By Laura Wasson
Monday’s (un)common threads performance with Gabriel Kahane at Zankel Hall began on a somber note. Jimmy Zankel, co-chair for the Notables Committee that hosted the event, asked the audience to pause for a moment of silence to remember the lives lost and deeply effected by both Sandy and the massacre in Newtown, CT. It was a beautiful and respectful moment that punctured an otherwise joyous and fun evening with a touch of reality.
Zankel also spoke about the power of music to heal, and Kahane set out to do just that. He opened with "Charming Disease," a sophisticated and subtly painful ode to the depths of alcohol addiction. His rich, strong baritone allowed every word to shine brightly, revealing his exceptional skill as a lyricist. Much like Jimmy Webb or Paul Simon, Kahane has a real ability for weaving eloquent and vivid stories into his songs; it was hardly a surprise to discover he had written a musical, February House, that premiered at the Public Theater this past spring.
Photo credit: Chris Lee
Throughout the evening, Kahane was joined onstage by a rotating cast of friends, including string player Rob Moose, singer Aoife O’Donovan, guitar virtuoso Julian Lage, and the members of ACME. The entire performance felt communal and intimate, with Kahane gamely joking with the audience between numbers. He even gave the stage over to O'Donovan and Lage at one point for a haunting rendition of the bluegrass number "Pretty Polly."
The highlights of the night were two short selections from Kahane’s Craigslistlieder, his song cycle adapted from the website’s infamous ads. The first, "Neurotic and Lonely," was a deftly executed personal ad written by a seemingly nervous NYU undergrad desperately seeking a hot girl with her own video game system. "If Anyone Knows..." illustrated one girl's desperate search for the name of her favorite spicy-pepper sandwich spread. In lesser hands, both numbers would seem completely ridiculous, but Kahane somehow managed to turn these shallow and easily dismissable ads into deeply poignant and earnest moments of human longing. The audience laughed heartily along, but from a place of recognition. After all, aren't we all on a quest for that divine pepper spread on some level?
Kahane closed with "Where are the Arms?," the title track from his most recent release. The plaintive ballad, about love lost and forgotten, was an elegant bookend to the evening, proving that the cathartic power of song can cut through the darkness of the world, even if just for a moment.
Photo credit: Chris Lee