Over the past year, I saw Mike Block sit in with various Boston-based musicians at their shows several times. When Club Passim announced his show, I quickly reserved a seat. I knew Mike was good, but seeing him perform his own music proved that he is quite extraordinary.
Mike plays cello and that is an instrument not typically heard in folk, pop, or Americana, all of which were played at this show. Sure, there are bands that employ the cello (Old Crow Medicine Show and Darlingside are two that come quickly to mind). I have a feeling that will change as musicians such as Mike put out more and more consistently great music.
This show was billed as ‘Mike Block and Friends’, and what a collection of friends! Charlie Rose played bass; he also opened the show with his own set of original music, playing guitar and banjo. The other friends included Sean Trischka on drums, Michele Beneforti on electric guitar, Balla Kouyate on balafon (a Malian instrument that is an ancestor of the xylophone), Greg Liszt on banjo, and Maria Finkelmeier on percussion.
The show flowed well with the friends rotating across the stage. Mike played several solo folk songs to start the set, and was then joined by Charlie for a few duo songs. Mike and Charlie went to high school together in Kansas, although they were not more than acquaintances at the time. Both appeared in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, Charlie as Pontius Pilate and Mike in the orchestra. They performed a song from the musical, which they had not done in many years!
Mike and Balla performed a couple of songs together, and it was a thrill to see Balla in such an intimate setting. I was able to get close to him and watch his hands fly across the balafon keys. Balla comes from an 800-year line of balafon players!
In the middle of the set, Mike played another solo number. This one was performed at Mike’s wedding by none other than Yo-Yo Ma, Mike’s friend and mentor. When asked to play, the maestro said he would but only if Mike wrote the piece! Can you imagine having Yo-Yo Ma play YOUR music and YOUR wedding?
As I wrote above, the set included mostly folk songs adapted by Mike into mostly faster versions that featured cello. The set ended, however, with everyone on stage performing “This Must be the Place” by the Talking Heads! I think David Byrne would have been pleased at this version.
Charlie opened the show with a (thankfully) longer set than openers usually play at Club Passim. This was his first solo show all year, and I loved it! I have seen Charlie perform with at least four different acts this year, and was happy to see him perform songs from the album ‘Stowaways’ which was released last year.
Charlie is a man of many talents. He is a songwriter, singer, guitarist, banjo player, fantastic pedal steel player, trumpeter, trombonist, bass player, and a great guy, too! He expects to release a new album next year, and I cannot wait to hear more of his original music.
I knew this would be a good show, but I was more impressed than I expected to be. Mike is releasing a new album next year; he said it would be mostly pop music (I’m guessing both original tunes as well as covers, but don’t quote me on that) and, based on the encore, it should be fabulous.