BWW Review: SEAN HARKNESS AND THE UNUSUAL SUSPECTS at Birdland Theater
I was very lucky that one of my first cabaret shows ever had Sean Harkness sitting on a stool strumming and picking at a guitar with a good singer beside him. Or maybe it raised my expectations a bit for the quality of the instrumentalists in cabaret. The only thing between Harkness and being mentioned in the same sentence as Slash (by more people than me) is the fact that he didn't join a successful 80s hair band or its 90s counterpart. At the same time, he proved the other night in the Birdland Theater that he could play the vocal track melody and hit the guitar solos for a series of (mainly) 70s songs that hearken back to the golden age of Classic Rock. If you were looking for chill that about tops the list of good chill.
Harkness turned two of my favorite songs to listen on repeat to on listless days gone by into practically symphonies along with a few others worth highlighting. The first of these was Little River Band's Reminiscing. It's funny that he would introduce it as their 1978 hit, because that google search would yield practically the entire 1978 album. However, there was no mistaking the guitar playing the classic line, "We'll go dancing in the dark, walking through the park/and reminiscing." Another classic song from a classic album that after a few times through the album I couldn't get enough of was, The Doors' "People are Strange." Perhaps not the song people think of first when they think of the Doors (among "Light My Fire" and "Break on Through"), I always remember that uncanny wisdom of the lines, "People are strange when you're a stranger/faces look ugly when you're alone."
Harkness continually showed off his ability to do whatever he needed to, to a guitar, to make it do what he needed it to. From the first song, a Cars medley, the encore of "Baby Come Back," his ability to go from one end of the other of the neck and fine tune his sound, makes one want to pick up a guitar and start to play. The other instrumentalists that shared his stage were pretty good too. I was especially impressed by the drummer, Yutaka Uchida, for his especially good beats on the Todd Rundgren song, "Hello, it's Me." He had a quick double tap on both hands and added off-beat snare and hi-hat splashes to create a fresh rhythm. I also really enjoyed pianist, Etienne Stadwijk, on the Cars medley and The Who's "Who are You." It seemed like equally there was nothing he couldn't do with the piano as he worked in tandem (or perhaps covered for-you never know) Harkness. John Lenis handled the double bass well and added more than a few jazz solos to the songs in the set.
There's more to come from Sean Harkness and the Unusual Suspects.