Virtuosity and Comedy Walk into Café Carlyle… And Buster Poindexter Happens
by: Lisa Reitman-Dobi
Kid says, “Mom, when I grow up, I wanna be a musician!”
Mom says, “You better make up your mind. You can’t do both.”
Obviously, Mom had never seen Buster Poindexter.
Nor had I, until last night. After the set, when the throng of fans had thinned out enough, I walked over to congratulate Buster. Gingerly, I might add, as it seemed I was the only audience member who wasn’t affiliated with what was clearly a time-honored fan fellowship. I thanked him.
Buster’s instant, husky response: “Ever seen me perform?”
Of course. A garden-fresh spectator could appreciate the Buster Poindexter of 2016 in an independent light.
The fact is, this ever-evolving musician has travelled through decades and genres, accompanied by a dedicated fan base. A generation that proto-punk-glam-rocked it with David Johansen and The New York Dolls at Max’s Kansas City now sips Pinot Grigio at Café Carlyle. And they still rock it.
Buster and his fans have a history. The room was brimming with that palpable exhilaration singular to reunited salad-days buddies. The fellow seated to my right was the essence of jubilant. “He’s posturing, see? It’s over-the-top, like he’s mugging it in front of a mirror. Making fun.”
Or as Buster put it, “I’m shtick-a-ling!”
Buster exudes a devil-may-care sauciness, an ironic irreverence that galvanizes a bona fide iconic shrine such as Café Carlyle. His laconic cheekiness is exactly what makes the evening’s repertoire pop. This is a performer who doesn’t cloak himself in jaded predictability; this is not cabaret in a can. That flippant, phlegmatic chill highlights a true virtuosity studded with wit, wackiness and flair.
Buster’s easy humor colored his opening song, “Club A Go-Go” (Eric Burdon), and jumped to Technicolor with his rendition of Slim Gaillard’s “Yip Rock Heresy.” His witty delivery took yet another pitch with Cab Calloway’s “Kicking the Gong Around.” Between songs, Buster dispensed a battery of non sequitur jokes, each one assiduously orchestrated, of course. Usually, an entertainer can get away with one or the other. Here’s a seasoned vocalist with Borscht-belt delivery. I laughed out loud. No samples; go see it for yourself!
Buster’s comedic aptitude went into full swing with “Zombie Jamboree” (Conrad Eugene Mauge, Jr.). Again, no freebie or spoilers. Think Calypso meets societal magnitude and they tango to a Reggae beat. I am picky and impatient. So when I say, “This guy is funny,” raise your eyebrows.
With a broad-spectrum song list exceeding twenty, every selection showcased Buster’s versatility and interpretive playfulness. His frisky delivery of Jimmy McHugh and Frank Loesser’s “Murder, He Says” was followed by “Mess Around” (Ahmet Ertegun), Neil Diamond’s “Desiree,” then the legendary “Piece of My Heart” (Jerry Ragovoy and Bert Berns); the line-up is drawing more and more audience participation. But when Buster sang “Deep in a Dream” (Eddie DeLange and Jimmy Van Heusen), a clapping and refrain-chiming audience switched to one that was transfixed. When a vocalist sings from the heart, a song moves from melody to mesmerizing. And then…another witticism.
Wit, in fact, was a constant throughout the evening. Buster’s effortlessly quirky rendition of “Mojo Hannah” (Fay Hale, Clarence Paul and Barbara Paul) was followed by “The Seven Deadly Virtues” (Roddy McDowall). For a born comedian who happens to be a fine singer, such songs are the stuff of dreams.
A harmonica will appear. It will knock your socks off. Bring an extra pair.
From “Oh Me Oh My” (Jim Doris), Buster went to “Volare,” Franco Migliacci and Domenico Modugno’s ageless hit. An exuberant audience sang along. Well, the audience sang the refrain with great exuberance. Great fun!
The last but certainly not least numbers were a bouncy “Boom Boom” (John Lee Hooker), a high-spirited, audience belting, “That’s Life” (Dean Kay and Kelly Gordon) and “I Got Money” (Emery ‘Detroit Junior’ Williams). The evening ended with a song by Alphonsus ‘Arrow’ Cassell: Buster Poindexter’s 1987 hit, “Hot Hot Hot,” which closed the show to great applause.
Each member of the fabulous five piece band, (five, because I include Buster on the harmonica), had an opportunity to show his own tremendous style. They sang, quipped and worked together with wonderfully smooth geniality. Band members include: guitar, Brian Koonan; piano, Keith Cotten; upright bass, Richard Hammond; drums, Ray Grappone.
As always, Café Carlyle has a warm intimacy, fine food and excellent service. Tony and Tom welcome each client with warmth and top tier professionalism. Special thanks to Tom, whose superlative restaurant skills are topped only by his beautiful heart.
Yes, you can grow up, be a musician, and in an instant, you’re young again. I saw it happen to an entire room. Don’t miss the magic and music of Buster Poindexter.
Buster Poindexter will be featured at the Café Carlyle through February 6. Please call 212-744-1600 for details and reservations.