Paula West Live at Campbell Steele Gallery 11/14/08 (Review)

George, Ben, Paula, and Chris

My friend Andrew won tickets to this show from a call-in contest Campbell Steele Gallery had in their regular e-mail blast of upcoming events. The last time I had been to Campbell Steele was maybe back in 2003 or 2004 for a special Liars Holographic Theatre show where they featured original songs from the players along with some of the regular skits. It was a lot of fun, as many of the Liars shows are and I had been meaning to get back for another show so I was happy for the opportunity.

Paula West is a jazz singer from San Francisco who has been performing and recording since 1989 and has released three albums to date: Temptation (1997), Restless (1999), and Come What May (2001). Paula was booked for two nights at Campbell Steele as part of their “Cruz Steele Presents: Brand New Favorites – Live at Campbell Steele Gallery” series which included shows with Pieta Brown on October 4th, Erin Bode on October 24th and 25th and the upcoming show with Prudence Johnson on December 5th and 6th. Accompanying Paula was George Mesterhazy on piano and two local guys on bass and drums: Ben Soltau and Chris Richardson.

I got there before Andrew so I hung out and talked a bit with Priscilla Steele who was acting as greeter/bouncer for the evening and got the lowdown about the show series as well as the changes that the gallery has undertaken since the last time I was there. The stage/backdrop I had seen last time for the Liars show was taken out exposing a bar where they were serving hors d’ouvers as well as wine and beer.  In the spirit of the cabaret style of Paula West, they brought in a bunch of cafe tables for seating– a change-up from the normal rows of chairs they use for the performances. Removing the big backdrop really opened the place up, and the seating made things very cozy– especially since it was general admission.

Andrew soon showed up and we staked out our table and ordered a bottle of 2007 Castle Rock Pinot Noir that we’d both had previously.

Paula West

Paula put on a great show. I’m not normally a big fan of Great American Songbook standards, but Paula delivers them with such a beautiful and distinctive voice, it is impossible not to be completely taken in. In addition to the standards Paula throws in a couple of interpretations of Bob Dylan songs, who she said was her favorite songwriter. It is a testament to the strength of Dylan’s songwriting that the songs like “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” can translate so well to torchy, bluesy jazz versions. In fact, I think that she should consider doing an album of her Dylan covers! Her between-song banter was warm and funny. She had just wrapped up a stint at the Oak Room at the legendary Algonquin Hotel in Midtown Manhattan and said that she received a surprised response from fans there who asked where she was going next, “Marion, Iowa!” Along for her little tour was pianist and arranger/band leader George Mesterhazy who provided a brilliant backing to Paula’s vocals. The addition of Ben Soltau and Chris Richardson on bass and drums made for a very complete trio, in my opinion. Initially, I didn’t recognize Ben, but his Yamaha bass seemed pretty familiar, and I remembered the bass in the press photo for New Beat Society, and sure enough it was him! At the break I introduced myself and we talked bass and the upcoming show at the Yacht Club.

George, Ben and Chris

At the beginning of the second set, Craig came out and told the audience that the piano that George was playing was a new purchase for the gallery. Apparently it is pretty difficult and expensive to rent a baby grand piano so it was easier for them to purchase one. Friday night was the piano’s maiden voyage and Craig christened the piano “The Mesterhazy” in tribute to George’s playing it! He then pretended to break a plastic water bottle on the it to the amusement of everybody.

At the end of the end of the evening Andrew and I hung out as the audience filtered out the door and talked a bit to Craig and Priscilla some more. We also talked to George, Ben and Chris who were pretty excited about how well the performance went and were making plans for Saturday night’s show. I mentioned to George that his playing reminded me of Bill Evans, and he said that he was a fan of Bill, too, which was pretty cool.

I had a great time at the show, and certainly plan to hit any future shows they might be putting on there. It’s easy to forget sometimes that Cedar Rapids and Marion have great venues to offer when there are so many other places in the area to see shows. We are lucky to have Craig and Priscilla bringing shows like this to our area.

Click Here to look at the complete set of photos I took.

Click Here for Paula West’s Website

Upcoming show at Campbell Steele: Prudence Johnson with Special Guest Michael Johnson December 5 & 6, 2008. Tickets are $25, and you can call 319-373-9211 for information. Tell them playbsides.com sent you!

Upcoming Show: Bo Ramsey and Band at Blues Before Sunset

Bo with Telecaster

The State Historical Society of Iowa and the Central Iowa Blues Society will be wrapping up their 7th season of Blues Before Sunset on Friday, August 1 with a rare appearance of Bo Ramsey performing as a frontman.

Blues Before Sunset shows are put on in front of the State of Iowa Historical Building at 600 E. Locust in the middle of East Village in Des Moines. The show will start at 5:30PM and end at 7:30PM and is free. Food and beverage vendors will be available on site. They recommend you bring your own seating.

Upcoming Show: Glen Phillips at the Hub in Cedar Falls, IA 4/16/08

Glen PhillipsGlen Phillips is the frontman for the 90’s alt-pop group Toad the Wet Sprocket. Since the group’s split in 1998, Glen has participated in the occasional Toad gig, but has recorded four albums– the most recent being 2006’s Mr. Lemons— and two EP’s.

Last night Glen kicked off a run of solo acoustic dates that wrap up at the end of May and include a substantial number of Midwestern dates and two in Iowa! I had a chance to see him last night at World Cafe Live in Philly and it was great! I’ll collect my thoughts on this show and post a review later. The majority of the songs come from his solo catalog but include the occasional Toad cover and an inspired cover song or two. Glen Phillips in a live solo setting is typically a pretty intimate engagement and well worth seeing.

If, like me you hadn’t been following Mr. Phillips’s solo career I recommend signing up for MyTracks if only for a month so you can download all of his solo albums and EP’s except for his 2004 effort on Lost Highway that unfortunately seems to be a sore point for him. MyTracks is a subscription download service like eMusic is. For $7.95 you can download as much as you want for a month. Unfortunately Glen Phillips likely the most recognizable artist in their growing catalog. I’ll check some other tracks out before I cancel. The live acoustic album SOhO Live is an exclusive to MyTracks. Recorded last Fall it is fairly representative of what his set is like. Another unfortunate thing about MyTracks in general is that all of the tracks are encoded at 128 Kbps. I guess with unlimited downloads one shouldn’t complain, but I might have paid more for at least SOhO Live to get a higher bitrate. The other albums are available for download at higher bitrates from Glen’s site. While you’re there take a listen to his new EP Secrets of the New Explorers— fantastic stuff!

Glen will be in Des Moines at The Temple Theatre on Monday, April 14th, followed by a show at The Hub Live on Wednesday March 16th. The Hub is a new venue to me, so it would be cool to see it– however, I’m out of town on the 16th. As I was informed last night at Glen’s show in Philadelphia by a friendly fan (thanks, Heather!), Toad the Wet Sprocket will be touring this summer and will be hitting Philly again– June 11th at the Trocadero as confirmed by their MySpace Page. My friend Andrew and I saw Calexico a couple of years ago at the Troc, and it is another fantastic Philly music venue in addition to World Cafe Live and TLA now rebranded “The Fillmore at TLA.”

Click Here to see all of the dates Glen is playing this summer.

Click Here to visit Glen’s Website
Click Here to visit Glen’s MySpace Page
Click Here to visit Toad the Wet Sprocket’s Website (which includes their live dates)
Click Here to visit Toad the Wet Sprocket’s MySpace Page

IT’S STAR TIME! – The Diplomats of Solid Sound Featuring the Diplomettes at 3rd Street Live 1-26-08

The Diplomettes

“It’s Star Time!!!” Doug announced to the Saturday night crowd at 3rd Street Live after a quick instrumental set of songs from The Diplomats of Solid Sound. “It’s Star Time!!” he repeated and introduced the lovely ladies of The Diplomettes who were greeted by enthusiastic cheering and clapping.

The announcement style is a tribute to the emcee Danny Ray who used to exclaim “Star Time!” before James Brown hit the stage. It’s with this knowing wink that The Diplomats of Solid Sound pays homage to the work of soul greats like James Brown who is arguably the architect of the music that influences them. The B3-fueled sound of The Diplomats draws equally from the Stax houseband Booker T and the MG’s and Brown’s band the JB’s.

Nate Basinger on the keys

The band seems very comfortable in the role of backing band to the three vocalists of the Diplomettes. Prior to July 2006 when the girls joined the group, The Diplomats of Solid Sound were largely an instrumental act with three albums under their belt; two of which on independent label Estrus Records. They were enjoying a modicum of popularity mostly in the EU where they had been doing touring and by the finicky tastes of TV producers needing a juicy instrumental vamp for some scene on VH1 and MTV’s regular diet of reality shows. In a similar fashion to Booker T and the MG’s each of the members of the band are noted regional sessionmen performing on most of the noted Eastern Iowa recordings in the last ten years.

Jim Viner and Doug Roberson from the Diplomats of Solid Sound

I guess the last time I saw the Diplomats was March of 2006 at Martini’s. I’ve seen the guys since then– Nate and Jim at the two Bo Ramsey shows and Doug a couple of times at the Picador. There always seemed to be something conflicting with convenient shows. As such, I hadn’t seen any performances with the Diplomettes other than catching some clips on YouTube.

Back then, the Diplomat shows were pretty much low-key affairs. The band pulling out chestnuts from Booker T and the MG’s as well as Blue Note acts and the occasional surf tune in addition to their own material. A great band to kick back and listen to while drinking and hanging with friends. The 2008 version of the band delivers a completely different show.

In fact, the show Saturday night was almost more of a revue in the classic ’60’s sense focusing on showmanship. The focus of the show was the Diplomettes who brought a vintage girl group sensibilityto the act. Each of the three ladies provided lead vocal turns while the other two provided harmonies; sometimes singing in a three-part harmony. I could hear similarities to Motown acts like the Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas, but also Southern Soul/Stax styles, or a Phil Spector girl group influence. At times the vocals seemed to have a 40’s Andrews Sisters feel (at least in the three-part harmonies). Visually, the Diplomettes are stunning– color coordinated dresses and choreography all add to the appeal. I particularly like the palms-out and drop done to “Lights Out.”

Eddie

I was fairly familiar with a lot the songs as I’d been listening to them streaming from the Diplomettes MySpace page— it seemed like the crowd was as well. Original songs like “Hurt Me So” and “Come In My Kitchen” are certainly crowd pleasers. One cover that took me by surprise was the “We’re Doin’ It (Thang) (pt. 2)” by Eddie Bo and the Soulfinders! I’m familiar with this song due to its inclusion in the DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist Brainfreeze all-45’s mix. Very nice choice. I guess these shows are also an education in rare R&B!

The crowd Saturday night was great– lots of folks up dancing of all ages. My wife had a great time and we are talking about going to see them again in February– possibly in Dubuque or in Iowa City.

Go see them if you get a chance!

Here is my flickr.com photoset of the show with more pictures.

The Diplomats of Solid Sound Website

The Diplomats of Solid Sound MySpace Page with songs

The Diplomettes MySpace Page with songs

The Diplomats of Solid Sound Featuring the Diplomettes on Facebook

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