Friday, September 11, 2009


You can never go back. Your childhood, your high school days, your moments of great epiphany and discovery...all gone.

It's the same with those eras we have nostalgia for, especially those we're too young to remember. We're simply buried under too many layers of history and context (and irony, even) to be able to REALLY relive swing, or the renaissance, or cabaret.

So I was hesitant about seeing L'Accordéoniste tonight at the Registry Theatre. I was worried that it would be an austere, overly-cultured, documentary-style gloss of classic cabaret songs. I imagine there's a fine line when performing cabaret; a point where it becomes pure mugging camp or even -- God forbid -- tacky.

But I shouldn't have worried. These folks know where that line is and they walk it perfectly, thanks either to careful planning or just plain passion.

There were no heavy-handed attempts at REALLY invoking a cabaret (if such a thing would even be possible with such a varied repertoire of periods and styles). The Registry Theatre is a wonderfully relaxed place, but even so I doubt they would go for dinner, booze, and pungent cigar smoke. Another of my cabaret stereotypes is that the performers are all tragic and slightly soiled; you expect they're involved in shady love affairs, and it takes every ounce of stimulant they can ingest to keep them going through the daily grind of schlock, torch, and double entendre.

But unless they're hiding it well, the L'Accordéoniste performers do not come across as tawdry people who live tawdry lives. They're highly-regarded musicians with symphonic backgrounds and I bet they've NEVER slept in a bed full of cockroaches.

As for austerity...well, things were a bit upright at first, but once they hit the Kurt Weill selections -- which seemed to be leagues beyond the first numbers in terms of craft and arrangement -- they began to loosen up. Their Latin set was pure fire, and by the time they hit the French Cabaret...well, even the stoic percussionist was cracking a smile, and the audience was firmly in their hand.

Kimberly Barber obviously loves (and feels) this music, and she did a good job contextualizing the selections. Accordionist Mary-Lou Vetere is the most expressive musician I have ever seen, and she's got a classy accordion-gauntlet to boot. I particularly liked the moments when Vetere and Julie Baumgartel eased into tremolo-heavy duets; hearing a violin and an accordion together on a CD is nothing compared to the way they sound up-close and personal.

Peter Tiefenbach and Carol Bauman anchored the songs on piano and percussion, and even added their own comic touches when appropriate. But it wasn't all fun and novelty; some of the best moments were the tragic songs..."The Sailor's Tango" and "Chitarrata Abruzzese" especially.

I leave you with an interview and a performance by the band themselves...enjoy! And if they come to your town, be sure to see them. You can buy their debut CD here.

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