Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN

We Love Halifax

What’s the likelihood of arriving in a city where you’ve never been before, then going out to three completely random shows and seeing four excellent acts? That’s what happened to us in Halifax. It’s easy to do in New York, if you know where you’re going. But Halifax, unlike New York, doesn’t hide its best music at the fringes. When we left Montreal a week ago Monday, we thought we might get a bit of a respite from the crazy party that had been the Jazz Festival there: no such luck. Halifax may be laid-back, but it’s a party town. The party restarted less than 24 hours after we got there, at Nova Scotia’s oldest pub, the Seahorse Tavern, with Zulkamoon, a skaragga band with sax and keyboards along with the usual guitar, bass and percussion. It may have been a Tuesday night, but they got a bunch of dancers bouncing in front of the stage within minutes. Charismatic singer/percussionist nti TZT delivered defiant, rapidfire lyrics in Spanish as the band blasted through grooves that ranged from frantic ska to fast cumbia to slinky reggae. Pianist Pat Storer lit up one song with some evocative wee-hour jazz phrasing while guitarist Michael Nahirnak switched effortlessly from precise shuffles to twangy surf, alto saxophonist Matthew Reiner adding a wary intensity. They’re sort of the Halifax version of Escarioka: the two ought to do a doublebill somewhere in Chile.

Next on the bill were three-woman rock powerhouse Like a Motorcycle. Like the band before them they’re a breath of fresh air – or make that a blast of fresh air. There’s no other band out there who sound like them. Part punk, part no wave, part noiserock, they evoke an assaultive, early 80s vibe, their guitarist getting some gorgeously evil distorted tones out of her overdriven Gibson SG while bassist Michelle played simple, catchy lead lines over fast, cymbal-drenched shuffle beats. Michelle sang most of the songs, then the drummer took over on the mic: while bits and pieces of lyrics filtered through the mix, the roar and stomp made it hard to hear them – the energy was through the roof. With its insanely catchy, simple hook, their signature song – the second one of the set – sounded like X but more hypnotic and assaultive. Then they flipped the script with a balmy intro to the next one, like Live Skull doing Walk on the Wild Side, complete with tasty bass chords. The rest of their ten-song set switched from straight-up, four-on-the-floor punk rock, to a couple of defiant Avengers-ish tunes, to a couple like the Bush Tetras on steroids, equal parts catchy and abrasive, the guitarist slashing her way out of a thicket of overtones as she reached for the hooks and then swung on them with a gleeful wrath.

Wednesday we went out to the Foggy Goggle (Canadians like funny names) to check out the weekly bluegrass jam. While these are inevitably intended less as spectacle than as a way for musicians to keep up their chops – as they should be – this made for good spectacle, especially since the crew onstage – adventurous, jam-oriented mandolinist bandleader, banjo, fiddle, bass and a flatpicking guitarist whose lickety-split leads were breathtakingly good – didn’t limit themselves to old standards that everybody knows. By the time they got to Little Maggie, they’d been through plenty of surprises, including some tasty blues.

By the time we’d made it to Thursday night, it was time to chill. All the nightcrawling and running around to historic sites – the original city graveyard,with its creepy, over-the-top 18th century tombstones; another about an hour on foot from the city center, where numerous Titanic victims, many of them still unidentified, are buried at a central memorial; a whalewatching cruise that made for good seal-watching but didn’t turn up any bigger cetaceans; and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, with the world’s most extensive collection of Titanic artifacts – had taken its toll. At this point, we figured we’d wind up the trip quietly with a jazz show at Stayner’s Wharf, a comfortable seafood-and-beer joint on the water downtown. The Martin Davidson Trio launched into their set as we walked in, but even though this was clearly a “restaurant gig,” more of an exercise in ambience than scorching solos, they didn’t phone it in: instead, they threw off many hints that what they had in reserve was much more adventurous than what they were limited to in this particular setting. In a mix of mostly standards, Davidson played mostly tenor sax, switching to alto to wind up the set, sticking with a clear tone through an hour’s worth of purist, expansive solos. Occasionally it was just sax and bass as the Rhodes piano player backed away from his majestic block chords. On a couple of tunes, the bassist threw in some clever “is there anbody listening” swoops (yup, somebody was listening!); toward the end, a bossa number finally served as a launching pad for gritty bass and ringing piano textures: Davidson, playing alto, finally fired off some sharp bop-flavored salvos at the upper registers to close on a high note. From an audience perspective, it’s hard to imagine a better way to wind up the week: since Montreal, we’d literally come full circle.

July 9, 2011 Posted by | concert, country music, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 5/26/11

As we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #614:

Live Skull – Snuffer

The best New York band of the 80s wasn’t Sonic Youth. It was Live Skull. They shared a producer, Martin Bisi, whose ears for the most delicious sonics in a guitar’s high midrange did far more to refine both bands’ sound than he ever got credit for. As noisy as this band was, they also had an ear for hooks: noise-rock has never been more listenable. By the time they recorded this one, guitarists Tom Paine and Mark C., fretless bassist Marnie Greenholz and drummer Rich Hutchins had brought in future Come frontwoman Thalia Zedek, but on vocals rather than guitar. It’s a ferociously abrasive yet surprisingly catchy six-song suite of sorts, Zedek’s assaultive rants mostly buried beneath the volcanic swirl of the guitars and the pummeling rhythm section. By the time they get to Step, the first song of side two, they’ve hit a groove that winds up with furious majesty on the final cut, Straw. Like Sonic Youth, their lyrics are neither-here-nor-there; unlike that band, they had the good sense to bury them in the mix most of the time. Very influential in their time, it’s hard to imagine Yo La Tengo and many others without them. Here’s a random torrent via Rare Punk.

May 26, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 12/7/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #784:

Come – Gently Down the Stream

One of the small handful of truly great indie rock bands from the 90s, Come’s two-guitar frontline of Thalia Zedek and Chris Brokaw were that era’s Keith Richards and Mick Taylor, combining for a ferocious, intuitive maelstrom of growling, roaring, reverb-drenched, evilly smoldering noise. This is their last album, from 1999, and it’s their best. The songs are longer, more ornate and complex, foreshadowing the art-rock direction Zedek would take in the years following the demise of the band. There’s no other group that sound remotely like them: while Zedek would borrow a little of the noiserock she’d been drenched in as frontwoman of legendary New York rockers Live Skull in the late 80s, ultimately she’s more of a Stonesy rock purist. Brokaw invents new elements with his trademark leads, expertly negotiating an underworldly labyrinth of passing tones. The album opens with the epic One Piece, continues in that vein with Recidivist before going more punk with the slightly shorter Stomp and then eventually the loudest track here, the screaming, riff-rocking Saints Around My Neck. The most magnificent track is the kiss-off anthem New Coat, another scorching dirge. After the band broke up, Brokaw would go on to even greater heights as the lead guitarist in the original incarnation of Steve Wynn and the Miracle Three as well as a noteworthy career as a solo act as well as with first-class indie songwriter Jennifer O’Connor. Here’s a random torrent.

December 7, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/15/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #867:

The Chrome Cranks – Live in Exile

The Chrome Cranks were New York’s best band for most of the 1990s before imploding late in the decade. Combining the assaultive, combative riff-driven charisma of the Stooges with the paint-peeling, feedback-riddled, blues-warped guitar of frontman Peter Aaron and lead player William G. Weber and propelled by the potent rhythm section of former Honeymoon Killer Jerry Teel on bass and ex-Sonic Youth drummer Bob Bert, their studio albums blew away the rest of the Lower East Side glampunk crowd but never quite captured the raw unhinged menace of their live shows. But this does. Recorded at the end of 1996 in Holland at the end of a European tour, the band are at the peak of their power. Much as most of their songs are about facing down the end with a sneer, a smirk, a snort or something, this one really has the air of desperation: they knew this wouldn’t last, but they wanted to capture it for those who came after. They open the show with their gleefully ugly signature cover, See That My Grave Is Kept Clean and after that, the song titles pretty much say it all. Lost Time Blues; Wrong Number; Dead Man’s Suit; We’re Going Down. Their practically nine-minute version of Pusherman surpasses even the Live Skull version for out-of-focus, fatalistic fury; the last of the encores is the self-explanatory Burn Baby Burn. Reinvigorated and apparently free of the demons that plagued them the first time around, the Cranks reunited in 2008 with a mighty series of shows in New York and Europe, with the promise of a new album sometime in the future.

September 15, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/30/10

Tons and tons and tons of reviews and a brand-new NYC live music calendar for September coming in the next 24 hours. In the meantime, every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #883:

Polvo – Today’s Active Lifestyles

One of the most ugly/beautiful albums ever made. This 1993 full-length gets the nod over the rest of the Chapel Hill band’s output simply because there are more songs on it. Polvo literally never made a bad album: everything they did is worth owning. If you like noise, of course. The pitchfork/stereogum crowd (actually, it was CMJ back then) never got them, mischaracterizing them as math-rock when what they were really doing is taking peak-era Sonic Youth-style paint-peeling guitar noise to its logical extreme. For epic extremes, this one is bookended by the woozy, tone-bending Thermal Treasure and Gemini Cusp. There’s also the warped slide guitar of Lazy Comet; the swinging, chorus box-driven anarchy of Sure Shot; the Live Skull-ish fragment Tilebreaker; the fractured soul song Time Isn’t on My Side and the hypnotic, seven-minute Stinger, which nicks a memorable Sonic Youth riff. The band regrouped in 2009 and toured for a new cd, In Prism, which showed them mining a newly melodic but still deliciously assaultive sensibility. Long may they scream and thrash. Here’s a random torrent.

August 30, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Sick Debut Album by Woman

There are four people in Woman and they’re all guys. It’s not known what if anything the band name connotes, but it’s definitely not girly. Woman play dark, confrontational, in-your-face noise-rock that sounds straight out of the Lower East Side, 1993. What sets it apart from its antecedents is how tuneful it is. All of the songs here have layers and layers of guitar, howling, screaming, roaring, veering wildly in and out of focus, but the parts all manage to be in the right place at the right time. Since this band is actually very tight, the out-of-control freakouts become all the more intense. This album is like a splatter film that’s at least half suspense: there’s lots of gore, but they save it for when they need it. And then you get buckets. The tunes are always front and center when necessary; ditto the unrestrained savagery. Heavy drums and equally heavy, distorted bass add a shot of molten lead to an already unsteady vehicle.

There are eight tracks on the album to annoy your neighbors with in the wee hours. The first, When The Wheel’s Red layers a firestorm of metallic noise behind a simple catchy warped blues tune, like the Chrome Cranks as done by Sonic Youth circa Daydream Nation with some death metal dude on vocals. Track two, Gaol In My Heart is a stomping dirge, very Honeymoon Killers with a little Syd Barrett thrown in – the band pulses and sputters and finally the flames emerge from within the stinky smoke cloud, then it goes into a circular Doors-ish motif that they run over and over behind the squall. The Perfect Night captures swaying neo-boogie blues through the warped prism of a cheap whiskey bottle and ends cold as if they had to cut something off, or the tape ran out

The fourth cut, E-A-T-D-N-A picks up the pace with some unhinged chord-chopping and a wicked hook at the end of the verse that sounds a lot like the late great Live Skull (it figures: indie legend Martin Bisi engineered the album, maxing out the menace in his signature style). Like the previous cut, it stops dead in its tracks. After that, Phosphorescent Glow welds a catchy garage rock hook to ugly Melvins stomp and some charbroiled Ron Asheton licks. The most accessible song on the cd, Fall Into The Fall motors along on a catchy, mean chromatic hook with a Silver Rocket vibe, saving most of the guitar torture for the end. Heavy Water is aptly titled, like early Sabbath with a feedback fixation. The cd ends with the sarcastically titled torturefest Icy Drone, which reminds a lot of Live Skull’s classic cover of the Curtis Mayfield hit Pusherman. Damn, there hasn’t been a band this twistedly good around here in a long, long time. Could somebody please get their labelmates the Chrome Cranks together again for another tour and put them on the road with these guys. Woops…with this Woman. As a special bonus, Bang Records has pressed a limited edition run of 500 vinyl albums in addition to the cd.

September 3, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album Review: Martin Bisi – Son of a Gun

Martin Bisi’s indie cred is without question: his resume as a producer includes the Dresden Dolls, Sonic Youth, Live Skull and Black Fortress of Opium, to name just a few of the best. Yet his greatest achievements have been not behind the board but as a songwriter and bandleader. This download-only ep (it’s up at itunes and Contraphonic’s very easily negotiable site) impressively captures the freewheeling noir intensity, out-of-the-box imagination and counterintuitivity that come out so strongly at his live shows. The album features welcome contributions from a like-minded cast of characters, Bisi’s old 80s pal Bill Laswell as well as members of the Dresden Dolls, Balkan Beat Box, World Inferno and drummer Bob D’amico of the Fiery Furnaces.

The opening cut Drink Your Wine is basically punk Motown in the same vein as the Clash’s Hitsville UK with layers of the guy/girl vocals that have come to typify Bisi’s recent work along with a characteristically sardonic lyrical sensibility: “Drink your wine and don’t be silly,” Bisi admonishes: he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Building from a dusky noir intro, disembodied vocals rising over bass chords, Rise Up Cowboy explodes into a pounding art-rock anthem laden with dynamic shifts, layers of evil psychedelic guitar glimmering in the background, Bisi doing an impressive job as Peter Murphy-style frontman. The Damned only wish they could have sounded this apprehensive and ominous.

Mile High – Formaldehyde blends early 90s style Lower East Side noir blues with careening Firewater/Botanica style gypsy punk, propelled by the Dresden Doll’s Brian Viglione on drums. Its companion track Mile High – Apple of My Eye, with Laswell on bass, is a study in contrast, sultry and pulsing, something akin to New Order as done by early Ministry. It’s a vividly sisterly approximation of the previous cut’s menace, which is particularly appropriate in that it was inspired by Bisi’s daughter. With its clever layers of vocals, the final cut, the title track recalls the off-the-rails psychedelic eeriness of Bisi’s previous album Sirens of the Apocalyse (very favorably reviewed here). Essential listening for fans of dark imaginative rock: Bisi has several midwest and New England live dates coming up. You’ll see this on our Best Albums of 2009 list at the end of the year – not bad for a little five-song ep.

July 3, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Kerry Kennedy, Alina Simone, Martin Bisi and King’s Crescent at Spikehill, Brooklyn NY 6/14/09

Word on the street is that other than this show and the Smog AKA Bill Callahan/Sir Richard Bishop bill at the former Northsix, the just-completed Northside Festival was a wash. No surprise – only cops like badges. Sunday night at Spikehill was the best of the bunch, not much of a surprise since it was put together by Martin Bisi. Kerry Kennedy was given the choice of opening or headlining, and considering that this was a work night, she chose wisely. In her first-ever solo performance, the noir chanteuse with her 1961 Fender Jazzmaster treated the assembling multitudes to a richly auspicious, all-too-brief set of songs from her forthcoming album with her band. Over melodies steeped in Americana, whether the gothic side of Nashville or further west, she delivered her ominous double and triple entendres in a voice considerably older than she is. It’s an extraordinarily haunting vehicle for her songs, worn with disappointment and regret, understated yet inextinguishably passionate. When she did Wishing Well – which is on her myspace – and went up the scale with “How long into the night will you wait for me?” the effect was viscerally chilling. She ended with a casually menacing ballad, Dive. “Now go and be faithful to your new tragic whore/I’ll see that your grave is kept clean in my yard,” she sang, just this short of a hiss. Kennedy is someone worth discovering now: she could be for New York what Neko Case was for Tacoma.

Alina Simone had a hard act to follow and to her credit, she held up her end. Her shtick is covering songs by Russian cult artist Yanka Dyagileva, the gloomy, defiant Russian underground songwriter who drowned at age 24 under mysterious circumstances and whose collected works were only just released in Russia last year. Playing acoustic guitar and backed by Bisi’s bassist on lead guitar, she sang several of these in the original Russian, including the anthemic dirges From Great Knowledge and Half My Kingdom along with some slightly less ominous originals with a strong Cat Power influence. Toward the end of the set, she switched to tar (a thin-bodied lute popular in Turkey and the Caucasus) and let loose with an impressive, full-bodied wail.

With a five-piece band behind him-  including Ajda from the haunting Black Fortress of Opium on harmonies and a keyboardist in hazmat suit, mask and baseball hat - Martin Bisi’s first song went on for about fifteen minutes. For those unfamiliar with Bisi’s songs, they were the last thing anyone would ever expect from the terse, purist craftsman producer and indie legend who sculpted Sonic Youth and Live Skull out of no wave anomie into tight guitar bands. What he did last night was something akin to what early Pink Floyd was like in concert, but better. Laying down one eerily spiraling guitar loop after another from his black Gibson SG, keyboards swirling behind him, Bisi launched into a completely psychedelic groove which then morphed into a country anthem, a cacaphonic forest of pitch-bending, a darkly carnivalesque section and then an intensely melodic art-rock anthem set ablaze with some fiercely Gilmouresque slide work by the lead guitarist. In sharp contrast, Bisi’s second number, a snide tale “about being stuck in the city and drinking the wine of…dejection,” flashed by seemingly almost before it was done.

A sea chantey-inflected art-rock number illustrating the Persephone myth and a gorgeous, classically tinged dirge brought back the lush feel of the set’s opening number. They closed with a long, Lou Reed-ish anthem that began with a hypnotic series of guitar loops. Bisi goes off on tour tomorrow, with a cast of characters that vary from city to city (considering the depth of his rolodex after all these years, the crew should be choice). And he’s got a new album out – watch this space.

Anything afterward was bound to be anticlimactic – but it wasn’t, as King’s Crescent – including two members of Fiery Furnaces on drums and organ – flipped the script and played a joyous, virtuosic, completely in-the-pocket set of vintage Meters covers. The act after them, Susu, flipped the script again with some intriguing, minimalistic, reverb-infused shoegaze tunes, but by then it was midnight and time to concede to the week ahead.

June 15, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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