Thursday, January 24, 2008

Night of A Thousand Years ( Of Commercial Free Music!)

Debra Dobkin, Richard Thompson & Judith Owen Really Belt It Out

It was a windy Wednesday night when the 1600 gang invaded the not-so-ivied halls of academia at George Washington Univ. campus' Lisner Auditorium for a musical history lesson from the renowned singer and guitarist Richard Thompson, accompanied by singer- keyboardist Judith Owen, and singer- percussionist Debra Dobkin, for the "One Thousand Years of Popular Music" tour. Uncharacteristaically early, due to some good parking karma, we showed up in time to hear the sound check and get a small taste of what we would be in for that night. And we were tempted to break into applause long before the curtain ever rose.

First, we had the good fortune and privilege to sit down with the tale-spinning Mr. T for a few minutes prior to the show. He graciously provided insight into the current tour, the character of popular music over the centuries, his songwriting regimen, recordings, soundtracks, videos, and other diverse projects; his quick wit always at the ready, but still indulging our questions with patience and courtesy. All to be broadcast in a 1600 interview coming your way in the next week (starting Feb. 4th, online at soon after)! Unfortunately, time did not permit us to have Ms. Dobkin or Ms. Owen accompany him; we hope to meet them again the next time they are in Washington, and will keep a sharp eye out for their return. The ladies each demonstrated effortless mastery of their instruments, as well as incredible vocal range and sophistication that left the audience breathless and eager for more. Mr. Thompson has never shared the stage with more talented or compelling performers in his long and distinguished career. We hope this particular trio will continue to entertain together for many tours to come.

After our interview and a hastily-gobbled dinner at the packed Lindy's Lion around the corner, we returned to the hall. Now a confession (with all due apologies!): from the door, we observed the three walking in from the back of the audience, Ms. Dobkin in the lead with a bass drum. We waited until the doors were opened, rushed to our seats, and never missed another second of the performance. And what a performance it was!

They serenaded a packed house, and paid tribute to some of the best and most enduring compositions of the last ten centuries, with a loving nod and a wink, and glib introductions by Thompson describing the period from which each song arose, and its significance in the musical pantheon. Over the last few years, the set has changed and metamorphosed, as musicians as diverse as Hank Williams Sr., The Kinks, the Beatles, Nat King Cole, Nelly Furtado, ABBA, and even Britney Spears have been covered alongside Henry Purcell, Gilbert and Sullivan- even Richard the Lionhearted, as well as dozens of traditional folk songs in three or four languages since this series of shows began in 2002.

Thompson was his usual wry, affable self, and he set the crowd up for each song, sometimes discussing the time it was written, other times focusing on content, or who wrote it and what made it significant. So Ben Mi Ca Bon Tempo, ("I know a lucky man") sung in Italian, was described blithely as a "cuckolding song," a popularly recurring theme which, Thompson noted, has literally "been around for centuries." Pipe Shepherd's Pipe was a madrigal that featured the rich harmonies of Thompson, Owen, and Dobkin to their fullest advantage. Later in the set (by several centuries) came a powerful Shenendoah, which he apologetically explained was not about Virginia, but Missouri. The trio also gave their loving treatment to I Live in Trafalgar Square, a song about a tramp's boast of living the good life on the streets of London. It was just a warm-up for what we would hear in the second half of the show, which was devoted to 20th century compositions.

Stick McGhee's Drinkin' Wine Spo-De-O-Dee was explained to me by Jerry to be the deadly concoction of wine with liquor the wild eyed hillbilly boys drank in the old days to get all revved up. Java Jive was another merry romp, but the highlights of the evening were doubtlessly Judith Owen's stunning renditions of Cole Porter's Night and Day, and Cry Me A River. Her dynamic vocals evoked the greatest response from an appreciative audience, who were on their feet by the end, saluting this versatile chanteusse with well-placed admiration. They also showcased the Kinks' Ray Davies, whom he described as one of the greatest songwriters of our time, with a smart arrangement of See My Friends. And as always, sound wizard extrordinaire Simon Tassano ensured that every note was crystal clear, and the instruments complimented each other without ever overpowering the sometimes-delicate vocals or acoustic guitar and keyboards, played with a subtle confidence that made for a truly intimate performance. And throughout the 2 sets, art from the middle ages and renaissance showed on a screen behind the eclectic artists, as well as more modern pieces, as the band played on.

Although the crowd begged for it, Thompson refrained from playing any of his own songs, many of which were certainly more worthy than the Abba or Nelly Furtado songs they performed. During our interview, he stated that including his own music would have been presumptive, something no one could ever accuse this modest artist of ever being, even though his guitar and songwriting skills are in constant demand, and his albums always critical favorites. Once again, to his credit, Thompson didn't show off his considerable guitar skills, choosing instead to let the songs speak for themselves, the performers' fine voices doing the heavy lifting, and generously sharing the spotlight with Dobkin and Owen, who demonstrated that they could more than hold their own. Debra Dobkin's atmospheric drumming, ranging from sticks on one song, to mallets or brushes on others as the situation demanded, was always tight and timely, providing a steady counterpoint to the guitar and vocals, which she and Judith Owen blended with Thompson's sturdy baritone to achieve breathtaking results.

The band will continue this tour with dates in various clubs through the Northeast and Midwest until the middle of February. If you're interested in seeing just how three talented players can render a wide range of music, from ancient secular music to opera, country, and pop, this is the show for you. As Thompson noted, perhaps this will spark some interest in a particular period, or prompt the audience to delve deeper into the works of some deserving artists. Fans of Richard Thompson will likely be treated to a more characteristic display of guitar virtuosity, when he makes a return to another Washington area venue, either solo or with a band, sometime in the near future. And we hope that Ms. Dobkin ( and Ms. Owen ( also return here soon, like Mr. Thompson, to dazzle listeners with their own music and further enrich the current century with songs yet unheard.

PS: The "1,000 Years of Popular Music" 2 CD/1 DVD package is a beautiful companion to this tour that captures the players at their best, including many songs heard on previous incarnations of this show. And Judith Owen will release her latest album, "Mopping up Karma," in June, and singles will debut beginning February 12th, starting with Let's Hear It For Love, from various online sources. And if you haven't yet heard her 2007 release, "Happy This Way," I encourage you to pick it up to really appreciate the breadth of her songwriting, and vocal and piano skill, with guest appearances by Thompson, Cassandra Wilson, and other world-class musicians.

Monday, January 21, 2008

They Came From NJ

Jim, Pat, Thrilla and Dennis: Still Top of the Pops!

The Smithereens returned to the State Theater in Falls Church on fire on Jan 12th for a sold- out performance, picking up where they left off in Reston on Memorial Day weekend. The band was in top form, with Pat turning in a tremendous performance and Jim Babjak and the Thrilla, Severo Jornacion, aiding and abetting and leading the raucous crowd whilst the ever- reliable Dennis Diken laid down a steady beat and harmonies. Playing a thunderous mix of classic Smithereens including rare moments from their early releases, a few British Invasion tunes, and even a slightly belated X-Mas singalong in a gratifying tour de force, these Jersey boys (and honorary East Coaster. the Thrilla) deftly mixed in a couple of songs from Pat's latest solo album, Since You Went Away and Any Other Way, classic pop ballads that stand up to the Smithereens' formidable body of work.

There was no opening act (they would have probably been ripped apart by rabid fans were it otherwise!) and the band simply took the stage and launched into a high octane 2 hour set. The Smithereens mixed it up, playing a bounty of their best known work, kicking off with Only a Memory, and digging into their catalogue for House We Used To Live In, A Girl Like You, Blue Period, Behind the Wall of Sleep, Time and Time Again, Miles From Nowhere, and Cigarette (which Pat explained, he normally sang with a lit smoke in hand, but having recently given up the habit, he was forced to improvise a bit).

The band also pulled out chestnuts like Spellbound and In a Lonely Place that were welcome additions to their set, and as mentioned above, even threw in a few Beatles tunes from last year's "Meet The Smithereens," my favorite being It Won't Be Long, which had everybody in the joint yeah-yeah-yeahing. Thrilla and Jim kept the relentless pace going, clapping their hands and really ratcheted it up a notch when the unmistakable rumbling bass for Blood and Roses began. The subsequent encore featured a pair of Who covers (The Seeker, one of their staples, and a solid reading of Behind Blue Eyes, which I'd never heard them play before!), along with Santa Bring My Baby Back from their latest release, "Christmas With The Smithereens," that features classic (and non-cheesy!) Christmas songs like Chuck Berry's Run Rudolph Run, alongside their own original compositions.

Unfortunately, we did not have time for a third interview on this whirlwind visit, but we may be able to corner them when they return this summer play here at the Red Cross Waterfront Festival in Alexandria, VA. Saturday, June 14th. In the meantime, however, our friends did have us videotape this excellent show, which will be broadcast on Channel 10 as a 2 HOUR 1600 SPECIAL- in it's entirety very soon. Keep tuned to this space for schedules and check the website for info on when this will air- anticipated to be sometime (several times, actually!) in February and March!

And that ain't all- these guys aren't letting any moss grow under their feet. Later this month, they'll be recording their first official live album at the Court Tavern, in New Brunswick, NJ January 30- February 2nd. Be there or be square! (For more latebreaking news, visit the Pat Di Nizio and Smithereens websites, now available on our links page!) This project is intended to be released as a double CD, and will feature all your favorite Smithereens' rockers, ballads, covers, and more recent material, recorded in state of the art digital sound! Pat said other new songs are ready for a third "solo" album. More details on that, and whether this will be a semi- (as the latest one) or complete Smithereens jam, when the info becomes available!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


Well, the response to our live 2 hour Christmas free-for-all was inspirational! We thank the many callers, some of whom were actually not related to any of us, for sharing their holidays with the 1600 family, who likely rank somewhere between the Osmond Family, the Partridge Family, and the Manson Family among the people least welcome to prepare the egg nog for your next holiday bash!

And best of all, dinner was really GREAT! Chef Jerry gave cast and crew a delicious, mouthwatering bird which was devoured in due course as soon as the cameras stopped rolling. The side dishes all came out pretty well, too. Everyone survived quite nicely, and no Tums or Alka Seltzer were necessary to soothe upset stomachs afterward. However, we note that only Pete the Builder was brave enough to try the jellied cranberry sauce. By the time we got out of the studio, it was far too late to get a glass of Christmas cheer anywhere. So sugarplums still dancing in our heads, we trundled off for home, already scheming to top "Cooking with 1600" with another gala soiree in 2008!

So, what's coming up in 2008, you ask?

We start off with a bang next Saturday with our friends the Smithereens at the State Theater on Saturday night, January 12th! Guitar giant Richard Thompson will join us before his show at the Lisner Theater on January 23rd (get your tickets now!) and the 9:30 Club hosts Grace Potter and the Nocturnals on February 16th- they were a killer opening act for Gov't Mule, and we can't wait to hear more out of this smokin' blues band! And then we look forward to a visit to the Iota Club and Cafe on February 19th for Brian Vander Ark of the Verve Pipe! Soon after that, we'll be back at Jammin' Java, for the return of the Adrian Belew Power Trio on March 15th...sure to be sold out, so act now!

And of course, there's a few other items we're working on but don't want to let the cat out of the bag just yet! Keep watching and check this website for more info as it becomes available! You'll be the first to know.

Now for a few emails and notes we received after the Christmas show:

Caught a new episode today 11/26 on channel 10 cox cable. seems like a long time since last new show. has the gas gone out of the show? see no new blog entries since june and at end of todays show steve said so long and farewell. does that mean that was last show?and steve really should sit more ladylike if he's going to keep wearing shorts!

Thanks, dude. Can't understand why you're not seeing new shows, you should have new episodes every week! Next time, just remember to put the Wild Turkey away, and turn the set on at 10 pm Fridays! And there were lots of blog entries in October, November and December. Maybe you went to the old blog site? This is where we're at now, tell your friends, and drop us a line to say hi! We're here for the long haul, you're not rid of us so easily. And Steve....LADYLIKE? BWAH- HAH- HAH!!! You SLAY me! I knew the striking TV writers had to have an outlet to keep sharp! That's the funniest thing I've heard since Condi Rice called Russia's elections fixed!!!

you mentioned 10cc but left out the lovin spoonful...same idea - reo speedwagon was a very old fire engine - bill cosby, beverly sills, johnny cash, henny youngman = cosby, sills, cash, and youngman - cocteau twins were characters from a claude monet book...i think - u2 is from the spy plane -

Yes, Ken, you get points on the Cocteau Twins and U2. However, the Lovin' Spoonful was named for how junkies typically prepare their heroin. And wasn't it really Crosby, Tillis, Crash and Hung- Norm Crosby, Mel Tillis, Billy "Crash" Craddock, and William Hung, who sang "She Bangs" so painfully on American Idol, only to be narrowly beaten out by the Clark Bros. (Roy and General Wesley (Ret.) on the Next Great American Band? Seriously, we could probably do 2 more shows on band names- glad you enjoyed it!

I love your show... Have you heard of a band called MOFRO? They're out of Jacksonville, Florida and play "swamp cracker" front porch soul. They opened for half of the Allman's 2007 summer tour... Cheers - Ted

Sorry we missed that, Ted. It sounds like an interesting mix. I used to wear a mofro, but when I went to the salon to get it permed, all the guys in the neighborhood snickered at me and threatened to beat me up. It was embarrassing. Steve was at the Brothers' show here, but probably too hammered to remember the opening act...what's that? J. Geils and Heart? I thought you said it was Dio and Foghat!

And once again, thanks to everyone who tuned in and called, especially our pal, the infamous Tommy Gavin! See ya at the next show!

That's all for now. Stay tuned for more inspired (?) silliness. We always enjoy running into and hearing from you guys, and appreciate your thoughtful recommendations, camaraderie, and heckling!

And onto another wild year!

Happy F@#*in' New Year!


10. The Writer's Strike is still ruining late night TV.
9. Richard Cheese was only on CNN with Anderson Cooper for about 2 minutes New Year's Eve, who subjected us to the nonstop inane lunatic ravings of Kathy Griffin instead. Can you say "trainwreck?"
8. After months of trying to perfect the selection process, most of the BCS Bowls have been one sided blowouts and the NCAA National Champion will likely yield another also-ran, mediocre, so-called "championship" team- again.
7. And speaking of football, just what will it take for Bill Parcells to stay retired? Ricky Williams sharing his bud stash, so coach has to get on "Weight Watchers" again? And how will the hapless Dolphins perform for their new "Tuna in Chief?" I thought they were trying to keep the Dolphins out of Tuna nets! 1-15 in '07, will make the huge leap to 3-13 in '08.
6. Another little Spears child will be brought into the world- have we not suffered enough already?
5. STILL no Chinese Democracy.
4. Sean Connery will NOT reprise his role as Harrison Ford's father in this year's Indiana Jones movie. Unfortunately, however, Sylvester Stallone will both star in and direct the latest installment of Rambo, due out later this month. Hey, have I showed you my Terry Kath impression?
3. No more Harry Potter books, just when they were starting to get interesting!
2. Anheuser Busch (the people that bring you Buttwiper, the King O' Beers) has bought Dominion Brewing Company, discontinued several of its signature beers and ales already, and threatens to destroy what was Virginia's oldest (and best!) microbrewery.
1. Barring a miracle, we still have 385 days left until the end of the Bush-Cheney Administration. Wake me up when it's over.

For more reasons to lament, wail, and gnash your teeth (as if you needed any!), go to our links page and click on The cheery thoughts offered there should have you out on the ledge or your head in the oven in no time!