Ray Brown organized a reunion show, held Saturday the 10th, of performers from the Chameleon days, the period from 1989 to 1991 when Lach oversaw an open mic that was a precursor to what emerged at Sidewalk a few years later. The Chameleon was located practically next door to Sidewalk, on Sixth Street, just East of Sidewalk.
It's clear from talking to Ray and also from listening to the performers the other night, that they all felt the time at Chameleon was vital and special, much the way many of us felt whenever we entered Sidewalk for the first time and thought we'd discovered a secret universe of musical joy.
It was nice to have a chance to connect with the specific vibe of the Chameleon through the folks who played the reunion. Remarkably they all seemed fit and good looking. I don't know if Ray decided to book based on who still looked good, but the Chameleon folks have held up well. As for the music, well..my notes of Saturday's show are kind of a mish-mash, but one thing that stood out is the quirky humor that was threaded through each set. Dave Keener's song Moist, Tender, and Flaky for example, is a very funny comic anthem about what a guy expects from a relationship.
I don't know why this humorous strain in the songs would surprise me. In fact it kind of reminded me of the humor that I found at Sidewalk and identified with from the very beginning. It was interesting, though, in any event, to see this as an antecedent to what I found when I arrived years later.
Dave Keener reminded us that the Chameleon was not all about music but also showcased numerous standup comics. He read a series of jokes by Danny DeVito (not the actor, but the comic now known as Danny Vermont). Dave also brought on Tom Keener-who I assume is his brother-to perform Christmas in Brooklyn. And Dave also did a song with Dave Foster, who lots of folks know through Bubble, which I saw when they played the Beatles album Revolver live in its entirety.
Mark Humble read a note from Lach--or at least something he said came from Lach--it seemed very Lachesque anyway--a story about the legend of Kwanicamas--the all purpose holiday celebration. Mark played a long set with a mixture of touching and funny songs.
Something I noticed about both these guys and about James Graham whose set I only caught a bit of--is that they both are excellent guitarists. It's not that they were playing flashy solos or anything, but they used what seemed to me more interesting chord voicings than most of the Sidewalk regulars and played with taste and a nice touch.
Thank You Mary was Ray Brown's band with James Graham and Cybele Merrick. They played a very short set that included "I Want You to Drink Wine with Me"--actually that's not the title, but according to Ray it was a song he wrote in High School "You Can Rock Me' and a rendition of "Those Were the Days" (yes, the Those Were the Days we all know). There was a song in there that was kind of a punky patter song that I liked a lot--"Beg Me." And one about he wind blowing...."that's what it usually does." I wish Thank You Mary had played a little longer so I could have gotten more of the sense of where they were coming from, but I was still glad I got the chance to hear them.
Unfortunately I missed the early part of the show, which included sets by Ray and by James Graham. I'm sure that Ray was as brilliant as always. And I was intrigued by what I did hear of James at the tail end of his set and when he played with Thank You Mary.
When Ray first came back to "the scene" we talked a lot about the Chameleon Days. One of my questions was "whatever happened to these folks." At this point I wonder that too about some of the performers I've met who came through Sidewalk with burning energy but then eventually moved on. It seems as if many of the Chameleon folks have continued with their creative endeavors but in different contexts--I know some of these guys live out of town now. And I assume it's the same with others who have moved on from Sidewalk. In any event it was nice to connect with this encapsulated part of the scene's heritage.