Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you that my absolute affinity for Joe Iconis and his work is no secret. I have dragged countless non-theatre friends to his concerts and have probably spent more money on his shows over the past year than I have on toiletries. There's something about his songs that is so infectious, addictive, universal, effortless, hilarious, and brutally honest that it's hard for me to really sum up why his work speaks to me the way it does.
In fact, the only ways I can really capture the essence of his songbook is through experience. The first time I went to a Rock 'N Roll Jamboree was two summers ago, and Joe opened his set with "Son of a Gun," which is still probably my favorite song of his to this day. Played by Joe himself, I instantly recognized the song as being excerpted in SPF's The Black Suits. And I remember sitting at the Laurie Beechman completely enthralled, moved by the poignancy and bitter realism of a song whose lyrics were all too familiar. Every one of Joe's songs tend to have a wicked sense of humor and sarcasm beneath the surface, but even in the kitschiest, most gimmicky of conceits, there's at least some kind of morsel of truth, something that transcends a simple song in a way that's not heavy-handed or self-serving.
So, rather than blathering on about the conceptual aspects of Joe's work, I figure I would do as many people are doing with the new year on the horizon and compile a list of my top 10 favorite Joe performances of 2009, to let you see what I love about Joe's music for yourself:
#10. "Everybody's at the Bar Without Me"
This is a fantastic song in its own right, but there were some politics concerning this being on the list. A primary factor is simply Katrina Rose Dideriksen. While Joe writes fantastic songs for girls, a lot of the songs in this list are male-heavy, so I thought I wanted to include a song where she really goes to town and show her stuff. In Things to Ruin, this song is also performed by Badia Farha, who adds her own sexy, humorous turn. So really, a song performed by two sexy ladies definitely deserves a spot on the countdown.
#9 "Son of a Gun"
If I were to make this list in the coming years, so long as Joe keeps performing this song, I will always include this song somewhere on there. The very raw, precise lyrics. The progression of an intimate metaphor. The way it inspires honest performance. Nothing will top the sensation of hearing this song for the first time, performed by Joe himself. But Jason "Sweet Tooth" Williams always brings it in performance. And Eric William Morris' performance in Things to Ruin has become a staple of the evening.
#8 "Guide to Success"
First of all, I love when Joe performs his own work (as I think I've mentioned a billion times before this). He surrounds himself with incredible talent who all perform his songs with commitment and heart. But when Joe sings his own stuff, you can hear the vulnerability in his craft. It's truly an incredible experience, and this song in particular, a tirade on the tyranny of industry, creates a moment of earnestness that is rarely observed.
#7 "Born This Morning (The Cicada Song)"
Things to Ruin in one of my favorite nights of Iconis tunes, and it's even survived the closing of The Zipper Factory. "Born This Morning" is an incredible opener, chock full of energy, catchiness, and swagger. Plus, it features the whole ensemble, and when you get all of those guys wailing their hearts out, nothing but genius can result.
Krysta Rodriguez is awesome. Joe Iconis is awesome. But it's when they come together in a musical dialog about lost connection that things get pretty fucking incredible. The lyrics aren't terribly sophisticated, but it's the clumsy but intimate words that get me every time.
Let me make one thing clear: Katrina has and will always sing the shit out of this song. She makes it sexy, passionate, and wonderfully courageous. But the first time I heard this song was in context in The Black Suits, sang by Jason Tam as the woefully conflicted John. There's something about the lack of confidence and sheer angst that he characterized in the song that really adds a story.
It's about time that Ian Kagey stepped out from the Iconis band and had a song to rock out on. Not only do I love the funkiness of the music, but Ian's delivery is surprisingly soulful.
#3 "Girl, Your Days Are Numbered"
Incredible. On the aesthetic side, Jason in a Charlie Brown shirt and Katrina in a Max costume—what can be better? But add to that erratic and melodic music, along with the powerful voices of Sweet Tooth and Katrina, and this song becomes a rousing ballad of sorts.
#2 "Last on Land"
When I first heard this song, I enjoyed it but felt like it was a bit out of place with the rest of the music that evening. Also, with the samples of music I've been hearing of Blood Song of Love, I have a hard time grasping what exactly this show is going to be about/like. But when the haunting harmonies were still in my head weeks later, I knew that this highly evocative song is an example of Joe's capabilities in his future works.
#1 "It's All Good"
The first time I heard this song, one of the last numbers of The Black Suits, I distinctly remember how I felt in that moment. I was elated and also a little sad. This song seemed to sum up the entire show, the love of music and art, and I was upset because I knew that eventually the song would have to be over. It's hard not to feel a connection with the characters in this show and this song (whose cast is represented here, with the exception of Nick Blaemire who is substituted with Joe), and I was happy to see some kind of revival in this small space. It's an easy, unpretentious declaration of love for craft, a perfect description of how I feel about the genre, especially Joe's work.