Dan’s Diary: Lauren Ambrose & The Leisure Class Packs the Lion’s Den
With its low ceilings, small tables and intimate scale, the Lion’s Den at the Red Lion Inn is a classic cabaret, and it was literally packed to the rafters for Monday night’s second Berkshires performance of Lauren Ambrose and the Leisure Class, a gypsy-like, New Orleans style jazz band with a life affirming performance style. Was it worth getting there two hours early to secure a seat for the no-cover show? My table unanimously agreed that it definitely was (and discovered that one order of nachos makes a leisurely dinner for two.) Ambrose, who became famous as Clair Fisher in HBO’s Six Feet Under and is now the Accidental It Girl of the Berkshires, was quite simply radiant, but she never upstaged the boys in the band:Andy Bean (banjo, plectrum guitar, vocals), Matt Downing (double bass), Lyon Graulty (saxophone, clarinet), Brian Kantor (drums), Evan Palazzo (piano, accordion).
The Leisure Class is a true ensemble. The audience was a multigenerational mix of long-time rural residents and émigrés from big cities, whom Ambrose saluted in the contemporary torch song “New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down.” When she sang the line “New York I love you but you’re freaking me out,” you understood why a young woman who has already starred on an HBO series and on Broadway would choose to live in the Berkshires instead of Manhattan or LA. It was clear that she felt genuinely herself with the crowd in the Lion’s Den. (She’s bringing the show to the big bad city on Thursday, January 21, when The Leisure Class plays Joe’s Pub.) The only disappointment of the evening: The band did not do a third set (they claimed they’d played their entire repertoire), but they did perform an appropriate Martin Luther King Day encore—a jazzy, version of the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.”