Photo by Stephen B. Malkinson
Assorted “losers” sang from the Talking Heads’ oeuvre this past weekend at Joe’s Pub.
Loser’s Lounge pays tribute to another American idol
By Todd Simmons
Loser’s Lounge is one of those New York City treasures that help make fighting through the crowded sidewalks and the rest of the daily hassles we face worthwhile. The eclectic music collective reminds us why we live here because the unique cultural payoffs are unrivaled elsewhere. Joe McGinty understands this. He knows there are so many talented musicians in this town that the possibilities of collaboration are endless, and he and his friends have been making the most of this talent pool since 1993. For three nights last week, Loser’s Lounge turned the intimate room at Joe’s Pub into a glorious theatre of time-warped absurdity with “A Tribute To Talking Heads.”
When I saw them do “No Time For Losers: A Tribute to Queen” at the Bowery Ballroom last year, I was astonished by their passion and the detailed re-creations of these very famous and complex rock tunes. Sure, they utilized a blend of male and female singers to capture Freddie Mercury’s high-end vocal parts, but that’s the beauty of this collective of merry pranksters. They do whatever the songs call for and they do it with the fresh enthusiasm of people who appreciate the body of work that they’re covering. They also manage to slip in a smattering of in-jokes that make the faithful howl with approving laughter.
On Friday night, as always, McGinty was the host of the evening and the maestro behind the keyboards who introduced the guest vocalists one by one. Out they’d stroll from behind the big red curtain, and snatch the microphone for their shot at Talking Heads wordplay and physical expression. Backed by the extremely adept Loser’s Lounge band, The Kustard Kings, the front men and women were given the freedom to play it as straight as they wanted to or ham up the humor, or both. Rene Risque’s sleazy lounge treatment of “Psycho Killer” and Wilder Selser’s “Drugs” were both borderline David Byrne caricature, but managed to fly as colorful homage to the ultra-quirky leader of Talking Heads. Michael Cerveris demonstrated the great energy level some of the more up-tempo Talking Heads songs require on his exuberant rendition of “Crosseyed and Painless.”
The women themselves were quite crafty with their own versions, particularly Anney Fresh on “Stay Up Late” and Victoria Liedtke on “Life During Wartime.” Robin Goldwasser, Jenni Muldaur, and Natalie Weiss were just a few of the other performers that put their feminine imprint onto the cannon of tunes. Their instinctive influence was particularly effective during the Tom Tom Club interlude.
Joe McGinty has played keyboards for the The Ramones, The Psychedelic Furs, and Martha Wainwright to name a few. He currently holds down the fort at the Lucky Cat in Williamsburg on Mondays for “Keyboard Karaoke” night. He will soon appear in Moby’s back-up band for an upcoming autism benefit at the Beacon Theatre. And his hands stood in for Eric Stoltz’s in the movie “Grace of My Heart.” Along the way he has become acquainted with a vast stable of enigmatic personalities and working musicians that seem to get a major kick out of covering the songs of their idols. Burt Bacharach, David Bowie, Prince, The Bee Gees, The Highwaymen have all been given the Loser’s Lounge treatment. At Joe’s Pub on Friday, McGinty polled the crowd for their ideas for future shows.
The eager audience bombarded the stage with suggestions. I myself, caught up in the excitement, hollered out “Steely Dan!” It may have been drowned out and lost, however, because they’re planning on an evening of Elton John the 14th and 15th of December, again at Joe’s Pub. There appears to be no limit to what these “losers” can do.