Infantino's super big ego
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., April 12, 2002) – Jim Infantino brought to bear the ironic wit of Randy Newman, the manic energy of a punk-rocker, the political conscience of a singer-songwriter and the self-effacing humility of a Buddhist monk in the show by his trio, Jim’s Big Ego, at Club Helsinki on Thursday night.

Like Newman’s best satires, Infantino’s songs are journeys deep into his characters’ psyches, where their compulsions and obsessions ultimately betray them.

“I’m lucky, I’m lucky, I’m lucky,” began one number, putting a listener in mind of the sensitive singer-songwriter soul song of the same name by Joan Armatrading – a sure sign that the song would soon change direction.

“I’m lucky you left me/I know I’m better off this way,” continued the narrator in a dreamy fashion, until the number changed course musically, picking up the grungy tones of ‘90s-rock on its way toward becoming a song of anger and revenge.

It was a typical strategy that tied together Infantino’s diverse material, ranging from ballads to funk grooves to punk-inflected numbers. “I sabotage the competition/I cheat to lose,” sang one character in a masochistic, minor-key grunge anthem; “I really like her/But she’s dead,” sang another seemingly heartless loser, who reveals himself by the end to be even more pathetic – she’s not dead, she just wants nothing to do with him.

At times, Infantino’s performance took on vaudevillian aspects – or what might now more commonly be called performance art, such as when bandmates Dan Cantor on drums and Jesse Flack on bass pitched in with synchronized gestures and wry harmonies on unlikely, Beatles-like choruses.

The audience was given a chance to join in when Infantino solicited “napkin poetry.” The singer collected about two-dozen random jottings from the crowd, the band laid down a jazz-funk groove, and Infantino spontaneously turned the writings into a neo-Beat rap complete with themes, choruses and smooth juxtapositions, including the immortal couplet, “Kasha varnishke/Nectar of the gods.”

The audience didn’t want the show to end, and brought Infantino and his group back for two encores. For the first, he dipped into his back catalog for “Don’t Let the Meanies Bite Your Head Off,” which began as a nursery-school sing-along and morphed into Rage Against the Machine-like hardcore. For the second, Jim’s Big Ego laid down a very sultry, suggestive ‘70s soul groove a la Isaac Hayes, and commented ironically on the soundtracks to pornographic movies.

[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on April 13, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

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