Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Vespertina Kills the Lights on the Bowery

In their New York debut at Bowery Poetry Club last night, Vespertina took the stage late. Was there an equipment malfunction? No, their string quartet were busy putting on their masks: evil, feline, woodland sprite faces. Frontwoman Lorrie Doriza went without one, as did her collaborator, a producer who goes by the name of Stoupe (from brilliant, socially aware hip-hop group Jedi Mind Tricks), standing to her left running ominous, lushly orchestrated backing tracks that sounded like something off a Wu-tang record circa 1996. There is no band in the world who sound anything like them, nor was there any respite from the intensity in their 45 minutes onstage. Doriza has one of those voices that comes along every ten years or so: from the point of view of someone who saw Neko Case in 1999 and Amanda Palmer a year later, she’s in the same league. There are other singers who have an equally impressive range, or an upper register just as powerful, but the most impressive thing about what she did is that she didn’t lapse into a single cliche all night. As the strings and the loops blended into a horror-film backdrop, the gleeful menace, and wounded angst, and rage, and sultriness in Doriza’s voice was so real it was scary. If those are characters she plays, she owns them.

Those girls are tortured. They want one thing, and that’s escape, beginning with the Girl in the Basement, the twisted waltz (and first single off the band’s new album The Waiting Wolf) that opened the show. That set the stage for the rest of the set. The only respite from the macabre was the closing number, a lushly arranged goodnight song that wouldn’t be out of place in the Abby Travis catalog, which relented just a little. Otherwise, the minor-key menace would not let up, and they managed to maintain the suspense because Doriza wouldn’t go completely over the top. When finally, finally, she let out a scream, it was a little one. Of course the laptop guy looped it and sent it back into the mix, echoing over and over – but in the distance, which made it all the more disturbing. One of the early songs in the set began like an aria, but quickly backed off. “Take me out,” Doriza implored – not on a date, one assumes. “She’ll be knocking down your door, burning down your home…nothing like a woman scorned,” she sang coldbloodedly on a tango-tinged song a bit later on.

The next number – like most of them, set to a prerecorded trip-hop beat – began with “You’ve been having trouble sleeping” and by the second verse it was “You’re having trouble breathing.” After that, the band got all atmospheric and trippy, slowly emerging from the abyss into a stately 6/8 anthem: “I’m not stupid – I just don’t care,” Doriza sang, desperate yet nonchalant. “You can’t escape me,” was the next song’s mantra, followed by “I’m running out of patience.” During the early part of the show, the string arrangements were too low in the mix; when they came up about a third of the way into the show, it was obvious how they’d been assembled to provide an artful lead track of sorts over the stuff that was in the can, which the ensemble delivered seamlessly yet emphatically beneath Doriza’s wounded wail. Count this as one of the best concerts of 2011, hands down – if the album is anything like this, it must be amazing. They’re playing the one town on Long Island that suits them best – Amityville – on May 29 at a place called Ollie’s Point.

Advertisements

May 12, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 2/9/10

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #720:

Abby Travis – Glittermouth

Abby Travis is one of the greatest bass players in rock. She’s also a terrific songwriter, in a sultry, sinister noir art-pop vein: she beat the Dresden Dolls to it by ten years. Her solo debut, Cutthroat Standards and Black Pop, from 2000, is the critic’s choice. To be stubborn, we went with this one from six years later. It’s more diverse, and beneath the shiny veneer, just as menacing. The big stunner is Now Was, a towering, Jeff Lynne style art-pop ballad that makes a potent showcase for her breathy unease. There’s a lot of trip-hop here, like Portishead at their creepiest, along with the noir cabaret of Hunger, the gently ominous psychedelic downtempo pop of Chase Me, the big 6/8 anthem Roberto – a goth response to the Tubes’ Don’t Touch Me There? – and the off-center, surprisingly upbeat little goth waltz Shoot for the Stars: “Shoot for the stars, you might land on the moon.” Travis is sister to filmmaker Dave Travis, who has a very auspicious new documentary A History Lesson, about the California punk scene coming out. The album hasn’t made it to rapidshare or mediafire yet as far as we can tell but it’s still up at cdbaby.

February 9, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch and Abby Travis at the Delancey, NYC 1/22/09

Botanica frontman/keyboardist Paul Wallfisch has taken over booking Thursdays upstairs at the Delancey, effectively creating one of the very few “must-see” nights anywhere in the New York rock scene, especially considering that for the time being it’s free. Simply put, New York hasn’t had a consistent home for intelligent, challenging rock and rock-related music since Tonic closed two and a half years ago. With this new series, playfully titled Small Beast, Wallfisch aims to change that. Typically, he starts the evening solo on piano, perhaps introducing a guest or two and then bringing up the night’s featured artist or artists.

 

In a fascinating if all-too brief forty minutes, Wallfisch ran through a set that illustrated pretty much every style his band plays: an eerie, carnivalesque tune; a fast, scurrying ragtimish number, a noir minor-key blues and the pretty, impressionistic A Matter of Taste, with echoes of the Strawbs’ classic New World on the chorus: “I’m not the tragic figure I once was,” he sang nonchalantly. Then he launched into the gorgeous lament Eleganza and Wines (from Botanica’s most recent US release, Berlin Hi-Fi) and as usual, he used it as a lesson in 7/8 time, getting the crowd to clap and stomp along and for the most part this was successful. Who says American audiences don’t understand anything other than 4/4, anyway? He closed with a Jacques Brel cover and then the fiery, politically charged gypsy rocker How and finally took the solo that everybody’d been waiting for, part high romantic anguish, part sly Tom Waits blues.

 

Torchy balladeer Abby Travis followed with a gorgeously melodic, frequently riveting, mostly solo show. A striking presence on the small stage, she held the crowd rapt through almost an hour’s worth of songs. As well-known a sidewoman (she’s made a living playing bass on tour with innumerable big-name acts) as she is a songwriter, she impressed as much with her writing and her vocals as with her chops. The obvious comparison is Jeff Lynne: like the ELO mastermind, Travis welds an ironclad pop intelligence to a big dramatic sensibility, in her case part classical and part noir cabaret. “I look in the mirror and see myself dead,” she sang on the first of several big anthems, dramatic yet understatedly so: impressive as her range is and as much as she likes to leap around and belt, she doesn’t overdo it and that only adds to her songs’ considerable suspense. The best song of the night was a new number, Lulu, a lush, crescendoing anthem that built to a chorus rich with subdued longing and anguish, a tune that wouldn’t have been out of place on Out of the Blue or A New World Record.

 

After a few more on piano, she switched to bass. The idea of just bass and vocals might sound supremely boring, but Travis gave a clinic in smart, tuneful playing. With a muscular, fluidly melodic style, she demonstrated effortless command of every weapon in a good bassist’s arsenal – chords, slides, hammer-ons and vibrato – without wasting a single note or inflection, on an original and then a stunningly good cover of I Put a Spell on You. The world may be full of great bass players, but this was really something special.

 

Then she brought up Wallfisch to take over the keys on the beautiful, regretful anthem Now Was and then another big, torchy original, Hangover Flower: “Your seeds are lying on my bed, the hangover flower is in bloom,” she sang with nonchalant, breathy sarcasm. Travis then went out the way she came in, solo on piano with yet another big 6/8 ballad possibly titled Our Last Ride. Travis makes much of her material available generously via her podcast; New Yorkers who remember the glory day of Lisa Lost’s noir pop band DollHouse about eight years ago will love Travis’ stuff. Readers in the LA area ought to go check out her upcoming show on Feb 3 at the Cavern Club, 1920 Hyperion Ave in Silverlake.

January 24, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 1/19/09

Most people aren’t aware of this dirty little secret (maybe not even Kasey Kasem), but American Top Forty wasn’t ever really any kind of barometer of how popular a song was, how well it sold or how many times it was played (we’re using the past tense here since it’s been years since there’s been a good song on the top 40). Rather, it was a creature of the corporate record labels, whose PR machines and their payola determined who’d end up where. Since we only have a quarter of the energy and no payola money, here’s the Lucid Culture weekly top ten, which likewise has no bearing on popularity or sales or spins, it’s just another one of our fun lists, a way to help spread the word about what’s happening out there. All the links here except for #1 and #9 are links to the actual songs (#1 and #9 being unreleased at the moment – you’ll have to go to the show to find out how good they are).

 

1.  The Brooklyn What – Gentrification Rock

Get used to seeing the Brooklyn What at the top of the charts here for awhile – if this was back in the day when there were lps full of hit singles, their new cd The Brooklyn What For Borough President would have a whole bunch of them. This one isn’t from the album – it’s a big, fiery, sarcastic riff-rocker, unreleased as yet, and a staple of their live show (they have a lot more material than you think). They’re at Trash on 1/31 at midnight.

 

2.  The New Collisions – Caged Us Kids

These Boston new wave revivalists are the real deal, frontwoman Sarah Guild’s sly, absolutely indomitable vocals soaring over biting, edgy guitar and an equally indomitable rhythm section. If their myspace is any indication they should be great fun live. They’re at Arlenes on 2/12.

 

3.  Abby Travis – Now Was

Hired-gun bass player (she’s played with everybody from Beck to the Bangles) whose strongest suit is her songwriting, lush and pensive with an almost lurid noir cabaret style that sometimes takes on a nuevo-glam feel. And her voice, warm and compelling like a young Sally Norvell. She’s at the Delancey on 1/22 at 8:30.

 

4.  La Fleur Fatale – Gigantic Boredom

Killer retro 60s folk-rock with Farfisa organ and a nice Strawberry Alarm Clock style solo from these Swedish revivalists. It’s on their cd available for free download here.

 

5.  Coconami – Sheena Is a Punk Rocker

Two Japanese girls with ukeleles doing a Ramones cover. Totally deadpan, of course. Too funny. They’re at Joe’s Pub on 2/1 at 7.

 

6.  The Voxys – Dirty Protest

Gorgeously fiery, jangly 60s rock with a classic garage vibe from these high-energy Irish rockers. They’re back here in town on 1/22.

 

7.  Community Gun – Wasted

Sounds like vintage Uncle Tupelo (or, as New York fans might say, American Ambulance) – country gone hardcore with a good sense of humor. Thse guys also have a mean, bluesy Tom Waits streak. They’re at Spikehill on 2/3  

 

8.  Demolition String Band – Wisteria

Beautifully twangling, guitar-stoked Americana from one of New York’s finest, a tribute to the hardy plant that even grows “on the hills of Jersey City.” They’re doing one of their Americana Family Jamboree shows at Rodeo Bar on 1/25 at 3 PM which is a very sneaky way to get kids listening to good music so when they hear Miley Cyrus or Nickelback for the first time, they’ll know that it’s shit.

 

9.  The Snow – Undertow

With Melomane in limbo, this crew have become frontman Pierre de Gaillande’s main focus and they’re just as good. This one is singer/keyboardist Hilary Downes contribution, a typically smart, imaginatively tongue-in-cheek lyric with a shape-shifting melody and gorgeous vocals. Unreleased, but they play it live. They’re at Barbes on 1/22 at 8.  

 

10.  The Paul Carlon Octet – Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out

Give a listen to this characteristically smart, tongue-in-cheek version and then try saying it doesn’t sound a whole lot like Let’s Go Get Stoned. This is the kind of fun this big Ellington-inspired latin jazz crew comes up with all the time. They’re at Drom on 2/6 at 9.

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