Sunday, August 30, 2009

Antifolk Fest, Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hey-Even though I got way behind in writing up the Antifolk Fest, I still plan on catching up as much as possible. I also was out of town for a while and missed a couple of Open Mic nights, but I'll be back in the swing of things soon.

Lots of good stuff Saturday, 8/15, but the revelation to me was Emily Einhorn. Somehow I never connected with her material during the time she was a Sidewalk regular--maybe a year or more ago. But this time I noticed the many interesting and affecting components to her songs. More about Emily when we get there. Saturday wrapped up the Festival for me as I had to leave town early the next morning. I kind of paced myself better this time and didn’t force myself to make every show if something else came up. I’m sure I missed some good stuff but also felt less burnt out by the end of it all.

I came in at the tale end of Carl Creighton’s set but really only got to hear him do his big number, Minnesota, which I’ve always liked.

Brian Speaker did a nice set mixing some of his latest stand alone songs with a couple tunes from his space opera and a cover of a Barry Bliss tune. Rachel Devlin sang with Brian on the song about how “if you really want to taste wine, you got to taste it from someone else’s lips.” I’ve heard the song several times, but this was a particularly beautiful rendering of it. Brian and Rachel melded really nicely. Brian mentioned how he’d wished he’d done a better job on the Barry Bliss tune that he’d covered at Wednesday’s Barry Bliss tribute. Brian seemed genuinely down on his previous performance, but I thought it had gone just fine and enjoyed the song. Brian played one of his most charming songs, the one about looking for a partner--who must be beautiful and talented and sing alto harmony and soprano leads--and be awkward and reliable just like..... He also sang another one about being like a Saturday morning cartoon. Lots of good ideas in Brian’s songs. He finished up with The Bird--which Amos requested and so Brian called Amos up to sing it with him.

Emily Einhorn’s songs seem mostly to be written from the points of view of a variety of different characters. For example, she said at one point something along the lines of: “when I was drinking a lot of whiskey I had an alter ego in a relationship with Tom Waits and this is a song she wrote.” Earlier in the evening she played one called The Office, all about the torment of The Office, and The Boss, juxtaposed with the singing of a little love song when the character in the song goes home. The songs have interesting melodies and although at first they seemed a little unstructured, gradually the form would emerge as Emily worked her way through them. Some of them had an edge of darkness to them, focussing on people who are dissatisfied or struggling. Emily made good use of dynamics and her vocals had interesting inflections. It will take some more listening to fully absorb these pieces, but they are rich and interesting and I’m looking forward to exploring them.

Erin Regan is a fabulous songwriter and performer. Her songs are mellow in style but deeply moving. The other night, among many others, she played her beautiful but mysterious song Building Jumper, and Iodine, in which she observes the ball of sweart rolling down the cheek of her bedmate and then sings “we are just balls of sweat, increasing and decreasing speed.” I’ve come to love Erin’s song and her voice over the years and continually wonder why she isn’t super famous.

Jaymay--who was a Sidewalk regular a number of years ago, was back for the Antifolk Fest and with a band including a stand up bass and another guitar player (who also played piano on one or two songs). I originally saw Jaymay at Sidewalk around the time I first started hanging out there in 2004. She’s not been around all that much since then as she’s built a following and a career, but I was glad to see her back recently and especially for the Antifolk fest. She played a couple of very catchy songs that have been rumbling through my brain ever since hearing them the other night. One is this love song called One May Die So Lonely, and the other, in which she lists all kinds of items that she sees in front of her, has the same sort of propulsive rhythmic feel. She also played a beautiful but sad song called Song for Paul, as well as some older love songs like Sea Green See Blue, and Gray or Blue. Jaymay’s strength is in the intersection of her performance and songwriting. It’s hard to pinpoint but there is something about the mixture of her words, music, voice, and playing that really makes her stand out. Sometimes I wonder if she edges a bit too close to catchy accessibility but in the end I think she usually rides that border nicely, veering back to more angular and interesting territory before things get too sweet. Jaymay was talking about how she has no money and was considering moving to New Orleans (not a bad place to go in my book). But she brought a nice crowd to Sidewalk. The room was filled with her fans during her set.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Antifolk Fest, Thursday, August 13,2009

Barry Bliss, Diane Cluck, Anders Griffen, Peter Dizozza, Regina Spektor, Dufus, Bernard King, Jon Berger, MIke Rechner, Dina Levy, Matt Roth seemed like old school Sidewalk last night, circa 2002/2003 or something, with all those folks hanging around and/or performing.

It's interesting that if you spend enough time on the scene your connections and interactions can swell into all kinds of interesting parts of the Sidewalk stream. After a long time of hearing about Anders Griffen, I not only performed with him but heard him play several sets throughout the week on drums, trumpet, and bass, and as a reader in Bernard King's set. Plus, Barry Bliss has been hanging out at Sidewalk again on a regular basis. I hadn't had much exposure to his songs previously but last night's set was a really good way to be introduced to them.

Jon Berger kicked things off with a set of new material. Lots of good stuff there. Jon mostly stayed put center stage despite his seeming desire to careen through the house while drawing on older memorized material. But I think it was a good thing he focused on his newer stuff. I particularly liked this one called The Girl Who 2 where he is conjecturing about the possible interest of a lady friend, especially when she invites him to see what is, after all, the most romantic of the Star Trek movies--well, you have to hear Jon do it.

Bernard King Presents featured readings of Bernard's poems by a range of Antifolk friends. One is always a bit nervous when friends want to read you their poetry. But Bernard's stuff is excellent. The Definition of Summer, which was read by Julie Hill really stood out. Beautiful imagery and language. But they all were good. Here's, I think, the complete list: Matt Roth (Men of Words), Toby Goodshank (Lost Girl), Julie HIll (The Definition of Summer), JJ Hayes (John Houx's Wine (?)), Diane Cluck (The Spaghetti Poodle), Liv Carrow (Cool Facts for Dogs--or something like that), Anders Griffen (Summer Storm). Ben Krieger (The Dog Star).

I'd heard about Barry Bliss regularly over the years but somehow missed connecting with him or his work until he came back to New York recently. I remember in particular that Dave Cuomo was a big fan and featured Barry in the program to the 2006 Antifolk Fest. I'll have to admit that the few songs I'd heard on MySpace or wherever didn't really help me understand what it was about him that appealed to folks so much. Well, last night's set of his songs performed by other artists from the Sidewalk scene gave me a much more direct understanding of how compelling his plainspoken and intense songs are, many of which are about his efforts to figure out how to be, how to do, how to move on. I think it's the case where the songs require a certain type of introduction or hearing in the right setting maybe--or possibly repeated listenings.

In any event the performances were uniformly interesting. Ben Krieger's version of the song about lovers who are not sexually attracted, was one that really stood out to me. Ben played it on the bass with this kind of heavy plucking of intervals, and then about three-quarters of the way through the song he dropped the bass on the floor where it kept droning while Ben finished the song on the piano. I thought it was great. But there were so many other good performances. Matt Mason on a song about the narrator's anorexia. Liv Carrow singing about Joan of Arc, Crazy and the Brains (All I want is to be left alone), Debe Dalton (In my dream I was a murderer), Jon Berger (Brand New Day), Brian Speaker (Do Not Call Upon Jesus), JJ Hayes, Brook Pridemore, Toby Goodshank, Peter D, and possibly others I'm missing. I'm looking forward to hearing Barry play these songs himself once he feels his voice is back up to par.

Rav Shmuel played a range of songs on the ukulele including love songs, to dislike songs, and one focused on racism to Jews called the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He also played his song the Bodega Song, about the place the Yeshiva students used to buy their pot!?

I got more into The Woog Riot's set as it went along, but I found the electronic accompaniment not my cup of tea exactly. They were unable to use their keyboard because of problems with the equipment so I should give them some benefit of the doubt in that respect. There was something endearing about the way they had choreographed gestures to some of their songs and I liked Backstage Lemonade along with a couple others. The band was touring from Germany. I got the impression they had connected with some of the Sidewalk crew that had come through Europe.

Peter Dizozza's set was filled with all kinds of interesting moments. His band featured a bass player/vocalist, a drummer, sitar player, and Peter. Special guest included Tony Saro, who kind of looked like the archetypal grandpa figure, and sang what Peter referred to as The Wizard Song. Peter and his sitar player are featured on a really beautiful number called Out of My Mind (?) which includes some gorgeous melodic exchanges between sitar and piano. His sitar player said that Peter convinced her to sing despite her trepidation about it although she seemed quite proficient to me.

Dufus (or does he go by Seth of Dufus?) appeared on stage with two-year old daughter Anouk, who he encouraged to participate by singing into a live mic and banging on various percussion instruments. It was an interesting idea to feature his daughter so fully in the set, but I also kept wondering if it wasn't past her bed time. Dufus's set was more gentle and lyrical than the stuff I'd seen in the past. Much less antic and it did feature a lot of his interaction with Anouk, who is quite the gorgeous child by the way. Oh yeah, Anders Griffen and another musician I didn't know arose out of the audience playing trumpets and proceeded on stage to accompany Seth. That was a cool moment.

I've heard Prewar Yardsale a number of times now and finally am realizing how radical they are. Their songs can go on for a very long time in almost a chanting fashion with just a few chords and very few lyrics. For example, in Elevated Platform Stand Mike sings "Step Up, Step Down," over and over and over. I really like their stuff though. You can kind of let yourself get lost in it and somehow it doesn't lose its interest. I liked the song "I am the life of my party" which was a request and mentioned how "all my friends had to go, they did not stick around." I'd thought for sure that Dina and Mike and I would continue our adventures in cab sharing after some previous exciting times on the road to the Upper West Side, but to no avail.

By the time Soft Black came around I was zonked. Man these shows go late.

I keep trying to keep these writeups general and short but I get carried away trying to document everything. Does anyone read this stuff? Well, one thing is I hope that this serves future readers who come to the scene and want to know what happened way back when, just as I did when I arrived.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Antifolk Fest, Saturday, August 8,2009

I arrived during Adam Finchler's set. I'm not really too familiar with Adam and so was just hearing some of his songs for the first time. He comes from a whimsical point of view. Songs include Everybody Does Drugs, President Coolidge and Elvis Thermometer. He had a big number about the Big Bad Dinosaur and his big bad dinosaur friends who went to the forrest and ruined everybody else's day.

David Greenburg was in town to play the fest, this time with a band, featuring drums guitar, a backup vocalist, stand up bass, and David on vocals and guitar. David is from the school of Antifolkers whose glasses constantly slip down their nose while they're playing, almost to the point of falling off before being pushed up just in the nick of time. He and John Telethon should tour together maybe. Anyway, I like some of David's songs. They're kind of awkward and charming, like the one that goes "every word that I say comes out so dumb and so weird and so sad (?) and so dumb. His big hit is The Cemetary Song. He also played one about sleeping under the stars and another about Hererochromia, the condition where someone has two different colored eyes. David played uke and kazoo on that one.

Julie Hill leaned heavily on her looping machine during her set. She can create some absolutely stunning and beautiful effects with that device and did the other night, particularly on her rendition of Row, Row, Row Your Boat. She also improvised a song based on words thrown out from the audience, which ended up having to do with Muscular Teeth in January. (I've been seeing quite a bit of improvised songwriting lately between Julie, the Young Dads, and Crabs on Banjo.) Julie is a really talented gal and also played a couple songs without the looping device on the piano. Actually the first song she did "I'm Just Me" if I remember correctly, used the looper to set a rhythm but then featured her on piano and vocals. Row Row Row Your Boat was a cappella with a dense collage of looped singing.

Aaron Invisible played with a group he called the Fuckstaches. One gets the sense maybe his group names are only momentary.... The group included Morgan, Isaac Gillespie, Alex P (on bass) and Aaron on bouzouki. I like Aaron's whole vibe. He's definitely unique, with a voice that is impossible to describe. His songs are folky, Dylan-y. I'm still kind of catching on to what they're about. They come from the impressionistic/abstract school of songwriting. But there's definitely something there to pay attention to. He played a song about Noah, and his songs "The Discoverers," "Yesterday I was a Sailor," and more.

Eric Wolfson played a solo acoustic set. For some reason I feel like I've been hearing him most recently in a full group set up. Eric is going to law school in the fall so says this is his last show for a while. Eric was part of the tight group of folks that hung out at Sidewalk for around a year or so when I was really just getting involved and getting to know lots of people so I'm always happy to see him there. He played a lot of his familiar songs: North Country Girl, Buddy Hackett's Niece, Ann Rutledge Blues, Sleeping is a Sucker's Game. A nice, tight set. Good luck in law school Eric. Don't disappear on us. I can never forget the day that Eric and I did a photo shoot outside on what must have been the coldest day of the year. Eric was so good natured about it but his fingers were practically frozen solid as I forced him to pose with his guitar down by Wall Street.

Brook Pridemore had people up and dancing on a couple of songs, which was really cool. In fact the stage was rushed and Ben K. stood behind Brook undulating his arms, making Brook look like a Hindu God. I liked Brook's song on piano about how "everyone should always get exactly what they need." He also played Zero Potential, Damage Control, and Marlon Brando (not sure if I got all those titles right).

The Oh My God Girls were charming with their ukuleles and hula hoops. There had been three Oh My God Girls at Monday's Open Mic, but Saturday the group comprised teenage sensations Rachel Trachtenburg and Julia Cumming. They played Happy Together (the Turtles' hit), a catchy original called Haunted Hostel, Brand New Key (cover of a tune sung by Melanie), Rachel's original tune Pigeons, the Beatles' Something, an original about Horse Drawn Carriages, and the Hula Hooping classic that goes "hula, hula, hula, hula, hula, hula hoop."

Rachel's dad Jason Trachtenburg and Julia's dad (I believe) Alex Cumming, then took the stage for a short set by Jason. He covered I Want to Hold Your Hand in unique style, and played Fast Talker, I Don't Want to Tempt Time, Beautiful Dandelion, and Don't You Know What I Mean. All catchy stuff. Really liked Beautiful Dandelion.

The only problem with Debe Dalton's set is that it wasn't longer. Afterward some of us were lamenting the songs that we didn't get to hear. You probably know that this was Debe's last show before leaving town for a while. So there was a nice crowd of folks there to send her off. Debe told a story of a child she'd taught in nursery school who once the school year ended would call Debe at 4 in the morning. In that spirit Debe gave out her phone number several times during her set, one assumes with the hope that her friends and fans will stay in touch. I've written so often about how much I like Debe's songs and her performances and this was no exception. I love the song she sang about "quietly playing banjo in the park," and the proselytizer she encounters. She also played "End of the Day," which she said she was playing "for all the sad boys." Debe also did a wonderful cover of Liv Carrow's song Madam Rosie. It's amazing when Debe covers songs from the Antifolk scene how she truly can make them her own. She played her stunning song "Close the Door" and a duet with Rachel Devlin ("who do you think you're talking to?"). Ed's Song and the one about Little Red Riding Hood were also on the bill. I will miss Debe a lot. I know that things will continue along just fine while she's away but it won't seem the same without her. Debe's presence at Sidewalk is always somehow reassuring to me. She keeps it on an even keel. I'm sure she'll be back for visits and will be with us again in full form before we even know it. Good luck upstate Debe.

Antifolk Fest, Friday, August 7,2009

Well, the Antifolk Festival is here. I always look forward to this time of year with excitement and dread. There's something very compelling about the rich concentration of performers all playing in this condensed time frame. But since I am so compulsively drawn to attend as much as possible, I know that I'm going to be spending hours and hours hanging in the back room and eating a lot of veggie penne.

I arrived Friday at the very end of Domino's set, which was unfortunate, because I love her shows. She finished up with a song that was requested called Sack of Potatoes. I heard later from other folks that her set was great.

Amos Torres, one of Sidewalk's sound men, played a nice set sitting centerstage with an acoustic guitar. He kicked off with a song about how the only things that will kill him are "mean women, whisky, and cocaine." Well, those'll do it, I suppose. He also played a song in Spanish which he explained had words by his father. Amos has an amazing voice. I wonder if he's ever thought about fronting a band.

Max Miller--am I imagining this or did Max quote a song by the Wowz? I'm not sure, but I think he was singing the lyrics "I'm not depressed, I'm just unimpressed." Anyway, Max did a raucous set with electric guitar and his rock backing tracks. He played a song called August that had the line "I got nothing to lose but my pants and shoes."

The Telethons played in duo configuration. That was how the Telethons played when they originally arrived on the scene--with Jon Telethon on guitar and vocals and Mark Telethon on drums. Now Doug Johnson has taken over the drum role, but it is still fun to see them in this two-piece configuration, which kind of brings back the old days. Maybe it was meant to just be a sound check song, but they started off with C is for Cookie-rock and roll version. Truck Driving Man, I've Had Too Much to Drink and other Telethon hits were in the mix.

Doug stayed on to play with Preston Spurlock, the first time Preston has had a semblance of a band as far as I can remember--at least since the days of playing with his cousin years ago. I gathered that Preston and Doug had decided to play without practicing together and Preston would sort of bark out a rhythm that he wanted like "give me a waltz." And Doug would come back with just the right beat. They kicked off with Put Me Into Cryogenic Freeze and also played Sit and Stew, Pacific Newts (or whatever it's called) Podcorn, etc.

After Preston's set, he and Justin Remer screened videos they'd made. Preston's animated video for Jessica Delfino's song Sudden Change was amazing. You really should watch it here. Justin screened his video for Thomas Patrick Maguire's song "Evening News," and for Brook Pridemore's song "Just Like Nathan Hale, p 2," which features appearances by Thunderbolt Krieger and other Antifolk stars. You can see that one here. Preston also showed a video documenting a luau at Johnny and Julie's house.

Then Elastic No-No Band played. The show seemed to fly by pretty quickly. But it was a fun one. I think we have been playing together long enough now that we're comfortable with the songs, and it's nice to loosen up a bit. We started with You Never Swim, and played ENB hits like You Think It's Wrong to Sing Along, Woody Allen Surrogate, Turn Out Right, etc.

I wasn't familiar with BJ Snowden but had been hearing a lot about her from Ben Krieger. BJ plays standing behind a Yamaha keyboard and uses a lot of its rhythms and beats. She opened up with Mumbo Jumbo, which was an instrumental and showed off her strong piano skills. BJ is an amazingly enthusiastic performer. After practically every song she would throw her arms up in the air and radiate a beaming smile. Although she's from Boston, BJ seems to have kind of an infatuation with Canada, and a number of her songs focused on aspects of that country. She sang "In Canada," "Ontario," "New Brunswick," and "St. Peter's Bay." "In Canada" for example, has the lyrics "In Canada, folks treat you like a queen, In Canada, they never will be mean, In Canada, they treat you like a king, you feel welcome, it makes you want to sing." It was charming that BJ's 80-something year old mother participated in her act. At first BJ's mom stepped in front of the stage and threw out handfuls of candy to the audience. Then later she came on stage for a couple of songs, including "Disaster and Tragedy," and "In Canada." BJ also played a song about being a schoolteacher, one about divorce called "From the Chapel to the Courtroom," another instrumental called "Witch's Prelude," and a tribute to Pete's Candy Store, which she had to be egged on to play because she was worried it might be a conflict of interest with Sidewalk. See my tirade below for a little more about BJ.

I've written so much about the Young Dads previously that it almost feels redundant to gush about them further. I have to admit I was a little worried when I saw them come on stage in costumes. Micah was dressed in a baby outfit with bonnet and everything, and Jesse was wearing what looked like a Geisha robe. But their show was as musical and hysterically funny as ever. Like at the last Antifolk Fest, they had a power point presentation that went along with their act which kind of mocked typical business presentations but also had a lot of funny jokes. One of their songs recounted actual conversations about accounting and auditing that were overheard in one of the Young Dad's work place. They also did some improvisatory beat box type stuff. Micah would beat box while Jesse would vocalize in specific styles such as a bird, a "grossed out pop vocal" and "Bill Cosby imitating Richard Nixon." He also did his father after a "failed home repair experiment," which was truly hilarious. You had to be there. Also Micah did some improvised free style rap based on suggestions from the audience, and that was pretty amazing too. I repeat that their song from the perspective of two ninth-grade girsl is a brilliant piece of songwriting. I was sorry that the third Young Dad was not there to perform the a cappella version of their song Existential Crisis, but it was nice to hear it all the same.

I am truly a fan of the Venn Diagrams, but I was exhausted and had to check out by the time they played.

Time Out New York ran a nice item about the Fest and listed it as among the top music events of the week. Within the piece though they referred to the Antifolk scene as a place to hear "outcasts, miscreants and....local nuts." I wondered why that bothered me, and realized it's not for the reason you might think. I am proud to be affiliated with a place that welcomes and fosters individualism and idiosynchrasy. The diversity of the Antifolk world and its open nature is exactly why I spend time in it. It's just that I think it is too simplistic to label the scene in that way. The people who may be considered "outcasts" in one sense are "incasts" in my book. I feel there's too much labeling going on that doesn't really reflect the complexities of individual personalities or performance styles. The challenge for anyone who writes about music or any art form is to describe something for what it is rather than give it an easy label. BJ Snowden, who performed Friday was evidently included in a book about "outsider" music. But what the hell does that mean? If you label someone as "outsider," you are automatically casting them into some sort of ghetto that sets them apart and discounts what they have to offer. At Sidewalk everyone is on the same playing field and people really appreciate performers for their true individuality. That's one part of its greatness.

See you there sometime soon!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Monday Night Open Mic, August 3, 2009


Rachel Trachtenburg played with her group the Oh My God Girls the other night and Mom and Dad Trachtenburg were in the audience. I was thinking later on about the interesting cycle that represents. Jason T. started playing in Sidewalk's precursor, the Chameleon, something like 25 or 30 years ago, and now his daughter is an active part of the scene. One of the cool things about Sidewalk is that it is so open to everyone, including people of a wide range of ages. Usually I barely notice how old people are there. Maybe it's the dim light or just that everyone is there because of their love of songwriting. But it's always great to see folks blending together and to notice friendships and collaborations forming because of mutual interest rather than less relevant criteria.

It was nice to see Max Miller again, who had been a regular on the scene for a while, I think when he was in high school. He's a college dude now and was back to rock out with his electric guitar. Max brings fully produced backing tracks that he plays along with. He said he was recording a bunch of songs named after the month in which they were recorded, and the one he played the other night was called "March."

Amos Torres sang a song by Aaron Wilkinson. I never knew Aaraon, but from what I gather he was a good friend to many on the scene who passed away around 2003, maybe.

Max Vernon sang a song which had folks singing along on the line "you're not all I need." I'm not sure how he felt about Ravi the puppet singing along also.

Debe Dalton sang the one about "quietly playing banjo in the park." And another one that is called, I think, Dry. Beautiful stuff as always from Debe. Looking forward to her show on the 8th, which will be a send off for her as she gets ready to leave New York for a while.

Lady Blanche sang "Mr. Passerby." Nice harmonies with Veronica. She also did "I Want to be aTrophy Wife."

Matt Jaffe, a songwriter from California played. Although I said earlier that I tend not to notice how old people, are I might as well say that Matt looked to be impossibly young. He played "You Can't Walk in a Straight Line." There's some stuff on the web about him, including a long video with an interview and performance at MySpace. It is tempting to want to be a little skeptical of someone so young out there doing this stuff (he must be around 14), but from listening to him talk about what he's doing, it seems obvious he's pursuing this from his own enthusiasm. I've got to be at least somewhat supportive of anyone who claims David Byrne as a major influence.

Lach was back to entertain us with "Another Night Without You" and then, on piano, "Ain't it the Most". Always nice to have Lach back, who also kicked ass on Scrabble later in the night.

Emma Englesein was in from Australia and played with accompaniment from a friend on cello.

Aaron Invisible opened with his band, The Opaques, featuring Isaac G, Alex P, and a couple of other folks on drums and piano who I either didn't know or couldn't see from where I was sitting. They played "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright." Then Aaron did a solo song.

The Oh My God Girls, featuring Rachel Trachtenburg, played Haunted Hostel, and a Hula Hooping song, which featured the lyrics Hula, Hula, Hula, Hula, Hula, Hula, Hula, Hoop. The Oh My God Girls, if you haven't seen them are a Hula Hooping, Ukulele playing sensation.

Issac Gillespie unveiled his new electric guitar, which he calls the White Devil. He played a cool new song about trust/relationships etc.

Others who performerd Monday while I was there included Maggie Nutthall, Pete Scalzetti, Tracy Hope, Steve Stavola, Adam Finchler, Mike Baglivi (who played with Ariel Bitran), Awesome Witch of Rad, Charles Mansfield, Crazy and the Brains, Kid Lucky, and the Telethons.

The Antifolk Festival is starting this week. I'll be there for as much of it as I can. Check back for updates.