Volume 20, Number 31 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | December 14 - 20, 2007

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Photo by Hilary McHone

Orion, Connie Petrk, Chris Anderson, and David Terhune at the Loser’s Lounge tribute to Paul McCartney.

Sir Paul in the Loser’s Lounge

By Todd Simmons

The sweet and soulful sound of Paul McCartney was on display last weekend at Joe’s Pub, but the legendary tunesmith was nowhere to be seen. Rather, the tribute group The Loser’s Lounge had commandeered the icon’s songbook for the first time since 1998 and delivered their usual, respectfully uproarious homage.

The Loser’s Lounge has tackled a great deal of the rock and roll cannon and beyond in their 14 years of covering their heroes and influences. McCartney’s occasionally saccharine songbook was the latest to get the treatment, and after performing a paltry two songs from his first band’s catalogue, they both honored and reinvented the legend’s work. Thursday night’s show certainly emphasized what a talented vocalist Paul has always been and it also highlighted his complex and dexterous bass lines. Drummer Ira Elliot (Nada Surf) and bassist Erik Paparazzi (Cat Power) had their work cut out for them all evening and with keyboardist and bandleader Joe McGinty, they made the complex rhythms seem effortless.

There was a palpable sense of distraught confusion in the room as the crowd (or maybe it was just me) attempted to absorb the total absence of Beatles songs listed in the program. It didn’t take long for the usual Losers Lounge good will and playful exuberance to suck them back in though. With a mixture of McCartney obscurities, Wings, and solo smash hits it was actually possible to forget The Beatles for a while. Of course, the audience exploded later with the surprise inclusion of “Helter Skelter” which was utterly nailed by Mike Fornatale, whose performance was a show-stopper. His Phil Spector-like shock of hair was somehow apt and gave his version a bit of controlled lunacy as he nicely captured the howling abandon that Charles Manson found so, um, inspiring.

Loser’s Lounge veteran Joe Hurley slyly pulled out the obscure hard-drug cautionary tale, “Medicine Jar,” written by one-time McCartney guitarist Jimmy McCulloch who ended up dying of an overdose despite his warning to others. It made for a surreal coda to the buoyant ditty “Hi Hi Hi.” Katia’s gospel “Maybe I’m Amazed”, which was Paul’s first post-Beatles single, was exceptional. The languid funk of “Arrow Through Me” had the hooks of a ’70s era Stevie Wonder song replete with backing horns from the Losers Lounge house band, the Kustard Kings (which included Colin Stetson of Arcade Fire). The feminine interpretation that AJ Lambert brought to the song made it sexier than the original. David Driver’s “My Love” captured the romantic McCartney while Nick Danger, dressed like “Bad Santa” gave us the schmaltzy Paul with “Wonderful Christmas Time.”

A true melody machine, McCartney’s higher-end stuff proved to be a vocal challenge for some of the singers, male and female, who have tackled just about everything short of Yma Sumac with little trouble during past shows. They notably used a lot of female vocalists to contend with Freddie Mercury’s operatic highs during the Queen tribute, “No Time For Losers,” a few years back and they used a similar tact on Thursday with mostly successful results. Paul’s famous vocal range may have humbled some of them at times but each singer was fully committed and brought their own voices and personalities to the stage. While Beatles fanatics will just have to wait for their own show, the band sent them home with a consolation of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”. No matter which songbook they choose to deconstruct, The Loser’s Lounge continues to be immensely entertaining.

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