This is part of a series of reviews of bands who play weekly at local bars.
The show: Nicole Pesce at My Florist Cafe.
The look: Sleek, chic, and trendy.
The smell: Salmon and warm bread.
The taste: Savory, sweet, and filling.
Three words/phrases to describe the night: Neon light, dessert tray, wine list.
Who to bring with you: A good conversationalist.
Drink of the night: Red wine.
The large grand piano set above the risen platform in the back of the restaurant tends to be the focal point of My Florist Cafe. While during the day it remains just a decorative object, in the evenings Nicole Pesce provides music for the downtown diners.
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But being a backdrop to trendy plates of food and wine is more difficult than one may imagine. It comes with its own set of challenges and expectations. You should be able to hear the music clearly, but it can't be too loud. The patrons want to hear songs that they know and love, but no one wants bold patrons who have gone a little deeper into the bottle feeling free to belt out tunes. The music should be noticeable and pleasant, but not distracting. Recognizable, but with a slightly new arrangement to avoid the audience participation scenario previously described.
The Best of Phoenix winning pianist has found a niche where she can strike the balance required for such a position. Her choice of music is eclectic, and includes Billy Joel, ABBA, and various jazz standards from the American songbook, to name a few. Pesce has settled into a routine. Though she is able to seamlessly string together one tune after the other, framing them in songs blocks instead of as individual pieces, it's clear that she's done it so many times before, that there's little if any variety in her set.
Pesce is extraordinarily conscious of her audience and how they take in the experience of her playing. She begins very quietly, slowly easing the crowd into her performance. It doesn't jolt the listener, nor does it make them feel obligated to watch or listen intently. Rather, they are able to notice it in their own time, amidst pauses in their own conversations and dinners. Then gradually she raises the volume. Soon thereafter, people begin to applaud after song sets, without noting all of the transitions that happen in between the pauses.
Though one would almost never go to a restaurant just to hear the person performing in the background, it is possible to understand the contribution of the musician to the general ambience of the night. Smooth and easy, there is nothing that particularly stands out about Pesce's performance -- which is precisely why she makes a good choice for the downtown eatery.