Jim Bianco – Club Café, Pittsburgh Pa

I met Jim Bianco at Jack’s, a bar next to Club Café on Pittsburgh’s South Side. After buying me a drink (what a gentleman!) we take a seat and get down to business. “I miss the weather in LA right now, ” he says. Fat snowflakes are currently blowing past the windows and it’s still chilly indoors. “You know how Russians are always thought to be so mean and blah? And people from California are happy and exciting? I think that has to do with the weather.”

After living in Los Angeles for 8 years, Bianco still walks out of his apartment in awe of the beauty the city offers him. “And it’s a beautiful city to drive through. When you get the palm trees blowing in front of the sunsets…” he trails off with a contented half-smile on his face. Despite not leaving his apartment unless he’s headed to his home base, the Hotel Café, Bianco has a few favorite places in LA: “Mario’s Peruvian Seafood on Melrose and Vine has the best calamari salad on this earth.” He also speaks of The Bounty Bar. “It’s under this huge building and is totally old school. Awesome old school jukebox and great food.”

Jim Bianco is a Hotel Café success story. Shortly after he began performing there, Gary Gules, another Hotel Café regular, asked him to open for his next tour. “I’ve been going to the Hotel Café before it was even on the map. And I can’t wait for the tour.” This will be Bianco’s third year on the Hotel Café Tour, where he will join his good friends Cary Brothers and Ingrid Michaelson, among others, on a national tour which put the LA club on everyone’s lips. At least part of every song on his latest release, Sing, was written in the back smoking room at the venue, as Bianco doesn’t have a piano at his apartment.

“I just love playing real music,” Bianco says in regards to his oft jazzy style. “I love old jazz and minor keys. And there’s just such a great timbre to them. A tango nowadays is atypical and when I’m writing music, it’s just what happens.”

Those atypical tangos have been good for Jim Bianco, particularly in Japan. Due to the miracle of the internet, a record store owner outside Tokyo found Bianco’s music and requested a handful of his albums for sale in his shop. Not long after the first order was sent, another order was placed for a few hundred, then a few thousand. Eventually the store owner took it upon himself to organize a tour. Bianco was selling out small clubs across the country and thanking his lucky stars for the world wide web. After the tour completed, he stayed behind and traveled through the mountains.

Jim Bianco appears on stage at Club Café at 7:30 pm. “Hi, everybody. I’m Norah Jones,” he states before beginning his first number, a new song called “The Stuff That Love Is Made Of.” It’s apparent from the moment the music starts that Bianco feels every single lyric to the music he writes. Most of his short set consists of material from Sing with a cameo song thrown in from 2004’s Handsome Devil. Although all of his songs sound true the recording, he switches them up here and there, making the runaway long song “Wrecking Ball” a little bit more bluesy. And if you didn’t think Bianco’s music could get any more sultry, he somehow manages it in his live show.

Multi-instrumentalist Brad Gordon joins the show for several songs, switching from piano to clarinet to accordion, depending on what each song calls for. He doesn’t miss a note and his tone on the clarinet is like nothing I’ve ever heard. For a few tracks, we’re honored with the skills of Isaac Carpenter, on loan from Jeremy Fisher, the show’s headliner.

In his signature brimmed hat, Bianco writhes and moves with every word in a way that makes you feel that something is trying to escape him. He keeps the upbeat songs rousing and the mellow songs tender, even requesting that the lights be lowered to “creepy level” before starting “I Got A Thing For You” (dedicated to a hooker named Amy, he claims, after regaling us with some clever anecdotes.) He closes the show with the new album’s title track, dropping into the crowd and playing completely unplugged. Jeremy Fisher surprises us by throwing in an impressive third harmony part.

At the end of a Jim Bianco performance, you’re in a good mood. Catch him on the Hotel Café Tour starting April 1st.

Set List: The Stuff That Love is Made Of, Wrecking Ball, I Got A Thing For You, Painkiller, Sorry, (New Song. Unknown Title), Sing

Jim Bianco: website | myspace

~Sara~

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