Lucid Culture


NYC music calendar 5/10-18-07

Obviously, the best musical acts are those who play all or mostly their own material. But an artist’s choice of cover songs says a lot about their imagination, their ability to interpret or reinterpret or behave hubristically.  This week’s listings feature what many of these people like to do with other peoples’ stuff.


Thurs May 10  Hula plays the Mercury, 9 PM. Thoughtful, quietly meandering indie rock from Williamsburg, a cut above the rest of the pack. Hard to figure out their influences: Calla? Maybe, but a lot more melodic and hummable.


Fri May 11 brilliant guitarist Lenny Molotov  plays Sidewalk at 8 PM with  chromatic harp wizard Jake Engel and violinist Karl Meyer on a few songs. Molotov – who also plays lead in Randi Russo’s band – is one of the most amazing fretburners in town, a master of old open-tuned acoustic delta blues but equally good as a  rocker or throwback 60s psychedelic guy. And a hell of a lyricist. If you’ve always wanted to see Richard Thompson but can’t afford the ticket price, this guy is just as good. Choice cover: a terrific and terrifically obscure Bush-era parable called Walker Texas Ranger. Who did the original? You tell me.  


Also Fri May 11 Les Chauds Lapins play  Banjo Jim’s, 9 PM. Quietly potent blues guitar powerhouse Meg Reichardt (from the Roulette Sisters) and her band run through popular and obscure French pop from the early decades of the last century. The band name is French for “the hot bunnies,” which indicates where they’re trying to go.


Later Fri May 11 Moisturizer plays  Luna in Williamsburg at 11 PM. They’ve set a record of sorts in that they’ve literally never written a bad song. Each and every one of their bouncy, percussive, bari sax/bass/drums instrumentals is really good! And as frontwoman/saxist Moist Paula will tell you, all of them are true stories. Subway Flood. Actually I’m So Busy. Mother’s Coming Over with a Bunch of Scallions. If Erik Satie was alive today Moisturizer would be his favorite band. Choice cover: they did the Batman theme once or twice – and it was great! – but don’t play it anymore.


Sat May 12 Hazmat Modine plays Terra Blues on Bleecker just west of LaGuardia, two sets starting about 7:15 PM. Blues instrumentation augmented by ancient reed instruments: half of this band should be in a museum. Fiery, exuberant, terrifically funny frontman. Strange, surreal lyricism, all kinds of improvisation, wild soloing and a rustic panglobal psychedelic vibe. One of the best live bands anywhere: you should see them sometime. Choice cover: Buddy, a hilarious, obscure blues tune wherein a hypocrite gets what’s coming to him, and the frontman mines it for all it’s worth. “Do you call that a buddy? “No, no!”


Also Sat May 12, 10:30 PMish  Demolition String Band plays Rodeo Bar. Basically, it’s electrified bluegrass by a bunch of purists, the frontwoman’s sweet vocals balancing out the lead player’s supersonic, crescendoing climbs and runs down the scale. Choice cover: anything from their tremendous cover cd of Ola Belle Reed songs, including the bluegrass standard High on a Mountain. 


Also Sat May 12 the Sprinkle Genies play Hank’s Saloon in Brooklyn, 9 PM. At their best they remind of X with punky attitude and guy/girl vocals. A lot of their songs are very funny, especially the one with the surfy Middle Eastern guitar. Also on the bill tonight: upstate zydeco band the McGillicuddies.


Sun May 13 Maynard & the Musties and Mr. McGregor play Mo Pitkins downstairs, 7 PM, free. The former is the onetime Millerite Redeemers frontman playing his hilariously literate country songs, and faux-country songs, and now some rock as well. The latter are Maynard’s backing band playing their own original, humorously inclined indie rock. Choice cover: a hilarious, Velvet Underground-inflected version of Rhinestone Cowboy.


Later Sun May 13 Van Hayride plays Banjo Jim’s, 10 PM. Country covers of Van Halen songs. Jack Grace is the stand-in for David Lee Roth, sick beyond anything you could ever imagine. There is no funnier band in town right now. Pick a song. Running with the Devil? Ain’t Talkin About Love? Dunno about you, but I think they ought to do Ice Cream Man.


Mon May 14 Rev. Vince Anderson plays Black Betty, 10:45ish, two sets. Moist Paula from Moisturizer on baritone sax. The rhythm section is from dance-rockers  Chin Chin. The guitarist was once in the Pleasure Unit and has really come around to work well in this deliriously fun, gospel-based, improvisationally brilliant piano-driven unit (that’s the Rev. on keys). Also one of the funniest bands in town. Choice cover: a shockingly good, stripped down, bluesy version of You Gotta Serve Somebody.


Weds May 16 at 2 (two) PM for people who feel like playing hooky,  Hazmat Modine plays the Hoboken Spring Jazz Festival, somewhere on  Washington St. It’s the main street in town after you get off the Path train. I suspect it will be within a short walk away: follow your ears.


Also Weds May 16 Alec Stephen and his band play Luna, 10 PM. The ex-Railroad Jerk lead guitarist has been through several subsequent incarnations, and this straight-ahead rock unit is by far the best: he’s never been more rousing or melodic. And he’ll still throw in a few of the older bluesy numbers that he does so well.


Also Weds May 16, Mr. Action & the Boss Guitars play  Lakeside, 10 PM. This is the rhythm section from the pretty-much-defunct Supertones, plus two decent guitarists playing oldschool surf covers, most of them Ventures or Shadows songs. If you like your surf twangy, mellow and played on authentic instruments, this is your cup of salt water.



Thurs May 17 Elk City plays  Luna, 10 PM. The media says they’re a janglepop band but they’re really more noise-rockers: they once covered the Dream Syndicate classic Tell Me When It’s Over and didn’t embarrass themselves, which is pretty impressive. . 


Also Thurs May 17 guitar genius Matt Munisteri plays Barbes, 10 PM. Born a bluegrass cat, grown to be a jazzman, a devotee of the weird and obscure, the weirder and more obscure the better. You may hear covers of both oddball Western swing genius Willard Robison, and haunting, accordion-driven French musette instrumentals.


Fri May 18 Ellen Foley plays  Lakeside, 11 PM. The ubiquitous Steve Antonakos on slide guitar. Ex 5 Chinese Brother Paul Foglino on Telecaster. The bandleader, an actress and onetime cohort of the Clash looks great, sounds better than ever and tells a great story: her persona is more or less slightly dotty grande dame of obscure rock n roll, and she plays it to the hilt, singing Foglino’s slightly dotty, Americana-inflected pop songs. And she pulls out a few obscure pop tunes that were European hits for her in the 80s. 

 Also Fri May 18 Luther Wright and the Wrongs play Rodeo Bar, 2 sets 10:30 PM or so. The Canadian bluegrass cat and his band are best known (and rightfully so) for their brilliant cover of Pink Floyd’s album The Wall. But their originals are first-rate as well, with the requisite sense of humor and spectacular guitar/banjo chops.

May 9, 2007 Posted by | Live Events, Music | 4 Comments

CD Review: The Jack Grace Band – The Martini Cowboy

The Jack Grace Band have been sort of the opening act du jour on the country circuit, opening for Merle and Willie Nelson and Jerry Lee, et al.. If this is an attempt to get some notice from the retro country crowd, it ought to work. Hell, this ought to get them on the Grand Old Opry, if they don’t mind songs about cocaine at the Ryman Auditorium.

The Jack Grace Band’s last album I Like It Wrong put in some serious overtime on some of the better jukeboxes across the counry. In fact, you could say that it was the party album of the summer of 2004. Suffused in booze and tested live on crowds of drunks in dives all over town, those songs were every smart party animal’s alternative to Jimmy Buffett. It may therefore come as some surprise that the new album by the Jack Grace Band is an attempt to – gasp – make a serious record. I say record because the cd is divided into a distinct side 1 and side 2. A concept album, no less, complete with little instrumental fragments separating the songs, and something of a central, unifying theme. The most surprising thing about it is that it actually works. Tight, focused, thoughtfully conceived, in other words, everything Grace’s previous work was NOT. Which ironically was always his saving grace – the band may have been a little loose, the whiskey may have run rivers but you always knew that if you went to see these guys live you would have a good time. While it doesn’t look like anybody left the bar for very long to make this album, it’s a hundred eighty degrees from what you might expect after hearing the last one. Is it possible that Grace has actually matured?

The Martini Cowboy is packed with haunting, gorgeously old-fashioned, 1960s style country songs with tasteful electric guitar, soaring pedal steel, piano and a rhythm section that swings like the dickens. You can dance to this stuff more than you can Grace’s older stuff. Because ultimately that’s why honkytonks exist: where else can you squeeze your cheatin’ lover against the jukebox and sway to the strains of Merle Haggard? Who happens to be exactly who the first song, the album’s title track, evokes. Straight up. When he’s on top of his game Jack Grace’s songs sound like country classics from 40 or 50 years ago. The cd’s second song, Broken Man continues in a purist vein, driven by Jon Dryden’s beautiful, incisively minimal honkytonk piano “I’m not gonna go out there tonight,” swears the Martini Cowboy. He’s been burned too many times. Which leads perfectly into the next song, Cry, a sexy bossa beat and groovalicious bass player Daria Grace’s bop-bop backing vocals only momentarily distracting from its eerie minor-key drive and bitter lyrics. When after a surprisingly jaunty, jazzy guitar solo the thing stumbles out of its groove and literally falls apart, the effect is nothing short of heartbreaking.

The album’s next track Trying to Get Away from Nothing at All zooms in on our protagonist trying to pull himself away from the brink. It’s a showcase for Jack Grace’s voice, a big, Johnny Cash style baritone that can handle the over-the-top whiskey-drinking anthems and the dark, disturbing ballads with equal aplomb.

After that song, we get Sugarbear, another minor-key Waits-esque number with ambient steel guitar, and Rotary Phone, arguably the album’s best song , a haunting, skeletal minor-key blues: “Let me tell a story about the way it used to be/With a rotary phone don’t leave a message for me/You’re gonna be an old man too…”

The last song of the “A side”, What I Drink and Who I Meet at the Track (Is My Business) is completely self-explanatory – it’s one of those songs that someone should have written long ago, and that it took this long before someone did is a mystery. It’s a good thing that it was this guy who wrote it and not Neil Sedaka. I mean, can you imagine Neil Sedaka at the track? No, you can’t. He’d get killed before he got to the stands.

The “B side” begins with Uncle Luther. By now, the Martini Cowboy has fallen in love. His Uncle Luther is moving back to the shack he hasn’t lived in for ten years and the Martini Cowboy has to get out. But that’s not what’s bugging him. It’s that he can’t stop thinking about her. Yeah, her, and it scares the hell out of him. The following tune, Verge of Happiness is so George Jones it’s not funny, in fact it’s scary, right down to the vocals. Nobody ever did desperate, lost love songs better than Jones, anyway, so it makes sense. Happy in the Fall continues in the No Show Jones vein “I’m happy in the fall, but I don’t like the landing,” Grace muses ruefully as the band swings behind him. The album’s climactic track, Something to Look Forward To – where the guy finally gets the girl – is a bit of a letdown. Like at the end of Siddhartha when the guy finally gets to India and all he finds is…OMMMMM (hey, this is a serious album, I’m trying to be serious about this).The cd concludes with a real old-timey number called Spike Down, which sounds like an electrified version of some obscure 19th century folk blues.

There’s not a weak song on this album – which is more impressive than you think. Hell, even Sergeant Pepper had that stupid phony raga tune that Harrison sang. And Merle Haggard’s greatest hits albums all seem to have those horrid pro-Vietnam War ditties he did before he woke up and smelled the coffee. So the Martini Cowboy’s in pretty good company. If this doesn’t get him the big record deal (memo to the band – WATCH YOUR BACK), Jack Grace can always fall back on his side project Van Hayride, which plays country covers of Van Halen songs. I’m not making this up. Not a word.

May 9, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments