Saturday, October 25, 2008

Antifolk First Class, October 23, 2008

I was intrigued when I learned about the "Antifolk First Class" show, which featured Brenda Kahn, Billy Nova, Cindy Lee Berryhill, Lach, and Zane Campbell (plus some interludes by folks from the current scene). I'd read or heard about each of these folks as among the group that joined together to create the whole Antifolk thing or were some of its earliest participants in the mid 80s, but I never thought I'd get a chance to hear them play. I also hoped that there would be a chance to fill in some of the history of the scene. I did learn more about how things developed...for example, I never knew that Sophie's bar, the site of an earlier Antifolk open mic, was located in the same spot as Sidewalk's bar (at some point the scene moved to another Sophie's located elsewhere nearby).There was also a description of Lach's setup at the first "Fort" in a storefront on Rivington where Lach lived and where he took his mattress off the bed in order to form a platform for the performers. Yet, the show stretched out quite late, and I was unable to stick around to the end when there might have been a chance to talk to some of these folks. 

I'm a little bit of an anamoly in that I came to the Sidewalk scene at a later age than many folks do. In looking back at the history of things I've often wondered what became of the folks from the earlier versions of the scene who started at this in their twenties. If back then was anything like now, there must have been plenty of folks who poured themselves into music but eventually went on to other things.

Well, the other night gave the answer to that to some extent. Brenda Kahn has obviously taken up some of her time raising kids. Her two young boys were in evidence at the show, climbing all over the stage, sitting at the drum set and talking into the mic, during set up and even during her show. Some people were annoyed, but I was more amused, since that's exactly the type of thing I did as a kid. I was always transfixed by microphones in particular and never passed up a chance to talk into one. See where it led me. Brenda's songs were pretty folky, I thought, rather than Antifolky. She had a song about her husband, a cute one for her kids about a rocket to the moon, and 0ne that said "if we put our hearts and minds together, we can change the weather."

I have to admit I had a hard time getting a fix on Billy Nova, even though there was something intriguing about his songs and he had a sweet voice.  He had one song about Wyoming and a pretty one called, I think, Delivery. He spent some time calling out the names of people from the old Antifolk scene and others in the audience started yelling out the names of people they remembered. Billy says he's now an organic farmer in suburban California. As I understand it, it was Billy who organized this reunion night. Thanks Billy for pulling it together. Some of the folks travelled quite far to be there, including Cindy Lee Berryhill, who flew in from California. Billy says there will be more such Antifolk First Class nights, which is good to hear.

Cindy Lee Berryhill came on stage in a cowboy hat and had a drummer with her and also the guitarist Lenny Kaye. I saw Lenny play with Patti Smith once at Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center, and I remember it as one of the better concerts I've attended. He is a terrific, soulful guitarist and I was looking forward to hearing him play with Cindy. However, for the first three or so songs he just sat on stage with them by the piano, not playing, which was kind of funny in a way but also frustrating. Cindy made a crack about how they invited a rock god to just sit on stage.

Her songs are very strong musically. They definitely have a feel of country music to them, so the cowboy hat wasn't really out of line. I don't know all that many country acts, but she reminded me some of Iris Dement, a singer who I really do like. She and Lenny had some very lovely moments together, once he did start playing. One of these exchanges was on "When Did Jesus Become a Republican," a song that is a bit too topical for my taste but where Cindy and Lenny shined together. 

At one point Cindy asked if anyone had any questions about the old Antifolk scene and someone asked who coined the name "Antifolk." Evidently there is some disagreement between Lach and Cindy over this, although Cindy explained that she came up with the name. Evidently Cindy, Lach, and Kirk Kelly met outside Folk City in the 80s (which evidently was not the original 1960s version of Folk City) and at some point had a meeting where they forged this new thing whatever it was...and Cindy says she suggested they call it Antifolk. I read Lach's version of the story in some interview somewhere where he says he came up with the name, so who knows? It's not really that important anyway. I'm more intrigued by the details of how these folks bonded and came up with their own little roving music scene and who was involved.

Lach played after Cindy and he stuck pretty much to the music (rather than a lot of stage talk). It was a tight Lach set. I liked this song of his, Parade, that I wasn't too familiar with. Over the years I've gotten to know Lach's material well and he played a lot of the favorites: "This Ain't a Song" "Egg," "Antenna," etc. He also did the Spiderman theme and a quick wacky version of "Why Don't We Do It in the Road." He called Amos on stage to sing "Ain't it the Most."

Between each of the Antifolk First Class acts Ben K programmed folks from the current scene including Ben himself, Lisa Liza, David Greenberg and Emily Hope Price.

As I said earlier, I had to leave before Zane Campbell played, which was too bad for me.

Overall a nice night. I know that it had a lot of personal resonance for the different performers. 

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