Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Cabaret Review: Michael Isaacs in Isaacs Schmisaacs at Don’t Tell Mama, NYC 5/20/09

Decked out in a bright green shirt and equally garish tie under a bathrobe, tumbling onstage with bottle in hand, 2009 MAC nominee Michael Isaacs effectively evoked the blithe yet doomed spirit of late 60s/early 70s pop crooner Harry Nilsson in an impressively well-chosen 21-song revue lit up with some sparkling comic bits and an outstanding supporting cast, imbued with characteristic out-of-the-box spontaneity by director Kristine Zbornik. A favorite of the Beatles, cult songwriter and Hollywood bad boy with several pop hits to his name, Nilsson (1941-94) walked a tightrope between sensitivity and schlock. Thankfully, Isaacs focused far more closely on the former than the latter, balancing boozy bravado with a significant undercurrent of unease. Ranging from a smooth, breathy lounge-pop croon to a showy glamrock baritone, he delivered the songs with a remarkably self-aware comedic timing that had him breaking the fourth wall whenever things threatened to go completely over the top.

While no amount of good comedy could rescue the show’s opener – the odious Three Dog Night hit One – from schlockville, things got brighter in a flash as the ensemble (the incomparable Bobby Peaco on piano, System Noise’s MAC-awardwinning Sarah Mucho on acoustic guitar, Elaine Brier, Maria Gentile and Jay Rogers on vocals plus a subtle, supple rhythm section featuring Dan Barton on bass) took the stage. Driving Along became an exercise in road rage, as Isaacs explained beforehand, speeding up to the point where the band couldn’t play it anymore and then stopped cold. Isaacs’ bathrobe finally came off for a medley of the Tin Pan Alley-esque 1941 (the year of Nilsson’s birth) and Daddy’s Song, Mucho singing the first verse with a vividly bitter astringence before passing the mic off to Isaacs. The Puppy Song and Best Friend got a vaudevillian treatment from Brier that brought the house down, punctuated by a hilarious sequence involving dog poop (it ended up with a couple at one of the front tables).

Peaco illuminated a wonderfully nocturnal version of Moonbeam with gentle rivers of triplets, Nashville gone glampop. In his cameo, Rogers offered a gentle, wistful take on another proto-power ballad, Lifeline, followed by Gentile raising the ante with her big, affecting vibrato on Without Her. One of the prettiest, warmest songs of the night belonged to Mucho, just her and Peaco taking a pensive, wary stroll through the abandoned gardens of Morning Glory.

Unsurprisingly, they saved the best for last. The best single song of the night was a hauntingly beautiful take of All I Think About Is You, Peaco singing with a tremendously moving, stark unsentimentality, Isaacs at the piano adding strikingly pointed jazz inflections. They wrapped it up with just Isaacs and Mucho on guitars and some devious, was-this-scripted-or-is-this-totally-improv moments, the guy cajoling and toying with the increasingly irked siren on soulful versions of  I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City (written for Midnight Cowboy but rejected by the producers) and then finally the one song that Nilsson didn’t write (that was the late Fred Neil) but won a Grammy for, Everybody’s Talkin’. This was the show’s last night, and it screams out from the gutter to the stars to be resurrected.

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May 21, 2009 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: System Noise at Iridium, NYC 5/2/09

Arguably their best show to date. System Noise is the kind of band you see and you can’t believe they’re not famous (as in headlining stadiums, anyway – they’re not exactly unknown in the New York underground). They’re even good-looking, as shallow as it is to admit, platinum-haired frontwoman Sarah Mucho spiky, sarcastic and amusing as always until she’d launch into a song and then it was all chills. In a long set that ran almost an hour and a half – the first in a new series of Saturday night rock shows at Iridium – they alternated between catchy, edgily danceable funk-rock and the scorchingly dark, noisy yet melodic guitar-fueled style intimated by their name.

Two minutes into their hook-driven, Talking Heads-inflected opener, Shitkickers, Mucho put everyone on notice that this would not be a sedate show: “I say, fuck it, we don’t have to take this shit!” They followed with an even catchier, far darker tune, Hair and Nails, that would set the tone for pretty much the rest of the night, a savagely offhand dismissal of shallowness, Mucho musing what would make her a “better woman,” the hair and nails of the title both something to accessorize and the only two parts of the body that keep growing after death. Another new one set a wicked, funky chromatic progression over a hip-hop beat, Mucho working her range for every sultry inflection in her arsenal.

Eventually popular cabaret crooner/pianist Michael Isaacs joined them onstage for a particularly glammy Elton John-style take on Lady Stardust by Bowie, then remained at the keys, his punchy rhythm giving the guitarist a chance to stretch out and wail through many of the wild lead lines on their albums that, with only one guitarist, they can’t incorporate into their live show. Another cover, Chicago’s 25 or 6 to 4 turned into a guitar firestorm, morphing at the end from a spot-on version of the solo out on the recording into a screaming, overtone-laden upper-register noisefest.

As usual, the big crowd-pleaser was the towering, epic anthem Daydreaming with its whispery intro, and long, eventually completely unhinged crescendo, a showcase for the wild wail Mucho developed on the cabaret circuit (where she still plays: she’s doing a show with Isaacs at Don’t Tell Mama on May 19). They encored with a particularly macabre, savagely redemptive version of the Carrie-inspired art-rock anthem Prom Night and then a blistering version of the fast, Iron Maiden-ish Good Enough to Eat, which their new bass player hadn’t had a chance to rehearse but tackled gamely and acquitted himself impressively. He’s a keeper – where their most recent bassist would get all garish and wanky if you gave him a second’s time in the spotlight, this guy is pure competence, smooth, in the pocket and tasteful. System Noise is back at their usual haunt the Delancey on June 16.

May 6, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment