Seth Adam and friends at Stella Blues

The Friendliest Rock Show on Earth

“Thanks for coming out to my favorite New Haven bar,” welcomes Seth Adam, local-rock nice guy and ever-gracious host. “I used to host to the open mic here on Tuesdays.”

Mr. Adam has been a fixture in the local music scene for a decade or so. Now in his mid-30s, he’s augmented his music career with a degree in graphic design from Southern Connecticut State University, and has cut back on his concertizing. But he maintains his waifish college-boy impetuousness and enthusiasm. He’s a gracious entertainer, a bandleader who conducts with encouraging smiles.

When the performers are friendly like Seth and his chums, the stage in the front window of Stella Blues becomes a comfy playhouse. It’s an extension of the easy, relaxed atmosphere that sweeps through Stella Blues generally, from its long sleek bar counter to its down-to-business poolroom and snazzy back deck. Stella Blues’ walls are studded with local-pride items such as ball caps promoting the defunct New Haven Nighthawks hockey team and a giant map of New Haven as it appeared in 1879.

Stella Blues still has a Tuesday open mic, now hosted by Mike Knobloch. Meanwhile, Seth Adam has returned to Stella on Wednesdays for the next couple of weeks, with an only slightly more formalized endeavor. He calls it his “Rock & Roll Music Residency,” and he’s invited a horde of his musical pals, including some of the brightest lights in the state’s alt-folk and roots-rock scene, to sit in. Expected guests include Mike Sembos’ The Backyard Committee, The

Seth Adam and Friends at Stella Blues
204 Crown St., New Haven (map)
(203) 752-9764 |
Wednesdays 3/21 and 3/28 at 9pm |

Mike Cusato Band, guitarist/lawyer Loni Gardner, local pop stalwarts Green Inside, the New Orleans-styled funk band Wat Tha Funk and Sean Ryan.

“We’re just trying to celebrate some music and camaraderie,” Seth Adam sums up, and it’s something this city is especially good at. New Haven is a diverse sonic universe where Adam’s impressive mastery of mainstream rock techniques (his waiting-for-the-phone-to-ring lament “Century” has all the hallmarks of a classic AM radio hit) can find harmony with funk, folk, roots and jam bands.

The first resident of the March 14 rock & roll residency is a bearish guy in a vest and cap, singing and strumming while the trickier guitar work is handled by a skinny gent with John Lennon features (the nose, the ‘70s hair, the glasses). “I like this place, Stella Blues,” the vocalist offers. “It’s a good spot.”

The guys look and sound familiar, and well they should—they’re Tim Warren and Eric Donnelly from nationally touring Bridgeport-based alternative/roots phenoms The Alternate Routes, in downsized duo mode, posing as “Grit Gamble & The Pandemonium.” They do a song which they introduce as being about P.T. Barnum and Tom Thumb (the 19th

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Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven

century circus icons, both of whom lived in Connecticut) “but it’s also a love song.” They also do their classic “The Future’s Nothing New,” which involved Tim yielding an “electrified toolbox,” thumping the microphone-enhanced tub’s heavy contents as industrial percussion to what is otherwise a gentle, lilting folk-rock number.

Then Seth Adam and his band—guitarist Gerry Giaimo, drummer Anthony Bianco and bassist Gerard Bianco—take over, starting with several sharp originals, tightly played. The room has filled, and it’s an amiable, laid-back crowd.

When Adam and co. delve into a set of cover tunes which the singer suggests are “out of character for us,” the songs are familiar enough to appreciate the band’s efforts yet unusual enough that slavish imitation of them would be ridiculous. When the band does Radiohead’s “Planet Telex,” it intriguingly humanizes a tune which in its original form sounds remote and unearthly.

Adam brings a shy woman he introduces as “my friend Vrinda Manglik” to the stage for a soft duet on “Love Hurts.” It’s a song that’s been interpreted by everyone from the Everly Brothers to the metal band Nazareth to Sinead O’Connor, Cher and Rod Stewart. Seth and Vrinda’s version skews closest to the Gram Parsons/Emmylou Harris rendition, yet it comes off very differently in the context of that streetlit window stage. Eric Donnelly returns to the stage for a work-out on Wilco’s “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” which becomes a furious guitar trade-off between Donnelly and Giaimo.

Seth Adam gazes on admirably, strumming acoustic rhythm guitar back-up, framing the picture with his gangly arms and killer smile. Like the best party hosts, he’s not just entertaining by himself. He’s a good listener.

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