Buster Poindexter Opens Up NYC/Cafe Carlyle Residency With a Tall Cocktail (SHOW REVIEW)

Sipping from a tall cocktail while sizing up a new setlist, Buster Poindexter (a tuxedoed, pompadoured David Johansen) was deliberately pacing himself. On September 29th in New York, his band opened a two-week residency, their third extended engagement at Café Carlyle since last October.

These marathon supper-club bookings are fitting, as Poindexter is as much a New York institution as the Carlyle itself. Johansen, who started out as the glam-punk frontman for the New York Dolls in the early ’70s, recently pointed out that he doesn’t consider Poindexter his alter ego (“He’s really not that different from me,” he told TheaterMania). The main difference is Poindexter, unlike Johansen, is not a songwriter; after all, his biggest hit, “Hot Hot Hot,” from 1987, was a cover. He’s an old-school entertainer, a blunt and wide-ranging revivalist who rearranges dusty, overlooked tunes with lounge spunk and swagger. While names like Jimmy McHugh, Slim Gaillard, and Jerry Ragovoy might not sound immediately familiar, most know their songs by their more popular cover versions: “Mess Around,” made famous by Ray Charles, electrified the room Tuesday night, and “Piece of My Heart” involved festive backup vocals from Poindexter’s entire four-man lineup, with Poindexter hitting his highest notes of the night. When he warns with a straight face between songs that “this music is much better than it sounds,” you realize he’s only half-joking.

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Poindexter’s sets owe as much to Afro-Caribbean roots music as they do to uptempo blues, doo-wop, soul and swing. But he makes them his own with sudden detours into dark humor, in an act that underscores the unexpected novelty of mixing the classics with the contemporary. On “Zombie Jamboree,” the spirited calypso favorite, Poindexter pleaded for the rescue of Central Park from New York’s latest and greatest spectacle: “We can cover it in cement,” he sang, “When Donald Trump becomes the president.”

Photos by David Andrako.

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