The Chandler Travis Philharmonette made their triumphant return to Caffe Lena for a blow-out birthday bash in honor of both Chandler Travis and drummer Rikki Bates (it was Rikki’s Lena debut, as the Philharmonette does not normally include drums). Also sharing the birthday bill was Lena soundman extraordinaire Joe Deuel. Due to the small intimate atmosphere, this incarnation of the band was pared down from the nine-piece band that makes up the full Philharmonic line-up (this was explained as a couple of guys fell off the cart).
Woodwind player Burke McKelvey, who along with trombonist John Wolf made up the June Trailer Dancers, had to do double and sometimes triple duty to fill in for the missing pieces. During one song, “Grand Route St. John”, Burke switched between soprano sax, clarinet and piano. A lot of musicians claim to be the hardest working men in show business, but they have nothing on him.
As always, the band is never predictable. Opening up the two-set show, they appeared on stage in jackets and ties rather than their usual considerably more casual attire. They launched right into the instrumental “Little Things.” Throughout the set, Chandler spoke to the audience with a self-deprecating style of humor, while his bandmates also poked back. In describing the lyric writing of his sometime co-writer David Greenberger, Travis explained, “if you hear one of my songs with wonderful imagery, it’s a Greenberger.” They then went into a couple of Greenberger songs “(You And Me) Pushing Up Daisies” and “January.”
Another moment came during the introduction of “Taoist On Vacation With Mashenkas” when he mentioned that those who owned the latest CD, “Chandler Travis Philharmonic Blows” were treated to a lovely duet between him and Jennifer Kimbal, but at the Caffe, we were stuck with Fred “The Singing Valet” Boak. Although it was hard to pick a stand-out song from this set, the understated “Settlin For Less” was my personal favorite. The set closed with “Bob Whats-Is-Name” – complete with a vuvazela solo.
The second set opened with a solo performance of “Nose For Danger” by Chandler – done in the style of a someone stepping on stage for the first time at open mic. To complete the visual, he would stop mid-sentence to look at the neck to form the next chord and attempted leads. The rest of the band soon arrived wearing the more familiar jammies. Chandler quickly dropped his dress pants revealing, luckily, a pair of PJ’s. Funny enough, there was another pants-dropping wardrobe malfunction, but that’s another story.
The next couple of songs (“Things To You” and “Goodbye”) were done au natural with Chandler, Fred and Burke strolling through the audience, while John Clark unplugged his upright bass and wisely chose to stay on stage rather than stroll through the seemingly sold-out crowd and possibly hurting someone. This made the show feel, if possible, even more intimate. Burke, John Clark and John Wolf took turns on some searing solos during “Mid-Morning in Moscow.” Following immediately was “Way Too Hot,” featuring a percussion break with everyone playing whatever was at hand; walls, window trim, instruments, etc. The action only broke for a few minutes while the Lena staff passed out birthday hats and presents to Chandler, Rikki and Joe and had them blow out the candles of a cake big enough for the whole crowd.
Unfortunately, all good things have to come to an end, and this was way too quick. They closed the evening’s three-song encore with the doo-wop gem “Softly In The Night.” To help you over any sadness you may be experiencing for missing this show, don’t worry, Chandler and the full line-up Philharmonic will be back in the area on Saturday, July 9 at Amsterdam’s Riverlink Park. I would like to thank Fred for helping me, once again, with the set list.
Review and photographs by Ed Conway