Vienna Teng played an intimate show at Housing Works Bookstore last Friday, and because it’s crazy Asian and Asian-American film festival time here in NYC, I couldn’t make it. So I sent Tina Chou instead.
Taking a trip to Housing Works Bookstore is a rite of passage for every creative person in NYC. Staffed by volunteers, the store is a used bookstore, literary hub and concert venue. Revenues go to Housing Works which is both the largest community-based AIDS service organization and the largest minority-controlled AIDS service organization in the U.S. Anyways, I loaded Tina up with camera gear and away she went — determined to come back with an interview with Vienna Teng…
From Tina Chou: Last Friday, June 19, I set out to the Bookstore Café in downtown New York to hear acclaimed singer/songwriter and pianist Vienna Teng perform solo. Coralie Clément and Diane Birch were also performing with the event slated to start at 7PM. The concert was part of the Live From Home monthly concert series which benefits Housing Works, helping homeless New Yorkers with HIV and AIDS.
Here is some background information about Vienna from her YouTube channel:
“Now thirty, Vienna has released three critically acclaimed albums, landing her on three Billboard charts and in Amazon.com’s top ten. She regularly sells out theaters across the U.S. and Europe, fans travel hundreds of miles to catch a single show, and her opening sets for the likes of India.Arie, Joan Baez and Madeleine Peyroux end in standing ovations…”
For anyone who has never been to the Bookstore Café, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Surrounded by shelves and shelves of books with a tiny café tucked in the corner, there was a clearing in the middle with a small stage. The lights were dimmed for an intimate setting. There were chairs for people to sit in but a lot of people also sat on the floor or stood around in the back. A couple people also watched from the balconies on the second floor.
This venue could be a photographer’s nightmare since it was so dark and there wasn’t a lot of mobility. Luckily the performers were pretty stationary and there were some places to stand without blocking people. I gave up on taking photos early on and focused on the video (which doesn’t make loud clicking noises) gambling that I would be able to get an interview later to tie it all together.
The concert began about half an hour later with Coralie Clément who performed her songs mostly in French. She was in New York from Paris to perform at SummerStage and apparently her new album Toystore was made completely with toy instruments. Sounds quirky, but the audience approved very much.
Next up was Vienna Teng who was originally scheduled to perform last but she was so impressed with Diane Birch that she requested to switch the line-up. Vienna told me that I might get an interview if I stuck around, depending on how many people wanted to talk to her (which ended up being a lot!).
The audience really liked her (listen to that applause in the video) and most were already fans. Vienna performed original songs from her older albums as well as her newest one Inland Territory. She also sang some cover songs and a Chinese folk song. Towards the end, a few of her songs involved some audience participation when she taught everyone the chorus for “Soon Love Soon” and got people clapping for “Grandmother’s Song” which was her final song. The audience called for an encore so she performed “Harbor” to end her amazing set.
I stuck around for a bit and waited for the many fans and friends of Vienna Teng to abate. In the meantime, I found singer/songwriter Cynthia Lin in the crowd and she introduced me to Theresa and Derek from Magnetic North and Taiyo Na who were attending the concert.
While waiting for a chance to speak with Vienna, Diane Birch and her band started their set. They were really good and got a lot of the crowd to start dancing to some of their upbeat songs. In the meantime, someone asked me if I was Vienna’s sister (she had mentioned that her sister was in town while performing). A few minutes later I saw Vienna and she nicely agreed to an interview. As a conversation starter I told her about the sister question and she thought that I had a slight resemblance to her which I guess is sort of true. -_-
We ended up going downstairs (away from the loud raging concert upstairs) and found a quiet spot among some books. As fate would have it, a fan turned on right as we sat down so I ended up sitting about a foot away from her with the microphone trying to make sure Vienna was louder than the fan. The interview took about 15 minutes and I am very lucky she is so well-spoken because I didn’t really know what questions to ask her. After the interview concluded, we parted ways (she wanted to hear Diane Birch) and I stuck around for a bit. Overall, it was an amazing night!
If you want to see Vienna Teng live in New York, she performs next at the Highline Ballroom on August 20th at 8PM. For anyone out of state, between now and then she’s touring along the East Coast as well as playing some shows in California and Oregon. Click here for tour information. Until next time! –Tina.