BWW Reviews: MEG FLATHER's Charming and Folksy Menu of Classic Pop Songs Mixed With Lovely Originals is Deliciously 'Anti-Cabaret' at Don't Tell Mama

BWW Reviews: MEG FLATHER's Charming and Folksy Menu of Classic Pop Songs Mixed With Lovely Originals is Deliciously 'Anti-Cabaret' at Don't Tell Mama

Remember the anti-folk scene, born in the mid-1980s, when songwriters with guitars took the stage at little clubs and sang songs that at first seemed like folk songs, but actually turned folk on it's head, trading trademark earnestness for darker, more ironic tales? Thus was created a new direction in acoustic songwriting, giving rise to such talented acts as Bongwater and Regina Spektor. I mention this because I think I may have recently witnessed the beginning of a nascent anti-cabaret movement at Don't Tell Mama with Meg Flather's new show, Meg and John.

Anti-cabaret? Blasphemy! Now, don't get your sequins in a swirl! Let me explain . . .

There was a box of Kleenex tissues on the piano. Not a vase full of flowers, but a box of tissues.

It was a Sunday night. I don't remember if it was rainy, but let's just say it was, to add to the mood. It was December 21, winter solstice. In the small brick room at Don't Tell Mama the stage was set with a stool off to one side, a mic stand center stage, another stool beside the piano, and that box of tissues. Meg Flather and her guitarist John Mettam took the stage. Meg carried a mug (of tea, presumably), her purse and a tote bag. The vibe was decidedly casual.

"John and I tried to do a real cabaret show before, but it was a failure."

The conceit of "Meg and John"--one Flather had used in past shows--was to alternate Flather's original songs with pop tunes of the 1960s and '70s that she'd seen on TV growing up and that were meaningful to her, and deliver them in an unfussy, personal style. Her opener, The Monkees' "Daydream Believer," started with a cappella harmonies and rhythmic snaps. The singer and guitarist had a quiet, palpable synergy. Flather's love song to her husband (bass player Jamie Rogers), "He Knows," describes how he's in tune with her varied personae and can break through the walls she may construct to protect herself.

BWW Reviews: MEG FLATHER's Charming and Folksy Menu of Classic Pop Songs Mixed With Lovely Originals is Deliciously 'Anti-Cabaret' at Don't Tell MamaMeg admitted her writing style is "melancholy hopeful," which elicited several head nods at my table. We could relate. The next cover was the Carpenters' "Close to You," followed by a Johnny Cash-inspired original "'Cause I Do," Meg's urban lullaby for all the mothers today raising kids in the city. The pairing didn't necessarily fit like puzzle pieces, but the songs were both lovely. Meg's voice is clear, strong and sweet-not syrupy, but pure. The arrangements were straightforward and rhythmic. John's strumming outlined the style of each song.

At the third cover/original pairing, the duo hit their stride. Doing the Partridge Family's "I Think I Love You" as an angst-filled semi-stalker ballad, Meg transformed into a character both hilarious and haunting. The subtle harmonies helped to bring out the darkness of a here-to-fore jaunty declaration of puppy love. The creativity of the arrangement woke me up. She followed debuting a new original called "Facebook." Like me, like me, like me, like me. Like me, like me, like me, like me. Like me, like me, like me, like me NOW. Perfection. The song built and twisted at just the right places, capturing the torturous roller coaster of the despair of feeling ignored, passed over, boring, and the thrill of someone rescuing your ego, sharing something you posted. This terrific number documents the "sickness" of our current social media culture like an archer hitting a bull's-eye. "I'm a Facebook cutter," Flather humorously revealed post-song.

Meg honored the recently departed disco queen Donna Summer with "She Works Hard for the Money." I couldn't help observing Mettam at this point, sitting on his stool at the far edge of the stage, holding down each song: Tempo, bass line, harmonics--not to mention his subtle vocal harmonies, underpinning and deepening Flather's melodies. She then sang her original "My Heaven," a song devoted to the all of society's caregivers. To me, it was another urban lullaby, speaking to the way we connect to each other in the city in all kinds of accidentally intimate ways. (Hear a studio recording of the song from Flather's 2012 CD On The Second Floor, below.)

Flather dedicated the next cover to her mother, an up-tempo version of Bread's "If," lifting the song out of its usual maudlin style, and allowed us to hear it anew. She pointed out during the show that stripping a song down allows her to truly hear it. It's so true. We get used to recorded versions of songs-especially the radio hits we grew up with-and it can be revelatory to strip the song down and connect to it more simply and authentically. "I look for grace in the face of this empty space," she sang in her moving song "Grace."

The last cover song was the one Meg admitted, "Made me want to do this show." She had much fun with the Captain and Tennille's "Love Will Keep Us Together," opening up her voice and rocking out with Mettam, who handled the Captain's backing vocals and fleshed out the sound with his acoustic guitar. Meg's full-time career is as a home shopping TV "Brand Ambassador" for QVC USA and the Home Shopping Channel of Canada, so it wasn't surprising that throughout the show she displayed an enviable comfort on stage, quickness with a quip, and a flair for self-deprecation when she acts goofy or bumbles something. She has a naturally graceful presence and an elegant beauty (she sells skin creams, after all), which seems even more magnetic through her sense of grounded assurance.

The show's final number was an original "Powder Blue," named for the color Meg saw when she used to pray to the Virgin Mary at a moment when she really needed some spiritual guidance. In fact, "Meg and John" felt like a very spiritual show. Is this what the anti-cabaret movement looks and feels like? Is Meg Flather our triple-Aquarius guide to the next level of intimacy in an already intimate form? As she said goodnight, grabbed her purse from the piano, her tote bag from the floor, and made her way out of the room, the audience buzzed with uplift, feeling happily connected.

When Meg Flather and John Mettam bring this show back to Don't Tell Mama, perhaps in early March, go join Meg's movement-whether she knows she's creating one or not.


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