Weds June 6 Marcellus Hall & the Headliners play the Mercury, 8:30 PM Brilliant rock songwriter at the absolute peak of his powers. He fronted the terminally underrated Railroad Jerk back in the 90s. Then he beat Jack White to the punch with his superb 2-guitar trio White Hassle. His new stuff is funnier, more lyrically and guitarishly dazzling than anything he’s ever done, more straight-ahead rock, less country. Also darker: definitely not for people who only see the neon and don’t see the night.
Thurs June 7, 10 PM Rachelle Garniez plays Barbes as she has been doing the first Thursday of every month for awhile. Accordionist who lately has been returning to her piano roots. Capable of writing a genuine classic song in any retro style you choose: saloon jazz, blues, cajun, ska, psychedelia, art-rock, you name it. Also one of the two or three most dynamic live performers anywhere, as riveting and funny as Tammy Faye Starlite, Rev. Vince Anderson or vintage Iggy Pop. Get there early because the little back room there fills up in a hurry.
Thurs June 7 gorgeously melodic art-rockers Melomane play Hank’s, 9 PM. See our reviews page for our take on their career-best new cd Glaciers. Get there at showtime unless you feel like standing through the Droves, who are Christian Gibbs’ latest shot at cashing in on a trend. This time around it’s Coldplay he’s ripping off.
Fri June 8 Black 47 plays the Boat Cruise, leaving from 23rd and the FDR at 8 PM, tix $30 at the box office there. Expensive, I know, but it’s summer and I thought I’d put this up. In case you haven’t seen them you ought to sometime: this long-running act fronted by an actually decent novelist plays passionate expat Irish rock soaked in history, whiskey and rebellion.
Also Fri June 8 Piker Ryan aka Mark Steiner, one of the most darkly compelling singers on the planet plays around 8 PM at Glasslands Gallery, 289 Kent Ave (btw South 1st and South 2nd) in South Williamsburg, J/M/Z to Marcy, walk north and west. Steiner used to front a mesmerizing, gypsyish noir rock unit called Kundera, sounds like a young Nick Cave (but better) and plays eerie surfy guitar. French noir types Dimi Diro and, eventually, ex-Cramps/Gun Club legend Kid Congo Powers also on the bill.
Later Fri June 8 the Dog Show plays Sidewalk, 11 PM. Fiery, fearless, literate mod-punk rock fronted by the versatile Jerome O’Brien on bass. Dave Popeck of Twin Turbine infamy brings the guitar maelstrom, Phil McDonald of the Disclaimers does an awesome Keith Moon impression on drums. This version of the band sounds a lot like the Jam, albeit without any of the pretensions. See our reviews page for their show last month at Midway.
Sat June 9 Demolition String Band play Rodeo Bar, 10:30ish. Essentially, it’s electrified bluegrass, a little psychedelic, very funny and terrifically good. The lead player won a Grammy for his work on a klezmer album, believe it or not; the frontwoman runs the show with casual guile and has built up some bigtime karma points by singlehandedly resurrecting the memory of the great, neglected Americana singer Ola Belle Reed.
Sun June 10 eerie, captivating, increasingly retro keyboard goddess Greta Gertler plays with a rhythm section in the downstairs tap bar at the Knitting Factory, 7 PM. Her new album Edible Restaurant is a starkly beautiful feast.
Sun June 10 Matt Keating plays the Brooklyn Lyceum, 227 4th Avenue at President St. in Park Slope, Brooklyn. (the R train Union St stop is downstairs). For diehard fans only: suspiciously, there is no schedule here, so there’s no telling where this menacing lyrical powerhouse will appear on the bill. Songwriter Rebecca Pronsky, who books the night, opens the show, using this as a chance to play to a captive audience every week. While she’s not awful, she’s not very good either. So it’s luck of the draw unless you have a high tolerance for bullshit and don’t mind sitting around for a couple of hours waiting for your man to play.
Mon June 11 Girl Friday plays Lakeside, 9 PM. This is a very subtle band: they do all the little things right. Frontwoman Amanda Dora is casual and completely unaffected; their songs clang more than they jangle and the hooks sneak up on you.
Mon June 11, 10 PM at Barbes, Roulette Sisters frontwoman Mamie Minch plays her stunningly authentic old-school delta blues along with retro purist Jan Bell on guitar, Bob Hoffnar on pedal steel and Andy Cotton on upright bass at 10 PM. You know Barbes, get there early.
Tues June 12 LJ Murphy plays the Knitting Factory, 8 PM. Sharply dressed, charismatic baritone frontman, noir lyrical genius and hookmeister playing songs off his latest cd Mad Within Reason which is one of the five or six best albums of the last decade. Jerome O’Brien of the Dog Show on lead guitar. This show promises to rock especially hard, get there on time so you don’t miss anything.
Concert Review: Serena Jost, Brookland and Evan Schlansky at Pete’s Candy Store, Brooklyn NY 5/31/07
Serena Jost is a multi-instrumentalist whose main axe is the cello, and who spent awhile in the haunting, (formerly) all-female cello trio Rasputina. Accompanied by brilliant keyboardist Greta Gertler (who mostly played bells and a strange electronic contraption that looked like an autoharp but sounded like the full orchestra patch on a Fairlight synth) and drummer Alice Bierhorst, she played mostly acoustic guitar and impressed with the fluidity of her playing. As one of the editors here is quick to insist, if you know one stringed instrument well enough you can always pick up the others. Outside the little music room here, the crowd was loud and so was the music playing over the PA at the bar, which was a little disconcerting considering that this was a quiet, mostly acoustic show. But Jost won over the crowd with her impressive vocal range, the literate wit of her lyrics and brilliantly composed art-pop songs.
It is impossible not to like Brookland. Matt Singer is the guitarist, banjo player and low harmony singer who holds the unit to the rails. He makes the perfect foil for ebullient, radiant frontwoman Robin Aigner. Tonight she played mostly ukelele, singing lead on most of the songs. Their old-timey stuff – a mix of covers and originals – is contagiously fun and hard to resist singing along to. To their credit, two of their covers came from the most unlikely sources imaginable. Their Strokes cover revealed the awkward junior-high poetry of the original, but also redeemed the melody by giving it a catchy bounce. They then did a song by terminally constipated songwriter-du-jour Elvis Perkins (Tony’s kid), transforming it into a gypsyish number. Brookland have a thing for gypsy music, tackling two gypsy tunes and playing them perfectly. In many ways, they’re the quintessential Pete’s Candy Store act, with their harmonies, good cheer and acoustic instrumentation. Yet there is a complete absence of artifice, pretension or the sarcasm that the trendoids mistake for irony. They’re just plain fun.
Evan Schlansky was a good choice to headline, even if this time around he happened to be a last-minute replacement since Whisky Rebellion frontman Alex Battles had fallen victim to a booking mistake by the club. Schlansky comes across as someone who wouldn’t be likely to wake and bake unless there was a 9 AM meeting at his dayjob. He may be phoning it in with the suit-and-tie crowd, but he’s firing on all cylinders when it comes to life. A lot of his songs deal with bullshit: Schlansky has obviously seen a lot of it, doesn’t like it and calls it even when it might be his own. There’s no bullshit in his vocals either: along with his impressively dexterous, bluesy playing, he displayed a casual, twangy voice, without any phony accent or grungy slurring. He took requests from the crowd that was still in the house when he hit the stage with his sidekick, an impressively fluid lefty acoustic lead guitarist. Two of the highlights of his tantalizingly brief set were upbeat, major key, Dylanesque tunes: the ridiculously catchy Crocodile Tears, and the equally memorable I Took Your Plane Down, a metaphor-driven song that took on an unexpected and completely unintentional new meaning after 9/11 He ended the set with a song ostensibly about pot: “Maybe we should medicate them all,” he mused. But as with his other material, the song also raised the question of what life would be like without “medication.” Or, if, with “medication,” there is life at all. The terse simplicity of Schlansky’s melodies sometimes mask his songs’ lyrical depth, and this was a prime example. Audience members came and went as the night went on, but there was a considerable payoff for those with the time or the energy to sit through all three acts.
Paula Carino may lack for national exposure but she’s found a devoted fan base among her peers. It would be gossipy to enumerate them, but tonight the audience was packed with A-list New York musicians. Lately she’s been playing scaled-down duo and trio shows, but this time she had a full band, a stellar supporting cast from the Freddy’s Bar scene. With Ross Bonnadonna on lead guitar, the ubiquitously excellent Andy Mattina on bass and Tom Pope on drums, she turned in a triumphant 50-minute set that set the place on fire. Her songs clang more than they jangle, driven by riffs and hooks rather than broken chords. Carino sings in a nonchalantly alluring alto that only occasionally reaches the upper registers, but when it does, the anguished longing in her delivery is bone-chilling. As a songwriter, she is unsurpassed. Like Richard Thompson or Elvis Costello, Carino’s songs are sardonic but intensely emotional, rich with symbolism, double endendres and laugh-out-loud clever puns. Tonight she played a lot of new and unreleased material along with a few choice cuts from her classic Aquacade album. Among the more recent numbers were a sinister Twilight Zone style account of a seemingly benign alien invasion, “trying to help the humans out so the others can take over,” then another set to a catchy backbeat, laden with quiet exasperation (a recurrent theme).
Set to a fast rockabilly beat, the next song was one of the show’s best. Carino set her narrator in a theatre watching a movie, loaded imagery flying past:
The bad guy never dies, he lives on in the sequel…
I’m always sitting in the dark
With my hands over my heart
I’m saying grace before the movie starts
A bit later the band launched into the exhilarating, riff-driven Paleoclimatology, another exasperated entreaty to let go of the past:
Just let it go, that ancient snow, that wrecked Tyrannosaurus
I need a hammer
To break this amber
And let the fly fly away
The crowd screamed for an encore: Carino and the band treated them to her finest new one, Lucky in Love. It’s a slow, slightly torchy, somewhat Nina Simone-inflected blues, Carino at her cynical yet darkly hopeful best:
I am so lucky in love
Even when I am alone…
I don’t need your comfort or care
I am so lucky in love
Even when life is unfair
“Don’t tell me life is unfair,” she wailed quietly at the end. The audience was riveted.
Liza & the WonderWheels followed with a rambunctious set featuring some of their fearlessly political numbers. Someone in the audience requested the scathing We Are the Media, a quietly pointed number from their second album, so they played it. They also did a stomping, cynical rocker with a cheerleader-style refrain, “Let’s go, oil barons, let’s go!” As usual, fronwoman/guitarist Liza Garelik’s voice soared effortlessly over the jangle and rasp of the band: getting her out from behind the keyboard in the Larch, who she always plays with, was a great idea. Garelik and her cohorts onstage tonight built their songs rhythmically, using hooks and riffs instead of chordal melodies. They’re fortunate to have Larch frontman Ian Roure playing lead guitar. In his own band, Roure is a very terse songwriter and soloist, if he even solos at all. This unit frees him up to utilize his dazzling chops, launch into some supersonic runs up the scale, or, as he did tonight, use his wah-wah pedal to evince some winks and grins out of the tunes.
The highlight of the WonderWheels’ show, a 10-minute, ecstatically psychedelic version of Eddie Come Down, from their second album saw Mattina (who was doing double duty tonight) taking a brisk walk down the nuthouse corridor. Roure chased him, firing off stun-gun blasts from his guitar using both his distortion and wah-wah pedals. Toward the end of the solo Mattina leaned over at drummer Joe Filosa, and Filosa playfully responded by taking a whack at him with his drumstick. It reminded of the way David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez trade signs and high-fives when the Red Sox are winning big. The audience begged for a longer jam but didn’t get it. “It’s Saturday night on a Wednesday!” beamed Garelik, and for a couple of hours tonight, it didn’t matter that everybody had to work in the morning.
Most acoustic albums by rock bands suck. If you can’t wait for Poison Live and Unplugged, better stop while you’re ahead. This cd, by contrast, is the rare exception. Hot on the heels of Willie Nile’s career-best 2006 album Streets of NYC, the veteran NYC rocker shares the secret to his success. It’s called kicking ass. Backed by drummer Rich Pagano and tv gabfest studio guitarist Jimmy Vivino in an upstate New York yuppie folk club, the trio sledgehammer their way through a mix of songs from Nile’s latest studio cd as well as a few choice cuts from throughout his career. Don’t let the presence of Vivino scare you off – he plays mandolin and acoustic rhythm guitar here and does so competently, even passionately. Nile somehow managed to get him into the harness without completely muzzling him, and the results are impressive.
The set opens with two cuts from Streets of NYC, Welcome To My Head and Asking Annie Out. Nile has always been a hookmeister, and stripped to the chassis, these songs remain as instantly hummable as their original versions. Then they play Nile’s classic from way back in 1981, Vagabond Moon as if it was the single they’d just released. It’s sort of Nile’s Aqualung or The Thrill Is Gone: everybody wants to hear it, he’s played it a million times but he still usually manages to fit it into the set. How he manages to keep it fresh is the operative question: maybe because it’s so damn catchy and builds to such killer crescendos.
The following cut is another early one, Les Champs Elysees, and the version on Nile’s Archive Alive album is pretty forgettable: “Anybody like to do the twist?” he asks, and it sounds rote. Not this version, with its uncommonly nice acoustic intro. After that, we get what’s surprisingly the best song on the album, the coruscating, gorgeously lyrical Irish ballad The Day I Saw Bo Diddley In Washington Square. As with Nile’s best work, it’s a sprawling, Bruegelesque tableau set in a New York now pretty much buried under suburban chain restaurants and towering Lego condominiums selling for multimillions of dollars. Nile’s boast that “everyone will say they were there” on that vivid afternoon rings defiantly true.
The band also runs through a couple of hook-driven anthems, That’s Enough For Me and On Some Rainy Day, as well as Cell Phones Ringing (In The Pockets Of The Dead), another one from Streets of NYC. That’s the one cut here that misses the pyrotechnic Andy York electric guitar work that makes the studio version so unforgettable. But it’s still a good lyric and a good song, even if it doesn’t evoke the Madrid train bombings as well. The band recasts the following tune When One Stands as more of a swinging countryish song, as opposed to the blazing reggae take they made in the studio, but it works.
There’s also a surprise, Hard Times In America, the title track from Nile’s little-noticed ep from the 90s, brilliantly recast as an ominous, skeletal delta blues as it builds into the verse. Nile virtually never plays it live: this version alone is worth the price of the album. Streets of New York, with Nile on piano is uncharacteristically quiet, with a good build to the conclusion. The album winds up with mostly covers, including a blistering, stomping version of the Dylan classic It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue: what seems to be a pretty clueless, sedate yuppie audience is suddenly adrenalized and roaring along with the band. Nile and his cohorts also tackle the Who classic Substitute as well as a Ramones song.
For devoted fans, this is a must-own. It’s also a good introduction to the artist, a suitable present for fans of rock songwriters ranging from Springsteen to Richard Thompson. Caveat: the Willie Nile catalog is highly addictive. After hearing this you will probably want the rest of his albums.