Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, Nathan Halpern and Thomas Simon at the Delancey, NYC 7/13/09
Why do we love Small Beast? Because we’re lazy. Small Beast will be happening every Monday at the Delancey until October, when it moves back to its original Thursday. Which from a music blogger’s perspective is good for so many reasons, particularly since there are almost always three or four first-rate acts on the bill who’ve never been profiled here before. So Lucid Culture gets four night’s worth of work done in a single Monday evening when there are no conflicts with other shows. And Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch always opens the night solo on piano. Imagine if you’d been able to see Bud Powell every week for free, in 1953 – completely different idiom, same vibe. It’s all about passion.
Since Wallfisch gets a good review here pretty much every week, suffice it to say that last night’s set was characteristically rich and multistylistic. He’d played a money gig earlier in the day, so he was all warmed up and got even warmer very quickly. He did lots of new material including some songs from the next Botanica album and some even newer than that – a soaring, classically-inflected ballad, a pretty, vivid pop song and counterintuitive covers of songs by Baby Dee, Little Annie, Aimee Mann and the Stones (Faraway Eyes done hilariously with faux-gospel piano).
Nathan Halpern really opened some eyes after that. The lead guitarist from Kerry Kennedy’s paisley underground noir band proved to be a first-rate songwriter as well, sort of Orbison seen through the warped prism of Pulp. Halpern is a crooner, likes a counterintuitive, sardonically literate lyric and a big countrypolitan sound gone somewhat apprehensively askew. As he does in Kennedy’s band, he’d build a crescendo to an unhinged tremolo-picking break, wailing up and down on the strings with a Black Angel’s Death Song style savagery. Backed by Andrew Platt alternating between piano, guitar and bass and drummer Heather Wagner adding marvelously subtle shades, Halpern made his way through a mix of big 6/8 anthems, a couple of jaunty, more overtly country-inflected numbers and closed with a towering, knowingly rueful number perhaps titled Darling When.
Viennese expat Thomas Simon closed the night on a frequently mesmerizing note with a long, practically seamless, improvisational set, something akin to Bauhaus doing a sidelong Abbey Road-style suite, fragments of songs segueing into each other while he and his extraordinarily good djembe player dug a murky sonic pit that swirled deeper and darker as the night went on with layers and layers of loops reverberating and pulsing throughout the mix. Simon’s guitar playing is very Daniel Ash – like the Bauhaus guitarist, he really has a handle how to build eerie tonalities using open strings. Frequently he’d start a segue with a single low, resonant bass note just as David J did on Bela Lugosi’s Dead. Simon moved to piano for a couple of interludes, using the same chordal voicings he’d been playing on the guitar for an intriguing textural contrast. At the end, they picked up the pace with an insistent, percussively hypnotic rhythm, then they took the drums completely out of the mix and Simon took all the effects off his guitar, letting the melody’s ominous, Syd Barrett-esque inflections speak for itself.
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