Monday, April 02, 2007

A Night At The Renaissance
March 31, 2007
Part 1
Mike Skliar &
Ken Ficara

The Ren plays host to many local artists, keeping alive the spirit of the Greenwich Village coffeehouses of the late sixties...a spirit that is sorely missed these days. On occassion the owner, Randy, let's our friends from the fine city of New York take over the stage. Mike Skliar and Ken Ficara represent two of the five boroughs with grace and humour. They are a different breed, New Yorkers, but not to be feared. Mike dabbles in law during the sunlight hours and counters that dark-side by creating liberal-humourist pop songs in the vein of Ray Stevens. I'm not sure what Ken does for a 'day job', it's likely something between the Peace Corps and Greenpeace.

They are joined this evening by Mike Ford a founding member of Toronto's busking-legends, Moxy Fruvous. This guy oozes maple syrup. His first toy wasn't a teddy bear, it was a polar bear. Not a stuffed one either. Canadiana at it's most irreverant and entertaining.

Tonight's festivities are being captured by Mr MikeL Productions and we're hoping for a tight, energetic, one-hour DVD.

But first, three hours of song.

Mike Skliar opens with a rendition of a song Frank Sinatra put on the airwaves, The Coffee Song. And yes, they do have an awful lot of coffee in Brazil. And bio-fuels. It's the bio-fuels that's gonna get them in trouble.

Mike steps up to the mic to deliver The Mike Song, always a welcome inclusion. Besides Skliar and Ford, we have Mr MikeL, my son, and at least one other Mike in the audience. A light poke at parents' inclination to pick popular names for their children.

Ken Ficara's composition, Preserved Fish, a tale of a young Colonial-American child blessed with not-so-popular a name, gives us the other side of the child-naming dilemma. Straight from the hills of West Virginia...or some such hokey abode. For the names, I vote for Mike.

The Future laments the fact science hasn't quite kept up with science-fiction...and when it did, it wasn't all it was cracked up to be. No jet-packs. No Jetsons. For all the things we have that save us time we still wonder where the time went. Still not sure if Ken's a cynic or a realist.

The next portion of the opening set has Mike doing a cover (Bob Dylan's Tryin' To Get To Heaven), a parody (the wonderful If You See Bob, Say Hello) and two original tunes, The Birthday Song and Orange is the New,Whatever. The latter song may be the only one written about the Christo Gates. If memory serves there have been plenty of 'birthday' songs, more than a few Dylan covers and one or two parody songs.

Mike invites his nephew, the young Eric Miller, to the stage to deliver a version of Neil Young's Heart of Gold. Eric has been slowly getting his stage legs, having played back-up guitar on previous outings. Tonight he's solo and taking a big step forward in his development. The audience at the Ren is always 'performer friendly' and they listen attentively and applaud appreciatively.

Mike closes his portion of the opening set with a Rev. Gary Davis tune, Death Don't Have No Mercy. A fitting segue into Ken's mini-set of roots music.

Ken's a bit of an aficiando of harmonica's of one sort and another. I couldn't tell you what kind they were but every toy brought a new sound. He opens with an original tune, a poke in the eye of carbon pigs, called Hummer. And while hummers may suck, it's not in a good way. It's a dystopia, he says. If I wasn't into my 4th Jack'nCoke of the night I'd give you a hyperlink to a definition of 'dystopia'. A topical tune with some nice turns of phrases and an uncomfortable observation: as you're filling your tank, it's the terrorists that are laughing all the way to the bank.

Ken closes his set with an harmonica based Sh'e Big Sh'e Mor, and if that title's correct it's absolutely a fluke, and an American fiddle-tune, Stephen Foster's Angelina Baker.

Mike Skliar is back to open the second set with a couple originals. The toe-tapping cautionary tale, Mothers Advice, becomes a vehicle for some down-home harp playing from Ken. After opening with a cover of a Sintra song Mike unveils his homage to Frank called...Frank, a picture postcard trip through the career of a renaissance man of a different era.

Whiskey for Breakfast sees Ken really kicking it up. Ken's harp serves the bluegrass repetoire well and Mike plays the sidekick support with an aplomb that attests to his comic timing.

Mike invites his niece, Emma Carlin, onstage to help him through a rendition of With A Little Help From My Friends, a mellow break before Mike and Ken launch into the close of their set.

First a rollicking cover of Dylan's Down in the Flood followed by a few originals. Charlie Brown's Nightmare delves into the post-Schultz world of our favorite Peanuts characters. What I Meant To Say, shows us what happens when your mind and your mouth work independently of each other. Then Mike delivers his 'parallel universe' hit, 12 to 20, a crowd-pleasing raunchy tale of unrequited love.

Everyone is back onstage to share verses of Dylan's You Ain't Goin' Nowhere in an ensemble close to the first half of tonights entertainment.

Big thanks go out to Mike and Ken for thinkin' about us when they head North. Got to see lots of friends as the Canadians came out from the winter.

Up Next: A Night At The Ren: Part 2 Mike Ford's set

Upcoming Shows:

Friday April 6 Dr Hook
Saturday April 7 The Hootenany
Wednesday April 25 Anjani
Thursday April 26 Anjani
Tuesday May 8 Maria Muldaur
Wednesday May 9 Maria Muldaur
Friday May 11 Arctic Monkeys
Saturday May 12 Amy Winehouse
Sunday May 13 Amy Winehouse
Tuesday May 29 Joan Armatrading


Ken said...

Marcel, thanks for the great review. For the record, I do web development for newspapers. Not quite Greenpeace but I do enjoy it. And am I a realist or a cynic? I guess I'm a relic. Or maybe a cyst. Hope to see you in TO again soon.

Anonymous said...

Nice to hear the update of goings on north of the border (and an update to your blog in general...'tis been awhile my good man!)

Way jealous of you getting to see Amy next month!

All the best~Phil

dylanomaniac said...

Phil, great to see you out here. We're stopping at Michey's for a 'sleep over' this weekend. Took a bit of a rest on the 'typing' but now that spring's here I've got a new wind.