Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Ron Asheton Lives On In Death

For fans of long-running New England roots reggae band Lambsbread, seeing three of the members onstage at Damrosch Park out back of Lincoln Center Saturday night playing terse, period-perfect, occasionally savage mid-70s Detroit-style rock must have come as a shock – for those who didn’t know the backstory. It’s well-known now: three Detroit brothers start a soul-funk band, discover the MC5 and Stooges, Dennis Thompson rhythm and Ron Asheton guitar snarl, and a new band is born. They called themselves Death, before any heavy metal band could; signed to Columbia Records in 1975, they were unceremoniously dropped when Clive Davis couldn’t persuade them to change their name. The band themselves released a single, then eventually moved to Vermont where they would  turn in a direction about as far from proto-punk as you can get. Nine years after guitarist David Hackney died, Drag City finally released a seven-track cd, For the Whole World to See, last year. And the surviving members, bassist Bobby and drummer Dannis Hackney, enlisted their Lambsbread bandmate, guitarist Bobby Duncan (who as a child was given his first guitar by David). The result: a time trip back to a Detroit of the mind, the Stooges at the peak of their woozy, raw power. Forget for a minute that all three of these men are black – this was yet more enduring testament to how music transcends any racial or ethnic differences.

What was most revealing about this show was what a smart band these guys were – and remain. Introducing the ornately scurrying, utterly psychedelic Politicians in My Eyes (the A-side of their prized 1975 single), Bobby Hackney explained that he’d written it in protest of the Vietnam War, watching his friends and neighbors getting drafted left and right. When the band launched into the funereal four-chord progression on the song’s bridge, it was unaffectedly intense. The band’s riff-rock songs – notably the brief Rock N Roll Victim, which could have been early Joy Division, or a cut from the Stooges’ Kill City period – are very simple and catchy. Yet like the Stooges, they didn’t limit themselves to three-minute gems.

And the ghost of Ron Asheton was everywhere. David Hackney internalized Asheton’s bluesy wail and careening riffage as well any other guitarist ever did, and so does Duncan, if with considerably more focus and precision, often tossing off a brief, perfectly executed, barely two-bar lead at the end of a phrase. This version of the band makes every note count, often leaving a lot of space in between guitar fills. Duncan was playing without any effects, which combined with the park’s dodgy sonics to limit his sustain. As a result, a lot of the songs took on a skeletal feel that isn’t present on the album, or in the various live versions scattered around the web. This didn’t pose a problem during the slow, bluesy epic Let the World Turn, with its tricky 7/4 interlude, but it sapped the energy during the chromatically charged You’re a Prisoner and the band’s ridiculously catchy encore, possibly titled Blood on the Highway, to be released by Drag City sometimes this Fall. Like the great Detroit bands who preceded them, Death undoubtedly sound best the closer you are to them. Ron Asheton would approve.

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August 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vieux Farka Toure Burns His Guitar

Vieux Farka Toure didn’t really burn his guitar, at least the way Hendrix burned his. He just turned in an incandescent performance. It’s a useful rule of thumb that if a performer plays well in daylight, he or she will rip up whatever joint they’re in come nightfall. Or maybe Toure’s just a morning person. Thursday afternoon in Metrotech Park in downtown Brooklyn, the Malian guitarist didn’t let the crushing tropical heat and humidity phase him, blasting through one long, hypnotic, minimalistically bluesy number after another.

Like his father, desert blues pioneer Ali Farka Toure, he’ll hang on a chord for minutes at a clip, building tension sometimes thoughtfully, sometimes with savage abandon. That intensity – along with a long, pointless percussion solo- is what got the audience – an impressively diverse mix of daycamp kids and their chaperones, office workers and smelly trendoids – on their feet and roaring. Using his signature icy, crystalline, Albert Collins-esque tone, he took his time getting started, subtly varying his dynamics. What he does is ostensibly blues, inasmuch as his assaultive riffage generally sticks within the parameters of the minor-key blues scale. But the spacious, slowly unwinding melodies are indelibly Malian, with the occasional latin tinge or a shift into a funkier, swaying rhythm. This time out the band included a bass player along with Toure’s steady second guitarist, playing spikily hypnotic vamps on acoustic, along with a sub drummer who was clearly psyched to be onstage and limited himself to a spirited, thumping pulse, and a duo of adrenalized percussionists, one on a large, boomy calabash drum.

Lyrics don’t seem to factor much into this guy’s songwriting: a couple of numbers featured call-and-response on the chorus in Toure’s native tongue, but otherwise it was all about the guitar. As the energy level rose, he’d launch into one volley after another of blistering 32nd-note hammer-ons. And he wouldn’t waste them – after he’d taken a crescendo up as far as he could, he’d signal to the band and in a split second they’d end the song cold. It’s hard to think of another player who blends purposefulness with blinding speed to this degree (although, again, Albert Collins comes to mind – although Toure is more playful than cynical). Toure’s show this past spring at le Poisson Rouge was the last on an obviously exhausting tour: he’d sprint as far as he could, then back off when it was obvious that he needed a breather. Thursday was more of a clinic in command: Toure was completely in control this time out. Like most great guitarists, he spends a lot of time on the road (and has a killer new live album just out, very favorably reviewed here), so you can expect another New York appearance sooner than later.

August 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/2/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #911:

Sylvia Rexach – 20 Canciones Inolvidables

Sylvia Rexach was sort of the Puerto Rican Edith Piaf, a doomed bolero songwriter who drank herself to death at 39 in 1961. The sadness in her voice is visceral: fifty years later, she still has a cult following among latin music fans. Much of what’s here is just voice and acoustic guitar (she was a fluent player, also adept at piano and saxophone) with hits from the fifties including Alma Adentro (Soul Inside), Di Corazon (Tell Me, Sweetheart), Olas y Arenas (Waves and Sand) and Nave Sin Rumbo (Rudderless Ship). Unlike Piaf, Rexach’s lyrics (she was also a highly regarded poet) employ simple, metaphorically charged imagery; the resignation in her vocals can be chilling. She partied hard, and it doesn’t seem that anyone was particularly surprised that she died so young. Original copies of her singles (she released many, including her biggest early hits, Alma Adentro and Di Corazon, before any of them were put on album) are collectors items. This collection has some filler (a couple of pointless instrumental versions), and obviously the sonics don’t come close to the warmth of the original vinyl. But all that stuff has been out of print for decades, at least stateside. It’s floating around the web if you feel like downloading it.

August 2, 2010 Posted by | latin music, lists, Music, music, concert, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment