Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Monday Night Open Mic, November 22, 2009

Brian Speaker hosted last night. I got there late, so unfortunately I didn't get to see Brian's monologue/intro, although I heard he was talking a lot about his kid at home (regardless of the fact he doesn't have one).

Some nights are a random experience in time travel....it was nice to see Patsy Grace and Timothy Dark at the open mic last night. Patsy was a little before my time--it was great to get a sense of her performing style--loved her voice. I got to know Timothy Dark a while back when we did a long photo session in Central Park, resulting in one of my favorite shots. He worked Patsy into his song "Who Am I? which sounded great.

More about last night later.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Papacookie, November 12, and Brooklyn Tea Party, November 21

Over the last couple weeks I attended two shows held in people's homes. One was at Papacookie, Jonathan Vincent's amazing place on the Upper West Side, and the other was last night at Brooklyn Tea Party. The concept of home shows was somewhat new to me until relatively recently, but I find the blending of a performance with the hospitality of a party to be enormously satisfying. There's something so intimate and human-scaled about these experiences, and it is always nice to be in a situation where friends are performing for friends.

Papacookie, November 12, 2009

Have you ever unexpectedly had the experience of entering an unusual world of someone else's creation? For example, one time I met the owner of a huge magic/costume/novelty/party shop in Champaign, Illinois, who took me through every nook and cranny of his sprawling store, showing off all the crazy merchandise he had as well as decor items like a 15-foot King-King that moved and roared and a life-sized character from the Alien movie. For that time I was transported into a universe created by the sheer idiosyncrasy of this proprietor.

Similarly transporting was the experience I had November 12 at Jonathan Vincent's massive apartment, where Jonathan's grandparents had lived since the 1950s. The apartment seems to have been left exactly as it was when they were there, with all the dense layers of a lifetime in evidence. There are walls of books, art works by friends and family, a peg board of old kitchen utensils, furniture, knick-knacks, papers, plus, believe it or not, a pet turtle that the family has had for about 50 years. On top of that, Jonathan's grandfather, Theodor Upmann, was an opera star, and the apartment was filled with memorabilia from his career.

The performances started with a set by The Debutante Hour, who comprise Susan Hwang, Mia Pixley, and Maria Sonevytsky. They mostly play original songs by Susan and Maria, with a cover or two thrown in. Susan and Maria also alternate on accordion, while Mia plays cello. The Debutante Hour grow more polished with each show and I love their energy, their songwriting, and particularly their harmonizing. Next up was Jonathan who played a number of songs at the piano, which he said were inspired by or had to do with the apartment we were in. Jonathan writes some intense, complex music, some of which is pretty amazing. He’s much more of a real composer than many of the folks on the scene. His stuff is highly original and you might enjoy checking out his myspace page. Valerie Kuehn played two tunes, accompanying herself on cello. They were sort of abstract in nature, one of which she mentioned she’d finished writing earlier in the day. Sean McArdle finished up. Sean was on tour from San Francisco and played some folky tunes with a mellow vibe, accompanying himself on guitar.

I’m looking forward to more adventures at the Papacookie Pad. It is a cool place.

Brooklyn Tea Party, November 21, 2009

Emily Einhorn is the type of songwriter and performer whose stuff grows on you the more you listen. For example, I love this song of hers called The Office, but I only realized for the first time last night that she is singing from the perspective of a guy. At first it seems as if her songs are in her own voice, but many if not all of them are really written for very specific characters. The songs are unusual and have a dark edge to them. I was impressed again by her use of dynamics. She often starts quietly and builds the songs to dramatic moments. You should definitely check Emily out. She is one of the more original songwriters on the scene at the moment.

Nathan Moomaw was coming through on tour, although evidently he had been around on the scene some years ago. Nathan played solo, laying down percussion tracks with a loop machine and using other effects to get a kind of spacey feel to his songs.

Seems as if Dan Costello has written quite a number of new songs since I saw him last. He has also been working on a play and read a scene from it about an interaction between a character based on Dan and an alluring fan he meets on the road. He followed that up with a song based on a similar concept of temptations on the road. Dan and Rachel Devlin played a couple lovely songs together, both of which I remember as having a kind of theatre-y feel to them. Dan also did his Pot Song and told a story of how a random character in a Swiss bar ended up contributing the perfect line to a spoken break in the song. Dan ended up by rocking out with his band on a couple tunes including Tape Recorder.

Last night Ching Chong Song seemed to focus more on a range of slower songs, some of which included quite lovely instrumental passages. There was also some interesting dancing at hand from two cross-dressed members of their troupe who interpreted the music with a range of intimate maneuvers at the foot of the stage.

Crazy and the Brains finished off the night (wrapping things up around 2 a.m.). Crazy and the Brains, kind of snuck up around me as they have become more of a factor on the current scene. Chris (?), who almost always wears what I think of as a Russian Commisar hat, plays acoustic guitar and sings, and his partner, whose name I don't know, plays xylophone and also sings. The songs have more than a little influence of English punk groups like the Sex Pistols.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sidewalk Cafe, Saturday, November 7

It was a fun night all around last night. Maybe I am just projecting the good time I had with our set onto everyone else, but it seemed as if all the performers were really enjoying themselves.

Hard for me to believe, but I think this is the first show I've performed since August. This is the type of show I've been wanting to do for a long time. Susan and I played a mix of standards like All of Me and Honeysuckle Rose with relatively more recent songs like Darling Nikki by Prince and Don't Forget Me, a song I love by Harry Nilsson. Aside from the song selection there was also a kind of throwback to variety shows and male/female duos like Sonny and Cher and Steve and Edye. We also worked out this goofy magic trick which we performed in the middle of the show. I got to play the piano a lot, which was great for me, but I definitely was moving into some new territory there so it left me a bit wobbly occasionally. However that will get better with time, and in general I was very happy with the way The Susan and Herb Show turned out.

I was really glad to see Dave Cuomo who performs with his (I think) girlfriend Emma Berkey as Chicken Little. I didn't realize they'd moved to Nashville a year ago or something like that. They're on tour now and made a triumphal homecoming to Sidewalk. Dave plays acoustic and Emma plays accordion and they both sing. Their songs have a rootsy/folky/old timey feel and in particular they are very solid on the harmonizing. I liked the set a lot.

Jon Berger performed with his guitarist Sanjay. He mostly sang his material, and while I wouldn't call Jon's voice exactly mellifluous, he is unrestrained and commmitted and I enjoyed his set. Jon did some of his classics like "27 times I asked you to go out with me" and the one about "Wendy" or is it about Wendys? Sanjay sang some too.

Betsy Cohen kept asking the audience for input on a script she's writing in which a woman is invited to join a couple that makes their own videos of a certain explicit nature. So throughout the set people were throwing out various ideas of activities in which the three could participate. Betsy looked lovely in an outfit which I think featured a long red cape, or something to that effect.

Phoebe Kreutz was looking to delve into some of her less frequently played material because so many of the folks there were friends who had heard her play frequently. Anyway, I was reminded how much I like that song of hers about the Carnival Man. She had Casey on stage for a cover of a song by Chris Maher, and other special guests joined her as well, including Susan Hwang on accordion and Matt, playing trumpet on a couple songs, including the one about Gary the new guy at Taco Bell.

Old Hat finished off the night. I walked back into the room as they had just got underway with the set and they were leading some strange calisthenics in which almost everyone in the audience participated. They played songs like "Spoiler Alert" and "I didn't hear anything after the fucking morphine." Also they had a new one about Running Man or something like that. Old Hat is one of the more interesting and original groups on the scene and I would like to hear them more often. Preston Spurlock, Dibs, Deenah Vollmer, and a drummer I didn't know, made up the group last night.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Susan and Herb Show, November 7, 9 p.m.

Susan Hwang and I are hard at work on The Susan and Herb Show, which we're performing Saturday, November 7 at Sidewalk at 9 p.m. I am so glad that I'm getting to do this show. It is the kind of thing I've been wanting to do for a long time. Susan and I first played together on a duet at the Bushwick Book Club, her literary songwriting society and then she made some guest appearances at shows I did at Sidewalk and the OJ All Day Festival. We discovered that we like lots of the same kinds of music and so an act was born. We're thick in the middle of our rehearsals now. Hope you'll come out for what is sure to be a magical evening of songs, daredevilry, and surprises.