One thing I admire about Amanda Palmer is she's not content to throw a by-the-numbers concert. Not when she can stage an EVENT, one big pulsing carnival of joy. Rarely have I been to a concert that feels as all-inclusive as hers. I can imagine someone not caring for her music, but I can't imagine anyone leaving one of her shows thinking it was boring. As one of life's natural instigators, she surrounds herself with a bevy of creative oddballs and artisans of all description. Last evening she did an admirable job of turning the sold-out Music Hall of Williamsburg into her own private harem.
The Cars' greatest hits played between acts as a kind of spiritual climate control.
Amanda herself appeared in her kimono to introduce the opening band, a string and horn combo masterminded by Grand Theft Orchestra's very own bassist, Jherek Bischoff.
Bischoff writes elegant compositions of orchestral chamber-pop somewhere in the Van Dyke Parks end of the pool. One such tune was based on the story of Little Red Riding Hood, or so was claimed.
Many of the compositions were instrumentals, though he did bring out a chanteuse named Jen Goma for a few numbers.
Bischoff himself summoned up the courage to helm the mike for one number.
Before breaking into the final number, he announced "One of the guest singers on my album was David Byrne... and he happens to be in the building tonight." The crowd erupted as Byrne took the stage, dressed all in white like an elder prophet of the New Wave.
After a short breakdown, Amanda summoned forth the second act. "Ladies and gentlemen, get ready to jizz... The Simple Pleasure!"
The Simple Pleasure is led by Grand Theft Orchestra's amphetaminal guitarist Chad Raines, who channeled T-Rex and Bowie with his spangled Strat and shiny trousers.
The third band was rather cheekily called Ronald Reagan, and billed as Boston's Premier Eighties Pop Saxophone Duo. Amanda later praised them as "next level shit." Alec Spiegelman on alto and Kelly Roberge on tenor tore into some acrobatic renditions of classic eighties cheese: "Don't Stop Believing," "Total Eclipse of the Heart," "We Built This City," and "Beat It."
Eddie Van Coltrane.
At times their quicksilver interaction was more like a death-defying juggling act than a musical performance. The inspired crowd filled in much of the vocals, though it was hardly necessary.
The Grand Theft Orchestra burst to life with "Do It With a Rock Star." The sound was rough at first but in an acceptably rocking way. The audience was quickly drenched in enthusiasm.
During "Missed Me" the whole band mischievously swapped instruments after each verse.
"Missed Me," verse one.
"Missed Me," verse two.
"Missed Me," verse three. She gets around.
"We should play the next one fast," suggested Michael McQuilken from behind the drumkit. "Not too fast," said Amanda, "I'll die." And with that they careened into "Girl Anachronism." The girl beside me nearly passed out from excitement.
Jherek Bischoff aims his laserscopic bass at the heavens.
Bischoff's backing string section returned to the stage for "Trout Heart Replica" and a stirring arrangement of "The Bed Song."
Amanda strapped on her Yamaha keytar for a cover of "Total Control" by The Motels.
Looking around for a place to lay her instrument after the song finished, Amanda mused, "I need a keytar stand... made of dreams."
A horn section was trotted out for a No Fucking Around version of the Dresden Dolls classic "Half Jack." Another new song, "Berlin," was introduced, titled not after the city but instead Amanda's fictitious stripper name.
After a teasingly long delay, the band returned for an encore, along with some stragglers they picked up backstage. What followed was a chaotic "Leeds United" with a stage full of flailing bodies.
I momentarily felt bad for David Byrne, who stood to one side with little to do...
...that is, until someone handed him an acoustic and he launched into an incendiary version of Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House."
Don't look for the Music Hall of Williamsburg after last night. You'll find only its smouldering remains.
THE GRAND THEFT ORCHESTRA:
Amanda Palmer: vox, keys, corset
Chad Raines: glam guitar, krautrock keys, Sgt Pepper jacket
Jherek Bischoff: bass, bowtie
Michael McQuilken: drums, quips
David Byrne: legendary aura
28 June 2012
10 June 2012
On the edge of the Hudson River, in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge, sits a modest cast iron lighthouse known as Jeffrey's Hook Light. Though originally built in 1889 to stand sentry over Sandy Hook, New Jersey, the 40-foot-high beacon was later transported and reassembled in Upper Manhattan because the jutting rocks of Jeffrey's Hook were proving to be a popular spot for shipwrecks, and the two 10-candlepower lanterns which dangled from a pole on the shore had little effect as a deterrent. For years the cheerfully red lighthouse stood on guard, stalwartly warding off barge captains with its battery-powered lamp and fog bell. Eventually the lighthouse was rendered obsolete by the completion in 1931 of the abundantly illuminated George Washington Bridge overhead.
The lighthouse ceased operation in 1947 and would have been fated for dismantling, were it not for a beloved 1942 children's book called The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, written by Hildegarde Swift. Fans of the story refused to sit idly by while the Little Lighthouse That Could was auctioned off for scrap metal. They protested by sending in barrel-loads of letters to the city. Their actions paid off and the beacon was eventually preserved as a landmark by the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Jeffrey's Hook Light and its rocky environs also served as location for the climactic scene in the 1948 film noir Force of Evil, starring the explosive John Garfield.