John Lloyd Young, debut at Feinstein’s/54 Below, July 5, 2016, accompanied by Musical Director, Tommy Faragher.
Up until earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to travel freely and saw many performances, which there’s a great beauty to - you really get to see, and hear the fine distinctions applied to each song on any given night. You are there for the growth of the lyrics, melodies and artist. But I also learned something new; when you haven’t seen an artist perform for a while, you have absolutely no idea what to expect, so you just sit back, and simply listen, appreciating it in a very different way. In the first show, I sat with a gentleman who hadn’t seen JLY perform before, so it was a new experience for him. I like listening to people’s stories, what led them to come see a particular performer - you end up meeting some of the most intriguing people which takes you out of your own bubble, (also he shared his cookies, I don’t think he was from New York).
On a side note, I adore that the audience never quite has an idea about where he will appear from, even though I’ve been to this gorgeously historic venue before, and other artists have appeared from the far left on the way other side of the room, I’d also forgotten - ahh, many entrances/exits, keeps people guessing. I looked to the smiling gentleman next to me, who said, “he’s a man who knows how to make an entrance.” and you instantly know it’s going to be a great show for a first timer.
He began the set with “Stardust”, and holy smokes, this song is a powerful way to begin. And as much as I appreciate the fluidity and sound of various instruments, I’ve just as much favored the solo accompaniment of Tommy with JLY’s voice.
I’m jumping around a bit, (oops), since it was two shows we’ve seen thus far, each one switching up the songlist; Old faves - “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me”, “Say No More”, “Hurt” - and JLY has such an awesome way of integrating the audience and segueing into the next song, and especially with “In the Still of the Night”; a moment he makes a point to reach the people in all corners of the room.
My favorite of the night was “Manifesto,” or Manefiesto, as it is translated in Spanish, a song by Victor Jara, and JLY shared some stories of his time with the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities tour of Cuba, (including a great moment where he sang “Ooh Baby Baby” with Smokey Robinson), and specifically why he’d chosen “Manifesto” for a performing arts delegate tour - with consideration to the fact that (paraphrasing) this song was Victor Jara’s last song to be written and a philosophy of what it meant to be a singer and artist, a song that held meaning when it pulsed through the veins of a man who would die singing songs of real truth, a songwriter, activist, theatre director and man, who true to his end lived by singing songs with meaning. It’s the sort of song that provokes you to think while escaping into the haunting depths of the music, and integrity of lyrics.
With or without an understanding of Spanish, the delivery of the lyrics went far beyond, and I was kind of transported to how it must have felt to be in the audience in Cuba, experiencing this first hand at such an intense time, an intricate part of their artistic and socialist culture.
“Just One Smile” - ok, it’s no secret this is a favorite, along with probably half the room (heck, all the room maybe), a song that always has the capacity to remind me of old friends who adore this song, a song that also reminds me how JLY’s arrangements, vocals, and song lists continue to evoke such powerful shared experiences and fond memories.
“Sherry” - ahh! Is it ever possible to hear a song too much? NO. Nope, since even though it’s been a while, even though I’ve likely heard this a combined thousand (?) times more on the soundtrack, on Broadway, in the movie, and from the cabarets/concerts I saw him perform it, NO, I think it’s kind of a super happy moment for everyone once those bars start. JLY just has such a unique voice when he sings this, and it’s always such a joy to see it performed. (shout out to Tommy for his backing vocals) - usually I’m irritated when people speak during performances, but the gentleman sitting next to me, referring to Tommy, whispered, “you’d have to be a great singer to do that with this guy.” and I just thought that was kind of a really neat compliment to them both.
JLY spoke of the vulnerability with writing your own songs, and performing them, but this trio of songs is truly a spectacular debut in this art, a precision of collaboration that undoubtedly had the audience wanting more, hoping for the songs to appear on an album to hear over, and over again. Adored the fact that the Broadway community in the audience wholeheartedly supported him. Rounding out each set respectively with “Who’s Loving You,” and “To Make You Feel My Love.” I can’t speak for anyone, but I’m pretty sure each time I hear both of these, I’m lost for words for a little while afterwards.
Maybe a bit random; Feinstein’s/54 Below is such a great venue, gratitude to the waitstaff, of whom I never probably really thought about in these events - that have to weave in and out and go undetected during a performance, while negotiating heavy plates, unsteady glasses etc. It’s one of those things that they won’t ever get to read this, but I so appreciate them.
A big congrats and good wishes for John Lloyd and Tommy for this debut at Feinstein’s/54 Below in NYC, and for the rest of this week’s performances. It’s kind of wonderful to hear, and see the familiar & the unexpected, and see how it all evolves.