Saturday, February 2, 2008

More Dobro in the Non-Monitors

I've just come back from the Postcrypt, and the show was one of those shows where you're standing there going, "Why didn't I invite all of my friends to this gig? This is so good!"

First, for those of you who have not had the pleasure of visiting the Postcrypt, it is a tiny coffeehouse located in the basement of St. Paul's Chapel on the campus of Columbia University. It has been there since 1964, offering acoustic music on Friday and Saturday nights during the semester with three acts per night at 9, 10 and 11 o'clock. The music is always free and so is the popcorn. (Yeesh, it's like I used to be the manager or something.) The room is completely acoustic. There is a wooden stage (with a tendency to creak), no microphones, no speakers, no monitors. The Guastavino tiles provide all the sound reinforcement that is necessary. And given the lack of amplification, it is a listening room: people come to hear the music, and those who talk are appropriate shushed. (Such as tonight when my friend Richard Cucarro, editor of AcousticLive New York forcefully said, "Hey, guys! Why don't you move to the other room! Thanks!" to some gregarious undergraduates.)

Tonight, the place was packed: people were sitting on the floor and gathered around the two doorways to catch an earful. (Therefore, it's a good thing that I didn't invite all of my friends, as they wouldn't have had anywhere to sit.)

On stage, it was Anthony da Costa and Abbie Gardner. (Hey? Didn't I see her last night? Why, yes, I did.) Anthony da Costa is 17 years old. And he is not afraid.

I first saw him this past July at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival (and the photo here is from a well-attended jam session that he led on the midway). And he went all out. On stage during the Emerging Artists Showcase, he brought his best material--his hit song "Poor, Poor Pluto"--and got the crowd excited and listening. And then during the jam session on the midway, surrounded by David and Adrian Mowry from Beaucoup Blue and Greg Klyma (who once, as Ellen can recount, crashed our blanket at Falcon Ridge during the Saturday evening concert), he was the man in charge, figuring out what songs were going to be played, who was going to take the breaks, what the vibe was going to be like. He was 16 back then!

He and Abbie have been playing a lot together, and talking to her after the show, she considers her playing with him to be as much of a gig as her playing with Red Molly, and they, in fact, are recording a duo album. They were great on stage together. Abbie's dobro was not heavily featured, but she found terrific fills and flourishes for the songs. (Ubiquitous New York old-time fiddler Bill Christophersen complimented her after the show for her tasteful work.) Her harmonies, again, were not out front but were suitable for filing under the category of "just right."

They did a number of songs from Anthony's brand new CD, but, in general, played a nice mix of tunes. "Runnin'" and a cover of Josh Ritter's "Girl in the War" were stand-outs for me. Abbie and Anthony nailed "Girl in the War" with great harmonies and a sparse arrangement. We also got "Snakes on a Plane" to the tune of "The Wheels on the Bus":

The snakes on the plane go hiss, hiss, hiss / hiss, hiss, hiss / hiss, hiss, hiss...

And then, despite a request for a different song, Anthony chose to end the set with "Poor, Poor Pluto" about the death of Pluto as a planet. The crowd sang along with gusto.

The songs were good, but what is great about Anthony da Costa is that he is a performer. His patter was terrific and (seemingly) spontaneous. He had a recurring joke about a recent high school assembly where a retired detective warned the students about the dangers of the Internet. "You wouldn't jump in the ocean in a fish suit if there were a bunch of sharks around, would you? So why are you going to go on the Internet?" It had us in stitches. He also riffed on the presidential debates to good effect. His one short-coming was perhaps talking directly to Abbie too much on stage, but mostly, I watched this great entertainer perform for us, and I watched the crowd enjoy every minute of the ride.

Jonathan Byrd sums it up pretty well: "Anthony da Costa is a good teenage songwriter, which is about as rare as a good teenage accordionist." Worth checking out. Keep your eyes open for him.

(Warning: this post was composed under the influence of R.E.M.'s Document album.)

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