Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, Barmaljova and the Georges Brassens Translation Project at the Delancey, NYC 2/12/09
Ever notice how every blogger wants to be a promoter? Ohmyrockness has been doing it and now the other trendoid sites are getting into the act. We went into this ass-backwards, from booking shows to blogging. Every now and then somebody (usually a really good, struggling musician looking to build a following) will ask, why don’t you start booking shows again? Answer: with what Paul Wallfisch is doing with his weekly Thursday show at the Delancey, Small Beast, anything we did would be redundant. This is the place to be: it didn’t take the cognoscenti long to discover it. If you want to find out what’s really going on in New York music, if you wonder where the really good stuff that’s totally ignored by all the indie rock blogs is, make a weekly date with the Delancey on Thursday nights.
Wallfisch opened the evening as he always does, solo on piano. We’ve given the guy a lot of ink here lately – suffice it to say that European fans of his band Botanica are in for a treat. And New York fans who’re thinking twice about shelling out $100 for tickets and drinks for Steve Nieve at City Winery should check out Wallfisch here for free – one’s as good as the other, and the vibe is similar, dark all the way around, even on the more lighthearted songs. This time around, as has become usual, he played a lot of new material with a few songs from the Botanica catalog mixed in. Then he invited his frequent co-conspirator Little Annie along with haunting Edison Woods frontwoman Julia Frodahl up to provide vocals on a couple of of Annie’s big audience hits, the eerie Diamonds Made of Glass and the sardonic yet wistfully funny party survivor’s anthem The Other Side of Heartache, Frodahl’s richly melancholy soprano blending gorgeously with Annie’s smoky contralto. Wallfisch and Frodahl ended the set on a typically adventurous, rousingly successful note with a torchy Nina Simone blues that the two had never played together before.
Barmaljova, the duo of Romashka frontwoman Inna Barmash and violist Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin was next. The two are a couple, so their chemistry onstage made sense. Ljova played the entire set on his custom-made “familiola,” a six-stringed hybrid of violin and viola with a low F one note lower below a guitar’s low E. Expertly using its dynamic range, Zhurbin made an afterthought of the idea of having any more musicians behind them. Barmash said after the show that with the crowd filling the corridor between the stage and the bar that she felt the need to hold back a little, which gave her the chance to work the margins and the spaces between the notes, and she did that marvelously. She’s not just one of the most powerfully affecting singers in New York, she’s world-class, as she proved with songs in Russian, and Yiddish. The duo are partial to minor keys and laments, yet they made the atmosphere triumphant rather than downtrodden, even on the casually furious revenge ballad Koyl (Yiddish for “bullet,” as in “that a bullet would find you,” from their cd with their group the Kontraband).
Pierre de Gaillande, frontman of the Snow and Melomane, has started yet another new band, the Georges Brassens Translation Project, who played an upbeat yet haunting set of gypsy and noir cabaret French ballads featuring Gaillande’s English translations of the iconic French songwriter’s frequently corrosive, sometimes sexually charged lyrics. With the slinky sway of the guitar, the acoustic rhythm section and Gaillande’s deadpan delivery, this is a sexy band. Brassens is well-loved by boomer-era Francophones but went largely ignored – he wasn’t sufficiently “branche” i.e. cool enough – until a recent revival (if you read French, check out this intriguing article from france-amerique). Gaillande, one of this generation’s finest lyricists himself, has been unapologetic about how he’s updated some of Brassens’ colloquialisms, most apparent in the caustic May/December romance parody Don Juan. I Made Myself Small (Je Me Suis Fait Tout Petit) was another triumph: “I make myself small in front of the dolly who calls her mommy whenever she’s touched,” Gaillande explained. Their version of The Pornographer revealed the title character as anything but: he just has a purist’s sensibilities. Which were effortlessly abundant throughout over an hour onstage. Watch this space for upcoming shows. Botanica make a return to NYC after a European tour at Joe’s Pub at 7 PM on March 21; Ljova and the Kontraband play March 8 at Barbes at 8ish. And this week’s Small Beast show, Feb 19 starting at 9ish features Wallfisch and Little Annie along with Serena Jost and Dan Machlin’s new project, in addition to subversive author Cintra Wilson.
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