Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Ecstatic Epic Grandeur: Botanica at the Delancey, NYC 5/14/08

A triumphant homecoming. Although Botanica has done a lot of European touring in the last several months, it had been about a year since they last played New York. Transcending the limitations of an awful sound mix and a bizarre crowd situation, they reminded how badly they’ve been missed here: there is simply no darker, sexier band anywhere.

This was a drastically revamped version of the band: of the crew who last played here, only frontman/keyboardist Paul Wallfisch and guitarist John Andrews remain. Losing a bassist the caliber of their longtime four-string guy Christian Bongers would ordinarily cripple a band, but they’ve replaced him with one of the world’s best, Bee & Flower frontwoman Dana Schechter, whose fluid, slide and chord-driven lines were unwaveringly brilliant, even though half the time it was hard to hear her. This was also the debut show for their new drummer, and if it was any kind of audition, he passed it with flying colors, particularly on the hauntingly swinging, 7/8 anthem Eleganza and Wines from their most recent American release, Berlin Hi-Fi. The woman playing violin stole the show half the time – a hard feat to pull off with this band – with her searing, incisive flights and fills.

They opened with a pop song: while menace is still their defining undercurrent, they’ve diversified their sound in the last couple of years, and this particular number was quite the surprise, albeit a successful one. Andrews picked another new number, a slowly crescendoing, Procol Harum-inflected, organ-driven art-rock number as the launching pad for a majestic, roaring slide guitar solo. Wallfisch sang the next song in French over a slowly circular, 6/8 melody with a rousing gypsy dance at the end. He then handed over vocals to Schechter, who was sadly almost completely inaudible, delivering a rapidly shuffling, macabre new tune that could have been vintage, mid-80 Siouxsie & the Banshees.

Then they launched into The Truth Fish, the (sort of) title track from their classic 2004 album, Wallfisch wandering offstage and into the audience with a bullhorn while the band swung the song’s noir cabaret melody around by the tail. Andrews and the violinist joined in a scorching crescendo as they wound up the the dance that builds up to the conclusion, wailing furiously until Wallfisch launched into the song’s ominous outro, the memory of the smoking pit at Ground Zero still fresh in everyone’s mind:

Fires
No one cares
To put out
Out
Out
Out
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE TRUTH FISH!!!!

“That was amazing,” Wallfisch exclaimed, and nobody was arguing with him, up front, at least. Unfortunately, the sound in the club was quieter than it’s possible to imagine it ever being here, making it very difficult to hear the band for anyone any further than, say, twenty feet from the stage. Compounding the bad sound was the fact that to celebrate the reopening of the club’s rooftop barbecue (which used to be free but now costs $5), they were serving free drinks at the bar in the back, where a loud crowd of yuppie puppies from out of town had congregated, bellowing at each other, oblivious to the music. Occasionally, a fratboy would drag his sorority girlfriend up through the crowd to see what all the fuss was about, only to stand there mystified for a few seconds before retreating back to the bar. Which was hardly a surprise: what Botanica does isn’t exactly safe or suburban, only underscoring the division between the throngs of amped-up fans at the front, and the New Jersey contingent in the back slurping down the free vodka.

They closed with another gypsy rocker, How, and then, counterintuitively, the quiet, slightly anxious This Perfect Spot. With Andrews punching his hammer-on chords over a swinging soul beat, it was totally 60s Stax-Volt. Wallfisch told the crowd he’d written it in Berlin, feeling good about the fact that he missed his wife, and the song hit the spot like a fine wine, rueful around the edges yet glad to be firing on all cylinders. So good to be alive while the whole world is going to hell. At least we have Botanica to provide a good soundtrack.

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May 16, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment