By Marc Millman
By no means is this meant to be a homage to last year’s, very funny, Chris Rock comedy, Top Five. As the 2015 draws to a close, I wanted to look back at all the live music that I shot and honor a few shows that really stuck out. I think it’s important to say that I stand on no pretense here. So, I’m not really concerned with the actual rankings. As I write this post, I am going with what comes to mind first. These were the shows that captivated my thoughts for quite some time after I left these various venues, went home to decompress and finally edit the images.
Some time around the summer of 2013, I discovered a great YouTube channel called OurVinyl. It is one of several “music stations” that you will hear me mention over time. The channel led to my discovery of some great bands and fantastic covers [which are going to get a special posting of their own shortly…]. One of the first bands I heard was from Birmingham, Alabama. With a performance of “Call Me” from their first full-length album, St. Paul and The Broken Bones were on my radar….barely. The song came up fairly frequently during the second half of that year in one of several playlists I created. But I never heard anything else about them.
In the Spring of 2015, the night shows held during The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival started to populate The Jazz Fest Grids. I saw St. Paul’s name pop up for a show at Tipitina’s. And almost immediately, it was sold out and followed by another. I had to shoot this band. Let’s just say, Paul Janeway and his band BLEW ME AWAY! Their set is an infectious blend of their Southern Soul-tinged originals and covers that ranged from a fitting Otis Redding tribute to a mind-blowing cover of David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” from his 1972 masterpiece, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Paul never stops moving on stage. And he goes from dancing like a possessed man at a Tent revival to pounding the floor on his hands and knees. It’s Rock theater in the grand tradition of The Who, Bowie, The Kinks. And it was awesome!
Who doesn’t like a good surprise? I love when I catch wind of a show just beforehand. Then I’ll quickly scramble to figure out who to speak with in order to secure permission to shoot. Hopefully, I can arrange my schedule accordingly. These become the gems which make me snicker to myself every time I think back on how close I came to missing out.
When the great keyboard player, Brian Mitchell posted on Facebook that he was in the midst of a residency at the Cafe Carlyle with Buster Poindexter, I knew that I had to get there. The Carlyle Hotel is right in my neighborhood on the Upper East Side. It’s an incredibly intimate and elegant setting in which to catch live music. And I knew that local legend, David Johansen would not disappoint. I was right. The set was a mix of The Great American Songbook, Blues classics, and of course it included an encore of his 1987 hit cover “Hot, Hot, Hot.” I remember seeing David open for The Who on their 1982 North American Farewell tour. The New York Dolls‘ frontman was electrifying then. And more than 30 years later in his bespoke suit, he still is.
Everyone has their true favorite. You may not listen to them all the time. And perhaps there are artists you actually tend to listen to more often. But at the end of the day, when it’s just you and your album collection with nobody around, they are the band you put on and turn up loud. And just like William Miller in Almost Famous, when the needle hits the vinyl and I hear that combination of Townshend‘s guitar over the manic fills of Moon and the thundering bass lines of The Ox with Roger singing over the top, I know there is nothing better than The Who.
Ok, so this one qualifies for Bucket List status…with several asterisks. Yes, I am well aware that two out of four does not make for the band. And yes, I admit that having seen them several times since that very same 1982 tour on which both Johansen and The Clash were openers, this current 50th anniversary celebration is not truly the band I fell in love with the first time I heard them perform “My Generation” on The Kids Are Alright soundtrack from The Smothers Brothers show. However, when the tour was announced and a show was put on sale for the former site of the US Open Tennis Tournament, I knew I had to shoot this! The tour was all larger arenas. And I knew this night, in late May, would prove to be an ideal one for capturing Roger & PT.
Sometimes you watch an artist over a period of years and wonder when exactly everyone else is going to realize that they are in the presence of greatness. The music of New Orleans has gained popularity both nationally and around the world since Hurricane Katrina almost wiped The Big Easy off the map in the summer of 2005. The displacement of the city’s residents led to pockets of musicians ending up in places like Texas, Atlanta & San Francisco. But The Big Apple, in particular, seemed to become a hotbed of activity for these Funk, Jazz, Blues, Soul and Rhythm & Blues artists. And it seems that the effects of this weather event may have combined with the cultural shift that took place when David Letterman retired from The Late Show and turned it over to Stephen Colbert.
With Dave stepping down came the end of what was once known as the World’s Most Dangerous Band. Stephen was free to hire his own bandleader and band. And what he did was go out and recruit the extremely talented Jon Batiste and his band Stay Human. Shortly after the announcement was made, Jon played two of what he calls “Love Riots” around New York City. In early June, Jon assembled the band on the corner of North 7th & Bedford in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn around 5:30pm. Like the Pied Piper playing the Melodica, he led a group of fellow musicians, friends, fans and locals swept up by the Second line-styled march down Bedford to McCarren Park. I had less than two hours notice to get to Brooklyn. The surprise made a beautiful early summer night that much more unforgettable. And my first trip to The Meatball Shop afterwards was the perfect ending to a perfect New York night!
On what most consider to be the absolute final night of what is loosely referred to as “Jazz Fest week” in New Orleans, local Soul/Blues/Country/Rock stalwart, Eric Lindell asked his good friend from Baltimore, Cris Jacobs to join him at the Circle Bar. The two singer-songwriters traded songs and accompanied the other during two intimate sets filled with a few originals and a whole lot of interesting covers.
Here’s a playlist featuring videos I shot during the set. I love the intimacy of the room. But it is possibly the darkest place you could ever try to take a photo. Without a flash, it is practically impossible. And flash is never favored by artists or their audiences for the distractions it can cause. In a case like this, I can only say that having these men as close friends allowed me to pop off a few properly lit frames. I’m glad that I did. What felt like so much fun to those in attendance on their “last legs” after another fantastic festival, turned out to be amongst the best of the performances of the year. Lindell is always out on the road sharing his brand of Americana with the masses. And Cris, since leaving The Bridge in 2011, plays with his own band. He now has a project with Ivan Neville called Neville Jacobs for which they are trying to fund the album recording through this Indiegogo campaign. I suggest checking out either artist whenever they come to a town near you.
(A few other images can be found on my Instagram feed)
That was the best of what I saw this year. I could have expanded the list. But shorter seems sweeter. However, I’d be remiss now if I didn’t mention two other great nights, which took place in a relatively short period of time at City Winery. The Southern Soul Assembly is four singer-songwriters performing their own version of VH1’s Storytellers. The combination of Marc Broussard, Luther Dickinson, JJ Grey & my friend Anders Osborne on the weekend after Thanksgiving was perfect. The proof is in these two clips: Luther performing a beautiful instrumental and JJ ending the show with his gorgeous Lochloosa.
Steve Earle has a charity that raises money for the special school his autistic son, John Henry attends. And with the help of friends like The Dukes, The Mastersons, his other son Justin Townes Earle and the quintessential singer-songwriter of the 1970s, Jackson Browne, the liberal Maverick played a four hour rehearsal show at the Winery for the following night’s official fundraiser at Town Hall. The show was comprised of sets by each artist. Steve came out during Jackson’s short set to cover “Cocaine.” The night ended with Jackson joining Steve and the current version of The Dukes, that includes The Mastersons, for a rollicking take on his classic, “Take It Easy”.
I caught about 200 different shows this year. I think this Top Five with two additional “honorable mentions” really shows the breadth of what I am looking for when I’m out in clubs, arenas and festivals across the country. I can’t say for sure where 2016 will find me. I do know that I’ll be back in New Orleans for the Festival. And I know I’ll be shooting Bar & Bat Mitzvahs and weddings all winter and Spring. Eventually it will be summertime again which means family portrait shoots on the beach.
Some of my Rockstars play Gibson Les Pauls or Fender Strats. Others pass from boy to man or girl to woman. And still others tell their true love “I do.” To me they are all the same. I may not know their full story before they meet my lens, but after a little “dance,” we’re hopefully in tune. I hope that my desire to constantly see who else is out there playing leads to another interesting roster for the year. This will help inspire new images made with my subjects outside the Limelight. And that in turn should make for another great post or two in about 365 days.
Wishing everyone a happy, healthy & rocking New Year!