Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Matt Keating at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 2/14/10

This could have been a savagely cynical alternative to the glut of lame Valentine’s shows – but that would have been easy, and predictable. Along with all the wit and the double entendres, there’s a bitterness in Matt Keating’s songwriting that often boils over into rage, sometimes repentant but sometimes not. Yet his Sunday evening show at the Rockwood wasn’t about that. Counterintuitively, backed by his wife Emily Spray on harmony vocals and the equally estimable Jon Graboff on pedal steel, Keating offered hope against hope. It made a good counterpart to the Chelsea Symphony’s alternative Valentine’s Day concert earlier in the day several blocks west.

The trio opened with the gorgeously sardonic anthem Candy Valentine, a big audience request that he doesn’t often play – it’s sort of his Saint Stephen (Grateful Dead fans will get the reference). Switching to piano, Keating evocatively painted an unromantic Jersey tableau in tribute to the late Danny Federici, the vastly underrated original organist in Springsteen’s E Street Band. Back on guitar, Keating threw out another pensive tableau, then picked up the pace with the decidedly unrepentant,upbeat country song Wrong Way Home. The high point of the night, and one of the few moments that actually wasn’t a surprise, was Lonely Blue. It built slowly, ambient Graboff versus incisive Keating guitar, Spray channeling Lucinda Williams but with twice the range and none of the alcohol – she was that good. The song’s unhinged alienation rose as the instruments built tensely to a sledgehammer crescendo that transcended the presence of just the two instruments and voices onstage – Keating is known for fiery, intense performances and this was characteristic. They brought it down after that, closing with the warily optimistic Louisiana, a standout track from Keating’s 2008 Quixotic album, as well as 2007’s Summer Tonight, pedal steel enhancing the song’s bucolic sway. Keating’s characters seldom get what they want – this time they got a little and the audience, silent and intent between songs, got a lot.

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February 16, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Chelsea Symphony’s Valentine’s Day Concert 2010

On the scale of holidays to avoid and stay home, Valentine’s Day ranks somewhere below New Year’s Eve but ahead of the Fourth of July. And the V-day concerts around town are a joke: which Holiday Inns in New Jersey do all these no-name performers retreat to after bringing their “Easy Listening for Lovers” shows to the West Village for a little extra pay? Happily, we have the Chelsea Symphony as an antidote to all that. Sunday’s program was a characteristically adventurous, stylistically puddle-jumping treat juxtaposing a world premiere with standards and a welcome rediscovery.

This particular show was front-loaded. Arrangers have been doing orchestral versions of cabaret songs for a century – on the other hand, the debut of Seth Bedford’s Three Songs for Chansonnier and Orchestra proved as notable for its shrewd, witty arrangement, making full use of the ensemble’s voices and textures, as for its tuneful lyricism. Part Brecht/Weill, part Al Jolson, the triptych sandwiched a playful overture between a somewhat noir tribute to dissolution and a ragtimish murder ballad sung from the point of view of the victim. In front of the orchestra, Brent Weldon Reno’s potent baritone resonated with wry, rakish defiance.

Tschaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, a suite for cello and orchestra, was retro for its era, harkening back to Mozart. On the podium, Yaniv Segal led the ensemble smoothly through its casually contrapuntal post-baroque permutations, Izabela Bechowska subtly alternating between cool restraint and plaintiveness. This performance’s choice of obscurity was French Romantic composer Augusta Holmes’ aptly titled La Nuit et l’Amour. Essentially, it’s a song without words, shrouding a minuet beneath a lush arrangement where the strings hint and finally bubble over with unrestrained joy. Conductor Mark Seto explained to the audience beforehand how Holmes was a contemporary of Bizet and far more popular at the time, although her lavish, Gallocentric suites for orchestra and choir “have not aged well,” as he put it. This one has: credit the orchestra with finding it.

Ironically, the Bizet they followed it with has aged less well. To most Americans, there are themes from Carmen that will only be known as schoolyard rhymes. Yet the orchestra played them with a meticulousness that a busier ensemble (the NY Phil, pre-Alan Gilbert, for example) wouldn’t even bother attempting. For a listener attuned to minutiae and the arrangement’s numerous, offhand gems – a quick rondo between bassoon, oboe and flute; a stark cello motif once appropriated by the rock band Botanica, and some genuine suspense in the faux-flamenco fluttering of the horns leading into the terse yet breakneck coda at the end – the performance was impressive, to say the least, maybe more than the work deserved.

Just so you know, the Chelsea Symphony’s popularity has grown to the point where you have to get to the venue a few minutes early now if you want a good seat. Good for them.

February 16, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 2/16/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Tuesday’s song is #163:

The Dead Boys – Caught with the Meat in Your Mouth

This furious, filthy, barely two-minute Chuck Berry-inflected punk classic is actually a remake of lead guitarist Cheetah Chrome’s Never Gonna Kill Myself Again, by Chrome’s old (and current) band Rocket from the Tombs, who continue to reunite and tour every couple of years. The best of the Dead Boys versions is probably the one on Night of the Living Dead Boys; the studio track on Young Loud & Snotty features mixing engineer Bob Clearmountain playing bass, uncredited, and doing a creditable job.

February 16, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment