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Music for Saying It
Part II of New York Trilogy, performed at the Bottom Line, NYC
From Jane Siberry
Hands akimbo. Say it. Little sustain. Hard pavement. Two guitarists. No brass or strings. Staccato. Amy Ziff. Reno. New York. Where I was. Street stories. Self-defense course. Arguments. Moon above, towering, silent. Even amidst honking, skyscrapers. Mama, I had a friend. I'd like my tip back. The word 'no' activates survival instinct. Reno entering into 'Half Angel Half Eagle' and her search for her mother after forty years, finding her, then they're not speaking. And the song being about New York subways and hatred encoded in streams of profanity. And the equal streams of love running... 'Get out go back to your own country'. And drugs, addiction, hating the edge, seeking softening and the power of words to dissipate or get the train back on track. Another show, another shift, me, the musicians following the lines and weaving weaving. Not knowing how their alchemy would change. See the music adjusting to this particular combination. Watching the guitarists tune in and adjust to each other. Opening spaces for all to move out and anchor. Mama, I had a little friend. She had glasses and trusted me. Mama, if I could only go back to those days... Oh, go forward? Say it? Footsteps in the apartment, W, love, fire escape, moon, life in apartments around us. Sirens. Honking.
-- Jane Siberry, August 1999
From James Bessman
Lips (Music For Saying It) was the second of Jane Siberry's extraordinary 'Siberry Three Wednesdays' performances, taking place in the Fall of 1996 at New York's premiere showcase club, The Bottom Line. It was also, well, the strangest.
Falling between Tree (Music For Films And Forests) and Child (Music For The Christmas Season), Lips - which was presented November 20 and 21 - was originally titled Nasty & Dee-licious (Music For Saying What You Thought Of Too Late) on the special invitations that Jane sent out. The invites also concisely described the show as 'groovy, dance, dialogue, stacatto,' which, while accurate, really didn't prepare anyone for the sense of spontaneous surprise dangerously bordering on disaster. Indeed, she made it clear up front that discomfort would be acceptable.
The Gregorian chant-like opening cut 'Beginning Word' laid out the program's general theme of garbled and misguided interpersonal communication, which sometimes obscures the goal of saying what one means. Though in some songs, most notably 'Hotel Room 417', Jane's sexual intentions toward a man from whom she wants nothing else at all are expressed directly. Communication break-down was further suggested by her intriguing cover choice of the André Previn/ Dory Previn pop standard 'Valley Of The Dolls', which in Jane's view is about the desperate, drug-induced stupor wherein people can forget what they really want to say. 'Say It', obviously, demands honest communication (the encore version cleverly recaps the evening by quoting a line or two from each of the preceding songs), as does 'Barkis Is Willin', a much-requested older song about one Barkis, who always tells the truth.
Two other songs merit special mention: 'Grace Hospital', another much-requested song made up of overlapping conversations by heartbreakingly angry terminally ill hospital patients, and 'Mimi Speaks', a sort of rebuttal by the title character of 'Mimi On The Beach' - one of Jane's most beloved early songs (there's an introductory verse from the first song to set the scene for the second) - in which it turns out that meek Mimi, who is only sternly lectured to by Jane in the first song, is in fact a bully whose name is really Ruth!
But there was much more to the Lips shows than songs. Jane also contributed spoken-word pieces, like the fantastic 'Foecke', an absurd tale about the origins of the word 'fuck'. She also brought out special guests Amy Ziff, of the female a cappella group Betty, and Reno, the boisterous New York performer; their monologues were uproariously funny, and like the rest of the show, perilously close to the edge.
Indeed, you never really knew where Jane was taking you, nor was it clear that she was 100 percent sure herself. However, the great Joe Jackson was there and was inspired to invite Jane to sing on his magnificent Heaven And Hell album.
All this only goes to show that when you go to a Jane Siberry show, you never really know what you're going to get, aside from a true adventure in concert going. At the start of the first Lips show, it quickly became evident - to me, at least - that Lips, following Tree and preceding Child, was part of the most artistically courageous series of concerts that I'd ever witnessed. From the perspective of a longtime Jane Siberry fan, it was also among the most rewarding.
-- James Bessman, July 1999
Jane Siberry -- vocals, piano on 14
Tim Ray -- piano, organ
Rebecca Campbell -- vocals
Catherine Russell -- vocals
Lisa Lindo -- vocals
Gail Ann Dorsey -- bass, vocals
Debbie Knapper -- guitar
Larry Baeder -- guitar
Dean Sharp -- drums
Very Special Guests -- Amy Ziff (from 'Betty') and Reno (part of concert but not on recording) Recorded at the Bottom Line Club, New York City October 23 and 24, 1996.
Created and produced by Siberry.
Live recording and mixing: David Travers-Smith
Show Production Assistance: Rebecca Campbell
Live Sound: Peter Keppler
Artwork Design: Siberry
Cover photo: David Travers-Smith
Inside photo: Catherine Nance
Graphic Production: Marc LaFoy / Screen Images
Mastering: Stevin McNamara, Doante Panicke Productions
All songs written by Siberry except:
'Valley of the Dolls' written by Andre Previn and Dory Previn [20th Century Fox / Warner Bros. Music Corp (ASCAP)] and 'I Will Survive' written by Dino Fekaris & Fred Perren (BMI/ASCAP)