Monday Open Mic, June 1, 2009
I was out of town for the Memorial day weekend, but somehow it felt as if I'd been gone longer than that. I was glad to be back but the crowd seemed kind of oddly unfamiliar to me at the start of the night. Most of my usual pals weren't around, and once sign-up was over it felt a little empty. Level II kicked things off with a fun number where he lip synched to a video he'd made and that was projected on a screen in the back. The video was cool and used little puppet figures to depict a scene in a restaurant. The song had a kind of tag line, "excellent choice" that the waiter repeated after each menu selection. Level II also played Bona Sera. I'm not sure if that was an original or a cover, but it felt like a cover. As the night went on things kind of picked up, however, I was in a weird mood with lots of day job stuff floating around my head and was just kind of tired, so even though I'd signed up and gotten a relatively low number I took off kind of early.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009, Awareness et al
Octavio and Joe Crow played a set together as Hospital, with Joe Crow on drums, doing mostly Octavio's songs. It was a fuzzed out kind of set that got into some avant-gardey style stuff. Then a set by Elastic No No Band (with me on piano).
But I was also glad to be around for the first Awareness full set. Awareness, you might remember, is the guy who wears a white mask when he performs, not to mention when he's just sitting around hanging out. Awareness turned up at the open mic a few weeks ago and Ben offered him a set right away. When he was on stage Tuesday, Awareness said that at the point he accepted the gig he only had those two songs, so he wrote ten more in three weeks.
Awareness delivers his songs with a deadpan almost wooden feel, and although he accompanies himself on guitar the songs are performed in something between a speaking and singing voice--more like a chant, maybe. The songs lyrics are self-consciously direct. For example, in one song he repeats several times "I wanna be dumb, I wanna have fun," and in another that he said is about being proud of yourself, he sang "I made a bookshelf, I made a bookshelf, I did it by myself."
But even though on one hand Awareness's whole shtick is kind of gimmicky, I ended up really liking his songs and his set. There was one song in which he said that "existential despair is a waste of time," and then went on to sing/talk about how you should just be out living your life, rather than worrying about what it all means. This seems to be the motto of the Sidewalk Cafe, or at least how I've interpreted it--'just get out there and sing your fucking songs.' So, it was cool to hear that from someone else. I also liked the idea of the song about the bookshelf, because there have been many times where I've completed some task, like recently assembling a complicated toy for my nephew, where I'm thinking 'hey look, I actually managed to follow these instructions, even though they were written by an idiot, and get this damn thing together." So, I understand Awareness's pride in successfully making a bookshelf. He also had songs saying "it's ok to be gay," and "unconditional love is a wonderful thing to have."
Oh, and he had a song about himself "I am anonymous/I have a mask on/who is Awareness?/I prefer to be a secret identity/I am a celebrity/Who is Awareness?" It really is rather interesting to think about identity as it relates to performing. Maybe another time I can get into questions about the idea of celebrity, which is something I find interesting. Masking your identity is one way to prevent a kind of specific identification/celebrity---although of course the mystique of it and the oddity of it ends up creating its own kind of interest.
By the way, even though Awareness was anonymous to the regular Sidewalk crew who were around that night, he seemed to have attracted a number of friends, who I imagine he reached out to with information about his gig and who must know who he is. A couple friends ended up performing a song with him on stage--and in that moment wore masks of their own.
And, the show had a surprise ending. As his finale Awareness brought out a fairly polished baritone voice to sing a song that he said was from Les Mis.