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Monumental Johnny Borrell Concert at Small Bar; Nice Open Mic at Vieux Léon

March 28, 2013

borrellWhen I first heard that Johnny Borrell, the lead singer of the band Razorlight, was doing a series of concerts in March and April in small bars in London, Amsterdam and Paris, and that he was doing this cycle of them night after night, week after week, on a kind of mini repeating tour, I wondered if he had fallen on hard times.
This was, after all, the singer and songwriter of a band whose songs I loved half a decade ago, stuff like “The Girl With the Golden Touch,” and especially, “America.” I first listened to him frequently on my car radio, then the first – and only – time I saw the band was in August 2007 at the Sziget Festival in Budapest. Then it ended up that because we had a mutual friend, Borrell came and played two or three songs at my Sunday Brunch at the Mecano Bar open mic, for the friend.

He just did it solo with an acoustic guitar. Then we met up again at another open mic in Paris – at the Bus Palladium – one night when my friend said Johnny was itching to do an open mic, and I was there doing it. Each time, in solo acoustic Borrell was superb. I think he sang one or two new songs he was working on at the Palladium that night, and it sounded okay, kind of cool, but not the end of the world.

So last night when I decided to go see Borrell at the Truskel, I was expecting much the same, hoping some people would show up, and hoping it wasn’t the end of the road for such a wonderful musician.

So it was that I nearly shit my pants when I arrived and found this whole band set up with a great sound system, lots of equipment they are busing around from venue to venue, and above all, an absolutely vibrant, charismatic, madly wonderful performance by Borrell and his new musicians (this is not Razorlight). And the songs! It is very rare, almost unheard of, for me personally to enjoy listening to even the most famous of bands in concert when I have never heard their new music before.

This stuff was wonderful on the first listening. I really enjoyed it, and so did the many, many other people who showed up in that confined space of the Truskel. In fact, I arrived after the concert had started – or right at the beginning – and so found myself in the back of the little room with no room to move. I was therefore constrained to lift my arm high in the air over the heads to get the videos. Apologies. But you still have a chance to go next week and see his last concert at the Truskel – or further ones in London and Amsterdam.

And ultimately my conclusion was that Borrell is not on the skids, but better than ever, or at least as good as ever, and that playing in these small bars seems to be a way of getting this band’s act together out of the spotlight. It has been done before by other bands, but whatever the situation, what counts here is the supercool music being made, and the luck of those who see and hear the band in such venues.

The other good thing was that the concert ended early enough for me to split right afterwards and walk over to Chatelet where the Vieux Léon open mic takes place, and to get up and play a few of my own songs, and watch and hear some of those of my friends, the regulars at the Vieux Léon.

All together a fabulous night.

Pretty Immense: Four Disparate, Unrelated, Extraordinary Venues in One Night in Paris

September 27, 2012

I may only have actually played in one place last night, but I attended three open mics and a concert in Paris and took in all vibes and sensations available and went home still with enough energy to ride my unicycle five kilometers around the neighborhood. If that sounds weird, keep reading!

First stop was the Truskel Bar to see the Velvet Veins, the new band of my lead guitar player, Félix Beguin – who was supposed to play with me at that ill-fated gig of ours at the Lizard Lounge a couple of weeks ago – and his shockingly good young guitar alter-ego and singer. Félix is still part of the Burnin’ Jacks, but he created this band, the Velvet Veins, in order to play exactly 100 percent the kind of music HE is addicted to… kind of 70s blues rock, metal rock, rockin’ rock, guitar-based stuff with amazing lead exchanges between the two guitar players, some mad drumming and even a bit of harmonica playing from the bass player. Don’t ask me to be literate or even precise or accurate about what this sounds like – just give it a listen. Unbelievable stuff. (I apologize for the shaky camera work, but the excited crowd was jumping up and down so virulently in front of me – and on me – that I could not do any better.

From there I head over on a short walk to the much quieter and down to earth Vieux Leon bar near the Pompidou Center for the first of a new Wednesday night open mic, which was this night hosted by my friend Baptiste W. Hamon, formerly known as Texas in Paris. The bar could not have been a bigger contrast to the Velvet Veins-bopping Truskel, but that was just fine as a way to come down and do some of my own bopping music – actually, I opted for Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” and my own, “Borderline.”

Highlander Open Mic 6th Anniversary Cake

Highlander Open Mic 6th Anniversary Cake

From there I used my new iPhone maps app thing to get lost just trying to find the quickest way over to the Highlander. But fortunately as soon as I found the rue de Rivoli, I no longer needed the app. (Piece of shit, and I dread where it will lead me next week in Osaka and Nagoya and Suzuka….) So I just HAD to go to the Highlander, even if I knew there was no way I would even dream of performing. The thing was, it was the sixth anniversary of this most popular of Paris open mics, run by Thomas Brun. Thomas not only does a great job with running the open mic, but he sings and plays amazingly, and even more importantly he comes up with good birthday cake on these annual celebrations, and last night he added some champagne into the mix. I got my cake and champagne as soon as I arrived, and the timing was perfect since I had by then digested my main course of duck kebab and pasta….

From there I headed up the rue Dauphine to the Cavern, where the agreeable bass player master of ceremonies, Guillaume, again invited me up to the stage to play. But I learned my lesson long ago that everything I touch at the Cavern turns to rust and I have to either persuade them to let me take my guitar up with me and we do songs I know, or I’ll have to go to a massive number of karaoke bars and hone my skills in that area on the same songs they do. But I’m pretty blown away by so many of the singers there, that I know I have far to go…. But the band is really worth going for alone, say nothing of getting on stage and making a fool of one’s self.

So that was it, after that, all the beers, cake and champagne, I just had to do the unicycle thing around the neighborhood, despite it nearing 4 AM…. What a night.

Unexpected Good Time at Truskel Open Mic

April 7, 2012

Knowing that it was only once a month, on the first Friday of the month, I decided I had but one chance to attend the Truskel open mic this month, and I better go. But I also had very low expectations, because in general open mics that happen once a month go off the radar and are not well attended. It was average a couple of months ago, the last time I had not forgotten its existence. So I went to the Truskel and at first my fears were confirmed: I had the pleasure of performing my entire five or six song set in front of an empty house – in front of no one but the organizer, Vincent.

Actually, that is not true. There were a couple of “old friends” and the bartender, on the other side of the barroom, hidden from the stage. The old friends had, I guess, heard me sing so many times that they chose to drink and chat and ignore my set. (Still, it had been a couple of years at least since they had heard me perform, and more like three years, since the last of Earle’s great open mics at the Truskel.)

Anyway…… the surprise evening would develop slowly but surely, as first what happened was right after my last song a guy came up to me – who had entered the bar halfway through the last song – and asked if I could play that same last song again – my song “Except Her Heart” – and he would throw in a rap number along with my singing. So I agreed, and it was a huge, huge bloody regret that I had not turned out my recording device to capture the moment. It went really well, we seemed to work out the division of the song and rap and singing together perfectly, and the song lent itself well to his rap. Pissed me off royally to find myself once again losing a potential moment of a wonderful recording with another musician on one of my songs.

After I finished that, the next surprise came in the form of a man who had just arrived a little before the end of the rap, and he said, “You must be Brad….” Ah, yes…. So here I found was a Tasmanian devil of a singer and musician named Scott Bywater – from Tasmania, but now living in France – and he had discovered the Truskel through reading my blog. Wow, I love it! It is happening more and more often that I run into people at the open mics who have discovered them thanks to the blog. There is no more motivating factor than that to keep me pounding out this stuff day after day.

So then Scott Bywater goes up and performs – with my guitar – and proves to be sensationally good. I loved his first song, and by his last song I was really intrigued and said, “I know that song, was that Van Morrison…” or I was thinking it was Bruce Springsteen, something about a Jersey Girl…. I turned out it was Tom Waits, and it was from the last Tom Waits album that I had bought new when it came out, “Heart Attack and Vine.” That was so long again, though, that I had forgotten the song on the record. To say nothing of the way Scott had turned it into something more mainstream than the Waits growl.

There were some nice duets, as well, and I got to sing one more song – after I requested to do so – to close the evening now that the Truskel was filling up. It turns out that it was the last of the monthly open mics at the Truskel until October, when they plan to change the day and the format somewhat to excite a bigger and more regular audience. But I sure had fun.

Two Stars Are Born at the Bus Palladium; and the Truskel Revisited

February 5, 2012

Had to force myself out last night in the extreme cold of Paris, with the lingering cold in my head, but force myself I did, since I knew it was the once-a-month Kararocké at the Bus Palladium. I said to myself that there was little chance I’d sing, thanks mostly to my cold. But I didn’t really want to miss the Kararocké and see what I might discover this time – there’s always something new to discover…singers, an approach to the show, craziness. Whatever. So I was really, really saying to myself in the early stages of the show, “Crap, what the hell is this? This is NOT so cool as usual.” And then, suddenly, like some kind of electric shock suddenly shot through the Bus Palladium, the Kararocké woke up and the room filled with life, and discoveries.

The first electric shock came in the form of a Filipino singer of a certain age, who called himself either “Bond Jovi,” or “Bong Jovi.” He went up and took his time to get ready, then he went absolutely nuts on a Queen song, and he drove the crowd into frenetic madness at the joy of the situation. So crazy went the crowd, in fact, that for the first time in my experience, I watched them chant for an encore from Bong Jovi. I managed to catch that on video, as well as his first song. Crazy stuff. I was pretty surprised when I discovered later in the day that this man’s face showed up on my Facebook this morning, and I realized that I had Mr. Bong Jovi – under his real name – as a friend on my Facebook, and that he had recently asked me where he could find a place to sing in Paris!!!!!

Well, that was the first electric shock. The second was another guy on my Facebook, but who actually is a lot closer than just a Facebook buddy. Nicolas Ullmann, the MC, announced that Félix Beguin would make his singing debut. Félix has often played lead guitar at the Kararocké, but more importantly for me, he and I have played together live and in some of my recordings, for the last three years. I love Félix’s guitar playing, and lately he had sent me some really great recordings he had done of him singing nice soft stuff like Paul Simon. And he had actually played some nice quiet soft stuff that he sang at my brunch at the Mecano bar last year, where he had, if I recall that particular day, a fabulous audience of three….

So I, and just about everyone else who knows him, was last night shocked to find him rock the Bus right down to the ground with his interpretation of the French rock song Antisocial from the band Trust. In short, Félix went crazy, and he injected the room with real rock ‘n roll for the first time last night. And his showmanship was sublime as well, as he got the audience to participate. I’m wondering how much longer I will have Félix playing lead for me before he ends up in too high demand elsewhere. His regular group, the Burnin’ Jacks is moving on up, but Félix has recently also let me hear some tracks from a new band he is putting together that is…burnin’ like hell too….

There were some other cool acts as well; I loved the duo with the singer guy and his wicked woman bass player doing a Stones number.

Well, ANYWAY….

It was actually the day before that – Friday – where I had some equally strong emotions as I returned to play in the open mic of the Truskel bar for the first time in more than two years, I think. The Truskel was the last place that Earle’s open mic was a real success, and it was rockin’. (I played there a few times with Félix, in fact.) In recent months the Truskel decided to relaunch an open mic, although only once a month, and on Fridays, not Mondays. I finally got the chance to go on Friday, and it was amazing to play on that stage again.

And I was lucky there were not that many bands, as the open mic, in fact, lasts only from 8 PM to just after 10 PM, and I was late in arriving. But I managed to play around five or six songs, and I even had one of the other musicians – from Watermelon Man – come up and sing with me on “What’s Up!” I had wondered how the Truskel could do an open mic on a Friday, as this joint is so full on Fridays you can barely get in. But I realized that in running the open mic early, they are getting more people in earlier, as most of the business starts around 10 PM or later, and goes all night. Worth the visit!

But to come full circle, I must say that I had to force myself out of the house on both nights because of the cold and the cold (head cold), and on each occasion, I found myself returning home absolutely delighted at having forced myself. And there’s a lesson there somewhere…. but crap, it’s cold again tonight…..

PS, I almost forgot the nice little concert at the Bus Palladium by Gaspard Royant. I enjoyed his story about a crazy murder that happened near his childhood home and about which he wrote a song, one of the videos herewith….

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