Lucid Culture


Some Usual Suspects You Might Have Missed

We don’t review every show we see. Some of them suck. Or sometimes a good performer has a off night, and since we’d rather report good news than bad – believe it or not – we hold back til we have something worth recommending. And we don’t want to get pegged as a fansite that goes on and on about the same stale faces. There’s a lot going on in this town and we try to make Lucid Culture a reflection of that.


But this week was one of familiar faces, none of them the least bit stale. Went to the Roulette Sisters a week ago at Barbes. Unsurprisingly the place was packed: this band has a huge following, and there was no way that all their fans were going to be able to squish themselves, sardine-like into the little back room here. They did their usual mix of innuendo-laden old blues covers along with a completely over-the-top original in that vein, and another called Border Radio, a tribute to the Carter Family that the band recorded on an Edison cylinder last summer as part of a as-yet unissued compilation album. The band’s four-part harmonies, the lead guitar, National steel guitar, washboard and viola have never sounded better. They also covered a song by Uncle Leon and the Alibis. Uncle Leon apparently wrote a song about some product and is now off on tour playing that song, courtesy of the manufacturer (whoever they are – doesn’t really matter, does it?). Speaking of which, considering that artists can’t really make that much money off cd sales anymore, we don’t have any problem with musicians licensing their songs to commercials and such. Whether the song is any good or not, if there is anyone left alive twenty years from now, nobody is going to remember if a song was used to hawk product X or Y a generation before. Nobody listens to commercials anyway: everybody mutes or Tivos them. That the corporations haven’t realized this and are still wasting fifteen percent of earnings on advertising is a mystery we don’t have an answer to.

Then on Wednesday we ended up at Luna where Ninth House were playing an uncharacteristically early, midweek show. Luna is a big space, and in order to pay the rent they put a lot of bands on the bill here, starting early. The opening act tonight was the Duelists. We don’t usually do bad reviews, but these guys were something worse than awful. Completely beyond the pale: Uncle Pumpkin, whom we excoriated a few weeks ago, are delightful by comparison. This unit is essentially a dorky, flannel-shirted white guy who can’t sing a lick, accompanied by his Asian girlfriend who shares his inability to sing on key and who also proved that she can’t dance in time with the music. We calculated that the backing band behind them – a rhythm section, lead guitarist, keyboardist and two horns – probably cost the couple at least $700 for this show and maybe a rehearsal or two. It’s impossible to imagine the musicians doing this gig for anything other than money, because the squeaky-clean, G-rated, wide-eyed Up with People-style straight-to-the-Disney-Channel pop they played was arguably the worst set we’ve seen all year. You could say that their songs are anthems for the kind of kids who stay virgins until they get married, except that the songs aren’t anthemic: there’s no melody to remember. And their lyrics sound like something their frontboy lifted  directly from some random page of a Tony Robbins self-help paperback: “I just want to be myself but I can’t!” he exclaimed tunelessly, over and over again while his galpal jumped joyously if clumsily in front of her mic. Their ineffably white, pep-rally enthusiasm wouldn’t have been out of place at a Klan rally. Who were those Pennsylvania twins who about a year ago were doing white supremacist Madonna-style pop? The Duelists should hook up with them. “We have one more for you,” dorkboy finally told the crowd. “No more!” bellowed a Ninth House fan, a sentiment echoed by the crowd, who’d come out probably expecting a potentially bad segue, but nothing remotely this awful. What were the Duelists thinking? That their neighbors and co-workers from suburban New Jersey – or wherever they hail from – would shlep all the way out to Williamsburg to see them? They didn’t. Hopefully they’ll go back to the strip mall land that spawned them and stay there.

Ninth House’s newfound taste for improvisation seems to have reached its outer limits, limited strictly to intros, outros and the extra verse or chorus here and there. As much as the idea of improvisational art rock might seem off-putting, this is a band you should see. Everybody in the band is listening to everyone else. With the addition of the new guitarist and violinist, they’ve discovered interplay, and the effect can be delicious. On the potent Nashville gothic kiss-off anthem Mistaken for Love, the violin gave it a cajun flavor, further spiced up with biting, bluesy guitar. Then they took an extra verse right before the end of the song, and the guitarist took it into Ziggy Stardust glam territory: unexpected, to say the least, and potentially ugly, but it worked perfectly. And then they ended it cold. Their version of the old Sisters of Mercy goth hit Nine While Nine is perfect for what they’re doing now: it’s only two chords, giving everybody a lot of latitude to stretch out. Bands like Phish and the Moe may have given jamming a bad name, but it’s been an important part of rock since before rock was rock: they don’t call it a bluegrass jam for nothing. When a band gets really good at improvising, it adds a completely new dimension to their live show: you’ll never see them play the same song the same way twice. Which gives the audience a whole new reason to come to shows. Props to Ninth House for taking the road less traveled, especially at this relatively late stage of their career.

November 10, 2007 - Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. […] Sat Jan 19 Ninth House plays Hank’s, 11 PM. The Nashville gothic quintet has never sounded better, with the keys and […]

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