namely because if you were just trying to get drunk, you wouldn't spend 30 minutes getting there; you'd just go around the corner. Regardless, the horns livened things up enough that it didn't get boring, though their delicate shading on "Electric" was overpowered by McCauley's wails.

A minute later, Deer Tick and the horn section returned for "Mr. Cigarette." "I mean we made you wait on the album too," said McCauley, though thankfully it wasn't the thirty minutes of silence before the hidden track as it is on the CD. This time the horns were louder than McC, obscuring Paul Westerberg's clever lyrics. I'd never heard "Born at Zero" before, which was decent, but the medley of the Nirvana-esque "Walls" and the previously-unplayed "Virginia Gal" was thrilling. McCauley took the microphone out of its stand and walked around, pretending to solo on Rob Crowell's sax and patting Ian on the shoulder. You could tell they were having a blast. "That's the first time we've ever performed that song. We've been doing a lot of firsts with this residency. It's been really nice," McCauley admitted. "She's Not Spanish" made its third residency appearance, though the first for the band, making me realize that I like O'Neil's DT songs more when he actually plays them with Deer Tick. A cover of Elliott Smith's "Between the Bars" was just okay, but it segued into a version of "Ashamed" that knocked 12/5's off of the map. Taking it at a slower tempo to start, the song built into a vehicle for each horn and guitarist to solo. The horn blasts combined with the crowd chants made this quite possibly the best performance I'd seen in the three shows. "Cake & Eggs," a song in the key of D and "sort of about oral sex," cooled things down a bit after the epic "Ashamed." "We'd like to end this by celebrating a very bad man," said McCauley, and they launched into Jim Croce's "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," playing it so well you'd have thought they wrote it.

The band ascended the backstage stairs, but John remained on the side of the stage. Gesturing us to keep up the applause, he returned to sing "Diamond Rings" with Dennis Ryan on harmony. "No So Dense" was the crowd-pleaser it always is, and as it wound down, the horns and others made their way into the lights. "This one goes out to the people of Brooklyn," and with a loud "Kick it!" they crunched into "Fight for Your Right." Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit now had the oft-traded Mustang, but his most memorable contribution to the song was throwing pitcher after pitcher of beer onto the crowd. This insane final display was the ultimate example of why we go to Deer Tick shows: Because anything can happen because it's a goddam party.

Deer Tick, like Band of Horses at Manhattan Center, missed one song from their repertoire: War Elephant's "Long Time," but no one cared. Fully rocked, slightly sore, and reeking of booze, I made my way out onto Wythe to get back to the train. John McCauley was standing outside the back door, and I had to congratulate him on the best show of the three.

Reviews of previous Deer Tick shows:
12.12.12 Brooklyn Bowl
12.05.12 Brooklyn Bowl
10.03.11 Death by Audio
08.11.11 Pier 54

IAN O'NEIL - 12.19.12 - BROOKLYN BOWL (21 minutes, 10 seconds)

The Dream is in the Ditch / Funky Song (I Will Forget)* / Grow Tired of You in Time* / Be Kind to Me / Hope is Big / Maybelline

DEER TICK - 12.19.12 - BROOKLYN BOWL (1 hour, 43 minutes)
The Bump / Funny Word / Let's All Go to the Bar / Clownin Around / Main Street / Chevy Express / Something to Brag About / Walkin Out the Door / Make Believe / Now It's Your Turn / Electric / Miss K. > Summertime Blues
Mr. Cigarette / Born at Zero / Walls > Virginia Gal / She's Not Spanish / Between the Bars > Ashamed / Cake & Eggs / Bad, Bad Leroy Brown
Diamond Rings / Not So Dense > Fight for Your Right

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ben Taylor Hat Trick & Menahan Street Band Album Release Party

Ben Taylor ended his three-night mini-tour last night with a mini-set at the Bowery Hotel. On each night, he'd taken the stage differently, with David Saw at Rockwood on Saturday, and solo at the Standard Hotel on Sunday, so it was only natural that he start this set accompanied by both Saw and his bassist-cum-cajon-player, Benajmin "Beatzy" Thomas. What wasn't expected was that he'd open with "Rocket to the Moon," which had only been played twice, its debut on Saturday. What that shows is that Ben Taylor stands behind his songwriting. The song's abrupt ending will likely be figured out at some point. It was evident early on that this wasn't a headlining show, the talkative crowd forcing Ben to adapt and abbreivate his stories between tunes. "This is a song about a girl who wouldn't give me the time of day. Yeah," he introduced "You Must've Fallen," which had previously been a longer, more detailed story involving pick-up lines and star signs. No matter, though, for that song, which is fairly self-explanatory. However, without its setup, "How Serious Can This Be" doesn't emotionally involve the listener as much if you don't know it's about his sister Sally's top secret spy organization called Spycraft, where she took Ben on as the only baby operative when he was only one.

John Forté was in attendance, his video camera replaced with a bottle of Peroni, and he graciously accepted his vocal duties on "Hungry" and "I'll Be Gone." This crowd probably wasn't going to listen long enough to learn how to participate in "Dirty." I realize that most people were there for Menahan Street Band, but I think the lighting in the room was a huge culprit for any inattentiveness. The stage was only dimly lit by a single chandelier, and because the stage was only a foot tall, it wasn't delineated enough from the rest of the space. Lights shout "Pay attention!" but Ben was only as illuminated as he would've been in a trendy Greenwich Village restaurant's restroom. While the show was not an essential concert by any means (All songs had been played at the two prior gigs.), it was interesting to follow a band for three nights. I'd only done that once before, for Phish's 2011 NYE run (I missed the 28th.), but those shows were all at MSG. Going to different venues and seeing how they coped with different set times and different audiences, it almost felt like being in the band. Well, at least the tour reporter.

The crowd swelled to the borders of the stage for Menahan Street Band, who billed this as their album release show. Their latest LP actually came out on October 30th, but I assume whatever they had planned was cancelled by Hurricane Sandy. After the first song, organist Mike Deller stepped up to the mic, glass of liquor in hand, drunkenly slurring, "We have a brand new album that we're celebrating tonight. That bitch is called The Crossing. It's pretty badass." He proceeded to introduce new tune "Keep Coming Back," but it didn't hold a candle to the following funky one-two punch of "The Wolf" and "The Contender" that got everybody dancing. Set-closer "Make the Road by Walking" was the only song that bested that energy level, but then the band left the stage without a word, leaving their instruments behind as though they would return for an encore. Unfortunately, I was informed by my friend who works there that it was over, and the rush that came with "Make the Road" was left to dissipate oddly down the stairs and out the door into the rainy night.

(Setlist help for Menahan is appreciated.)

BEN TAYLOR - 12.17.12 - BOWERY HOTEL (30 minutes)

Rocket to the Moon* / You Must've Fallen / Hungry (feat. John Forté) / I'll Be Gone (feat. John Forté) / A Good Day to Be Alive / Not Alone / How Serious Can This Be > Lo & Behold

MENAHAN STREET BAND - 12.17.12 - BOWERY HOTEL (39 minutes, 39 seconds)
Song 1* / Keep Coming Back / The Wolf / The Contender / Song 5* / Lights Out / Home Again! / Song 8* / Three Faces / Make the Road by Walking

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Ben Taylor & Grace Weber Encore Performance at Standard Hotel

In the basement of the Standard Hotel in the East Village, there is a strange little nightclub.  Its walls are covered in André Saraiva stick figures.  A large sculpture of a gaping mouth hangs over a stage.  Tiny wooden stools surround white wooden tables.  It was in this room that Ben Taylor played the second stop on his three-night mini-tour of Manhattan.  To read a review of night one, click here.

Grace Weber opened for him again, which was a pleasant surprise.  Three things first:

1. She only appeared tall from my vantage point last night.
2. That phenomenal voice is hers. She didn't have the blue water bottle tonight.
3. I didn't know that she'd be opening tonight as well, or that I'd meet her at the show, so I'm mildly embarrassed about asking that she date me. However, the offer still stands.

Backed only by her keyboardist, Julian Pollack, Grace performed a short set of four originals.  Accidentally thwacking her guitar out of its stand at the beginning of "Everything to Me," she displayed that same adorable clumsiness, offset by her powerful voice.  Her final two numbers were my favorites from last night, and I found myself singing along this second time.  Before leaving the stage to sell CDs of her album and a Christmas EP, she suggested, "You can find me at"  (Setlist help is appreciated.)

Billed as a private show for fans, Ben had initially said he was only doing a 30-minute set, but thankfully, he played for almost an hour.  Hobbling onto the stage in his boot and Stevie Wonder t-shirt, Ben opened things up with the only song he'd play that hadn't been played last night, "Boyfriend."  The funny song about falling for a girl's boyfriend because he's so cool warmed up the crowd nicely for Ben to introduce David Saw, saying, "A lot of these songs I don't know how they go without him."  They played yesterday's opener, Paul McCartney's "Dear Boy," followed by "Worlds Are Made of Paper," minus the whole apples thing.  Ben told the same stories between songs, but he relayed them so naturally, it never felt forced.  He's a little like a stand-up comic telling the same jokes every night, who must add or subtract parts for time or the feeling in the room.  At one point, that feeling developed into a lot of easily-reverberated bar chatter, and Ben took action. "People who are talking right now, you can talk for the rest of the evening, but just not for this song because it's brand new, and I'm excited about it," he said before the "Rocket to the Moon" song.  Taylor attempted all three John Forté collabos, and they grooved along smoothly enough that if you didn't know that John usually sings those parts, you'd never suspect anything different.  "Jolly Holiday" was also reprised, although this time it was dedicated to Ben's buddy, Cary.

Tomorrow, Ben plays a few blocks down at the Bowery Hotel.  Grace won't be opening, but definitely keep an eye out for her.

GRACE WEBER - 12.16.12 - STANDARD HOTEL (18 minutes, 34 seconds)

Someone / Everything to Me / The Architect* / Hurt You*

BEN TAYLOR - 12.16.12 - STANDARD HOTEL (55 minutes, 35 seconds)

Boyfriend / Dear Boy / Worlds Are Made of Paper / How Serious Can This Be > Lo & Behold / Rocket to the Moon* / Dirty / Hungry / Wicked Way / I'll Be Gone / You Must've Fallen / Jolly Holiday / Turn on the Lights

Ben Taylor Starts Mini-Tour with Intimate Set at Rockwood

Ben Taylor kicked off his Manhattan mini-tour last night with an at times, too intimate acoustic performance at Rockwood Music Hall.  The show featured new songs, old faves, and a few covers of his father, Sade, and... Mary Poppins!?!

Having to fight my way through Lincoln Tunnel traffic, delayed subway trains, and an army of drunken Santas, I didn't get to Rockwood at the time I had hoped.  I was still able to snag a stool in the balcony, albeit behind a row of people.  The opener was a woman called Grace Weber, who I had never heard of before.  Thirty minutes later, I was in love with her.  A gorgeous, tall blonde, she had an incredibly soulful voice with a range so amazing, it seemed it could have only come from inside the blue water bottle she drank from, sucking the beautiful voice out and singing with it à la Ursula in The Little Mermaid.  She has some room to grow as a songwriter, (and I've probably never said this) but I think if she got on American Idol, they'd be able to turn her into a star.  Not in the young pop starlet mold that she physically encapsulates, but more along the lines of Adele.  After failing to get the vocal effect pedal to work that she'd just hyped up, and knocking her guitar into the mic stand several times, she laughed embarrassedly, "You guys are seeing my dorkiness like in full force tonight."  "We love it!" shouted someone in the crowd.  Closing her set with "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" caused me to roll my eyes a little, but as the song progressed, I listened with rapt attention like the rest of the silent audience.  Grace Weber, with the right guidance, you will go far, and please leave a comment below if you want a boyfriend.

The piano onstage was lifted into the ceiling, leaving me worrying about a coyote and roadrunner-style mishap for the first few minutes of Ben's set.  After all, he was already wounded, having recently snapped his left Achilles' tendon whilst playing frisbee.  Ben was accompanied by his longtime friend/collaborator David Saw, and the duo's guitars harmonized so sweetly, you'd have never known they'd been off-tour for two months.  Ben paused between each song to give a little background on it, and introduced Sade's "By Your Side" as having been recorded for a top-secret TV appearance.  They sang "Worlds Are Made of Paper" with the line in the chorus changed from "Nothing lasts forever" to "Nothing lasts for apples" because Saw was smitten by a young child's YouTube rendition.  They followed that with a brand new song, a spicy little number which I'm going to call "Rocket to the Moon."

Those in the know spotted songwriter/producer of Fugees fame, John Forté, seated in the front row.  Busily sipping wine and videotaping the show, Ben asked if he wanted to join in, but Forté shook his head.  "We'll work on him little by little.  We're gonna sing the songs he normally sings, and we'll sing them so badly that he'll not be able to take it anymore," said Ben.  Enlisting the crowd's help on "Dirty" and providing Forté's rap himself, Taylor tried to work on him too quickly, but it was a great laugh for the audience.  The beat provided by Ben's bassist Benjamin Thomas on cajon, Taylor played new song "How Serious Can This Be" and segued seamlessly into his father's "Lo & Behold," the first time I've heard Ben cover his dad.  John Forté put down his camera and took the stage for two songs, "Hungry" and "I'll Be Gone."

Ben designated the next part of the show to be his family's portion, starting it off by recalling the time his mother inquired, "Write a song telling me how much you love me."  When Carly Simon requests you write her a song, you oblige, but you've got to take your time.  As the years passed, she kept asking if songs he'd written about other women were about her, to which he'd reply, "Did you even listen to it? That's gross."  Eventually settling on "Nothing I Can Do," Ben admitted, "I wrote this for my mama 'cause she's my archetypal woman."  The most interesting songwriting tale that I hadn't heard yet, however, was the one for "Oh Brother," written for Ben's younger twin brothers.  He sang the song over the phone for James, who cried and revealed, "That's so beautiful I wish I'd written that for them."  Still without a bridge, Ben offered it to his father, who excitedly took the task.  Two months later, Ben still hadn't heard back, so he reminded his father again.  James accepted, but only if Ben would hum a melody over the bars, so James could write the lyrics.  To mess with him, Ben recorded, "If we could only get some of that old good time JT shit right here," following it with a series of "no's" in James' signature scatting.  "My dad's the only old man who gets happier the more times he says no," Ben laughed, and demonstrated.  Playing the track for James, the legend responded, "That's a great fucking lyric," and the bridge remained the same.  Ben also tacked on "Jolly Holiday" from Mary Poppins to the family section, in tribute to a foxy nanny he once had named Mary.

The funny banter and excellent sound in the tiny space increased the intimacy level to a comfortability where fans would answer Ben's rhetorical questions or shout out questions of their own.  While that could get a little annoying, it was only encouraged by the candidness Ben was displaying, making announcements like, "Ladies and gentlemen, Benjamin Thomas is going to urinate."  He told the crowd straight-up, "You can clap and clap all you want, but once I leave this stage, that's it because I can't get back up," motioning to his leg.  He finished things off with "I've Known the Garden," and retreated to the hallway to talk with fans and sign CDs.

Ben plays tonight at the Standard Hotel (RSVP here) and tomorrow at the Bowery Hotel (RSVP here).

BEN TAYLOR - 12.15.12 - ROCKWOOD MUSIC HALL (1 hour, 53 minutes)

Dear Boy / Listening / Wicked Way / By Your Side / Worlds Are Made of Paper / Rocket to the Moon* / You Must've Fallen / Dirty / How Serious Can This Be > Lo & Behold / Hungry (feat. John Forté) / I'll Be Gone (feat. John Forté) / Nothing I Can Do / Oh Brother / Turn on the Lights / Jolly Holiday / A Good Day to Be Alive / Not Alone / Good Bird / America / I've Known the Garden