It’s Wednesday, the day before Thursday. I should be getting ready, practicing a set of songs. Wondering what to wear. Leaving my hair dirty for one more day, that way I can wash it just before the show tomorr- oh wait, there is no show tomorrow.
It was the middle of winter, or the end of touring with Eric before Christmas, when the idea occurred to me: I could do a residency, a show a week for one month in New York City. I had the venue, the HiFi Bar, that had once been Brownies rock club but was still run by the same guy. As the East Village becomes more and more unrecognizable to us old-timers, he’s a warm enduring presence – the times I bump into him on Avenue A and hear “hey, Amy Rigby!” he’s like the angel Clarence to my George Bailey in It’s Wonderful Life saying no, it mattered that you were here once, it might not always feel that way but it did count. Mike was starting to book music again and said come and play. It seemed the perfect solution to how to start doing shows on my own again. It has been almost ten years since I played solo.
I couldn’t face the idea of doing a “New York show” – hey world, I’m back. Where? Would anyone book me? Would anyone come? This residency idea felt safe and low-pressure.
Until I started to get ready for it.
It wasn’t the material – I have plenty of songs, old ones and new ones to try out. And it wasn’t that I was out of practice playing and singing: in the past ten years Eric and I have played dozens and dozens of shows in every kind of venue on a couple of continents.
But who am I, on my own? That’s what felt so daunting.
I could’ve done something up where we live. People know me here now, as the cheery bartender and partner of the Englishman, and guitar player in the Schoemer Formation. Some of them know I’ve made records on my own. A few have even been to our house to a house concert.
New York City is where I started and it’s the place I had to return to to start again, or continue.
Before the first show, I was very nervous. I had trouble sleeping for days. I’d gotten a list of all or most of my published songs together and picked a set’s worth, throwing in a few new ones and a cover. I practiced everything in order and Eric helped me by setting up the P.A. at home so I could play through that. We have spent so many years harmonizing, I’d almost forgotten what my voice sounds like on its own. It’s not just the singing, it’s the support of playing with another person you grow to rely on. Eric is so entertaining, I found myself often playing straight man, or reacting to him. You get comfortable. I kept reminding myself it’s good to be nervous, scared even.
First show I played a lot of solo stuff I know worked well in the past.
- Are We Still There Yet (new song)
- Keep It To Yourself
- Cynically Yours
- The Trouble With Jeanie
- The Deal
- The Old Guys (new song)
- Rebel Girl
- Dancing With Joey Ramone
- Don’t Break The Heart
- Men In Sandals encore
Everything rolled along fine. I was nervous playing the piano songs (The Deal and O’Hare) and probably talked too much, comparing my show to Suzanne Somers new Las Vegas revue and how you can tell The Deal is an old song because it refers to a Seinfeld episode. But I made it through those ones. I saw Sue Garner who I played with for years in both Last Roundup and The Shams in the audience and asked her to come up and sing on Don’t Break The Heart. It was spontaneous and sweet to hear her pick up the harmony. I felt at home.
Week two was a different challenge. I’d asked Jon Graboff to play pedal steel and Eric on bass and with Jon down in the city we weren’t going to have a chance to all rehearse together. I had a certain ethereal type of song in mind to take advantage of the steel and guitar/bass combo, along with songs that would drive or be rhythmically solid without drums. I broke down and bought a different microphone for the first time in many years – I’ve been using an SM-57 because it seems to cut through well for me and also forces me to sing right on the mic but misses in some way. I thought the lighting looked (and felt) too stark the first week, so we brought in a lighting rig (ie three clip lamps with colored bulbs)
- Believe In You
- Beer & Kisses
- Don’t Know Nothing
- I Hate Every Bone In Her Body
- Breakup Boots
- Summer Of My Wasted Youth
- Bob (new old song ie written a while ago but never recorded except live)
- I Never Meant To Say Goodbye This Way (new song)
- Dreamin Man (cover of Neil Young song)
- Always With Me
- I Don’t Wanna Talk About Love
- Silvio (Dylan cover)
- Goin Back (Carole King song, Byrds cover)
- Just Someone I Had In Mind
The soundman was not exactly with it and scrambled around during the first song to improve what he’d wrought during soundcheck and I think the sound improved as we went along. There was a good crowd and we went over well, it was an attempt to get to a place of odd country moments but this approach could use some developing. That is part of the beauty of the residency idea, that the end result of each different show could actually be the start of something. And that there is no one definitive show.
Week 3 felt almost like a Rock Classics show. I didn’t exactly design it that way but chose songs that would be fun to play with a stripped down guitar/bass/drums combo. It’s the first time I’ve played in that configuration, without another guitar player or keyboard player and I fussed over which guitars to play, what amp to play through. In the end I stuck with the Danelectro 6 string I got when the Harmony broke on tour a few years ago and also the 12 string through my old Roland amp. And the acoustic on a few. Eric was playing bass and Jeremy Grites who’s come up and recorded some stuff with Eric and also the solo record I’m working on was playing drums. We got to do a good long rehearsal the day before.
Parked out front of the club on Avenue A with the flashers on to unload the equipment and next thing I knew a cop said “You’re getting a ticket, did you know that?” I realized I’d parked in the bus stop just as a bus pulled up and I apologized so sincerely he ended up letting me off and even wishing me a good show. One of those you gotta love this city moments, I knew it was going to be a swell night.
I’d arranged a few special guests but they were both coming to the city from out of town so I kept quiet about who it would be in case something happened and they couldn’t show up.
The good soundman was back and it helped to feel like we were all working together. That third set went so well, I started thinking maybe I should just become an oldies act from the 90’s. Why bother coming up with new stuff? (although we did play three new songs). I felt proud of all those old songs I’d written, like they practically played themselves. It touched me to see people out in the audience get excited when they recognized a song.
The first guest, Lenny Kaye, who produced my group The Shams album and has played with Patti Smith since her early days, was running a little late so I slipped in Give The Drummer Some, with its section of drummer jokes. Lenny showed up just as I finished that one and it was sweet to sing his song with him.
My other guest was Syd Straw. She’s got one of my favorite voices and is a charming character. We’d heard she covered Whole Wide World often, and I had thought it would be funny to sing it together and have an onstage cat fight over Eric. But I know how that song tends to shadow everything, when people talked about the show afterwards, they wouldn’t remember anything but Whole Wide World. I thought we should do Syd’s great song CBGB’s. Then I played some more of my classics and Syd and Lenny came back up for what else, Whole Wide World. It was a blast.
- Time For Me To Come Down
- Like Rasputin
- Raising The Bar
- The Good Girls
- New Sheriff (new song)
- That Tone Of Voice
- Give The Drummer Some
- Things You Leave Behind (w/Lenny Kaye)
- Just A Little Is Enough (Last Roundup song)
- One Off (new song)
- CBGBs (we played Syd Straw’s song with her)
- Dancing With Joey Ramone
- The Old Guys (new song)
- All I Want
- Whole Wide World (encore w/Syd & Lenny, we let Eric sing one verse)
I left the last week kind of open, though I knew I’d play most of it on my own. I’d asked my daughter to play a few songs with me. I chose one from my old band Last Roundup, a song called At The Well that needs two voices. I thought it would be cool to have Hazel, who’s the age I was when I wrote the song, sing one part. She chose the other song, Wheels by the Flying Burrito Brothers, one I would never dare attempt but it felt like a good challenge especially if she was taking responsibility for singing the lead part.
My other guest was Eric. He helped me a lot over the month, from setting up my equipment to being someone to bounce ideas off. He also played bass on weeks 2 and 3. I felt like it wouldn’t really be me without there being the two of us in one of the shows.
So the last show I felt like I’d come a long way from a few short weeks before. Nothing had really changed that much except I knew the room, and remembered that I know how to play solo. I was already starting to miss the experience and get nostalgic. The place was full of people I know and people who know my music so well it feels like I know them. There were a few little stumbles and I screwed up the comedy bit I’d planned with Eric, where he was supposed to call at the end of Needy Men and I’d hold the phone up to the mic while he complained about all these weeks spent at HiFi Bar and when would I have time for him again? It was funny in rehearsal but I forgot to put the phone on speaker so all people heard was a muffled cry from behind the backstage curtain. In other parts of the show I probably messed up some words and rambled on too long here and there but in the end I wouldn’t change anything.
- Rode Hard
- Playing Pittsburgh (unrecorded song I’ve had a while)
- How When Where? (old song I never played before)
- Summer Of My Wasted Youth
- At The Well (Last Roundup song w/Hazel)
- Wheels (Flying Burritos cover w/Hazel)
- As Is
- Down Side Of Love
- Keep It To Yourself
- Needy Men
- Til The Wheels Fall Off (w/Eric)
- Are We Ever Gonna Have Sex Again? (w/Eric)
- Property Shows (new song of Eric’s)
- Slow Burner (new song)
- Genovese Bag (me & Eric)
- We’re Stronger Than That
- Do You Remember That? (encore w/Eric & British rock beat)
- Don’t Ever Change
- Beer & Kisses (one more encore)