Intense Swings of Whimsy and RomanceClint Holmes Sings Simon and Porter at the Café Carlyle
By STEPHEN HOLDEN
Published: April 11, 2012
The excitement of Las Vegas and the sophistication of Manhattan merged on Tuesday evening at Café Carlyle, where Clint Holmes’s stirring new show, “This Thing Called Love,” saluted the songs of Cole Porter and Paul Simon. What do these composers have in common? Not much when you think about it. Mr. Simon’s knotty reflections with their undertone of whimsy and Porter’s besotted romanticism are poles apart.
Clint Holmes is performing songs of Cole Porter and Paul Simon at Café Carlyle in a show called “This Thing Called Love.”
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But Mr. Holmes, imagining a dialogue between the two, created a dramatic suite in which their songs fruitfully played off one another. The closest they came to a meeting of sensibilities was early in the evening during back-to-back abridged versions of Mr. Simon’s “59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” and Porter’s “It’s De-Lovely.”
The sequence suggested a story in which Mr. Holmes played a high-strung, not always sympathetic everyman who descends from innocence into desperation, then returns to a tentative calm. At the nadir he is virtually torn apart by the emotional crises evoked in the songs, particularly Mr. Simon’s.
A brainy showman whose sensitivity to lyrics is matched by his fearlessness as a performer, Mr. Holmes acted out songs with the ferocious, sweaty intensity of a man flirting with an emotional breakdown. His brassy, jazzy lounge singing occasionally leapt into a semi-falsetto. His sextet, led by the pianist Jeffrey Neiman, and featuring Kenny Gioffre’s saxophone and Greg Utzig’s guitar, followed him every step of the way.
In a harrowing mini-suite that connected Mr. Simon’s “Have a Good Time” with Porter’s “It’s All Right With Me” and “Just One of Those Things,” his discontented alter ego went on a compulsive, destructive sexual bender. Instead of castigating himself, he made you feel the dangerous thrill of the chase along with the exhilaration of throwing off a stale partnership for new adventures. But there were also quiet moments. The small obedient voice he adopted for Mr. Simon’s “I’d Do It for Your Love” set the stage for the explosion to follow.
Certain Simon songs were boldly reoutfitted. The original gospel setting of “Loves Me Like a Rock” was discarded in favor a slower, jazzier, finger-snapping groove that allowed more room for the lyrics celebrating the solidity of maternal love. Instead of a sad murmur of surrender, “Slip Slidin’ Away” became a musical fistfight with the fates. A fragment of “You Can Call Me Al” was spoken without musical accompaniment.
His encore, a tender “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” brought back the theme of unconditional love that a parent feels for a child: the truest love there is.
Clint Holmes performs through April 28 at Café Carlyle, 35 East 76th Street, Manhattan; (212) 744-1600.