Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Duff Gig Review: Stranger Cole and Patsy with Crazy Baldhead at The Bell House (10/1/11)

Last Saturday night (10/1/11), as the weird-ish mix of ska fans (skins, rudies, a few punks) and Brooklyn indie-nerd-rock hipsters milled about on the dance floor of The Bell House waiting for the Stranger Cole and Patsy show to begin, you could already sense that it was going to be an extraordinary night. Everyone was in an euphoric mood (you certainly can't always say that about all shows in NYC)--we knew we were going to witness/experience something truly phenomenal (in the truest sense of that word) that none of us had ever expected to happen in our lifetimes. It was like somehow we had collectively found a way to temporarily suspend the laws of time and space which allowed these few hours of musical bliss to happen.

While Stranger Cole has been actively touring recently, apparently he hasn't played NYC in about a decade. Patsy (aka Millicent Todd), who retired from the music business in the late 1960s, hasn't performed in the US since that decade (according to the Jamaica Gleaner, she played here with Byron Lee and The Dragonaires) and has never appeared in NYC on stage with Stranger Cole. While she currently resides in Florida, she spend most of her life living in Brooklyn and working as a secretary at Lenox Hill Hospital on the East Side of Manhattan (which is about 13 blocks from where I live). According to the Dig Deeper promoters, it took about four years of persuading, pleading, and negotiating to set this show up--and based on the singers' performances and the audience's reaction, it was time very well spent.

The all-star Crazy Baldhead band--led by Agent Jay of The Slackers and Reggay Lords on guitar; Dan Jeselsohn (Rocksteady 7, ex-Skinnerbox) on bass; Phil Wartell (Reggay Lords, ex-Stubborn All-Stars) on drums; Vic Ruggiero (The Slackers) on keys; Dave Hillyard (The Slackers, Rocksteady 7) on sax; Buford O'Sullivan (Easy Stars All-Stars, ex-Scofflaws, ex-Toasters) on t-bone; and Larry McDonald (The Wailers, The Dragonaires, Dub is a Weapon) on percussion--prepped the crowd with a few instrumental ska classics. With all the focus on Stranger and Patsy, it would be easy to overlook just how fantastic the Crazy Baldhead band was throughout the evening. The arrangements of all of these well-known and treasured classics were outstanding--crisp and vibrant--and their backing of both singers wasn't showy or obtrusive, but created the perfect musical setting to let these two legends do their thing and shine.

Stranger Cole hit the stage first to perform many of his biggest hits, including "Koo Koo Doo," "Just Like a River," "Crying Every Night" (which was stellar), and "Rough and Tough" (all captured in the videos I shot below). Cole's manic energy, crazy herky-jerky dancing, skinny frame, and constant exhortations to the crowd of "More life!" (he kept noting rightly that, "without life we have nothing!") made one well-known NYC ska musician to turn to me and say (with all love and respect) that he's "the Don Knotts of ska." Cole was a supremely entertaining and electrifying performer--and was clearly have the time of his life on stage in front of his demonstrably appreciative fans.

Patsy, looking and sounding magnificent, then took the spotlight with "Fire in Your Wire" (captured below), as well as "It's So Hard Without You," and "Pata Pata Rocksteady" (also on video). Of the two performers, she is clearly the more reserved--but this plays so well off Cole's unrestrained enthusiasm.

Finally, we were treated to a string of Stranger and Patsy's greatest hits together: "Tonight," "Give Me the Right," "Down the Train Line" (which I've heard The Bluebeats play so many times--this one was for you, Mike Drance!), "Yeah Yeah Baby," and "When I Call Your Name." There were other songs, too, which I didn't film or write down--I had to put the camera down and dance a bit, too, you know--but all of the videos below will give you a really good sense of what incredible things transpired this night.

All in all, it was a triumph for all of the performers involved and an incredible gift to all of us fortunate enough to be in the audience.

No comments: