Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Kung Fu Crimewave's Rock and Roll Circus, Friday, November 12

Well, finally Kung Fu Crimewave's Rock and Roll Circus is nearly upon us. The show at Goodbye Blue Monday celebrates the release of KFCW's cd Capitol Punishment, as well as the birthday of frontman Luke Kelly. The event will feature performances by: Myron the Magnificent and the Lovely Vera, Kung Fu Crimewave, The Sweet Ones, Purple Organ, and Heroes of the Open End. The only act I'm not familiar with is The Sweet Ones, although the others are all among my favorites, and The Sweet Ones seem to rock from what I can tell by YouTube. I have not heard Heroes of the Open End in quite a while and they should provide a fitting, all out finale to the evening. Come early for the confounding magic of Myron and Vera. I'm assured other circus-y surprises are in store, but you'll have to be there to find out what.

Catching Up

A few things, some a roundup of links you might have seen elsewhere.

Peter Dizozza posted video from a Sidewalk Set going back to 1999. This is definitely worth a look. He opens with a song called "Hell Hole" and then merges into a piece with Jon Berger and Adam Green. There is much spoken word/narrration throughout, accompanied on piano by Peter. The video gives a good visual of an earlier Sidewalk setup before the red curtain was put up and when they had a grand piano on stage. It's also interesting to see younger versions of Peter, Jon, and Adam. I mean, I knew Adam Green was young when he started hanging out at Sidewalk but here he seems like he might have just come from his Bar Mitzvah class.

Major Matt and Nan have documented their tour with the Vaselines in writing and photos. I'll admit I have always had a fascination with life on the rock and roll tour bus. Here is about as close to the experience as you can get (without doing it yourself, of course, which I know you will).

Also, although it's been a few weeks now, I wanted to acknowledge the Debe Dalton/Dan Penta tribute that myself and others performed in on October 23. It was, of course, great to see Debe and to hear the songs by her and Dan. And I was glad to have a chance to play one of my favorite songs by Debe, "Tuesday, Wednesday" (although I'm considering my faulty rendition just a first step in perfecting that song, which I am planning on making a permanent part of my repertoire). However, the overall evening surprisingly had less participation and turnout than I would have thought. Even Dan Penta couldn't make it (because of work obligations). Other performers were: Kung Fu Crimewave, John Roche, Dan and Rachel, Joe Crow Ryan, Neil Kelly, Justin Remer, Ben K. and Morgan Herringer, and probably others who I am forgetting. Debe was at the Open Mic the following Monday, momentarily restoring the balance to a room that has been akimbo ever since she left town a while back. Debe assures me she is returning to NYC permanently in January.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Jerry Bock Died

Please excuse the diversion, but one of my personal songwriting heroes, composer Jerry Bock, died yesterday. It might seem like something of a cliché for a Jewish kid from the suburbs to choose the writer of Fiddler on the Roof as a major influence, but while I do think that's a great musical and it has become a landmark piece, it was over years of listening to his body of work, that I grew to love the songs Bock wrote with his partner, lyricist Sheldon Harnick. Moreso than Fiddler, I think the masterpiece of songwriting that they created is a show called She Loves Me which wonderfully uses songs to convey character and dramatic movement.

I know there are some lovers of musical theatre in the Sidewalk scene, but no one really talks about it all that much. While I certainly have my heroes in the rock and pop world, I've been hugely influenced by the great Broadway songwriters, and I think anyone seriously interested in the art of songwriting should go back and listen to some of these works. Bock and Harnick picked up the heritage that was established by writers like Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Harold Arlen, and Richard Rodgers who came before them. The songs of Fiddler have been so widely heard that at this point they almost seem like clichés themselves. But realize that when they were written there was no precedent for using the sounds of traditional Jewish music to shape and flavor the songs in a Broadway musical. A good example is "If I were A Rich Man," which starts in the key of C major but then brings in minor tonality that gives it that Eastern European flavor (before shifting into another key altogether). The songs in Fiddler feel organic, almost as if they sprang naturally from the characters who sing them. That ease must have taken a lot of work to obtain.

My explanation doesn't really do Bock's inventiveness much justice. I've just been flipping through a book that has some of his songs in it and I'm struck on each page by the fresh approach he took. His instincts for interesting, unusual musical choices was very strong. And most striking of all is how the choices come from and support the dramatic situation at hand.

Without context it can be hard to jump into listening to some of these Broadway musicals and get them right away, especially since sometimes you have to overlook a kind of brassy quality that some poeple find unappealing. But if you ever do have the motivation, try to check out some of the songs from She Loves Me and give them a little bit of a chance to grow on you. They are orchestrated with more subtlety than most shows anyway. In particular I love the sequence that includes the two songs "Where's My Shoe?" and "Ice Cream."

By the way, I don't get as star struck as I used to, but I do have a framed photo of me with Bock and Harnick from a time they appeared at a Library event I helped organize (you can look through Bock's manuscripts at the Library by the way!). Read about it here.