Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Make Music NY 2010

Constructive suggestion to artists who play Make Music NY or set up all-day events on the 21st: be aware of your spot’s sonic limitations. Don’t settle for just an ordinary busking location when this is the one day of the year that you have pretty much your choice of every desirable location in the entire city. Case in point: sure, there’s a lot of foot traffic under the Manhattan Bridge in Dumbo, but the trains crossing every thirty seconds or so render you absolutely inaudible – even if you’re the Bad Brains. The Threefifty Duo were there, outside the Dumbo Arts Center. Lovely stuff, fascinating interplay, a group you should see if acoustic guitar is your thing. But it was impossible to hear them except when there weren’t any trains overhead. An act this good deserves to be heard.

Balthrop, Alabama didn’t have any trouble being heard. A lot of acts were listed at the cube at Astor Place. Fortuituously, Joe’s Pub finagled the entire Astor Place block between Broadway and Lafayette and that’s where the band was along with their gas generator. The generator did double duty as power plant and extremely useful noise cancellation machine, drowning out the alarms of the buses ending their route a block away past the K-Mart. And the band was great. A lot of rock bands make great albums – Balthrop, Alabama’s deliciously macabre Subway Songs cd from last year is a genuine classic – but too few of them can replicate that kind of magic live. These guys did, and under a blistering sun (the poor drummer’s back was to the sun throughout their 45-minute set), no small achievement. They mine the same smart, retro 60s psychedelic pop territory as McGinty and White or the New Pornographers, but have the added advantage of being just as adept at 60s countrypolitan songs (think Patsy Cline with a good live band). That they have a baritone sax in the band gives them instant cred; add a soaring rhythm section, horns, sprightly electric keys, guitars, an artist drawing pictures of the crowd and the surroundings, and a frontman who does a more stagy, somewhat lower register take on what Phil Ochs was doing circa 1968, and you get the picture. They opened with the gypsy-rock smash Subway Horns, from that album, ran through a bunch of period-perfect songs from their Cowboy Songs album (simultaneously released with it) and closed with a casually plaintive, Beatlesque pop song that could easily have been a big hit for ELO in the late 70s or early 80s. Choruses mutated into strange and pleasantly unexpected passages, song structures shifted counterintuitively, and the lead guitar was terrific, in a Bakersfield, 1968 kind of way. And in the short time since 2009, frontman Pascal Balthrop has grown even better as a singer. When he cut loose with the line “What the fuck” in whitewashed yuppie puppie global warming era Bloomberg East Village New York hell, 2010, those three words made the entire trip over to the east side worthwhile.

Brooklyn’s reliably haunting, otherworldly Balkan vocal quartet Black Sea Hotel were next on the bill here, followed by the intriguing Pearl & the Beard, but we had ulterior motives. Namely, to find a place to lie down (our prime mover tweaked his back, badly – six hours playing outdoors over the weekend in the deathly heat on hard concrete, not moving around a lot, will do that to you), so the next stop was Dumbo. We don’t like rules around here, but we have a few of them for MMNY, one of them being that we have to limit ourselves to one single artist that we’ve seen before. After all, MMNY is all about discovering new and exciting stuff. So we went looking for Gamelan Son of Lion at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Funny how things repeat themselves – two years ago to the day, we went looking for New York’s own wonderful gamelan orchestra, Gamelan Dharma Swara, and found them. No such luck with these folks. If the late afternoon sun was simply too much and they decided against it, no disrespect to them. It was a miserable day, even by the water.

But in the process of trying to find out where in the hell Pier Nine in Brooklyn Bridge Park is, we discovered House of Waters. When three minutes of a band is enough to tell you that you want to hear an hour or more of them, you know they’re onto something good. Their frontman plays the hammered dulcimer like a Middle Eastern kanun, fast, furious and incisive, and the killer rhythm section behind him feeds off that energy. Add them to the list of bands we want to see again. Ditto Copal, whose lusciously hypnotic, Middle Eastern-tinged string-band instrumentals made any plan B an afterthought, drawing us to the steps of Galapagos from blocks away. Their bass player set a record for discipline: he’d hang patiently in the same key, keeping the groove pulsing along for minutes at a clip, once in awhile going up an octave and swooping down when the moment called for it. Their violinist started several songs with taqsims (improvisations), joined by their cellist (whose soulful washes are more responsible for this band’s mesmerizing vibe than anything else) on one later number. Their drummer played slinky, devious trip-hop beats with his brushes, joined by an ecstatic dumbek (goblet drum) player. The Middle Eastern vibe was sometimes matched by a dark Brazilian forro feel; at the end of their last number, they finally took it into overdrive and wailed, hard, on the outro.

By now it was six PM. Another thing you need to know about the MMNY schedule is that set times are just as fluid as locations. According to the master calendar, from which we quoted liberally here (sorry, folks), Jan Bell’s marvelous oldschool country band the Maybelles were scheduled to play at 68 Jay St. Bar. But they weren’t playing til 7:30, which was the scheduled start time for our one indulgence of the evening, LJ Murphy. So it was time to get over to Greenpoint (F to the G, crossing over to the other side after a detour to Damascus Bakery on Atlantic Ave. – best pitas in town) It was strange seeing the noir rocker in daylight outside the Brooklyn Reformed Church on Milton St., moreso without a mic, even moreso considering that he was competing with a generic white blues band barely a block and a half away – and a bus stop as well. Still, the debonair, black-suited songwriter was characteristically fun, contemplating the adjacent 1850 building, running through a solo acoustic set of hits as well as newer songs: the poignant disappearing-weekend scenario Saturday’s Down, the surreal, raucous 1930s vaudeville-house tableau Buffalo Red, the brutally depressed post-pickup scenario This Is Nothing Like Bliss and a bonafide classic, the mauvaise foi cautionary tale Geneva Conventional, a warning to anyone who “stood pat while their world was shaking.” Murphy was clearly impressed with some of the other acts on the bill, and while his imprimatur is worth a lot, a dorsal area that was edging closer and closer to David Wells territory (and which required Wells-like exercises – we looked online for some video but mystifyingly couldn’t find any) meant that it was time to head out – even though Cassis & the Sympathies, another band on our list – were playing Battery Park.

Advertisements

June 22, 2010 - Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.