Genius Envy: Chilly Gonzales’ “Piano Talk” LIVE (feat. Andrew W.K.)

Chilly Gonzales “Piano Talk”
Feb. 11, 2010
Joe’s Pub, NYC

Once upon a time in a far away land known as Quebec, a young musician would be told the “worst four words of [his] life”:

You Are A Genius.”

Chilly Gonzales descends upon the piano and sings the words in every possible octave and key in an effort to drive their impact further home.  The artist formerly known as Jason Beck was dubbed a child prodigy early on, clearly a major influence on his current onstage persona: think precocious wunderkind-meets jazzy hipster lounge act.  I like to imagine this particular combo is the direct result of what happens when you condemn a gifted child to a nightly gig as cocktail party entertainment.

Much of the Canadian-born Chilly‘s schtick involves the irony of balancing such sophisticated skills with somewhat of an off-beat, comic style.  His look is especially in-keeping with this idea, mussed hair and five o’clock shadow perfectly offsetting the otherwise too-formal satin smoking jacket and white gloves.  Although an accomplished classical pianist (trained at Montreal‘s renowned McGill University), Chilly‘s shows tend to give off more of a casual, ‘Don’t Tell Mama for the Skinny Jeans Set’ type of vibe, rather than that of a night at the symphony.  Ed Droste of Grizzly Bear is seated in my section, as if to further validate the indie cred of the man in question.  In previous incarnations,  Chilly has put out records as both a rock (e.g. Thriller with Son, etc) and hip-hop artist ( Gonzales Über Alles, etc), not to mention as a classical musician, through which he developed his most successful album to date: the stripped-down piano project aptly entitled, Solo Piano.  The self-described “Jewish Supervillain MC” went on to write and produce material for modern acts (notably, artists Feist and Peaches) and has, most recently, announced the creation of the first ever “piano mixtape,Painist Envy, on which he re-envisions the work of Top 40 heavyweights, like Kelly Clarkson and 50 Cent.

Cut back to tonight’s venue, Joe’s Pub, where the drink I just ordered costs more than the price of admission and this “Supervillain MC” prepares to hone his burlesque-era comedy chops in front of a room full of Williamsburg transplants.  As the night wears on, Gonzales proceeds to employ every age-old cabaret and vaudevillian technique in the book as a means to try and illicit reactions from the almost too-cool-for-school crowd.  His efforts include (but aren’t limited to) singing, whistling, rhyming, rapping, punning, and telling jokes.  All the while, “The Entertainist” mantains an easy back-and-forth between himself and the audience, adding to the VH1 Storytellers-like mood of the evening.

Chilly manages to stay true to his relaxed, campy approach without missing a chance to show off his musical prowess, breadth of knowledge, or wit.  One particular anecdote from the pianist’s childhood involves his grandfather discouraging the young virtuoso from playing jazz and rock (“He called it Devil Music“), offering up Wagner as a superior alternative.  The punchline involves the subtle way in which Grandpa could seamlessly incorporate both racism and anti-semitism into the same lesson.  Chilly punctuates this bit with a raucous, ragtime version of “The Ride of the Valkyries” and then revels in the laughter and applause from a crowd who appear far too pleased with themselves to have gotten every single reference.

Because no cabaret/variety show worth its salt would be complete without a guest performer, the Canadian ivory assailant has been inviting a different artist onstage with him each week throughout his month-long stint at Joe’s Pub.  Tonight’s is the ever genre-defying cult-rock superstar, Andrew W.K. Sharing Chilly‘s irreverent comedic sensibilities when it comes to showmanship, Andrew even dons matching white gloves tonight, along with his signature white t-shirt/white jeans getup.  While he’s most widely known for making loud, driving, punk-infused hits like “She is Beautiful” and “Party Hard“, W.K. now expresses a softer side, belting out a heartfelt rendition of the Leon Russell classic, “A Song For You,” alongside his host.  This is, perhaps, a possible nod to the latest release by Andrew W.K.,  55 Cadillac (a collection of slow, sincere piano ballads).  The two performers have a natural rapport, joking between songs about competing in piano battles together and play-arguing over which one of them is “really” headlining.

After the show’s “official” end, the duo is coaxed back onstage to perform an encore, arguably the high point of the evening.  Chilly emerges tuning a guitar and proceeds to do a sarcastic routine about how disrespectful it is for musicians to spend time tuning onstage.  By the end of the bit, the guitar has been smashed to pieces and, without ever playing a single melody on its strings, Gonzales has returned to the piano.  He continues with a rocking rendition of The Eagles‘, “Hotel California“; one that, daresay, rivals the explosive interpretation made popular by Gipsy Kings.  Then, riding the wave of momentum, the two bust out with a rousing version of W.K.‘s “I Get Wet“, moving the once “too-cool” audience to their feet in boisterous applause.


Catch Chilly and friends at Joe’s Pub
on the remaining Thursdays in February

Thurs. Feb. 18th featuring DJ A-Trak
Thurs. Feb. 25th featuring Princess Supastar

The first & last photos above, were graciously provided by
anthoNYC from Taste Like Caramel.

Go check out their coverage
and point your face and eyes towards their more extensive photo-set:


Download  the “Pianist Envy” Mixtape for free HERE

Here’s a sample remix of “Many Men” by 50 Cent

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