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.