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Harper Simon at the Bootleg theater on Monday February 21st

Harper Simon does not seem to be concerned by playing his own songs, he prefers to cover the Buzzcocks, Television, Buddy Holly and some bluegrass-country tunes.

When he played after Jenny O. at the Bootleg theater on Monday night, he took the stage and played just a few songs, 6 altogether, switching from one genre to another without even letting us notice. He first covered alone the famous Buzzcocks’ ‘Ever fallen in Love’, and then Television’s ‘See no Evil’ with his band, which was about to get bigger and bigger with the night progressing. He is the singer, the songwriter – as he has released a full LP in 2009 – but he seems to be a somewhat reluctant frontman, always engaged with the other players, and inviting people on stage to sing with him. Using a name as famous as his and going into the same steps is certainly a tough thing to do after all, but this is exactly what he is doing nevertheless.

When he sings with a nasal and youthful voice perfectly fitting his boyish figure, he moves confidently on stage, taking his time, not panicking for a second when there is a technical difficulty with his guitar, ’So may be I skip this song…’ to which the audience answered with a loud disapproval.

His cover of ‘See no Evil’ was actually a very interesting transformation of the Television’s classic, slowly evolving with a nonchalant vocal delivery, and a groovy rhythm running with the song largely assured by bassist Bram Inscore who used to play with Beck. ‘Bottle of Rain’, an alt country song, was giving its shining moment to the pedal steel guitar played by Mike Bloom (Rilo Kiley, Jenny Lewis, Rachael Yamagata). Harper Simon definitively attracts renowned and accomplished musicians, did I say that the drummer was Russell Simins from John Spencer Blues Explosion fame?

He finally played one of the songs from his album ‘Berkeley Girl, an homage to an ex-girlfriend, but he had at this point called other musicians on stage, that I really didn’t expect to be there! Sean Watkins, member of Nickel Creek, took the banjo, and Jon Brion, the Jon Brion, multi-instrumentalist and producer extraordinaire – he has produced everyone from Aimee Mann, to Rufus Wainwright, Fiona Apple, Elliott Smith, Kanye West, and more recently Of Montreal – took a guitar, while Jenny O. was harmonizing on vocals.
Just after, they did a bluegrass infuriated-wicked number called ’99 years’, Sean Watkins introducing it by saying he had played bluegrass all his life, and ended the too short set by ‘Maybe Baby’ with tons of harmonies.

There seemed to be a lot of friends in the room, which was making the atmosphere intimate and attentive. And his own songs? May be he was just tired to play them, as he has been touring the US and Europe for months, and probably playing them to death. We just have to wait for some new material, which, I have read, should come soon.

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