Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Some Usual Suspects You Might Have Missed

We don’t review every show we see. Some of them suck. Or sometimes a good performer has a off night, and since we’d rather report good news than bad – believe it or not – we hold back til we have something worth recommending. And we don’t want to get pegged as a fansite that goes on and on about the same stale faces. There’s a lot going on in this town and we try to make Lucid Culture a reflection of that.

 

But this week was one of familiar faces, none of them the least bit stale. Went to the Roulette Sisters a week ago at Barbes. Unsurprisingly the place was packed: this band has a huge following, and there was no way that all their fans were going to be able to squish themselves, sardine-like into the little back room here. They did their usual mix of innuendo-laden old blues covers along with a completely over-the-top original in that vein, and another called Border Radio, a tribute to the Carter Family that the band recorded on an Edison cylinder last summer as part of a as-yet unissued compilation album. The band’s four-part harmonies, the lead guitar, National steel guitar, washboard and viola have never sounded better. They also covered a song by Uncle Leon and the Alibis. Uncle Leon apparently wrote a song about some product and is now off on tour playing that song, courtesy of the manufacturer (whoever they are – doesn’t really matter, does it?). Speaking of which, considering that artists can’t really make that much money off cd sales anymore, we don’t have any problem with musicians licensing their songs to commercials and such. Whether the song is any good or not, if there is anyone left alive twenty years from now, nobody is going to remember if a song was used to hawk product X or Y a generation before. Nobody listens to commercials anyway: everybody mutes or Tivos them. That the corporations haven’t realized this and are still wasting fifteen percent of earnings on advertising is a mystery we don’t have an answer to.

Then on Wednesday we ended up at Luna where Ninth House were playing an uncharacteristically early, midweek show. Luna is a big space, and in order to pay the rent they put a lot of bands on the bill here, starting early. The opening act tonight was the Duelists. We don’t usually do bad reviews, but these guys were something worse than awful. Completely beyond the pale: Uncle Pumpkin, whom we excoriated a few weeks ago, are delightful by comparison. This unit is essentially a dorky, flannel-shirted white guy who can’t sing a lick, accompanied by his Asian girlfriend who shares his inability to sing on key and who also proved that she can’t dance in time with the music. We calculated that the backing band behind them – a rhythm section, lead guitarist, keyboardist and two horns – probably cost the couple at least $700 for this show and maybe a rehearsal or two. It’s impossible to imagine the musicians doing this gig for anything other than money, because the squeaky-clean, G-rated, wide-eyed Up with People-style straight-to-the-Disney-Channel pop they played was arguably the worst set we’ve seen all year. You could say that their songs are anthems for the kind of kids who stay virgins until they get married, except that the songs aren’t anthemic: there’s no melody to remember. And their lyrics sound like something their frontboy lifted  directly from some random page of a Tony Robbins self-help paperback: “I just want to be myself but I can’t!” he exclaimed tunelessly, over and over again while his galpal jumped joyously if clumsily in front of her mic. Their ineffably white, pep-rally enthusiasm wouldn’t have been out of place at a Klan rally. Who were those Pennsylvania twins who about a year ago were doing white supremacist Madonna-style pop? The Duelists should hook up with them. “We have one more for you,” dorkboy finally told the crowd. “No more!” bellowed a Ninth House fan, a sentiment echoed by the crowd, who’d come out probably expecting a potentially bad segue, but nothing remotely this awful. What were the Duelists thinking? That their neighbors and co-workers from suburban New Jersey – or wherever they hail from – would shlep all the way out to Williamsburg to see them? They didn’t. Hopefully they’ll go back to the strip mall land that spawned them and stay there.

Ninth House’s newfound taste for improvisation seems to have reached its outer limits, limited strictly to intros, outros and the extra verse or chorus here and there. As much as the idea of improvisational art rock might seem off-putting, this is a band you should see. Everybody in the band is listening to everyone else. With the addition of the new guitarist and violinist, they’ve discovered interplay, and the effect can be delicious. On the potent Nashville gothic kiss-off anthem Mistaken for Love, the violin gave it a cajun flavor, further spiced up with biting, bluesy guitar. Then they took an extra verse right before the end of the song, and the guitarist took it into Ziggy Stardust glam territory: unexpected, to say the least, and potentially ugly, but it worked perfectly. And then they ended it cold. Their version of the old Sisters of Mercy goth hit Nine While Nine is perfect for what they’re doing now: it’s only two chords, giving everybody a lot of latitude to stretch out. Bands like Phish and the Moe may have given jamming a bad name, but it’s been an important part of rock since before rock was rock: they don’t call it a bluegrass jam for nothing. When a band gets really good at improvising, it adds a completely new dimension to their live show: you’ll never see them play the same song the same way twice. Which gives the audience a whole new reason to come to shows. Props to Ninth House for taking the road less traveled, especially at this relatively late stage of their career.

November 10, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review from the Archives: Rev. Timmy James, DollHouse, Twin Turbine, Noxes Pond and the Sea Devils at the C-Note, NYC 10/26/01

[Editor’s note: this concert from our inherited archives dates from the brief period after 9/11 when New Yorkers demonstrated an amazing amount of solidarity. Ironic as it must seem, this town defiantly showed a great deal of joie de vivre while the pit downtown smoldered and burned. This is just one example.]

A gastronomic walking tour of what’s left of the old-school Jewish Lower East Side with a Massachusetts friend ended with takeout from Yonah Schimmel’s, where I ended up practically getting killed in traffic while trying to get back into his Jaguar while a traffic cop’s siren wailed behind us. I was sure we were going to get pulled over, and it was all my fault, but no. He dropped me off at the club and left with plenty of knishes and noshes for the ride home to Beacon Hill. Rev. Timmy James was on when I got there, playing open-tuned, acoustic blues with a slide. He’s a competent player, he doesn’t Pearl Jam the vocals and the Rev. thing seems to be neither religious nor sarcastic. A tip of the hat to Gary Davis, maybe. DollHouse, who haven’t played a live show in a long time, were introducing their new lead guitarist, who is vastly different from the two guys who preceded him: he’s totally 80s, alternating between fast funk/metal and more ambient licks that he played with an ebow. Not sure he’s right for this macabre, punk-inflected harmony-rock band. On their frontwoman/guitarist Lisa Lost’s big showstopper, Queen of Despair, he took an attractively minimal solo straight out of the Phil Manzanera book circa Avalon, which was by far the best thing he did all night. The band’s best song was a ridiculously catchy new one set to a ska beat, an uncharacteristically lighthearted, optimistic song called Smile driven by a deliciously melodic, pulsing Frankie Monroe bassline. The band also played Lisa Lost’s darkly entertaining Bride (as in bride of Frankenstein) along with Monroe’s scorching, minor-key punk-pop songs Conditioning and Night People.

“Heavy pop” power trio Twin Turbine weren’t the best segue, considering that this is a small club and they are very loud. But melodically it made sense: frontman/guitarist Dave Popeck is every bit as much a hookmeister as the previous band. “Husker Du,” a friend of mine hollered into my ear. I thought for a moment. “Social Distortion,” I hollered back. They don’t confine themselves strictly to major and minor chords but the hooks are relentless, as is the sonic assault: there isn’t much subtlety in this band. Their best song was a darkly careening number called Noreaster that resembled Guided by Voices at their most melodic.

Noxes Pond followed, and like the last time I saw them here, they packed the place. This isn’t a big club by any means, and it’s become a rocker hangout, in a lot of instances musicians basically playing to their peers, and the cognoscenti were here tonight to check out the newly resurrected incarnation of this popular LES noise/rock/funk unit. They’re much more melodic than they used to be, driven by catchy, jazz-inflected, tasteful guitar. And the rhythm section, with the guy from the Scholars on drums and the Supercilious bassist, has much more of a groove than they used to have. But it’s their frontwoman who steals the show, a petite powerhouse who dazzled with her spectacular range and potently soulful pipes. By the time the Sea Devils launched into the first of two long, exhausting sets, starting practically at the stroke of midnight, it was apparent that the person I’d been waiting patiently for wasn’t going to show up. But no matter. “Surf punk,” a well-known blogger told me, sarcastically. And he’s right, to an extent: energy and volume are important to this band. But so is authenticity: they have all the requisite vintage instruments and amps and get a completely 60s, reverb-drenched sound. They reminded tonight how vast their repertoire is, basically every good Ventures and Dick Dale song along with literally dozens of songs whose titles you wish they’d announce so you can go out looking for the originals. Their best song was the opener, the haunting Mr. Moto, followed by the Ventures classic Diamond Head and an obscure, gorgeously propulsive number called Tally Ho. And they kept the crowd in the house: after they’d finally wound up their second set, a clearly impressed audience member insisted that the band had just played the longest-ever set in the club’s history. Which wouldn’t be surprising: just under three hours of fiery, propulsive clang and twang. And I was there to hear all of it since I hadn’t had a drink til they’d taken the stage.

[postscript: Rev. Timmy James hasn’t played around New York in awhile: someone like him can pretty much take his act anywhere. DollHouse is defunct, and Twin Turbine has been on hiatus pretty much since 2006. Noxes Pond morphed into art-rockers System Noise, who were one of New York’s best bands for several years. The Sea Devils still appear live once in awhile with a reconfigured lineup.]

October 26, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: The Roulette Sisters at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 6/18/07

A deliriously fun, hot, sweaty show. It was late on a Monday night, but the place was packed. The crowd sang along, and when they weren’t singing, they were laughing at all the subtle and not-so-subtle double entendres the band was harmonizing on. Because (other than great musicianship and gorgeous 4-part harmonies and stone cold authentic acoustic blues playing), sex is what the Roulette Sisters are all about. Lou Pearlman couldn’t have come up with a better marketing concept: four attractive women singing innuendo-laden oldtime music – an impressively wide-ranging mix of blues, country and 1920s/30s pop – playing their own instruments, singing beautifully and writing a lot of their own material. They opened with Coney Island Washboard: guitarist Mamie Minch explained how it was an instrumental from the early 20s given lyrics by a popular pop group, the Mills Brothers, about ten years later. Lead guitarist Meg Reichardt (also of les Chauds Lapins) added a typically suggestive postscript, telling the audience about a co-worker who was walking around the office all day wearing something akin to the “brand new suit of easy breezes” in the song’s chorus. A little later they did another original, inspired by the Carter Family, that wouldn’t be out of place on the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack.

Minch had just asked her bandmates whether they should do a pretty song or a dirty song when she was suddenly interrupted. “Fuck!” She’d just gotten a jolt of electric current from her mic. Her bandmates grinned at each other, and the question was answered: they launched into the hokum blues classic Keep on Churnin’:

Keep on churning til the butter comes
Keep on pumping, let the butter flow
Wipe off the paddle and churn some more

The crowd roared for another in the same vein, so they obliged, with heir most popular original, Hottest Girl in Town. The song is a hoot: each band member takes a verse laden with Freudian imagery, some verging on X-rated, detailing how their boyfriends like to please them. Viola player Karen Waltuch, who played incisive, somewhat dark solos all night long, took her most intricate one of the evening after her verse and the crowd loved it.

Then was Reichardt’s turn to bring the house down with an outtake from Dolly Parton’s first album, a deliciously righteous tale of a jilted woman wanting to get even with the woman who married her man: “I feel like tying dynamite to her side of the car.” After that, Minch delivered an especially sly version of the Bessie Smith hit Sugar in My Bowl.

The excellent Al Duvall – who’s quite the master of thinly veiled dirty lyrics himself – accompanied them on banjo on their last four songs, ending with a brand-new composition about a sheet music plugger (plugger: get it?) which Minch sang off a lyric sheet. She began the song as a talking blues but by the end she’d written a vocal melody and had it down cold.

You heard it here first: this band is going places. Our predecessor e-zine picked their cd Nerve Medicine as best debut album of 2006. Good to see that prediction come true, with this fantastic band getting some real momentum.

June 19, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments