Listen up fellow music bloggers – Rachelle Garniez always makes good copy. Last night at Barbes wasn’t even one of her best shows, and it was still pretty classic. Through oompah punk, indomitable gospel-rock (My House of Peace, her 2009 single produced by Jack White and released on his Third Man label), oldtimey swing and a hilarious pseudo-homage to Jean-Claude Van Damme, she improvved her intros, jamming her way into every song, playing accordion – and piano on a few songs mid-set – backed only by her longtime bassist Dave Hofstra. She made an unexpected segue into Take the A Train, speaking for everyone who’s ever ridden that train to the end: it’s the reeeeeeaaaaaaal slow way to get to the Rockaways. Garniez is New York to the core and usually makes that obvious, very subtly: tonight was not one of those nights. More about that a little later. She opened the set with torrents of accordion and the torrents of images in Tourmaline, a characteristically inscrutable, lyrically rich cut from her 2008 album Melusine Years. “Of all the green-haired girls I’ve seen to date, you blow them all away,” is the turnaround. Then she romped through the oldtimey swing of Kid in the Candy Store, another image-loaded story about a guy who’s reached overdose point with something most of us can’t get enough of.
Garniez asked the crowd if anybody knew who the answer to the mystery of who built the food pyramid – in her world, it’s topped by a crystalline controlled substance that turned out to be sugar. Later on she gently pondered whether there’s anything left that’s not googlable. Other performers might bash you over the head with the implications; Garniez just posed the question, made everybody laugh and then swung her way through God’s Little Acre (from her just-released album Sad-Alive-Dead-Happy), an unapologetic reminiscence of playing the field (and not-so-fond recollection of a face from those days trying to reconnect on Facebook). Much of Garniez’ recent work – Melusine Years in particular – has an elegaic quality, much of that for the edgy New York of the 80s where she grew up. That quietly and matter-of-factly reached critical mass on a slowly unwinding version of People Like You, a blithely sarcastic pop tune from Melusine Years, here an anthem that began with memories of drinking pink Champale, sleeping on the beach and then going for a swim at night out in the Rockaways. She mentioned she tried doing that several years later, in the early zeros, only to be stopped by the cops, a moment that left her temporarily speechless. As the song went on, she finally dropped her guard – something she hardly ever does – and lashed into the posers who’ve move to New York from suburbs far and wide, have taken over her old turf and believe their own bullshit about how special they are. It’s a song that could be an anthem for the Occupy movement. She closed the show with a request, Silly Me, from her 2000 Crazy Blood album: “I never thought that I’d live to see this century,” she mused as the chorus swelled, “Now we’re here, we’ve got the chance to do it better.” Garniez is back at Barbes on January 5 at 8 playing new songs from the new record.