Two intriguing aspects of Howard Fishman’s upcoming date at The Falcon on November 10. First, the venerable venue’s “pay-what-you-will” door policy, which embraces individual agency. Second, Fishman’s reluctance to let anyone know in advance which of his various musical pursuits will be the focus—requiring an unusual amount of trust from a prospective audience.
“My shows are ‘chef’s choice,’” the affable singer-guitarist-composer-bandleader says from his Brooklyn apartment. “The people that keep coming back are comfortable with me serving up whatever I’m serving up.”
The chutzpah! But be advised: It’s a good thing. Lots of folks keep coming back. (Go early for dinner. It will not, however, be cooked by Fishman.) In a world of paralyzing choice, trusting Fishman is a grand idea; regardless of which particular musical menu he sort of follows, this guy captivates, on CD and especially live. Fishman draws at will from 10 eclectic CDs from the last 12 years that veer from rollicking New Orleans raveups to Hoagy Carmichael chestnuts to singer-songwriter confessionals to a brilliant, funked-up rendition of Wall of Voodoo’s 1983 classic “Mexican Radio.” The sounds cover a lot of terrain, unified at the center by Fishman, around whose rabbinical charisma everything swirls. Fishman’s voice, like his attitude, is paradoxical in that it gives pleasure while reducing expectations; his Waits-Cohen-Reed croon, accurately described as “a rusty farm implement,” is suffused with authority, passion, and yeoman charm.
When asked why he employs such a broad sonic palette, Fishman, who also painted the covers for his last three CDs, says: “I just don’t like to limit myself. Genres are like tubes of paint, different flavors you throw in to make a picture; in and of themselves they’re not that interesting.”
When I inquire which of his various ensembles he’ll be bringing to The Falcon, he chuckles, “I can’t answer that.” It doesn’t matter anyway, apparently. One of Fishman’s gifts is his mettle as a leader; of the stellar musicians he employs, he says: “The people I play with are malleable. I can push them in any direction.”
The cojones! Well. . . Fishman’s been around and frankly, whatever it is, he’s got this. In addition to an early life as a Eugene O’Neill obsessive, theater director, and actor, Fishman has busked on New Orleans streets and Brooklyn subway platforms, toured Romania (releasing a song cycle about it), and wowed audiences from the Algonquin Oak Room in Manhattan to Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre to Le Petit Journal in Paris. I double dog dare anyone to heckle him. In any language.
There are precious few acts on the touring circuit today who, at the drop of a porkpie hat, can whip out anything from a rollicking gumbo-flavored rendition of “Down by the Riverside,” to a Tin Pan Alley standard to a deeply personal, fuzz-bass infused breakup song. And there are even fewer venues as classy and warm as Marlboro’s musicians mecca The Falcon, where art and commerce harmoniously coexist and the whatever-you-can-afford policy actually pays off. Once you make the decision of how much to donate for Fishman’s set, you can surrender to venue and artist, both of whom will repay your trust with quality and pleasant surprise.
Howard Fishman will perform at The Falcon in Marlboro on Thursday, November 10 at 7pm. (845) 236-7970; www.liveatthefalcon.com.
- Jack Vartoogian
- Howard Fishman plays The Falcon in Marlboro on November 10.