Thea Gilmore

"This is what we like to call, in our profession, intimate," Thea Gilmore observed dryly, surveying the 30-odd people who had come to hear her at Iota on Tuesday. It turned out to be a good size for the young British troubadour's moody, earnest songs.

Gilmore has been hailed by the British press for her folky approach, but her observation that she was born at the wrong time doesn't hold water. Many young musicians these days stylistically evoke the '60s folk clubs and, as Gilmore does, even make the music sound as if they invented it themselves.

Gilmore's greatest gift is her extraordinary voice. Smoky and weathered in the low registers, mellow in the middle and piercingly clear on its high notes, it's a versatile instrument, and Gilmore wielded it with finesse. She kept it almost too quiet, causing the members of that intimate gathering to lean in to absorb her lyrics. But when she needed to, she could wail with soul, as on a cover of Bill Withers's "Lean on Me," or spit acid, as on her scathing "Mainstream": "Who's gonna train us, can you really blame us? / If we grow up we're all going to be famous."

Accompanists Nigel Stonier and Jim Kirkpatrick provided guitar-rich soundscapes with perpetual energy even in the most delicately embellished moments. So what if 10 percent of the crowd was in the band? If Gilmore keeps up this fine work, she might very well have to contend with larger crowds -- and with the threat of her own mainstream to swim in.

-- Pamela Murray Winters

Robert Klein

Robert Klein lived up to his billing as a "comedy legend" Tuesday night with a tour-de-force performance at the Improv, beginning a two-day stint. The 63-year-old opened with a sentimental ballad, accompanied on electric piano by his longtime musical director Bob Stein -- a surprising intro for a stand-up routine, but Klein's theatrical program was anything but routine.

He offered several musical numbers in the course of a lively and engaging 90 minutes that included dead-on impressions of celebrities, reenactments of street scenes from his boyhood New York, cultural satire, political commentary and recurrent references to the ironies of growing old in a drastically youth-oriented environment.

Did we mention he was devastatingly funny? That opening number, modeled on Perry Como's love song "It's Impossible," was about the joys of a colonoscopy.

Clad in a sand-colored summer suit, Klein practiced his satirical art with professorial formality. His lampoon of erectile-dysfunction- treatment commercials was no more blatant than the commercials themselves, and it was oddly refreshing to hear a comedian punctuate his act with sexually oriented material without gratuitous profanity. With all his sarcasm and intellectual outrage, Klein never came off mean-spirited, egotistical or cruel.

Klein was apparently in a nostalgic mood, having recently published his memoir "The Amorous Busboy of Decatur Avenue: A Child of the Fifties Looks Back," which he plugged with a few anecdotes. He paid tribute to career influences, especially the late Rodney Dangerfield.

Klein finished the show with a straight rendition of "They're Playing Our Song," the title number from the 1979 Broadway musical that brought him a Tony nomination.

Improv audiences aren't always the easiest to impress, but Klein received a standing ovation.

-- Leonard Hughes

Thea Gilmore displayed her extraordinary voice to a small crowd at Iota.

Comedian Robert Klein presented an engaging, musical set at the Improv.