Lucid Culture


Concert Review: Palmyra Delran at Arlene’s, NYC 3/26/09

This is the kind of band you see in a bar and suddenly an hour has elapsed and you’re still there watching them. More specifically, this is what happens when you give very simple songs to very intelligent people. What Palmyra Delran plays in this band and with the newly reformed (and reportedly reinvigorated) Friggs is your basic nuts-and-bolts, riff-driven garage rock. Barre chords on the guitar, rhythm four on the floor, verse/chorus/verse/chorus/solo/verse, maybe an intro or an outro if you’re lucky. Amazing how they made it sound so fresh. One of the not-so-secret secrets of this band is how much everybody listens to each other, Delran passing the baton along to her lead guitarist, then to the bassist and back again while everybody added a part that meshed like a Turbo Hydramatic (that’s vintage rockspeak for automatic transmission). For music with orchestration this good, you usually have to go to a place like Carnegie Hall.


They opened with a hotrod instrumental driven by Delran’s Fender Jazzmaster. There’s bite, growl and sinew in her playing, dirty enough to keep you guessing but always there to grab the song if it needs grabbing. The night’s first vocal number was a noir 60s flavored rocker possibly titled Drag You Down: “Learn to crave what will hurt you, you wanna know what’s on the other side…she digs the ride,” Delran sang with not a little sarcasm. The fast backbeat number Shy Boy swung along over a gorgeous four-chord hook, Delran pogoing and driving the band along: “Nobody can get close to you, even if you want them to.”


The lead player – on a beautiful black Gibson SG – rattled off a ferociously good, chord-fueled solo on a simple but potently anthemic number that sounded like something Stiv Bators probably would have wished he’d written. Then the whole band went up in flames together on the solo on another ridiculously catchy garage-pop song. Then it was the bass player’s turn to feed the inferno as Delran sardonically reminisced how “one more heart goes down the drain.” They wrapped up the set with a blazing version of the surf-inflected Love Has Gone Away from Delran’s new cd, drummer Nancy Polstein aggressive but counterintuitive with those Mel Taylor beats like she’d been doing all night. It was SG guy’s birthday, so the crowd converged in two directions, on him and Delran, the minute the show was over. What a fun way to keep the night going. Watch this space for future shows by Delran and her band; on an auspicious note, she plays with the Friggs on what promises to be one of the great doublebills of the year, May 8 at Santos Party House at 7 PM, opening for the recently regrouped Chrome Cranks.


A stop into the Delancey earlier in the evening provided not only shelter from the nasty drizzle but also a sneak preview of some new Botanica songs. As usual, Paul Wallfisch, host of the weekly Small Beast series here, opened the night solo on piano. He stripped down the big audience hit Someone Else Again to a skeletal yet elegant swing, ran through a couple of brand-new songs – one darkly anthemic and Nick Cave-ish, another, possibly titled New Girlfriend, with a noir cabaret tinge – as well as a PJ Harvey cover, a French waltz and a couple of trips into the vault – or crypt, if you will – for some older material. Because this guy’s there every week, the temptation is to take him for granted. Don’t. While it lasts, carpe noctem.   

April 2, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Special Patrol Group at Arlene Grocery, NYC 2/27/09

The karaoke girl who was on before Special Patrol Group left a long table full of computer gear onstage, sauntering off to the bar to gab with her sorority sisters while the band waited patiently for her to get it out of the way.  Since the band employs a lot of background vocals, meaning mics for pretty much everybody, this only made it harder for the sound guy (resulting in blasts of feedback throughout the show – he looked like he was working hard, but what is it about this place? And they had Crystal Meth Girl on door duty again). To their credit, the band rose above the dodgy sonics and delivered a tight, intriguing set. There aren’t many groups in New York this good.


With guitar, keys, rhythm section and plenty of harmonies, they mixed material from their cd The Very Provocative Special Patrol Group along with some newer songs. Their lyrics are clever, allusive and often snide. With a cinematic feel, they draw the listener in to search for the culprits hiding amongst the verbal shrubbery. Their song structures are counterintuitive, surprising, bounding all over the place with tricky time changes, turning on a dime when least expected. A newcomer to their music would probably assume they’re British: their sound mostly closely resembles Blur at their mid-90s Parklife peak, or maybe the Larch, with echoes of classic Squeeze and Costello back there in the rearview mirror. The musicians all seemed in high spirits, the bassist taking a smoothly aggressive solo during the inscrutable sex song Battery in Your Pocket, the keyboardist playfully adding strange and amusing vintage 70s synth colors much as Pulp’s Candida Doyle would do.


While songwriter/guitarist Matt DeMella took the majority of the vocal leads and didn’t embarrass himself, the star of the show was singer Katie Schmidt, projecting an effortless, somewhat dismissive charisma whether she was going down into the lower registers, all dark and smoky, or leaping to the rafters with the same kind of effortlessness as Sonya Madan of Echobelly. Working her vocals into more of the songs – especially the understatedly caustic Late September, a slacker parable – was a smart move, and the crowd responded warmly. She also dazzled on a more recent song, the pounding, garage-inflected Only an Oasis, a sardonic reflection on a Connecticut childhood, before passing the baton to DeMello. They closed on a high note with another new one, August, a stomping pop song for Schmidt to go sailing over, its fragmentary lyrics clearly some kind of accusation: “August and still unaware…always there around your eyes…packed into lies.” Nice to see a good crowd come out for a good band on a depression-era Friday night. Watch this space for upcoming shows. 

March 2, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , | Leave a comment