Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Festival So Far

I'm having a bit of a problem with covering the Fest because for the most part I've found myself enjoying the shows rather than keeping track of everything the way I might in order to write it up later. So, some of these entries might be pretty brief....but for the record...

Let's see..Tuesday. Hmm. I really was not keeping track of things at all. I caught Aaron Invisible's set. Nice songs, and a very good stage presence for a young dude. He brought folks up to play on Goodnight Irene. Isto. Lots of acoustic guitar pyrotechnics and some jazzy sounding voicings on occasion. He had a couple of collaborators including a women with whom he did a kind of gibberish vocal duet. He sang a song he'd written that day and also explained that he had sworn off of memorization. Dibs and Daoud collaborated as a drums and guitar duo called Wet Bandits/Sticky Bandits. (here's a link with a better description (Matt's blog).  I had to leave, unfortunately, before hearing the rest of the evening's bill which featured Brook Pridemore, The Everybody Knows (Dan Penta), and Clinical Trials (which I understand was a solo show by Somer).

I caught Domino's set on Tuesday. Among the songs she played were Fuck the Mice, Bathroom People, and Part of My Salary Comes from the Tip Jar. Touching You's set included The Olympics are Retarded (he made a convincing case, actually, about that point), Fucking is a Family Value, Love Can't Cure Cancer, and the song he seems to love playing so much If You're Vagina Was Burned In a Fire (which he sung to Domino). Touching played most of his set standing in the middle of the room, rather than the stage, which worked pretty well. He also had a goofy friend who got up and danced to a couple of Touching's songs (which he sings to pre-recorded tracks). Peter Dizozza played a set that he called "20th Century Sidewalk Traveler." The songs had to do with the trajectory of a life from the Lower East Side to the cemetary (with stops at Cape Cod and an enchanted forest along the way. Nice songs from Peter.  Mike Hill on bass and Neil Kelly on drums. Rachel Trachtenburg performed some original songs and a couple of Pink Floyd covers. Her Mom, Tina, was on stage with her illustrating the songs with figures on a feltboard. The board was inside the lid of a weathered suitcase and Rachel explained that all the figures were homemade. I like the Trachtenburg's retro/vintage visual style. Rachel was wearing this 1960s-ish looking aqua sleeveless dress with a bright pink square pocket on the front (complemented by pink tights), and Tina had a vintage pink sweater and polka dot dress. With the battered suitcase, felt illustrations, and what looked like a pink ukelele that Rachel was playing, it made for an interesting visual picture. Rachel had songs about pigeons and about horse drawn carriages and also sang Pink Floyd's song Bike. Jason Trachtenburg was next and I enjoyed his set very much. I've heard many of the songs before, but he really was clicking Thursday. He was playing with a bassist, Alec Cumming, so maybe that added a bit more dimension. Some of Jason's songs are relentlessly catchy...I Don't Want to Tempt Time, All for the Sake of Art, Anybody Can Tell. I realized that there is a definite pop sensibility to what he's doing. Jason plays on the stereotypes of show business in his stage patter but like anyone who satirizes anything he seems to both identify with and want to keep some distance from his subject. He also played a song he wrote with Julie LaMendola and a line from it has been going through my head the last few kisses like it ain't nothing.. Dan Fishback started off with a new song "you make me rethink everything...the world looks better with you in it." He sang another new one in which he had this interesting way of articulating the word flex-i-ble. He was singing "I've gotten real flex-i-ble and now I'm on a bender." Dan finished up with Rue McClanahan Hands, a sweet song in which he catalogs the characteristics of someone (a love interest perhaps) through the qualities of various celebrities, like...Rue McClanahan. In some ways Creaky Boards played a pretty straightforward set. Andrew was pretty low key with his in between song patter and didn't move around as much as he has at times when I've seen him take over the stage movement/dance-wise. But the group has really worked hard at arranging their songs and particularly on developing rich vocal harmonies. Almost all of the songs had very specific harmony parts sung by all four band members. Andrew was playing bass, Darwin on electric guitar, Dan Costello on piano and keyboard, Michael David Campbell on drums. The songs they played included Guilty Heart, what seemed to me like a new version of their song Kiss You at Every Red Light, Secret Man, The Songs I Didn't Write, Now I'm in the City, with Brooklyn as a finale. I'm a big fan of Andrew's songwriting and enjoyed the set.

Last night (Friday that is) the bill was jammed with 8 acts, but a fine bill it was. The evening started with Bernard King's poetry reading extravaganza. Joe Crow was the m. c. and the readers included J. J. Hayes, Debe Dalton, Jenn Lindsay, Mike Baglivi, myself Frank Hoier, Dave Deporis, and several others. Bernard gave me a poem of his to read called "How Poems are Written in Train Stations." It was a cool piece about, well, about how poems are written in train stations and about channeling love through an absorption in what book someone is reading. Diane Cluck was the last reader and she die "The Wind Comes A-Howlin, with a minimalist musical accompaniment from Dan Costello on piano and Doug Principato playing stringed instrument that I can't identify. Something homemade, maybe. Anyway that was a cool moment at the end of Bernard's set. Dan Costello played a fine (mostly) solo set, starting off with a sing-a-long on the lines "if I was alright, I would tell myself it was all ok, but it's not ok, what would I write my songs about." I like sing a longs, but for me it works better if the refrain is about three words long. More than that my mushy memory cannot handle.....Dan played a song by John Houx and also had Brook Pridemore sing a piece, which Brook did in part standing atop a stool. Dan also warned us about checking your guitar when traveling by plane--not a good idea based on his recent experience, and he also took several minutes to describe a crazy dream. He finished up his set with the M & M song and Tape Recorder, which featured a big group of pals. Next up was Eric Wolfson, who played with Dan C on piano, Frank Hoier on electric guitar, Gan Matthews on bass, Brook on drums and Eric on acoustic. The band sounded great and they did an upbeat set featuring Buddy Hackett's Niece, I'll Cross the River, and North Counry girl among others, finishing up with Sleeping is a Sucker's Game. I have to admit that for part of Eric's set I was downstairs getting prepared for my own set (Herb Scher and the Key Lime Pie Revue, that is) I was very much looking forward to playing and happy about the way our rehearsals had gone, so I was feeling pretty comfortable about the show. Some of the songs finally reached the point I'd been trying to get them in terms of arrangement, style etc. over a long time. Without getting into a long treatise about it, the experience of playing at Sidewalk over time has enabled me to figure out how to be a much better band leader. Anyway, we started off with New York City Funk and the band kicked off a vamp which went on for a bit while Nick introduced the group and I came on and introduced the band. We then launched into the song and it felt great. The band had exactly the right sense of the rhythmic feel and I thought that we did a good job of conveying the funky vibe. Ariel did a great guitar solo...just the tone I've wanted in that spot all along. We also played Gwen Stefani, Have You Met Miss Jones, Tower Records is Gone, Fishes, and Do the Berger. Have You Met Miss Jones was a jazz standard that went well in rehearsal but seemed to be the wobbliest part of our show last night. We had a lot of fun in practice coming up with an arrangement. Maybe we'll tackle it again sometime. I ended up putting Fishes in on the spur of the moment as a solo number because we ended up with more time than I thought. I had the best time playing Do the Berger, though. I looked out a couple times and it felt like the whole audience was up and dancing. I don't know if that was really the case, but it sure felt great anyway. Debe Dalton was next. It seemed to me that Debe played a lot of songs I didn't recognize, which surprised me since I thought I'd heard most of her stuff. She started off with a great new song she's been playing recently about love. Debe is great no matter what and even though I didn't keep track of her entire set, it was a nice one. Diane Cluck followed. Diane is an incredibly soulful and understated performer. It was so crowded last night and I was still riding high on the adrenaline of my own show that I didn't track Diane's set closely either last night. But people were talking about how flawless she is as a performer. There is definitely something ethereal and mysterious about her. I have a suspicion that a large part of the crowd last night was there specifically to see Diane. Frank Hoier was next and his set included Lovers and Dollars, Black Dress Blues, and My Baby. I was glad also to have a chance again to hear the song that Frank wrote based on Raymond Carver's story "What we talk about when we talk about love." It's a lovely song. I wasn't able to stay to hear Don McCloskey finish up the night but he definitely seemed to have the audience's attention for the bit of his set I did see. Rock it with the glockenspiel, Don.

Sidewalk was packed last night. It was hard to find a seat for a lot of the evening. That was good to see. 

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