Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Little Annie and Paul Wallfisch at Santos Party House, NYC 11/6/08

Smoky-voiced noir cabaret chanteuse Little Annie Bandez has been riding the wave of a long, long-awaited career resurgence lately, with a couple of resoundingly successful European tours in the last year or so. Last night’s show at Santos Party House was a revelation. She’s never sung better or written better and maybe never looked better either. Some artists need to grow into themselves and it seems that Annie –  despite all protestations to the contrary – has found her holy grail at last. “This week was going to be either a celebration or a funeral,” she remarked. “Paul and I just did this really sad New York album and now…”she was at a loss for words. There’s never been an election that’s lifted the spirits of so many Americans, maybe ever, and Annie was trying to figure out how to deal with it. Predictably, she dedicated a song to Obama, “Even though I never dated him.”

 

Annie’s been a figure on the New York music scene, sometimes a bit player, sometimes a star, dating from the late 70s Mudd Club no wave scene. Discovered by noted reggae producer Adrian Sherwood in the mid-80s, the “dub diva” put out a series of now-collectible eps, all the while battling a small army of personal demons. In recent years she’s made her stories of life on the fringes into a marvelous source of stage banter, wearing the persona of a survivor, battlescarred yet with her sense of humor intact. Tiny and sepulchral as she emerged under the low lights, she and pianist Paul Wallfisch opened with a rivetingly dark version of Private Dancer that was pure punk in intensity if not volume. Wallfisch – this generation’s greatest rock keyboardist and frontman of the New York noir band Botanica– added characteristic touches of menace, but only when the song called for them. “You can’t look in their faces,” Annie sang, reaching down for the darkest, most gravelly timbre she could find. This isn’t just a singer-and-her-accompanist act: there’s a great deal of interplay and call-and-response between the two. Typically, Wallfisch would echo a phrase, but often counterintuitively, subtly twisting or even wrenching the emotion from the lyric. 

 

They followed that with a somewhat uncharacteristically upbeat take on It Was a Very Good Year before running through a set of originals. The first chronicled the life and unexpected demise of a legendary party animal. The Other Side of Heartache was arguably the high point of the set, a bitter, knowing yet defiantly witty reflection on addiction and bad behavior. As the song wound down, Annie launched into a long spoken-word outro: maybe I’ve acted badly, but so what, she asked. Do we have to have a meeting and another meeting and another meeting?

 

A couple of times she broke the fourth wall, stopping the song when she’d broken character to the point where she couldn’t return. “Paul, do I amuse you as much as I amuse myself?” she laughed. “Even more,” Wallfisch replied. The rest of the show alternated between riverting intensity and devious fun. If You Go Away (the Anglicized version of the Edith Piaf classic) and a shockingly transformed cover of the U2 schlockfest I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For fell into the former camp. The duo also did a silly beach vacation number where they “shake their Bootsy Collins in the sand.” Wallfisch threw in a brief run down the scale, and Annie recognized it at once. “That’s Scheherezade. But in the wrong scale!” The two then digressed into a brief but hilarious interlude about music theory. “There are three scales,” Annie riffed, “Major, minor and…foreign.”

 

The encore was Yesterday When I Was Young, which in its original version is a requiem for a cad. Annie’s made it her own, and a theme song of sorts, by transforming into a requiem for lost time. She’s a la recherche de temps perdu just like the rest of us, only perhaps more so and that’s what makes her version so wrenchingly beautiful, fist balled tightly to her cheek as she half-whispered, half-choked her way through the lyric, her trademark deer-in-the-headlights stare fixed probably on a spot on the back wall. But she sings to you, to your dead dreams, unrequited loves, missed opportunities and most of all to the hope that all might not be lost after all. It is pure, it is completely without artifice, and so heartfelt that sometimes the song brings her to tears by the time she’s done. This time she held them back. When the song was over, the audience – most of them obviously fans – didn’t know to react, silent for several seconds after Wallfisch touched its last two gentle notes.

 

Artsy, ambient chamber-rock septet Edison Woods opened the night on an equally magical note. With tastefully minimal sax, cello, keyboards and layers of vocal harmonies from their two frontwomen coloring their slow, atmospheric songs, their sonic web was as hypnotic as it was seamless. The best song of their too-brief set was a vivid number in 6/8 possibly titled Dance to the End of the World, an apt way to capsulize their sound.

 

By the way, Little Annie is also an extraordinary painter, blending colorfully playful, Frida Kahlo-influenced psychedelics with pre-Renaissance European religious iconography and a gritty urban sensibility. While generally more optimistic than her music, her visual art has a similar gleefully impish wit. 

November 7, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 11/7/08

OK, OK, enough politics. Continuing the countdown of the top 666 songs of alltime one day at a time all the way to #1. Today’s is #627:

The Walkabouts – Promised

Long, heartbreaking, exhausted steel guitar-driven country dirge by this extraordinary Seattle band from the late 80s/early 90s who started out sort of punkabilly like X, then went way, way dark and these days, since relocating to Germany about ten years ago, have been mining a beautifully brooding orchestrated rock vein. One of frontman Chris Eckman’s best lyrics: “Never played the main event/always played the sideshow tent.” From the cd Setting the Woods on Fire. Download it free here.

November 7, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , | Leave a comment