[editor’s note: one of the things we inherited from our predecessor e-zine was a massive book of over a thousand, mostly previously unpublished concert reviews dating back over a decade. This was one of them. We’d post them occasionally to keep the front page fresh – this was back in the day when we weren’t getting 500 emails a day from bands and publicists. We plan to resurrect the feature soon. Til then, here’s Alabina…]
Tickets were expensive: almost forty bucks to see the Madonna of the Middle East, as the media has pegged her. Unsurprisingly, 99% of the audience were well-dressed Arab kids in their late teens and early twenties, most of them together in small groups. This may have been a sit-down show, but there was no lack of dancing, especially at the front of the stage. Everybody had come out for the party, and Ishtar and Alabina, her band of gypsies didn’t let anybody down. At their worst, they sound like the Gypsy Kings in an inspired moment; at best, they’re the creme de la creme of Arab dance-pop, with a decidedly traditional, acoustic edge. They played for about an hour and fifteen minutes, encore included: while Ishtar had a very good female backup singer to help her out (the Moroccan-Jewish frontwoman is in her late forties now, though it hardly shows), she still did all the lead vocals and wailed, though not as spectacularly as at her recent appearance at Central Park Summerstage.
They opened with a terse version of their self-titled hit Alabina, then played mostly new stuff including a cover of the Animals’ Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood which fortunately didn’t venture into Santa Esmeralda territory (a bit of trivia: they were the gypsy disco band from the late 70s who scored a minor hit with an interminable, seemingly 20-minute version of the song). They also played another hit, El-Salaama, without any spectacular vocal solos, though Ishtar did one furiously fast vocalese triplet on another number that left the crowd spellbound. The keyboardist played most of the songs’ chromatic motifs on string synth, although on a couple of slow ballads he used cheesy, lite FM-style, mid-80s DX7 settings. Fortunately, the strength of the melodies and Ishtar’s singing covered for the lameness of the textures. For the encore, they played the long version of Alabina, then Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood and El-Salaama again, Ishtar belting fetchingly and masterfully, shimmying all over the stage. She’s in amazing shape. While it would have been nice to have seen this in a setting better suited to a contagious party vibe, it was still an excellent show.
Here’s a look at this week and the next few days after, we’ll keep this updated with anything last-minute and exciting:
Mon July 30 brilliant Hawaiian/retro harmony stylists the Moonlighters play Barbes, 8:30 PM, sounding better than ever. Click our reviews page (to your right, scroll down and then go back a couple of pages) for a look at how amazing they sound with the new lineup
Mon July 30 at Bar on A (Ave. A/11th St.), a killer acoustic show. On the bill:
8:30 PM Ian Roure and Liza Garelik from the Larch and Liza & the WonderWheels doing a rare duo acoustic show. If you’re very lucky maybe Liza will belt White Rabbit for you like she did at that private party a few months ago.
9 PM fingerpicking acoustic guitarist Bob Prince
9:30 PM Dan Sallitt, former frontman of darkly sardonic LA new wave obscurities Blow This Nightclub working up some new material
By the way – happy birthday to drummer extraordinaire Dave Campbell from Love Camp 7 and Erica Smith & the 99 Cent Dreams
Tues July 31 the Gotham 4 play Midway (Ave. B and 2nd St.), 8 PM sharp. These loud, anthemic 2-guitar 90s throwbacks have really come into their own: the frontman has taken on an angry, desperate tone and the rest of the group feeds off his energy. Hooks abound and sparks fly from the frets. If they were college age and cute, and it was 1993, the corporate media would be circling hungrily.
At the same time July 31, for fans of the lowdown and smooth (gotcha, Vince!), Rev. Vince Anderson plays solo at Moto, that bastion of deliciousness on Broadway at the Hewes St. stop on the J/M/Z in South Williamsburg, 8 PM sharp. A chance to hear some of this potent, passionate gospel keyboardists’s quieter stuff, with the same spot-on sense of humor and killer chops.
Weds Aug 1, free admission before 8 PM (which is showtime), keyboard/vocoder driven groovemeisters Chin Chin play Water Taxi Beach, which is an outdoor bar/restaurant at the water taxi terminal in Long Island City. The drummer also plays for Rev. Vince Anderson, which is quite an endorsement; they also liberally borrow horn players from Antibalas, another endorsement. Directions: G to 21st/Van Alst or 7 to Vernon Jackson. From the G Train: Exit on Jackson Ave. Look for the Manhattan skyline; walk on Jackson South West towards the Manhattan skyline. When you get near the Midtown Tunnel follow the signs for 495 West until you reach 51st Avenue. Turn right on 51st and walk to 2nd Street. Turn left on Second Street. Walk past the Crab House and the Tennis Port and then turn right into the driveway
Thurs Aug 2 the Flatlanders (legendary outlaw country guys Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock) play Castle Clinton in Battery Park. 2 tix avail per person starting at the table in front of the fort, 5 PM, best to sneak away from work and get there around 4:30 PM if you’re going. Show starts around 7.
Also Thurs Aug 2 Arlo Guthrie plays his annual show out behind Lincoln Center in Damrosch Park, 9 PM. Still wry and political after all these years even if he’s mellowed a bit. The time I saw him, he actually did Alice’s Restaurant all the way through (although Presidential Rag would have been a whole lot more appropriate)
Fri Aug 3 Thee Minks play the Magnetic Field in Brooklyn Heights, Atlantic Ave. between Hicks and Henry, 8 PM. This trio is billed as the female Radio Birdman (!!!) and if what they have online – including a tribute to Bacardi 151 rum – is any indication, this band is GREAT!
Sat Aug 4, 9 PM lyrical powerhouse Linda Draper plays stuff from her excellent, minimalist new acoustic album Keepsake at Sidewalk followed by Maya Caballero at 10. Caballero’s myspace highlights her socially conscious songwriting and the fact that she deals with a lot of dark disturbing issues, and that’s accurate: her song Bisbee (a town in Arizona) is one of the eerier numbers anybody here’s written recently.
Also Sat Aug 4 boisterous pub-rock revivalists the Larch play Freddy’s, 11 PM. It’s frontman Ian Roure’s birthday, so you know these guys are going to be kicking ass.
Also Sat Aug 4 Connecticut-based Dick Dale-soundalike surf rockers 9th Wave, with special guest guitarist Robi Biloderic from Slovenian surf legends the Bitch Boys [sic] play Otto’s on 14th St., 11 PM. As a special treat one of NYC’s two or three most exhilarating live bands, the Coffin Daggers, play their eerie surf/hotrod instrumentals at midnight or so.
Sun Aug 5 early, 6:30 PM-ish Blonde Redhead plays McCarren Pool in Williamsburg, walk through the park almost to Lorimer St. or just take Lorimer down from Bedford. No idea which version of the band will show up: the catchy hook-driven guitar unit? The tuneless Pavement/Sonic Youth wannabes? It’s free, there are absolutely no hassles at the old swimming pool basin – you just walk right in like in the old days – and who knows, could be good.
Also Sun Aug 5, a show not to be missed: legendary jazz pianist Dave Brubeck plays Damrosch Park, 8:15 PM. Still potent and witty at 87, a vastly underrated legend, expert in classical and contemporary 20th Century music as well as every weird time signature ever utilized, and very funny if you listen closely. He still has it.
Mon Aug 6 Rev. Vince Anderson and band play Black Betty across the street from the New Luna in Williamsburg, two sets starting at 8:30 PM. See our reviews page for a look at one of their deliriously good recent sets here.
Weds Aug 8, show up early if you want to see the diabolical Biz Markie rap and sing for all you oldschool hip-hop heads at the Jackie Robinson Rec Ctr, 89 Bradhurst Avenue in Da Bronx, C train to 145th. In case he’s not your generation, Biz Markie was one of the funniest hip-hop artists ever, sort of the Rawles Balls of rap, butchering one lyric after another (he had other people, notably Big Daddy Kane write them for him) and then, when he wanted to be a singer…lights out. And the funniest thing was that he was completely self-aware about how utterly ridiculous he was. As a special bonus DJ Lovebug Starski opens the show at 7ish – ordinarily there would be no reason to mention anyone on the bill who’s not actually playing, but this guy was the original dj at the legendary Fever club back in the late 70s/early 80s and undoubtedly will be spinning from a literally irreplaceable stash of vintage rap vinyl.
Thurs Aug 9 late 70s conscious roots reggae harmony trio the Itals play Metrotech Park in downtown Brooklyn, noon, free, F train to Jay St., get out at the back of the train if you’re coming from Manhattan and follow the noise. I confess that I was looking forward to seeing these guys for the first time. Then the other day I was going through the archives looking for something entertaining to put up here and discovered that, um, I had seen them before, in San Francisco opening for Michael Rose, and didn’t remember. Apparently it was a good show: I can remember waking up from my spot against the wall right before Rose’s set started and feeling pretty good about everything.
Early evening Thurs Aug 9 hip-hop throat singer Akim Funk Buddha plays Lincoln Ctr Plaza, outdoors, 6 PM with other like minded people. He’s a trip: saw him play with Rachelle Garniez and her band once and he came close to stealing the show, not an easy thing to do.
Later Thurs Aug 9 , 9:15-ish the B-52’s play Asser Levy Park at Coney Island, F to W 8th is the closest stop or take any train to Stillwell and walk in the opposite direction of the baseball stadium. None of the original musicians are left, although Fred Schneider and the girls are apparently still with them. It’s still a party: who would have thought in 1979 that almost thirty years later, Joe Strummer would be dead and these guys would be playing stadiums? For 80s fetishists, Patty Smyth & Scandal, best known NOT for their ode to masturbation I Touch Myself (that was the Divinyls – thanks Paula!) but for their schlockfest hit The Warrior open the show around 8:30.
Fri Aug 10, noon, virtuoso blues guitarist Jeremiah Lockwood plays with a band of some sort in the park on Liberty between Church/Bwy, downtown. Whether he’s doing his oldtimey stuff (which is most likely) or his cantorial-influenced riff-rock, this sometime Steve Ulrich sparring partner is worth checking out.
Later Fri Aug 10, Kartik Seshadri, acclaimed disciple of Ravi Shankar plays sitar with tabla player Abhijit Banerjeeat outdoors at Lincoln Ctr, South Plaza, 6 PM
Sat Aug 11 starting at noon it’s the Shaolin Bluegrass festival, 441 Clark Ave., Richmond Town, SI, free. Performances by: Dan Paisley and Southern Grass, Jesse McReynolds and the Virginia Boys, Ronnie Reno & the Reno Tradition, Straight Drive. The best of the bunch is Straight Drive, the opener, fronted by the amazing Jen Larson. Who would have thought that an architecture historian from Boxford, Massachusetts would have the most scary-beautiful, high lonesome Applachian voice on the planet. She’s a force of nature. Directions from the Staten Island ferry: take the S74 bus from the terminal to Richmond Road and St. Patrick’s Place, allow yourself plenty of travel time since it’s the weekend.
Also Sat Aug 11 Chin Chin play Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, free, time TBA at the intersection of Broadway and Vernon Boulevard, N train to Broadway.
Also Sat Aug 11 buzzsaw power pop trio True Love with special guest Tammy Faye Starlite on lead vocals play Who’s Next at Joe’s Pub, 9:30 PM. This sedate venue and its patrons won’t know what hit ‘em: the frontwoman is something beyond hilarious, and the band is up to the task. This will be a lot of fun if you can afford it.
Sun Aug 12 Ted Leo Pharmacists play McCarren Pool in Williamsburg, I’m guessing 6:30ish. He does the early Joe Jackson thing, all trebly, distorted guitar and fast tempos, writes good political lyrics and unfortunately completely loses sight of melody for what seems hours on end. But it’s free and it’s completely pre-9/11 mellow, you just walk right in and nobody bothers you.
Also Sun Aug 12 the Red Hook Ramblers with Hazmat Modine guitar weapon Michael Gomez play Banjo Jim’s, two sets, 9 til late raising an old-timey ruckus.
Also Sun Aug 12 there’s a quasi Blow This Nightclub reunion at Freddy’s in Brooklyn, 9 PM It’s guitarists Larry Jacobson and Dan Sallitt along with sub bassist Dann Baker from Erica Smith’s band. BTN was a great, wickedly lyrical late 80s/early 90s LA new wave band, don’t miss this if you’re into brilliant obscurities.
Old hippies tend to skew hard in one of two directions, either totally inspiring or completely pathetic. Think back to the most recent antiwar protest you attended, and who was doing most of the heavy lifting, and who came out in full force: that segment of the demographic is clearly still firing on all cylinders, role models for all of us.
Then there’s the wrinkly, potbellied element lost in the ozone of whatever residual chemicals remain from all the groovy lids and trips they undoubtedly wish they could remember. If they only could remember what it’s like to remember. That element doesn’t come out much but usually trickles out for shows like this one. But not tonight. This free Thursday summertime outdoor concert series has a smalltown vibe, local merchants taking the stage to hawk their wares, the wide expanse of lawn taken up mostly by what’s left of the indigenous white blue-collar community here, local celebrity and longtime New York dj Cousin Brucie Morrow serving as master of ceremonies tonight.
We got there as former Wings guitarist Denny Laine, his voice shot, was wrapping up his set. He and his generic backing band phoned in Go Now (the single he sang with the Moody Blues before he left the band and they got really good), and the edited, single version of Band on the Run, complete with cheesy synthesizer. After what seemed an interminable break, Cousin Brucie going on and on about not much of anything, Melanie took the stage, backed by a young guitarist who may have been a family member: the vocals weren’t coming through very clearly at this point, so it was hard to understand what anyone, Cousin Brucie included, was saying.
While it obviously took Melanie considerable determination to drive down from Brooklin, Maine, past the Whitestone Bridge where she’d burst into tears (she’s from Queens: can you think of any other city, Paris included, that evokes such powerful nostalgia for returnees?), to play the longest set by anyone we saw here tonight, she really shouldn’t have been up there. Her voice is completely gone, and to make matters worse, she tried to hit all the high notes. Watching her struggle and miss the mark every time was viscerally painful. She’s a perfectly adequate acoustic guitarist: why she didn’t capo up her guitar and transpose the songs to a lower key is a mystery. When she did the obligatory version of Brand New Key, she made it abundantly clear that it was not what she wanted to be remembered for, telling the audience how she’d originally conceived of it as a roughhewn, Leon Redbone-style song, blaming her producer for making it fluffy: “Here I am, with silver hair and what am I doing? Cute!” she railed. Though she went out of her way to make it clear that she’d always seen herself as a socially conscious songwriter (which she was), tonight she did the hits, ending with Lay Down, which dissolved in a mess.
Country Joe McDonald was next, also solo acoustic, and got all of three songs. “Gimme an F,” he joked, then did some nice fingerpicking on an excerpt from the 1967 Country Joe & the Fish psychedelic classic Bass Strings. Then he launched into a fiery, sarcastic new song called Support the Troops. “Draft dodging chickenhawk son of a Bush,” he spat, and any preconceptions about this part of town being redneck Rudy Mussolini territory went out the window. The crowd loved it. When McDonald hit the second chorus, “son of a Bush” became “sonofabitch,” undoubtedly the nastiest word ever to resound from the loudspeakers here, and the crowd was completely energized for the first time tonight. McDonald followed with another recent number, a sea chantey about saving sea creatures. And then he was done. When Cousin Brucie returned to the stage, it turned out that he’s also against the Iraq war. And that Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz (a craven shill for luxury housing developers) wanted to hear Country Joe do the Fish Cheer! Cousin Brucie always came across as a man of the people, but Markowitz? A complete surprise.
Finally, the Zombies took the stage, just singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent left from the original band, joined by their very first bass player (who’d returned to the fold in 1969 in Argent’s self-titled project), along with a decent drummer who didn’t overplay and a heavy metal guitarist who unfortunately did. Though it was clear to everyone, Cousin Brucie included, that they were the act that everybody had come out to see, they got all of a half-hour onstage.
It wouldn’t be fair to expect Blunstone, now in his sixties, to have the pretty, airy voice of his youth, and he doesn’t, but he still hit the notes. One would, however, expect the musicians in the band to play the songs pretty much note-for-note with the records, especially considering how iconic their hits have become, but Argent didn’t, and his extemporizing didn’t add anything to the material. They opened with I Love You and followed with a bouncy, aptly bluesy I’ve Been Abused. Then they did Time of the Season, with a long, pointless keyboard jam at the end, followed by Argent’s lone, long top 40 hit, the forgettable stoner riff-rocker Hold Your Head Up.
Their best song of the night was Tell Her No, the chorus just as fresh and memorable as it was when the song was released over 40 (!) years ago. They closed with She’s Not There, the solo at the end unfortunately taken not by Argent but by the guitarist, who failed to ignite the crowd with a grotesquely self-indulgent, excruciatingly long heavy metal wank-a-thon. And then they were done. The Turtles and the Rascals – woops, Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals – were scheduled to play afterward, but even as brief as the Zombies’ performance was, most anything else would have been anticlimactic. So we went over to the beach to see why there’d been a police helicopter circling with its searchlight on during the show (a young girl had happily escaped the clutches of a predator, who’d managed to escape by the time the helicopter showed up).
By the way, if you haven’t been out to Coney Island lately, make sure you do. Developers are salivating over the beachfront, and not that there are enough rich Americans or Eurotrash to buy the whole strip of coastline, but the Russian beach bars, deep-fried bellybomb stands and surprisingly cheap Astroland with its $2 rides will undoubtedly not survive the onslaught. The Mets’ single-A minor league affiliate plays at the ballpark toward the end of the boardwalk, admission is $7 and there’s not a bad seat in the house. The Pakistani taxi driver joint on Ocean Ave. a couple blocks north of Surf Ave. is heaven for hot pepper addicts, and Mrs. Adler’s Knishes a block north of that is still open and delicious. Don’t take this place for granted: it won’t be here much longer, take a long walk along the sand before it’s patrolled by private security from Halliburton.
Although James Cotton is their drawing card, he doesn’t sing or even talk to the audience. But his band is killer. No surprise, considering that Cotton’s main axeman in the 70s was none other than Matt “Guitar” Murphy of Animal House and Blues Brothers fame. This afternoon, the portly ex-Muddy Waters blues harpist took a seat in front of his four-piece backing unit, almost at the edge of the stage, beyond the shadow cast by the fabric of the tent overhead. From the amount of sweat pouring from his brow, it was clear that this was not the most comfortable place he could have been. Considering the early hour of the show (for an old bluesman, at least) and the oppressive humidity, it wouldn’t be fair to blame him for basically phoning it in. Playing mostly chromatic harp, he proved that he still has the earthy, sometimes showy chops that got him the gig with Muddy, but he didn’t do much of anything else. Today was the band’s turn to kick ass.
Singer/lead guitarist Slam Allen, who’s essentially their frontman, is star in his own right, a brilliant player, excellent singer and quite the showman. From his first rapidly precise excursion up the fretboard, it was clear that the heat didn’t bother him in the least. He played soulfully and often spectacularly fast throughout the band’s roughly 45-minute set, literally channeling B.B. King at times, especially on their two King covers, Let the Good Times Roll and How Blue Can You Get. Rhythm player Tom Holland, on the other hand, played like somebody had pulled him out of bed, consistently biting off more than he could chew whether he was soloing with a slide or launching into some frenetic chord-chopping. He clearly has the chops to do it: it’s a safe bet to say that if this had been late in the evening at some crowded blues joint, he would have pulled it off. The rhythm section gave the songs swing and bounce; their only misstep was letting bassist Charles Mack take an excruciatingly long, wanky, finger-poppin’ solo during one of the earlier numbers. It’s nice to see a veteran of a rapidly vanishing genre getting good paying gigs like this one– probably far more lucrative than anything he ever did with Muddy – at this stage of his career.
An old-timey band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, opened the show with a brief, barely half-hour set. While the musicians, particularly the fiddle player, proved adept at old acoustic country blues, they need to find somebody who can sing. Or they should just do instrumentals, which would be fine.
Outdoor NYC parks shows like this one are a great way to see some fairly important figures in the history of music, for free, with absolutely no hassles. Another fairly important band from an entirely different genre, 70s roots reggae vets the Itals play here on August 9 at noon, definitely worth seeing if that’s your thing.
From a Dave Matthews fan:
I guess they cant sell any tickets!! i am against Dave doing this concert, so I have forwarded you an email that I received from the Fan Club:
“Greetings from theWarehouse: We are pleased to invite you to join Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds for a once-in-a-lifetime concert experience this Saturday evening, July 28 in East Hampton, NY. As many of you may have heard, Dave and Tim are performing a semi-private benefit for the Ross School in East Hampton. We have just been offered a limited number [ha – see below] of specially priced tickets for the benefit concert which we areoffering to Warehouse members that have purchased Randall’s Island VIP tickets. The all-inclusive ticket includes luxurious seating, world class food featuring the BBQ stylings of executive chef Adam Perry Lang, a top shelf open bar, plus pre and post showentertainment. The tickets are extremely limited and will be sold first come-first serve at $250 per ticket/$500 per pair. All proceeds from this special ticket sale will benefit charity with half of the proceeds to benefit Dave Matthews’ Horton Foundation and the other
half to benefit Ross School. Dave and Tim tickets may be purchased by calling (800) 803-6644 and mentioning the access code “Trax”. For more information about the concert, please visit http://www.discoversocial.com”
Now for the back story: Social is a five concert series in the Hamptons this month designed to rope in all the Wall Street trash at vertigo-inducing prices, to wit, three grand a ticket. A five-concert pass was going for what must be an alltime record, $15,000…except as you can see from the above email, tickets have now been discounted at over 90%…and they’re still a ripoff. Maybe the new robber barons aren’t so stupid after all: money may be no object, but nobody likes to come off as a sucker, which is what anyone who’s just plopped down $3 – I mean $3000 – for Dave Matthews looks like.
Giving away the ending to a film may be the biggest faux pas a reviewer can commit, but what if the film doesn’t have an ending? That seems to be the case with Joshua: it’s as if the producers of this low-budget indie suspense flick ran out of money three-quarters of the way through and decided to wrap it up on the spot rather than looking for new backers. So we’re supposed to believe that little Joshua did all those bad things simply because he’s gay – he’s NINE YEARS OLD, for chrissakes!?!?! – and all he wants to do is get away from his family and hang out with his swishy uncle?
It’s too bad the movie ends that way (looks like the producers ran out of money for focus groups too), because getting there is a good ride. Joshua (Jacob Kogan, marvelously deadpan and eerie in his screen debut) lives with his yuppie parents (Brad, played by Sam Rockwell and Vera, played by Laurie Metcalfe lookalike Vera Farmiga) and his newborn sister in an impossibly large apartment on New York’s upper east side. Dad is a clueless type who seems to be sleepwalking through parenthood and his job at a nameless Wall Street financial house; mom had trouble with postpartum depression after Joshua was born, and it seems to be happening again, worse than before.
Trouble follows Joshua like New Jersey cops after a carful of black people. The gerbils in his classroom have mysteriously died, his little sister cries for no reason, constantly waking screaming up in the middle of the night, and his mother does the same thing. Drawing heavily on The Bad Seed and the original When a Stranger Calls as well as the Stephen King playbook, co-writer/director George Ratliff finds dread everywhere, in the most mundane places. There’s one scene where the door to an appliance – can’t tell you which one – opens, that pushes the scare factor way into the red. Otherwise, the director gets the max out of his low-budget set (the film is shot mostly in the apartment, with a few outdoor scenes at the Brooklyn Museum and what appears to be Morningside Park), shooting into the shadows for what turns out to be usually not there.
The film’s best scene finds Joshua onstage at a piano recital. He’s been practicing Bartok (not implausible: he’s talented, and Kogan actually learned how to play a few of the pieces that appear on camera), but what he pulls out of the woodwork has to be the most eerie musical moment to appear in any film drama since Michael Caine did his immortal, faux-badly-sung version of Roy Orbison’s It’s Over in Little Voice. Joshua keels over immediately after finishing his little jam. Yet nobody gets what’s going on (the filmmakers could have had a lot more fun satirizing pampered New York yuppie parents than they do).
After something particularly nasty happens to Joshua’s bible-thumping, proselytizing grandmother (played to the hilt by Celia Weston), Brad seems to get the picture, but he can’t stop what’s about to happen. And then the movie ends, before any hell breaks loose: Joshua could have gone on for another 15 suspenseful minutes and wound up either on a deliciously grisly or righteously just note. It screams out for a remake. David Cronenberg, people will have forgotten all about this in ten years’ time, are you listening?
Big Papi – My Story of Big Dreams and Big Hits, by David Ortiz and Tony Massarotti
St. Martin’s, 288 pp., hardcover, $24.95, ISBN-13: 978-0312366339
Also available in Spanish as Big Papi – La Historia de Mis Anhelos y Mis Grandes Batazos
The truth in any contemporary book by a sports hero is always in the ellipses, what isn’t said, what’s between the lines. No doubt this was vetted before publication by an army of lawyers, so as not to offend anyone associated with Major League Baseball or, perish the thought, sully the game’s reputation. You assuredly won’t find anything revealing here unless you look for it. Suffice it to say that the days of hilarious tell-alls like Jim Bouton’s Ball Four or Sparky Lyle and Peter Golenbock’s The Bronx Zoo – or Jim Brosnan’s thoughtful, introspective The Long Season – are long over, gone with the days of affordable box seats, a single best-of-five pennant playoff series, and ninth-inning beer in the bleachers.
This book seems to be based on a hastily conducted series of spring training interviews, most likely translated from Ortiz’ native Spanish (he’s Dominican). For those who’ve somehow managed to avoid the hype, David Ortiz is the most feared slugger in the American League, a large man with a devastating lefthanded swing who last season led the league in home runs, setting the Boston Red Sox single-season record in the process. Three years ago, his extra-inning heroics led the Red Sox to a historic comeback against the Yankees in the playoffs, followed by the Red Sox’ first World Championship in 86 years. Perhaps most notably, the Red Sox got him for free when the power-starved Minnesota Twins, fearing that Ortiz’ considerable girth would increase his already significant penchant for injuries, gave him the pink slip after the 2002 season. All this is contained in the book, along with the following:
– Ortiz calls everybody “bro” or “papi” (hence his nickname, “Big Papi”),
– He grew up poor but not destitute, more fortunate than his friend Pedro Martinez, the great pitcher and Dominican folk hero who he credits with saving his career
– He was very close to his mother, and losing her in an auto accident was understandably traumatic (though he glosses over it)
– Like many other Latin players, he used another name (David Arias) during much of his time in the minor leagues
– Dominicans in the Major Leagues share a loyalty to each other beyond any team affiliation, bonding together because they can’t stand the blandness of American food
– Ortiz likes to cook, and one suspects his popularity with his colleagues stems from his fondness for working the grill (though, sadly, we don’t find out anything else about his gustatory talents or predilections: no recipes, no favorite foods, no guide to the best Dominican takeout joints around the majors).
Other things you learn from this book, although its authors might not want you to:
– Although Ortiz seems to be universally well-liked among his peers, he comes across as a fiercely proud, impetuous character who does things his way and his way only
– In the minors, he won accolades not only for his hitting but also his fielding (which makes sense: contrary to conventional wisdom, he remains a perfectly adequate first baseman).
– He’d much prefer to play in the field than serve as the designated hitter
– He explains away his mysterious hospitalization for a rapid heartbeat during a crucial series against the Yankees as being due to “stress” (come on, this is the guy who almost singlehandedly vaulted the Sox into the World Series with one crucial clutch performance after another, and he’s talking about STRESS???). While Ortiz seems to be the least likely guy in the majors to be doing steroids (he’s too fat – although he insists he isn’t), there may be other plausible reasons, including but not limited to the little things that ballplayers have been using to get a little extra pep since the 1950s.
There’s next to nothing in here about the legendary camaraderie of the Sox’ 2004 World Championship team (and its subsequent demise), nothing about Ortiz’ friendship with teammate and fellow Dominican Manny Ramirez, nothing about his vaunted swing, opposing pitchers or for that matter any juicy tales from the clubhouse, the backyard barbeque, the strip club or wherever Ortiz and his pals hang out.
To offer enough heft to justify its pricetag, the book is puffed out with “appreciations” of Ortiz’ talent as well as a tortuously long mea culpa by Twins General Manager Terry Ryan, explaining how he let the most feared slugger in the American League walk away, getting nothing in return: you end up feeling really sorry for the guy, listening to him go on and on, reliving one of the worst errors in judgment that any big league exec ever made.
Strictly for diehards: one suspects that the Spanish-language version is the more popular of the two editions available.
Nothing was going to ruin this evening. Not the horrible train ride that unexpectedly lasted almost as long as the band’s first set. Not the small committee of yuppie protozoa in training pants, running around screaming while the band played. Not the yuppie woman (or guy) upwind, drenched in asphyxiating cardamom cologne. Not the gay couple with the six-inch mutt or marsupial or whatever it was that wouldn’t stop yapping. Not the loud woman and her even louder foreign friend seated to the rear, discussing the minutiae of the new mortgage she hoped to qualify for (at that price, honey, you’re being screwed). It was 70 degrees with a steady breeze and no humidity, the sky grey, streaked with radiant pink as dusk slowly settled in. If anyone is alive to read this 20 years from now, let it be known there was such an unthinkably beautiful late afternoon in Manhattan in the dead of July, 2007. And Matt Munisteri’s Brock Mumford was playing.
Munisteri is an A-list jazz guitarist with a list of A-list credits a mile long. This unit, which criminally only gets together a couple of times a year these days, is his chance to show off his songwriting chops. Munisteri is the wickedly literate jazzcat auteur that Elvis Costello’s always wanted to be, as witty and subtle a wordsmith as a tunesmith. And Will Friedwald, author of the pretty definitive book Jazz Singing is in Munisteri’s corner as well: in his world, wit and subtlety extend to vocals as well. Tonight the supporting cast included his usual sparring partners, the amazingly inventive Will Holshouser (who took most of the solos) on accordion, and Jon Kellso on trumpet, plus excellent upright bassist Tim Luntzel.
They ended their first set with the smoothly evocative When We’re Alone: “This song was meant to be played outdoors, the kind of thing I can usually only do at a cheeseball wedding,” Munisteri told the crowd, and in this upper Westside Woody Allen world of penthouse sophistication, real or imagined, it was an apt choice.
After a short break, they began their second set with the old standard Lazybones, Munisteri solo on guitar, then rejoined by the band on Honey on the Moon, featuring a sweet, bluesy Holshouser solo. Munisteri dedicated the next song to those who’d been displaced by luxury highrises, and anyone building luxury highrises as well. He looked out at the crowd, and the apartment complex at 68th St. towering overhead: “I see Trump,” and then pointing at the rusting hulk of an elevator at the adjacent pier, “And I see dump. I don’t know which I like more…actually as a sixth-generation Brooklynite I do know which I like more and I’m not telling you…since Trump may be part of the reason we’re here tonight.” Then they launched into his original composition This Funny World: “This funny world is making fun of you,” which as Munisteri pointed out could cut any number of ways.
Next, they did the playful, amusing Picciaridu, a track from Brock Mumford’s album, about a young Italian girl on the Lower East Side just about to hit puberty and discover what hellraising is all about. On the following tune, How Can You Face Me Now Munisteri and Kellso carried on a jaunty guitar/trumpet conversation for what sounded like a whole verse before the band kicked in. Let’s Do Something Bad, which is as close to a signature song as Munisteri has, was perfect: it’s a wickedly literate, tongue-in-cheek number about cheating. Playing with a mute, Kellso took an aptly understated, smoothly seductive solo to match the lyrics.
Finally, on the next-to-last song of the night, Munisteri took an all-too-brief, soulful guitar solo: it’s ironic that his own project gives him less of a chance to show off his monster chops than the other units he plays with (notably Rachelle Garniez’ brilliant band). But this one’s all about the songwriting, which is a treat in itself. They closed with the obscure Bing Crosby song T’ain’t So: Holshouser took a long solo and built to a darkly bluesy crescendo while Munisteri shadowed him, ominously voicing the chorus chord changes low on the fretboard. It says something about this band that they could find such rich, troubling complexity in an otherwise long-forgotten old pop song.
By the way, in case you’re wondering what the band name may mean, Brock Mumford is the man widely credited for being the first jazz guitarist.
New stuff just added for this weekend!
Mon July 23 Girl Friday plays the Magnetic Field on Atlantic Ave. in Brooklyn Heights,8 PM, no cover. Female-fronted indie rock trio, subtly catchy, very smart songwriting. Check our reviews page for a look at how they sound live.
Later Mon July 23 once and future Beat Rodeo frontman George Usher plays Lakeside, 10 PM. His most recent solo effort is reputedly one of the great powerpop efforts of recent years; his old band did some mighty fine stuff in that vein back in the 80s.
Later 7/23 Rev. Vince Anderson plays Black Betty, 10:30 PM. See our reviews page for a look at his wild, exuberant, politically spot-on show last week here.
Weds July 25 Brooklyn schoolteacher and dancehall reggae legend Sister Carol plays Brower Park in Bed-Stuy, bordered by Brooklyn & Kingston Aves on one side and St. Mark’s & Park Place on the other (Kingston/Throop Ave. station on the M, walk along Kingston and you’ll hit it), 7 PM. Half of her students will probably be there. Forget her cover of Wild Thing: her way of getting a conscious message across is to get the party rolling and then sneak it in. This sister is pretty smart, yeah mon.
Later Weds July 25 brilliant bluegrass guitarist Danny Weiss plays with his terrific frontwoman, his wife Mary Olive Smith and their band Reckon So at Rodeo Bar, 10:30 PM. Weiss is one of the few guitarists to utilize the lower register of the fretboard to the absolute max, resulting in a particularly warm, soulful sound.
Thurs July 26 former Muddy Waters harp player James Cotton plays Metrotech Park in downtown Brookln, noon, F train to Jay St., get out at the back of the train if you’re coming from Manhattan. Reputedly he still has it.
Also Thurs July 26, 7 PM, the rambunctious Musette Explosion (Matt Munisteri, Will Holshouser and Marcus Rojas) play haunting accordion-based French and Belgian dance music from the 20s and 30s at The Jewish Museum, 5th Ave and 92nd St in Manhattan, free with admission.
Also Thurs July 26, Sharon Jones, arguably the best singer in soul music today, plays with her brilliant old-school funk band the Dap Kings at Castle Clinton in Battery Park, 2 tix available per person starting at 5 PM at the table in front of the fort, sneak out of work early and get there by 4:30 PM if you really want a ticket. The show will probably start around 7.
Later Thurs July 26 Jack Grace and his old-school country band play Rodeo Bar, 10:30 PM. He books the place, so he usually plays there on weekends: here’s your chance to catch his wild, completely over-the-top act without having to make your way through the crowds of drunken Baruch kids.
Also Thurs July 26 there’s what could be a pretty amazing nostalgia bill at Asser Levy Park, across the street from the aquarium at Coney Island (W 5th and Surf Ave) starting at 7:30 PM. On the bill: Country Joe McDonald, who with his band the Fish put out some classic psychedelic stuff in the late 60s (although he may be completely toasted by this point); folk/pop singer Melanie, who did some very pretty poppy stuff in addition to her unctuous single Brand New Key; Denny Laine, who sang Go Now with the Moody Blues before they became an art-rock act, and was later in Wings; the Zombies (original members, yeaaah!), chamber pop legends; and Brill Building faux-hippies the Rascals and the Turtles. B/D train to Stillwell, or F to West 8th. Best to get there by 9 if you’re going to see the Zombies like everybody else.
Fri July 27 a great double bill at Barbes in Park Slope, Brooklyn, F train to 7th Ave., starting at 8 PM with hauntingly brilliant art-rock keyboardist Greta Gertler and her band the Extroverts, followed by Jack Grace and his band in case you missed them the previous night.
Later Fri July 27 an amazing show at The Silo at The Yard (400 Carroll Street, Brooklyn (between Bond & Nevins on the Gowanus Canal), $10 at the door. Check out this lineup: 9 PM it’s Beans from Anti-Pop Constortium, one of the great hip-hop MCs of this era, then at 10 PM Moist Paula from Moisturizer does her mesmerizing, soundtrack-style Secretary instrumental project, then at 11 PM it’s devious keyboardist/frontman Wilder Zoby from Chin Chin, doing his hypnotically danceable, sexy Zapp-style funk/groove stylings.
Later Fri July 27 Boston garage rockers, soon to be legends, Muck & the Mires play Lakeside, 11 PM. Be forewarned: these guys have become very popular, get there by 10 if you’re going.
Sat July 28, 2-9 PM there’s an old-school salsa all-day spectacular at Prospect Park. Tito Rojas, who’s been around forever and still sounds pretty much the same, headlines. The Joe Cuba Sextet – who brought boogaloo to the masses and still kick out an intoxicating groove – are also on the bill along with Viento De Agua, David Cedeno and others. Beware: security is sure to be unusually nasty, since this is a Latino bill; watch out for undercover agents provocateurs trying to stir up trouble, and maybe stay out of the inner arena entirely.
Sat July 28 the Dog Show brings their deliriously powerful literate mod punk stylings to the Mean Fiddler, 266 W 47th St. in midtown, 7 PM. Guaranteed trendoid-free and the sound here is great. This is a trio show with frontman Jerome O’Brien wailing on bass.
Later Sat July 28, punk/reggae/dance legends the Slits open for Sonic Youth – playing their classic album Daydream Nation in its entirety – at McCarren Pool, 8 PM. Advance tix are expensive ($34 through the Irving Plaza box office), but this could be amazing (though who’s playing piano on Providence?) – Thurston & Co. played here with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs last year and predictably stole the show.
Sun July 29 gypsy jazz monster guitarist Stephane Wrembel plays Barbes, 9 PM. Another guy who’s become very popular: get there at least by 8 if you even want to have a prayer of getting into the little back room here.
Later Sun July 29 Australian punk/jangle legends the Saints play the Mercury Lounge, 10 PM. Last time around they were doing all the old punk stuff and had Marty Willson-Piper from the Church doing his best Ron Asheton imitation.
Mon July 3 brilliant Hawaiian/retro harmony stylists the Moonlighters play Barbes, 8:30 PM, sounding better than ever. Click on our review page for a look at how amazing they sound with the new lineup
Also Mon July 30 at Bar on A (Ave. A/11th St.), a killer acoustic show. On the bill:
8:30 PM Ian Roure and Liza Garelik from the Larch and Liza & the WonderWheels doing a rare duo acoustic show. If you’re very lucky maybe Liza will belt White Rabbit for you like she did at that private party a few months ago.
9 PM fingerpicking acoustic guitarist Bob Prince
9:30 PM Dan Sallitt, former frontman of darkly sardonic LA new wave obscurities Blow This Nightclub working up some new material
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Al Duvall opened, playing a solo set to a small but enthusiastic crowd at a downtown tourist trashpit that shall remain nameless, and stole the show. He plays the banjo chordally, like a guitar, and writes authentic-sounding ragtime songs with thinly and not-so-thinly disguised dirty lyrics. Like the Roulette Sisters (with whom he sometimes performs), he’s an absolute master of innuendo. His biggest crowd-pleaser tonight was called Reconstruction, about a Civil War-era sex change operation. It’s funnier, and more grisly, than you could possibly imagine. Like the early 20th century songwriters he so clearly admires, he has a New York fixation, and a lot of the most evocative material he played tonight was set during that period here, including Steeplechase Bound, about a kid from Greenpoint going out to Coney Island for some R&R at the racetrack, and the predictably amusing Welfare Island (which is what Roosevelt Island used to be called).
Keating followed with an acoustic set, playing guitar and occasional piano, accompanied by upright bassist Jason Mercer (from Ron Sexsmith’s band). Keating’s most recent material has been on the Americana tip, and judging from the mostly unreleased stuff he played tonight, he isn’t finished with that genre yet. This may have been an acoustic set, but Keating made sure his guitar was good and loud in the mix, and wailed, leaving no one guessing how much of a rocker he really is. Of the new material, the most memorable tracks were Saint Cloud, his latest Bukowskiesque set piece, all loaded imagery; Before My Wife Gets Home, possibly the most ribald thing he’s done to date, an oldschool honkytonk cheating song that he played on piano; and the closing song of the set, the vivid Louisiana, inspired by a stop in New Orleans after the hurricane and Brownie’s masterful management of the disaster. He also played the intense, climactic Lonely Blue, which builds from a slow, deliberate series of screechy chords on the verse to one of his typically anthemic, major-key choruses and this went over especially well with the crowd. If the show was any indication, his next album will be as good as his last one, which was as good as the one before that, ad infinitum: living here in New York, we so often take for granted performers that people around the country wait for impatiently for months to see.