Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Greg Garing at the Delancey, NYC 1/4/10

The Monday night Small Beast show at the Delancey being New York’s most brazen display of good songs and good chops, the parade of talent that’s come through here over the last eight months or so far exceeds anything any other club in town has seen over that span of time. As far as pure talent is concerned, Greg Garing tops the list – and for anyone who was lucky enough to catch his solo show last night, that’s no disrespect to any of the other artists who’ve played here. If you can imagine Willie Nelson if his drug of choice was moonshine instead of pot, you’d be on the right track. Garing is the kind of artist who inhabits his songs – it’s impossible to separate him from them, seeing as he practically goes into a trance and becomes them. His guitar virtuosity, soulful terseness and stylistic chops are unsurpassed, matching a jazzy Chet Atkins-gone-punk countrypolitan feel along with a seemingly effortless whirlwind of flatpicking on a couple of bluegrass numbers, along with some judicious blues and country gospel work. As when Black Sea Hotel played a couple of weeks ago, the room was silent, absolutely rapt. Garing may have a four-octave vocal range – from Tennessee Ernie Ford bass to a falsetto and a heartwarming blue yodel – but he used all of those devices subtly. It would not be an overstatement to mention him in the same sentence as Jimmie Rodgers. And while he did play a few covers – a brisk, unadorned Deep Ellem Blues, a slowly smoldering take of the blues How Long and a Jerry Lee Lewis barrelhouse romp through Real Wild One (he also played pretty amazing piano on that one and a brief ragtime number that he seemed to make up on the spot), it was his originals that resonated most intensely.

The biggest crowdpleaser was a gentle ballad, a reflection on how nature has no preference for any season, with the refrain “We’ll be happy once again.” With the mercury outside below twenty, this hit the spot, along with a beautifully heartfelt gospel-inflected number possibly titled Teardrops Falling in the Snow. One of the more upbeat numbers sounded like a Hasil Adkins song; he also did a resonant cover of the #1 country single of 1968, the politically charged Skip a Rope, written by his old friend Henson Cargill. Garing admitted as his set got underway that he’s “a lucky boy,” having played with several original members of the Grand Old Opry as well as bluegrass legend Jimmy Martin (Garing was reputedly the only sideman that Martin would allow to drink with him, maybe because he could). And some years later, as leader of the Alphabet City Opry, he jumpstarted a fertile New York country scene that’s still going strong almost fifteen years down the road.

Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch played mostly solo on piano beforehand, covering Leonard Cohen, Serge Gainsbourg and then, with Bellmer Dolls frontman Peter Mavrogeorgis on guitar, the Stooges’ Gimme Danger (Paul sang) and a spine-tingling noir version of She Cried ( a Del Shannon cover that Peter, who sang, discovered via the late Roland S. Howard ). Wallfisch’s longtime onstage sparring partner Little Annie also contributed characteristically charming, smoky vocals on songs by Jacques Brel and Leon Russell.

Before Wallfisch, a boyfriend/girlfriend duo called the Pinky Somethings [wasn’t really paying attention] opened the night with carefree if barely competent covers of a lot of good songs: Warren Zevon, John Prine, George Jones, more John Prine. This is how you start out, playing your favorites. If they keep it up and reach the point where they’re writing songs like the ones they like so much, they’ll be really good too.

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January 5, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, Darren Gaines & the Key Party and Alice Texas at the Delancey, NYC 6/4/09

An intimate gathering of cognoscenti were treated to a transcendent trifecta to wind up this season’s Thursday Small Beast shows at the Delancey (the series continues, switching to Mondays on June 22 at 8:30 PM with Paul Wallfisch, the Snow and Marni Rice). Wallfisch was gassed from some obviously rewarding mixing sessions for the latest cd by his darkly intense art-rock band Botanica, opening the set as he always does, solo at the Beast (the 88-key spinet whose nickname spawned this weekly series). This time out the great noir keyboardist (and Little Annie partner-in-crime) aired out a more Americana-inflected bag of tricks, whether the rapidfire cabaret of the Little Annie tune Because You’re Gone, the Botanica number Asia Minor (which is actually an oldschool 60s soul song at heart), the warmly vivid Three Women and then venturing north of the border for a sly, sexy take of Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man.

A stripped-down trio version of Darren Gaines & the Key Party were next and while Wallfisch is a hard act to follow, they were anything but anticlimactic. With his hollowbody guitar providing a delicious, distorted blast of sound, Gaines led the two bandmates he’d brought along – violinist/singer Sara Syms (also of excellent country/roots band Dirty Water) and “lead trombonist” Rick Parker – through a mix of darkly witty, literate songs, mostly from the band’s latest, excellent album My Blacks Don’t Match. The band may play in a very stylized genre  – think every noir style ever invented, from Tom Waits to Lou Reed – yet so much of their material is out-of-the-box imaginative. What was most striking right off the bat were Gaines’ casual, unaffected intensity and offhandedly wry sense of humor. Like Wallfisch, he’s something of a raconteur, musing on some nasty song ideas that came to mind while stuck behind a quartet of sidewalk slowpokes on the way down to the bar from 23rd St. They opened with a roaring version of the caustic The Litterati, a snarling putdown of pretension, following with a worn-down, heartfelt, Steve Wynn-inflected take of She Says She Does, also from the new album. Syms – who sadly didn’t get to contribute piano as she does on the album – matched soaring vocals with terse, edgy violin lines while Parker added a tasteful, even minimalist oldtime saloon blues feel. They wrapped up the set with a handful of bitter “significant other songs,” as Gaines called them, ending with Monday Morning, a long, depressive countryish anthem from his first album Hit Or Miss. As good as this was, one can only imagine how intense the songs would sound with a full band.

Several women have headlined Small Beast this year and have been transcendent – Carol Lipnik, Larkin Grimm, Ingrid Olava in particular. Add Alice Texas to the list. The noir siren has the same kind of petite porcelain beauty as actress Pamela Karp and comes across as something akin to a darker, East Coast Exene: on key, more direct, less free-associative. She’s a reliably good performer but this time out she was extraordinary – maybe her protracted absence from the New York stage had something to do with it. Playing acoustic guitar, she was backed by bassist Kai Eric and Peter Mavrogeorgis, frontman of the excellent Bellmer Dolls – whose show opening for Nick Cave under Madison Square Garden last fall was crazy good –  as well as Wallfisch contributing honkytonk piano on a song, and backing vocals from Liz Tormes – another first-class songwriter – on a couple of numbers including an utterly psychedelic take of Blondie’s Fade Away and Radiate. Mavrogeorgis – one part Don Wilson of the Ventures, one part Daniel Ash from Bauhaus, one part John Andrews of Botanica – simply has never played better, ornamenting the songs with graceful slides, eerie reverberating overtones and the occasional terse, fiery lead. They opened with a couple of Nashville gothic numbers, the second more percussive, featuring a scorchingly gorgeous, melodic guitar solo. Then a couple of Velvets-ish tunes and the highlight of the set, which came toward the end, an insistent anthem titled Oh, My Beautiful, haunting and sweeping with more eerie tremolo-bar guitar.

Small Beast – New York’s edgiest, most exciting weekly musical event, in case you don’t already know it – continues Monday, June 22 at the Delancey, upstairs at around 8:30 PM with Wallfisch, Marni Rice and the Snow, free admission plus a free barbeque on the roof.

June 6, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Bellmer Dolls/Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds at the Worthless Reverse Credit Swap Theatre, NYC 10/4/08

Former Apostates guitarist Peter Mavrogeorgis’ latest project the Bellmer Dolls got the enviable job of opening the evening, and although fighting a bad sound mix that would be a problem all night, delivered an excellent set. Right now this trio are New York’s best exponent of gritty, slightly glammy noir garage rock in the tradition of the Chrome Cranks and early Jon Spencer. The bass, trebly and growly in the style of Jean-Jacques Brunel of the Stranglers, was up and down in the mix all night, though the bassist lept and sauntered around with unleashed energy. From time to time, Mavrogeorgis would let his guitar hang and move to the old organ he’d brought along and add dirty, distorted fills, or just leave a note or a chord sustaining throughout the whole song (though this was, sadly, often inaudible). Their best songs were a straight-up, minor-key garage hit built over a catchy three-chord chromatic progression and a fast, Joy Division-inflected rocker driven by octaves in the bass. Most of the crowd sat outside the theatre for the duration of the Bellmer Dolls’ set: their loss.

 

When Nick Cave and his slightly stripped-down band took the stage, it was hard to resist hollering, “Ladies and gentlemen: The Doors!” Consider: legendary gloomy frontman with a voice few can resist (and a history filled with as many substances as substance); a great band, a flair for drama and the unexpected. The difference being that Cave is alive, rail-thin and looking great, playing a brilliantly diverse mix of songs from throughout his career. While this wasn’t a Grinderman show, Cave played mostly Telecaster: freed from his seat at the piano, he bounded around the stage for most of the night. The jacket came off early: “Don’t make me do that again,” he joked.

 

This wasn’t the Nick Cave that most of the crowd – a remarkably wide range of ages, with lots of couples –  grew up listening to. The band hit the ground running, the lead guitarist strumming furiously on a violin running through a distortion pedal, following their opening number with  Tupelo, then the fast piano anthem Weeping Song. Switching to a tango beat, they brought it down a little with Red Right Hand and then a gorgeous version of Midnight Man (from Cave’s most recent Bad Seeds cd Dig Lazarus Dig) with its lushly crescendoing changes on the chorus. The subdued piano ballad Love Letter got a perfectly pensive, rueful treatment.

 

Wearing thin under the strain of having to sing over a loud, two-guitar band, Cave’s voice started to give out during the gospelish God Is in the House. They began the song casually, bringing it down to just a tinkle of the piano and then silence. “All right,” said Cave in a stagy soul whisper, to considerable laughter. After a tastily brief violin solo, the crowd got into it again at the end when Cave mused, “I wish he’d come out.”

 

“When they came and took me out of the meat locker, the city was gone,” Cave intoned, as the best of the new songs, an absolutely riveting, hallucinatory version of the long post-apocalypse epic Moonland built gradually to a hypnotic intro that got deathly quiet at the end. The high point of the night was, predictably, Cave’s signature song, the anti-death penalty anthem The Mercy Seat which built to a screaming crescendo: “And anyway I’ve spoiled the fun with all these looks of disbelief,” the sardonic words of the wrongfully convicted man in the electric chair as resonant as they were when he wrote it over 20 years ago. As dark, desperate and abandoned as the protagonists in most of Cave’s songs may be, it’s his gallows humor that always saves him from lapsing into cliché and this is perhaps the best example.

 

“This is Into My Arms,” Cave announced to wild applause, much of the crowd clearly gassed to hear that uncharacteristically gentle, romantic pop song. But he didn’t play it. “This is actually Into My Arms,” he explained as the band ripped into a pounding version of Hard on for Love. The surprisingly short, hourlong set ended on a high note with a stomping take of the new We Call Upon the Author to Explain, which decayed into a noise jam mid-song, and Papa Won’t Leave You Henry, from 1992, its attractive acoustic guitar intro exploding into a roar when the whole band came in on the chorus. The first two of the encores, stomping versions of The Lyre of Orpheus and Get Ready for Love, kept the crowd energized. This seems to be it for the US part of the latest Nick Cave tour, which continues in November in the UK: as bad as the sonics were (a venue that charges upwards of sixty bucks a head owes it to their patrons to deliver sterling sound, not the muddy mess it was for most of the night), they definitely went out on a high note. The Bellmer Dolls play the Mercury Lounge tomorrow night, October 7 at 10:30 PM.

 

October 6, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , | 5 Comments

Concert Review: Mark Steiner at Otto’s Shrunken Head, NYC 10/16/07

An exhilarating, powerful show. New York expat and former Kundera and Piker Ryan’s Folly frontman Mark Steiner had a great band behind him: brothers Peter and Christopher Mele on bass and drums, respectively, the incomparable Susan Mitchell on violin and a couple of excellent female backing vocalists joining him from time to time.

The band was loud, but as one A-list New York rocker, incognito in a maroon Midwestern windbreaker was heard to say, “I like the rock Steiner.” Both his former bands here were artsy, orchestrated units: tonight, they delivered a mix of big audience hits and new material with a roaring, passionate fury, as if this was CBGB, 1979. The sound mix was far from what it could have been: at one point, the aforementioned A-list rocker, disgusted, calmly walked to the stage and moved both vocal mics next to each other so that Steiner’s ominous baritone could be more audible than it was early in the show. In a world where good male singers are an increasingly rare commodity, Steiner is one of the absolute best, and he reaffirmed that tonight…when he could be heard. This place has a monthly surf music show in the corner back room here, and that sounds great, but bands with vocals are obviously an afterthought. The bass was too loud and the guitar went out of tune frequently (Steiner’s heavy use of the whammy bar requires that he retune after practically every song). Yet it didn’t matter. The songs were so good, the intensity of the performance so relentless and unselfconscious that they could have been playing in somebody’s garage and it would have been no less fun.

Steiner’s signature style is dark and menacing. He plays with a ton of reverb, frequently using his tremolo bar for an eerie, twangy bent-note effect. His melodies blend classical motifs with retro 50s chord changes, occasionally venturing into Irish ballad territory. The obvious influence is Nick Cave, but Steiner doesn’t play the balladeer, or affect any persona. His compositions echo an earlier era, around the time The Mercy Seat came out. Tonight’s only incongruity was between songs, as Steiner casually laughed and joked with the audience. It was a cd release show for his new album Fallen Birds, which he’s also released on 180 gram vinyl. “180 grams,” he mused. “Of what?” There was nervous laughter throughout the room: nobody was oblivious to what he was alluding to.

Early in the show, before they brought up the vocals, Steiner delivered one of his most powerful numbers, a slow, 6/8 tale of abandonment (he loves 6/8 time). Soon afterward Steiner turned up his amp to the point of distorting, and they followed with a supremely catchy, upbeat, staccato-driven tune that sounded like the great lost early Bauhaus track. After that, they played the haunting, 6/8 audience hit Now She’s Gone, then a very long cover of The Fever: “You never know how much I hate you, baby,” Steiner sneered as they launched into the song. A pretty young woman named Trisha came out of the audience to join the band, delivering a long, obviously desperate lyric that she read from a cheat sheet while the band pounded behind her like the Cramps. Given the sonics in the club, it was hard to figure out what she was singing, but eventually she was moved to the point of tears.

Then Bellmer Dolls lead guitarist Peter Mavrogeorgis joined the band for their last few songs. He’s a master of reverb-laden, dismissive, angry staccato wails, which interspersed within Mitchell’s lightning-fast, eerie gypsy runs and flourishes became the perfect complement to Steiner’s brooding, bitter melodies. Steiner warned the audience more than once that he wasn’t going to play an encore, but they still wouldn’t let him leave the stage so finally he indulged them with one of his most popular songs, Cigarettes, another trademark 6/8 number driven by reverb and tremolo chords.

This was the kind of show that you walk out of absolutely flying. It was like seeing the Clash, or the Church, or LJ Murphy for the first time. You feel bulletproof, able to ingest whole bottles of whiskey in a single gulp, stand up to any representative of the fascist machine no matter how outgunned you may be. Pure sonic adrenaline, and a reassuring reminder that music this powerful and invigorating is far, far from dead. Steiner doesn’t play a lot of US dates anymore – which undoubtedly explains why he was playing this one-off date at Otto’s instead of, say, Bowery Ballroom – watch this space for future NYC appearances.

October 17, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment