A regular at the old Club Helsinki in Great Barrington, acclaimed singer-songwriter Howard Fishman set himself up with a near impossible task on Friday night for his debut at the new, much more spacious club in Hudson.
On Tuesday, he had simultaneously released three very different CDs, and Friday’s show was his first attempt at showcasing all three of them in a single concert. Ambitious? Oh yeah, but he very nearly pulled it off.
Fishman is an omnivorous musician. With “Better Get Right,” he puts his own unique spin on the brass band music of New Orleans. “No Further Instructions,” on the other, is based on his month-long tour of Romania, Ukraine and Hungary. And, finally, “The World Will Be Different” is a musically spare, emotionally raw singer-songwriter album chronicling the breakdown of a love affair in Brooklyn.
Three very different styles of music. Three radically different geographic locales. Three different moods.
Seated centerstage, singer-guitarist Fishman was surrounded by his versatile “orchestra” – drummer Alan Camlet, stand-up bassist Andrew Hall, violinist Mazz Swift and superb trombonist Andrae Murchison – and together they served up a pair of impressive, 45-minute sets of material that was pretty evenly split between the trio of new albums.
The brass band selections from “Better Get Right” fared the best – especially the rollicking “Tee Na Na,” the Cajun howl of “La Danse de Mardi Gras” and the somewhat surprising but wholly successful re-invention of Wall of Voodoo’s new wave nugget, “Mexican Radio.”
The Eastern European-influenced songs of “No Further Instructions” were also engaging, with Fishman’s wry lyrics drawing frequent chuckles from the crowd. But the morose break-up songs of “The World Will Be Different” were more promblematic, and the emotionally downcast and musically downbeat songs tended to throw off the evening’s pacing, especially toward the end of the first half.
The other problem with the performance was a lack of propulsion. Drummer Camlet eschewed the use of drumsticks in favor of brushes throughout the night, and the rousing brass band numbers especially suffered for it.
Fortunately, Fishman’s songs were strong enough to carry the night, and the performances – which also included lead vocal turns by violinist Swift (on Fishman’s “Good Times”) and trombonist Murchison (on the gospel gem “Come by Here, My Lord”) – were both imaginative and intriguing.
NOTE: Howard Fishman is slated for a return to Nippertown in the spring with a performance at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs on Saturday, April 23.
HOWARD FISHMAN SET LIST
Set Me Free (NFI)
Mexican Radio (Wall of Voodoo) (BGR)
Letter From Brooklyn (WWBD)
Come By Here, My Lord – Andrae Murchison voc.
Through the Countryside (NFI)
A Ghost (WWBD)
Down by the Riverside (BGR)
In Romania (NFI)
Good Times (BGR) – Mazz Swift voc.
Tee Na Na (BGR)
La Danse de Mardi Gras (BGR)
Can’t Get Along (WWBD)
When I Grow Too Old to Dream
Your Voice (NFI)