Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: System Noise at Iridium, NYC 5/2/09

Arguably their best show to date. System Noise is the kind of band you see and you can’t believe they’re not famous (as in headlining stadiums, anyway – they’re not exactly unknown in the New York underground). They’re even good-looking, as shallow as it is to admit, platinum-haired frontwoman Sarah Mucho spiky, sarcastic and amusing as always until she’d launch into a song and then it was all chills. In a long set that ran almost an hour and a half – the first in a new series of Saturday night rock shows at Iridium – they alternated between catchy, edgily danceable funk-rock and the scorchingly dark, noisy yet melodic guitar-fueled style intimated by their name.

Two minutes into their hook-driven, Talking Heads-inflected opener, Shitkickers, Mucho put everyone on notice that this would not be a sedate show: “I say, fuck it, we don’t have to take this shit!” They followed with an even catchier, far darker tune, Hair and Nails, that would set the tone for pretty much the rest of the night, a savagely offhand dismissal of shallowness, Mucho musing what would make her a “better woman,” the hair and nails of the title both something to accessorize and the only two parts of the body that keep growing after death. Another new one set a wicked, funky chromatic progression over a hip-hop beat, Mucho working her range for every sultry inflection in her arsenal.

Eventually popular cabaret crooner/pianist Michael Isaacs joined them onstage for a particularly glammy Elton John-style take on Lady Stardust by Bowie, then remained at the keys, his punchy rhythm giving the guitarist a chance to stretch out and wail through many of the wild lead lines on their albums that, with only one guitarist, they can’t incorporate into their live show. Another cover, Chicago’s 25 or 6 to 4 turned into a guitar firestorm, morphing at the end from a spot-on version of the solo out on the recording into a screaming, overtone-laden upper-register noisefest.

As usual, the big crowd-pleaser was the towering, epic anthem Daydreaming with its whispery intro, and long, eventually completely unhinged crescendo, a showcase for the wild wail Mucho developed on the cabaret circuit (where she still plays: she’s doing a show with Isaacs at Don’t Tell Mama on May 19). They encored with a particularly macabre, savagely redemptive version of the Carrie-inspired art-rock anthem Prom Night and then a blistering version of the fast, Iron Maiden-ish Good Enough to Eat, which their new bass player hadn’t had a chance to rehearse but tackled gamely and acquitted himself impressively. He’s a keeper – where their most recent bassist would get all garish and wanky if you gave him a second’s time in the spotlight, this guy is pure competence, smooth, in the pocket and tasteful. System Noise is back at their usual haunt the Delancey on June 16.

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May 6, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Northside Festival – Snooze

Don’t waste your money. The promoters of the 4-day Williamsburg indie rock festival  (The L Magazine) seem hell-bent on selling $45 four-day passes rather than individual tickets (a moronic strategy, since single-ticket sales would generate infinitely more profit). The way those clueless children have organized this – not that it’s organized in any coherent way – you could conceivably fork over $45 and not see a single show because your pass doesn’t guarantee you entry anywhere! It’s first come, first served, meaning that unless you want to take time off work to swelter on the sidewalk in the sun waiting for the doors to open so you can see Bishop Allen do their nerd-folk thing at the old Northsix space, you might not want to do this at all.

Of course, if your parents are paying for the pass, if your day consists of shopping for moldy old clothes that nobody wore back in the 70s because they labeled you as either a dork or gay, this is just the place for you to meet fellow conformists whose raison d’etre is exchanging blurry iphone photos.

May 6, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City | , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble, Spottiswoode and Steve Wynn at the Delancey, NYC 4/30/09

An appropriate way to end a grade-A grey day, to steal a phrase from the Wade Schuman songbook. This being a Thursday, that meant Small Beast, Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch’s weekly upstairs show at the Delancey and this was the best ever, no question, in fact arguably the best show of the year so far. Maybe because the quality of the talent on the bill was so obscene, Wallfisch brought his A-game – not that he doesn’t typically put on a good show, but one of the reasons the Beast came to exist was to give him a chance to work out new material solo on piano in a live setting. Consequently, sometimes his set is more akin to a view of an artist’s studio rather than a gallery view of the finished product. Finished or not, the songs resonated with characteristic noir glimmer: the savagely beautiful Botanica concert favorite Three Women; a new one, Waits-ish and gospel-inflected; a towering, majestic new 6/8 ballad that could be the band’s Eldorado; a super-fast romp through the Little Annie noir cabaret hit Because You’re Gone and then the Botanica show-closer, How, a galloping, unstoppable gypsy caravan blazing with torrents of piano and eventually a satirical Riders on the Storm quote, held on a steady course by Linda Pitmon (the best rock drummer on the planet, from Steve Wynn’s band) on tambourine.

Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble was next, the band spilling over onto the floor in front of the stage. Their name is well chosen. There was an offhandedly menacing look to the whole black-clad crew, and they were tight beyond belief, their bluesiness most vividly visible in their dramatic, stately noir cabaret numbers. With roaring, punk-inflected guitar, keyboards, rhythm section and guest accordionist Marni Rice supplying the night’s most haunting tonalities behind her, Beren was an avenging angel. Her powerful, anguished contralto wail going full throttle, she radiated intensity throughout a ferocious 45 minutes of big anthems, mostly in 6/8 time. “I’ve seen the lights beyond, I’ve seen the lights that could have gone on if I’d demanded,” she reflected with a passion only enhanced by longing and regret. The high point of her set was the relentlessly haunting gypsy vamp The Nod, her keyboardist opening the song with a murky Balkan trombone riff. Beren opened and closed the set at the piano, playing with a restrained savagery. But it was Rice who stole the show, her wrenchingly sad, poignant tones a stark contrast with Beren’s righteous wrath.

Spottiswoode was next. His myspace shows him in faux-mugshot pose, shades on, a homemade Marseille police department clapboard in hand, a persona that earlier in his career sometimes overshadowed his music. The persona is still there, but he’s grown into the old rake he always wanted to be, albeit with a strikingly politically aware sensibility – Marty Willson-Piper is an apt comparison. He started out solo on guitar with a bawdy English dancehall number, That’s What I Like, imbued with characteristic boozy sarcasm. Then he went to the piano and got serious, resulting in an often riveting show, the rest of his songs imbued with a woodpaneled, rain-soaked, early 70s European ambience. His best number was a big, somewhat anguished ballad with some tasty major/minor changes: “Save up the days until the war begins,” he cautioned. It’s still sometimes hard to tell whether he’s being satirical or not, but this show was a revelation.

Steve Wynn headlined, playing with his longtime lead guitarist Chris Brokaw for the first time in eight years. Wynn’s stock in trade is menace, but this show had an especially warm, intimate feel, not only because the two guys were jammed up there on the little stage with Pitmon looking on warily, tambourine in hand, but because this was all about joy and rediscovery. Their guitar duels, both on record and onstage, are the stuff of legend: get your hands on a classic like Melting in the Dark or Here Come the Miracles (both of which you’ll find on our upcoming Best Albums of the Decade list), or spend an hour or two (you’ll probably be there that long) at archive.org. This time it was about trading off, about getting back in touch with the songs, stripping them to nothing but the shell (they played that one, sorry, couldn’t resist) to see what they were made of. More often than not, it was lush, jangly melody, without hardly a hint of the noise or unrestrained wrath you’d expect from a full-band show by these two.

An unexpected cover of Waiting for the Man was every bit as tense and nervous as Lou Reed should have made it. The big, grim suicide anthem Southern California Line was transformed into a terse, minimalist dirge. The menacing Morning After – the best song ever written about perjury – segued into an even more menacing, skeletal Silence Is Your Only Friend. Then they took it up, transforming the darkly galloping Death Valley Rain into a swaying, hypnotic clinic in harmony and overtones before bringing it all the way down with a slow, evil version of the Dream Syndicate classic When You Smile. How cruelly ironic that the only place in town you could see a show this good this year would not be at Madison Square Garden, where by all rights all these acts deserve to play, but upstairs at the Delancey on a little stage half-occupied by the Small Beast, an 88-key spinet piano.

And walking across the bridge after the show, it was impossible not to smile seeing all those HIPSTERS GO HOME stencils on the pavement. In fact, in every case they all happened to be very close to stencils for THE BROOKLYN WHAT FOR BOROUGH PRESIDENT, and in the exact same spray paint color.

May 6, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Song of the Day 5/6/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Wednesday’s song is #448:

The Stooges – No Sense of Crime

In many cases Iggy & co. did the opiated, Exile On Main St. major key bluesy rock thing even better than the Stones and this is a prime example, circa 1972, beginning as an elegiac acoustic ballad and building to a hypnotically pulsing anthem, James Williamson doing a spot-on version of Keith Richards. It’s been anthologized to death (the Kill City lp from the late 70s was the first); mp3s are everywhere.The link above is an imeem stream.

May 6, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment