Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

QNG Live at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 3/9/08

At first glance, the concept seemed forced and contrived: four attractive, ponytailed women in matching black t-shirts and pants playing rigorously arranged music for recorder. But QNG (as in Quartet New Generation) proved to be much more than just the latest attempt to market classical music as theme-pop, playing an impressively versatile mix of classical and new music with equal amounts of passion, wit, playfulness and rigor. Without a program, it wasn’t always easy to tell precisely what they were playing, but there was a tradeoff: drinks and a nice waitress to bring them! Carnegie Hall suddenly seems boring by comparison.

They began with a baroque work: imagine Scherzo fur Krummhorn by Georg Bohm, if in fact it exists (probably not, but you get the picture). After that, they did a circular, hypnotic modern work, reminding a lot of Chicago downtempo improvisers Tortoise. They followed with the last, unfinished piece that Johann Sebastian Bach ever wrote, a fugue. It’s not one of his major works, but it’s still Bach, melodic with a slightly detached melancholy. The group stopped it cold where it ended, unexpectedly, and after a meaningful pause played the ending composed by one of his sons. The quartet had brought what seemed to be an entire factory floor worth of recorders in various sizes and types of wood, the players sometimes alternating between several within a single song. One was a large, boxy, rectangular wooden instrument capable of of playing chords on notes far lower than one would ever expect from a recorder. At times where the highs were matched by lows, it was as if an organ was playing, testament to the group’s tightly synchronous feel for the music.

They also did an arrangement of a medieval madrigal worthy of Bach along with a new piece by contemporary composer Paul Moravec on the theme of water heating to a boil, whose predictable, long crescendo was quite enjoyable until the end, which was painfully akin to listening to a roomful of teakettles screeching away at full steam. They also played another new piece that annoyed with an incessant pizzicato rhythm until a sudden macabre swell followed by a frenetic chase scene, and then it all became clear: the composer’s simply trying to be Mingus. The group ought to take some liberties with it and give it some muscle in the early going. But all in all, this show was a revelation, the last thing one would ever expect to hear in the back room of a Gallic-themed bar in Park Slope, Brooklyn where QNG earned a rousing ovation for a performance that was as adventurous as it was virtuosic.

The monthly classical series at Barbes, needless to say, is a welcome development. Here’s hoping that they continue with it: early Sundays are usually a wash as far as bar traffic is concerned, so it ought to bring some extra bodies into the place while maintaining Barbes’ reliably high standards.

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March 10, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Bucketful of Beefstock

A teaspoon is more like it. Beefstock is an annual three-day music festival held at the Full Moon Resort in upstate Oliverea, New York, a relatively short drive from Woodstock. Dedicated to local musician Darren Bohan, a talented guitarist/bassist and fireman who was killed when the World Trade Center was detonated, the gathering, now in its eighth year, features mostly bands and songwriters from the Freddy’s Bar scene in Brooklyn, where Bohan was highly respected and served as the bass player in Livia Hoffman’s band. Other than a few shows at the now-defunct Blu Lounge in Williamsburg, her annual appearances here are the only ones Hoffman has played in recent years.

Hoffman is the best songwriter you’ve never heard of, flying so far below the radar she doesn’t even have a myspace. She plays what she calls “lit-rock,” catchy guitar-driven songs with frequently scathing, literate lyrics, spiced with references to literature from throughout the ages. Example: the opening song of her early Saturday evening set, a fiery, propulsive number called Infinite Jest. The title is the only David Foster Wallace-ism in the song: it doesn’t go on for a thousand verses. It’s the haunting tale of a road trip punctuated by a breakup, where the narrator finds herself wanting to get back into a café – by herself – but comes up against a locked door with a sign on it saying “back in five minutes,” as the outro raises the song’s emotional level to redline. Backed by filmmaker James Dean Conklin on lead guitar, Plastic Beef leader Joe Filosa on drums and Erica Smith’s bass player, Hoffman reminded how much she’s been missed on the scene, and how good her songs would sound if she and her crew had a chance to work them up: this was clearly a pickup band. They tentatively made their way through the elegaic U-Shaped Hole in the Universe, the title track from the ep Hoffman made as a tribute to Bohan, stabbed at the Badfinger hit Day After Day, and finally pulled it together on the brilliantly catchy, heartwarming major-key janglerocker Carry. They closed their brief, barely half-hour set with a rousing if loose version of Hoffman’s excoriating, bluesy Paper Bag, an anti-trendoid broadside if there ever was one, done as an attempt at an early Beatles-style R&B raveup.

After a break for dinner, the show continued with Erica Smith and most of her band, John Sharples sitting in impressively on drums, playing a bunch of songs from her new album Snowblind. The title track featured a woozy noise jam mid-song with lead guitarist Dann Baker (of Love Camp 7) trading off wails and roars with Sharples’ drum freakout. They also ran through a riveting version of The World Is Full of Pretty Girls, which could be the great missing track from American Beauty. Their take of the ridiculously catchy, all-too-brief 60s-ish hit Firefly, also from the new album, had bounce and swing; another brief number, the soul-inflected Who Are You was a study in contrast. They closed with the cover of One for My Baby that’s usually a centerpiece of their live shows, Smith’s heartwrenching vocals a big hit with the audience, a mix of fellow musicians and locals whom one suspects seldom get to hear material this good.

Paula Carino and her band were hands-down the stars of at least this part of the show, following with a blistering, upbeat, abbreviated set including the tongue-in-cheek Robots Helping Robots, a lickety-split version of the wrenchingly lyrical alienation anthem Grace Before Movie, and the spirited, Latin-inflected, sarcastic Rough Guide to You, a travelogue through a relationship where the road runs out, leaving the narrator wishing for a guidebook that obviously doesn’t exist. With its big stage and powerful sound system, the acoustics here are generally marvelous and they were tonight, Carino’s casual low soprano cutting through strong and clear. As a lyricist, she’s unsurpassed; one could also say that of the crystalline craftsmanship of her songs and the tightness of her band, Filosa doing what was probably sextuple duty this evening. Beefstock usually features a lot of jamming in the wee hours, with predictable focus and tightness issues, but Carino hit the ground running and burst through the finish line seemingly without breaking a sweat.

Kirsten Williams and then the John Sharples Band were next on the bill. Williams’ stock in trade is understatement and metaphor, and backed by bassist Andy Mattina (who was also doing multiple duty tonight, in Carino’s band and with others despite being under the weather) ran through a lilting, subtly smart set of catchy acoustic pop. Sharples’ trademark is playing well-chosen covers by obscure bands. Switching to guitar, he ran through a bunch including a countrified version of the Erica Smith janglerock hit Secrets, joined by Smith on backing vocals and guitar. Predictably, Smith stole the show with her spectacular, Aretha Franklin-esque vocals on a cover of the Beatles’ I’ve Got a Feeling. There’d been a whole slate of good bands including the Sloe Guns on Friday night and more coming up this evening, but the driving rain outside was turning to snow and the lights of New York, though invisible to the eye, were beckoning.

If you’re wondering where Beefstock gets its name, it’s because Plastic Beef usually provides the the rhythm section (and sometimes the whole backing band) for several of the artists who play here. Look for upcoming post-Beefstock shows at Freddy’s on March 22 as well as another coming up shortly at Hank’s.

March 10, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Linda Draper and Randi Russo Live at Cake Shop, NYC 3/7/08

Backed by excellent drummer Anders Griffen, Linda Draper flat-out rocked. Wait a minute: this is the same Linda Draper who did Snow White Trash Girl and One Two Three Four and all those other albums with the wildly imaginative, seemingly stream-of-consciousness lyrics set to slow, hypnotic, trance-inducing guitar? Yup, that Linda Draper. Lately she’s reinvented herself as the catchy rock songwriter she seemed to want to be on her first album, with richly rewarding results. And what a terrific guitarist she’s become! The obvious comparison her most recent work draws is Nina Nastasia. Both songwriters share a terse, frequently slashing lyrical sensibility, a seemingly effortless fingerpicking style and a zero tolerance for bullshit. The material Draper played tonight, virtually all new songs destined to be recorded shortly on her sixth (!) album is more chordally driven than her earlier work, and melodically she’s made a quantum leap. She always had an ear for a tune but now she has the chops to play whatever she wants, which is pretty much anything: your average picker can’t just walk in and launch into a Linda Draper song without knowing it thoroughly. Though Draper’s vocals live off subtlety and nuance, the sound engineer had her voice perfectly up in the mix so that Griffen’s equally subtle, nuanced playing – the guy sounded like Jim White tonight – didn’t drown them out.

The next act’s frontman apparently did some time in a retro-80s disco band that had something of a following with the New Jersey/Long Island tourist crowd. He now seems to want to mine an early 90s retro-glamrock vein. But this was a band show only in the sense that he had a group behind him: it was all about him, jumping and preening and affecting an English accent even when he wasn’t singing. Too bad, because some of the songs had some nice, unexpected major-to-minor chord changes, and the band seemed inspired, when they could be heard. But that wasn’t often: despite the sound guy’s attempts to find a balance between the instruments, he kept turning up his guitar and drowning everybody out.

Randi Russo and band careened through a typically fiery, inspiring set. Russo is an amazingly inventive guitarist, fond of odd tunings, and being lefthanded she plays upside down a la Hendrix, resulting in a wash of delicious overtones from her Gibson SG. The band is a somewhat incongruously assembled lot, a hard-hitting drummer with roots in thrash metal, the great Lenny Molotov – something of an American Richard Thompson – alternating between virtuosic lead guitar and lapsteel work – and a bass player with roots in surf music, who’d probably turn everything into Misirlou or Pipeline if given half a chance. Their common bond is inspiration, which isn’t hard to fathom once you hear the material.

Russo’s stock in trade is outsider anthems; she’s the antithesis of your typical conformist indie rock bandleader. Alternately snide, sarcastic and anguished, the characters who populate her songs exhaust themselves at lousy dayjobs, rail against lazy, overpaid bosses who do none of the work and get all of the profits, and infidel lovers who renege on their promises. But a close listen reveals plenty of subtle humor beneath the rage and fury. The high point of the night was an untitled suite with the recurrent chorus “keep your head high while you lie low.” Right before the long, Middle Eastern-inflected outro, Russo brought the song down to just the guitars, slamming out an ominous series of chords while Molotov provided eerie sheets of feedback. They also did another new one, Invisible, a catchy backbeat-driven hit. The rhythm section were joking about how the intro is pretty much identical to the way the Joy Division classic Atrocity Exhibition begins, so the drummer launched into the groove and hung with it, joined quickly by the bassist, and finally the rest of the band. Considering how dark most of their music is, this band sure has a lot of fun. All indications were that the rest of the night was garage rock, which looked promising, but we had places to go and drunk people to look after.

March 10, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment