Monday, March 29, 2010

The March Ultimate Thursday Open Mic at Cafe Caffeine

I hosted what turned out to be a full slate of performers last Thursday night at the Ultimate Thursday Open Mic at Cafe Caffeine. The lineup included a quartet of gentlemen (two Jims, a Greg and a Rane), who took a few slots over the course of proceedings and played in various lineups supporting one or other of 'em. Highlights included "Do Geese See God?" a song crafted entirely of palindromes, some deft blues harp, the delightful number, "Automatic Robot Answering Machine" and the wise assessment that although we grow up with the lesson that "Sticks and stones will break your bones but words can never hurt you," words can, and will, hurt and you can make hay outta that realization in song. Repeat performers from February's U.O.M. include Louise Richardson, whose middle-English Chaucer poem was backed by ace harpist, Smokey, who did some songs of his own, too, later returning to jam with Douglas Roberts for a blues number. Don Phelps arrived to play some blues with Arizona themes, and banjo neophyte William Scoular opened with some nice picking and even better wit. David Jones was back with more Flavola-flavored songs, aided by Brad Johnston on accordion (see photo); Brad swapped to guitar to play a new tune he's working on then picked up the accordion again to help me finish off the evening as backing keys on a moody "Ghost Town." I closed the night with a decent rendition of "Black and White," which invariably makes me hungry to relearn some Phil Ochs numbers. We'll see what comes of that!

David and Brad's band, Crystal Flavola and my outfit, The Late Joys, share the early double bill at The Carousel Lounge this Thursday night. Music starts at 7pm; y'all can be home in time for The Daily Show! Come on out this week or, better still, come out this week to hear us play then bring your musical instrument to April's Ultimate Open Mic, scheduled for the 29th, and play some of your own stuff. I'd love to see you there!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Robi at the E Street Cafe

While on vacation in Encinitas at my folks' place I thought it'd be good to play a solo gig at a local SoCal venue and the E Street Cafe obliged with a Monday night spot on the spiffy little stage at the smart cyber cafe. Besides the regulars and stragglers and anglers, surfers and coffee sergeants, my parents' friends arrived in quantifiable numbers for what turned out to be a rather good gig. Thank you, Yancey, Brian and all the folks at the E Street Cafe!

To make some "ambient noise" for a couple hours I plugged into an amp for vocals and strummed my guitar. The guitar, my acoustic Gibson (the relatively new one), I purchased maybe a dozen years ago from just up the road in Encinitas. A homecoming of sorts. My parents took up the front table and peopled it with their pals, lots of Hungarians; auld home night. It was nice to be able to chat with those who wanted to hear the deep background to my tunes and just as nice to hear those "ambient" listeners in all nooks of the room applaud on occasion. Best received songs? Black and White, Everybody's Going Away, Honestly.  Felt good the whole evening, honestly!

The two set lists in full:

Set One
Land of 1,000 Girls (Scruffy the Cat)
Haymarket Rain (the "local" version)
Cheap Luxuries
Sweet Pretenses
She's Got A New Spell (Billy Bragg)
Little Swimsuit
We're Going Steady Now
Ghost Town
Just Like Gravity
Everybody's Going Away

Set Two
A Tilt Of The Cap, A Handshake And A Beer
Windsor Road
(The Angels Want To Wear My) Red Shoes (Elvis Costello)
Infinite Kiss
Black and White
Like Big Girls Do
Twisty System
(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love And Understanding (Nick Lowe)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Ankle Gah!

Played soccer with my Sunday league team yesterday. This is a photo of my right ankle this morning.

You can actually see the stud marks from where the other guy (literally) put the boot in. To be fair, though it hurt when I got "tapped," it wasn't an extraordinarily bad challenge. We just got the ball at the same time and he got a bit of me as well. I played on a little longer and then subbed myself off for the rest of the game, to be safe, 'cos it hurt a little more than your average knock. I could walk on it (heck, I ran on it for the little while I was still on the field) and I drove the 40 minutes home well enough. No big deal, right?

When I was 19 I broke my other ankle while playing keepy-uppy with a soccer ball, all on my own, on my parents' rutted driveway. I turned it in a divot and heard the crack as my ankle buckled. I limped into the backyard to report the injury and my grandparents, of the shake-it-off school of utilitarianism, told me it was probably just a sprain and the best thing to do for a sprain was "walk on it," which, dutifully, I did. When I awoke the next morning and saw the swollen discolored joint I freaked, then spent six hours at the ER getting an x-ray and, finally, a cast. That was in June right after my first year in college. I had scored a summer gig as a clerk in the fulfillment department at Cheese Lovers, a mail-order service, where not only did we find ways to get people their favorite cheese-mocking processed products delivered to their doors, we sold catalogue-issue gemstones of dubious provenance. That was my desk: the gemstone fulfillment sub-department, shared with some other college-aged guy whose name long ago alighted on one the distant-most branches of what passes for my memory. The so-called gems were merely polished rocks with fancy names or so we believed (we might have given too much credit to the folks in charge), and we reveled in the vanity of the gulls who bought this junk. Better still were the hate letters we received (and kept on display) condemning us to eternities in Hell and worse for duping the poor dopes who bought our crap.

The fulfillment sub-department was an anonymous room on the second floor of a typically anonymous office building in a typically anonymous complex near Islip, a town in the middle of Long Island that has an airport to give it some sparkle. Our building had no elevator. So in my newly minted cast I had a daily climb up and down the concrete steps. Up to work; down for lunch; up to work; down to leave.  Breaks were also taken outside, where the mostly middle-aged women congregated for their gossip and nicotine. I tended to stay upstairs, saving me a climb. I'm glad I wasn't a smoker. What a drag.

My grandparents would have been extremely proud of me yesterday. For not only did I run/walk/drive on my injured joint, at my daughter's birthday party I spent a good 90 minutes ice-skating on it. This morning's relative surprise (I could tell even in my morning blindness that one ankle appeared larger than its twin) led me to the after-hours clinic, x-rays and the initial diagnosis of a sprain. Some radiologist will review those x-rays later today and render a final verdict. I hope he or she is not paid by the degree of the diagnosis!

Monday, March 1, 2010

The (Debut) Ultimate Thursday Open Mic at Cafe Caffeine

Before it fades into the mists of my ever-diminishing memory, a brief recap of the first Ultimate Thursday Open Mic at Cafe Caffeine, which I hosted last week (2/25 if you're keeping track). Besides a small coterie of friends who helped me out by appearing and performing some terrific tunes were a few locals and one fellow, Redeye Carl (or "RC"), who happened to be in town that day having traveled from the Houston area. RC kicked off the evening with some finger picked, bluesy numbers. Following RC came the "Cougar Jones Band," a trio of guitar, (Rickenbacker) bass (1970s vintage, blue, yum) and hand-held drum, the name of which I've inconveniently forgotten, but Brad Johnston would know...(Brad?). "Not all our songs are in minor keys," offered Cougar, and the combo proceeded to play Jerry Jeff Walker's "Hill Country Rain."

Louise Richardson, local light -- or light opera? -- took the stage for a 15-song medley she sang a cappella in about six minutes (previewing her musical that debuts at Cafe Caffeine in April)! We got her back onstage for an encore later in the evening and I defy you to find anyone else in the history of music to end a rhyming couplet with "Raisinetted" (from a cinematic number she sang).

The next local to hit the stage was "Smokey," short for "Southernmost Smoke," who performed on harmonica. The man's encyclopedic: Not only in terms of knowing the history of the instrument but the way he played it, bending notes and creating a theramin effect by waving his hand wildly about the air near the harmonica. I was a little concerned when he left and then returned for "today's paper," as the rough-hewn harpist looks a little like the sort of fellow who'd use it for a blanket. Not, I'm told, the case. I'm looking forward to hearing him play next month.

David Jones and Brad Johnston performed songs new and slightly used. They're part of the local outfit, Crystal Flavola, which, they say, is gearing up to start gigging again in a neighborhood near you in the coming months.

A fellow named Gary Devries dropped by and borrowed a guitar for a couple of dulcet tunes, and then Scottie Hickman and I took our turns with tunes new and slighly used. We'll be joining the other Late Joys on Saturday night at Jovita's for the band's sorta-annual birthday gig.

Once we'd gone 'round once there was time for most of us still in the cafe to have another turn. I closed the proceedings with a sloppy "We're Going Steady Now," but it felt good to play; take that!

Things I learned: clearly I need an alias. The night effervesced with the likes of "RC," "Cougar," "Smokey"...all fine monikers of a rather rough-hewn Texan nature. I'll take suggestions if you've got 'em. Plus I think I should dress up a little. The evening couldn't really get any more informal, but it'd be nice to introduce the performers as a slightly more dapper MC. We'll see. Maybe I'll wear a hat.

I reckon next time (3/25 if you're still keeping track) we'll have some more performers; I hope to see you there, too: Sign up is at 7pm, and the open mic runs from 7:30-10pm. Cafe Caffeine has a fine selection of beers, coffee, food and a congenial atmosphere. Don't miss it!