Thursday, August 7, 2008

Ukulala at Ukulele Noir

Mmmm beer and ukuleles....

Front row at the Ukulele Noir (click for bigger pic of Ian Schwartz and the Sour Candy Orchestra).

So it's been a very busy, busy month for Paz down at the Tepuloid shoe redistrubution center. We got two solid weeks of shipments from the new Tredz line without ANY of the inventory documentation or tags. Of course, I'm the guy who has to go in for overtime and tag them. Long story short-- if you ever wondered how many model 7A shoeboxes fit in a single compartment of a 3-story warehouse shelf, the answer is... a lot.

In my off hours, I did get out to check out an interesting show last week (or was it two weeks ago now?!), July 25th at the Castlebar in Brighton, MA. After some initial searching online for a local ukulele scene, I was enticed by the ukulele noir website and decided to give it a whirl.

I did a bit of internet research beforehand to figure out who was going to be there, and wrote down this list of who to look out for:

Craig Robertson - Ukulele Noir founder
Tim Mann - thin, longer black hair
Ian Schwartz - scruffy
Amber Nash - ukebucket (!!)
Robert Wheeler - Uke consciousness
Tripping Lily - Monica, Demetrius, Alex, Laird

I was surprised that one of the performers was going to be Amber Nash of ukebucket, (whose April 30th original song I already had downloaded onto my computer). I can't find a link to it now, but it's good. I didn't really know what to expect, but I brought a camera and a little notebook. After my failed socks from a few weeks ago, I put my lucky make-out glasses on and hit the road.

The following is from my memory, my notes, and also I had a bunch of beers:

After leaving the bar and Sox game (they lost 1-0), I headed to the back room of the Ukulele Noir show. There was something different about this crowd... many of them were holding ukuleles, or long funny-shaped metallic doohickeys (would later find it was called a "floot"). It was a nice looking space with chairs and tables set up around the stage, which seemed appropriate... but unfortunately anyone coming or going had to walk in front of the stage.

It was a friendly crowd and I was right on time. One of the nice girls sitting next to me was Rachel Kiel, who, it turned out, was herself a musician playing with the first act:

Ian Schwartz and the Sour Candy Orchestra

It's funny, I actually recognized Ian from an online ukulele contest we both made videos for. Mine was Postcards From Italy and he did a few but I particularly liked his tutorial on four-note chords. So he looked familiar as soon as I got there.

Ian Schwartz and Rachel Kiel during the Sour Candy Orchestra performance.

I remember they were the Sour Candy Orchestra. How, I imagine you asked? Because they threw out bags of sour candy in between each song--to make sure we all had a taste of their sweet sweet band. I'll never forget the sweet gum middle... and I'll never forget the Sweet Gum Middle Band.....

They had a cello (Behvin McDonnel), a soprano sax (Beth Goodman), a flute (Rachel Kiel), and of course Ian Schwartz on the ukulele. It was a good mix of instruments, and Ian and Rachel both did vocals. I wish I had a recording of the sound they had, because it's a bit different from what I am hearing now on their myspace. Apparently it was their first time playing all together, but it sounded pretty tight.

The songs sounded light but had a bit darker--or at least, more adult-- lyrical content than you'd expect if you heard an instrumental. I think they touched on cheating (You'll Drive Into the Night: "...she's holding me, kissing me--and I don't think that he would like it"), alcohol dependence (The Sun is Getting Colder: "...and for now, whiskey's all I need..."), and maybe the shame of being a blue-faced ever-lovin' ten-foot-tall disgrace (
The Disgrace: "I hide my face in the clouds").

I talked to Ian after his set for a bit and he recommended I check out the Ukulele Underground forums. He also said he prefers to do shows with the bigger band because when it's just him with a uke up there on stage he can't help but think "Why am I up here?" I'm sure he's fine on his own with the uke, but it definitely doesn't hurt having an orchestra back you up (double bonus for shows if it's an all-attractive-girl orchestra).

Oh, and I found out later Ian is a friend of a friend. It's a small city.

Robert Wheeler

Robert opened with some light playing and historical ukulele anecdotes. His set took a couple surprise turns, paraphrased from my notes:

"The uke... brings up all sorts of questions about life... like, 'why doggystyle?'"

"[something something something] Clinton... [something something] ...great contributions to the... Oral History of America."

Dirty man. Well ok, maybe just the jokes. He is an entertainer, after all. And founder of "Ukulele Consciousness", which I think has been around for a long while but I can't seem to find the definitive writings of. Maybe the whole thing isn't online?

I guess the jokes worked to get the crowd involved. By the time he got to his awesome rendition of "My Girl", the
whole crowd was singing along.

Robert Wheeler after spitting some uke wisdom in his customized "uke consciousness" jacket.

Craig Robertson

Craig's the man with the plan, the founder (founding member?) of Ukulele Noir. He is also a performer with a style that fit the dark cabaret atmosphere of noir:

Craig Robertson, founder of Ukulele Noir, noirs it up.

His set was a bit dark with a mix of humor and, again, adult themes. I think I'm starting to get a feel for what the Uke Noir is all about.... the song he described beforehand as "the closest thing I have to a love song" had some french in it and then the lyrics "take that dress off".

I think the idea of an ukulele troupe is interesting. It's a community for the local uke players and perhaps a place for people to get comfortable doing shows with some friendly faces. Craig and Ukulele Noir have been around my neighborhood a while, so I'll be in touch with him about what's going on in the uke-munity where I live, and for advice while I'm learning.

Ed Arnold

"I have CDs for sale in the back," Ed said after the first song. "...Mostly Flock of Seagulls, but take a look, you might find something you like."

Heh heh, bootleg CDs for sale.... I think that's a pretty good gag actually. And despite (I suspect) being barely sober enough to stand, Ed may have been my favorite music of the evening.

Now, he wasn't the most talented uke player, and he didn't have the most polished sound (see Tripping Lily below), but his set was the closest to the kind of music I usually listen to. The way he used the ukulele, his choice of songs (mostly covers of excellent songs), and his energy--to beat-box, to make jokes and to stomp his feet to entertain us--won me over. He stopped to show for second (as he did every time he forgot the lyrics or chords) and said "I'm a drummer, dammit!"--and it showed. He played with a harsh rhythm, loud and energetic, while he stomped hard and in time to get a bass drum out of the floor.

He brought something to the table I hadn't seen before in a one-man uke act, and it was great.

Ed Arnold: drummer, ukulelist, entertainer, drunk.

I think he was a friend or possibly a guest of Ian's. I tried to look his music up on myspace or something, but all I found was him being quoted in the Boston Globe about Google's math problem billboards:

Ed Arnold, 31, of Watertown, a drummer with the band Amun Ka, had no idea what the banner meant until a reporter explained it. But then Arnold said: ''Advertising is all about targeting who you want to get. If they're trying to get very intelligent mathematicians, that's the way to go."
Boston Globe, 2004

Damn right. And the Globe finished the article with his quote, which means it basically captured the point of the entire piece. Kudos.

Tim Mann

Another founding member of Ukulele Noir, Tim's music felt a lot more like folk than most of the other acts. He had a set of mostly original songs with his own unique style. It is soft music and I think the writing, especially the lyrics in 'Mystery' and the music in 'Distant Strangers', is very strong.

Tim Mann: keep on strummin'....... ...FOREVER.

I think his recordings on the myspace page really benefit from the richer sound he adds in. I'd like to see him play his songs with a larger band.

...He was also nice enough to give a belligerent drunken hobo like me a ride home...

Amber Nash

Never showed, which means my damn glasses failed even worse than the socks. She was definitely one of the artists I was hoping to talk to, so I might get in touch with her in the future.

Tripping Lily

Tripping Lily was probably the biggest, tightest, most polished act of the evening. The main event, if you will.

The band is:
Demetrius singing and on the uke and guitar.
Alex on the mandolin, violin (fiddle?), singing, and washboard.
Monica on the fiddle and soprano uke.
Laird on the stringed bass.

They moved off the stage and set up in the middle of the room in a tight circle. In between songs they would mix and match instruments and come up with a new combination that somehow worked. The gentleman next to me, who I had been talking with a bit over the night, told me he had come to see them. I could tell he was enjoying them on a deeper level than me when he started talking about the complexity of their rhythm changes. I liked how the washboard made me want to dance.

Tripping Lily, imported goods from Nashville.

Now, I am in no way a music reviewer. I know less about music than most people. In fact I know less about music than most people know about... differential equations. Music is still mostly a mystery to me, and part of Ukulala is figuring some of it out to play it myself. But I still am amazed when I see it done well, and I still only listen to about 10 bands regularly. I am not knowledgeable about music, is what I'm getting at, so I'll leave the job of describing Tripping Lily with complex music-talk to the pros:
Equal parts sassy bluegrassers and moody urban songwriters, jazzy jammers and sighing torch singers, Tripping Lily is nearly a genre unto itself. The folk-pop quartet formed in Nashville, but calls Boston home now, and its sound appeals to neotrad and alt fans alike. Guitars, mandolins, and fiddles prance behind airy, quirky melodies that feel both rootsy and modern. The harmonies lull like lullabies, then jolt as if shot through jumper cables.
BOSTON GLOBE - Scott Alarik - Feb 1, 2007, as quoted on Tripping Lily's Press page
Phew. I never would have come up with all that. I thought it was awesome, and they had some of the best all-around musicians I've seen in a while (Alex on several instruments, including the mandolin, washboard, and violin). The upright bass really added depth to the music and made it... smoother.

Overall, this is a young group with good looks and a lot of musical talent between them. AND best of all, they have a name that sounds like an action sentence, so I can pull the ol' Simpsons gag next time I meet them:

(Alex extends hand) "Alex, Tripping Lily."
(shakes hands) "Paz, smiling politely."

1 Comment:

Meera said...

moving picture=awesome