Friday, January 21, 2011

Poetry Slam, Patsy Grace, Sidewalk, January 20, 2010

I came in on the tail end of a Poetry Slam at Sidewalk last night. It was the first time I'd been to one, and while I was glad to see it so heavily attended, I realized that I really don't like my poetry slammed. I much prefer it recited or even read. One feature of the slam I found peculiar is that each poem was given a score by a panel of judges after it was performed. I'm not really sure what the point is of making poetry the basis of a competitive event. What sense does it make to compare works of art and say that one is better? Poems, songs, paintings, plays, movies, ballets, are each unique items created out of the singular motives and inspiration of an artist or artists. There isn't even any logical or objective scale on which to compare different works of art. It's not like a track meet where you can compare times or distances jumped. But beyond that, why do people want to evaluate art works like this. They should be judged and enjoyed individually on their own merits, on the way they make us feel, on how they shed light on the world or the condition of humanity. While I guess there is a certain entertainment value in watching the Academy Awards, for example, I still find the whole premise of it absurd. I think it has something to do with the nature of our country's culture, which seems to like to make us all feel like we have to be "winners."

I heard from folks that had been there the whole evening that there was some good poetry heard, and I think it's nice that something like this gets a bunch of folks involved in literature, but for the moment I'll stick to reading my poetry in books (more likely on those signs in the subway cars, actually).

And by the way, after hearing the poetry slammers, I have an enhanced appreciation of Jon Berger's unique style of poetry delivery which doesn't rely on many of the beat-style cliches that seemed in evidence during the slam.

I caught the end of the slam because I came to hear Patsy Grace. Some of you probably know that Patsy was a Sidewalk regular years ago, before my time, maybe in the early 2000s or something-not entirely sure about that. After leaving New York I know Patsy lived in New Orleans and that may very well be where she resides today. Patsy casts a warm, laid back, earthy vibe in her performances and is a compelling performer. Some of her songs are particularly catchy, and they have interesting structures and some surprising musical ideas, but I feel that much of the spell she casts comes from the mood the songs create all together (check her out on MySpace if you want to know what I mean).

Patsy had a really good violin player with her a guy who she said was from New Orleans. While my first thought was that this dude was way too slim and handsome for his own good--he did have a nice feel for the material and added some very tasteful accompaniment and solos. I'm sorry I didn't catch his name--every time Patsy pronounced it I thought she was saying John-O. And it's quite lame of me that I didn't verify that or find out his last name which I think was either Freedberg or Fishburg.

Patsy had a cold last night and kept implying that her singing voice wasn't in form, although I think she sounded just fine. I wish I'd been around during the years when Patsy was active on the scene--or had some sort of time machine to check in on those days. Somehow I'll bet that in the context of that era-bolstered, prodded, and nurtured by the other heavy-duty talents of the day she must have made quite an impression.

I seem to be making it out to fewer shows these days, as I mentioned in another post. Although I want this blog to continue to tie into the world of Sidewalk Cafe, I realized that at times when I don't have too much to directly report about performances from the scene that I could use this space for general thoughts and rants. So don't be surprised if sometime soon I do a little more aimless rambling about things. I hope it'll be fun for everyone, but who knows? See you then.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Monday Night Antihoot, 1/10/2011, Venus Flytrap, Susan Hwang, Sweet Soubrette

Debe Dalton was in town last night and so some semblance of order and balance was restored to Sidewalk, which I think accounted for the richer and more interesting stuff that was happening on stage. I wasn't keeping notes and so a lot of what went on last night has already slipped away, at least from my storehouse, but I did enjoy a number of the acts. In particular it was nice to hear Debe play and I appreciated her pulling out my favorite song, "Tuesday, Wednesday." I also decided to get back on stage to play for the first time in a while and it was lots of fun for me to trot out my song about Tower Records. It really HAD been quite a long time since I'd sat down at that piano and it brought me back to all the fun, nervousness, and awkwardness of the times in the past when I faced that brick wall. By the way, I do remember that Ben Krieger kicked things off by singing Squid on My Head into the bottom chamber of the piano--from which he'd removed the front cover. This was, Ben explained, his way of getting natural reverb--it was also a repeat performance from the "Blackout" show he'd done Sunday night.

On Friday, I made it for all of Venus Flytrap II, Bernard King's epic assemblage of an all female bill. It was a nice night with many good performances, but the acts that stood out to me were the ones, I think, with which I was most unfamiliar. In particular I liked Julian and the Lopez Dispensers, which featured Julian Lopezmat the center of a three piece group (piano and electric guitar). Some of their tunes, I thought, seemed almost to have an underlying feel of cowboy songs, yet many of them also rocked. Julian was impressive as a singer and frontwoman. I look forward to hearing more from them.

I also really enjoyed Julie Delano's anguished but elegant set. She started off playing a duet with Sam Grossman that they repeated at the end of the show. That's something I've always thought about doing--playing a song a second time. In my case it would be to get it right, but I think for Julie it was just because she enjoyed playing the song.

There was lots of other good stuff going on all through the night. Rebecca Seatle's lyrics about "spindle limbs" have been running through my brain for the last few days. Julie Hill played mostly standards/covers with a friend of hers from music school, including "Oh Darling," but also played an improvised song. Angela Carlucci had a line in one of her songs that I appreciated...something about how everyone she looks up to is trying to look and act young--but she's too old for that.

On Saturday I went to Sweet Soubrette's cd release show at Bowery Poetry club. She isn't really a figure at Sidewalk. I think I got to know her or at least hear her stuff initially through the Bushwick Book Club. Her show was impressive, amazing really, with something like 10 musicians on stage including a horn section, backup vocals, keyboard, guitar, drums, etc. Sweet Soubrette (also known as Ellia Bisker) plays mostly ukelele--and thank god her brother was there to tune it for her throughout the show. Her songs were about lonely City People, being a gold digger, and a love interest in Isabella Rosellini, among other topics.

I was also interested in hearing Susan Hwang's performance with a band, a mix of covers and original tunes. Susan wore an amazing shimmering silver floor-length dress that must be the best vintage store find ever. It seemed to fit well with a kind of 60s girl-group sounding song about "Jimmy" a character I gather Susan knows. Julie Delano and Nan Turner provided appropriate backup vocals. Susan also sang a song about the "girl pool" and a rousing closer about how "This Will be Our Year." Susan is a great singer and terrific songwriter and I enjoyed the set.

I had every intention of making it to the Blackout Night at Sidewalk on Sunday. I'm a big fan of Steve Espinola and most of the other folks who were on the bill too, but life intervened and I couldn't make it. In any event, I'm a big proponent of unamplified music and I was glad to hear Ben say last night that he planned on offering more of these events in the future. It's kind of surprising to me sometimes that most performers take for granted that we need an intermediating device between our voices and the audience. What this means though is that we almost never hear the natural quality of the human voice in performance and also that other people beside the performer (i.e. audio technicians) are making decisions about how a performer sounds. Because of the prevalence of amplification everywhere, we've pretty much forgotten how to listen without it. You actually can hear people fine in most (or at least many) settings without mics but you just have to listen more intently. Ultimately once you adjust your expectations and scale of listening, it's a much more satisfying experience.

Friday, January 7, 2011

This Weekend

Good shows all throughout the weekend: It'll be more than a five-hour night if you make it through the whole slate of performers tonight at Sidewalk. Bernard King has pulled together another of his all-women bills. While we can debate the merits of gender-based programming, I can without any question give Bernard credit for putting together a slate of fine acts, all of whom I am looking forward to hearing. You may know many of the names, but I heard Anna Haas do a song for the first time Monday at the Open Mic and was very captivated by her voice and style. There are a couple other newcomers on the bill as well. Check out the details here. Also, on Sunday, Sidewalk is presenting its second blackout night. I am a big proponent of unamplified music and so I am looking forward to this show. Unfortunately I had to miss the last one but I heard it was a great night. Here's the bill: Sunday, January 9: BLACKOUT NIGHT at Sidewalk! 8-Steve Espinola, 8:45-Elizabeth Devlin, 9:30-Adam Bricks, 10:15-Ben Krieger, 11-Debe Dalton

Finally, a plug for an intriguing show on Saturday at Bowery Poetry Club. Susan Hwang is playing with an interesting band featuring among others, Julie Delano and Nan Turner as backup vocalists. I will be interested to see how Susan interprets her material with this group. She is opening for Sweet Soubrette who is releasing a new CD called Days and Nights.

Hope to see you at one of the shows. They're a good reason not to stay snowbound.