(The Real) Tuesday Weld
Fez, New York City, June 25, 2003
“(The Real) Tuesday Weld” is the name for British singer/composer Stephen Coates’ suave, playful, yet delicately emotional lounge act. It’s not a very good name; though he does slightly resemble the beautiful Ms. Weld, Coates’ sensibility isn’t as non-stop camp as that moniker suggests. True, as he sings into a hand-held mike in a soft, breathy voice that’s sincere and self-mocking by turns, he looks like he could be waving a cigarette and sipping on a highball in that early-60s, basement-nightclub boho way. But he doesn’t need any props—his tunes are lovely, Jobim-esque numbers and his witty, unpretentious lyrics surprised the hip-o-rama New York crowd (who are inclined to take this kind of thing seriously) into laughter many times.
Backed by a well-modulated threesome playing guitar, bass and clarinet, Coates delivered an effective set of what could be called quiet-core. His backing trio created gentle jazz-inflected rhythms—think Claudine Longet or the music played in French films when someone’s driving in the country—for him to sing over. His stellar clarinetist contributed unbelievably smooth, noodly lines in every song, plus added some Peter Sellers-worthy eyebrow work. The early-60s ambiance was light and pleasant, making great drinking music on a sweltering evening.
Coates has released one album in the States, Where Psyche Meets Cupid (Kindercore, 2001), [and two more on Dreamy Records in the UK] and has done much work in jazz sampling and electronic instrumentation. His lounge act is new—the show last night was only their fourth gig. While his electronic music, on display as soundtrack to several films by Alex Budovsky, is funky and fun, it makes less impression than his songs. “I’m Totally Ambivalent Over You” was a lilting ode to male lack of commitment. “Daisies” is an equally witty little paeon to, yes, daisies. While this kind of thing can get overly precious very fast, Coates keeps it anchored in humor and enough real emotion so the songs work both as jokes as well as rueful commentary on life.
Coates sang a tribute to British actress Jane Birkin (who along with Serge Gainsborough was mentioned often—this might place Coates more for some people, though the Gainsborough craze is irritatingly trendy and Coates isn’t irritating) in an atrocious French accent. Mocking her own bad accent? I don’t know, but Coates’s personality puts this kind of thing across better than you’d think. He has a rumpled-little-boy charm, but also a blond, leonine sexiness that makes him seem to be channelling some decadent French roue. “Jim Carroll with better skin and more flesh on his bones;” “Robert Palmer because of his suavety” were the comparisons at my table.
A lounge singer must be charismatic without being heavy about it, and Coates does this perfectly, murmuring his vocals into the mike, then turning to check on a bandmate with a goofy grin. “I’m not really this poofter nightclub singer,” he seems to say at times, only to launch into a ridiculous song like “I’m Totally Ambivalent Over You” with the seriousness of someone making a true romantic confession. The songs and the attitude make him thoroughly likable, so his act is heartily recommended, though when I asked him after the show if he was going to Chicago on this tour, he said, “Oh yeah, that would be brilliant, but we haven’t been invited, see.”
There are lots of mp3s at the official website, which annoyingly does not allow deep links.