Le Poisson Rouge – NY, NY
March 25, 2011
Banners, heart patches, all-seeing eyes.... so why not a red fish? Le Poisson Rouge is French for 'the red fish' – it's also the name of the trendy club in New York City's Greenwich Village that recently played host to the eclectic and decidedly unique sounds (and images) of Daniel Smith and his band of merry men and women, collectively known as Danielson.
Seven members strong, Danielson stretched across the modest stage of the venue: the expected rock & roll formula of drums, bass and guitars was augmented by electric keyboard and a pair of back-up singers who also provided percussion and yes, glockenspiel. Festooning the otherwise unadorned stage were stiff, sturdy flags, carefully positioned to be 'blowing' stage-left. I'm sure Daniel wouldn't have it any other way, since it's been his stated desire to reach the audience's hearts through the doorways of the ears and eyes. Like most art, it's blessed, well-directed chaos.
Dressed in the band's signature custom uniforms, Smith and his band looked like combination mail-carriers, sea captains, and nurses - a fitting mix, since a Danielson concert, like laughter, is good for the heart, takes you on a spiritual and artistic journey, and delivers good news. Even a jaded New York City audience had to smile in spite of their sophistication, as the musical tableau made the venue (in spirit, at least) seem more like a playground than an underground club.
Of course it would be easy for the casual listener to brush off this unique music as simple and child-like. They'd only be half-right, though, and really missing the point. The music is actually complex but primal (in a Captain Beefheart sense), expressed in a wonderfully child-like passion but performed with amazing attention to detail and composition. Timing is played with like a toy – not to impress, but to have fun with – and the music seems structured to illustrate and amplify the seemingly intuitive song/story/message being sung by front-man Smith.
Smith's vocals, of course, are delivered in his unique high-pitched style – a style that makes Neil Young sound like a basso-profundo. Behind Smith and his very sound acoustic guitar are the brilliant Joshua Stamper laying out some strong, melodic bass lines and Patrick Berkery turning in stunning, almost orchestral drum work all night long. The ebullient Evan Mazunik played keyboards with precision and energy, Andy Wilson's electric guitar work transitioned neatly between rhythms, riffs, and melody lines and Elin Smith (Dan's wife) and Megan Slaboda (Dan's sister) added vocal textures and various forms of percussion, including Megan's aforementioned glockenspiel.
Drawing from different periods and projects, the band delivered mostly material from the newly-released, Best of Gloucester County (which, despite the title, is not a 'best of' project). From the staccato celebration of “People's Partay” to the dense and impressive workout on “Denominator Bluise,” the sound was powerful and well-balanced, the performances energetic and dead-on target. It was strange, it was fun, it was wonderful. It was Danielson.
Of course there was an encore. Before finally leaving, though, we were treated to the delightful “Did I Step on Your Trumpet,” which has become the band's calling-card, and an ascending chorus of 'thanks you's' from the front line on-stage. Of course it was the audience that really wanted to show its thanks to Danielson, for letting us hang out for a while in their magic musical sandbox. Kind of like Pee-Wee's Playhouse, but without the winks to the grown-ups. Nahhhh – it's purer than that. Just think Danielson...
Bert Saraco: words and pictures