Nov 10, 2011

Music Review: Ethan Lipton + His Orchestra

Ethan Lipton
Ethan Lipton and His Orchestra had their first of four performances at Joe's Pub as part of the Pub's new initiative to commission works that represent the Joe's Pub audience and the Joe's Pub artists (original, varied, eccentric, amazing). This initiative, sponsored by the National Endowment of the Arts and appropriately titled the New York Voices series, kicked off with shows by Toshi Reagon and Lady Rizo, continues with Ethan Lipton and His Orchestra.

I'm a little biased in this review, as I un-apologetically love Joe's Pub, its director Shanta Thake, and Ethan Lipton and His
Orchestra. So, this review is going to be glowing.

And, honestly, rightfully so. Lipton alone has the rare ability to come off curmudgeonly and honest, hilarious and sad, like a Charades-era Walter Matthau. He's dark and thoughtful and whimsical to boot.

The piece, titled No Place To Go, is a thinly-veiled musical satire of America's current political and social situation. Ethan (the character?) is dismayed to learn that his job is being outsourced. He's saddened, not solely because his job is relocating, but because the company to which he's given ten years seems to undervalue him to such a ridiculous degree. He's living in a world where corporations can be considered people while simultaneously treating their employees less like people than ever before.

The music, which is almost all written for this performance piece (a few standards sneak in) and completely amazing, and the monologues that follow, continue the arc of Ethan's company disbanding and his job being shipped off without him. The 'and His Orchestra' (Eben Levy, Ian Riggs, and Vito Dieterle), are game and as talented as all get-out for the entire production. I don't know particularly how the song-writing/music-writing breaks down within the group, but it certainly seems like a group effort.The 'and His Orchestra' do seem less involved with the comedic banter than they have been in the past, but the music is still amazing and delightfully old-timey (or classically awesome, whatever sounds best).

As Lipton and His Orchestra take us through the process of the closing of a company and the  ramifications of that event, the show's greatest gift is revealed as it picks up speed and intensity as it heads to its conclusion. It's not that the songs pick up pace, it's that Lipton takes a concept that most people care about (crumbling economy, terrible business practices) and makes it personal (though never solipsistic) to him and simultaneously more important than ever. I thought I cared before - boy, was I wrong. The layers of satire are stripped away, and everything feels so real. The only other non-concert I've seen from Lipton was the play he wrote that was completely acted by computers, which was similarly gifted and even more surprisingly human. Seriously, the chops on this group. It's worth the ticket just to get a tan from basking in the brilliance.

And they'll be at Joe's Pub in NYC, tomorrow and the next day and the next (November 10, 11, and 12) at 7:00. If you don't buy tickets, I will never speak to you again. Wow, it's amazing how objective I was in this review.
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