Thursday, January 22, 2004

Rock Shows of Note LXXXI

Last night, I met up with my friend Deb to carch a twofer of cultural exploration. First stop, the Happy Ending for the Happy Ending Reading Series. Hosted by the diminutive but hard-as-nails Amanda Stern -- she cut off one audience member, a friend of one of the readers, for jokingly flipping her the bird -- it's an every-Wednesday affair, and if you arrive before the 8 p.m. start time, bottles of Bud cost a whole $2 less. Good to know. The place filled up pretty quickly, and house staff trundled out a spare bench to accomodate the latecomers. On the night's roster: Sam Lipsyte, Wesley Stace, Samantha Gillison, and John Wesley Harding.

John Wesley Harding opened the evening with a quick set of '80s covers songs. Playing guitar -- he usually forgoes mic'ing his guitar -- he stuck to the oeuvre of Prince, playing with a sense of humor and comfort that was extremely welcome and fun. He deconstructed lyrics, fessed up not remembering all the words, and shared some stories about how the songs affected him. Good stuff.

First up -- reading wise -- Sam Lipsyte, who, may I say, was the lip-shiznit. My favorite reader of the evening, he read part of a forthcoming novel that comprises letters an antisocial acid pen-wielding homebody and fetishist mails to his high school alumni magazine -- but which are never published. Extremely funny stuff, rhythmically verbose, with several awesome turns of phrases. Next came Wesley Stace, who -- it turns out... is John Wesley Harding! He read an excerpt from his forthcoming novel, which struck me as a nice mix of Charles Dickens and Lemony Snicket. A Dark, deeply British, comic novel.

Sorry -- and sad -- to say, but I wasn't at all impressed by Gillison. She read two extremely brief pieces, relatively poorly. I'm curious how her stuff reads on the page, because hearing her read on the stage didn't impress me at all. She might be a brilliant writer; she could use some work as a reader. After Gillison finished, Harding stepped up for a second short set of songs, all still from the '80s. But the highlight of his set was the finale, a cover of Adam McNaughton's song Hamlet, which Harding first heard performed a capella by Martin Carthy. Brilliant stuff.

After the reading ended, now joined by friend Dave, we walked several blocks away to 145 Ludlow for Saint Reverend Jen Miller's Anti-Slam. We stopped by more than an hour into the open-minded open-mic and were pleasantly surprised that the bothersome was amply balanced by the brilliant. Among the brilliant: The upset woman who wants to be the best spokesmodel in the world -- well worth tracking down -- and the comedian who sat in front of us and riffed on religion, sex, and other subjects. Among the acceptable: The elderly man who'd been featured in a Move On commercial and the hefty fellow who sang TV theme songs on request. The irritating: People who did whatever you'd do at a normal open mic -- the standups and acoustic musicians. Shame on you, Brief View of the Hudson, for stopping by just to promote your CD release party. Even if people cheered your song.

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