Mx Justin Vivian Bond (the Mx is meant to acknowledge trans-gender fluidity instead of using Mr. or Ms.), performing at the appealing new Broadway cabaret 54 Below, looks very womanly with flowing blond hair, a tasteful black dress and feminine gestures and demeanor whether speaking or singing. There is nothing drag queen-like about Bond’s style. But the voice is decidedly masculine, and that makes for a striking counterpoint.
Bond, whose new CD is “Silver Wells” and who, you may recall, achieved renown as Kiki of Kiki and Herb, has an ingratiating way of getting an audience to bond with the performance and with the underlying personality. The talk is often very funny as a result of the wry take on life, the songs chosen or the tossing off such philosophical gems pertaining to counterfeiting as “There’s nothing sexier than a man who can make his own money.” Bond shows no compunction about introducing a song by saying “I haven’t the slightest idea of what it’s about.” Assorted impressions (Joan Didion, for example) are also devastatingly funny.
In introducing “Dues” written by Ronee Blakely, who sang it in the film “Nashville,” Bond gets the crowd laughing with his notation that she gets killed in the film and ruminating that “it could happen to me”--“maybe tonight”-- and speculating how interesting that might be. The performer also describes getting friends to watch “Nashville,” only to realize belatedly how long it is and have to apologize to the friends for their having to endure the length.
Bond might take a clue from that. The show that I saw lasted for about one hour and 45 minutes, the latter part a come-down from the brighter, more energy-infused first hour or so.
On the plus side is originality. No song that Bond sings bears any resemblance to the way others might sing it. For example, in Bond’s hands the famous “Alabama Song” by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht becomes a guttural, wailing adventure tale. “Until the Real Thing Comes Along,” with words and music by Mann Holiner, Alberta Nichols, Sammy Cahn, Saul Chaplin and L.E Freeman, morphs into sexy swinging with body language accentuation.
Although by the enthusiastic applause the audience seemed responsive to “Leftover Wine” by Melanie Safka, I found Bond’s rendition boringly dirge-like. One the other hand, “Something Cool” by Billy Barnes came across as sensitively mellow. Among other selections were “The Kick Inside” (Kate Bush); “Famous Blue Raincoat” (Leonard Cohen); “Talkin’ About a Revolution” (Tracy Chapman); “Lesson in Survival” (Joni Mitchell); “Let the Wind Carry Me” (Mitchell) and “Patriot’s Heart” (Mark Eitzel). Thomas Bartlett was at the piano.
Bond’s muscular voice can at times sound grating. The singer is best when injecting a sense of fun into a number, especially when the introductory comments are imbued with wit and a devil-may-care attitude toward the world at large and the particular one in which the performer travels. But there is nothing devil-may-care about the singing, into which heart and soul are poured. Further performances are scheduled for July 2 and 9. Reviewed June 25, 2012. at 54 Below, 254 West 54th Street. Phone: 866-468-7619.