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8 Days A Week
A night-by-night frolic through some of the region's unique club scenes

 

 

Tuesday
Open Blues Jam, Savannah’s

Photo: Joe Putrock

Tuesday just can’t win. Like the middle child in the seven-day family, Tuesday is too old to be regarded as a fresh start to the week, and too young to sit at the “weekend” table. If the day had a theme song, it would be a world-weary blues tune, and coincidentally enough, that’s exactly what this woe-is-me day of the week gets every Tuesday night at Savannah’s Open Blues Jam.

Squeezed amid the granite and glass of downtown Albany’s Pearl Street, the weekly gathering place for many of the region’s most talented musicians is marked by an unobtrusive black awning and a small sidewalk placard. Despite a 10 PM starting time, most of the night’s performers drift in during the surrounding hour (as working-class musicians are prone to do), hauling various horns, guitars, drum kits, keyboards and even the occasional stand-up bass down a couple of steps into basement bar’s dimly lit interior.

Like any good blues club, the lights are low, the drinks are strong, and the audience knows enough to recognize (and appreciate) a true musician when they hear one. Local-music legends populate the room, sipping drinks and tuning instruments—from rockabilly connoisseurs to multitalented virtuosos and powerful, fist-pumping blues wailers—and despite it all falling under the banner of a blues event, the tempo of any given night is dependent upon which musicians are in attendance.

A different blues band opens the show each week, but the organized assembly soon gives way to an amalgam of the region’s new blood and accomplished players, dipping into the standards of blues, rock and funk, as well as engaging in jam sessions that spotlight the formidable talents of many of the performers. The scene is a proving ground for newcomers, as well as a chance to see many of the region’s premiere musicians performing together on a single stage. These mix-and-match lineups are the soul of the scene, with a few hesitant riffs always melting into a groove that seems possible only due to years of practice together.

Savannah’s Tuesday-night crowd is difficult to stereotype. From teenage garage-rock prodigies to old-timers raised on the Delta blues, their only unifying factor is an appreciation for the ability to create good music. While in recent years the open-mike moniker has increasingly been applied to events that blur the line between support group and musical performance, Savannah’s offers no such touchy-feely comfort zone. The support offered on Tuesday nights is the type that’s supplied through years of experience, and the masterful teasing of the last bit of sound from a lingering note that bridges the distance between instruments and ears.

And for the Tuesday night regulars at Savannah’s, on the most blues-inspiring night of the week, that’s all the support they’re looking for.

—Rick Marshall

Wednesday
The Deadbeats, Valentine’s

Photo: John Whipple

Ah, hump day. And when it’s done you’ve the perfect excuse to get out for a little Albany nightlife: The week is almost over. What doesn’t appear to be over anytime soon is the Deadbeats’ Wednesday-night gig at Valentine’s.

Just about every Wednesday for the past 10 years, the Deadbeats have hauled their gear up from New Paltz to pay tribute to the funk, rock and jams of years gone by. The four-piece band—guitarist Mike Johnson, bassist Rob Shiff, keyboardist Alex Nazer and drummer Denise Parent—apply the funk to a catalogue of late-’60s and early-’70s rock from the Grateful Dead (duh), the Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, the Beatles and others.

Each member of the group shares vocal and soloing duties, and no one player outshines the rest. Despite the limitations of having only four players, and in the case of a recent visit only three, the band know how to stretch their sound without coming off all noodly. As for the crowd, they eat it up, hootin’ and hollerin’ and yellin’ out requests. The Deadbeats are all they’ve got. There just isn’t much of a scene for jam or groove music in this neck of the woods. Sure, Valentine’s or Northern Lights will host an occasional club show, and Phish usually will make a stop at the Pepsi. But that’s about it. If you’re into this kind of music and don’t know where to turn, I know where you can find about 60 others who might be able to help.

Heads start to fill the Valentine’s downstairs bar around 11 PM. Though Deadbeat Wednesdays is a 16-and-up event, bleary-eyed college kids dominate the crowd. A few elderstatemen (and women) are on hand as well, but this is the place to be if you’re in your early 20s and love the shit out of some jam music. Essential oils and other dank aromas fill the room as gents with scruffy beards and ladies in batik dresses made their way to the dance floor, which remains lively throughout. Even if you’re not into dancing to some groovy tunes, this Wednesday-night occurrence also provides an occasion for a number of other activities as well: the dos and don’ts of dredlock maintenance, modeling of the latest wool fashions, discussions on the finest microbrews and the opportunity to bum plenty of clove cigarettes. Hippies have a home in Albany, at least once a week.

—Travis Durfee

Thursday
Open-Mike Night, Caffe Lena

Photo: Ellen Descisciolo

Caffè Lena sits unassumingly tucked upstairs on Saratoga’s Phila Street and is as unpretentious as its surroundings. Go through the old wooden double doors, up the stairs, and emerge into a simple red room, where the furniture mirrors the crowd: a patchwork of folks cozy and somewhat mismatched, and in the best way. Dole out the $3 cover, grab a $1 cup of coffee and maybe a homemade cookie and settle in at one of the tables at America’s oldest continually operating coffeehouse for an evening of diverse talent. Thursday night is a great opportunity to recharge and ease into the weekend, and Caffè Lena’s open-mike night is a fine way to do just that.

As far as anyone can recall, there has been a weekly open mike at Lena’s since 1960. Music gets under way around 7:30 PM, after the players sign up, and their order is determined by lottery. Kicking off the night is something from the evening’s host, one of a rotating cast of local characters depending on which Thursday of the month it is.

This open mike really feels like an incubator for talent of all ages, which lends it a very special vibe. The crowd and fellow players are genuinely supportive and generous clappers. It’s the sort of place where a lot of ego is checked at the door, and just enough is allowed in to actually let the performers get up and do their thing. Here embryonic songs sung from notebooks go tag-team with the polished and well-rehearsed.

Lena’s has long attracted a lot of young musicians. Brave high schoolers and early-20-somethings work their way easily into the older regulars and people coming to music later in life—making Lena’s crowd ageless. Most people play original material, much of it on guitar, though freestylers and poets were spotted on a recent night. The mix also usually includes some covers; one recent night hit upon Chuck Berry, Wesley Willis, Tracy Chapman, and those old Lena specters Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie.

It’s a fun smorgasbord, where musicians each get to play two to three songs, depending on the number of people that want to play. The night is thus an ever-changing array that keeps even the most ADHD listener interested. Plus, if someone’s clearly struggling, it never lasts long. Even still, the tension is the kind where you sense that everyone in the room really wants the performers to deliver.

The week has already been full, so going out for an adventure on “little Friday” should be a prelude to the weekend: fun and entertaining, but not too taxing, expensive or wild. You could sit at the computer and buy three songs off of iTunes Music Store, or you could head over to Caffè Lena and easily hear 20 songs for that same $3. But you can count on Lena’s as an intimate and always surprising respite that fits the need to beat the week’s daily drudge and get a boost before the weekend.

—Ashley Hahn

Friday
Damn Fine Karaoke, Ginger’s Ten Ten Lounge

Photo: Leif Zurmuhlen

It’s Friday night, just about beer-thirty according to my coworker’s watch, and, with happy hour begins the weekend. Ahhh, what to do? Well, in keeping with our theme of this issue, I’d like to offer a unique outing for our music-loving readers. But around these parts, most Friday and Saturday offerings are of the live-stage-show variety. That’s all well and good. But suppose that doesn’t scratch your specific itch? No matter, you can hear your favorite songs, or even perform them, every Friday night at Schenectady’s Ginger’s Ten Ten Lounge. Truth be told, you can perform karaoke at this homey place any night of the week, but on Fridays it’s particularly hard to find a show that stars the little people.

The reasons people like karaoke are many. All the world’s the stage, they say, and this may be your only way to get on one. What attention-seeker isn’t bound to end up singing “My Sharona,” in an undiscovered key if the opportunity presents itself? Which is precisely why the ole watering hole is the best place for karaoke—just in case you need to get soused before taking the mike.

And what a watering hole Ginger’s is. The drinks are affordable, they’ve got killer chicken wings, and the patrons are priceless—not in the goofy Master Card way, in the this-is-why-I-love-humanity way. It just must be experienced.

There’s obvious entertainment value to sitting on the sidelines of a popular karaoke event. It can be a joy to behold an untrained singer belting out his favorite Sinatra song. So what if it’s not American Idol material. It’s fun. And it’s great to see regular people trying their darndest to get that song out. There are no egos thrown around, nobody expects adoration, and everyone’s on the same page. Because for many, singing badly is better than not singing at all. And enjoying watching bad singing doesn’t have to be cynical and cold; it doesn’t have to be laughing at someone else’s misery. Misery is never a result of belting out a song for these patrons, although it may be the impetus. Passion, self-worth, feeling free—those are some results. Not misery.

Ginger’s has a large crowd of karaoke regulars, and many return day after day. Yes, it’s enough to just go and behold what’s before you—you’ll get many moments that will renew your faith in your fellow human. But, it’s just as fun to partake. I dare you to pick a song they don’t offer. And I beg you to go.

—Kate Sipher

Saturday
’80s Night, Fuze Box

Photo: Chris Shields

Halloween or not, old bones sometimes still rattle around the rafters of the Fuze Box. It could be the grisly suspended bat and other such chill-inducing remnants of the club’s previous incarnation as QE2. It could be the ominous thump and clanging guitar heralding the onset of Joy Division’s era-defining paean to despair, “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” Or it could just be the metaphysical power of memory, so deeply etched into the club’s aura that even the Johnny Marr-come-latelys can feel the presence of the ghosts as if they’d been dancing (or just brooding) alongside them all these past 17 years.

In fact, every now and then, a few of those old ghosts don their dark clothing and reinhabit the old Central Avenue haunt where they first slithered solemnly to Siouxsee and the Banshees’ “Cities in Dust” and the Cure’s “Fascination Street.” But as the scene has faded and regrouped off-and-on since those days wound down, so has the Saturday ’80s Night crowd evolved into what it is today: a blend of those who witnessed the last days of alternative disco at the Q, those who made their entrance into the scene on goth and ’80s nights at the Fuze Box when the club debuted across the street on Washington Avenue, and relative newcomers who have made ’80s night an up-and-coming area hotspot, including some music-scene notables and a whole bunch of new faces who seem awfully fresh to be mouthing the likes of “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “Come on Eileen” word for word.

A lot has changed since the devil-may-care (and -may-be-standing-next-to-you) days of QE2. The once-panoramic stage/dance floor has shrunk, handsome red banquettes now line the wall where the bigger part of that stage was, and dancers now dance alone together in the middle of the room. The place is a lot cleaner since it was remodeled a few years back to give it swing-club spiffiness, and the bathrooms are downright pleasant. The front room (where the bar still is) hasn’t changed much, except there’s less traffic because the old front door is locked shut in favor of the side entrance, ensuring, during peak hours, logjams of bodies near the door-cover-taker ($4) and a gaggle of smokers lining the side alleyway. And DJ Meowmix seems to cater to the younger crowd by devoting blocks of music to the perkier end of the ’80s spectrum: Madonna, the Bangles, the Go-Gos, and so on, before returning to the welcome sounds of dread and alienation.

It isn’t quite like the old days, and it shouldn’t be: It’s nostalgic, it’s fun, and it seems to be building a following. Anyway, the clock just struck midnight, Depeche Mode just called to me from the other room, and tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1989.

—Stephen Leon

Sunday
Sunday Night Jazz, Justin’s

Photo: Teri Currie

We’d like to propose Sunday night as the yin to Saturday night’s yang: Where Saturday is boisterous, ambitious, goal-oriented and overt, Sunday is sophisticated, thoughtful, open-minded and subtle. If Saturday is a slice and a Rolling Rock, Sunday is Tempura Tuna Steak and Dr. Frank’s Johannisberg Riesling. If Saturday serves as punctuation to the previous week, Sunday is the provocative opening to the next. Or it could be, if you did something other than lying on the couch, half-watching Carnivale and dreading your return to work. And, fortunately for us, all those comparatively rarefied goodies are available at Justin’s each Sunday as accompaniment to the performances of the Brian Patneaude Quartet, who themselves fulfill the Sunday adjectives quite nicely.

Each Sunday, a manageable but attentive crowd—many of them regulars—gather in the dining area of Justin’s, the Savoy Room, with favorite microbrew or vino close at hand (we’re suckers for the Liberty School cabernet), and soak in the versatile work of Metroland’s best jazz act of 2003. Tenor-sax ace Brian Patneaude, guitarist George Muscatello, stand-up bassist Ryan Lukas and drummer Danny Whelchel swing from the post-bop urgency of John Coltrane and Joe Lovano, skirt the edges of the avant-world combo of Pat Martino, and head out into modern-classical realms of Leo Brouwer. As a bandleader, Patneaude—no slouch himself—wisely gives his bandmates room within sets to express their varied musical identities, without surrendering cohesion. A quick glance around the room at the audience finds a motley of devotees—some who’d look most at home behind an oak desk, some behind a gold-top Les Paul—all nodding their heads in unison.

Though this is decidedly not the type of jazz you set your radio alarm to, the band maintain an unpretentiously social and ingratiating air, for all their musical fire. That balance between personal ease and compositional depth is matched by the informal but dignified comfort of the space (Wren Panzella’s neo-cubist paintings of performing musicians reiterate the onstage action, and the wine-bottle designs of the booths’ upholstery reiterate the menu’s bounty). It’s a dynamic and fitting tension between physical relaxation, appetitive satiation and aural stimulation. And if you can force yourself to abandon your typical pessimism, it’s a perfect Sunday-night aperitif to the upcoming week.

—John Rodat

Monday
Monday-Night Music Series, Lionheart Pub

Photo: Eileen Clynes

Monday night is typically a black hole for nightlife. Sure, if you run a sports bar, you’ll do well during football season, but for most eating and drinking establishments, it’s just dead, dead, dead. There’s a darn good reason why so many of them are closed on Mondays. So how do those that remain open find ways to fill barstools on this, the most dreadful evening of the workweek? The folks at the Lionheart Pub seem to have found a solution and, oddly enough, it’s one that has been the bane of many other venues: live music. On any given Monday night, you can stumble into the new Lionheart and catch sets from a rotating cast of characters, including Oneonta transplants the Sifters, renaissance man Chip Fasciana’s Conspicuous Study Hall Boners, and alt-bluegrass conglomerate Wiley Dobbs, among others. A laid-back group of regulars populate the Monday-night scene, and to those who caught music here this past summer, be not afraid: The bands have been moved out of the cavernous back room to just inside the front door, which makes everything more decipherable and forces the overall volume down to a conversational level.

Lionheart owner Jerry Aumand moved his business from its old location on Lark Street (now site of the new Bombers Bar) to its new home in early May, dropping the “blues café” tag somewhere along the way (the old green marquee still hangs proudly in the new bar). This may just have the most aesthetically pleasing bar in the neighborhood right now. The golden interior keeps the place bright even when the lights are low, and they’ve lined the walls in the bar area with paintings from area artists. The ever-jovial Peter Barnett is your humble beer jockey on Monday nights, and he’s always happy to pull you one of the 30 beers they have on tap, or just crack a joke or two. The back room offers two pool tables and five dart stations for those who want to get their game on. And it’s spacious, too. Even when the front room is packed solid, it’s still not too difficult to get through—unlike at the old place, where you’d practically need to crowd-surf to make your way past the bar on a busy night. So come have a pint, check out some good music and try to forget that there are still four more workdays until the weekend.

—John Brodeur

Tuesday
Goodship Tuesdays, B.R. Finley’s

Photo: Leif Zurmuhlen

The weekly dance party/cultural event Goodship Tuesdays that happens at Troy’s B.R. Finley’s (known ’round these parts at Positively 4th Street for many years) is what sparked the whole concept of this Eight Days a Week feature. Goodship Tuesdays is the shining example of what we look for in a weekly event: Every week it’s fresh, unique, entertaining and a great experience. It’s a mix of video art, live music, DJs, dance party and social meeting place.

GT began three years ago as a way for bored RPI students to showcase their music, video and graphic-design skills outside the classroom. The first month featured DJs and video artists. Electronic ensemble Evidence—Scott Smallwood and Stephan Moore (themselves part of another Troy-based outlet for such experimental artists, Impulse Response)—were the first live performers to play the event. And on the very next Tuesday, the organic and creative grouping gelled into what Kevin Luddy, the workhorse behind the event, intended.

Squeezed into the cozy cellar nook that night was the event’s living, breathing mission statement. Troy-based artist-musician Seth Cluett presented his ambient field recordings. Jesse Stiles followed, creating music with his custom-made sound software. Jack Turner and David Lublin—creators of some of the most in-demand VJ software around—debuted their live-video experiments (which would become a GT mainstay). To add to the spontaneous improv vibe, DJ ATW (Aaron Taylor-Waldman) joined in with Cluett and Stiles before heading on to another gig, and an unsuspecting MC, Monal Pathik, came in off the street to partake.

Go into B.R. Finley’s on any Tuesday, and you’re guaranteed an experience to savor (Metroland will give you your evening back if you’re not completely satisfied). We also guarantee that you won’t be alone, as this weekly event is about as popular as they come. People show up knowing that it’ll be something to behold, regardless of who’s on the bill. Conversation is plentiful (people in Troy are just plain friendlier, even the hipsters) and usually interesting. This is probably due to the fact that, while the crowd is varied, it does lean heavily toward RPI students and faculty.

And aside from offering intriguing (at the very least) and mindblowing (heading toward the acme of) artistic expression, GT allows one to get their groove on, for there’s always a dance-party atmosphere on these nights.

Luddy tries to schedule performers who complement one another, but what they do when they’ve got the spotlight is their own affair. All the better to collaborate, my dear. And the well of talented artists to choose from is deep—especially in Troy. Denim and Diamonds play often, and Tyler Jacobsen (aka Marcel Diamond) has been known to spin a record or two. Another Troy-based creative genius, Adam Varga, has performed solo—with a synth, sequencer, guitar and drum machine, all while singing and triggering samples. If you don’t believe me, go to www.goodship.net/tuesdays to hear an mp3 of it.

—Kate Sipher


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