NEW YORK, NY—There is the Dan Bern you must listen to; the storming riffs and tender shifts of progression that bed captivating melodies, all the better to ferry along the oddly profound witticism—a seemingly endless musical array of parody, satire and tribute. Then there is the one upon the stage, swaying and strumming as the quintessential portrait of a wandering troubadour —the room sufficiently primed by a raucous NYC crowd acting as the perfect chorus for his mini tragic comedies.
When the prolific Bern is on his game there is really no one better in any genre. The composer of hundreds of ditties over two decades and 16 records, jumping from folk to country to rock to whatever swims in and out of his yawning transom, was in fine voice at the City Winery on a sultry Saturday night in the big town. Donning a black vest and blue jeans, a gray cabby’s hat atop his head, the less defiant, dare I say, more mature singer-songwriter emerged anew, playing hauntingly arranged versions of his most gripping songs like “I Need You” and “One Real Thing.”
Later the performance expanded into a beautifully accompanied harmonizing romp, as Bern was ably joined by his usual touring companion, Paul Kuhn and opening act, Common Rotation, a talented Long Island trio which seemed to have been gathered especially for a distinct performance balance of sonic comportment.
Brand new selections, most memorably the riotously clever “Osama In Obama Land” and “Talkin’ Tea Party Blues,” and old favorites “Black Tornado,” “Breath,” and of course, “Jerusalem,” raised an already high bar for Bern, who is fresh off two successful songwriting jags for rock comedies, Walk Hard and Get Him To The Greek, and appears to have put a new sheen on his best work.
An excellent sample of the present show, which one can only hope unfurls into a longer tour, can be found on Bern’s latest release, Dan Bern Live In Los Angeles.
Having had the pleasure to see Dan Bern ply his trade over the past eight years in every possible venue from a goddamned boat to a half-painted hotel room to political rallies, college campuses and stuffy studios, the Bowery Ballroom to Carnegie Hall, and even his own artist getaway in the desert, he has never sounded better or his songs provided a more deserving exposition than in this most recent incarnation.
The living songbook is once again a must-listen and see.