Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Botanica at Joe’s Pub, NYC 3/21/09

Like Joy Division or Nina Simone, Botanica enjoy a cult appeal with a taste-defining sensibility, a still-necessary antithesis and antidote to so-called “hipster irony.” Passionately lyrical, as informed by classical and gypsy music as rock, internationalist in viewpoint, engaged in the world and intensely charismatic onstage, even conformists resist the urge to dismiss them if only because their mongrel hordes are everywhere. Saturday night, this proper and respectable venue hadn’t seen such wild, unleashed mayhem since the days of Gogol Bordello, as one concertgoer put it, maybe even since one particularly blistering set by a pre-crack Gil Scott-Heron in its earliest days way back in the 90s. Botanica were fresh off European tour and weren’t ready to wind down yet, the result being a 180 degree contrast with the placid and predictable if pretty stream of cliches strung together by the opening act. Botanica have a rep for intense live shows – anybody who’s seen their frontman Paul Wallfish do his solo thing at the weekly Small Beast show on Thursday evenings at the Delancey knows this – but Friday night’s sonic onslaught caught the crowd like a low-flying jetliner.

 

Guitarist John Andrews, in particular, got a workout – there hasn’t been as much savage tremolo-picking onstage anywhere in New York since Dick Dale last passed through. Playing through a dense, metallic wall of reverb, he wailed for minutes on end as the band methodically made their way through The Flag, the bitter, elegaic anthem to another America perhaps gone forever (“When I stand and face the flag/I see my country wrapped in rags”) from the classic 9/11-themed 2004 cd Botanica vs. the Truth Fish. Wallfisch was in typically menacing yet compelling form, whether anchoring the songs with brooding organ or eerily echoey Wurlitzer piano, brandishing his trusty bullhorn or taking one of several variously successful acrobatic excursions into the crowd. The new rhythm section of Jason Binnick (from Kerry Kennedy’s band) on bass and Dave Berger on drums is equal to any other unit this band ever had (Berger, in particular, lending a counterintuitively playful yet restrained touch to several of the more pounding, straightforward songs), and the violinist who’d been flown in from somewhere in Europe (Vienna, maybe?) was superb as well.

 

Someone Else Again, from their previous US release Berlin Hi-Fi, scurrried and swung nimbly. And Then Palermo, from the same album, was raised from wistfulness to unrestrained anguish, particularly when Andrews cut loose with a bloodcurdling, screaming, reverb-drenched solo on his Jazzmaster. In striking contrast, a more recent track, Who You Are, was all lush, exultant beauty with a particularly inspired vocal: “Imagine…perfection,” encouraged Wallfisch, responding to the technical glitches that had derailed the start of the show by a minute or two. As usual, Wallfisch used the stately, haunting lost-time masterpiece Eleganza and Wines as an excuse to teach the crowd 7/8 time, taking his message as far as he could along the railing separating bar area from tables and managing not to lose his balance.

 

“Five minutes, Paul,” the sound guy said, clearly audible over the club PA. So naturally the band played for another twenty. The highlight, perhaps predictably, was The Truth Fish, this time with its crazed, desperate gypsy outro careening at a ridiculous clip, the band nonetheless keeping up with the tempo until the end where Wallfisch intoned his complete disgust with those who, in the weeks and months after 9/11, would not extinguish those “Fires. No. One. Cares. To. Put. Out. Out. Out!” And they followed that with more gypsy wildness, the similarly politically-fueled How, Wallfisch holding the band back so all the lickety-split lyrics could resonate. “How many idiots on the head of a pin?” After the show, the crowd lined up to get copies of their new live cd americanundone, which’ll be available at later gigs as well. In the meantime, here’s a free download of one of the cd’s tracks, Billboard Jesus.

Advertisements

March 25, 2009 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.