A few songs into the Bacon Brothers’ set during their first of two shows this week at City Winery, co-leader Kevin Bacon — that Kevin Bacon — introduced “Boys in Bars,” from their 1997 debut, Forosoco, with a quick story. He said they were going to “try something new,” and detailed how the song itself is nostalgic for the Seventies, but that he and his nine-years-older brother Michael are feeling nostalgic for the Nineties. To slake this yearning, they’d arranged for the song’s music video to be dually projected, on both sides of the stage. This honky-tonk-ready rock tune mentions characters like Debby from Queens and a Brooks Brothers–suited lawyer, but the personality audience members seemed to be most fixated on was the baby Bacon himself.
A Sleepers-era Kevin was presented on the stage’s left and right, twenty years younger and the vision of how most of the crowd has come to recognize him: existing onscreen and in one dimension. This multimedia moment created an entirely unique experience. Here was Kevin Bacon in the flesh, showcasing his least recognized talent, while sequestered between images of the movie star he is. He can almost rival Samuel L. Jackson in terms of abundance of appearances — or, at least, he’s a handful of degrees apart. “I couldn’t see, did it work?” asked Kevin after the song’s completion. It appeared to have, but in more ways than Nineties nostalgia.
For the past two decades, Kevin and Michael Bacon have released a string of six albums that teeter on folk, rock, soul, and country (hence that album title, Forosoco). Joining them onstage in New York were four experienced musicians who rotated between saxophone, mandolin, and various other instruments mid-track in a seamless flow.
“It’s pretty terrifying how long they’ve been with us,” said Michael before the show in regard to their backing band. “The bass player, Paul Guzzone, has been with us from our very first gig, which I imagine was 21 years ago. Our music is really eclectic and we don’t really have a sound — we let the songs drive the sound. So they have to really go in a lot of directions. They can play the loudest, nastiest rock and they can play the most sensitive, acoustic kind of folkie things.”
Both the grit and the delicate were well represented during the Bacon Brothers show, which drew songs from their back catalog and their most recent offering, 2014’s 36 Cents. Kevin and Michael traded off lead vocal duties, one brother singing in the spotlight as the other frequently looked on with an air of admiration.
“There was never a time when I didn’t want to play music with my brother and never a time when we really didn’t,” says Michael of his sibling bandmate. “We were doing stuff musically probably from the time he could walk — that was just the way our household was. When we actually formed the band twenty years ago, I was just waiting for it to happen.”
Their musicianship is tight, but the charm rests in their unassuming and unalloyed lyrics. Michael introduced his song “Don’t Lose Me Baby,” explaining that its origins lie in his son’s decision to pursue rock-climbing as a career, and as he sang lyrics such as “But this song is for your mom and me/Just before we set you free,” the sea of baby boomer audience members appeared to agree while they bobbed along. Kevin drew from the more creatively absurd in his song “Architeuthis,” inspired by a fifteen-year-old story involving a giant squid where the struggle to capture it ended with the amputation of one of its tentacles. Kevin relates to the squid’s tale, nicknaming him “Archie,” and compares himself to it with what he calls the “underwater paparazzi.”
After the initial sparkle of witnessing Kevin Bacon in person begins to fade, you see that he’s not acting on this particular stage. This is not some role he’s assumed, no cheap shtick. He’s passionate when singing a road-inspired number about the love he has for their tour bus, simply titled “Bus.” During the song’s final verse he cleverly interjected “New York City” into the lyrics, earning the band some cheers, thus proving his masterful showmanship extends long after the director yells cut.
But he still can’t seem to shake his Hollywood shadow. It follows him on the street, onstage, and in just about every interview he’ll ever agree to do. This exhausted topic of his spiderweb career, one connected to all others by a mere six degrees of separation, seeped its way into his music and inspired part of the 2005 track “Good News.”
“It’s a song sort of about bad news,” he explains in his baritone timbre. “You’re kind of out in a band and you’re going around, and there’s no good news. The show’s not selling, the record’s not selling, and a line that I have is, We’re in the morning zoo/I’ve got the pads on my knees — and you can figure out why I have pads on my knees — We play another round of six degrees. So basically, the idea is you end up doing a lot of morning radio shows. Usually you’re hoping they’ll somehow find [the] record and say it’s great and start playing it and it’ll become a nationwide hit, but generally they just want to talk about Six Degrees. Or — ”
Kevin adopts an obnoxiously pitched voice with wild hand gestures: “Well, we’ve got something funny. We got a crazy idea that we want to do this morning, and I’m sure you’ve never done this before!”
Although both the Bacons are Philadelphian, born and raised, each has a unique relationship with New York City. For the past 30 years Michael has been a New Yorker; he currently teaches at the same college from which he graduated in the mid-Nineties, Lehman College in the Bronx. He teaches film scoring, a career that’s won him numerous Emmy Awards, but he can still recall earning a humbling C- on his first Lehman essay.
Upon graduating from high school, Kevin left for New York in 1975, working as a busboy and then a waiter, taking the acting gigs as they came. But he says New York always seemed to draw him in.
“I think my mother in her own way was kind of whispering in my ear, You gotta get out of here,” he says of growing up in Philly. And so he arrived by rail in the kind of story New Yorkers live to tell.
“It was literally just a suitcase and a dream. I just got off the train, got on the uptown — what was called the IRT — and got off at 72nd Street/Broadway because my sister lived on 76th/West End and that was the first place I was going to camp out, on her couch,” he recalls. “And I felt like I was home, in a weird way.”
The Bacon Brothers will play City Winery again tonight, June 23, at 8 p.m.