Friday, July 1, 2011

Friday Evening at South Street Seaport: River to River Festival presents Dirty Beaches

We had a dinner engagement in Tribeca tonight but are grateful we stopped off at South Street Seaport to see a fabulous fifty-minute set from Dirty Beaches, opening for Lower Dens, for whom we unfortunately could not stay.

But we admired Badlands, the current album by Dirty Beaches, or Alex Zhang Hungtai, and were both eager to see him live and not disappointed. Although we'd heard he can better on recordings, we thought he did an amazing job tonight, playing mostly all new stuff and displaying his cinematic, growling, semi-ecstatic riffs.

He came on with his cigarette but seemed politely low-key and fiercely intelligent for someone with a kind of studied inarticulateness. Most of his songs ended with him on his knee, adjusting the sound in a nice kind of grace note.

Songs like "Sweet 17" have an achy intensity, and you can sense he's got a self-conscious perfectionist's analysis of his own performance as it's taking place. And in a love-gone-wrong song he can move startlingly to a take-your-breath-away falsetto that displays a remarkable range.

The audience at the pier was made up of fans, random young people, and a few older tourists, including a woman of a certain age who was taken by the Ray Orbison and Elvis in his work.

We especially were taken with his hypnotic, smoky Mattress cover (we'll suppress the anti-bedbug pun) "El Dorado."

Although we had to get moving after he ended, we wished we could have seen more of Dirty Beaches. Well, another time.

(Youtube video of Alex's last song, "Lord Knows Best," courtesy of Collection of Animals, which also has an Easy Dens video)

Thanks to the River to River Festival for bringing him to the Seaport when we were able to catch him.

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