Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 1/12/10

Every day – wifi signal willing – we count down the best 666 songs of alltime. Tuesday’s is #198:

Gil Scott-Heron – B Movie

The great soul/jazz poet at the peak of his powers, a savage dismissal of lightweight Hollywood candidate Ronald Reagan released just after the disastrous 1980 election. From the Secrets album, 1981; the link above is the complete eight-minute diatribe on youtube. There’s also a killer version on the Live Somewhere in Europe album from the early 90s.

January 11, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trouble in Tribeca, Part Two: Chicha Libre, the Cuban Cowboys and Slavic Soul Party at the 92YTribeca, NYC 1/8/10

Booking agency Trouble Worldwide’s night of showcases for the annual APAP booking agents’ convention continued with two New York institutions who call Brooklyn bar Barbes their home, sandwiched around comedic Bay Area Cuban/American retro rockers the Cuban Cowboys. We have reviewed shows by Chicha Libre a few times; we have seen them more times than we can count. Even by their standards, this one was deliriously fun, the high point of the night (and when you can upstage Slavic Soul Party, that’s pretty damn good). For those who don’t know the band, their style of music is chicha, which takes its name from a Peruvian corn liquor which is sort of that country’s equivalent of Olde English or Colt .45. Wildly popular on a regional basis in the 1970s, chicha music blends psychedelically-tinged American surf music, a Colombian cumbia beat and bits and pieces of just about every other latin style from Brazilian to salsa. Chicha Libre had been asked by the producers of the Simpsons to provide a chicha version of the show’s theme song in honor of the cartoon’s 25th anniversary, which aired Sunday (you can hulu it): the song very cleverly skirted the theme but didn’t tackle it head-on until a break midway through. Because chicha bands in the style’s heyday so frequently chichafied music from just about everywhere else on the globe, Chicha Libre do the same, with results that vary from haunting (the understated, swaying version of Erik Satie’s macabre Gymnopedie No. 1 that they used to open the set on a subdued note) to amusing, notably a cover of Hot Butter’s 70s novelty synth instrumental hit Popcorn (which the band uses as a tribute to corn liquor and weed). They also gave Vivaldi the chicha treatment (Spring, from the Four Seasons, retitled Primavera en la Selva i.e. Springtime in the Jungle), as well as running through tight covers of songs from the classic chicha era, from the hilarious El Borrachito (The Little Drunk Guy), an infectious version of a Juaneco classic and the scurrying Pato de Perro (Dog’s Paw). Josh Camp’s vintage Electrovox electric organ swirled and spun off a forest of eerie overtones and Vincent Douglas’ Telecaster provided the requisite noir twang and clang while Olivier Conan’s cuatro in tandem with the percussionists clattered like an old VW taxicab, confident in its knowledge of every rut and bump in the road.

The Cuban Cowboys brought a stagy, occasionally campy, over-the-top sensibility to their Cuban-inflected mix of reverb-soaked surf and garage rock songs. A tongue-in-cheek number about a gay sailor bounced along on a ska beat; by contrast, a dark, minor-key tango reflected on the Obama adminstration’s failure so far to normalize Cuban-American relations. Another serious number, Dance with the Devil touched on the band’s disastrous experience with a big record label. They closed with the side-splitting Senor Balaban, a nonstop, rapidfire Spanish-language narrative about a kid getting a sex education talk from a bunch of old Cuban geezers. “It helps if she’s drunk,” one of them soberly asserts.

Slavic Soul Party have earned themselves a reputation as just about the most exciting thing happening in original Balkan brass music, and reaffirmed that with a characteristically blazing set to end the evening on an high note. The eleven-piece band has toned down the hip-hop attitude a little bit, concentrating on the music, from the joyous, spot-on James Brown funk tune they opened with, standing in the middle of the crowd in front of the stage, to the playfully satirical faux-techno of the title track from their previous album Technochek Collision that closed the night. Playing every Tuesday night at Barbes has made them incredibly tight – watching all the horns play one rapidfire cluster of eerie chromatics after the other, in perfect unison, was intense. Several of the songs were partitas, sometimes leaping into warpspeed, sometimes shifting with seeming effortlessness from a slinky, quasi-latin groove to fullscale stomp, accordion, trumpets and trombones all getting the chance to bring the songs to redline with breakneck solo crescendos. The title track to their latest cd was the high point, suddenly dropping to a Balkan trip-hop vamp taken up again on the wings of a blazing bop trumpet solo, all lightning doublestops and glissandos. It’s impossible to imagine that there could have been a better show anywhere in town that night.

January 11, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Trouble in Tribeca, Part One: Bad Reputation, Rana Santacruz and Pistolera at the 92YTribeca, NYC 1/8/10

Friday night was Trouble Worldwide night at the 92YTribeca, part of the annual booking agents’ convention with sets from a mix of the best Barbes bands along with a couple of ringers, Rana Santacruz and the Cuban Cowboys. The Snow’s frontman Pierre de Gaillande opened the night with his latest side project (this guy seems to always be in about five bands at once), Bad Reputation, whose raison d’etre is English versions of the songs of iconic, often bawdy French individualist Georges Brassens. Guillotinings and the Bastille aside, the French typically allow for a greater freedom of expression in song lyrics than has traditionally been the case here, so it was as striking as it was amusing to hear Gaillande deadpanning about “the nun who defrosts the penis of the amputee” in the ribald Don Juan. Guitarist Tony Jarvis lit up that one with some casually intense tremolo-picking, then switching to bass clarinet for most of the other numbers as the band gave them a swinging noir cabaret feel. Gaillande has obviously put a great deal of effort into making Brassens’ wordy, argotique narratives flow smoothly in English – and with rhymes! – and this paid off immensely in the curmudgeonly but sweet 1953 song Public Benches, the blithely cynical 95% of the Time (a hilarious tale of a woman who won’t settle for anything less than sex with love), the minor-key waltz Philistines (a tribute to teenage delinquency), the O. Henry-esque Princess and the Troubadour and the first song Brassens ever wrote, a defiant outsider anthem probably dating from 1940s. Bad Reputation’s debut cd is due out auspiciously on Barbes Records sometime this year.

Backed by a boisterous band including rhythm section, violin, accordion and banjo, Mexican songwriter Rana Santacruz delivered a wry, quirky set that brought a brisk Celtic edge to traditional Mexican folkloric styles. A characteristically tongue-in-cheek number, Noche de Perro reminisced about an affair gone sour, the howling of the dogs in the night a vivid reminder that “they were more faithful than you were.” They wrapped up a very well-received show with a punked out – or Pogued-out – cover of a Vicente Fernandez ranchera number and a drinking song.

In their micro-set, Pistolera sounded like the Mexican Go-Go’s with their playful, sunny, sweetly melodic janglepop. The songs – from their forthcoming second album which transplants New York to the desert – included a bouncy ranchera rocker about the New York subway, a reggae-flavored vacation song and the swinging, effervescent, minor-key Todos se Cai (Everybody Falls Down). Then they switched gears and proceeded to play as their alter ego, the children’s music group Moona Luna. 99% of the time, children’s music is smarmy, condescending and patronizing, obviously as a selling point for the yuppie moms who buy it regardless of the fact that they too were once young and hated that stuff. But just when it seemed that like every other children’s band, this group should be exiled to the lowest circle of hell, they played the most anti-parent song of the night, which goes something like this, in both Spanish and English:

I like to jump on the bed
I like to jump on the couch
I like to jump on the floor
More! More! More!

Pistolera frontwoman Sandra Lilia Velasquez’ two-year-old daughter inspired that one. Obviously, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Maybe someday the two can share a stage and do that together.

The second half of the show, with Chicha Libre, the Cuban Cowboys and Slavic Soul Party is reviewed here.

January 11, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Devi at Sullivan Hall, NYC 1/6/10

Ten PM showtime, the band hits the stage at about quarter after eleven. C’mon, Sullivan Hall, get your shit together.

In an Anna Sui print skirt (so says the fashionista) and shiny leather midriff coat, Devi frontwoman Debra looks like Christina Ricci with a guitar. “Am I too loud?” she asks the sound guy. Yes, he avers – too bad, she would have been able to blast the crowd to guitar nirvana.

Bassist Keith Maninno is clearly a rocker, bobbing and weaving and trading grins with his bandmates. Drummer John Hummel is all business until he interjects a boisterous John Bonham doublebass hit to wind up a verse; guest keyboardist Rob Clores plays tersely, impressionistically, interweaving organ or Rhodes voicings depending on the song and the mood. It’s obvious that he’s listened to this music, hard, and he wants to make what he does count – which should be a sine qua non but so often it’s not. The percussionist/backup singer doesn’t do much although he does check his voicemail during a song – twice. The band notice this and don’t like it very much.

The first song is Get Free, title track on the band’s new cd. Bass foreshadows the guitar, a jazz device – pretty sophisticated for a powerpop band. Big organ swell into a lightning blues guitar solo, and then down to just bass and drums.

Debra starts out Another Day, a riff-rocker, with a breezy Hendrix-style intro. The bassist is a ham but he’s good, building up to the end of a phrase while the organ swirls lushly.

Another riff-rocker gets a dizzying Jimmy Page treatment when it comes to the guitar solo, Clores’ organ smartly signaling the end. Although it feels too soon – she could have gone on for a lot longer and it would have been twice as fun.

When It Comes Down is the big jamout, this time they don’t go quite as long as they usually do but it still hits the spot. Debra is all dirty blues, trading accents with the drums which hint at doublespeed but don’t go there, loping along like a wounded rhino. A brief climb up the scale with some bleeding bent notes, and then down to bass and drums. And a stately, subdued ending. “We could do this all night but we wouldn’t want to torture you,” Debra grins. She’s being sarcastic and the crowd knows it.

A new song sounds like a cross between the Melvins and Patti Smith, a sludgy, dark epic about trying to talk sense to a cop at a protest and eventually having to dodge a charge by the mounted police.

Welcome to the Boneyard looks like it’ll be the highlight of the night, as usual. Clores plays with a haunting, watery setting – does he have a Leslie speaker up there? Debra lets her guitar hang, just sings it. It’s a 9/11 elegy and it’s awfully sad, and beautiful.

They bring things back up with All That I Need – it’s catchy and kinda funky with some cool electric piano to start it. Debra throws some quick signals at the band to wind it up, James Brown style.

“The mothership has landed,” she tells the crowd, deadpan, as Clores’ keys conjure up a spiky moonscape. This one’s new. The rhythm is tricky – is that 11/4? “Tired of waiting, tired of waiting.” Sunbaked blues with a slide, the drums trade off a few bars with the guitar and then it’s over, cold. They could have taken that one a lot further and it wouldn’t have hurt. They close it with a jangly, slinky Howl at the Moon and then their cover of Runaway with yet another solo that could have gone on twice as long. Always leave ’em wanting more.

January 11, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 1/11/10

Hang in there with us, as soon as we can get online again for more than a few minutes at a time, we’ll update the concert calendar, we’ll share what we’ve been up to since last Wednesday, and lots more. It’s been a great week for music in NYC. In the meantime, we’re counting down the 666 Best Songs of Alltime, one at a time (scroll down for Saturday’s Song of the Day for the link to the whole list, we’ll never be able to get it in today’s post with the limited signal we have). Monday’s song is #199:

The Church – Myrrh

The Australian art-rock legends’ classic 1986 Heyday album was inspired by the band’s disastrous US tour the previous year, and this is the opening track, pulsing hypnotically as frontman Steve Kilbey deplores what he found. “Privilege on privilege, an unwanted discovery.”

And Sunday’s song was #200:

The Move – Message from the Country

Jeff Lynne’s magnificent 12-string guitar anthem, title track from the 1972 album, is a call for preserving the environment. And would get him labeled an eco-terrorist by the right wing if it was released today. Rick Price’s rumbling, gritty bassline underneath it all is tasty beyond words. “Gotta stop your burning, now!”

January 11, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment