Daniel Eugene looked up from the keyboard and smiled, relief washing over his face for a moment as he finished his first song of the night. Somewhere in his throat, the Scissor Sisters were preparing for a game of strip poker with Guillaume Dufay and Thomas Morely, choosing their layers wisely, laying out the snacks, setting up the table.
He banged gently on the keyboard and let out a soft laugh. “I’ve always wanted to do that,” he said. “I’ll sing like a swan till I fall over.”
The venue? Just short of a week after The Iguanas played to a full house, musicians Daniel Eugene and Tom Goss appeared at Cafe 9 Thursday night for a very different kind of concert, celebrating both love in all its messy, boundless glory and gay culture’s not-to-be-overlooked role within it.
Playing back-to-back to a small but faithful audience, the two, who are both active members of the LGBTQ(SA) community, offered two different musical stylings for the evening.
A local favorite known from Studio Feruvius and his role in the New Haven Oratorio Choir, Eugene was captivating, funny and unapologetic with the audience, mixing ballad-like lyrics (“I loved him when I saw him/It was written by my blood”) with the Henry Miller-inspired “Always Bright and Merry” (video above), a take on the writer’s final words. His songs were as smart and refreshing as they were cheeky, chock-full of variety for even the antsiest of crowds (as this one got 25 minutes into the evening).
A self-professed admirer of New Haven’s LGBTQ+ Youth Kickback and other LGBT youth advocacy initiatives in the city, he has only recently begun to consider himself a queer artist.
“I think more and more I’m identifying with the reality of my sexuality and how my awareness of sexuality informs my creativity,” he said after the show Thursday night. “For a long time I was against it … For somebody who came out when they were 13 years old, I have had a really long process of accepting the labels to define my sexuality. I feel like those labels sometime get in the way of a free sexuality, and I really obsessed over that for a long time. I don’t want to be stereotyped; I don’t want to be categorized. Very recently, I have reintegrated into the gay culture [in New Haven] without that chip on my shoulder, and have discovered a huge open arms of acceptance and freedom … of the ability in myself to let that go. It wouldn’t be the first thing on my resume … but ultimately, it’s awesome, and yes, I’m a queer artist.”
He’s also enthused about a burgeoning drag scene in New Haven. “What I’m really interested in is drag culture, and the artistry of drag. It really fascinates me because you feel like you’re in the open air … there’s been that wonderful experience that’s just been so beneficial to me of just letting go of my inhibition. Also, there’s the reconciliation of the masculine and the feminine, which I think is … the most prominent human dilemma right now, especially in Western culture. The acceptance of masculine and feminine being present in every man and every woman … Sexuality is evolving, consciousness is evolving, it’s all moving forward and this is something that’s really exciting to me.”
It is, however, far from the only dimension of his work. As he played, viewers’ eyes were drawn to two acrylic “portals” beneath the piano, remnants of a solo show that explored the concept of the image-as-portal. At one point in the evening, he was joined onstage with Elison Jackson‘s Sam Perduta, who is collaborating with him on a series of long-forgotten twentieth-century folk songs. Take a listen in the video above.
And Goss? Smooth – if not occasionally gritty – listening with a side of progressive politics. Fresh off a stint at Bear Week in Provincetown, he delighted the crowd. His music, which might best be described as Matt Nathanson meets Jason Mraz meets Joshua Radin meets a more talented Macklemore, is not for everyone, but it was fitting at Cafe 9, where the right mellow sound can add a sudden coziness to the small bar. Take for instance his soft “You’ll always be my love” (above): wherever home is, there is some scrap of it in his voice.
That sense perhaps, was the greatest takeaway Thursday. All are welcome at Cafe 9, ears and hearts open, and some are downright fabulous.