I thought my plan to have a fancy steak at the Met and drink some really expensive scotch sounded like a pretty good way to face the big 3-0 next month. Brent Amaker’s 50th birthday bash at the Triple Door on Friday, however, has me thinking I need a little less classy reserve and a little more Kraftwerk and barely-clad burlesque dancers.
How someone faces big milestones can say a lot about their personality. In his wild show that bordered on performance art, Amaker didn’t reveal new insight so much as affirm that he is as inimitable as ever as he enters his sixth decade.
Things started off with a relative sense of normalcy. Couples munched on Asian fusion from Wild Ginger and sipped cocktails while the Comettes surprised with their spacey, California-tinged jangle that sounded at once both very Northwest and altogether foreign.
Even though there had been much talk and promise of several “surprises” during the show, few people were expecting the birthday boy to descend from the ceiling in a fog of billowing stage smoke. More unexpected was the shirtless man-servant who attended to Amaker throughout the show with shots of whiskey, though the racy burlesque dancer was nothing new to Amaker veterans.
It seems a little counter-intuitive to have to play a show at your own birthday party, but from the first strains of “Johnny’s Theme,” Amaker was a (lanky) ball of energy. Looking spry and plugged in, he cheerfully worked his way through “Doomed,” a song about our inevitable destruction given a dark pathos thanks to the occasion.
By the time the burlesque dancer returned for “I Put My Boots On” off “Year of the Dragon,” she was down to not much more than pasties — to the delight of the crowd and the Rodeo, Amaker’s ace band. As she slinked her way across the stage, the Rodeo hammered out a propulsive, cheeky rhythm and it felt like the party was in full swing.
Maybe because he felt the tendrils of a birthday drunk grasping at him (Amaker later declared that sometimes things have to “go black”), the band snuck their compelling cover of Kraftwerk’s “Pocket Calculator” into the set soon after. Amaker possesses the perfect rich, baritone voice for the song, but what really made it work is the verve and humor with which his band executed. People sometimes wonder whether Amaker and his band are a joke, but no one bothers to play music at this level of expertise just for a gag.
A few songs later, Amaker left much as he started the show, shrouded in an enormous red cape fit for a king. The crowd wasn’t sure the show was over after he exited and the house lights stayed dim for a few minutes, adding to the confusion. It was a fittingly odd ending to a deliciously bizarre show.
-Owen R. Smith, on Twitter @inanedetails