Monday, March 25, 2019

The Hank Stone Band, Grand Folk Railroad, Sushi Savant

A year is a long time. And a year ago, in March of 2018, I was forced to miss a show I'd been planning to attend in Stony Brook because of the last spasms of my old job. The job had been dying for years -- every year since the end of the Bush Jr. administration, I had worked fewer hours than the year before -- until the point where last year, even during our "busy season" (from February through early May), I found myself working two to three days a week max. So I didn't think there would be any problem making it to a scheduled Friday night concert by The Hank Stone Band. There's a guy named Murphy, though, and he has a Law that I was all too familiar with. So of course, the night of Hank's show was one of the few nights on my job where we were inundated with work. And because I had so few work hours available, I had to take the ones that were.

"OK, it sucks, but no big deal," I thought. "I'll catch Hank the next time out."

Little did I know that Hank was about to take a little musical sabbatical. And like everything else in this world, I'm pretty sure it was all about me. I figure that Hank said, "Oh yeah? Well eff Rich Hughes! I'll show him. I won't play out again for a year!" (Have I mentioned that my mental health isn't what it used to be? And that it didn't even used to be all that good?)

In any event, when I saw that Hank and his band had a show coming up this year on March 23, I immediately put it on my calendar and prayed that it wouldn't snow that day. I let my friend Rich Da Drummer (from The Slant) know, and he decided that he wanted to go, too. (I pretty much knew he would.) I didn't know much about the venue -- only that it was in Lindenhurst, somewhere on Wellwood Ave. -- but that was fine for me. It was about halfway between where Rich and I lived, so that was good. I just kind of pictured it as this very chill lounge.

Now Friday night, as I wrote about previously, Denise and I went out to see The Basals and friends in Smithtown. And while I was there, I ran into Kevin McLeod, who said he was planning on going out the next night  to see Hank as well. He spoke a little about the venue -- some place called BACCA -- and said that he had played there previously, and it was a great place.

That night, after I got home, I looked up the venue, and was surprised to learn that it wasn't a lounge after all. BACCA was an acronym for the Babylon Citizens Council on the Arts, which exists (obviously) in Babylon, but for some unfathomable reason has their performance space in Lindenhurst. (I try not to think too much about these kinds of things -- they make my head hurt.) I also noticed that there were advance tickets for sale by brownpapertickets.com, an agency I'd bought tickets from before. But it was late, I was in a lazy mood and my wallet was in the other room, so I just figured I'd either buy a ticket tomorrow or get one at the door.

The next day, when I got up, I went back to the website and discovered there were no more tickets for sale there. At this point, I panicked -- I remembered that folk is sometimes pretty well supported on the Island, and that sometimes, these folk concerts sell out. I couldn't not see Hank again -- next time, he might really teach me a lesson and take five years off. And while Hank seems eternally youthful (for an old folkie, heh heh), I plan on being blissfully senile in five years. I'd still be happy to hear Hank play -- I'd just sit there and drool happily on myself -- but it wouldn't be the same.

I contacted Rich, who also hadn't understood what kind of show this was, and hadn't bought an advance ticket either -- and together we pondered what to do. We decided to just head out to Lindenhurst and meet at the venue anyway. I knew that sometimes, Brown Paper Tickets doesn't sell tickets on the day of the show, so my hope was we'd be able to get tickets at the door. (And later, I reread an e-mail I'd received from Todd Evans, the He-Bird from He-Bird, She-Bird who also plays in The Hank Stone Band, which verified that we should be able to do this.) We figured that if worse came to worse and we got shut out, we'd at least grab some dinner together and drown our sorrows, and Hank would see that we'd tried our best to see him play, even if I was an idiot. (My therapist really wants me to stop that -- I'm not an idiot, I'm a wonderful human being. Maybe a little slow sometimes, though.) But I thought our chances of getting in were pretty good, and I really wanted to see the show.

I found the place without too much trouble, but I've got to tell you, it's pretty easy to miss. It's actually located in a narrow storefront -- the room is much deeper than it is wide -- just a few doors south of The Village Lanterne. I found parking in a lot around the corner, and arrived at the venue at about 7:10 for a scheduled 7:30 starting time. Once inside, I found that my fears were unfounded -- there were definitely still seats for sale. In fact, at this point, the venue was still mostly empty (although it filled out pretty nicely later on.)

I texted Rich to let him know that I was in, and learned that he was just parking himself. I said some hellos to Hank and Todd. Todd introduced me to Jim Pastor and his wife Patty (who was helping out selling snacks and drinks), and we chatted briefly.

Now there were three bands scheduled for the show -- Sushi Savant, which I knew was a project that John Tabacco of WUSB was a part of; The Hank Stone Band; and Grand Folk Railroad, I band I didn't really know anything about. I thought that that was the order of the show, but I was mistaken -- Hank and his band were setting up first.

Rich arrived in time, bought himself a couple of cookies, and sat down next to me to enjoy the show. A moment later, the lights went out, and the music started.

I've seen Hank Stone play dozens of times, back in the LIMC days and the days of the Pisces Cafe. Once or twice, I even saw him jump onto an electric guitar and play a song or two with someone else. But this was my first chance to catch him with his (no longer new) full band. The band consisted of Hank on lead vocals and guitar, Todd Evans on guitar, Mike Christian on bass and Gary Settoducato on drums.

Their set for the night seemed to follow several main themes. There were songs about trains (during which Hank put on his train hat), songs about rivers and songs about trees. (Or about a tree, anyway). I knew Rich was having a good time with this, as he's a fellow train enthusiast.

Most of the set came from Hank's two most recent albums, Painting Tomorrow's Skies Blue (2017) and Until I Saw That Train (2011), although he also played one from his debut solo album from 2005, Rough Folk, a blazing track called "Red".

The band was quite tight, but they also did a great job of keeping it simple, by which I mean this: Hank has always been an excellent songwriter. His songs are distinctive, and they stand out both musically and lyrically. And this band did an excellent job of supporting the material and letting it shine. Some bands get so involved in showing off that they overwhelm the songs themselves (and even more bands have decent musicianship but mediocre songs). These guys have songs that hold up well, and while Todd had a few nice solos, they really did a great job of supporting the songs themselves. (Rich also marveled at how well Gary could play the drums while wearing a hat.)

Some of my favorite songs of the night were (in addition to "Red, which is an old favorite of mine) "Sycamore" and "Robert Johnson Knew" from the second album, and "The River Says" from the new one. I also enjoyed "The Rippling of Rivers", which I like to think of as Hank's hip-hop song. (Not really. But it is largely spoken word.) But really, everything they played was good.

In any event, The Hank Stone Band's set was much too short for my taste. But then, I've never been someone to eat just one or two Hershey's kisses when there was a whole bag nearby. I was just glad I'd gotten there early so I didn't miss any of it.

As it turned out, there was a certain amount of intermixing between bands on this evening, because Hank's bass player Mike Christian also played in Grand Folk Railroad, and his drummer Gary Settoducato also played in Sushi Savant.

Grand Folk Railroad was up next. They are largely a project by Mike Christian and his wife Susan Schwarz-Christian, who is the lead singer/songwriter. She also plays a variety of instruments, including a banjo, an accordion and a flute. Their lineup is filled out by Frank Doris, who is a really excellent lead guitarist, and Bill Resvanis, who is no slouch himself on the drums.

Their set ranged from folk rock to Americana to lounge rock, and included a number of Susan's songs about snow and winter, some of what Susan called her "pissed off chick" songs, a song about the joys of living in Suffolk County after living on the much-more-cramped Nassau/Queens border, and a pair of Frank Doris' songs as well. My favorites included Susan's "On This Day of Snow" and "Way Out Here" (the Suffolk County song), and a particularly clever number written by Frank called "I Wrote a Folk Song, But Nobody Liked It." I liked these guys a lot, and look forward to catching them again.

The third and final set of the evening was by the interestingly named Sushi Savant. This was another 4-piece band, comprising John Tabacco and Jim Pastor on guitars, Joe Gioglio on bass, and Gary Settoducato on drums. I found these guys to be a little more blues-tinged than the previous two bands, with maybe some jazz and roots-rock influence going on as well. John, Jim and Joe traded off lead vocals, which kept the sound interesting, and at times, they pulled off some nice two- and three-man harmonies. They were quite polished, and had some interesting interplay between the instruments. Pastor at times even pulled off some nice Allman-Brothers-sounding guitar.

A couple of the songs that jumped out at me were a number called "Blame Gravity", on which Gioglio sang the lead, and a song that John Tabacco sang called "Open Your Eyes" (on which Long Island songstress Marci Geller sang harmonies). They closed with what seemed to be a particularly popular song with this crowd, "Too Much Sake".

This would have certainly made for a complete enough night of music. However, the bands had one more treat for the crowd, as the ten musicians who made up the three bands all took the stage together for an encore, an energetic cover of Elvis Costello's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?"

This was a really strong show that was a nice feather in the cap of the Babylon Citizen's Council on the Arts. I was thrilled I finally got to catch Hank and his band live, and happy to heard two other bands that I enjoyed as well. Good job BACCA!