Peter Mulvey & Randy Sabien; June 6, 2009; Café Carpe
After ten plus years as a fan I thought by this point that I knew all of Peter Mulvey’s tricks, but it seems he still has a few things up his sleeve. Take tonight’s show at Fort Atkinson’s charming Café Carpe, always a destination for its eccentric charm, stellar acoustics and delicious jambalaya with Creole sauce, where Peter was joined by incomparable violinist Randy Sabien. Another Wisconsin musician recognized far beyond his home state, Sabien is known for his jazzy instrumentals and revolutionary technique. It seemed an unlikely pairing, but by the end of the night I was surprised they hadn’t played together before.
I had presumed that Randy would play first and then Peter, but instead they played the whole night together, well, except for the first song. They had just sat down following one of Carpe co-owner Bill Camplin’s droll rambling introductions where he called Sabien one of the best violinists in the county (yes, county not country), when Peter realized he had left some essential cables upstairs. Sabien played an instrumental while he fetched the missing pieces. When he returned they started the show as they had meant to. The original opener was supposed to be a popular classic by Gershwin or that ilk, but after spending the morning entertaining children at the Fort farmer’s market, Peter had a better idea.
No one knew quite what to think when the pair broke into the classiest version of “Rubber Ducky” I’ve ever heard. Yep, “Rubber Ducky,” really. Peter’s surprise at the Sesame Street censors letting them get away with “chubby” in a bathtub song led to a discussion of other surprising moments; including the Count counting Q’s (try it). The inclusion of the children’s song led to a humorous moment later in the night when Sabien inserted the instantly recognizable tune into a solo during “The Knuckleball Suite.” They followed that with a sarcastically labeled “children’s song” by Tom Waits. The decidedly non-child appropriate “Jockey Full of Bourbon” followed Peter’s hilariously spot-on impression of Waits singing the “Alphabet Song.”
With all the jokes and storytelling it may seem more like a comedy routine, but the truth is these are two of the finest musicians I’ve seen on the Carpe stage. Instead of playing the songs on the CDs that they had for sale, they opted mostly for new songs and well-chosen covers like the aforementioned Waits in addition to a stunning version of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows.” Even with all the stunning musicianship and quick wit on display, some of my favorite moments were small ones- Peter pausing mid-song to respond “Bless You” to a sneeze in the audience and him quoting one of my favorite movies with a grinning quip in Sabien’s direction, “You just keep thinking Butch, that’s what you’re good at.” Honestly, I think Peter and Sabien could give Butch and Sundance a run for their money in the comedy department.