Recently, I decided to branch out into acoustic music. Although my classic rock trio, Roger-Z
and The Zygotes, works steadily at a number of clubs, I noticed that many of my peers have added
duo and solo gigs to fill out their schedule.
And just as the idea popped into my head, I got an email from Bob and Norm with
their July 2005 calendar of dates. Sure enough, they would appear that evening at
Opus 465 in Armonk, NY. Never one to waste time, I hopped
into my car a few hours later and caught their last two sets.
Opus 465 provides an intimate but casual bar and dining setting complete with
backyard patio. The band stand, located in the front window on one side of the bar, contains two large hanging
flat panel TV screens on either side. That night, the Yankees filled the airwaves.
In general, acoustic groups take one of two routes. While most create a set list on the fly in response to
their particular audience, some sit down with a music stand and a large fake book while others work from memory.
Bob and Norm follow the latter path. No simple three chord romps for these guys. They pick difficult songs
with complex complex vocal and instrumental arrangements. Working seven nights a week allows them
to polish these tunes until they glow like pearls in the spotlight. Talk about workaholics, after their last
set at Opus 465, they hurriedly stowed their gear and zipped out for another appearance at
The Back Fence in Greenwich Village, NY!
Bob and Norm's jigsaw puzzle approach reminds me of the Beatles. Everything locks together in perfect harmony.
Bob sings and plays melodic, McCartneyesque bass. He plugs a four string, acoustic guitar bass with nylon strings
direct through the PA. A little known fact -- Bob grew up best friends with one of my favorite guitarists,
Gil Parris! Norm sings and takes the George Harrison guitar approach. He crafts tight, melodic solos on an acoustic guitar
also plugged direct into the PA. Surprisingly, he uses a lot of bends. I wondered where he got the strength
to move those heavy acoustic strings. Between sets, he revealed his secret -- extra light strings (10 on the high E).
None of the tunes they played during the two sets contain simple progressions.
Stuck in the Middle - Stealers Wheel
Summer Breeze - Seals and Croft
Melissa - Allman Brothers
Father and Son - Cat Stevens
Suite Judy Blue Eyes CSN
After the Gold Rush - Neil Young
Mrs. Robinson - Simon and Garfunkle
Sister Goldenhair - America
Ventura Highway - America
Hello It's Me - Todd Rundgren
Sweet Baby James - James Taylor
Rikki Don't Lose That Number - Steely Dan
Aimee - Pure Prairie League
They spontaneously crafted their show (from a huge master list) to the "middle-aged" drinking crowd at the bar. The band
asked for requests and delivered on them. Despite the Yankees on TV, they managed to receive extended applause
after each tune. No sonic wallpaper here.
A few days later, I told a bassist from another duo how much Bob and Norm impressed me.
His reply -- "They represent the gold standard of acoustic duos." By the way, Bob and Norm also perform
with a drummer as "Powderfinger!"