Last weekend, after the Throckmorton show in Mill Valley, Vienna Teng returned to the Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley for a couple of special feature shows.
We met up with the production manager, who is also a friend, and another couple of friends for lunch at around 12:30 on Saturday. My wife was a bit disoriented for most of the day. I blame us planning to be there so early, but it worked out well.
We had lunch at The Sandwich Spot and headed back to the venue to watch the cast of The Fourth Messenger rehearse and get comfortable on the Freight stage. In all, five members of the world premiere cast from February-March 2013 were a part of the show. Anna Ishida, Annemaria Rajala, Will Springhorn, Cathleen Riddley and Reggie D. White were all there as well as Eryn Allen who played piano during the world premiere production last winter. Tanya Shaffer, the playwright and Daniel Olson, who participated as an actor in early read throughs and private productions, rounded out the evening’s cast with Vienna Teng playing minor roles throughout their performance.
The cast got familiar with their parts throughout the numbers they would be performing and the stage they would be performing on. When Vienna arrived a bit later, it was really an awesome sight to see her performing as a part of The Fourth Messenger as opposed to just working on the songs.
Lou and Colleen, the folks that do sound and stage prep for Vienna’s shows at the Freight, arrived and got everyone situated on stage with mics and music stands arranged for the actors and the piano ready to go for Vienna. We had a nice break at 6pm that we followed through on and some of our friends and my wife and I got to have a nice meal at Oscar’s with Vienna. She kindly even used the dinner buyout from the venue to pay for the meal.
I helped out Andrea and the Freight by doing a couple of quick runs for kitchen necessities at Trader Joe’s which made me feel useful for the venue and the show.
The show itself was about 60% Vienna solo and 40% Fourth Messenger. I thought having the Fourth Messenger part would detract from the holiday show experience, but I really liked how they arranged the show. They did a performance of a song from the original draft of Sid Arthur and then what it became in the still being revised version of The Fourth Messenger.
The night was a benefit for a future recorded cast album of the songs from The Fourth Messenger, and Tanya is hoping to raise $45,000 to record it right.
Vienna opened the show and did Harbor, Between and Copenhagen (with a cup that was placed in the request bowl) before beginning the long segment that would be devoted to The Fourth Messenger.
The Fourth Messenger cast, including Eryn on piano and Vienna and Tanya in acting roles, did seven numbers related to the show before leaving the stage for intermission.
Vienna again came back for a shortened solo set to start the second half of the night. It started out really strong with Vincent, The Last Snowfall, I Don’t Feel So Well and an acoustic version of The Hymn of Acxiom that was done with no harmonizer. I really liked that combination of songs and was excited to see if she could top that. She did, with a great performance of Daughter followed by a very powerful solo version of What About Me. I do have to say that act two, after Hymn with three songs I don’t care for that brought the energy down, made the first Freight show fall below the Throckmorton show for my favorite show of the holiday series. With three other songs in there, it could have been a contender.
The cast of The Fourth Messenger returned to do the two songs from the end of their play that I don’t like. They’ve added call backs to other songs and seeds of it not just being a happy ending, but really it still doesn’t work yet. I really like the cast and some of the songs though, so I hope they get the opportunity to do something more with the play in the future.
Vienna’s encore was tour staple Ain’t No Sunshine/Lose Yourself, which Reggie White lost it when she hit the Barry White button in soundcheck, and Green Island Serenade. It was a good cap to a fun night that actually was just beginning.
Post-show, we eventually decided to visit the traditional after party spot of Bangkok Thai and Vienna and the cast headed to the Jupiter. Vienna decided she didn’t want to go all the way to Saratoga and asked if she could stay at the production manager’s house. He didn’t object, so we had dinner, and she joined us a bit late after celebrating with the cast for a little while.
I pitched a seven minute dramatic reading of the opening of Sid Arthur for night two, complete with elephant sex. That didn’t happen but it got someone to mention doughnuts for dessert.
We all ended up in Oakland at Colonial Doughnuts at 2AM to officially cap off the night.
A doughnut hangover is what I would call what I was suffering from on Sunday afternoon when we returned to the Freight.
My wife and I had lunch at Top Dog before heading over, which helped. They have great sausages and aren’t too expensive, and are apparently open at convenient to us hours just a couple of blocks away from the Freight. During soundcheck, we got a nice version of most of the original version of Force of Nature performed solo.
Here’s what I wrote about the show on Vienna’s forum:
“While I’d love to comment and agree that the show was “beyond wonderful”, this last show at the Freight and Salvage for 2013 was my least favorite show of the year. I would rank it just above the infamous Great American Music Hall show as far as a show experience is concerned.
I loved the Aims tour. I was able to attend 12 shows on the tour and had a great time at every single one of them. Those, in combination with three shows at the Freight and Salvage and one show at the Throckmorton allowed me to have one of the best fan experiences of my life in 2013. Thanks to all of the friends and fellow fans that I got to see on the road this year. You all make these events more than just Vienna Teng shows.
Lou and Colleen did a great job on sound, as they have for the past few years worth of Freight performances. Bob and Andrea made us feel very welcome throughout the weekend, which always makes me feel special and Vienna and Alex continue to be appreciative of the little bits of behind the scenes stuff that I continue to take pleasure in doing for them. That all means a lot to me.
Here’s where the problems I had with the show fall into this post:
- Alex Wong as an added attraction is nice but there was just a bit too much Alex for me in what was advertised as a Vienna Teng solo show. The songwriting exercise debut also placed Alex directly in front of Vienna, blocking the audience’s view entirely of the main performer.
- We kept Vienna out too late the night before, which probably also didn’t help.
- The old Nord is pretty busted, which made playing songs on the Nord an even more risky endeavor which didn’t really work out too well.
- Alex and Vienna collaborating on each other’s songs in an impromptu unrehearsed manner, typically on unfamiliar instruments made the arrangements a bit “experimental jazz” at times and I didn’t really care for that either.
- The show felt a bit too “free show at the Rockwood” for me, and after such a triumphant Fall Tour experience, it left me a bit disappointed.
There have been very few shows in the 140+ that I’ve been able to attend that I have left dissatisfied. Unfortunately, this was one of them. I just hope that 99.9% of the crowd left happier than I did as they still got to see some great performances by extremely talented musicians in a venue that makes everyone feel like they are at home.
We won’t get to see Vienna much in 2014, if at all, and while the 12/29 show had some good moments, it just didn’t feel like a proper goodbye.”
My wife’s response: “The thing is, they’ve gotten away with “let’s try it and see what happens” so many other times with it being awesome, that I’m OK with this time not quite working out. I don’t want them to sacrifice taking chances with playing it safe; I felt like things were played too safe in the last leg of the tour with the static setlist. I was really happy with the other two holiday shows, the tour, the Kickstarter, the new album, so much else this year, that this show being a bit off, even being the last show, is kinda OK.”
Post-show, I got to catch a fan choral arrangement of Hymn of Acxiom performed for Vienna near the stage. It was a fitting end to the weekend. I was tired. I think we all were. The production manager took Vienna and Alex to her car, and some of our friends and my wife and I went to Au Coquelet for dessert. They closed and actually turned the lights off on us as we were finishing our food.
After a few more minutes on the sidewalk, we finally said goodbye to our friends and to our Vienna Teng concert experience for 2013.