This review of Barbara Lusch's Rock Me Sweet at The Metropolitan Room was written by Nickolaus Hines and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Rock Me Sweet - Barbara Lusch
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
New York, New York 10010
When a familiar song wafts out of a karaoke bar, it's hard not to stop and listen. It doesn't matter if the voice is horrendous, beautiful, or just average, the communal aspect of someone singing a well-known song should be applauded and celebrated.
When a familiar song drifts slowly and lazily out of a karaoke bar, it's also hard not to stop and listen for a very different reason. A song becomes something entirely new when the tempo is stretched and the genre is changed. Stopping and listening becomes an act of trying to figure out what the original song is rather than whether the new version is worth listening to.
The latter happened set after set in Barbara Lusch's jazz renditions of pop songs. The band (led by Art Hirahara, on piano, who leads a quartet with Alex Hernandez on bass, Jennifer Vincent on cello, and Dan Aran on drums) was capable but unenthusiastic; her voice wasn't unpleasant despite it being plagued by a small range; and the songs were classics, which became apparent once the notes were sped up in the listener's head. Lusch confuses "jazz" with "slow tempo."
A tortoise isn't expected to sprint, just the same as the audience learns to expect that Lusch won't sing an uptempo song. Heart pounders like Bon Jovi's "Living On A Prayer" and slow(ish) paced songs like "Sweet Child Of Mine" receive the same treatment, both range and tempo wise, as Peggy Lee's "Fever." The songs that Lusch tries to tackle have seemingly little in common. The greatest revelation and insight you get when Lusch sings them is just how different the songs really are and how different they should be. "Where The Streets Have No Name" by U2, which Lusch initially confused with Bon Jovi, is a well-known song for plenty of reasons, but not for the reason that it relies on the exact same treatment as "Want You To Want Me."
Lusch's mediocre dialogue fit the audience. A long table of family and friends at the front, and a speckle of people who helped produce the CD in the back. They all knew the ins and outs of her life and shared inside jokes with her. Very few, if any, audience members were strangers who attended the show expecting to see the Portland, Oregon jazz sensation advertised, which was just as well since the range of crescendo and decrescendo in her singing, frequently hitting both ends of her range in each song. was not in any way awe-inspiring. Her speaking voice, like her singing voice, was casual, personable, and not unpleasant to listen to, but her banter left a lot to be desired.
This slowed style of remixing songs and successfully repackaging them isn't impossible, but it requires a big voice with a range that makes someone forget the original. Barbara Lusch failed in that effort. In addition, finger-snapping jazz isn't the first remix and genre change that comes to my mind when thinking of songs published by Guns N' Roses.
It's hard not to sit and wait on edge before each song begins, hoping it will be different. Not necessarily fast, but at least different. By the end of the show, however, Lusch seemed to be running on empty, spent of her reliable musical crutches. There's no thrashing instrumental or a roaring vocal piece to end it, just more of the same. And more of the same is exactly what the audience came to expect.
One remaining show of Barbara Lusch's Rock Me Sweet will be performed on Wednesday, October 28, 2015 at 9:30 p.m. at The Metropolitan Room. The music charge is $20.00. For reservations, call 212-206-0440. For more information or to order tickets online, visit www.metropolitanroom.com