3.09.2017

Max Vernon's Musical, The View UpStairs is an Unfiltered View of LGBTQ History

The View Upstairs set at Lynn Redgrave Theater
The Lynn Redgrave Theater was transformed back in time to 1973 to the gay bar the UpStairs Lounge. Forty-four years earlier a fatal attack of arson took the lives of thirty-two individuals and injured fifteen others. The UpStairs Lounge was home, a paradise of sorts, a haven for queens, queers, hustlers, the unwanted and marginalized; it replaced the homes, family, and churches where their “kind” were no longer welcome.


Max Vernon’s passionate and inquisitive nature propelled him to write the book, lyrics, and music for the musical The View UpStairs. Directed by Scott Ebersol the play is a snippet of time where a young gay fashion designer named Wes, played by Jeremy Pope, buys an abandoned space in the year 2017 that once was the UpStairs Lounge. It is there that he meets the ghosts/patrons as they surprisingly appear in retro 70’s attire among the inventive cheap yet chic decor of the lounge in its heyday. They enthusiastically swirl around the bar and sing about a place they call home / I think I found some kind of paradise / no angel wings / or fairy dust /just a rush of lust / but it’s alright. /


Vernon’s editorial style turns the future inside out by presenting it through the perspective of the gay community forty-four years earlier. Their wisdom is refreshing, and their reactions to Wes’ virtual world of selfies, branding, likes and hashtags is hilarious and provocative. Wes tries to brag about the future as he sings /ain’t it great how far we’ve come since 1973 / the future is great there / you are what you own / if I could take you back with me / your mind will be blown /.


Throughout the play, the ghosts teach Wes many lessons and remind him of the rights he takes for granted. He, in turn, is perplexed by the hiding, hustling and sex lives of his ghost hosts; as they live their lives in the shadows. The trajectory of their futures altered by rejection and limited choices. Wes' new love interest Patrick played by Taylor Frey explains why he became a runaway / father sent him away / with a plan / fry the fairy out of him / and he’ll come back a man / more or less /the doctor guaranteed success /.


The show tackles many issues through the lens of LGBTQ history including Trump’s election that achieves a cutting edge. Hanging like a dark cloud over the theater is impending death; with Aids just around the corner and the future arson. / how the eighties came killed all your friends / you just don't know it yet /. Weighing heavily and interspersed between dancing and song is the anxiety and fear of new laws designed to undermine all the rights gained in recent years.


I fell in love with the talented, diverse and lovable cast. The staging created a viable interaction as some audience members sat in the lounge among the actors who worked the aisles as well. The fabulous Queen den mother Willie played by Nathan Lee Graham delightfully shares his earned wisdom. His over the top personality is the comedic relief and connection to the heart of the show as it offsets the dark content. Another significant aspect of the script is the invisible patron Dale played by Ben Mayne. He is rejected by his peers and exposes the flaws in their community much like, any other.


The beautiful score, effervescent cast, all the sequence, glitz and glam can’t camouflage the issues facing the LGBTQ community. But what a way to tackle these matters proudly singing and dancing into the future. This timely musical celebrates and honors the lives of the patrons of the UpStairs Lounge in all their colorful and unfiltered glory and paves the way for the fight ahead.

The View UpStairs




2.28.2017

Big Hands Rhythm and Blues Band at Rockwood Stage 2


The brisk electric set by the accomplished musicians that make up Big Hands Rhythm and Blues Band finished at breakneck speed. I was fortunate to hear them play at Rockwood music Hall Stage 2 at 11 pm on Friday. Osei Essed posted that there would be some howling, traditional blues standards, and originals. That was enough to count me in and invite my cousin who loves live music.


The band is a great outfit and a joyous side project. Osei possessed deep vocals as he howled the Willie Dixon song “Easy Baby.” His voice whisked us in and captured our inner blues spirit, but would worry any throat doctor. Joined by a tight, and spirited band, who finished the set before we could come up for air! Yes, there was soul and blues traditions with some Jazz slipping through via the piano/keyboardist. They ended the set with a lively all out urgent roar of the Beatles tune “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road.”

Members of the Big Hand Rhythm and Blues Band: Simon Kafka from Elle Kings band on lead guitar, Osei Essed from (The Woes) lead vocals and guitar, Zach Jones Music (Sting, Elle King, A Great Big World) on drums, Chris Kuffner (Ingrid Michaelson and currently with A Great Big World) on bass Todd Caldwell (Crosby Still and Nash), on organ and piano.



2.20.2017

César Alvarez’s new musical NOISE, at AUPAC

Yesterday I was thrilled to see the workshop production of César Alvarez’s new musical NOISE, at Adelphi University Performing Arts Center. The Larson Legacy Concert (in association with the American Theater Wing showcases some of the annual recipients of the Jonathan Larson Grant given to rising musical theater composers and lyricists.


NOISE is an interactive theater experience where actors and the audience are united together to hear the “noise.” A unique aspect of the production was the random changing order of the play; accomplished by choosing numbers pulled from a bag, making each performance entirely different. With every new random number, actors had to rearrange audience members on the stage and scramble to get props and move sets. The actors were really on their game.


Inspired by Noise: The Political Economy of Music the nonfiction book by French economist and scholar, Jacques Attali. César uses his concepts to inform the structure and language of the play. Through the history of music, he engages how society creates systems to organize, divide and separate people from experiencing, hearing and appreciating the noise.


The actors moved, stomped, sang and spoke while engaging the audience to confront our presumptions and judgments that inform all our decisions. The message was cerebral while the messengers (the actors) were funny, animated, engaging and full of life.


César Alvarez is composer/lyricist/librettist whose musical FUTURITY received the 2016 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical. César also received the 2016 Jonathan Larson Award.

2.15.2017

The Most Beautiful Rock Music I Never Heard

Cover art for the album Five Years Later by Robe McCleery

“The sound resonates beauty, truth, fierceness and love without compromise” ~ Dan Bell, friend


I accidently heard some extraordinary music. It is the most beautiful rock music I never heard. I made it my goal to find “the band” and was completely blown away by the story that unfolded when I finally met Robe in person.  I am writing this review with his permission. My mission is to bring this beautiful work into the universe and off a dusty shelf. ~ OCM


Creating music was his gift and a lifeline for expression rather than a commodity for sale. In the year 2000, he completed a diary in the format of a thirteen song rock soliloquy, recorded on tape in his bedroom, basement and bathroom over the course of three years.


“It has been five years since I was diagnosed with type one insulin dependent diabetes. I am broken with illness. Simply said, this record is a compilation of my life over the past five years.” This is how the liner notes began for the album Five Years Later by the fictitious band The Daisy Chains.


At age eighteen Rob McCleery’s opus was completed primarily as a solo project created in the sanctuary of his parent’s middle-class home. The mastered CD was packaged as The Daisy Chains with many contributors while "only a few friends actually helped out."


"The "band" also really didn't exist, I just wanted it to look as though it was a band. Right around the time I finished the record, I realized how personal it was to me and didn't feel comfortable having anyone listen to it. I felt exposed. So I stuck it on the shelf and forgot about it." ~ Robe


Five Years Later is full concept album produced in the form of a movie script. The album’s first track begins five years after McCleery's diagnosis, and songs two through thirteen explain how he got there. While some songs express his feelings about societal issues, most are a confessional dialogue where the reference to I, you, me and you’re are interchangeable; as he counsels his broken ego through the medium of his former stronger and healthier self.


His small bedroom was ground zero in the process of creation. Words emerged like a tumultuous stream of expression from a microphone to tape to form the first recordings, one of which is the song “Gunshy.” McCleery usually composed on piano first and later fleshed out the mix with a wide array of instruments. As a musician, he had an innate ability, but he embarked on the recording process as a novice. Obsessed with learning and a desire for perfection he utilized every recording technique he thought would do the work justice.


McCleery captured the music zeitgeist of the 90’s rock genre but had the instinct to meld hard rock, flavor it with folk, pop, and splice it with old country traditions. Five Years Later has hard hitting guitar licks, slamming screeching reverb, twangy strings, catchy melodies, piano arrangements and a variety of percussion all of which reflect the multi-instrumentalist dexterity of McCleery’s raw talent. Adding to his acumen was a newly found enthusiasm for jazz which he devotes to only one track titled “Dark Blue.”  


The signature imprint on this album is McCleery’s vocal style;  His fractured bedroom vocals, raspy intimate whispers, and tortured screams draw the listener into a private space. It captures vulnerability, fierce intensity, and tenderness.


“Five Years Later” the first song, comes on like a roar, with screeching guitar reverb and a mix of hardcore nineties rock. What’s unusual is McCleery has combined his tortured screams with fragile vocals. Together It works to express his anger, frustration, and need to gain control over his life circumstances. “Believe It” is a song motivated by McCleery’s protective instincts and distress he feels over a girl who’s a victim of parental sexual abuse. The repetitive melody and volume build with layers of intensity while he mixes buzzing bee vibrations and grunt-like noises to depict the father.


Three outstanding songs recount a throwback to early country western stylings. Each song has a semblance of twang in a chord or the high pitched bend of a guitar string while combining catchy melodies with maudlin topics.  “Gunshy” has the most acoustic folk sound on the album with its sweet singalong hooks and campfire like strum, singing / I’m not really gunshy, anymore / I got my head blown off /. While “Beautiful Mondays” falls into the category of epic Monday songs; woven with a seductive country strings, and rock-centric guitar licks as McCleery's voice encompasses the saddest whispers and passionate outcries. He assures himself / I think you’re perfect / as perfect as you can be /.  “Yours in Utter Sickness” is a synopsis of the onset of his diabetes diagnosis and hospitalization. McCleery contemplates a suicide note to, / sign my name away /.  He reflects on all the things he loves like / all my beautiful flowers /nothing could take them away / and imagines how thoughtfully he’ll compose his letter / with the sweetest words I know /. The lyrics are heartbreaking, but I found myself singing / this mother fucker kills me / with enthusiastic zeal to a breakout melody.


Five Year Later has orchestral rock arrangements and sounds effects that broaden the contextual listening experience. The confessional country flair of “Landing” adds lush fluttering flute in the backdrop. “M.F.O.C,” a more traditional rock ballad uses an echo on the vocal tracks as he mourns the demise of his former self / I cherish you more and more with every day /. The eerie field recordings create a whirlwind of confusion in “Kitten and the Dog Bite,” while the chorus / I don’t want to be the last one here, in this sugar coated deal, / highlights the struggle and universal pain of divorce. To emphasize feeling small like a vulnerable kitten, he sings through a World War II, Japanese radio tower mic. He feels disconnected, and states / I used to be a winner / as the orchestrated movements peak, and metaphorically fade out.


McCleery understood the pulse of the quintessential rock song adding the essentials without being formulaic. Starting with a gently picked guitar melody, “Reason to Move On” soars with epic guitar runs and explosive crescendo.  “Orange” continues in that vein with an unforgettable harmony-laced chorus  / where are you / where are you dad / is McCleery’s take on parental neglect. Tapping into a Nirvana like force the chorus in “I’m Not a Feather”/ I’m not a feather / you can’t push me around / gains muscle to depict his resolve to recover what he has lost.


The final eight-minute track “Completely Confused / A Lesson in Love” makes every heart-wrenching minute count. Starting with a tortured wail of emotion he surrenders to a self-soothing mantra repeating, / everything you needed / is everything I had / if anything I needed / everything you had /. A beautiful piano passage accompanies a haunting lyric /someone help me escape /.


I found this recording accidently uploaded fifteen years later on just a few platforms with no information and just a sepia toned picture of a nonexistent band. Every part of my being welcomed this into my heart. It is the truest form of art. For Rob McCleery it was his only option, to do what he loved and wrap himself in music.


This epic rock music was buried on a dusty shelf, a closed chapter in the life of a young man whose dreams were stolen by the necessity for insulin. Trapped in a vicious cycle of jobs that offered health insurance and stymied by a disease that took away his spontaneity, delayed his independence and altered his music trajectory. With every passing year, his insulin became more and more unaffordable, making the prospect of touring a taxing possibility. He did give it a try.


“I did get a group together, and we played about 60 shows. We sold about 500 copies of the record (which is exactly how many I had mass produced)” ~ Robe        


The Daisy Chains Five Years Later by Robe McCleery Bandcamp
Free download or contribute what you wish

2.06.2017

Max Vernon Brings His Observational Style to The View UpStairs


Performances begin for The View UpStairs February 15th for the new musical written by Max Vernon at the Lynn Redgrave Theater. This contemporary American theater production will highlight Max Vernon’s observational style. His insightful intellectual curiosity reflects nuance and the dual complexities of modern day life. Vernon is passionately inquisitive about societal issues and expresses his concerns with many words. His songs of content always hit just the right note.


The View UpStairs is a provocative new musical that pulls you inside the UpStairs Lounge, a vibrant ‘70s gay bar in the French Quarter of New Orleans. This forgotten community comes to life in all its gritty, glam rock glory when a young fashion designer from 2017 buys the abandoned space, setting off an exhilarating journey of seduction and self-exploration that spans two generations of queer history. Inspired by one of the most significant yet all-but-ignored attacks against the LGBTQ community, The View UpStairs examines what has been gained and lost in the fight for equality, and how the past can help guide us all through an uncertain future.


For more information and tickets The View Upstairs


2.04.2017

SOBO Blues Band @ the Parkside Lounge


SOBO Blues Band from Israel played at the Parkside Lounge last Saturday on January 28th as a first stop and warm up to their final destination the 2017 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Their style of playing is what I call "happy blues." They exude the purest form of pleasure in music collaboration while celebrating the American art form they treasure and proclaim is universal.


Assaf Gansman, the bass player with deeply soulful vocals, is also the band's master of ceremonies. Daniel Kriman shreds on electric resonator slide guitar, together with harmonica creates the group's signature sound. The first beat in of drummer Eden Bahar, I knew I was in for a treat. He is classically trained, but unlike other players of that ilk, he brings grit to the mix.


Together they generate love from the stage. Shout out today; they made it to the finals, sending their brand of love in the form of blues to Memphis.

SOBO was founded in 1995 in Jerusalem by the songwriting team, Assaf Ganzman, and Daniel Kriman. Ganzman is also co-owner of the legendary Mike's Place live music bars and restaurants in Israel. Two years ago the team was joined by 24-year-old Eden Bahar who is considered one of the best percussionist in Israel.



SOBO Blues Band from Israel played at the
Willpilot Productions and Jack Baxter present SOBO Blues Band live in New York City.

SOBO on bandcamp
#Blues #Memphis #MikesPlace #ParksideLounge #resonatorslideguitar #JackBaxter #BluesByTheBeach #SariSinger #StrengthToStrength

12.30.2016

Arkansas’ Adam Faucett; Soulful Poetry in Song


I saw Adam Faucett live last month and bought his 2014 release Blind Water Finds Blind Water. Yes, I’m old school and like to support directly. Since 2006 with a little break I’ve been writing about under the radar music. I’m late to Adam Faucett, he was just not on my radar but is now, thanks to a friend and musician I admire who treasures him. I am also from east coast and references to rock piles, sleeping Opossum, old train lots, are not common jargon for me, but each song speaks to me through the universality of love, breakup, hurt, regret and fine storytelling.


Adam Faucett has one of the greatest voices I’ve ever heard. His smooth high notes and diaphragm defying fervent belts possess soul, grit, and beauty. Best of all they are delivered with his Arkansas accent. Blending finger-picking on electric guitar with bass and drums. These contemplative songs are the perfect mix of Southern soul, rock and roll and folk. The only track that goes in a different direction is “Killer on Staten Island”; It is eerie, gorgeous, and highlights the piano.


His songwriting applies snippets of memory retrieved and blended into a poetic narrative with references to small-town America. Faucett weaves dreams, hopes, memories and predictions as complicated expectations. A paragraph recited in full in the song "The Poet" inscribed by the local Oracle on the bar bathroom wall.  Faucett cites the famous mystic to make themes realized in the song "Edgar Cayce" / your dreams have swallowed me whole /.  And a descriptive narrative using the word (I remember) travels through the song "Opossum," imparting some folk wisdom; / all that truly love you / been traveling with you always / well I hope your right /.


I can feel the heartache and regrets and can smell the bar, and picture its dark oppressive dimly lit interior on the first track “Day Drinker” / Nobody / nowhere is gonna outdrink me / It’s so lonesome in the afternoon / when you’re the only one / with nothing to do /.


While vocals express longing in "Walking Home Late" / Walking home late /with you on my mind / because all that I have is you on my mind / the music simulates a pulse like a heartbeat stressing the aloneness of the moment. The instrumentation in “Melonie” is musically masculine combining guitar, bass, and a persistent war-like drumbeat, emphasizing regrets about an affair that went wrong as he sings / Melonie I don’t want to hold hands / get killed by your ex-old man / but no more /. And the unintended fallout / We did / we did him wrong / he was our brother in song /.


I love the two songs about different Arkansas towns. "Benton” constructs the memories of youth re-visiting the old rockpile and reflects on the dreams left behind / the flowers walk away / from the grave of my young dreams / just easier that way / just easier that way /. While “Sparkman” is about a regretful longing through the prism of a man thinking he might regain a relationship that has gone terribly wrong.


Ending with “Rock Ain’t Gold’ where Faucett depicts the act of digging and searching to represent all dreams not actualized. / Struck gold now the sun won’t rise / been a digging for most of my life/ trade it all for a little bit of life / rich comes at the bottom of the mine /.


This music was a gift to me like folklore passed along from one friend to another. In today’s music climate, people only hear parts of a whole my suggestion is to listen to the entire body of work and buy the whole damn thing.


Looking forward to his next record said to be released in 2017.


Adam Faucett – Guitar and Vocals
Jonny D – Bass

Will Boyd – Drums

11.30.2016

Conor Oberst Solo at Carnegie Hall



The minimalist stage was set for a solo evening with Conor Oberst. Conor switched between piano, guitar while the harmonica remained a constant. His songwriting took center stage at Carnegie Hall while the instruments like jewels glimmered around his poignant lyrics. The first half of the performance he played his new album Ruminations in full. Having purchased Ruminations recently, I was familiar with the raw pared down recordings. The accompaniment of Miwi La Lupa on bass and the acoustics at the Carnegie created an interesting dichotomy giving the songs magnitude while hearing private intimate songs become very public.

The second half he played older songs curated for content. They were familiar and with the advent of time took on new meaning as history unfolds post election.  

Lenders in the Temple, Cape Canaveral, White Shoes, Passing Through (Leonard Cohen cover and dedication) Ladder Song, Lua, The Big Picture and At the Bottom of Everything.

Whether the material was old or new each word sung echoed through the majesty of the hall. Speaking to me as they always have for the last 16 years. Conor has become a seasoned performer, his lyrics carry levels of imagery and inference like no other. His phrasing and delivery creates the winning dynamic as chosen words are highlighted for affect or a consonant pronounced with clarity.

The audience at Carnegie Hall cheered from the top tiers every time Conor sang the line / victory is sweet, even deep in the cheap seats / from the song “Cape Canaveral”. The sound experience was the same regardless of the price or location of any given seat. The only seat I would have really liked was Sean Foley’s (harmonica cleaner) next to the grand piano with a fishbowl full of water.






11.11.2016

Adam Faucett's Voice Delivers at Rockwood Music Hall


There is no better healing for a beat up soul with election blues than powerful live music. Thank you, Adam Faucett! Was I on sacred ground or stage 1 at Rockwood Music Hall?  His voice bellowed and reverberated from the rafters and made me a believer. When he brought down the volume the soothing tenderness of his voice settled inside my spirit. His poetic songwriting was delivered like a moving sermon. I am not religious but sign me up!

Two other newbies were there sitting next to me and said, "There is nothing better than discovering extraordinary music accidentally".


9.30.2016

Four Star Mecca EP by Peoples Rohoss





Peoples Rohoss is a power trio. Two brothers and a childhood friend who play a scattered rock mix of guitar, bass, cello and drums, intertwined with high-frequency vocals and woven with an adventurous orchestral sound. They rely on improvisational chance and musicianship that they synchronize with each other. To say they are interactive is an understatement.

Their EP Four Star Mecca takes all those elements and blends them to create a statement.  The “Intro Song” is an orchestral rock composition that combines unfamiliar instrument sounds with distant vocals that fade and suddenly vanish. Surprisingly ”Young Elitists” starts as a poppy punk song with the catchphrase / It’s two AM / we're wide awake /. The songs muscular start pauses only to pick back up with an outpouring of energy. It ends with a lone guitar player's mindless strumming possibly imagining this recording was his pipe dream.

The lyrical hook / to find the grays, in this dotted space / mimics the sound of discordant melody in the song “The Four Star Mecca.” It is a high powered mix with splattered vocals and drums that sound like dropping bombs. Coming on strong is the appropriately titled “Back and Forth” in which every instrument commits to an intense dialogue creating an invigorating tension. The vocals / It could have been bittersweet to go home, stoned / come in gently in contrast to the rough and tumble mix. Ending this unique collection is “The East End” that starts with a seductive, strong bass line and has a rousing and unpredictable exuberance that builds to crescendo following the phrase  / you always run / but never make amends /and pauses with a drum roll.

This EP collection is invigorating smart rock music. It is not an easy listening experience, and that is a compliment.
,
Bass / Cello - James Acampora
Drums -Sean Perham
Guitar / Howling / Everything else - Mike Acampora