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Live From New York

Guitars In NYC: Fred Frith, Frank Zappa, Jonathan Richman, Robert Cray, Lenny Kaye, Bob Mould, Frank Marino, Jim Hall & Roky Erickson

By Published: November 16, 2010
As with the January show, the New Jersey band were fronted by singer/guitarists Ike Willis and Ray White, both of them long-serving Zappa sidemen. This guarantees a high level of authenticity to the treatments, as if Project/Object weren't already sufficiently imbued with the FZ spirit. As Willis and White were the lead vocalists on many of Zappa's late-1970s and 1980s albums, they make it possible to capture an extremely sympathetic set of renditions. Cholmondeley is always maintaining freshness by switching around the set-list, including old favourites, but frequently pulling out a less expected chestnut. Mad Viking scientist Erik Svalgard (for this is how he appears, with his plastic horned helmet and theremin aerials) is still surrounded by Moog, organ and clavinet (at the very least), and the combo's original drummer John 'Mumbo' Cochrane has returned to the fold.

Willis has more of the caustic FZ demeanour, adopting the role of arch cynicist, whilst White emanates a more cheerful and peaceful aura. It's Willis who grabs much of the distorted guitar solo responsibility, sharing this equally with Cholmondeley. White tends to craft a more soulful or funky-chopping set of figures. Project/Object, astoundingly, played for virtually four hours, starting not long after 8pm, and stormtrooping up until around midnight, with only a brief intermission. At no point did their playing slip below the electrifying level. It's difficult to ascertain whether an audience member who had little previous FZ experience would be neck-grappled to such a degree, but your scribe had his wobbling stack of Zappa vinyl, CDs and cassettes in clear mental view.

The absolutely outstanding exhumations this time around included White singing "The Illinois Enema Bandit" (last time here, he aborted any attempt due to a throat infection), pure soul emoting with a most unlikely subject. Also, the substantial section of Joe's Garage (side 3's Act III) was presented in all its glory, the guitar soloing against the eternally ascending riff of "Packard Goose" providing the fullest release.

Jonathan Richman
The Bell House
November 2, 2010

The eternally youthful Jonathan Richman
Jonathan Richman
is now actually on the cusp of being sixty years old, but he still has the mind of an enquiring child, and he can still dance like a teenager, even if that's a teenager from 1957. In fact the act of dancing has become increasingly important to a Richman performance. As he long ago forsook any attempt at touring with a band, or even a small band, the dancing outbreaks have taken on the role of an instrumental solo, alternating with Richman's own Spanish guitar flourishes and the sparse paradiddles of drummer/congaman Tommy Larkins. Richman's dance steps spring from the retro-beach beatnik scene, with a vocabulary of hand-rolls, high kicks and held poses, his thinking-man posture being a particular success. On this evening, Richman revealed that much of his guitar language is descended from that of Clifton White, particularly his work for soulman Sam Cooke.

In his superficially simple songs, Richman and Larkins are all that's needed to paint life's tableau. Apparently, the night before, at The Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan, Richman's voice completely seized up, but he fought on, and on this second gig he was glugging water as another alternative to singing, strumming, dancing and talking to the audience. Famed for always demanding that circumstances be just right, and ever-sensitive to his habitat of the given night, it was praise indeed that Richman took an immediate liking to The Bell House in Brooklyn. He's been known to demand the switching off of thrumming air conditioning in high summer. The crowd were mostly exceedingly rapt, concentrating in silence whilst the delicate intimacies unravelled, but responding with enthusiasm when some kind of dialogue was appropriate. Richman reveals that the rapport between himself and longtime sideman Larkins has become so intense that the drummer can often anticipate which song Richman is about to play. Then, Jonathan decides that he can now tell when Larkins is feeling this emanation, and sometimes this will make Richman change his mind again. Regardless, Larkins will probably pick up on this shift too...

The repertoire was quite similar to that of two years ago, when I saw Richman at The Concert Hall in the New York Society For Ethical Culture near Central Park. He's gradually dropped most of the older staple songs that folks still cry out for, though Richman did skip through a very brief "Egyptian Reggae." Highlights from the active songbook include "No One Was Like Vermeer," "Let Her Go Into The Darkness" and "If You Want To Leave The Party, Just Go." He only sings songs if he's still feeling their sentiment.

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