Lucid Culture


Concert Review: Amanda Thorpe and Serena Jost at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 10/1/08

This show managed to be informal and off-the-cuff yet virtuosic, like what VH1 seems to be shooting for when they put together a stripped-down, acoustic “Live from Abbey Road” type program. They should have been on hand for this one, considering that Bedsit Poets frontwoman Amanda Thorpe and Serena Jost are two of New York’s top tunesmiths. Oops, they’re not on some huge corporate record label. Better to get Justin Timberlake and John Mayer instead. J-Ti (was that Lou Perlman’s pet name for the moppet?) can play Chopsticks while Mayer noodles innocuously in the background between commercials. All cynicism aside, Wednesday night the few who braved the rain and the construction work going on all the way down Avenue C were treated to a clinic in great songcrafting.


The two women traded off songs, each accompanying the other. Sometimes that meant Jost improvising a slinky bassline on her cello, or Thorpe doing the same on her guitar. Thorpe also played a small synth on one of Jost’s songs. They both sang gorgeous harmonies (even though Jost was under the weather and running on fumes), each lending something of her own personality to the other’s work. It was just beautiful to watch, plain and simple. British expat Thorpe is best known as a singer. Her writing is characteristically terse and direct and has considerable bite. When she sang “There is no mercy this time,” in what could have been the night’s best number, The River Song, a bitter heartbreak ballad, there could be no doubt that she meant exactly what she said. Jost, by contrast, is best known for her work as a sidewoman and multi-instrumentalist (she did an extended stretch in Rasputina). Her songwriting is more opaque, and felt the benefit of Thorpe’s clear, steely harmonies. Likewise, Jost’s playful flourishes added gleam and shimmer to the austere beauty of Thorpe’s songs.


Both women debuted new songs. Thorpe’s was a bouncy, upbeat bossa number. Jost reminded what a fine guitarist she’s becoming on yet another of her disarmingly complex art-pop songs, and did another accompanying herself with warm, loping runs that she plucked on her cello while Thorpe filled out the melody with spot-on harmonies. Jost also played piano on one song. The only thing missing was their pal Mary Lee Kortes, the Mary Lee’s Corvette mastermind who’s been playing with them recently. As fascinating as this show was to watch, one can only imagine how much another great songwriting voice would add to the equation.


Thorpe’s next show is at the Cutting Room on Oct 21 at 7:30 with the Bedsit Poets, playing the cd release to their remarkably multistylistic new one, Rendezvous. Powerpop legend George Usher opens, solo acoustic. Watch this space for Serena Jost’s next performance.

October 3, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Comedy Review: Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, 10/2/08

Trembling, fidgeting, her face a rictus of anxiety and contempt for the very people she needs to vote for her, Sarah Palin was clearly scared shitless. It was almost enough to humanize her. But not quite. Last night she came across about as authentic as a Chinatown Rolex. Not that Joe Biden seemed like anything other than the Washington insider that he is and has been for many years. Relaxed and confident in his alpha-male role, he pretty much phoned in his lines, although that was sufficient. Conventional wisdom was that if he could avoid condescending to Palin’s vacuousness, this would be an easy victory, and for once the conventional wisdom was right on the money.


“I may not answer the questions as the moderator wants to hear,” she rebuffed Gwen Ifill, sticking to her script like a talking Barbie doll, changing the subject on a jarring note whenever she didn’t feel like responding. But Ifill got even. When the gay marriage question came up and Palin made the gaffe of trying to disown her own homophobic disingenuousness, Ifill cut her off. “So the two of you agree!” she told the candidates. Biden kept a poker face.


When Biden let slip that he supports using taxpayer money to bail out the hedge funds and the speculators, Palin could have creamed him – just like McCain, she’d played faux-populist on-and-off all night – but totally missed her cue. Apparently it wasn’t in her script. Biden’s lone silly moment was referring to Bosnians as “Bozniaks.” Palin said “nucular” five times, referred to“eye-rack” over and over again (although she did get “Ahmedinejad” right twice) and announced that “more and more revelation, made aware to Americans.” The way she brushed off the failures of the Bush regime was just plain transparent: “There have been huge blunders as there have been throughout every administration.” Otherwise, the debate was a real letdown, at least as far as comedy is concerned.


Palin finally got on the scoreboard late in the debate by pointing out that Biden, like every other chickenshit mainstream Dem, had voted for the Iraq war and also for the Patriot Act. She also took him to task by quoting some of the snide things he’d said about Obama during the millisecond before Biden’s presidential campaign ran out of gas. Biden’s lone moment of real courage was when responding to the issue of expanding Vice Presidential power. Reaffirming his commitment to letting Obama run the Executive branch, he noted that “Cheney’s been the most dangerous Vice President in US history.” The crowd watching the debate had been told not to applaud, but his observation drew a clearly audible murmur of approval.


Looking forward to January 20, 2009.

October 3, 2008 Posted by | Politics, Rant | , , , | 2 Comments