Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Liza & the WonderWheels – Pavlov’s Garage

Their best album. Liza and the WonderWheels spun off of New York new wave/80s revivalists the Larch (who also have a career-defining new album out), and to a certain extent they mine a similar vibe: the songs here would have been huge hits in the 80s. Most of the numbers here work riffs and variations on those riffs – they’re singalongs, with an understated social awareness that hits you upside the head just like the melodies. Liza Garelik Roure (who also plays keys in the Larch with her husband, lead guitarist Ian Roure) leads this band on guitar, keys and vocals, anchored by the Plastic Beef rhythm section, Andy Mattina on bass and Joe Filosa on drums, who combine to create a sort of New York rock counterpart to Motown Records’ Funk Brothers. Liza’s always had ferocious vocal chops, but this is the first album they’ve done which fully utilizes them.

The opening cut After Last Night perfectly captures the vibe of being stuck at the dayjob but still resonating from the fun of the previous evening, a Standells stomp recast as sly new wave with a blazing guitar solo that quotes blithely from Reeling in the Years by Steely Dan. The catchy, riff-driven Where’s My Robot Maid sarcastically pokes fun at blind faith in technology, at a world where “Science will all make sense as we all eat such healthy foods.” Learning Lessons, a pounding girl-power anthem comes on like an edgier version of the Motels without all the drama – which is ironic because that’s what the song’s about. The backbeat anthem Straight to the Body evokes the Go Go’s with its snide lyric about gutless guys who won’t make a move on a girl, flying along on the wings of Mattina’s scurrying bass.

The two big live hits here are the ferociously sarcastic Petroleum: “Let’s go, oil barons, let’s go!” with Mattina leading the charge again, and No Exceptions, which rips the melody from Franklin’s Tower by the Grateful Dead for a subtly snarling anti-authoritarian anthem:

Your definitions should be doublechecked for accuracy…
Sometimes I feel our day has yet to dawn
To the end of the night we must journey on

There’s also The Hats, a scampering rocker that seems to be about a Chicago band that may or may not exist (although there is a British funk/blues act who go by that name); Smug Ugly which shifts the time back another ten years to the early 70s with a darkly psychedelic bluesy vibe, a strikingly thoughtful response to the too-cool-for-school affectations all the rage in New York music circles; and Take Us to the Stars, the only rock song to celebrate climbing Mount Rainier (although that could be purely metaphorical), a creepy, breathtaking art-rock epic driven by Ian’s magisterial, otherworldly bluesy guitar, and a showcase for Liza’s dramatic, operatic range. Count this among the best and most satisfying releases of 2010.

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June 5, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Paula Carino and the Larch at Parkside, NYC 5/22/10

Paula Carino didn’t waste any time dedicating her set to Love Camp 7 and Erica Smith drummer Dave Campbell, whose unexpected death last Wednesday stunned the New York music scene – especially the crew who had come out to the Parkside fresh from a whiskey-fueled memorial get-together a few blocks away. Trying to play a show under these kind of circumstances can be a recipe for disaster – like pretty much everybody else, Carino was a friend of Campbell’s – yet she pulled herself together, delivering a calm, reassuring presence which by the end of her set had brought most of the crowd out of their shells. Which is something the gregarious Campbell would have wanted, being a fan of Carino’s catchy, lyrically dazzling janglerock songs.

Mixing cuts from her devastatingly good new album Open on Sunday with a handful of crowd-pleasers from years past, the high point of the set was the well-chosen Great Depression, a minefield of metaphors set to a characteristically propulsive, apprehensive minor-key melody anchored by a nasty descending progression from lead guitarist Ross Bonadonna. She resurrected a casually snarling old one from the 90s: “I’ve got nine mile legs to get away from you.” Another oldie, Discovering Fire was as tricky and vertiginous as always; on a warm, soaring version of Paleoclimatology, another metaphor-fest, she seemed to make up a new vocal line as she went along. She also did an unfamiliar but ridiculously catchy one that sounded straight out of the Liza Garelik Roure catalog and a brand-new riff-rocker pushed along with gusto from bassist Andy Mattina and drummer Tom Pope.

The Larch were celebrating the release of their latest album Larix Americana, which if this set is any indication, is also one of the year’s best. This clever, witty, 80s-inspired quartet has been a good band for a long time – they are a great one now. Frontman/lead guitarist Ian Roure was on fire, blasting through one supersonic yet remarkably terse solo after another. He’d give it maybe half a verse and then back away, leaving the crowd – particularly the guys on the bleachers in the back – hungry for more. With his wife Liza providing sultry harmonies along with alternately chirpy and atmospheric keyboards, Bonadonna on melodic and propulsive bass and Pope up there for another go-round behind the kit, they blasted through one psychedelic new wave rocker after another. The strikingly assaultive In the Name Of…, with its reverb-drenched acid wash of an outro, might have been the most arresting performance of the entire evening. The funnier, more sardonic numbers – a couple of them about “bad dayjobs,” as Roure put it – hit the spot, particularly the Elvis Costello-inflected Logical Enough, as well as the tongue-in-cheek Inside Hugh, another track from the new album. The rest of the set accentuated the diversity this band is capable of, from the ridiculously hummable, instant hitworthiness of The Strawberry Coast – a summer vacation classic if there ever was one – to the understated scorch of With Love from Region One (a DVD reference and a somewhat sideways but spot-on tribute to all good things American). Speaking of DVDs, somebody videoed this show – the band ought to make one out of it.

May 25, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Beefstock 2010 Day Two

Day One of Beefstock 2010 is covered here. Day Two began early in the afternoon with Peter Pierce and his jangly, two-guitar band, sounding like a tuneful cross between the Silos and Neil Young. They did a darkly clanging outlaw ballad early on, a couple of comfortably expansive, jangly paisley underground style tunes and some riff-rock featuring one of the festival’s hardest-working players, Ross Bonadonna on sax.

Erica Smith was next on the bill, but she was asleep, having been knocked cold by a morning yoga session with Paula Carino. Finally roused, she alluded onstage to still feeling the effects, but whatever other world she’d been in, she brought some of it with her in a brief but absolutely devastating solo set. With an otherworldly lushness added to a voice already steeped in an evocative brew of just about every emotion possible (especially the sad ones), she was the highlight of the festival, opening with an acoustic version of Firefly, an impossibly catchy, sunny pop hit on album but in this context bittersweet and plaintive. A new song, the vividly brooding vacation scenario River King, rivalled the Church’s classic Bel Air, its wounded narrator drifting defiantly down to the local watering hole in all her finery when the guys wouln’t let her sit in with them and sing. The song had come to her in a dream, she explained, ostensibly written by Adam Cooper and her bandmate Dann Baker; the joke is that the song sounds like nothing either one of them would probably ever come up with. She closed with a swaying yet intense version of her bossa nova-pop hit Tonight, an old folk song that she did a-capella and got lost in, taking the crowd with her, and a shattering version of the towering, anguished country anthem The World Is Full of Pretty Girls, from her classic 2008 album Snowblind.

This is where we dropped out – being part of the blogosphere requires a far closer-than-ideal umbilical cord to the web, especially in a place sans cellphone reception like this. So we missed Clancy’s Ghost and probably others but managed to get back in time for Rebecca Turner, her rustic, maple sugar voice, first-rate rhythm section, charming Americana-pop songs and Josh Roy Brown playing characteristically spine-tingling lapsteel. Turner swung her way through the ridiculously catchy, metaphorically charged Tough Crowd, a little later her signature anthem Brooklyn – probably the only song ever to namecheck McCarren Pool – and simultaneously indulged her Linda Ronstadt and Neil Young fixations with a rousing version of Love Is a Rose. She bookended these around a short set by Brown featuring a fiery, hypnotic open-tuned blues number.

Paula Carino, the hands-down star of Beefstock 2009 has a new yoga book coming out. Leading a session in the morning may have knocked the crowd out but it energized her. Carino’s new cd Open on Sunday looks like a lock for best album of 2010; like last year (hell, like always), this was Carino the hookmeister. Having the cd around is pretty cool: turns out that the ridiculously catchy new wave riff-rock of Mother I Must Go to Maxwell’s has an angst-driven undercurrent. Having Ross Bonadonna on lead guitar is just as cool. He’d spend much of the night onstage: his role in this band is lead guitar powerhouse, whether firing off a snarling Wes Montgomery-gone-to-Brixton solo on the indelibly catchy, dark Great Depression or a sarcastically animalian carnival of riffs on the snide Rough Guide. Carino debuted a punchy new one, Three Legged Race; she also went back into the archive and delivered the metaphorically loaded Venus Records with her best mentholated purr. A little later on, she brought the show to a peak when she kicked off a crescendoing version of Paleoclimatology with just her Strat and velvet vocals for a couple of bars. “Just let it go, that ancient snow, that wrecked Tyrannosaurus,” she intoned as the song took the intensity up into the rafters.

The Larch had a tough act to follow and they delivered. Bonadonna was on bass this time – a great lead guitarist playing a four-string is a treat (Marty Willson-Piper of the Church, on the occasions he does it, is a good comparison). Frontman Ian Roure has never written better – their seventh (count ’em) album, Larix Americana is coming out on May 22 (the cd release show is at the Parkside) and could well be their best if this show was any indication. Roure’s best known as a songwriter, these days sort of a missing link between Ray Davies and Robyn Hitchcock but as a guitarist he can shred with anybody and this was a shred-a-thon. Blending his wah-wah pedal with a watery chorus box effect, he blasted through one brief, maybe eight-bar, supersonic solo after another. Those catchy new wave-ish songs didn’t leave much room for stretching out, from the bouncy, Costelloesque powerpop of the Strawberry Coast, the funky, Taxman-ish In the Name Of or one of the best songs of the whole festival, the resolute anthem With Love from Region One. Roure explained beforehand that it’s his indelibly British tribute to all good things American: “People don’t realize that it’s not all Disney and McDonald’s here.” He mixed his tones for the longest and most savage solo of the night as Bonadonna ground out one boomy chord after another at the end.

Solar Punch were next, playing cheery, sunny, Grateful Dead-inspired songs on a small side stage since they’re a solar-powered band: lead guitarist Alan Bigelow had charged a battery with solar panels on the ride up from Manhattan, which gave them enough juice for a full 40-minute set with two electric guitars, bass, vocal mics and (one assumes) unamplified drums. Bigelow played through a piano patch on several of the songs; their best one was a boomy, hypnotic Indian-influenced psychedelic number most likely inspired by the group’s tour of that country a year ago. Plastic Beef’s Andy Mattina held down the bass chair as he would later with Paula Carino and others.

Brute Force was a trip, plain and simple. Seeing the singer/pianist and his band was a time warp back to the Summer of Love, because Brute was there, and soon thereafter would be signed to Apple Records. Copies of his signature song, the underground comedy rock hit The King of Fuh (he was the Fuh King – get it?) are prized on the collector market. They closed with that song, a tongue-in-cheek swipe at the censors that comes across as a lot tamer in the age of gangsta rap than it did then. Brute Force’s songs foreshadowed what Ragni and Rado would do with their musical Hair – anthemic and theatrical, often seemingly completely guileless, they also have a social conscience, topics ranging from a simple antiwar number to his famous Pledge of Allegiance to the Universe to a more anguished, newer one about global warming.

A completely different stripe of pianist/bandleader, Tom Warnick and World’s Fair brought the thunder after the sunshine. With just the hint of an evil grin, he and his now four-piece backing unit (featuring both John Sharples and Bonadonna, again on lead guitar, turning in his some of his most intense salvos of the night) romped and then raced through a noir-tinged, soul-inflected set including a lickety-split, Ramones-ish version of the Jersey Turnpike nightmare scenario How Do You Get to Ho-Ho-Kus, a ska-punk singalong, a Stax/Volt style soul jump and some wickedly catchy pop. They wrapped up the set with a particularly ecstatic version of what has become a sort of signature song for the band, Keep Me Movin’. The band was tight; despite the late hour, the bass player appeared sober – although jumping all over the stage and trying to steal the spotlight from a frontguy like Warnick doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Erica Smith may have turned in the most intense single set of the evening, but the best song of the night was delivered by her husband, John Sharples and his band. Taking his vocals down, down into the murky depths of his register, he and the band (Bonadonna up there yet again on lead guitar) made their way ominously through a spine-tingling, bluesily noir version of a pensive 6/8 Warnick ballad, The Impostor. Bonnadonna used it as a springboard for the most dazzling display of speed of the whole night, a firestorm of staccato madness that perfectly matched the Kafkaesque lyric. With Smith on harmony vocals, they stampeded through an inspired cover of Chinatown by the Move, a ferocious blast of powerpop with When Amy Says by Blow This Nightclub, a couple of pensive ballads where Sharples moved to piano, and a medley that uncovered the Thin Lizzy hidden inside Paula Carino’s tongue-in-cheek Robots Helping Robots.

The Nopar King is the latest incarnation of Plastic Beef, and the tightest one yet. By now the crowd was finally dancing as the band passed around percussion instruments to random drunks, some who still had their timing, some who didn’t. Drummer Joe Filosa and new (relatively new, anyway) singer Diane O’Connell traded soulful vocals as they made their way through some funky originals and a couple of covers. Billy from Norhmal joined them a little later on and brought the energy level up even higher. They wrapped up the set with a deliriously stretched-out version of their signature song, the latin-disco-jamband number The Pyramid Club, a wistful look back at a better time and place where a band could shuttle back and forth between that place and A7 up the block.

All-female trio Out of Order were the best conceivable headliner the festival could have had. With their ridiculously catchy postpunk songs, they’re part new wave throwbacks, part no wave (their guitarist is a monster noiserock player) and part straight up punk. They managed to keep a crowd who’d either been playing all day, drinking all day or both either completely rapt or on their feet and dancing (well, at least stumbling) throughout their almost hourlong set. As John Sharples observed, one of the cool things about this band is that not only do the songs disregard any kind of conventional verse/chorus structure, the melody weaves back and forth between the bass and the guitar just as unexpectedly. The guitarist’s chirpy, defiant vocal riffs punched and swung overhead as the drummer mauled her kit, whether hammering out a precise hardcore beat, a mammoth metal stomp or more energetic, intricate patterns. They roared and skittered through a couple of eerie ones fueled by chromatic riffs, a couple that reminded of the Slits, a couple of others that evoked the early B-52s but with balls. That a band this smart, fun and goodlooking (no intention to be sexist here, but they dress to kill when they hit the stage) isn’t famous says more about the state of the music business in 2010 than pretty much anything else could.

There was a jam afterward. Most of the people had cleared out by then; memory seems to indicate that they did Twist and Shout at some point and considering how the day’s overindulgence had by now become wretched excess, they probably shouldn’t have. Special shout-out to spoken-word artist Eric Mattina, whose wise, lucid, understated poem earlier in the evening spoke more eloquently about the perils of gentrification than any prose ever could: as Mattina asked, have you ever been happy in a bank?

There are multi-band extravaganzas this good in New York City – if the Gypsy Tabor Festival comes back to Brooklyn again, there’s a place where you can also see nine or ten first-class acts one after another. The annual all-day Main Squeeze Accordion Festival is the same way. The Brooklyn What often find a way to get three or four other similarly minded, kick-ass rock bands on the same stage on the same night. And then there’s always Make Music NY on June 21. But Beefstock 2010 was about as good as it gets.

April 16, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

CD Review: Paula Carino – Open on Sunday

Spreading the word about good music is equal parts joy and responsibility. The joy is in the discovery, in this case that Paula Carino’s new cd Open on Sunday looks like a lock for best album of the year. The responsibility is in explaining why. Musically, this one expands on the catchy, Pretenders-inflected janglerock sound of her previous album Aquacade (look for that one on our 666 best albums of all time list coming in August), although it takes the volume and intensity up a notch courtesy of Ross Bonadonna’s fiery lead guitar work. Lyrically, it also takes the intensity up a notch – it’s a wry, bittersweet, brooding, Richard Thompson-esque masterpiece, Carino’s velvet voice occasionally leaping for a crescendo when she really wants to slam-dunk a felicitous phrase. Which is something new for her, a songwriter whose deadpan, stilletto wit would typically reside in the margins. On Aquacade, you had to listen closely for the best parts. Here, she’s more allusive than elusive, delivering them to you like the daughter in Mommy Dearest – the silver platter looks appetizing but you never know what’s underneath the lid.

The centerpiece of the album is Lucky in Love, a majestically crashing, angst-ridden 6/8 post-breakup ballad. Carino knows how to treat herself right, with “ice cream and beer at night,” yet the images of a woman trying to hold it together with steely resolve paint a completely different picture and it is impossible to turn away from. The gently swaying, rueful With the Bathwater adds illuminating detail: “It’s been raining since that day I threw your Nick Drake tapes away.” The Road to Hell perfectly captures the exasperation beforehand:

I said I’d live to aid and serve my crummy neighbors
And when I went unpaid for all my useless labors
I slacked on my promises
I know who Doubting Thomas is

And Saying Grace Before the Movie has Carino offering calm, wrenching understatement over a blithe rockabilly-inflected tune:

It never satisfies
The bad guy never dies
Just lives on in the sequel
And somehow I’m still surprised
His lines are stupid
And they always make me cry

Some novel variation of “Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye”

But not everything here is this bleak. The album’s defiant opening track gives a joyous shout-out to Maxwell’s, the legendary Hoboken club where Carino found teenage solace in punk rock. The time-warping Robots Helping Robots imagines a machine-made utopia – well, sort of: “Brain luminous, and numinous, and all this time they’ve been grooming us,” Carino winks, a theme echoed in the far more sinister The Others:

They’ll take you out on your own town
For a little lobster and some karaoke
Everybody’s covering James Brown
Did he just die or is it some viral-memey-hokey-pokey?

The upbeat, ridiculously catchy Great Depression spins the political as personal, fervently encouraging a sourpuss to lighten up. Bonadonna’s sarcastic carnival guitar lights up the cleverly labyrinthine Rough Guide, a trip to the outermost regions of a psyche that simply refuses to connect. And the darkly careening, bluesy, sarcastic Sir, You Have No Bucket might be the single most memorable tune on the cd. Put this in a mix with your favorite lyricists: Elvis Costello, Richard Thompson, Phil Ochs, Rachelle Garniez…now it’s Paula Carino’s turn. Paula Carino plays the Beefstock Festival on April 10.

April 8, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Erica Smith and the 99 Cent Dreams, the John Sharples Band and Tom Warnick & World’s Fair at the Parkside, NYC 3/5/10

Isn’t Erica Smith an amazing song stylist?

Doesn’t John Sharples have great taste in music?

Doesn’t Tom Warnick always put on a hell of a show – and aren’t those songs of his about as catchy as you’ve ever heard?

The triplebill at the Parkside last night delivered on its promise. Smith played a jazz set the last time out. This time, the band pummeled through her rock stuff – a brisk version of an American Beauty-style ballad, a marauding Neil Young/Crazy Horse-ish rock anthem and the bossa pop song that opened the show. The quieter stuff gave her the chance to channel as much angst as she chose, or maybe didn’t choose – a creepy Nashville noir song, a gorgeously new janglerock number that painted a riverside tableau, and a somewhat pained, wistful version of the backbeat anthem 31st Avenue, the tribute to Queens that pretty much jumpstarted her career as as songwriter on her second album Friend or Foe. But it was the upbeat numbers: a bustling Ella Fitzerald-inflected version of the jazz standard Everything I’ve Got, and a joyous cover of Rodgers and Hart’s I Could Write a Book that reached for the rafters and hung on for dear life.

Sharples’ shtick is that he covers great songs by obscure songwriters: this being New York, and Sharples being pretty well connected, a lot of those people are his friends. He and his band (Smith, his wife, adding soaring soul harmonies) made the connection between Paula Carino’s Robots Helping Robots and Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak, and, armed with his 12-string, jangled and clanged their way through a gorgeous, unreleased early Matt Keating anthem and a moody Al Stewart-style Britrock ballad that gave both bassist Andy Mattina and lead guitarist Ross Bonnadonna a chance to slash their initials into it on a long solo out.

Warnick’s songs stick in your mind: as a tunesmith, there’s nobody catchier. With Bonnadonna doing double duty and taking his game up even higher, Sharples as well adding sharp rhythm guitar, they burned through a tongue-in-cheek blues about getting busted for pot by the highway patrol, then a couple of rousing Stax/Volt style numbers, a sweet 6/8 soul ballad, a ska tune and the Kafkaesque, haunting noir of The Impostor. Warnick didn’t take a hammer to his keyboard this time around even though it cut out on him a couple of times, and he limited the jokes to passing his email list around the stage so his bandmates could sign up. The crowd roared for two encores and were treated to the Doorsy yet optimistic Keep Moving and a new one that Warnick said they were going to do as new wave. Jury’s out on the new bass player, who for once looked visibly sober – somebody who can make his way through the jazz changes in the set he played with Smith ought to be able to lay down a simple sixties soul groove with some kind of grace.

March 6, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Beefstock Recipes

Every few years, somebody tries to put out an anthology that captures a time and place in New York rock history. Too bad it never seems to work. The two Live at CBGB albums (which now sell for hundreds of dollars apiece) were perfect examples, forgettable songs by forgotten bands whose only claim to fame was playing a club that pretty much everybody else was playing too. While a definitive anthology of the best current New York bands would require a hefty, unwieldy box set, we finally have a collection, the improbably titled Beefstock Recipes, which succeeds brilliantly at capturing some of the most original and exciting New York bands of the here-and-now. All the artists represented on the cd have played the annual upstate Beefstock music festival at one time or another, many on multiple occasions. Originally conceived as a one-off memorial concert for bassist Darren Bohan, who was murdered when the Twin Towers were detonated on 9/11, the first show (put together by Brooklyn jam band Plastic Beef, hence the name), was so successful that they did another one the next year, and the next, and…voila. Beefstock Nine is scheduled for sometime in early spring 2010.

 

In the Beefstock tradition, the album is divided into two cds, titled Afternoon and Evening – typically, the quieter, acoustic acts and singer-songwriters play the festival during daylight hours, followed by the rock bands at night. It opens on an auspicious note with Brooklyn Is (So Big), Americana songwriter Rebecca Turner’s lilting tribute to the borough that spawned most of the bands here: “Brooklyn is so big, because it has to hold a lot of beautiful songs.” There’s a rare version of the Erica Smith classic The World Is Full of Pretty Girls with the chanteuse backed by Plastic Beef, doing it as straight-up country by comparison to the lush American Beauty-style take on her Snowblind album. Spindale contribute a catchy, fun dreampop number, followed by a rare, bizarre eco-anthem set to the tune of an old Lutheran hymn by 60s cult artist Brute Force.

 

Kirsten Williams, a rare American songwriter who’s equally capable of writing and singing in French, contributes the vividly wary, characteristically terse Arsenal. The most current of the cuts here, Paranoid Larry’s Stimulate THIS is an amusingly spot-on interpretation of Obama’s stimulus package: “They’re sitting in their castles while we’re rotting in debtors’ prison.” There’s also You-Shaped Hole in the Universe, Livia Hoffman’s haunting tribute to Bohan, her bandmate and close friend, and the aptly environmentalist Sunset by solar-powered band Solar Punch, winding up the first cd with some richly melodic work by bassist Andy Mattina.

 

But it’s disc two where things really heat up. The John Sharples Band’s ecstatic anthem Brooklyn sets it up for the Gun Club/Cramps-style noir garage intensity of Tom Warnick & World’s Fair’s Skull and Crossbones. Black Death’s Abandoned Cemetery is a rousing death-metal spoof; Liza & the WonderWheels’ Where’s My Robot Maid continues in a similar tongue-in-cheek vein, frontwoman Liza Garelik wondering in lush, rich tones about when her household deus ex machina is going to arrive. Skelter’s Dawn Marie is one of the most deliciously vengeful kiss-off anthems ever written, a mighty smack upside the memory of a treacherous girl who sprinkles her Apple Jacks with cocaine (?!?!?) and screws around. Road to Hell is a characteristically metaphorical, amusing number from jangerock siren Paula Carino, followed by Cell Phone or Schizo, a song that needed to be written and it’s a good thing that it’s new wave revivalists the Larch who’re responsible. The best cut on the entire album is the sadly defunct Secrets‘ obscure classic How to Be Good, a gorgeous, darkly downcast, jangly anthem set in a shadowy milieu that could only be New York. There’s also a smoldering powerpop gem by the Actual Facts and Love Camp 7’s Start from Nothing (a song covered better by its writer, playing on Erica Smith’s Snowblind). 

 

Both cds tail off about three-quarters of the way through, but Evening ends on an inspiring note with the “Tom Tom Warnick Club” i.e. a Tom Warnick & World’s Fair tribute band with vocal cameos from Paula Carino and others here doing a rousing take on one of his more straightforward songs, the soul-fueled My Troubles All Fall Apart. The official cd release show is June 13 at Freddy’s featuring Plastic Beef along with Warnick, Sharples, Liza Garelik and Ian Roure of the WonderWheels and the Larch and Baby Daddy. In the meantime, information on how to obtain one of these beautiful rarities can be found here.

April 22, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Beefstock 2009

In many respects, the two-day festival was a snapshot of the future of live music, not just in terms of cutting-edge talent but also the way it was presented. Beefstock began simply as a tribute concert to Darren Bohan, bass player in Livia Hoffman’s band, killed on 9/11 when the Twin Towers were detonated. Held upstate at the Full Moon Resort in Big Indian, NY because of the site’s proximity to Bohan’s hometown, the initial concert was so successful that the festival’s founder, veteran Brooklyn drummer Joe Filosa decided to do another one the following year. Playfully called Beefstock by the first couple of years’ crowd (it’s in the Catskills, near Woodstock, and always features a closing jam by Filosa’s band Plastic Beef), the name quickly became official. This year’s show was Beefstock 8. A straw poll of the crowd returned a unanimous verdict: without question, this was the best ever.

 

Beefstock is best appreciated as a festival, a vacation in the same vein as Coachella or Reggae on the River: for roughly $140 per person, you get two nights of comfortable lodging, parking, four big meals and concert admission (drinks in the bar in the lodge with the stage are extra). The most striking difference is the vibe. Since Beefstock is so comparatively small-scale, all the big-festival hassles – the traffic, the endless list of Nazi rules and regulations, the exorbitant drink prices, the ubiquitous rent-a-pigs, the crowds, the lines at the porta-potties – are all conspicuously absent. As the depression tightens its grip, Beefstock could be the template for a new kind of event, as TicketBastard and Live Nation go belly-up by pricing themselves beyond the reach of ordinary citizens.

 

Because of the sheer quantity of bands on the bill (no stupid “second stages” and Hobson’s choices of who to see), bands were typically limited to no more than forty minutes onstage, sometimes considerably less. But the quality was extraordinary. Friday night kicked off with a jam and then a reputedly excellent set by new wave revivalists the Larch (caveat: leave your bottle opener at home, go hunting for one at the hotel and you miss a whole set). The Actual Facts ran through a fiery set of brand-new, unreleased reverb-drenched, Wire-inflected Britrock, long pounding hypnotic drones paired off with post-Velvets stomp and even one funky number, Gang of Four without the affectations.

 

Black Death roared through a tuneful set of riff-driven, amusing punk rock, followed by the night’s first real surprise, Girl to Gorilla. With their two guitars, viola and rhythm section, they added a roaring, anthemic Irish edge to their janglerock, the viola in particular a plus, bringing an unexpectedly eerie edge to the upbeat catchiness of the songs. A darkly backbeat-driven number titled Next Weekend was an early highlight.

 

By the time Friday’s headline act, Livia Hoffman, took the stage, it was past one in the morning. Playing solo on the Actual Facts’ Tim Simmonds’ Telecaster, running through a dense, chilly wall of reverb, she turned the chatty crowd silent in a split second with a relentlessly intense, haunting performance. Live shows by Hoffman have become increasingly rare in recent years, but this one revealed the songwriter at the top of her game, showing off some ferociously good new material including the pun-laden, sardonically bitter All My Imaginary Children. Part of the song is a long and very funny litany of these twisted kids’ personalities, set to an anthemic tune lifted from an Angelic Upstarts song (Hoffman’s songs are not often loud but she knows her punk). The big abandonment anthem Infinite Jest (absent any other David Foster Wallace reference) didn’t let up, all the way through the fiery outro where Hoffman alternated the main vocals with the backing line: “Back in five minutes/Don’t you lie!” And then her voice went out on her, but the effect made the Bohan tribute You-Shaped Hole in the Universe especially heartwrenching. She also did another sad requiem – this time for a cat – and wound up the set with the fiery, accusatory Sorry (as in “sorry’s what you are”).

 

Saturday started early in the afternoon with a series of films curated by documentarian James Dean Conklin, followed eventually by a catchy set of Americana-inflected rock by frequent Brute Force collaborator Peter Pierce. The haunting ballad Party’s Over quickly became the high point of the early part of the show. Americana chanteuse Rebecca Turner was next, turning in a characteristically melodic, lilting set shared with brilliant guitarist Josh Roy Brown, who contributed a couple of stark, stinging tunes from his own cd, notably the oldschool LES anthem Back in the Old Days (later covered by John Pinamonti).

 

Another Americana chanteuse, Erica Smith started out backed only by the bassist from her band the 99 Cent Dreams, working the low-key format for all it was worth, drawing in the crowd with the crystalline, bittersweet clarity of her voice and her haunting lyrics while the bassist grappled with the sound system and lost, badly. Then Smith’s main man John Sharples joined them onstage as did the Larch’s Ian Roure, providing sizzling slide guitar on a spiritedly psychedelic cover of the old sea chantey Johnny Come Down to Hilo.

 

Sharples and his band were next. His shtick is covering songs by all his friends, and he obviously has good taste: included  in the set were a fiery new wave rocker by the late, lamented Blow This Nightclub; Erica Smith’s Secrets, rearranged as straight-up country; a fiery, unreleased Matt Keating anthem; a punk stomp by Box of Crayons and finally the Beatles I’ve Got a Feeling (it’s unknown whether Sharples was ever friends with Lennon, but it’s not inconceivable), Smith taking the mic and belting it out of the park as usual.

 

Best band name of the night was Paula Carino and Walking Wikipedia – they’ve been through a few, but that’s a keeper – who scorched through an incandescently jangly set of her lyrically rich, playfully counterintutive two-guitar hits, among them the bouncy Road to Hell, the strikingly wistful Summer’s Over and a ferocious version of a song by her previous band Regular Einstein titled For the Modern Day. Carino was the hands-down star of last year’s Beefstock, and with her casual, clear vocals, swaying stage presence and endless barrage of hooks staked a claim to this year’s as well.

 

Tom Warnick and World’s Fair took the energy level even higher. He may look a lot like Josh Beckett but his songwriter is a lot closer to Samuel, in particularly incisively entertaining mode. The sky is always falling, but the surreal, carnivalesque cast of characters in Warnick’s songs battle it out against all odds and usually win. At least they did in the fiery, Doors-y Keep Moving – “I go to restaurants past the dead and the dying,” he intoned in his casually ominous baritone, guitarist Ross Bonnadonna (who’d just played with Carino) burning Robbie Krieger-style against Warnick’s eerie organ. Referencing both ice cream headache and the former New Hampshire rock formation the Old Man in the Mountain, stomping minimistically and suspensefully through the tongue-in-cheek Gravity Always Wins and then the gleefully off-kilter City of Women, he was a force of nature. Not bad for a guy whose brush with death a couple of years ago – along with his subsequent and continuing recovery – are something of a legend in New York rock circles.

 

By the time Warnick and crew were done, half the crowd were wearing glowsticks passed out by one of the organizers. The revelation of the evening was Gillen and Turk. To say that their whole is greater than the sum of the parts is in their case an actual compliment, Fred Gillen Jr.’s fiery lyricism and oldschool Americana folk songwriting a perfect complement to Matt Turk’s soulfully virtuosic acoustic guitar and mandolin work. The best song of the whole festival was a new number possibly titled Dear Mr. President, an absolutely spot-on critique. “Dear Mr. Governor, did you really call on her to comfort you in your hour of need?” Gillen asked the crowd, to considerable laughter. The song’s last verse celebrated that “it’s really great, the votes were really counted in 2008!” The duo also held the increasingly celebratory crowd hushed through the dark 9/11 blowback ballad We All Fall Down, then an oldtimey number where Turk mimed a muted trumpet and got the audience going with an increasingly complicated call-and-response, and a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah that had some of the audience in tears.

 

Liza & the WonderWheels brought the party vibe back in a hurry, although frontwoman Liza Garelik wanted to keep things from completely boiling over: “Settle down, Joe,” she admonished Filosa, her imperturbable drummer, before a catchy, somewhat hypnotic new song with a slyly boisterous B-52s feel. Then she opened a musical greeting card and held it up to the mic. They cut their set a bit short with the snarling faux football cheer song Petroleum – “Let’s go, oil barons, let’s go!” – and then a gorgeously catchy, jangly song driven by a vintage 1960s Britrock riff, possibly titled What You Want.

 

The rest of the evening kept the party going. Skelter – another real eye-opener – roaring through a ferocious set of post-Oasis anthems as well as fast, sizzling covers of the Pistols’ Pretty Vacant and the Pink Floyd classic Lucifer Sam. The recently revamped Plastic Beef proved as adept at terse, three-minute pop songs as they’ve always been with their typical jams, although they did their signature song The Pyramid Club featuring bassist Andy Mattina in particularly melodic, virtuosic Phil Lesh mode.

 

Circus Guy offered spot-on, perfectly ornate covers of Blue Oyster Cult classics including a note-for-note version of Astronomy, departing bassist Greg Ross doing a killer job with those beautifully melodic Joe Bouchard lines. Progressive Dementia delivered a set of prog-rock parodies, alternately subtly satirical or completely over-the-top, followed by Baby Daddy, tight beyond belief and virtuosic with a terse mix of funk, bluesy grooves and their signature song, the predictably amusing (and very well-timed) 700 Beers. And then the festival’s closing jam, where the musicians demonstrated considerably more staying power than the crowd.

 

Watch this space for a review of the Beefstock Recipes compilation cd, a mix of past and present Beefstock performers. In the meantime, some observations and performer photos. Update – more photos/commentary…   

April 6, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Concert Review: Paula Carino at Parkside Lounge, NYC 2/21/09

The tables filled up slowly. Would this be a casualty of the depression? Emphatically not. Casually strumming her big black Gibson, NYC underground rock siren Paula Carino and her band – this time around called the Virtually Spotless, a considerably cleaned-up alternative to their previous monicker Scurvy Merchants – jangled and roared through a characteristic, seemingly effortless, gorgeously melodic twelve-song set. It was like seeing Aimee Mann or Elvis Costello for free. Twenty years ago big labels fought over artists like Carino; these days you’re lucky if a major label passes you by. Funny how times change.

 

Drummer Tom Pope propelled the opening number, a newish powerpop song, with an offhand, almost snidely rolling groove. Bassist Andy Mattina, just back from India, functioned essentially as a second lead guitarist. Lead player Ross Bonnadonna was definitely in “on” mode, providing lush yet terse jangle underneath the ominously metaphorical Tip of the Iceberg as well as a fiery, equally terse solo on the brilliantly lyrical, rockabilly-inflected Saying Grace Before the Movie that wound up with a steely clang from Carino. Another highlight was a new song, sort of like what the Go Go’s might have done with a funk beat, bouncing along on a catchy descending progression from Bonnadonna. “Go back in time to when all hope was rational,” Carino sang both encouragingly and sardonically. The crowd wouldn’t let them leave without an encore, so they pulled out the popular Road to Hell – NOT from Carino’s classic cd Aquacade as it turns out – this is what happens to people who have large album collections and no organizational skills – but YOU can look for it on our Top 200 cds of the decade list at the end of this year.

 

Buffalo rockers Mark Norris and the Backpeddlers followed with a bracing if predictable set of mostly amped-up, Big Star-inflected powerpop. New Yorkers tend to snobbishly assume that bands from the heartland are all a bunch of smarmy Nickelback wannabes, so it was especially nice to see these guys slamming their way through one catchy number after another. Their best songs were ironically the ones that carried the least Alex Chilton influence: a long, hypnotic, Velvet Underground style two-chord anthem from the middle of the set, and their closer, a stomping MC5-inflected riff-rocker.

 

It would have been nice to be able to stick around for the eminently charismatic and reliably entertaining Tom Warnick & World’s Fair, but he’s gotten a lot of ink here (very deservedly so) and there were deadlines and commitments (well, no real deadlines, but definitely commitments).

February 22, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Bucketful of Beefstock

A teaspoon is more like it. Beefstock is an annual three-day music festival held at the Full Moon Resort in upstate Oliverea, New York, a relatively short drive from Woodstock. Dedicated to local musician Darren Bohan, a talented guitarist/bassist and fireman who was killed when the World Trade Center was detonated, the gathering, now in its eighth year, features mostly bands and songwriters from the Freddy’s Bar scene in Brooklyn, where Bohan was highly respected and served as the bass player in Livia Hoffman’s band. Other than a few shows at the now-defunct Blu Lounge in Williamsburg, her annual appearances here are the only ones Hoffman has played in recent years.

Hoffman is the best songwriter you’ve never heard of, flying so far below the radar she doesn’t even have a myspace. She plays what she calls “lit-rock,” catchy guitar-driven songs with frequently scathing, literate lyrics, spiced with references to literature from throughout the ages. Example: the opening song of her early Saturday evening set, a fiery, propulsive number called Infinite Jest. The title is the only David Foster Wallace-ism in the song: it doesn’t go on for a thousand verses. It’s the haunting tale of a road trip punctuated by a breakup, where the narrator finds herself wanting to get back into a café – by herself – but comes up against a locked door with a sign on it saying “back in five minutes,” as the outro raises the song’s emotional level to redline. Backed by filmmaker James Dean Conklin on lead guitar, Plastic Beef leader Joe Filosa on drums and Erica Smith’s bass player, Hoffman reminded how much she’s been missed on the scene, and how good her songs would sound if she and her crew had a chance to work them up: this was clearly a pickup band. They tentatively made their way through the elegaic U-Shaped Hole in the Universe, the title track from the ep Hoffman made as a tribute to Bohan, stabbed at the Badfinger hit Day After Day, and finally pulled it together on the brilliantly catchy, heartwarming major-key janglerocker Carry. They closed their brief, barely half-hour set with a rousing if loose version of Hoffman’s excoriating, bluesy Paper Bag, an anti-trendoid broadside if there ever was one, done as an attempt at an early Beatles-style R&B raveup.

After a break for dinner, the show continued with Erica Smith and most of her band, John Sharples sitting in impressively on drums, playing a bunch of songs from her new album Snowblind. The title track featured a woozy noise jam mid-song with lead guitarist Dann Baker (of Love Camp 7) trading off wails and roars with Sharples’ drum freakout. They also ran through a riveting version of The World Is Full of Pretty Girls, which could be the great missing track from American Beauty. Their take of the ridiculously catchy, all-too-brief 60s-ish hit Firefly, also from the new album, had bounce and swing; another brief number, the soul-inflected Who Are You was a study in contrast. They closed with the cover of One for My Baby that’s usually a centerpiece of their live shows, Smith’s heartwrenching vocals a big hit with the audience, a mix of fellow musicians and locals whom one suspects seldom get to hear material this good.

Paula Carino and her band were hands-down the stars of at least this part of the show, following with a blistering, upbeat, abbreviated set including the tongue-in-cheek Robots Helping Robots, a lickety-split version of the wrenchingly lyrical alienation anthem Grace Before Movie, and the spirited, Latin-inflected, sarcastic Rough Guide to You, a travelogue through a relationship where the road runs out, leaving the narrator wishing for a guidebook that obviously doesn’t exist. With its big stage and powerful sound system, the acoustics here are generally marvelous and they were tonight, Carino’s casual low soprano cutting through strong and clear. As a lyricist, she’s unsurpassed; one could also say that of the crystalline craftsmanship of her songs and the tightness of her band, Filosa doing what was probably sextuple duty this evening. Beefstock usually features a lot of jamming in the wee hours, with predictable focus and tightness issues, but Carino hit the ground running and burst through the finish line seemingly without breaking a sweat.

Kirsten Williams and then the John Sharples Band were next on the bill. Williams’ stock in trade is understatement and metaphor, and backed by bassist Andy Mattina (who was also doing multiple duty tonight, in Carino’s band and with others despite being under the weather) ran through a lilting, subtly smart set of catchy acoustic pop. Sharples’ trademark is playing well-chosen covers by obscure bands. Switching to guitar, he ran through a bunch including a countrified version of the Erica Smith janglerock hit Secrets, joined by Smith on backing vocals and guitar. Predictably, Smith stole the show with her spectacular, Aretha Franklin-esque vocals on a cover of the Beatles’ I’ve Got a Feeling. There’d been a whole slate of good bands including the Sloe Guns on Friday night and more coming up this evening, but the driving rain outside was turning to snow and the lights of New York, though invisible to the eye, were beckoning.

If you’re wondering where Beefstock gets its name, it’s because Plastic Beef usually provides the the rhythm section (and sometimes the whole backing band) for several of the artists who play here. Look for upcoming post-Beefstock shows at Freddy’s on March 22 as well as another coming up shortly at Hank’s.

March 10, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Four Headliners for the Price of a Beer at the Parkside 11/28/07

It was Freddy’s Bar night at the Parkside. Since Freddy’s is doomed – failing an intervention from some deus ex machina, the encroaching Atlantic Yards luxury condominium/arena monstrosity is scheduled to engulf and demolish the building that houses the venue– several of the bands from what’s left of the scene there have started playing other places. This is the latest. One of the ways you can tell if a scene is real is if bands share musicians, and this crew takes that concept to an extreme. Lead guitarist Ross Bonnadonna played with Paula Carino, Tom Warnick and John Sharples. Sharples himself drummed for Warnick and then fronted his own band at the end of the night. Bassist Andy Mattina also did double duty with Carino and Sharples.

Carino has made a name for herself by writing heartwrenchingly lyrical janglerock songs, but tonight was her fun set. She has a thing for weird time signatures and did four of them in a row: the caustic Rough Guide to You (“Just take me home,” the narrator sighs at the end, exasperated); the crunchy Discovering Fire; the hilariously punk Old People (“Old people must go/Set them all on an ice floe/Make room for the new old people”) and the quirk-rock hit Robots Helping Robots. She and band burned through the rockabilly-inflected yet mournful Saying Grace Before the Movie, a potently metaphorical tale of a woman alone in a theatre in a No Exit situation, knowing the villain always returns. They dusted off her classic, victorious Venus Records (“You’re my alltime favorite lucky find”) and encored with the scorching Coming To Your Senses, one of her most slashing numbers. The crowd was ecstatic: for once, the sound here was excellent, Carino’s vocals like velvet cake with creme de menthe icing. She would prove a very hard act to follow.

But Tom Warnick was up to the challenge. He’s simply one of the most dynamic, effortlessly hilarious frontmen in all of rock. Marcellus Hall is a good comparison: both like their retro styles, have a great sense of melody and an equally sharp sense of humor. Waving a hammer at the audience and pounding his keyboard with it – from the back of the room, it looked like the real thing, not a prop – he gave his completely off-the-wall, stream-of-consciousness songs just enough menace to give the crowd pause. Warnick does the evil-eye thing as well as Johnny Rotten in his prime: it’s never certain whether he’s just goofing around or whether he really means it, and he clearly gets a charge out of messing with his bandmates just as much as he messes with the audience. His best song was a very funny chronicle about playing a gig later on a Monday night at a club where the promoter expected him and the band to bring at least forty people. He closed the song with a brief quote from the Mission Impossible theme.

He and band also ran through the fast, noir City of Women, which dates back to his days as a guitarist, along with a gut-bustingly funny, twisted travelogue through the south and back: “You always hit the bullseye when I go in the donkey tank,” he mused. Since it was Randy Newman’s birthday – “If it wasn’t for Randy Newman I wouldn’t have written a lot of these songs – it’s true,” Warnick told the crowd – they did one of his songs, a 6/8 number where the narrator gets “some whiskey from a barman, some cocaine from a friend” and sinks into something approaching wry despondency.

After Carino and Warnick, the Erica Smith Jazz Odyssey (as Carino playfully called them) should have been anticlimactic to the extreme. But Smith, radiant in a shimmery black dress, grabbed the crowd and they latched on for the ride. She and the band may play mostly rock, but jazz and soul is where her heart and especially her voice are at, and the band gamely played along while she delivered a goosebump-inducing Cry Me a River along with sultry versions of The Very Thought of You, Ain’t Misbehaving and One for My Baby. They also ran through several of her originals, ranging from the bossa nova soul of the soon-to-be-released Tonight, the backbeat-driven 31st Avenue and a practically heavy metal cover of the obscure Judy Henske classic Snowblind (the title of the band’s forthcoming album).

The evening closed with John Sharples, who as he told the audience is “the anti-songwriter” since he doesn’t write his own stuff, opting to cover his friends’ songs. Good taste is his trademark, as he and the band (with Smith playing rhythm guitar and singing harmonies) launched into the excellent, tongue-in-cheek Blow This Nightclub hit When Amy Says, along with a surprisingly good, bluesy, minor-key Dan Killian song and eventually something that sounded like Minor Threat at halfspeed which Smith sat out (just as well, considering how much louder Sharples was than any of the other bands: he’s pretty punk rock). They closed with Smith bringing down the house as usual with a blazing, passionate cover of the old Beatles tune I’ve Got a Feeling. What a treat for everyone who filled the back room here on a weeknight: four headline-quality acts for the price of a beer, arguably the best lineup in any club this year all year.

November 30, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, philosophy, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments