Lucid Culture


Two LJ Murphy Sightings in One Week: Banjo Jim’s and Passout Records

The great New York noir rocker, like a lot of his colleagues, has been limiting his hometown shows lately. And why not? With the depression, you’d think more people would be going out, especially if a show is free, but so far, not so much. So, last week was a pleasant change of pace. In addition to LJ Murphy’s gigs at Banjo Jim’s on the 14th and at Passout Records in Williamsburg a week later, he’d also squeezed in another, completely unadvertised show at a gallery in Bushwick. Which is the wave of the future: as the crowds in the usual expensive places dry up, we’re going to see new ways of the music following the people and vice versa.


The Banjo Jim’s gig was a duo show, Murphy on acoustic backed only by a new piano player, obviously classically trained, playing mostly rhythm which added a nice textural feel to Murphy’s darkly blues-based material, especially on a remarkably bleak version of the soulful yet snide Falling Backwards Up the Stairs. The Weimar blues Mad Within Reason – title track to his latest cd – also benefit from the format. He pulled out a new one, This Is Nothing Like Bliss and gave a vintage Ray Charles feel to its sardonic narrative of a pickup scene gone horribly awry: “Beware the wages of sin get under your skin, oh beware!”


Beyond all the double entendres, the fearlessness and the flat-out charisma that Murphy brings to every gig, another factor that makes him worth seeing more than once is that he’s a compulsive rearranger. Let’s see: this makes the third time he’s reworked the melody to the classic afterwork anthem Happy Hour (“About young Republicans getting their freak on,” he explained). Likewise, the once stomping Bovine Brothers – about older Republican types getting their freak on in an entirely different way – is now a slow 6/8 blues, trading energy for extra breathing room for the song’s caustic lyrics.


Passout Records was a solo acoustic show, completely different crowd (why do you think musicians do this, anyway? To play to the same people time and time again?). To those who haven’t discovered this place, it’s time you did. It’s on the block on Grand between Beford and Berry in Williamsburg, one that doesn’t get as much foot traffic as those to to the immediate south, with all the shi-shi bistros etc. Lots of vinyl, not all of it punk, either: some choice jazz stuff, a generously stuffed dollar bin and cds too. And zero pretense. So Murphy fit right in. Without taking off the black hat or the black wraparound shades, he burned through many of the same songs as at Banjo Jim’s. The big audience hit, no surprise, was the wistfully chilling 6/8 ballad Saturday’s Down (keep your eyes out for this one on our Alltime Top 666 Songs list), a late afternoon McCarren Park tableau that pans to “buzzing buzzers, ringing bells and twisting little knobs.” Nice to see him pull out another old crowd-pleaser, the straight-up Blue Silence, which may have been in the shop. At least this guy maintains his songs on a regular basis. Maybe that’s one of the reasons they sound so fresh.

March 24, 2009 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , ,

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