~ Friday, January 12, 2007 ~
I turned 26 yesterday, and for the first time in several years, I was able to celebrate it on the day itself.* This is not only because it was on Thursday, which everyone knows is the first night of the weekend, but more importantly because Andy Statman, my second-favorite mandolinist, was doing a live show that night at the Hotel D'Orsay, a little backroom performance space in the back of Barbes. Barbes, by the way, is the only bar I ever go to, and I go there not because of the drinks (I still don't drink, not even on my birthday, but I did enjoy a cup of delicious chocolate-vanilla-apple-mango-rooibos tea from the patisserie next door--yum), but because of the excellent musical acts that the proprietor brings into his "hotel" night after night.
I don't know how he does it, but I have never seen a show there that hasn't left me impressed. It helps that the fellow shares my taste for 30s-ish folky music and accordions. The place has had far more than the reasonable number of accordionists come through its door. Rob introduced me to the place, and to countless excellent bands who performed there, while I still lived in the upper west side, so one of the perks of moving in with The Advocate here in the slope was knowing I'd be so close to so much good music all the time. One Ring Zero, those writers of messed-up-pop that I think I mentioned here once before, were at one point such regular fixtures at Barbes that they have their portrait on the rear wall of the Hotel D'Orsay. It was also at Barbes that I heard River Alexander and his Mad Jazz Hatters, the fascinating washboardings of David Langlois, and bands like The Roulette Sisters, Life in a Blender, and Pinataland that people are always trying ineptly to describe with comparisons to other bands everyone's supposed to know well enough that they no longer need to be diminished with comparisons.
Anyway, last night I saw Andy Statman play in a trio with a bassist and a drummer, and it was wonderful. To begin with, he presents himself much more humbly than most of the musical artists who stand up and do shows in small places in New York. They tend to wear things meant to express their hippitude and individuality. He wears the uniform of the traditional Jew--dark trousers, white button-down shirt, tsitsit from the tallit katan peeking out from under the belt, a thick salt-and-pepper beard, and a black velvet kipah. In the same way, when he plays, there's no performative mannerism. It's just him, completely absorbed in playing. He gives the impression of losing himself so completely in the playing that when the song ends he suddenly remembers the audience's presence. When we break through the silence of our amazement and start applauding, he looks surprised that we liked it so much.
The first half was him playing on the clarinet. Most of these numbers seemed improvisatory, like very long doinas with occasional bits of pre-existing melodies sneaking in. It was heartwrenching to hear, in the way that it's hearwrenching to hear a chazzan's supplications when he davvens Hineni on Yom Kippur. I almost felt like I shouldn't have been there, like I was intruding on an intimate moment between him and God.
The show started a little after 10, and by a little after 11, I was beginning to wonder whether he'd ever pick up the mandolin. Just then, though, he did. It was smaller than the ones I'm used to seeing, and he slung the strap around one shoulder instead of diagonally across his back, so that when the tunes started getting more rhythmic and speeding up, I was worried that the instrument would vibrate out of his grip, but he held on tight, and so did we. This was the flipside of the first half, all the private pleading turned inside out and become public rejoicing. I tried to follow his picking pattern, but his fingers were moving too quickly for it to be discernible it, and I tried to follow the ornaments on the melodies, but they moved too quickly for my ears to follow, so I tried to follow the rhythms with my toes, but even that was out of my reach sometimes, and I loved that I couldn't keep up.
The drummer looked like he was having even more fun than I was, like he was playing with the noises he could make on every surface within arm's reach. At one point, he even drummed on the wingnuts that kept his cymbals in place to make a clokkier rimshot-ish sound. They played one song which was (I believe) called The Old Tin Can, a slightly folky tune in triple meter, with a repeating pattern of three accented notes on the last measure of every phrase, and whenever they reached those last three notes, the drummer found a new combination of sounds to accent them. It made me smile every time.
The room isn't spacious, and it was packed full, so now that the tempo had picked up, the temperature did too. Andy was probably getting warmer than the rest of us, with all his lightening-fast picking, and he asked the barstaff if they could turn on the AC for a few minutes. It came on with a barely audible hum. Several songs later, he played a few G chords and said, "Shall we do this one in G? That's what the air conditioner's on." He was right, it was humming a G, though I hadn't even thought to listen for its pitch until then. That seems like the mark of a true musician to me, to be so aware of all the sounds around you that even the music of the AC is on your radar. Apparently he lives in Flatbush, Brooklyn now. I wonder if he ignores the city sounds as the rest of us do, or if he can't help hearing an orchestra every time he steps outside.
Just in case they ever read this, thank you to PZ, JF, and The Advocate for their gifts and for being there to enjoy the evening with me.
*I would be remiss if I didn't mention that my birthday celebration actually began the night before, when Rob and I were letting tea and conversation stretch past midnight, and he quietly arranged for the very capable staff at the tea lounge to bring me a cupcake with a candle in it. Putting a candle in a cupcake doesn't usually take great ability, but in this case the cupcake less dense than usual, and the candle was a tea light, carved by hand until only the core was left. It was taller than it was wide, but only barely. The candle wouldn't stand up on its own in the softish icing, so they stuck a sparkly snowflake cookie into the icing to support the candle. So complete was their artistry that I thought the cookie was only there to be fancy and scatter the candlelight with its sparkles until after I blew out the candle and Rob pointed out how precarious the whole structure had been. Thank you, Rob, for making sure those birthday traditions were covered.
Current Music: Everyone Says I Love You, Pinataland
~ prattled by Miriam at 1:45 p.m. [+]
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