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.


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