I arrived outside of Le Poisson Rouge on Sunday thinking I was an hour early, which I was but so were most of Patrick Wolfes' audience. But no worries, I got to sit where I wanted to see the show and enjoy the eye candy in an audience that was predominantly on my side of the tracks.
The opening duo who opened the show had me confused at first. When Robert Conroy walked on stage he announced that Wolf had asked Misty Roses to do a set of voice and piano. He then later introduced accompanist Michael Harrin. I had read about Misty Roses before the show, so wondered why Jonny Perl was MIA. I asked Conroy after his set and found out that Misty Roses had been asked to open on really short notice. He stated that Perl couldn't book a flight from London on 4 days notice. So he had to go it alone as he said he had many times before except this time he hired accompaniment instead of singing to track.
Misty Roses describes themselves on their MYSPACE page as living out - digitally and organically their mutual musical fixations. Translation: Their are an openly gay duo sharing the same form as Erasure, one guy sings and the other electronically does the music. The difference is that Misty Roses basically pays homage to all the songwriters and singers that came before them with emphasis on performers from the 60's and 70's but not exclusively. What I didn't know before speaking to Conroy was that he writes with Misty Roses' other half through the Internet. For most of the year, Conroy resides in New York and Jonny Perl resides in London.
Misty Roses set started with Conroy walking on stage and asking the person in the sound booth to start the recording that would open the set. The recording was the shrill sound of violin quickly bowing and the echoed sound of a piano banged on in the lower register. What followed was "Address Book," which was an intriguing and dramatic song. Unfortunately, the opening recording made the song feel hokey.
Conroy defined the following three songs, all with woman's names in the title, as being the soundtrack to films that can be seen on Ted Turner Movie Classics. I usually hate when performers haven't done at least a minimal amount of talking but with Conroy I felt the opposite. With the exception of the first song he did a verbal set up for the following seven. At some points it might have been nice to be surprised by what came next and other times I might have liked to attach my own internal narrative to songs he had written.
"Mario and Dario" was one of my favorites in Misty Roses's set. Again, the song was intriguing and mysterious (and would have been more so without the verbal setup). I think I personally enjoyed Misty Roses most when the songs were more like poetry or art songs than traditional pop songs.
Conroy did two cover songs which felt like what they were ...filler. I don't hold it against him. When asked to do something on short notice, a guy has to do what a guy has to do. But if short notice weren't the case I would have preferred to hear all Misty Roses songs.
I think I heard Conroy say that Misty Roses' song "Father and Sons" was about Tim and Jeff Buckley. It was a song that I again liked very much but due to the piano arrangement, it sounded more Stephen Sodhiem then either Buckley. That is an observation rather than a criticism.
I was little disappointed in the Misty Roses set only because I was getting half of a duo. I liked what I heard on their MySpace page prior to show. I like the electronic arrangements and I liked Conroy's approach to his vocals which were more folk sounding than cabaret. After writing my last statement, I came to the conclusion that Patrick Wolf would have been wiser to ask Robert Conroy to do guitar and vocal instead.
Misty Roses are:
Robert Conroy - Vocals
(Jonny Perl - Guitar, Synth, Sampler)
Michael Harrin - Piano
Misty Roses - Set List
1. Address Book
2. Gloria Grahame
4. Dreaming of Delphine
5. Mario & Dario
6. Trains and Boats and Planes (Burt Bacharach / Hal David) Dionne Warwick Cover
7. Fathers and Sons
8. Goldfinger (John Barry/Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley) Shirley Bassey Cover
I did not know anything about Patrick Wolf prior to seeing him on the Le Poisson Rouge website calendar. It wasn't the gay thing that drew me in, I think it was probably that he was the first young man since David Bowie to pull off that color of red hair with such panache. After listening to his music, I decided I wanted to see him in concert. I thought like his persona, his music was a bit over dressed but his songs were definitely well written and as I later found out his musicianship is somewhat incomparable.
What I first noticed about Wolf's songs and continued to notice, at least regarding those songs I knew, was that all his songs held up to his scaled down arrangements. My current favorite song of Wolf's (I'm assuming there will be more) is "Time Of My Life." When he did it live on baritone ukulele, he played as it if he were playing a guitar while Victoria Sutherland played the wonderful orchestral theme on violin that is counter to vocal.
Wolf like Conroy did a lot of chatting but I didn't seem to mind as much. Probably because Wolf's setups were about what he was feeling when he wrote the songs as opposed to what the songs were about. Wolf made a joke about singing the title of his song "Bermondsey Street" as "Bleeker Street" which is where Le Poisson Rouge is located. But he said he would only do it for part of the song because doing it all the way through would be too cheesy.
Wolf really surprised me when he sat behind the harp for "Darmais."As a part of continuous set up patter, Wolf joked about not knowing how he was going to get a replacement string for the harp which he brought in Louisiana. A few days before seeing Wolf, I had been to see Pat Grossi AKA Active Child at Bowery Ballroom. Two red heads with harps in the course of one week - hmmm what's the likelihood, I couldn't help think "Is this some kind of sign?"
Wolf and Sutherland took turns at the piano during the set. For "Tristan," which for me was another highlight in the show, Sutherland played piano and Wolf was on his baritone ukulele. Later on, Wolf surprised some of his hardcore fans by doing some of his b-sides, the first one being "The Tinderbox." This time, Wolf sat at the piano and then stopped because he dropped either a lyric or something in his piano playing. I believe he then asked Sutherland to tell him the key and then everything would be fine and it was.
At some point during the show Wolf stated that he was attempting to perform most, if not all the songs, in his catalog on this tour. He also admitted that his audiences knew he wasn't big on set lists. Though he did make one up, that did not necessarily mean he was going to follow it. Therefore, when songs were chosen on the spot, it meant they were often going to be a re-started. Wolf made it clear to the audience that he liked to stay on his toes by keeping in the moment. The audience seemed to really appreciate his explanation and so did I.
|Had I tried I couldn't have gotten a better photograph|
Wolf spoke to the audience about how he learned Joni Mitchell's technique of setting up different tunings on the guitar. He even illustrated an example. Sometime afterward he sat down with the dulcimer a la Joni Mitchell and played his song "The Future" eventually segueing directly into Mitchell's "All I Want." Together, the two songs seemed like a homage to Joni; we should have all bowed our head in reverence.
All through the show, Wolf's voice reminded me of someone but I couldn't quite figure out who. Wolf's voice has a legit Broadway quality to it with a vibrato that's a bit Elvis. As I was writing this, it came to me and it's a bit scary that I would even recall his voice as reference - Jay Black of Jay and the Americans from the 60's (Cara Mia, Come A Little Bit Closer, Only In America). I will not expound on the comparison except to say that's what I hear in Patrick's voice.
Wolf told the audience that many of his songs included or mentioned birds before doing "The Falcons" and "Pigeon Song." The latter was my favorite of the two, perhaps because it was the one time in the show both he and Sutherland played violin together. Wolf changed from plucking his violin as he sang to bowing it more toward the end of the song as Sutherland remained constant. During the song I wondered if Patrick Wolf and Owen Pallette ever met. They're both young contemporaries that sing while playing violin.
"House" and "The City" made me think of Lady Gaga's "Edge of Glory." Basically, because all three songs are so, for lack of a better word, anthemic. I could even envision Wolf doing Gaga shtick on one of his songs. Spotlight on Wolf playing "The City," solo on piano. After the first chorus the curtain rises, the band joins in and Wolf, now wearing a microphone head set, joins his erotic dancers to finish out the song. Thunderous Applause!!!! Fabulous!!! Fantasy ends - writer returns to reality.
After doing one more B-side, Wolf ended with "Together," which seemed like a very different folk ballad from the dance arrangement on his recording. He then made it known, without bothering to do the obligatory pretense, that the next two songs were going to be the encore . Wolf stayed on stage eventually ending his entire performance with "Magic Position."
When the evening ended, I felt that I'd been thoroughly entertained by Patrick Wolf. His songs, his funny patter and his musicianship - were all there. Now that I've seen the scaled down version - I hope to see him with an entire band.
Patrick Wolf Set List
2.Time Of My Life
6.The Railway House
8.Wind In The Wires
9.The Tinderbox (B-Side)
11. All I Want (Joni Mitchell Cover)
12. Lands End
13. The Falcons
14. Pigeon Song
16. The City
17. Godrevy Point
19.The Blue Bells /Enchanted
20. The Magic Position
Patrick Wolf - Vocals, Harp,Ukulele,Violin & Piano
Victoria Sutherland - Harp,Violin and piano