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Nina Nastasia Does Speigeltent

Nina Nastasia - decidedly low-key
by Nate Eckstrom

Outside the Speigeltent, hidden away behind the old Fulton Fish Market, the manager for Nina Nastasia looked relieved. “We just hired a bunch of Canadians to be Nina’s backing band,” he assured two friends. The line of fans wound along Pier 17, admiring the Brooklyn Bridge above, and the moonlit water below. A few people wandered off now and again to grab a drink at the attached Beer Garden. The Speigeltent itself, a multi-colored mass of teak wood, stained glass and red and yellow brocade, drew most of the eyes.

Inside, the Jeffrey Lewis Band, could be heard sound-checking. The shadows of the performers played along the stained glass windows, and created a magical suspense. The Speigeltent has traveled the world since the 1930’s when Marlene Dietrich graced its stage. For the next two weeks, until October 1st, it is staked to the edge of Pier 17. The main attraction is Absinthe, a troupe of cabaret performers who jump from rickety object to rickety object, dangle from trapeze and do other cabaret-esque things.

From the stage, Jeffrey Lewis, a local Lower East Sider, said, “I’m actually glad that all of you missed Absinthe earlier, because they’re a tough act to follow.” The same could be said for Jeffrey Lewis. He has been called “ignored genius,” as he has plied his unique trade of freak-folk for the past ten years or so. He crams a cavalcade of words into insightful and entertaining idea-songs. He is a poet who would probably disdain to be called that. He draws huge comic books and holds them up while he sings to make what he calls, “low-budget videos.” One featured the complete history of Communism. The crowd at Speigeltent loved it.

Nina Nastasia and her recently acquired Canadians were decidedly more low-key. An “MTV unplugged” type atmosphere prevailed, with the funereally quiet crowd and the red-tinted candles burning on the small cocktail lounge tables and reflecting off the stained glass windows. The crowd had been pleasantly surprised by Jeffrey Lewis, but they were clearly there to see Nina Nastasia. It was hard to tell from the polite golf claps if they were happy with what they got. The Canadians spent most of the time swaying to the music with their eyes closed, occasionally fiddling with a knob or two, but never really getting the tent going. Nina writes mournful songs, songs of loss and love and love lost. They are beautiful, but I was looking for something a bit more engaging.

Speigeltent is a magical place to see a show, and even if it costs a bit more than your average club (last night’s show was $17, or in other words $17 more than I’ve ever paid to see Jeffrey Lewis in the past), the atmosphere is worth the money.


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