Concert Review: Abra Moore, Decadent Royals (Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York, September 12, 1997)

Last Friday was a perfect night for outdoor concert- going. A brief, heavy rain early in the evening broke the humidity and the temperature that had marred most of the day. A nice breeze from the east kept the fried dough, cigarette and body smells moving, while also creating colorful constellations of lost helium balloons around the agency towers. A quick, late summer sunset marked the midpoint of Abra Moore’s set — and as I sat on the giant stairway to nowhere, looking down the length of the Empire State Plaza over the TGIF stage, I could almost, almost began to see how Nelson’s folly could, with time and patience, come to be regarded as aesthetically pleasing. It was that nice of an evening.

And Abra Moore’s surprisingly interesting set made it all the nicer. While the onetime Poi Dog Pondering vocalist’s sophomore disc, Strangest Places, is a pleasant enough product in its own unobtrusive way, Moore truly brought her abstract-bordering-on-loopy material to life via the concert stage, strumming and singing with vigor before a exceptionally tight, no-frills backing trio. Which is not, I should note, to say that Moore herself moved much beyond abstract-bordering-on- loopy: her between stage behavior was built around odd contortions of her incredibly tiny frame, squeaky whispers, purrs, chuckles and warbles punctuated with spoken “ha ha”‘s and “hee hee”‘s in the spaces where normal human beings insert “ummm”‘s and “y’know”‘s.

Those odd vocal mannerisms carried over into Moore’s singing voice as well, although the squeaky whispering parts were suddenly, stunningly abandoned in favor of an impossibly huge, wailing delivery style. Where did it come from? Could such a big voice really emerge from such a small package? It certainly seemed to defy seemingly immutable laws of physics and anatomy, but it was all the more impressive because of those broken verities scattered about Abra’s petite feet.

Of course, the Law of Conservation of Weirdness (“Strange mannerisms can neither be created nor destroyed, but rather simply exchanged for other strange mannerisms”) still applied for this show, so when she dropped her whispering voice, Moore picked up instead a bizarre pronunciation habit wherein all of her “s” sounds were pronounced “sh”. After hearing her sing the line “I find myshelf in the shtrangesht plashes/I wake up I’ve been shleeping in shomebody’sh shoesh” during her opening number, I half expected her to grab her crotch and yell “Shwing!” Wayne- style. Nope, she kept shlurring her wordsh all night long, bizarrely, ingratiatingly. Slap me, somebody, I enjoyed it far more than I should have.

The Decadent Royals opened with their usual mighty take on classic Stones-, Faces- and Mott the Hoople-styled riffery. The sextet (bolstered to a septet on some numbers with the addition of a third [!] guitarist) sounded finer and more robust than I’ve ever heard them as they blasted loose concrete and marble dust off of the State Museum’s facade while whipping through the heartier numbers from their recent disc, The New Groovy. Bonus point: you would not believe how good a Hammond B-3 organ sounds when it’s echoing around the Plaza at maximum volume. Thanks to the Royals and the folks at TGIF for opening my ears to this novel sonic treat.

See Also: How To Talk To A Sleeping Rock Star: The Abra Moore Interview (1998)

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