Review & Photos: Pink Talking Fish Are Bowie At The Gramercy Theatre

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Words by: Chad Berndtson

Images by: Stephen Olker

Pink Talking Fish Are Bowie :: 4.8.16 :: The Gramercy Theatre :: NYC

View Stephen’s gallery after Chad’s review.

The top-shelf tribute bands give you a little something extra beyond “just” superbly played renditions of (or jams within) songs you know well — they transcend the music they’re saluting without ever quite escaping it. And Pink Talking Fish get there by doing something particularly interesting: finding the common musical threads among three or more exceptionally well-known and endlessly interpreted catalogs – and then hammering away at those common threads, pushing on the areas where, say, Phish’s “Halley’s Comet,” or Pink Floyd’s “One of These Days,” or Talking Heads’ “Slippery People” would quite naturally yield to a song or progression more familiar from one of the other two catalogs.

Toss David Bowie songs in – as the group did Friday night at a raucous NYC show – and you’ve got a palette where any color feels like the right one — and, even knowing that, the band still picked interesting setlist selections, transitions and ideas when something merely adequate would have been enough to get a crowd like this boogieing.

You can tip your hat to Pink Talking Fish without being the least bit self-conscious. Bassist Eric Gould, guitarist Dave Brunyak, keyboardist Richard James and drummer Zack Burwick have been getting the crowds for a while now. Every time you look, they’re just coming off of, or just about to play some statement show or another: something that proves beyond a doubt this is a band bigger than a well-fed project and is on its way to the pantheon of jam scene bands beloved for how they celebrate the work of other bands by handling that work indelicately.

No other show at the moment is giving you the blazing run from “Money” into “Slippery People” into “Fame” into “Slippery People” you got on Friday night in PTF’s first set. Not everything they do works, and some of it can feel quite sloppy or stunty, but when they’re hitting – and they’re hitting often – they’re smacking the twin bull’s eyes of well-executed improvisation and the tickling of an audience ready to rage on a song it knows every word to.

The added Bowie ingredients were inspired, too and the band felt no pressure to stray too far from “greatest hits” Bowie, though it did throw in 1997’s “I’m Afraid Of Americans” (including the giggly suggestion of “Carini is an American”) along with “Lazarus,” from this year’s ominous Bowie swan song ★ (Blackstar). Throughout, they moved as a foursome – and occasionally as a five-some, and at one point, a six-some – and created suites of cool ideas, from that “Slippery” sandwich in the first set to the second set showpiece that began with “Time” and found its way to “Cities” after several stops. In a particularly loving segment, they closed set two by taking the typical keyboard solo that breaks down “The Squirming Coil” and pushing it into “Life On Mars” – a moment of triumph for keyboardist James, who had the best night of anyone. And they made room for a pair of well-chosen guests: saxophonist Matt Wayne of Mr. Breakdown, and singer Hayley Jane, who’d lit the fuse on the evening with her own rage-ready Primates band several hours earlier. (Singer Dana Fuchs, who’d been advertised as a special guest up until a few days before the show, did not appear.)

When bands like Pink Talking Fish break out of their initial phase and build a national following, there’s a tendency to wonder – especially in our scene – “how long?” In their case, there seems to be a lot of joy in what they do and earnestness for pursuing the connections in these bodies of music. Enjoy this ride, friends; it’s a fun one.

Photos by Stephen Olker

Setlist

Set One: 2001 > Let’s Dance > Money* > Slippery People* > Fame* > Slippery People*, Halley’s Comet > Run Like Hell > Moon Rocks# > Under Pressure#, David Bowie

Set Two: Golden Years > Gotta Jibboo^ > Nothing But Flowers, Time > Carini > I’m Afraid of Americans^^ > Carini > Psycho Killer > Lazarus > One of These Days* > Space Oddity* > One of These Days* > Cities, The Squirming Coil > Life On Mars^^^

Encore: Heroes*# > Character Zero*#

Notes

  • * w/Matt Wayne (sax)
  • # w/Hayley Jane (vocals)
  • ^ outro only
  • ^^ “Carini’s an American”
  • ^^^ solo piano

Tour Dates for Pink Talking Fish