by Susan Hasho


At 54 Below, almost once a month now, you can be exposed to the dervish brilliance of David Yazbek. Monday night he hosted and performed a spirited concert of his own songs mixed in with others and partnered with singer/songwriter Anaïs Mitchell, creator of the off-Broadway hit Hades Town. To open the show, Yazbek launched into the rocking “Don’t Believe It,” “That Blue” and “Jimmy Went Up” with his band overshadowing the lyrics a bit. Band member and guitar player Erik Della Penna performed his song “Wonder Wheel” to round out the opening moments. But when it came to the next song “Omar Sharif” from Yazbek’s recent critically acclaimed The Band’s Visit, the evening became much more focused. “Omar Sharif” has a jazzy beat with a Euro feel and Yazbek shifted the mood accordingly. Anaïs Mitchell was then introduced and sang “Wasted” (Yazbek): “When it occurs you’ve wasted most of your life . . .” She sang the softly samba bitterness of it simply, in her own disarming style and was clearly enchanting.


As a child, Anaïs Mitchell believed that “if you could just write a song good enough, you could change the world.” As she performed her song “Why We Build the Wall” from Hades Town, its sharp, insightful social commentary and soulfulness was startling, her singing voice unique and beautiful. It was followed by Yazbek singing the dark, atmospheric “Industrial Love Song” (David Yazbek music, Howard Korder lyrics ) and then Anaïs Mitchell’s haunting, spectacular performance of Kurt Weill’s “Lost in the Stars.” with Michael Boschen’s trombone solo. Yazbek moved toward the end of the evening with two songs from The Band’s Visit: the fun percussive “Beat of Your Heart” and the “hit” as Yazbek calls it, “Answer Me.”


Closing with “Madrid” from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown which was a hot band-stopping salsa number and “Montgomery, Alabama,” Yazbek proved that one visit is not enough. The whole evening had a spontaneous feel and it seemed as though there was so much more left unsung. He will return in March with Patti LuPone and in April with the cast of The Band’s Visit.


Band: Dean Sharenow (drums), Erik Dellapenna (guitar/Lapsteel, Javier Diaz (percussion), Alexandra Eckhardt (bass) and Michael Boschen (trombone).


David Yazbeck performed at Feinstein’s/54Below (254 West 54th Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues).