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BWW Reviews: SANDRA BERNHARD Rocks and Talks in New Tour at Infinity Hall

Sandra Bernhard in Concert
at Infinity Music Hall in Norfolk, CT
June 7, 2011
www.infinityhall.com

How does one begin to sum up an evening with Sandra Bernhard?  She sings, but it's not exactly a concert.  Over the two hours, her band spends more time sitting around than playing.  She delivers laugh after laugh, but it's not exactly stand-up comedy.  She has spoken word-with-music segments that take you on a conceptual journey, but it's not really performance art.  It's somewhat scripted, but it's not really a monologue.  In the end, it is best to use a term coined by the lady herself - it's a journey to SANDYLAND.  And what a trip it was.

At Norfolk, CT's historic Infinity Hall, Sandra Bernhard strode out onstage in a smart, tight black dress with black patent leather heels.  Her untamed auburn mane, over the course of the evening, was tossed, pulled, and toussled .   The four-piece band (piano, guitar, drums and backing vocals) revved up Bobby Womack's "Across 110th Street" while Bernhard snarled about a life spent among pimps and pushers in the ghetto.  The irony of this fashion-district style icon crooning about life in 70s Harlem was utterly sincere and ironic at the same time.  And therein lies the appeal of Bernhard - sincerity colliding with irony served up with a wry twist, a twisted observation or an observant non-sequitur.

The performance, serving as an out-of-town tryout for the tour in support of her new CD I Love Being Me, Don't You?, was delivered with verve for the small, but adulatory crowd.  Singling out latecomers and spotlighting audience members that were popping out of their seats for drinks, nothing escaped Bernhard's scrutinizing.  She remained fully engaged with her audience and her band, if not her material.  One of the marvels of a Bernhard concert is watching how her mind works live.  She will start a story, digress, hop on a tangent, introduce a completely different subject and then circle back to her original tale.  She leaps from subject to subject in a stream of consciousness and then goes back to her notes, held in reserve on a nearby music stand.   Whether off-the-cuff or carefully written, the performance was always hilarious and truthful. 

As with much of her work, Bernhard assumes that everyone is fully-versed in Manhattan culture and her obsession with fashion (Andre Leon Talley, Karl Lagerfeld, Iman, Vogue, Cindy Crawford all get name-checked like we are still living in the 90s when Supermodels ruled the Earth).  Despite her preoccupation with the superficial, she mines Cat Stevens' "Sad Lisa" for a touching extended musical segment on youthful disappointments that climaxed with Sylvester's "Might Real" performed as a rocking elegy to the friends she lost.  She continued her career-long salute to powerful female rockers by concluding the show with a medley of Pink's "Just Like a Pill" and Lita Ford's "Kiss Me Deadly."  Although her distinctive vocals will not earn her a spot on GLEE (a show she hilariously eviscerates onstage), her passion and commitment to a song could show today's auto-tuned pop stars a thing or two about how to interpret a lyric.  She rocked.

In an evening that felt loose and structureless, the only moment that felt tossed off was when she went through her mail and an article about a restaurant in Beirut from the Food (or was it Style?) section of The New York Times.  As her tour continues, Bernhard will no doubt sharpen her already sharp material.   While never a headliner in film or television or a major recording artist, Sandra Bernhard has lived comfortably on her own plane of stardom.  Here's hoping you book a ticket to SANDYLAND.  It's well worth the visit.

Photo:  Album cover art for I Love Being Me, Don't You?


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From This Author Jacques Lamarre

Jacques Lamarre has worked in theatre for over 20 years. As a Public Relations/Marketing professional, he held positions at Hartford Stage, TheaterWorks Hartford and Yale (read more...)