Thursday, November 27, 2008

November 25, 2008-Liv Carrow, Cornhole Connection, Phoebe Kreutz's Gilgamesh

We had a nice Thanksgiving down here in Miami. But even with the parents (and me) falling asleep on the couch after the big meal, my thoughts still drift back to Sidewalk. Just a few words on Tuesday's show with Liv Carrow, Cornhole Connection, and Phoebe Kreutz's Gilgamesh musical.

Listening to Liv lately, I realized that her songs remind me of what I consider real "Antifolk" (although on the other hand I still deny that there is such a thing as Antifolk). But anyway, she seems to fit in with the Moldy Peaches-ish, Jeff Lewis-ish, style that is still associated with Sidewalk in many ways. There was one song in particular where she was repeating over and over "you'll keep it to yourself" that particularly made me think about this. She got in a good number of songs the other night...I particularly like one that she does about Red Lentils. She also did a cover of a Roy Orbison tune, which I think was "In Dreams."

Julie LaMendola and Nan Turner made a return engagement in their improvisatory extravaganza "Cornhole Connection." The gals started the show side by side at the piano. They soon launched into a long piece about Hemingway. They also covered Stairway to Heaven in a very free style, and I know that I remember seeing Nan on the floor again in one moment of passionate expression. Julie sang a long rendition with several false endings of a song that went "Let the sun shine in/face it with a grin/frowner's always lose and smilers always win/Let the sun shine in/face it with a grin/open up your heart and let the sun shine in." Julie also rocked out on a guitar solo at one point. The gal is multitalented for sure.

Interestingly improvised acts have shown themselves with a bit of frequency recently. I remember that Lach used to improvise songs at his late night sets at the end of the Antihoots, and Crabs on Banjo has been holding down the Wednesday nights for a while now. And Cornhole Connection seems to be mostly improvised. It takes some guts to put yourself out there like that, and I sometimes wonder myself how it would be to try something like that. But on the other hand my actual writing method is just the opposite--to labor and labor and rewrite and rewrite.

Phoebe Kreutz's musical Gligamesh tells the story of the Sumerian King who battles the feral Inky Do. Eventually the two team up and become friends, but Inky dies. Phoebe explained that she wrote most of the musical quickly, like in four days. I was impressed with Phoebe's songs, particularly her lyrics. For one thing, she has a very strong sense of rhyme, and manages to find ways to get to them without straining. Phoebe drew on a big group of friends to play the different parts in the musical (and some parts were played by multiple performers)...I probably won't remember them all, but Preston, Matt, Liv, Amos, and Nan appeared. I hope to hear the songs again sometime. A cast album maybe? (Thanks to Wikipedia I've just discovered that the character is named "Enkidu" not "Inky Do" so let me stand corrected.)

By the way, seeing Phoebe's musical reminded me that I've often wondered why there isn't more theatricality in the presentations at Sidewalk. Maybe it's just that my own tendency seems to be to gravitate toward spectacle whenever possible. I'm always imagining costumes, backup singers, and follow spots. I know it can be hard to pull this kind of thing off, but I think there could be more collaborations that head in this directions. For sure we need more choreography and a Sidewalk dance corps.

By the way Sidewalk's waitress Adi (sp?) told me the other night that she is moving back to Israel. That was a suprise. I'll miss her.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Open Mic, Monday November 24, 2008

Brian K. opened with a long intro. He kept trying to wind up his spiel in order to start the show, but would then get off on a tangent until Brian literally brought the lights down on him. It was pretty funny. I do remember that as part of his opening talk Ben relived the evidently traumatic moment when his dad explained to him "what gay was."

I'm so used to seeing Ariel Bitran in the many groups for which he accompanies on guitar, that I realized I wasn't all that familiar with his own solo stuff. He surprised me with a kind of Carl Perkins/Robert Goulet/Adam Green voice (Adam Green on his solo records, that is). He played a song called (maybe) "The Opportunity is Lost" and then one from his series based on the Legend of Zelda. You know I do my best to stay current, but I must admit that I haven't yet gotten too hooked on the video games that the kids seem to love. The Legend of Zelda definitely has passed me by, so I wasn't too able to identify with Ariel's song about that world. But I'm sure for those who are captivated by Zelda it was a rich experience. I did like the mouth clicking that Ariel did in the intro to the song.

Brook Pridemore played a song that made us all think he was in dire straights. It had lines like "I don't want to live in this world anymore." I was a bit concerned until he explained that he wrote it when he was 20 and that it represented an earlier, unhappier Brook. 

Phoebe did a song from her Gilgamesh musical, which is closing out her weekly Tuesday residency at Sidewalk. It's a song all about Inky Dinky. I'll admit that since I'm writing this up a couple days late, I already saw Phoebe's musical and the Inky song makes a bit more sense than it did the other night at the Open Mic, but it has some of Phoebe's usual clever, intricate word play in lines like "Inky Dinky do that thing you know you inky do." Phoebe also did a funny song that she said she wrote while leaving Pianos about being in a "Horrible Mood."

Benjamin from Denmark played acoustic guitar, accompanied by his friend on double bass. He explained that although they were from Denmark, his friend had just bought the bass in the U. S. They did some nice jazzy stuff with scat singing and everything. It was cool.

Liv Carrow played a song that had a line something like "How I longed for an itty bitty star all my own." I didn't catch all the imagery, but it was a cool song and I hope to hear it again soon. She also played her song about going to the psychic, Madam Rosa, which is another nice one.

Jon Berger set his laptop on the stool and pointed a microphone at it and everyone started murmuring that he was going to play some electronic Berger Beats to accompany his poems. But---psych--no he picked up the laptop and read from it. Jon talked about how he started a swear jar at work and then Brian Speaker kind of stepped on Berger's joke about it (which was to then read a poem filled with cursing). As far as I'm concerned swearing is a legitimate form of expression that all should employ when it can be effective, but evidently in Jon's workplace there's too much of it going on. Jon stepped into the audience to perform his final poem about Jesus and urged Susan Hwang to come on stage since she was next up. In what I thought was a lovely exchange, Susan began interpreting Jon's poem in a kind of pantomime. Then when it was her turn to play, Susan called Jon up to offer some of his dance moves as accompaniment to Susan's music. So it was sort of a mutual exchange of movement between Susan and Jon. 

Susan did two songs, including one of her zombie songs. I usually have to hear her things a few times until they sink in, but as I've said before I often am truly amazed by what she comes up with, both in terms of her melodies which are unusual and interesting, and her lyrics, some of which are mindblowing. Oh, the second song was one in which she said that Tom's sister had challenged her to write something positive. I think it was called "Be Yourself."

Waylon, played a catchy, rhythnic song that accelerated in tempo as he played it. 

Abba Confusion consisted of two English guys. I think these were the folks who said that they'd come to the U. S. with the intention of starting a band in two weeks. Evidently when they've announced this from the stage at various open mics, people have come up to sit in right then and there, but they seem less interested in that than in finding a group of people to form a real band with. The guy was kind of down on the whole idea of people sitting in, but folks did it anyway---including some guy who practically swiped a tambourine out of Brook Pridemore's hand, only to get on stage and prove himself the worst tambourine player ever to have hit the Sidewalk and possibly New York City and the world. Brian Speaker appropriately heckled him in multiple ways once the song ended.

Joanna Kelly played a song with Beau Johnson accompanying on electric. Brook took the tambourine this time and showed 'em how it's done. Joanna's song sounded kind of like an old countryish folk tune..."rock me momma like a wagon wheel, rock me momma any way you feel."

Faceometer consisted of one of the guys from Abba Confusion and he played a long song about the toilet where Thom Yorke evidently wrote Creep. The guy's song was kind of interesting, although maybe a bit too long, but even though he was English he sang it in this weird faux American accent. He even apologized for that at one point, but it was strange. I guess I wasn't really offended, but I think one could have been if one were the sensitive type.

Brief View of the Hudson did some nice gospel-y, southern-influenced stuff. I am more impressed by them the more I hear them. One of the songs they sang was "Stay Out of My Coal Mine."

Joff Wilson played with a friend who I think he introduced as Kenny K. Hurricane, on bass. Joff was wearing glasses and had more of a John Lennon, 1960s, hippy look about him than his usual 1970s Joey Ramone style. He sang a catchy song called "Color Me Rochester Grey," and then went back to "When the War is Over."

Jon Telethon was up (playing solo) with a relationship song....might have been a new one, since I don't remember hearing it before..."You been thinking lately that I'm losing my mind....I can't unhinge my love." He also sang his classic "Truck Drivin Man.

Debe sang "Normal." Gorgeous as usual. She also did "Pack Up Your Sorrows," one of her favorite covers, which I hadn't heard in a while. 

Jason Trachtenberg was back with "Everybody Loves the Clown." 

Although it was still early in the evening, I was offered a car ride home and decided to grab it, considering the rain and the cold. So, I'm sorry I wasn't able to catch more acts. It was a fun night up to the point that I left and I'm assuming that the spirit continued late into the night.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Open Mic, Monday, November 17, 2008

Brer Brian made a surprise return to the Open Mic on Monday. His days as a regular were before my time but I met him on a few occasions, including a journey with Jon Berger out to Bed-Stuy to the church where he plays in the band (see the Urban Folk article on the subject). With a tiny trumpet in hand and what is a new mountain man beard since the last time I saw him Brer sat in on quite a few folks' songs, including mine. Brer is a frequent provocateur over at the Olive Juice Music board but in person he couldn't be friendlier. Maybe he'll become a regular once again. 

Interestingly enough, Lach was there Monday, too, hanging around with Henry at the beginning of the evening. It was nice to see him too. Henry is quite cute and was taking tentative laps up and down the stairs while Lach sat schmoozing in the basement.

Ben K. kicked things off. I was a little fuzzy on the songs he did: one was from his Stingra opera, but the second was something that might have been new. It was an interesting song but I'm fuzzing out on the details. I remember liking it though.

Emily Moment was first up with two new songs, including one she played with Debe that had the line "he won't do anything he don't want to do, if he makes a move you can bet he wanted to to." The more I've been listening to Emily lately the more I've been noticing how nice a voice she has. She certainly was a key member of the Sidewalk Cafe Gospel Choir when we all sang "Tower Records is Gone" together.

Corby, sang a song called Warm Smile, played on piano. Brook Pridemore did a new song and kept saying that the bridge of it was terrible. I think he even dropped the lyrics (intentionally) when he got to that point. Brer played trumpet with him on a song.

Chris Brodeur/Touching You, provided what was probably the highlight in extremity last night. He called a volunteer up to the stage--Julie Hill I believe was the lucky participant--and serenaded her with the song that went something like "If your vagina was burning afire, I would still love you...." I really can't do justice to Chris's out there performance, but eventually Julie ran off stage after Touching You did a little too much touching. His second song was his classic Subjugate Your Tits. Chris came out into the audience for that one where he worked on building up a bit of hysteria. I noticed that Chris had the words Crush and Smash tatooed on his respective arms.

Mike Hatchet played two songs, including a bluesy number "Sunday in Savannah." Jen Abounader did the Calliope Waltz "nothing much to see, just me and my calliope." Holy Ghost Tent Revival was back with a song about a broken heart and one called "Love Emergency."

Isaac Gillespie played a couple songs, including one with Jordan Levinson and Alex P. A guy named Duck played at the piano. His first song was filled with sea metaphors "eyes like the sea," "I'm alone on a ship I don't own," "I'm here on the shore," and his second song was something like "Equanamous Fucks." Not sure if it was my hearing or the sound in the room or just the song, but I was losing the words on that one. It probably had something to do with the impossibly high falsetto in which he sang and then the key change that pushed him up into an even higher falsetto range.

Jordan did a new song with Isaac and Alex P, all about how she's going to become a rock star and change the world. 

I came back after a bit of schmoozing to catch Brer Brian sitting in with Joff Wilson, who said he decided he can play songs other than "When the War is Over," now that it seems as if we might be making some progress to bringing the troops home from Iraq. Hudson Kay, a gal from Tennessee played a song with some bluesy touches on piano. 

Dinosaur Feathers, a trio, performed Teenage Whore. Jon Telethon played I am Not the Expert, which, in a switch up, he did on piano rather than guitar.

Susan Hwang did another in what it seems will be a series of songs about Zombies. Eli did a clever song that was called something like "My bass player's a 17 year old prep school jerk."

I decided at the last minute to ask Brer Brian if he would sit in with me on "New York City Funk." Although he'd never heard the tune, I kind of vaguely went over it with him. This is the kind of spur of the moment performance I never would have considered doing a few years ago, but, thankfully I've gotten to the point where I can enjoy the spontaneity that can come from hanging out in the Sidewalk arena, and it was a lot of fun to do that song with Brer. I started off the set, though, with "Chopping Wood," which I also had fun playing.

I didn't hang out too much after playing my set, I'm sorry to say. I did catch Nick from Brief View of the Hudson, who said that Brian Speaker convinced him to write a positive song, and performed "It's a Brand New Day."


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Benefit for Threads that Teach, November 15, 2008

I think it's cool that Ben has decided to turn some Sidewalk nights into benefits for local organizations. It is very easy to be righteous about the importance of helping other people or creating change, but it is hard to actually do something about it. I was glad to have had the opportunity to help this group a little bit last night.

Emily Hope Price
I arrived at the end of Emily Hope Price's set. She uses one of those digital loop machines that let you record a little phrase of music and then instantly turn it into a loop. The loop becomes like an accompaniment to whatever you want to play on top of it. I've always been skeptical about the idea of using recorded music as a backing to live performance, but these machines do allow for some interesting possibilities, and it's a little different than using a straight backing track. I think, for example, it would be cool to build up layers and layers of percussion. So, getting back to Emily, she plays the cello and was able to loop a phrase that became like a bass line to her song. She also played a song on the accordion, which she said was the first time she'd played the accordion in a show. I'm sorry that I didn't get to hear more of Emily and that I was sort of settling in during what I did hear. She has a nice sound and has an interesting approach to the cello. More at a later time.

Jason Trachtenburg
Jason Trachtenburg came on stage with a scarf wrapped around his head, kind of like those bandages you see in old pictures after people left the dentist's office. Jason is very funny and usually spends a lot of time on stage setting up and joking around, which is really part of his act. Last night he said he was going to read some poems, which turned out to be a couple comedic bits, including one about trying to find his chapstick. The shows I've seen of Jason's lately have all featured this song "Everybody Loves the Clown." It's kind of a take off on "Make Them Laugh" from "Singing in the Rain." He'll usually perform it in English and then in some kind of awkwardly rendered translation in another language. After having heard this numerous times now I must say the whole thing is a bit surreal, which come to think of it, maybe is part of the point. Jason also played "All for the Sake of Art," and the ultra-catchy "I Don't Want to Tempt Time," plus a song he wrote with Julie LaMendola called "Giving Kisses." I like the idea of "giving kisses like it ain't nothing."

The Fools
I truly love The Fools, both as a group and as individuals. I must admit that when they first started hanging out at Sidewalk two or three years ago, my expectations of how they would sound, based on seeing them around, were totally off base. I think I expected some sort of raging punk act, but found instead a repertoire of delicate, beautiful, heartfelt songs. One of them, "Even Fools Know," which they played last night perfectly captures how I feel about many aspects of life today. There's a great line "you can't grow a tree by screaming at seeds." Their songs are short, but they say a lot. I also have always loved that they play a song in appreciation of mothers (and fathers too), another that they did last night. There is something very lovely about Jen's voice. It's a little husky and has a hint of a twang to it, but suits her songs just right. I think that Uchenna's bass lines mostly come from instinct and messing around, but whatever the case, what she's doing is very musical and melds really well with Jen's singing and playing. Last night The Fools tried a couple new songs, which they aborted mid-stream. I think the same thing happened when they launched into them the other night at the Open Mic. Looking forward to hearing those songs in their entirety soon. One of my earliest photo sessions was with The Fools, and I have always loved the pictures that came out of it. Plus we had a lot of fun that day. The one of them nested in the yin and yang pose is still a favorite of mine, but I also like the one of them with their dog. You can see them here: Foolish Photos.

The Venn Diagrams
I have enjoyed The Venn Diagrams on many levels when I've seen them previously. They perform a number of cover tunes, many of which are drawn from the musical theatre or related areas. The group usually comprises a duo, but last night it was just Jeffrey, who mostly accompanied himself on ukelele. Jeffrey is a very talented guy with a beautiful voice that can soar when he wants it to.  He played one of my favorite songs last night, "That Man That Got Away," a Harold Arlen/Ira Gershwin song from the movie "A Star is Born." He also played some songs on piano, including one or two originals. A related story: when my twelve year old nephew visited me about a year ago, I took him straight to Sidewalk (literally it was our first stop from the airport). I'd been talking to him about the place a lot and he is into performing himself so wanted to see it. We came in during the middle of a Venn Diagrams set in which Jeffrey was wearing something like a man's shirt and tie, and a dress and women's high heels. My nephew took it very much in stride, I must say. Also playing that night was Dan Fishback among other acts. The next day, while touring around New York, we went to the Tenement Museum, and as we walked into the gift shop, the first person we saw was Jeffrey, who works there at the ticket counter. And (drum roll) that night we went to see Avenue Q and Dan Fishback was sitting two rows behind us with his parents.

Elastic No No Band
Next up last night Elastic No No Band, that is. I thought the set went pretty well. There was a lot of good energy and things held together decently. I thought my piano playing came together ok, even with Preston Spurlock's arm pit in my face for much of the show. One thing about Elastic No No that's been good for me is having the opportunity to learn how to be part of a rock band. I never was in bands when I was younger or had much instruction in this style of playing so I have to figure things out as I go. Part of it is just having the confidence to go for something without really knowing if it's "right" per se. We did a lot of the usual ENB tunes although Justin added a cover of Warren Zevon's Excitable Boy, which was a lot of fun to play. I have to give a lot of credit to our drummer Doug Johnson for helping to raise the energy. So far I don't think Justin has been reading these posts, but there's one thing I do have to discuss with him, which has to do with his song Manboobs. Somehow the guy has written like four or five verses on the subject. I do appreciate the depth of his interest in the topic, but that is just a little too much manboob for my taste. Justin I think it's time to cut one of those verses.

Holy Ghost Tent Revival
We were followed by The Holy Ghost Tent Revival, a group on tour from North Carolina. They featured a guitarist who played acoustic, a guy on banjo who seemed to take the lead on most of the vocals, a trombonist, a bass player and a drummer. There was a bit of a retro feel to their look and their music but not as much as you'd expect from their name. They played rock with a kind of frenetic energy that had people up and dancing at one point. But even with all the energy I had a bit of a hard time connecting to the heart of their songs (although that may take some further listening). The house at Sidewalk was pretty full last night and I get the sense that much of the audience was made up of their fans.

The Telethons
I am a big fan of  The Telethons. They have some superior songs, plus I am always impressed how well they work as a duo. Having played with John Telethon a bit I know that he has some of the most robust musical skills of anyone on the scene, and Mark is a solid and creative drummer. Of the songs they played last night, I really like "Chord Chord (or whatever that one is really called), "Never Satisfied," and the part of "I am not the Expert" where he's going over and over "it's getting to the point, where I can't tolerate myself." I'll have to write about The Telethons in a bit more depth some time, because I think there is a lot that's interesting about what they do, particularly their reflection (conscious or not) of a kind of nerd rock, punk, new wave thing. I must say that John knows how to build tension by letting his glasses slip perilously close to the end of his nose before pushing them back up. After several rounds of this last night he finally flung them off and they stayed on the stage where the next level of tension came from whether he would step on them or not (he eventually picked them up before any irreversible crunching occurred).

Jeffrey Lewis
It was nice to see Jeffrey Lewis as the "special guest" who closed last night's show. Jeff played some newer songs and also performed three of his large comic book movie things. He said that from the songs he'd planned on playing that people were going to think he was more depressed than he really was. One of them was about eating alone in a restaurant and another about what happens after you die. His comic movies were his biography of Barack Obama, a film noir detective movie, and a very interesting history of Korea. I was impressed with the detail in that last one, and I also learned a lot from it. It only goes up to 1949 although Jeff indicated he still wanted to develop it further. Of the handful of folks who started at Sidewalk and ultimately developed successful careers in music Jeff is the only one who still comes back to play and hang out regularly. I wasn't around during the heyday of Jeff's time at Sidewalk so I've been absorbing his stuff more recently, but it's easy to see how he's developed a following. I've also been enjoying the pieces on songwriting that he's been writing for the New York Times blog Measure for Measure.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Thefts at Sidewalk

I wish I could remember at which show it was....but not too long ago at a night when everyone was dancing at Sidewalk and the room was filled with people I knew, I got careless and left my bag sitting unattended on a chair. I came back at some point and found it on the floor a few feet away, which I thought was weird, but picked it up and didn't think too much of it, until I was halfway to the subway and realized I didn't have my cell phone. 

The back room at Sidewalk is, unfortunately, a target for thieves. There was a recent thread over at the Olive Juice Board in which several folks mentioned they'd had items stolen, ranging from a wallet to a camera, to a guitar. When you think about it, considering the room is pretty open to anyone, yet folks leave their stuff all around, it's not that surprising that thefts take place there. Unless you come across someone going through your own bag, you really have know way of knowing if someone is handling their own stuff or someone elses.

It sucks that we have to be on guard in a place where we should be able to feel at home. It's a real pain, but I have been carrying my bag around with me everywhere, even when I go out front to hang out. I wish there was something that Sidewalk could do to make the place a little more secure, but definitely we in the community should make sure to let other folks know to be careful.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Monday Open Mic, November 10, 2008

Last night was the first time I stayed until the end of the Open Mic in a long time, and the first time since I started writing this blog. Lach and then Ben have always promised that those who make it to the end sit around and have tea and talk about what happened during the night (Lach used to say that the they would "dis" everyone who played while Ben has a more diplomatic way of putting it). However, for whatever reasons, the tea drinking sessions have never happened on the few nights that I've stuck it out. Debe Dalton now says that it's the sheer fact that I'm there that sabotages the whole thing. 

It was a full house last night. When I arrived, a little later than usual, the line was halfway out the door. However, it was maybe a less electrifying evening than some I've had at Sidewalk. Looking back there wasn't a new voice that really stood out.

Things kicked off with the Beards, an interesting mellow act with two guys who evidently share one guitar. Domino played a song called "Eating in the Rain," which has the classic line "probably he got wet-I know he did." I can't say enough how much I enjoy Domino's stuff. She's definitely different than the average Sidewalk performer, but it's amazing to witness a soul reveal itself through song. I did several long interviews with Domino for an article that was to run in Urban Folk before it folded and I owe it to her to get that written and published somewhere. It will happen.

Debbie Miller returned to Sidewalk after a long absence. She played a slow sad song--a nice gentle tune--and then a song at the piano...something about a "staring problem" which I thought was kind of interesting. I've missed seeing Debbie and it was nice to have her back.

A comic named Chris performed. Unfortunately I didn't get his last name, but he seems to have started getting to know folks on the scene from what I noticed later. He kind of went on a rampage about religion (particularly Mormonism), gay marriage, etc. There were parts of his act that were genuinely funny and had me laughing out loud. I mention this because it's rare at Sidewalk. Standup is hard as hell anyway and usually the comics at Sidewalk are just starting out and getting their stuff together. But this guy Chris has some potential. I one time tried a five-minute standup slot at a comedy open mic in Florida and it was an utter disaster. Not one laugh. I have a video of it which I have not been able to watch in the 20 years since.

Eli Maniscalco played Professor and Waldorf Salad (upon request). The Fools did the one that starts "you've gone...too far," and another that I think was called "Lost and Found." Alex P. played a slow country rock song as I remember it and a new song.

I'm looking back at the notes I took from last night and I'm realizing that it's really hard to document every act I saw because sometimes what I wrote down is rather cryptic. I'll still try to touch on as many acts as possible, but I guess this is just to say that detailed descriptions of any act will most likely only emerge after I've gotten to see them at least a few times. 

So, the next act was a group called Candy Apples, which featured (at least) a cello player, acoustic guitar, and snare drummer. Steve, the drummer, has his snare attached by a strap around his waist and plays standing up. In addition to playing his own stuff he's been accompanying numerous acts over the last few weeks.

Dave Deporis is a name I've heard a lot in connection to the Sidewalk scene, but I don't think I've ever heard him play or maybe just didn't know it, if I have. Anyway, he did some very impressive high-pitched crooning. Really nice vocal work. I look forward to hearing him again.

Mike Baglivi performed Mary Rose, a song which I am fairly sure is about his lovely mom, and he also played Life Within a Frame.

Jason Trachtenburg played All for the Sake of Art and his biggest charting single (as he explains it) Mountain Trip to Japan. I remember Mountain Trip from a performance by Jason at Joe's Pub sometime before I started coming to Sidewalk. I'd read about the Slideshow Players in various publications and decided to check them out at some sort of free gig at Joe's. Unfortunately Rachel was not playing that day (she was in Seattle "on business" Jason explained-she being about 9 years old at the time) but I really enjoyed seeing that song with the whole slide presentation. 

Toby Goodshank sang a song that mentioned explicit acts performed with Senators Obama and Biden. Kenny Cambre played. It was nice to see him back too at Sidewalk. Don Cameron performed Jaded Twilight. Susan Hwang did a song about zombies and explained that she's been doing a lot of research about them by watching a lot of zombie movies. She said that the song is based on the character Mr. Cooper from Night of the Living Dead. Susan is really a fabulous songwriter and her songs are always surprising and idiosynchratic. Some of her songs have moments that I find astounding, really, in how she expresses basic anxiety in a way that is very personal yet also universal.

Amos started off with a brief imitation of Brian Speaker (where was Brian last night?). Then he sang a song by Aaron Wilkinson. I didn't know Aaron but have come to learn he was an active member of the community who died in 2003. Aaron had a circle of close friends at Sidewalk who often remember and pay tribute to him. Amos played a song called Haystack. Amos is a fabulous singer...a great voice and a great interpreter, and he did a lovely rendition of the tune.

So, finally I was there to hear Monica from Norway again. It's very difficult to explain what this woman does. You almost can't even say that she's playing songs. It sort of seems as if she's making up her performance on the spot, but sort of not. She starts singing and the song goes in all these winding directions. She started singing about apples and polar bears again last night. She was chanting "apples and polar bears, polar bears and apples" and then asked "get it?" Which I thought was hilarious because no, I don't think anyone really got it. 

I missed the name of the guy from North Carolina who sang a blues tune called Mustang. He really looked like a blues dude though with a perfect blues hat. Josh Fox sang with his friend (Emily? Ellen?) They did some nice harmonizing. 

Ok, I did a bit of wandering and schmoozing. Made it back in to hear Seth from Dufus. He gave a powerful and skilled performance. I can't exactly tell you what the song was was filled with words and had some fast moving almost rap-like sections. But it was a standout nonetheless. The refrain of the song was something like "Can't stop the train from running." I've heard a lot about Dufus over the years and have heard some of their recordings, which I've really liked. Will have to check them out a bit more seriously.

Nathania (?) from Holland sang a couple songs, including one in Dutch about a princess. Sam Barron played "Forget about Me" and "Blind as a Bat." Rebecca from L. A. played The Daughter of Thebes (Thieves?). Jordan Levinson played with Isaac Gillespie and Steve the drum guy, and then did a solo tune about "the artist and the modern man."

Brook Pridemore played a tune at the piano...about a black spot on the pavement. Debe Dalton did "Wait and See," which was beautiful as usual....I was unfortunately interrupted by a mix-up in the Sidewalk Cafe billing department and couldn't really catch Debe's next song.

Emily Moment sang a song about her feelings about what she wants from the guy she's singing to in the song....I'm not really doing it justice here but it was a lovely song about a relationship. 

Well, unfortunately I don't have much detail on performances that came next by Isaac G., and Mikhail. Waylon Daniel played a rousing number that had a line about being "kicked in the head by the lord." Will sang something about the devil fucking the giraffe...I know that's way off, but there was something about a giraffe for sure. I hadn't seen Joff Wilson play in a while but he was back and did his big hit "When the War is Over." It really is a very catchy and rousing tune 

I must admit that by 2 a.m. I was less focused on my reporting than I wish. Liv Carrow, Steven Stivola, Bad Town Redemption (?) and Constantine all played, as did Gene, who was cheered on by his son, and played an instrumental tune on acoustic guitar. Joe Crow Ryan sang (I think) Autumn Leaves--played on a banjo that he said was tuned like a ukelele and Scott closed things down with a tune played on a banjo, which he said that he made. Scott remarked about how he'd thought that he would be so unique by playing banjo and then both time he's played at Sidewalk he followed someone else who also was playing the same instrument.

Ben Krieger did a set to finish the night off. He explained that after writing for 10 years he finally created his opera about a jellyfish, a work that he felt was the first that reflected his true self. But he had all these other songs he'd written previously that his family liked even though he didn't identify with them so much. So Ben dug into some of that early repertoire. Although he kind of downplayed these early songs, I thought some of them were really nice....particularly the first one he played, the name of which I can't remember. He also did a tune at the piano, "Little Moon Bug," I think, and then delved into some of his "Stingra" material before winding up with what he said was the first song he ever wrote, one about an old girlfriend.

It was close to 4 by the time things ended, and as I said before, yet again I was cheated out of tea and the associated talking down of the night. Oh well, there's always next Veteran's Day.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Saturday, November 8, 2008, Sidewalk Cafe

Last night's bill was organized by Sean Maguire, who was celebrating his birthday. Sean is the brother of Thomas Patrick Maguire, who has been an active member of the Sidewalk world for quite a while.

When I arrived a little after 8, Paul Alexander was playing, backed up by an electric bass player, and a pianist who also played sax on several songs. Paul's sound ranged from a kind of California rock feel into some jazz territory and a funky jam band style. On some of the rock tunes I thought it would have been great for the group to have a drummer and in my head I kept filling in a snare hit on 2 and 4. There was some nice musicianship displayed. The bass player took an interesting long solo on one of the tunes where he kept a droning bass part going while also playing some higher guitar-like chords at the same time.

Justin did a solo Elastic No-No show. It was interesting for me to hear the tunes from the audience, since I'm often playing with him on piano. A lot of Justin's songs are influenced by country, rock-a-billy, early rock and roll, and the type of later rock, by artists like Elvis Costello, that is also heavily shaped by the same influences. He played his song "Exception to the Rule" which he introduced as a country waltz, which indeed it is (And by the way, at least three of last night's performers did country or country-inspired tunes). He also did an a cappella version of an Elvis Costello song "Battered Old Bird." Justin is a prolific writer and there were a few songs I'd never heard before, plus many of the ENB standards.

It's interesting to me to see that many of the performers who originally launched the Antifolk scene are still writing and playing. At the Antifolk First Class show that I wrote about previously, one noticeable absence was Kirk Kelly, who was part of the group who with Lach and Cindy Lee Berryhill first got the whole Antifolk thing going. It was a bit of a surprise to me that Kirk was on the bill last night, but nice to hear him nonetheless. Even though Antifolk developed in counter-opposition to the mainstream folk thread of the mid-1980s, people like Kirk, Brenda Kahn, and even, occasionally, Lach, to me sound much in the same vein as performers like Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and others who were classified as "folk" in an earlier era. A good number of Kirk's songs were political/cause-related songs like one about a picket line that asked "which side are you on" or another he sang about Eugene Debs, Phil Ochs, and Joe Hill, asking "who will be the heroes of today." He also did what he called an Antifolk version of "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night."

I have a feeling that although looking at it now these performers remind me of folksingers from an earlier time, in the context of the 1980s their more raucous rock-influenced style must have seemed harsh against what people were then calling "folk." If people were comparing Kirk, Lach and friends to the James Taylor, Carly Simon, Nicolette Larson, Linda Ronstadt, style of stuff, than yes, they would have stood out against that. At some point I hope to have a chance to have a conversation with Kirk, Lach, Roger Manning and others to ask them more specifically about what was going on at that time and how things developed. One interesting point is that they all identify with the "Antifolk" label. Although I can see how a group of like-minded people might come together to create a mutual support system for writing and performing, I wonder how they all agreed to classify themselves under this new heading. 

Joe Crow Ryan started off with One Note Samba, then did I'll Go to Kentucky (his country tune of the night), something called Pink Poison, and his guttural version of Tomorrow. He also did one of his pieces where he sits at the piano playing avant-gardish chords and runs and talking or relating some sort of story. Last night he spoke about an angry guy who confronted him while busking in the subway station. Then Joe called up JJ Hayes and the two of them engaged in a wacked out dialogue of sorts while Joe continued playing the piano. Joe is one of the Sidewalk performers who, digs into an earlier era of songwriting, often covering tunes by Kurt Weill, and the early Broadway greats (he said he'd be doing Cole Porter's "Night and Day" the other night, but I don't believe he got to it). Joe was wearing a shirt and tie and a Pashmina shawl with shorts (and brown socks).

I haven't seen much of Thomas Patrick Maguire at Sidewalk lately, although he was one of the folks I got to know in my earliest days there. Many of his songs are based on riffs or cycles of chords, including the one he started off with, Corporation Town. He also played Female Kamikaze Red Zone, "Christian Love," and "Cannot Escape." He plays in a low-key, almost melancholy style. I'll have to admit that by this point (after midnight) I was fading into tiredness. I will have to check out Thomas's MySpace page and refamiliarize myself with his work, something I think I'll do right now.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Cool Link

Jon Berger mentioned this link to performances from the Open Stage at the Raven, which was run by Joie DBG. Check it out. There are tons of mp3s from folks who have been and many who still are active in our scene.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Night, Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I was really glad to spend election night at Sidewalk Cafe. Much of the night's schedule of performances was organized in conjunction with Boog City and the evening featured a poetry reading component as well as a set from Phoebe Kreutz, a performance of the songs from R.E.M's album Green, and a performance by Peter Dizozza. 

More about that in a minute, but first, the election. Sidewalk was projecting CNN's election coverage on a screen in the back room, so most of the audience was following the results, while the performers played. Some of the performers were interested in the results too and asked for updates as they appeared. The screen was hung in the back of the room above the rail of the stairs that lead down to the basement.

By the time the election was called for Obama, most everyone had gathered out by the bar, watching at the TV over the front glass window. As soon as the polls closed on the west coast, CNN announced that Obama had won, and there was lots of yelling, hugging and jumping around in exultation. Some of the folks I remember who were there were: Andrew Hoepfner, Casey Holford, Neil Kelly, Phoebe, Daoud, Liv Carrow, Jon Berger, Pablo Das, Deenah, Angela, Dan Fishback, Peter Dizozza, Ben Krieger. We moved back and forth from  watching the news reports to the street where the joyful whooping and yelling continued and strangers were exchanging high fives. We all went inside to hear John McCain's concession speech, and, of course Obama's victory speech. 

Someone there said something to me like "this is as good as it's going to get for a long time." And that's absolutely right. While Obama imight be more conservative on issues here and there than some of us would like, it's hard to imagine getting a better, more talented, more committed, more sympathetic Democrat anytime soon.

Anyway, I was very inspired by Obama's speech and feel he has the potential to be a great President. I will probably write a bit more about this when I have some more time, but wanted to get some initial thoughts up.

From Sidewalk I walked over to Union Square where thousands of people were out to cheer, bang pots, climb on lamp poles, and commune with one another. I saw the comedian Fred Armisen there, which was cool, but mostly I was enjoying the hordes of others who all came together in a happy moment to celebrate our new President. It was a good feeling.

The Show at Sidewalk on Tuesday
The show was kind of an unusual mix. As I mentioned, much of it was coordinated by Boog City, and the evening started off with readings of poetry. Elliot Katz and Nathaniel Siegal kicked things off by each reading political material that reminded me very much of angry protests I was involved with myself during the 1980s and early 1990s. Nathaniel Siegal in particular went back in time, talking about how Ronald Reagan avoided any mention of AIDS for 7 years after the disease was identified. Reagan's behavior was indeed outrageous. There was so much blatant prejudice in that time against a group that was deeply suffering, and Reagan's inaction very well may have cost lives. I understand the anger over what happened back then, but the flashback to that period, although interesting was a bit out of left field, especially considering how much of the behavior of our current leaders should provoke an equal amount of outrage. 

Phoebe Kreutz was the first musical act of the evening. I've really gotten to like Phoebe's song about the Carnival Man. It's not funny like most of her other material, but it has very strong imagery and is still catchy musically. I also like the sweet-hearted song I've heard her play a couple of times recently about her walk home with a guy she likes. Throughout her set Phoebe kept asking for the election results, and at one point turned her song "All Summer Long" into an Obama tribute by asking the audience to insert Obama's name in the song and sing along. Phoebe also played with a friend of hers from the BMI Musical Theatre program who accompanied for a couple songs on violin. I'm intrigued to know Phoebe's part of that BMI program as it's something that I've always wanted to find out more about.

After a couple more poets, the evening turned to R. E. M's album Green. This part of the night was organized by Casey Holford. I can't say that I am greatly familiar with that record, but , the run down (I'm pretty sure) was as follows. 

Pop Song 89, Dan Fishback
Get Up, Ben Krieger
You Are the Everything, Ben Krieger
Stand, Peter Dizozza
World Leader Pretend, Phoebe
The Wrong Child, Phoebe
Orange Crush, Liv Carrow
Turn You Inside Out, Liv
Hairshirt, Casey
I Remember California, Casey
Untitled, Casey

Peter Dizozza's set coincided with the announcement of Obama's win, so I'm sorry to say that I was involved watching the returns while he was playing.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

This coming Monday, November 3

I will not be able to attend the Open Mic. If any correspondents wish to contribute, please let me know.

I ♥ Boo, Friday, October 31, 2008

Lots of folks were excited about the I ♥ Boo show (although every time I said "I ♥ Boo"  it made me think of kindergarten for some reason). I was very much looking forward to singing the song by Ching Chong Song that I chose. Lots of people seemed a little nervous too, about getting the songs right, whether or not to use lyric sheets, etc.  Not sure if I know the actual names of all the songs, but here's a rundown of the show:

Ben Krieger, The Bird, by Brian Speaker, dressed in a big black afro with a  gold medallion

Elisa Flynn, In the Graveyard, by Nina Nastasha (?), dressed in cat ears

Elastic No-No Band, a medley of several songs, including New York City Girls, Lesbian Prom Night, I've Been Listening to Some Bad Bad Music, Podcorn, and I Want to Live in the Hills, dressed as a green alien

Liv Carrow, a song by Barry Bliss, dressed as a bee

Ariel Bitran, Egg by Lach, dressed as three eras of Lach

Peter Dizozza, You're the One Who's Made for Me and I was Made for You, by the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players, dressed as Don Quixote (?)

Eli Manescalco, Heath Ledger Found Dead in Brooklyn by Dan Costello, dressed as Eli Manescalco

Herb Scher, Old Man by Ching Chong Song, dressed as Brian Speaker

Brian Speaker, I'll be Here All Night, by Brook Pridemore, dressed as Herb Scher

Domino, Come and Let Your Feelings Show, by Somer, dressed in a Halloween get-up with a pointy Halloween hat

Amos, You're a Legend in Your Own Mind by Ish Marquez, dressed as ??

Debe Dalton, Teenage Alcoholic by Lach, dressed as Debe Dalton

Vin, a musicalized poem by Bernard King, dressed as Vin

Eric Wolfson, a song by Elizabeth Devlin, dressed as Eric Wolfson

Torn Curtain, Cemetery Song by David Greenberg, dressed as Adam Green (?)

Becca Hasselbrook, Try Try Try Anyway by Andrew Duncan, Dressed as (can't remember-I think as herself)

Nick, Your Sweet Love is Gonna be the Best of Me (who was this by?), dressed as Nick

Stacy Rock, Death is the Charm of Your Love (?) by Dan Penta

Mike Baglivi, Bob Dylan's an Asshole, by Crabs on Banjo, dressed as Ben Krieger (Brian Speaker jumped on stage in impromptu fashion to contribute some of his original part to Mike's rendition).

Elizabeth Devlin

Isaac Gillespie, Bootsy Billade, by Ben Shepherd, dressed as Justin Timberwolf

Crabs on Banjo, You Look Good to Me by Frank Hoier

The night also included difficult horror-related trivia questions posed by Ben Krieger.

The I Boo show was followed by sets from The Everybody Knows (Dan Penta, Erin Regan, Vin Cacchione, et al), Jason Trachtenburg, and Stacy Rock.