Another Fine Edition of You
Beaming down at the Theater at Madison Square Garden last week, next door to the venue they first played opening for Jethro Tull in 1972, the reunited Roxy Music began with the cardiac resuscitation of “Re-make/Re-model” (first song, first album, but no nostalgia, “next time is the best we all know”) and ended with the epic fade-away-never of “For Your Pleasure” (notes on the art of self-invention, “part false, part true”). In between, a democratic spirit prevailed: All styles served here, from dadaist intergalactic glam to creamy lovers rock. The mists of Avalon rolled in midway like so much dry ice, but a generous portion of the set emanated from deep within the velvet goldmine.
The jet-set troubadours hadn’t played together in 18 years, but you wouldn’t have guessed it from the onstage chemistry. Phil Manzanera’s guitar lines—fussy one minute, flammable the next—and Andy MacKay’s lithe reed accents were shored up by the robust tremors of long-missed original drummer Paul Thompson. Bryan Ferry, meanwhile, casually enacted the theory that the best Roxy songs are nothing less than dense clusters of coups de théâtre. His vibrato was in fine tingly form, he addressed the crowd mostly by enunciating song titles (“Oh yeah-eah,” “Dance away-hey-hey”), and he donned a white dinner jacket (between black sharkskin and silver lamé, sorry no tiger prints) for a cabaret interlude that included “A Song for Europe” and “In Every Dream Home a Heartache.”
The come-hither sizzle of “Both Ends Burning” (with dancing-girl gyrations) got the audience to their feet, and they swooned right through to surprise set-closer “Editions of You,” the flailing anthem to love and regret in the age of mechanical reproduction, and no-brainer encores “Love Is the Drug” and “Do the Strand.” The highlight of the evening, “Mother of Pearl,” more than ever seemed to encapsulate the Roxy mythology. A Dionysian supernova unravels into a long comedown of louche, time-wasting rumination (bliss just out of reach, indefinitely delayed), as Ferry looks back on a trail of wrecked beauty, the complications of hindsight no longer an illusion. Ever the rueful roué, still so sheer and so chic, he always knew his strange ideas would mature with age. —Dennis Lim
As Fast As She Can
“I’m a dancer—a dancer dances,” Donna McKechnie sings. Even when she’s handed only a 10-by-8-foot floor to do it on. That’s the space at Arci’s Place, where the Broadway performer is currently delivering “An Evening With Donna McKechnie: My Musical Comedy Life,” a retrospective of her life and career. Fingers waving, extended foot pointing, glittery skirt twirling, McKechnie dances until she’s flushed and panting.
Between songs presented in an and-then-I-opened-in format, she talks about enduring a troubled Michigan girlhood by losing herself at movie musicals, and how the pastime led her from wannabe to star. Going gallantly about her business, she backs up her dancing and singing with solid acting, though there was a time when McKechnie wasn’t considered a proficient thespian. In Michael Bennett’s A Chorus Line—based in part on McKechnie’s experiences working with Bob Fosse and Bennett himself—Cassie admits she needs an ensemble assignment because she flops when asked to act. Now as, say, the middle-aged, tentative Sally in Follies (she excerpts from her Paper Mill Playhouse portrayal), McKechnie has the chops. The warbling is another issue: She possesses a hearty belt, but when she jumps into her head voice, she’s less sure.
Having weathered arthritis and divorce, indulging in nostalgia for a lost age of showbiz splendor and genius, McKechnie does what leading ladies have to do when new roles are scarce: run their credits for audiences who remember when. —David Finkle
Al Schnier, guitarist for moe., once expressed regret that the layout at Wetlands forced him to keep his back to most of the crowd. “Maybe if we all get together and pick up the stage and put it over there and face it that way like it oughta be,” he suggested at a show last year. “But then it wouldn’t be the Sweat Glands, would it?” Wetlands war stories about sight lines and heat won’t be heard again after September 15, when the 500-capacity club will retire the Lennon portrait, clean out the Volkswagen bus-merch booth, clear away the eco-petitions, and permanently close its doors. According to Pete Shapiro, who currently rents the space, the site will become offices and the lobby of multimillion-dollar condos. “At least it’s not becoming an upscale cigar bar,” Shapiro quips.
But it’s no joke that New York faces more than just another example of the city selling out nightlife for big-bucks real estate; it’s the end of an era. For 13 years, Wetlands fostered a politically proactive, friends-and-family environment. Often locally mistaken as simply “that hippie club,” it’s actually a nationally recognized musical landmark. Artists who will testify to the club’s boast “We don’t just book bands, we develop them” include Blues Traveler, Dave Matthews Band, Sublime, and anyone who performed during Wetlands’ Sunday punk matinees, Black Lily’s hip-hop series (featuring Macy Gray and Erykah Badu), or Moon Ska marathons; big names who played their first New York City shows at the venue include Pearl Jam, Travis, and Rage Against the Machine. Nothing is confirmed for the closing party, though Shapiro plans a blowout featuring favorite past acts. He is currently scouting new locations, but has no immediate prospects. “We can re-create something special based on what it was, take what worked and build on it, but we’re not going to force anything that’s not meant to be. I think Wetlands deserves that.” —Robin Rothman