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October 6, 2000 Fez has the best hand-stamp in all of New York City. After paying your way into a show, other venues might stamp a little star, the word "PAID" or something unidentifiable, amoebae-like on the back of your hand. Of course, there's always the old-school "X" written in Mister Sharpee that takes a week before it starts to fade. But not Fez. Tonight, the stamp on my hand said "SPECIAL" in black ink. Damn straight.
After descending the dark stairs, the Moroccan-meets-glam décor beckoned my tired bones to sit next to some strangers at one of the long tables and enjoy my specialness. The long tables always make me feel like I'm sitting at an exclusive community Bingo club. One thing about Fez: there's plenty of eye candy. Whether it's the heavy, red velvet drape behind the stage, the egg-crate textured walls or the disco ball that looks like a bastard Christmas ornament, you'll be content to just sit and drool... unless there's something better to be mesmerized by. In tonight's case, September 12th, it's folk-pop heroine Heather Eatman.
In every article written about Eatman, her spiked coif and giant, cherry-red guitar are given as much attention as her songs. Oh yeah, and let's not forget that she and her band were on "The Conan O'Brian Show" sometime back. I'm not one to adhere to tradition, but this time I'll make an exception. Heather Eatman was on "The Conan O'Brian Show" sometime back. Her hair is spiked. Her guitar is wider than she is. It is red. Her hair and guitar are very cool. I like them a lot. They are nice. (I'd love to see what people would write if Eatman got on stage with her hair slicked down and carrying a black and white Fender).
Wearing a purple, orange and red vertically striped button-down reminiscent of a Mark Rothko painting compressed and turned on its side, the lanky Eatman played a bunch of old, new and brand-spanking-new tunes. Her band in tow was Lee Feldman on piano, Tim Lefebvre on bass, Dave Berger on drums and Marc Shulman on guitar. I don't think this is her regular line-up (save for Feldman) because I've seen her play with a better band.
Eatman's got an original, strong, haunting, I'm-not-that-innocent whisper that can transcend to full-out power-driven vocals. And the lass has style. Wide, welcoming smiles, facial expressions to reflect each song, a comfortable cockiness while playing guitar and a pivoting right leg from the knee down like a windshield wiper. How funky is your chicken?
I'd hesitate to say Eatman is sweet because her songs (which are, more or less, stories taken to the next 20 levels) have an underlying intensity and brashness. But there's a weird romantic, flavor-rich smoothness that people are drawn to. Her last album, Candy & Dirt, is full of moving songs that spare the sappy crap. It's one of those albums in which you befriend the characters in the songs. Then you'll be driving on I-95, passing a billboard ad for the New York Lotto and suddenly you'll remember a character from one of Eatman's songs. But the characters exist beyond the songs; the experiences she sings about are real. Just get the album; it'll make sense, I swear.
Tonight, Eatman had the crowd in her pocket. Fez folk were nodding, smiling and gawking "She's so great" throughout her set. But at the same time, it was so quiet during her last song, "Too Tired to Be Elvis," that when the music stopped and Eatman sang a chorus of "bee bopalu" all you could hear was a faint rumble of the subway.
For an encore, Eatman played a song that she admittedly can't make it through without crying, "God Only Knows" by Brian Wilson. I think she managed to stay dry-eyed.
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