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Robin Aigner Slings Her Double Entendres and Lascivious Levels of Fun at the Jalopy Next Week

There are innumerable levels of meaning in Robin Aigner‘s songs. She’s made a name for herself with her voice, which can be any number of things: brassy, coy, seductive or shatteringly poignant, depending on the song. But it’s the narratives and tunesmithing that ultimately distinguish her from the rest of the modern-day flappers in the oldtimey demimonde. She’s bringing her signature nuance and innuendo and double and triple entendres to an intimate duo show with bassist Larry Cook at the Jalopy on December 10 at 9 PM; cover is $10.

The last time this blog caught one of her shows all the way through was back in August at Barbes. It figures that she’d open the set there with a song wryly titled Le Français Salé, an enigmatically torchy musette-inflected waltz whose fractured title actually means “salted” rather than “salty,” Being a New York-born and bred historian, it also figures that many of Aigner’s songs would be historical vignettes set to jaunty Americana tunes from across the ages. The second song of the set, propelled by Reuben Radding’s bass and Rima Fand’s sailing violin lines, was a pensive waltz that imagined a relationship between Irving Berlin and the first woman to come in through Ellis Island: only in New York, right? From there Aigner brought the lights down, playing spiky broken chords on her ukulele under Fand’s austerely hazy ambience on a moody tale of Spanish Civil War refugees, resonating even more in this era of civilians in flight across a Europe that doesn’t want them.

Serious as those songs were, when she’s on her game, Aigner is hilarious, and she was here, treating the crowd to a devious take of Kiss Him When He’s Down, a hokum blues shuffle that takes a series of boxing metaphors into the boudoir. The show took another dip downward with a plaintive, wintry waltz before picking up the pace with Crazy, a surreal, tonguetwisting litany of the kind of kooks that a girl in this town can pick up on if she’s so inclined. Raddding gave that one a swingingly terse bass solo.

From there Aigner channeled a muted woundedness on a plush cover of a ballad by Pinataland – a group she’s often collaborated with over the years – its narrator drifting further and further into space. Interestingly, the best song of the night was the most angst-fueled one, a biting, flamenco-infused take of Greener, awash in bitterness and schadenfreude and images of being stuck on the outside looking in. From there she went into Tex-Mex territory, then Pearl Polly Adler, an unexpectedly bittersweet reminiscence told from the point of view of the high-end brothel owner who did a brisk business with FDR.

Aigner was also one of the stars of the most recent monthly Murder Ballad Mondays extravaganza at Branded Saloon, treating the crowd to a low-key, smoldering cover of Neil Young’s Down by the River as well as a brand-new, metaphorically bristling original which she said was directed toward a composite of ex-boyfriends rather than any specific person. Which raises the inevitable question of what guy in his right mind would mess up with a woman whose voice can pull you off the ledge like Aigner’s can? Then again, the world is full of nuts.

Robin Aigner Brings Her Bittersweet, Richly Lyrical, Picturesque Americana to Barbes

Robin Aigner is one of the most darkly entertaning performers in New York. Long sought after as both a frontwoman and harmony singer – her time in chamber pop luminaries Pinataland ought to be at leat semi-legendary – she’s just as strong a songwriter. Her music draws equal on 19th century folk, Prohibition-era swing and oldtime hillbilly songs, with the occasional detour into Balkan sounds. And she can be hilarious: her lyrics are all about subtext, and double entendres, and history. She’s written about molasses floods in WWI-era Boston, inept Williamsburg buskers and imagined romances between such improbable figures as Irving Berlin and the first woman to come in through Ellis Island (she was Irish). And Aigner is an unreconstructed romantic – her characters get all bumped and bruised no matter what century they’re in, but they don’t quit. She and her charming chamber pop band Parlour Game are playing Barbes on August 8 at 8 PM, followed at 10 by Banda de los Muertos, a supergroup of NYC jazz types playing rousingly anthemic Sinaloa-style Mexican ranchera music for brass band.

Aigner is also an impresario: her previous gig was a mind-bogglingly eclectic, surprising, sometimes downright haunting night of Tom Waits covers at Freddy’s, featuring a diverse cast of characters including but hardly limited to Mamie Minch, Serena Jost, Pierre de Gaillande, Brooke Watkins, Dave Benjoya, Andrew Sovine and numerous others. She also put together the show before that, a magical night at the Jalopy with folk noir songwriter Erica Smith, rockabilly and retro guitar maven Monica Passin a.k.a. L’il Mo and devious accordion-and-violin duo the Wisterians. “Every month is World Wine Month,” Aigner announced to the audience at the Jalopy gig, and while she didn’t indulge in more than a couple of glasses during her set, that comment set the tone. Playing solo on guitar, she opened with Delores from Florence, an allusive yet minutely detailed tale of transcontinental love gone wrong set to a soaringly cantering, flamenco-tinged waltz.

After that, she did See You Around, a broodingly pulsing, wryly wistful number told from the point of view of a woman struggling to get past being smitten by a guy who clearly has no use for her in daylight. Pearl Polly Adler – an innuendo-packed shout-out to the legendary FDR-era bordello owner – looked back to early 20th century pop, when 90% of the stuff coming out of New York had a tasty, bracing klezmer tinge. For that matter, so did Kiss Him When He’s Down, a jaunty endorsement for giving a roofie to your significant other – or insignificant other – in order to get what you want.

Switching to uke, Aigner drew plenty of laughs with Crazy, a hilariously detailed litany of the kind of weirdos a woman can date if she sees fit. She went for darker ambience with the plaintive, alienated war survivor’s tale El Paraiso, then picked things up again with the jaunty Irving and Annie – Annie thinks Irving can play sonatas (he can’t) and later on in the song, she references Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island), which used to serve as a quasi-quarantine and was the site of one of New York’s first hospitals. After another moody, low-key number, Aigner teamed with Watkins on accordion to wind up her set with Greener, a soaringly anxious, bitter post-party alienation anthem that works on innumerable levels. If we’re lucky, she’ll play some and maybe all of these songs at Barbes.