Valentine’s Day At McCabe’s Guitar Shop I–Clare and the Reasons
McCabe’s, I love you, I really love you! Josh Mease, Clare and the Reasons, and Van Dyke Parks on Valentine’s Day was wonderful. I’d buy $2804.00 worth of really, really good guitar at a 20% markup just because Clare Muldaur played it. If I had the scratch.
Beginning with a short opening set with Josh Mease on guitar, in which he tries valiantly to spin the dreaminess of his oeuvre into a short set, I ready myself for an evening of wistful sighs with my Valentine’s head on my shoulder. Mease, to be fair, has a soft and pretty-like-the-Beatles second tenor range, and strums whimsically. I think he needs his barbershop backing tracks and his glockenspiel throughout to be the man we want him to be. His solo experience is like a ukulele breezily intoning the specifics of cream-in-coffee second chance romance, as opposed to sopping up misplaced childhood a la Neil Gaiman’s A Game of You evidenced in this video for “Eleanor.” I shall give Sir Mease second listen when he supports “Wilderness” on a forthcoming tour.
Clare and the Reasons is Clare Muldaur Manchon and her three polymaths. Hubby violinist Olivier Manchon also plays a gigantic snail of a French horn and a two-headed mini drum upon the sides of which he smacks polyrhythms. An unknown player intones upon cello and guitar, and Bob Hart is a bassist who plays keyboards and I’m guessing a soprano trumpet. I’m terribly sorry not to get the name of the cellist in the backing group; names are never announced (to my satisfaction).
Like Canada’s Sloan, the band members switch off instruments during concert. I want to tell you more about them individually but let me say this about the collective. Watching Clare and her accomplices play together is like watching someone produce a record at Abbey Road Studios. They’re very professional, and it’s a privilege to listen to their flawless performances, the little bigness of the quartet. Cross the intimate atmosphere of McCabe’s with the high standards of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, or a palace with a trailer park. I don’t know. Cross you fingers and cross your eyes. When is the last time you saw something like this? Brian Wilson doing Smile at the Hollywood Bowl?
Clare’s very fluid-sounding notes, her whispery accidentals and her Vera Lynn “art deco vibrato” come from a different time. She did not cut her teeth on Beyonce (as so many nowadays). Her compassionate intonation is a museum piece accompanied by ukelele, Philip Glass arpeggiating synths (“You Got Time”), comic horn lines, George Harrison guitar feints and pitch-perfect heartbreaking harmonies (“Pluton”, which she sings in French). It’s not that her voice is powerful, because sometimes the instruments overpower her, and despite what people say, it doesn’t sound like Maria Muldaur, former wife of (father) Geoff Muldaur, throat behind “Midnight At The Oasis”, and yet another Muldaur who has performed at McCabe’s Guitar Shop. No, it’s sheer whimsy, sheer daydream, a storyteller’s voice, the zephyr at the flight school, the nimbus in the clouds. It’s the voice you hear in your head when sentimental for lost time. “Wake Up Sleepyhead” haunts me fast and currently. If Rufus Wainwright braved these waters ten years ago, Clare is the Pocahontas to his John Rolfe in pure and platonic metaphor.
Olivier and Clare have fun on stage despite messy technical glitches and microphones feeding back. She referred to the French Horn as a “Frog Horn”, to which Olivier corrected, “Freedom Horn”. During a time-sucking tech mishap over the keyboard, Olivier plays the French National Anthem followed by America The Beautiful. Every attempt is made to keep the act moving, Clare clearly peeved. Once the keyboard goes south, they improvise a set based on guitar and strings and horns. She offers to “do something for anyone who proposes to their sweethearts right there in the room”, it being Valentine’s Day. Alas, no takers.
“Alphabet City” has a little Rufus Wainwright introduction, moves to the verse, and ends with the harmonic narcotic that I’ve heard all evening. At this point, the lazy two-four Nilssonlike material starts to become one long lullaby. I can’t name individual moments. Sometimes it reminds me of a long lost Fleetwood Mac album. Probably the downside of CATR is due the absence of a reliable working keyboard. But out from this palatable orchestration we hear “That’s All” by Genesis arranged for Bavarian-style Oompah Band. The audience laughs as they figure it out. Clare does a strange Phil Collins, sort of dry like a martini. I swear it devoid of irony. NOTE: see hypnotherapist to recall in detail.
NOTE: If they want to do another eighties cover, please, please, “Only the Lonely” by The Motels? Or “The Devil You Know”by Split Enz….?
When the song is over, Clare and the Reasons ascend the McCabe’s stairs into heaven or whatever lies up there. They do not introduce themselves. They just go. The last page of their “Great Gatsby” is turned.
But don’t be sad because they return, sheet music before them, to throw us a banquet with Van Dyke Parks as a snowy-haired rascal emcee!
Curious? I shall tell you more in the soon!
Reference live photo of Clare and the Reasons from another gig from their MySpace (no photography at McCabe’s)
Clare and the Reasons | myspace.com/clareandthereasons
McCabe’s Guitar Shop | mccabes.com