Ted Ottaviano reminded us of the wonders of his band Book of Love’s second album, Lullaby, in a very full show at U Street Music Hall on Saturday.
Lullaby begins with a cover that on the face is unusual but also very much Book of Love — “Tubular Bells” by Mike Oldfield, the song adapted as the theme to horror movie The Exorcist. In DC, Ted presents the instrumental number as a tribute to our city — a city that was an early touring favorite of the original Book of Love quartet when they would tour from their home base in New York. (The Exorcist, you see, was famously filmed in DC’s Georgetown neighborhood in 1973.) While performing the song, Ted fires up his synthesizer and his hands fly over the instrument frenetically as he rapidly lights up the keys that produce the signature sound of cascading bells in the theme. Ted is truly one of the modern American synthesizer greats.
After this terrific performance, the audience roars its approval, and Ted breaks out into one of his brilliant smiles. Yes, Book of Love is clearly back, even if only as Ted on synths and Susan Ottaviano (no relation) on vocals as a synthpop duo. It is a configuration that mirrors many classic synthpop acts, and it works very well indeed for Book of Love.
Until last year, Book of Love had not recorded a new song in 23 years. With the production of a new greatest hits package, MMXVI – The 30th Anniversary Collection, Book of Love recorded two new songs “All Girl Band” and “Something Good,” both also to be included on an extended single release next month.
Susan introduced “All Girl Band” about halfway through the show, explaining that Book of Love went back to their inspirations in writing the new song. And the song itself name checks “girl” musicians like Poly Styrene, X-Ray Spex, Liliput, and the Modettes — the sort of bands that inspired Book of Love to become a band, Susan explained. When talking, Susan is gregarious and a bit bubbly. When singing, she sounds as sharp as ever. Her cultured voice — sometimes a bit pleading — defines the tone of Book of Love songs, which often are sophisticated overtures to inclusion or self-discovery.
Ted and Susan have good stage chemistry — she graces the front of the stage to sing to the audience or to dance with her hands above her head and he slides along the back of the stage behind his synthesizer, often dancing himself with a jubilant flourish when space in a song allows. It is a joy to see them on stage where they belong.
Book of Love reserve their best songs for the end of the show, of course. After “Tubular Bells,” they hit “Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls,” reminding us of the greatness of that Lullaby album, and then hit first album staples “Boy,” “Book of Love,” and of course “I Touch Roses” — to the delight of everyone in the room. Susan hands out real roses while singing the song as an encore, and she charms everyone in the room instantly.
Book of Love have two shows on their schedule — Feb. 18 in Houston and Feb. 19 in San Francisco. Both shows feature all four original members. But as a duo or as a quartet, Book of Love merit your attention. We are overdue to check out Book of Love from the library of music concerts. With luck, we will see Susan and Ted again soon. As Susan told me in an interview recently, Book of Love plan to remain active for the foreseeable future, at least as a duo. (Read our Parklife DC interview with Susan Ottaviano of Book of Love.)
In her chat with me, Susan told me that the death of David Bowie galvanized Ted to put Book of Love back into action. Whatever the reason, welcome home to our stages, Susan and Ted. You were away far too long.
Here are some more pictures of Book of Love performing at U Street Music Hall on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2017.