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What’s the difference between a footnote and a headline? Well, judging by the welcome afforded Gary Wilson at Joe’s Pub last Wednesday, about 25 years. An uber-obscure home recordist whose magnum opus, You Think You Really Know Me, made nary a ripple when it was first released in the late ’70s, Wilson never had a genuine cult to go with his cult-hero status—but the photographers and ticket scalpers (!) thronging the club seemed to indicate that a leave of absence from that porn-shop gig might await the fiftyish oddball yet.
Incommunicado for most of the past two decades, the upstate native—since relocated to San Diego—picked up pretty much where he left off, tossing off smooth-yet-quirky ditties with vague tinges of Steely Dan jazziness and a hefty dose of obsessive-compulsive emotional damage. Wilson spent much of the set lying on the stage, serenading—and lasciviously fondling—one of the passel of mannequins that festooned the cramped performance area. As his Barry White-via-Jad Fair entreaties reached fever pitch on a bug-eyed version of “Chromium Bitch,” the special effects kicked in. Translation: One of Wilson’s cronies meandered over and began pelting him with handfuls of flour.
Most of Wilson’s songs float along in the murky waters that separate first sexual awakening from first sexual experience. In other words, they’re packed with kisses, make-out parties, and dreams of living happily ever after—but not much acknowledgment of rounding second base, much less scoring. That might sound like the recipe for a bubblegum confection, but Wilson’s middle-age anguish over memories of Cindy, Lisa, Karen, and other ghosts of unrequited love past—and the creepy lounge-synth bounce underpinning songs like “6.4 = Make-out”—create an altogether more sinister air.
In keeping with the new-wave spirit, Wilson started the show late and ended early, sauntering into the wings after about 40 minutes as his band played him off, James Brown-style. The fact that he was covered in flour rather than a flowing cape didn’t make him seem any less regal. —David Sprague
Bertrand Burgalat wandered offstage halfway through his sold-out set at the Mercury Lounge last Wednesday, and stayed off for about 20 minutes. He wasn’t stopping the music, just pointing out that he didn’t need to be present for it to be his show. A songwriter, producer, and remixer for the likes of April March (Chrominance Decoder was all his), Nick Cave, Ladytron, and Air, Burgalat also runs the Tricatel label that puts out his inner circle’s records. His basic aesthetic position is that the pinnacle of French pop was “sound library” music circa 1970, when easy-listening lushness, psychedelic rock, and funky backbeats carried on a casual ménage à trois. Whether he was up there noodling on his synthesizer or not, he was clearly the auteur.
When his five-piece backing band A.S Dragon revved up the wah-wah guitar and wordless harmonies, Burgalat originals like “Ma Rencontre” could’ve been background music for the scenes in old European art flicks where the longhaired students rush home from their demonstration, tear off their clothes, and leap into a wriggling pile. At times, though, like a draggy version of “Tears of a Clown” featuring Toby Dammit sitting in on tambourine (guest tambourine players are never a good sign), they congealed into Vanilla Fudge, and weedy-voiced Burgalat had to get over on his dapper but goofy attitude alone.
Every Svengali needs a protégée, and Burgalat’s spot behind the microphone was filled in his absence by his new one, the single-named Natasha, who has the chiseled mien, fashion sense, and barbed gaze of Mick Jagger in Performance. (She can’t really sing, which didn’t hinder her spot-on cover of ’70s soul freak Betty Davis’s “Dedicated to the Press.”) Even so, she seemed less a frontwoman than another part of her producer’s Swinging Paris master plan. —Douglas Wolk
Musos Meet the Multitudes
Summer in the City means urine smells and German kids, but it also means lots of free outdoor concerts. Marginally employed aesthetes are already planning their picnics for SummerStage, Lincoln Center, Prospect and Fort Greene parks, and of course downtown, where sitting outside will never be the same. Maybe it’s perverse to miss it, but in the last few years the World Trade Center plaza really came into its own as a venue, with a schedule as good as any in town. Were you at Glenn Branca? Los Lobos and Los Van Van? Odetta or Spalding Gray? The Box Tops, the Troggs, Ray Davies? The light was weird between the towers, and the fountain was loud, but it was a kick just to be sitting there in the middle of Man’s greatest monument to Himself, in the capital of the world, watching the musos mingle with the multitudes.
The other regular downtown series will still be happening—the Castle Clinton Concerts for People Who Have Nothing Better to Do Than Wait in Line All Day, the Wagner Park noodly-jazz sunset moments, the Seaport hit factory—and in the spirit of rebirth, they’ve joined forces as the “River to River Festival.” (You can find a daily calendar at www.rivertorivernyc.org.) But wherever you’re sitting, there will be too much sky, and you’ll be able to see the giant kliegs at what is already a construction site, and you’ll feel funny about enjoying it. On the other hand, where else are you gonna see Randy Newman (June 12), Lea Delaria (June 19), Vernon Reid and James Blood Ulmer (July 24), Neko Case (August 1), Cass Wilson (September 2), and Jones/Zane (September 20) for free? —Josh Goldfein