Saturday, February 10, 2007

New Millenium Cabaret


Eat The Mystery Cigar
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
I was completely looking forward to this show, if for no other reason than the charming typo on the email I got from Paul Setser advertising this gig and giving directions to the Circle A Cafe: "At the corner of Chambers and Weill." Well, Weil Street only has one L in it, but when talking about a band that evokes the name of the composer of The Threepenny Opera, you have to wonder if it was truly a typo or a Freudian slip.

But to say that Eat the Mystery is a retro, nostalgic act would be a lazy mistake. These people know exactly what year it is, who they are, and where they live, and its not Berlin, 1932, though they've been there. No, they are definitely a Riverwest Band: Angie's merrywidow bustier reveals her riotgrrl tattoos all over, her worldweary makeup caked on her face, her faux european accent slipping in and out while telling stories and such. Paul Setser, jack of a million styles, looks like he feels the most at home I've ever seen him: theatrical, funny, cynical, and about as worldweary as a man can get without sounding whiny. They're backed by a drummer who looks like he belongs in some kind of hipper than thou punk band, but sounds like he's found his niche here, with a drum kit consisting of things he seemed to have pulled out of local dumpsters. The horn section has delighfully seen it all before, and they handle their duties professionally and joyfully.

Drinking songs, dreadful songs, we're-partying-like-its-1939: the world's gonna end someday soon so why not another round? Angie's doing everything she can to shock this jaded crowd -- she even straps on a papier-mache penis while singing about all the condos going up just south of the artsy neighborhood they all inhabit. But we're not shocked. We've come to expect this. We laugh, we order another drink, we stick dollar bills in her bustier while Setser leads the band on a musical hall instrumental. We raise our glasses to Anna Nicole, we raise our glasses to ourselves. Angie lights up a cigar, dons goggles, and reads the paper and finally finds something to shock us with. The papier mache penis isn't shocking, the other props she brandishes isn't shocking, but a routine news story from "the normal world" -- that's making us all whince.

And the music -- the most precision out-of-control carnival of melancholy joy I've heard in a long time, where everybody in the room is a friend. You don't know whether to laugh or cry when Angie brays on their last song "Is that All There Is?" I certainly hope not.

My only complaint is that I was torn as regards the room. This is music that requires intimacy, and intimate is certainly one of the words that springs to mind regarding the Circle A. It also requires audience participation, and it requires you see and hear them, because Eat The Mystery is a visual and aural experience that demands and then rewards your complete attention. I'm torn between wanting to tell the people around me to "shut up, I want to hear this," or to join in the singalongs and hum countermelodies outloud myself. I'm torn between telling the guy in front of me "Down in front!" or to stand up along with him because I want to dance and whirl out of control. In a larger place, this wouldn't be an issue, because there would be room for both. But I'm also afraid of losing a bit of that intimacy. The thing is, though, I think Angie and Paul and company are sort of like all your stuff in kitchen cabinets: there's no such thing as empty. If you get more kitchen cabinets, you will just get more stuff to fill them. If you put Eat They Mystery in a larger room, they will fill it with magic, magic that is not only suited for this day and age, but almost a prescrption for it.




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