32 Concerts in 32 Days: The Diary
In order to get this brand-new music blog off the ground, this past September 7 I began a marathon attempt to break the record for most consecutive concerts covered by a music writer. As far as I can tell, that record was 31 days in a row. On October 8, I set a new record with 32. This page is a day-by-day chronicle of those 32 days.
Day 1: moody third-stream piano music by Michel Reis and his quartet at Caffe Vivaldi. Full details here.
Day 2: Earth, Wind and Fire at South Street Seaport (full details here), and then the Chiara String Quartet playing 9/11 requiems at Trinity Church (I wrote about that one at New York Music Daily’s sister blog, Lucid Culture)
Day 3: soul, bluegrass, blues and some rock with the eclectic Bethany St. Smith & the Gun Show at Lakeside. Full details here.
Day 4: My first mistake. I was hoping to be able to say after this is all over that in 32 days, I hadn’t seen a single bad concert. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. I had a lot to get done today, and since I had to make a stop in Harlem in the afternoon, I figured I’d catch one of this weekend’s many 9/11 memorial concerts at a church uptown before heading home. Bad choice to the max: it was one of the worst concerts I’ve ever seen in my life. The orchestra couldn’t keep time, the string section couldn’t hold a note and the choice of music was putrid. But what hit me less than a minute after the show started, considering that the people onstage far outnumbered the people watching them, was that this wasn’t really a concert at all. It was a community gathering – just like the ones 500 years ago in pretty much every little village around the world, in the days when music as spectacle existed only for the thieving dukes and abbots and the gentry of the land. Back then, if you were there, you were probably either in the band or the choir. Saturday afternoon, I wasn’t. In an atmosphere where everyone who wanted to participate had obviously been given the green light, I felt vicarious, and completely out of place. Bad as the music was, these people had every right to get together and make it – although advertising it as a public performance was probably not a smart move. Who knows – if they keep playing, they might actually do it well someday, like the posse of old Puerto Rican guys I passed afterward as I walked down Broadway, a full rhythm section banging and clattering along blissfully to salsa blasting from a battered boombox.
Since one of my primary motivations for attempting this crazy stunt is to help spread the word about all the good music happening under the radar in New York, I don’t think it serves any useful purpose to identify where I was or who was onstage there. I’d ask you to wish me luck tomorrow, but I don’t think I’m going to need it – there’s all kinds of amazing stuff going on, and I’m going to catch as much of it as I can.
Day 5: sometimes the best things are the ones you don’t plan. My plan for Sunday was to catch an intriguing 9/11 memorial concert at the Met. Good thing I stopped into the Joyce Soho for a little over an hour of the daylong Music After concert, which by all accounts seemed like a really fantastic day of music. Full details here. In retrospect, I should have stuck around for more because the show at the Met was sold out! But it was still fun to check out the night photography exibit, and all the Franz Hals portraits of medieval drunks, before heading south to the Metropolitan Room where Amina Figarova and her sextet played her harrowing 9/11-themed September Suite (details at NYMD’s sister blog Lucid Culture).
Day 6: Lots of singing cellists in this town, but none with a better voice or better taste in composers than Jody Redhage. Her album release show at Drom was incredibly relaxing, just the right thing after a weekend of pretty harrowing sounds. Full details here.
Day 7 is where I pass most of the print media peeps, who had union jobs and therefore got the seventh day off. Today required a plan B, Steve Hudson’s cinematic Chamber Ensemble, which turned out to be a great choice. Full details here.
Day 8 went off plan as well. An attempt to play hooky in midday backfired because an expected weekly series – which you may hear about here in the future – hasn’t started yet. Plan B was Bobtown, a terrific, haunting acoustic Americana band, who were playing in Dumbo. But I’ve covered them before – and when I found out that jazz player Ehud Asherie, somebody I’d never seen live, was doing a show a little closer to home, that made the decision a little easier. Full details here.
I had reservations about Day 9, but it was a smashing success. Sam Sherwin’s rock songs are pretty straight-up, at least tunewise, but his show at Sullivan Hall had a surreal menace that I hadn’t expected, and it set a mood that I couldn’t escape. Full details here.
Day 10 reverted to unexpected-treat mode: the original game plan was to go to Lakeside again because it’s one of the few places in the East Village that hasn’t been overrun by spoiled brats with a bloated sense of entitlement. Then I got an email about a show by shapeshifting funk orchestra Burnt Sugar at Bryant Park early in the evening. And it turned out that the incomparable Melvin Van Peebles was on the bill, if only for a little while – full details here.
Day 12 was Sunday. It had been a pretty crazy weekend, I had to get a lot done and fortunately there was an early evening organ concert uptown. It was a bit of a hike but it was worth it! Full details here.
Day 13, at 9:24 PM to be precise, it occurred to me that this whole thing is one bad train ride away from failure. I was on my way to Small Beast at the Delancey – once and still occasionally New York’s best dark rock night – when the train stopped and didn’t move for five minutes. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are delayed [muffled and inaudible],” said the PA system. Fortunately, the delay didn’t last – and the show by And the Wiremen and the Reid Paley Trio was worth the hassle of getting there. Memo to self: next time there’s a late concert, be in the neighborhood or get there early. Full details here.
Day 14, for the hell of it, I went back and checked and found out that my record is actually 23 days in a row. And if I’d found a show to go to on Christmas day, 2002, I would have set the record (the current record, 31, wasn’t set til a couple of years later). How did I manage to do this? I was booking a club at the time. When I wasn’t there, I was out seeing bands, some of whom wanted a gig and had invited me to check them out. Back then, there was no youtube, or for that mattter, no myspace: other than dropping off a cd with the booking person, this was how a band got a gig in those days. So I’ve got a lot further to go than I first thought, before I set a new personal best.
Tuesday seemed to have the slimmest pickings thus far. My original plan was to see a quirky jazz group at Rodeo Bar, but as much as I love that place, with all its faults – jazz at Rodeo Bar? Let’s say it’s less than an ideal venue for that. And a little last-minute sleuthing hit paydirt: Charlene Kaye playing cliche-free powerpop at the Rockwood! Full details here.
Day 15 went off plan yet again. In case anybody’s wondering, I’ve got a schedule all worked out, including a plan B and plan C in case anything falls through. Right now my obsession is to be able to keep the streak alive without having to go out at night so I can
finally get some sleep get caught up on the other blog. So I tried playing hooky again yesterday, but once again came up emptyhanded since I was only able to catch about 20 minutes of the semi-private press performance by Taiwanese folk/new music ensemble A Moving Sound (who were great, by the way) in midtown. The calendar for the evening had 68 Jay St. Bar on it…but I’d just received an email from Patti Rothberg, who had a show a little closer to home and that made it a no-brainer. And what a great choice that turned out to be. Full details here.
Day 16 marks the halfway point in this adventure. How’m I doing? Same old, same old – a lot of us music bloggers see a whole lot of shows anyway, so this has been no big deal. At this point, I’m thinking of scrapping the calendar – at least on the days where I haven’t already committed to covering someone – and going off plan entirely, seeing how well flying by the seat of my pants is working out. Case in point: last night. The schedule said gypsy music at Barbes. Instead, I got roped into going to an art opening in Chelsea, which turned out to be awful. But the way there was inspiring: an excellent acoustic guitarist playing broodingly jazzy instrumentals in the subway at 23rd Street, then an energetic three-piece brass band called No Credit Bad Credit jamming out on Balkan themes on the back of a pickup truck a couple of blocks away. I’d just seen Patti Rothberg the previous night, who got her start busking, which reminded me that awhile ago I’d received an email from Walter Ego, one of the most entertainingly literate songwriters in town. In characteristically tongue-in-cheek fashion, he was playing a “tour of the L train.” So I decided to track him down. When I got to Brooklyn, there he was on the platform – full details here.
Day 17 featured rocker Randi Russo playing with characteristic resolute intensity over the roar of the gentrifiers celebrating their wealth at the recently reopened, disgustingly upscaled Sidewalk. Full details here.
I’m phoning in Day 18, which explains why today’s concert was so bad. Sorry – much as I was hoping to make every one of these 32 days a discovery worth remembering, this was anything but. Faced with a Saturday afternoon full of running around in the miserable heat and hoping to make it home in time for the Red Sox-Yankees game, I figured I’d take in another one of those sporadic outdoor shows that keep popping up around town. Big mistake. Other than the occasional marathon trip to the supermarket, I haven’t suffered through a half-hour of elevator music in years – if the band onstage is that bad, I leave. I wanted to give this ostensibly bluegrass-influenced acoustic couplecore group a chance, but the best they could do was a wimpy imitation of Wilco. Serves me right for not doing my due diligence, huh? And while I hesitate to dis a band who’d offer a tribute to a union employee, this particular tribute sounded forced and insincere, like a bunch of rich kids paying lip service to progressive politics in order to win the hearts of what they perceive as a liberal folkie audience. Because I didn’t go off on this adventure to make enemies, I’m not going to identify where I was or who it was that I saw (in case you’re wondering, no, it’s not that other couplecore group fronted by that trust fund child who claims to be an expert on Mexican music even though he doesn’t seem to speak a word of Spanish). Tomorrow will be better than this – it has to be.
Day 19 was just plain great. I managed to catch two shows. The first I’m not going to get into here, not because it was bad, but because the program got all switched around and not being familiar with the material, I couldn’t tell whether one piece was by that sort-of-Modernist French composer, or that sort-of-Romantic American Modernist. And with this stunt in full swing, I don’t have the time to make a fool of myself here, and then go back and rewrite everything when it turns out I got the compositions mixed up. The second show was pure joyous intensity, Balkan band Which Way East at Drom. Full details here.
Day 20 was not the ideal choice of concert after getting buzzed on wine at an awful photo opening earlier in the evening, but as a psychedelic head trip, it’s hard to imagine anything being more interesting than itsnotyouitsme’s swirling, hypnotic show at le Poisson Rouge. Full details here.
Day 21 was when I started to feel less like Joe DiMaggio and more like someone trying to break the record for most miles logged on a unicycle, or behind the wheel of a steam-powered car – I have a suspicion that when this is all over, my record’s going to stand for awhile. I’ll be breaking my own just two days from now. Has this been easy? Yes, and deliberately so. While I haven’t been babying myself, I also resolved not to let all this club-hopping mess with my social life or the rest of my life and so far I’ve been able to accomplish that – after all, the subtext here (which, if I’ve done things right, should be screaming at you) is that seeing live music here in New York is incredibly inexpensive and pretty much 100% stress-free. Speaking of stress-free, Jenny Scheinman played a gorgeously thoughtful, eclectic, often dreamy set of violin jazz and country fiddle tunes at Barbes last night: full details here.
Day 22 was one of the best so far: A Hawk & a Hacksaw playing eerie, frenetic gypsy, Balkan and Turkish music at the Bell House. Full details here.
Day 23 was yet another Plan B situation, a choice that was probably better than Plan A, who wasn’t where she said she’d be playing. Cancellation or just bad typing? Who knows. So Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co. were doing their monthly show at Otto’s, which is a show in every conceivable sense of the word, and a damn good one. Full details here.
Day 24 set a new record for me. And it wouldn’t have been fair to pull off this stunt without at least one trip to the fabulous Jalopy. I realize that I’ve been going heavy on the gypsy and country music lately…but the gypsy and country scenes here are among the city’s most vital. Friday night featured the perennially popular M Shanghai String Band playing the latest exhibit by Robin Hoffman, who’s become the #1 chronicler of roots music in New York, at least as far as visual art is concerned. Full details here.
Day 25: At the party I went to last night, nobody wanted me to leave and head over to Lakeside to see Band of Outsiders so I could keep this streak intact. Instead, everybody wanted to hang out and catch up and drink, and do whiskey shots when the wine ran out. Which explains why I didn’t make it to Lakeside. What I didn’t tell anybody was that officially, the streak was still alive since I’d seen a pretty awful solo acoustic show early in the afternoon. Actually, the performance wasn’t completely awful, it was just generic and boring – it’s been a long time since I actually saw a full half-hour of a folkie singer-songwriter, and it’s hopefully going to be even longer before I see another. The only reason I stuck around that long was because I had a hunch I’d get stuck at the party – a hunch that pretty predictably turned out right.
As with the two other lousy shows I’ve seen since I went off on this adventure, I’m not going to identify who the performer was: let’s say that she’s the type who goes to songwriting conferences. It seems that after all these years – she’s been around – she still has big dreams of stardom, or at least placing a song in a sitcom or a chick flick. And her music is every bit as forgettable as as a sitcom or a chick flick.
So yeah, I copped out yesterday. But you wouldn’t want me to blow off my peeps, would you? I’m lucky to have them – and as much as this stunt has been a lot of fun, the compulsive aspect is wearing on me. Part of me will be glad when it’s over and I can get back to living like a normal person. The score so far: 25 days, 29 shows. 26 good ones, 3 bad ones, all of those my fault. Today I’m getting back on the good foot: the last week of this is going to be great.
Day 26: party people in the house, round 2. Some of the crew were looking a little woozy from the previous night’s excesses, but everybody agreed that the Greenwich Village Orchestra is amazing. Full details here.
Day 27: party but no people. At least hardly any. Chicha Libre usually pack the back room at Barbes for their regular Monday night gig, but the crowd this time around was shockingly sparse. Was it the weather? Has everybody gone camping in Zucotti Park? Full details here - at least as far as the show is concerned.
Day 28: it took me almost a month, but I finally managed to use this stunt as an excuse to play hooky during the day, and it worked: I got to catch a couple of very enjoyable and interesting solo piano sets of Thelonious Monk songs at a lunchtime show at the World Financial Center. Axel Tosca went from mysterioso – literally – to lively and amusing, while Dan Tepfer added a quirky bop improv edge that respected the purity of the compositions yet enhanced the humor in them, especially with a jaunty version of Pannonica. And then he got really creepy at the end.
What was weird was that the only people there seemed to be tourists and retirees. Admittedly, the place is a bitch to get to if you don’t know your way around the financial district, but is everybody so overworked that they can’t sneak out for an hour? Could be.
Day 29 might have been the best of the bunch. It started out with what was practically a private show, the Matt Herskowitz Trio defying categorization at the Yamaha Piano Salon, a makeup date of sorts for a late summer Naumburg Bandshell concert that got rained out midway through: full details here. The fun continued at a gypsy punk show downtown at R Bar featuring Amour Obscur and Copal, among others (I blew off the headliner, Bad Buka, who are an awesome live band so I could get home and work on this thing – crazy, I know, but in this music blog “business,” you eventually end up seeing pretty much everybody who’s any good. Full details here.
Day 30 I cheated with a lunchtime show downtown again. Franz Liszt isn’t usually my cup of tea – I like his organ music, but his other stuff…too many notes. So Eric Clark’s solo piano performance was a real eye-opener: details at NYMD’s sister blog Lucid Culture (I didn’t want piano overkill here two days in a row).
I’m wrapping up this project with a country band tonight and then tomorrow night one of my favorites, a dark rock band I discovered about ten years ago, who are still around, but whose days may be numbered: their Saturday show may be their last. And I may take out some insurance on this stunt by catching a classical performance earlier during the day. Stay tuned!
Day 31: ok, I hinted that I’d go see a country band tonight, but Drina & the Deep Blue Sea are so much more than country: they’re blues, and countrypolitan, and soul, and a little jazz, and suddenly one of the best bands in New York. I had a feeling Friday night’s show at Lakeside was going to be pretty amazing, and it was: full details here. Today I own the record – or at least co-own it – tomorrow it’s mine and mine alone…Smeagol…Gollum… Gollum…
Day 32: It only makes sense that this adventure should end with a great discovery. For all you classical fans out there who know Rachmaninoff’s series of “Musical Moment” piano pieces, this one’s for you: I’d never heard any of them until today. As this thing began to unravel and take on a life of its own, I skimped on classical music, so it’s only fair that the final day of this long, strange trip should end with a joyously impromptu concert at Bargemusic featuring those pieces, as well as Bach and Tschaikovsky, played with soul and virtuosity by violinist Mark Peskanov and pianist Olga Vinokur. Full details here.
And this thing isn’t necessarily over. I’ve got the record now, but I’m still going out tonight to see Nashville gothic rock in the old Orange Bear space on Murray Street. I have a suspicion that the show won’t start til after midnight, in which case I’m going to count that as Day 33: after all, by then it will be Sunday. Monday I’m staying home.
Day 32, 23 hours and 16 minutes: as it turned out, Ninth House took the stage a little after eleven and played a brief, blistering set that they cut short at around the half-hour mark, disgusted at the ineptitude of the drunk behind the sound board (details here). So Day 33 didn’t happen. The new record stands at 32, waiting for you or someone like you to break it.