Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Seeing Richard Barone & Chicago Luzern Exchange

Last week, I had two previews in Pittsburgh City Paper - a short one on Richard Barone and a feature on the Chicago Luzern Exchange. I also went to both shows, which took place last Friday and this past Monday, respectively.

Richard Barone was in what could be considered the tough position of opening for the Fleshtones and our fair city's Cynics, both of whom had drawn a pretty serious crowd to the 31st Street Pub. Armed with only his acoustic guitar and his incredible voice, he took the stage and started banging out songs from his new album, Glow. There was a good deal of chatter going on in the club (this was the kind of show where a lot of people came out of the woodwork after several months to a year of skipping shows), but an attentive crowd starting forming in front of the stage. That's where I was.

My friends Jackie and Rob showed up pretty early into his set, and they lived in the New York/New Jersey area when Richard's band the Bongos were coming up, in the early 1980s. Barone was introducing a Lou Reed cover, innocently asking, "Do you guys like Lou Reed? I want to play a Lou Reed cover." Since he seemed personable enough, I responded that it was cool, as long as he did a Bongos song too. He seemed a little gung-ho at the request, which almost cancelled out the Lou song.

I had thought earlier about which Bongos song to request, knowing that it was only him and six strings playing, so not every song could come off. "Hunting" seemed like a good one, but it turns out he plays that with a special tuning. so that was out. Jackie called for "Barbarella," which he launched into and which also seemed to kick up the energy level of the rest of his set. Along with more Glow songs, he also covered the Beatles' "It's Only Love" (excellent) and added the Bongos' fabulous "In the Congo."

The Cynics came on next and of course they tore the place up, playing some chestnuts along with songs from the upcoming album. They have a new rhythm section, both of whom sang back-up, which lead to moments when all four guys were singing. Barone joined them on a song or two, singing back-up and banging a light-up tambourine.

After them, the Fleshtones could have seemed anti-climactic, but those guys know how to put on a kick-ass show. High-kicks during songs, Mick-Jagger-on-the-TAMI-Show dance moves - they have it down. I didn't stay for their whole set, but got a good dose before I left.


When the Chicago Luzern Exchange launched into their set on Monday, it was clear that cornetist Josh Berman was exactly right in our interview: These guys have played together a lot, so even though the set was totally improvised, it felt really cohesive. They were listening closely to each other.

There were moments early on where it took a second to figure out if Berman or tenor saxophonist Keefe Jackson was responsible for specific wild sounds that were emanating from the stage. Marc Unternahrer sounded impressive because he got some low growls coming out of his tuba which gave the music a great atmosphere and didn't sound flatulent (a personal issue I have with low-end brass or reeds). Frank Rosaly didn't look at his kit throughout most of the set. It almost seemed like he was looking at Unternahrer most of the time. Maybe he was, but he also had an expression on his face that proved he was listening to all the guys. He was especially fun to watch and he moved all of his kit gracefully, added and subtracted cymbals from his kit and even scraped a tiny cymbal with a fork (which wasn't exactly like nails on a chalkboard, but close; he and I talked later).

If someone wandered into this show and didn't know about the billing, they might've wondered why an imposing looking guy slowly walked onstage after about 30 minutes (I think; I lost sense of time), took off his jacket and sat down at a table onstage where there was a microphone. But the few of us there knew it was Eugene S. Robinson, singer of Oxbow, who was on a spoken word tour and was joining forces with the CLE for the night.

Robinson is a riveting performer, really bringing the characters in his story to life. In the case of what he read, though, that can be a little scary, as the story got pretty violent and gruesome before it was done. As a sidebar, it's worth noting that Robinson has garnered a rep for getting in fights with audience members who push his buttons, to the extent that people have often messed with him just to be idiots, and he puts them in their place. Nobody looked for trouble in Pittsburgh and in fact once the set was done, Robinson came off as a genuinely nice guy.

The Thunderbird crowd was pretty sparse that night, but everyone there was into what they heard. And we all bought music from the band. I was tempted to get Berman's Old Idea on vinyl, even though I have it on CD. But I opted for a couple CLE discs and Jackson's new quartet album on Clean Feed.

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