Lucid Culture


Concert Review: Randi Russo on the Coney Island Boardwalk; 9th Wave at Otto’s, NYC 8/23/08

Since the Knitters were playing an early evening show opening for Patti Smith the following day, the original game plan was to go uptown, early afternoon, for the first day of the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival at Marcus Garvey Park. Last-minute word of Randi Russo’s afternoon show at Coney Island changed all that: sea breezes versus stifling city heat? No contest.


Standing resolutely on the boardwalk against the sky in front of the Dreamland roller rink, way out past the baseball stadium, Russo was an image straight out of Magritte. The promoters had cleverly set up a frame with curtains painted on it simulating a stage, a mirror ball hanging ominously over Russo’s head, the sky blue behind her. Inscrutable behind her sunglasses and playing solo on her beautiful red Gibson SG guitar (why don’t more rockers do solo electric shows?), she cut a striking figure, hardly missing a band behind her. Since this was an outdoor show, the PA was turned up loud, for the most part drowning out the gas generator sputtering just a few feet away.


Hearing the songs stripped down to just guitar and vocals was a revelation. She opened with her signature song, the caustic anthem Wonderland, a sarcastic dig at an ex-friend spoiled rotten by just fifteen minutes of fame. Much of Russo’s work has a sardonic edge that sometimes boils over into bitterness and rage, and that one is a prime example. But that’s not to say that Russo is all about that: with her vocals up in the mix, the catchy garage rocker Matchless revealed itself as a very funny song: “Now I stink, and no one will go near me,” she sang, which was laughably wrong: Russo is well-liked in the underground music community and adored by her fans. Likewise, the Cramps-y rocker That Corpse, chock-full of silly grossout humor. The rich, lush complexity of Russo’s melodies also came to the forefront, particularly on the gorgeously stately series of chords that opened her live staple Push/Pull and, even more impressively, the way she got the imaginatively catchy opening chords of Invisible, an unreleased number, to play off a reverberating open string. She also did a couple of new numbers, the best being Venus on Saturn, a viciously dismissive slap upside the head of a drama queen. This is why solo gigs by great artists are just as good as band shows. She’s playing Sidewalk on Friday, Sept. 5 at midnight.


Later in the evening we ended up at Otto’s if only for the reason that it’s close to Union Square (and vastly preferable to the odious Doc Holliday’s, where a troupe of aging fratboys and sorority girls were whooping along to Glory Days by Springsteen, rudely jostling anyone within arm’s length and spilling their drinks). By a stroke of good fortune, this was one of Unsteady Freddie’s surf music nights. The Tarantinos NYC were just winding up their set when we got there, followed by the Outpatients, who are all fine musicians, but this was not their night. For the second time in about a week, 9th Wave reminded why they’re so highly regarded in the surf music scene, and reminded also how eerily similar they are to Randi Russo. She’s about as surf as they are indie rock, but the two acts share a sardonic humor: 9th Wave guitarist Mike “Staccato” Rosado plays his lightning-fast, pointillistic Dick Dale-inflected melodies with an edge and a bite that can be either gleefully sarcastic or burn with an undercurrent of anger and disappointment: one would think that someone this good deserves to command a bigger stage than the one at Otto’s on a Saturday night. But that’s New York, 2008. In yet another weird coincidence, they’d also played the Coney Island boardwalk about a week ago, and their set was pretty much the same as what they played there with the exception of their best song of the night, a tensely burning, midtempo minor-key tune. As they reached the end of their show, one of the entourage at the bar had reached her limit, so it was time to call it a day. Imagine this happening just about anywhere else.

August 26, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Brooklyn What at the Brooklyn Lyceum 8/22/08

Very possibly the best show of the year so far. The Brooklyn What look and sound like something you would have seen at CBGB around 1977, not a carefully coiffed, safetypinned-and-mohawked self-parody decked out in matching mallstore Ramones shirts, but just an average-looking bunch of guys playing blazingly energetic, loud, often hilarious rock with purist punk energy, intelligence and a spot-on, often vicious sense of humor. Frontman Jamie Frey is a big guy who looks like he doesn’t deprive himself of pizza or beer (although at this show he was fueled strictly by adrenaline, drinking only water). By the time the band had started their second song, his shirt had come off, “NEXT TOP MODEL” stenciled down his hefty torso. The band – who seem to be something of a revolving cast of characters – started out with three guitarists and ended up with two. Running their instruments straight through their amps as the PA was being used for just the vocals, they played smartly, tersely and tunefully although with enough looseness to provide plenty of menace.


They hit the ground running with a blazingly catchy, upbeat number, then a couple of songs later did what has become their signature song, I Don’t Wanna Go to Williamsburg. If there is anyone alive 20 years from now, this song will be a classic, the little clique it ridicules a metaphor for a much bigger problem. The funniest thing about this song is that it’s already dated, namechecking both Northsix and Galapagos, the first of which is defunct and the second of which moved to Dumbo earlier this year. The band played it faster than the version on their myspace, giving it a vintage Black Flag feel: “I don’t wanna go to Galapagos! I don’t wanna hear the fucking Hold Steady!” On the chorus, it’s unclear whether Frey is being sarcastic or if he’s speaking for himself: “I just wanna play with the cool kids,” he hollered. If this is to be taken at face value, he’s definitely achieved his dream. This is the anthem we’ve been waiting for. As the Boomtown Rats said, watch out for the normal people: there’s more of us than there’s of you. If only everybody knew that.


They did two covers. Carol by Chuck Berry was transformed from happy Dick Clark rock to something casually but absolutely evil, like what the Dead Boys might have done with it. The version of the Kinks’ I’m Not Like Everybody Else was every bit as good as it could have been, in fact with the guitars roaring at full blast the classic nonconformist anthem might have been even better than the original. Among the other songs: a vaguely oi-punk number evoking the UK Subs, the band hollering their refrain after Frey reached the end of a verse; a slow, pounding riff-rocker; and a hilarious, backbeat-driven anti-trendoid diatribe possibly called Moving to Philly. Frey thrashed around, throwing himself to the floor, then on one number got up and took a sprint around the back of the stage – in his socks – before reemerging a couple of seconds later, picking up where he left off. The band closed with We Are the Only Ones, a defiant call to unity for all the cool kids who’d come out to see them, an almost predictably diverse mix of old and young (Frey’s grandmother among them), male and female, gay and straight, dancing around deliriously albeit without any violence. Like the Sex Pistols or the Clash, the Brooklyn What could spearhead a brand-new scene that has nothing to do with fashion, celebrity or inherited wealth. They couldn’t have timed it better. Watch this space for info about their next show and their upcoming cd The Brooklyn What for Borough President.

August 26, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments