Review by Fred Rudofsky
Photos by Joseph Deuel
Deliver me from this world in which cell phones are no longer just for conversation, they are now the point of conversation. Deliver me from this world in which a trickle-down stream of euphemisms, intended to reform educational instruction and solve our state and federal fiscal problems, gets gobbled up like popcorn shrimp. Deliver me from this world in which the falcon cannot hear the falconer, as Yeats put it so well.
Fortunately, there was sanctuary to be found from the wanton madness, inanity and brutishness of the world: Caffe Lena. I arrived, covered in wet snow, looking over my shoulder and seeking shelter from the Ides of March. The other-worldly music of the Chandler Travis Three-O and the Jack Grace Band would not let me down.
A trio based out of NYC, the Jack Grace Band gave a short but impressive set of margarita-soaked country and rock and roll. Jack Grace played rhythm and lead guitar like he had been raised on Waylon Jennings and the Faces, singing with a twisted grin and commanding the room from all angles as he often sang tongue-in-cheek. “You’re Going to be an Old Man, Too” looked back in wistful shock at the days when the rotary phone was contemporary and essential. “Parents’ Country Home” was introduced as a confessional piece about romantic break-ups and “missing the house, but not the person.”
The tempo shifts in “Sugar Belle” featured adroit drumming by Bruce Martin and nimble bass work by Damien Lennon. In title, “It Was a Really Bad Year” sounded like it might be a Sinatra parody, but it was an edgy original from 2011’s superb Drinking Songs for Lovers. “Bothered to Think” and the title track from the recent The Money’s Gone Away closed out the set – the former exuded a fine mix of pathos and humor, summed up in Grace’s impromptu “gargled” drink solo, while the latter was inspired by the 24/7 working world of Chinatown.
Happy birthday greetings brought a smile to Chandler Travis, who was wearing a tie for the occasion, an occasional hat and a look of mischief. (By the second set, he wore his customary attire, pajamas/bathrobe, barefoot of course). After a snippet of weirdness (“Flute Thing”), Travis and valet- vocalist Fred Boak, upright bass-cellist John Clark and multi-instrumentalist (saxophones, keyboards and clarinet) Berke “Rev. Earl Speedway” McKelvey dedicated a birthday song to soundman Joe Deuel, who had in their opinion officially “reached fossildom.”
The night covered a wide range of styles, tones and moods; imagine the works on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art translated into sounds, and you will get the picture and the frame, two set lists that no other band would have the talent or daring to perform. Travis alternated between acoustic and electric guitars throughout the night, singing songs of whimsy and haunting images, bantering with the crowd and especially his songwriting collaborator David Greenberger, who presented him with a Pop Tarts container for a birthday gift.
The Three-O mesmerized the Caffe Lena crowd, a mix of ardent fans and newcomers who became instant fans. Picking favorite moments was daunting, but for this music fan “I Drink My Coffee Blue,” “Walking Backward Crooked from the Sunset,” the uproarious sing-along of “Chandler Travis, The King of the World” and the heartfelt ode to good people to be found in this best of possible worlds, “Goodbye to You, My Friends,” elicited the strongest response. The latter song prompted Travis and company to play out into the appreciative audience, who afterward stayed at the invitation of the band and Caffe Lena staff to partake in some delicious birthday cake.
THE CHANDLER TRAVIS THREE-O SET LIST
Happy Birthday, Joe
By the Way
Maybe this is Our Year
I Tell You Why
Make the Small Things Pretty
Flute Thing (reprise)
Shut Up, Shut Up
I Drink My Coffee Blue
In the Still of the Night (Purple Dreams)
Strong Man of America
Someone Somewhere Loves You
You and Me Pushing Up Daisies
Walking Backward Crooked from the Sunset
Take Me with You
Barbara Allen (traditonal)
Blame it On the Fucking Irish!
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Don’t Tell Me the Same Old Lies
Moody’s Mood for Love (James Moody)
Chandler Travis, The King of the World
Grand Route St. John
Things to You (NRBQ)
Goodbye to You, My Friends
THE JACK GRACE BAND SET LIST
You’re Going to be an Old Man, Too
Parents’ Country Home
It Was a Really Bad Year
Bothered to Think
The Money’s Gone Away