Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Prog Contest: Round 1 Match 3

The Mercury Tree

"The common narrative among muso's today is that new prog is retro and even regressive, and they act like they're too cool to like prog anymore. The Mercury Tree is just one band proving the narrative is as bunk as ever. Permutations is a transitional album of alt-math-prog influenced by avant-prog, Larks-SBB-Red era King Crimson and Yes with a unique mix of microtonal sounds akin to avant-garde composer Harry Partch. Heavy, complex, melodic, and all the right kinds of dissonant, this is an astounding accomplishment for three dudes from the U.S., worthy of the highest award in truly progressive rock." - Friday13th



The Mirror's Eye

"We are a symphonic prog band from the Netherlands. Our debut album is a mix of prog and power rock/metal which is very bombastic in nature as we use a lot of orchestras and choirs. @Friday: it was mixed and mastered by Matt Smith from Theocracy (I see you have a couple of their albums 5'ed). It's a bit weird to say why I like our own music without blowing my own trumpet to much, but our selling points are an incredible singer (not me haha), diverse and intricate songs, and a very cinematic sound." - Scheumke


Getting ready to get into some proofreading and note writing for my job, so these (and the new album from New Years Day, which just moved out of the rotation in my car and into my house for a 2019 Best Of evaluation) will give me something to listen to while I work.

Prog Contest: Round 1 Match 2 Results

I was the first contestant to vote in this one. Although I gave the albums three listens each, in this round, I had a very clear preference from the beginning. Here was my vote:

I liked the Pulsar a great deal. It's subtle and atmospheric. I enjoyed some of the tasteful flute work, and the mellotron and piano. The vocals were nice -- used sparingly, but effective. I definitely heard the similarities to Genesis, as well as bits that made me think of King Crimson, The Moody Blues and even Tangerine Dream. I also find the album to be a grower -- I like it better each time. This is actually one of my favorite albums I've heard in any of the prog contests so far.

The Fireballet certainly has a lot of other elements I liked. Along with the familiar classical riffs by people like Mussorgsky and Debussy, two composers I particularly enjoy, I certainly heard the ELP and Yes influences. Unfortunately, most of the parts of the album I liked best weren't the original parts, but the parts that were lifted wholesale from the classical composers. (And the vocalist in the first song reminded me uncomfortably of Monty Python's Michael Palin.)

The Fireballet was good, but the Pulsar was better than good. My vote is for Pulsar.

This one went back and forth, with Pulsar gaining an early lead, Fireballet going ahead, Pulsar coming back, then Fireballet going ahead again. But in the end:

Final Results: Pulsar 9 votes, Fireballet 6 votes

Winner: Pulsar

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Prog Contest: Round 1 Match 2


"Pulsar was one of the finest symphonic progressive rock bands from France, 'Halloween' was their masterpiece, and benefited from a much better production than the previous albums. The music was a bit less spacey and instead more symphonic in a more traditional way. It's a concept album divided into two parts, divided into several songs with individual titles. This is one of the best French prog releases in the 70's." - e210013

Youtube (see track listing, I believe it starts at 1:23:06):


Night On Bald Mountain

"I found this vinyl, like I find most of my more obscure stuff, digging through dusty crates in dingy basements in about a 50 mile radius where I live in the midwest. I found this in Lake Geneva Wisconsin at some whole in the wall tourist shop, that had a sign "records" pointing down the stairs. I found this and others but had never heard of this so had to get it for the terrible name alone, I figured they were from England and saw that Ian McDonald produced it so knew it would be at least worth a spin. Well it turns out they were from New Jersey. This has nodes of all the great early Prog bands. You will swear you hear, Genesis, Yes, GG, KC, and Van Der Graff. I love the orchestration although I usually do not. The FIre Mountain that closes out the album is great although in this day and age maybe a little much but a great listen
hope you enjoy this." - wham49


I'll probably start listening to them tonight. As always, I'll give them at least three listens each -- more if I need more to decide.

Prog Contest: Round 1 Match 1 Results

Here was my vote:

Alright, I'm ready to vote. I liked both albums, but mildly. They both had their plusses and minuses.

For Thrice Mice, I liked that '60s psychedelic vibe they occasionally displayed. I also liked their vocalist, even though there were huge portions of the album where he didn't have anything to do. In a way, this made him more effective. I particularly liked the first and the last tracks. I HATED that sax intro (and outro) on the first song, though, even though I get the sense that they were playing around with their listeners and trying to be funny. But the other aspects of the album overcame it. There was a lot of jazz to the album, which isn't usually my thing, but it didn't really bother me here. A lot of the music was hot -- energetic and very enthusiastic.

The Wallenstein LP was cooler, more laid back and subtle. Their vocalist had some moments, but for the most part, I didn't really like him. His voice was so-so, and his diction was often kind of annoying. I liked the last track the best -- this was their most energetic track, the one where I felt that I heard those Jethro Tull tendencies. Most of the other songs didn't do much for me as songs.

Normally, I prefer Wallenstein's overall style of music to Thrice Mice's. But in this case, I enjoyed the Thrice Mice album a little more. Therefore, I vote for Thrice Mice.

Final Results: Thrice Mice 6 votes, Wallenstein 10 votes

Winner: Wallenstein

Sunday, May 19, 2019


Denise and I attended a performance of Evita tonight at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts. It was Denise's first time at this theater, although I've been there a number of times, either solo or with my daughter (and sometimes my niece).

This was the fullest I've ever seen this theater, probably due to the popularity of the show Evita itself. It's one of my favorites, maybe Andrew Lloyd Webber's best other than The Phantom of the Opera. The downstairs portion of the theater seemed to be just sold out, although there were still seats to be had in theater's small balcony.

Now the last time I saw Evita, it was a performance at The Gateway Playhouse in Patchogue a number of years ago. And while The Gateway always does very professional productions, I left the theater really disappointed that night, because I thought the director had made a fundamental error that ruined the performance, which was this: He made Evita thoroughly unlikable.

I'm not going to pretend I have any in depth knowledge of Argentine history, or about the historical characters of Eva and Juan Peron, so when I speak about them, I'm talking about them entirely as characters within this play. And for me, the play itself doesn't work unless the character of Eva is at least somewhat sympathetic. Because there's just no one else to hang your emotions on. You certainly can't root for the aristocratic slobs who look down on her, or on the generals and politicians who call her a "slut" who should spend her time "looking at the ceiling instead of reaching for the stars." And you can't really root for the cynical Che, who with all of his wit and his (admittedly sometimes valid) criticisms, is ... well ... a dick. He's an acerbic tool who suffers from ... dare I say it? ... EDS (Evita Derangement Syndrome). And you can tell that Tim Rice (the lyricist) isn't pushing him as someone with whom to sympathize, because in the original concept album, it's made clear he's a total hypocrite -- he's originally very pro-Peron, but only becomes disenchanted with the Perons when they brush him off as he's trying to get some kind of government backing for some dopey bug spray he's invented. (I think it was bug spray, anyway -- I can't find it online right now, and I'm not going to go back through the album to verify it.)

SO getting back to the production at hand, the Smithtown PAC had a winning script on their hands for this run. How did they do with it?

Overall, I'd say pretty good. Not perfect, but pretty good.

The set was fine. The director (Ronald Green III) made some good choices throughout. I liked the way they often showed old black-and-white film historical clips of the real-life Perons in the background in between scenes.

They had a few physical problems -- Evita lost her wig once, and lost her hat about three times while she was dancing, but the cast handled it well. The choreography was better than I've been used to at shows at this theater, probably because my old friend Ashley Nicastro was the choreographer for this show. (I say "old friend" jokingly. I've never actually met the woman, but it seems that lately, almost every time I write a theater review of a Long Island production, I look in my program and discover that she was the choreographer. She's been doing a lot of the shows at the CM Playhouse in Oakdale recently, so I was surprised to see her now working for the Smithtown PAC as well). There was one minor collision during a dance, but I suspect that was more the fault of the actor than it was of Nicastro.

The music was provided by eight live musicians (who I guess were backstage, as there isn't an orchestra pit in this theater). I was a little nervous about this at first -- I've gotten kind of gun shy from seeing a lot of shows this year at the Noel S. Ruiz, where every time they have live musicians, they seem to drown out the actors, but that didn't happen here. The band was quite good.

So it all rested on the cast. Could they pull it off?

Happily, yes! There were one or two issues, but in the end, they did a great job of creating a really fun evening of theater.

You have to start with Laura Laureano, the production's Evita. Let's face it, there's no way this show works without her. And I have to say that she won me over pretty much from the start. She's a petite young woman with a big voice. Facially, she reminded me of Jessica Parker Kennedy, the actress who plays Barry Allen's daughter in The Flash. Laureano immediately checks off that likability box, although very early on in the production, she demonstrates that she can go from doe-eyed ingenue to fierce warrior woman in ... well, a flash. She doesn't play Eva as sympathetically as Madonna did in the film -- she's pretty bitchy while she's throwing out Peron's young mistress, and she snaps a little too unnecessarily once or twice at the makeup people getting her ready for her Rainbow Tour -- but she's certainly not the total ice queen she's sometimes portrayed as either.

Laureano has everything it takes to make a first-rate Eva. My only real criticism of her is that when she goes full-out at the highest part of her range, her voice can get a little strident. But she's deadly accurate at hitting the notes, and Evita isn't the easiest part to sing.

In any event, she successfully portrays the character's effervescence and her lust for life, even if that life is regrettably short.

Her chief antagonist is Dylan Bivings as Che. Che serves as our narrator of sorts for the play, usually standing outside of the action and commenting on it. Snottily. (Does it show that I have no patience with this character?) Bivings nails the character perfectly, mocking Evita and the crowds who worship her as though she's an angel or a saint. The only problem with his performance is that while he has a good voice, on this evening, at least, he didn't completely have the vocal range for the part. He'd be fine for most of a song, but when he had to hit the highest notes, he couldn't always pull it off. Maybe he was just having an off vocal night. In any event, it was too bad, because in every other way, he embodied the character.

One of the differences between Broadway and regional theaters like the Smithtown PAC is that on Broadway, you pretty much have every musical theater actor in the world wanting to be a part of a new production, so you can usually find someone who fits every role physically as well as talent wise. This isn't always the case in regional theater, though, so sometimes a director has to choose between somebody who looks the part, and someone who can play the part.

Dennis Creighton, who plays Juan Peron in this production, looks about as Argentinian as I do. (Which is to say, not at all). In every other way, though, he successfully portrayed this character. He played probably the most sympathetic version of Peron I've ever seen, making it obvious that his relationship with Eva was not just one of convenience. (In the failed Gateway production that I spoke of earlier, Peron already had a new mistress while Eva was sick and dying). He's physically a large, strong-looking man, which helped to make it believable that he could fight his way to the top of the military (as demonstrated in the song "The Art of the Possible"). So this helped to give him permission of a sort to play a softer, more tender, Peron without coming off like a wimp. I enjoyed his performance a lot.

Anthony Arpino displayed a powerful and lovely voice as Magaldi, the singer who becomes the first in a long line of increasingly powerful men whom Eva works her through in her rise to the top. Lauren Tiradoo likewise did a good job with her one song in the role of Peron's mistress. (And while she gets quickly thrown out like yesterday's trash, at least this Eva didn't steal her song the way Madonna did in the movie).

The rest of the Ensemble cast also does an excellent job as Eva's adoring crowd, the people who love and worship her.

This is definitely a successful production of Evita, thanks in large part to the talents of its star, Ms. Laureano. If you love this show, as I do, I don't think you'll be disappointed. It runs at the Smithtown PAC ( through June 23.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Prog Contest: Round 1 Match 1

So here's the first match up, with the descriptions given to each album by the player who entered them. Voting will continue through next Tuesday.

Thrice Mice - Thrice Mice!

"Not a lot of people realise that Germany was a cesspool of various genres and their collisions. And every trending genre they took in, they managed to recreate into something truly theirs. In the 70s prog resurgence, Germany fell head first into krautrock and jazz-prog. Amid general hits like Can, Neu! and Eloy (annual followers of Progday tourneys can also recall last year's second place holders Eden) arose a smaller underground spawn of bands. Thrice Mice was one of them. They playfully incorporate sax into their music and write generally happier Pink Floyd-isms. A perfect record for uplifting mood seekers." - Papa Universe



Wallenstein - Mother Universe

“This isn’t an album I’ve got a long history with. I’ve only just discovered it actually, but it did have some of those weirder moments I tend to like and seems relatively unknown here, so maybe y’all will like it too.” - bgillesp

YT link 1:
YT link 2:
YT link 3:
Also on Spotify

I gave them each a listen last night, and while I have a slight preference, this is going to be a tough call. I'll give each album a full three listens before I cast my vote.

I'll be back next Tuesday to tell you who I voted for, and who won. And please, play along at home -- give them each a listen, and decide who you would vote for.

In the meantime, I'll have a show to report on between now and then. So I'll see you soon.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Prog Rock Contest: Preliminary

So we finally got enough entrants to fill out the prog rock contest today, and with that, Friday13th started the first round.

Here's a little background on the tournament, and its history: Friday put together the first one in 2013. In 2014, he switched it over to a Psychedelic Rock tournament. However, this proved to be less popular. So he went back to prog rock in 2015, and he's kept it as prog rock ever since.

Again, these are relatively obscure albums competing, albums that have drawn less than 30 ratings a piece on the Sputnik Music site.

Here's the list of previous winners:

2013 - Los Jaivas - Alturus de Machu Picchu (1981) - A Chilean band that blends folk and symphonic rock

2014 - T2 - It'll All Work Out in Boomland (1970) - A British psychedelic/progressive rock band

2015 - McLuhan - Anomaly (1971) - An American prog rock band that blends jazz and psychedelic rock

2016 - Landberk - One Man Tells Another (1994) - A Swedish progressive art rock band

2017 - Universal Totem Orchestra - Mathematical Mother (2016) - An Italian symphonic jazz rock band

2018 - Carmen - Fandangos in Space (1973) - An American prog rock band that mixes rock music with flamenco music and dance

As you can see, the winners have come from several different countries, many different sub-genres of progressive rock, and a time span from 1970 through 2016 (although with the '70s having been prog's heyday, there tend to be more entries from this era than from any other). I don't know about you guys, but out of these six albums, the only one I was previously familiar with was the Carmen album, and it had been a long time since I'd heard it.

The tournament begins with 16 entries every year. Friday has to approve each entry as meeting the criteria of the contest. (You can't claim Duran Duran is prog, for example. You have to have an outside source saying the artist is prog, such as, Wikipedia, or even Sputnik Music itself.) For each of the first 8 weeks, Friday will present two entries that he believes go together in some way or other, and everyone votes on their favorite, after giving each album at least one (but hopefully several) listens.

This year's players, much like the bands who'll represent them, also come from a number of different countries. Here are this year's entries:

1. The Mercury Tree - Permutations (2016) - American alt-math-prog band
2. Pulsar - Halloween (1977) - French dark symphonic prog rock band
3. Thrice Mice - Thrice Mice! (1971) - German classical/jazz prog rock band
4. Fireballet - Night On Bald Mountain (1975) - American symphonic prog rock band
5. Tangerine Dream - Firestarter OST (1984) - German electric synthesizer prog band
6. Trettioariga Kriget - Krigssang (1975) - Swedish heavy progressive rock band
7. Unreal City - La Crudelta Di Aprile (2013) - Italian symphonic prog rock band
8. Tako - Tako (1978) - Yugoslavian jazz fusion/progressive rock band
9. Art Bears Hopes and Fears (1978) - English experimental avant-rock
10. Wallenstein - Mother Universe (1972) - German progressive krautrock band
11. Evership - Evership II (2018) - American Neo-prog rock band
12. Embryo - Rocksession (1973) - German jazz fusion/prog rock band
13. Powerized - The Mirror's Eye (2018) - Netherlands symphonic prog rock band
14. Wobbler - From Silence to Somewhere (2017) - Norwegian symphonic prog rock band
15. Spettri - 2973 La Nemica Dei Ricordi (2015) - Italian heavy prog band
16. Fish - A Feast of Consequences (2013) - Scottish Neo-prog rock artist (he's the former lead singer of Marillion)

SO, pretty interesting group of entries. The only one of these that I've ever heard before other than my own entry (Tangerine Dream) is the Wobbler album. Ten different countries are represented here, although interestingly, my entry is the only one that's not from either the 1970s or the 2010s. Quite a range of styles, too, although as Friday pointed out, we don't really have any representatives of folk prog. But hey, there's always next year.

Round 1 has begun, and I'll be back tomorrow to tell you about the first two contestants. I've just given them each a listen, and it's going to be a tough vote for me (although I am leaning slightly in one direction). 

Musical Theater on Long Island Update #2

OK, here's the first part of next season's schedule for the Noel Ruiz playhouse at the CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale:

Swing! - September 7-September 28
Ghost: The Musical - October 12-November 2
A Christmas Story - November 16-December 22
All Shook Up - January 11-February 1

I saw Ghost: The Musical within the last couple of years at the Cultural Arts Playhouse. The rest of the schedule is meh to me, but maybe not to you.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Upcoming Prog Rock Contest

Every year on the Sputnik Music website, this fellow using the handle Friday13th holds a contest to highlight obscure prog rock albums (Obscure being defined as albums that have garnered fewer than 30 ratings on the site). Basically, 16 contestants each pick a prog rock album to represent them, and Friday then puts them against each other one-on-one, while everyone votes on which album they prefer. This is his sixth prog rock contest (he tried switching to psychedelic rock one year, but it didn't generate the same amount of interest, so he's stuck to prog rock ever since).

It's the third one I'm participating in. My two previous entries didn't do much damage in the tournament -- the debut album by the Yes spinoff band Flash (which featured Peter Banks and Tony Kaye) got eliminated in the first round in 2017, and my entry for last year, Sight of Day by Mostly Autumn did only slightly better, moving on to the second round before getting squashed. And I suspect that my entry this year, the soundtrack album for the film Firestarter by the German synthesizer band Tangerine Dream might not fare that well either. But no matter, because the tournament gave me a chance to promote and get listens for three albums that I admire, and as a listener, it prompted me to listen to barely known prog rock bands from a variety of countries that I hadn't previously been familiar with. Basically, the contest is fun as hell. (At least for me.)

So this year, as Friday13th gathers his players and prepares to launch the contest, I'm going to report on it here -- all of the entries, and all of the contests, until a winner is crowned a couple of months from now. (There's one round every week.) Please feel free to listen along, and decide who you would have voted for. And if you're really fired up, there are still two open spots in the tournament as of this writing. So if you hurry, you can join the website -- it's free -- and petition Friday to enter an album. If that's still too much work for you, but you find the contest interesting, non-contestants are also allowed to vote on each round. So you can go up on the site and vote for your favorites.

I'm excited! Let the progging begin!

Monday, May 6, 2019

Johnny Marr

Told ya I'd be back in a day or so!

SO first, can we agree on two things? 1. The Smiths made some of the best pop rock music of the 1980s, and 2. Morrissey is kind of a dick.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not disparaging the man's talent. I've always liked his voice, and at his best, his lyrics could be both poignant and excruciatingly funny. But let's face it, the guy is a first-class diva. He's known for storming off the stage if his audience annoys him (or sometimes for not even showing up), and I can only imagine what a pain in the ass he must be to play with.

Nevertheless, as the frontman for The Smiths, he was the band's face. And I was an admirer of the band for several years before I fully realized that there was another huge creative force for The Smiths who not only provided the tasty guitar work, but also wrote all of the music. And that man is Johnny Marr.

Morrissey and Marr split up in 1987, and it wasn't one of those friendly divorces. After the demise of The Smiths, Marr put together an impressive resume, playing with, among others, The Pretenders, The The, Electronic, Modest Mouse and The Cribs, leading some to speculate that he was nothing but a talented second banana. He did briefly front his own band in the early 2000s, Johnny Marr and The Healers, which included Zak Starkey on drums. For the most part, though, it seemed like Marr was content to play a supporting role.

Then, in 2013, Marr released his first solo album, The Messenger. And it was good. Damned good. He followed it up with 2014's Playland, which was maybe a bit of a step backwards, but still contained a few excellent songs. Then last year, he released his third solo effort, Call the Comet, and it might have been even better than The Messenger. Both The Messenger and Call the Comet made my Top 10 Albums lists for their respective years, and the Playland song "Easy Money" made my Top 20 Songs list. And although the releases weren't that well known in the U.S., all three albums charted in the Top 10 in Marr's native UK.

For this reason, seeing Marr live has been a goal of mine for awhile. He played the City last year, but sold out quickly (and maybe that was for the best, considering how I feel about going into Manhattan). However, as soon as I saw he was playing The Paramount this spring, I immediately bought some tickets. (I knew I wouldn't have any trouble persuading Denise to join me for this show.)

Denise and I headed out to Huntington today at about 6:30PM. I was hoping that the parking wouldn't be too wretched. (Ironically, we watched a News 12 story right before we left about how bad the parking can get in downtown Huntington. So true, so true.)

After arriving in the town, we turned into our usual lot around the corner from the club, in hopes of grabbing a spot like the one we'd scored for Jim Gaffigan last Friday. Unfortunately, it was full. There's a connecting lot to the left, however, and we were able to find a handicapped spot in the far corner of that one.

I had bought an extra seat for tonight's show. However, much to my chagrin, when we were shown to our seats, we discovered they weren't aisle seats. In the end it didn't matter, though, because although the venue was fairly crowded, our section (in the back and to the right) was pretty sparsely populated. In all, I'd say the attendance was roughly the same as it had been a couple of months ago when I saw Matisyahu there -- the dance floor was mostly full, as was the center section of seating upstairs, but there was plenty of room left in the side sections.

Before long, we ran into Mandy and Tim from Denise's WLIR group, who coincidentally had bought tickets in the row right in front of us. They decided to watch the show from the front of the stage, and Denise joined them for the first third of the show, to get some dancing in while I guarded her delicious $5 bottle of water.

One thing I want to say in The Paramount's defense, though. Sometimes I rip them (lovingly) for selling overpriced drinks and food. However, in all fairness, I generally find the venue a perfectly comfortable place from which to watch a show. Their screens on both sides of the stage make it easy to see the band, even though the seats are a little far back, and because of their large dance floor, I don't usually have people standing and dancing in front of me. For someone like me, who just likes to sit and enjoy a show without people blocking me, this is priceless. And combine that with their talent for consistently booking acts I want to see, the truth is it's worth paying a little more for my drinks and food.

Anyway, as there was no opening act, they let the venue fill out a little before Marr and his band hit the stage, which they did at a little after 8:15. Marr played as part of a tight and talented 4-piece unit. I had printed out the setlist they'd performed Saturday night in Connecticut, and they stuck to this setlist exactly. It included nine of the twelve tracks from Call the Comet, a pair of tracks from Playland, six songs from Marr's Smiths days, two more Electronic numbers, and one new song.

If I had to pick one word to describe this show, I'd say "satisfying". I love the Call the Comet album, so I was thrilled he played so much from it. I wouldn't have minded a couple of the best tracks from The Messenger, but I understand that the LP is five years old now, so he decided to focus on his newer material. As for the Smiths' numbers, I'd have made a few different choices. Last December, he covered "This Charming Man", and I'd have loved to have heard him playing that iconic jangly guitar line. But he did play "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out", which is not only my favorite Smiths song, but might be one of the best songs of the eighties. He also played "Bigmouth Strikes Again" and "How Soon Is Now", two more of their classics. So overall, I couldn't complain.

Denise made her way back to the seat about a third of the way through the set, drenched from dancing. She said that there was speculation of the floor as to whether Morrissey might make a surprise appearance at the show. Apparently, he's doing a week-long (or so) residency on Broadway this week, and tonight was one of his off nights. I laughed when I heard this, because I figured there was no chance in hell of Morrissey and Marr suddenly playing together tonight, and I was right. Because while introducing "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" during the encore, Marr pointedly dedicated the song to the audience who drove out to see him on a Monday night, and "to no one else!" Yeah, I don't think those two boys will playing in the same sandbox together again anytime soon.

In any event, the crowd seemed to love the show, and Marr seemed pretty pleased himself with both the crowd and the venue, suggesting he'd like to "do it again" sometime soon. If he does, I'll be there.

For those who are interested, the full setlist for tonight's show can be found on, at

Be excellent to one another!

Musical Theater on Long Island Update #1

The Smithtown Performing Arts Center released their 2019-2020 schedule today. It didn't really do much for me (although there is still one mystery show to be named), but maybe it will excite you.

It consists of:

November 9, 2019 - January 20, 2020 -- Annie
February 8, 2020 - March 1, 20202 -- The Taming of the Shrew
March 21, 2020 - April 19, 2020 -- Green Day's American Idiot
May 9, 2020 - June 28, 2020 -- In the Heights
August 1, 2020 -- TBA
September 12, 2020 - October 31, 2020 -- The Addams Family

The CM Playhouse in Oakdale should be releasing their new season schedule in a few days.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Lucy Kaplansky

A week or two ago, I received an email informing me that folk singer Lucy Kaplansky would be appearing in Stony Brook on May 5 as part of Charlie Backfish's Sunday Streets Concerts series. Now I've been familiar with Kaplansky's name for years. I think I'm even the one who set up her Sputnik Music page last year. But I'd never actually heard any of her music.

Last year, I attended my first Sunday Streets concert when John Gorka played the series. I'd liked his recent True in Time album a lot, and I enjoyed his concert even more. Then, a few months later, I bought a ticket to see Kate Campbell play the series. Unfortunately, I'd bought her new album Damn Sure Blue after I'd bought the ticket, and I wasn't really impressed by it. As it happened, I'd had a bad week prior to the show. Then, on that afternoon, I'd learned that everyone in my family was going to be out that day, and I had the all-too-rare opportunity to have the house to myself. And as it happened, I was exactly halfway through the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House. So in the end, I decided to blow off the concert for an opportunity to binge watch in total peace. (It didn't completely work out that way. A few minutes into my second episode, the smoke alarm in our basement went off for no apparent reason. And shortly thereafter, while I was trying to sort it all out with the alarm company, about five fire trucks and a bunch of policemen showed up and scared the living shit out of me. But it was probably just as well I'd stayed home, because I got the sense that if I hadn't been there to let them in, they'd have broken down my front door with their fire axes.) I still feel just a little guilty about missing the show, though, even though I'm sure that Ms. Campbell had no idea that I'd dissed her.

Anyway, back to the Kaplansky show. I was strongly tempted to buy a ticket, but a couple of things held me back. One was just that my calendar was already pretty busy this weekend. Denise and I were going to The Paramount on Friday night to catch the later of two Jim Gaffigan shows. ("Hot pockets!"And Saturday morning was the monthly staff meeting for my job, which always knocks me out for about a day and a half. (I'm just not an early riser.) Plus, I also have another concert scheduled for early this week (which you know I'll tell you about after the fact.) So I wasn't sure I'd have the energy for a Sunday afternoon show.

The other I was undecided was because I'm not that familiar with Kaplansky, and I wasn't sure if she's stridently political like some folk singers can be. I believe in freedom of speech, and that a singer should be able to sing about whatever she or he wants. But that doesn't mean I'm willing to sit there to listen to it. So I was on the fence.

I looked at Ms. Kaplansky's website, and at her Wikipedia entry, and nothing I saw made me believe that she was an ardent political activist, so that was that box checked. So now I was balancing my busy week against my neurotic fear of missing out.

Now last year, I almost bought a ticket to see Gordon Lightfoot at The Westbury Music Fair (which some people like to pretend is called The NYCB Theatre, but it's not. Not by me, anyway.) Then, at the last minute, I went up on YouTube and played one of his most recent videos, and I was horrified. I had always loved Lightfoot's voice, but it was pretty shot. Instead, it sounded as if they'd pulled some random old guy off of a park bench, gave him a really good band, and asked him to sing a few Gordon Lightfoot covers. And the Westbury concert wasn't even scheduled to have an opening act. It was going to be two solid sets worth of Lightfoot, Lightfoot and more Lightfoot. In the end, I knew I just couldn't handle it.

So I decided to give Lucy Kaplansky the YouTube test, and see how she held up. I entered her name in the search engine, and the first thing that came up was a concert that had only been shot a year ago. I only had time to listen to a song and a half, but it wound up being the opposite of what I now refer to as The Lightfoot Effect. I thought she sounded very fine indeed. (I'd tell you what those first two somngs were, but YouTube is being finicky about loading that video tonight, so I'll have to pass.) So later that day, I went up online and ordered a ticket.

I took a pretty laid back day for myself today. I needed it. Last night, my daughter and her boyfriend came over to hang out with my son and his friends. There was some drinking involved, and let's just say that hijinks ensued. (Or as the charming old lady in Sweeney Todd would have put it, "Mischief! Mischief!!!")

I left my house with plenty of time to make the concert, only to get a few blocks away and discover that, A. I had forgotten my wallet, and, B. My son, with whom I share my car, had forgotten to inform me that I only had about a quarter of a tank of gas left. (His part of the "sharing" these days consists of doing more driving than I do, while mine consists of paying for most of the gas.) So after I'd gone back home and retrieved my wallet, and then stopped up the corner to put $20 in the tank, I was feeling much more rushed than I'd have liked.

Luckily, I needn't have worried. There wasn't much traffic (possibly due to the fact that the weather was fairly miserable), and the trip was shorter than I'd remembered. So I made it in plenty of time.

Once inside (the venue was once again the Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages), I said hello to the usual group of familiar faces helping out here and there, including former WUSB station manager Norm Prusslin, Amy Tuttle (Bob Westcott showed up a little too late for the show), the museum's Public Program Coordinator Emma Backfish, and her dad, Sunday Street host Charlie Backfish (OK, I didn't get a chance to say hello to Charlie. But he was there.) I also unexpectedly ran into my friend Ed (The brother of Tom, the keyboard player in both of Denise's bands), so we hung out together for the show.

Kaplansky soon took the stage. She played non-stop, for about an hour and forty minutes, to a very enthusiastic (and mostly sold out) crowd. Her set consisted of a bunch of material off of her most recent album Everyday Street, which is only available at her live shows and through her website; some songs from older albums; and covers by artists such as Loudon Wainwright III, Johnny Cash (well, really June Carter and Merle Kilgore, but most of us think of it as a Johnny Cash song), Eliza Gilkyson and Richard Shindell.

Overall, I found Kaplansky's music to be quiet and gentle. She played solo, and switched back and forth throughout the performance between guitar, mandolin and piano. Her voice isn't especially unique, but it is quite pleasant. Most of her original material was pretty personal, with songs about her daughter, her husband, her mother and her dog. Kaplansky lives in Greenwich Village (she was thrilled to be playing "54 miles from home"), and New York City also features prominently in many of her songs. She seems to have a very pleasant personality, and was willing to take a certain number of requests from the crowd. (Or to attempt them, anyway. A few of the requests were for songs she hadn't played for awhile, and she ran into some trouble there. She also played a brand new song she'd just started writing that morning, which naturally also gave her a bit of difficulty. Being the most curmudgeonly bastard in a crowd full of nice people, I had to bite my tongue to keep from calling out, "Play something you actually know!") Yeah, I know. I suck.

Anyway, I basically enjoyed the show, enough to buy her new CD afterwards. I think this was a case where I'd have actually appreciated it a lot more if I'd had time to familiarize myself with more of her material before seeing her play live (which I'd have done if I'd made the decision to buy the ticket earlier than last Thursday). With Gorka, just knowing his most recent album contributed significantly to my enjoyment of his live show, and I have a feeling that having listened to Everyday Street beforehand would have produced the same effect. I can say that I particularly liked the song about her husband ("Ten Year Night"), the song about her dog ("Janie's Waltz"), her 9/11 song ("Brooklyn Train") and her Eliza Gilkyson cover ("Sanctuary"). And Ed was also particularly taken with her Philip Seymour Hoffman song ("Keeping Time"), which has apparently been getting some airplay on WFUV. (Of course, given my weekend endeavors, all I could think about when she mentioned Philip Seymour Hoffman was the way Jim Gaffigan joked about his and Hoffman's resemblance on Friday night).

Anyway, in the end, I'm glad I bought the ticket. It's my own fault I didn't do my due diligence before the show. But if Kaplansky plays the Sunday Street series again, I'll be ready next time.

(The setlist for the show is available at