Creatures of New York, Pt. 3

This edition of Creatures of New York is devoted to one very large creature. Distantly related to the Great Blue Heron and the Whooping Crane, the Huge Honking Crane can be found in many cities throughout the world. In light of the recent crane failures in New York and in Miami, it’s nice to see one of these creatures in good health, doing its thing. Despite a few highly publicized incidents, the Great Honking Crane is not endangered.

Here’s the base of a crane recently spotted in the wilds of West 15th St.

Here is the payload: a brand new water tank, which the crane is preparing to feed to its young. (The cranelings, perched on a nearby roof, are not visible.)

The crane begins lifting the water tank high, high up towards the sky.

The water tank rises higher.

Having lifted the water tank all the way into the sky, the crane gracefully swings it towards its final position.

Coming about, the crane lowers the tank towards the rooftop, where the hungry cranelings wait to guide it into position.

Artful Wand’rings

It hasn’t been all sitting in dark rooms reviewing CDs and plays. There’s also wandering around looking at art. Today we checked out the Pool Art Fair at the famous Chelsea Hotel. I’d never been in the Chelsea before except to see the lobby, so this was a good opportunity to wander its hallowed halls and see where the art is made. (Thanks to Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York for the tip.) It was just like a neighborhood studio tour, except all in one building. Here’s Elisa dashing along a corridor, anxious to see yet more art.
Chelsea Hotel Railing

We were particularly taken with Grant Haffner’s paintings of country roads and power lines. Here’s his “Leaving Mecox.”
Grant Haffner, Leaving Mecox

This one isn’t meant to be art, but I thought it made a good photo. I call it “Stairway to Nowhere.”
Chelsea Hotel Stairs to Nowhere

Back in the lobby we fought through a crowd of French tourists to get this shot of the shiny old phonebooths. Then, faster than a speeding bullet, we zoomed out.
Chelsea Hotel Phonebooths

Theater Review (NYC): STUCK! at the Frigid Festival

The Frigid Festival is one of those idealistic, from-the-grassroots alternatives to bigger, more corporate events such as the Fringe Festivals. In this self-described "celebration of independent theater," all box office income goes to the actual productions, while the Festival rather cutely passes the tip bucket for itself.

A one-woman play written and performed by Jennie Franks, STUCK! is a fine example of the kind of (literally) underground theater that flourishes in the context of an event like the Frigid. Kiki, a no-longer-young suburbanite with children and a jittery marriage, is trying – with a faint air of desperation – to maintain a cosmopolitan social life by staying on top of fashion trends and clinging to an Upper West Side lifestyle. Her frazzled morning slams to a halt when she gets locked in the basement bathroom of a Starbucks, with little more than a weak cell phone signal, a giant turd, and her own insecure inner narrative.

Expectedly, Kiki lays her neuroses out for us as she talks herself through her unsanitary ordeal. Unexpectedly, breaches in the fourth wall toy with the audience's assumptions, as the character of Kiki flowers into a bearer of social and political commentary. Ms. Franks' convincing New Yorker morphs into the character of the actress herself (complete with British accent) and back. The first of these shifts disturbs and discomforts the audience, but as the play progresses they become sort of the point, and although last night's fairly sizable crowd contained a lot of Frigid supporters and friends, the cheers for Ms. Franks at the end of her original little piece weren't just friendly, but well-deserved.

The Frigid productions are all supposed to be under one hour, and with their tiny budgets it's not too surprising that quite a few are solo shows like this one. But while small in scale they are large in creative energy. I attended a "Snapshots" presentation last week, where each of a dozen productions staged a five-minute taste, and I'm going to try and catch at least a couple more. You can check out the whole schedule here.

Presented by <a href="" target="_blank">Horse Trade</a> and EXIT Theater, through March 9 in repertory at the Frigid Festival. At the Kraine Theater, 85 E. 4 St. (across the street from La Mama).

Audubon’s Aviary: Portraits of Endangered Species at the New-York Historical Society

The New-York Historical Society owns all of the 435 original watercolors from which the aquatint engravings in John James Audubon’s Birds of America were made. Being fragile and sensitive to light, the watercolors cannot be shown for extended periods. However, the museum is currently displaying about 40 of these magnificent artworks through March 16, and they are well worth the museum’s $10 admission. (Incidentally, that’s half the price of what many of NYC’s great cultural institutions charge, and you’ll notice it’s even less than a movie ticket.)

Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis), ca. 1825

Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis), ca. 1825
Havell plate no. 26.
Watercolor, graphite, pastel, gouache, and black ink with scratching out and selective glazing on paper, laid on thin board.

The exhibit also includes the museum’s copy of the full-size Birds of America on a specially designed display cabinet. Though these iconic pictures are to some extent familiar to most of us, only by seeing the hugeness of the book can you appreciate the impact they originally made. (No flipping pages, though – it’s under glass.) Samples of the popular, much smaller quarto edition are also shown.

The exhibit also pairs some of the drawings with recorded songs of the depicted birds. And finally, there’s a nice gilt-framed video display on what looks like one of those led screens of a selection of the images juxtaposed with video of the same birds in nature – a marvelous way to appreciate Audubon’s achievement.

A poignant aspect of the show is that some of the birds in the paintings, like the passenger pigeon, are extinct. Many others are threatened. The descriptions also note some “success stories,” birds whose populations have rebounded after being drastically reduced.

The only downside of the show is that because of the low light in the display room, it’s difficult for aged, floater-occluded mammalian eyes to read the placards. I have this problem in all museums, but it was especially difficult at this exhibit.

Really getting my $10 worth, I also saw the museum’s small but densely packed exhibit about the Marquis de Lafayette’s triumphant 1824-1825 visit to the United States – a country he had helped birth the previous century, when he was only in his 20s. Objects on display included Lafayette’s copy of the Declaration of Independence, letters from him to George Washington, and this carriage, which was used to ferry him from town to town in New England in 1825.

Carriage that Transported Lafayette in 1825

The N-YHS’s more permanent displays include many iconic paintings, including Thomas Cole’s spectacular “The Course of Empire” series, as well as sculpture, silver, porcelain, and a lot more. Finally, the museum is also running a 9-11 exhibit, which includes some pieces of wreckage, interesting to look at. But I didn’t spend any time at the 9-11 photography and video displays – this is still too raw for me even after six and a half years. It’s a livid memory, not a matter of history. I would, however, recommend the exhibit for out of town visitors.

On the way home I snapped this shot of some gulls flying around Central Park. This past Friday, we had the only significant snowfall of the year so far. It looked especially nice in the park.

Central Park Gulls

Theater Review (NYC): The Play About the Naked Guy

David Bell’s breezy, witty, colorful comedy The Play About the Naked Guy cleverly sends up Off- and Off-Off-Broadway and takes a hilarious poke at the gay nightclub scene as well. If that leads you to imagine a lot of in-jokes and self-referential gags, you’re right, but don’t let that deter you from seeing this delicious confection. Gay or straight, backstage insider or casual playgoer, you’ll come out in a jolly mood.

The one-liners and flashy bits zip rapidly by, but if you miss one, six even better ones are on the way.

Eddie: Pleasure doing business with you, Mrs. Anderson.

Mrs. Anderson: Those were my husband’s final words.

The plot may be a little Swiss Cheesy, but no matter. The Integrity Players are in dire straits: down to three company members, they can’t draw an audience to their “lesser known classics,” but Artistic Director Dan (Jason Schuchman) refuses to compromise his principles and do anything more commercial. nakedguy3He and his wife Amanda (Stacy Mayer) have a baby on the way and no money to raise it, unless they give up their artistic dream and cave in to Amanda’s overbearing mother (the hilariously regal Ellen Reilly), who’s about to withdraw her funding of the failing company.

Harold (Wayne Henry), Integrity’s third remaining member, is an actor with great talent but a sad personal life. His loneliness leads him to a club where he meets the Bialystock-like Eddie Russini (Christopher Borg), a producer who’s grown rich on gimmicky, gay-themed stage shows like “Naked Boys Running Around Naked”. nakedguy1 With his two preening minions in tow (the screechingly funny Christopher Sloan and Chad Austin), and a haughty porn star like the ones you sometimes see on (Dan Amboyer) ready to take the lead role that would otherwise have been Harold’s, Eddie may just be the struggling Integrity Players’ saviour – but at what cost?

Kit: I have a new master! And his name is Uta Hagen!

With a lot of help from director Tom Wojtunik and a fine cast and crew, Bell has created an entertainment that’s sweet-natured and smart, very funny with just the needed touches of touchingness. He plays each of his plot strands fully through – the coming out story (as is sometimes seen in raunchier fashion on, the love elements, the character development – even as he mocks his characters, the crass and the pretentious alike. Sometimes Bell seemed to be reading my critic’s mind; his spoof of small theater companies’ invariably vapid mission statements is priceless.

Insider references aside, The Play About the Naked Guy is a show for all of us – all of us grown-ups, anyway. Might want to leave the little ‘uns at home for this one.

Presented by the Emerging Artists Theater at the Baruch Performing Arts Center, which ably plays itself in this production, in repertory through March 2. Buy tickets online or call (866) 811-4111.

Rivington House

The other day I played with The Kings County Blues Band for a roomful of AIDS patients at Rivington House, a long-term care facility in downtown Manhattan. The residents were very appreciative of the live music, and the cheerful staff and volunteers seemed to have an impressive ability to turn what is essentially a hospital into a not so gloomy place for people who are suffering badly from AIDS to get the care they need. The website also lists volunteering opportunities.

Theater Review (NYC): Glimpses of the Moon at the Oak Room in the Algonquin Hotel

Glimpses of the Moon is a new but charmingly old-fashioned “jazz age musical.” Based on a novel by Edith Wharton, it was written specifically for the Algonquin Hotel’s famous Oak Room. As soon as we hear composer John Mercurio’s first, Gershiwinian piano chords and see Lisa Zinni’s authentic-looking costumes, we settle comfortably into the 1920s, and the bright-eyed cast and almost Wodehouse-like plot do nothing to dispel the spell.

A musical comedy of manners, Glimpses tells a jaunty little story that’s very specific to its time. In the Roaring Twenties, divorce was newly acceptable. almost fashionable, and women in particular were beginning to wriggle out of some of the chains of social convention. Susy Branch (Xanadu‘s Patti Murin) and the perfectly named Nick Lansing (Stephen Plunkett, with Michael Minarek taking over on Feb. 19) are moneyless social climbers who’ve attached themselves rather precariously to high society. Their scheme, to marry for convenience and live off their pricey wedding gifts until they can find wealthy “real” spouses, intersects with the lives of their high-living friends, who include Streffy, a British fop with little money but a handy property in Maine, and Ellie and Nelson Vanderlyn, a rich older couple with a New York City brownstone and a Newport mansion.

Glimpses of the Moon

If you’re envisioning elaborate sets, stop. There are no sets, not even a stage, just a small space in front of the piano. The Oak Room is a cabaret supper club, not a theater. This is pointed up during the number “Right Here, Right Now,” set at the Oak Room itself (of 1922) and sung by a different guest performer at each show. (Last night it was KT Sullivan; Susan Lucci and Joyce DeWitt are among those coming up.)

Director Marc Bruni uses the small central space and the room’s shape cleverly, keeping the action tightly controlled and more or less intelligible, though those seated at the far ends of the room may have missed some of the lyrics during the faster sections. In general the actors’ unamplified voices carried Tajlei Levis’s witty lyrics loudly enough, which is important, for they are sharp and precise, with occasionally Cowardly turns of phrase.

Ms. Murin is sweetly disarming as Susy. Her Disney-perfect voice contrasts nicely with the knowing alto of Beth Glover, who steals many scenes as the riper Ellie. Ellie’s social independence takes a hard-hearted form, but she gets the funniest lines, particularly in the hilarious number “Letters to Nelson.” For his part, the clueless Nelson (Daren Kelly) makes much of the show’s one ultimately sad development, in “Tell Her I’m Happy.” Mr. Plunkett, as Nick, is suitably unprepossessing, but it is the scholarly young swain’s celebration of the Vanderlyns’ Newport manse as the perfect place to get started writing his novel that sets the story’s moral conflict in motion.

Algonquin Hotel, EntranceAct II opens with a comical boating accident that suddenly makes the dandyish Streffy into the Earl he’s always pined to be, giving Mr. Peters, who plays him with an intense, absurd, and very funny grace, the opportunity to bring down the house with “Terrible News.” A shopping scene in B. Altman’s has Ellie make the ambitious but stuffy Coral over into a more glamorous creature, the better to make off with Nick. I suspect you’re beginning to get the picture.The Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel

Mr. Mercurio interprets his own music on the piano. He has collaborated before with Ms. Levis, and the partnership results in songs that trip lightly through the ears – and, to some degree, the eras. The chords and rhythms evoke jazz age music, but big sustained vocal blasts at climactic moments suggest modern-day, corporate Broadway. Though designed for this limited space, the show could certainly do well in a bigger setting. But the elegant, dark-paneled Oak Room suits the show’s jazz age finery just fine.

Through March 10, Mondays only. For tickets, visit the show’s website or call (212) 419-9331.

Music Review: Indie Round-Up – American World Edition

American world? Sure. This week we feature music from artists who, although based in the US, make music that breaks boundaries and feels like it’s built from colorful, jagged pieces of the whole world.

Susan Krebs & the Soaring Sextet, Jazz Aviary

A jazz concept album about birds – not Charlie Parker, but actual birds – sounds potentially pretentious, or precious, or both. But this disc, from singer Susan Krebs, musical director-pianist Rich Eames, and some ace sidemen, is actually a sweet, sincere, unprepossessing, and lovely set of bird-themed tunes. Most of the tracks could stand alone, but the set also flows together like a flock of – I don’t know – some kind of flocking bird.

There are well-known songs, like “Skylark,” “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” and, in a nod to Bird with a capital B, “Ornithology.” There are more obscure songs, like Abbey Lincoln’s “Bird Alone” and Krebs and Eames’s original, meditative tune “The Peace of Wild Things,” which faintly echoes “‘Round Midnight” and features some beautiful flute playing by Rob Lackart. And there are surprises, like Ralph Vaughan Williams’s “The Lark Ascending,” which the musicians give a reverential, meditative treatment, aided by a string section.

A few tracks feel a little icy and overly careful, but Krebs and Co. hit the mark far more often. One of my favorites is their epic take on Dave Brubeck’s “Strange Meadowlark.” Another is “Bob White” with its herky-jerky rhythms. Krebs is not the most powerful or adventuresome vocalist; she sings with what I think of as a shy artistry with a touch of humor. The latter comes into play, for example, in Hoagy Carmichael’s “Baltimore Oriole,” and in the medley of roots and pop (non-jazz) standards that starts with Hank Williams’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” My biggest beef with jazz vocalists is that they frequently lack a sense of fun. Not so here. The “twinkle” in Krebs’s delivery is an important part of this disc’s appeal. So are the little throwaways – quotes from poems, recorded bird sounds, percussion sound effects – that dot the tracks.

Sample all tracks and purchase the CD at CD Baby.

One World, Share My Love

Here’s a band that wears its heart on its sleeve. One World’s new disc contains an hour of jazzy Latin adult contemporary tracks, touched by rock and funk and soft pop, most sung in English. It’s all very smooth, but loaded with good cheer, and has plenty of melodic hooks and rhythmic bounce to keep you on your toes. There are sad moods (“She Longed For His Love”), but One World’s one world is one world without anger and meanness. Check out some sample tracks from this great party record.

N-Side, Just a broke brotha’ tryin’ to come up!

It’s easy to dig jazz poet N-Side. He’s chill. He’s solid. He speaks his poems as neither an angry young man nor a self-satisfied old one, but as a literary artist. As a result he makes you really pay attention to his lyrics. “People wait for me to get fed up, frustrated – hate-filled with aggression, preparing myself to throw down. / But those folks rich in spirit have taught me force isn’t needed to keep this prize called knowledge around.” N’s poems – some rhyming, some more freeflowing and prosy, but all engaged with the complete human experience – are backed by Ricardo Love’s nu-soul grooves and organic hip-hop beats decorated with small splashes of jazz. (Two tracks are by Russell Case.)

The tracks rest in easy grooves that match the poet’s calm intensity as he talks to people we can’t see or hear but whom he makes us envision clearly. “Someone said… they had no culture here and neither did I… ‘Can you lay claim to an original thought of your own?’ / I loaded up with all the names that I was about to call him: sellout, racist, double agent, cultural perpetrator, antebellum negro, no-risk vicarious activist… but I didn’t say a word… finally I… realized once again, I was talking to myself. / Hopefully these type of conversations will change, and not be taken so personally.”

Deep and useful stuff. Sample all tracks and purchase the CD at CD Baby.

Finally, here’s a pic of Stratospheerius, the “full-on electro-fiddle-trip-funk” band whose CD I reviewed back in July. They rocked the legendary Bitter End last night with an all-too-short early set.


It’s good to know that some things, like the Bitter End’s tiny bathrooms, never change. But electric six-string violinist Joe Deninzon (who was born in St. Petersburg, Russia) leads this most excellent band through some serious rhythmic changes. Is it prog-rock? Jazz fusion? A jam band? Ask the portraits of Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell on the walls, I don’t know. A little of each maybe. All I know is it’s kickass. They closed the set with the instrumental “Heavy Shtettle II: Heavier Shtettle.” I said kickass, right?

Here’s a bonus shot of drummer Lucianna Padmore in action. She is an even more awesome musician in person than on CD.


Theater Review (NYC): The Pirates of Penzance

The Pirates of Penzance, one of Gilbert & Sullivan's most popular light operas, has just a couple more performances this go-round at City Center, and you ought to catch it if you can. Dazzling staging and choreography, superb singing, and an emphasis on rich, zany humor add up to an exhilarating evening for all ages. If you're like me you won't want it to end.

Purists might find a little too much stage business – mugging, gesturing and the like – for their tastes, but if you're a Gilbert & Sullivan "purist" you should probably be going back to chill school anyway. This New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players production is a sheer delight.

The soprano Laurelyn Watson Chase, a NYGASP veteran, brings her fluid coloratura voice and a bright-eyed but knowing wink to the role of Mabel. She's matched in vocal skill and acting warmth by newcomer Colm Fitzmaurice, an operatic tenor who turns out to be a natural for the demanding but relatively "straight" role of Frederic, the "poor wand'ring one" whose devotion to "duty" will lead him anywhere – for or against his own principles.

The cast also includes the very droll Stephen Quint as Major-General Stanley, a Howard Stern-bewigged David Wannen as the boastful but too soft-hearted Pirate King, and the ball-of-fire alto Angela Smith as Ruth, the Pirate Maid-of-all-work. From these leads, down through the featured performers (like the delightful David Macaluso as the Pirate King's right hand man), all the way to the least-featured company members, the entire cast flounces and leaps about Lou Anne Gilleland's imaginative set, in Gail J. Wofford's fanciful costumes, with what seems the greatest of ease. In fact the whole production is made to look easy, which it assuredly is not.

This is no doubt due in part to the company's long experience. Some of these performers have been with NYGASP for a quarter of a century. Almost all have considerable Gilbert & Sullivan experience. And it shows.

There are just two more performances of NYGASP's Pirates of Penzance at City Center this winter season. (It is playing in repertory through January 13.) For tickets visit the City Center website or call (212) 581-1212.

Holiday Games

The holidays are all about being someone you’re not. They say that about Halloween, but since I’m usually hiding at home during Halloween, the winter holiday season does just as well. Here I am at the Central Park Blockhouse on Christmas Day. The year is 1812, and I am defending New York City from the British.

These ducks (also in Central Park) are pretending to be all nonchalant, but they know I am taking their picture.

Unaware of the danger, these revelers enjoy a game of Drink Pong at Fat Cat, farther downtown in the populated part of the Isle of Manhattan.

On New Year’s Eve, the British stage a surprise attack, targeting Prospect Park in Brooklyn rather than the more heavily fortified Central Park. Forced to retreat, the Yanks blow up their munitions depot rather than allow it to fall to the British.

Safe and snug in an undisclosed location, civilians enjoy a relaxing game of Pimps and Hos. It’s like Monopoly, only you’re pimps and you buy hos instead of real estate. When someone lands on your ho… you get the picture. Foreground right, with her back to the daguerreotype machine, is the notorious Madame Plumerais, no doubt thinking about her war profits and enjoying a good laugh. (The unidentified woman to the far left may be a British spy.)

When the danger was finally past, we were free to resume our normal activities. Here’s the vastly talented Jud Caswell jud_caswell_bowery performing at the Bowery Poetry Club, where we go for coffee, hard liquor, bawdy music… everything but poetry, really. I purchased Jud’s latest compact disc for one silver ducat – a bargain at any price! Jud came down from the Maine Territories, which, as you probably know, we have just purchased from Canada for forty mules and a ho. So he didn’t even need a passport. Observe how his strumming hand moves so fast you can’t even see it. That’s some north woods mojo right there. meg_braun_bowery I also put down my musket long enough to pick up my bass lute and play this gig backing up Meg Braun. I have it on good authority that Meg has “buzz.” She is, you might say, the Barack Obama of the folk music scene.

That’s all for now. I must put down my quill and try to get some sleep, to ready myself for tomorrow’s battle. Word is that the British invasion may really be all about targeting our singer-songwriters. In the morning I’ll try to hit up Madame Plumerais for information. If I succeed I’ll pass it along via pigeon. If not, well… it’s been pleasant being an atheist in this foxhole with you.

Creatures of New York, Pt. 2

On an early Sunday morning walk in Manhattan, the creatures one runs into are mostly dogs, along with their walkers. But plenty of other fauna can be spotted if you keep a sharp eye. white_pigeon Pigeons are everywhere, of course, but of the billions of pigeons in the city, mere millions are white like this one. If you spot one, you’ll have seven seconds of good luck, or so they say.

Squirrels are common, too, but you usually have to go to a park to see one, unless you are unlucky and one tries to find a warm place to sleep in your home. If this happens to you and you find a squirrel or another kind of wildlife lurking in your home, you can visit a site like to find someone to humanely remove them and get them back to their natural home. This one lords it over a patch of Madison Square Park. squirrel Squirrels feed on nuts, which they stash in the ground all over the place. The species thrives here because the city is full of nuts. (Chock full, even.)

Exiting the park, one may discover wildlife even on a heavily trafficked thruway such as Fifth Avenue, especially in the morning before the tourists have finished their breakfasts. Here, another pigeon has been artfully pressed into service as a window display. paul_smith_dove The culprit: the chain store, an invasive species with no known predators. Oh, but how can you stay mad at Paul Smith? He has that cute little monkey! (Monkey not shown.)

Indigenous New York species tend to be wheeled. Below is a robust yellowbacked streetsweeper, probably a male.


The photo is blurry because sweepers are hard to catch up to, especially in early winter when they’re in a hurry to stock up on food for their brief wintertime hibernation. As a scavenger animal, the highly territorial sweeper must feed for many hours each day.

By contrast, take a look at this sleeping truckus deliverus. This beast maintains its full plumage all year round.


I’m That Guy

I love Kenny’s Castaways. It’s always been sort of the Bitter End’s neglected little brother, but from the standpoint of actually hearing music, it’s better laid out, and the atmosphere and decor are just classic.

The building dates from the 1820s. Round about 1890, when it was known as The Slide, one of the papers called it “the wickedest place in New York.” Well, in the Giuliani-Bloomberg era there’s not too much wickedness to be had, at least not in touristy areas like Bleecker Street, but you can feel the history when you walk into the bar, musical and otherwise. From Aerosmith to The Smithereens, the list of acts who played at Kenny’s Castaways when just starting out reads like a Who’s Who of rock royalty. Bruce Springsteen’s first NYC gigs with the E Street Band were at Kenny’s.

Seems every time I go in there, whether to play a gig with my band or to catch another act, if it’s early enough I see a lone guitar guy singing folk songs to practically nobody. That’s the 7 PM hour, before the bands show up with their hangers-on, before the tourists wander in, even before most of the regulars who hang out at the bar up front arrive. Well, tonight was my turn to be that guy. Whisperado Solo at Kenny's Castaways, 12/21/2007 You can see from my expression that I was having a good time. Didn’t matter that only a few people came (my dad, my aunt, my girlfriend, and a buddy from work, to be exact.)

I felt bad for the duo that played after me – they’d come all the way from Philadelphia and nobody was there to see them (as opposed to me, who might have a thin crowd but gets to walk home.) We couldn’t even hang out to watch them because I hadn’t had dinner, and much as I like to support other musicians, the stomach always wins.

But hey, that’s rock and roll – you gotta play to an empty room sometimes. For a long time, sometimes. Years, sometimes. Till you die, sometimes. The next Whisperado gig is at R Bar the day after Christmas, when we’ll have the whole band and be celebrating our fifth bandiversary. Be there or forever regret it!

Do You Like the “Rock and Roll,” Boys and Girls?

The Blender Theater at Gramercy turns out to be a pretty good place to see a rock show. You can hear the vocals, and the whole mix isn’t nightmarishly loud… and that’s as much as I hope for from one of these old converted theaters. And you can sit! Although the shows are technically SRO, the seats in the former balcony have been retained. Though there isn’t much leg room, any seats are a blessing when you’re too decrepit to stand for a three or four hour rock show.

After Michael Tolcher opened the show with a solid acoustic solo set, the The Alternate Routes took the stage. They’re one of my favorite new bands, and although they strayed a few times from their smooth mix of alt-rock and power pop by hitting us with a couple of hardheaded country-ish numbers and maybe a few bars more jamming than were necessary for their short set, they didn’t disappoint.

The Alternate Routes
The Alternate Routes, Dec. 15 2008

Then the headliners, The Clarks, took the stage.

The Clarks
The Clarks, Dec. 15 2008

These guys are consummate pros. One song flows right into another. They look like they’ve been doing this and loving it all their adult lives, which they have. A bonus was their inspiring cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “The River,” to which they gave a gently swinging beat.

Altogether a good night at the not-movies. And we even got to sit down. Kinda like old times – going to see a rock show, walking around between sets, buying a beer, sitting back down. Only now, there’s no actual smoke allowed, so they fill the hall with some kind of haze. I guess it’s to make the lighting effects look cooler, but what it does it take me back to the days when you could smoke – pretty much anything – at an indoor rock show, and as long as you didn’t set fire to anything or try to jump on the stage, nobody would give you a second look (or smell).

Now You Funny Too

People say making it in comedy is even tougher than making it in music. Evidence appeared the other day when a series of comedians performed at the Duplex for five minutes each. Some were terrible, some mediocre, a few quite good. Here’s D’yan, one of the good ones, trying out a new number with her “Jew-kelele”:

D'yan at the Duplex

Thing I noticed, though, was how hardly any of the comedians supported each other. As each one went on, others left the club, until for the last couple of performers there was practically no one in the audience. Much of the evening was downright depressing.

Music’s different. Trying to keep a band going, promoting the gigs, making promoters and club owners happy, maintaining momentum when you’re getting little recognition and no remuneration, all while being creative – those are difficult tasks, but bands are usually nice to each other and can often stick around and appreciate the music of the act that went on before them (or will go on after). Also, bands themselves are social entities. Even on the solo singer-songwriter scene, people at least clap for each other. Here’s a band.

Elisa Peimer at the Underscore, NYC

That’s Elisa Peimer rocking at the Underscore. (On the left is Meg Braun, with Paul Cabri on electric guitar.)

Yup, I think I’ll save my funny business for home. Plenty of stubbed toes, splinters, and cabinet-door head trauma to be had here, thank you very much. Hey – maybe I’ll write a song about it. And when you listen to it, I promise I won’t bang you over the head with a guilt complex if you don’t laugh.

City Dictionary, Pt. 2

Building [bild-ing]noun

  1. Something I could have bought for $9 in 1940*
  2. [archaic] Robot-shaped building blocks

Here are several buildings. These happen to be along Sixth Avenue in New York, but they are everywhere.


Car [kahr]noun – [from Celtic “carus” (monkey)]

  1. A large wheeled monkey, usually transported upon one’s back.

Chrysler [Kris-ler]noun – [orig. obscure, poss. from OMG “How very large!”]

  1. A very large building
  2. A specific East Side skyscraper, rumored to have had been built with a fortune made in the large-wheeled-monkey business

Below is a construction site where a new building is going up. In front of the building you will notice an oversized rat. Here at The Bagel and the Rat, we know rats, and this isn’t just any specimen, it’s an authentic sighting of the Giant Inflatable Rat, a well-known New York City labor union icon.


Conversation [kon-ver-sey-shuhn]noun – [from Latin “converse” (shoe)]

  1. An exchange of information about real estate, i.e. buildings

*Apologies to Jackie Mason.

The Dupe!

When I was in high school, in a pleasant but sleepy suburb of New York City, my friend Eugenia was THE COOLEST.

One of the many reasons was her cool, mysterious extra life, where she’d go into the city – we all did that – but she’d go to the Duplex, “New York’s Legendary Piano Bar,” where all kinds of cool, mysterious people with cool, mysterious lifestyles drank and sang uncool, not very mysterious show tunes.

Now I’ll admit it: mumblety-mumble years later, although I’ve lived in New York and environs most of my life, I’d never been to the Dupe. Until last night, that is, thanks to Susan Gregory’s birthday party, which featured all the cookies you could eat. Mmm… cookies.

City Dictionary, Pt. 1

Bus [buhs]noun – [shortened from “omnibus,” from Latin “omni” (many) + “bus” (stop)]

  1. A partially hollowed-out rectangular solid, usually affixed to a road surface; a hillock
  2. Shelter from the storm

Dog [dawg]noun – [from the Lenape “nadagga” (chipmunk)]

  1. A domesticated chipmunk
  2. A rat in a bag

Rat [rat]noun – [from Latin “rattus” (rat)]

  1. A wingless pigeon
  2. A subway track maintenance device

Scaffolding [skaf-uhl-ding, -ohl-]noun – [from ME “skaffle,” a game, related to ninepins, in which fieldworkers atop haystacks urinated onto passing sheep]

  1. A “temporary” structure abutting a building
  2. Shelter from the storm

Tourist [toor-ist]noun – [from OE “tor,” a small hillock]

  1. An obstruction in the road
  2. A plastic bundle atop a bus (rainy days only)

Virgin [vur-jin]noun – [derivation obscure]

  1. A retail store selling CDs, DVDs, and sundries
  2. A watertight scaffolding for homesick tourists; shelter from the storm

A Thousand Years, A Couple of Blocks

New York City can’t boast 1,000 years of history, but it’s not hard to find ancient music within its walls. Yesterday I caught the Ivory Consort‘s CD Release concert at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, where this beatific-looking dude keeps watch outside.

Outside St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery

The present building dates from the late 18th century, but Peter Stuyvesant, the Governor of New Amsterdam, was buried in 1678 on the site, under the earlier chapel. I don’t know what he would have thought of the music being played upstairs. The Ivory Consort presented a program of Arabic, Christian, and Jewish music from what is now Spain and southern France in the 12th century and thereabouts. What the Dutch colonists were listening to in the 17th century, I have no idea (if anyone knows, please enlighten).

Ivory Consort

One of the cool things about the Ivory Consort is that, unlike some early music groups, the members have colorful personalities. You might think of them the way we used to think of our favorite rock bands. Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Who – these weren’t just groups, they were made up of distinct personalities who were, as individuals, almost as important to our enjoyment of the band as the overall sound. Singer-viellist Margo Grib manges to slither while standing in one spot – she’s like an operatic, grown-up Shakira (but with a much lovelier voice). Group director Jay Elfenbein is the avuncular, slightly goofball spokesman, a low-key Peter Schickele. Oud player Haig Manoukian is the star soloist; Percussionist-vocalist Rex Benincasa howls in Arabic like a musical Allen Ginsburg; Daphna Mor swings her red tresses while sexily blowing through a variety of tubes with holes in them; Dennis Cinelli is the “quiet” one, calmly playing the saz, gittern, and mandora while observing the others’ antics with a glint in his eye.

Walking home, I snapped this picture down 11st St. from the front of Webster Hall, the historic nightclub that’s soon to be given official Landmark status by the city. I thought this was a nice shot, with the 19th century architectural detail, the 21st century bands on the marquee, and the spire of Grace Church in the background. Grace Church was designed by James Renwick, Jr., who was later responsible for St. Patrick’s Cathedral uptown, and the Smithsonian Institution castle in Washington DC.

Webster Hall and 11th St.

No Degrees of Separation

A gaggle (a phalanx? a castleful? a stupefaction?) of New York City musical royalty (and some who should be) swirled through Gizzi’s Coffeehouse this evening. I went to see Leo (pictured), who, accompanied by the fine artist-guitarist Amura, delivered an intense and energetic batch of socially conscious, playful, powerful, rough-folk songs of his own cockeyed and cantankerous devising. In attendance, along with your humble correspondent: songwriting legends Bobby Stewart and Elisa Peimer, and, performing after Leo, NYC violin legend Deni Bonet, who not too long ago lent her talents to a Bobby Stewart recording on which I also appeared.


Deni performed backed by guitarist extraordinaire David Patterson, who had just finished a recording session with Halley DeVestern, and who had backed up jazz-pop vocalist Cybele Kaufman at one of my recent Soul of the Blues shows. David P. also appeared on the David Sasscer album, which, by pure coincidence – as I’d never heard of Sasscer until his publicist sent me his new CD recently – I’m reviewing right now for my Indie Round-Up column this week.

Got that? There’ll be a test tomorrow.