Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Linda Draper and Randi Russo Live at Cake Shop, NYC 3/7/08

Backed by excellent drummer Anders Griffen, Linda Draper flat-out rocked. Wait a minute: this is the same Linda Draper who did Snow White Trash Girl and One Two Three Four and all those other albums with the wildly imaginative, seemingly stream-of-consciousness lyrics set to slow, hypnotic, trance-inducing guitar? Yup, that Linda Draper. Lately she’s reinvented herself as the catchy rock songwriter she seemed to want to be on her first album, with richly rewarding results. And what a terrific guitarist she’s become! The obvious comparison her most recent work draws is Nina Nastasia. Both songwriters share a terse, frequently slashing lyrical sensibility, a seemingly effortless fingerpicking style and a zero tolerance for bullshit. The material Draper played tonight, virtually all new songs destined to be recorded shortly on her sixth (!) album is more chordally driven than her earlier work, and melodically she’s made a quantum leap. She always had an ear for a tune but now she has the chops to play whatever she wants, which is pretty much anything: your average picker can’t just walk in and launch into a Linda Draper song without knowing it thoroughly. Though Draper’s vocals live off subtlety and nuance, the sound engineer had her voice perfectly up in the mix so that Griffen’s equally subtle, nuanced playing – the guy sounded like Jim White tonight – didn’t drown them out.

The next act’s frontman apparently did some time in a retro-80s disco band that had something of a following with the New Jersey/Long Island tourist crowd. He now seems to want to mine an early 90s retro-glamrock vein. But this was a band show only in the sense that he had a group behind him: it was all about him, jumping and preening and affecting an English accent even when he wasn’t singing. Too bad, because some of the songs had some nice, unexpected major-to-minor chord changes, and the band seemed inspired, when they could be heard. But that wasn’t often: despite the sound guy’s attempts to find a balance between the instruments, he kept turning up his guitar and drowning everybody out.

Randi Russo and band careened through a typically fiery, inspiring set. Russo is an amazingly inventive guitarist, fond of odd tunings, and being lefthanded she plays upside down a la Hendrix, resulting in a wash of delicious overtones from her Gibson SG. The band is a somewhat incongruously assembled lot, a hard-hitting drummer with roots in thrash metal, the great Lenny Molotov – something of an American Richard Thompson – alternating between virtuosic lead guitar and lapsteel work – and a bass player with roots in surf music, who’d probably turn everything into Misirlou or Pipeline if given half a chance. Their common bond is inspiration, which isn’t hard to fathom once you hear the material.

Russo’s stock in trade is outsider anthems; she’s the antithesis of your typical conformist indie rock bandleader. Alternately snide, sarcastic and anguished, the characters who populate her songs exhaust themselves at lousy dayjobs, rail against lazy, overpaid bosses who do none of the work and get all of the profits, and infidel lovers who renege on their promises. But a close listen reveals plenty of subtle humor beneath the rage and fury. The high point of the night was an untitled suite with the recurrent chorus “keep your head high while you lie low.” Right before the long, Middle Eastern-inflected outro, Russo brought the song down to just the guitars, slamming out an ominous series of chords while Molotov provided eerie sheets of feedback. They also did another new one, Invisible, a catchy backbeat-driven hit. The rhythm section were joking about how the intro is pretty much identical to the way the Joy Division classic Atrocity Exhibition begins, so the drummer launched into the groove and hung with it, joined quickly by the bassist, and finally the rest of the band. Considering how dark most of their music is, this band sure has a lot of fun. All indications were that the rest of the night was garage rock, which looked promising, but we had places to go and drunk people to look after.

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March 10, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Elisa Flynn at Union Hall, Brooklyn NY 12/17/07

[Editor’s note – Elisa Flynn was good in 2007 when we reviewed this particular show. In the time since then she’s grown into one of the most eerily compelling, haunting singers, and songwriters, in all of New York. Her 2009 album Songs About Birds and Ghosts landed high on the Lucid Culture 50 best albums list that year. It’s always especially rewarding to be able to look back and say, “told you so!”]

The trendoid with the carefully coiffed, $300 bedhead haircut who preceded her onstage was a howl: “Ah learned ever-thang from television,” he yowled in ludicrous faux-ebonics, strumming his totally out-of-tune guitar, the hired-gun rhythm section behind him clearly in a hurry to get off the stage, grab their portions of the cash advance the guy had pulled off his parents’ credit card at the ATM, and go home. After he was finally done, the club played KT Tunstall’s cutesy powerpop over the PA, a respite akin to coming into a 40-degree room from subzero weather: in about a minute, it was cold again.

The songs on Elisa Flynn’s myspace page throw off some sparks, which was what brought us here in the first place. Backed only by musically diverse drummer Anders Griffen, Flynn sputtered and then caught fire, doing an impressive job under adverse circumstances. Nursing a cold with a pint of Guinness, she still sang terrifically well, casually, without a hint of affectation, which was even more impressive considering that for some inexplicable reason the drums in the small downstairs room here are miked into the sound mix. Even though Griffen clearly had a feel for the room and played with a considerable subtlety, there were times when he drowned her out. Obviously, it wasn’t his fault.

Flynn at her best has a great sense of melody along with a fondness for minor keys. Most of her songs are lyrically-driven, pensive and darkly reflective, yet rock with a guitar-driven bite. They’d probably have sounded more fully realized if she’d been playing electric instead of acoustic tonight. She may play under her own name, but she’s definitely a rocker. Her tunes match the mood of her lyrics. On more than one occasion tonight she proved how effectively she could turn a minute change in the melody into a pivotal moment. Unlike a lot of indie types, she likes dynamics and knows how to use them: no jarring barrages of noise during quiet moments, or vice versa. The mood of the songs varied from the somewhat bizarrely amusing Turtle King to the thoughtfully rustic Big Sky. Her best number was a burning, staccato rocker that unexpectedly turned the verse/chorus dynamic on its head, the anthemic verse going down into a quieter refrain and then back again.

But Flynn needs a séance. Like so many artists categorized as indie rock, she sometimes falls under the curse of the moveable chord, and it’s high time somebody lifted that curse. For the uninitiated, moveable chords are a lazy guitar-playing device, where the guitarist plays a major or minor chord and then changes chords by moving his or her hand a single fret, or two or three, in one direction or another without changing the fingering of the original chord. With a few exceptions (Flynn has discovered two of the really nice permutations that you can make with a D major chord), what results is either atonal or dissonant and usually throws whatever melody you have going off the rails. Moveable chords are the reason why most of the melody in grunge, emo and recent indie rock is played not by the guitar but by the bass. A lot of people who’d like to be musicians, but for one reason or another can’t pull it off, live and die by moveable chords and it’s strange that Flynn would employ them as much as she does since she’s a fluent player with a good ear for a catchy hook. Whether she continues to use them or continues to grow as a musician will determine whether in ten years’ time she takes it to the next level and gets some well-deserved props, or remains a relic of the zeros. See her next time out and you will probably be in for as beguiling and promising a show as she played tonight.

December 18, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments