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A Hard-Swinging New Chordless Album From Saxophonist David Detweiler

Tenor saxophonist David Detweiler’s previous album New York Stories was an unpredictable, colorful, cosmopolitan collection…a vivid reflection of what this city used to be was before the lockdown. His long-awaited new album The Astoria Suite – streaming at Spotify – is more stripped-down. a real change of pace. Much of this is a chordless trio record, a serious showcase for Detweiler’s creative tunesmithing and slightly smoky-tone. What does all this have to do with a celebrated Queens neighborhood which until March of last year was flourishing with tavernas and a long-entrenched Greek population?

It’s a pretty much relentlessly bustling, upbeat record, which might explain a lot. It opens with Blues For H and A, a brisk swing tune built around a cheery, dancing riff that Detweiler shifts further and further outside as bassist Mikailo Kasha walks the scales and drummer Leon Anderson adds subtle accents on his snare.

Trombonist Kevin Jones joins the group and contributes the album’s second number, Jonesy, with more of a spring-loaded swing and a bluesiness that’s much more allusive. Detweiler keeps the frenetic pace going with Lookout, running eights, choosing his spots as Anderson adds more color and splash along with a flurrying, tightly contained solo.

The three kick off track four, Route, with a wry “let’s go” riff, Anderson building a tongue-in-cheek conspiratorial solo: it’s here that Detweiler starts to echo the uneasy modalities of JD Allen. Jones returns for another one of his tunes, Singularity, working gruffly through the highs, the bandleader adding a more lowdown solo over a fast swing.

Song For Julie, the album’s lone ballad, is ironically the album’s showstopper, Detweiler and then Kasha taking plaintive, spare solos, the bandleader then working enigmatically up to a decisive victory. The group pick up the pace with a modal bite and hint of a circling qawwali beat in Twilight: it may not be dark yet, but this party is already going strong. They close with the album’s catchiest number, Under the Dome, evoking minor-key Coltrane without ripping him off.

Meet Some People in a Legendary Brooklyn Graveyard This Month with Singer Gelsey Bell

Gelsey Bell devised her new album Cairns as a headphone-enhanced walking tour of Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, and much of it was recorded there. As fans of the space are aware, it is a working cemetery, and it’s open daily from 7 AM to 7 PM. In order to help get people off their screens and back into the outdoors this summer, she includes a map along with the album – a collaboration with composer Joseph White – streaming at Bandcamp.

Bell recommends that people who want to take the tour should download the album, since phone reception deep in the cemetery gets iffy. “It can also be experienced at home, letting the field recordings made at Green-Wood transport you there. Or you can get really weird with it and just listen walking in a totally different environment,” Bell explains. It’s meant to be an immersive experience, with helpful cues and some music too. “Let’s see if you can keep pace with me,” Bell says with a smile.

The music includes a soaring, Renaissance-influenced electroacoustic chorale, gentle accents that could be harp and bells, and lightly pulsing ambience. Bell is a friendly guide, full of historical insights and unselfconsciously poetic observations. You might not expect someone who can be such a force of nature onstage to speak as quietly as she does, with a break in her low register.

On this particular walk, she’s carrying a stone which she’s going to add to a cairn in the cemetery. There’s birdsong, sounds of wind, fragments of conversation and a vehicle or two. The first of a handful of permanent residents you will visit is an American Indian woman whose name, translated into English, means “Productive Pumpkin,” and who died while working while working for P.T. Barnum.

The others you will meet – in one way or another – include the guy who booked the Beatles into Shea Stadium; the feminist scientist who in the 1850s discovered the link between carbon dioxide emissions and global warming; a pair of women who lived beyond the century mark; and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Bell also loves trees: you will encounter several, and learn a lot about them as well.

She also doesn’t shy away from the many grim political realities associated with those who reside along the way. This is definitely a People’s History of the cemetery. And in the spirit of Pauline Oliveros, Bell suggests midway through the tour that everybody should take a five-minute break, without headphones, to listen to the musical quality of the surrounding nature.

No April NYC Concert Calendar Here This Month – Sorry

There will be no NYC concert calendar here this month, at least until we have a clearer picture of when some approximation of normalcy can resume. Unfortunately, this is not an April Fool joke (although who knows, there might be one a little later on this page…you never know!).

The game plan here is to be optimistic and gear up for shows to resume in late May, although that might be a little ambitious. Many of the venues shut down since the beginning of the coronavirus scare will never reopen. The big midtown concert halls assuredly will, but with so many smaller clubs in jeopardy, the ongoing uncertainty (some would say chaos) concerning what businesses can reopen when puts everything on hold. Whatever the case, New York Music Daily will keep you updated: the general link to the monthly concert calendar is here, with the latest one at the very top of the page.

Remember, this crisis will pass. This isn’t the apocalypse. There isn’t going to be any national lockdown. Scientifically speaking, it would be alarmist to expect a coronavirus threat to last beyond the third week of May. We are going to survive and rebound from this. And there are innumerable lessons we need to learn, and remember forever, about how this crisis transpired. As Jefferson said, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. These days, the same could be said for your health.

Best Brooklyn Venue of 2019: More New Blood!

The annual pick for best Manhattan and Brooklyn music venue here originated at a predecessor blog a dozen years ago. The point was to give props to places that might be flying under the radar but had great music and deserved more support. Trouble was, back then there were a lot more spaces worth considering for a venue-of-the-year award. With the East Village pretty much completely devastated by gentrification, the shortlist for Manhattan dwindled to zero. And it would be pointless to pick a world-famous landmark like Carnegie Hall or the Village Vanguard.

Brooklyn’s full of venues, but most of them have problems that take them out of the picture. For 2019, the question is not why Lucky 13 Saloon earns this year’s award for Best Brooklyn Venue – it’s why the sonically excellent, laid-back metal bar didn’t win it five years ago.

The reason is that it wasn’t really a more-or-less fulltime music venue until then. It’s been a great bar since the early zeros, maybe before, and that vibe really hasn’t changed. Other than Barbes – which has won Best Brooklyn Venue here several times – it’s hard to imagine another club that draws as diverse a mix of nationalities and demographics. Drinks are still cheap: happy hour pitchers are the big bargain these days. The people who work here are chill, the sound in the back room of the old industrial space is shockingly good, they have deep-fried snacks, and it’s easy to get to. You can take the R to Union St, or just walk downhill from the Atlantic Ave. station and it’s right there on Sackett.

And the music is consistently excellent. Every heavy psychedelic band in town comes through here eventually, with frequent national touring acts, from punk to every kind of metal you could possibly want. And the crowd hangs for the whole evening. Cover is always affordable, usually ten bucks, rarely more, occasionally less. Once in awhile there’s a free show on a weekend afternoon or Sunday evening.

For anyone who might be wondering why St. Vitus hasn’t yet earned Best Brooklyn Venue yet, it’s on the shortlist, but there are a couple of issues. Sure, St. Vitus books all kinds of great, heavy sounds, they don’t overcharge, they have cool people working the bar and the music room, the sound is killer and so are many of their multi-band lineups. But once in awhile they deal with outside promoters who bring in annoying, twee indie bands, and probably as a result, the door crew seem to suffer from the battle fatigue that comes from having to deal with crowds of assholes. Brooklyn’s best venue doesn’t book that kind of garbage…and Brooklyn’s best venue also doesn’t treat stoners or metalheads like indie gentrifier trash.

Best Manhattan Venue of 2019: New Blood!

The premise of New York Music Daily’s annual choice for best Manhattan and Brooklyn venue dovetails with the ultimate mission here: to spread the word about music that deserves a wider audience. Trouble is, in the years since 2007 when the old Lakeside Lounge won the award for Best Manhattan Venue (at a predecessor blog), it’s been a real stretch to come up with a different pick every year. The list of contenders which have closed since then eclipses the dwindling number that might conceivably be called the best in the borough today.

That explains why, in the past three years, the Best Manhattan Venue award has gone to a museum, the free concert and events space at Manhattan’s flagship cultural institution, and a public park with frequent live music during the warmer months. Of all the places that have earned the award over the past dozen years, five have closed, one moved to Brooklyn, and another has pretty much gotten out of the music business. Beyond that, it’s slim pickings. And it would be a waste of time, old news, to flag a famous venue like one of the big Lincoln Center halls, or the Apollo, which rarely has concerts anymore anyway.

So what’s left? Most all of the best jazz spots have priced themselves out of the equation: it would be ridiculous to call a club the borough’s best venue if the people who live here can’t afford it. That’s even more of a problem at the classical venues. And the ones that aren’t obscenely expensive usually have sonic issues.

Meanwhile, the number of rock joints which might possibly deserve consideration is down to a grand total of three. Of those, Bowery Electric has erratic sound, hit-and-miss booking and the nerve to charge a cover for their second room, a tiny upstairs rehearsal closet that only has space to squeeze in the band along with (maybe) two other people. Shrine, which ended up winning Best Manhattan Venue for 2011 after a very impressive first year in business, has become a venue of last resort. And Rockwood Music Hall, whose northernmost original room was once a strong contender, is now no more than a minor-league Arlene Grocery. Even if the sound is great, most of the music there is a joke, clueless American Idol wannabes and their Instagram followers from New Jersey. Rock is very much alive throughout the rest of the world, but in Manhattan it’s flatlining.

So it’s kind of a big deal that for 2019, New York Music Daily has a new pick for Best Manhattan Venue: the Glass Box Theatre at the New School. The main attraction at the intimate, glass-walled first-floor space on 13th St. is the Stone, John Zorn’s legendary jazz, avant garde and improvisational music series that got priced out of its longtime East Village home a couple of years ago. There are also regular free concerts here featuring up-and-coming artists from the New School’s highly regarded classical and jazz programs, along with occasional theatrical or literary events.

The Glass Box Theatre is also currently home to Luisa Muhr‘s reliably cutting-edge Women Between Arts series, the only one in New York dedicated exclusively to multidisciplinary women artists. Whether there’s a jazz band cooking up front, or a quieter act, the sound is consistently excellent. Cover is always affordable: the Stone is typically $20, and Muhr’s series offers a sliding scale, with the policy of not turning away the underpaid or underemployed for lack of funds.

Audiences come to listen; the staff and security are helpful and chill, 180 degrees from the snooty hostility you get just a few blocks to the south at NYU. No, the Glass Box Theatre isn’t a fulltime music space, but neither are Bryant Park, the Lincoln Center atrium, or the American Folk Art Museum, the three most recent picks here for Best Manhattan Venue. As more and more of the borough’s real estate is appropriated exclusively for speculators, we have to make do with what we have – at least until we have a Sanders or Warren Presidency, and a shot at reclaiming what’s been stolen from us. In the meantime, it’s a good thing we have this cozy little spot to keep an old tradition going and hopefully start some new ones.

Pregaming for Halloween in Williamsburg

[Today’s Halloween month installment only tangentially relates to music. Some of you will find the characters quite familiar]

The Man in the Long Black Coat walks into the open entryway of the Alligator Lounge on Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg. If the shaggy, heavyset white kid who’s working the door isn’t so immersed in his screen that he actually notices the man, he pays him no mind. Which the Man in the Long Black Coat takes as good omen: this is the kind of place that would card nonagenarian Jimmy Carter. These Republican kids from out of state come from a very repressive society. They’ve been so conditioned to obeying any rule, no matter how ridiculous, that they stopped questioning anything, if they ever did in the first place. But the Man in the Long Black Coat feels at home: he’s definitely invisible now.

As those who’ve followed the on-and-off tale of the Man in the Long Black Coat are aware, he’s become increasingly so. At first, being unseen terrified him, but he got used to it and then embraced it when it would happen. Invisibility has its perils, and it’s forced him to cut back on his jaywalking and give those in the realm of the visible a wide berth…unless they piss him off.

Like that tattooed girl in the subway who was standing on the stairs, texting, during rush hour. He’d goosed her: that brought her back to reality, wide-eyed and indignant. For a second he realized she might blame the little latino guy in the fauxhawk and motorcycle jacket who’d managed to squeeze around her seconds earlier. But she didn’t, and the quick pinch got her moving up the stairs again, opening up a lane for the growing line behind her.

The Man in the Long Black Coat hasn’t been able to figure out how to make himself invisible, although being around friends seems to work the other way. He’s been out with a small gathering of them: what a sinister bunch of archetypes they are! Maybe someday you’ll read more about them.

But they’re in for the night, and the Man in the Long Black Coat is wandering around Brooklyn at 3 AM, full of liquid courage, which has given him the munchies. The Alligator serves free pizza: you get a personal size pie with every drink. Obviously, trying to order drinks in the state he’s in would be problematic, so he heads straight for the pizza counter.

Most of the people in the bar at this hour are gathered in the back for karaoke, so he doesn’t have to worry about startling anyone who might accidentally bump into him or brush past. There are a couple of stacks of pies on aluminum pans, ready to go. The Man in the Long Black Coat waits til the pizza cook turns his back, then reaches over the counter and takes one.

As some of you know, small items that the Man in the Long Black Coat touches also become invisible when he is. Once, he even made a child invisible, but that ended up working out since the two of them returned to visible form shortly afterward without the kid noticing what had happened. Otherwise, invisibility never strikes where it would be most advantageous: in a jewelry store, a bank or the lumber yard, for example. He’s gone into all of those places, hoping for a temporary transformation, but no. He has walked into a few bodegas in that condition, but he’d never steal from one. He would steal from a 7-11, but he hasn’t been inside one in many years, and never in New York.

He doesn’t have any issues with helping himself to what a gentrifier bar might offer, either. They made too many pies tonight, he thinks. His is mostly crust, the sauce lacking in spice, the cheese a muddy yellow pool in the center. The pizza guy probably wouldn’t even want to take these things home.

The Man in the Long Black Coat goes in the back and sits down at an empty table. There are two crowds, one black and one white, taking turns singing, or at least attempting to sing. There’s no interaction between the two contingents, or between any black and white people here save for a haggard white guy in a suitjacket seated close to a beautiful black woman with striking cheekbones. She rolls her eyes at her companion: “I don’t know any of these songs. But my daughter knows all of them.” She offers her phone to show him a video the kid has made.

This music is children’s music, the Man in the Long Black Coat thinks. There’s no chord structure to speak of, just a melody and a drum machine. The verses are short and extremely simple, the choruses singsongey and cloying, the vocals robotically autotuned. Neither of the karaoke crowds has anyone who can sing the octaves of those choruses over and over in staccato quarter notes and nail each of them, not even close. Everybody’s having trouble remembering lyrics; nobody seems to be notice the teleprompter panning down the rear wall.

The girl running the karaoke machine looks to be in her mid thirties. She’s black, with dreads and a leather coat. Many of the black posse seem to be friends of hers. The white kids, in their khaki and pastels, ignore her except when their turn to sing comes up. Although each of them seems to have a drink, they all look about fifteen, their features soft and unlined, carefree and oblivious to everything except themselves. As each singer takes the mic, phones rise on the corresponding side of the room, then the crowds busy themselves with Gramming the footage.

A quasi hip-hop tune comes up; one of the white girls gets up to sing it and pauses, stumped. It’s a kiss-off to some hater or another, full of gratuitous product placements. “I think this is Lady Gag,” the man in the jacket says to the woman. “Your daughter played this for me once.”

She laughs: “I bet.” Heads lowered, the two periodically interrupt what’s obviously an intense conversation for lengthy embraces. They could be a couple, or old friends who’ve had too much to drink. Or maybe a little bit of both, the Man in the Long Black Coat considers. He gets up, manuevers gingerly around them and returns to the pizza counter for seconds. This stuff is awful, he admits to himself, but it soaks up the booze.

The Best Manhattan Venue of 2018

To echo yesterday’s pick of the Jalopy as Best Brooklyn Venue of 2018, there aren’t many Manhattan commercial venues left which even remotely deserve consideration as the borough’s best spot for music.

Sure, you could pick Carnegie Hall or the Vanguard, but that would be lazy: each is world-famous and hardly needs the press. Since this annual tradition began a little over a decade ago, there isn’t much left to choose from without falling back on a previous pick. Since 2007, four places rated Best Manhattan Venue have closed, and another, Spectrum, moved to Brooklyn. Do the math and you realize this equates to almost fifty percent of Manhattan’s best real estate for music, gone forever.

Every year, the idea of giving a shout out to a different Manhattan destination becomes more and more of a stretch. This blog’s last three picks include a museum; the free concert annex at this nation’s flagship cultural institution; and an Italian restaurant which at the time was booking both jazz and cabaret music. Maybe it’s time to think even further outside the box. How about a park?

There’s plenty to choose from. Damrosch Park, home to the gloriously diverse Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival, might seem to be the obvious choice, but that only runs from late June through mid-August. Riverside Park and others on the Hudson have some good shows, but those usually amount to no more than a handful spread out over the course of the entire summer.

Marcus Garvey Park, with its amphitheatre, may be the most comfortable of all city parks to catch a concert, but those only happen once or twice a month. Tompkins Square Park is a shadow of its former self, and the once-excellent Madison Square Park series has gone to hell. Central Park still has the New York Philharmonic at the end of June, and the perennially popular Naumburg Bandshell classical series. But Summerstage has been on a steep downward slide for the past couple of years, focusing on expensive paid shows by top 40 moppets rather than the eclectic slate of artists you could see there twenty years ago, for free. Considering that the Parks Conservancy brass have further cemented their ongoing relationship with the odious Live Nation, that sad decline is bound to continue.

Those are some of the reasons why this year’s pick for Best Manhattan Venue goes to Bryant Park. Another is that there are more performances here than in any other Manhattan public space. Last year’s performance series began in early spring with ragtime piano and ended with country music in October. In between, there was the ravishingly fun Bryant Park Accordion Festival, a vastly entertaining mix of Middle Eastern, Balkan, latin, Indian, Romany, Italian and cabaret sounds, to name just a handful. There was also plenty of music from south of the border, along with classical, a little jazz and some Americana. Texas psychedelic polka band Brave Combo put on a hell of a show here last summer; so did the otherworldly Bukharan Ensemble Shashmaqam.

Although you’d expect that an open space bordering 42nd Street would be plagued by the shrieks from the door alarms on city buses, that hasn’t been a problem here for several years. If you don’t feel like sitting on the lawn, there always seem to be plenty of folding chairs, and you can even borrow a blanket from the blanket booth by the back steps to the library. And since alcohol is sold by a couple of vendors, you can actually drink on the lawn without getting arrested. Fun fact: Bryant Park also has the cleanest restrooms of any New York public space.

The Best Brooklyn Venue of 2018

In a city that’s been hammered by a blitzkrieg of luxury condos and more than a decade of brain drain, desperate times call for desperate measures. From a concertgoer’s perspective, maybe that means that if you want to have a good time, you have to go to all the way to Red Hook.

As everybody knows, we are running out of venues. Not just music venues, but housing, restaurants, supermarkets, hospitals, the works. The seemingly unstoppable onslaught that’s transforming perfectly good residential and commercial spaces into speculator property, which will never be inhabited,  continues to reach new levels of absurdity. The fear is that even if we can get the 421A tax exemption repealed – that’s the big incentive to developers that allows new construction to be taxed at the value of what was there before – the real estate bubble will continue unabated. Most stock market transactions are computerized these days, and the robber barons don’t want to go up against the machine. Never mind that it’s still a lot easier to launder drug money or mob money through real estate than it is on Wall Street.

For the second time in three years, this blog’s first pick for Best Brooklyn Venue went out of business before they could get credit for it. Wonders of Nature was a comfortably intimate, well-lit Williamsburg spot which earned comparisons to the late, great Tonic, the Lower East Side venue that was home to the city’s edgiest jazz acts as well as innumerable groups whose improvisational aspirations straddled rock and jazz. Sure, Wonders of Nature’s drinks were pricy, but the sound was decent, the staff were pleasant and ownership seemed committed to the uncategorizable and the musically daring.

Was it the L train shutdown that did them in? The opening of Holo in Ridgewood, which booked many of the same acts and has picked up some of the spillover? We’ll never know. Which is why, for the second year in a row, Plan B means revisiting the familiar Barbes-Jalopy axis, this time to pick the Jalopy as Best Brooklyn Venue of 2018.

Since 2011, this is the third time the Red Hook mini-megaplex – a combination concert hall, bar, restaurant, music school and instrument repair shop – has won the award. Brooklyn’s home to Americana roots music and country blues still has the same dusky, magical ambience in the main Jalopy Theatre, many of the same friendly people working there, and cheap drink prices to rival Sunny’s further toward the water. Folk noir songwriter Feral Foster’s free Wednesday night Roots and Ruckus series is still the city’s most fertile crucible for oldtimey sounds, and pretty much every acoustic touring act still wants to play here.

What’s more recent is the Jalopy Tavern, which also has free music on multiple evenings during the week and decent pub grub. What’s most recent is that the Jalopy has earned nonprofit status, meaning it’s a lot less likely that we’ll have to worry about losing them.

Of course, the knock on the Jalopy over the years has been that it’s hard to get to, which is actually not true at all (you take the F to Carroll, get off at the front on the Brooklyn-bound side or the back if you’re going toward Manhattan, and it’s no more than a ten minute walk). Getting home is more complicated – but that’s the fault of the MTA, not the club.

Taking Back Halloween

Over the past few years, this month’s hallowed horror holiday has been hijacked by fratboys. New York Music Daily may not be able to put an end to that, but in the next four weeks we can have a lot of fun with some of this year’s darkest music…and maybe by exhuming some from years past as well. And maybe we can forget about the ongoing sororitization of New York nightlife for a little while.

Many of us on the east coast may not be aware how pervasive the fraternity and sorority systems are in colleges across the country, particularly in the midwest and south. Social life on less cosmopolitan campuses often revolves around them. Sororities typically take the lead in creating specious excuses to invite fratboys over. Usually this involves some kind of lame costume party, since hanging out a sign that says “LIVE NUDE GIRLS” wouldn’t go over well with the administration. This is how Republican sorority women who, believe it or not, actually want to meet young Brett Kavanaugh types, have been doing it for years.

The blitzkrieg of spoiled brats from out of state who’ve saturated lower Manhattan and Brooklyn in the recent past are products of that system. For them, Halloween isn’t about punk rock or gay rights: it’s Santacon in orange and black. They’re used to the sorority social secretary figuring out their nocturnal entertainment for them. That’s why now there’s stuff like Miley Cyrus karaoke, or people reading from their awkward teenage journal entries, at venues where bands used to play.

 But New York Music Daily doesn’t cater to that crowd. For the next month, this blog will unflinchingly focus on the grim and the gruesome, both real and imaginary. The point is to scare the hell out of you – and maybe make you laugh too. Come along for the ride and check back here every day for something new if you’re brave enough.

A Typically Urbane, Incisively Lyrical New Album from the Larch

The Larch have been one of New York’s catchiest, most lyrically acerbic bands for a long time. Their 2012 album Days to the West blended new wave and psychedelia with a witheringly cynical Costelloesque lyrical edge. The one before that, Larix Americana – written mostly at the tail end of the Bush regime – set frontman/guitarist Ian Roure’s corrosive, politically charged commentary to hypnotic, guitar-fueled paisley underground rock. Lately the band seems to be on hiatus, but they have an excellent new ep, In Transit, picking up where the last album left off and streaming at Bandcamp.

The first track, Science & Charity – whose title the band nicked from a Picasso painting – assesses the pros and cons of space-age advances over keyboardist Liza Roure’s swooshy synth and Ross Bonadonna’s rising bassline, drummer Tom Pope negotiating its tricky syncopation. A jet-engine guitar solo takes it echoing out.

Welcome to the Institute alternates between hard funk and mid-80s Costello, a sardonic narrative told from the point of view of a pitchman for an online reputation repair service. Liza’s woozily processed backing vocals add an aptly tacky, techy touch, Bonadonna’s slithery lines echoing Bruce Thomas, the guitar again taking it out with a lickety-split, spiraling solo (Ian is the rare hotshot lead player who doesn’t waste notes).

Saturn’s in Transit, the catchiest and most Costelloesque tune here, seems to be one of those metaphorically charged workday anomie narratives that Ian writes so well. The jangliest track is the similarly metaphorical, nonchalantly ominous Mr. Winters, sort of a mashup of Squeeze and lyrical powerpop legends Skooshny – Ian’s voice often brings to mind that band’s frontman, Mark Breyer.

The backbeat Britpop tune Images of Xmas contemplates a deceptively comfortable litany of holiday gatherings and overindulgences. There’s also a hard-charging punk-pop bonus track. The Larch may be on the shelf for now, but the Roures continue with their duo project, Tracy Island, wherein they mix works in progress with favorites from the Larch and Liza and the Wonderwheels catalogs. They’re playing tomorrow, Oct 15, at 8 PM at Bowery Electric for an $8 cover and it’s a good bet some of these songs will be on the bill.