Photos by Lou Montesano
Among rockers who look to Elmore to discover new music, “cabaret” likely conjures images of lounge singers covering well-worn tunes for patrons attempting to recapture the perceived sophistication of a bygone era. Such cabaret indeed exists, but as with any art form, a more serious exploration reveals a diversity of styles and performers worth experiencing.
New York cabaret comes in multiple shapes and sizes. Midtown venues like 54 Below in the Theater District hew closely to Broadway traditions, drawing from the songbooks of Lerner and Loewe, Kander and Ebb and other familiar names. As the scene works its way downtown, things get a bit more adventurous. There are performers who cross over to contemporary sounds, covering the music of the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello. Not all of it works to this rocker’s satisfaction, but most artists deserve credit for at least trying something different.
And then there’s Carol Lipnik, whose ongoing residency at Pangea is sufficiently unusual to qualify as an authentic downtown experience. Ms. Lipnik’s Sunday evening shows attract curious listeners through word of mouth and the regulars responsible for that buzz. Located on Second Avenue between 11th and 12th Streets, Pangea is a nicely appointed East Village restaurant that serves good food, but behind the curtain just beyond the bar area is an intimate room that has become home to a roster of performers who cross genres and, in some cases, genders to deliver a unique blend of cabaret that borders on performance art.
A Coney Island native, Ms. Lipnik began appearing in New York clubs decades ago as part of a latter-day Greenwich Village folk revival. She’s classified on iTunes as “Alternative Folk,” but the “Alternative” has now almost completely crowded out the “Folk.” Unlike most cabaret artists who interpret songs written by others, Ms. Lipnik combines original compositions with standards that touch all the bases. On a warm, mid-October Sunday, she opened her show with “Oh, the Tyranny” from her most recent album, 2015’s Almost Back to Normal. The title says it all: nothing about Carol Lipnik is ever completely normal. Multiple necklaces of polished and semi-precious stones channeled Cleopatra as Ms. Lipnik invoked the goddess of imperfection (another of her song titles) to create a disarming sensibility for the uninitiated. Maintaining the illusion, she launched into “I Put a Spell on You” and covered the Kinks’ “Death of a Clown,” calling attention to recent bizarre episodes of clown violence. Other original songs included “The Oyster and the Sand,” “Hope Street” and “Ride on the Light of the Moon,” co-written with her Sunday accompanist, pianist Matt Kanelos.
A reworking of “The Twist” early in the set was barely recognizable and deliberately undanceable, but the encore performance of “Moon River” was more traditional, Carol’s interlude on a kazoo-like horn not withstanding. The breadth of material is surpassed only by Ms. Lipnik’s vocal range: four octaves capable of crystal-shattering heights that enhance the out-of-body experience she seeks to create.
On hand this particular evening was Gay Marshall, a petite songstress who performs classic Parisian cabaret, including Edith Piaf, in both French and English. Ms. Marshall covered “Autumn Leaves,” segueing from the French into her own English translation.
Carol Lipnik appears Sundays at 7 pm at Pangea, 178 Second Avenue. Gay Marshall has just launched a new show, “Gay’s Paree,” also at Pangea, Tuesdays at 7 pm.