Theater archives

Roving Troubadour Gideon Irving Rocks the House — Maybe Your House


On my way to see Living Here: a map of songs, a collaboration between the Foundry Theatre and roving troubadour Gideon Irving, I strolled up Lafayette Street through a spring snowstorm. I stopped at an opulent loft building that for a time housed David Bowie’s New York pied-à-terre. After traversing a grand lobby and riding a cramped elevator, I entered a sleek apartment full of modernist furniture. I was asked to remove my shoes, so as not to muck up the pristine wood floors.

Inside, the atmosphere fell somewhere between the awkward early stages of a dinner party and the buzzy anticipation of a downtown performance venue. (Some spectators, like me, were just there to see the show; others, the host had invited.) In the corner was an impromptu stage: blue and white instrument cases made to look like buildings, a carpet of Astroturf, some portable lights. Irving, barefoot in a blue suit, worked the room.

If you should decide to see the piece — and indeed you should — your commute will take you somewhere else entirely. You might end up uptown, downtown, or across a river; in a railroad apartment or a spacious townhouse; a basement or a penthouse. That’s because Irving lights out for a new living room every night — some forty-five in all, covering all five boroughs.

Irving has done this sort of thing before. He has crisscrossed the country singing for his supper — or as he puts it, for a foldout couch, cot, or hammock for the night. But there might be more psychogeography per square inch here than anywhere else in the U.S.A. Neighborhoods and addresses are the social register of New York. Where you live speaks volumes about you. Living Here grants spectators the opportunity to dabble in a little urban ethnography. How often do you get an invitation to examine the domicile of a complete stranger?

Plus, the music is pretty good.

Living Here alternates between winsome anecdotes and idiosyncratic tunes, many of which circle around themes of existential uncertainty and yearning for home. Irving has a resonant voice, an eccentric sensibility, and an endearing habit of forcing his notes through piratical grimaces. Sometimes he looks like Popeye, sometimes like a Dust Bowl balladeer. He also has an almost uncanny desire to connect directly with spectators — he met my gaze steadily for what seemed like moments at a time.

Between songs Irving tells funny stories about the oddball characters he has met along the way: a professional potato appraiser, a woman with a giant tropical snail in her shower, a Kiwi puppeteer. He also takes questions. Someone wanted to know about his strangest road experience. (He mentioned the time he accidentally flooded his host’s kitchen and then cleaned it up.) Throughout, we’re eerily aware of how many different audiences like this one he has sung to before, and how many are still to come.

Though Irving’s songs are folk-inflected (heavy on the banjo), his imagination is quintessentially digital-era. As he describes his frenetic ambitions to put down roots everywhere, to get to know everyone, you can’t help but see his projects as living networks: linking diverse locales across city and nation with shared experience and his own restless presence. He wants to be every particular place at once. For Irving, here is everywhere, and everywhere is here.