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January 2009

Lounge Lizards


Los Angeles has always had a thing for lounge acts: offbeat singers who sing amusing, occasionally scathing lyrics in small rooms filled with kitsch. Which might be the inspiration for Ethan Lipton & His Orchestra, who brought their offbeat act to Barbes last night. Lipton, an L.A. native who now lives in Red Hook, comes across as somewhere between Tony Shaloub and Tony Clifton, disarming the crowd with his easy manner before flaying us with his hilarious, tongue-in-cheek songs. (Lipton is also a successful playwright.) Take "Bossy Man":

"You need a bossy man to love you
 a bossy man to hold you close
a bossy man to dress and care for you
 a bossy man to take control
you need a man to make your mind up
 a bossy man to set you free
 from all of life’s upsetting choices
 like what to do and who to be."

You can take back Paris and Lindsay: this is one L.A. export we could use some more of in this town. 

Mean Fiddler


Forget Perlman, forget Bell, forget Jean-Luc Ponty: for my money, the best violinist I've ever seen is a diminutive gypsy from Hungary named Roby Lakatos. Born into a famous family of Romani fiddlers, Lakatos - who goes by the moniker "The Devil's Fiddler," received classical training in his youth, but has long since developed an expansive, rapid-fire technique that is all his own.

On Tuesday, Lakatos played to a near-capacity crowd at Carnegie Hall, with a set that reflected his wide-ranging musical interests, borrowing equally from the classical, folk and jazz idioms. Onstage, Lakatos proved himself to be a consummate showman, with his flowing hair, leather suit, and a rhinestone belt buckle in the shape of a "G" (for "Gypsy"?) But, when it came to playing, he was all business, alternating tempos and adding little flourishes like tremolos. At one point, he even made his violin sing like a hummingbird. It was a performance unlike anything I've ever heard.


Lakatos' backing band was filled with virtuosos from Hungary, most of whom were barely out of their teens. Pianist Frantisek Janoska (22) played jazz and riffs that sounded like Rachmaninoff cadenzas. Jeno Lisztes (22) played Cimbalom: a cousin of the hammer dulcimer that requires the player to hit a row of strings with a pair of thin mallets. Guitarist Laszlo Balogh (21) sounded like the spitting image of Django Reinhardt. Robert Fehér (21) and Lászlo Bóni (40) backed up on bass and violin, respectively.

Over the course of the evening Lakatos brought out a trio of guest musicians, each of whom added their own unique flavor to the mix. Myriam Fuks sang Yiddish songs with a larger-than-life persona. The bold and fearless Czech Iva Bittová left her violin at home, but contributed a pair of songs that left her screeching like some otherworldly banshee. And Afro-Cuban master Michel Camillo blew everyone out of the water with a set that had his hands flying off the keyboard; his duet with Lakatos was the highlight of the night.

During the encore, the entire audience started to clap in rhythm: close your eyes, and you'd think you were back in the old country. Lakatos, for his part, looked like he was just getting warmed up. Boy I would have liked to have gone to that afterparty...(More pics below.)


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Is This Thing On?

P1280010 I'm at Galapagos, listening to a normally-formidable set by new music ensemble So Percussion, when suddenly they just randomly start stacking paint cans and banging shit onstage. Everyone thinks they're just setting up for the next piece, until suddenly their conversations are interrupted by a rhythmic, increasingly noisy clamor. "Oh, is this the piece?" the girl next to me asks aloud. Fifteen years after his death, that bastard Cage is still causing mischief. 

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