Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Grace McLean and Sarah Mucho and Kurt Leege at the Delancey, NYC 8/18/09

Grace McLean really opened some eyes: as a keyboardist and bassist, she’s still taking baby steps, in stark contrast to the richness of her songwriting and her sophistication as a jazzy song stylist. From the sultry soul number that she opened with, a-capella, it seemed obvious that she’s spent some time out in front of a jazz band – the nuances, the effortless leaps and the out-of-the-box playfulness of her vocals are dead giveaways. Likewise, her songwriting is packed with devious tempo shifts, rhythmic devices, wickedly clever wordplay and a laugh-out-loud sense of humor, sort of a Rachelle Garniez Junior. Her number about being in love with her friend’s roommate had the room in hysterics and was something of an indelible New York moment. Likewise, a smartly swaying breakup number worked both as triumph over heartbreak and savage dis. The funniest song of the set was a breathless, rapidfire cabaret number about being jerked around by a clueless guy, done like Streisand with a graduate degree. Give this woman a piano player or a band behind her and there won’t be a cabaret room in town that she can’t rock.

The brain trust of ferocious, artsy rockers System Noise wound up the evening with a fascinating, virtuosic, low-key acoustic show, the kind that VH1 tries to get to work and inevitably fails with. This was a triumph. With guitarist Kurt Leege on acoustic and frontwoman/all-purpose siren Sarah Mucho alternating between percussion, harmonica and guitar and backed by excellent upright bassist, they revisited a trio of slinky, acerbic numbers from their early zeros band Noxes Pond. One of them was reinvented as a something of a dirge with stark bowed bass taking the lead part. They found the inner pop gem in Jimi Hendrix’ Angel, added a sly Talking Heads-style funkiness to Aimee Mann’s Wise Up and recast the Kinks’ Death of a Clown as a raucous barroom singalong. But their best song of the night was a brand new one,  a original fingerstyle Piedmont blues with a particularly chilling, anthemic lyric by Mucho, a reluctant embrace of angst and solitude to rival anything Ian Curtis ever wrote. It sounded nothing like anything System Noise ever did, and it’s a particularly promising new direction for them.

Opening act Kathleen Mock sang affectingly and often hauntingly in an Americana vein; Vanessa Boyd, who played after McLean also showed off some soaring vocal chops.

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August 19, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, Curtis Eller and Bliss Blood at the Delancey, NYC 8/17/09

It may have been a scorching Monday night in the dead of August, but Small Beast – the weekly salon/performance event we’ve been screeching about for the past six months or so – was pretty packed. The word of the night was charisma – reviled as passe in indie rock circles but as valid as ever for the other 95% of the world. This was simply one of the best triple bills of the year – although that possibility rears its head every week here. Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch (as regular readers of this space know, perhaps by heart) is a hard-rocking pianist who blends gypsy and classical motifs into his alternately ornate and austere art-rock songs. He was in a bad mood, brightened somewhat by the presence of a ringer percussionist, a tough-looking guy of about nine who contributed tambourine for practically the entirety of the set, demonstrating an appreciation for groove and an ear for creative rhythms that may develop into rock-solid timing if he keeps it up. He did a bunch of covers: a punked-out piano version of the Stones’ Faraway Eyes, a brief Paul Bowles song with a violent ending, a casually sultry take of Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man and a completely unhinged Why’d Ya Do It (the Marianne Faithfull rant from the Broken English lp). He closed on a raptly soulful note with the gentle, gospel-fueled title track to Botanica’s latest, forthcoming cd.

“This may be an asshole thing to say, but I didn’t expect him to be so good,” marveled the next act, banjo rocker Curtis Eller, without a trace of sarcasm. And then took the show to the next level. With his banjo hooked up to a wireless transmitter, Eller refused to stand in one place, alternating between a high-kicking Dizzy Dean stance and a righthanded Darryl Strawberry crouch, running the length of the floor past the bar, playing the piano with his ass and keeping the audience riveted. There may be no better lyricist out there right now – a set of Curtis Eller songs is just about as good and accurate a look at American history over the past two hundred years as A People’s History of the United States, and it’s a whole lot funnier. Referencing Elvis twice, Nixon several times, the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, the Las Vegas mob, Boss Tweed, doping in horseracing, Pentecostal rites and the death penalty, he ran through a mix of older songs and tunes from his most recent cd Wirewalkers and Assassins (which may prove over time to be a classic). Taking Up Serpents took a vividly literate look at how the ruling classes keep the lower ones divided and conquered; Sugar for the Horses examined the consequences of what happens when people like Boss Tweed and Elvis are separated at birth (that’s a quote). Three More Minutes with Elvis paradoxically worked equally well as wistful ballad and caustic portrayal of over-the-top idol worship; After the Soil Fails packed just about every contributing factor to the coming apocalypse into three furiously catchy minutes of minor-key noir blues. The crowd sang along on the bitterly tongue-in-cheek Come Back to the Movies, Buster Keaton and on the gently haunting closing number, Save Me Joe Louis, Eller sinking to his knees and whispering the outro like the song’s condemned man in the gas chamber.

Bliss Blood of the Moonlighters followed with a rare solo set of razor-sharp, period-perfect originals and a playful selection of covers from across the decades. A songwriter unsurpassed at evoking the subtle wit and exuberance of 1920s/30s swing, blues and Hawaiian music, her style is more cajolery than outright seduction, notwithstanding her stage outfit, in this case a vintage black slip over fishnets. “It’s like when the Moonlighters used to play Tonic, with industrial metal in the basement,” she sneered, as the thud from the downstairs room threatened to drown out her ukelele. “Let’s all stomp on the floor and scream!” The crowd was glad to comply. Her plaintive original Winter in My Heart (from the Moonlighters’ excellent new cd Enchanted) was inspired, she said, by an ex who refused her invites to join her on myspace and facebook – pretty cold, especially when you consider that there are guys out there who would probably be willing to pay to join Bliss Blood’s virtual circle of friends.

She worked every innuendo in Al Duvall‘s Sheet Music Man (also from the new album) for all they were worth, offered up cheerily swoony versions of the old jazz tunes Moanin’ Love and Fooling with the Other Woman’s Man, scurried through a fast, scorching take of the Moonlighters’ anti-maquiladora bolero Dirt Road Life as well as a trio of Kinks covers from Village Green. And then a request, Animal Farm (turns out she was a Kinks fan for a considerable time before she met the Davies brothers and Dave kissed her on the lips). “I could play all night,” she laughed before finally wrapping up her show with an original, the blithe hobo anthem Texarkana Bound, which is available as a free download. Comedic acoustic cowpunk Larry Bang Bang was next on the bill, which from what’s on his myspace could have been a lot of fun, but by then it was midnight on a work night and there were things to do, specifically, get home and stick a fan in the window before the place spontaneously combusted.

August 19, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment