The theatre setting was nice and the overall sound was very good. I thought the volume level was just right for the musicians.
Ethel-Whatever their first piece was it was strong and interesting and it was intense and had the four sawing away at their fiddles. I thought at that moment that if the rest of their set was like this it was going to be very good. However, they next did a piece that Todd (from Ethel) wrote and he introduced it by saying something like it was”homage” to Indian music. The piece mostly sounded like Rhavi Shankar warming up his sitar at George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh. The energy had been lost. They also did a piece that was used (at least partially) on the HBO show Deadwood and, unfortunately, it sounded like simple background music. Their final piece was much stronger and retrieved much of the energy and intensity that they started with. Overall, it was interesting to witness a modern string quartet perform live and I applaud them and Todd and Joe for taking the chance and doing something different. I wish them well.
By the way, Joe came on almost immediately after Ethel finished. The stagehands quickly removed Ethel’s short riser and that was about it. That was a pleasant surprise.
Joe-Much like I read from most of the reviews elsewhere including the previous night in Milwaukee Joe gave a clean, tight-paced set. I agree with most others in stating that his voice sounded very good. He has not become sloppy with his singing at the piano like some other older singer songwriters have (Elton, Billy Joel- are you listening?). He seemed to be enjoying himself during the set and his banter added to the enjoyment. One negative I’ll point out is that a piano-only rendition of Steppin’ Out begged for a full band. It was a nice attempt but piano was not enough for that song. His set finale of Is She Really . . . was very good and he has mastered the art of feigning surprise the first time the audience shouts “WHERE?” during the song. He stopped the song and then had to pick it up somewhere else. Good set Joe- you did not disappoint.
There was about a 15 minute intermission after Joe’s set-not bad. The pace of the show was rather quick.
Todd-Right before he started his set I told my 15-year-old son (whom I brought along to be with the old folks) to strap in because based on the previous shows’ reviews I didn’t know which Todd was going to be here tonight. Would it be the tight, happy-to-be-performing, engaging one I’ve read about on this tour? Or would it be the sloppy, agitated, not-happy-to-be-here Todd I have also read about? I would have to say overall it was, thankfully, the former.
Todd’s voice, like Joe’s, sounded very good. He hit the lows and most of the highs and was right on key with his instruments. I also will not bother reciting the set list but I will say that I thought it was rather predictable and “safe” and narrow given his vast catalog from which he can pull. Songs like Love of the Common Man, Cliché and Lysistrata are all good, of course, but we would not miss them if he retired them for a few tours. I Saw the Light was a highlight for me only because he did it with a twist-style and I thought it was very good. I had not heard it that way before. Black and White was a nice attempt with the guitar only but it’s like Joe’s Steppin’ Out- that one was begging to be played by a full band.
Instrument/Equipment Issues- He lost one string on one of his guitars and stopped the number (I can’t remember which one) and started again with his second guitar that was handy on-stage. Piano- Todd did a good job here on Viking, Hello It’s Me and Compassion. I thought I heard a couple of errant chords but nothing major.
Disappointments- I really wanted him to play Tiny Demons as I’ve read he occasionally plays this one. Afterlife was not here either and I agree with a previous review that this is another one that needs more than “man and guitar” but it is rather new and I would have liked to hear it from him anyway. Also, Todd’s set was only about forty minutes according to my watch. I was a bit disappointed by that.
Todd/Joe/Ethel finale- Whatever song Joe and Ethel did together was very good. Joe’s voice and the strings sounded very nice together. As much of a Todd fan that I am, I had never heard of Pretending To Care before. It didn’t bring a tear to my eye as it did to some of the other reviewers but I thought it was excellent. Todd did a great job simply vocalizing behind the strings. While My Guitar Gently Weeps- I probably would have liked this as a surprise had I not already seen the video of it from the Conan O’Brian show. I think the combo of Todd’s guitar, the strings and Joe’s piano are a bit odd for this song. Ditto with Black Maria. It’s an interesting attempt of a song with such a configuration but I just didn’t think it came off that well. This was another song that was begging for a rhythm section.
Overall it was a solid show of music and I’m glad I caught it. However, I’m still waiting for the tour that will put Todd behind a full band again for some full-blown versions of his music. A Utopia reunion would also be nice- some people have been writing about that possibility as well.