Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Bacon Brothers at City Winery; New York City -- with Vance Gilbert 4/26/12

Bacon was on the menu recently at City Winery in Lower Manhattan. Not cured strips of meat from the rumpus of a pig but Kevin Bacon and big brother Michael; the Bacon Brothers. Michael Bacon is a CUNY (City University New York) professor and an accomplished musician and film scorer; little brother Kevin is also a well-respected thespian; star of numerous big and small screen reckonings. Kevin Bacon even has his own “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game where you can apparently link any actor to Kevin Bacon (alive of dead) by no more than six degrees of separation. However together this duo (and their excellent backing band) simply do the deed of playing an interesting bit of soul, blues, folk, ballad, jazz, country, and good old fashioned rock and roll.

 Before we get to the Brothers Bacon though there was the mystery of opening act Vance Gilbert. Gilbert was a twangy-blues laden singer songwriter. He actually called himself “The Black Folk Star of Love.” His short set might have been okay if he were the attraction. Maybe such macabre, heartbroken musings such as his would have been more appropriate for an engagement at a coffee house or something. But as an “opening act” for a group as full of verve and energy as the Bacon Brothers, it would have stood to reason that Gilbert would have played some more upbeat songs.

 Forgetting the topics of his set for just a moment; Gilbert had a glaring self-awareness and a corny disposition coupled with a sharp wit which at times elicited laughter.

 “You’re so old,” he joked to one audience member, “you’ve got a signed copy of the Bible!”

 His songs though were very intentionally oppressive and languid. Despite this fact Gilbert had a fierce set of lungs on him which oscillated between a practiced John Denver high to an extended Herman’s Hermits vibrato.

 Still, I go to the audience for the most fun quote of the night. One of the individuals sitting nearby me, who had even appeared to enjoy portions of the opener remarked, as Gilbert was exiting the stage:

 “For most of that performance, I wanted to stick something in my eye.”

Bacon Brothers. City Winery, New York City. 4/26/12.
 Then out came the Bacon Brothers. Both Bacon’s were spry and full of life. The entourage was Kevin and Michael trading lead vocals and both wielding rhythm lines on the electric and acoustic guitars. Kevin played the conga drums, a Latin shaker tube, and was the one man dance party as though everybody were hanging “Footloose!” Michael also played a floor string instrument like a standup bass only stouter.

 The first two songs were sung by Michael and Kevin simply sang backup vocals, strummed along as a second rhythm guitar, and played some very insignificant conga lines. When I pointed out to my wife that you didn’t even really hear the conga, she remarked that it's attributable to the fact that Kevin’s an actor. Actors onstage (or onscreen) should always have some kind of an action for their hands. I couldn’t disagree with her.

By the third tune though, a song Kevin dubbed “the iPod song” he had earned his place onstage. Just before breaking it down Kevin took his audience on a funkdafied history of what it was like when he first came to New York City in 1976. He danced and cavorted to the tight funk line the song was electric.

 All the musicians onstage appeared to be effortlessly competent at their instruments. The bass player slid all over his fret board while singing harmony and doing something of a queer crouching crab step. The lead guitar player and organ player both cut out nice solo lines when they were called on to do so. The drummer also had no problem tearing up the skins a little bit like Animal from the Muppets.

 I wasn’t able to stay for the whole evening but from what I saw of the Bacon Brothers, they are a group worthy of your attention. A lot of times famous actors get a hard time when they just want to play in a band. But Kevin Bacon rips that stigma out and chucks it to the side. He just appears to be having a great time with his big brother, playing the music that’s had him dancing inside his head for all these years.

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