Kate and Nate from Ithaca New York, who performed at Deepwells last night, are hard to classify. Were they vaudeville, old timey music, early folk? Whatever their roots, they brought something completely unique and entertaining. Nate’s body never stopped. His guitar playing was equally energetic. Kate sat stoically behind her cello which she played with sensitivity and grace. Their songs were complex, inventive, and defied pigeonholing into any one genre. I heard some overtones of Incredible String Band in Nate’s voice as he and Kate overlay rhythms and harmonies that were remarkably in sync with each other and gave a richness and depth to their performance. Their opening number with the refrain There you were, Here you are immediately show-cased their strength and weakness as artist. The song, original in every way that was so promising and captivating initially, which went longer than Dylan’s Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, becoming numbing and begged for an ending. However, once they escaped that unfortunate opening number, they performed songs that were sometimes playful, like ttyl now baby, a song capturing the hypnotic shorthand of texting that led to the breakup of a marriage, and Anna’s Afternoon, a beautiful song about the family dog, now gone. When our day is done captured everyone’s dream of heaven or hell, depending on how you view an eternity in your bathing suit with everyone you love. The Dancing Screen intelligently contrasted the bucolic with the mass corporate culture. Nate graced us with a brief juggling performance, balancing his harmonica holder and banjo on his forehead. All in all, they are a very talented duo. But their songs are demanding and challenging and need many listenings to appreciate.
Avi Wisnia, who has played at the Kennedy Center and the Highline Ballroom, brought a Brazilian bossa nova style to Deepwells. Avi stood center stage with an upright keyboard accompanied by a percussionist and guitarist who never upstaged him and always remained tastefully in the background. He had a pleasant voice and a nice demeanor, unafraid to talk to the audience about the inspiration of his songs or to admit that as a gay male, he has suffered loss and disappointment and confusion about love. This on the night of the Republican presidential debates was particularly poignant, considering that they would have blamed the recent east coast earthquake and Hurricane Irene on Ari. His songs, in many respects, were derivative. They always sounded like some other song, from another artist. But Ari wasn’t shy about admitting that and even highlighted in Something New, a clever mix of favorite lines from other artists, in which the audience was asked to participate on such lines as “smooth operator” from Sade’s song of the same name. I wish I could stop writing songs about you poignantly underscored the loss of an important relationship in Ari’s life. New Year focused on the near suicide of two friends, and their ability to rise above their despair and discover a new reason for living, a tragic reality that the general public is only recently coming to understand that gays have painfully had to face alone. Rabbit Hole was probably Ari’s best song. An equally derivative and very stylized song that captured the enjoyable trap called love. This time the audience was given the chance to playfully join the band, each given a kazoo, to accompany Ari’s lively vocal sound effects. Ari is certainly one who is destined to be a club favorite.