I’ve looked forward all summer to “The Triple Goddess Twilight Revue: Celebrating the Music Of Laura Nyro,” scheduled as part of Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors’ 29th Annual Roots of American Music Festival. It was a raggedy sort of family affair that opened with Nyro’s brother, Jan Nigro, performing a sort of skiffle-band arrangement of “And When I Die” with his band, the Ebony Hillbillies.
A young performer named Kate Fletcher, who does a Nyro-centered cabaret act called “One Child Born,” sat down at the piano for a fairly whitebread version of “Stoney End.” Much was made of the presence at the concert of Gil Bianchini, who is indeed the “one child born” Laura Nyro left behind when she died. He came out at the tail end of Desmond Child and Rouge’s rendition of “Eli’s Comin’” to perform a rap — let’s just say Jaz-Z needn’t lose any sleep worrying about competition from Gil-T, as he calls himself. Still, what Laura Nyro fan wouldn’t be thrilled to see the kid in person? (I met him briefly at the opening night of the Vineyard Theatre’s wonderful revue, Eli’s Comin’, directed by Diane Paulus.)
“Without Laura Nyro, there would be no Desmond Child,” the singer-songwriter-producer intoned, when his group took the stage. A little pretentious, of course — I doubt if more than ten people in the audience even knew who Desmond Child is. He and his female trio Rouge made two terrific, now-forgotten albums around 1980, before Desmond wrote and produced a bunch of hit records (most notably Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time”). I personally was thrilled to see them get up onstage and tackle a tricky non-hit song, “Beads of Sweat” with a taste of “Nowhere to Run” before moving into the better-known “Eli’s Comin’.” Felix Cavaliere — now there’s a name we haven’t heard in years! His Nyro connection is that he produced the Christmas and the Beads of Sweat album, and here he sat down at the Hammond organ and plunked out a fun version of “Blowin’ Away,” from Nyro’s first album. Clearly, this concert was barely rehearsed or sound-checked, because we couldn’t hear the singers backing up Cavaliere at all — eventually, the mike levels got straightened out, a good thing because these were some terrific singers. See above, mixed in with DC&R, Abenaa, Charlotte Crossley and Ula Hedwig (famous and beloved by cult fans as two members of the trio known as Formerly the Harlettes, Bette Midler’s back-up singers), Lesley Miller, and Toni Wine (if that name rings a bell, it’s because she’s a Brill Building-era songwriter whose credits include “A Groovy Kind of Love,” “Sugar Sugar,” and “Knock Three Times”).
I suspect a big chunk of the crowd was there because they know Laura Nyro mostly for her Gonna Take a Miracle album, re-makes of mostly Motown oldies for which she was joined by the trio Labelle. Miss Pat was nowhere to be seen, but her bandmates Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx came out to sing “I Met Him on a Sunday,” “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” “Monkey Time,” and “Dancin’ in the Streets.” It was painfully evident that there is no love lost between Dash and Hendryx — they mostly stood as far apart onstage as possible, and there was diva shade thrown, for those who had eyes to see.
Next up was Melba Moore, not the most obvious choice but apparently she did record some Nyro numbers early on, including “Time and Love,” which she sang here, followed by “Wedding Bell Blues.” Closing the show was someone else we haven’t heard from in a while, Melissa Manchester (below, at the curtain call hugging Gil, who’s just gotten a big lipstick kiss from Sarah Dash) but she did a good job channeling Laura, pounding the piano and singing “Save the Country” and “Stoned Soul Picnic.” On my way out of Damrosch Park, I ran into fellow fanatic Alan Filderman, who noted that the concert stuck pretty much to the upbeat hits and steered away from the slow torchy ballads. We both fondly recalled the memorial concert at the Beacon Theater in 1997, where Sandra Bernhard and Rickie Lee Jones represented that soulful extreme side of Laura Nyro with their renditions of “Lonely Women” and “Been on a Train.” I went home and watched for the first time someone’s shaky hand-held YouTube video of Nyro’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. Bette Midler gives a wonderful, touching, heartfelt testimonial to Nyro as a quintessential New York City songwriter: “And she was writing in the 1960s and 1970s, when New York City was a pit. A pit! Way worse than Cleveland ever was! Even if you couldn’t see it, she made you want to live there….”