Fun from A.B. to A.C.
Meanwhile, back at Bourdain, who was exactly as full of himself as he should be, kicking off by admitting, "I have the best job in the world," and prowling the stage (no podium for a world traveler, c'mon), just riffing, probably doing standard bits (we got the how he got Kitchen Confidential published story, of course), and lots of shots at vegetarians and most of the Food Network (even the folks he admires, like Mario Batali, got a bit of the rough treatment--he called Batali a "spiritual leader" who knew how to partner with the right people).
The Q&A could have gone on for hours--or maybe it just seemed like that. Too many people got up there to talk not ask, as if I got my complimentary tickets to hear them yammer. You'd think countries made flunkies from their visitors' bureaus stalk Bourdain at his appearances, so many people tried to sell him on a location for an episode of No Reservations. ("Tony, Tony, you must do an epsiode on Lower Slobovoda, my people are from there and they will curse you if you don't.") Oh, and don't ever ask him if people in the kitchen should get a share of tips. Just saying. The good news is he gave a big thumb's up to his spot for a pre-show dinner, Julienne, so here's hoping that endorsement keeps their business going strong in this period when most businesses are getting sand kicked in their face. (And there's no way to finish that metaphor, I know--I mean, who the hell is the bully in this scenario? and who gets to be Charles Atlas to save the scrawny one's bacon one day? Well, at least I got bacon in there.)
Speaking of skinny guys who probably got beat up, there's Dent May, who was the middle act of a triple bill at SOhO, luckily just down the street from the Arlington. So off we ran to catch May and A.C. Newman as Santa Barbara now has cool shows--thank you promoter Club Mercy. May is a bit hard to describe, as he sounds like lots of people but as is the case with someone like that, while you can play "spot the reference" it all adds up to something that's sui generis. He plays ukulele, so I think of folks like Carmaig DeForest, but that's an even more obscure comparison. For there's also The Scene Is Now, and Jonathan Richman, and anything do-woppy '50s-ish, and on his MySpace page May even fesses up to R. Stevie Moore, who I hadn't thought of in years, but yeah, him too. And then there's a sort of Edwyn Collins thing going on with his voice (harder to pick up live), so there's Orange Juice. But he's from Mississippi, not Scotland. And he covers "When You Were Mine" in a way that would make Crooked Fingers proud.
Headliner A.C. Newman came with a full band, all who played several instruments or played and sang or whistled so there was plenty o' sound. The violinist even fulfilled a Newman contractual obligation, as he always seems to have a hot redhead in his band (although there's Neko Case and everyone else is a tragic falling off from a Platonic ideal). Newman performed what felt like every cut from his two solo albums perfectly capturing his herky-jerk rhythms and lovely layers (like the vocal piling up of "all of my days" at the end of the song "All of My Days and All of My Days Off"). And cuts like "Secretarial" and "On the Table" from his first solo disc The Slow Wonder wonderfully rocked live, but that's what happens when Jon Wurster from Superchunk is your touring drummer, I guess.
Newman takes pop song forms and rejiggers them just enough to make them new and strange, having backing vocals not sing harmony but unison, adding oomph to phrases, dropping out instruments so that melodica suddenly soars out of the noise like a clarinet might in a klezmer band, offering lyrics that work imagistically, impressionistically, never easily but that's part of their inviting charm (I mean, I can get what "Like a hitman, like a dancer" might mean--there's all sorts of grace and precision out there--but then there's that next well-sung line to grapple with.) And anyone who can have the phrase "Yo-ho" repeat in a song and not make me think he should wear an eyepatch and parrot has to be mighty talented.