Lucid Culture


Concert Review: The Sloe Guns and the Toneballs at Freddy’s, Brooklyn NY 8/2/08

Long-running New York Americana rockers the Sloe Guns were too loud for the room: they’re used to big stages, and this time they weren’t on one. On one hand, hearing the clang of frontman Eric Alter’s beautiful Gretsch hollowbody (and then his Telecaster) against the roar of lead player Mick Izzo’s Gibson (and then his Tele) was texture heaven. But in a small downstairs room like Freddy’s, it’s hard to sing over that kind of sonic assault, and with the vocal mic turned up into the red, the crowd got out their earplugs. Echoes of CBGB circa 1977. Textures are one of the Sloe Guns’ trademarks, along with guitar duels (none of those tonight) and first-rate songwriting. The band is responsible for a couple of genuine classics, and they played both of them. Dillon, a slowly burning, backbeat-driven outlaw ballad from their first album was one of them, and they upped the ante even further with Guardian Angel, an excoriating kiss-off anthem from their Last Will & Testament album. Hearing just one of those songs made the whole evening worthwhile; hearing both was a real treat.


Best known as an arthouse filmmaker, former Blow This Nightclub frontman Dan Sallitt is also a first-rate songwriter. Over the course of a relatively long (for him, anyway), fifty-minute set, he and his new band the Toneballs proved the former LA post-new wave rocker as vital as ever. Like Elvis Costello or Ward White, Sallitt is something of a psychopathologist, minutely dissecting the pathology of relationships gone horribly wrong. Tonight’s show featured some impressive new, post BTN material, including a slow, pensive, somewhat Neil Young-ish number in 6/8 that they played early in the set, a long look at a woman who can’t seem to pull herself together. They followed with the characteristically caustic, sarcastic BTN song Mr. Insensitive. Sallitt then announced that the band had decided to play a new Richard Thompson cover every time out. “I thought this was our only gig,” bassist Dann Baker (who fronts amazing psychedelic rockers Love Camp 7 and plays lead in Erica Smith’s band) said puckishly.


Sallitt didn’t respond directly. “I promise not to sing in a British accent,” he told the crowd, and promptly steered the unit into very treacherous waters. Covering a pantheonic artist like Thompson is always a risk, especially such an iconic choice as Shoot Out the Lights, but the band actually rose to the occasion and delivered, testament to the quality of the players: drummer Bill Gerstel (who’d just finished a set with his regular band, the Sloe Guns) kept it slow and dark, Sallitt stayed within himself as promised and lead guitarist Paul McKenzie – who’d been getting some delicious, watery tonalities with a Leslie effects pedal earlier – not only managed to play a couple of the leads that Thompson plays on the record, but also added his own anguished, chromatic, Thompsonesque, bent-note work. The audience was awestruck. After a somewhat ominous new song featuring the lead player on electric bouzouki, providing a clanging, Rickenbacker-style effect, they encored with the punchy Blow This Nightclub song Fran Goes to School. It’s a tongue-in-cheek tune about a shut-in finally seeing daylight, building from a Talking Heads-ish verse into an impossibly catchy, fluid chorus. The crowd wanted more, but that was all the band had rehearsed. Considering that this was the Toneballs’ debut performance, one can only hope that they’ll do another, and sooner than the six months it’s been since Sallitt last played a live set.


August 5, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

CD Review: Martin Bisi – Sirens of the Apocalypse

In over 20 years of producing, playing and recording, Martin Bisi has become known as something akin to a nice Steve Albini. Perhaps best known for his work producing Sonic Youth, his arguably greatest achievement was transforming legendary New York noise rockers Live Skull from a second-rate PiL imitation into the magnificently dirty, evil band that they were in the latter half of the 80s. More recently, he was responsible for Black Fortress of Opium’s gorgeously lush yet scorchingly potent debut album. A master of the high midrange, Bisi’s work is informed as much by a classical sensibility as his days as a teenage delinquent and graffiti artist during the early years of punk in New York City. This album has the same kind of dark, confrontational yet artsy noir sensibility shared by the best of the NYC noir underground: Botanica, Elysian Fields, the Vanity Set, or the Bellmer Dolls, albeit more carnivalesque and chaotic. And it’s far funnier, and less self-conscious, than you would ever imagine: an East Coast El Radio Fantastique, perhaps?


The album’s opening cut, the title track, starts out ominous and surreal like the intro to Bowie’s Diamond Dogs. Cut two, Mary Maudlin (a Mary Magalene pun) is loaded with Bisi’s characteristic sarcasm: “I want a rocking guy!” exclaims a cheerleader type in one of the album’s many amusing, sampled moments before the song’s ominous organ kicks in. If singles were still being released today, the obvious choice would be the next track, the delightfully satirical Goth Chick ’98: as a bonus, the cd also includes the amusing, totally retro 80s video for the song. Over a mishmash of voices and what sounds like eerie toy instruments, Bisi intones the lyrics in a voice evocative of Lou Reed or Botanica’s Paul Wallfisch in a particularly menacing moment.


The cd continues with La Vie S’Enfuie (Life Runs Away), the dark, suspenseful organ ballad Felicity Ann McGuire and then a funny, true late-night bar story followed by the completely over-the-top Rock Mona Lisa, which morphs into more carnival rock at the end. Buddhist Girl is pure punk humor set to a dizzying psychedelic melody flavored with electric sitar. Parsippany, NJ reverts to a sprawling, anthemic art-rock feel. The Silver Balloon is the album’s centerpiece, a careening road trip through a twilit underworld of the mind that just manages not to fall apart. The album wraps up with the noir-rap number My American Way – how’s that for genre-bending? – as bassist Christian Bongers nicks a Lou Reed lick for all it’s worth. And then Bisi ends it with another stolen lick, a familiar one that will nonetheless induce a lot of smiles. 


Like much of Bisi’s work, this cd is best enjoyed on headphones; it’s a great ipod album for nostalgic late-night train rides through neighborhoods that used to be dangerous and someday will be again after all the luxury condos there fall apart and the rats come out of the walls into the night air.

August 5, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | Leave a comment

Why the All Points West Festival Is a Waste of Money

The appeal of an outdoor festival (beyond the possibility of doing way more drugs than you could do in a crowded club, openly at least) is, if only in theory, an economic one. In the eyes of Generation Z (or whatever you call the 12-18 demo), who can’t remember the glory days of $3 cover at the Peppermint Lounge or $2.50 bleacher seats at Shea, why pay $50 six times when you can see six acts for less than that? Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out quite that way.

A 3-day pass for the All Points West outdoor festival in New Jersey this weekend is advertised as $258, but with an added inconvenience charge (i.e. the inconvenience of having to go through Ticketbastard instead of paying at the gate) of a whopping $21.60. Then,Ticketbastard charges you another $2.50 if you want to print the tickets off your own computer instead of picking them up at one of their four (count ‘em, a grand total of FOUR) retail locations in the ENTIRE five boroughs of New York. So the total you’d pay if you wanted to do this the way that probably most concertgoers are would cost your parents a total of $282.10 plus tax (let’s face it, nobody who’s going to this thing are paying for it themselves).

Then you go to the festival’s “rules” section – no joke – and you discover you will not be allowed to bring in any blankets (could be used to hang yourself or climb over the fence if you’re creative), stuffed animals (could run amok if they come to life), chain wallets (could be used to strangle pickpockets), flags (see blankets, above) or anything to drink!!! THIS IS AN OUTDOOR SUMMERTIME ALL-DAY FESTIVAL AND YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO GO ALL DAY WITHOUT DRINKING?!? Of course, you could always just shell out $7 or whatever little bottles of Poland Spring are going for inside (if your parents have just put out the $282.10 that got you in, what’s another hundred bucks in drinks, anyway?).

But…just so you know how cool the organizers are, they want you to know that you are actually allowed to wear a hat! Is that transgressive, or what? Woo hoo, I can wear my Yankees lid, na-na na na-na and you can’t! Not only that, but they’ll also let you bring in a bottle of sunscreen. Are you feeling like a real rebel yet?

So, in theory, your $282.10 gets you in, completely dehydrated, to see Little Brother’s imaginative hip-hop, Michael Franti & Spearhead’s brilliantly fiery, politically charged funk, Forro in the Dark’s hypnotic Brazilian dance music, Kings of Leon’s guitar-fueled garage rock, Rodrigo y Gabriela’s interesting flamenco-inflected guitar/drums instrumentals, the Felice Bros.’ spirited Tex-Mex rock and the slightly campy retro 60s pop of the Duke Spirit. Note that most of these bands are playing on Saturday which is sold out (single-day tix are $90 plus typical Ticketbastard extortion, totaling in excess of a hundred bucks when you add up all the extraneous BS).

Beyond this, you also get a headliner, either Radiohead or the fonkeh-est of all the fonkeh, fonkeh wotbos, Jack Johnson. And also:

Amadou & Mariam – actually really good Francophone African pop

Chromeo – horrid computerized disco

De Novo Dahl – hilariously bad early 70s style corporate pop like Paper Lace but without the novelty songs

Girl Talk – more wretched computerized disco

Grace Potter & the Nocturnals –Alanis Morrissette style corporate pop

Grizzly Bear – annoyingly effeminate chamber pop

Jason Isbell – generic prettyboy singer/songwriter

K’naan –hip-hop, not awful, not great either

Neil Halstead – prettyboy trendoid singer/songwriter

Matt Costa – wimpy acoustic trendoid

Nicole Atkins – noir songwriter guilty of appearing in credit card commercials.

Robyn – the Swedish Britney Spears

Rogue Wave – wimpy whiteboy acoustic pop

Sia – Lilith Fair style corporate pop

Black Angels – Kings of Leon as U2 might cover them, badly

Secret Machines – wussy New Order wannabes

The Virgins (who are all guys) – they seem like a group that would lipsync instead of playing live: their lyrics are about girls but it doesn’t seem like they have the slightest interest.

Underworld – computer-simulated percussion rather than actual music

Your Vegas – the worst of Interpol meets the worst of Coldplay

Ben Jelen – keyboard player with a bad haircut, not Elton John. Not as edgy as Elton John either.

Earl Greyhound – trendoids playing lame 70s stoner rock

The Go Team – dumb British band alternating between bad punk-pop and bad hip-hop

Mates of State – really lame 2-piece New Order wannabes with awkward off-key, plainspoken vocals

Lowry – childish, prepubescent boy vocals, random keyboard melodies, junior high stoner poetry

CSS – not the operatic metal band from da Bronx but a bunch of trendoids playing computerized disco

Duffy – not the Michigan corporate pop band but a cross between Britney Spears and Janis Joplin

Alberta Cross – whiny countyish trendoids

Pawnshop Roses – horrid retro 70s top 40 band with bar band/commercial country overtones

And the guitarist from Phish. You remember them. You don’t? Don’t try.

Radiohead, obviously, are the drawing card, a band that was willing to give their latest album away as a free download only to discover that their fan base is so rabid that they were willing to give the band a total of a million bucks for all those lame-sounding, overcompressed mp3s. Otherwise, the catch is that it wouldn’t cost you $282.10 to see Little Brother, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Forro in the Dark, Kings of Leon, Rodrigo y Gabriela, the Felice Bros. and the Duke Spirit separately, even if you spent $40 per act. Tix for each band typically run $20-30 apiece or even less (for example, Forro in the Dark play the occasional free show at Barbes). And you can see each of them in an air-conditioned space where nobody’s going to turn you away at the door just because you have your wallet on a chain, or you have your favorite stuffed animal with you. And nobody’s going to take that bottle of water away from you either.

August 5, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music | 17 Comments