Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Ninth House – Realize and It’s Gone

The fourth and possibly final cd from this long-running New York “cemetery and western” unit. This isn’t a country album by any means: it’s a dark, desperate, angry rock record. Aside from some of the songwriting (frontman/bassist Mark Sinnis continues in this promising direction in his solo work), the only concession to Nashville is that the vocals are mixed noticeably louder than the instrumentation, in the style of country records from the 1930s and 40s. Ninth House bridge the gap between Joy Division and Johnny Cash. The production values are strictly punk/new wave: layers of distorted and watery electric guitars, ominous string synthesizer and organ, and melodic bass, usually set to a fast 2/4 beat. The cd opens with a roar, on the magnificently ferocious chorus of the single Long Stray Whim (a deliriously good live take of this song was previously issued on the band’s sadly out-of-print Aerosol album). It’s a transcendentally powerful escape anthem:

This morning I stopped
It’s boring, I strayed
I’m on a long stray whim
It started
For a moment I fought it
I couldn’t persuade me
I’m on a long stray whim

In a dark, passionate baritone, Sinnis – one of the greatest male singers in all of rock – builds his case for getting away from it all. It’s ELO’s Eldorado for a new generation. The band follows this with the wickedly anthemic Burn, about a cremation. Ninth House frequently get pegged as a goth band, and while they’re much more diverse, this song makes it easy to see how they got that label. The next two tracks, Stretch Marks and Quiet Change could easily have fit onto a mid-80s Cure album like Head on the Door, although they crunch rather than jangle. After that, the slow What Are You Waiting For builds to a soaring crescendo of vocals and guitars.

The following cut Mistaken for Love is one of two straight-up country songs on the album, although the band – particularly guitarist Bernard San Juan, who has since left – gives it a rock treatment. It’s a savage look back at a failed marriage: Sinnis’ cold ending will send chills down your spine. Similarly, the next track Skeletons has country swing but an 80s rock sound. The tempo picks up even more on the relentless, minor-key Out of Reach, a concert favorite. Then it’s back to Nashville gothic with When the Sun Bows to the Moon, a gorgeous, catchy country anthem, a broadside fired at point-blank range at somebody who can’t get over herself:

You live in your own atmosphere
You create your own demise
Breathe your own tainted air

It’s taken on a particularly poignant significance in the wake of 9/11. The next song Cause You Want To is a slow, crescendoing, death-obsessed number that belies its catchy, major-key melody. The album closes with a blistering rock version of perhaps the original Nashville gothic song, Ghost Riders in the Sky and then the epic title track, which builds from a catchy, thorny major-key first section into a hypnotically dark, crashing, descending progression. And then it’s over.

Sinnis’ lyrics are terse and crystallized, the band is tight and the overall intensity of the album never lets up. This is serious stuff, a good album to blast at top volume after a rough day at work or school. Definitely one of the best half-dozen albums of the year to date, as consistently good as Ninth House’s two previous studio records. Five shots of bourbon, no chaser. Albums are available online, in better independent record stores and at shows. Ninth House plays the cd release show on July 7 at Galapagos at midnight.

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June 17, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

In Memoriam: Central Park Summerstage

Oldtimers will tell you about the time they saw Springsteen here in 1974. Back then the concerts were held on the 72nd St. playfield. The sound was so loud that Eastsiders would routinely call the cops and complain.

 

Another generation will tell you triumphantly how their college buddy can be seen in the crowd on the cover of that awful Simon & Garfunkel album recorded here in the early 80s. Chances are that even if they don’t like the band, they bought the album as a vicarious souvenir. Willie Nile’s blazing 1981 set here was also recorded and released several years later on cd.

 

In the 90s, corporate creepiness settled in, with the Summerstage series’ pompous producers subjecting crowds to a litany of commercial announcements before every show. But it was still a destination that just about every New York music fan made it to at least a couple of times a year. The Master Musicians of Jajouka, immortalized by Brian Jones on their 1968 cult album, played their first-ever US show here on an unseasonably cold, drizzly afternoon. Reggae fans still speak in awe of the Ernie Ranglin/Monty Alexander show here in the late 90s. Whatever pretentious vibe the producers gave off, there can be no disputing their legacy of imaginative, eclectic and occasionally transcendent shows.

 

It wasn’t 9/11 that changed things so drastically, although that doubtlessly contributed to the series’ rapid decline. Ecstasy was the culprit. Although this had traditionally been a music series with the occasional dance performance or poetry reading, in 2000 they started booking non-musical acts where dj’s would plug in their equipment and blast computer-simulated percussive noise. After a couple of highly publicized overdoses, a labyrinth of wire fences that doubled as holding pens was built. Prospective concertgoers would have to cool their heels there, packed in tightly for sometimes for hours on end before being allowed to finally enter the concert space. There were ways to beat the system: you could show up precisely at showtime, or wait for a rainy day when the turnout would be predictably light, but if you wanted to see a popular act, you either had to show up a half-hour before the gates opened, or, most likely, you simply wouldn’t get in. Not that you’d want to; the early zeros were a wasteland of boring, trendy indie rock, the occasional NPR-style world music act du jour, and of course the non-music events that all the druggies went to.

 

This afternoon I decided to check to see how viable Summerstage is this year and the bad news is that it’s not. It’s over, folks. I got there at five on the nose. The back bleachers, which are now reserved seating for corporate sponsors, were completely full (by the way, don’t forget that this is your tax dollars going to pay for free shows for corporate bigwigs and their spawn, most of whom could afford their own private show by whoever’s playing here). The standing-room area was visibly about half-full. And the rent-a-pigs who do security here weren’t letting anybody in. There was a line 500 deep, virtually all well-dressed white people. A little incongruous, since it was  Ivory Coast reggae act Tiken Jah Fakoly who was scheduled to play next. And then it hit me: the Ivoirians were hip to this. They stayed home.

 

If this had been the 70s, the hippies would have bumrushed the stage. If it was the 80s the punks and hip-hop kids and West Indians would have done the same thing. Was it the Reagan era that changed things, that turned the crowd completely docile, oblivious to the fact that they were being treated like cattle? No. It was the crowd itself. As recently as a few years ago, people came here because it was free, quite possibly because they couldn’t afford to plunk down, say, $60 to see Monty Alexander at the Blue Note, or $35 for the Master Musicians of Jajouka at Town Hall, or if they liked David Poe but didn’t feel like shelling out for the $10 cover plus a two-drink minimum at stuffy, overcrowded old Fez.

 

Those people aren’t coming to New York anymore because they can’t afford to. It’s a new paradigm and a new crowd, suburbanites from across the nation who’ve never experienced the great times New Yorkers could have here til recently.  If you remember those days, hold onto those memories because you won’t be making any more of them.

 

[postscript: there is a happy ending. Lucid Culture published its first review of a Summerstage show the following year, followed by others, and there was never any problem getting in. While it’s still a good idea to show up early, the ridiculous lines – at least when the gates open – seem to be a thing of the past, as are the Nazi security gauntlet and labyrinth of wire fences that made it next to impossible to see shows here during 2006-07]

June 17, 2007 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Rant | 6 Comments