This past Saturday, Kraig and I had a chance to take in the Hotel Cafe Tour. Apologies in advance for the lack of pictures - it seems that Kraig’s old digital camera finally decided to bite the dust just in time for the show, so no photos. Sorry!
For those of you outside the know, here’s a bit of info on the Hotel Cafe and the ensuing tour:
Once just a small coffee shop, The Hotel Café has quickly blossomed into not only one of the premier singer/songwriter venues in the United States, but also been labeled “the place that breaks artists.” The artists surrounding The Hotel Café regard it as home, where lyrics, voice and a DIY approach rule. On any given night, you can find well known artists (such as: Weezer, John Mayer, Jason Mraz, Death Cab For Cutie, KT Tunstall and many more) on the same bill with up-and-comers, playing both as solo artists and as a communal project, sometimes well rehearsed and sometimes in the heat of the moment, and more often than not, jamming into the wee hours of the morning.
For the past 4 years, The Hotel Café has been presenting a tour that has hit every major market in the United States and the UK. The concept of the tour was to share the same community vibe with music fans all over the globe. Artists performed solo and would then share the stage with fellow tour mates. No cookie-cutter corporate American Idols, just real music, written by real artists, surrounded by real friends, who actually have a story to tell. Starting in March 2008, The Hotel Café Tour will embark on another journey that will cover 35+ major markets in the North America, before heading over to the United Kingdom!
The tour will feature a rotating lineup of at five artists at every show, all sharing musicians and supporting one another, making for a unique night of music. The tour is held together by performer and co-organizer Cary Brothers, who will be present for the entire tour.
The show had an...interesting format. The 5 artists that graced Salt Lake City (Meiko, Jim Bianco, Cary Brothers, Dan Wilson, and Ingrid Michaelson) each took a turn playing 3 songs. Then they all came back and did the same thing again (not the same songs, mind you, but the whole playing-3-songs-and-leaving thing). Also, there was no waiting time in between sets for the setting up/dismantling of rock equipment; they just went from one act to the next, which was pretty nice.
I was particularly impressed with the ability of the supporting band that was touring with these five singer/songwriters. Each act played with the same guitarist/bassist/drummer and “multi instrumentalist” (i.e. trumpet, keys, guitar, accordion etc.). These guys nailed each and every song despite genres ranging from sparse, nearly acoustic setups (Meico) to Jazz (Jim Bianco) to Alt-Rock (Cary Brothers) and everything in between.
Personally, I wasn't a fan of the 3 song format. I would've rather seen each artist do their 6 songs in a row. Maybe it's just me, but I can't figure out how I feel about an artist after only 3 songs. By the time they come back on stage again, I had usually forgotten what the songs they played previously were like and if I enjoyed them.
Anyway, if you haven't guessed already, we went primarily to see Dan Wilson (of Semisonic fame). He was very good, though it made me sad that about 3/4 of the people there didn't know who the hell he was until he played Closing Time. However, we did meet some die-hard fans who drove all the way from Calgary to see Dan play, which was definitely nice to see.
Dan was able to play a total of eight songs in his three times on stage, one more than any of the other performers (since they played a song of Dan’s for the final encore!). His first set consisted of Easy Silence, Breathless and Free Life, the title track from his brilliant solo record. The first set definitely left me wanting more Dan, especially since a lot of the crowd seemed to be there just to see Ingrid Michaelson again. Kraig was able to record all of Dan’s songs except Easy Silence, check ‘em out:
[mp3] Free Life
Dan came second to last (instead of last) the second time around. His second set consisted of Sugar, Baby Doll, Second Modern (an Elvis Costello cover) and Closing Time. Of course, Closing Time was the crowd favorite - the teeny boppers could be heard between courses frantically text messaging each other to “figure out” who sang the song originally. Silly kids. He shared a great story about the writing of the song which Kraig was able to capture on for your listening pleasure:
[mp3] Baby Doll
[mp3] Secondary Modern
[mp3] Closing Time (with explanation)
Baby Doll and Sugar were both absolutely breathtaking from the second set. Ingrid came out to sing back up vocals on Sugar, which despite being a little rusty, still added a new dimension to the song. Secondary Modern was a great track that none of the pre-teens had ever heard. Here’s to hoping they’ll take Dan’s advice and go out and listen to some Elvis Costello.
The final encore brought all the performers back on stage for one last hoo-rah. The chosen song was All Kinds, another off of Dan’s recently released solo debut, Free Life. I’m not sure if Dan was getting encore love on each stop of the tour, or if they just played his song on our date since it was his last outing on the tour - but it was a very fitting ending to a great show.
[mp3] All Kinds
As for the rest of the performers, they probably could have renamed the tour “You Heard us on Grey’s Anatomy - Live!” All the artists except Jim made comments about getting their “break” on a TV spot, and it seemed Grey’s Anatomy was mentioned most often. I don’t have a problem with that, it just seemed a little strange for all the artists to have that same experience. I guess the guys picking the music for Grey’s Anatomy must be checking out the tour? Probably.
Meiko had a strong voice, but didn't bring a lot of energy or excitement to the stage. Her song-writing just doesn’t seem to be there yet. There was heavy reliance on “do-da-do’s” and “la-la-la’s”, which to me seems like the easy way out of a chorus.
Jim Bianco was a hell of an entertainer and put on a fantastic performance. His music wasn’t something I’ll go out and buy, but if he comes to my neck ‘o the woods I’ll make it my business to see him play again. Probably more of a comedian than musician in most cases, but still - worth seeing if he’s coming to your town.
Cary Brothers was the first person to really bring the rock to the show. He started out strong and used his powerful vocals to keep things interesting throughout both of his sets. He had the most sonically complex songs out of the group, relying on effects pedals and angsty vocals throughout, which I rather enjoyed.
Ingrid Michaelson (whom a majority of the audience was there to see) was sort of hit-and-miss. A couple of her songs were pretty good, a couple were not so much. The crowd seemed to go crazy when she played that song that’s on the Old Navy commercial, which was nice but not quite up the level that I felt Dan provided. She had a really interesting song that relied on vocal rounds at the end of her set which was the highlight for me.
All in all the show was had a very enjoyable vibe to it - something you don’t usually see with artists of this caliber. The camaraderie wasn’t faked at all, lots of collaboration took place and they all seemed to genuinely like each other. Since the Hotel Cafe Tour is hitting basically every major market in the US and UK, it’s probably coming near you. We both highly recommend checking it out - ticket prices are low and the entertainment value is high (even though Dan isn’t on the ticket anymore). Just be sure to pick up your tickets fast, they seem to be selling out quickly just about everywhere!
Here's all of the recordings from Dan's performance in a convenient .zip package (for a limited time only!)
Click here for more info on the Hotel Cafe Tour.
Buy some music from Dan Wilson: Amazon | iTunes
Visit Dan online: Official | Myspace