Chris Wells: It Will All Work Out: Dixon Place 21 April 2017

by Carene Lydia Lopez on April 23, 2017

Sometime last year, Mrs. Devereaux told me about The Secret City, best described as an art church (their tagline is “we worship art”). Her friend was in the chorus and I attended two performances in early spring (which I reviewed here and here). I was fascinated. All sorts of art were showcased – performance, visual, aural – and the arts community was celebrated. Each performance had a different theme. One of the highlights was the leader’s storytelling. Chris Wells can take the simplest story and turn it into one of the most hilarious and heartfelt stories you’ve ever heard. After their summer break, I decided I wanted to be part of this community and I joined the chorus, which I’ve enjoyed very much. I’ve been part of three performances so far.

Dixon Place is the home of Wells’ latest work, It Will All Work Out. Before you read any further, I urge you to buy tickets for the last weekend (April 28 and 29). The show is more than Wells telling his stories. Yes, there are the stories. But there are also songs and fabulous outfits. I’d only heard one of the stories before (which was edited for the show) but it was just as funny and sweet as the first time I’d heard it. Sometimes I looked over at the band as Wells was telling a story and I could see them smiling and laughing. Knowing that they must have heard these stories many times but still find them amusing is a great review.

The show opens with Wells singing his original “Hello New York” with Susan Hwang, Janelle Lawrence, and Juliet Garrett providing backing vocals and back-up dancing. Hwang, Lawrence, and Garrett played parts in some of the stories, Garrett played piano, and Hwang played the accordion, in addition to their singing and dancing. Eric Powell Holm had a small part as a landlord but he made the most of being the crew when he set up a mic stand and music stand.

Wells tells stories about the first time he auditioned (and not knowing anything about auditioning) for community theater when he was a teenager; dressing as a Bond girl for a themed shower and his car breaking down, meeting someone at the shower, and going on a date with him; getting his first apartment in NYC; working a tedious job at a law firm; and going to a Korean spa. One of the stories – about being an exchange student and his relationship with the teenage son – is told entirely in song. All the original music was written by Jeremy Bass (acoustic and electric guitar) and Wells wrote the lyrics. Also in the band is Marlon Cherry (percussion) and Jennifer Maidman (electric bass). All are excellent musicians and add so much to the stories.

There is a costume change for each story and Denise D’Onofrio and Estyn Hulbert create fabulous costumes – each one better than the one before. Director Eliza Laytner kept the show moving along and it was a delight to see the stories opened up with song, dance, and just Wells moving around the stage. Elliot Peterson did a wonderful job with the choreography and Noelia Mann’s scenic design consisted of a patchwork curtain that served as a backdrop or an apartment building. Rob Lariviere provided excellent lighting design and the sound was excellent also. Dixon Place is a small space so sometimes Wells spoke without a mic – one time even speaking from the balcony – but used the mic for singing.

I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed this show and how much it deserves a longer run. It’s a love song to art and the artist, taking chances, and, in a way, to NYC.

It Will All Work Out Dixon Place-20170421-04250

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Cory Branan: Rough Trade 11 April 2017

by Carene Lydia Lopez on April 23, 2017

I was excited to see Cory Branan for a second time in one week and was hoping that it would be a bigger crowd this time since it was at Rough Trade in Williamsburg. I got there just as the doors opened and this time I brought a magazine. I sat just outside the doors of the club, next to the café, and watched as people trickled in. Rough Trade is an interesting club because it’s actually a record store. You can walk around the store while you wait for the doors of the club to open.

Right on time, Brett Saxon came out to a very small crowd. More people came in as he was playing but there was still more space than people. His song choice seemed a bit more upbeat (musically if not lyrically) than at Garcia’s – maybe because when he spoke to the crowd there was more of a response than there had been at Garcia’s. There were whoops and big applause after each song. He even mentioned that he was a bit freaked out by how quiet the crowd was in Port Chester. It felt like there were more dynamics in his guitar playing. I still find it difficult to get past his mullet and 70s porn ‘stache though.

Brett Saxon Rough Trade-20170411-04156

Brett Saxon Rough Trade-20170411-04157

Jared Hart (The Scandals) was just as good as he’d been the other night. He was dressed similarly and I think his set was pretty much the same. He was wearing his pants down past his underwear (you could see when bent over) and I don’t know if he was dressed that way the other night but, I’m sorry, it’s something I judge. It’s a style that I just don’t get especially on adult men. He had been out drinking with friends before the show (he said he was getting his sea legs back after happy hour in Brooklyn) and I was hoping that he’d lost a bet. He explained that even though these friends live only 14 miles away he rarely sees them. They were still drinking in the bar up the street when his set started but they made it into the club when he was on stage playing “Lucky Sevens” and coincidentally had dedicated it to them. He gave them a shout-out and they responded in kind. Hart also told stories about showing Cory around Bayonne. “Deacon Ain’t Dead” had a false stop and he smiled with a “gotcha” when we applauded at the wrong spot. Some of the songs (both solo and Scandals’ songs) that I liked were “Allnighters,” “The Run Around,” “Lucky Sevens,” “The Leo,” “Deacon Ain’t Dead,” “The Guillotine,” and “Heads or Tails.” There were more people in the crowd and many of them were familiar with his music. For “Heads or Tails” and the line “I’ve been hanging in all the wrong places/I’ve been looking at all the wrong faces,” Hart looked over to his friends and was laughing. He sang the last chorus powerfully off-mic. It was another great performance by Hart.

Jared Hart Rough Trade-20170411-04160

Jared Hart Rough Trade-20170411-04162

Before Hart’s set there was reggae over the sound system. Now it was jazz and funk. I saw the sound guy looking for Cory – maybe he was outside smoking a cigarette? But soon Cory Branan was on stage and the floor was full but not crowded. He started with “Jolene” on his acoustic guitar, telling basically the same story he’d told the other night. A reviewer had compared Memphis artists like Cory, Lucero, and Pawtucket and Cory said they owned the only records worth having – 1984, Purple Rain, and Thriller. The bands were called punk, country, and emo – whatever that is. There was a girl dancing by herself near the stage while all the cool people dressed in black just sat in the back. He never met her, which helps the relationship and he decided her name had to be Jolene. He switched to an electric for “Tall Green Grass” and he switched back and forth between the two throughout the night. As I’ve said many times, I just love Cory’s guitar playing. He’s a master. He strums and drums, he ferociously plucks, and he plays melody and rhythm together. He can play faster than any human but he can also play soft and sweetly. And he does the same things with his voice – coarse, sweet, loud, soft.

Cory explained he was born in a Memphis hospital because there were no hospitals in the Mississippi town where he’s from. He is proud to be from Mississippi as long as he doesn’t read the headlines. But all the music is from there but there’s a bad reason for that. He used all the pedals for his solo on “Walls, MS” – “I don’t get out much.” Cory said he’d been out on the road since March so there would not be a lot of witty banter. He apologized for being tired and said he’d pounded down two Red Bulls. If he was tired, it was barely noticeable. His playing did not suffer. Sometimes his voice did a little.

When he played the first song off the new album, he told us that the record was mostly about death so he’d written “I Only Know” for some balance. Dave Hause and Laura Jane Grace (Against Me!) performed on that song on the album. Cory said he got a lot of hate mail for “Another Nightmare in America” (written from the point of view of a racist cop) and someone told him that “he didn’t get no hate mail because no one’s gonna lick a stamp in 2017.” “The Only You” exists for just the first four lines but “please stay for the other verses and chorus.” It’s one of my favorite songs of his and I had to ask two of the people in front of me to stop talking during the song. It’s one of Cory’s quieter songs and the group of people in front of me professed love for Cory but talked through most of his set. For “Crush,” Cory said he’d been told that people would leave this song on answering machines. “Kids, if you don’t know what an answering machine is, it’s a tweet that you can throw.”

“The Vow” is a beautiful tribute to his father. “I thought the silent stoic father was a Southern thing but it’s not.” Cory thoughtfully chooses covers and this night it was Gillian Welch’s beautiful “Good Til Now” and Townes Van Zandt’s perfect “Loretta.”

While he was talking to the audience, I discovered that Cory has moved again – this time from Nashville back to Memphis. He asked for requests and for the last three songs he said the third was going to be his last song. “Skateland South” went out to Ginger (“probably also dead”). The Skateland South had a long hallway, there was no air-conditioning, and there were shitty pictures of rock stars painted on the walls so there was melting Jimi Hendrix and melting Buddy Holly, etc. When he did the “heys” off-mic, he started coughing and blaming his smoking. He ended with “A Girl Named GO” and again played it with the clave (Bo Diddly) beat and totally changed the melody. He soloed and let the looped guitars play and faded out using the amp. Cory said, “I don’t know” and walked off stage.

I did speak to him at the merch table. Just an acknowledgement of how much I’d enjoyed the show.

Cory Branan Rough Trade-20170411-04166

Cory Branan Rough Trade-20170411-04168

Cory Branan Rough Trade-20170411-04171

Cory Branan Rough Trade-20170411-04173

Set List

You Got Through
Tall Green Grass
Walls, MS
The Corner
I Only Know
Another Nightmare in America
The Only You
Sour Mash
The Vow
The Freefall
Good Til Now (Gillian Welch cover)
Loretta (Townes Van Zandt cover)
Hell-bent and Heart-first
Prettiest Waitress in Memphis
Skateland South
Survivor Blues
A Girl Named GO

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Cory Branan: Garcia’s 9 April 2017

April 11, 2017

I’m going to go out of order again to post this recent show since I’m going to see the same artists again tonight and there was a new (to me) artist that I’m excited about. Hopefully this week I will get back to the winter shows I haven’t written up yet. Garcia’s is the bar […]

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A Doll’s House, Part 2: Golden Theatre 6 April 2017

April 8, 2017

This was another great show with a perfect cast. This time it was an evening performance and rtb and Mrs. Devereaux were joining me. When we got to the mezzanine section of the Golden Theatre both rtb and Mrs. Devereaux were told by the first usher that we might be able to move further down […]

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The Price: American Airlines Theatre 5 April 2017

April 8, 2017

My next Wednesday matinee was by another favorite playwright of mine – Arthur Miller. And the play was one of his that I wasn’t familiar with. The Price is a Roundabout Theatre Company production at the American Airlines Theatre, where I saw Long Day’s Journey into Night last May. I was again sitting in the […]

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Present Laughter: St. James Theatre 22 March 2017

April 8, 2017

This is making me a little twitchy but I thought I’d write up the three plays I saw recently before I continue writing up the concerts I saw this year. The first one is Noël Coward’s Present Laughter at the St. James Theatre starring Kevin Kline. I love both Coward and Kline and this was […]

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Sincerely, L. Cohen: A Celebration of Leonard Cohen: Music Hall of Williamsburg 24 January 2017

April 5, 2017

It was only January but this was ramping up to be the show of the year. Music producer Jesse Lauter and City Winery’s head talent booker Hannah Gold got a lot of New York indie artists and singer/songwriters together for one evening that was all about Leonard Cohen. All ticket sales went to the Preemptive […]

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Bash & Pop: Mercury Lounge 18 January 2017

April 4, 2017

The Replacements is one of my favorite bands. Not surprisingly, many of my current favorite bands cite The Mats as an influence and I can hear The Mats in their sound. Years ago when I saw Tommy Stinson’s Bash & Pop (Friday Night is Killing Me) after The Replacements broke up, I was surprised at […]

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Justin Townes Earle: City Winery 10 January 2017

April 4, 2017

The last review I wrote was back in December 2016. Since then I’ve seen many concerts but haven’t written them up. Why? I’m not sure. Continuing depression since the November election and the then upcoming inauguration? Probably. Difficulty sitting and writing – that constant nagging voice that what I write is never good enough? Probably. […]

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Lenny Kaye’s 70th Birthday Bash: Bowery Ballroom 27 December 2016

December 31, 2016

By the time Kenny the sound guy texted me about Lenny Kaye’s 70th birthday party at the Bowery Ballroom it was sold out. But lucky me – Kenny put me on the list. While I was at the downstairs bar waiting for the doors to open I noticed a lot of gray-haired men and women […]

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