Live: Alvarius B Sings Songs Of Love And Spleen At Union Pool
Alvarius B w/Samara Lubelski and Marcia Bassett Duo
Tuesday, September 4
Better than: Getting drunk with your conspiracy-theory spewing uncle.
Before his performance as the pseudonymous Alvarius B (with all the trippy venom that implies), former Sun City Girls member Alan Bishop chats politely with fans at the merch table, directing knowing rubes to the rarer releases on his unashamedly exotic Sublime Frequencies label. Sometime during his transition to the stage, however, he morphs into Alvarius, a more musically inclined version of the monologuing Uncle Jim character he channeled in Sun City Girls and a tacit acknowledgment of the dark id-driven bastards lurking below our pleasant, accommodating exteriors.
Dressed in jeans and a pervy raincoat, and sporting reading glasses hidden discretely under a pair of shades, Alvarius loosens up the crowd with a couple of mild insults involving white socks and the rebellion implicit in those who wear them. "You're not qualified to interpret me," he growls, breaking into "The Decoration" (the last song on his recently reissued eponymous debut) in the ironic Hunter S. Thompson meets William Burroughs modality he's been cultivating since 1983 or so. His guitar playing is a lot better than you might expect; while it doesn't hold a candle to his SCG guitar-soloist brother Sir Richard Bishop, AB's primitively skewed chops serve him perfectly. Taking a mid-set cigarette break, he bongoed on his high-end axe while singing about the fatalistic pleasures of nicotine and the poor driving habits of Chinese women, then flicked the lit butt into the middle of the crowd. (AB breaks little new ground when it comes to stereotypes.)
Bishop specializes in a sort of rock in oppositionand what he's often opposing is his audience, who heckled him gamely yet futilely. He's a sit-down tragicomedian; his material included Springsteen clichés (at Union Pool? Better to go with the Dirty Projectors material) and Neil Hamburger-esque repartee with some insistent attention seekers. His best lines were in his songs, of course. "No two bodies are the same/ When you're learning how to maim," he sang in "Viking Christmas." Or "look out for cancer, especially if it's compounded quarterly."
Underneath AB's gruff yet lovable exterior, though, lies a musical explorer able to integrate everything from a Cambodian love duet (he delivered both male and female parts magnificently), ersatz English folk music ("Gently Johnny," once sung by Paul Giovanni in The Wicker Man), and a fairly straight version of John Barry's "You Only Live Twice" from Baroque Primitiva, a fine new Alvarius B album focusing on his beloved Italian film music (which didn't get nearly enough play so far as I was concerned) into something unexpectedly cogent.
Violinist Samara Lubelski and electric guitarist Marcia Bassett's overtone-heavy, crescendoing, and conversational short improvised opening set nicely cleared the palate for AB's florid misanthropic prose poetry and nonchalant accompaniment. Bishop is a living master of the spiel (think Charles Bukowski or Richard Meltzer). His untethered communiqués are full of spleen and disgust (an extended version of Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan's "Wanted Man" adds Halliburton, Cheney, and other topical references to its litany of risks), which become all the more potent alongside his unironic sentimental moments (another perfect cover: John Leyton's teen death ditty "Johnny Remember Me"). It's a mesmerizing combination of sweet and sour with an element of danger. Long may he schtick it to the man.
Critical bias: I was offered a ticket to Bob Dylan's opening-night gig at the newly renovated Capitol Theater in Port Chester. I chose to see Bishop, whose challenging, excoriating wit, revivalist fervor, and general bad attitude long ago characterized the old dude from Malibu.
Overheard: "I've got taco tickets. Do you want a taco?"
Alvarius B setlist:
Indian Summer Mood
The Great Fuck Inaccessible
Johnny Remember Me
You Only Live Twice
Cooking With Satan