Music to Make you Smile

Erin and her Cello, Sexcop and Sweet Soubrette

“Hi, we’re Sweet Soubrette and we play songs of doomed romance,” says NYC’s Ellia Bisker scanning the audience at the World Café Live.

“In fact, fans of doomed romance, look around the room now and make eye contact. Then later on, you can go to the bar and start something that will end badly.” She puts extra emphasis on the last two words, and pauses for effect, before launching into a stunning rendition of her song “Unlucky in love.”

Wry, unapologetic, sassy and flirty, this tiny ukulele princess is not your typical acoustic act. But her humorous – if jaded – outlook on love is refreshing, and her witty commentary sets the stage for an entire evening of mellow, comedic rock.

Covered head-to-toe in silver sparkles (including big, sparkly fake eyelashes), Bisker is pretty and poised, maintaining the perfect balance of passion and deadpan as she describes past loves – a “mystery man” who is “charming and disarming;” who “came off as smart, but it was actually snark.”

Her voice is light and airy with a touch of vulnerability – like the Siren she describes in “Siren Song”. She’s accompanied by violinist Heather Cole, whose fluid, haunted melodies compliment her punchy playing, and add a hint of melancholy to the humor.

Bisker is tongue-in-cheek funny – Jeanine Garofalo funny – and the audience absolutely adores it. But the next act – Philly’s own Sexcop– is Chris Farley funny – by which I mean, outrageous, irreverent, and undeniably entertaining.

Sexcop is the moniker of Josh McIlvain, a Chestnut Hill native with a penchant for parody. Standing tall at at least 6 feet, and clad in a suit, he sings, dances, thrusts out his hips in his best Elvis impersonation, strums his guitar, and spits out funny, clever lines like “I lost my girl to Jesus” and “I am a man. Man FISH!”

It’s definitely silly, and bordering on over-the-top, but McIlvain commits 100% and because of it, it works. On some numbers, brother Sam McIlvain accompanies on guitar, and Bisker even joins him on the stage a couple of times, for the kitsch pop ballad “New gorillas at the zoo” and the Walk Hard-esque duet “Let’s hook up.”

For the most part, Sexcop’s songs are raunchy, rollicking and rocking – but like Bisker, he also uses humor to point out moments of tragedy, like the story of a lover that left him for a younger man. Clearly, both feel that laughing about heartbreak only helps to ease the pain.

Sexcop and Sweet Soubrette are both great entertainers, and I’m thrilled to be able to watch them both. But the standout of the night is clearly Erin and her Cello - an NYC babe with a spunky personality and crystal clear voice who can rock a cello like it’s a Stratocaster guitar.

From the moment she steps on the stage, Erin (full name: Erin Hall) is immediately and  effervescently charming. As she bows her cello gracefully, she offers cute, catchy folk rock melodies that occasionally flare up in dramatics, describing the banal and often overlooked details of everyday life – “Irene”, the annoying, long-nailed cashier at Duane Reade, the delicious “tiny buns” at her favorite Chinatown bakery, and the mad frustration of never having enough quarters to wash her towels regularly. (“I live in NYC, and to wash you have to pay,” she croons.)

There’s a childishness and playfulness to her performance, especially on numbers like “Subway Crush” –describing the sexy mysterion on the Number 3 train—and “Un Petit Problème”, an adorable French number where she details (in French!) her nerves about telling a crush how she feels.

Hall is joined by Jeanina Butterfield on violin and Jean-Paul Norpoth on guitar, but really, it’s impossible to take your eyes off her. For her final number, “Sober”, she has the audience sing along to the chorus:

“I love you sober
And I love you hung over
I don’t need whiskey
To let you hug and kiss me”

The crowd joins in merrily, and the show ends on a happy note. This is comedic rock at its finest – delivering a smile to every face in the crowd.