Live Review: Mary Halvorson Quintet at the Outpost Performance Space

It was only about halfway into the Mary Halvorson Quintet’s December 19th set at Albuquerque’s Outpost Performance Space, on a new tune provisionally titled “No. 51,”  that the guitarist herself took an extended solo break. Her spidery lines, liberally sprinkled with altered tones and creatively dancing around the meter, revealed a musician more than up to the task of jazz improvisation. However, any effort to judge Halvorson on solo merits alone is completely missing the point.

Mary with her vintage United Code franken-guitar in 2011; she played the unique instrument through a Twin Reverb at the Outpost gig. Photo by Andy Newcombe.

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Lizzy Ross Band at Hill Country

Washington DC is a city of professional transients, drawing folks from a wide range of regional and cultural backgrounds; it can’t always be easy for an artist to find the common denominator in a crowded Saturday-night bar. Nonetheless, the Lizzy Ross Band did just that this past weekend at Hill Country Barbecue, electrifying the basement venue through three energetic sets of country, blues, soul, and jazz-inflected Americana. The centerpiece of the act is of course Ms. Ross, a Chapel Hill native whose vocal chords, songwriting, and onstage persona are a force to be reckoned with.

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Jim Campilongo Electric Trio at Atwood’s Tavern (Cambridge, MA 10/07/2012)

While I certainly have a shortlist of favorite guitar players, I find it hard to choose just one that stands out as my “all-time” favorite. Everyone on that list brings something unique and interesting to the music. That said, if you forced me to choose just one plectrist, I would be inclined to name Jim Campilongo. Since relocating to the East Coast two years ago, I’ve been eagerly awaiting a chance to catch him live; I finally had my chance last Sunday at Atwood’s Tavern in Cambridge.

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Live Review: The Boss at Fenway

I posted a few weeks back on the New Yorker’s recent profile of Bruce Springsteen. Reading the article – which does a magnificent job of describing Bruce’s dedication to both songwriting and live performance – inspired me to check out his August 15th show at Fenway Park. It’s by far the most I’ve spent on a concert ticket, and I was a little hesitant given what I’d read about Fenway as a concert venue; the historic ballpark wasn’t designed with rock & roll acoustics in mind, and isn’t easily adapted to live music in the same way as more modern stadiums. Also, this was the second of two consecutive shows booked at the venue and I was worried the band might expend all of its energy the first night. I should have more faith in the Boss; the performance was nothing short of epic.

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Live Review: Mr. Nick & the Dirty Tricks at Smoken’ Joe’s

An important measure of a band’s dedication to their craft – and especially their fans – is the show they put on in an empty venue. This past Saturday (August 4th), I had a chance to catch local blues act Mr. Nick & the Dirty Tricks at Smoken’ Joe’s BBQ in Brighton. It was a slow night at Joe’s, probably owing to a weekend of sweltering heat in the northeast. Despite the small crowd, the band delivered a great show, playing a mix of blues standards and tunes from their latest album, Oh Wow.

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The New Yorker Profiles a Jersey Legend

“Springsteen rehearses deliberately, working out all the spontaneous-seeming moves and postures: the solemn lowered head and raised fist, the hoisted talismanic Fender, the between-songs patter, the look of exultation in a single spotlight that he will enact in front of an audience…Springsteen has to do so much—lead the band, pace the show, sing, play guitar, command the audience, project to every corner of the hall, including the seats behind the stage—that to wing it completely is asking for disaster.”

— Excerpt from “We Are Alive” by David Remnick, The New Yorker, July 30, 2012.

The latest issue of the New Yorker features a great profile of the Boss by David Remnick. For all the criticism I’m inclined to level at modern-day Springsteen, the article demonstrates why he’s still one of my all-time favorite rock & roll songwriters and performers. It is clear from the article that he still takes his craft very seriously, and is particularly attentive to the live experience he provides for his fans. Musicians a third of Springsteen’s age would do well to take note of the dedication and intensity applied to his music. Sure, there have been some musical compromises along the way, and like any artist, the man is fraught with contradiction. But at the end of the day, I’m willing to give some leeway to the creator of timeless anthems like “Spirit in the Night” and “Born to Run.”

The New Yorker piece brings to mind my favorite Springsteen collection, Live 1975-1985. My parents owned a copy of Live on cassette, and it was the album that first got me into Springsteen. It provides a great live retrospective of arguably his most creative decade, a period spanning Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, Nebraska, and Born in the USA. As the article implies, it’s hard to capture a Springsteen performance wherein the man is not giving his all, and Live includes a well-chosen mix of ballads, arena rockers, and melancholy acoustic numbers.