Club Review: Salty Brine’s Living Record Collection—”How Strange It Is”

April 15, 2022 | By | Add a Comment

The album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel, was released on February 10, 1998. The group was the brainchild of singer/songwriter Jeff Magnum, whose lyrics were in some instances inspired by the writings of Anne Frank. The amalgam of indie rock and art folk has given rise to much acclaim, both critical and popular, since its release, but in March 2022,  it reached a pinnacle of sorts as the inspiration for How Strange It Is, the latest installment in Salty Brine’s Living Record Collection at Joe’s Pub. 

The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank, was published in Dutch on June 25, 1947. The English language edition, with an introduction by Eleanor Roosevelt, was released in 1952. It later became a play in 1955, with a subsequent film adaptation in 1959. There were sexual elements in the original text that have been removed and restored over the years. Salty’s worn Bantam paperback edition was present on stage, along with his own diaries spanning his childhood and young adulthood.  

Salty Brine (Photo: Daniel Albanese)

All these elements made important contributions to this latest adventure. Salty Brine’s ability to perform some magical alchemy and seamlessly combine assorted works of music, literature, and art with personal reminiscences, turning the mix into an astonishing new work of art, has never been sharper. A tiny toy plane that appeared at the top of the show is a perfect example; over the course of the night, it came to represent childlike wonder, the promise of escape, the horror of war, and an avatar for dreams and romance. 

Time was very much on Salty’s mind— he stressed, and repeated, and repeated again, the dates in 1998, in 1947, and in 2022 until they became a kind of mantra that soothed, and underscored, and snapped the audience to attention.  Perhaps inspired by our post-COVID return to life, he enthusiastically reminded us that on that night, at that time, in that place we were sharing a totally unique experience.  It would never happen again; it had never happened before.  I would be hard- pressed to come up with a better definition of live performance. And he reveled in it.

His diaries were hilarious (especially his selection of sex poems) but also managed to move the audience in some passages. While the revelations in the songs and stories and readings abounded, the show is also revealing truths about himself and, by extension, all of us. There were intimations of reincarnation, a lecture on male and female reproductive anatomy (complete with slides), recreations of scenes from the movie, celebrations of Christmas and Chanukah, swooningly romantic moments and a blizzard of paper airplanes. But his intent and through-line remained clear and riveting throughout it all. 

(Photo: Daniel Albanese)

The show was conceived and written by Brine and brilliantly directed by Max Reuben. The accompaniment, by music director Alex Thrailkill (with original arrangements by Richard Aufrichtig) with Andrew Butler and Dante Green (moving back and forth on guitar, keyboards, drums, tuba, and trumpet) was exquisite. Vital to the success were Deb O’s production design, Kate Fry’s simple but constantly surprising costumes, and Nicholas Hussong’s projection design with illustrations by Helen Rogers.  Salty’s vocals have never been better.  His attack on the songs had a ferocious abandon I had not seen before, but he could bring it all down to a soft and gentle sigh when the material called for it.  In every sense, each song was elevated to a level only hinted at on the album. Frenetic one moment, centered with gravitas the next, and rife with naughty humor the next, his performance remained electrifying. 

When I see a new Salty Brine show I do not just want to review it. I want to write a fan letter; I want to write a treatise; I want to write a sonnet to him. He is, in a word, inspirational. There was an inevitability in the show that is present in all great works of art.  Every word, every note, every move, every silence, every moment is in service to the story that Salty wants…no make that needs…to tell.  It is a joy to be in the presence of such consummate storytelling and cabaret performance. Next up in Salty Brine’s Living Record Collection is Led Zeppelin; I will be there.

***

Presented at Joe’s Pub on March 22 and 23, 2022.

Category: News / Reviews / Commentary, Reviews

About the Author ()

Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”

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