Lucid Culture


Concert Review: Royal Pine at Spikehill, Brooklyn NY 11/2/08

The previous act, Ninth House frontman Mark Sinnis played a characteristically intense set of Nashville gothic songs with his trio. Vocally, even for him, it was an especially good show, mixing up the dark, death-obsessed dirges with more upbeat fare that evoked everything from Carl Perkins to the Cure.


Royal Pine AKA Robin Aigner was next on the bill. Highly sought after as a singer on the oldtimey circuit, Aigner also writes wonderfully smart, often quirky, melodically rich, historically-imbued songs, these days equal parts ragtime, vintage country and Roma melody. To keep the show moving along, she began on guitar, then switched to ukulele and ended with a few songs on banjo. Lots of new material in the set: one song with a clever and complex rhyme scheme about an eccentric expat woman, another about famed New York madam Pearl Polly Adler (the only one who knows where FDR “parks his car,” pun intended), another about an imagined romance between Irving Berlin and the first immigrant woman to go through Ellis Island, and a song in Romanes that she accelerated at the end to a frenetic dance. And there was That Voice – confident, a little brassy, playful and fun. Aigner’s songs are thoughtful and occasionally pensive but always imbued with a sense of humor, sometimes ironic, sometimes puckish. Whatever the case, Aigner doesn’t kvetch – she’s having too much fun, and the vibe extends to the audience. And she doesn’t overdo it: only on the last number did she get sultry, and the way she did it felt effortless and perfectly natural. The dark, chromatic Roma chord changes are also a nice addition to her arsenal of subtle pinches and pokes. It was enough to keep us from straying a few blocks south where Escarioka – high on our list of “gotta see” bands – were playing.

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

Concert Review: Carol Lipnik at the Spiegeltent, NYC 10/30/08

Icons by Siouxsie & the Banshees played over the PA minutes before multistylistic siren Carol Lipnik and her sensationally good pianist Dred Scott took the stage. That was a good and particularly apt omen. The opening act had played a Screamin’ Jay Hawkins song: “I love Screamin’ Jay Hawkins!” exclaimed Lipnik, “And he’s in my monitor!” That was also an omen of an unfortunately altogether different kind.


The sound system was fine after that momentary glitch, but there would be bigger problems. Lipnik comes across as someone who literally inhabits her songs. That she was able to channel the carnival of souls in them without losing focus or her characteristically playful intensity speaks volumes about the quality of her artistry. For one, it was about forty degrees inside the tent: you could see your breath. Then three songs into the set the “whoomp, whoomp, whoomp” began, all but drowning out Lipnik and the piano. When the Spiegeltent first made it to American soil, it was a stand-alone building. Now there’s a whole Spiegelburg of them out behind South Street Seaport, and one of them’s a strip club. So when whoever was onstage was doing the bump ‘n grind, the synthesized bass rose to jet-engine levels. Lipnik’s fans should have demanded their money back.


When she was audible, she was mesmerizing. Thursday’s show spotlighted only one side of her: this was the noir cabaret set (she’s also equally good at old-school soul and gypsy-inflected rock). As a singer, Lipnik’s calling card is her spectacular four-octave range, and she gave the audience plenty of thrills – when she went up the scale, they screamed for more. But her greatest strength is that her vocals always serve her songs. She only pulls out the big crescendos when she absolutely needs them, and this show saw her inhabiting a strong, confident lower register about eighty percent of the time (which made the thrills and chills all the more thrilling and chilling). Her first number had her casually tossing off a sinister, almost supersonic trill, as if she’d decided to school the theremin in the opening band.


Scott gave the boisterous second number, You’re My Firefly a stomping beat with his feet and kept perfect time. Much of Lipnik’s catalog is phantasmagorical and carnivalesque (which makes sense for someone born and raised in Coney Island), and the actually rather touching Two-Headed Calf perfectly capsulized that feel. Two of her songs included references to drowning someone, including the Weimar blues When I Was a Mermaid and a riveting number told from the point of view of the Creature from the Black Lagoon that featured some spectacular vocalese.  


“Chaos is the master, but I don’t mind,” she intoned matter-of-factly on Freak House Blues, Scott playing its eerie, wobbly melody on synthesizer. Then the two brought up guitarist Pete Wyer (who has a new cd just out on Thirsty Ear) for a couple of vivid, Rumi-inspired numbers, the second of which was based on a poem that goes something like “I’m in love with you, I’ve already drunk the poison – what’s the use of candy?” After a tongue-in-cheek yet haunting tune about “mole people” living deep in the bowels of the city, they closed with a Brian Eno song. The audience wanted more but didn’t get it, perhaps just as well considering the pretty much omnipresent thud from next door. Carol Lipnik plays the Zipper Theatre on Dec 4 at 8, a vastly more accommodating, comfortable space where her unique, rich and strangely beautiful stylings (and her fans) can count on getting the respect they deserve.

November 3, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , | 1 Comment