Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

New Model Army Rock the Bell House

Imagine if the Clash never broke up and that Joe Strummer was still alive. That’s a fair if not completely accurate approximation of what New Model Army sounded like at the Bell House last night. They’re playing two sets again tonight starting at 9. Thirty years after the British rockers began, they roared through two hours of fiery, politically charged anthems, a mix of hits from the 80s and 90s alongside newer material which is just as relevant and memorable as their best-known songs. Frontman Justin Sullivan started the show playing acoustic, joined by lead guitarist Dean White, who often switched to organ on some of the early numbers and then stayed on keys for the second set. Twenty minutes into the first set, the rest of the band was up onstage, and they were on their game. Even the quieter, more folk-oriented numbers took on an anthemic grandeur, aloft on the roar of the guitars and the swooping organ. With its Atrocity Exhibition drum rumble, Drummy B became more of a funeral march than an elegy for a friendship gone sour. The 1987 Orwellian nightmare scenario Courage, and Fate, from the 1993 Love of Hopeless Causes album, were especially amped, as was a ferocious version of Today Is a Good Day, a sardonic response to the 2008 global market crash: “And the birds of prey love September, flying like the harbingers of the winter,” Sullivan snarled.

The second set concentrated on the hits. NMA’s game plan for their 30th anniversary tour has been to do two stands in each city, two sets a night, neither repeating any of the previous night’s material – which they can do since their back catalog is so vast – and so strong. They dedicated a roaring, punked-out version of 51st State (as in “51st state of America”) to Brooklyn, stomped through the hypnotic, swirling biotech-apocalypse scenario White Coats, a characteristically sarcastic take of the 1981 hit A Liberal Education and ferocious versions of Vengeance and White Light, with its nimble bass riffage. The biggest crowd-pleaser was a surprise, the wistful, folk-tinged Green and Grey: referring to the cities to the south that lure kids from their northern England homes, Sullivan changed the lyric to “the land of unemployment that beckons to us all.” As the second verse began, he turned the mic over to the audience, who by now were well-oiled, knew all the words and were only too glad to join in. Whether critiquing the wave of destruction unleashed by Margaret Thatcher and her cronies, the evils of globalization or just fondly remembering the woods and fields of his youth as he did with that song, Sullivan and the rest of the band had the packed house energized, and if only for a couple of hours, fused as one against the forces of evil. Even a somewhat comical little fender-bender outside the club – “Didn’t know there’d be three sets tonight,” said one bemused onlooker – couldn’t distract from the intensity onstage.

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September 4, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Oxygen Ponies at the Bell House, Brooklyn NY 4/21/10

The Truck America Festival crosses the channel for the first time, taking place at the Full Moon Resort in the Catskills this coming April 30-May 1. The Oxygen Ponies will be featured among over two dozen acts including Gary Louris of the Jayhawks, Randi Russo, Tim Easton, the Sadies and Dusty and the Dreaming Spires, on three stages over a two-night, three-day span – tickets are $120 including camping, available in New York at Beacon’s Closet locations. If Wednesday’s show at the Bell House is any indication, it should be a lot of fun (the Full Moon recently played host to Beefstock, covered in detail here, and the main stage there rivals the Bell House for quality sound). As he will upstate, frontman Paul Megna brought the whole band along for this show – Don Piper doing a first-class Marty Willson-Piper impression on lead guitar along with a nimble keyboardist, drums and a girl singing high harmonies. Megna’s growling, semi-assaultive vocals matched his guitar playing, swiping at the strings disdainfully without a thought to how much damage he could do to the instrument – or himself – if he hit any harder. The Oxygen Ponies’ most recent album Harmony Handgrenade ranked high on our best albums of 09 list – this set mixed in several choice cuts along with some new material that reminds even more of the band they most closely resemble, Australian art-rockers The Church.

Megna started the show solo, savaging the past via slow, methodical post-Velvets sway: “Looking back to yesterday is worse than giving up,” Ray Sapirstein’s trumpet a eulogy in the distance. The band came up and launched into a pulsing, crescendoing anthem replete with Megna’s trademark cynicism: “Twice is once too much,” he snarled. A brisk version of the even more cynical Fevered Cyclones mocked conspicuous consumptives from the suburbs, followed by a corrosive anti-trendoid anthem. Megna threw down the gauntlet: “Let’s take off those gloves.” They took it out on a soaring, ornately atmospheric note with their most Church-like number of the night, Piper’s washes of guitar against Megna’s voice adding a hypnotic magnetism, a call to kill as much as a challenge to individualists everywhere to stand up for themselves.

April 24, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lucid Culture Interview: Wammo of the Asylum Street Spankers

The Asylum Street Spankers – the world’s funniest, most irreverent (and many would say, best) oldtime Americana hellraisers are playing the Bell House at 8 PM on January 9 – tickets are going fast, get ‘em while they last. Wammo, the Spankers’ singer, washboard player and one of the group’s several resident wits took some time out of his busy holiday season to answer a few questions about the show and the band’s new album:

Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: Your new cd God’s Favorite Band is just out. How much if any rightwing backlash has there been? Did Oral Roberts issue a fatwa against you before he croaked?

Wammo: Did Oral Roberts finally die? Remember back in ’87 when he announced that God would kill him if he didn’t raise a million dollars? That guy was a genius.

LCC: OK, is there a tally of pissed-off atheists? Or do they realize that like all the other styles of roots music that the Spankers play, it’s just classic Americana, really not so much of a divergence from your other stuff?

Wammo: I think you answered that one yourself, so I’ll ask my own question to all of the atheists out there. If you were standing on an icy sidewalk and down by your feet was a steaming cup of hot chocolate and as you were reaching down to grab the delicious beverage, your pants split, making you jerk, rip your shirt open and slip on the ice, only to plummet and land chest first into the boiling confection, horribly scalding your areola but enticing a little puppy to scamper up and begin licking the hot chocolate off of your heaving nipple, how could God not be the force that didn’t make this scenario not happen?

LCC: Is it rude of me to ask about your own spiritual beliefs, upbringing and/or lack thereof?

Wammo: No, I don’t think it’s rude at all.

LCC: One of your originals on the album asserts that God drives a Volkswagen Thing. I was pleasantly surprised to see that you’d do a song about a VW Thing, let alone that you’d make it divine – and that you’d make the connection to the Nazi WWII vehicle which it pretty much was a carbon copy of, with a little bigger engine. Why a VW Thing, instead of, say, a Beetle, which floats and therefore could be construed as walking on water?

Wammo: Back in the ’70s, Volkswagen created these ridiculous commercials that depicted VW Things painted all kinds of crazy ways: flags, starscapes, rainbows, etc.. Even as a little kid, I knew that they must have found a cheap way to get the old Nazi jeep back into production. I’d be watching The Dirty Dozen and suddenly a commercial would come on with hippies riding around in the same ugly-ass jeep that Lee Marvin blew up only seconds before. I figured God would want a little anonymity when visiting earth, so God would pick the ugliest car for cruising around. Hence, God drives a Volkswagen Thing. The joke, explained.

LCC: What’s the inspiration for the other original of yours, Right and Wrong? Is that a Bush War era song or does it go back further than that?

Wammo: I think the concept of right and wrong goes back further than the Bush administration but it’s so hard to remember…  I wanted to write a song that showed the absurdity of the “my God is right” mentality. I intended for it to go in that direction but it ended up becoming confessional. It’s like being in such a hurry to get your shoes on, you don’t realize that you’ve tied your laces together.

LCC: What’s the genesis of this album? Was this a deliberate attempt to make another thematic live album a la What? And Give Up Show Business?, or did you just have the tracks kicking around and figured, holy smokes, we can get another live album out of this?

Wammo: The whole thing was planned out — booking, rehearsing and playing the gospel shows, hiring someone to record the shows, buying new gear, having Christina [Marrs, the Spankers’ frontwoman and multi-instrumentalist] learn how to use the gear and then mix the record. She did a great job, don’t you think?

LCC: Um, if it’s ok with you it’s ok with me. Seriously, though, I like the album a lot. So what can we expect from you at the Bell House on January 9? Are you doing a straight-up gospel show or are you going to air out a few fan favorites? At least the Medley of Burnt Out Songs?

Wammo: This is the Salvation and Sin tour, the first half is stuff from the new gospel record and the second half is all of the dirty, nasty, secular stuff. We give you redemption and follow it with madness. If you think about it, that’s the way it usually works in real life. Show starts at 8 PM.

LCC: After this album and this tour, what’s next for the Spankers? Or has the big G not told you yet?

Wammo: We’ll be heading to Europe and Japan this year but believe it or not, we’re cutting back on touring. There’s a new album already in preproduction, so we’ll be recording sometime this year. I’ll be doing some solo gigs and Fringe Festival stuff. I did a one-man show at PS 122 in Manhattan and I’ll be touring that soon. Last time I called the big G, I couldn’t get past the automated menu, “If you’re in hell, press one. If you’re on Earth, press two. If you’re having an existential crisis, press null…”

December 28, 2009 Posted by | interview, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Rupa & the April Fishes at the Bell House, Brooklyn NY 11/13/09

Bay area band Rupa & the April Fishes had just played a couple of other New York City gigs in the previous week, yet nevertheless managed to bring an impressively energized crowd out to pack the Bell House in remote Gowanus, Brooklyn. In a cold drizzle, even. Rupa Marya, the band’s frontwoman goes for breathy, sensual atmospherics on the band’s new album Este Mundo (very favorably reviewed here on November 9) but in concert she showed off a bright effervescence to go along with it and the band roared along. These folks really pulled out all the stops – they know that people don’t just want to hear the album note for note, they want a party, a jolt of energy and they got every bit they could have hoped for. And Rupa Marya is all too aware of her charisma and makes the most of it. The upright bassist didn’t get to step out a lot – it’s usually a good thing when the band keeps the bass locked up tight with the drums – but when he got a solo, he made it a soaring, terse jazz horn line. Drummer Aaron Kierbel was a dynamo full of surprises, completely schooling opening act Nation Beat (a hard thing to do, by the way) when it came to soloing, blasting through a cheery yet ominous surf passage, otherwise maneuvering expertly through the ska and gypsy-rock numbers bringing the beat down to reggae as the songs went halfspeed, then leaping into doubletime again with unabashed relish.

Accordionist Isabel Douglass alternated between lush ambience and a whirlwind attack that showed off her blistering chops while the cellist would frequently carry the songs’ hooks, getting a surprising warmth out of his characteristically austere instrument. Marcus Cohen on trumpet contributed soulful blues, sly ska and full-throttle Balkan riffs over his frontwoman’s incisive rhythm (she started on acoustic before moving to a beautiful hollowbody electric).

Most of the songs were from the new cd, notably the shapeshifting Elephant, part stomping Parisian waltz, part Balkan reel steaming along on the pulse of the bass (well up in the mix, a pleasant change for a bull fiddle in a loud band). The gypsy inflections took center stage, but the band put their own indelible spin on them, twisting them into just about every dance beat you can find south of the border (including cumbia on one particularly soulful, swaying number, and their portentous tango they used to open the show on a note that was as mysterious as it was sensual). But the single best song of the night might have been a track from their first album, its ridiculously catchy, upbeat chorus pulling in several in the audience, then bursting into flame on the sparks flying from Cohen’s trumpet. As many other amazing concerts as New York has seen this year, this had to be one of the best: you’ll see it on our 20 Best Shows of the Year list when we put it up in December.

Nation Beat may have realized that they were never going to beat the headliner at the minor-key game, so they stuck to their happiest, most blissfully upbeat Brazilian songs along with a break for several innovatively rearranged covers of classic country numbers delivered with a cool yet heartfelt understatement by crooner Jesse Lenat. It wasn’t a bad set. Violinist Skye Steele – whose own stylistically uncategorizable quintet is 180 degrees from what he plays in this band, and is sensationally good – led the charge with a barrage of lightning-fast climbs and charges. But they didn’t deliver the transcendence they’re capable of (see our review of their show last summer on Roosevelt Island, featuring Brazilian singer Liliana Araujo – absent from this gig – leading the band through a much more stylistically diverse mix of ska, reggae and even a New Orleans-style march along with the Brazilian stuff). This wound up with a long, well-intentioned but ultimately pointless percussion jam where the band went down into the crowd in front of the stage – fun if you felt like joining in, but for those who didn’t it was more Tompkins Square than Rio.

November 22, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

CD Review: Rupa & the April Fishes – Este Mundo

It’s hard to imagine a sexier album – or a smarter one – released this year. Over the course of fifteen first-class tracks – there’s not a single substandard song on this cd – Rupa & the April Fishes come off like a better-traveled Eleni Mandell backed by an acoustic Gogol Bordello. Alternating between wild gypsy dances, ska, noir cabaret, Mexican border ballads, Colombian folk, tango, klezmer and reggae, this is without question the most triumphantly multistylistic tour de force of 2009.

Frontwoman/guitarist/physician Rupa Marya is a Franco-American globetrotter of Indian ancestry. Whether singing in English, French or Spanish, her lyrics are as evocative as they are provocative (the album is a tribute to and defense of immigrants risking their lives around the world). Her breathy vocals are equally nuanced, as capable of conjuring a sultry late-night ambience as much as nonplussed outrage, backed by an acoustic rhythm section along with cello, trumpet, and accordion as well as horns and flute on several tracks. They stay in moody minor keys until the next-to-last track, a surprisingly breezy number combining a Mexican folk feel with reggae, a lament that could be told from an immigrant’s viewpoint…or just a woman missing a lover.

Before that, there’s a brief, haunting violin theme; a swinging noir tango with an incisive trumpet solo at the end; a playful, fun gypsy dance that goes out on a boomy bass solo; a dark, violin-driven reggae number; a gypsy-inflected, slinky ska tune; a defiant gypsy waltz with echoes of New York vintage latin revivalists las Rubias del Norte; a sad, mariachiesque trumpet tune; a dark Mexican shuffle; a scary, Middle-Eastern-inflected gypsy dance that builds from a stately hora-style intro; a jaunty, bluesy ragtime song with a big dixieland raveup at the end; and a bouncy cumbia featuring a characteristically intense rap interlude by the greatest English-language lyricist of our time, Boots Riley of Oakland hip-hop legends the Coup (who has an intriguing new collaboration with Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Street Sweeper Social Club).

Part of this album is a great dance mix; what’s not danceable makes great makeout music. Socially aware, sometimes surreal and invariably inspired, this is one of the best albums of the year, yet another reason why we’re not going to finalize our Best Albums of 2009 list until the end of December. Rupa & the April Fishes play the Bell House along with another excellent, multistylistic, danceable band, Nation Beat on November 13 at 8 PM.

November 9, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 6/2/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Tuesday’s song is #421:

Steve Wynn – Invisible

The ultimate wee hours walk home song, bars all closed, sun coming up, and you’re feeling completely bulletproof:

 

I’m alone but I’m surrounded by predators and prey

They all turn to butter by the light of day

Nobody sees me as I spread their remains

On my toast in the morning

 

From the 1999 Pick of the Litter cd. By the way, Wynn and his band the Miracle 3 play the classic Dream Syndicate album The Medicine Show all the way through at the Bell House on 6/27 at 7:30 PM.

June 2, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment