Updated: 11 Mar 2005
Part 1 - First leg - 18 February to 1 March
VAN WICKLE HOUSE, SOMERSET, NJ, SATURDAY 5 MARCH 2005
The third visit by the Strawbs to central New Jersey and the New Jersey Proghouse Concert Series was a charm, and marked the first matinee/evening showcase format hosted by the series. As the evening Strawbs show sold out in a matter of days, a matinee event was added by NJ Proghouse founder, Jim Robinson, to accommodate faithful fans who failed to anticipate brisk ticket sales, or could not attend the evening show owing to scheduling conflicts. Capacity audiences for both shows confirmed Jim's faith in the Strawbs as a premier Proghouse draw.
Owing to a fire at the Metlar-Bodine House Museum in 2003, the Proghouse series has shifted to different sites over the past year and-a-half. The venue for Saturday, the historic Symen Van Wickle House, was an ideal setting to showcase acoustic Strawbs—providing a rustic ambiance similar to that of the old Metlar House. Built as a Dutch farmhouse in 1722, the Van Wickle borders a marsh area adjacent to the Delaware and Raritan Canal and Raritan River. The quirky one-story structure with its uneven doors, low ceiling, timbered beams, and long parlor room reminds one of the inn interiors painted by the Dutch masters. Among the many treasures of the house are pewter ware, Delft plates, pottery, wooden shoes, and period Dutch clothing—all adding a beautiful backdrop for the stunning performance of "The Antique Suite."
I must admit I had trepidations coming into the twin bill. As the next to last date on the 2005 North American tour, and following an evening performance the previous night in Pawling, New York, I wondered how much energy the band would have in reserve. In baseball terms it is the equivalent of playing a twilight doubleheader following an extra-inning ballgame the previous night. But from the moment the Strawbs arrived at the venue, it was apparent that the paying public and Proghouse staff were in for a very special day. The Strawbs arrived in good sprits and immediately fell in love with the Van Wickle, though privacy and dressing rooms were in short supply at the inn! As an invited staff-member-for-a-day, I caught a rare glimpse of the pre-concert preparations and literally worked for my supper, assisting with setting up the chairs and serving as a go-fer for the band members. In between these chores I had the pleasure of a short chat with Dave Cousins who expressed his pleasure with the tour and the sound of the band heading into the final performances. Obviously a bit worn from the demands of touring, he related that he was looking forward to a well-earned vacation at his house in France -- nice work Dave, if you can get it (:> It was good to see Chas Cronk for the first time and exchange pleasantries. He gave me an update of all the recording and studio work he has been doing—busy man. Both he and Dave Lambert are quite engaging and attentive to the fans attending the shows.
The parlor room contained a baby grand piano that occupied Mr. Cousins' attention before the show. He sat down and played a few instrumental tunes while the staff and band went about their respective chores. The musical strains of "Evergreen"and "When You Were a Child" filled the room. With a piano in place, rumors abounded of a possible appearance by keyboard extraordinaire, John Hawken, who lives in nearby Metuchen, New Jersey. It turned out that John did attend the concert but owing to a recent operation (he is recovering well and in good spirits) graciously declined an offer to perform with the band. He was the object of much playful stage banter and figured prominently in several introductions to numbers culled from Hero and Heroine and Ghosts. Before the show, John gloried in telling us a few anecdotes from bygone Strawbs tours and had us all nearly rolling on the floor with his dead-on Michael Caine "Alfie" imitation.
I am not sure I can add much to the excellent tour reviews already posted so I'll concentrate on a few impressions I had. First, Chas Cronk's 12-string acoustic guitar fit seamlessly into the intricate Strawbs baroque sound and his acoustic bass added a remarkable depth and texture to the band's evolving acoustic repertoire. One of the highlights for me was the splendid "Lemon Pie," with Chas Cronk's staccato bass lines punctuating Dave Lambert's lead riffs. The vocal mesh is stunning to say the least. Lambert — who has the biggest challenge of the three in replicating Tony Hooper's vocal parts — has earned the right to appropriate "The Flower and the Young Man," "Antique Suite," and "Oh, How She Changed" as his own. Dave Cousins performed with his usual verve and style, and masterfully provided a story and context for each song. In the matinee performance of "Shine on Silver Sun" he set the mood perfectly by describing the beautiful sun-dappled day and view of the surrounding marsh and river, as the rays of the late-winter sun filtered through the window. I swore I saw Lambert doing sitting 'windmills" while belting out "Cold Steel." In the nightcap performance, "Hard Hard Winter" stood out as a real crowd pleaser with Cousins capturing his youth and voice in a bottle. Just a magnificent day and concert experience!
Many thanks to the NJ Proghouse staff who welcomed me into their extended family for the day: Jim Robinson, Jon Yarger, Ray and Noreen Loboda, Karl Eisenhart, Mike, Ken, Boney, and Greg "Coffee Man" Jones. They work so hard to put on these shows and their collective effort was very much appreciated by the Strawbs and all who attended.
Photo by Rick Sarlo - more photos from Rick
There has to be some serious dedication going on when you subject yourselves to standing outside for 35 minutes in below freezing weather waiting to see the Strawbs in an overcrowded pre-Revolutionary colonial.
As we placed our chilled bottoms on uncomfortable folding chairs, we completely forgot how frozen we were once the guys' warm smiles and voices filled the tiny room. As they began playing, you would have never guessed that this was their second full set in 3 hours. They had so much energy! Dave Cousins, Dave Lambert, and Chas were all in great voice and charmed the audience with a few jokes in between the songs as well.
Everyone who attended was obviously very amazed with the talent of these guys which becomes more evident with each show. For a few there it was the first time they had ever seen the boys live and with the reactions I saw after the deliverance of the "Hero and Heroine" encore, I'm almost positive it won't be the last!
Photo by Joannie.
NJProghouse staff with Dave, Dave and Chas
Photo by Jim Robinson
Photo by Jim Robinson
TOWNE CRIER, PAWLING, NY, FRIDAY 4 MARCH 2005
Photo by Eric Bergman - click here for more.
Photo by Erik Lounsbury - click here for more.
CLUB PASSIM, CAMBRIDGE, MA, THURSDAY 3 MARCH 2005
JAMMIN' JAVA, VIENNA, VA, WEDNESDAY 2 MARCH 2005
Acoustic Strawbs hit a very emotional note with me last night at Jammin' Java in Vienna, Virginia. David Cousins's voice was spectacularly clear and intense. Interweaving notes and harmonies melted and crashed together to create some of the most astounding music I have ever heard from them.
David Cousins, eloquently charming and frequently funny provided information preceding the songs, about what inspired them, or where they were written. They talked about their upcoming tour in Norway and their recent appearances in Canada at the Canadian Folk Alliance conference.
The songs were performed nearly to perfection. The exquisite balance of the vocal harmonies, blending intricately around ringing guitars was lovely. The magic of Chas Cronk adding a layer of underlying depth with the pedals, as he easily switched between bass and twelve string guitars was absolutely fluid.
The blue dolphin Dean guitar played by Dave Lambert was as flawless as ever, adding leads that were note perfect in every nuance.
The audience of probably sixty or so people seemed to be enthralled. I don't know when I have ever been so moved by a musical performance. My favorite of the night was "The Antique Suite", performed with such subtlety and such energy, I felt emotionally battered by its intensity.
The first encore was the new acoustic version of "Hero and Heroine", with Dave Lambert playing celtic drum, then switching to his Dean, as David Cousin's voice soared to the ceiling, capturing the audience and taking them along for the ride..resulting in a thunderous standing ovation, and a call for another encore.
The last encore was the staggeringly beautiful "Glimpse of Heaven". Chas excelled on the twelve string, and by the time the song was finished, I felt as if I might actually have caught a glimpse of Heaven myself.
This was an intensely absorbing performance that left me weak in the knees!