Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Amanda Thorpe/Randi Russo/Ninth House at Hank’s Saloon, Brooklyn NY 8/25/07

Amanda Thorpe has made a career out of joining bands that are ok and making them suddenly great. She did that with the Wirebirds, and recently with the Bedsit Poets. Tonight she showed how, with just her voice, her songs and her new Christian guitar (it’s a gospel model that New York musicians apparently love to play in the guitar store until they notice the big white cross on the headstock). She opened with a Richard Thompson song, a-capella.“That’s as close to Linda Thompson as I can get,” Thorpe sheepishly told the crowd, but what could have been pure hubris wasn’t. As a singer, British expat Thorpe is in the same league, with a similarly haunting, resigned delivery. But she can also belt and wail and has a very playful, jazzy side that she showed off tonight. If and when Norah Jones falls off the radar – not that she should – Thorpe could very well take her place.

She played a lot of material from her forthcoming cd Union Square, including its understatedly wistful, beautifully melancholy title track. Her Bedsit Poets bandmate Edward Rogers joined her onstage for a duet on the sad, knowing The Highs Can’t Beat the Lows. A couple of times, she tried to engage the audience in a singalong, but this fell flat: everybody was too busy listening. The crowd here drinks and gabs: that she got them to shut up pretty much says it all. Her best songs were an unreleased number called the River Song, a bitter tale of rejection and betrayal, and the morbid, 6/8 Bedsit Poets sea chantey Around and Around. She also did a marvelously nuanced version of Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire, jazzed up the Mama Cass hit Dream a Little Dream of Me and closed with a breathtakingly powerful version of the Steve Wynn classic For All I Care, bringing out every ounce of the lyrics’ suicidal wrath.

The only complaint about Randi Russo’s show was that it was too quiet. Otherwise, she and her trio (minus her lead guitarist Lenny Molotov, who was out of town) played a set of some of her most powerful songs, including the hypnotic, pounding, Velvets-inflected One Track Mind (from her obscure Live at CB’s Gallery ep), the eerie, chromatic Adored, the towering, 6/8 alienation anthem Prey and the scathing minor-key dayjob-from-hell number Battle on the Periphery. She’s been playing lead guitar in the Oxygen Ponies lately, and the careening, noisy solo she took toward the end of the unreleased Hurt Me Now turned the atmospheric, melancholy song into a blazing rocker as the rhythm section channeled Joy Division. Tonight, for some reason, all the bands were quiet: at least this put her cutting lyrics and velvety vocals out front and center.

Ninth House frontman Mark Sinnis was celebrating his birthday, and they predictably packed the place. They’ve shuffled their lineup yet again, with a new guitarist. Despite not having had the chance to do much rehearsing, the Anti-Dave, as he calls himself attacked the songs with passion and imagination. Until very recently Ninth House had a very 80s dark anthemic feel, and while the majesty of the songs remains, there’s a newly bluesy, somewhat improvisatory feel to the music, particularly in the interplay between the keyboards and the guitar: an unexpected and very promising development. They burned their way through the swinging, country-inflected When the Sun Bows to the Moon and Mistaken for Love, found some new, bluesy energy in Injury Home (from their second cd Swim in the Silence) and closed with a blistering cover of Ghost Riders in the Sky.

We went to Superfine afterward and were reassured to find this place as good a choice of late-night hang as it’s always been: all the yuppies go home by 1 AM, and the crowd that remains is pretty much like any other crowd you’d find in what used to be New York, a motley crew that keeps to themselves and doesn’t annoy.

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August 26, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Concert Review: 18 at Union Pool, Brooklyn NY 8/24/07

The place used to be a pool dealership. Not real pools, but the glorified hot tubs you can see from the air out behind seemingly every single-family home in Queens as you land at LaGuardia. From the looks of it, total market saturation put an end to the original Union Pool. In the same lazy vein as Pete’s Candy Store and Arlene Grocery, when the new owners took over the spot, they kept the name. It was rockabilly central for awhile back in the 90s, the curb outside typically lined with life-size Hot Wheels vehicles, antique Fords and Hudsons from the 40s and 50s chopped and customized to the point where their book value was a tiny fraction of it would have been had the cars been restored or even left in their original junk condition. Now the place is more like Jersey central – or central Jersey. At least that’s how it was at the bar tonight, a bunch of fresh-faced yuppie puppies dancing awkwardly to hip-hop. But out back in the music building, it was like the old days, a decidedly mixed crowd: totally Williamsburg, 1997. We missed the tight, Stonesy cover band the Blue Mountain Dogs and janglerockers Swagg. Guitar/drums instrumental duo Cocaine & Abel were already into their set when we got there, playing what you might call sludgecore, slow, pounding drums and screeching, overtone-laden, nails-down-the-blackboard guitar. When they sped it up lickety-split to 200 BPM, it was just silly, but the downtempo stuff was pretty cool. As more than one audience member said in the courtyard outside, more people would have stuck around had they not been so excruciatingly loud. The room here isn’t tiny like Barbes – it has nice high ceilings and a little balcony in the back – but there’s absolutely no need to lug in a huge Marshall stack like Cocaine (or was it Abel) did. But maybe that’s the whole point of the band.

18 headlined, playing their cd release show, and brought a big crowd. The first thing you noticed about this band is that people were dancing, and in this part of town, that’s frowned upon, as if the Pentecostals had taken over. The next thing that was obvious is that most everybody was pretty drunk. Memo to club owners: this band brings a big drinking crowd. Union Pool just paid next month’s rent with what they made at the bar tonight. Another striking thing is how tight the band was: like a lot of classic punk bands, they’d finish a song and then jump right into another, often without even stopping. Bits and pieces of familiar tunes floated to the surface of their sonic tsunami: TV Eye, Should I Stay or Should I Go, Pretty Vacant, Blitzkrieg Bop. This Williamsburg quartet use the same basic riff-rock building blocks as a million other garage/punk bands before them but then smash them to pieces with uncommon ferocity and skill. 18 is a very democratic band: everybody sings, including the drummer (who happens to be their best singer). They also don’t take themselves seriously at all: “Drank so much I almost drowned,” the bass player deadpanned during his first number. In 18’s world, everything’s either a party or a joke and that’s perfectly ok because we need bands who A) bring the party with them and B) know the difference between telling a joke and being one.

Their best songs were a twisted portrait of a Hells Kitchen character, sung by the drummer; an amusing faux-country song about a “milk-fed girl from out of town” who really loves to eat, at everybody else’s expense, and a snide garage tune called Squaresville, which as the Telecaster player made clear at the end of the song was a Williamsburg reference. They played a long set: wham, wham, wham, one song after another with barely room in between for anyone in the band to even take a hit of beer. Like some of the other bands in our most recent review, they would have fit in perfectly at CBGB, 1981. That’s a compliment. We went to legendary, now vastly overpriced neighborhood greasepit Kellogg’s Diner around the corner afterward for onion rings. If that’s not rock n roll, you tell me what is.

August 26, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments