Sunday, October 18, 2009

Gavin Friday: A Night at Carnegie Hall

So, only two weeks later...

It all began with a dream. As teenagers, Bono and Gavin Friday would play music together or with friends, and at one time they joked that they'd probably get so good they could all play Carnegie Hall together. It only took 35 years, but on October 4, 2009, Gavin and Bono got their wish.

As I may have mentioned in my previous post, I adore Gavin Friday, and haven’t seen him perform live since 1996, the last time he came to Toronto. So when I heard he was going to be playing Carnegie Hall, I bought the tickets. It was only after I bought them that I discovered the gig was, in fact, for his 50th birthday party (he turns 50 tomorrow, on October 9), and that Carnegie Hall had been rented out as a birthday gift to him from Bono. According to the poster, the gig was going to include the likes of some of the most eclectic and unique talents in the music world today. While part of me secretly wished they’d all come down with some mass flu, leaving Gavin the only person left to perform, I thought it would be cool to see him perform with everyone else. The concert was part of the Red (Nights) series, run by Bono, where the proceeds go to fighting AIDS in Africa.

But what would the format of the evening be? Would they perform Gavin Friday songs on his behalf? Would he perform with them? Would they perform their own songs? It turned out to be a little bit from each column.

We left our hotel in SoHo and arrived via the subway. As soon as I emerged from the underbelly of NY, there was Carnegie Hall in front of me. It’s always been one of those places of wonderment, the place where every musician one day hopes to perform (as a pianist many years ago, I knew I didn’t have a hope, though I know at least one person who accomplished it), the place where every music fan hopes to go and listen to music sound like it’s never sounded before. It was beautiful.

Inside, it was much smaller than I thought. Perhaps as a way of boosting or altering the acoustics, the balconies are very narrow, and only jut out three walls from the sides of the place (it’s like box seats all around) and only at the very top are there balconies that look like they might have 5 or 6 rows of people. I have no idea what the capacity of the place is, but I would guess somewhere in the vicinity of 2500 people.

There was a lot of buzz, and many people rushing up the aisles to hug other people sitting closer. There was a feeling of family and friends all gathering for a celebration; not a bunch of fans showing up to a gig. I was surrounded by several people who were there for U2 (you could tell the way they would shriek and throw themselves out of their seats every time they caught a glimpse of Bono; he stood off the side of the stage for most of it, watching from the doorway, and one woman in front of me kept flapping her arm in the air waving at him, as if he was going to wave back at her). And then suddenly, with the lights still up, Gavin just wandered onto the stage, head partly down, one hand in pocket, other on his chin, like he was contemplating something deep. Many in the audience probably didn’t know who he was. I did, but thought, am I not supposed to clap? Is Carnegie Hall like a church or something? Why isn’t anyone clapping? Finally, someone at the front began clapping wildly and the rest of the place followed suit.

Maurice Seezer was at the piano (where he stayed for most of the night with the exception of hitting the drums a few times). Gavin took the mic and sang “Apologia,” one of the tracks from his first album, and one of my all-time favourite songs. It’s almost entirely played on piano, and I remember learning it on mine to play along. The problem was, my piano was out of tune by a semitone, so I played it all on the black keys, wondering why Maurice Seezer would have written the song in such a strange key, not realizing that he hadn’t, and had written it in quite a straight-ahead key, but my silly piano should have been tuned differently. D’oh. Anyway, it was so lovely to see him sing, just him, a backing band, and Seezer off to the side. He finished the song, and was joined on stage by Bono, Larry, and Edge (much screaming from the audience) and they all did T.Rex’s “Children of the Revolution,” which Bono and Gavin had recorded for the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. They were accompanied by Flo & Eddie singing backup, who were once known better as “The Turtles” (think “Happy Together”... I remember being 12 and going to see them at some nostalgia concert with my dad where they played with Donnie and Marie Osmond and Herman’s Hermits. I touched Donnie). Then Adam Clayton came out and joined them by practically sitting behind everyone else and they played Gavin’s song, “I Want to Live,” and it was pretty awesome. (Photo by GavinFriday.com)

Next, Antony of Antony and the Johnsons joined Gavin at the mic. I’d never seen this guy live, nor had I watched him on YouTube or anything. My brother adores his stuff, and my husband is hot and cold about it. I was expecting a bald guy, since a recent album had him with extremely short hair. Instead a very, very tall person with long black hair stood next to Gavin, towering over him. Gavin introduced him to the audience, and Antony looked jittery and nervous, bouncing around, and he had a big baggy shirt that he managed to pull down over his right hand, while his left one flung about in the air while he sang. I’d heard Antony & the Johnsons before when my husband played me one of his CDs, and I hadn’t been a big fan of what I’d heard (his voice is an acquired taste). But when he harmonized with Gavin during “Got What He Wanted,” I thought he was perfect. Well... I need to be careful in using gender pronouns. Gavin introduced him as “this beautiful man” to which Antony promptly replied, “I’m not a man,” and Gavin sputtered for a moment, laughed, and came back beautifully with, “I’m sorry... this beautiful PERSON.” There’s been rumours that Antony is a transgender, or that he’s part female/part male, but none of that really matters – what mattered to me was how stunning and powerful his voice was, and how it fit the song perfectly.

After Antony left the stage (by practically running off it before the song was done) the first “surprise guest” was longtime U2 manager Paul McGuiness. He recounted the story of how the Virgin Prunes had been the mandatory opening act for U2 in the early, even when he didn’t want them to be, because Bono had insisted on it. He said once Bono showed up almost late for a gig, right before U2 was to take the stage, and he did a couple of songs and then ran off, asking Paul why the audience was in such a bad mood. Paul replied, “Oh, that’s probably because right before you got here, the Prunes had been throwing pig entrails at them.” Ha!!

Then Courtney Love took the stage, and while I’ve got the early Hole albums and I’m a fan of early Courtney, I can’t say I’ve been a huge fan of her stuff lately. But her introductory speech for what came next (something that was a complete, utter, joyous surprise for me) was genuine, heartfelt, and fannish. She held her speech in front of her, written out on pieces of paper, and her hands were shaking as she held them aloft and read the introduction. She said she came to Trinity College in Dublin in the late 70s to take a degree in theology (?!) and her main goal had been to go and see the band that had recorded “I Will Follow.” She finally saw U2 in a small place one night, and said they filled her with joy, inspiration, hope, and light. Then she went to see another band, three days later, called The Virgin Prunes, “And they took all that away,” she laughed. She said if Bono was the Angel Gabriel, Gavin was Lucifer. They were dark, disgusting, fierce, angry, and awesome.

Let me pause first to say that the one band I’ve always wished I could have seen in their early days was the Prunes. I’ve often wished I’d been born 15 years earlier, and could have been in Dublin in the 1970s and seen them perform live. I’ve read about them, I’ve watched grainy videos on YouTube, I’ve bought bootleg VHS tapes of early concerts that were as scratchy and unwatchable as if they were the 1000th copy of the 1000th copy of it.

And then... Courtney said that after breaking up in 1985, they’ve never played together since. And here, for the first time in over 20 years, were the Virgin Prunes, reunited.

I almost fell off my chair. I couldn’t breathe for a moment. Gavin and Dik Evans walked out onto the stage. Dik looked far younger than I’ve seen him look in pictures and had these crazy silver glasses on. Singer JG Thirlwell joined them, and then Guggi wandered out last. Guggi. The Id to Gavin’s Ego. Or... the Ego to Gavin’s Id. Hm. How about the Yin to Gavin’s Yang?

Whatever. I was FREAKING OUT while everyone around me was clapping politely. Remember that religious experience I mentioned in my post a few days ago? Well, count this as Religious Experience #2. They first played “Sweethome Under White Clouds” (and it sounded even better, rawer, fiercer, than it does on album) and then the classic “Caucasian Walk.” Oh. My. God. I was in Heaven. It was GLORIOUS.

Next up, the divine Ms. Martha Wainwright, who sings like an angel, and on this night looked like one, too. I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing her live before, but WOW, now I must. I adore her album, and she was incredible. She did “Thief of Your Heart,” the song that Sinead performs on the In the Name of the Father soundtrack, and (forgive me Sinead) it was even better than the original.

The next one was Maria McKee. Now, I remember a looong time ago Bono was touting a very young Maria McKee as the next big thing, and I went out and bought a Lone Justice album and it didn’t do much for me. I’ve never been into that whole country thing. She always irked me a bit in interviews and seemed to be a bit of an attention hog on stage, and while she seemed to do that at this show, it actually worked. She and Gavin did “Ballad of Immoral Earnings” from Threepenny Opera, and it was awesome. She was falling on him, he was leaning on her, they acted boozy and it was amazing – the song is about two people reminiscing about their immoral life together, and it can only be done successfully by people who can convince you they’ve been together that long. Considering she’s been performing with Gavin since the late 80s, it worked. I had a whole new respect for her.

Courtney then came back out and sang “The Light Pours out of Me” by Magazine with Gavin, and it was great, although she was wearing a different outfit than she’d been earlier, and then tossed her hat, then the skirt, and then the top part of the dress, and wasn’t wearing much when it was over, but it was just kind of... Courtney. And it fit. She was great, and you could tell she adored Gavin and his music.

Next up: Rufus Wainwright (how could there be THAT much talent in one family?!) and Scarlett Johansson. Now, first, I have to say that when it comes to her acting, I’m a big fan of Ms. Scarlett’s. But as a singer? Not so much. I have no idea why she was there other than Bono might have thought it lent some star power to the evening or something. But... whatever. Kudos to her for not only knowing who Gavin was, but for performing “Mr. Pussy” from the third album. She sang one verse, Gavin sang the next, and Rufus stood in the background going, “Pussaaaaay,” underneath it. It was pretty hilarious. At the end of the song, Fred Armisen of Saturday Night Live came walking on stage slowly dressed all in purple, like Prince (the character he often plays on SNL) and began chattering at the audience saying he was Prince (I think some people actually fell for it, which is a little crazy) and then asked Scarlett if she would leave with him, and they left arm in arm. (She’d been on SNL the night before.) They left, and Rufus and Gavin performed a song called “Benares” which I’ll admit I didn’t know, but they were fantastic together. (Photo from GavinFriday.com)

And then Shane MacGowan stumbled onto the stage with a giant bottle of scotch in one hand. He’d clearly been at it all day... actually, he’s probably been in a pretty much permanent drunken state since about 1972... and he could barely find his way to the mic. He grabbed it and performed “A Rainy Night in Soho,” screaming and swaying and barely staying upright. At one point he began swinging the microphone wire, forgetting that unlike in a pub, the mikes aren’t duct-taped to the wire, and sure enough the mic detached and sailed backwards into the drum kit. He walked back, fell over trying to grab it, snapped it back on, and slurred the next verse. Chorus... and then he grabbed the cord and swung it again, with the same result. I know people love MacGowan and the Pogues (and trust me, I think a lot of their stuff was amazing) but seeing him was just kind of sad. He’d like a walking casualty. Or... barely walking casualty. A couple of people helped him off the stage after the song, and then Gavin came back on, rejoined by Maria McKee, and they did “Falling off the Edge of the World,” and it was a great version, even if her voice was a little shrill and harsh at points (I’d have rather seen him do that solo, or even with Courtney).

By the way, for the entire show, Bono stood at the doorway to the stage, watching while trying not to be seen, and you could see his genuine reactions to most. Larry often joined him, similarly bending over to crane his neck to see the action while trying not to be seen, and Edge was there, too, during the Virgin Prunes set. The woman in front of me kept standing up and waving wildly whisper-screaming, “Bono!” as if he was going to wave back at her. Sigh.

There was an intermission then, where I spotted Ali Hewson (Bono’s wife) and their eldest girls Eve and Jordan sitting near the front. Ali’s always been a major, major idol of mine. And for the record, she’s even more gorgeous in person than in pictures. Imagine marrying a guy right out of high school and he becomes one of the most famous people on the planet... that can’t have been an easy thing to have done all these years.

Post-intermission, Joel Grey marched onto the stage carrying a cane, and performed the “Wilkommen” song from Cabaret, which was AWESOME and got a standing ovation from part of the crowd (my husband: “Who’s that?” Me: “Joel Grey!! The original host from Cabaret??” Hubby: [Blank look.] Me: “The guy who cut Dawn right before Buffy saved her by jumping to her death?” Him: “Ah!”) He left and Gavin was joined by Joseph Arthur, who performed “Each Man Kills the Thing He Loves” (wicked) and then Gavin performed “You Take Away the Sun,” dedicating it to Caroline van Oosten de Boer, which was amazing.

Irish author Patrick McCabe was the next to appear, reading from Breakfast on Pluto (that movie with Cillian Murphy as a cross-dresser; if you’ve seen it, then you’ve seen Gavin: he’s the gypsy guy who falls for him). Then U2 came back out and performed King of Trash, much to the audience’s delight. Lydia Lunch was next, walking out and spitting “Knives in the Drain” at the audience, flipping us all off at the end and storming off in typical punk-bitch style.

But then came the second highlight of the night for me. Gavin walked out with a towering man named Eric Mingus (who I later discovered is the son of the legendary Charlie) and I had no idea who this guy was. They performed Caruso, and Eric’s voice was a little wavery early on, but when it came to the loud parts, he was awesome. Was he punk? Rock? Who was he? Then at the end, Gavin was singing the chorus while Eric was setting up a standing mic (they’d been sitting) and I thought oh my god, he’s going to actually sing the Caruso part (in the CD track, Gavin talks and they synch it into an original recording of the opera singer Caruso singing) and sure enough, he did. And it was beautiful. Was he an opera singer? No, because then he began growling and making snarling noises. I looked him up when I got home and he’s an avant-garde jazz/pop/rock/ you name it singer. I would love to see that guy again. (Photo from GavinFriday.com)

And then... came the big surprise for the evening. Bono came out to say the next person was a woman who had transcended music, had changed it, she was the best, she was the rawest, she was the east, she was the west, she was the right, she was the left (when it comes to Bono’s speeches, they’re never subtle) and I thought who the hell is it? Madonna?? And... it was Lady Gaga. The place went NUTS. I groaned and put my face in my hands. Why was she there?! Why did Bono like her? I’m not a fan. NOT a fan. The woman is talented, yes. But when I was in the UK in April, I saw her on some daytime talk show and she could barely sing (I thought it was an impersonator and didn’t realize it was actually her) and she was pulling all these stunts, walking around London with a teacup and saucer and throwing diva fits when she left it behind once. I hate most of her music, and everyone talks about what a talented pianist she is like NO ONE else in music plays piano like that. A lot of them do. I’ll take Tori Amos over her any day.

Anyway, she came out and was wearing a lingerie/bathing suit completely sheer see-through thing that made Courtney look overdressed (the guy behind me whistled and went, “Well THAT was worth the 250 bucks right there!”) and she said she’d cheated and had written a birthday song for Gavin last night, but had written part of it before... and she basically sang Poker Face with some new (terrible) lyrics. Meanwhile Bono stood just off the stage grinning and clapping and smiling and looking at the audience for their reaction the whole time. I was a little disappointed that he was so bowled over by her superstardom. I believe she’ll be forgotten in about 2 years.

Anyway... aside from the end of the show, she got the only standing ovation of the entire place of the entire night. Sad. (I shouldn’t say entire place. My husband and I stayed rooted to our seats.)

Antony came back out with Gavin and performed “Angel” (you would have heard it in the movie Romeo + Juliet) with Flo and Eddie. Another win for Antony. Next up was Chloe Webb (remember her as Nancy in “Sid and Nancy”?) who performed/talked through “Love Is Just a Word” (there’s not a lot of singing in that one) and she was actually very interesting. Gavin came out and planted a kiss on her lips and she looked a little surprised and flustered. Sigh. To have traded places with her for a minute...

Gavin came and sang “Another Blow on the Bruise” and it was spectacular (he had Edge backing him up) and then Andrea Corr of The Corrs came out to sing “Time Enough for Tears.” And then, another highlight, Bono came out with Maurice to sing “The Last Song I’ll Ever Sing,” one of my all-time fave songs of Gavin’s from his third album, and it was GORGEOUS.

And then, for us, the FAR more interesting surprise guest of the night. Laurie Anderson had been on the bill, and I was interested in seeing her avant-garde performance art, simply because I’d seen a movie she’d done in the mid-80s that was insane, and I knew she was a big influence on Gavin. I’d had a sense that she might not come out alone, and I was right – she showed up with her partner, Lou Reed. My husband freaked out, the audience began going, “Loooooouuuuuu” (“Are they saying, Boo-urns?”) and they were accompanied by John Zorn, the cutting edge sax player. Laurie had her weird electric violin, Lou had his ugly guitar, and Zorn began screeching out some of the loudest noise you’d ever heard. Between the three of them they created a complete horrible cacophony, which suddenly turned into something quite stunning when it all began blending. I’ve never heard music transform itself like that partway through. What started as sounding like something from Metal Machine Music had become a symphony of beauty. Gavin then came out and joined them and performed “Sonnet 40” (he’s been working with the genius Gavin Bryars and this is one of their projects), and then he began singing “Sweet Jane,” joined by Boozy MacGowan, Larry and Edge, Flo & Eddie. Throughout the song many of the others joined them, with Bono ad-libbing a verse, “Gavin had a birthday/ Neither big or small...” At the end, Gavin thanked everyone for coming, and there was a standing ovation and everyone launched into “Jean Genie” (and despite my hardest hoping, Bowie didn’t suddenly surface, dammit).

And then... it was over. It was one of the most amazing musical nights I’ve experienced, and I’m so happy I’d done this one crazy spontaneous thing and had just bought the tickets and gone with it. I’ll never forget it.

Happy birthday, Gavin Friday.

6 comments:

Jenn said...

This concert sounds so cool—it sounds like you made it up! I had to keep reminding myself while I read this that it was a REAL concert! LOL!

One thing I really want to tell you:
A year ago, I was watching SYTYCD. It was results show, and as always, it featured tons of useless filler, and little-known musical guests. The musical guest of the evening happened to be Lady Gaga. I HATED every second of the performance, even calling a friend that I knew would be watching and giggling.
One year later: Somehow, the Gaga has redeemed herself in my books. It's so weird because I don't even like her genre of music, and yet, I find myself absolutely transfixed whenever I hear her songs on the radio or on TV. I think the turning point for me was hearing her sing an acoustic version of Poker Face—accompanied by herself on piano. She really did sing it well.
I know she's weird, prone to diva fits, and wears some, uh, different clothes, but for some reason, I feel like I am really starting to like her!
And I am sooo jealous that you got to her, Courtney, Rufus, Bono, Scarlett, Gavin, etc. all in the same night! It must have been like a crazy dream!

The Leonard's said...

Nikki says -- "Joel Grey marched onto the stage carrying a cane, and performed the “Wilkommen” song from Cabaret, which was AWESOME and got a standing ovation from part of the crowd (my husband: “Who’s that?” Me: “Joel Grey!! The original host from Cabaret??” Hubby: [Blank look.] Me: “The guy who cut Dawn right before Buffy saved her by jumping to her death?” Him: “Ah!”)"

Me saying "Tee hee!" I have had the same conversation with my husband.

Joan Crawford said...

"Siiiiid! Siiid! Are you listening to me Siiiid?"

Cool! You had an awesome time! I'd take Tori over Gaga any day, too. I still have "Live Through This" by Hole. I like "Violet".

humanebean said...

Sounds like an awesome show, Nik! Glad you had such a fabulous time ...

I'm a huge fan of the Wainwright family, as well. I've loved Loudon for years, having seen him solo in both a small coffeehouse and a bigger theater. I'm trying to plan a trip to see him and Richard Thompson together.

I've never had the pleasure of seeing the amazingly talented Rufus, but I have gotten to see Martha, who opened for Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, one magical evening at the outdoor stage behind Stubb's BBQ in Austin TX. I just missed seeing Lucy Wainwright Roche two weeks ago due to a family medical emergency.

WHAT an abundance of talent runs in that family. This without even mentioning their respective Moms, Katie McGarrigle and Suzzy Roche. Wow.

Forest City Fashionista said...

What an incredible, once-in-a- lifetime evening! I would have died from happiness the moment Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed stepped on the stage. Thank you so much for sharing this experience with your readers!

Marc Nichol said...

Maria is a talented conundrum in a lot of ways Nikki. She can be spell-binding, electric...she has soul and grit and can deliver in ways much more famous performers cannot...but she can also leave you shaking your head, bewildered at her choices. I've been on this ride with her since the beginning and probably will continue although it is wise to hit the rest-stop on occasion

Marc Nichol

Youngstown, Ohio