BWW Review: At Metropolitan Room, Singing Raconteur Eric Yves Garcia Gets Down and Revealing While Pouring Out Spirits and Stories From His Piano Bar Days
"That I may pour my spirits in thine ear."-Macbeth, Act I, Scene 5
Eric Yves Garcia has stepped away from the piano. I repeat, stepped away from the piano.
The performer strides into the center stage light, his dark eyes twinkling, his jaw defined by just the right amount of stubble. This guy could be a movie star. I was excited. For the Metropolitan Room audience, Garcia's November 5 opening night of his new show Pour Spirits was about to be a down and dirty tell-all of some of New York's bacchanalian carousers as related by the handsome, attentive piano man of Chez Josephine, Bemelmans Bar and other NYC nightspots. Garcia remained center stage for the better part of the show, allowing his inner storyteller and actor to take the reins, punctuating his alcohol-soaked dispatches from the wrong side of midnight with songs far afield of the traditional American Songbook.
His first number, Martin Sexton's smoky, lounge-lizard-esque 1996 tune "Can't Stop Thinking About You," was brash, but sung a bit too loud which could be chalked it up to opening night nerves. By the end of the next song, "I Wish I Was" by the Avett Brothers, a working rock-bluegrass band out of Carolina (which was sweet and soulful, especially with banjo and high harmonies contributed by the stellar guitarist Peter Calo), Garcia was pouring on the charm, as well as the spirits, beginning to spin his witty, debonair yarn. I was ready to hear all the dirt he would dish on the nameless drunk patrons who held him captive night after night. He spoke in a voice I wasn't sure was his natural speaking voice. I was smitten yet suspicious.
Garcia then talked of his first love, an older woman from his hometown he affectionately called, "The Coach." He told of his initial obsession with her as he tenderly delivered Kris Kristofferson's passionate song "I've Got to Have You." He spoke wistfully about lovely days with her as he longingly sang, "It's Sunday" by Jule Styne and Susan Birkenhead. And he sang about leaving his great love behind, choosing his dream of New York City over settling down. Wait a minute! Was this about to be another follow-my-dreams-and-move-to-New-York cabaret show? I came to hear desperate confessions of fanciful, grandiose barflies, not another dreamer's biography. Ah well . . . the song choices are good, the band (including Ritt Henn on bass) sounds great, and the script is tight, so I may as well catch the rest of the story.
Deftly directed by Award-Winning cabaret singer and actress Lauren Fox, Pour Spirits is drenched with her own performing signature: Stripped of non-essential movement, the performer remains stationary, uses a limited, precise set of physical gestures, speaks deliberately with gravitas and, in Garcia's case, carefully crafted wit. The songs, arranged and played by the spectacular team of Calo and Henn (two frequent Fox band members), are elegantly rendered and it becomes difficult to discern whether you are being served a Dylan tune, a Great American Songbook standard, or an AC/DC rock song. Everything becomes under control and of a piece; a new and specific world is created.
Garcia is a gifted writer; his stories are urbane and sensitive. Some of the strongest spoken pieces are his renditions of dialogue with his former boss, the colorful French proprietor of Chez Josephine, Jean-Claude Baker. Garcia's loving impersonation resonated. A professional pianist, Garcia wisely sat at the keyboard for just a brief moment during the evening, only to demonstrate a piano bar scene and singing a few bars of "You Go To My Head." Stepping out from behind the piano allowed Garcia to sing untethered, painting the room with a full range of emotional and physical intensity; ferocious one moment, bereft the next. The most affecting songs were those that seemed to pour directly from Garcia's experience and heart, without filter. Cy Coleman and Ira Gasman's "Use What You've Got," an illustration of Baker's advice to the young Garcia, took on anthemic power in Garcia's grip, delivered with charismatic bravado freighted with a heartbreaking whisper of desperation. "Florida Key," a pleasing Bob Dylan/Taylor Goldsmith tune, was the beautiful bittersweet goodbye to a love left behind in pursuit of bigger dreams. Another poignant farewell was the Charles Trenet song "L'ame Des Poetes," which Garcia sung in an intoxicating French, a heartfelt tribute to Baker, who died tragically.
The narrative, however, became muddled about two-thirds of the way through the show. The Coach is back? Where'd she come from? Last I heard, Garcia, you were gallivanting about town after your piano bar shift with a divorcee from Texas. You were choosing a redhead over a blonde at a table of beauties, describing yourself in witty analogies as a rover and a hustler, singing "I Never Know When to Say When," at which point I hoped you would know when, because the show was starting to run a bit long. The pace had slackened, and sometimes there was too much space between lines of patter. My mind drifted.
Pour Spirits never became the tawdry transcript I mistakenly thought I'd been promised. Garcia stuck to a more personal and predictable trajectory, but he took risks by choosing an eclectic program that allowed him to showcase multiple facets of his prismatic talent. He also exposed some of his own darker tendencies. At once literary and confessional, as well as highly musical, Garcia's willingness to claim and express his youthful hedonism along with his intelligent self-awareness was gratifying.
"We all need to be heard," he allowed, "I never claimed I was above it."
Eric Yves Garcia will return to the Metropolitan Room with his show Pour Sprits on November 25, February 5, and March 4, all at 9:30 pm. The Metropolitan Room is located at 34 West 22nd Street, NYC 10010. For reservations, call: 212.206.0440 or go to www.metropolitanroom.com.