A few months ago Ricky Valente alerted me to this particular gig he had in June, allowing Nicole and myself a lengthy enough heads up to take some time off work. We took June 11th and 12th off, and in the meantime I secured us some tickets to the taping of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Having little to no familiarity with New York I decided to set off after work on Wednesday June 10th, on our way to stay with my friend Jess and her finance Stef in Brooklyn. Heading to Providence my stomach began to growl, once at Nicole’s apartment she agreed we should probably get some food before hitting the road and we decided on the closest best eats, United BBQ. After filling our bellies it was probably around 7pm before we hopped on I-95 South for the three and a half hour drive. We were making pretty good time until we hit some construction spots in Connecticut. Upon arriving in New York by about 10pm there was some thick traffic over some sketchy looking bridges and after only one wrong turn through a red light and two missed turns, we arrived at out destination. Jess and Stef were excited to see us and after introducing us to Riesling their new kitten, we opened a bottle of wine and had a relaxing evening chatting and sipping some Portuguese red. A few hours passed before Stef admitted she had work in the morning and we all set to retire for the night.
We awoke the morning of the 11th to a misty, dreary day and succumb to its laziness. After our hostesses awoke I persuaded Jess to show us the nearest caffeine retailer. We sloshed about a block and a half past a White Castle and arrived at a bagel shop. After ordering two coffees and a bagel for myself, I added the ladies long list to my own and we waited for our morning pick me up. By the time the clerk had gathered our entire order it looked as though I may have been feeding an army, and we headed back into the mist. Nicole, Jess and I all had a great laugh as we witnessed a school bus being ticketed by New York City’s finest, the humor only intensified by a bus load of preteens cheering the police and jeering their bus driver. We shared breakfast and stories at the kitchen table and saw Stef off to work, and retired to their bedroom to decide on the day. Jess was playing the gracious hostess and offering all sorts of touristy things to do, but after several reassurances she believed Nicole and I were just in town to relax, hang out, and enjoy our days off work. We popped some Weeds season 3 in the dvd player and just vegged out, gabbed and avoided the rain.
The tickets for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon stated you should arrive no later than 4:15pm, in my anally punctual fashion I took that to mean 3:30. Jess was kind enough to sacrifice her perfect parking spot and give us a ride so we headed out towards Rockefeller Plaza around 2:50. Traffic was pretty thick and it took about an hour to get down there, we headed inside to check in and were informed to be at a certain spot by specified arrival time, other than that basically to not stand there. So we went back outside, I had a cigarette and snapped a few touristy photos while we were in the area during downtime. While I tweeted at Jimmy Fallon’s bloggers that the security and page staff seemed determined to coral everyone into the first floor shops. Nicole and I went back to the gathering area through a convoluted path and quite the crowd had started to gather. They began to file us in according to the letter or number on our ticket and a fantastic warm up comic began to get the crowd laughing. This guy was on the ball and making jokes and wise cracks instantly from the crowd’s input, luckily the gentleman behind me had a loud and boisterous enough laugh to drown out my own.
Episode 64 began and it was a great one. First thing I noticed and was pleasantly surprised by is the amount of music The Roots play for the studio audience. Flying out of the door at stage right like The Patriots at the Super Bowl, Owen, Kirk and Damon took center stage and started playing and dancing in unison, while James and Kamal ascended the spiral stairs to their keys. Meanwhile Questlove and Frank made their way to their respective kits and Tariq took control of the microphone. As usual The Roots were fantastically tight and put on an exciting performance, only furthering my feeling of foolishness for only now discovering their showmanship. It was a great episode that you can watch with the link provided above, focusing on music in my blog, I won’t give away any of their production secrets, I’ll just say there were a shit load of people you don’t see putting on the hustle to make the show you see happen. Jimmy was hilarious as usual with Betty White as well as Opie and Anthony were the interview guests, and the musical guest for the night was Martha Wainwright, who performed a beautifully moving performance in French.
After the taping I messaged the bloggers to remind them my offer of beers that night at Ricky’s show still stood. Being a frequent commenter and general pain in the ass they said they’d come down to say hi. As Nicole and I stood at the elevators awaiting the three musketeers of daily comic relief we saw some of The Roots come down. I had the chance to express my appreciation to Owen Biddle the bassist and “Captain Kirk” Douglas the guitarist as they passed. Kirk paused for a moment, telling me I looked familiar. Assuring him he was mistaken, after all he was a Root, unless he read the shows’ blog comments, maybe he knew my picture. Realizing their mega stardom and not wanting to embarrass Nicole further I resisted the urge to try and strike up a conversation. My extreme dorkiness and over friendly nature can be a bit overbearing at times, and having been scolded earlier by Jess and Nicole for saying hi to strangers on the street I bit my tongue and nodded my head and shook their hands. A few minutes later Anthony of Opie and Anthony passed by and I couldn’t resist saying a bit more. I thanked him for the best April Fools joke I had ever heard. During my college years their radio show was based at WBCN in Boston, one April Fools they announced that Mayor Thomas “Mumbles” Menino had passed away during the night. I remember such a hilarious media frenzy ensuing, it was priceless. Unfortunately the city didn’t take the joke as well as I did, and they got their asses handed to them, I still give the prank two thumbs up in my book.
The Blog Squad, Cory Cavin, Sara Schaefer, and Jon Friedman, as I call them, came down a few minutes later. I thanked them again for putting up with my lame ass and providing me daily laughs. Cory and Sara both had their own gigs for the evening, and Jon had his own the following night so they graciously declined my offer for free brews if they came along to Arlene’s Grocery. Lady and gents the offer still stands if I find myself in New York again any time soon or if you find yourselves in New England one beer on me, anything but Bud Light Lime. They were so kind as to help Nicole and I with subway directions, with pinpoint accuracy they directed us to the proper stations and trains. We took the “L” back to Brooklyn, and after a few minutes we paused on the corner to reassess the concrete jungle and decide if we were traveling in the right direction. I saw a gentleman struggling with a match and offered my light for some directions. Remarking “Do I know you? You look really familiar.” Laughing I said we were just visiting, and unless he was from Rhode Island, there was little to no chance he did know me. He then asked about Boston, and Northeastern saying he graduated there in 2005, BINGO. We chatted a bit, and it turned out we knew some cats in common and had probably crossed paths for years at parties on Mission Hill. Pointing us in the right direction, Nicole and I had our bearings and were back at the White Castle near Jess and Stef’s apartment in no time. There was a hilarious “Sully and Nicole Go to White Castle” comment made by Nicole, and we agreed that it was probably in our best interest NOT to get a stranger to snap our picture. Once we arrived back at Jess’s apartment we decided on pizza for dinner and went to a nearby pizza shop, that wasn’t too bad for a thin crust slice intended to be folded in half. During dinner Nicole and I prodded Jess and Stef to come along to the show to no avail, and we headed back out to the L train and into Manhattan.
We wandered the streets aimlessly for ten or fifteen minutes before asking for directions. I got a few “No Clues” and even some “Neva heard of its,” one gentleman pointed to a cab stand and said if anyone could point us in the right direction, it would be the cabbies. Luckily we had been wandering in the right direction and were actually parallel to Arlene’s Grocery, about two blocks away. Thanking the gentleman we continued to the next corner and made a right at the famous Katz Deli. Kicking myself for settling for lack luster pizza, I commented “Damn if we came to the show early we could been stuffed with corned beef!” Okay, admittedly Nicole and I watch WAY too much travel channel and food network. During the last leg of the journey we passed a stand alone ATM machine located a bit below street level, fronting a bodega. Pointing and laughing I remarked “Sketchiest ATM Ever, who would be stupid enough to use that, its a scam all the way.” Nicole agreed and joined me in my laughter as we turned the corner and spotted Arlene’s Grocery.
Ricky Valente is an all around musician, originally from Cranston, he now resides in New York City. Self produced, his forthcoming album features Ricky on every instrument in a basement studio recorded on analog, presumably for a more honest and organic sound. He is best know for his guitarist/singer/songwriter abilities, and his performances are what initially sparked my interest in local and undiscovered music, all those years ago. We arrived by 10:30 as instructed as Arlene’s had a reputation of running early, as opposed to most music clubs that run a bit behind. Nicole and I entered and heard the music coming from the left hand room. Heading into the venue half of the bar, we paid the reasonable cover and opened the door to the music room, releasing an intense blast of heat. Rushing to bar I ordered us up two Coronas. “Twelve dollars” replied the bartender with a dead pan delivery. Wide eyed I reached into my pocket and handed over fifteen dollars thinking “If they over charge for beer that much, am I supposed to tip more?” I slugged half mine down in one fowl swoop, and suggested to Nicole we escape the hot box for a bit before I drank $60 worth of beer just to cool off.
A different staff member was at the music room door when I burst out, practically gasping for air. He gave me a strange look and asked what was up. Wiping sweat from my brow I returned a beleaguered look and said “Its too damn hot in there for my fat ass.” Opening the door and witnessing the heat distortion patterns for himself he laughed and said he’d turn on the A/C. I broke out a cigarette and prompted Nicole to come along, hoping any breeze would cool me down. Ricky came around the corner and we caught up a bit, letting us know they were a full hour behind. Wanting to know what to expect for the evening, I asked who, of the usual suspects, would be accompanying him on stage for the evening. Apparently it was a bit of a touchy subject as two bassists had bailed on the gig, and for the first time he and Mike Levesque would be performing as a duo. Ricky said he wouldn’t worry about the low end, as he had brought a bass petal, and was going to be stomping out the bass lines as well as his normal singing and guitar playing.
Ricky disappeared to speak with the sound man, and I finally dragged Nicole outside for some fresh air. (Read I have a cigarette, she lists the health risks.) We noticed the bar had its own sketchy ATM built into the wall outside, and two more stand alone sketchy machines across the street. I jested that they weren’t ATMs at all, but transformers waiting command to awake and take over the city. Nicole said it was probably just a city wide scam, allowing more places to not take debit card, and make money on the fees. I think we were both right. I turned the conversation to another patron polluting her lungs and asked her opinion:
Woman: “Sketchy? You must not be from here.”
Myself: “No. We are visiting from Rhode Island.”
Woman: “Oh, where is that? Long Island?”
Myself: Laughing “No. RHODE Island”
Woman: “Is it near Staten Island?
With crumpled forehead, wide eyes and a generally flabbergasted look on my face
Myself: “Uh, its a state.”
Woman: “Oh like out west?”
Closing my eyes, I take a long drag of my cigarette.
Nicole: “If you go North on I-95 through Connecticut where does it take you?”
Woman: “Uh, Boston, so Massachusetts.”
Nicole: “No, Rhode Island, its between Connecticut and Massachusetts.”
Woman: “Hahaha, I feel so silly, I should know that.”
Yes, yes you should. I’ll concede that my entire state is probably only roughly the size of Manhattan, but, it is a state. I finished my cigarette and we went back inside. Quickly checking the music room, it was down to about 106 degrees, and there were still at least 45 minutes before Ricky hit the stage, so we went back to the decidedly cooler plain bar room. I shelled out another dozen dollars for a couple of brews and spotted Ricky’s sister Nicole and her boyfriend Matt at one of the tables. Nicole and I joined them, and noticing the crumbling and exposed horsehair plaster, we opted for the shin high stools rather than the built in bench along the wall. Arlene’s was not the cleanest of venues, nor did it have much of an atmosphere, other than stale beer, but they did serve “fresh music and cold beer” as advertised. Think, The Living Room formerly of Providence, in more disrepair but slightly less odorous. After a few rounds it was time to head in for Ricky to hit the stage.
Ricky, Mike and the sound engineer were working out the wiring and stage setup as we entered the now 85 degree music room. I noticed a high top table clearing near the stage and asked Nicole to secure it while I secured us one more round before the music started. My intention was to capture as much of the set as possible in clips, luckily I had space and battery life to capture ever song of the set. Thanking the crowd for coming out, he played a new song, “You and I,” from his forthcoming album:
Starting the song with a precise and melodic guitar riff, Ricky sang his poetic lyrics soulfully, with a haunting echo effect, bringing the guitar’s tones in line with his vocal intonations. Mike knocked out his steadfast rock drumming. Following the first verse Ricky teased the crowd with a rhythmic musical interlude before returning to the mic for the second verse. Its been quite a while since I’d seen Ricky perform and I was floored by the high notes he was hitting vocally. They slowed the pace a bit after the second verse and Mike started in with his more intricate fills, loosing his glasses in the process. Ricky began a smooth and seductive bluesy rock guitar solo, forcing you to let down your guard for the fierce riffing it up before the third and final verse. During the third verse both Ricky and Mike picked up steam before cutting the instruments for the final stanza of the song, its was a dramatic and noticeable touch. Ricky corralled Mike’s glasses for him, and they continued the set with a song from his last release “Loveless Letters,” (http://cdbaby.com/cd/rickyvalente2)“The Borderline:”
Starting delicately on guitar, Ricky began a one way conversation with a lost love, pouring his soul into the lyrics. At the conclusion of the first part of the epic tale he scraped his pick up the strings and again sped up the pace, as Mike bounded harder and quicker on the drums giving a taste of the face melting to come. He came back to the mic for short and poignant verse before focusing on some gracefully furious lead. Other concert goers were impressed as well, a few days later I found this lead segment, posted by nicmatt1 (http://www.youtube.com/user/nicmatt1) with the quote “If you don’t dig this solo you don’t like music.” Following a short introduction, Ricky and Mike broke out another newer song, expected to be on the forthcoming album, “Powderkeg:”
Loud and rocking right off the bat “Powderkeg” it had a great rhythm and a powerful vocal refrain. During the time change mid song, Ricky seemed to cross himself up while stomping on the bass petal, but quickly regained composure, delivering a heartfelt verse. He began to repeat “You walked away from the best thing you had” before making his guitar cry an evocative solo. As Mike softly crashed the cymbals Ricky began delicately picking out the guitar score repeating “Making the same mistakes again.” Mike started to build the mood on the drums and Ricky switched to a hastened strum pattern and ripped back into the main song rhythm while emphasizing the final syllable of “Powderkeg.” Refraining “Making the same mistake again” five times before howling at the microphone and rocking out the song’s conclusion. The crowd cheered and after the applause Mike measured out the next new song’s meter with his sticks, “Jezebel:”
Ricky painted the scene with his lyrics while pluck strumming the song’s encircling rhythm. Mike’s drumming seemed designed to put the audience in a trance as the guitar took hold of their body’s sway. He eased into the most melodic solo of the night as Mike built anticipation on the kit. Opening it up his fleet fingers delivered the sweet tones to every satisfied ear in the room. He came back to the mic with a few lines stressing the lyrics “Its killin’ me” before a dramatically cathartic yell was released into the PA. Mike halted his sticks as Ricky plucked out a last few delicate measures to round out the song. Before the next song, Ricky was tuning his guitar and started into a story about his new puppy, realizing he was beginning to sound like a parent he quickly changed the subject, and turned at Mike to assure they were on the same page. Once the dynamic duo decided on a tempo, Mike began to thump out the familiar drum line of “Worlds Apart:”
Performed more slowly and soulfully than I’d previously seen, I resisted the urge to sing along as I took the clip. One of his more popular songs, an acoustic cover version has recent found its way to Youtube. Staying in a soul mood he played a cover of a classic Sam and Dave song “When Something is Wrong with My Baby:”
Delivering a powerful version with fantastic vocal work, he also showed he was getting a little more daring on the bass petal. I recognized the song during the show, but admittedly I had to Google it to determine the proper name and original performers. Changing guitars before performing his last number, he reached for a beautiful custom 1966 electric 12-string. The sound engineer certainly adored it as well, commenting and asking about it over the club’s house system. As Ricky tightened up the guitar’s tuning he told a bit of a joke at drummer’s expenses. Mike laughed and took a bow being a good sport and they began into another new song, due on the forthcoming album “Juliet:”
Mike tapped at the kit while Ricky started a bit of a groove going with his feet. Strumming the rhythm he bounded down and up the neck of the guitar with chord changes. Lyrically it was another powerful and beautiful number backed with lush tones from 12 strings. Certainly an empathetic number for any guy who’s longed for his Juliet as they we left “standing on the edge of the world.” The crowd cheered again in an ecstatic state at the conclusion of the set. Definitely the mind blowing experience I’ve come to expect seeing Ricky perform out. Nicole and I said our quick goodbyes and headed out towards the subway. We made it back to the L train easily and were on our way to Brooklyn thinking we were home free when the train came to a halt two stops early declaring it was the last stop. We exited the car and made our way out like lemmings following the crowd, only to to find an imovable wall of frustrated looking people. As we forced our way through the mass of bodies we approached the stairs and noticed a murky river flowing from the street level into the station. The clouds had opened up, fantastic. Reaching into the bottomless pit that is her purse Nicole retrieved a compact umbrella and fiddled with it for a minute before getting it open. We bounded into the storm huddled together underneath it, for no benefit, it was much too small for the both of us. I stepped out into the rain and like a sea captain on the bow of the ship lifted my hand to my brow and looked around to get my bearings. The resulting twenty minute walk started out frustrating but as we bound through puddles, searching for store awnings and stoops we’d stop and smooch for a brief respite from the rain. Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.