Lucid Culture


Concert Review: The Zevon-athon at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 11/12/09

by Richard Wallace

Warren Zevon was an American songwriter whose vocabulary, both written and musical, earned him acclaim from the music press, his peers and his loyal following throughout a 30 year-plus career that ended too soon when he died after a short battle with cancer in 2003.  It may have been his Russian heritage that fueled many of his songs with an unforgettably rebellious, muscular, Cossack spirit.  

It must have been that same spirit that drove Nate Schweber to lead the cavalry into Banjo Jim’s on Thursday night for the very first Warren Zevon-athon. Schweber, frontman of the New Heathens, pulled together a band of stellar downtown Americana talent to perform a robust double barrel set of Zevon’s material. The audience that packed into Banjo Jim’s shared the small club’s confined, standing-room-only space with the dozens of musicians on the bill, and they reveled all night long, celebrating in the work of an indelible artist.

For this show, Schweber was joined by J.D. Hughes on drums, Alison Jones on bass, Rich Hinman (of the Madison Square Gardeners, among others) on guitar and Andy Mullen on piano, and together they were able to do an outstanding job of recreating the stylish west coast feel of Zevon’s early recordings.

Among the standup performances were Jesse Bates (“I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”), Mr. Somebody (“I Was in the House when the House Burned Down”),  Mr. Somebodyelse (“Mr. Bad Example”) and Andy Mullen (“The French Inhaler”).  Schweber and his bandmates added “Frank and Jesse James”, “Mohammed’s Radio”, “Lawyers, Guns and Money” and of course the irrepressible “Werewolves of London.” In addition, Steve Welnter delivered “I Was In The House When The House Burned Down,” and Steve Strunsky performed “Mr. Bad Example”. 

But the highlights of the evening may have been the contributions of the female vocalists in the house:  Mary Lee Kortes of Mary Lee’s Corvette (“Desperados Under the Eaves”)  Charlene McPherson of Spanking Charlene (“Hasten Down the Wind”), Eleanor Whitmore (“Carmelita”), Monica Passin and Drina Seay (“Keep Me in Your Heart”).  Each one of these striking performances were done with a remarkable forthrightness and amazing compassion for the material. 

Leave it to Zevon. The Excitable One’s foot-stomping numbers are models of boyish swagger. A notorious womanizer, Zevon may have been dead for six years now, yet he can still charm his way through to all the female hearts in a room with his poignantly candid lyrics. 

And then Serena Jean Southam (of the Whisky Trippers) belted out “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” and the night was allowed to proceed to its fitful conclusion.   Leave it to Schweber, who’d courageously orchestrated the night, and yes, “His hair was perfect.”


November 19, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Countdown to the Best Song of Alltime Continues

This isn’t how we planned it – until the end of this past September, every day, we posted a new song from our Best 666 Songs of Alltime list, as a way to keep you in suspense (and to keep you coming back for more). Since then, while the site hasn’t exactly been idle (we promised you a new post every day, so by that standard we’re only about a week behind), we’ve been putting up stuff as the random opportunity presents itself. So here’s some more songs that take the list up through December 1 when we’ll no doubt be back to add more. Have fun with this!

249. Roxy Music – The Thrill of It All

The title says it all, pure exhilaration perfectly captured in a little more than five careening minutes in one of the legendary British art-rockers’ loudest numbers. From Country Life, 1974; mp3s are everywhere.  

 248. Richard Thompson – Meet on the Ledge

One of Thompson’s signature songs, this white-knuckle-intense, death-obsessed ballad for absent friends was originally recorded by Fairport Convention in 1969. But it’s arguably the solo acoustic version on the live 1984 Small Town Romance album (reissued on cd in the late 90s) that’s the best. “

247. The Act – Long Island Sound

Future Dream Academy frontman Nick Laird-Clowes fronted this ferociously good one-album punk/powerpop band in the early 80s featuring David Gilmour’s brother Mark on lead guitar. This is the best song on their 1981 gem Too Late at 20, an escape anthem that ranks with the best of them. “I belong to the ones that got away.” You’ll really relate if you grew up in the area.

246. King Crimson – Epitaph

Best song from In the Court of the Crimson King, their 1969 debut as a symphonic rock band. With the mellotron going full blast and Michael Giles’ transcendent drum work, it’s a chilling apocalypse anthem.

245. Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear – Hey, Hitler

As the leader of New York-based Americana rockers the Hangdogs, Matthew Grimm carved himself out a niche as sort of a funnier Steve Earle or a more country Jello Biafra, skewering the right wing at every turn with equal amounts obscenity-laden wit and wisdom. This is the standout track from Grimm’s post-Hangdogs solo debut, the ferocious Dawn’s Early Apocalypse, 2005:

If there’s a Hell you’re burning, in anguish for eternity

But your spirit lives in every chanting, trust-fund baby, Brown-Shirt-esque fraternity

244. Israel Vibration – Pay Day

Reggae fans know the story, and it’s a heartwarming one: three polio-stricken Jamaican teens discover Jah Rastafari, leave the orphanage for the bush and quickly become one of the greatest roots reggae harmony groups of all time. This defiant number bounces along on one of the most gorgeously jangly guitar tune ever to come out of the island.  The essential version is on the band’s first live album, Vibes Alive, from 1992 – the link above is the studio version.

243. The Kinks – Cliches of the World (B Movie)

Savage, artsy, proto-metal minor-key riff rock, Ray Davies in characteristically populist mode from State of Confusion, 1981.

242. The The – This Is the Day

You know this one, the iconic, haunting concertina-driven new wave hit from 1983, sun blasting through the windows, the song’s hapless narrator knowing that nothing’s really going to change after all. Mp3s are everywhere.  

 241. Penelope Houston – Everybody Knows

Yeah, Leonard Cohen wrote it, and his 1988 synth-goth version’s awfully cool, but it’s the tightlipped, furious acoustic cover that the once-and-future Avengers frontwoman was doing in the early 90s that’s the best. Of everyone who’s tackled this song, she’s one of the few with the depth to really get it and make it her own. Unreleased, but Houston’s widely bootlegged – if you see this out there, tell us!

 240. Al Stewart – Mermansk Run/Ellis Island

Best track on the British art-rock songwriter’s otherwise pretty forgettable 24 Carrots lp, 1981, a two-part WWII epic welded together by a transcendentally good, crescendoing Peter White guitar solo. “Save our souls, river of darkness over me!” The link above is the stream at deezer.

 239. Willie Nile – The Black Parade

One of the most vengeful songs ever written, this slowly burning anthem is the New York underground legend’s greatest number and the centerpiece of his triumphant 1999 comeback album Beautiful Wreck of the World.

 238. Bob Dylan – Like a Rolling Stone

Yeah, this is a classic rock standard, nothing that’s going to surprise you. But if you’ve ever heard this on a vinyl record playing through a good system, ask yourself, is there any sound any warmer than that offhandedly rich way Dylan’s electric guitar kicks it off – and then Al Kooper’s organ comes in! And it’s also an anti-trendoid anthem. No wonder they hate Dylan in Williamsburg!

November 19, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment