If you’ve been reading the front page here, you’ve noticed that Lucid Culture has a new feature. Regardless of whether we have anything else to report, every day we count down the 666 greatest songs of alltime, on the way to #1. The complete list is at the top of the page.
665. The Shadows – Man of Mystery
The Shadows got their start backing British pop star Cliff Richard in the 50s before branching out as an instrumental unit, playing twangy, reverb-laden surf and theme music in the same vein as the Ventures. This is arguably their best, a deliciously ominous series of major and minor chords working their way down the scale. Easily found on the file-trading sites; if you’re looking for an album version, it’s on 20 Golden Greats and The Shadows Are Go.
Starting 9/29/08, every day for the next 666 days Lucid Culture will be featuring one of the alltime 666 best songs we’ve discovered. We’ll keep it updated at the top of the front page while we get the whole thing up online, one song at a time. Originally conceived as a way to look busy at work while searching for new job (memo to bosses: this is what happens when you downsize), we’ve kept it updated since. Obviously, there’s no way any kind of list like this could be anything close to definitive (this one doesn’t include jazz or classical, for example): you could undoubtedly put together something like this yourself and it would be every bit as good. Let’s also hope you never find yourself in a position to do it. This is strictly for fun, and to help spread the word about some great stuff you may not have discovered. At least until now.
We begin the countdown with a particularly appropriate choice for #666:
Twin Turbine – Susquehanna
Darkly intense, backbeat-driven anthem that recasts eastern Pennsylvania as Twin Peaks territory. Frontman Dave Popeck’s eerie, percussive chords as the verse builds to the chorus are a high point in New York rock history. From the album Jolly Green Giant.
By 11 PM, the Headless Hookers had finished, which was too bad because they sound like they’d be a fun live band. Triple Hex were already on by then: they’re good. The trio play slightly glam noir garage stuff in the same vein as Reid Paley or Kid Congo Powers, with a leering, Lux Interior Mad Elvis touch to the vocals. The frontman’s guitar solos were terse but deliciously noisy, frequently laced with squalls of feedback; the rhythm section kept it simple and strong. This kind of band sounds better the more you drink.
We’ve recently mischaracterized Jerry Teel and the Big City Stompers as a country band because that’s what they used to be. They’re so much more now. Teel is a New York underground legend, dating back to his days with dirgy noise-rockers the Honeymoon Killers, the equally noisy, faster and more fiery Chrome Cranks, gothic garage/Americana band Knoxville Girls and now this unit. He ran the popular Fun House Studios on the Lower East for years before relocating to New Orleans…just in time to get wiped out by the hurricane. It’s nice to have him back.
The band is vastly more energetic: they still play some country, but they’re putting the kind of sometimes offhandedly sarcastic and sometimes actually menacing noir spin on it that’s characterized most everything Teel has been involved with. This show started out hot and got even hotter as the night wore on. They opened with a boisterous country shuffle, lead guitarist JJ Jenkins putting some corny bite on his lead lines for a deliberately satirical feel. Their second song saw Teel and his inscrutable retro rock goddess wife Pauline trading off on vocals; the third, an eerie, fast shuffle possibly titled Follow Me featured John-and-Exene-style harmonies, the bass playing a minor progression against major chords, building tension.
After a swaying, pounding, Crampsish country blues, Jenkins opened the next tune with a classic Stones riff while the rhythm section did a spot-on take on the other, less glamorous Glimmer Twins (that’s Wyman and Watts in case you didn’t know), Jenkins doing his own spot-on Keith Richards when it came time for a solo. A slow country ballad and a garage song that could have been the Blues Magoos or for that matter the Fleshtones were next, followed by a scorching, guitar-fueled version of Loretta, the sly, swaying country tune that was a massive audience hit in this band’s previous incarnation. Then they did Shaking All Over. But unlike virtually every other band that covers this old garage chestnut, they held back: when they got to the hook at the end of the verse, it was almost as an afterthought, maintaining the night’s dark intensity. They followed with a surprisingly short version of the Knoxville Girls hit Hillbilly Boogie.
Teel and cohorts saved their best for last. Midway through their slow, blackly hypnotic, absolutely psychedelic encore, it was as if for about 90 glorious seconds, it was 1984 and this was True West onstage, Jenkins played gentle, beautifully fluid Richard McGrath style Telecaster melody as Teel went nuts, furiously chopping at a single chord like Russ Tolman at his most demented and inspired. Like cocaine, with one big difference: coke will kill you, while stuff like this will actually make you live longer.
[Good Cop sits on the edge of her bed at a Motel Six somewhere in the Midwest, twirling her ponytail and talking on her phone. Bad Cop, dressed undercover as a hoodlum with a doo rag and a clip-on skull-and-crossbones earring, leans back on his bench on the D train passing through Bensonhurst, talking to Good Cop on his cell. He has a bad connection and talks loudly, oblivious to his fellow passengers]
Good Cop: We’re tanking.
Bad Cop: So is everything in the world.
Good Cop: We’re getting a third the hits we got over the summer.
Bad Cop: The center will not hold. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.
Good Cop: I think we should go global.
Bad Cop: Like the depression?
Good Cop: Nobody here is going out anymore. Your live music theory only holds up for so long. If nobody is going out then we’re irrelevant. You follow?
Bad Cop: You think it’s better somewhere else? Good fucking luck finding a bar that’s open, that hasn’t been foreclosed on yet.
Good Cop: Maybe we should revisit the political slant we started out with. It is an election year, after all.
Bad Cop: We still haven’t officially endorsed anybody.
Good Cop [withering sarcasm]: Like Lucid Culture is going to endorse…Ron Paul.
Bad Cop: Hey, don’t dis my boy Ron!
Good Cop: We should spend more time on London, Paris, you know, where good things are happening.
Bad Cop [in a broad British accent]: And I suppose you’ll be taking the QE2?
Good Cop: You know what I mean. Otherwise you’ll be writing for an audience of one. Did you ever read Le Chaos et la Nuit?
Bad Cop: Creo que si. Just kidding.
Good Cop: That’s French. Montherlant, famous novelist from the thirties and forties. It’s about a guy slowly losing it, writing rightwing editorials that nobody will ever read.
Bad Cop: Now what on earth prompted that analogy?
Good Cop: Not to dis your boy Ron, but…
Bad Cop [threatening]: Hey, I mean it. Basta.
Good Cop: OK, OK. But we need to branch out. People aren’t going to shows.
Bad Cop: People aren’t buying cds. Or anything at the supermarket that’s not on sale. Although people are still drinking. Maybe we could review beer?
Good Cop: Yeah right. There are more beer blogs than there are breweries. Besides, I don’t drink beer.
Bad Cop: I am fully aware of that [belches]. So what are you doing? Moving to Prague? Oh yeah, that’s so 1998. How about Philly? Portland? Bridgeport?
Good Cop: What I’m saying is that we’ve got to expand our audience, stop being be so New York-centric. This is cyberspace, remember? The Ukraine, the Galapagos islands are right next door.
Bad Cop: Sure thing, Paris Hilton. What’s up with you, did you find my stash?
Good Cop: I don’t smoke pot. You know that. I also want you to break out that alltime top 666 list, that’ll force you to put up a new post every day even if it’s just a single song. Lists are huge, they generate tons of hits.
Bad Cop: I know, the 20 hottest chicks on tv.
Good Cop [exasperated]: Dude, zip it.
Bad Cop: The 20 hottest porn videos on youtube?
Good Cop: How about the top 20 times McCain has flip-flopped on an issue…
Bad Cop: The top 20 times Obama has flip-flopped on an issue.
Good Cop: See, now you’re thinking. What I’m saying is, let’s get out of the box, let’s make the site more fun. Right now we’re just appealing to one small and rapidly shrinking segment of the population. I think the whole concept of what this was supposed to be in the beginning is starting to make a lot more sense.
Bad Cop: Throw a whole lot of shit against the wall and…
Good Cop: No! But let’s make things fresh and exciting again, huh? I feel like this is starting to become like a clique thing, the thing you hate the very most and I don’t want that either. Remember how psyched you were in the first weeks of Lucid Culture?
Bad Cop: Yeah, when we were getting four hits a day and three of them were you on your blackberry.
Good Cop: I’m also going to shake up the live music calendar. More descriptive, less wordy. OK with you?
Bad Cop: What, the job wearing you down? Maybe we should trade places. You go out and deal with all the assholes and see all the shows and I’ll stay home and surf the web.
Good Cop: No thank you. Maybe when I get back to town to stay I’ll join you sometime.
Bad Cop [pulls a flask from under his arm, opens it and takes a swig] : Good, then I’ll have a designated driver.
McCain comes out swinging. Obama can’t find his rhythm, can’t get loose. Everything he throws is hittable. McCain has obvious holes in his swing but Obama can’t find them and McCain takes him deep, again and again. The elephant in the room is the war issue, which instead of coming in and rescuing Obama, sits on the bench and waits. The umpiring (closeted rightwing operative Jim Lehrer) is atrocious: McCain gets every call but not Obama. McCain 6, Obama 0.
“The surge is working.” Yeah, right. Households around the country sneer derisively. McCain has the chance to distance himself from Bush but doesn’t. Obama is still stiff but he’s making sense, chipping away until the score is tied.
McCain, tiring, can’t keep up on the economy. Obama finally launches one deep into the bleachers. Then another, and another. Can he hold on? Obama 10, McCain 6.
Top of the ninth:
Obama finally brings up the war, but only in passing and won’t come up again. McCain, throwing junk, still manages to induce weak swings from Obama, who leaves them loaded.
Bottom of the ninth:
A couple of questionable calls from the umpire set up a big inning, but Obama doesn’t help himself and can’t/won’t make the big pitch. The war issue rests in the bullpen, watching and waiting. Final score: McCain 11, Obama 10. Shaky McCain goes the distance on the phony populist tip; Obama comes across as every bit the aloof Harvard grad that he may very well actually be, and whom McCain desperately wants you to believe he is.
By the time we get a second debate, the depression will really be in full swing. Will McCain stick to the script? Will Obama finally take the bat off his shoulder? Stay tuned.
[editor’s note – birthday party tonight means tomorrow is probably a washout for the crew here: probably nothing to report unless somebody comes off the bench and delivers. Here’s an oldie but a goodie: why not see if you can track down some of this stuff on limewire?]
A majestic, powerful show worthy of these legendary art-rockers. This was organist Matthew Fisher’s first New York appearance with Procol Harum since 1968, and he proved none the worse for the decades away. Original guitarist Robin Trower has been replaced by the far superior Tim Renwick, a highly sought-after British session player who’s worked with Al Stewart and many others. There was also a new rhythm section, the drummer playing the late B.J. Wilson’s imaginative, terse flourishes often beat-for-beat. They mixed classics from the 60s and 70s along with a lot of new, vastly inferior material from their “comeback” album The Prodigal Stranger.
Of the old stuff, Shine On Brightly really hit the spot, right down to Fisher’s bluesy organ solo. Pianist/frontman Gary Brooker then pulled out a real surprise, opening the stately, matter-of-factly snarling Homburg by himself before the band joined in. They ran through a bunch of somewhat stagy, weird stuff from their later 70s albums including Nothing But the Truth and a failed 1975 attempt at funk, Pandora’s Box. The oldest material, however, was often transcendent. Renwick played Trower’s eerie, thickly sustained lead lines note for note while adding a macabre edge of his own on the long, bluesy The Devil Came from Kansas and the long, pounding epic Simple Sister. The mutiny anthem A Salty Dog began with a tape of seaside effects – seagulls, waves and such – and slowly built to symphonic proportions on the wings of the two keyboards, awash with rich synthesized orchestration.
The highlight of the night was, perhaps predictably, Conquistador. Brooker began what could easily have been the most beautifully intense five minutes of live music of the entire year with a staccato string synth intro that effectively captured the haunting power of the hit single’s string section. When it came time, Renwick hit his distortion pedal and provided a dirty, noisy solo; when the intro recurred and the song finally wound down at the very end, it was impossible not to feel sadness for the skeleton in the rusty armor lying half-buried in the sand, evil imperialist though he was. The encore was equally gripping: the long version of Whiter Shade of Pale, including a third verse that doesn’t appear to ever have been released (and made no more sense than the rest of the lyrics), followed by a long, ferocious Repent Walpurgis, the Bach Invention ripoff that closes their first album. In this age of grunge idiocy, so sweet to see a band with the balls to close their show with a dated, psychedelicized organ tune and an instrumental – and earn a standing ovation for it.
The second night of the ongoing Gypsy Festival at Drom was just as good as the first, a real feat considering how good Baba Zula had been on Wednesday. Opening the evening this time were Parisian gypsy quintet Balval (meaning wind in Romanes, the gypsy language), lushly and romantically blending traditional sounds with cosmopolitan, musette-inflected ballads. Balval’s frontwoman, the absolutely charming Awena Burgess would introduce each number by succinctly summarizing what it was about. By the time the band had hit played their third song, two women had already been seduced after drinking hard with their seducers (the second being the poor girl’s father-in-law). In another later in the set, a woman asks her friend, “What did you do with your baby?”
“I threw it in the river and the fish ate him,” she replies.
They warmed up slowly, the crowd restless, clearly in the mood to party. Their guitarist, Andy York lookalike Daniel Mizrahi played sensational solos when given the chance, alternating between fluid terseness and unleashed, bluesy fire.The night’s single most amazing moment belonged to violinist Rosalie Hartog, firing off a fusillade of double-stops throughout an Olympian sprint down and then back up the scale.
When the band launched into their first dance tune, a darkly slinky number, the crowd was instantly electrified, clapping and swaying along, the space between the bar and the tables becoming an impromptu dancefloor. Their next one built slowly from a stately march spiced with violin, with a tastefully minimalist Riders on the Storm-ish guitar solo. Another fiery dance gave Burgess an a-capella spot while the band put down their instruments, whooping and hollering behind her. Then they brought up clarinetist Ismail Lumanovski (who’d also provided an amazing cameo the previous night) to guest for a song. From its first eerie notes, the chemistry between him and Hartog was visceral as he provided a somewhat macabre intro while bassist bowed a low note, another while they brought it down to just the drums. Percussionist Bachar Khalife (son of the great Lebanese composer and oud virtuoso Marcel Khalife) had joined them by now, taking a long, playfully idiosyncratic solo break, the band nonetheless managing to meet up with him quickly. When the band stopped for a few seconds, Hartog went wild with a solo, then went completely rubato in the middle of it, bringing it back expertly to the same lickety-split tempo and the race was on again. From there, they maintained the pace, slowing down only for a noir-ish cabaret number, bassist Benjamin Body stepping out darkly and tastefully, before wrapping up their hourlong set with one final, delirious dance tune.
The New York Gypsy All-Stars (the Drom house band) headlined, offer yet further documentation of what kind of strange, fascinating new elements are created when cultures collide. These guys are first and foremost a jazz group with busy electric bass and occasional electric keyboards, giving them something of a fusion feel. But their eclecticism conquers all: how many jazz bands can you dance to these days, anyway? With a Puerto Rican drummer, Greek bassist, American keyboardist, Macedonian percussionist and his compatriot Lumanovski out in front, they put a virtuosically energetic, cleverly improvisational spin on traditional Balkan and gypsy sounds. Given his first solo of the night, pianist Jason Lindner immediately went straight for another continent, straight into salsa. Bassist Panagiotis Andreou played more notes than a bass player usually can but usually managed to avoid sound fussy, frequently echoing Lumanovski’s crystal-clear, impeccably precise, incisively haunting lines. Their best song of the night was an uncharacteristically slow tune. “Imagine the person you love,” Lumanovski suggested.
“Are you missing someone?” a laughing voice asked from the bar. Apparently so: the longing and anguish as he wound up a long solo at the end packed a knockout punch. Then it was back to the frenetic, percussive dance material. As good as they were, they sound even more sensational when they have their innovative kanun (zither) player with them. This was a high-energy, viscerally fun way to close the second night of the festival. Tonight’s (Friday’s) show features guitarist Goran Ivanovic’s group Eastern Bloc and then Turkish pan-Balkan wildmen Mames Babaganoush. The Gypsy All-Stars play here frequently; if you wish you’d seen Balval, they’re doing two dates, tonight and tomorrow at 8 at Café 50 West at 50 W 22nd St. before presumably departing for Paris.
The long-awaited product of Melomane frontman Pierre de Gaillande’s ongoing “disaster song cycle” is a masterpiece, not only one of the best albums of the year but of the entire decade. As good as their 2007 cd Glaciers was, this is even better: it’s the New York art-rock band’s greatest shining moment, in the studio anyway. Lushly orchestrated with layers of strings, guitars, keyboards and a propulsive rhythm section featuring the brilliantly melodic Daria Grace (also of the Jack Grace Band and her own, rustically romantic project Daria Grace & the Prewar Ponies) on bass, this cd looks at the apocalypse from many different angles, some of them as ominous as you would expect, some less so. Look Out! stares death square in the face: death by war, volcanic eruption, flood, global warming, collision with space junk…and flame, at least metaphorically.
The cd kicks off somewhat counterintuitively with the stately, blackly humorous The Shadow of Vesuvius, something of a noir cabaret number given a slowly bouncing rock treatment, marching along inevitably to its doom. The cd’s second cut Darkness Rising, a brooding meditation on the logical extreme that a dictatorial regime leads to, is a long, intricate epic punctuated in places by searing, anguished, somewhat Gilmouresque guitar from multi-instrumentalist Quentin Jennings. The cd’s best cut (and perhaps the band’s best-ever track), O Mighty Orb begins with slow, pitch-black piano, markedly slower than the version the band plays live, building inexorably over a slinky, chromatic bassline, slashing keyboards bright against eerie reverberating guitar. Black humor comes to the forefront here again with the song’s brutally sarcastic trick ending.
Meteorite, a surprisingly gentle, countryish 6/8 ballad also begins quietly and builds, bass climbing against the guitar and vice versa: “The destruction of the whole human race brought by a glimmering shower,” Gailland muses stoically. After the scathing antiwar anthem Battlecat, a flamenco-inflected number in 5/4 time, the cd closes with Je Suis une Alumette (I Am a Match), a tongue-in-cheek song about the romance between a cigarette and a match, the Paris-born Gaillande’s first-ever song in French. Guest vocalist Eleni Mandell is merveilleuse, and of course there’s a laugh-out-loud if somewhat obvious musical joke when its moment arrives.
Thirty years ago, bands this good, this intelligent and this enamored of soaring, epic grandeur would be all over FM radio and would be playing stadiums around the world. Until that happens again, you can get this cd online or at shows: Melomane play Thurs Oct 2 at the Bell House, 149 7th Street in Gowanus, Brooklyn, 9:30ish, on a bill also including the excellent M Shanghai String Band.
The opening night of this year’s Drom Gypsy Festival was packed: you should definitely get advance tickets for any of the upcoming shows (listed on our NYC Live Music Calendar) that you’re planning on seeing, not only because they’re often a considerable bargain compared to the day-of-show cover charge, but because some of these will undoubtedly sell out. In a clever stroke of marketing, the promoters haven’t limited the festival strictly to gypsy music, Taraf de Haidouks style. But the bands on the bill all share a gypsy esthetic: ingenious, defiantly nonconformist, well-traveled and inspired by every stop along the way.
Istanbul trio Baba Zula, an apt choice as festival opener, put on a raw, primeval, stomping yet trance-inducing performance. They may be about as gypsy as Yo La Tengo (whose music some of theirs closely resembles), but they had most of the crowd on their feet, unable to stop swaying. Frontman Murat Ertel plays an electrified saz, a long-necked lute with three pairs of vibrating strings, which he ran through a large pedalboard and a big Fender Twin amp using several rock effects including wah-wah, delay, distortion and a loop pedal. Frequently, the loops would create a dense, echoey forest of notes that would appear out of nowhere and then cascade away just as quickly. Wearing a ski cap and wrinkled traditional shirt over a t-shirt and sweatpants, he projected a menacing, somewhat nonplussed presence, like a bear who’s been awoken from hibernation ahead of schedule and doesn’t like it one bit. He and the band – two percussionists, one on hand drum and another working a mixing board and using a pair cymbals for the occasional dramatic, gong-style splash – took their time getting started. Baba Zula’s music is nothing if not original, equal parts traditional Turkish folk, classic Egyptian dance music, dub reggae, indie rock and – at least as far as stage moves are concerned – heavy metal. Ertel opened with a meandering improvised intro before the drums (including a drum machine run through a bass amp, which they used on a few songs) came in. Spacey washes of noise would oscillate through the mix from time to time, further enhancing the trancey effect.
Ertel sung mainly in Turkish, punctuating the scattered lyrics with frequent grunts and roars. One of the songs, sung in English, seemed to be about Alexander the Great; another was titled Ice Cream, although it was anything but chilly. Eventually the band brought up a clarinetist, who built methodically to an intense crescendo on the intro of the band’s single best song of the night, a darkly slinky snakecharmer tune, before retreating to play washes of sound against the clang and twang of the saz. Then the bellydancers – a whole parade of them – each took a turn onstage and that really got the crowd going. By this time, Ertel was warmed up and paid considerable attention to the women onstage, finally going dos-a-dos with one of them as he brought one of his solos to its peak. Finally, as the show wound up, Ertel hit his distortion pedal and let his instrument roar, but it was a somewhat restrained, ominous, lower-register roar, not the scream you’d typically hear from an electric guitar. To the right of the stage, a woman sat impassively at a laptop, creating etch-a-sketch style drawings that were projected onto a screen above the band. If this show was any indication, the next week or so here is going to be great fun.
Recording with Ryan Adams has really whipped this band into shape. Not that they weren’t a lot of fun beforehand, but they’re a thousand times more focused. The rock songs are rock songs; the country is straight-up country without the crazy jamming or the genre-blending. Which was actually a lot of fun when they did it, but Maynard & the Musties definitely don’t sound anything like the Grateful Dead anymore. Last night at Spikehill they blazed through a set whose tightness was all the more impressive considering that they were playing with a new drummer, unrehearsed. But David Gould is a topnotch jazz player, so this was probably easy for him, having a lot of fun playing a backbeat on the cymbals from time to time. Bassist Dennis Shealy has also come up with some gorgeously intricate parts for most of these songs, essentially filling the role of second lead guitarist.
They’ve made their stray dog story Rocky & Bessie a lot darker, with a spooky horror-movie intro that became a showcase for violinist Naa Koshie Mills, and at the end she brought its gallows humor to a vivid, quintessentially urban crescendo. The straight-up rocker It’s Been a Great Life was better than ever, frontman Joe Maynard cataloging every potential apocalyptic scenario in his casual Nashville drawl. Another rock song along a similar theme, perhaps titled It’s Warm Outside was as blackly humorous as it could have been: wait til they bring that one out next summer. Maynard also gave the band a break as he and Mills resurrected what might be his best song, Elvis Museum, a bizarre, somewhat disturbing tale about one particular woman’s low-budget shrine to the King. And then the scene shifts to an equally sketchy milieu, a homeless encampment out behind the Broadway theatres where bums wait with bated breath for their favorite celebrities to appear so they can add to the autograph collection (never mind finding a place to sleep for the night). It’s been awhile since he played this one live, and since they’d just recorded it with Adams, it made sense to bring it back. Keep your eyes on this ramshackle crew of throwback country outlaws: they’re really onto something.