Friday, September 26, 2014

Love is crazy...or so says Justin Vivian Bond

CDs by singer/performance artist
Justin Vivian Bond

It's no small matter that two people--myself and an arts presenter I know--exclaimed the same words as we left Justin Vivian Bond's one-night concert, Love is Crazy, at FIAF: "So inspiring!"

On the subway trip back downtown, we conferred and agreed: It's the kind of performance that makes you want to look for and bring out your own best. I remember watching Ben Kingsley act in Gandhi and quitting a soul-snuffing job the very next day. I'm not yet sure what Bond's example--or any other part of FIAF's Crossing the Line fest--might inspire me to do in coming days, but V, I'm all ears.

Loosely strung around a theme of love, Love is Crazy found Bond (aka V) in warmly relaxed and sincere, if glamorous, form. V opened with the '40s jazz standard "Angel Eyes," the singer allowing this boozy torch song an unadorned reading, quite right, that only faltered in its final moment. Without an ending note to tether it, "Excuse me while I disappear...." really did seem to dissipate into the ether. But inspiration need not require perfection, as V laughingly proved throughout the show.

Over the next 80 or so minutes, Bond pushed on, recovering voice, energy and wild mind. It's not every songwriter/chanteuse--transgender or otherwise--who would think to source Peggy Lee and Aleister Crowley simultaneously. Nor is it every singer who can build from a husky hush to a voice that makes you feel the scalding steam coming off Sinnerman's boiling seas and fear its devil.

Justin Vivian Bond sings a song by being alert and wholy alive within it. That's the teaching.

The set drew from V's Dendrophile (2011) and Silver Wells (2012) recordings, with selections like Mark Eitzel's furious "Patriot Heart" and Bambi Lake's "The Golden Age of Hustlers," fierce and picturesque dramas from the queer red light zone. We were also invited along quiet strolls through Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life" and The Cure's "Lovesong." In the latter, V's sensitive accompanists--Matt Ray (musical director/piano), guitarist Nathann Carrera and violinist Claudia Chopek--knew when to hold off and when to fill in and support the simple lyrics and wispy melody.

Bond clearly relished v's folkish duet with guest artist Miguel Gutierrez--better known as an award-winning choreographer--and even got a chance to display a few dance licks. The highlight of Gutierrez's segment was his version of "Smalltown Boy," an '80s hit by Bronski Beat; if you saw Marissa Perel's recent work, More Than Just a Piece of Sky, at The Chocolate Factory, you heard Gutierrez's recording of this song. Gutierrez, though no Jimmy Somerville, has a haunting shimmer to his voice and beautiful delivery.

Visit Justin Vivian Bond's site (photo, videos, the works) here.

For news of the Miguel Gutierrez universe, go here.

For details on FIAF's 2014 Crossing the Line Festival, which runs through October 20, click here.

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