“I’m the Singing Mermaid,” chanteuse Carol Lipnik explained with a chirpy wink in the intimate back room at Pangea Sunday night, before soaring skyward to the top of her stratospheric four-octave range. “I carry my heart in a specimen jar…from this open wound shoots a human cannonball.” Of course, all this carnival imagery – until recently, Lipnik’s signature style – is loaded with subtext. Lipnik demurred that this number, dating back to her first album about fifteen years ago, happens to be a favorite of Penny Arcade. And in keeping with Lipnik’s tradition of bringing up a special guest midway through the set here, her performance artist pal delivered a characteristically searing, funny monologue touching on gentrification and its discontents, among other pressing topics. And a couple of days later – at the kickoff party for an art exhibit curated by Anthony Haden-Guest – Arcade stunned the crowd with an excerpt from her incendiary new show, Longing Lasts Longer, a corrosively funny critique of luxury condo-era New York and death by cupcake that runs from July 13 through 15 at 8 PM at Theatre for the New City.
Since February, Lipnik and pianist Matt Kanelos’ weekly residency at Pangea on Second Avenue north of 11th Street has been honed to a tightly glimmering, mesmerizing sheen. It’s music to get lost in. Of all the many ongoing weekly gigs in this city, it’s impossible to think of a more happening one right now than this show. Lipnik and Kanelos have a camaraderie that borders on the telepathic, each following the other, always ready go to just a little outside the lines, blurring borders and shifting the time just enough to raise the disquiet factor to redline. And the music is more lush, and plaintive, and terse than anything Lipnik has done before.
On one hand, the residency, and the duo’s repertoire, draws heavily on their new album Almost Back to Normal, reinventing the concept of art song for this era. On the other, it’s awfully fun to see how the two have also reinvented a lot of Lipnik’s older Coney Island phantasmagoria, pushing that material further toward art-rock. They took the ghoulishly vaudevillian Freak House Blues deeper into the night, muting the ominously cartoonish ambience of the original, and gave a hypnotically swaying trip-hop groove to Moth, the plaintive title track from Lipnik’s 2008 album. And they encored with a raptly morbid version of The Two-Headed Calf, which was all the more creepy for its gentle sympathy for the freak watching the stars and seeing double. There were also two covers: the Talking Heads’ Heaven Is a Place as Laura Nyro might have done it, and a gleefully deadpan, utterly macabre version of the Twist that looked straight back to Klaus Nomi.
And the newest material – the broodingly intense individualist anthem Crow’s Nest; the pensively soul-inflected hedonist’s tale Honey Pot; and the album’s mystically William Blake-influenced title track, among other songs, maintained the studio versions’ surreal lustre. Lipnik and Kanelos have moved their residency to Thursdays at 7:30 PM for July and August, starting on July 9 with another first-class, sympatico special guest, charismatic accordionist-singer Rachelle Garniez. If state-of-the-art songcraft and magical voices are your thing, miss this at your peril. Years from now, people will be saying they were here even if they weren’t.