I’m a fan. On Broadway and off (film, concert) there’s no doubt this artist has talent and charisma. I highly recommend his last show at 54Below, Girls, Girls, Girls (now a CD) for thru-line, song choice and performance. The incoherent Torch Songs for A Pandemic, however, contains very little of either subject reference, lurching along as if songs were picked out of a hat.
Butz opens at the piano with lengthy anecdotes about early classical lessons and snippets of songs heard from “the bunker” downstairs where his brothers listened to rock and roll. Eventually we learn he spent seven months of the pandemic in Vancouver, Canada, separated from his family. This leads into a celebration of Canadian artists beginning with the angsty ballad “Gold in Them Hills” by Ron Sexsmith.
Guest Crystal Monee-Hall then joins Butz onstage for songs by two more Canadians. Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” is an unusually smooth arrangement that changes tone from flirty to musing. The voices work well together. A sober “Unknown Legend” (Neil Young) elicits tenuous tribute to single mothers coping during the virus.
Unfortunately lyrics to Peter Gabriel’s (not a Canadian) Afro-Punk “Solsbury Hill” are unintelligible, though music and groove emerge appealing. “9 to 5” (Dolly Parton) a highlight, follows comments on passing a minimum wage bill. Connection may be illusive, but the original arrangement is terrific. Mairi Dorman Phaneuf’s cello adds melodic underpinning. Butz plays resonant guitar.
Fleetwood Mac’s “Go On Your Way” is yoked by “the drama of making that album, Rumors, was like that of the pandemic.” Bruce Springsteen’s “(Looking for) The Heart of Saturday Night” ends the concert.
Butz sings well, clearly exhibiting the heart of a rock n’roller. His energy is unfailingly high. He’s likeable. From what one can hear in duet Crystal Monee-Hall also has a fine voice. The show, however, feels unglued.
Feinstein’s 54/Below presents
Norbert Leo Butz: Torch Songs for A Pandemic
Norbert Leo Butz- Piano, Guitar, VocalsGuest Vocalist Crystal Monee-Hall
Band: Mairi Dorman Phaneuf, Daimon Grant, Adam Deascentis