2015 Grateful 12

From a three-piece suit in a business blue to a shiny silver Vegas number accented with red socks, the boys from Pink Martini had a wardrobe to be proud of. A most unlikely looking bunch of musicians as ever I saw – not that anyone can ever really look like a musician except they have that rock-star chic look going. Ten lads of varying ages and nationalities took the stage in Budapest earlier this  week with lead singer China Forbes. The band hails from Portland, Oregon, but they came from far and wide to get there.

PMOn the road since 1997, Pink Martini is a versatile little orchestra. Their 2013 album Get Happy  features 16 songs in 9 languages. No shortage of variety there. Band leader and founder of the whole shebang, Thomas Lauderdale, spoke to the mainly Hungarian audience in Budapest this week – in Hungarian. Granted, his pronunciation made mine look pitch perfect, but he tried. And not just the usual ‘Hello, Budapest’ either. He had pages of script and introduced many of the numbers in halting Magyar. One of the first classics they played was Je ne veux pas travailler (I don’t want to work) which is now an anthem of sorts for any sort of strike in France): I don’t want to work, I don’t want to lunch, I only want to forget and so I smoke [English translation; song is in French].

PM2Their 2014 album Dream a Little Dream has some interesting guests: Sofia, Melanie, Amanda and August von Trapp, the great-grandchildren of Captain and Maria von Trapp of The Sound of Music fame. How did I not know that (a) the von Trapps were a real family and (b) they still sing together? Where have I been? It takes listeners from from Sweden to Rwanda to China to Bavaria, and also features The Chieftains, who have to be among Ireland’s best known exports.  pm3

I first met them a few years ago when my mate VB from Arizona sent me their album Hang on Little Tomato. I fell in love with the song Let’s never stop falling in love. She also sent me Hey Eugene with its classic of the same name, written about a chap China met out on the town one night, a chap called Eugene who took her number and never called : Hey Eugene! Do you remember me?
I’m that chick you danced with two times Through the Rufus album, Friday night, at Avenue A

Percussionist Martin Zarzar (from Peru) works Mar Desconocido, a number which Lauderdale describes as ‘like a song from a Pedro Almodovar film with an excerpt of a Chopin waltz in the middle of it.’  That might go some way in describing just what the band are about. They’re bloody amazing. One of the most memorable numbers of the night had to be a duet of an old Armenian number featuring percussionist Timothy Nishimoto (him of the red socks). I lost count of the number of languages on stage – I know there was French, and English, and Armenian, and Croatian, and Spanish … and possibly more. But then again, what would you expect from Harvard graduates?

Hungarian audiences aren’t noted for going wild. Theirs is a more restrained enthusiasm. And yet, when Lauderdale invited the audience on stage a couple of times to dance to particularly dancy numbers, there was no shortage of volunteers. By the time I weighed up the hassle it would be to extricate myself from my centre section seat and the energy it would take to actually move in something fashioning a dance, against being able to say that I was on stage once with Pink Martini, I stayed put. Make no mistake: I’m a fan. And I’m glad that the lovely VZsZs managed to get some tickets. But I was knackered. So tired, in fact, that I almost fell asleep. Not good.

I’ve been to concerts (Kris Kristofferson and Leonard Cohen come immediately to mind) that have gone on for more than a couple of hours. But lately it seems that gigs are getting shorter. Sinéad O’Connor wasn’t on stage for much more than an hour. And Pink Martini didn’t last much longer. What it is I wonder? Is it because our attention spans are shortening? It can’t be money, can it? It’s the same to them whether they play for one hour or two surely? They’re in country anyway. Mind you, there was some debate on stage over whether or not they’d been to Budapest before. Turns out they had been – but only to eat. They actually played at the Balaton.

No matter. I got to seem them live. In Budapest. And for that I’m grateful. If they come your way, do what you need to do to get tickets. You won’t be disappointed.




Hey Mr Squirrel

Photo courtesy of Marcus Frakes

The last time I sat in a room listening to a man with a guitar, a mouth organ, and a sense of humour was on a rainy night in Dublin. The man: Kris Kristofferson. The venue: the Point Depot. Fast forwarding about six years to a rainy Saturday night in Budapest, I found myself in another room, listening to a man with a guitar, a mouth organ, and a sense of humour. The man: Bob Pike. The venue: Manga Cowboy.

You’re mad, I hear you say. You’ve lost all sense of scale. The Point holds thousands; Manga holds maybe 40. Kris has billions of fans; Bob, well, maybe not quite as many….yet. Kris has sold millions of albums; Bob has yet to cut one. Kris has a beard. Bob has a shadow. No matter. Both have a story to tell, if you want to listen.

I don’t mind, if you don’t mind. We’ll take our time till closing time. Last call!

Last night at Manga Cowboy, in the first of a series of acoustic gigs at that venue, Bob met his public. Outside, pedestrian umbrellas battled it out with the wind and the rain. Inside, Bob battled through the emotional upheavel of marriage, divorce, and Irish dancing. I’m no expert but I know what I like: a good tune with thoughtful lyrics; a song that both sings to me and talks to me.

I’ve had my fill of Babe Ruths; I want your apple pie

Some were listening; some were passing notes; others were chatting amongst themselves. Some were dancing quietly in their chairs; some were tapping out a beat with chins and hands and heads and feet; others had just come along for Manga’s American fusion food and excellent Hungarian wine.  But when the lyrics hit home, you could see it: the momentary start of surprise at hearing your thoughts in song; the quiet smile acknowledging a shared experience; the quick flash of memories revisited; the out-loud laugh at something that traversed the ridiculous to the sublime.

Hate to see you go

I cried in public when I heard that Johnny Cash had died. I’ve missed this sort of music; these sorts of raw lyrics. I’m tired of being told what to think, and what to expect and how to feel. I’m sick of authors who signpost their books; playwrights who leave nothing to the imagination; scriptwriters who fill in all the blanks. Show me, don’t tell me. Give me a melody that I’ll still be humming a week from now; give me a lyric I can quote; give me a story I can relate to. And show me that you mean it.

He says he hasn’t done this in a while. Voice a little rusty? Maybe. The man himself a little reticent? Perhaps. As his wit was watered, he seemed to relax. The humorous asides, the short explanations, the clever commentary – all added to the music in what was a marathon set. But I wanted more of it: that conversation between the man and his public. I wanted people to shut up and listen; to give the man his due.  I saw him wow the audience on stage on Wednesday night at the Gift of the Gab speech slam with his take on nose hair and being Bob.  Last night, that witty, irreverent, piss-taking comic was replaced by a thoughtful, introspective, slighly zany singer/songwriter. Both equally clever. Both equally entertaining. Bob Pike, boys and girls, is one talented man. I’m glad I dug out my umbrella!