Concert Highlights–The Fab Faux at City Winery, 12/28/15

“We’ve been doing this since 1998 and we’re still trying to get it right,” said Will Lee early in the Monday night Book of Paul show at City Winery, which followed Sunday’s opening night’s Book of John and preceded Tuesday night’s Book of Harrison, Wednesday’s Rubber Soul album in its entirety, and New Year’s Eve’s early show of The Beatles at Shea Stadium and late show of mixed Beatles favorites.

After what, 17 years of doing this?, the Fauxs constantly come up with ways to make it fresh. Then again, as anyone who was with me in streaming Beatles albums over Christmas–when they first became available for streaming, finally!—The Beatles always sound fresh, and there’s always something new to learn from listening for the millionth-plus time.

Jimmy Vivino once likened listening to The Beatles to archaeological science, saying something to the effect that there’s always more to learn, always more “information” becoming available. That explains how Fab Faux somehow keep sounding better and better—that, of course, and the fact that they’re some of the top players in the world, who have studied The Beatles catalog like it was the Dead Sea Scrolls.

A few from a full evening of highlights from Monday’s show:

“Paperback Writer” replicated the Beatles’ great layered harmonies, and after an outstanding guitar break from Vivino in which he even threw in a guitar bit-—maybe even the backward solo from the 1966 two-sided single’s flip “Rain”–Lee asked the sold-out audience, “Don’t you just love the versatility, the dependability?”

Indeed, I was thinking the exact same thing. Every time I see Vivino–and I’ve been seeing him in differnt groupings for decades–I’m even more astounded by his versatility and dependability.

“Blackbird” had Lee and electric guitarist Frank Agnello switching to acoustic guitar, drummer Rich Pagano clicking sticks, and keyboardist Jack Petruzzelli coming out dancing and blowing into a bird whistle–with Pagano also whistling along. And when Agnello sang “We Can Work It Out,” I remembered that it really was a McCartney/Beatles song and not Valerie Simpson’s—since she’s made it her own in closing out Thursday Night’s Open Mic events at the Sugar Bar with her own touching take on it.

For “Yesterday,” Lee and Vivino both played keyboards. Petruzzelli wailed so hard on “Oh! Darling” that everyone in the room was on their feet, same with “Get Back,” so thoroughly researched by the Faux that both the lead guitar and piano parts sounded right off the record player–the only difference being vocalist Vivino’s brief cuts to “All Right Now,” “Satisfaction” and “I Can See for Miles” while Lee traipsed around the room while playing bass, returning to the stage in the nick of time for Vivino to get back to “Get Back.”

Lee, by the way, always astounds with his singing, since you never got to hear much of it when he was on Letterman. But as he related after the show (and Valerie Simpson avouched the next night at the Sugar Bar, where Lee’s Letterman band mate Felicia Collins held court), he sang on tons of jingles back in the day (as did Val), including Stroh’s Beer. And while Vivino acquitted himself very well on McCartney fare, he got the night’s biggest laugh by confessing that he always favored Lennon, who was “much closer to the Italian guys we like—Dion and Elvis Presley.”

Incidentally, though he’s not tributed with his own special night during this run, Ringo has been given the encores, Monday night’s being “With a Little Help From My Friends” and “I Wanna Be Your Man.”

But really, it was the show’s opening song that renewed my appreciation for Paul McCartney, as I’ve never forgotten the thrill of opening the White Album in 1968 and putting on Side One of the first disc and hearing, for the first time, “Back in the U.S.S.R.” Even now I think it’s the most revolutionary song in rock ‘n’ roll history, matched maybe by “God Save the Queen.”

When I got home I went straight to Wikipedia. Sure enough, it said how The Beatles had been “officially derided in the USSR as the ‘belch of Western culture,’” while at the same time “Back in the U.S.S.R.” was seen in the U.S. as pro-Soviet, particularly by anti-communist groups.

“It was a mystical land then,” McCartney said when he arrived in Russia to perform in 2003. “It’s nice to see the reality. I always suspected that people had big hearts. Now I know that’s true.”

Even in the darkest days of The Cold War, that’s how I figured it. Sure enough, in the mid-‘80s I met some Russian TASS correspondents based in New York who have remained lifelong friends.

And no surprise, they loved The Beatles as much as we did.

Concert Highlights: Judy Collins, 1/2/2015

There’s nothing like seeing anything with Danny Fields, but especially something that he was intimately involved in—which doesn’t much narrow it down.

Case in point: Judy Collins. Danny was so much a part of her career when he was working at Elektra in the 1960s and she was a roster artist that she’s in the forthcoming Danny documentary Danny Says. When I found out on Dec 30 from her concert opener Ari Hest—in the Fab Faux’s dressing room at City Winery following the band’s dead-on performance of Danny’s favorite Beatles’ album Rubber Soul in its entirety—I brought him with me to see her Jan. 2 at City Winery.

Due to hot saki and two electronic pot hits, I’m afraid I took worse notes than usual. Hence, this account will likely be especially incoherent and meandering. About all I can say with certainty is that Judy Collins remains a national treasure, along with Linda Ronstadt one of our two broadest interpreters of popular song. That said, I can also say that she opened with “Open the Door,” one of her most beautiful original songs and sentiments (“I’d like to be as good a friend to you as you are to me”).

We sat at a table with a couple in town from Chicago. The wife had first seen Judy in 1969. Judy, meanwhile, looked out at Varick Street from the City Winery stage facing it, and recalled coming to New York herself from Denver and playing Gerdes Folk City in 1961—and wondered if anyone in the audiience was even alive then, besides, that is, me and Danny.

“Everybody was there–Joan [Baez] and Mimi [Farina, Baez’s sister]. Even Cisco Houston, who had only a couple months to live. Peter, Paul and Mary, before they were Peter, Paul and Mary. And a guy at the bar who was so pathetic, singing old Woody Guthrie songs—and not the best ones. I thought he was sad, that he didn’t have any repertoire. That was Bob Dylan. And I thought it was wonderful that they all came to see me and then I found out that my opener was a 13 year old named Arlo.”

Judy sang something that had to have been so beautiful, because the Chicago wife was weeping openly afterwards and saying something to Danny. I really wanted to let her know who Danny is—or at least direct her to this fab piece I wrote a few months ago!—but I knew Danny would modestly shrug it off.

Judy was now noting that Marcia, her grade school friend from Denver whom she’d known for 63 years, was in the audience, that they’d been in a group in the ‘50s called The Little Reds, assuring the audience that in those days, “[Little Reds] meant nothing political.” She mentioned meeting up with Leonard Cohen’s singer-songwriter son Adam while touring Australia. “You’d be proud of me for not telling him I put him through school,” she said, and indeed, Leonard Cohen was one of many budding or otherwise then unknown songwriters she championed throughout her career.

Me? I was unusually jumpy, maybe because of the weed, maybe because Danny had explained to the Chicagoans that we hadn’t paid for the seat at our table that we let the wife have because we were VIPs. Whatever, something went to my head, and when it became clear that the waitress had forgotten my second whiskey, I pointedly, perhaps arrogantly, gestured at her from across the room. She rushed over with it and apologized. I waved her off and downed it like the VIP Danny said we were.

Judy was talking about her early music influences—the old folk song ballad “Barbara Allen,” via Jo Stafford (me and Danny nodded at each other and made referece to Stafford’s hit “Shrimp Boats”), and of course, The Highwaymen’s “Gypsy Rover.”

I’ve heard her sing “Gypsy Rover” many times. But I also got to hear The Highwaymen sing it, a few years ago when the four then-surviving members of the original quintet regrouped and performed at the annual Association of Performing Arts Presenters conference at the Hilton.

I couldn’t believe it when I saw the listing and read the blurb. I didn’t think it was possible that The Highwaymen—the early ‘60s folk group who arguably recorded the definitive baby boomer versions of “Michael (Row the Boat Ashore)” (which actually topped the pop charts in 1960), “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” “Cotton Fields” and “The Gypsy Rover”—were still together, let alone still alive. Yet there they were, doing 20-minute sets for talent buyers in little showcase rooms at the hotel.

I was blown away. I was eight when “Michael” came out, and here I was speaking with lead singer Steve Fisher, who had formed the group with four other Wesleyan freshmen in 1958. I told him how I always loved to hear Judy Collins sing it in concert, and he said that they’d never met her, but were about to open a show for her and that they were so excited about it they didn’t know what to say. I also told him how I often found myself (and still do) singing the plaintive “Ah-dee-do, ah-dee-do-dah-day/Ah-dee-do, ah-dee-day-dee” chorus on the street, even in the shower at the gym (not recommended). He laughed.

Sadly, Dave died in 2010, and was followed in 2011 by Bob Burnett and Gil Robbins (Tim Robbins’ father, who had joined the group in 1962). That leaves only Steve Trott and Steve Butts of the original five, Chan Daniels having died in 1975. I relate all this here because meeting them and hearing them was like meeting Odetta, many of whose songs they also popularized. And when Judy sang the “Gypsy Rover” chorus a cappella at City Winery, I chimed in with everyone else, this time without embarrassment.

And then it was back to Bob Dylan. She joked about hearing the forthcoming Dylan Shadows in the Night album of Sinatra songs, which she’s apparently not too impressed with. But acknowledging that “he changed our lives forever,” she said, before leading the SRO crowd in “Tambourine Man” (which she recorded after being present when he wrote it): “He can sing Rogers and Hammerstein if he wants. He can do anything he wants.”

Yeah, well he can’t do Sondheim. Judy can and did: three Sondheims ending with “Send in the Clowns” (the other two are lost to incapacitation). And she could have done any number of other writers—Webb, Weill and Robin Williamson, to start with “W.”

Not to mention Ari Hest! He came up to sing his excellent song “The Fire Plays,” with Judy accompanying him beautifully–after a gushing intro thanking him for joining her on a trip to perform at some castle in Ireland (like anyone wouldn’t? Shit, I’d have carried her guitar!).

Just remembered! She kicked off her shoes for an encore at the piano after starting it and then discovering she could get “a better grip on the pedal” without them. Otherwise her longtime piano/vocal accompanist Russell Walden was wonderful as ever. They did a stunning version of Billy Ed Wheeler’s “Coal Tattoo” and it made me wish she’d do a whole album with Richard Thompson

Danny was thrilled that she encored with “In My Life” from Rubber Soul (also the titletrack of her 1966 breakthrough album) and then she finished traditionally with “Amazing Grace.” Now I had tears in my eyes, which, when closed, melted the decades back to that night at Gerdes in 1961.

Concert Highlights–Lenny Kaye’s ‘Nuggets’ at City Winery, 6/18/14

High points galore at last night’s It’s a Nugget If You Dug It—Nuggets’ 40th + 2 Anniversary, presented by historic Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968 compiler Lenny Kaye at City Winery.

Kaye had assembled a stellar band—Symphony for the Devils–featuring his fellow Patti Smith Band members Tony Shanahan (bass and vocals) and Jay Dee Daugherty (drums) along with the Fab Faux’s Jack Petruzelli (guitar and vocals), with guests Joan Osborne, Glen Burtnik (keyboards and vocals), and on guitar and vocals, Marshall Crenshaw, Kevin Kinney and Steve Wynn. But unannounced guest Peppy Castro, vocalist/guitarist for the Blues Magoos, brought the house down with his band’s 1967 garage rock classic “(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet” and its cover of “Tobacco Road.”

Osborne proved once again that she can sing anything, as she did on a block of four songs including The Standells’ “Dirty Water,” for which she transposed the Boston references to Brooklyn (i.e., “Gowanus Canal” for “river Charles,” and “Oh, Brooklyn, you’re my home”), The Outsiders’ “Time Won’t Let Me,” the Music Explosion’s “Little Bit O’ Soul” and The Strangeloves’ “Night Time.”

Other high points included raw versions of such garage rock Nuggets as Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction,” Music Machine’s “Talk Talk,” Paul Revere and the Raiders’ “Just Like Me,” and the closing “Louie, Louie,” for which lyric sheets were necessarily handed out.

But really, the most telling moment came when Kaye spoke on the meaning of his Nuggets project, which he had compiled initially as a two-LP set for Elektra Records release in 1972.

As he told me last week, “The story of Nuggets is my story growing up as a wild animal in New Jersey trying to find a place in the world, learning guitar and driving around constantly in my car and pulling in stations on the radio and trying to find who I can become.”

As such, Kaye’s story resonates with anyone else who grew up mixed up in the ‘60s, for whom the music on the radio was the most constant companion and loyal friend.

Toward the end of It’s a Nugget If You Dug It, Kaye performed his own “nugget,” “Crazy Like a Fox,” which was co-written by his uncle Larry Kusik, who had written “A Time For Us” from Romeo and Juliet and “Speak Softly Love” from The Godfather. Then a teenager, Kaye had recorded it in 1965 under the name Link Cromwell, and earned a “Newcomer Pick” from the music trade magazine Cash Box—for which I would serve as Retail Editor some 17 years later.

For fans of Lenny Kaye, and by extension, fans of rock ‘n’ roll, let alone garage rock, it was truly a triumphant performance by a New York treasure.