Duncan Sheik

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Duncan Sheik

Café Carlyle, NYC, October 3, 2017

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

Duncan Shiek
Photo: David Andrako

Duncan Sheik’s debut performance at the Café Carlyle featured his collection of melodic and pensive songs that easily draw the listener into his introspective world. “It’s not gonna get more exciting,” Sheik warned after several melancholy three-minute looks into the pop world.

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While his fans were satisfied, many will find his show more laid-back than get-up-and-go, while enticing you to float freely into the world of his reveries that he shares with vocal sensitivity. 

Acclaimed for pop music, Sheik’s biggest hit, “Barely Breathing,” was written in 1996 and he performs it here as a show-closer. However, he also writes for musical theater. He was the composer of Broadway’s Spring Awakening (winner of eight Tony Awards) and composer-lyricist for American Psycho, yet his minimal, deadpan patter and confessional rock style also fit neatly into the intimacy of the cabaret space. Alternating his own seven guitars, and accompanied by Jason Hart (piano, harmonium, and glockenspiel), and drummer Doug Yowell, Sheik sets an electronic melodic scene with mostly personal songs of love and loneliness. These include “Memento” (“You cannot hold a soul/That shines like gold/She shines like gold”) and his intriguing opener, “Half a Room” (“Could’ve been quite tragic/It’s just a little sad”).

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An air of self-deprecation dampens the upbeat feel of “For You,” and even the dreamy vacation on a Mexican beach has dark turns like, “It’s my imagination/I don’t even know you/It never happened.” At this time in the world, it is tempting these days to take his lyrics too literally, although Sheik uses the weapons non-politically as a metaphor about relationships. 

He invited his guest, Kathryn Gallagher, to join him for a duet with “Mama Who Bore Me” (lyrics: Steven Sater from Spring Awakening). A jovial young woman with a country twang, she has a well-developed understanding of her songs. Together, they also join in “Afternoon,” from Alice in Wonderland, another Sheik/Sater collaboration which is now being further developed.

What you learn about Duncan Sheik will come from his songs, since his patter is minimal;  his music highlights some personal and introspective emotions.

This is not the usual Carlyle offering, but you’ll probably decide quickly if you sink into his meditative world, or if it’s just not your thing.

Elizabeth Ahlfors

Born and raised in New York, Elizabeth graduated from NYU with a degree in Journalism. She has lived in various cities and countries and now is back in NYC. She has written magazine articles and published three books: A Housewife’s Guide to Women’s Liberation, Twelve American Women, and Heroines of ’76 (for children). A great love was always music and theater—in the audience, not performing. A Philadelphia correspondent for Theatre.com and InTheatre Magazine, she has reviewed theater and cabaret for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia City News. She writes for Cabaret Scenes and other cabaret/theater sites. She is a judge for Nightlife Awards and a voting member of Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.