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Two decades after their first release and a dozen years since they played Pittsburgh, Toad the Wet Sprocket (TTWS) was warmly welcomed back to the Carnegie Library Music Hall of Homestead in Munhall stage. Dean Dinning (bass, backing vocals, keyboards), Randy Guss (drums), Todd Nichols (guitar, tambourine, vocals) and Glen Phillips (vocals, guitars), along with Johnny Hawthorn (lapsteel guitar, mandolin, electric guitar) performed a well received 90-minute set, which included a 3-song encore. This was their first show together in awhile and it was not without some opening night glitches. Phillips started on the electric guitar and when he tried to switch to acoustic guitar, he wasn't able to get sound. There was some minor problems at times when he continued to switch between guitars. Phillips also forgot the lyrics at one point to "Nightingale Song" (while the audience continued to sing along) and had to start the song again. Jennifer came out of the audience to "sing" along on "Butterflies". The familiar songs were all there: "All I Want", "Come Back Down", "Fall Down", "Good Intentions" and "Nanci". Phillips commented that his oldest daughter is just a few years younger than he was when he was a teenager writing songs for TTWS. Nichols and Dinning also took turns on lead vocals. The audience was standing for the encore, which included "Come Down" and ended with "Walk On The Ocean" (my personal favorite!). The fact that TTWS can reunite for shows from time to time and still bring a comfort level to the stage after all these decades is commendable. The band members look and sound youthful and still seem to enjoy playing Toad music. "Walk On The Ocean" was a fitting finale, with the strains of "... grow sweeter each season to slowly grow old" echoing in the venue.
Glen Phillips at the 05.02.09 TTWS show:
Opening the show: Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers (SK6ERS). This was the first show for the MA based trio, after they spent time recently entertaining the troops. Band members include Stephen Kellogg (lead vocals, guitar, harmonica), with multi-instrumentalists who also provided back-up vocals: Boots Factor (drums, percussion) and Kit Karlson (bass, accordion and tuba, yes tuba). They did an 8-song, 40-minute set. Kellogg reminds me of a cross between Elvis Costello and Glen Phillips. He looks like Costello, sounds vocally like Phillips. "4th of July" is a 3-minute pop hit of their story. "Milwaukee" received the longest applause. Kellogg did an extended version taking us in a rap from the ages of 20, 25, 28, to 30 into a steak house singing Tom Petty songs. Their final song, "Big Easy", involved audience participation with us going round and round in the air with our hands. Kellogg greeted fans and signed CD's in the venue lobby at intermission. I was impressed when Kellogg extended his hand to shake my hand and then signed my CD's. Their new CD, "The Bear", will be released September 8th.
Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host
Mr. Barb wanted to see Jonatha Brooke. She’d been on his list of performers he’d always wanted to see live. She was coming to Pittsburgh with Glen Phillips. Mr. Barb assured me I’d like Glen Phillips, knowing I tend to like male singer-songwriters. For some reason I wasn’t really impressed with Phillips.
Mr. Barb said I would know some of the TTWS songs, like “All I Want” or his personal favorite “Fall Down”. In fact yes indeed I did know “All I Want”, one of those songs I remember from my commercial radio days. Okay, we’re on to something here. I put “All I Want” on my personal list of essential songs for WYEP’s 913 Essential Songs countdown. I was listing songs that lead me to discover certain artists . When Phillips sang an acoustic version of “All I Want” in December at the Rex, it was the only song I recognized in his set.
There would be more chances to experience Glen Phillips live. Glen Phillips was one of the many performers on the Cayamo cruise in March. We somehow ended up at all three of his performances and seemed to run into him (okay I did, really I was not stalking him!) in the Garden Café in the mornings. We had attended the late Brandi Carlile show one night and thought gee, before we head to our cabin let’s check out Phillips’ 12:30 a.m. show; never intending to stay for the full set. Well it was 2:15 a.m. before we got back to our cabin. I did recognize another TTWS song “Walk on the Ocean”, which Phillips did in his sets. It has since become my favorite TTWS track. Something about seeing a performer in the early morning hours not remember all the lyrics, bang his head on the microphone several times and talk about zombies left a positive impression on me. After Phillips’ last scheduled performance on the cruise, I was able to get an autograph and a photo with him. I’m generally not outgoing when it comes to approaching performers, so it took a bit of gumption for me to walk up to him and chat about his music.
When I saw TTWS was coming to Munhall, I thought I better take the plunge and attend the show. Glen Phillips was very gracious to agree to an e-mail interview prior to the concert (trust me they are not easy to do, you don’t have the interaction you would if the performer was there in person, face to face). Since March I’ve bought or downloaded as many TTWS and Glen Phillips CD's I could find. I feel kind of weird admitting I’m this late in the game on TTWS music. I didn’t realize that Glen Phillips wrote a lot of the lyrics for TTWS. I was intrigued by the video on Phillips first solo recording, “Abulum”. It gave me a little more insight into Phillips' songwriting process. And I as I kept listening to the music, I kept saying to myself 'oh he did that one on the cruise'. I was putting two and two together. Plus I wanted to be familiar with the music when I finally saw TTWS perform.
So, I felt I really needed to share some insights on my limited exposure to TTWS, first, before getting to the concert review, so you could understand my vantage point. I’ve had to quickly bring myself up to speed on TTWS. Here's a link to my review of the TTWS concert (http://musicblog.wyep.org/2009/05/03/toad-the-wet-sprocket-a-concert-review/)
Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host
Glen Phillips (GP): My pleasure
WYEP: You're doing some solo gigs before joining Toad the Wet Sprocket in Pittsburgh. How do you make the transition, literally overnight in this case, from a solo act to a group?
GP: I like the shift. It keeps me on my toes, and reminds me of what I enjoy about each style.
WYEP: You were on the Cayamo cruise in March with about 30 other singer-songwriters. As a performer on the cruise tell us about some of your experiences:
GP: Uhhh...There was a lot. My favorite moment was eating conch salad at Potter's Cay in Nassau. The next was watching Shawn Colvin play. Or maybe Lyle Lovett.
WYEP: How did you stay awake during your 12:30 am show?
GP: I didn't, really. I think I just managed to channel some kind of dreamstate into a weird extended narrative about zombies. There were supposedly a few songs in there, too.
WYEP: Vienna Teng joined you on stage one night, did you have the opportunity to sit in with any performers?
GP: Sadly, no. Saw some great music, though.
WYEP: During your final show, you did a song you wrote about being present when your father passed away. Can you tell us more about it?
GP: Not right now...It's all in the song, though (Darkest Hour).
WYEP: Who was your favorite performer and/or favorite performance on the cruise?
GP: Hard to say. It was a pretty amazing collection.
Glen Phillips with Barb S. - Cayamo cruise, March 2009WYEP: Luke Bulla joined you on the Cayamo cruise and is also a member of Works Progress Administration. As part of W.P.A. is this your first opportunity to perform at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival? It seems like it will be quite an experience with a "festivarian audience".
GP: It'll be great. I love playing with Luke and the rest of WPA. It's the most fun I've had in ages, if not ever.
WYEP: What was the biggest crowd you ever played for with Toad the Wet Sprocket?
GP: Half a million or so, at the Capitol Mall in DC.
WYEP: Who were some of the memorable acts that Toad the Wet Sprocket played / co-billed with?
GP: My favorite opening act was Geggy Tah. The audience didn't always get it, but I thought they were brilliant. Greg Kurstin (Geggy) recently produced the Lily Allen record and is also half of The Bird and The Bee.
WYEP: As a teenager, you achieved a lot of success with Toad the Wet Sprocket. What was that like, at that young age, to attain that level of fame?
GP: Probably not a good thing. It helps to foster unrealistic expectations and feelings of entitlement. It was also a lot of fun.
WYEP: Boxers or briefs? Another way of asking do you like performing as a solo act or with a group?
GP: Boxer briefs, of course. I like being in a band when it's alive and passionate and full of mutual purpose. I like being solo when I'm alive and passionate and full of purpose.
WYEP: One thing people would be surprised to know about Toad the Wet Sprocket is????
GP: We are all aliens.
Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host
91.3fm WYEP will air two special programs to help celebrate the 90th birthday of legendary folk artist Pete Seeger. Both programs air on 91.3fm WYEP on Sunday, May 3.
Pete Seeger Tribute on “An American Sampler”
Sunday, May 3 from 8 to 10am Ken Batista hosts a two-hour special tribute in song to Pete Seeger, with Seeger’s music, music from his siblings and family, the Clearwater project, and numerous covers. “An American Sampler” is a WYEP program dedicated to traditional and contemporary folk music, airing on Sundays from 7 to 11 am.
“The Protest Singer: An Intimate Conversation with Pete Seeger”
Sunday, May 3: 6 to 7am, rebroadcast from 6 to7pm
WYEP will broadcast a national hour-long special featuring music and an interview with Seeger in honor of his birthday. Seeger discusses his career, being blacklisted, the view from 90, how music can still change the world, and his new book The Protest Singer.
Sophisticated. Elegant. Grace under pressure even when she makes a mistake. Vienna Teng is not just another singer-songwriter. Club Café hosted the Vienna Teng Trio: Vienna Teng, vocals and keyboards. Ward Williams plays the cello and electric guitar. Alex Wong is a multi-instrumentalist, who co-produced Teng’s new release “Inland Territory”. Teng talked about spending Easter in Pittsburgh and taking a ride on the Mon Incline before segueing into “In Another Life”. She highlighted many songs from “Inland Territory”, which I’ve already added to my personal list of the best of 2009. “The Last Snowfall”, “White Light”, “Antebellum”, “Kansas”, “Grandmother Song” and “St. Stephen’s Cross” were among the songs she performed from “Inland Territory”. From “Dreaming Through The Noise” Teng did “Whatever You Want” and the fun “1BR/1BA”. Teng’s expressions and delicate movements with her hands, shows that she’s really feeling the music. Teng’s set was over 90-minutes, including a 2-song encore.
When Ari Hest was at Club Café last month, we discussed the Cayamo cruise. He asked me if we saw Vienna Teng. I had to confess that we did not see enough of her performances. The venues were overflowing with people and we only caught Teng’s shows in passing. When Teng returns to Cayamo-2010, she will be on our must-see list.
He’s from Lexington, KY. He sings. He writes songs. He plays the cello exquisitely. Ben Sollee did a too short 35-minute set. Club Café was briefly transformed into a symphonic concert hall when the classically trained Sollee played his cello. You could see the audience trying to be quiet and leaning forward to hear all the notes. Sollee was joined by Alex Wong on “It’s Not Impossible”, a song he got to perform on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”. Also, from his debut full length release, “Learning To Bend”, he did the amusing “Bury Me With My Car”. I’d like to hear Sollee with a backing band, perhaps, in the future when Sollee headlines his own tour. Sollee may return to the area in August.
Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host
k.d. lang brought her dancing shoes and a brand new five-piece band to the Benedum Center for the WYEP 35th Anniversary concert. Sometimes lang played the guitar and even attempted playing the banjo, but it was her voice that was her most used instrument throughout the almost 90-minute set, which featured several encores. The large stage was set up with lighting and a projection screen in the back, with the band near the middle; allowing lang plenty of space to dance and interact with her band and audience. Some of the band members were multi-instrumentalists. Despite pleas from the audience, lang did not remove her shoes (she apparently usually performs without them) and she proved she’s very light on her feet. An early highlight was lang’s version of Neil Young’s “Helpless”. The first standing ovation came after she did a song from “Hymns of the 49th Parallel”, the Leonard Cohen penned “Hallelujah” in which lang showcased her extraordinary voice. lang did vintage tracks like “Miss Chatelaine” as well as “I Dream of Spring” from her most recent release “Watershed”. Of course lang sang “Constant Craving”, perhaps her most well known song. During one of the encores, lang referred to Tony Bennett as her mentor. The final song was “Lock, Stock and Teardrops” from “Shadowland”.
Fellow Canadian Meaghan Smith opened the show and this leg of the k.d. lang tour. Smith was joined center stage by her husband Jason Mingo on guitar and harp pedal and their friend Austin Nicholsen on upright bass. She was on stage for about 30-minutes, played seven songs and danced a little. Smith plays guitar and also played the omnichord. She engaged the audience using the harp pedal to accentuate what people did that day (working and laundry). The singer song-writer reminded me of a young Linda Ronstadt. Smith told the stories behind such songs as “Poor”, “You Got Out” and her final song about her parents sending her to bed in the summer when it was still daylight, called “Five More Minutes”. She shared with us that she does answer her own e-mail. Smith asked for a photo of herself from the stage with the audience in the background. I’m sure everyone was smiling.
Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host
You can’t just comment on the final product of “Twelve Mondays” without acknowledging the pool of ‘52’. I did not hear the songs as they came out each week in 2008; instead I listened to them in order over a 5-day period. I feel there is not a weak song in the bunch. Certainly some songs sounded like demos. Some started abruptly or just ended with no warning. There was one instrumental. Many songs had multiple instruments and sounds. Guitar, piano, percussion and harmonies. You could at least hear the potential of what Hest was attempting to do with a particular song. I was impressed by actually how polished many of the songs were.
The quality and integrity of Ari Hest’s music is evident. In one review, Hest was compared to John Mayer, Bruce Springsteen and Dave Matthews. I don’t think those comparisons do justice to the depth of the songs Hest has produced over his young career (Hest will be 30 in June). To me, Ari Hest sounds like … well, Ari Hest. He is unique. Maybe in the future other artists will be likened to … Ari Hest.
On 2006’s “The Green Room Sessions EP”, Hest covers Fleetwood Mac’s “Little Lies”. It’s hard to believe it’s one person singing that song, but Hest pulls it off brilliantly.
Ari Hest has recorded almost the equivalent of a whole career worth of music in one year. What an incredible accomplishment! Well done, well done! To date, “Twelve Mondays” is my favorite CD of 2009!
Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host
ELVIS COSTELLO’S NEW ALBUM ‘SECRET, PROFANE & SUGARCANE’ will be out on JUNE 2nd. The recording is Produced by T BONE BURNETT in Nashville.
Joining Costello were Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Mike Compton, Jeff Taylor, and Dennis Crouch. These guys are some of the most highly regarded recording artists and musicians in traditional American country music, Bluegrass and beyond.
The album includes ten previously unrecorded songs. “Sulphur to Sugarcane” and “The Crooked Line”, were co-written with T Bone Burnett while, “I Felt The Chill” marks Costello’s second recorded songwriting collaboration with Loretta Lynn.
I'm fairly certain that is the same group of musicians that helped create 'Raising Sand' with Plant & Krauss. Looking forward to this release !