It’s an adage that proves itself true again and again… sometimes it’s the shows where you don’t know who the performers are that turn out to be the best. Such was the case on Saturday, January 16, 2016 at the On Your Radar with John Platt concert at Landmark on Main Street. As most know, WFUV DJ John Platt is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to music. His monthly On Your Radar concerts in New York City provide a venue to introduce new and emerging artists. Platt was invited to present an On Your Radar performance at Landmark, and for this event he lined up three exceptional and diverse performers: Matt Nakoa, Roosevelt Dime, and Caravan of Thieves.
One of the best things about an On Your Radar show is that Platt conducts a short interview with each performer before their set, giving the audience a little background.
First up was Matt Nakoa (Facebook | @MattNakoa), a young man who grew up on a goat farm in central New York State and began composing music as a teen. Nakoa, a graduate of Berklee College of Music, was the 2014 Kerrville Folk Festival New Folk winner, and has recently been performing with Tom Rush (who, coincidentally will be performing at Landmark on April 3rd with John Sebastian, and accompanied by Matt Nakoa).
Nakoa is a triple threat – excellent on both keyboards and guitar, and possessing a great voice with plenty of range and emotional depth. And his songwriting chops are extremely well-honed for a young performer. His songs were varied and diverse. In “Where on Earth is Heaven?” for example, Nakoa seems to channel Jason Mraz with fast-paced lyrics and spirited guitar. Other standouts were “Beggar By the Weekend” which Nakoa began with an audience sing along, and “Lightning,” a new song featuring the performer’s keyboard skills. But the standout, without a doubt, was the amazing “Ballad of Jenny Kane” which showcased Nakoa’s songwriting skills as well as the range, power, and depth of emotion of his vocals. The song has a soaring chorus that will get entwined in your brain … and stay there long after the last note has dwindled to silence.
Prediction – you’ll be hearing a lot more about Matt Nakoa over the next few years.
Spare a (Roosevelt) Dime
After a short intermission, John Platt took the stage again to introduce and speak to members of the next act – Roosevelt Dime (Facebook | @RooseveltDime). [Landmark trivia – two members of the all-male Roosevelt Dime – front man Eban Pariser and bass player Craig Akin — are married to two members of the all-female Americana band, Red Molly, who have also performed several times at Landmark!] In addition to Pariser on vocals and guitar, and Akin on bass, the band includes Pariser’s Oberlin classmate Andrew Green on banjo and Tony Montalbano on percussion. Pariser is the ultimate front man – a sharp dresser (white shoes!) who reminded us of Jim Morrison.
Brooklyn-based Roosevelt Dime kicked off their set with “Wealth Addict,” a song crafted in response to a 2014 Times op-ed by hedge fund trader Sam Folk. The song set the tone for the set: a folk/roots vibe – in this case, with a message. Central to that tone is Green’s banjo work, a pub-friendly, good-timey frame on which the band’s tunes are draped.
Roosevelt Dime’s “Oh to Be” (“the moon in the sky”) followed. It was another tune designed to keep your foot a-tappin’. The tune is from the band’s 2014 album Full Head of Steam. Their cover of Roosevelt (no relation) Sykes’ “Drivin’ Wheel” paid homage to the original.
They tapped their 2011 Steamboat Soul album a couple more juke joint tunes, “Diggin’ Song” and “Wishing Well.” Turns out, these were just warmup exercises for bar babes and boys.
Roosevelt Dime ended their Landmark debut with a plea to “Hide away your blues and, honey, put your red shoes on.” A quick glance across the audience revealed a sudden onset of steadily tapping shoes – surely most of them unabashedly red.
Caravan of Thieves: High Wire Hot Licks
The suggested appellation from the Thieves’ web site starts with “Gypsy Swinging Serenading Firebreathing Circus Freaks,” and moves on to invoke Django Reinhardt, Stomp, the Beatles and Tim Burton (“because he’s dark,” they explained when John Platt asked about the Burton in their opening interview at Landmark).
The two-headed brain of this act is James “Fuzz” Sangiovanni (Facebook) and Carrie Sangiovanni (Facebook), who’ve been refining this high wire act since meeting in Burlington VT back in 2003. Their surprisingly similar voices are often featured in pleasingly tasteful close blends, as in “I Got You,” a love song they offered up, once Fuzz had caught his breath from a bout of hyperkinetic percussion soloing on a previous number.
The frivolity extended to “Eat You” (“Cause you’ve been sticky with your tricky words / And I would crumble like a humble bird / Now you’re so tender with an ear I can bend and tell you how I feel”) from The Funhouse.
The “gypsy’ part of the band’s self-description was evident in “Monster” from the same album, which featured the truism that “Love made a monster out of me” and some great unison guitar-violin speed-licks. They weren’t present, but you could hear accordion and clarinet parts in the mix somehow.
Less gypsy and more Hot Licks Classic Pop was their knee-slapping version of the Beatles “Girl” and “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.”
Caravan’s core duo produces a sound from foot-stomping part writing, speed-strumming (think Django), violin tremolos, and classically-influenced phrases embedded like cherries in a pudding. These are signature Caravan elements, especially in “Shim Sham,” “Monster” and “Eat Me.”
Caravan is a band that ambushes with sneaky talent. When the quartet finished with a brilliant cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” I felt deliciously eaten. If this is Caravan’s dark, it’s the dark of a New Orleans funeral procession.
The four Thieves invited the audience to gather ‘round the stage –as well as the earlier acts — to perform a tune designed as a tribute to the dearly departed.
John Platt can sure pick ’em.
Next up at Landmark is Robyn Hitchcock, who will appear on January 29.