Even though it has been described as avant-garde, Richie Versace demonstrated why his act defies categorization when he performed in a one-night set, Friday, Jan. 18 at Birdy’s Bar and Grill on Indianapolis’ North Side.
Possessing vulnerability while singing with a passion a la Edith Piaf, and moving intensely about the stage like a spastic cross between Joe Cocker and Mick Jagger, Versace lived up to the sort of creativity and originality associated with that of the late designer (Gianni Versace) whose last name the performer has adopted to market his brand.
The singer/songwriter, who calls his act “Me In Radio,” a title which designates his one-man band status, performed a program of his own songs — some of which were from his newest album, “Gianni’s Brother.” He also sang cover tunes, which he included in a segment of his show called “Richie’s Piano Bar.”
Versace’s fast-paced, two-hour long show — for an audience of 150 — began when he climbed on the stage bordered with candles and rang a triangle, while dressed in black and wearing a red cape with an attached hood covering his head. Singing Damien Rice’s mournful version of “Silent Night,” Versace set the tone for an evening of song mixed with performance art, as presented by an entertainer who was clearly playing a persona in the same vein as David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust.
A self-taught musician who doesn’t read music, Versace then quickly exhibited his natural-born talent with an acoustic guitar, as he accompanied himself on “Who Is It” by Bjork, one of his main influences.
Versace further demonstrated his musical gifts as he sang original songs, including “Anna Wintour,” “Time” and “Moraine,” and played a keyboard that produced some astoundingly appealing sounds. Adding to performance eccentricities, Versace often perched on his bench as he played.
“Hit Me Baby One More Time,” made popular by Britney Spears, “Rainbow Connection,” Lady Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory” and “My Favorite Things,” from “The Sound of Music,” were covers Versace sang that further established his gift for offbeat interpretation and song arrangement.
“Radio In Me” also proved to be an ideal showcase for Versace’s engaging stage personality, which was reflected in his stream-of-consciousness commentary and playful banter with his numerous friends and supporters present, between songs.
Versace’s act also revealed a performer who possesses androgynous qualities and exudes sensuality with a mid-range voice and a tone that is seductive.
“Me In Radio,” “The Music” and “None the Less” were some of Versace’s other original songs — many of them notable for their abrupt endings — that he performed and which illustrated his talents as a songwriter. Themes explored in Versace’s songs included unrequited love, loss and rebirth.
Brought up in a conservative religious home, where he was not allowed to listen to popular music, many of Versace’s song lyrics reflect longing and yearning.
Throughout his act Versace often said, “When I’m famous,” when referring to his lower budget “Me In Radio,” production elements and what he would like to add to his show in the future. It bespoke of a performer that has no doubt he will succeed.
Based on what was seen and heard at Birdy’s, it would appear that with the right management, strategy and plain old good fortune, Richie Versace does have the potential to not only reach out, but also dazzle a much wider audience well beyond his present confines.
Opening for Versace were two other performers. The first was Christa Martini, a Jewel sound-alike, who sang her own songs that also spoke of yearning and loss. Though seemingly well-constructed, Martini’s angst-ridden ballads eventually began to sound the same during her 40-minute set.
The other was R - Into Astro Orbit, who, like Versace, also performed in a character — in this case, a sort of silver jeans and silver lipstick wearing, punked-out man from outer space. Thoroughly entertaining during a set that was also 40 minutes, the singer performed catchy music with often campy lyrics, enhanced with techno beats reminiscent of The Cars and B-52’s.
A major criticism is that the entire evening was nearly four hours long, which meant that by the time headliner Versace took the stage, the crowd had already started to dwindle, leading one to wish that only one opening act should have been included or less time provided for each of the two opening acts.
For more information about Richie Versace and "Me In Radio," visit www.meinradiomusic.com.
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