Three things you can count on in this town: there will always be roaches under your stove, the train will be rerouted at the least opportune moment and the Reid Paley Trio will entertain you. Paley’s stock in trade, like so many other artists who play Thursday’s weekly Small Beast extravaganza at the Delancey, is menace. He understands absurdity, usually doesn’t like it very much and makes no secret of it, sometimes fending it off with a good joke. Characteristically charismatic in his black suitcoat and backed by his usual rhythm section of onetime Heroin Sheik Eric Eble on upright bass and James Murray on drums, Paley pretty much let the songs speak for themselves this time out. Much of the material was from his latest, excellent album Approximate Hellhound. With just a hint of natural distortion on his battered archtop guitar, Paley’s sound is part ghoulabilly without the schlock, part noir blues without the cliches, with a little vintage country or gypsy feel thrown in to shake things up. Live, he’s actually more of a singer than a rasper, sort of the opposite of what he is on album. “Gimme a chance, I’ll fuck it up,” went the refrain on his opening, slightly Cramps-ish number. Better Days, with its dread-filled “hangover sunrise Sunday morning, half dead on Bedford Avenue” was surprisingly subtle; a couple of the more countryish tunes from the cd got a bluesier, rawer treatment. Chanteuse Peg Simone eventually joined him for a slightly coy, seductive cameo on vocals; on the last song of the set, he ended it chopping at his strings as if he wanted to break them, then sticking his guitar into his amp where it started feeding back. Somebody cut the sound. Host Paul Wallfisch (who’d opened the evening) wanted it back: “That’s beautiful,” he leered. Meanwhile, the world’s #1 surf music impresario, Unsteady Freddie, wandered about, camera at hand. Who knew he was a fan.
Mattison frontwoman/keyboardist Kate Mattison brought down the lights, obscured behind the Small Beast (the 88 key spinet for which the night’s named), shadowy in the light of the candles above the keys and the disco ball’s twinkling swirls across the walls. And then played a show that made a perfect match with the ambience, soulful, smart retro pop, frequently over a live trip-hop beat pushed along by an excellent, terse rhythm section. The vocals started out somewhat disembodied and warmed up quickly, Mattison expertly shading her lyrics with a vintage soul feel, the occasional subtle blue note and just the hint of a rasp in places. Some of her songs had a pensive, almost minimalist sensibility in the same vein as Bee & Flower; others evoked modern artsy pop bands like For Feather or the Secret History, or that one great live album by Portishead. One began stately and beautiful in 6/8 time before morphing into a fast 4/4 hit; another built fetchingly and cajolingly into a “ringalingaling” chorus. Still another catchy pop number segued into a big, anthemic ballad with jazz-tinged vocals and gospel piano inflections. It was almost one in the morning by the time they wrapped up their too-brief, barely 40-minute set. They’re at Coco 66 at 8 on May 20.
By the way, in case you haven’t noticed, Lucid Culture reviews pretty much every Small Beast show. Pretty much a no-brainer, considering how it’s become simply the most vital, important music scene in town. So we’ve created a new category, Small Beast where we’ve archived all the other performers we’ve chronicled since the night first kicked off this past winter: click here or look toward top right here to that “A” right over the ARCHIVES section, click and scroll down to Small Beast to see what you’ve been missing.
A good night for music started early at the Jazz Standard, currently playing host to an adventurous bunch of Catalan jazz artists. The club has been getting plenty of props here because they’ve earned it – with an ambience that rivals any swanky joint in town and a purist sensibility that respects all the classic jazz styles while reaching out to newer artists, they’re everything that both the Vanguard and the Stone should aspire to be. Thursday night’s early show for the media and the blogosphere kicked off with a long solo piano cameo by Chano Dominguez, whose claim to fame is transposing flamenco guitar to the piano. With an understated, percussive intensity, he played cleverly and directly with more than a hint of his early rock roots. Augusti Fernandez followed, also solo at the piano, delivering an absolutely transcendent, modally infused nocturne, a relentlessly uneasy piece that stayed just this side of total anguish. His show was last night, but if piano jazz is your thing, get to know him. The regularly scheduled act was unfortunately even more anticlimactic than expected, a Knitting Factory style unit with sax, drums and a bunch of electronics. As usual, if some machine’s doing it for you, your music invariably sounds like you get it from the bottom of a long black tube. The Spaniards remain at the Jazz Standard through the weekend: adventurous listeners should check out the calendar (see our current live picks)
From there it was down to Local 269, the latest and predictably upscaled version of the old Meow Mix space. As good as Fernandez had been two hours earlier, the French Exit were the highlight of the night, their dark, murkily beautiful reverb guitar-and-keyboard sound absolutely impossible to turn away from. Henri Harps’ richly metallic washes of chords rang out over Mia Wilson’s understatedly ornate, anguished piano arpeggios, drummer Bryan Sargent’s subtle accents quietly and effectively maintaining the intensity. Their songs burned like a pine pitch torch, slow and smoky but inexorably blazing, Wilson’s soul-simmered, wounded vocals impressively clear in the mix. There’s a hypnotic feel to pretty much everything they do: after awhile, the songs become pretty much impossible to dissect because they draw you in so deeply. Wilson’s lyrics were characteristically savage: “No, this won’t hurt,” she sang with an almost gleeful sarcasm in a new one, Bones and Matches, pounding and ferociously insistent over a repetitive piano hook. “Let me in, let me in,” she implored on the following number. They closed with a towering, majestic, organ-fueled version of Bad Sign, which might be their signature song, building to an explosion of distorted organ and reverb guitar as the chorus kicked in. Are the French Exit the best live band in town? They’re unquestionably one of them. If the darkness calls to you, so will their songs.
Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Friday’s song is #439:
Conformorama – A Pocketful of Stones
Here’s a real obscure one that you’re not going to find anywhere online. It’s a ferocious, punkish, minor-key stomp driven by a tightly unwinding contrapuntal melody between the guitar and bass with a lyric that updates a Faulkner theme from Go Down Moses, a bridge jumper taking the plunge in order to avoid dying in a nuclear holocaust. The best available version from this artsy postpunk band is on a virtually impossible-to-find cassette-only live recording from CBGB. Written by the bassist, who would go on to play country, rock, surf music and jazz with innumerable other popular and obscure New York groups.