Lucid Culture


Concert Review: Rachelle Garniez at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 11/1/07

Rachelle Garniez is the best thing going right now. She’s a songwriter completely in command of any style she wants to appropriate, as well as being a performer completely in command of any audience, anywhere. She ranks with Iggy Pop and James Brown as one of the great, charismatic live acts of our time. Not bad for a somewhat inscrutable woman whose main instrument is the accordion.

On a big stage, or any kind of stage (this place has none), Garniez will sometimes pull out all the stops. Her roots are punk, her accordion style somewhat cajun-inflected, but when she sees the opportunity she isn’t shy about showing off her spectacular vocal range, belting to the rafters for all it’s worth. Here, she whispered her jokes instead and held back a little on the mic, working the little room masterfully.

Garniez doesn’t confine herself to the accordion, and that’s a good thing because her chops on the piano are downright evil, her hands casually gliding over the changes, making the seemingly endless series of tough, staccato octaves and jazzy, chordal fills that she played tonight look absolutely effortless. It’s hard to imagine a better keyboardist in rock, if you can call what she does rock. Perhaps New York noir would be a more appropriate umbrella to throw over her, not that she’d stay there long, moving from ragtime to saloon jazz to psychedelic art-rock in the span of perhaps a dozen minutes during this evening’s show. Holding all her stylistic leaps and bounds together is an unflinching, utterly spontaneous, darkly bemused vision of a completely absurd, frequently threatening but ultimately conquerable world.

Tonight she began the show pedaling a big accordion chord, going way up into falsettoland with vocalese while guitarist Matt Munisteri (whose surgically smart, incisively minimalist acoustic fills were spot-on all night) slowly built a raga behind her. It eventually morphed into a 6/8 ballad called Tourmaline, the semiprecious stone triumphantly symbolizing everything that’s…not quite there. In a sometimes very roundabout way, Garniez champions the underdog, and this new song from her forthcoming album The Melusine Years is a prime example.

As she switched to piano, she divulged that she’d been hired as a witch for Halloween, which left her with a big dreadlock hanging over the back collar of her pristine vintage dress. “The witch hairspray gives you a very Elsa Lanchester kind of feeling,” she explained, and launched into a comfortable, upbeat country ballad, playing a couple of amusing quotes from pop songs during the song’s ragtimish bridge. There was a bag of Reese’s candy on the piano, which she examined with considerable skepticism. “Made in Pennsylvania. That’s what it says,” she shrugged. “It was here when I got here, so you know it has to be safe.”

The big anthem that followed was the highlight of the night, or the month, maybe, which Garniez opened with a vividly chordal, Asian melody:

After the afterparty
The sun rose oh so quickly
As you stared oh so blankly

And I spoke oh so frankly
So many words to you
So many words to you
I can’t remember a thing

Garniez virtually always sings in character, and by now she has enough of them to populate a small village. But every once in awhile, she drops her guard, and the effect is riveting:

After the afterparty
You hailed me a taxi

And I buckled up for safety
Maybe I’ll live to be an old lady
With lots of big hats and jewelry
And an inscrutable air of mystery

And when questioned about my history
I’ll smile oh so sweetly
And whisper oh so discreetly
I can’t remember a thing

The hurt in Garniez’ plainspoken delivery was visceral, just as much as the sweet taste of revenge at the end of the song. After that, redoubtable upright bassist Dave Hofstra switched to tuba for a bouncy, oldtimey number that she told the audience she’d been lambasted for writing, considering how cynical it is. But no matter: “Have yourself a nice pre-post apocalypse,” she sang triumphantly. If the rest of the material on the new album is remotely as good as what she played tonight, it’ll be one of the decade’s best. Just like her last one. Rachelle Garniez plays the cd release for The Melusine Years at Joe’s Pub on December 22.

November 5, 2007 - Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. […] Thurs Dec 6 Rachelle Garniez plays Barbes, 9 PM. You heard this here first: there is no more mesmerizing, hilarious or intense […]

    Pingback by NYC Live Events Calendar 11/28-12/31/07 « Lucid Culture | November 28, 2007 | Reply

  2. […] Dec 22 Rachelle Garniez plays the cd release for her long-awaited new album The Melusine Years at Joe’s Pub, 9:30 PM, […]

    Pingback by NYC Live Events Calendar 12/16-31/07 « Lucid Culture | December 10, 2007 | Reply

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