Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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 »

  1. Dear Lucid Culture Reviewer:

    I am the eponymous Fran of “Fran Goes to School” and the official muse of the late, lamented Blow This Nightclub and of Toneballs (although I have never heard Toneballs). Let me just say that any song about me would have to be great because I am such a fascinating, stimulating person!

    “Fran Goes to School” documents my decision to leave my beyond-boring job in Los Angeles and matriculate in the M.F.A. program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (although I worked with some interesting people at Petersen Publishing Company, i.e. “lesbians from Mars”).

    Dan Sallitt has become my chronicler, and I could not wish for a better one.

    Fran O’Farrell

    Since obtaining my degree from UMass, I have become a much-heralded (in my own mind) poet.

    Comment by Fran O'Farrell | August 8, 2008 | Reply

  2. thanks for clarifying an important moment in obscure rock n roll history!

    Comment by lc | August 8, 2008 | Reply

  3. It’s true – Fran’s “break out of jail” was her leaving a job editing car magazines. When every line of a lyric is an in-joke, it comes out sounding like Steely Dan….

    Comment by Dan | August 8, 2008 | Reply

  4. Sorry I missed the show, but glad to see the review. Having caught Sloe Guns on several occasions, to me they are one of New York City’s great, largely undiscovered bands, one that takes considerable care in crafting a great three-minutes – with guitar jams to boot!

    Comment by Roger Hitts | February 27, 2009 | Reply


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