Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Horror Surf Slaughter at Spike Hill

Ever find yourself in the position of really wanting to go to the bar for a drink, but unable to pull yourself away from the band onstage because they’re so good? That’s what kind of show Boston surf rockers Beware the Dangers of a Ghost Scorpion put on at Spike Hill last night. They’re as amazing live as their name is…um…long. With two ep’s and a single out, they come across as something of the missing link between Los Straitjackets and New York macabre surf legends the Coffin Daggers.

Not knowing the band, it wasn’t possible to tell who was playing the Strat and who was playing the Fender Jaguar, Vince Vance Delambre or Professor Coyote Science. Snakeboy Henry played his Fender Jazz bass with pick, wailing hard and tunefully, a couple of times trading riffs with the guitars, as Glotch the drummer gave the house kit a Mel Taylor-on-steroids workout it’s probably never had before. What sets them apart from the typical horror-surf and ghoulabilly crowd is that their songs aren’t cheesy. In their too-brief half-hour onstage – which they had timed down to the second, it seems – they played just about every style of surf music ever invented: a riff-rocking hotrod number, creepy minor-key spiderwalks, relentlessly stomping Dick Dale style attacks and suspensefully jangly noir themes that would hint at a grisly ending but wouldn’t usually go that far over the top. They’re more Blue Velvet than Friday the 13th.

The two-guitar attack was intense to the extreme. Both guitarists can tremolo-pick like crazy and blast through a solo when the moment is right. The Strat player took most of the leads for the first half of the show, turning them over to the guy with the Jaguar who proved just as fast and slashing, particularly on one tune that sounded like Dick Dale doing Journey to the Stars (surf music fans will get the reference). One of their songs gave a Ventures-style swing to a brooding spaghetti western melody; another, a mini-suite of sorts, saw the guitarists dueling atonally way up the fretboard, then pouncing on the melody again in a split second. Shifting from major to minor, up and down the chromatic scale, fast to halfspeed and back again, they managed to energize the lethargic bar crowd and get everyone clapping along, no small feat for an out-of-town band on a lazy Sunday in the bowels of trust-funded trendoidland. Watch this space for future NYC dates; Boston fans can catch them upstairs at the Middle East on 4/14.

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March 28, 2011 Posted by | concert, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Svetlana Berezhnaya Plays Her Definitive Arrangement of Pictures at an Exhibition

Many years ago the prog-rock band Emerson, Lake and Palmer recorded a buffoonish, bombastic version of Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. As a result, it’s likely that much of an entire generation was turned off from the piece, from discovering the suite’s subtleties and intricacies. What little bombast and buffoonery there is in the original is confined to moments where it’s illustrating a character or a moment. Still, the idea of an organ version of this playfully creepy old standard is tempting. Last night at St. Thomas Church in midtown, Russian organist Svetlana Berezhnaya played her own organ arrangement of the suite, a richly dynamic, suspensefully illustrative, extraordinarily intuitive yet sometimes counterintuitive version that more than did justice to all the phantasmagorical, twisted characters who populate it. And while she didn’t softpedal it, there also wasn’t a single point at which she literally pulled out all the stops: she only brought the firepower when she absolutely needed it. The result was one of the best concerts of the year, in any genre.

Taking advantage of the range of available sonics, Berezhnaya gave the Gnome legs and elevated it to the level of grand guignol. Likewise, Baba Yaga’s Hut came to life in a cruelly caricaturesque dance, and the Cattle in her version were transformed into ominously growling, mad cows. But the Haunted Castle was understated, awash in airy drafts, the Ballet of Unhatched Chicks bouncing with surreal, staccato counterpoint quietly in the uppermost registers, and in the concert’s most striking moments, the Catacombs gave Berezhnaya a chance to evoke the spirits there with a genuinely haunting exploration of the lowest bass pedals. Surprisingly, the loudest passages were the raucously bustling Market scene; when she got to the Great Gate of Kiev, it was more of a casually celebratory conclusion than a fire-and-brimstone coda. There’s no telling if and when she’ll be back, but if you get a chance to see Berezhnaya play this, don’t miss it.

March 28, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment