Concert Review: Mike Rimbaud and Serena Jost at the Delancey, NYC 3/29/10
“There’s Passover and there’s true spirituality,” Small Beast impresario and Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch reassured the assembled multitudes at Monday’s episode of his weekly residency/salon/talentfest. Whatever your feelings about missing a big holiday might be, there was a lot of soul on this particular bill. It seems that Wallfisch’s early 90s pal Mike Rimbaud was ill-fated to be coming up right when Graham Parker and Elvis Costello were at the peak of their popularity. Twenty years later, just like those songwriting icons, Rimbaud remains an equally vital force. Throughout his 45-minute set, Rimbaud particularly evoked Parker with his catchy, soul-influenced tunes, sardonically aware, pun-laden, aphoristic lyrics and rakish delivery. “Stimulate me, baby,” he railed, sarcastically referencing Obama’s trickle-down economics while the percussionist behind him rattled a museum’s worth of bangable objects from around the globe. His guitar running through a dense fog of reverb, Rimbaud shuffled his way through a couple of catchy new wave soul numbers possibly titled Dirty Little Bomb and Pretty Green Baby, the latter a sendup of “fashion fascists.” Diva in a Dive Bar was pretty self-explanatory; Mother Was a Punk was bracing, to say the least: “She had a mouth like a peanut and an ass like a rattlesnake.” One Way Ticket to a Vicious Circle might well have been an allusion to his career on a major label. By now, Rimbaud’s guitar had gone just enough out of tune to add a menacing edge. The rest of the set ran from bitterly hostile – a chronicle about somebody who’s “famous in Japan” – to doggedly persistent – the most Parkeresque number of the night, I’ll Follow Your Sidewalks – to unabashedly romantic.
Serena Jost has gotten a lot of ink here, not only because she manages to find herself in a lot of good places, but because in a lot of ways she exemplifies what we stand for, the idea that great art can be perfectly accessible to a mass audience. She’s been playing a lot lately with Amanda Thorpe, whose torchy intensity is unrivalled, and this time Jost pulled out some of her own with an absolutely sultry cover of Doris Fisher’s Whispering Grass, talking her way through the last chorus: “It’s no secret anymore – whispering grass, don’t tell the trees ’cause the trees don’t need to know.” Jost usually approaches a song a lot more obliquely – mystery is her thing, and she works it – so this was a welcome change. Julian Maile’s potently allusive electric guitar gave the lyrics a chance to resonate, a mode he’d remain in for the evening.
Jost went back behind the curtain, metaphorically speaking, for most of the rest of the show. Although she did throw in a mean glissando down the piano keys at the end of a particularly upbeat version of her impossibly catchy, bouncy pop hit Vertical World. She played guitar on a couple of upbeat, equally catchy janglerock numbers, switching to cello for the more pensive ones, including several new tunes. A nocturne worked minimalistic triplet arpeggios against Maile’s otherworldly flange voicings; another took on a southwestern gothic feel (this woman can write anything). They encored with a stately, enigmatic chamber-pop track from Jost’s latest album Closer Than Far.
Wallfisch was next on the bill. It used to be that a solo show by this guy was a rare treat – now it’s a frequent one. And since one of the nearby uptown trains was scheduled to turn into a pumpkin at midnight, it was time to exit into the mist and look forward to next week’s episode. Paul Wallfisch plays pretty much weekly at around ten PM at Small Beast; Serena Jost plays Lakeside on April 21 at 7 PM in a trio show with Amanda Thorpe and Mary Lee Kortes.
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