Sunday, August 1, 2010

Concert Reviews- Vieux Farka Toure, Alexis P. Suter, The Swell Season, Motor City Soul Revue w Dennis Coffey, Spyder Turner, Velvelettes, more

Concert Review-

Vieux Farka Toure

BAM R&B Fest at Metro Tech Brooklyn

July 29, 2010

It’s not every day an artist gets to perform in front of a billion people.

Well, Malian born singer-guitarist Vieux Farka Toure did just that recently when he performed on TV during the World Cup.

Can’t say there were even a thousand folk at this free outdoor fest, but what I can attest to is that each and every one of the several hundred there were wowed by this virtuoso. Strumming his guitar effortlessly, one couldn’t believe the Hendrix like sounds that were emanating from it. Starting slowly and building with each number, the ninety minute show just crept up on you until the furious climax.

“He knocked me out,” my musically jaded buddy stated.

Throughout the memorable performance, African women in brightly colored garb showered the stage and even the masterful quintet’s foreheads with dollar bills. All the while, folk of every race, creed, color and age enjoyed the concert. It proves that music is, in fact, a universal language. My crew didn’t understand a word they were singing and it didn’t much matter.

Marring the event, however, was an unpleasant confrontation. Two old ladies right in front of the stage did a tug of war over a chair, while a third jumped in to help her tag team partner. When one of the seniors almost fell during the melee, I thought to myself, “Here’s comes that broken hip.” An afternoon of peace and love was turning into WWE Smackdown. And the fact that the combatants, eyes ablaze, were of different races made it that much uglier. Luckily, security quickly jumped in and calmed the hostile trio down. It just proves that stupid isn’t a trait relegated to our youth.

I’d also like to point out for all the musicians reading this, that Toure clocked on the merchandise post-show. At $15 a pop, I saw box after box of CDs moving. Anyone who doesn’t sell CDs and T-Shirts at their gigs isn’t maximizing the potential for said shows. As someone who has done radio for twenty years I’ve seen way too many artists without a hint of business sense, which is too bad, because providing souvenirs and giving a fan an autograph and handshake also builds that bond between you and your audience.

Anyway, Toure, the son of legendary Ali Farka Toure, hasn’t hit thirty yet and he’s already attained greatness. One can easily picture him as a leading ambassador of world music in the decades to come.

--Evan Ginzburg

Concert Review- Alexis P. Suter

Wagner Park NYC

July 29, 2010

Alexis P. Suter is a big woman with a big voice.

And luminaries such as BB King and Levon Helm have been singing her praises.

So when I had the chance to finally see her in a beautiful outdoor setting overlooking the water on a gorgeous night, I grabbed it.
And I was glad I did.
Reminiscent of such fellow underrated greats as Phoebe Snow and Toshi Reagan, this woman can sing literally anything. Billing herself as a rising star on the roots, blues, and soul scene, it didn’t much matter what style of music she sang, as all showcased a booming, world class voice. A highlight was Knocking on Heaven’s Door which she made her own. Her originals were also catchy, particularly one on the horrendous NYC subways. Ironically my buddy I was with is a subway conductor, and he laughed while exclaiming, “I have to get her CD for that one!”

Suter encouraged babies and small children to dance in front of the stage, which only added to the charm of a wonderful show.
Walking off in a huge top hat after ninety or so minutes, she reminded me very much of Gene Chandler. I’m not quite sure what the fashion accessory was supposed to mean, but it was a nice touch nonetheless.

Based out of Brooklyn, I’m glad she’s not limiting herself as a blues act since the NY blues scene here is a shell of what it was. And this warm, intelligent, witty and powerful singer deserves every opportunity for not only the Big Apple to hear her, but the world as well.

--Evan Ginzburg

Concert Review- The Swell Season

Celebrate Brooklyn Festival- Prospect Park Brooklyn, NY

July 30, 2010

The 2006 movie Once was an inspiration to struggling artists everywhere. Shot on a miniscule budget of $160,000, this heartfelt, naturalistic, modern day “musical” starred singer songwriters Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Their authenticity helped turn this into what may very well have been the best non-documentary ever on the subject of musicians. Not only did it go on to international acclaim, but garnered their band, The Swell Season, a Best Song win at that year’s Academy Awards where they poignantly told a billion strong audience, “Create art.”

There’s a whole lot of people who heard their message loud and clear. I personally know this, because the first Friday of each month when I book my free variety shows at Gizzis Cafe in New York’s legendary Greenwich Village, it is only a matter of time before one of my singers, musicians, poets or writers bring up this film. And as the Associate Producer on The Wrestler with Mickey Rourke and Co-Producer on upcoming documentary projects, I also am inspired that great films can be made on a shoestring.

So, of course, I was among a massive crowd of nearly ten thousand lucky enough to get in to see The Swell Season at Prospect Park’s Celebrate Brooklyn.

Hansard, from Ireland, came out alone and played the guitar so passionately, that you waited for it to spontaneously combust. He sings from the depths of his soul, the poignant lyrics not only making you clap along but touching you simultaneously. Irglova doesn’t have the same power vocally, nor as much charisma, but she sings with such sincerity and earthiness that they compliment each other beautifully and perfectly. They may not remind you of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terell as it’s a folk-rock style, but they sure have a lot of blue eyed soul going on nonetheless. And Hansard even did a little improv one number, throwing in a line from Gaye’s Sexual Healing.

In song after song, you marveled at the poetic beauty of their lyrics. Lost love and letting go were running themes and something every one of us could relate to oh so well. I saw couples embrace and even wipe away a tear or two as the stunning evening progressed. Adding a three piece horn section especially for this show, there were numbers that were just scorching in their intensity, building to a climax.

In short, it’s intelligent, sensitive, music for adults. How refreshing in this day and age.

Openers The Low Anthem didn’t fare quite as well. A quirky mix of folk, country, blues, and whatever else thrown in, they exhibited what could only be described as anti-charisma. And the drummer was off on his own like he was auditioning for the following night’s Sonic Youth concert. Probably on disc they’d have more to offer, but as a live concert experience I can only suggest they interact with the audience in some capacity. Or at the very least show some sign of movement. Frankly, it felt like a long thirty minutes. With The Swell Season’s generous near two hour show, however, they more than made up for them.

In my life I’ve attended too many great concerts to count, but it’s not every gig where you are also moved and inspired. It was just one of those magical nights that made you thankful that you were at what could have been the very best show on planet Earth.

Evan Ginzburg



Take Motown glamour, charisma and showmanship, place it in a gorgeous outdoor venue and world class festival, and what you end up with is a love fest. Performers who hadn’t graced a New York City stage literally in decades were greeted as returning heroes and it was a beautiful thing to witness.

Opening the memorable show was Eddie Kirkland, who had toured with Otis Redding, retired to become an auto mechanic, and returned as a blues ambassador in the 1970s. The guitar great can literally perform any style of blues and schooled the appreciative audience on just about all of them. He was joined mid-set by The Party Stompers, a great band who ably backed all of the acts on the bill. At age 87 Kirkland hasn’t lost a note and even danced during the show’s finale. Performing will keep a fellow youthful and alive, and such is the case with this road warrior.

Kirkland was followed by a tremendous showman in 63 year old Spyder Turner who had charm and charisma to spare and even told a lengthy joke during a few minutes of technical difficulty. His performance of his 1966 hit Stand By Me, ended up in his regaling the audience with dead on imitations of Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Al Green, Billy Stewart, Chuck Jackson, James Brown and a ton more. When you see a wonderful old school performer with this much to offer, you just wonder why there isn’t a bigger spot in the music business for talent of this level.

Looking sharp and youthful at 67 years old, the 6’6” songwriter Melvin Davis proudly spoke of writing six hundred plus songs, including the powerful and long lost Find a Quiet Place (and Be Lonely). You could see he loved being up there for every second of his twenty or so minute set. Davis, like many in the industry, never got the name recognition or financial compensation he deserved, in spite of his songwriting skills, and drumming with talent as diverse as Smokey Robinson and Wayne Kramer of the MC5. He spent the last quarter century or so working in the Detroit Post Office before finally retiring. Let’s hope his resurrection leads to more shows and performances like this one, as he is thoroughly enjoyable and his exuberance leaps off the stage.

Guitar god Dennis Coffey was up next and to say he was smoking with lightning fast riffs would be an understatement. I literally shook my head in disbelief during his classic Scorpio which is as good as it gets. Regrettably, he only did two numbers but even that was enough to satisfy.

The headliners were the Velvelettes, who spoke of how once The Supremes had their first hit they didn’t get the push at Motown they so clearly deserved. Still looking good, they announced that all four members were grandmothers “and ex-wives,” garnering a well-deserved laugh. With gorgeous gowns, nice choreography, and the classic Motown girl group sound on classics like Needle in a Haystack, they were just a joy to watch- a throwback to a long, lost era.

Following the show they all did a Q&A, a local radio station (WFMU) interviewed the participants and broadcast live, and each and every performer was besieged by fans for autographs and pictures. Their merchandise was flying off the tables as well. Clearly, the music industry may have overlooked these greats, but there’s still those who remember, love, and respect talent of this caliber. I’d also like to say that with so much deserved criticism of a youth oriented music business, small labels who seek out these performers and bring them back to the stage deserve our respect and support. The financial rewards may be minimal with such reissues, but they are helping to preserve a rich history and that’s what it’s all about.

Kudos to all involved in this classy event.

Evan Ginzburg

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