Dan Bern at the Bowery Ballroom

Aquarian Weekly 4/1/03


Dan BernDan Bern is one of this generation’s finest songsmiths, mixing a sardonic wit with emotional strains of whimsy, a folksy charm with a pop sensibility and that obligatory dab of fierce rock and roll grit with a balladeer’s touch. His performance is not overstated, choosing to let the tunes tumble out of his five-piece ensemble and achieving the right mixture of acoustic warmth and electric snarl. Bern’s voice, a razor sharp twinge of Dylan meets Costello meets Guthrie meets Richards, chants and cries and croons while he stalks the stage in a manner befitting the piped piper when he knows the check is due.

On this snowy Sunday night at the historic Bowery Ballroom, his second show in as many nights, Bern is in rare form, chatting with the packed house about such diverse subjects as tennis, war, and doomed love while bobbing and weaving his way through his considerable repertoire, which encompasses a seven year span of eight records. Fan favorites like the haunting, “God Said No”, the hilariously grinding “Tiger Woods” and the bouncy “Chelsea Hotel” are fused with powerful new material from his latest collection, “Fleeting Days”, to which he humbly thanks the crowd for listening.

The band, satirically nicknamed the International Jewish Banking Conspiracy, is raw and passionate, not unlike an early snapshot of the Attractions, providing the perfect undercurrent to the immediacy of Bern’s biting lyrics. The highlight of its powers comes with a spirited rendition of the new classic, “Graceland”, wherein the troupe plows through several of the other Elvis’ songbook with precision and humor.

Best known for his moving acoustic shows, some of which will pop up on this lengthy tour of the US and Europe, Bern feeds off the band and allows for an energy that carries the night, a bold and furious romp which tempts the audience to chant and bark and join the composer in his bizarre slants on life and limb.

Bern’s work, both live and recorded, along with his prose, encapsulated in his 2002 effort, “World Cup Diary”, reminiscent of Charles Bukowski and a young Henry Miller, is a rising force in the alternative scene that is sadly muted in the usual flash-in-the-pan fit-the-mold music business. His like and creative voice is one that is refreshingly rare and should be cherished by connoisseurs of true expression.

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