Have you ever watched children playing on the playground? Maybe you've stood in your living room window and looked out on the neighborhood kids, having fun and enjoying being young. Perhaps strolls through the park have provided opportunities to observe the sweetness of young 'uns at their recreation, laughing, having a good time, and enjoying each others' company. It's a satisfying sight, one that warms the heart and nurtures the soul, one that leaves behind a feeling that everything is, at least for that moment, right with the world.
That is the experience of seeing CLEARLY NOW in performance.
At first blush, one might think that Clearly Now is the name of a nightclub act in which the performers are Sean Harkness, Lina Koutrakos and Marcus Simeone (alphabetical order, if you please) but the assumption would be wrong. Clearly Now is the name of the combo that the three musical prodigies created, and the group is doing so well that it is in its' second season and recently was the opening act for the rock group Air Supply, and given the enormity of talent on display last night at Pangea, one can only wonder when they will be opening for Aerosmith, because (not to bury the lead) Clearly Now is effing awesome.
Three revered members of the cabaret community, Harkness, Koutrakos, and Simeone are constantly in demand, so the fact that they even had the time and energy to dream up the creation of a music group is a wonder in and of itself, but create one they did and, in doing so, they have breathed a breath of fresh air into the cabaret rooms of the city, to say nothing of the rock and roll venues that are either enjoying their music now or will be in the future. Their show is equal parts cabaret, concert, coffee shop set, and blues jam session, and though this writer generally prefers a cabaret show with a storyline, it doesn't matter that there isn't one here because this trinity brings the story with them when they walk in the room. They are the story, and it is the story of a friendship, the happy byproduct of which is music so exceptional that audiences just sit back in their seats, close their eyes, and float away on a steady stream of melodic bliss. Not voices that one would automatically think of putting together, Harkness, Koutrakos and Simeone have found a sound and a chemistry that makes for a pleasing symbiosis akin to putting together Feliciano, Joplin, and Vandross, and audience reaction last night was proof positive that it's a winning combination. Clearly Now's act is a satisfying night of music and of storytelling. Watching three consummate musicians immerse themselves in their passion for the music is one of their stories, while the second is the story of friendship, and the third is the collection of stories they present with each of the 15 songs they perform - and they do, with each newsong, tell a brand new tale. That's enough storytelling in one 65 minute set to keep any club-goer or cabaret journalist happy.
The musical entries for the evening are remarkable in their eclectic nature, ranging from music originally performed by Billie Holiday to that sung by Ben Platt. There are tunes one would recognize from the Tom Waitts catalog and the Beatles collection, as well as a little Lady Gaga and some marvelous Johnny Mercer. There is even a little Aerosmith in their set. In spite of the varied nature of the music that Clearly Now is performing, the sound of the music is always consistent with the brand that Clearly Now is creating. Thanks to the musical direction of Mr. Harkness (who Koutrakos rightly points out sounds like an entire band, even though he is just one Superman with a guitar) and the pure focus the trio places on the placement of their wondrous harmonies, every song performed could be a song they wrote themselves, in their own Clearly Now sound. There is no disparity in the styles of the evening, even though the music comes from varying genres of music, vastly different times throughout history, and wonderfully distinctive voices.
Taking the lead on the more bluesy numbers, Ms. Koutrakos uses her powerful instrument to run the gamut of emotions, even while running the length of the musical scale, while Mr. Simeone's flawlessly ravishing voice is used to complete effect on some pop song performances that would make a Billboard music critic weep with joy. Mr. Harkness may raise his voice on the group numbers, proving that he is more than ten fingers on a set of strings, but there is no disguising the fact that Harkness and his fingers are reason enough for anyone to go sit in a club for an hour or so. Whether accompanying his mates on their songs or playing one of his original compositions, he is a marvel of a musician and one of the wonders of the world, though it would be nice if there were more light on his face during the show. There seems to be a growing trend in the nightclub industry toward leaving entertainers to perform in light so dim that the audience has to squint to see them. Ask anyone and they will tell you Sean Harkness is one of the sexiest men around -- we want to see him. A little white light on the stage would do the trick; not a lot, just a little.
An evening with Clearly Now is pretty much dialogue-free. Now and then the gang talks to each other and talks to the audience, and always with a complete lack of pretension. Comfortable with each other, with their patrons and in their own skin, the playful and intellectual gang speaks spontaneously, but only when there is something to say. When there isn't they let the music and the lyrics do the talking, and always with admirable craftsmanship. Note the way Ms. Koutrakos absorbs, with every fiber of her being, the full effect of the song she embodies, or the ease with which Mr. Simeone opens up to the audience during his time onstage -- even when it is not his number, Marcus can be observed, seated but intent on consuming every moment of his colleagues' performances, a look of bliss on his face, a tear or two on his cheek. This is the modus operandi of all three of these artists - when one is front and center, the other two are engaged in an act of reverential observation, as true friends and artists would be. There is a visible adoration between them, which is probably why they decided to start this band anyway, because what is more fun than playing with the friends you love? With Lina wooing the audience with "Midnight Sun" and Marcus wowing them with "Go On and Cry" the solos are a wonderful way to give each artist their due, which they rightly earn, but the highlight of a Clearly Now show is when the three of them rock out together, like on "Diggin' My Grave." It is an unqualified thrill to see these three beautiful people get down, and if you can get your eyes off of them during the party and look around the room, you will see the clientele of the club getting down in their seats, jiving to music, and grooving with the beat -- the true mark of a successful night of musical entertainment.
Clearly Now has a CD coming out (interestingly named CLEARLY NOW) and next Saturday, January 18th, at 7 pm, there will be a release party and concert at Pangea. For information and tickets visit the Pangea website
© broadwayworld.com / Stephen Mosher