Thursday, March 24, 2011

Celu and Roger Mesh at Chester's

Last night I enjoyed some live music. Celu Agee and Roger Brown played two sets of folk and blues, with a little pop mixed in, before a small but appreciative crowd at Chester's Bayview Cafe.

According to Celu, the two have not collaborated for very long, but their vocal blend over Celu's smooth strumming and Roger's beautiful lead playing on his Gibson D-175 has what it takes to keep an audience happy.

Chester's Bayview Cafe, located in the Walnut Square area of Berkeley just a block off Shattuck, is a friendly place, made so as much by the no-cover, informal ambiance as by the attentive service by Hugh--who effectively runs the entire place himself. A narrow space, it is divided into a front bar (with TV), middle restaurant section and a rear space that, last night, was dispensing something in small cups for what appeared to be a neighborhood promotion. The narrow venue is greatly relieved by windows along the entire west side so there's no claustrophobia.

Celu and Roger played two sets. The first song was Arlo Guthrie's City of New Orleans, a familiar tune that's accessible and provided a nice warmup to get the harmonies in sync. Celu is the stronger singer, blending a Joan Baez style tremolo with the blues energy of Bessie Smith. Roger's singing style is more mellow; the mix is quite successful. They tease, taking turns at the lead and then working together. In Helplessly Hoping, the Crosby, Stills and Nash tune, they didn't harmonize through the entire song as in the original but judiciously placed it where they wanted it--leaving you eagerly anticipating the next time.

The "intermission" featured three acts: Greg and LaWanda performed a couple of sultry duets with Greg's sophisticated guitar work underlying his clean tenor and LaWanda's smoky vocals. Then, Jude gave a nice rendering of Dylan's Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues. Finally, I was invited up for a song. I wasn't expecting this. I played I'm Gonna Leave You Alone from the Red Paint catalog.

In a bit of a surprise, the final song of the evening was Bruck Cockburn's Lovers in a Dangerous Time. I'm familiar with the Barenaked Ladies cover of 1991. Nice work through both sets, and the audience would have been happy to sit longer and enjoy the duo longer. But the singers had already started ahead of schedule and run late.

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