Local folk-rock troubadour Howe Gelb's first cabaret performance at Club Congress in January was a benefit for Tsunami victims; so many people enjoyed listening to Gelb's improvisational blend of original songs, interpretations of classic songs and banter that the folks at the Club decided to do this cabaret-style thing on a semi-regular basis. This past Friday's show wasn't a benefit for anything, admitted Gelb, except maybe the new guitar he'd just bought himself, which is OK considering Gelb had never bought a brand-new guitar before.
The show began early-ish, around 7, with Gelb switching back and forth between his guitar and a cottage piano (a small upright piano) while playing "Moon River." During songs, Gelb not only switched between his guitar and piano, but between microphones: normal, reverb and distortion. Gelb played original songs, both new and very old, dispersed between songs like "Wayfaring Stranger," "Sweet Jane," "Summertime" and an upbeat blend of "Ring of Fire" with "Hey Jude," while a film by Amy Harrington played on the screen on the wall.
There were tables set up around the front of the stage, with small candles; most everyone was seated either in chairs or on stools, which lent a more relaxed atmosphere to the club. One of the nice things about the new stage set-up at Congress is that they can turn the standing area into a seating area and have more theater-style performances. The concert felt like an intimate café show; Gelb's onstage banter was better understood by his friends and more die-hard fans, with members of the audience even asking him questions.
The songs, stripped down to just Gelb's guitar arrangements, vocal effects and piano, were of the friendly small-town desert-bar jukebox variety; good music to drink beer to. Halfway through his set, Gelb picked up the brand-new guitar, which he referred to as "perversely delicious," and took a break to make a strap for it out of a belt. Gelb told the crowd he would play new songs that haven't been written yet, pontificating that old guitars have songs still in them, left over from their previous owners, that can be released like ghosts; new guitars are a sort of clean slate. The entire show was Gelb in a conversation with the audience and his guitars, and even at one point with the mirror ball; a very laid-back cabaret, mixing old ghosts with new spirits.