Live At Fi is a podcast I produce that features live recordings from The Hifi Bar in NYC. It’s part documentation of the scene, and part enticement for folks to come down to the venue and enjoy the experience in real time.
This bonus length, hour long episode (most are edited to fit into your subway commute) is great fun and features songs from HiFi’s Under Your Influence tribute series. These tribute nights are loose and fun for musicians and the crowd, but there’s no mistaking the ambition of the performers to do justice to the featured songwriters and performers.
Recording these shows is also great fun but a technical terror. Stage lineups change song by song, mics drop, cables fizzle, singers alternately whisper, then scream. I stand by the side of the stage with my recording gear and headset listening, hoping for the best, but always grooving on the performances with a nervous grin.
My goal for these live recordings has never perfection (I’ve succeeded there), but something like the live FM broadcasts I loved listening to on FM radio in the ‘70s and early ‘80s on WNEW, WPLJ, or the short-lived and lamented WPIX. Those broadcasts were more about about sharing the excitement of a venue, with an attempt at presenting a sonic impact a bit more impressive than a microphone in the crowd, and I’ve tried to make sure that the sound of the room and the crowd at HiFi is a big part of the recordings. For example, check out how the Beautiful Fear performance of XTC’s Dear God silences a talkative crowd – the musicians never chide the audience, but the music and their presence shift the audience’s attention completely.
All the performances are fun, but a few others to mention – Jessie Kilguss’ take on The Kinks’ This Time Tomorrow makes me think Fairport Convention should have covered The Kinks in their heyday, Edward Rogers slays the crowd with his twist on Pretenders’ Precious, and it warmed my heart to hear the house band go for Rockpile’s live arrangement of Nick Lowe’s Heart of The City, as featured in many vintage live FM recordings and bringing it all back home for me.
What a treat to get to know Don and his music over the last few months. The latest episode of Live at Fi features 5 songs from a fiery set recorded at The HiFi Bar last August. And I mean fiery, like up from a slow burn to a blaze and back down to a slow burn. I recall listening to the show live and grooving like crazy to the sound, then realized and remembered that it was all being recorded (uh, by me). Sometimes you get lucky.
All the songs are great but I have a special love for Solitaire, starting about 22:14 into the podcast. Now that’s how you sell a song.
Don’s also got a new album out called What It Is and you you should own it. Get the lossless version for fullest fidelity!
And here we go with another episode of Live At Fi, this time an interview show with Matt Schwartzer and Gary Levitt, the producers of HiFi’s weekly free comedy show, I Don’t Get It. The episode digs down deep into the inner workings of the local comedy scene, and what it takes to be funny on a tough New York stage. And as serious as these folks are about comedy, they manage to keep the talk very, very funny.
Gosh, I fell for this band. Back in my “you-go-out-every-night-and-see-a-band” days, I, uh, pretty much went out every night to see a band. Sometimes I knew what I was getting into, sometimes I had no idea. Those nights without expectations were unsurprisingly a mixed bag. Most nights were meh, every now and then I wouldn’t last a song, but then there were those nights where you heard a band doing something special, making a connection with crowd, maybe even playing an unfamiliar brand of music.
Sea of Bees did it for me when they played HiFi on July 15, 2015. I started recording for the Live at Fi podcast just a few weeks before Sea of Bees showed up and was still working out exactly how we were going to get these bands recorded. I showed up early to set up and was happy to meet Julie Ann and the rest of the band. All friendly, all happy and ready to play. The crowd wasn’t very big, but they showed up early, clearly expecting a lot of competition for seats. These people knew something I didn’t know and when Sea of Bees started playing I figured it out – Julie Ann Bee has start power. Such a unique voice and a set of original songs with strong, singable melodies that manage to steer clear of the traps of nostalgia. I loved the set and happily purchased a vinyl copy of their latest LP, Build a Boat to the Sun. I was too dopey to get autographs but I should have.
Episode two of The Live at Fi podcast has gone live and it’s a nice to see (hear, really) the show evolving and coming into itself. This episode is essentially a document of a very interesting live experiment. Ira Robbins, one of the prime movers behind Trouser Press magazine drew up a list of favorite songs from the past few decades, handed that list over to Tom Shad (NYC musician and scenester par excellence) who hand picked singers and a band to perform the songs live at The HiFi Bar. Kind of mix tape come to life and a terrific selection of songs and singers.
I love nights like this – it’s an opportunity to hear some familiar songs performed by a crew of artists that may be unfamiliar. In other words, a great way to discover a slew of talented performers in one night, the equivalent of months of club hopping.
For the podcast we picked seven favorite performances from the evening, then Mike Stuto recorded an interview with Ira Robbins and Tom Shad in the back room at HiFi to talk about how the night came together. Interestingly, Ira wasn’t able to attend the live show, which really just ends up making his perspective even more unique.
Recording these shows is always a little daunting. I never know exactly what’s coming up next, and honestly there’s not much I can do to control the recording once the show begins.
Colin Poellot did a fine job on the live mix, and any vocals and keyboards on the recording come from the live mix, augmented by a battery microphones placed by me to capture the live sound of the stage and the room without trickery. If you weren’t there, you’ll hopefully get that “You Are There” sensation.