Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Small Beast 1/18/10

The whole town seemed to be partied out from the long weekend, so this Small Beast was a particularly intimate one. Monday was comfort night, comfort in darkness, in raw intensity and intelligence with a diverse quartet of acts who share the ability to bring all that for hours on end. Playing solo on acoustic, Elisa Flynn opened the night and immediately delivered chills with her plaintive, austere, broodingly nuanced vocals coupled to imaginatively scruffy guitar playing. She loves 6/8 time, and she knows how to use it, whether on an insistent, hypnotic tune about earth artist Robert Smithson (possibly the only song anyone’s ever written about the guy, she mused), a pensive sleeping-under-the-stars scenario, or a dark wintertime shipwreck tableau. And the single best song of the night, Timber. Others less subtle might be tempted to turn the towering, haunting yet wry ballad into grand guignol, but Flynn didn’t, holding back just a little on the pauses between verse and chorus to drive them home for all they were worth, tossing off a dirty, distorted solo, then hitting her pedalboard to crank up a sweet swoopy slide on her low E string. She closed with a gorgeously intense cover of Silver Rider by Low, wailing on the downstrokes.

Botanica keyboardist/frontman Paul Wallfisch – who as you probably know by now books Small Beast – quickly figured out that trying to outshadow Flynn would be a bad idea. So he played the fun set: a devious, sarcastic cover of Mack the Knife, musing on who the hell all those oddly named characters really are; an otherworldly version of Nature Boy retitled Nature Girl, which totally changed the song; a couple of soul-inflected new ones, Here I Am (with a lyric by Paul Bowles) and Hard to Cross; a hushed Marlene Dietrich homage, and a Vic Chestnutt cover that rhymes “paragon” with “Louis Farrakhan.” Wallfisch thought that particularly appropriate and wondered aloud what Farrakhan’s violin might sound like alongside Richard Nixon’s piano – paragons, both of them.

Inimitable art-rock songwriter/pianist Greta Gertler has a new kitten, who’d taken a swipe at one of her fingers: “Does anyone have a tampon at least?” she grinned. She’s got a new album, The Universal Thump, coming out. If you’re interested in getting in on the ground floor with it and whatever benefits come with being one of its sponsors, there’s still time: the cast of characters continues to expand. Her too-brief set offered an auspicious look inside, beginning with the bright, percussive, Kate Bush-inflected pop of Swimming with its murky, reverberating instrumental break; the resonant, sad 6/8 ballad Grasshoppers; a darkly dramatic take on the bustling title track to her previous album Edible Restaurant; the pretty yet uneasy, aptly titled Darkened Skies, and her best song, the richly melodic, crescendoing Teacher. When she took the vocals way, way up to the top of her range, i.e. the stratosphere, she pulled off the mic; likewise, she played it casually, letting the power of the chords speak for themselves. Then Wallfisch joined her for a couple of impromptu four-hands numbers, adding incisive upper-register rivulets and staccato over her catchy changes.

Kings County Queens were unfortunately missing baritone ukelele player/singer Daria Grace, but their two women – on piano and accordion – compensated well. Smartly, the band pulled out their dark set, frontman Chris Bowers in particularly bristly, quietly affronted mode. He even took a pointed southwestern gothic solo in the surprisingly bitter, tango-inflected opening number, and another later on, sailing plaintively over drummer Johny Rock’s hypnotic malletwork on a slow, catchy, nocturnal ballad. KCQ earned themselves plenty of cred around the turn of the zeros as one of the originators of the Pete’s Candy Store sound, i.e. urbanites playing low-key, harmony-driven country and Americana and they also provided plenty of that, notably the wistful waltz Magnolias. The warm, gentle insistence of the melody of that one and several similar numbers made for a perfect segue out of a long, crazy weekend into the sobering reality ahead.

Next week’s Small Beast on the 25th turns the lights way, way, way down. You want darkness? Besides Wallfisch, you get Kerry Kennedy, Marni Rice and Mark Steiner’s cd release show. Wow.

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January 19, 2010 - Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. That would be Johny Rock on drums/mallets for Kings County Queens

    Comment by Eric | January 21, 2010 | Reply

  2. thanks for the correction

    Comment by the boss here | January 24, 2010 | Reply


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