Saturday night was the unofficial opening of the long-awaited Club Helsinki Hudson, as the new Hudson nightspot hosted the first of its soft-opening Sound Check Series of performances.
Co-owner Marc Schafler took the stage before the band to offer a few, very brief opening remarks and thank the many hands that brought the big, old building to life during the past several years.
He surveyed the sold-out crowd and said, “We’re finally able to answer the question, ‘When?'” He paused for a moment and smiled. “The answer is, ‘Now.'”
And it’s a fine-looking place. Although the performance area is smaller than you might expect – especially considering the enormous size of the building – it’s nicely laid out with multi-tiered seating that allows for good sight-lines throughout the club. The stage is four or five times larger than the old Club Helsinki in Great Barrington – which closed last August – and so is the seating area.
The sizable wait-staff – young woman in little black dresses – were attentive, too, but unfortunately, the club doesn’t have its liquor license yet, so all the beverage offerings consisted of nothing but various bottled waters and soft drinks. There’s no food menu yet, either, although the club put on a free buffet spread that ranged from hot chicken wings to fresh strawberries to chunks of dark chocolate – a nice touch, to be sure.
And the music? Well, Spottiswoode & His Enemies – regulars at the old Club Helsinki – put on a simply marvelous performance that doubled as a CD release party for Jonathan Spottiswoode’s new solo album, “Piano 45.”
Launching their two, generous, 70-minute sets with the rousing “Building a Road,” British born songwriter-frontman Spottiswoode led his five-piece backing band through an eclectic show, and club co-owner Deborah McDowell was one of the first out on the dance floor to kick up her heels.
The band veered from rousing soul rockers (“Happy or Not”) to heartbroken piano ballads (“Chariot”) to upbeat Latin dance tunes (“Now, Didn’t I?”) to twanging honky-tonkers (“Gettin’ Realistic”).
It was a kind of rock cabaret with a wide variety of musical influences – British music hall, Tom Waits, Jacques Brel, Kurt Weill, Burt Bacharach, Damian Rice – all bubbling up to the surface, while the Enemies spiced it all up on trumpet, accordion, mandolin and xylophone in addition to drums, bass, electric piano and guitars.
Ultimately, it all boiled down to a kind of Ray Davies-meets-Randy Newman vibe. Wry, witty and heartfelt all at once.
They kicked off their second set with a mournful trumpet solo from Kevin Cordt that led into the wailing, neo-gospel of “You Will Rise Again.” Spottiswoode bellowed into his microphone, declaring, “Helsinki, you will rise again.”
SPOTTISWOODE & HIS ENEMIES SET LIST
Building a Road
Now, Didn’t I?
Haven’t Changed at All
I’d Even Follow You to Philadelphia
Happy or Not
That’s What I Like
Beautiful Morning (?)
I’m in Love With an Angry Girl
In the Pouring Rain
You Will Rise Again
It’s All in the Past (?)
I’m the One for You
You Won’t Forget Your Dream (?)
What Comes Next?
I Know That Heaven’s Gonna Come