Brad Spurgeon's Blog

A world of music, auto racing, travel, literature, chess, wining, dining and other crazy thoughts….

Paolo Alderghi, Stephane Trick and a Special Guest at the Humaniter in Milan – All (Family) Hands on Deck

February 3, 2017
bradspurgeon

Paolo and Stephanie

Paolo and Stephanie

MILAN – I don’t know if there is some kind of interesting statistical reason behind this, but two of the most interesting professional musicians that I have met in all of my world travels going to open mics – well, and Grand Prix races – have come through taking the same flight as those exceptional musicians. That said, in each case the meeting was due to me carrying my guitar on my back onto the flight, and that was the connection point that led to conversation. The first meeting was that of Pierre Bensusan, the virtuoso French guitarist – whom I have written about on this blog – and funny enough, I met Bensusan in the airport in Milan as we were about to board the same flight to Paris. The other meeting was with the remarkable Milan-based jazz pianist, Paolo Alderighi. But Paolo and I met not in Milan, but oddly enough, on an Air France flight from Tokyo to Paris. I have maintained relations with each of these musicians over the years, so when I found out that Paolo was performing in a concert in Milan last night, I jumped at the opportunity of attending. And it was all the more special because I knew it would be with his wife, Stephanie Trick, with whom he performs around the world in four-handed piano. What I did not know until I was seated in the concert hall room of the Humaniter Foundation, was that Paolo had also invited for his first public performance his father, Giorgio, who played banjo and harmonica on several numbers….
Trick and Alderighi doing the St. Blues (not in Milan!)

So it was a tremendous family affair at the Humaniter, in this grand hall with its fresco ceilings of religious something or other, and what looked like a crowd of at least 300 spectators. I had seen and heard Paolo and Stephanie’s music in both YouTube videos, and on one of their CDs. But seeing and hearing them perform in public was – like attending a Pierre Bensusan concert – a whole other affair. Stephanie is from the United States, originally from San Francisco, but not a longtime resident of St. Louis, which is one of the cultural homes of the kind of music of which she is a world recognized specialist: stride piano.
Paolo Alderighi and his father Giorgio at the Humaniter in Milan

As it turns out, Paolo is also a specialist in stride piano, and so it was perhaps natural – even though the two of them had their own successful careers as soloists – that together Paolo and Stephanie should meet on the level playing field of the four-handed piano. And boy, do they ever meet there. As a husband and wife team, I cannot imagine there have been many other similar acts. And what is absolutely fabulous is not JUST the virtuoso piano playing, but also the fun that they seem to have playing the music. They dart around the piano bench exchanging positions, throwing in different parts to each performance, being playful, appreciative, and expressing their profound delight in the “recreation” with the audience in a way that just cheers the heart of the audience.
Paolo Alderighi and Stephanie Trick at the Humaniter in Milan

And that’s to say nothing of the broad cross-section of music, from Gershwin and Cole Porter to The Beatles – with a truly remarkable rendition of “Penny Lane” that enters into a zone close to modern jazz at some point near the end – the music is truly emotional and interesting throughout. The numbers they performed with Paolo’s father, Giorgio, were emotionally touching not only because we knew that it was a family affair, but especially due to his father’s brilliant, melodious and emotional harmonica playing, and his fun banjo strumming. Giorgio was never a professional musician, but if you were in the audience last night you would not have known that – I was wondering if I had had memories of being told that his father played harmonica in sumphony orchestras, film soundtracks, or whatever. But no.

But research shows me that he has lots of experience performing in bands, lots of jazz, and it certainly seemed also that Paolo’s father is something of an expert on American popular music of all kinds. So now I see where at least part of Paolo’s inspiration came from. In any case, the four-handed team of Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi is an unforgettable one, and in music terms, a perfect marriage. No wonder they tour the world – they’re playing in Berne, Switzerland tonight, by the way, if you happen to be there and still have the time to find them….

My apologies for the poor quality of the video image of my Zoom, and I have also discovered that half of the recordings I made have a strange percussive sound that seems to be someone banging on the Zoom. I can only imagine that while I was filming, I was still tapping my foot and sending the beat through my body into the hand on the Zoom. In any case, it is a missed opportunity for some great footage on the new Osmo camera, but that would have been much less subtle than with the Zoom, especially as I sat within the first three rows of the room…. I’m adding another video, that I did not take, to this page to give a better idea of the performance without the bad Zoom image quality and the crackle of the device!

Breath-Holding Moment: From Japan to Paris to Milan to Austin, and from TAC Theater to Ligera to Stay Gold to the White Horse to Dozen Street

October 21, 2016
bradspurgeon

Tac Teatro

TAC Teatro

AUSTIN, Texas – In the last week and a half I have travelled from Japan to Paris (leaving out Dubai) to Milan and then back to Paris and then to Austin (leaving out Atlanta) and here I am in the sun in Texas after two musical nights with my friend from Paris who used to run the amazing Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic…. Wait, let me backtrack. That’s the problem with these blog posts that cover a week and a half!!!!

So it all started off with the return from Japan, and a couple of nights Paris before I took a train to Milan to visit a friend. And there, two fabulous cultural experiences, one in the really cool TAC Teatro, founded and run by the amazing Ornella Bonventre, whom I met on my last trip to Milan in early September, and while I visited the Spazio Ligera! I wrote a big story about that fabulous night at Ligera, but had no idea it would lead to another visit, and the experience at the TAC Teatro, which is now located right next-door to Ligera.
Improv group at TAC Teatro

Last week, at the new location of TAC I arrived just in time to see the presentation of the teachers of the TAC of their upcoming year of instruction in the theater arts at TAC. There was a fabulous and fun improvisation group, that teaches improvisation, and which put on a small show that I caught bits of in video. Anyway, I’ll probably write more about TAC in the future, suffice it to say that probably this all-purpose theater is best summed up in the name, which is short for Teatro a Chiamata, which basically has to do with the “calling” of the theater. For Ornella, theater is not just about a stage and actors facing an audience; for her the stage, the actors and the audience are all one. And the brief look I had at TAC confirms that concept.
A Dario Fo moment at Ligera

After the evening of presentation of the upcoming courses, some of us went across the street and visited Ligera again. I had not been back since early September, and despite feeling quite wiped out, fatigued from a cold, I had my guitar with me, and although I didn’t really feel like playing, and the evening was more about drinking, carousing, and talking, suddenly, someone pulled out a guitar, and suddenly, there was again an ambience of music in the Spazio Ligera. A “pop-up jam session” dare I call it? It became absolutely impossible to refuse the idea of playing.
More of jam at Ligera in Milan

And this, by the way was the day after the death of Dario Fo, the Nobel Prize winning Italian dramatist, and the same day after the winning of the Nobel Prize by Bob Dylan. So after some of the people in the bar – including one of the owners – played a tribute to Dario Fo, it seemed normal, or inevitable, that I would play a Dylan song…. And that was the beginning of many more songs, and much more fun. I absolutely love the Spazio Ligera.
Another moment of the improv group at TAC Teatro

And then back to Paris before flying off to Austin and the meeting with Sundown

I took a train from Milan back to Paris, packed, then caught a very early morning flight to Atlanta and from there on to Austin, and no sooner had I got my rental car on Wednesday night than I drove off to meet up with my friend Ollie Joe Yaco of Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic fame in Paris. Oh, and of “Some Girls” open mic fame in Paris. Oh, and of Sundown fame all over the world. I’m referring to the guy who I have mentioned for years on this blog, who ran those open mics, and who now has his band called Sundown. It turned out that Ollie was in Austin travelling around on what seems like his once or twice a year visit to the U.S. for playing music in some great cities like Austin and L.A.
First at Stay Gold

I think I had just missed him in Austin last year, so I was determined not miss him this year. He was doing a gig at a place in the east end of town, called Stay Gold. So I showed up for that, and from there he led me off to a very cool bar called the White Horse, which could not sound more British, or be more Austin-like. More on that place later, I think, but hearing and seeing Ollie playing his music in Austin was a fabulous moment – although in fact I arrived too late on Wednesday to catch his set.
Second at Stay Gold

But that was fixed by him inviting me to his next gig, at a place on East 12th Street, called Dozen Street, last night. In fact, Ollie got the stage for himself last night, and decided in his typical way to share it with friends. So it was that he did a nice set with both solo stuff, and guy on the spoons, and then the French barman at the Dozen Street bar, who played lead guitar for him. I played a short set, and two fabulous women singer songwriters played sets as well. Those the completely opposite style performers Alison Gail Self and Cari Q.
Four handed piano moment at the White Horse in Austin

The Dozen Street bar has existed for about two years, and it is one of the many long, long bars with a back stage and a back courtyard of a type I’ve seen spotted all about Austin. The evening finished off with another band that had nothing to do with the rest of us, and which went on until quite late, I think. Very cool, all together, very very cool. A kind of evening that really makes you realize just how unique and cool Austin is musically. This kind of thing is just going on all over the city. It can take a while to find the hot spots, in fact, but once you do, you realize they are all over the place.
Sundown and spoons


Sundown and spoons and lead

Sundown solo

duet with ollie sundown at Dozen Street

fourth at dozen street

Third at dozen street

Group at Dozen street

A Last Night in Kuala Lumpur at the Fabulous Lorong BlackBox – and Just My Luck in the KL Taxi Saga and the Internet Sweepstakes

October 4, 2016
bradspurgeon

lorong-blackboxKUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Just my luck. I was all excited about how I have a 27-minute ride on the KLIA Express train from downtown KL to the airport before boarding my flight to Osaka, Japan, and that I could use the KLIA Express train’s wifi in order to write and post this final post from Malaysia. The wifi on the train is just fabulous and never ever let me down. Until now. Suddenly, for the first time on this trip, and possibly on any trip for me to KL, the internet wifi connection is not working on the KLIA Express. I might as well have taken a taxi! Wait, no, not that! That takes me full circle back to “Just my luck!”

I’m writing this in a Word file that I will post at the airport – either KLIA or Osaka, which ever delivers wifi first – and my reference to “just my luck,” has to do with the taxi drivers of KL. As I arrived about 45 minutes late last night for my evening at Lorong BlackBox, the new food and music emporium of my friend Atraz Ismail, and I complained to him about the horrendous taxi ride I had to his place in Shah Alam, which is located about 45 minutes from downtown KL but took me around 1 hour 25 minutes to get there, he reminded me that I have a long history of terrible experiences with taxis in KL!!

Syahidil Aizat at Lorong BlackBox in Shah Alam Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

It is true. They ask if I have GPS because they don’t. They ask if I know where I’m going, because they don’t. They stop to buy GPS refills on their phones, since without it we end up in Thailand. They then fail to understand how to follow the blue line of the GPS on the road and end up taking the same 10-minute stoplight twice because they made a wrong turn…. Don’t get me started.

Another Syahidil Aizat at Lorong BlackBox in Shah Alam Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

Suffice it to say that as often as I have been let down by taxis in KL, I have been blessed with fabulous evenings at Atraz’s ventures. That started five years ago at his place called Senyap – which means silence in Malay – and it continued this weekend with his new food joint – that I mention a couple days ago – called Lorong BlackBox.

Atraz at Lorong BlackBox in Shah Alam Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

Located in the small back room of a bigger food emporium in a commercial area in Shah Alam, where you have offices, restaurants, markets, and other commercial entities, Atraz not only serves wicked local spicy dishes from his truck kitchen (and the outdoor barbecue-like wok-like kitchen – but he also continues his passion for music, especially young and upcoming talent.

He only opened this place around three weeks ago, and he plans to put on an open mic, maybe a festival or other concerts, and generally liven up the back alley in which the BlackBox is located. Last night, he invited me to do a mini gig and jam, and he played some tunes too – first time I ever heard his music! – and he had a special guest in the fabulously talented and original singer songwriter Syahidil Aizat, who is also a member of a band, the CD of which I was given and will be giving a listen to as soon as I have a CD player. But if it sounds anything like the originality and sensitivity of Syahidil, it’s sure to be a treat.

I’ll write about it in a future edition of my morning exercise listening. For the moment, suffice it to say that I learned my lesson once and for all about taxis in KL. Atraz and his friends ordered me up an Uber, and despite the driver having to stop to figure out how to use his program on his phone to set the charging in motion, we spent half as much time and a third as much money getting back to my hotel as with the taxi on the way there.

It was a revelation in more ways than one, then, last night at the Lorong BlackBox.

Now off to Nagoya, where I never take any taxis – oh, except from the circuit to the train station in Shiroko. But that’s another story.

PS, So, I managed to find an internet connection at the airport, after nearly one hour of trying – first at the airport free system, which was out of reach for the restaurant where I am eating, called the Dome, and then in the Dome system, which is too slow and did not allow WordPress to work, and then in the Starbucks next-door, which took all of my personal information as it baited me into a connection before it then said that I had to ask for a wifi code at the counter!!!!!

Slingapore Sing, or Poring Out My Emotions in the Heat and Humidity Over the Equator

September 17, 2016
bradspurgeon

prince-of-walesSINGAPORE – So much for the puns. Singapore is fun. At least for a few days. I’ve been here since Wednesday evening, and managed to attend an open mic at The Beast on Thursday night, and doing a set that must have been close to an hour long set last night at the Prince of Wales pub on Boat Quay. Funny enough, the two things were connected, as it was MB Spinks who invited me to do a set at the PoW, and it was Spinks who used to run the open mic at The Beast. In any case, I’ve had a thoroughly enjoyable time in the extreme heat and humidity of this City State 80 or so miles from the equator.

The Beast is my first destination whenever I come to Singapore now, but I must admit, it was just a little bit more quiet than usual on Thursday and I wondered if it was because Mr Spinks was no longer running it. But I have been assured that it had to do with a big music event elsewhere the same night. In any case, the MCing was warm and professional, and I had a really nice night playing at The Beast, which is a kind of American whisky bar in the middle of this hot and humid … gee, I keep repeating that fact. But I have to wear about three shirts per day if I don’t want to be walking around in wet clothes.
First MB Spinks at Prince of Wales in Singapore

Last night, it was off to Boat Quay to the Prince of Wales pub to hear MB Spinks and his cool singer songwriter, slightly country, sound. The Prince of Wales is one of a long line of bars and pubs along the riverfront in downtown Singapore, in a part of town that still has lots of vestiges of the old style of the city – i.e., no skyscrapers.
Second MB Spinks at PoW in Singapore

The pub, like most of the others, opens out onto the quay, and pedestrians pass along the waterfront, walking down Boat Quay, and the “stage” is in the opening area of the pub facing out to the outside tables and the quay. So when you sing, you sing to the tables and clients of the Prince of Wales, but you also sing to the passersby, and hope they stop and listen, and maybe sit down and order a drink.
first at the beast

A huge amount of fun, and also one of the coolest parts of the pub, since there is an air conditioner piping down overhead – although I must admit that my sweat-covered body after the set had not realized until afterwards that there was an air conditioner there. But what would Singapore be without the heat and humidity? A pretty hot place for music and musicians. OK, no more puns….
second at The Beast in Singapore

fourth at the beast

Third at the Beast in Singapore

A Musical Experience in Milan – or Rather, in the Paddock at Monza… Joan Thiele

September 1, 2016
bradspurgeon

Joan ThieleMONZA, Italy – So far so horrible on the level of my open mic experiences in Milan. Followers of this blog will have noticed – or not – that in the last few years I have mostly been playing on Thursday night at a blues jam in a bar/restaurant called Fermento. Well, this year, this very night in fact, that jam don’t exist no more!!!! But I have had a really, really fun and very cool musical experience in Italy in the least expected of places: In the Formula One paddock in Monza, where I do my day job this weekend at the Italian Grand Prix. How so? It gets kind of long and complicated, so I’ll skip that for the moment, but let me just say that the experience was all about a mini-concert given in the motor home of one of the Formula One teams, by an Italian singer-songwriter by the name of Joan Thiele. I’ll try to get the rest of that story down here in as few words as possible, but that won’t be easy….

So it turns out that the Formula One team, called Manor, has as one of its sponsors, the music app called Shazam. And it turns out that Shazam is doing few little mini concerts around the world in conjunction with Formula One. (Does that sound like an alternative to the tiny desk concerts on NPR??!! In a way it is!) And it turns out that they try to use a local musician each time. So, as the PR woman at Manor knew that I was interested in music, she asked me if I had seen they were going to have a mini-motor-home-concert in Monza tonight. As it turned out, a sucker for the image of a microphone, I had indeed noticed this playbill outside the motorhome not three minutes before.
Joan Thiele – Save Me

So I went to the mini motorhome concert and found that, on the top floor of the motorhome – henceforth to be called a hospitality suite – they had set up a beautiful little playing area for the musician. There was a Fender Stratocaster, a ukulele, a couple of amplifiers, a microphone, and a mixing table. I felt envy and desire to go and play. Until I heard the musician, and said, no, I just want to listen to this. Enter Joan Thiele. What a mix of everything: A father who is Swiss, Italian, Canadian, Colombian, and who knows what all else, and Joan’s mother also a mix from one or two of those areas, and Joan having grown up partly in Colombia, but living in Italy now, and having spent two or three years in England, and learning her trade at open mics etc., this woman of – I think – 22 years old, got up with her Strat and used it as a kind of electro-music surrogate, and her voice too. Vocals that reminded me to a degree of Lana del Ray, and a sound that goes in that same direction – that’s my feeling, but there’s much more (in fact, I had a colleague who thought one of the songs reminded him of, “Down on my knees, I’m beggin’ ya…) – I listened quite hypnotised to the five or six songs she played. (Another colleague said she had Brooke Shield’s eyebrows.)
Joan Thiele – Taxi Driver

And I suddenly found myself forgetting I was in the Formula One paddock. As it turned out, I need not forget this: The Formula One paddock is a hugely diverse place. And it also turns out, then, that in that world, another of the reasons that we had Joan Thiele – who is working on her first album, and her A&R person from Universal Music was there with her – is also represented by Trident Management, which is a management and promotions agency that also owns one of the Formula One support race teams in the series known as GP2, the Trident Motorsport team. So it all suddenly fit together, in a way. Trident also represents two very well-know Italian musicians, Eros Ramazzotti and Jovanotti.
Joan Thiele – Hotline Bling

In any case, the other thing that fits together is that this being within the Formula One paddock, I, as a print media man with a print media pass, cannot use the video I made of Joan’s hypnotizing performance. The Formula One promoter sells audio visual rights to the television and radio companies for huge sums of money, and that then means that print media journalists cannot use any audio visual footage – or sound files – that they gather in the paddock, without fear of huge problems.

So my recordings will have to wait for the future. But in the meantime, I’ve decided to cut and paste some of Joan Thiele’s music videos that I find on the web into the blog to show who it was I got to hear and speak to today in the Formula One paddock and feel that from a musical point of view, my trip to Italy, even if it wreaps no musical stage-time for me, will have been fulfilling in another way! A nice discovery. Check her out, Joan Thiele.

Four Nights of a Week, Culminating in a Gig (And thence onward to Wynton Marsalis, the Olympia, the Giant, the Orgasmic Master and the Smelly Woman)

February 7, 2016
bradspurgeon

Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis

PARIS – Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Those were the nights out this week. More than lately as I work on various personal projects and the blog gets left a little bit behind. Where I would have done four posts in the past, I’m doing one. Things will no doubt change as the projects I’m working on get caught up…. But in any case, it was a great four nights out and it varied from regular open mics to a cool new jam to an incredible concert at the Olympia by Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra!
Someone at Bliss

On Monday I dropped off at an open mic that just began its second year: The open mic of the Bliss bar near Les Halles. This is a posh back room to a sizeable bar brasserie, and the sound system is great, there are lots of musicians, a jam feel to the thing, but ultimately also if you are into live karaoke – i.e., you sing but need a backup band – then this is also the place for you. They say they accept basically all styles, but from what I saw, the accent is on soul – maybe funk too. I’ll have to return to confirm, as I got there too late to get up on stage, and I only stayed for around three songs.
Group at Some Girls

Knowing I had failed to arrive early enough, I moved on fast to the Some Girls open mic on the Rue de Lappe, which is quickly becoming a personal favorite, and which is quickly become a personal favorite for many other musicians, I can see that! From there I went up the street to the Yellow Mad Monkey, but I was too late to play there as well, alas.
Someone at Some Girls

On Tuesday, I decided to drop over to the Zebre Rouge to see if the open mic was still happening there, as they now have a new open mic and jam on Thursdays. In fact, no. The old open mic was not happening, but there was a wild and cool jam in the basement. This was jazz, funk, far out stuff, sax players, drummer, guitar, bass, all sorts of mad stuff. Very free and easy and worth it if you want a classic cool instrumental jam.
Jam at Zebre Rouge

I went from there to La Féline to take part again in this, hopefully, growing open mic on the amazing stage of this popular bar near the Menilmontant metro. I know it would be a much wilder success already if it took place on one of the bar’s busier nights – but in fact the bar does not need the open mic on the busier nights, obviously, because the place is packed on those nights….
Another at the Feline

From there I wandered over to the Café Oz open mic where things were just booming. It felt at that time of around 10:30 PM as if the verdict is in and the old Coolin vibe – of one of Paris’s then best open mics now defunct – has now transferred to the Café Oz. Again, though, I was too late to get my name on the list. But I had a great time talking to friends….
One at the Cafe Oz

And thence onward to Wynton Marsalis, the Olympia, the Giant, the Orgasmic Master and the Smelly Woman

Thursday was the day of being a spectator, no playing music for me – although I still find it difficult to go somewhere as a spectator alone. And I must say, although attending a concert by Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra was a musical experience I will remember for the rest of my life, the seating arrangement as a spectator was something that made the trip nearly persuade me that I never wanted to be a spectator again!
Threesome at the Feline

I bought a very, very expensive ticket of 90 euros in order to get as close as my bank account would reasonably allow, and I found myself in a triple disaster situation: Sitting two rows ahead of me was the tallest man in the audience, which blocked my view of the stage (which was still half the hall away). Sitting behind me was a man of perhaps 60, 65 years old who seemed to enjoy the music so much that during periods when the entire audience was quiet due to being enthralled by the virtuosos onstage – particularly during a solo, piano, sax, trumpet or other – the man seemed to have mini-orgasms, letting out high-pitched, rather feminine cries of joy that while intended for no one but him, seemed to come directly into my ear on every important note of the solo. But the final horror outweighed both the orgasmic master seated behind, and the giant seated in front. This was the woman sitting one seat away from mine on my right, who smelled of some absolute horror killing odor that was impossible to identify. As soon as she came in and sat down, looks from all around – including the orgasmic master right behind – centered on the woman and whatever her smell was. It was so bad that you gagged. In fact, I had to breathe through my mouth for the entire concert. Had she failed to correctly dry her coat after a wash, and it spoiled? Had she spilt milk all over the whole thing a few hours before and let it dry out? Did the putrid chemical smell in fact come from her???!!! It was this latter possibility that led me to hold my breath on speaking to the usher and asking that I be moved to some better seat – but the place was pretty much full….
Communal Well at les Agapes

But still, the concert was so good, I mean the music, that I had no regrets about my fluke seating situation. These were amongst the tightest playing, most modern jazz musicians I’ve ever heard live. My references range from seeing as a child or teenager both the Duke Ellington Orchestra (with Ellington) and the Count Basie Orchestra (with Basie) and this Lincoln Center orchestra with Marsalis was just so crisp and hot. The sound quality reminded me that however good recorded sound is, live sound is better. These people played those saxes and trumpets like they were keyboards – just astounding. Hearing the clarinet of Rhapsody in Blue in a live situation for the first time, was an amazing experience like few I’ve had before, musically. (And I even enjoyed the Tuba rendition at the end of the Jackson’s song “Blame it on the boogie.”)

Friday was more relaxed. I was invited to perform a gig, as a warm up act for a local Paris band of Americana and blues, called, The Communal Well. I had met one of the members a couple of years ago, and had been meaning to go for some time to see a gig. Well, when I announced my CD being out a couple of weeks or so ago, the guy invited me to perform as an opening act in a 30 minute set for them at show they were putting on at a bar/brasserie in the 16th Arrondissement in Paris, a restaurant called, “Les Agapes.” I jumped at the chance, asked Félix Beguin if he could join me on lead (yes, he said), and so went and had a fabulously fun 45 minute or so set just before the main act.
Another Communal Well at les Agapes

Communal Well were very cool, a cross between The Band and … their band…! Very much how they describe themselves, in fact: between Americana and blues, a little of both, and more. I took some short videos to put up here.
Woman singer with Communal Well

From there, I went on to celebrate the birthday of a friend, and we ended up, of all places, spending quite some time drinking down the Pigalle Country Club, which is where the photo on my CD was taken….
Yet another Communal Well

A fabulous week, all in all…. Oh, and now it’s time to go watch the Super Bowl. So excuse me….

A Sublime Rickie Lee Jones at the Bouffes du Nord – When You Could Hear Her

October 20, 2015
bradspurgeon

Rickie Lee JonesPARIS – I waited 36 years to see Rickie Lee Jones in concert, having bought her first album in 1979, when it was released, and having been hooked ever since. Last night I saw her in Paris, but I think I will still have to wait another 36 years before I get to hear her singing live. Attending a concert with virtually no sound on the vocals? Can this really happen? I don’t know. I do know that most open mics I attend every week in dive bars have better sound than what I “heard” at the Bouffes du Nord theater in Paris last night….

As soon as I noticed last week that she was playing at this old theater, a 7-minute walk down the street from my place in Paris, I bought the most expensive tickets in the house, two of them, one for me, one for my girlfriend. We’re both fans. I was a little too late to get seats on the floor, but as the seats in the “corbeille” were the same price as those on the floor – i.e., 51 euros each, or 102 in total – I decided that was probably just as good as the tickets for floor seats. I think I was wrong.

It was the first time I have gone to a show at the Bouffes du Nord, and I can say that this is one impressive theater in middle of Paris’s rough neighborhood of La Chapelle. You enter a nondescript building and find yourself facing what looks like a lost, inner theater that might have been built at the time of the Roman Coliseum. You then enter the theater itself and find what seems was built as much as an indoor circus as a theater to stage drama. It is all bricks, wood, has a fabulous open proscenium arch with a full view of the empty stage behind, a massive floor area extension of the stage (i.e., which is floor-level), and several balconies of seating in the round.

We sat on the first level of seating above the floor – to me it is a kind of balcony, but the theater calls it a corbeille, or basket. As we sat down, we were absolutely delighted to be above the stage, slightly stage-left. The view of the band, and of the central microphone where Rickie would sing was just perfect. I was sure we were better off there than on the floor….

Bouffes du Nord

Bouffes du Nord

My first disappointment came when someone entered the floor just before the concert and announced that we were not allowed to take photos or videos. I couldn’t get anything on the blog, I thought. But at least it would mean I could just thoroughly enjoy the show. Wrong. I now suspect the reason they said we could not take videos is because they were embarrassed by what they knew would follow: No vocals mic, no monitor for Rickie, or a guitar through the vocal monitor, or feedback through the vocal monitor, or no rhythm guitar through the monitor, or no vocals through the main speakers, or no rhythm guitar through the main speakers, and lots and lots and lots of desperate requests from Rickie Lee Jones to the “sound engineer” to please do something to get it all right!

Yes, readers of this blog will know that I have a mountain of worldwide experience playing in and even occasionally organizing, open mics in rowdy, lowd, crappy dive bars all over the world. Readers will also know that I rarely make complaints about the sound systems in said bars. In fact, I rarely have complaints to make, since most of the time a friendly and responsible organizer of an open mic will do his or her best to make sure that we can hear the vocals and instruments.

Last night, the Bouffes du Nord pretty much never got the sound right, with the exception of when Rickie went to the piano and sang and played from there. Suddenly, some eight or so songs into the show, she seemed to be able get right into the music, and so could we. In fact, the best thing I take away from the concert is the knowledge of just how professional she is, how fabulous her voice remains at 60 years old, and how cool her personality is on stage.

Having to deal with a venue that cannot get the sound right on one of the finest pop music vocalists of the last 36 years and letting down a near capacity crowd of 500 people paying 51 euros or 41 euros, is just the most extraordinary an unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen!

I should have done a bit of research on the theater beforehand, though, and I’d have realized that bizarre things are part of its history from the beginning, if this entry from wikipedia is to be trusted: “Founded in 1876, it had an erratic existence and seemed that it would never get off the ground. In its first decade it had no fewer than fifteen artistic directors, the most notorious being Olga Léaud who fled the theater after her production had failed, taking the contents of the theater safe with her.”

It seems it went on to have a fabulous and important period as the home of Peter Brook’s avant garde company, from 1974 until 2008. It is still partly a theater for drama production, and perhaps that is why the soundman was having so much trouble. I am used to not hearing guitars or vocals on loud, blaring rock bands, but not with the quiet, mostly laid back music of the band from Montreal that accompanied Rickie: There were five musicians (drummer, violin (and various strings and percussion), lead guitar, keyboards and bass) and it was all excellent accompaniment.

Rickie ran through more than an hour and a half set of songs from her oldest to the latest album (“The Other Side of Desire“), just out, and she did a magisterial job, but never, ever did the sound get done right. On “Chuck E.’s In Love,” not only did we barely hear the vocals from where I was sitting, but her amazing intro on her acoustic guitar was all but lost. On “Last Chance Texaco,” the mic was just totally out of sight, so there was no sense of being able to experience the extraordinary kind of performance that we find on a few youtube recordings of this performance.

Through it all, Rickie did the perfect “grin and bear it” act with smiles and non-stop efforts to get the soundman to please do his job. She did this through feedback from monitor, through the lead guitar player’s guitar coming through her monitor, through no voice through the monitor, through too much voice through the monitor. For me, at some points, from my vantage point, I felt I was ONLY hearing her voice through HER monitor … at those moments when it was stronger there.

When I left the show, outside the theater I spoke to a woman who had been in the front row on the floor, just wanting to hear her reaction. She immediately expressed sympathy for Rickie, saying it was really too bad she was having problems with her monitor, but she said that from her vantage point in the front row, she could hear the vocals and all the rest throughout the performance. She was, in fact, in pretty much the same line of sight and level as the sound engineer, who stood a little behind her, so there is a possibility that the sound engineer was in fact doing the best job with the audience vocals sound – not the monitor – that he could.

That would mean that the theater itself is to blame for the bad acoustics, and/or the lack of effort made at putting speakers high enough for the corbeille and balcony spectators to hear properly. I heard, but I have not been able to confirm, that in fact, the Bouffes du Nord has only recently decided to turn into a concert venue as well as a theater. If that is the case, then clearly it needs to make some investments in creating an adequate sound system for concerts, either that or cease to charge ticket prices of a top venue rather than making it free like a local bar with its open mic.

I do know that I was not the only one who felt bad for Rickie and her band. But I could nevertheless see enough through all of it, that in my wait of 36 years to see her live, I was not let down by her performance and the continuing strength of her voice – which part of the time was so strong I could hear enough of it without the mic to know it was still entirely there.

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