Sunday, December 27, 2009

Retro Stuff: Sessions at West 54th

Television is filled with music showcases. Spectacle with Elvis Costello currently airing on the Sundance Channel, is a sensational look at the sounds and minds of artists, hosted by an artist. Soundstage runs on Paladia and brings established stars such as Fleetwood Mac and Tom Petty, to name a few, to the TV platform. Austin City Limits, the grand daddy of alt country and rock stage presentation has been in production since the mid 1970's. Yet, there was one show that snuggled close to my heart: Sessions at West 54th. Produced from 1997 through 2000 in the heart of New York City at a recording facility on the west side, it was inspired by Los Angeles NPR radio KCRW Morning Becomes Eclectic and featured it's host Chris Douridas.

What made this particular show stand out for me was the gritty intimacy as audiences were introduced to a wide variety of musical styles. You could feel the New York dirt and beat seep through the studio doors as local guests such as Lou Reed or Suzanne Vega each graced the cameras on a given week, mixing their cool sounds alongside mavens of world music or country or punk from far and wide. There were also up close and personal interviews.

Douridas left the show as host after season one. The second and final third series were hosted by David Byrne and John Hiatt respectively - both having performed on Sessions the first year.

I've missed Sessions at West 54th. There is a DVD compilation available, but it doesn't have all the unique and terrific performances aired. There is a small selection available on YouTube as well. Here is a sampling of some memorable moments.

Suzanne Vega: Caramel

Los Amigos Invisibles: Dime

Emmy Lou Harris with Buddy Miller: Wrecking Ball

Tori Amos: Take To The Sky

A bonus Tori Amos performance: Cooling

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