By Eric J. Grimm
Cafe Carlyle more often than not plays home to the familiar; this is not to say that the programming is stale, but revelations are quietly offered with artists subtly reinventing or reintroducing themselves to a receptive old school audience. For the universe to rip open in that cozy room, revealing raw emotion and our darkest inclinations, one would have to be in a David Lynch film. That’s exactly the experience with ChrystaBell, the dream pop singer who has worked with Lynch for nearly two decades and appeared in his masterwork, Twin Peaks: The Return. Bell is the most rapturous embodiment of Lynch’s surrealism, guiding us beyond the physical world to an elevated state where fear and love are equally welcome and death is a journey you’re excited to take. Her show is the best thing I’ve seen at The Carlyle, transforming the space into the kind of haunt I never want to leave.
ChrystaBell graciously presents her musical journey with little background information and the mystery works because she’s worth filling in the blanks. Far from playing a character, she is wholly and strikingly strange with a voice that is sometimes full enough to fill the hotel and at other times tender and almost whispery enough to make you lean in close. She mostly performs her own originals, though a cover of Julee Cruise’s “Questions in a World of Blue” an appropriate mood-setter. Her own tunes spell it all out for you if you’re generous enough to open up to her. “Devil Inside Me” offers a front row view of, no surprise, the devil inside her. As much as an artist can bare all that’s inside her in just a few minutes of song, Bell does just that on a track appropriately titled “All the Things”.
Even at her kookiest, she is a warm presence at Cafe Carlyle, delighting in the intimacy of the venue, where, as she says, “I can see you and I can smell you.” To say that she belongs in Cafe Carlyle is to suggest that anyone could slink and make direct and uncomfortable eye contact like she does. I don’t expect I’ll ever see an opening number here again where an accomplished and talented singer doesn’t sing, but spends much of the time laughing and crying at an imagined conversation on a gold rotary phone. And what a shame for that.
ChrystaBell played at Cafe Carlyle on November 3rd.
Cafe Carlyle, 35 West 76 Street (at Madison Avenue) 212 744-1600