Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 9/16/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Wednesday’s song is #315:

The Church – Transient

Written and sung by Peter Koppes, one of the great Australian rockers’ two lead guitarists, this hauntingly evocative, propulsive number dates from the 1990 Gold Afternoon Fix album, which seemed mediocre when it first came out but has aged extremely well. Hard to find as a single track, and don’t feel guilty about downloading the whole album: it was released on a major label so the band gets no royalties.

September 16, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Song of the Day 5/20/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Wednesday’s song is #434:

The Stranglers – Always the Sun

By the time these growling, keyboard-driven British new wavers released this on their 1986 Dreamtime album, they were pretty much out of gas. But this ominous, hauntingly atmospheric number ranks with their best songs, Hugh Cornwell’s baritone rising just over the nocturnal swell of Dave Greenfield’s string synth.

May 20, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review from the Archives: The Railway Children at the Marquee, NYC 11/21/90

[editor’s note: since we’re off for Thanksgiving, we’re putting up stuff from the archives each day while we’re away. Maybe you were there for some of these!]

Jangly Manchester band the Railway Children’s new CD Native Place is a slick and trebly overproduced mess, with synthesizers where the band would ordinarily use layers of guitars, so the game plan tonight was to find out how well they would play the songs if left to their own devices. Pretty well is the answer. The concert consisted of virtually all new material plus songs which are either brand-new, bonus cuts from the cd or from some hitherto unknown ep. They opened with It’s Heaven, which really rocks live without the stupid synth hook on the album. They continued with new material until about a third of the way through the show when the sound was suddenly boosted to earsplitting levels, bass and vocals distorting, drowning out the other instruments and turning the sound into a painfully fuzzy soup. After this happened, the anthemic Over and Over and A Pleasure were anything but that: the latter song’s deliciously recurrent Rickenbacker guitar arpeggios were for all intents and purposes inaudible. A real disappointment, especially in the wake of their excellent Staten Island performance earlier this fall. But it wasn’t the band’s fault.

[postscript: the band, a post-Smiths, 2-guitar unit put out three albums before imploding in the early 90s. Their first record, Reunion Wilderness, was a bracing, jazz-inflected effort, although with its incessant 2/4 dance beat, it was pretty monochromatic. Their second, Recurrence was their high-water mark, filled with pretty, major-key songs including the obscure classic A Pleasure (which became a live concert staple). The overproduced album they were promoting on this tour gained them a big club hit but alienated their core audience, a gaffe from which the band never recovered. The venue, a hangar-like former warehouse space in Chelsea, closed in about 1993, outlasting the band by barely a year. ]

November 22, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Twilight Time

Fall is the most beautiful season. Spring slips away and before we notice, it’s gone. In this age of global warming, we take cover and burn while Brian Wilson’s dream – the endless summer – scorches the earth and fevers our minds to the point of delirium. We long for a respite, some karmic reward for the endless months of toil, sweat and forebearance while what’s left of the sky above us sizzles and disappears. And just when it seems that there will be no vacation and the summer is really going to last forever, we get a break. In the twilight of our lives, the twilight of life on earth as we know it, comes a respite. We can breathe again, and walk under the stars. We have been handed a reprieve.

And with this reprieve comes a renewed sense of hope, a hope against all hope that perhaps all hope is not lost after all. Autumn is for romantics – and Romantics. Count us in the latter category. All that is most precious takes on an even greater significance when you realize that it’s not going to last forever. Perhaps that’s why we evolved, or mutated, as we did: if we knew that there would be tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, then perhaps we’d have no reason to savor what we have, preserve what we were lucky enough to be born into, temporary as it may be. Armageddon would be meaningless if every day was Groundhog Day, always coming around again no matter how badly we fucked up.

Last night at Hank’s, in the disarming, dusky cool, Ninth House played an elegy for the human spirit. It was a swinging, relaxed requiem, part bitter and resigned yet possessed of a great power and generosity of spirit. As dark as this band’s vision is, they still find a way to have fun. What Ninth House does is completely anathema to the trendoid esthetic. Their songs are towering, majestic, passionate, in touch with everything that makes life worth living, driven by righteous anger, raging against the dying of the light. So many of their songs deal with death, but they’re not going out without a fight. Last night they fought and, for now, they won. They’ve been through several different incarnations, particularly recently – but this band has never sounded better. And they didn’t even have their most powerful weapon – brilliant violinist Susan Mitchell – with them tonight.

They opened auspiciously with Long Stray Whim, from their most recent album. It’s an uncharacteristically upbeat song, played in a major key, a pummeling anthem about escaping crushing, workday drudgery, going off to somewhere where hope exists. It could be the theme song for any kid stuck in a prison called public school, or anyone putting in meaningless hours for a minimal reward for people who couldn’t care less about anyone other than themselves. Later they played Mistaken for Love, a swaying, ferociously accusatory country song about the dissolution of a marriage, and extended it by several bars while their new guitarist took a long, fiery solo. He took an even longer, more searing one at the end of the slow, ominous Jealousy, building to the point where the song’s relentless tension built to where it could no longer be contained and exploded in a ball of flame. Drummer Francis Xavier played the best show he may have ever done with this band, swinging the beat like crazy. Ever since the band brought in the new keyboardist, guitarist and violinist, he’s taken it to the next level. No matter what happens to this band – knowing them, they’ll probably be around for another ten years – this guy will always have a gig. Too few rock drummers have his timing or his ability to flat-out groove.

The band gamely tackled the old Sisters of Mercy goth hit Nine While Nine, even though it didn’t seem that they’d had the chance to rehearse it much, and managed to pull it off, even if the song missed its poignant central hook. Their swinging version of the Nashville gothic song Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me replicated all the knowing, confrontational majesty of the version on their album Swim in the Silence. And their roaring, closing cover of Ghost Riders in the Sky got some unlikely dancers swaying and whirling in front of the stage. The audience refused to let them leave the stage, even though they’d run out of material that everyone in the band knew how to play, so frontman Mark Sinnis put down his gorgeous, black hollowbody Gretsch bass, picked up the guitarist’s Strat and played a beautifully plaintive, country-inflected new song called That’s Why I Won’t Love You. The bar – a usually raucous late-night rock n roll hangout – went completely silent. Nights like this are why people stay in New York even as rents rise, beloved city institutions are shuttered and torn down and the summers become ever more unbearable. We may not have many more nights like this, or autumns like this, to look forward to, certainly not in what remains of this city, physically and esthetically. Let’s enjoy them while we’re still here.

October 13, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: The B-52’s at Asser Levy Park, Brooklyn NY 8/9/07

Tonight was full of surprises. The sky was a late-period Turner painting, wave after wave of thunderclouds galloping in from the ocean, rolling out toward central Brooklyn. Of course, we’d brought a picnic. The park was crawling with cops. Mathematically speaking, there had to be at least a small handful who hadn’t yet met their monthly quota of “quality of life” arrests, i.e. people pissing in the bushes, shagging in the grass or, perish the thought, drinking in public. These quotas officially don’t exist and are probably illegal, but as any New York cop will tell you, you’ll never get promoted unless you write the kind of tickets the top brass wants. Rudy Mussolini may be off running for President, but his stench remains. Yet nobody showed any interest in the suspicious little plastic cups into which we poured the beaujolais we’d brought in an equally suspicious clear plastic container. Maybe they weren’t paying any attention because they, too had come for the music. Maybe some of them actually were B-52’s fans. Not implausible.

 

Just like it would have been if this was 1979 and it was the band’s first tour, this was a gathering of the most unlikely people, like the off-duty firefighter in front of us hollering for the band to play Planet Claire. It definitely wasn’t the usual crowd that comes out to shows here: by the looks of it, the overwhelmingly white, local blue-collar contingent had been scared off by the impending monsoon. This time, the lawn was packed with kids who had come from all over New York to see “the world’s #1 party band.” It definitely wasn’t a nostalgia trip: they’d come expecting a good time, and maybe even because in a weird way, the B-52’s are actually kind of important. The band would probably laugh at that, but it’s true.

 

Considering that the nucleus of the group has basically been playing the same songs over and over and over again for practically thirty years, it’s hard to believe that they can inject any enthusiasm into their set. Yet somehow they do.  In the decades since their first album, Cindy Wilson, believe it or not, has become a hell of a singer. Kate Pierson has not. Fred Schneider is still a one-trick pony, and Keith Strickland has switched from drums to guitar. The other musicians are competent, if they don’t seem to be in on the joke that the original B-52’s still seem to find at least mildly entertaining after all these years. They ran through all the hits: Private Idaho, Strobe Light, Give Me Back My Man, Roam, and Love Shack (reinvented as funk, a genre this band should avoid at any cost). They also did three new numbers, a couple of garage songs and something of a midtempo ballad sung by Pierson. The new material is pretty generic: the silly spontaneity of their first couple of albums is completely absent. Played through concert-quality amps and bolstered by a bass player with studio chops, the old songs sound oddly focused but not rote: Schneider still barks and preens like in the old days, the womens’ vocals are still flat and ultimately, the music’s blatantly derivative but inimitably dadaesque sense of fun prevails. Say what you want about how original this band was (they weren’t), what good musicians they were (they weren’t) or what they had to say (not much), but they’re definitely in the Secret Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. A lot of the second-generation 60s garage-meets-new-wave songs they played tonight have become standards. Who ever would have thought in 1978 that almost thirty years later, Joe Strummer would be dead, but the B-52’s would still be together and playing stadiums.

 

On the minus side, the B-52’s brought camp to the masses. Not such a good thing, considering that the affectations of camp, along with the sarcasm that’s commonly mistaken for irony, have become the defining characteristics of the trendoid esthetic. But that crowd wasn’t here tonight, obviously: this band is all about fun, and they don’t have that in Williamsburg.

 

The firefighter in front of us roared and leaped with delight when they launched into the bassline from the Peter Gunn Theme, Pierson sang along with the synthesizer and Schneider began to intone, “She came from Planet Claire.” They saved Rock Lobster for last and did it note for note with the record. Nobody went “down, down, down” and did the crabwalk, but that was to be expected, as the first few raindrops were just starting to hit.

 

The show had started inexplicably early, causing a large portion of the crowd to show up halfway through the band’s set, or even later. Perhaps the promoters wanted them to get the show in before the rains came, figuring that nobody would bother to stick around for the other scheduled act, Patty Smyth and Scandal. If that was their hunch, they were right.

 

From there, we went to Banjo Jim’s, which has become an after-concert ritual lately. The former 9C is a nice, cozy place, a generally reliable reminder of what the East Village used to be. It wasn’t tonight. A balding, fortyish folksinger was playing loud acoustic guitar, badly, and going on and on about how we should just turn everything over to the Dalai Lama and everything will be ok. And what a sensitive guy he is and how he can’t wait to get back to California. I say, get this guy a ticket on the first plane out. I think his name was Ellie Elliott – can’t remember, considering how hard I was trying to tune him out. One of my accomplices spent most of her time outside the bar smoking, waiting for him to finish up and leave. And when she wasn’t outside, she was wishing she was. Banjo Jim’s, please do us all a favor and don’t bring this loser back, whatever his name was. 

August 10, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment