Saturday, March 28, 2009

Thursday, March 26, Sidewalk Cafe

I think it was Susan Hwang who organized the bill the other least I'm pretty sure it was she who got me involved. I started off the night, playing with The Key Lime Pie Revue (Marc Steve on drums, Ariel Bitran on guitar, Trudy Williams on bass). It was nice to play again so soon after my Festival gig. Well, soon for me anyway. There seems to be a very nice connection among the members of this version of the KLPR and I'm looking forward to working with these folks more in the future. Anyway, we did a lot of my usual repertoire: New York City Funk, Gwen Stefani, Fishes etc. We played a Professor Longhair song which merged into Why Don't We Do It In the Road. Susan Hwang came on as a special guest and we played Makin' Whoopee with the group, which was really fun. We also did the song we performed together at the Bushwick Book Club based on the Raymond Carver story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. This was the best performance of the times we've played the song, but I felt that the stark subject matter of it was a little out of character with the rest of the stuff in my set. Anyway, we finished up with a rousing version of Do the Berger. Since Jon wasn't there, Ben Krieger filled in as understudy on the wild dancing and I know he was somehow taunting me from behind me while I played, but I really couldn't turn around to see what kind of annoying acts he was committing.

I really enjoyed the songs Wilder Worldwide played at the open mic the other night, but didn't know quite what to expect from their full show. But it was very interesting and very richly musical. They featured clarinet and upright bass, in addition to Storm and Jonathan on violin and piano. There's kind of a Berlin cabaret feel to what they do....someone next to me said something about Weill and Brecht when they started....but their ideas are far ranging. Check them out if you get a chance.

I was glad to get a chance to hear The Debutante Hour, which is a duo comprising Susan Hwang and Maria Sonevytsky who switch off on accordion and snare drum. Maria lives out of the country so they have rare opportunities to play together and I hadn't heard them before. Some of their songs I was familiar with from Susan's solo shows (like the Devil Song and Planner song) but it was cool to hear them with the vocal arrangements they performed the other night. They also did a couple covers...Down With Love, which is by Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen (the fabulous team who wrote the Wizard of Oz songs) and "Ain't That Good News," written by Sam Cooke. There was also a short, beautiful love song by Maria. The finale was everyone's favorite 1980s new wave hit "You're Just What I Needed." Franz Nicolay sat in on some songs too, playing the washboard tie.

Next up was Dibs who I thought played a particularly strong set, even though he was hindered (so he said) by a missing capo. I've really grown to appreciate Dibs's songwriting a lot. I know that he was inspired by groups like the Moldy Peaches but I think that Dibs picks up on that spirit and carries it much further into a realm that's really his own. I don't know that I need to do a song by song write up but a couple stand outs were the song he wrote for the Bushwick Book Club based on Flatland. There's a line like "she's so acute/she's so acute/she's such a cutie/when she looks at me, I know the beauty of geometry. Dibs also covered Manchseter England from Hair (once he finished experimenting with keys), and played Ada, his song about the woman known as the first computer programmer (in the 19th century). Because of the missing capo he was digging into his back repertoire to play songs that he could do without changing the key of the guitar. Jon XXXX offered to come on stage and fill in as a human capo, an offer Dibs at first rejected. But then for the last song he changed his mind and had Jon come up, and it was kind of hilarious to see Dibs play while Jon kept his finger clenched on the fretboard. I'll admit Jon did a good job and the song went off without a hitch. It actually was  lovely song about "the one you love" although it was given a bit of a twist when Dibs put his head on Jon's shoulder to sing part of it.

Joe Crow. Joe Crow. I'm so sorry I had to go. Even though I did see part of your show. Anyway you know I love you so.

Monday Night Open Mic, March 23, 2009

I had the realization the other night that hanging out at the Sidewalk Open Mic combines two factors in the experience. One is the comfort that comes from seeing friends and hearing performers that you've become familiar with and the other is the potential for discovering something totally new. I was glad the other night that I was on hand for two acts I hadn't seen before that really stood out.

Earlier in the evening I noticed these two gals standing around in matching blond page boy hairdos, I Love New York t-shirts, and newsboy caps. When Ben started giving the on deck call to Le Funky Bitches Fantastique, I had a feeling that might be them. Le Funky Bitches arrived on stage and delivered their introductory patter in something like a female interpretation of Steve Martin and Dan Ackroyd's "two wild and crazy guys." voices. It was amusing, but you wondered where they were going with it. Matching outfits at Sidewalk can be a tip-off to expect an attempt at Britney or Mariah inspired pop. However, when Le Funky Bitches launched into song they did an amazing version of this country tune with great harmonizing and strong singing all around. Then one of le bitches did her own song about um....her affection for men...for many men. It had the refrain "I can't fuck them all." Writing this at this moment is causing me to laugh all over again at how brilliantly funny this performance was. Somehow I had worked my way up to the front row at that point and I will not soon forget the moment when le funky bitch switched into this guttural, gravelly voice to belt out "I Can't Fuck Them All." It's always nice when performers coming from a comic intent also have musical skill. I hope LFBF returns to Sidewalk (maybe they should share a bill with the Young Dads)...I'm just now noticing that they were on the bill last night at the "Borscht" evening at I missed that chance but will have to catch up with them another time.

The other act that really stood out the other night was Jakko and Jay. I walked in once they had already started playing, but there was just this incredible energy coming from the stage. Jakko and Jay were a duo on drums and acoustic guitar, with the guitarist singing most of the vocals. But a lot of the energy came from the drummer. I got the impression they'd played South by Southwest...and also that they might be from Finland. Ben offered them a spot right away and it seems as if they also played Brooklyn Tea Party.

It was a very crowded night the other night. The sign-up took a while and there was a line out the door. Some of the folks who played were: Tidal Friction (some nice rap lyrics), Pete Scalzetti, Phoebe, me. Wilder Worldwide played as a duo on violin and piano. The played a song about origami and I liked how Storm, the violinist, used a credit card to tap her violin both on the body and on the strings at points throughout the song. There were lots of comedians the other night. Maggie Nuthall, a guy named Fred Sophe (?) who did recession jokes, a gal named William who talked a lot about eating, and a guy named Brain who spoke about action movie stars of the 1980s (Stallone, Schwarzeneger, Bruce Willis). Waylon Daniel played with a group that featured a tuba player. And Julie Hill did her version of Hallelujah using the loop machine.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Mr. Patrick's House, Friday, March 20, 2009

Mr. Patrick had a show at his place up on 139th Street. It's a great place for a house show, with a good-sized living room featuring a nice upright piano. Julie LaMendola booked the night. Olivia from New Orleans started off with a few songs on piano, including one that she said was about the swamp (or maybe it was the sea). The Fools played, although because there was no amp there things were a little problematic for Uchenna who ended up playing piano on a couple songs but couldn't use her bass. Jen did some songs on her own too, including the one about how much she loves her mother....which was quite touching because her mom was there and seemed very moved by hearing Jen perform it. Dibs played a nice set, including this song I've wanted to hear again for the longest time. It's the one in which he describes a journey with a gal all through the City in which he ends up at Sidewalk among other places. Anyway, it's a totally charming song and I was really glad he included it. Part of the reason it is so memorable to me is that I heard him play it the first time I went to Sidewalk in 2004. It really stood out then and was one of the performances that convinced me Sidewalk was the right place for me to start performing. A Fermata played an extensive suite at the piano....a long connected piece. I really hope I get to hear it again sometime so I can absorb all the lyrics and everything, but it was cool. Prewar Yardsale seemed to get off to a bit of a bumpy start. Mike must have been creating on the spot interpretations of their songs because Dina kept telling him to "play the songs the right way." And Mike was reading lyrics off these long sheets on the floor. They were almost poster-size and at some point someone--I think Dashan--was holding one of them up like a cue card. Beau Johnson was accompanying Prewar Yardsale and Mike kept calling out chords or keys in this very pronounced way. So he'd be singing la la la "A" la la la "E." There was something quite fun about the whole scene. They did get their flow going though. They have an interesting vibe and I liked in particular the song where they're chanting "Some buildings are high, some buildings are low." I learned later via MySpace that it's about the M104 bus. Mike and Dina and I have kind of become taxi partners, since we live near one another. And these have been epic journeys. Last time they rescued me from a bout of misjudgement at Cake Shop and this time there was writhing on the sidewalk. I love Ching Chong Song and they played some of my favorite songs, including Old Man. They've been playing recently with Susan Hwang, but it was Ching Chong classic the other night with just Dan and Julie. 

Until Brooklyn Tea Party appeared I hadn't been to many shows in people's homes, but there's something about mixing music and hospitality that make the experience much better than a show or party would be separately. It was great of Rick to make his place available and he really did make everyone feel welcome. I hope he continues to host shows there. And not just because it takes me half as long to get there as any of the other regular hangouts. Thanks Rick.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Monday Open Mic, March 16, 2009

Unfortunately I couldn't make it to the Open Mic this past Monday. Ben Krieger to the rescue.

by Ben Krieger
Monday night was great, for those of you who weren't there. Slow...and by slow I mean 50 people and my set started around 1:20. I gave two gigs and invited several people back next week so we can "hear more." Solid night of performances as well. There was a French film crew there working on a youth culture documentary. Of course they were picking out some of the best-looking, thinnest performers in attendance and interviewing them out front. Which is great for those acts, but I found it funny that they missed out on Colin ABV (self-proclaimed "bigger and blacker") as he took the stage and blew my mind with the best performance of the night. Colin is like a Big Black J Mascis...a fantastic writer. The French missed out, but then when was the last time you heard a great French act outside of Magma? Fuck the French. And the mice!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Debe Dalton's Birthday, Saturday, March 14, 2009

Is Debe Dalton one of the world's best songwriters? It always seems that way when I go to her shows. Her performance at her birthday show Saturday night had most of us in awe afterward. No matter how many times I hear her songs I'm still impressed at how beautiful and moving they are. I am particularly fond of this one that I think she said is called "Tuesday Wednesday," the one that has the line "the struggle to be a better human being." It captures, I think, the process of being human better than any song I know. I remember as a kid thinking that you reach adulthood and that's're done. But the song shows how in reality life is a constant process of, yes, struggling to become a better human being. I also heard for the first time or at least absorbed for the first time, this song Blue Packpack, which is a personal story about returning to the City at the behest of a lover but then immediately being rejected upon return (evidently the person who inspired the song was in the audience the other night). Debe's songs are really well-constructed and in particular I like that she doesn't compromise on her rhymes. (I don't know if it's just that I'm a stick in the mud or something, but it bothers me when people take wide liberties with rhyming.) Also, although musically her songs seem straightforward at first, they're actually filled with beautiful melodies and very original accompaniment ideas on the banjo. She also played her song Close the Door, which is, I think a masterpiece. And the one about "Little Red Riding Hood too is great. The thing about Debe's songs is that they are very specific and personal, and in other hands they could be cheesy or overly maudlin. God knows we've all heard songs that seem like they're drawn from the pages of someone's diary but have very little craft to them or universal appeal. But Debe's songs are like beautiful pieces of crystal that encompass and preserve heartfelt emotions and the complex results of living in the world.

At Debe's last birthday a group of her friends gave her an amazing gift. I wrote an article about it for Urban Folk, which you can read here if you want (Urban Folk 16). There was nothing quite as dramatic as that this time, but Susan Hwang did bake cupcakes and Debe blew out all the candles before they were passed out to the crowd.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bushwick Book Club, Special Edition, March 12, 2009

Just a quick word on the special Bushwick Book Club performance the other night. I'm not sure I totally followed the thread of how this all came together, but Franz Nicolay, who plays with The Hold Steady (and is involved with other projects) puts on a regular night at The Delancey and this Thursday he asked Susan Hwang to invite a group of folks who had written songs for the Bushwick Book Club over the last three months. The Delancey is pretty much of a schlep for me to get to and I was running late (as usual). When I wandered in Susan had just started. The performance area there is pretty narrow and most of us who were performing were all hanging out, standing right in front of the stage. It was a lot of the regular crowd, but in a new environment, at least for me. It's always nice to come into a place and see a lot of familiar places and it was comfortable to hang out with and play for friends there. Susan's song, based on the novel Flatland is totally cool. It has this minimal, rhythmic accordion accompaniment and then she incorporates toy piano while continuing to play the accordion. Everyone who played (with maybe the exception of me) did a great job. Franz, Ben K. Tom Curtain, Frank Hoier, The two Dans (Dan of Ching Chong Song and another Dan-they played a song in Spanish), Phoebe, Dibs, Preston, Dan Costello, and Liv Carrow (!) were all on the bill. My song was a duet with Susan, based on "What do we talk about when we talk about love?". Yeesh. I hope to get a good performance of that out there one of these days. I'm very fond of the song and it's fun doing it with Susan (who does a great job) but somehow it hasn't sunk into my fingers yet and the lyric sheets always seem to fall off the piano at a crucial moment. You probably already know about the Bushwick Book Club but that's where a bunch of songwriters write pieces inspired by a particular book. It happens each month at Goodbye Blue Monday.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Well, almost a whole week went by before I got to writing up last Monday's Open Mic. I think I really underestimated how burned out I was by attending all those Fest shows. I stopped by the on Monday but made it an early night. Here's what I did catch, though....

Ben made his usual introductions....this time though he offered a free beer to anyone who could provide him with access to a charger for his Verizon phone. I don't know, but I don't think that's how they did things at Cafe Wha? and The Gaslight, back in the day.

Liam started things off, whith a song that involved some looped whistling, although he later indicated he was having problems with his loop machine. He also sang an a cappella song.

Debe played this song of hers that I love..."the sturggle to be a better human being." She also played another of her great songs, "Normal." Debe also mentioned her upcoming birthday show, which is coming up this Saturday, March 14.

Isaac Gillespie played...a song that had the lines "no we don't smoke marijuana.." and "we are New York Jews." Anyway, I could swear he sang "we are New York Jews." Maybe it's on his mother's side.

Jordan Levinson then played, with Isaac at piano. It's a song I've heard a few times now and the melody is starting to stick in my head..."calloused hands and everything I want it to never spoke well but I always had a lot to depend on." Jordan really really reminds me of this singer Iris Dement (maybe I said this before). It's kind of a take on a style of traditional country singing that starts with Patsy Cline.

Ben Lerman got up and did some schtick explaining that he's a musical comedian, and talking about his weekly comedy show, Borscht. He sang a song he said he wanted to submit to the American Idol songwriting contest, called "The Idol in Me." It was a rather double-entendre filled little number that had a lot of folks in the audience cracking up. He also sang a song called "I Need a W" for a character: The Coach.

A guy named John Farrell(?) played some cool slide guitar stuff. Shauna played piano.

Brook P. did his song I'll Be Here All Night. Jon Berger was reading from his P. C> He did a poem called Tea (among others).

John Telethon played Driving Around with Josh Fox on tambourine. One of the metal disks on the tambourine flew off and nearly hit me in the eye. That's some pretty powerful tambourine work, Josh.

Isaac G joined John on stage to play Too Many Trains. Baglivi was up next. Before leaving the stage John Telethon whipped off a perfect Mike Baglivi riff on the guitar. Baglivi's two sisters were there and he played a song about their Mom, called Mary Rose.

I think I checked out right about then.

I'm finishing this up on Saturday night and am about to take off to hear Debe Dalton play her birthday show.