Tag Archives: music

seen and heard: supper studio

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

As a food writer, most of the time, my job includes avoiding open nights. Even in the better, faster, stronger culture of social media, the most serious critics still give new food businesses 4-6 weeks (and 2-3 visits!) before writing a first review.

On the flip side, in the music industry, there has long been an appeal of being the person to “discover” a band. While heading to a new restaurant is often a major risk on opening day, a great many music stories revolve around being present at the first public performance of a song, or even getting a sneak peak of a band’s studio time.

Preparing the duck prosciutto and polenta fry appetizer.

Preparing the duck prosciutto and polenta fry appetizer.

At the brand-new venture, Supper Studio, these two worlds—music and food—delightfully collide, with all their disparate quirks and appeal. The event’s organizers, Laura Leebove, Tracy Candido and Ben Wygonik, are no stranger to this mash-up, as Laura’s longtime blog, Eating the Beats, features recipes inspired by various musicians.

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Pearl and the Beard performed mere feet from where we were standing.

Such was the format for Supper Studio, with local band Pearl and the Beard as the inspiration for the evening’s ambitious eats. As Pearl’s guitarist, Jeremy Styles recalls, the group actually met Laura through her blog, when she featured their Bon Iver cover of “Stacks” alongside a fanciful stack of pancakes.

This seasonal dinner series launched on a humid night near City Hall. Curiosity ran high, as well as excitement. $35 for dinner and a concert certainly seemed like a bargain rate, so I was both anxious and excited to see what the night would bring. A glass wall was all that separated us from the kitchen—an exciting detail, from my perspective, but certainly one that raised the stakes for the kitchen crew.

Laura Leebowe explains the inspiration for the first course.

Laura explains the inspiration for the first two courses.

We were promptly served small cups of polenta fries with duck prosciutto, roasted asparagus and horseradish mustard. It was a tasty, indulgent snack, if a bit difficult to eat. Upon hearing the dish analyzed by the cooks, Pearl’s Jocelyn joked, “Our voices have never been compared to prosciutto—that’s some expensive meat!”

As the band geared up to play their first set, the kitchen served a second appetizer of smoked almond tart with eggplant, vine tomato and ricotta. My co-diners especially liked this course, which we savored, settling into the intimacy of watching one of our favorite bands from 3 feet away.

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As someone who regularly hosts a supper club, I was impressed that the kitchen was accommodating for food allergies (a generous, but time consuming move, in my experience). The decision to serve the three final courses seated also created a significant delay, given the event’s limited staff.

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Despite the delay, the other courses were well prepared—a refreshing watermelon radish and butter lettuce salad, creamy macaroni and cheese with salmon and zucchini and a sweet vanilla tapioca with strawberry rhubarb and shortbread cookie crumbs.

During dessert, Pearl and the Beard performed a second set, and any disappointment caused by the dinner’s delay instantly faded. The band played a brand new song—so new, in fact, that they had yet to agree on the name. It was in that moment that I recalled how different the value of “newness” is in music and food. We forgive the experimental among musicians—the false starts, the jokes when they do mess up—in ways that we do not forgive cooks.

Pearl and the Beard's sultry cellist, Emily Hope Price.

Pearl and the Beard’s sultry cellist, Emily Hope Price.

Which is why I would recommend Supper Studio to other fans of music and food. For a first event, the food was well prepared—an ambitious feat, especially given the team’s small, makeshift kitchen. To boot, unless you work at NPR’s Tiny Desk, it’s nearly impossible to see a band (especially a great band!) in that intimate a setting. So keep an eye out for Supper Studio this fall. I’m sure they’ll return with tastier timing.

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Sofar Sounds – March 26

I’ve recently had the pleasure of joining the blog team at Sofar Sounds, an intimate, underground concert experience hosted each month in private apartments and other unusual venues all over the world.

The following post covers the most recent New York Sofar gig, held March 26th in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. (Read the original post here.)

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In my usual line of work—food writing—the traditional measure of greatness is “that which merits the detour.” With music, it’s not how far we’ve traveled to get there, but rather how far the music can take us from where we are. Braving crowded cold or steamy hot rooms filled with debatably polite strangers, craning necks over heads taller than our own, just for the sake of a listen— the best music can help us escape from this place, or transform it into something far greater.

When it comes to settings, Sofar has the head start, as the venues tend to be naturally charmed, even at their most crowded.  In this case, it was a walk-up Williamsburg apartment, complete with exposed brick, where fifty-or-so music lovers came together—seated, quiet, waiting on a listen.

First up was Afeefa & the Boy, an Orlando-based group stripped down to a singer/guitarist and percussionist. Afeefa emanated the vibe of a traveler—not for her shawl and harem pants, but for her drawling speech, the waxing and waning voice of a storyteller. Her affected pronunciation almost recalled Amy Winehouse, laid upon layers of a much simpler, guitar-based style. Andrew, her drummer, filled out the sound with a range of organic percussion, from mellow tribal beats to shakers and the reverb of a lone cymbal.

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My favorite band from the evening, Leif Vollebekk’s Montreal-based folk/jazz quartet.

Next came Leif Vollebekk, a Montreal-based musician playing guitar and harmonica, backed by harmonium, percussion and upright bass. The quartet immediately distinguished itself from the usual singer-songwriter set-up with an improvisational structure that swelled slowly with abstract sound. It started low, with a few exploratory notes drifting in from the bass, as the scratch of a cymbal recalled the creak of an outdoor gate. Leif’s rough, unfinished timbre came in, coloring lyrics about the simplest moments or snippets of conversation, ending many of his phrases with a subtle lift, as if he was asking us to weigh them as questions. This was a band of exceptional note—one that creates on the spot, revisiting their repeated tunes with the fresh intentions of a first rendition.

Dawn Landes, a country-infused folk artist, brought us back from the break. Accompanied by a friend on the banjo, she played guitar as they harmonized in the iconic intervals of the genre. Yet it was in her last piece, a solo—“Bluebird”—that Dawn revealed her true appeal. Her fragile voice shudders at the end of each phrase with a striking vulnerability. When all other sound is pulled away, you notice the strength of her choices, and can better appreciate her raw talent.

Last, but not least, was Sofar veteran Anthony Hall. This pop singer and guitarist was on his seventh go-round and articulated the evening’s appeal for everyone. “No one here must have ADD—because no one is checking their phones, at all.” Whether testing the crowd with his controversial “Emotional” or bringing the show home with a cover of “No Diggity,” Anthony had the whole crowd laughing and harmonizing. In a borough where “pop” borders on a derogatory term, it was a refreshing reminder of the appeal of a simple, genuinely delivered song.

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seen and heard: emily hope price

As anyone who has followed comme au marche long enough knows, music – not food – is my first love. I grew up training in opera, sang in a jazz big band for a stretch, and only upon moving to France began to consider food as a creative career path.

These days, my musical cravings are mostly filled with the songs and sounds of others. So while it may be more practical (professionally) to write about food, I occasionally cannot help but gush about some new find that has arrived to sate my audible appetite.

As of last night, that find is Emily Hope Price. Cellist of the already breath-stealing trio Pearl and the Beard, Ms. Price commands your attention in the most intoxicating of ways. Her soulful tone and incredible breath control are the ideal complement to the low resonance of her instrument. In fact, the whole of her performance is so physically potent for the listener that you can’t help but ebb and flow with the rise and fall of her phrasing.

I can wax poetic, or I can give you a listen. The latter says it all.

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seen & heard: buika

It’s funny how often my favorite concerts have been those I’ve attended by accident.

Last fall, I wrote about my love affair with Rockwood Music Hall, and how it led me to discover the eerie eloquence of singer/songwriter Freddie Stevenson. Yet before I discovered the NYC trick of frequenting well-curated venues, I was rambling through the musically confusing landscape of Paris, where truly great gigs were less easy to find.

The pan flutes of Paris. Fete de la Musique, 2010

There is one day, however, in France when music quite literally lines the streets: the annual Fête de la Musique. This day-long, free music festival coincides with the summer solstice (June 21) and,  since its inception in 1982, has become an international celebration. (Make Music NY is one of the more recent iterations of the festival.) In Paris, the fête is so extensive that you can simply follow the sound of music through the cobbled streets of the city.

I was in town for the Fête in 2010, and spent most of the morning rambling around Les Halles, hopping from one ubiquitous pan flute to another django-esque guitarist. Eventually, I met up with my friend Gina, who suggested we head to the Palais Royal. (The first time Gina and I had gone to a concert, it was to see Manu Chao at the Fête de l’Humanité, a communist festival which quickly turned into a mosh-pit nightmare. Needless to say, my expectations were low.)

The Palais’ program was to celebrate female performers, none of whose names we had ever heard. After head-bobbing to singer/songwriter Madjo‘s pop-y tunes, we snuck off for some snacks. The historic park was pleasantly buzzing when we left, but upon our return, it had swollen with anticipation. We wove our way back to the front, just as the crowd began to roar. There she was, a regal, afro’ed vixen in red: the Mallorcan “Flamenco Queen”, Buika.

Buika, Palais Royal, Fete de la Musique, 2010

For two hours under the dark, open skies and uniquely Parisian box-cut trees, we swayed – squished but mesmerized -beside a group of overzealous Italians screaming “che bella!” (when not singing along in broken Spanish). Though I didn’t understand a word of the lyrics, I couldn’t take my eyes off the slim, vivacious siren. Buika’s musicality and rhythm were exceptional, laced with a feisty humor and passion that transcended linguistic boundaries. To this day, I vividly recall her heartfelt performance of “Volveras“.

For months after that concert, I downloaded Buika’s various albums, singing along in my 5th floor mezzanine bedroom, attempting to repossess some of the magic of that night. But her records, while still admirable, held only the slightest glimmer of the singer’s commanding stage presence. If it is disappointing when a band sounds worse in concert than they do on the radio, it is even more frustrating to discover an exceptional live artist whose albums are comparably unremarkable.

Two years later – almost to the day  – I learned Buika was coming to New York City. I immediately snatched up tickets, raving to friends about “one of the best concerts of my life”. But as the day drew closer, I wondered if my second, intentional evening with Buika could ever live up to that accidental night in Paris.

The set-up at the Highline Ballroom was sparse – a single guitar and a percussionist on cajón. Buika glided on stage with a sleek, long hairstyle and a red, bustled dress. She was as quirky and elegant as ever, blessing the stage with her drink and excusing herself for her broken English. The Spanish speakers in the crowd began a dialogue with her almost instantaneously, echoing the zany energy of my Italian neighbors from the Palais Royal. And then, almost casually, she began to sing.

Buika takes the stage at NYC’s Highline Ballroom, 2012

Some artists impress us with their musical skill – a unique sense of pitch or meter. Buika has both. But what struck me that night – as it did in Paris – was the emotion in her breath and her uncanny reverence for the present moment. Between songs, unabashedly personal banter eloquently revealed the source of her authentic performance style  – “I think to sing is easy. It’s about sincerity.” – and witty insight into her lyrics – “At 3 o’clock in the afternoon, lies hurt my heart. But at 3 in the morning…lies are nice.” On stage, she is both a real-life Carmen -approaching the microphone like a confident toreador – and the most convincingly heartbroken woman in the world.

If the Highline Ballroom was less romantic than a historic Parisian public garden, you wouldn’t have known it that night. Part of Buika’s enduring appeal is the sense that every concert is the most special performance of her life. In the end, there is only one word to describe her elusive aura : “gratitude”. It is this emotion which she so uniquely inhabits and exponentially inspires in us, her admiring crowd.

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seen and heard : freddie stevenson

In New York City, one often fails to be a regular.  With so many bars, restaurants, clubs, events, etc. to choose from, we often hop from place to place, bereft of the acknowledging nod of a familiar bouncer or bartender (let alone a fellow regular).

Freddie Stevenson's new album

But as one ages in NY-years, there is a certain appeal to deciding upon a few worthy establishments to frequent, safeholds in the swirl of the city’s never-ending orgy of frenzied innovation.

For those who fear the commitment of becoming a “regular”, Rockwood Music Hall is a delightful solution.  Within the confines of a single locale, it serves up an ever-changing menu of worthy musical acts (on the hour, every hour).

It was there that I found myself on Sunday eve, to see singer-songwriters Rosi Golan & Ari Hest – a couple of Rockwood regulars themselves.  Having just enjoyed their intimate evening set, I was preparing to leave, and that’s when the floodgates opened.  Concertgoers of all shapes, sizes and ages filled the room (on a Sunday night!) so – with the enthusiastic orders of a photographer “No, you have to stay.  Freddie will change your life” – our curiosity peaked, we decided to linger (at least for one song).

“Freddie” Stevenson did, in fact, change our lives that night (or, at least, our mood and perspective) – from the moment he and his band, the “Midnight Crisis”, hit that first smooth groove.

“I’m in some kind of boutique clothing store/Nothing makes sense to me no more/I’m headed for the door/Everything is more than I can afford”

From there, a waxing & waning 1 to 10 man band (from guitar, to baby-grand, sax, electric mandolin…) filled the smallish Rockwood stage, as we sat mesmerized in the haze of a beautiful, mystical time warp.

Yes, I said “time warp”.  We stayed glued to our seats for a good two hours, while Stevenson’s singer-songwriter/busker/camp rock wooed us.  Nothing short of entrancing, these are anachronistic – yet uncannily relevant – songs for the 20 or 30-something set that plays Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens on beat-up record players, seduced by the lyrics and the crackly sound.  Born in 1980 himself, Stevenson’s lyrics are marked with the profundity of a wise, well-worn sage :

May I pay for my sins in installments?/Sell the keys but save the ring/In the end everything comes to depend/On a few inessential things”

And if Stevenson’s lyrics are of an eerie eloquence – the foot-stomping groove of the Midnight Crisis is nothing but a good ol’ time.

For those of us with a day-job, Stevenson’s repeated midnight Sunday set at Rockwood is nothing short of depressing.  Luckily, he can be found busking in Central Park or performing with The Dirty Urchins at the 11th Street Bar or The Tippler.

You can catch The Dirty Urchins tomorrow (November 30th) at The Tippler, a bar worthy of regular-status itself.

Links:
Buy a full 58-song album of Freddie Steveson’s Songs
Buy Stevenson’s new album, The City is King on iTunes
Interview Magazine’s interview with Freddie Stevenson

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