Dave Frishberg brought a generous 14-song sampling of his sui generis solo act to Newton's Jewish Theatre of New England on Saturday night, with most of the tunes -- and the stories introducing them -- having also appeared on his excellent 2003 release, "Do You Miss New York?"
Frishberg sat down at the piano and went immediately to work. "Quality Time," his mockery of a couple too overworked and upwardly mobile for romance ("We're not seeing enough of each other, 'cause truth be told/We're up to our ears in our careers/And we're putting our hearts on hold"), got the laughs rolling. This was followed in rapid succession by "Too Long in LA" (a remembrance, mostly, of that city's lousy traffic and worse drivers) and the lunatic would-be show tunes "Jaws" (addressed to the shark) and "Oklahoma Toad."
Frishberg dialed up the lunacy even higher for "The Hopi Way." This bizarre piece of whimsy -- in which a dismissal of gauche modern manners is set to a perky melody and contrasted periodically with the tom-tom rhythm of the title phrase -- worked better live than on disc and was helped along by Frishberg's deadpan facial expressions and the sight of him ending the song by thumping on the yellow plastic top of what looked like a half-pound coffee can.
All this tomfoolery led directly into perhaps the best protest song on the state of America post-9/11. Frishberg said that he brings up "My Country Used to Be" -- his barbed critique of jingoism and abridged civil liberties, and of a nation that lets itself be led to "concoct[ed]" wars via "weapons of mass distraction" -- whenever someone asks whether he has ever written a blues. Frishberg's wistful love of country shines unmistakably through the song's concluding lyrics ("I hope my children live to see/A land like my country used to be"), and the tune earned him the set's loudest round of applause.
Frishberg's general formula being two or three parts laughs per one part seriousness, his "most requested song" followed immediately: "My Attorney Bernie," a hilarious spoof of a pompous lawyer. Frishberg casually fiddled with the tune's tempo and phrasing, which probably helped hold his interest in a piece he's performed hundreds of times.
A bit later, Frishberg mentioned a pair of pals in the audience: Newton-raised cornetist and author Richard Sudhalter and Lenny Sogoloff, former owner of the club Lenny's on the Turnpike. Frishberg said that 40 years ago, he sometimes maintained 15-minute conversations with Sogoloff in which the only words spoken were the names of old baseball players. That, Frishberg explained, was how his quirky song "Van Lingle Mungo" came about, and he proceeded to perform it.
Two more highlights in a set full of them were Frishberg's celebration of the underrated joys of life in a jazz band, "I Want to Be a Sideman," and a poignantly pretty ballad co-written with Alan Broadbent, "Heart's Desire," in which a parent urges a child to follow his or hers.
(Dave Frishberg at the Jewish Theatre of New England, Newton Center, Saturday night.)