Music News

TINY, TONY AND COMPANY

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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

Tony Bennett
Symphony Hall
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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Peter Gilstrap
Contact: Peter Gilstrap