The talented singer-songwriter Gabriel Kahane, who describes his material as "somewhere between Shostakovich and Rufus Wainwright," is all about bringing art music to the masses. Perhaps best known for his Craigslistlieder, in which he literally sets ads from the popular listings site to music, he is currently at work on a new musical theater piece about the Prophet Muhammad, to be premiered at this summer's Williamstown Theater Festival. Last night at Pianos, he performed songs from the rest of his catalogue, along with regular percussionist Richie Barshay. Some of the material slid towards the soft and sentimental, but his musicianship was consistently outstanding. Particularly strong were the Alban Berg-like "Brocade", about a Brooklyn boy with girl troubles, and "The Long Walk Home," which Kahane described as his "Ligeti piece" and featured an incredible approximation of the composer's notoriously difficult piano work.
After a set by Bjork-like singer Bell - an excellent pianist in her own right - the two performed a wild excerpt from another of Kahane's musical theater pieces in which they donned cross-dressing costumes and sang what sounded like an old English vaudeville number. (It's set in London and has something to do with the inventor of Eugenics.) The mostly-young crowd seemed perplexed by the display, well outside their usual indie rock aesthetic. They closed out with a subdued cover of The Arcade Fire's "Rebellion," which brought everyone back to familiar turf.