Wednesday, November 2, 2011

John Wesley Harding's Cabinet Of Wonders Came To City Winery - Pictures, Review

Last Saturday night, we stopped in at City Winery for the second installment of John Wesley Harding's Cabinet Of Wonders residency. If it's to be believed, the lineup was even more star studded than the last time, and as such the crowd was (or at least felt like) twice as packed like sardines. Harding was in top form, both with his comedic intros, and with his own tunes.  It felt like (although we didn't keep count) that he and his band spent slightly less time in the spotlight than at the last show.

After a few tunes from Harding, the stage opened to Emma Straub, who recounted a tale of traveling with the Magnetic Fields to Montreal.  As the merch-transport team with her husband, the pair encountered any number of difficulties as they attempted to cross the border to our northern neighbors.  The story was a light, if not a tad self-effacing, look into the real world of rock and roll.

Straub was followed by our biggest surprise of the night: The Hold Steady's Craig Finn.  Finn was debuting material from his forthcoming solo work, and it blew us away.  We've never been able to latch on to the hold steady, and felt it lacked something in the musical depth department.  Finn's set was the complete opposite, reminiscent of Springsteen or Dylan, and completely captivating.  It didn't exactly hurt things that he closed with a Jagger solo track, "Evening Gown", and completely ruled every second of it.

Finn was briefly followed by Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Harding, whose vivid and gripping reading provided a stark contrast to the whimsy of Straub's piece.  Unquestionably, Harding is gunning for the "serious" author vibe, and succeeding more than a little bit.

Serious readings beget serious rock and roll, and Hamilton Leithauser was up next, delivering an all-covers set in the absence of his band, The Walkmen.  His Beach House and Kinks covers were rock solid, but our fave had to be the touching and gentle rendition of Sinatra's "When The Wind Was Green". It was a simple and beautiful arrangement, and highlighted to a T the awesomeness of Leithauser's voice.

Up next was a 1-2-3 punch of John Hodgman, John Darnielle, and Eugene Mirman.  Hodgman led off with a satirical list of ghosts to watch out for this halloween.  While not a knock out success, it was quirky and enjoyable, and reminded us that this guy is worth far more to the world of comedy than just being a commercial celebrity.

Darnielle's set followed, and as always, was energetic and loaded with rock solid musicianship.  The Mountain Goats have never been to our taste exactly, but the crowd was clearly delighted, and it can't really be argued that Darnielle is not a force to be reckoned with.  The stage is clearly his home, and always will be as long as he has any say in the matter.

Eugene Mirman's set was, as always, laugh out loud funny.  It was an epic throwback (complete with props) to Mirman's high school days, and it was an utter success.  Just ten minutes of Mirman was enough to make us realize why Harding has chosen him as a Cabinet of Wonders regular, and left us eagerly awaiting more.

The evening closed with an unannounced act, as Roseanne Cash took the stage.  While she didn't have as devoted a following in the audience as some of the announced acts, she was unquestionably revered, simply for her presence and undeniable street cred.  Her set was, as might be expected, an especially straight-ahead country affair, that left us walking away from the evening more than satisfied.

All this fun was followed by an announcement earlier this week that Harding intends to once more take the Cabinet on the road, and we have to say: go, go, go!  It's like no other rock show out there, and truly is a throwback to the variety shows of yore.  It will be unexpected, you will be delighted, and it will be more than worth your time.

Many more photos at the HAD Archive