The best doublebill of the year so far was back on the 14th of the month at Joe’s Pub, when Rachelle Garniez and Carol Lipnik gave the crowd a lot to laugh about and plenty to get completely lost in. The distinctively “New York chicks,” as Garniez put it, each played a duo set, Garniez with bassist Tim Luntzel and Lipnik with pianist Matt Kanelos, but neither were the least bit low-key. Garniez grew up on the Upper West Side when it was much more of a Wild Wild West neighborhood – and that wasn’t so long ago. Lipnik’s childhood Coney Island is a rare New York hood to revert to that direction. Garniez rode waves of poignancy and irresisistibly sardonic humor; Lipnik set a mood of mysterious, otherworldly, luminous beauty early on and maintained that all the way through, save for a creepily hilarious goth-pop cover of The Twist, with a nod to Klaus Nomi. Both artists have shows coming up that no doubt will be just as good, Garniez at Barbes at 8 on June 4 and Lipnik at Pangea on Second Ave. between 11th and 12th Sts. at 7:30 on June 14 and continuing Sundays throughout the month.
Garniez opened the show: when she wasn’t segueing from one number to another, she eased her way in, improvising an intro, teasing the audience with a stream-of-consciousness rap that got the crowd howling even as she snuck in snide references to everything that plagues the East Village these days, from global warming to gentrification to antidepressants. For that matter, she could have been referencing just about anywhere. Her first number was Kid in the Candy Store, a coyly bluesy cabaret tune that she reinvented this time out as Marc Ribot-esque acoustic guitar skronk. Who knew?
She switched to accordion, strutting through the sultry Medicine Man and waltzing her way through the even more defiant, metaphorically bristling individualist anthem Tourmaline. Her new material worked on as many levels as you would expect from what has become, over the years, a deep and iconic repertoire. A skeletal, bluesy guitar number went in a more Waits direction, a defiant bon vivant’s look forward to her own fun funeral. The best song of the night was another new one, an understatedly chilling, apocalyptic Britfolk-tinged waltz that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Richard Thompson songbook. Then she went to the piano for some East Village gospel, then God’s Little Acre, a vicious slap upside the head of any would-be stalker trolling Facebook for a girl he had the hots for in a past century. She drew the most laughs of the night with her closing number, an appreciative faux-operatic faux-homage to opioids and Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Lipnik and Kanelos opened with a rippling, neo-baroque song about the oyster and the sand, as she told the crowd. With an awe-inspiring four-octave range that was as strong in the ominous lows as it was in the stratospheric, bone-chilling, sometimes playfully ticklish highs, she kept the crowd hushed except for a few comedic moments. Lipnik’s back catalog is actually a lot more diverse than this show let on – she’s an avatar of Coney Island phantasmagoria and circus rock. But this was the album release show for her new one, Almost Back to Normal, a metaphorically searing, lushly atmospheric art-rock cd that looks back to similar albums by Nico and Laura Nyro.
Kanelos kept the pedal down for a rippling resonance, his steady chords hitting on the beat as Lipnik mined the songs’ ominous subtext for all it was worth. Water imagery was everywhere. Lipnik worked every corner of her magical voice, in command but not overstating it: vibrato, echo effects, droll operatics and skin-peeling swoops to places in the sky where there’s probably no air. She voiced her attempt to sonically translate a William Blake illuminated manuscript as creepy, incisive art-rock, then built to the album’s title track with a titanic, white-knuckle intensity as she reached for the rafters and held on for dear life.
An “anthem for crows” offered a resolute Occupy movement mantra for anyone who wanted to seize it. Beyond that LMAO version of The Twist, there was also a Mexican/Weimar cabaret mashup, an echoey, angst-laden version of Harry Nilsson’s alienation anthem Lifeline, a galloping, rather macabre setting of a poem by dark 70s cult favorite and Allen Ginsberg pal Helen Adam and a showstopping, haunting apocalyptic anthem by Kanelos to close the night. Representing for the hometown team, Garniez and Lipnik didn’t throw their hats in the ring and offer a deathmatch challenge to any of the new arrivals from Malibu and Bloomfield Hills and Fort Worth, but the subtext and the final score was clear: New York 2, Suburbia 0.