Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Renaissance at Rockefeller Park, NYC 6/23/10

Some will find this hubristic, but this is the best edition of Renaissance yet – including the original 1969 lineup. Unlike a lot of their art-rock contemporaries during their seventies heyday, Renaissance opted for drama and majesty over any overwhelming sense of angst or wrenching intensity. Downtown tonight under a starless sky and a welcome sea breeze, they made every one of their fifty power-packed minutes count. Annie Haslam wasn’t even in the original band – she replaced the late, great Keith Relf – but throughout her time in the group she’s made a lot of people forget that. And she’s still got that awe-inspiring five-octave range. Other singers use all kinds of technology to disguise their flaws – not Haslam, and that made itself known not because she backed off from the demanding arrangements of the original recordings, but from the occasional slight imperfection. That she can still deliver those stratospheric notes, even if sometimes more gently than she did 35 years ago, is extraordinary. Not that Haslam would ever subject herself to the indignity of Eurovision or American Idol, but at age 63, she’d still win either one in a heartbeat.

The rest of the band played with passion and precision. Haslam’s longtime collaborator Michael Dunford’s acoustic guitar was too low in the mix most of the time, but when he was audible he was jangly and inspiring, while the two keyboardists, Rave Tesar and Tom Brislin matched piano to sweeping synthesizer orchestration. New bassist David J. Keyes was nothing short of brilliant, firing his way nimbly through a thorny series of changes, using a bristly, trebly tone much like Mo Moore would do with Nektar. Drummer Frank Pagano, a guy with a solid, four-on-the-floor rep from his work with Willie Nile and the Fab Faux, really opened some eyes with his spot-on, boomy and joyously orchestral attack on a big kit. From the first few notes of vocalese on the ornate, Romantically-imbued instrumental Prologue, Haslam held the surprisingly young (that word is relative) audience rapt – one can only wonder how many, relaxing on the lawn, were only now getting to see the band for the first time. Carpet of the Sun was a pleasant, artsy pop hit on record: live, the band emphasized its sweeps and swells, particularly the occasional Middle Eastern allusion (a device that would recur several times, to welcome effect). Strikingly, the best song of the night was a new one, a marvelously suspenseful epic, The Mystic and the Muse (to be released on a forthcoming ep of all-new material), a feast of spine-tingling vocals, a series of distantly Blue Oyster Cult-ish galloping crescendos and a perfectly powerful ending from Haslam.

Like the rest of the first crop of art-rockers, Renaissance were not opposed to pilfering a classical motif or two, most obviously on Running Hard, which makes a rock song out of the theme from the great French composer Jehan Alain’s Litanies. It’s hard enough to do on the organ and must be even more so on piano, but Renaissance’s keyboardist nailed it with staccato abandon. They went out on a high note with the epic Mother Russia, a seamless suite of themes closer to Tschaikovsky than Shostakovich, ending with Haslam belting out a long, low note (low for her at least – D next to middle C?), fearless and unwavering. What’s impossible for most of us still seems easy for her. The rest of the North American tour schedule is here.

June 23, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Tom Warnick & the World’s Fair – The Great Escape

This album is a triumph on all possible levels. Tom Warnick is a great tunesmith, equally informed by classic 60s soul and gospel as he is by clever Elvis Costello-style songcraft, with a frequently disquieting, carnivalesque sensibility. He’s also a first-class lyricist, his genuinely Joycean stream-of-consciousness wit coupled to a blackly humorous streak. Which makes sense – four years ago, it wasn’t clear that Warnick was going to be around to make another album. A stroke following surgery for a brain tumor had put his guitar skills on the shelf, but Warnick wouldn’t be deterred: he moved to keyboards instead. Here he’s joined by guitarist to the stars of the underground Ross Bonadonna along with Dave Dorbin on bass and Peter Monica on drums. Warnick’s never sung better – there’s a gleeful defiance in his voice, as you might expect from a bon vivant joyously and somewhat unexpectedly returned to the land of the living.

“I’m gonna bust this ice cream headache,” he remarks nonchalantly on the catchy opening cut, Absorbing Man. The boxing parable Gravity Always Wins establishes what will be a recurrent theme here, beating the odds (or trying to, anyway). An indomitable pop gem, A Couple of Wrecks paints a pricelessly surreal post-sunup drunken scenario: “They stepped outside this morning and saw the setting sun.” And that was just the beginning. The Great Calamity kicks off with funeral-parlor organ, a grim but tongue-in-cheek look at disaster, Warnick sticking to his guns despite all odds: “We’re going to give just as good as we get.” A vintage soul vibe runs through several of the songs: the understatedly defiant We Win (Again), the ballad She’s Shining, and Bad Old World, where a Doomsday Book’s worth of apocalyptic omens all prove false.

The best song here is the lurid, creepy No Longer Gage, recounting the tale of Vermont railroad foreman Phineas Gage, who took an iron tamping rod from a blasting site through the head but survived, albeit with a completely different personality style (he turned surly and mean – who could blame him?). The album wraps up with a couple of psychedelically bluesy, Doorsy tracks, the title cut and then Keep Me Movin’, featuring an ecstatic gospel choir of Paula Carino, Neil Danziger, Lucy Foley, Dan Kilian, John Sharples and Erica Smith. Warnick and his band play the cd release show for this album – one of the best of 2010 – on June 26 at 10 PM at the Parkside, preceded at 9  by the excellent, new wave and ska-inspired Fumes.

June 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Seven Sick Inches of Mighty High and Stone Axe

“Brooklyn’s #1 regressive rockers,” Mighty High have a brand-new split 7″ with fellow 70s metalheads Stone Axe and it’s a blast of skunky hydroponic smoke, perfect for dropping on what’s left of your brain. It’s impossible not to crack an illegal smile when you hear this. Metal Damage by Stone Axe sets Drew Brinkerhoff’s woozy/silly David Lee Roth-ish vocals over your basic mid-70s riffage: Kiss might have sounded this good if they’d ever learned how to play their instruments. A smoldering cherry of a guitar solo turns into a twin solo – Hotel California, here we come! Stone Axe are actually a much more diverse band than this would indicate, in fact one of the best retro metal acts around, with a new album due out sometime in the fall.

Mighty High’s Don’t Panic, It’s Organic is classic – there’s nobody better at making fun of wretched metal excess. This is a fast number, Aerosmith’s Mama Kin as Motorhead might have done it. When the lead guitar blurts out of the break before the last verse like a belch that couldn’t be contained, it’s priceless. And of course you gotta have a pickslide! Sweetest thing about this is that it’s on vinyl, with all the low end and sonic yumminess you can’t get from a cd or mp3. Scheduled for release in July at independent stores who have the good taste (well, sort of) to carry music like this, it’ll also be available from Mighty High, Stone Axe (currently on west coast tour, where the single is already onsale) and from Ripple Music, who are already taking pre-orders.

June 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Song of the Day 6/23/10

Every day, for a little more than a month, our best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s song is #36:

Bob Dylan – Lily, Rosemary & the Jack of Hearts

Symbolically charged nine-minute epic, a murder mystery that ends on a bitter, cynical note like much of the rest of Blood on the Tracks. Reputedly Dylan played it live once and then gave up on it; New York rockers Mary Lee’s Corvette (whose live version of the complete Blood on the Tracks album is better than the original) managed to pull this one off several times: who knows when they might again.

June 23, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment