Monthly Archives: May 2011

Thile-Daves at Brighton Music Hall, Boston

On May 24, J and I went to see Chris Thile and Michael Daves at the Brighton Music Hall in Boston – actually in the neighborhood called Brighton on Brighton Ave and Harvard Ave. I’d never been to this place before; I think in previous incarnations it was a metal-band venue, or at least rock and roll, known as Harper’s Ferry. I don’t think folk/bluegrass artists are necessarily on the bill all the time even now. However, we got there about 8:10 for a 9 p.m. show and got a great spot right up front and center as you can see from the photo I took to the right. It’s a “standing room”; meaning, no seats to speak of and the sold out show of 340 eventually filled the hall. I think there are as many bars as there are seats: 3.

The stage looks relatively small for a band that has more than 3-4 people. Of course, that didn’t matter on this night, as the setup was a single microphone in the center. The sound was great, especially being so close, you could hear both the amplification over our heads and the acoustic sounds coming out in front.

As expected, they played a lot of tunes from their recent debut album, Sleep with One Eye Open. You can also hear a few songs on the official web site, but you’ll want to just buy the album. I was busy writing down the tunes in Evernote for later, but at the end I took a picture of the set lists that some folks snagged from the stage. First set is to the left. The opening number, Evening Prayer Blues, was a short, quiet instrumental that set the stage for what was to follow. It was appropriate that Bill Monroe made this one famous, as you could hear that influence in both the playing and singing.
Chris Thile is an engaging performer and very comfortable up there, while Michael Daves seems more reserved. Both play with passion and fire! Their voices are well-matched, to the point where sometimes I could not tell who was singing which part, and I was standing right in front of them. The playing was superb – this is why you go see live music – you get the spontaneity and humanity that only comes from a live performance. You could definitely see, as well as hear, how they communicated on stage and in the moment.
Check out this video of the first set fiddle tune request that someone was kind enough to post on youtube. It was pretty funny to watch them get requests from the audience, then choose a sequence and key for each one…and then play their asses off (I can say that on the web, right?). “Freebird has words, and is therefore: DISqualified!” The reference to 7 strings and all the tuning was about Thile breaking a string in the middle of the set, which he repeated in the second set too.
Okay – that was amazing! 🙂 You could hear both the tradition and taking it to the next step. They must have played these tunes a million times to get to the point of turning them inside-out. They did the same thing with the second set fiddle tune request time, but took Arkansas Traveler even further “outside”. Check it out below about 2 minutes in. That deserves an OMG.
Speaking of live performances, they flubbed the transition from Camptown to Rebecca, which was going from key of Bb to B (of all things). Oops. In the video, you can see Daves trying to make the eye contact to signal it was coming. They made up with it afterwards by trying just that part – so we got to see the live rehearsal process, too. See below – pretty cool. I still can’t believe they played that tune in B – who does that on purpose??

“Wasn’t that cooool????”
You should really listen to some of the tunes with singing – it’s as big a part of the experience as the instrumentals. “Loneliness and Desperation” is a good example of how it can cook. It reminds me of early rock and roll feel, foot-tappin’ music….or maybe even foot-stompin’!
Finally, for completeness of the historical record, I present to you the second set list. Enjoy and go see some live music, people. Where else will you see the performers whip out a bottle of rye and start swigging it during the encores? And if you get a chance to see these two perform this summer, go for it!
All in all, both J and I were inspired by this performance and took some of it to the practice shed last week, as we forge our own identity on guitar/mando. I hope some of it rubs off on us.
Note to Thile/Daves: next time play at Passim – at least we can sit down.
P.S. Thile’s other band, Punch Brothers, is playing at the Lowell Summer Music series in August. There’s other great music there too.
P.P.S. We ate at the Sunset Grille, but don’t go there for the food. They do have 112 beers on tap however. Unless they are out of some, then there are 110.

Backstage at the Met

On our recent visit to Lucas at college, the Martin Guitar Factory, and New York City, we were fortunate enough to get a backstage tour of the Metropolitan Opera House, where friend Rochelle is a scenic artist. After a regular ole visit to the MOMA, we made our way uptown to Lincoln Center. Rochelle met us at the backstage door outside, which began our trip through the maze that is behind the scenes of the opera house.

It was very exciting for me since I had spent a significant amount of time at the Opera Company of Boston both on stage in various capacities from electrical to gridrat to stage-sweeper (and even master carpenter) and in the shop building sets. The Met is a much bigger operation than OCB ever was, plus it’s a union house. They also run in repertory, which means they run 5-6 operas on a rotating schedule. On Saturdays, they run 2 different operas! The only way to pull this off is to have all the sets around and handy, to put up and pull down almost at will. Add in rehearsal schedules, and you have a very full schedule.
If you want to skip straight to the pictures I took follow this link.
We arrived at 4:30, when they had just finished a rehearsal of Die Walkure and were in the midst of changing over to Il Capriccio for that night’s performance. Die Walkure set is a big unwieldy sloped apron in white that moves around during the show. It’s not like it folds up to be put away. The upstage part actually needed to be put on electronic carts and hauled stage left for storage. The downstage apron gets stored below the stage.
Rochelle gave us a very thorough 2 hour tour around the place. We watched from the side until they move the set off the stage, then got to walk around. The backstage area is huge and there is stuff everywhere! By stuff, I mean sets, wires, instruments, monitors, people, props, and who knows what else. We went up an elevator to galleries 1 and 4, high above the stage; we went below stage to see the trapdoors, not mention more storage of sets. Costumes and the scene shop were also part of the tour. Oh yeah, we also visited the pit, where I got to leave James Levine a note on his podium. Not really, but I wanted to tell him to come back to Boston!!
Here are a few pictures from the collection that give you an idea of what it’s like.

Here’s one part of a set backstage, way upstage.
This is below the stage, where you can store sets and the trapdoors end up on a catwalk here.
View of the stage below. That big white apron, part of Die Walkure, will end up below the stage.
The main stage literally rises so they can wheel the apron onto it, then lower it into the depths.
Putting down the raked floor for Il Capriccio. It was like a choreographed dance.
Rochelle shows how to make that tiny model into the “real” fake set. I think this set is not due out until next season or the year after.
Tools of the trade in the scenic shop.
Always gotta have fabric handy. This was in the costume shop.
The set almost ready for the show! What a transformation!
That was a fun time. It’s really hard work; there was a quiet professionalism that happened in the changeover – no yelling, no confusion over what to do – it just happened and no one in the audience really understands what goes on backstage. I suppose they shouldn’t be aware of it – after all, they are there to suspend reality for a bit and enjoy a show.
Finally, the soprano took the stage – 🙂 – Chris