Concert Review: The French Exit and More Live in NYC 5/13/09
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.
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