Feinstein’s at the Nikko, San Francisco, CA, June 5, 2015
Reviewed by Steve Murray for Cabaret Scenes
Spencer Day, one of the finest lyricists of his generation, brought his most accomplished show to the first of two sold-out evenings in his spiritual if not physical hometown of San Francisco. I’ve been covering Day since his career began and, at the tender young age of 36, he’s reaching a peak that he can reasonably sustain for decades to come. Yes, he’s that talented, unique and now absolutely confident in his abilities. He has the keen knack of writing complete musical vignettes about people, places and events. Mixing influences from Gershwin, Bernstein, Porter and the contemporary songwriters like Wainwright, Joel and Simon, Day has come up with a highly idiosyncratic style that puts him at the forefront of modern musicians.
He opened with his noir love story “Mystery of You” (Day/Evan Rogers/Carl Sturken). The non-original material of his powerful set: a sweet cover of “The Look of Love” (Burt Bacharach and Hal David), an homage to George Gershwin with “Do It Again” (lyrics: Buddy DeSylva), with lovely cello by Yair Evnine, Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern’s “Nobody Else But Me”/“Just in Time” (Adolph Green, Betty Comden, Jule Styne) and “Nightclub, a sung poem by Billy Collins.
Day and collaborator Cliff Goldmacher’s humorous take on temptation and desire is developed cleverly in “Taken,” where the caution is “no one’s taken with you until you’re taken, too.” Writing about places and environments, Day sang his witty “Lost in Los Angeles,” about the craziness of his former hometown, and his new song, “The Ghost of Chateau Marmont,” a haunting ode to broken dreams and lost lives. Relationships are covered as well in his Peggy Lee-styled “Till You Come to Me” (Day/Goldmacher)—which the Smooth Jazz Top 20 Countdown ranked the number one cut for 2010—and “You Don’t Know That You’re Lonely” (Day/Barry Dean/Luke Laird/John Randall), about the denial phase post-breakup.
Backed by John Story and Goldmacher on guitars and Evnine on the cello, Day’s powerful baritone soared on his spiritual “Somewhere on the Other Side” and his clear vocals riding over the plaintive bowing of the cello melody was sublime. His masterwork, “The Movie of Your Life,” puts it all together in one sweeping opus that combines all his musical influences, from the Great American Songbook writers to The Beatles, while remaining uniquely all Day. His encore of the beautiful “I’m Coming Home” (Day/Goldmacher) expresses his gratitude at finally being at peace with himself. He followed that with a bit of delicious wickedness with the comic “Mary Lincoln’s Last Night Out,” in which Mary implores Abe to take her to the theater (“what’s the worst that could happen?”). The two songs couldn’t be more different and illustrate Day’s wide range of interests and possibilities.
Day is writing today’s classics, if there were such a designation in the present moment; time will be the judge of that. But, for now, Day is one of the most exciting performers on the stage today.