Local Rhythms – Finding the Sweet Spot

dubac.jpgI don’t envy tavern owners faced with the task of booking talent to their establishments. How do they know what their clientele want? From what I’ve gleaned, it’s a hit and miss affair where “learn from your mistakes” tends to be the operative phrase.

Sophie & Zeke’s, the downtown Claremont hot spot du jour, tried everything from shoe-gazing singer-songwriters to unplugged heavy metal when they began offering music last year. For some reason, jazz, with an emphasis on crooner styles popularized by Ella Fitzgerald and Mel Torme, seems to get people moving towards, and not away, from the stage. There’s also a serious bluegrass contingent that turns out every third Friday to hear the Spiral Farm Band play.

On Washington Street, the opposite’s true at Bistro Nouveau, where “solo on a stool” acoustic musicians hold sway, and not much more than a microphone requires electricity. Performers like pianist John Lovejoy and singer/guitarist Jason Cann regularly entertain appreciative diners.

It’s even harder when you’re trying to fill a 700-seat room like the Claremont Opera House, which is why it was so gratifying to see a sellout last Saturday night for Bob Marley’s stand-up act. This is the third or fourth time that comedy has drawn a big crowd there. That’s encouraging news, because the next Opera House show, on Thursday, February 8 also features a very talented comedian.

Robert Dubac transformed his club act into a one man show, “The Male Intellect: An Oxymoron?” I’m a long-time Dubac fan, going back to the days when he used to warm up crowds at Eagles and Jimmy Buffett concerts. When I learned he was coming to Claremont, I immediately blocked out the date.

Dubac’s that rare combination of funny and smart; during his show there are as many “ah-hah” moments as “ha-ha” moments. “The Male Intellect” is a 90-minute, multi-character look at the differences between the sexes, offering hilarious insights like this:

“What do women want? They want men to feel more and think less. Feeling more will take some practice, but we can think less right away.”

Maybe it’s cabin fever – laughter warms the body as well as the soul – but comedy seems to be the sweet spot for the COH. Hopefully, that means more funny folks like Bob Marley and Robert Dubac are on the way.

What’s coming up this weekend?

Thursday: Billy Rosen Jazz Quartet, Sophie & Zeke’s There’s been a lot of different music here, but for some odd reason, this is the first time a saxophone has ever made an appearance. Rosen’s a fine guitarist, and a veteran of the Upper Valley supper club circuit. Tonight, he’s joined by Norm Yanofsky on keyboards, Jim McNutt on drums and Nick Scalera on sax. Tomorrow, another new duo – Have Blues Will Travel – stops by S&Z’s.

Friday: Stonewall, The Underground – Chester native Brendon Thomas started this club in a space below the music store where he worked. It’s become a magnet for area musicians, many of whom learned from Thomas (who performs live and on record as foreverinmotion). Tonight, rising stars Stonewall headline a three-band show which includes political metal from d’Brotherhood, who are kind of an anti-Hanson, and Orange Juice.

Saturday: Spare Change, Salt Hill – One of my favorite bluegrass bands, led by multi-instrumentalist Joe Stallsmith of Joe’s Waterworks fame. When anyone asks me to name the one kind of music I can’t live without, it’s inevitably a combination of acoustic guitar, mandolin and fiddle, because you can’t fake any of those instruments. If you’re awaiting word on Newport’s Salt Hill Two in the old Eagle Tavern space, wait no more. Opening day is February 5.

Sunday: Roger Marin, PK’s Tavern – I mentioned in my blog a couple of weeks back that Ezra Veitch, an angel of the Bellows Falls scene, was still in town. Lately, he’s mixing a Mr. Burns album while he recovers from hand surgery. He also sent word that he’d put together a quick show this weekend with Marin, the longtime Fred Eaglesmith guitarist who went solo about 18 months ago, and Adam Carroll, a Texan with the gift for weaving a story into a song. By the by, Boccelli’s February calendar is filling up – check out flyingunderradar.com for more info.

Wednesday: Jason LeVasseur, New England College – This is the future of music. Not this guy, though he’s very talented, but the way he brings his music to the people. MySpace, mailing lists, independently produced records made on a shoestring with musicians who are equal parts hired guns and fellow travelers, and a ton of solo touring. The aforementioned foreverinmotion is doing it, as is LeVasseur, a Nashville-based singer/songwriter with a touch of sandpaper in his voice, and a nice balance of pop and plaintive.

Today’s Free Download – Oneside

oneside2.jpgI linked to a Oneside video a few months back, but this is a band-authorized MP3 of “Chinatown,” a song that’s equal parts jazz, jam band and psychobilly.

Upper Valley region fans have two chances to check this Boston-based quartet out in the coming weeks – Friday at Salt Hill Pub and a week from this Saturday at the Heritage.

Live, they prove something I’ve told a few bands in the past – it’s possible to play mostly original material in a bar without losing the crowd. They only think they want to hear “Cocaine” for the 10,000th time.

Oneside has played at SxSW and the Kennedy Center to attentive audiences. Someday soon this band will turn the corner and you’ll be kicking yourself for not seeing them when you had the chance.

Local Rhythms – Tuohy Twofer at Eagle Block

eageblock.jpgThe local region’s live music pedigree really intrigued me when I moved here in 1980. I got first hand exposure to it when a convalescing Steven Tyler limped into the radio station where I worked one Saturday in 1981, a stack of reel-to-reel tapes in tow, looking to use our studio.

Aerosmith got their start in the bars around Sunapee, and band sightings are the stuff of local legend, but it was my first time. I was starry-eyed that day watching the somewhat soused rock star steal nips from a three-foot tall bottle of Portuguese wine, as he listened to rough mixes from the band’s Tokyo shows.

Josh and Joe Tuohy had their own unique view of this history; they grew up at the Shanty, a Sunapee nightspot their parents owned from the late sixties through the early nineties. Aerosmith never played there (they did, says Josh, hang out occasionally), but a lot of other local luminaries did.

It made an impression on the boys, and they’ve extended the family’s hospitality tradition to Salt Hill Pub, which they opened in 2003.

On Monday, the Tuohy brothers announced plans to work their magic closer to their old home, in Newport’s Eagle Block. It doesn’t have a name yet, but the new restaurant will feature the Irish-flavored hominess that’s worked for them so well in Lebanon.

“We’re going to transplant a lot of the Pub menu,” says Josh Tuohy, “because we think it works very well. It’s good food for the money.” They’re targeting a winter opening, but no firm date is set.

Josh says he’s excited about the prospect of running a club that’s two different venues in one, serviced by one common kitchen. That means customers looking for quiet dining will be comfortable downstairs, while the more energetic can head for the upstairs bar – which, unlike Salt Hill, will offer full cocktail service.

There are no immediate plans for live entertainment, Josh says, but knowing their history, it’s just a matter of time before the house is rocking. “Music has been a part of our success and identity,” he concedes “We’ll do it eventually, though probably not as extensively as we have at Salt Hill.”

The short life of the Eagle Tavern threw the town of Newport for a loop, so it’s great to know that this historic building, the focus of so much civic energy in the past few years, is now in good hands. I can’t wait to see what they have in store. Which reminds me – what’s happening this weekend?

Thursday: Nadine Zahr, Colby-Sawyer College – An Ani DiFranco disciple, Zahr performs songs of love and loss, with a coffeehouse earnestness. This pose certainly has lots of fans, but it’s a crowded field. Look at it this way – you could drive a lot further and spend a lot more for something less intimate. When Zahr plays, you want to look her in the eye. I like that.

Friday: Red Hot Juba, Salt Hill Pub – Zoot suit riot at the Pub! This Burlington-based band is like the Squirrel Nut Zippers with a shot of good Irish whiskey poured in the glass. They break out of the swing mode every now and then to good effect. This band best exemplifies Josh Tuohy’s willingness to take risks when booking bands. That’s why I think the Double Eagle (“2E” – get it?), or whatever they decide to call the new business, will be a hot spot.

Saturday: Richard Shindell, Chandler Music Hall – One of the great storytelling songwriters working today. If you’ve never heard him, you really must experience songs like “Last Fare of the Day,” a brilliantly human snapshot of the hours after 9/11, or “Cold Missouri Waters,” a song about a forest fire that is utterly harrowing. (*UPDATE* – Thanks, Chris Jones, for pointing out that James Keelaughan wrote this song, not Shindell) Lucy Kaplansky, Shindell’s band mate in Cry Cry Cry, opens the show and joins him later onstage.

Sunday: Dark Star Orchestra, Lebanon Opera House – A band that brings a surprise every time they take the stage. Sure, they’re a Grateful Dead cover group, but with a difference. Each show is a complete re-creation of a Dead concert from back in time. Since virtually every one of that band’s performances was committed to tape, this is not as hard as it looks. But DSO not only does the songs, they include the unique nuances of the night they’re re-making – flubs, false starts and all.

Tuesday: Bill Frisell, Hopkins Center – He’s been called the Miles Davis of the guitar, with “a signature built from pure sound and inflection; an anti-technique that’s instantly identifiable.” He’s skilled at blending into a wide range of musical tapestries, and skill that’s helped him contribute to work by artists as diverse as John Zorn , Elvis Costello, Ron Sexsmith and the L.A. Philharmonic.