Lucid Culture


Rachelle Garniez at Barbes Again 6/5/08

As regular readers of this page know well, multi-instrumentalist/chanteuse Rachelle Garniez has been playing a regular residency at Barbes at 10 the first Thursday of the month for what seems like forever. Tonight it was just her and longtime bassist Dave Hofstra, who’d patiently pedal a chord or run the changes while Garniez made up her mind what joke she wanted to tell or what she wanted to play next. The primary reason Garniez is such a captivating performer is because she never plays the same song the same way twice, not remotely. The rotating cast of characters backing her onstage is part of it, as is the wide diversity of styles in her repertoire, but it’s mostly because she’s not just entertaining the crowd: she’s also entertaining herself. Being someone who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, if something is good enough to tickle her, it’ll probably tickle everybody else too. Tonight it was less about the jokes and more about the music: she made up a set list on the spot and then played it, more or less all the way through without interruption.

Playing accordion, Garniez opened with a tongue-in-cheek, newish cabaret number. She likes to jam out intros and outros, using them basically as background for improv comedy. The big crowd-pleaser of the night was the bouncy Kid in the Candy Store with its sly Freudian metaphors and intro which of course Garniez made up on the spot. She also did another metaphor-driven number, Tourmaline, the anthropomorphosed semi-precious stone whose flaws make it all the more interesting, along with a towering, chordally-infused take of the Johnny Thunders classic You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory. When the scars go, they let you know, and Garniez brought out every ounce of ache in the lyric.

Later, she switched to piano for Quality Star, which might be her best song. It’s a long, slowly crescendoing art-rock epic that builds to become one of the most savage kiss-off anthems ever. Casually and matter-of-factly, Garniez related her tale of a marriage gone horribly wrong, tinkling the handbells she’d brought with her as she opened the song, an effect that gave the crowd pause even while they were chuckling, while Garniez took her time climbing to the chorus:

But you say
Monsters like us don’t make good husbands and wives
But monsters lead such interesting lives
Now I don’t know what you’re hoping the future might bring
But monsters make the best of everything

Then she took a solo. On the album, her guitarist Matt Munisteri cranks it up just enough to hammer the point home, gently; live, it screams out for a vindictive crescendo, but in typical counterintuitive fashion, Garniez didn’t do that. Instead, she gave it a dismissive, even indifferent tone with an offhand series of jazz chords down the scale to where the outro starts to kick in:

You couldn’t pay me to go back
You couldn’t pay me to go back
You couldn’t pay me to go back to where I’ve been

And followed that with the very subtle revenge anthem After the Afterparty, the opening track on her latest cd Melusine Years (our pick for best album of 2007). Then she picked up her accordion again and reverted to the lighthearted tone she’d started with, closing with the punked-out oompah song Pearls and Swine, a reliable crowd-pleaser.

Here in the blogosphere – isn’t that where we are? – it’s considered gauche to spend too much time on any one band or artist. Nobody wants their blog to be dismissed as just another fansite, after all. But Garniez’ shows are all so different and so much fun for such widely different reasons: she’s someone you can actually go see every month without ever running the risk of boredom. If this review – and the next, and the next, because there will be more, never fear – succeed in failing to bore you, that’ll mean that we’ve been able to capture a little of what makes this elusive performer so spectacularly good.

June 6, 2008 - Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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