Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Open Mic, Monday, October 27, 2008

There were a couple of things that stood out about last night's Open Mic. First, there were two songs about werewolves. One was a werewolf rap tune by Aaron Jones (with a jazzy interlude on a flute-like thing) and the other was by Isto and featured a good deal of real foaming at the mouth.

The other thing I noticed is that the night was filled with all kinds of spur-of-the-moment groups and configurations. It seemed as if just about every other performance featured a band of recently-recruited members who emerged from the basement with guitars, maracas, tambourines and whatever in hand.

Also, it was good to see a solid core of the Brooklyn Tea Party folks in tow. Dan C., Brook, and Michael David Campbell were there, plus Elizabeth Devlin, and Annie Crane and Eric Wolfson. It was also nice to see Emily Moment, who hadn't been around in a while, and Somer, and Frank Hoier.

Ben K. kicked things off with a song about sleeping caterpillars and monkeys (and babies). Aaron Jones has blonde dreadlocks and often plays with bells around his ankle. He sang a song that went "I was made to love you with my hand, you were made to love me with your hands," and then he did the werewolf rap tune, using a beat box that had all the music programmed in. Josh Fox did a couple cool tunes, including one called Stone Cold, that had a nice riff to it.

Stacy Rock played one of the only songs I've ever heard at Sidewalk based on a Eugene O'Neill play (Long Day's Journey Into Night) and Caspar Kay from Denmark played a kind of low key song called...I think..."Take a Step." Liv Carrow did one about red lentils and another that I'm pretty sure was about road kill.

Dibs. Dibs is a really cool songwriter and his songs grow on you the more you listen. They're kind of off-kilter, a little herky-jerky, but inevitably perceptive. He did one last night that I've always liked about money. It has a line in it to the effect of "it's what I use to buy my [something, something,] and toys, and it's causing me more stresses than it is joys." Sorry for the inaccurate transcription but it's a good point. He also did this song "I'm Getting So Old." Everyone thinks that they are, don't they, even when you're in your twenties?

Calli (Kali?) Did a long poem. Melissa Lusk sang a song I've heard her do before called Mack Truck. It has a nice rhythm and melody and is very catchy. She also got me and just about every other guy in the place all hot and bothered with her song "The Gift." Ask someone who was there. I've checked out some of Melissa's stuff on Myspace. There's some really good piano playing there. She definitely reflects a real jazz influence, which is pretty rare at Sidewalk (a bit surprisingly so to me).

I no longer can keep track of Dan Costello's beard status. I could have sworn that he was clean shaven about a week ago, but he appeared last night in full beard, with hat, and Richard Manuel shirt and played Tape Recorder. He started off by himself but then Brook Pridemore ambled up on stage to play along on the piano and Mike Baglivi got up and sat on a stool and displayed his own tape recorder, providing a visual illustration to the performance.

Chris and Isaac Gillespie did, "Love and War" and "Virginia" with Alex P and with Jordan Levinson. Jason Trachtenburg played...hmmm.. I think a song about how every day is somebody's birthday and then sang what he says is going to be his big hit, "I Don't Want to Tempt Time." Jason explained that since it's going to be a hit "I want to get used to playing it every night of the week for the rest of my life." I'll say one thing, it IS a damn catchy number.

Elizabeth Devlin's music seems as if it come from another era. I don't know why I say this, but it has a kind of renaissance era feel to it. One of her songs had the line "not knowing what you will do, I offer up my breast to you."

A. Fermata sang two songs on piano. Very talented dude that A. One of them was "He Takes it Out on Me."

I can't honestly say I remember too much about Stone White (my apologies Stone--too many groups and too much beer) but he played a song called "Hit the Fan."

Isaac Gillespie talked about how he came across a big black SUV and finally figured out that the celebrity it contained was ARETHA (somehow it seems appropriate to capitalize her name). In honor of her he sang 'Chain of Fools," accompanied by Alex P on guitar, Arial on banjo, Jordan Levinson, and, if I remember correctly , Isaac's brother Chris, and someone I didn't know on piano (Mike Hatchet maybe?).

Somer rocked it out. Sounded great. "Hey kid go, you're filling up the hole, all the little children love rock and roll."

Julie Hill played a sky blue ukelele..."Black and white cookie crumbling down my throat."

Maya--a first timer, played a big, shiny red electric...kind of reminded me of the guitar version of a '57 Chevy.

Isto is one of the more interesting guitar players on the scene. He played a long guitar intro to his werewolf song.

Waylon D played "I'm not gonna sleep anymore."

Speaking of not sleeping, I missed Eric Wolfson's performance, and possibly some others when I stepped out of the room for a bit.

Came back in to find Domino covering "Dock of the Bay." It was a very Dominoesque version. She also did one of her own tunes.

Joe Crow did an amazing rendition of "Tomorrow" from Annie. I am not probably alone among the Sidewalk folks in my underappreciation of that song, but Joe did an interpretation for the ages. Rather than perform the original lyrics he performed it with a sort of guttural scat singing. By the end everyone in the audience was gutturally singing along. He did sing some of the lyrics at the end, which was a nice way to wrap up his version. Speaking of covers, Joe then did an Elastic No No tune. He did an amazing job with Klaus Kinski, which is one of Justin's songs that seems to have captured people's interest.

Brook Pridemore played with Dan C and Michael David Campbell...a song about a "blue collar Indiana town"...I recall it stemmed from Brook's extended travels. Then he did King Kong (?) which got the house on its feet. Justin did Emotional Tourism and Nobody's Wife (as a duet with himself).

Going along with the theme of pulling together spur of the moment groups, I decided to do "Tower Records is Gone" with several members of the Sidewalk Cafe Gospel Choir who were in the house. Debe, Emily, Mike Baglivi, Isaac Gillespie, Joe Crow, and maybe one or two others came on stage and did an amazing job harmonizing. I must say that for a moment there the group kind of took the song in its own direction and it went a bit off the rails....all of a sudden I hear this thundering drum playing along and turned around to see Ben Krieger wacking the tom-tom. Then Mike Baglivi chimed in with a gospel chant of his own devising that he'd wanted to do the last time we did the song together. It was all in good fun, but I had to reel the song in a little bit. Anyway, it sounded great with the choir and people in the audience really seemed to like the song. I followed it up with "Do the Berger" and again, things got a bit crazy. Ben K, Joe Crow, and Isaac all helped out by coming on stage to "Do the Berger" and ended up in various stages of shirtlessness. It's frustrating in situations like this that as a piano player at Sidewalk you can't see what's happening on stage behind you while you're playing. You can only steal a quick glance or rely on what you hear happening. Even though things were on the edge of going out of control, I had a great time performing last night.

Debe sang "Dry" which she said she renamed to herself "Dry in D Minor" to help her remember how to play it. She also did one of her more beautiful songs, "Close the Door."

Back to the groups, Torn Curtain played with Arial, Jordan, Alex, Ben K on tom tom, another drummer I didn't know who had a snare, another guy, and Isaac.

Emily Moment sang a lovely song about hanging out on her neighbor's balcony. Nice to have Emily back on stage at Sidewalk.

Mike Baglivi did Debe Dalton's song Normal with backing vocals from Ariel East. Mike does a great job with this song. It's kind of amazing how he can take a Debe Dalton song and make it sound exactly like a Mike Baglivi song. Anyway, it works, and it sounded really nice with the arrangement that Mike and Ariel came up with. Ariel kind of stationed herself behind Mike and to the left (from the audience view) and it worked visually too, to have her as a background singer. On the other side of the stage Mike was able to do some of his Bagliviesque leg kicks.

Then Ariel, in her own slot, sang an a cappella song about Abilene, Texas.

Sometime around that point I headed home. It was a late one for me, so I grabbed a cab rather than do my usual bus to the train thing.

Very much a fun night. It was a bit wacky with all these groups assembling and rearranging themselves throughout the night, but that's part of the joy of Sidewalk, the chance to make music with friends. On nights like these it is the warmest and loveliest of places.


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. 

Urban Barnyard, 10-21-2008

As far as I'm concerned Urban Barnyard is pure rock goodness. They are one of the few groups on the scene that seems to be a true collaboration among all the members, rather than musicians supporting the songs of one artist. I've enjoyed the work of all the Urban Barnyard members individually, but the way they fit together as a group brings out a sound that to me seems more than the sum of its parts. I had a great time at their show Tuesday. It was what I would call a classic Urban Barnyard set, with most of the songs I really love, including Gay Penguins, Virile Cricket's a Sex Machine, About Wolves, etc. There's so much going on in their songs that it's a bit hard to break it down without seeming overly analytical. First off, they just play great rock and roll. A lot of the songs are based in specific early rock styles, but it's fun to see them twist those sounds around the concept of the group and their own songwriting ideas. In particular Virile Cricket is a great spin-off from James Brown's style (Phoebe does an inspired job with the vocals on that song.) Each of the members, though, is great at what they do...Dibs played a couple of really interesting, unusual guitar solos the other night and provides solid guitar work on all their songs, Casey's bass playing is perfect...he knows exactly when to be melodic or just rhythmic and he captures the style of rock playing that is perfect for each song. Daoud is a really good drummer and is an amazing singer, and of course Phoebe has this powerful rock and roll voice (which is suprisingly different from how she performs her own material). But the best of what they do seems to come out from the interacting and overlapping among the members. They have a great sense of vocal arranging and I love how they sometimes trade off lead vocals in the middle of a song and also how sometimes what you might consider the background vocals come forward and become the predominant part of the song. They did some nice harmonies the other night on Hot Dog, and there's this dramatic part in Seeing Eye Dog with a kind of this beautiful wailing going on that I seem to remember is mainly led by Daoud. Plus, the way they trade off instruments all the time confuses the normal idea of who holds what role in the band, making it more of a collective. And they're still rough around the edges enough that they don't seem overly slick. Ok, so I guess you get the point that I really like Urban Barnyard.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Open Mic, Monday, October 20, 2008

Ben K kicked things off with a "Crabs on Banjo" song. Brian Speaker took the lead vocals on "Lions, Bears, and Chickens." Interesting that after creating the songs by improvising them on stage, COB has to then learn the songs so they can perform them afterward.

Urban Barnyard played as a three-piece group--with Phoebe, Casey and Dibs. They did Gay Penguins and the song about the Parrot in Tokyo that knows it's address. The gay penguin song is about the catchiest thing there is. And when Phoebe comes in with her belting voice after Dibs has started the song with a softer, rhythmic feel, it's a great moment of rock power. 

Frank Hoier did Lovers and Dollars, and then a song he said was in the style of "Hound Dog Taylor." The song was the one that went "Have you seen my baby, dressed in black...." Gotta give it to Frank for knowing his blues men. "Hound Dog Taylor" is a new one for me and I'm into this stuff. 

Mike Hatchett played a couple songs at the piano. I was very impressed that he was able to solo on harmonica while keeping a fairly intricate pattern going in his left hand on the keyboard. I seem to remember he did this in both of his songs.

Jeff Lewis presented one of his large comics, an illustrated biography of Barack Obama, which he presented while singing a song he'd written about the Senator.  Jeff's a really good illustrator. I wonder how long it takes him to do those things. This one was pretty elaborate.

The Lisps played "Yes, Yes, Yes" which they asked us to sing along with, and then they did a song called Try. They said it was the first time they had done the song without the lyrics in front of them and Sammy kept looking at her hand where she said she's written some of the words. The Lisps are an interesting group. They seem to be heavily influenced by cabaret-style stuff--maybe Kurt Weill or that kind of thing. It's always interesting to me to hear bands, especially ones with relatively young members, who integrate influences from early eras of music.

Brian Speaker played "Another Chorus," and "The Collector." Debe Dalton did the one that goes "You Ask Me if I'm Mad at You, well mad is something I don't do." and "Big Bad Wolf." She also balled out a couple folks who were talking at the tables nearby.

I was doing a bit more wandering around than usual Monday. I guess I was in more of a social mood....so I just caught brief moments of Alex P and Casey. "Dots Will Echo" talked with Ben about the plateaus of child rasising--and then sang a song called "7 Deadly Sins."

After asking the audience whether they wanted to hear something fast or slow, The Telethons played a requested song, "Ace of Spades." Some day I'll write more about The Telethons, but there's such a mixture of interesting things going on in what they're doing. Kind of a combination of new wave, punk, traditional rock and roll. Plus, it's amazing what they accomplish as a duo.

TJ--juggled to some funky music that Ben put on. He juggled four balls and then rolled one off his head which he worked into a five-ball pattern. I can tell you that takes a lot of practice.

Torn Curtain played...I'm Your Guy. I came back in the room while Domino was playing "A top like this" I think it was about her "top" as in an item of clothing. Jordan Levinson did a bluesy tune..."Me and My Poppa Bear."

It had been several weeks since I'd performed anything at the Open Mic and I figured I'd better get up there so people would realize that the guy who hangs around in a suit actually plays. But it's been a while since I've written anything new, so instead I figured that as a lead up to the "I Heart Boo" show on October 31, at which folks will cover other songwriters on the scene, that I would play a cover. I didn't want to do the song I'm planning on performing at the actual show because a) I need to practice it more and b) I don't want to give it away ahead of time. In the meantime, somehow I came across a fan video made for the Moldy Peaches song "Jorge Regula." Honestly, I've never been all that into the Moldy Peaches, but after listening to the song for a while it somehow wiled its way into me. I think I was intrigued by how tied the song is to the whole Sidewalk world that I've become so involved in. It has references to AFNY and it's my understanding that it is based on a performer who still turns up to play at Sidewalk from time to time. Plus, despite its utter simplicity, with many listenings the song started taking on more meaning for me. Maybe the thing about the Moldy Peaches songs is that they are sort of frames to which people can bring their own feelings and concepts. So I worked on learning the song. In the meantime, I wanted to be able to perform it in the call and response style  in which the Peaches do it, but I cbut I was having a hard time rounding up anyone at the last minute to do it with me. So, I'm standing around out front Monday, waiting for my slot to come, and I start chatting with Dibs, and all of a sudden I find out that he was previously a Moldy Peaches addict and that they were the reason, basically, he started coming to Sidewalk. To make a long story longer, at the last minute I managed to draft Dibs to do the song with me. Dibs has played with me in my own group, The Key Lime Pie Revue, and I always enjoy talking to him and performing with him. It was really serendipity that he happened to be around and was a Moldy Peaches fanatic. The song went well, although I was a bit initimidated because it turned out that there were folks in the room who were around in the days of the Peaches. I sort of thought maybe it would just be newer folks there. Oh, anyway, it was a lot of fun. Jorge Regula, the piano guy, the a/v guy, the AFNY guy....it's a nice song for a guy like me to play. 

Yet again Monica from Norway was hanging out but I had to leave before she played.

I did see a few more acts here and there but like I say, I was in a more social mood than usual and ended up hanging out with some folks at the bar for a while before heading home. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Open Mic, Monday, October 13, 2008

Last night for a while I was sitting next to a couple from Australia who perform as The Late Night Sound and were in town for just a couple of weeks. Unfortunately I didn't get to stick around to hear them play, (but I'm listening to some songs on their Myspace page now and it's nice stuff--kind of an updated mid-sixties sound.) But the point is, after chatting with them about the Open Mic before the evening really started it kind of enabled me for a moment to look back at how it was to experience the Open Mic for the first time. While the quality was all over the place last night, there certainly was a lot of quirky energy and it brought back some of that excitement of sitting there watching person after person get up and put themselves out there with all the gusto and heart they had. 

On top of that, the night kicked off with this whole political vibe. Several of the first ten or so acts did songs that were political in nature. I guess because there is so much politics in the air now anyway, the cluster of topical material stood out, but it did seem like a bit of a theme to the evening. More on that later.

Ben K. kicked things off by describing his new post-natal attitude toward mice. He said that until recently he'd sworn off glue traps because they caused a lot of suffering. He and his wife used other less harsh methods. But now that he's a dad and mice have been spotted in the kitchen where his daughter's bottles are prepared, etc., he's all about the glue traps again. "Fuck the Mice" was Ben's battle cry for the evening.

Ben started things off with a Crabs on Banjo song that he and Brian Speaker performed together. They sang  "Post Office Pizza Party," which Brian chimed in on using the mic from the sound booth. I still haven't made it to a Crabs on Banjo set unfortunately, but the song was a lot of fun.

Starting things off with the regular list was "Old Hat," which consisted of Dibs, Dan Fishback,and  Preston, although some of the other members weren't there last night. They are playing tonight (Tuesday, 10/14) as part of Dibs's residency at Sidewalk. They started off with a piece that kind of reminded me of the song "There's a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea," which my dad used to sing us on long car trips. It seemed as if they started with a word (the first word was "Peter") and then evolved the song by going back to the beginning and adding on additional words each time. Maybe it was a group songwriting thing where each member picked up on what the previous one had done. After somehow winding it's way to the topic of fish tacos the song ended up as a parody of the Beach Boys tune Kocomo. Their second song was something about the Hunter's Moon and that ended up as a sing a long. 

Next up was Des Picard, visiting from Chicago, who started the whole run of political songs. He had a song about voting...only takes 15 minutes every four years,...and one about "every inch of my freedom." Not sure I appreciated the visual on that one. In any event, I was distracted by the big sticker with his web address that he had on the front of his guitar. 

He was followed by Sfu-ma-to (I think that's who it was), who also launched into some political material. Sfu-ma-to tried to squeeze in some extra songs beyond the two-song limit and Ben wavered on cutting him off as he played song three. 

Sam Grossman from the Wowz played a couple tunes solo in order to promote the trio's upcoming cd release party this Saturday. I'm so used to seeing the Wowz together with all their harmonies and accompaniment, that it was unusual seeing Sam performing their material on his own. I like the vibe of the Wowz a lot, though. Should be a good show on Saturday with Soft Black, Joe Crow Ryan, Turner Cody and others.

Steve White, a visiting British guy was next. Sang about the USA. I guess it was a view of America from the point of view of an English guy...."wanna play CBGBs before I die" and we (Americans) "drink Budweiser and they call it beer." There was a bit more to it than that. The song was not explicity political, but still in the topical vein that defined the evening to this point. His next song was about money.

Next up was John Murdoch, a comedian whose set I mostly missed while downstairs, but I did return in time to see the power go out on him. He continued with his material through the darkness and without amplification, which I appreciated. In general I wish that amplification was less of a factor at Sidewalk. Maybe it's necessary with all the noise from the bar and kitchen, but it would be nice to have an All Acoustic night or something.

Torn Curtain was next. I can't really say what it was that I liked about this guy's stuff, but it was powerful and poetic. I will have to hear him some more. He sang a song called something like "Politician's Eyes" but it really wasn't about topical politics. It had a broader concept to it but I'll admit that I need to hear the song again to fully absorb it. Same with the following song, which also had some lovely qualities to it called "Winter Light."

A duo called Fred and Matt performed next. Interesting in that they were very polished, very rehearsed. Nice harmonies. They reminded me a bit of Loggins and Messina. One of their songs featured an extensive mouth trumpet solo.

The Fools played and got off to a bit of a rough beginning with false starts on two songs. They ended up skipping those and choosing two other songs. I thought I was familiar with most of their material but I don't think I recognized the two they ended up playing. I truly love the Fools. Their material is so real and heartfelt and beautifully expressed.

Hanna Fairchild played the Columbus Day Blues.

I headed out to stretch my legs a bit at this point and so missed a few acts. I came back to hear Chloe, singing a song in a comic vein that seemed to have a lot to do with her attraction to a gay male friend, with a lot of creative descriptions of his preferred sexual activity.

Debe Dalton sang "Missed Opportunities." Beautiful as usual.

Annie Folk (not sure if I got that name right)--anyway it was a guy--could have been Eddie Folk--sang a song called "Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars." It was interesting. This was his first time at Sidewalk so he will undoubtedly grow smoother, but his song had some interesting ideas, including silently mouthing the refrain at the end.

Andrew Duncan pulled together a group of his pals....Isaac, Ariel, and Torn Curtain who backed him up. Arial really adds a lot on guitar in just about any situation. 

I didn't catch his name, but a blonde, dreadlocked accordion player did a song about how "love's a tricky thing," and the "birds and bunnies, flowers sing your name." There was something utterly charismatic about this guy even though he was a bit nervous and his song called to mind a scene from a Disney movie (even if it was mildly tongue in cheek). Ben offered him a show right away. 

Noni from Israel turned back to political/topical material with a song about the situation in the Middle East.

About political songs....I definitely understand the urge to deal with current events in song and to express outrage over the political climate. However, I somehow find that it can be more effective to wind political thought more subtly into songs that deal with a range of human experience. I guess what I'm trying to say is that directly political songs can seem either like preaching to the choir or lecturing. It seems as if a goal should be to explore political and cultural issues through views that delve more into human soulfullness. In other words, how does the climate of our culture and society affect our human relationships, our feelings about ourselves? Ideally dealing with these questions of humanity can reflect the nature of our political climate better than talking directly about what is on CNN.

As always I wished I could have stayed around a bit more. I saw that Monica from Norway who I liked a lot last week was signed up to play....but not till number 40! So, till next time.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sidewalk, October 7, 2008

I headed down to catch Jon Berger and Dibs and Sara. Somehow I misread Jon's flyer and got there a little late, but when I walked in, rather than performing in his usual spoken word style, Jon was in full-throated singing mode, belting out his material with accompaniment from his guitarist Sanjay. Jon was really going for it. He did a tune based on the melody of Back to the USSR, but called Back in the USA, which had a line in it something to the effect of "taking it like a Shabbos goy." He sang about "27 times turned down for a date," which was a funny and truthful kind of statement that I'm sure many of us could relate to and, among many others, he did, an interpretation of his classic poem, "Wendy's Getting Fat." 

I didn't realize that Dibs and Sara had once been a regular act, so their performance was a reunion. Dibs was one of the first people I ever heard play at Sidewalk when I came to check it out in 2004. I have a strong memory of him singing this song about wandering around town with a girl and ending up at Sidewalk and showing her the Antifolk world. Dibs was one of a number of people I heard that night who convinced me that Sidewalk was the right place for me to get started performing my stuff. 

Once I did start coming regularly I always enjoyed hearing The Bees, which was made up of Sara B and her friend (Larissa?). Sara played guitar, and I seem to recall did most of the singing, while Larissa stood next to her playing those fruit shaker things and piping in with some vocals from time to time. There was something very charming and funny about their act. I remember that Sara--particularly at the open mic-- would always tell these long stories about the kids she teaches and whatever else was going on. Lach was always trying to get her to start her song, but it seemed like a little routine they had, since the stories were kind of part of her whole act and as much fun as the music. Oh, also the Bees occasionally wore homemade Bee wings. But then they stopped playing and Sara, who had been a regular presence, stopped coming around.

So, it was good for me to have a chance to hear Dibs and Sara play together. filling in a bit of the chronology of things. The songs included the one I mentioned from the Open Mic the other night about Canada, and another about McDonald's, plus what I take was a song by Sara called "Cutie McHoney" which pointed out how the opposite sex can seize your consciousness. There was also a funny song about Mom's socks and a cover of "Stand."Oh and one about liking fruit, which included a sing-a-long.

In the audience: Lisa Bianco and Timothy Dark were there for some of Jon's set, plus Brook P, Bernard, Glovin, Yoko, Casey, Deenah, and Ben K on sound. 

There was quite a delegation of shaved heads in the room and Ben got a photo of Jon, Sanjay and Paul Tabatchnik posing together.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Monday Open Mic, October 6, 2008

So....last week I was writing that the community at Sidewalk is one that is constantly regenerating. This was prompted by noticing that the fellow performers who started at Sidewalk around the same time as I did were around much less frequently these days but that a new group was on the rise. Well, tonight I was surprised to find just about the exact opposite. The room was filled with folks who represented a much earlier generation of Sidewalk regulars. I was happy to see Nan Turner, and was chatting with her and Preston for a while where we were sitting down front by the sign-up table. I stayed there during sign-up and a stream of folks like Jason Trachtenberg, Jeff Lewis, Dibs, Betsy, and Frank Hoier signed up. Plus others were there to hang out like Neil Kelly, Abby T. and Phoebe (who eventually ended up playing). With other longtimers like Bernard King, Jon Berger, Jon XXXX (redacted by request) on hand it was weird, really, almost like a reunion of a certain segment of the Sidewalk crowd. I'd gotten to know several of these folks over the years but many of them represent a period before I'd started playing there regularly.

During his opening spiel Ben Krieger talked a bit about the birth of his new daughter--and the methods he and Kat are developing for getting the most sleep possible. He then kicked things off with his song about the King of the Ocean and with "Lightning Man." It seemed as if we moved through the list quickly, even during the two-song round. Sam Berry, Dave Bellicose, and Changing Colors were among the early performers.

Jon Berger explained that somehow for the first time his pants have been getting looser...rather than the opposite. After that observation he moved ahead with several of his poems that seemed to win over the audience. Jon mentioned his upcoming performance on Tuesday on the same bill with Dibs and Sara (Dibs is kicking off a weekly Tuesday residency this week). He finished up the set with his trademark walk through the audience while passing out flyers and reciting his last poem. A nice set from Jon.

Then Nan Turner played a couple songs--she started off with a rock tune on guitar and then played piano on a Schwervon tune. It had been a long while since I'd seen Frank Hoier play the Open Mic and it was nice to see him there. He did "Jesus Don't Give Tax Breaks to the Rich." which he explained he wrote during his period of "Dylanitus," and he also played a yodeling tune, which he said was inspired by Jimmy Rogers.

Well gosh darn, my notes are a bit sloppy here, so I'm going to miss a performer or two. I think it was John Cameron (?) who sang a couple energetic folk tunes including one about the middle class getting fucked in the ass. He was quite charismatic about the whole thing.

Betsy performed a song with Preston and then called a whole gang on stage, including Neil, Heiko, Phoebe, Jeff Lewis, Joanna Kelly, Nan, Abby and Frank to back her on her tune "If you want something done around here you got to do it yourself." It sounded like an old traditional folk-y kind of song but is one I undestand that she wrote.

Dibs played with Sara B. I hadn't seen Sara perform at Sidewalk in quite a while, and it was nice to see her back there as well. She and Dibs sang a song about Canada that was, as I remember it, a story of the history of Canada as a hockey game. Charming stuff.

Joanna Kelly played a song that she said she would never play again. Shhh. We weren't supposed to talk about it. Jason Trachtenberg was funny as usual. He did the English version of "Everybody Loves the Clown." He said that recently he'd performed it in German and was aiming to translate it into all the romance languaghes. He also did "I Don't Want to Tempt Time" which he indicated could be his big hit.

A group called "Beards" played, and they all had beards. They were a three piece group with vocals, guitar, and violin, and they played some nice gentle songs.

Becca (will get her last name next time) did a nice job on piano with a Sarah Palin inspired song that sounded something like an old parlor song. Nice piano playing, Becca.

Tess, who explained she was stranded in New York, did a number on the auto harp. Heiko played a song called "Dashan's Kitchen." It was kind of a "not love song" if there is such a thing. Or maybe an inverted love song is a better way to put it. In other words he said it was embarassing to sing love songs, so he kind of made up a love song to a plastic kitchen (I think I heard him correctly when he said that!).

Jeff Lewis presented one of his large-scale comic books. He explained that he'd always wanted to do a detective movie, and this was his version of one. He also mentioned that it wasn't finished yet as it was still just in black and white although he said that was in character with the film noir nature of the story. Anyway, his comic drawings are really good. Good concepts and excellent drawing skill, plus the story, brief as it was, had interesting twists off of the stereotypical 1940s detective movie.

I went out to schmooze a bit and came in just as M. Lamar was finishing up (sorry I missed you Reginald)

I did hear Preston do his song asking to be cryogenically frozen. Very much a Preston song, and very funny.

Brook Pridemore played the ukelele. I love when he does that. But I noticed he didn't even take off his backpack while performing.

Eli M. had sort of the sleeper hit of the night with his song "God's Mom," which was very funny. He got some unexpected vocal accompaniment from (it sounded like) Jeff and Phoebe who did some brief harmonizing.

Then Phoebe played a song about her style of convincing a boy to walk her home. Very sweet, Phoebe.

For us boys it's nice to hear what the gals are thinking about in regard to that kind of stuff. You can really get some insights by listening to what folks sing about, can't you? When I was growing up I would always somehow detach the message of a song from its performer. I almost felt like the songs I loved sprung out of the songwriting ether--not out of the personality, emotions, and experiences of the people who wrote them. But after getting to know people and then hearing what they sing, you often can see how the songs relate to some aspect of their lives (even if the songs aren't really literal). And from that you also gain a perspective on songs by other writers you don't know personally. Not that the songs have to be autobiographical or overly personal to be effective, but that's a different, more complicated topic for another time.

As I indicated in an early post and I'm sure will say again, one of the most alluring aspects of the Sidewalk scene is the sense of community it offers. It can be very comforting to walk into a room in which you have some sort of connection to many of the people. My own connections were a bit peripheral to some of the folks I mentioned who were there tonight but somehow I really like the fact that Sidewalk is a nexus for a group of interrelated people with all these overlapping points of friendship. There are constantly little mini-communities developing that then often merge into the larger group as people from different circles/eras start to meet. So I sometimes feel as if we're all part of some great lineage that starts at Sidewalk.

Again, I was sorry I had to leave when I did as there were still many folks left to play. But that's how it is, I suppose. Till next time.

By the way, where was Debe Dalton?