There’s a face I think I sometimes make when I’m watching something I really like. Not TV or movies, but things that are alive. People, I mean. Performers. Singers. Banjo players. Poets. Other banjo players. It’s a face that says to them that I’m gone, too…or rather that I’m right there with them. It’s a spacey face- probably contorted, could be smiling, tearing up, trying not to laugh or laughing fiercely. Can’t see it so I can’t be sure. Either way I know it’s got the wide-eyed eyes of a child and the happy head tilt of an alert puppy.
I caught myself making this face last Thursday night at Pete’s Candy Store during performances that brought back days when catching a show at the local watering hole was about the best way to get yourself thoroughly entertained. I was there to see my friend Eric Amling whom I hadn’t seen in years. Amling was one of several performers gathered to celebrate the release of Al Duvall’s new CD, “Recluses Unite.” The word “recluses” did more than describe Duvall’s new CD. In a weird way, it also described the crew of bow tie wearing-characters Duvall enlisted as opening acts.
Their names would have looked great on an old-time billboard, done up in lights: Honne Wells (pronounced Honey), Mamie Minch, Andy Bean of the Two Man Gentleman Band, Eric Amling, Al Duvall!
Watching this line-up of banjo players, soul-singers and poets speak of troubled hearts and chicken farms, I got the distinct feeling that we weren’t in Brooklyn anymore. Like we’d switched places with Dorothy and left Oz for Kansas.
I sat at a table right up close to the stage. Pete’s Candy Store is small so every seat’s a good seat, but mine was really the best. I could see with no interruptions every “odd and end” item up there. There was a stool, a banjo or two, some guitar cases, a red metal bucket with the word “Fire” written on it, a wood saw, a podium, a sign that said “Fiction” and some old vinyl records. I couldn’t imagine how each prop would be used, but that was half the fun of the show.
Honne Wells revealed some of the mystery when he opened the show. The lights were low and so was his voice. Wearing suspenders, a bow tie, and a Charlie Chaplin mustache, Mr. Wells sang to the tune of a poorly-tuned guitar. His voice was like gravel, harsh and chewed-up, and in the middle of his set he put one of the vinyl records under his shoes so he could add some percussion to his songs. When he was done, Duvall, who was wearing a suit and a bow tie himself – as apparently he was the original “bow tie-wearer” and the honoree of the night- walked the red “Fire” bucket around the room for donations.
“Put some money into Honne Wells’ tracheotomy recovery,” he joked. Most did.
Amling read next from his new book of poems, “Split Level Igloo.” After making the perfect adjustments to the microphone he’d brought, he began describing feelings, moments, accidents, and frenzies in a way only he can. When he was done, though, he wasn’t sure that the audience got it.
“Tough crowd,” he told me. “They normally laugh more.”
I’d noticed earlier that it did seem to be a particularly tough crowd, one which emitted laughs and giggles sparingly. Luckily that didn’t dissuade the next performer, Miss Mamie Minch, from getting her way with the crowd. Her bluesy songs required audience participation several times, and when she couldn’t hear them, she ordered them to speak up!
I missed Al Duvall’s performance – I had to run home to make my Mona Lisa Vito costume – but have been listening to him ever since on myspace.co
Send comments and tips to burgnpoint