Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Duke Robillard at Wagner Park, NYC 7/17/08

Duke Robillard has made a reputation as one of the few blues guitarists who can indulge in a lot of pyrotechnics without overplaying. Tonight, the former Roomful of Blues lead player turned in an almost shockingly terse set: has he lost a step, or was he just in a minimalist mood? Those who came out expecting to hear mile-a-minute solos and wild, frenetic wailing doubtlessly came away disappointed, but for those who think long guitar solos are overkill, this was a show to see. The crowd was weird: in addition to the usual contingent of old stoner guys in Pink Floyd t-shirts, there were tons of rugrats, and a young woman who looked like the actress in Carnival of Souls clinging tightly to a pillow-sized stuffed animal that she wouldn’t let go of, even when her boyfriend showed up. There was also a mobster and the muscular, tattoed guy who appeared to be his enforcer, arguing over a favor the enforcer wanted. Whenever the conversation got really heated, they went closer to the stage to keep their discussion private. No dummies, those guys.

Robillard had an excellent band behind him, a saxist who doubled on harp, keyboardist and rhythm section. Robillard’s always been more of a swing jazz guy than a straight-up blues player, but it was mostly all the latter tonight. Robillard’s remarkably chordal aproach has always distinguished him from similar flashy players, and unsurprisingly, it was that material that stuck out from the rest of the songs in the set, particularly a straight-up, Stonesy rock song possibly titled She’s a Live Wire. Early in the set, Robillard tried taking flight a couple of times but couldn’t get off the runway, so he held back the rest of the way. He started playing his usual big, beautiful Gibson hollowbody, then switched to Telecaster and immediately found his groove. Then, surprisingly, he put it down and sang a cheesy old 50s hit, which didn’t exactly work out because nobody comes out to hear Robillard sing: he’s one of those guys who sounds like he has a frog in his throat. He then picked up the Tele again for a couple of cuts from his new album Swing Session, a jump blues and a slow ballad, then picked up another Fender that he said somebody had handed him and asked him to play, and complied. And played his most interesting solos of the night. With the same charmed guitar, he then tackled a T-Bone Walker number (now there’s a jazzcat playing blues!) and began it with some classic T-Bone style 4-on-3 playing, before closing with a long, almost Grateful Dead-style one-chord jam to close the set.

To answer a question recently posed, why would anyone want to see a blues show? Well, you can dance to it – the kids definitely were. It’s fun, and if the band is good and doesn’t overdo it the soloing and interplay between musicians is very cool (translation: it’s great stoner music). And the blues cats keep dropping like flies: someday you or your children may not get to hear any of this anywhere but on a recording.

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July 17, 2008 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bad Cop Gives Good Cop the Blues

Good Cop and Bad Cop had an argument about which show to review last night.

Good Cop: Your assignment is the Ted Leo show at Castle Clinton.

Bad Cop: No fucking way. See this sunburn? You wanna know where I got it?

Good Cop: I know, Pier 1, the accordion festival last week.

Bad Cop: That’s right. Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice…what did Bush say?

Good Cop: Don’t be a wimp. You’ve gone through worse for a story before.

Bad Cop: Ain’t that the truth! And I’m sick of it. I could review the organ concert this afternoon…

Good Cop: Nobody wants to read another organ concert review. Maybe in the fall. C’mon, you’ll be late.

Bad Cop: I’m not going. I’d rather go see Duke Robillard instead.

Good Cop: He’s old! None of the kids know who he is.

Bad Cop: My point exactly! Ted Leo’s a popular indie rocker, everybody knows him, he needs a Lucid Culture review like he needs a hole in the head.

Good Cop: But he’ll get us hits, the review will generate traffic. Come on.

Bad Cop: I’d go if you got me on the list. But did you get me on the list? NOOOOO. If this was so important, why didn’t you get me on the list?

Good Cop: There’s no way I could have, we’re nobody to Ted Leo’s record label.

Bad Cop: Then don’t expect me to review it. I don’t understand it. You can get me into any club in town and you can’t get me into a free show at a city park.

Good Cop: Come on, take one for the team.

Bad Cop: I’m not standing in line for an hour in the hot sun with a bunch of trendoids.

Good Cop: You’d rather stand in the hot sun with a bunch of yuppies then?

Bad Cop: Yuppies don’t smell as bad. Besides, how many blues shows have we covered?

Good Cop: OK, ok, just don’t be upset when nobody reads your review.

Bad Cop: You think I’m not used to that?

With that, Bad Cop poured an entire bottle of red wine into his thermos and huffed out the door. His report follows on the next page.

July 17, 2008 Posted by | blues music, concert, Music, music, concert, Rant, rock music | Leave a comment

CD Review: Ward White – Pulling Out

His finest hour. Pulling Out is not just one of the best albums of 2008, it’s one of the best albums of the decade. What Revolver was to Rubber Soul, what Armed Forces was to This Year’s Model, what Oops I Did It Again was to Baby One More Time (just kidding about those last two), Pulling Out is to Ward White’s previous album, Maybe but Probably Not. White is the best songwriter you’ve never heard of, although he’s not exactly under the radar: he’s been featured on NPR and always has his choice of A-list musicians to record with. His soaring voice has more than a few echoes of Jeff Buckley; his lyrics have a wickedly literate sensibility, loaded with puns and double entendres in the same manner as the artist he most closely resembles, Elvis Costello at his late 70s/early 80s peak. This is a brutally subtle, quietly ferocious album, as funny as it is furious.

The cd cover is nothing if not truth in advertising: it’s a visual joke, and it’s a good one, but it’s also savagely dismissive. White writes in character, so the matter of which numbers here are autobiographical and which aren’t is purely speculative. This is a loosely thematic collection of breakup songs, many of them seething with rage, alternately mystified and bemused at being surrounded by clueless idiots who just don’t get it. White’s a tremendously good electric guitarist, flavoring the songs with innumerable warm, jangly, twangy licks. The rhythm section of Catherine Popper on bass and Mark Stepro on drums pulses and grooves, and keyboardist Joe McGinty turns in his finest, most deviously textural work since his days with the Psychedelic Furs.

The cd’s opening track Beautiful Reward sets the tone. The title is a double entendre, a sardonic riff on the posthumous nature of fame. Over a tasty bed of slightly spiky, jangly guitar and lush keyboard textures, White’s narrator chronicles the easy lives of some unlikely characters from years past who marry painters or write “a book of lies, and everybody bought it.” The title track, which follows, is a gem:

Tanya has a tattoo of a dove
She said she did it out of love
That’s why it’s right over her heart
Sometimes it’s better not to start

And then the taunting begins, all sexual tension, very evocative of Costello’s fieriest stuff on This Year’s Model.

Building over a fast new wave beat to a killer chorus, Design for Living looks at relationships from a villain’s point of view: “In hell Jackson Pollock is smiling…he says I should stick to little girls with their little limbs.” The snide, vengeful Getting Along Is Easy chronicles a high-profile breakup: “Everything we do from now on will be on tv and I for one don’t like it.” Let It All Go is subtly hilarious, its melody gently mocking its sanctimonious, completely disingenuous narrator, who finally admits that “Elliot’s bar mitzvah was not the place” to address the matter of his mother-in-law’s drinking.

Me and the Girls continues in a tongue-in-cheek vein: everything was perfectly fine until some interloper guy came along and screwed everything up. Miserable, perhaps the finest track on the cd, tracks the telltale signs of an affair that was doomed from the start, that even without hindsight were obvious. Yet the couple succumb to temptation, or just a respite from loneliness: “It’s been long enough,” White wails on the chorus.

This album also happens to be something of a roman a clef: careful listeners familiar with the New York underground rock scene will discover some faces that look strikingly familiar, especially on the next track, The Ballad of Rawles Balls, a homage to the legendary, satirical cover band from hell. After that, Movie’s Over reverts to the bleak, jaundiced feel of the cd’s earlier material, its protagonist trying to find something to be grateful for even while the world is crumbling around him: “We’ve got a job to do and it’s ugly/I got a job to do so I’m lucky,” White recounts wistfully while strings play beautifully and sadly behind him. The cd wraps up with the Big Star-esque Turn It Up Captain (it helps if you know who the Captain is) and the rivetingly depressive Wrong Again, featuring Stepro on Rhodes:

Please let me go
I don’t belong
Here in this song again…
You think it’s all about you
You think it’s all about answers
You think it’s all that I can do
But you’re wrong

Fans of the pantheon of great songwriters: Costello, Aimee Mann, Steve Kilbey of the Church, LJ Murphy, Jenifer Jackson et al. will love this album. If there is anyone alive a hundred years from now, Ward White will be a star. And in the meantime, in an impressive stroke of generosity, you can visit White’s website and listen to not just this album in its entirety but also several of the other excellent cds he’s put out over the last few years.

July 17, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Steel Pulse at Rockefeller Park, NYC 7/16/08

[Editor’s note: the author of this review was still seething over how disrespectfully police and security had treated an all-black crowd at an O’Jays concert in Crown Heights, Brooklyn the previous night, therefore the the angry tone and occasional profanity here.]

 

There is no need for overwhelming security at outdoor concerts in New York. End of story.

 

The Steel Pulse concert at Rockefeller Park tonight and the O’Jays show in Crown Heights Monday night were a study in contrasts. To any racist who would insinuate something to the effect of “the reason why we need ironclad security at Wingate Field is because it’s a bad neighborhood:” FUCK YOU. The crowd at Rockefeller Park in Battery Park City tonight was a quintessentially New York, beautifully multi-racial and multi-generational mix, probably about half-black. And just as at Wingate Field, there were no fights. There was a lot more weed-smoking tonight, and half the crowd was drinking – OMIGOD, THERE WERE PEOPLE DRINKING ALCOHOL, DECLARE A STATE OF EMERGENCY AND CALL OUT THE NATIONAL GUARD!!! But unlike at Wingate Field, this park is on the water, with innumerable exits available: if necessary the crowd could have dispersed in thirty seconds flat, rather than being forced to leave single-file through one single barbwire fence exit. Emphatic verdict: New Yorkers do not go to concerts to cause trouble. Repeat: THERE IS NO NEED FOR OVERWHELMING SECURITY AT ANY CONCERT ANYWHERE IN NEW YORK, EVER. EVER. EVER.

 

Sure, it never hurts to have a couple of big guys on hand to usher out the occasional drunk who’s had enough and can’t stop hitting on the women or otherwise causing trouble. But the all-black crowd Monday night in the middle of the ghetto in Crown Heights was just as lethargic and overwhelmed by the heat as the crowd at Steel Pulse tonight in the middle of yuppieville.

 

If you don’t already know them, Steel Pulse were the best of the many excellent British reggae bands of the 70s. Contemporaries of the Clash and Bob Marley, they distinguished themselves with their remarkable tunefulness as well as their penchant for relevant, spot-on social commentary. Their songwriting was remarkably complex, utilizing a lot of jazz chords, a far cry from the typically gnomic Rasta “reasoning” set to interminable two-chord jams that dominated a lot of classic-era reggae (although, if you’re, um, in the mood, all that can be great fun). Despite the fact that the band hit the stage at about 7:40 PM, most of the windows in the luxury highrises above were dark: the yuppies who live there are obviously all working overtime and unable to enjoy treats such as this. Their loss.

 

Steel Pulse are celebrating thirty years on the road and despite that managed to turn in a passionate, powerful set, even though most of it simply amounted to running through a lot of hits. They went on to a sarcastic intro of the Star Spangled Banner before launching into their own flag ballad, Rally Round (“Rally round the red, black, gold and green,” i.e. the colors of Africa). On the next tune, frontman David Hinds stopped it short, a typical move roots reggae bands use to energize the crowd: “Mi na waan stop-and-start, but,” he looked around,” Black holocaust still here.” If only he could have been in Crown Heights Monday night. Then he and the band launched back into No More Weapons, an anti-chemical warfare song echoing the Peter Tosh classic No Nuclear War. The sound system had been acting up, resulting in Hinds’ vocals being inaudible for the first half of Bodyguard, a ruthlessly deadly rejoinder to anyone who would safeguard the life of a fascist.

 

Reaffirming the band’s continuing relevance, they continued with a new song, the propulsive Door of No Return, about a visit to the infamous Ghanian prison where slaves were thrown in chains into slave ships. They closed the set with the big Rasta hit Stepping Out, but returned for a long encore that basically served as a second set. A medley of their classic hits came first: the fiery Soldiers, the defiant Taxi Driver (about how hard it is for a black man to catch a cab in New York City), and Blues Dance Raid, about getting an illegal concert shut down by the police. They kept the crowd bouncing with a remarkably raw, heartfelt version of Earth Crisis and then a tongue-in-cheek new cautionary tale, Global Warning, followed by the wry Babylon Makes the Rules. Steel Pulse are known for marathon sets, but at this point they played one final number and called it a night. It dread in dis year Babylon, but Jah (and Steel Pulse) give to I and I spiritual nourishment. And no guns. And no security.

 

Think about that for a minute. Remember – in a police state, everyone is a criminal.

July 17, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments