Tech Rap: Celebrating Live Music
Our employees here at Como Audio, myself included, truly love music. In that respect, we are spoiled living in MA because there are a slew of live music venues that cater to many talented musicians. Some well-known Boston-area clubs that come to mind are Scullers Jazz Club, Club Passim, and Regattabar, but there are others, equally worthy, without the name recognition.
Old Ship Parish House
A couple of weeks ago I was at my favorite Chinese take away and I noticed a flyer tacked up on their bulletin board competing with a mess of local business cards. Upon closer inspection, the flyer advertised an upcoming performance by Boston-area blues singer Toni Lynn Washington. Intrigued, I Googled her after I got home that night and learned she had been singing in local clubs as far back as the 1950’s. I auditioned some of her music and became an instant fan, purchasing one of her CDs the next day (yes, I still buy CDs).
The performance was held, of all places, at a historic Unitarian Universalist parish house known as The Old Coffeehouse off the Square, in Hingham, MA. Considering Washington (born Dorothy Helen Leak) sang in church choirs when she was a child, the venue could not have been more appropriate. The actual room was a simple, large meeting room with about a dozen round tables and several rows of metal folding chairs. Symphony Hall this was not, but it had an intimacy and charm all its own. There was a section of worn, faded pink-ish carpeting defining the “stage”, a few very large windows, and real wood walls with solid wood beams. I was concerned the hard surfaces would not treat the live music kindly, but the sound was actually quite good. Before she took to the stage there was some “open mic” time, allowing five local musicians to perform two songs each. This proved more entertaining than I was expecting, but I was anxious to hear this wonderful singer I had discovered.
Washington was backed by blues guitarist Paul Speidel, who has played alongside such notables as Duke Robillard and J. Giles. Playing upright bass was Jim Guttman, whom, over his long 30+ year career, worked with the likes of Itzhak Perlman, Eartha Kitt, the Artie Shaw Orchestra, and the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. Washington announced to the small gathering that she was 83 years old (actually, she will turn 83 on December 6th). “In my mind”, she added, “I’m still in my 20’s, so look out fellas!” She started singing around 8:30pm and continued until a little after 10 with a brief intermission part way through. She looked like she had the energy to go for another hour or two. Her voice was strong and she frequently joked and flirted with the audience. Toward the end of one song Washington exclaimed, “And now, for my favorite part, the climax.” She had to sit for about 2/3 of her performance, but at 83, she was allowed. She sang a mix of blues, standards (All of Me, Autumn Leaves, Route 66), and even a few hits like Stand By Me, Kansas City, and The Temptations’ My Girl. It was a perfect blend as Washington flipped through a fat binder perched on a music sheet stand and hand-picked each song as the evening progressed, letting her band mates know what key she wanted. “We don’t rehearse”, she proudly explained, “they just know what to do, and at my age, I like a man who knows what to do.”
After her performance I approached Speidel and asked him to sign his EP CD. Then I sheepishly asked Tony Lynn if she would sign the booklet I brought with me of the CD I had purchased the week before, which she gladly did. I explained to her that I was a brand-new fan, discovering her by accident, and really enjoyed her music. She thanked me and said my comments meant a lot to her.
If you missed this great performance or want to catch her again, you have another chance to see Washington live at Precinct 10 in Weymouth, MA on December 5. Upcoming shows at The Old Coffeehouse include Emmy award winning guitarist Geoff Muldaur on Nov. 16 and bluegrass/gospel band Southern Rail on Dec. 15.
The Cantab Lounge
The Cantab Lounge is a popular, low-key venue for live bluegrass, blues, soul and funk, and dance music. They also host folk/acoustic open mic nights and poetry slams. Como Audio’s Founding CEO, Tom DeVesto, frequents their live music performances. “I like bluegrass music”, Tom told me. “I’ve been going there almost every Tuesday for the last 30 years. Angela (Tom’s wife) jams and practices with some of the musicians, so we’ve become a little part of that community.” In 2015, Boston Magazine named The Canton Lounge “The Best Dive Bar”. Boston.com said of them, “Each Tuesday, the smallish beer bar becomes a foot-tappin’, hand-clappin’ hootenanny as local and national bluegrass musicians play for the crowd under twinkling Christmas lights. Can we get a “yeehaw”? (And a Pabst Blue Ribbon while you’re at it?).”
Berklee Performance Center
I love The Beatles, and my all-time favorite Beatles album, hands down, is the “White Album” (the actual album name is “The Beatles”). So when I heard about a group of legendary rock musicians touring the country together performing music from the White Album, I knew I had to go. The venue was local (The Berklee Performance Center in Boston), but the headliners were not. Todd Rundgren, Micky Dolenz (The Monkees), Christopher Cross, Joey Molland (Badfinger), and Jason Scheff (Chicago) comprised this super-group.
Prior to the event, except for Christopher Cross who did not participate, I was able to meet the band and get an autographed concert poster. I had met Joey Molland over 25 years ago by telephone when I interviewed him together with Badfinger drummer Mike Gibbins (who passed away 14 years ago last month) for my “One on One” radio program on WPRO-AM. Molland was just as nice as he was way back then. I reminded him of our interview and presented him with a transcript of the interview we did together. Molland recently concluded a successful Kickstarter campaign for his new album. The other members were also very nice and they all seemed like very down to earth guys.
Surprisingly, there were no impressive visual effects. The large white drapery in the background was, I assume, meant to symbolize the White Album’s cover. The emphasis was clearly on the music, and the song interpretations were as diverse as the band members themselves. A few examples include Micky Dolenz’s entertaining version of Rocky Racoon, Christopher Cross’ tender Martha My Dear cover, and Todd Rundgren appearing in camouflage shorts and a plastic pump-action water gun for Bungalo Bill. He did a rousing rendition of Helter Skelter, screaming, “I’ve got blisters on my vocal cords!” at the end. Rundgren also sang “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey”, and when he sang the word “Monkey”, he glanced over at former Monkee Dolenz, prompting a burst of laughter from the audience. There was one uncomfortable moment, while singing a Badfinger hit, Molland’s voice cracked. He yelled out in frustration and one could not help but feel bad for him. He was given an enthusiastic round of applause when he finished and thanked the audience for being so kind.
As I listened from the 10th row, I wondered what John Lennon would have thought of these performances. Lennon had a quirky sense of humor, so I bet he would have gotten a big kick out of them. Without a doubt, Rundgren was the star of the show and had more energy than all of the members combined. In addition to The White Album covers, each member performed two hit songs from their past. This struck me as musically disjointed. Leaping from 1968’s White Album, to 1979’s Sailing, to 1972’s Hello It’s Me, was like taking a ride in Mr. Peabody’s Wayback machine set to Shuffle, but the audience clearly enjoyed it. Overall, it was a very enjoyable evening and it was wild to see these legendary musicians perform together.
Named “Best Music Venue” by Boston Magazine in 2015, The Sinclair in Harvard Square, Cambridge, serves up traditional American fare along with live music. Our Customer Service Rep, Bryce Dort, recently saw Ayokay, otherwise known as Alex O’Neill and his band. O’Neill, who is also a DJ and music producer, had dance hits with Kids of Summer and The Shine. Bryce described the trio’s sound as having “ear-catching hooks, lighthearted pop melodies, and danceable beats”. Upcoming shows at The Sinclair include MXMToon, Jeremy Zucker, Ra Ra Riot, and Billy Strings.
Live Music on Internet Radio
If you want live music any time on your Como Audio music system, that is to say, listening to music that was recorded live, there are some Internet radio stations dedicated to playing nothing but live music. A few good options include Allzic Radio Live Hits based in France (128 kbps, MP3), StarFM out of Berlin (192 kbps, MP3), Life Radio Live in Austria (128 kbps, MP3), and LWR (London World Radio) (128 kbps, MP3). I tuned into the latter while they were playing Sade live in Buenos Aires from 2011. I listened to the show from more than 1.5 hours without any commercial or other interruptions, which would be unheard of on commercial FM radio. Immediately following that they played a live Whitney Houston concert from 1991. The next time I tuned in I was treated to Luther Vandross live from Radio City Music Hall circa 2003.
Live music adds so much more to the listening experience. If you have not been to a live music performance in a while, do yourself a favor and go. It can serve to recharge your batteries and give your spirit a lift. You do not have to go to a big stadium and spend a fortune. Find a nice little club and support your local venues and musicians, and enjoy the (live) music.
General Manger Peter Skiera lives in southern MA, worked in radio broadcasting throughout New England, and also worked for Cambridge SoundWorks, B&W Loudspeakers, and Tivoli Audio for 15 years before joining Como Audio in 2016 as Vice President of Product Development. In addition to Tech Rap, Peter also writes for his own blog, www.RecommendedStations.com. He can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org