John Wesley Harding’s Cabinet of Wonders

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British author and musician John Wesley Harding (Wesley Stace is his real name) has put together a sort of variety show that has been appearing at (le) Poisson Rouge about every month since the spring. Last night was his last one of the year in NYC and he made it memorable with some great guests: Comedians Eugene Mirman and Mike Birbiglia, author Stephen Elliott and Steve Almond, and musicians Rhett Miller (Old 97s) and A.C. Newman (New Pornographers).



Harding started off the evening by introducing all the guests with a short rhyming poem about each one, setting the tone for the night: silly, clever, and entertaining. Harding and his new band, The English UK, got things started with his song, “Top of the Bottom,” recalling Elvis Costello as he does so well.




Next Stephen Elliott read from his latest book, The Adderall Diaries. After that A.C. Newman took the stage. I've seen the New Pornographers several times, but had never seen Newman solo, so it was a nice treat. He first played one of the Pornographer's tunes, “From Blown Speakers,” but since it was just him and an acoustic guitar, it was a totally new sound. He then had a violinist join him on stage for one of his solo songs–“There are Maybe Ten or Twelve”– that was very beautiful. After that, Harding and his band, The English UK, joined Newman on stage for a Julian Cope cover of “All The Blowing-Themselves-Up Motherfuckers¬†(Will Realise The Minute They Die That They Were Suckers)” that was fabulous.


Steve Almond, took the stage next as the sounds of Toto‘s “Africa.” He then launched into a hilarious critique of the horrible, yet addictive song, analyzing its lyrics and melodies as the audience hooted with laughter. The diatribe was clever and funny and nearly everyone could relate to it–don't we all know that the song is ridiculous but yet still enjoy listening to it? You can see him doing this performance at Tin House Magazine‘s 10th anniversary party here.


Harding and The English UK stepped in here to play his song “A Very Sorry Saint.”


Next up was local Brooklynite Eugene Mirman, one of my favorite comedians. He cracked the crowd up as usual.



The sexy and talented Rhett Miller was up next and first exclaimed his awe for playing with A.C. Newman which was very cute. He claimed Newman's songs were complicated and impressive while his own were so simple. But the two songs he played (“Come Around” and “I Need To Know Where I Stand”) were beautiful and emotional and he definitely impressed the crowd. Harding then join him on stage with his band and they did a wonderful cover of David Bowie‘s “Five Years.” Miller's voice was intense and magnificent as he did is best Bowie.


Next was comedian Mike Birbiglia, who had a one man show called Sleepwalk With Me at the Bleecker Street Theatre for some time, but has now taken the show on the road. He is one of my favorites (I saw him record a Comedy Central special last year) and did not disappoint with his story about throwing up on the Scrambler carnival ride with his crush in 7th grade.

Harding and The English UK ended things with his songs “Oh! Pandora” and the older “The Devil in Me.”




For the finale, all the guests got on stage with Harding and the English UK for a cover of The Monkeys‘ “I'm a Believer” that had all the musicians singing and the comedians and authors on back up/dancing/ Eugene Mirman playing an electronic instrument.

Unfortunately you have to wait until next year for the next Cabinet of Wonders in NYC, but be sure and catch it when it returns. More photos after the jump.








All images: Devorah Klein