Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Daniel Bernstein at Sidewalk, NYC 7/9/09

Even by Daniel Bernstein’s standards, this show was particularly transcendent. Like Luminescent Orchestrii, just reviewed here, Bernstein gets raves from his fellow musicians. No matter how he ends up putting his songs out there – as punk/metal in the great early zeros band the Larval Organs, as austere chamber pop in Hearth, in the ferocious, coyly named Whisper Doll or simply solo acoustic as he delivered them last night, they always pack a wallop. Railing more than he was singing, alternating between unleashed rage and kvetchy discomfort and backed by soaring harmonies from Erin Regan – an equally good songwriter in her own right – he nonchalantly burned through a nine-song set of bleak, brilliantly lyrical and very catchy existentialist angsthems. This may have been an acoustic show, but the sound was loud, the sound guy very impressively pulling a good mix together, Regan’s pitch-perfect wail in stark contrast with Bernstein’s haphazard snarl.

Death pervades his lyrics. Decaying carcasses, dying light and dashed dreams are so abundant as to be inescapable. As is a sense of being completely and overwhelmingly alone. To say that Bernstein channels Beckett in places would not be an overstatement: his lyrics are plainspoken yet profound and symbolically loaded. And as with Beckett, there’s plenty of stream-of-consciousness gallows humor to make things a bit more tolerable, if only momentarily before the plunge back into the abyss. The best of this stuff ranks with Ian Curtis, Roger Waters, Leonard Cohen and any other legendary dark songwriter you can think of. Bernstein’s catalog of songs is considerably deep, this show mixing new material along with a couple of genuine classics from his Larval Organs days. He opened with a characteristically anthemic number chronicling miscommunication, burned bridges and “summers spent in ashy crash.” The dark, forsaken Wizard Gardenia, an upbeat Larval Organs song was inspired, he said, by a brand of aerosol disinfectant: “Her skin is young like a dead man’s tongue…if I never wake up for a thousand years would you still be blowing those Pyrex tears?”

The forsaken vibe continued with another more recent tune, skeletal fingerpicking on the verse giving way to an upbeat chorus: “God thinks it’s treason if you ask why…a quarter ounce of truth is the only truth we divine…ain’t no way out of here, look how far we’ve come.”

In these songs, love is always fleeting, a momentary yet irresistible distraction that becomes a destructive obsession, vividly illustrated in the Larval Organs song City Parks:

Grey skin like the hue of rotten meat

That is cooking itself in the heat of its desire…

I know that love is not some sort of prize

And I am all alone on this ride

Still I wish that you would hold me in

They saved the best for last, the Larval Organs classic Joyless Now:

There’s gold in the hills

There’s a thousand bottles of pills…

We go on to John Brown’s grave

I’ve got a heartache the size of a great lake

I’m so faraway

I’m on the outside either way

I want to bring myself into a room

Pretend the lighting fixture is the moon…

I’m on the outside and I’m going insane

Let’s speed and drive all night

Into the diffused grey light

With that, he sent everyone off into the as-yet-undiffused, unseasonably cool black comfort of a relatively tourist-free Thursday midnight in the East Village. Watch this space for upcoming shows: if lyrical rock is your thing, you need to get to know this guy’s songs.

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July 10, 2009 - Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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