AUGUST 2006         back

Garth Fagan Dance Company: August 26th at Damrosch Park

This is the fifth time that I've seen this company since beginning this web site in 2003. Obviously I love the company and if you've read any of the four previous reviews you already know why, so I'll try to recap briefly.

Garth uses movements from various dance disciplines, creating a dance gumbo that never fails to excite or surprise. His choice of music is equally eclectic. This program used music from Brahms and Shostakovich as well as Jelly Roll Morton, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band and others.

Consequently, he needs, and has assembled, a troupe of versatile dancers who are able to glide from modern to ballet to Afro-Caribbean movements often within the same piece. The dancers are strong, graceful and flexible and their balance defies logic. What also defies logic are the dancers who've been with this company for multiple decades but are still so strong and flexible. All of these are indications of their training, discipline and dedication.

The principal male dancers for the company are Norwood Pennewell, Steve Humphrey, Bill Ferguson and Guy Thorne. The females are Nicolette Depass and Micha Scott who danced with the company in the 1990's and rejoined them earlier this year. I was extremely disappointed to hear that Keisha Laren Clarke had left the company, I don't think you've heard the last of her on this site, but the addition of Micha helped to smooth that transition.

The balance of the company includes Annique Roberts, Kevin Moore, Julian Reynolds, Demetrius Blocker and Kaori Otani. I'm not in the habit of naming an entire company, but I was so pleased with all their efforts that I'm making an exception. It seems to me that the future of this company looks bright.

This program included several pieces I've seen before including two of my favorites "Dancecollageforromie" and "Translation Transition" as well as a beautiful pas de deux featuring Kevin Moore and Nicolette Depass called "Sonata In The Afternoon" which used music from Brahms.

After the performance, Judy and I had nice chats with Norwood, Bill and Nicolette, all of whom seem like old friends at this point. We also had a brief but friendly chat with Micha Scott and a more lengthy conversation with Kevin Moore and his friend Ralph. Our good friend, Alexandre Proia, who danced with NYC Ballet for 11 years, couldn't stay till the end but said he'd like to see this company again. That's very high praise from Alex.

Each time I've seen this company I've left with a feeling of exhilaration and complete satisfaction, partially from seeing such great performances but also from the feeling of having seen old friends. They'll be back in NYC in October for at week at the Joyce with Garth's new piece. If we're not there at least once, check the hospitals. 

 

Corinne Bailey Rae: August 23rd at Webster Hall

At the beginning of this year, no one in the U.S. had ever heard of Corinne Bailey Rae. Her single "Put Your Records On" was a huge hit in her native England late last year and went on to become popular all over Europe. Her debut CD was released in this country in late February of this year and not too long after that her music and video started showing up on various radio and music television stations. She's becoming more well known here with each passing day.

I saw her on late night TV a few months back and was very impressed. She had a very smooth acoustic neo soul sound with a nice voice and a sweet personality. Recently a few of her songs have been getting air time on 90.7 WFUV, who also offered free tickets to this show on their ticket hot line, so I quickly put in my request and got them (see www.wfuv.org  for details). 

When I first saw her on TV, I went out and listened to her CD; and although I thought it had some really nice stuff on it, I wasn't as impressed as when I saw her on TV. Her live show is a whole other story. Her concert voice seems bigger and she and her band weave a little more blues and rock into her jazzy neo-soul style.

For this show, she fronted a band consisting of drums, bass, guitar, keyboard, two backup singers and sometimes played acoustic guitar with the band or solo. She performed all the songs from her CD including "Choux Pastry Heart" and "Butterfly", which I understand she wasn't performing earlier in the tour and for her final encore did Stevie Wonder's "Seasons Change", which is also on the CD and left me thinking "Wow!"

Halfway through the show she talked about her performing roots in an indie rock band called "Helen" and then performed a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Since I've Been Loving You" from Led Zeppelin III. It started out soulful and bluesy but towards the end the band let loose and rocked it home. I  liked everything I had heard up to that point but when that song was finished I realized that this girl had something special.

Now that I've seen her live show and been so impressed, I may give her CD another listen. This is a talented artist who I suspect will be playing larger venues in the not too distant future so I suggest seeing her soon while she's still in more intimate venues. She's got another single and video coming out in the fall and after hearing this show, I can't imagine what could stop her now.

Some final notes: I enjoyed her both solo and with the band but there were times when she had to compete with the rhythm section to be heard. She's got a strong voice but her style can be soft and subtle. It wasn't a big problem but something they should work on.

The promoters also made a gross mismatch with opening acts Gran Bel Fisher, an acoustic blues rock duo from Ohio, and Brooklyn native Greg Devine who was an acoustic folkie. I found certain aspects of each act to have some promise but their music held no interest for an overwhelming number of this audience. That's a tough spot for a performer to be in.

I did snap to attention when Devine introduced his back up singer, Carey Brandenburg, who I spoke with after the set. I asked her where her family was from and she said some of them were from California. My great-great-grandfather left Brooklyn for California in the 1880's, so if we go back six or seven generations maybe we're related. Small world. 

 

The New York Dolls: Aug 18th at South Street Seaport

In the early 1970's, the New York Dolls took the androgyny, glam and hard edge of Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Iggy Pop and released two critically praised but commercially ignored albums which built the bridge that connected those artists and others like them with the punk rock movement by influencing groups like the Ramones and The Sex Pistols.

Looking like cross dressers who applied their wigs and makeup drunk and in the dark, and playing hard driving drug infused three minute rock songs, it's not surprising that they didn't catch on in the main stream.

The group broke up in 1977 but reunited in 2004 at the invitation of Morrissey of the Smiths, who at one point had been president of the British New York Dolls fan club (If you look at the show I saw the night before this one, that will seem like quite a coincidence). At that time only David Johansen, Syl Sylvain and Arthur Kane were still alive having lost Johnny Thunders and Billy Murcia to overdoses and Jerry Nolan to a stroke. Not too long after the reunion, Arthur Kane was lost to leukemia.

The reaction to their reunion performance eventually led to the studio and the recent release of their new CD "One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This" which sounds like it could have been released "back in the day". I mean that as a compliment. This CD is authentic New York Dolls, not a lame attempt to capture lightening in a bottle.

This show included tunes from their two original albums, a cover of Janis Joplin's "Piece Of My Heart" and a handful of tunes from the new CD including the single "Dance Like A Monkey" and the very melodic "Plenty of Music" which actually reminded me of Beach Boy's "I Can Hear Music".

Between then and now, David Johansen has kept busy recording his biggest hit "Hot Hot Hot" as alter ego Buster Poindexter, playing the Taxi Driver in Bill Murray's "Scrooged" and being a regular downtown fixture in projects like the Downtown Messiah and the Nebraska Project, and performing traditional folk music with The Harry Smiths. I also saw him just a couple of weeks ago performing with Dr John. You might say that he's come full circle.

The opening act was Brooklyn based rock group Tralala, who could be described as Bannanarama meets the Ramones. Four female voices singing hard driving two and a half minute rock songs with minimal harmonies and backed by guitar bass and drums. They sang well, and looked good while doing it, but brought nothing new to the table. Still, I was strangely attracted to and somewhat enjoyed the performance. Go figure.

 

The Loser's Lounge Battle of the Bands: Aug 17th at The Bowery Ballroom

I've gone to quite a few Loser Lounge shows and each time I comment on how brilliantly the band recreates the music of whoever is being honored and what a fantastic job they do with vocal arrangements. This show was different because vocal arrangements are not a big factor with these two groups. What you have instead are two singers who nobody would accuse of having great voices, but who each have a unique style of delivering a song.

With Robert Smith of the Cure, you need to imagine a child coming down from a crying jag but still gasping and choking on tears while trying to explain what's wrong. For Morrissey of The Smiths, every word he sings is tinged with the feeling of a long slow sigh filled with regret and frustration. With the individual losers left on their own to capture the emotional impact of these two singers, the performances fell short more often than not.

Sean Altman, who I think is as good a singer as you'll hear anywhere, is too happy and well adjusted to sing Morrisey's "Girlfriend In A Coma". If she really was in a coma, he wouldn't appear to be having so much fun. Wendy Ip joked that with a band like The Smiths, you need to focus on the lyrics because many of the songs don't have memorable melodies or good pop hooks. She proceeded to read some lyrics from her song "I was looking for a job, and found a job. Heaven knows I'm miserable now". She added "Who hasn't been there?" It was funny but then she proceeded to sing the song without seeming particularly miserable except maybe for the fact that she had to sing a Smiths song.

And so it went with a series of not bad but mostly unconvincing versions of the various tunes. A few notable exceptions were Michael The Girl who was very impressive and energetic with her version of  The Cure's "I Will Always Love You", Annie Fresh who performed "Love Cats" with a theatric flair and Royce Peterson, of the band Moi?, who practically channeled Robert Smith in his version of "Let's Go To Bed". 

 Notable on the Smith's side was David Driver, who specializes in "over the top" emotional performances, who took "Big Mouth Strikes Again" and made it his own in impressive fashion. Nick Danger, who co- founded the Loser's Lounge with Joe McGinty, is not much of a singer but was very entertaining with his version of "Frankly Mr. Shankly". His knack for choosing songs with a humorous slant and then performing them with reckless abandon always makes him very enjoyable.

It was also fun seeing A. J. Lambert, Nancy Sinatra's daughter, sing the song "Let Me Kiss You"  written for her mother by Morrissey a few years ago. Connie Petruck, pictured with Sean above, helped with the vocal harmonies on that one.

After each Loser's Lounge, I'm usually left with a renewed appreciation for the talent of the Loser collective, but this time I was left with a renewed appreciation of Morrisey and Robert Smith.  Maybe they don't have strong voices with lots of range but their depth of emotion is not so easily duplicated. Here are some other pics from the show:

 

Oh, The Smiths won the battle of the bands.

 

  Richard Shindell: August 9th at Madison Square Park 

John Platt of WFUV introduced Richard as the most eloquent voice of his generation and Joan Baez has compared his songwriting abilities to Bob Dylan. High praise and well deserved. I also hear hints of Gordon Lightfoot in his voice and writing style.

He opened the show by dedicating the first song, Pete Seeger's 1967 anti-war song "Waist Deep In The Big Muddy", to Connecticut Democrat Ned Lamont, followed by his own song "Fishing" and Woody Guthrie's "Deportee". 

His song "Fishing" is a story of an illegal immigrant being pressured by a government agent to identify his friends to avoid being deported himself. Musically the song has always reminded me of Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower" and the lyrics are powerful and chilling, especially in the political environment of today. The agent plays good cop/bad cop by weaving back and forth between threats of deportation and talking about fishing in an attempt to coerce cooperation. In the end, the immigrant politely explains that his fishing nets are waiting for him at home out beyond the coral reefs. Sometimes the song gives me goose bumps.    

After a politically charged beginning, he settled into a string of fan favorites including "Mavis", "The Courier", "The Kenworth Of My Dreams", "Transit", "The Last Fare Of The Day" and "Wisteria", among others. "Wisteria" may be the most successful song to ever capture the feeling of nostalgia. You'll have to listen to it to know what I mean. He also covered Dylan's "Senor", which he says is on an upcoming CD.

Before playing "So Says The Whipporwill", he said he received an e-mail requesting the song from someone who wanted to propose marriage during the song. The guy got so excited that he proposed before Richard could even play the song. Richard congratulated them, played the song and everyone had a warm moment.  

You're not likely to see Richard Shindell in NYC without seeing his old friend Lucy Kaplansky who he brought up to sing harmonies on three or four songs. Before one of the songs, "Are You Happy Now", Richard advised the newly engaged couple to pay no mind to the suicidal breakup song.

Richard played acoustic and electric guitar and was backed by Lincoln Schleifer on upright bass. It was a beautiful evening, a great show and it was free. Life is good.

 

Amber Rhodes : August 6th at The Grand Spiegeltent

Almost exactly three years ago I went against my normal routine and decided to see a show  based on a blurb and a picture on the Fez web site without ever having heard the music. That show was a country rock duo called "Laura and Amber". I don't remember exactly what the blurb said to pique my interest, but it was a fun show and you can see that picture and my review of the show in July of 2003.

I kept tabs on the duo, thinking I'd catch them again at some point, but over time Laura pursued other options, she's also an actress, and Amber set out to establish a solo career. A few months back, I went to see Kathleen Edwards and ran into Hugh Colocott who plays guitar and co-writes with Amber. He brought me up to date on their activities and stimulated my curiosity about Amber's music. When I saw that she was performing at the Spiegeltent, I was curious to see her solo act, but also to find out what the heck was a Spiegeltent. 

Her music is country in the same way that Shania Twain is country. There's a fiddle and a little twang, and she meets the minimum requirement for broken hearts in the lyrics, but when the smoke clears, and there was a smoke machine used during some of her set which she joked about, the songs are more catchy pop rock tunes and ballads all with good stories.

She also has the good looks and strong voice like Shania and a seven piece band that was very impressive. Some of the ballads had beautiful melodies and when the band cut loose they could really rock. I can imagine hearing her music on country, rock or easy listening  stations, although I think the country stations will most easily warm up to her. She and her band are playing around town promoting her new CD "Goodbye Yesterday". They'll be at The Bitter End soon and are worth checking out.

After a week of record setting heat, this was a mild comfortable evening and the air conditioned Spiegeltent turned out to be a very cool venue (both literally and figuratively).  It will only be here two months and then it's off to another city. For more on that, see www.spiegelworld.com  and for more on Amber Rhodes and her new CD see www.amberrhodesmusic.com

 

"Hot Summer Night" a Tribute to Neil Diamond : August 2nd at Rockefeller Park

Under the heading of "truth in advertising", this was not just the hottest day of the year, but the hottest day of any year in my lifetime. A good case could have been made for moving the show indoors, but the decision was made to stick with plan A but to put out complimentary  bottled water for the audience. With the cold water and a breeze off the water, which reminded me of opening the oven to check a Thanksgiving turkey, the brave or dumb audience, depending on who you ask, managed to make it through the show.

The show consisted of a house band and a handful of singers performing the Neil Diamond songbook. Pictured above is Ele Ferrer performing "Holly Holy" sounding a little like Aretha Franklin (that's not Neil Diamond on sax behind her).  Matt Keating sounded the most like the original, performing "Cracklin' Rose" and the Monkees tune "I'm a Believer" which was penned by Diamond.

The versatile John Kelly, who I reviewed on this site in 2003 when he did a Joni Mitchell show, did a nice job with two love songs "Evermore" and "Grass", and B-movie actress Brenda Bergman did a medley with lots of schtick which concluded with "I Am I Said". You may remember her from the not academy nominated "Geek Maggot Bingo". Or maybe not.

Some of the other performances included Storm Lee (America), Carol Lipnik (Play Me) and Valerie Carter (Red Red Wine). In the end it was a fun show but it was difficult to work up much enthusiasm when clapping caused profuse sweating.

This show was part of the summer long River to River Festival, which presents free shows downtown all summer long. If they do a similar show next year, they may want to consider calling it "Cool Summer Night".