Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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

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