Monday, January 25, 2010

Friday, January 22, 2010

I've been trying to find time to finish up this post...I do want to get something up about the big productions the other night, even though it's been more than a week here's a quick write-up.

Friday was a night of extravaganzas, what with Brian Speaker's rock opera The Mars Chronicles and Level 2's puppet saga Love is Mud. It was interesting to see the pieces back to back and aside from anything else, the folks behind them deserve credit for their ambition and determination in pulling them off.

The Mars Chronicles tells the story of Apollo Vesta, who is sent to explore Mars and is the first earth explorer to walk on the planet's surface. While stranded, Apollo encounters an underground world, Eros, where he meets resistance from the underworld Commander Terminus. Even though I love musical theatre, I've never been a huge fan of rock operas, which often seem overblown. While I love the songs in Tommy, for example as a whole piece I've never found it terribly captivating. I had that feeling going into The Mars Chronicles, but I must say that, by the end it won me over. The songs range in style from gentle duets to epic narratives. There was some very nice singing in the lovely songs between Apollo (played by Brian) and his wife Aurora (sung by Rachel Devlin). Ariel Bitran nearly stole the show singing about the United Nations Space Organization (check it out on MySpace). I was particularly impressed by the lavish song "Media." I've heard Brian performing these songs one by one over the last year or so, but it was interesting to hear them in context. Brian's company comprised Ben Krieger, Rachel Devlin, Ariel Bitran, Dan Costello, and Emily Moment. The band featured John Rubin, Nate Goheen, Scott Loving, Ben Krieger (on some squealy synth sounds), Brian, and Dan Costello.

Level 2's Puppet production Love is Mud, which had a run of four nights at Sidewalk, was just as impressive, if not more. The piece is a musical love story between puppets, with all the tribulations of actual relationships. Ben Folstein is the driving creative force behind the project, but he had a company of musicians, singers and puppeteers with him to pull to pull it off. Runt of the Litter, a forlorn establishing song, is still stuck in my head from hearing it at the Open Mic and the performance the other night. There are numerous other well-written songs throughout including Excellent Choice, sung at the puppets' first big date. There's some explicit puppet sex, and later some heavy puppet drinking after the sad puppet break-up. The puppets are created in a deliberately rough-hewn paper maché style, but there was lots of clever design in the characters and scenes, including a moving subway. Ben, his musicians, and singer/actors were positioned stage right and a tall puppet theatre was set up center stage. I was very impressed by the show, especially considering the effort it must have taken to write all the material; make the puppets, stage, and scenery; cast, and rehearse it, etc. My memory of the specifics has grown a little hazy over the last week, and you kind of have to see it anyway to get the point. But it was amazing, actually, to see this world that Ben and his company created come to life.

I was glad to get a chance to hear a full dose of Patsy Grace. Patsy was a regular figure at Sidewalk well before my time but later moved out of New York. It seems she has recently returned and is hanging out at Sidewalk once again. She has a voice that has a bit of a catch to it, which gives a nice sound to her gentle and emotional songs. Patsy played with cellist Ken Hashimoto (?) which formed a nice blend. Hope to have a chance to hear Patsy again soon.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Monday Night Open Mic, January 18, 2010

Monday marked the Sidewalk debut of magician Myron the Magnificent. Myron comes from a long line of magicians, going back to his grandfather, Mervyn the Magnificent, who was famous as the "King of Conjuring" in vaudeville stages in the 1920s and 30s. More about Myron in a minute.

Ben K kicked things off with a song about Darwin and then did Sting Ra.

Livening things up between sets was Corry, the puppet.

Level 2 played Excellent Choice and Runt of the Litter, two songs from the puppet extravaganza Love is Mud which Level 2 is performing over 4 nights starting later in the week. Nice songs. The melody of Runt of the Litter is definitely stuck in my head...

Brian Speaker also performed The Landing, a song from his epic, The Mars Chronicles. Brian also played another song at the piano...

The Fools introduced a cool new song...

I'd met John Murdock, but never seen him perform until the other night. John works making erotic balloons at Lucky Cheng's, a drag restaurant in New York, and his act draws on stories from his experiences there. Monday he focused on stories about opening and running Lucky Cheng's in Las Vegas. Pretty interesting and entertaining stuff.

Dibs-It was a nice suprise to see Dibs who I hadn't run into at the Open Mic in a while. Dibs played two really cool songs, Egg & Sea (not sure if that's the title) and Nathaniel.

Laura Bridget played a couple nice songs on piano. One of them was a tribute to her friend who had commited suicide.

Myron the Magnificent explained that because of a recent unfortunate incident with his flaming double sword penetration act he had to take a hiatus from the stage. But now, upon his return, he is performing the much safer double rope penetration. Myron then proceeded to demonstrate pulling two ropes straight through the body of a volunteer from the audience. Myron appears February 26 at the Antifolk Festival.

NIck Nace played a nice bluesy song--"take time in the morning for me"

Kate Lovejoy read a poem.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Monday Night Open Mic, January 11, 2010

It had been a while since I'd lasted all the way till the end of a Monday night. I understand why the early slots usually feature acts with upcoming shows that need promoting, but I realized the other night that means that in those early hours those of us who are regulars are usually seeing acts with which we might already be familiar. It's in the later hours that the suprises appear.

I spent most of the early part of the night geeking out with Josh the Magician. Coins and cards were flying in the seats by the front window.

I did pop in to hear Ray Brown sing "My Garage Apartment." And a little later I watched Ku entertain with stories about how her family of 5 Korean siblings bored the hell out of family friends who came over and were forced to sit through a full-on recital by each kid. Very funny stuff from Ku.

The standout of the evening to me was Livia (or maybe Olivia) Gerber, who sang two really nice songs and got a gig. I loved Livia's voice which is a little unusual, and she seemed to have a kind of laid back attitude.

There was also the young woman who performed an a cappella rendition of a bluesy classic. She sang with so much over-the-top ornamentation and excessive nasal tonality that for the first time I had to bite my lip to keep from bursting out in laughter.

I was sorry I missed seeing the ballon guy after chatting with him downstairs. I was waiting and waiting but then got caught up in conversation.

The surprise novelty hit of the night was performed by Norm, a marshmellow of guy with a large Afro. Norm covered a rap tune...something about beat the pussy up...but in a folky-antifolky kind of style, accompanying himself on guitar. It was funny as all heck.

Emily Moment stayed till the end and played a nice song "here's to twenty nothing."

Also, 3gcrew were around. I still can't quite get the gist of what these guys are up to. I mean it's in the hip-hop vein, but the mc guy spits these verses, that sound like some sort of rapidfire robot talk. I'm not a skilled enough listener to detect any real words there. There's something entertaining about it, though.

I've been skipping over folks here and there, and if I skipped you, I'm sorry. Ben got up to do his set and kicked off with Here, There and Everywhere. He stuck with the Beatles tunes for just about his whole set (slipping in an original at the end). Those of us still there at that point were hopping on the stage and singing or playing along.

A handful of folks sat around afterward for tea: Level II, Emily, Ben and 1 or 2 others. We finally got kicked out about twenty to four.

It was nice to have a night where I didn't have work the next day so I could stay all the way through. It's still about being willing to sit and listen to waves of ambitious folks burning to express themselves. The payoff are the nuggets of greatness or oddness that you come across, and Monday had enough of both to remind me of what I have always found so compelling about Sidewalk Cafe.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Elastic No No Band CD Release at Brooklyn Tea Party, January 8, 2010

Last night was the CD release show for Elastic No No Band's album Fustercluck at Brooklyn Tea Party. The album is an epic compilation of Justin's songs, (with some covers mixed in). There was more male pants dropping and shirt removing than I usually enjoy in an evening out, but it was a fun night with sets by Joe Crow Ryan, Thomas Patrick Maguire, Schwervon and Elastic No No.

Playing piano as an accompanist with ENB is a different experience for me than most of the other things I do. After a long time aborbing the form of the songs, I finally started getting an instinct for some more interesting musical ideas, especially ways to transition between chords. Last night I was trying to add some variety to the chord playing by putting in these ascending chords, like say when you move from B7 at the end of a verse to E maj at the top of the next. But you can't really do this sort of thing on the fly. Just now I was playing around with it at home and it sounds a lot better using diminished chords. Like: B7, then Db, D, Eb (all diminished) and then to the home chord E. This requires a ton of practice, and then you'd like to be able to do it in all keys. I wish there was a Sidewalk Cafe piano players forum or something. I'd love to be able to talk over some of these things or exchange ideas. Any piano players out there want to geek out on this stuff?