Lucid Culture


Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch and Larkin Grimm at the Delancey, NYC 4/9/09

Steve Nieve had played Wednesday night for megabucks in the West Village. No disrespect to the master of menace from Elvis Costello’s band, but it’s a fair assumption that Botanica keyboardist/frontman Paul Wallfisch’s free show the following evening at his weekly Thursday salon/performance series Small Beast was every bit as good. Both artists shade their songs with a dark luminosity made even more striking when they leaven it with humor, sometimes subtly, sometimes completely over the top. Nieve’s fallback space is the Romantics; Wallfisch is more overtly Chopinesque, going for the eerie Balkan tonality when he has to drive a point home.


Last time out he did the Botanica song Someone Else Again and swung it. This time around it scurried, furtively, following by a pounding blues (a Marianne Faithfull cover, perhaps – he’s taken to mischievously covering other artists playing in the same time frame or thereabouts). Then he pulled out the Botanica classic Swimming in the Ocean at Night. Without Christian Bongers’ stately, sepulchral bassline, it was even more gleefully macabre and glimmering than the full-band version on the Botanica vs. the Truth Fish cd (look for that one on our Best Albums of the Decade list at the end of the year), especially when Wallfisch went all pointillistic and shimmery in place of the gently searing John Andrews tremolo-picking on the album. The rest of the set included the Little Annie noir cabaret collaboration Because You’re Gone, a menacing version of Stan Ridgway’s Town Called Fate, a French ballad and finally the quietly resigned anguish of Eleganza and Wines, Wallfisch coming out from behind the 88s as he usually does and giving the crowd a clinic in keeping 7/8 time. The temptation is to take this guy for granted because this is his Beast and he’s here every week. That would be a foolish mistake.


Believe everything good you’ve heard about Larkin Grimm. If the measure of a musician is how he or she holds up under duress, Grimm got a month’s worth, fighting relentlessly and finally winning out against an uncharacteristically tough sound mix, the yuppie puppies at the private party in the adjacent room and the impatient crowd of kids who’d found out about the free booze after midnight and packed the place, oblivious to the drama and intensity onstage. Backed only by a harmony vocalist who sang on a few songs, she started out with a single song on dulcimer before switching to acoustic guitar. Her playing is skeletal and minimalistic – it took her almost two long, eight-minute songs before she even changed chords – leaving 95% of the space in her music for vocals. She filled it to the brim, a hypnotically boiling cauldron of anguish, vengeance, insistence and sly wit. In four octaves worth of range, she was darkly austere, soaringly optimistic, savagely confrontational and wrenchingly poignant, often within the span of a single song. Diamanda Galas in her most recent incarnation is the obvious comparison, with all the operatic dramatics, but Grimm has even more nuance and subtlety. And she’s about half Galas’ age.


Inscrutable on her chair with her eyes closed, she made her way with what seemed complete effortlessness through a mantra-like chant, an atmospheric lullaby, finally raising the ante with an accusatory number that perhaps fit the bill more than she’d anticipated, telling the crowd she couldn’t hear a thing onstage. Not that anyone would have known. A bluesy, noirish number in the same open tuning she’d been using all night worked its way into exasperation: “Just to prove I still exist, ride that cyclone all night long.”


The crowd in front of the stage was riveted, but the party in the back wanted none of it, culminating when some drunken sorority girl began mocking Grimm’s upper-register flights. “This is a song where you can howl at the moon if you like,” retorted Grimm, “a song about killing people,” inspiring the front rows to do an energetic facsimile of her stratospheric vocalese. But the drunk girl wouldn’t shut up. Nor would the yammering drunk guys in line by the door, thirsty for a free shot or two of cachaca.


“This is for all you rich boys,” Grimm snarled and then wound up her set with the two best songs of the night, the first a mesmerizing, repetitive song that saw her take a split-second plunge from the heights down to the bottom of her register and land flawlessly, then her ghostly closing cut exploring where “your body is gone but your brain lives on.” Given how impossible it was to turn away from her at this show, one can only wonder what wonders she’s capable of when the monitors are working and she’s in front of a crowd that actually likes music.


By the way, Small Beast isn’t usually like this. It’s probably safe to assume that the tourists who brought their inimitable cluelessness to this particular night probably won’t be back – not when instead of being able to holler along to Journey and Taylor Swift, they have to put up with the likes of Paul Wallfisch and Larkin Grimm. 


April 11, 2009 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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