Alta Dena’s The Coffee Gallery Backstage was alive with music on Friday, January 17. The show began at approximately 8 p.m. While your all too often penned in penman had never been to this classic coffee shop venue a lovely lady by the name of Michele had promised an interesting evening so it was off to Alta Dena for this all-ages event.
Since your rather reclusive reporter was there to experience the event, don’t expect an in-depth analysis or even a perfect playlist. Regular readers know it’s about the overall experience and not a detailed documentation. Just be happy to hear highlights, mmmkay?
The opening act was the dynamic duo known as Dobkin & Goldberg. While they themselves admit that their name sounds like “a good name of an accounting firm or a bad one for a gynecological office”. In truth, they are singer/percussionist Debra Dobkin (Bonnie Raitt, Richard Thompson, Shawn Colvin, Jackson Browne) and singer-songwriter/bassist Mark “Pocket” Goldberg (Mick Fleetwood, Canned Heat, Willie Dixon, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins). They’ve got an original, jazz-tinged blues-folk sound that makes them unique.
Highlights of the performing pair’s playlist included “Just Call”, the universally-felt “7 in the a.m.” and “So Blue” which was a tuneful tribute to the late, great Miles Davis (although Goldberg vocals truly had a more Louis Armstrong sound). Their performance included personal stories and self-deprecating humor which often drew perhaps more audience participation than one would expect but as was to become evident later this place has a very family-like feel to it and the regulars know it.
Other noteworthy numbers included “Gonna Do (The Hatin’ Song)” and “May Be Fat”. As Goldberg would later comment when reminding those in attendance he had CDs for sale: “It’s the safest way to take us home. It’s much cheaper to pay ten dollars for a CD then to try and feed me.” Whatever it was that brought this rhythmic act together it seems to work for them as they share the spotlight on vocals and their respective instruments (drums and stand-up bass).
A few minutes later John Zipperer & Friends took the stage. The band roster for the evening included: songwriter John Zipperer (lead vocals, guitar and banjo). Barrett Tagliarino (guitar, mandolin and backing vocals), Tara Sitser (keyboards and vocals), Jayne Thorne (backing vocals) and Mike Bisch filling in for Jimmie Van Boovan on bass. It took no time at all before the band’s particular brand of back porch pickin’ and apparently honest love of music would infect the audience.
Everyone in the SRO backroom was soon struck by the sad songs and singing along with the upbeat pieces. Highlights of their set included newer songs off their upcoming album Full Circle, older original works and a nice cover tune. They performed “Sing With Me” which literally begs (albeit unnecessarily) for audience participation.
Zipperer elaborated on the song about his return to music: “There is something so amazing about a whole room coming together in song and emotion. This song is about that: those moments.”
Zipperer added: “When we perform this song live, we always let the audience have the last chorus. I know they like it but I love it. Some nights the joy of that sound is overwhelming.” Indeed, while the audience members may not ever find work as backing vocalists they certainly knew all the words and were not shy about showing it. (Remember, too, this is a coffeehouse so there was no alcoholic incentive just a general love of the song and the band in general.)
Other memorable musical moments included a Jimmy Buffet-like “Saling Away” and a song about that odd musician-waitress relationship called “Cool Breeze” and a tribute tune to their opening act in “Play It Like ‘The Pocket’”. The band also hit it with a well-worked adaptation of Craig Fuller’s Pure Prairie League pair "Falling In and Out of Love" and “Amie".
They would play well past 10 p.m. and even do an encore. The audience seemed to hold a true appreciation for Zipperer’s at times heartfelt lyrics and the band’s fun melodies. While they may not be the only act like this in town—hey, it is L.A.—even their harshest critic could not deny they have a chemistry that truly works well for them.
The ex-actor/stuntman will be celebrating the official release of his disc Full Circle at the Thousand Oaks Library Live Concert Series on March 1. It seems Zipperer has a down-home, ego-free sense of humor and a personal connection with his fan base that makes all the difference. When you see Zipperer and company perform it’s hard to tell if John Zipperer & Friends refers solely to the man and his band or Zipperer and everyone else in the room.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.