Days A Week
A night-by-night frolic through some of the region's unique
Blues Jam, Savannah’s
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
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
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.
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.
Night, Caffe Lena
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
Karaoke, Ginger’s Ten Ten Lounge
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
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
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.
Night Jazz, Justin’s
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.
Music Series, Lionheart Pub
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
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.
Tuesdays, B.R. Finley’s
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.