Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Back Door Slam (Again), Nicole Atkins, Mike Leigh and the Blind Boys Of Alabama

A quick update on my outings. Saw Back Door Slam again at the Mecury Lounge. The lads were smashing, as always ("Thank you very much indeed!") with a few new tunes mixed in, including a cover of the Robert Cray song that gave them their name. (I still prefer my take on their name - the Back Door Slam is the sound of kids running out to play in the summertime.) And word of mouth is tremendous. The first time I saw them, there were maybe 15 to 20 people, the next time 30+, the next time even more and this show was crowded. Not quite sold out, but close, I think. Hey, touring still works!

Then saw Nicole Atkins at the Bowery Ballroom. Have to admit, when I first heard about the show, I assumed she was opening up for someone. Nicole herself said it was "the weirdes" day of her life. A strong crowd and she joked that she didn't even recognize everyone. (That's when you know you're getting somewhere, when the audience isn't just filled up with family and friends.) She has a great voice and is a real performer. A few of the songs are weak, but she barrels through them and had some great covers: the Doors' "Crystal Ship" and a raucous sing-along with the opening acts finale on Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain." Every indication she'll just get better.

Then on Saturday I saw Mike Leigh's new play "2000 Years." Not terribly involving and it certainly didn't help that New York actors were trying to nail London accents. Without that specifity of location (it might as well have been East Orange, New Jersey), the play loses something. Still I doubt an all British cast would have lifted it up too much. Seemed to be about a middle aged couple whose son becomes interested in praying and his Jewish roots much to the chagrin and mocking humor of his parents and sister and grandfather. But there's also the mother's sister who is mysteriously out of touch for 11 years (or seven!) who naturally reapears in Act Two. A very good melt down scene of family squabbling gave a little late momentum and I sort of liked the ending, which I didn't see as terribly optimistic as some did. Glad to have seen it and the grandfather (Merwin Goldsmith) was outstanding. Glad I saw it but not one of Leigh's stronger efforts.

And Monday night I saw the Blind Boys of Alabama doing a live radio broadcast from The Cutting Room on 24th St. The audience was composed of people who advertise on WFUV as some sort of maketing tie-in. A strange little set-up, actually, with a tiny stage, just a FEW tables (all reserved) and a pile of more tables and chairs in the corner that people were discouraged from using. Most of us stood, with some very aggressive wait staff constantly pushing in and out with trays of drinks to those few tables. It was only an hour long, so it was rather bizarre to see people ordering and ordering again. But the Blind Boys were pros. "Amazing Grace" set to the melody of "House of the Rising Sun," a few tracks from their new CD and a very fun Jams Brown-like shtick. The three central members sat on chairs and each one would pop up to take a verse or join in on the chorus. The heavy-set one on the left was a real performer, making every time he stood up into an event bursting with promise. At one point when tehy were really soaring, one was singing and the other two kept standing up, with one of the guitarists putting his hand on their shoulder and sitting them back down. They'd do so then pop right back up, moved by the music or so it seemed. Very fun. On a more practical level, the guitarists also had to keep an eye on the singers to make sure they didn't wander to close to the front of the tiny stage and topple off. When one of them wandered/was led off stage and into the crowd with a long, long wire trailing behind his mike, it seemed as fraught with danger and excitement as any Hollywood stunt. I couldn't help thinking, "Can't someone spend $200 on a wireless mike for the man?" Great fun. Just wish it were longer and they'd done something from "The Gospel At Colonus."

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