Some Show Reviews
Nellie McKay with Trachtenberg Slideshow Player At The Birchmere, 29 June 2005
Since I never got around to a show review of Nellie McKay and the Trachentburg Family (of one), let me say that I came to see the Trachentbergs and left a casual fan of Ms. McKay. The former wasted their 40 minutes with a band that only consisted of one (daughter was sick and it was unclear where mother was) and a guy on slide projecter that was usually off. Mr. Trachtenberg's between song banter was nervous, excitable and utterly boring and often incomprehensible. I still hope to see them as a band on a good night (their last date in Washington was cancelled due to snow) but I'm not sure I'll go out of my way any more to do so. Mz. McKay, who got her start in gay clubs singing Judy Garland, came out in a Loretta Lynn get-up. I assume the urge to play dress-ups is part of her personna/gimmick as I've found pictures of her dressed as a hippy suburban mom elsewhere. The gay audience was either hidden or just didn't bother as for th emost part the audience was middle-aged, even more middle-aged than myself. Her songs, though, were original and featured her complex piano playing. I have a sense that she'll be off Sony Records after her third record as she seems determined not to write conventional songs. But who knows, maybe she'll do some quirky one-hit wonder and get an extension on her contract. At any rate, her stories were funnier and somewhat more coherent than Trachtenberg. She's into all the loopy causes (save the animals, hate Bush) but also takes some time to mock liberals (gently) such as "John-John" and Teresa Kerrey (for whom she wrote songs, respectively) and those who learn about being poor by reading a book -- she claims firsthand knowledge of the subject as she and her boho actress Mommy lived a poor life because they were in an apartment above a restaurant in the Poconos. Dear, those are called poor cousins, not The Poor.
Br. Danielson and WovenHand @ Iota 7 July 2005
Br. Danielson lived up to his billing as an outsider eccentric. Where I was expecting a long-haired hippy freak, I instead saw some guy dressed like a 60's era backyard BBQ suburban dad (golf shirt, plaid shorts, black socks) setting up tcholktes on the stage. I thought some mental patient had invaded the club. Well, I'm witholding judgement on the latter but this turned out to be the guy who refers to himself as Brother Danielson. We soon learned that he was also an aspiring and only a little funny prop comic, much in the same vein as 70's Steve Martin. Between songs he brought out wrapping paper, greeting cards and an odd wooden heart filled with plastic body parts (and you thought only Goths did shit like this). The songs were instrumented by him with his single acoustic guitar, jingle bells around his left ankle (they complemented his black socks) and some sort of piece of wood or something that gave a bass drum like sound. He got the crowd involved in sing-alongs, snapping of the fingers and even gave us a nice Christian lesson in patience -- we shouldn't flip people off who cut us off in traffic we should thank them for teaching us patience. Uh huh. His songs have an equally eccentric quality to them, referencing both his odd brainwaves and his Christianity -- lest you think he is a friend of Dorothy, when he wails "he loves me, he loves me", I'm thinking the "he" should be "He"... and speaking of "wailing", that is his most annoying and overused singing gimmick, an offkey nasal wail that is in need of either some fine tuning or a more "minimalist" approach to its use. It gets your attention, sure, but it usually distracted from the quiet thunder of his songcraft.
WovenHand, I decided, had to have been some sort of Trust Fund band but unlike the noise bands of the mid-80's Lower East Side (hello, Julia C.!) this is instead a Christian Folk Rock Trust Fund Band. What else could explain the new instruments (I counted five guitars in all including a beautiful electric mandolin and bango) and even the shiny new seat that the Kurt Cobainish singer occupied. Aren't you supposed to tithe some of those instruments to the needy? Unlike Danielson, their songs were a bit too literal for us and clammily cliched -- my companion snickered to me at one point, "did he just sing 'circle of life'?". Why yes. Yes, he did. And when the songs got too uncomfortably mired in Christian imagery (emo folk meets Passion of Christ = not a good thing) , we got up and left. He may have died for your sins, buddy, but Sid died for mine. Still, I was impressed by the sounds the drummer pulled from his minimal Gretsch (another trust funder, I suspect) set-up and the droney quality of some of the songs.