BY JAMES MOORE
Iowa-born chanteuse Adrien Daller
I saw a great show at a lovely place in a groovy town in acrazy world. On a Sunday night, too, man. Go figure.
Setting: the Café Paradisio, a place of exceptional black brews andclassy high-ceilinged atmosphere, a beautiful venue and coffee enclave inthe Broadway Building in Fairfield. The stage is framed by a large mural painting,Grecian motif, complete with naked waterfall cherubs. Lamps with unlit candleshang down overhead, surrounded by bare red brick walls.
The place is standing room only by 7:45 p.m., over 100 eager souls jammedinside with others spilling out into the lobby, a blend of ages with a preponderanceof young people. Me, I’m claustrophobic, stuck in a royal chair in theback, near hyperventilation.
Center stage is the lovely Adrien Daller, with short-cropped hair in a yellowshirt over black lace, a gold sash tied around her hips over black pants.She is seated on a stool, music stand in front of her, a hint of the Jetsonsin her aura. To her left is rail-thin brother Dain, dressed in an untuckedblack polyester shirt with a skinny red tie, contrasted by orange-tinged hair.He has a black fingerless glove on his right hand and sits facing a slim-bodiedcomputer screen, wearing black-framed glasses, part Buddy Holly, part JohnnyRotten, all cool. Papa Doug is to Adrien’s right, slightly hunched overan acoustic upright piano, white tie, black suit coat, hair parted in themiddle, beatnik goatee, a look of acceptance and bemusement beaming througha killer smile. This Detroit native, who attended the original Woodstock festivaland savored every minute of it, is a fixture on the local music scene.
Dain kicks off the evening with a recording Adrien left her dad on the phoneasking if he wanted to do a show during winter break. Adrien laughs when it’sover and says, “Now we’ll begin,” jumping into Prince’s “WhenYou Were Mine.”
Adrien has a beautiful expressive voice, so sure, wonderful wiggly inflectionsand sexy grunts. The second song is “Downtown Train,” writtenby Tom Waits. (Rod Stewart hit paydirt with it.) They do it slower with analmost Eurhythmics flavor. Next is Canadian songwriter Rufus Wainwright’stune “You Will Believe in Love.” Dain’s computer-generatedfatback beats lay the groundwork for Doug’s keyboard accompaniments.Halfway through the song, Adrien says, “Hey, this is the wrong key.” Theycome up a fourth and Adrien goes on. The amazing thing is, it sounded finelower, too. Scientific proof this woman has a range.
Adrien has a captivating sparkle and natural stage presence, the makingsof star quality. Her Judy Garland smile, often punctuated with a gutturallittle laugh and a hand to the head, is endearing. She’s down to earthin a movie-star/tomgirl-next-door sort of way with the pixieness of LizaMinelli, the punch of Peggy Lee, the artistic wack of Cyndi Lauper and Bjork,the vibrato of Anthony Newly. The result? A big Daller diva.
Next up is Dain with one of his own compositions. He explains, “I madea song out of sounds that teach kids how to learn the alphabet, and I usedonly these sounds.” It is funky, funny, brilliant, and draws an incredibleresponse from the crowd. (As irony would have it, I had already decided towrite about Dain’s new CD entitled 2002 this month, which I love, bythe way.)
I have been a Dain Daller fan since the first time we worked together overfour years ago. He’s got an uncanny sense of rhythm, a total artist’sstyle and vibe. Dain is a found-sound collector, sculpting soundscapes inthe self-creator computing ethos, a veritable digital-doer, if you will. It’sa world where sounds and ideas and rhythms and technical know-how and improvisationalflair combine to make beautiful music.
The next song is pure ’80s cheese, a hilarious, wirey remake of PaulaAbdul’s “Hit and Run.” Dain substitutes phone beeps forthe backup vocals, creating ripples of delight in the audience. I can’thelp but think of Adrien performing this for Abdul as an American Idol contestant,and how pale and superfluous the TV show seems in comparison.
After a technical delay, Adrien, accompanied only by piano, delivers a low,sultry ballad called “Wild is the Wind.” The material this eveningis varied and fairly well-rounded, with a tilt toward modern pop. From RufusWainwright to Tom Waits to Prince to Bjork to Ella Fitzgerald to Dain’sown creations (including one experimental piece in which Adrien sings a lyricI love, “I’m walking into spiderwebs”), the range of selectionsis impressive.
Doug does a solo interpretation of a song Joe Cocker helped popularize called “TheLetter.” Adrien belts out “Hound Dog,” the rockabilly classicimmortalized by Elvis Presley, with Doug’s blues-a-boogie Leon Russelesqueflourishes accenting things nicely. Ella Fitzgerald’s “Black Coffee” issuperb and apropos at Paradisio’s.
But I think my favorite song is Bjork’s “You Can’t HandleLove,” both for Adrien’s passionate grasp of the vocals and thepowerfully direct lyrics themselves. Her eyes stare straight ahead as shesings, “I dare you to take me on; there’s no threat; I’mso bored of cowards that say they want and then they can’t handle love.” Dainexplains that he built the backing percussion tracks from recording himselfand his friends beating on pipes under an abandoned drawbridge in Chicago.It’s scary good.
The three-Daller bill closes with the beautiful “Moonshine Lullaby,” writtenduring Prohibition, I’m guessing. After rousing applause and whistles,the final encore is another Ella Fitzgerald tune, “Love for Sale,” whichAdrien purrs, a delicious way to end a delicious night.
Remember Sister Sledge’s tune “We Are Family”? Well, ifyou came to the show, you saw that principle in action, my friends. I canonly imagine Doug’s pride and joy in creating such music, figurativelyand literally. These guys exude harmony, love, and appreciation for each other’splentiful talents. Individually they rock. As a collective they are composed,electric, eclectic, attractive, interactive, and most importantly, have ablast doing what they do.
And obviously the feeling is contagious, judging from the satisfied smileson people’s faces as they head out the door and back home on a snowlesswinter’s Sunday night. The specter of a new workweek the farthest thingfrom their minds, for the moment spirits lifted in a world that needs upliftmentmore than ever.