Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review from the Archives: Israel Vibration at Irving Plaza, 8/23/96

[Editor’s note: since we’re on vacation, we’ve gone through the archives for some memorable NYC shows from the past several years. Back in the 80s and 90s, August was usually reggae month: here’s a prime example.]

A solid hour and a half of some of the best original roots reggae around. The Roots Radics, roots reggae icons Israel Vibration’s longtime backing band, opened with a 45-minute set of their own, vastly inferior material, surprising considering what a terrific band they are. Bassist Flabba Holt led them, showing off his signature pulse and smartly, unpredictably melodic riffs. Finally, after an instrumental medley of hits (including Gregory Isaacs’ Night Nurse), the vocal trio came up to the stage and delivered an excellent, stop-and-start, exhortative performance. “Yes I” became the phrase of the evening: they’d start a song, go as far as the first verse, then stop it and start over again as the audience predictably roared and screamed. Together Wiss, Skelly and Apple – who famously began the band in the bush after leaving the orphanage, all three of them having survived childhood battles with polio – have a nonchalant chemistry that transcends their limitations as singers (their harmonies are melodic but not particularly on-key). It’s their songs that stand out, for their consistently conscious lyricism and smart, often confrontational politics.  As much as their songs from the late 70s and 80s are the ones they made their mark with, their recent material has been just as good, particularly their recent album On the Rock, from which they did several numbers. They opened with Strength of My Life, title track to their new album, followed by the understated, politically charged Vulture. We also got to hear the youthman anthem Rudeboy Shuffling, the biting, catchy title track from On the Rock and the highlight of the night, a driven, powerful Jailhouse Rocking complete with incisive, chromatic minor-key guitar solo. The encore began with a brief version of their first big hit, the ecumenical togetherness anthem The Same Song, into some other tunes, finishing with a surprisingly blithe version of New Wave. Despite their crutches, nobody sat down, in fact one of their singers doing the splits Chuck Berry style and popping up with unexpected agility for a polio survivor.

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August 22, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/23/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #890:

The Snow – I Die Every Night

As we are officially on vacation, this part of the countdown features albums that we had the good fortune to discover when they came out: one of the great challenges about following music and writing about it is to identify a genuine classic when you see it and this is one of them, our first from the year 2010. The Snow’s nuanced, stylistically diverse art-rock masterpiece, their second album, came out in January. Guitarist Pierre de Gaillande contributes the soul-infused title track, reassurance for a would-be suicide, along with the understatedly apocalyptic anthem The Silent Parade – about the snowstorm to end all snowstorms – and the amusingly metaphorical, tongue-in-cheek Reptile. Keyboardist/torch singer Hilary Downes’ equally artsy, richly melodic and lyrical songs here include the stately opening cut, Albatross; the ominously symbolic, unexpectedly syncopated Undertow and the understatedly bitter, minor-key chamber-rock ballad Shadows and Ghosts. And as brilliant as this album is, we can’t figure out whether it’s actually the best album of 2010 or not. It’s been a good year – for music at least. Stay tuned.

August 22, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Coney Island Today and Tomorrow

Last night we went to see Taylor Swift at the Viagra Arena at Coney Island. Since they’ve shut down the subway and replaced it with the VIP shuttle from the Brooklyn, Brooklyn casino in the middle of Prospect Park, we all crammed into a friend’s battered Greatwall Gwperi, dodging sinkholes and potholes, finally finding a spot in the Russian mob parking lot by the water at the edge of the former Floyd Bennett Field. In the old days there would have been a city bus, or we could have walked, but it’s too dangerous now, so we had to wait in line for a cab. Because there wasn’t enough room in the rickshaw for all of us, a couple of us had to ride on top of the rickety canopy, clinging to the torn canvas as the contraption bounced along through the mudpuddles in what’s left of the tarmac from the days when there was a public infrastructure budget.

Outside the arena, Halliburton security were selling meth and ecstasy when they weren’t zealously feeling up tired ticketholders. After six additional security checkpoints, retina scan, DNA analysis, fingerprinting and a full-body search, we finally made it through to our seats, which had already been taken by a sinister-looking crew of crudely tattooed bodybuilders. So despite having paid three trillion renminbi per person, plus inconvenience charges, for our tickets, we had to head up to the nosebleed seats, hoping that another crew of bulked-up ex-cons wouldn’t show up and take those from us as well. After an hour of earsplitting, nonstop big-screen commercials for Lucky Oncology Centers, Finest Face Masks, Bedbug Busters, and of course Viagra, Swift finally was ushered onstage by a doddering, mumbling, ninety-year-old Marty Markowitz. Fully nude, for about ten minutes she gyrated and lipsynched to a medley of old Journey songs with a new, fully computerized arrangement. From the view on the big screen, it’s obvious that all the plastic surgery, and the already sagging boob job, make her look twenty years older than she is – and she’s not even thirty yet.

Oh yeah, all that was just a dream. Must have been reading too much Gary Shteyngart. Yesterday at Coney Island perfectly captured what this city stands to lose if or when the carnival atmosphere is replaced with a corporate one. It’s not a done deal: notorious landgrabber Joseph Shitt’s Thor Equities are demolishing buildings that in the pre-Guiliani era were on the fast track to landmark status, but when they’re reduced to rubble there’s no guarantee that anyone’s going to pay top dollar for the vacant lots where the Bank of Coney Island and similarly faded, once glorious buildings used to stand. In the meantime, there are fewer rides at the amusement park, but it’s still there, as are the grimy boardwalk bars, dodgy hamburger stands, Shoot the Freak, the Coney Island Museum and the ever-shrinking vestiges of the individuality that has made this neighborhood world-famous.

And appropriately, there was surf music on the boardwalk out behind the Wonder Wheel: Deb Noble of Blue Stingraye Productions emceed a whole afternoon worth of first-class bands assembled by Bill and Julie Rozar, creators of the Alien Surfer Babes (who headlined). The game plan was to get there in time to catch surf rockers Reverb Galaxy, but a two-hour subway ride from Manhattan nixed that. The second act, Sean Kershaw’s baritone voice still resonated all the way to the tables outside Ruby’s Bar and Grill: the Coney Island Cowboy was in his element and loving every minute of it. From a distance, he and the band sounded a lot like Ninth House, particularly on the darker numbers among Kershaw’s signature, surreal, carnivalesquely witty Americana songs.

Strange But Surf were next and were a breath of fresh air, just like the breeze that began whipping in from the water. The two-guitar instrumental band bring a tongue-in-cheek punk edge to surf music, and they mixed it up. A number possibly titled Beached Fish sounded like their version of California Sun; they turned Pipeline into a long, shuffling jam with fiery guitar solos and a Paint It Black quote at the end that got everybody smiling, even the band. Hey-Ho, a Ramones-ish stomp was “about my girlfriend,” grinned one of the guitarists. He and the drummer switched on a couple of tunes, including an amusing Link Wray-inspired number, The Martians Are Pissed. They wound up their long set with inspired, punk-flavored versions of the Bar-Kays’ Soul Seeker, the Addams Family theme, the Ventures’ Out of Limits and a really splendid, extended version of the Byrds’ Eight Miles High.

The Octomen appeared to be missing five of the guys, if there are in fact eight of them. If not, they still sounded good even though they could have used a rhythm guitarist to fill out the sound when the one guitar player they’d brought along was soloing. Because he was good, and left a lot of space rather than playing loud and mindlessly. A lot of their originals add eerie chromatic passages amidst all the twangy, upbeat good cheer. He used a flange on a couple of tunes, Link Wray’s The Rumble included, for a sort of 80s chorus-box feel. By halfway through the set, he was taking longer solos and really getting the pyrotechnics going with some long, blazing, sometimes bluesy, sometimes country-tinged excursions, particularly on a ghoulabilly-flavored song and then a 60s go-go instrumental with some ferocious blues playing.

In hindsight, it would have made sense to stick around for the rest of the surf bands continuing into the night. Randi Russo’s solo performance at a private party later in the evening was terrifically gripping and intense. But trading beautifully polyglot Coney Island – where latino and Asian kids swayed side by side with the older, mostly blue-collar white crowd who’d come out for the bands – for the uptight, privileged whites-only section of ever-more-hideously segregated Williamsburg, was a disaster waiting to happen, a sad reminder of where this city’s going if we don’t put a stop to it.

August 22, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Bush Years Remembered Vividly and Bitterly

Dave Wechsler is the founder and accordionist of the marvelously smart, lush Brooklyn “historical orchestrette” Pinataland. As The Tyranny of Dave (a tongue-in-cheek comment by poet Genya Turovskaya that he ended up adopting for his solo projects), he released a marvelously brooding travelogue of an album, Vacations, in 2007. His new one The Decline of America, Part One: The Bush Years is a personal rather than a political statement, although the sardonic, occasionally bitter tone of these songs echoes that era’s sadness. Much of this is pretty morose, with a sort of Elliott Smith quality, characteristically melodic chamberpop with a few surprises that come as an unexpected and very welcome jolt of adrenaline. Here Wechsler is joined by his Chicago band – bassist Aaron Zemelko, Cameroonian guitarist Didi Afana, and drummer Ben Gray – along with cameos from cellist Serena Jost, chanteuses Robin Aigner and Anna Soltys and guitarist Ross Bonadonna. What’s best is that Wechsler is offering it as a free download at his bandcamp site.

Months after he wrote the pensive, dynamically shifting 6/8 chamber pop ballad America’s Oldest Home, which opens the album, Wechsler decided it was about 9/11: you decide whether or not he was one of those who knew what was coming before it happened. The second track, Greatest Generation has a blithe, Summerteeth-era Wilco swing – it’s a subtle examination of the personal as political in the wake of 9/11, with a lively choir featuring Codapendency’s Tara Shenoy and Athanasia Sawicz along with Carla Budesinsky, Brittany Petersen and Kate Nylander (ex-Wildcats Marching Band), and trumpeter Megan Beugger.

The 6/8 ballad Abraham Man slowly makes its way to a swirling, off-center cauldron of strings and keyboards; the bouncy Too Late offers a tongue-in-cheek yet resonant look at the consequences of the current depression. The similarly upbeat Chicago River Song, sort of an uncredited Pinataland number, features characteristically incisive, nebulously bluesy lead guitar work from Afana plus vivid violin by Claudia Chopek. Every Damn Light, a Hurricane Katrina narrative, ups the ante with more bluesy, echoey guitar and the ex-Wildcats horn section. The real shocker, and the best number here is When All the Stores are Closed, a swinging early 70s psychedelic blues-rock number unlike anything Wechsler’s ever done before, quite a contrast with the next cut, the ornate chamber pop of Fire Drill, which evokes the elegaic understatement of REM’s Find the River.

The fast, blippy keyboard pop of Raise a Glass camouflages its bitter, sardonic edge. Remember the Maine, an Iraq war parable, sways with minor-key bite and some gorgeously plaintive harmonies from Aigner: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Pierre de Gaillande catalog. The album winds up with the ghostly, organ-fueled Call of the Waters and the similarly regret-tinged oldtimey-flavored Americana ballad Wake Up in Brooklyn. Fans of lyrical, smartly melodic rock from Elvis Costello to the aforementioned Elliott Smith will find plenty to enjoy here: if this is any indication, Tyranny of Dave’s planned volume two is something to look forward to.

August 22, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/22/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #891:

Nico – Chelsea Girl

Bet you thought you’d see the Marble Index here instead, huh? Nope. That one’s the definitive teutonic druggie dirge album, something you should definitely check out if you haven’t already, if that’s your thing. This one’s maybe the ultimate prototypical chamber pop album, ahead of the Pretty Things’ Emotions. Which is ironic to the extreme because Nico hated the string arrangements that were overdubbed onto this afterward. You could even call this the best Jackson Browne album ever: did he ever do another album with three good songs on it? Probably not. Nico could never sing worth a damn, we all know that – but what an atmosphere she and everybody else created here despite themselves. Browne’s The Fairest of the Seasons sets the stage for the understated high drama of the rest of the album. Despite all the flat notes, she gives a genuine angst to another Browne ballad These Days, and the brooding, languid strings help; and she takes Somewhere There’s a Feather from folkie naivete to Marlene Dietrich world-weariness. The best song here is the poignant, organ-infused ballad Little Sister (an obvious Velvets outtake). The stark Weimar blues echoes in John Cale’s Winter Song still resonate today in a million noir cabaret bands from the Dresden Dolls to World Inferno. There’s also the iconic title track, a version of Dylan’s I’ll Keep It With Mine that in its own fractured way rivals Sandy Denny’s version with Fairport Convention, and the gently epic, 9/4 Velvets outtake Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams. Here’s a random torrent.

August 22, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment