By Michael Hillyer
Steven Page, the co-founder and lead singer, guitarist and principal songwriter of the Toronto-based group, Barenaked Ladies, is playing at the Café Carlyle for the next two weeks, through April 2nd. The Carlyle, known for the sophisticated cabaret milieu of long-time mainstays Elaine Stritch and Bobby Short, hosts a series of regular performers (as well as occasional celebrities like Judy Collins and Steve Tyrell), including Woody Allen, who plays on Mondays with his jazz band. Since his well-documented departure from Barenaked Ladies in 2009, Steven Page has embarked on a more or less solo performing career, and that turns out to be very good news for the New York cabaret scene.
His show is titled “Heal Thyself: Past, Present and Future,” and while the program draws upon a wide spectrum of Mr. Page’s long and prolific song-writing career, it also features a number of songs from his just-released album, “Heal Thyself Pt. 1: Instinct.” To those who are familiar with Mr. Page’s bouncy, edgy, melodic pop-rock style, not to mention more fully-expressed studio orchestrations, the show at the Carlyle would be a great way to appreciate this musician up close and pretty much unplugged. Alternating between playing the Café Carlyle’s grand piano and accompanying himself on guitar, Mr. Page is joined on the stage by Kevin Fox on cello and Craig Northey on guitar. This acoustic trio approach to his music suits the intimate parameters of the venue, while allowing Mr. Page to dial it all back a bit, and relax into the cozy confines of the Carlyle.
He is known for his strong voice and isn’t afraid to let it belt, but the room requires more subtlety than that, and Mr. Page employs just the right touch in keeping his vocal performance nuanced. His lyrics, which reference an enormous variety of rock and other musical styles, are quite sophisticated, often clever, insightful and self-deprecating. An ingratiating and upbeat performer, Mr. Page seems delighted to be playing at this storied café, and even gleefully slipped into some Broadway lyrics from COMPANY at the end of one of his songs, in what he called “an impromptu homage to the Great White Way.” At first I thought he was singing “Being Alive” as a tribute to Stephen Sondheim on his birthday (March 22nd), but that was not the case, as he only sang a few phrases. It is a testament to his skill that I happily sat there for a minute hoping he would sing the entire piece.
The whole set was great, although standouts were No Song Left To Save Me, Manchild, Linda Ronstadt In The 70’s, and the haunting, introspective Brian Wilson. There is a great deal of experiential honesty at the core of his music, and while Mr. Page isn’t exactly wearing his heart on his sleeve, he is certainly wearing it somewhere. This superb material is heart-felt stuff, sometimes even painful stuff, however jaunty and melodic it might sound, and he is connected to it completely. Steven Page might be something of a stylistic departure for the Carlyle, but he is also a very welcome addition, and I hope he soon finds himself a spot on the roster of regular performers. A gifted musician of this caliber ought to have a regular venue like the Café Carlyle to play his stuff, and we would be very lucky to have him there.
Steven Page at the Café Carlyle, with Kevin Fox (Cello) and Craig Northey (Guitar), playing Tuesday – Saturday at 8:45pm through April 2nd. Dress code is chic attire; gentlemen must wear jackets. Reservations: 212.744.1600 or www.ticketweb.com. Café Carlyle is located in The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel, 35 East 76th Street, at Madison Avenue.