Tiny, Tony and Company
November 8, 1994
Tiny Tim stepped gingerly onstage (he's nearly 70, mind you), his short, chubby body filling out a suit fashioned entirely from cloth printed with sheet music. He flashed his expansive, tooth-filled grin that is either depraved or endearing, his thinning, dyed-black hair fanning over his cheeks. He blew a few kisses at the giddy crowd of aging hippies, moms and dads, rockers, yuppies, strippers, hipsters and college kids. With locals the Beat Angels standing behind him, ready to play back-up to an hour's worth of songs they had spent 30 minutes rehearsing, Tiny lifted his battered ukulele and began to sing.
And he did not stop for a long, long time.
"She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain," "Working on the Railroad," "Let Me Call You Sweetheart," "Wait Until the Sun Shines, Nellie," "Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey," "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean," "Darling Clementine," "Goodnight Irene," "A Bicycle Built for Two," "And the Band Played On," "The Man on the Flying Trapeze," "Harvest Moon," "You're a Grand Old Flag," "Yankee Doodle," "Harrigan," "Give My Regards to Broadway," "Over There," "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" and "This Land Is Your Land."
Does this sound like the aural equivalent to the Bataan Death March? Does this sound like some kind of hellish cavalcade into the dullest corner of Tin Pan Alley? Does this sound like anything but entertainment?
Well, it was none of the above.
Tiny Tim was a driven man. Call him a has-been or a freak, but you can't say he doesn't give his all. And that translated into an evening of what, at times, bordered on performance art and skirted absurdity, but was anything but dull.
A large part of the spectacle was watching the Angels valiantly working through what must have been the ultimate exercise in frustration, trying to follow Tim through this marathon medley of songs written before their grandparents were born. Bass player Kevin and drummer Jon were able to provide at least some skeletal background; guitarist Keith gave up about halfway through, turned his guitar off, sat down and fired up a cigarette.
But Tiny was unfazed, plugging on with his Rudy Vallee vocals, changing keys and time signatures at will. After the applause that followed "This Land Is Your Land" had died down, Tiny thanked "Mr. Franco" and a number of others--all with exceeding politeness--and remarked on what a fabulous job the Angels were doing.
Then his musical juggernaut moved up to the latter half of the 20th century, all the way up to Elvis. Listening to Tiny Tim impersonate the King on "Heartbreak Hotel" was one thing, watching him do it was another. At one point, the man stripped off his coat and began writhing on the floor, then made it to his feet in time to segue into "Great Balls of Fire." The night was sad, ridiculous, poignant and truly mind-boggling, sometimes all at once. Tiny closed with "As Time Goes By."
There was something truly transcendent and moving--though something Cole Porter probably never envisioned--about witnessing this odd, longhaired man with a ukulele flutter through the classics with as much unique passion as Dooley Wilson himself. But, after all, the fundamental things apply . . . --Peter Gilstrap
Dancing French Liberals of '48, Fastbacks, and Zumpano
November 8, 1994
Since DCG Records bought out Nirvana's Sub Pop contract, the stench of secondhand teen spirit has been nearly inescapable. Two of this night's four acts work for the Seattle label, yet have about as much to do with grunge as a plate of oatmeal.
I missed local punk legend Jeff Dahl's set, which started promptly at 8 p.m. (what is this, wartime Germany?), but made it through the door just as Dancing French Liberals of '48 were setting up. This slightly new Seattle foursome, incidentally not a Sub Pop band, used to be known as the Gits. Unfortunately, most people heard about the group only after its lead singer Mia Zapata was raped and murdered in 1992. Given the crowd's somewhat morbid curiosity, DFL of '48 played an energetic set, mainly because of the band's hyperactive bass player. You found yourself looking at his flying fingers time and time again, especially in lieu of the group's rather uncharismatic lead singer, who looked somewhat like a stodgy Danny Bonaduce with tattooed arms.
Equally indiscernible were the song lyrics--one chorus sounded like he was singing "Constant Cinderella." "Screw by Screw" (at least it sounded like that) was a breakneck number which broke into a sprightly jig for about a minute and a half. Perhaps more entertaining than the band's set was an audience member's sweat shirt that bore the beautiful likeness of everyone's favorite ski-instructor assassin, Claudine Longet.
If DFL were atypical of what you've come to expect from Seattle, headliners the Fastbacks were the antithesis. Read: bouncy, cheerful pop. Someone in attendance remarked of them, "If Shonen Knife could really play their instruments, write great songs and sing English nonphonetically, they'd sound just like the Fastbacks." That might not be far off the mark.
Like the Shonens, the Fastbacks with their inability to contain their mirth resulted in a contagiously entertaining show. Guitarist Kim and bassist Lulu's soaring block harmonies had an unaffected glee-club quality that's absolutely endearing. Guitarist Kurt Bloch, who splits his time between this band and his other Seattle group of long standing, Young Fresh Fellows, spent most of this evening hopping up and down, at times in perfect synchronization with several front-stage pogoers. Even a busted drum snare and a broken bass string (low E!) couldn't dampen Bloch's spirits. Former Posie drummer Mike Musburger filled in the seemingly ongoing vacant Fastbacks drum stool for this tour, giving the band extra punch. Inconceivably, this was the Fastbacks' first-ever performance in Phoenix--and they've been together 14 years! Hope they don't wait that long to come back.
The biggest surprise of the night came from Vancouver's Zumpano, the latest addition to Sub Pop's roster. Singer Carl Newman was constantly apologizing for the band not being grunge, only "out of style." Not since the late-Sixties Kinks sang about sipping afternoon tea and preserving antique tables and billiards has there been a band so delightfully out of vogue. It's no coincidence that the group performed a note-perfect rendition of the Kinks' classic "Shangri-La," even if Newman had to employ a cheat sheet to remember all the words.
Zumpano's matching black suits, keyboard flourishes, brainy guitar runs and slavish devotion to songwriter Jimmy Webb caused quite a few barflies to bolt to the front of the stage to stare approvingly. Later, Zumpano's guitarist Mike Ledwidge confided that the band has played "MacArthur Park" completely straight and in its entirety several times on this first tour. They skipped it this night because "it tends to dominate our set."
Instead, the band offered another Webb tune--"Orange Hair." This obscurity, the B-side of the group's current seven-inch, first saw active duty as a track on the Fifth Dimension's Magic Garden album. Yet this is no kitschy aberration. Zumpano played it full throttle, not for laughs. You've got to love a band that reveals an original tune was influenced by Burt Bacharach, a band willing to crawl around dusty bins at Goodwill to dig up pop music no 20-year-old in his right mind is expected to know. If you need a sign that '95 is going to be a year worth rolling outta bed for, watch for Zumpano's debut album, Look What the Rookie Did, scheduled for release in January.--Serene Dominic
November 8, 1994
There were no massive inflatable animals, no smoke machines, no lasers or explosions, not even a complement of multiracial, back-up-singing babes swaying like sirens.
What there was on the barren stage of Symphony Hall was this: a three-piece jazz band and a 68-year-old Italian-American man with one of the best voices in American popular song. (If not the best voice, now that age has left Sinatra's pipes a raspy shadow of their former selves.)
But that voice is all Tony Bennett needed to turn in a mesmerizing performance, that and the 40-plus years of simply standing there and singing that have turned him into a master. From the minute Bennett strode briskly onstage to a standing ovation--after a brief warm-up from the consummate Ralph Sharon Trio--the ex-singing waiter from Astoria was in command. The man was charm incarnate, his face locked in a tight smile that rarely changed throughout the night. He grabbed a mike lying on the Steinway and flowed into "Old Devil Moon."
And from there it was a swingin' tour through the American popular songbook, guided by a man who was personally responsible for making many standards standards. Bennett zipped through Irving Berlin's "I Love the Piano" and into a slow/fast take on Gershwin's "The Girl I Love" that became a perfect vehicle for the color and phrasing of his baritone. Always attendant with the sheer upscale dignity of his voice was Bennett's radiant stage presence, centered on the body language of a man who can fill the stage while hardly moving.
At times he was leaning back on the piano, legs crossed, hand in pocket as if he was propped against a streetlight, crooning to the stars. Then he was reaching to the spotlight, turning the final note of a song into a drawn-out, dramatic experience unto itself. The guy seemed genuinely thrilled, touched and tickled to be on the boards in Phoenix, belting it out for an audience hell-bent on offering him no reaction short of worship. After more than a few songs during the set, he stuck the mike under his arm, clasped his hands together and bowed delicately with almost incredulous gratitude at the waves of applause washing over him.
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After an effortless version of "Stranger in Paradise," Bennett announced that he "was the Madonna of my day, and I didn't have to take my clothes off, either!" But don't get the wrong idea, Ol' Tone wasn't dissing his fellow Italian-American, or the MTV generation that has recently become enamored of him, too. "Hey, I don't mind what she does," he said. "I like to look at her!"
After a short intermission, the inevitable happened: For probably the millionth time since he first emoted it in 1962, Bennett sang "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." And--guess what--everybody loved it. The members of the Ralph Sharon Trio each took turns proving why they were playing onstage with Mr. Bennett, turning in extensive and impressive piano, bass and drum solos as the boss stood respectfully aside, digging it with everyone else.
Perhaps the high point--at least an amazing display of sheer lung power--came at the end of the show when Bennett put down the mike and, accompanied only by the piano, belted out a couple of naked-voice numbers into the cavernous hall. After two ovations, he returned to close the night with a stellar "Fly Me to the Moon (in Other Words)." To steal a line from a beer commercial, it just doesn't get much better than this.