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Monday, October 21, 2013

Loud & Leon

Strange Stagefellows Dept.: Sometimes you’d like to be a fly on the wall of a booking agent’s office during the “aha!” moments. But the juxtaposition of Loudon Wainwright and Leon Redbone proved to be as endearing in concert as it seemed far-fetched on paper. They performed on the same bill in Albany six years ago. Here’s my report:


TWO WILDLY DIFFERENT, cult-beloved singers played the Egg last Saturday, both easily veering from poignant to hilarious in their songs and patter. But where Leon Redbone’s repertory centers around venerable vaudeville and minstrel songs, Loudon Wainwright draws from a considerable catalogue of original material.

Leon Redbone
Stage settings emphasized the contrast. Redbone, sporting his traditional sunglasses, stick and hat, sat with his guitar upstage center, flanked by mute-laden cornetist Scott Black and pianist Paul Azaro, both barely discernible in dim blue light. All that was missing was a smoky haze.

Wainwright played much further downstage, a presence that invited a more vigorous volley of audience comments – and led, surprisingly, to more requests fulfilled than in any earlier performance I’ve seen.

The fans who filled the small Swyer Theater knew their artists and repertory, and six songs into Redbone’s set, a request for “At the Chocolate Bon Bon Ball” instantly provoked the singer into his most garrulous moment, praising the work of bandoneón virtuoso Alfredo Pedernera, who was featured on Redbone’s recording of the song. “I don’t know where he is now,” Leon muttered, strumming the opening of the chords of the song, then stopping to note, “This is where he’d come in. It just doesn’t sound right without him.” And then going on to the next number.

From “Sweet Mama,” which opened the set (and was the opening song on his first album), through an encore of “Shine On, Harvest Moon,” the selections were soulful (“Someday Sweetheart”) and silly (“Polly Wolly Doodle”), interspersed with oddball bits such as his balletic index finger accompaniment to Azaro’s solo on Jelly Roll Morton’s “Creepy Feeling.”
Loudon Wainwright

Wainwright launched his set with the cynical “Road Ode,” soon enough dipping into numbers from his most recent album, “Strange Weirdos,” itself a collection of songs connected with the movie “Knocked Up.”

After a rousing “So Damn Happy,” he sang far fewer of his unhappy-in-love songs than usual, replaced, as he pointed out, by newer numbers “about death and decay, my current obsessions.” But even when fulfilling a request for the opposite-of-narcissistic “Look like Shit,” the 61-year-old Loudon seemed impressively hale, summoning some of his very early songs like “Be Careful, There’s a Baby in the House” and, after a false start “Dilated to Meet You,” written to anticipate the birth of his first child.

He can be as cruelly self-reflective (“White Winos,” about drinking with his mother) as cynically funny (“A Guilty Conscience and a Broken Heart,” a new song in the vein of his earlier “Unrequited to the Nth Degree”), and he’s a manically funny performer, punctuating songs with a Jack Nicholson grin among other oddball facial calisthenics.

He led a sing-along with another oldie, the delightfully sacrilegious “I Am the Way,” to finish the program, and, like Loudon, the audience was in great voice, spontaneously offering harmony. We’re all aging, of course, but a visit with Wainwright reminds us that we’re doing so in good company.

Leon Redbone and Loudon Wainwright III
The Egg, Oct. 13

Metroland Magazine, 18 October 2007

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