Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Katie Elevitch – Kindling for the Fire

Burning with primal power and raging intensity, New York rock siren Katie Elevitch’s second cd is astonishingly good, one of the best that’s come over the transom this year. Recorded mostly live in a now-demolished historic house overlooking the Hudson River in upstate New York (they stuck the bass amp in the bathroom), this is a dark, fiercely intense, thematic collection, echoing both Elevitch’s anguish over the loss of her father as well as resignation to the fact that the house would ultimately be gone as well. Elevitch’s voice ranges from a sultry alto to a fearless, completely unleashed, sometimes completely unhinged wail. While her stepping-off point is classic soul music, the songs here range from Siouxsie Sioux spooky to raw PJ Harvey-esque stomp to slashing Patti Smith strange. In the cd’s quieter moments, the band’s interplay sometimes borders on the telepathic, Tim Vaill’s stately drum work echoing the somber, quiet boom of bassist Jonathan Maron (who also stars in the excellent funk band Groove Collective) while lead guitarist Riley McMahon adds every conceivable shade of macabre. Perhaps this is the result of playing together as a unit for a few years, not to mention that Elevitch chose to record them live rather than overdubbing each individually.  

 

The cd kicks off auspiciously with the concert favorite Corner of Love and Fear, a long, slowly pulsing, crescendoing minor-key anthem that goes doublespeed to the bridge, totally Siouxsie. The intensity is relentless. Before the big crescendo on the bridge, Elevitch bares her soul, “Half empty and half full…I can’t convince you if it’s beautiful.” The song builds, wailing for escape “from the concrete street…I’ll be waiting on the corner of love and fear.” The slinky, soul-inflected Katamaran Riding builds from an ominous intro, something akin to Ninth House as covered by Alice Lee, capped by a marvelously noisy, skronky McMahon guitar solo. Starting Gate, by contrast, is a delicately beautiful yet searing tale of abandonment. “Did you really think that I’d wait forever, like waiting was my only endeavor?” accuses Elevitch, as her band echoes the sentiment in a soaring gospel choir of voices. 

 

The cd’s title track is an improvisation not unlike Patti Smith in her more inspired, raging moments (think Land or even the intro to Rock & Roll Nigger), starting with a sinister low-register chord sliding up the bass, macabre piano tinkling in the distance. “Kindling for the fire,” Elevitch whispers, and it’s bloodcurdling. McMahon turns in his finest work on the cd here, echoing Lenny Kaye’s noisy vulture-wings on Radio Ethopia. The next track, I Never Win is a study in contrast, quiet matter-of-fact verse exploding into a fiery chorus much in the same vein as early PJ Harvey. Its title used as a mantra for maximum effect, Hurt People is another concert favorite, again with a big crescendo from a slow 6/8 verse into a pummeling, hypnotic dance. The cd ends on a hopeful note with The Inside Room, its narrator possibly worn out from all that exertion and finally ready to deal face to face with the world again. The effect of all this is visceral: don’t put this cd on if you feel like winding down. You won’t. Put it on headphones and turn it up loud (in an impressive stroke of generosity, it’s now streaming on her website). As you would expect, Elevitch and her band are sensationally good live and love to jam out their best songs. They start a monthlong Friday night residency at Banjo Jim’s at 9 PM beginning on Nov 14. 

November 11, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Cementhead at Mercury Lounge, NYC 11/9/08

It wouldn’t be accurate to call this Brooklyn indie rock vets Cementhead’s best-ever show – technical difficulties put an end to that possibility early on – but they’ve definitely never had better songs. Their accurately titled new cd Dementia is a career-defining moment, but ultimately this is a band that’s best enjoyed live. Frontman Gordon Smethurst threw flickering embers and flames from his battered Gibson SG guitar all night while the rhythm section behind him was tight and inspired, whether that meant giving him a pummeling punk stomp or a casual backbeat, the bassist contributing spot-on high harmonies whenever the songs would hit a crescendo.

 

The bass cut out during the band’s first song, and despite the soundman’s impressively strenuous efforts (getting it unplugged and plugged back in with a new cable in seconds flat), it took a couple more numbers before the sonics were finally ironed out. Despite his indie background, Smethurst is a terrifically innovative guitarist, fond of noisy, upper register fills against an open string, raga-style, flinging bits and pieces of melody against an acid wash of sound. Much of this band’s most recent material has the same kind of tongue-in-cheek humor (and creepy stop-and-start melodicism) of early Wire, but without the Anglicisms. Virtually everything they played tonight had some kind of immensely memorable hook, whether that meant the ominous, inescapable descending series of notes on Exquisite, the eerily counterintuitive harmonies on Wintertime or the determinedly blazing minor-key melody of the remarkably complex midtempo ballad Lay Low, which they ended with a mighty and marvelously satisfying heavy metal outro. The highlight of the night, also from the new cd, was Elevator, a ferocious, garage-fueled anthem, Smethurst’s Fender Twin amp roaring evilly as the band methodically burned through its catchy changes all the way to another completely over-the-top ending.

 

Mid-set, Smethurst revealed what he does before gigs – this one, anyway. “Killing time. Went to Toys in Babeland. Every kind of dildo you could imagine.” He made a face. “It was sensitive.” He paused. “Fuck that!” Which pretty much sums up what this band is about: sardonic, defiant and funny at the same time. Catch them next time around when the sound is bound to be better.

November 11, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 11/11/08

Counting down the top 666 songs of alltime one day at a time all the way to #1. Here’s another good-to-be alive anthem for this celebratory week. Soon there will be no more happy songs left, prepare for two years of dirges! Today’s song is #623:

Dumptruck – Alive

The exhilaration of walking out into a cold New England autumn day perfectly captured in three reverberating, jangly minutes by this Boston indie quartet, 1984. REM only wish they ever sounded this good. The mp3 is easily obtained, but nothing beats the deliciously echoey production of the vinyl. From the band’s first album, reissued in the late 90s and not impossible to find where used records are sold.

November 11, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , , , | Leave a comment