Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: The Universal Thump at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 7/16/10

Keyboardist/singer Greta Gertler’s new band the Universal Thump were something beyond amazing Friday night. The orchestrated rock bands of the 70s may have gone the way of the dinosaurs (except for the Moody Blues) but this was like being in the front row at an ELO or Procol Harum show at the Royal Albert Hall. Except with better vocals. Gertler’s sometimes stratospheric high soprano fits this band well: she went up so far that there was no competing sonically with the lush, rich atmospherics of the Thumpettes, a.k.a. the Osso String Quartet, whose presence made all the difference. With Adam D. Gold terse yet sometimes surprising behind the drum kit, equally terse bass from Groove Collective’s Jonathan Maron, fiery powerpop guitar god Pete Galub on lead and Gertler at the piano, they segued seamlessly from one richly melodic, Romantically-tinged, counterintuitively structured song to the next.

Gertler’s been writing songs like that since she was in her teens: one Aimee Mann-inflected number in stately 6/8 time dated from 1993. Otherwise, the set was mostly all new material from the Universal Thump’s ongoing album (now an ep, with a kickstarter campaign in case you have money to burn). The opening number worked a wistful post-baroque melody down to a piano cascade where Gertler rumbled around in the low registers for awhile, then the strings took it up again. The wistful vibe kept going, an uneasy, brooding lyric soaring over an austere minor-key melody, with a terse viola solo out. Damien, from Gertler’s now-classic 2004 album The Baby That Brought Bad Weather was all understated longing, cached in the mighty swells of the strings.

Galub used the next song’s Penny Lane bounce as the launching pad for an unabashedly vicious, percussively crescendoing guitar solo, something he’d repeat a couple more times – even by his standards, he was especially energized. The best song of the evening, possible titled Closing Night began with a matter-of-factly dramatic series of piano chords, worked its way into a lush backbeat anthem with another one of those Galub slasher solos, and gracefully faded out. Gertler explained that her closing number had been appropriated (and turned into a sizeable hit) by an unnamed Australian band, who’d transformed it into a song about playing the lottery. As it rose to a ridiculously catchy chorus out of just vocals and strings, its hitworthiness struck home, hard. The audience wouldn’t let them go: the band encored with a majestically fluid version of Everybody Wants to Adore You, another smash of a pop song from The Baby That Brought Bad Weather. We do our own individual list of the best New York concerts of the year in December, and you can bet that this one will be on it. This was it for the Universal Thump’s shows this summer – adding yet another reason to look forward to fall, which at this point couldn’t come too soon.

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July 19, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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: The Brooklyn What at the Brooklyn Lyceum 8/22/08

Very possibly the best show of the year so far. The Brooklyn What look and sound like something you would have seen at CBGB around 1977, not a carefully coiffed, safetypinned-and-mohawked self-parody decked out in matching mallstore Ramones shirts, but just an average-looking bunch of guys playing blazingly energetic, loud, often hilarious rock with purist punk energy, intelligence and a spot-on, often vicious sense of humor. Frontman Jamie Frey is a big guy who looks like he doesn’t deprive himself of pizza or beer (although at this show he was fueled strictly by adrenaline, drinking only water). By the time the band had started their second song, his shirt had come off, “NEXT TOP MODEL” stenciled down his hefty torso. The band – who seem to be something of a revolving cast of characters – started out with three guitarists and ended up with two. Running their instruments straight through their amps as the PA was being used for just the vocals, they played smartly, tersely and tunefully although with enough looseness to provide plenty of menace.

 

They hit the ground running with a blazingly catchy, upbeat number, then a couple of songs later did what has become their signature song, I Don’t Wanna Go to Williamsburg. If there is anyone alive 20 years from now, this song will be a classic, the little clique it ridicules a metaphor for a much bigger problem. The funniest thing about this song is that it’s already dated, namechecking both Northsix and Galapagos, the first of which is defunct and the second of which moved to Dumbo earlier this year. The band played it faster than the version on their myspace, giving it a vintage Black Flag feel: “I don’t wanna go to Galapagos! I don’t wanna hear the fucking Hold Steady!” On the chorus, it’s unclear whether Frey is being sarcastic or if he’s speaking for himself: “I just wanna play with the cool kids,” he hollered. If this is to be taken at face value, he’s definitely achieved his dream. This is the anthem we’ve been waiting for. As the Boomtown Rats said, watch out for the normal people: there’s more of us than there’s of you. If only everybody knew that.

 

They did two covers. Carol by Chuck Berry was transformed from happy Dick Clark rock to something casually but absolutely evil, like what the Dead Boys might have done with it. The version of the Kinks’ I’m Not Like Everybody Else was every bit as good as it could have been, in fact with the guitars roaring at full blast the classic nonconformist anthem might have been even better than the original. Among the other songs: a vaguely oi-punk number evoking the UK Subs, the band hollering their refrain after Frey reached the end of a verse; a slow, pounding riff-rocker; and a hilarious, backbeat-driven anti-trendoid diatribe possibly called Moving to Philly. Frey thrashed around, throwing himself to the floor, then on one number got up and took a sprint around the back of the stage – in his socks – before reemerging a couple of seconds later, picking up where he left off. The band closed with We Are the Only Ones, a defiant call to unity for all the cool kids who’d come out to see them, an almost predictably diverse mix of old and young (Frey’s grandmother among them), male and female, gay and straight, dancing around deliriously albeit without any violence. Like the Sex Pistols or the Clash, the Brooklyn What could spearhead a brand-new scene that has nothing to do with fashion, celebrity or inherited wealth. They couldn’t have timed it better. Watch this space for info about their next show and their upcoming cd The Brooklyn What for Borough President.

August 26, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Moonlighters Live at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 3/14/08

This band may be something of a New York institution, but if you haven’t seen the Moonlighters lately you definitely should. There’s been considerable turnover: of the original quartet, only bandleader/ukulele player Bliss Blood remains. This latest incarnation harks back to the original unit: they’ve reverted to the quieter, more overtly romantic style they mined so well on their first album. Their latest steel guitarist Mark Deffenbaugh plays Blood’s absolutely authentic-sounding 20s and 30s style torch songs, blues and Hawaiian swing with taste and sensitivity, the new bass player’s impressive jazz chops are on par with those of their original 4-string guy Andrew Hall, and guitarist/harmony singer Cindy Ball (who handled a lot of the lead vocals tonight) not only has a soaringly beautiful, jazz-inflected delivery, but also great retro fashion sense. Though Blood was considerably under the weather (“Never go to a 1-year-old’s birthday party,” she cautioned the packed house), it was impossible to tell from how she sang, her vocals perfectly clear, warm and cheery as always.

The set also looked back to the band’s turn-of-the-century sound: the surprisingly cheerful, bouncy hobo anthem Ballad of a Gink; the lushly beautiful Dreamland (the title track from their first album, taking its name from the legendary Coney Island amusement park), a couple of similarly swoony new songs, and the minor-key Blue and Black-Eyed, an account of the sad demise of one of the prostitutes who would throw themselves from the fire escape at the notorious late-1800s Bowery saloon McGuirk’s Suicide Hall (the building that housed it was razed a couple of years ago to make space for highrise plastic-and-sheetrock luxury condos). This version of the band played it with less overt intensity than previous incarnations did, making it more of a seamless fit with the rest of the material.

Bliss Blood’s songwriting is undiminished. It’s hard to think of anyone else who can so effortlessly evoke the playfully literate, sometimes innuendo-laden wit of 1920s and 1930s pop as well as she does, and to her credit she’s once again assembled a crew who can do justice to it. Unsurprisingly, there were a lot of couples in the audience: this was clearly date night, and everybody seemed happy with the outcome. At least while the band was playing. The Moonlighters are back at Barbes at 10 in the 19th.

March 15, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. Vince Anderson Live at Black Betty, Brooklyn NY 3/3/08

After seeing Serena Jost’s triumphant performance at Joe’s Pub, winding down was not an option. Rev. Vince Anderson’s weekly gospel show at Black Betty proved to be the perfect choice of detour. By about a quarter after eleven, he’d already begun his first set and was jamming out on a funky gospel groove, using the very authentic-sounding Hammond B3 setting on his Nord Electro keyboard. It was like wandering into a random bar and seeing Jimmy Smith in mid-set. And it looks like the NYU Class of 2012 has discovered Rev. Vince. If this particular sampling is any indication, this class dances. Which is a great thing. At first glance, it was impossible to tell the faux-bohemians from the faux-faux-bohemians. But a second glance revealed a clear distinction: the real faux-bohemians maintain their habitually stoned distance. The fake phonies’ intoxicant of choice is Jagermeister.

Faux-bohemianism has been commodified to the point that any rat from a mall with an Urban Outfitters can declare himself or herself a trendoid. And now there are even European trendoids wandering Williamsburg, casting icky looks at the remaining nonwhite establishments, murmuring to each other in French slang. And old trendoids too! Fat, graying old guys who had the good sense to get out of dotcom stocks before the bubble burst, then eight years down the road dumped the wife and kids and can now be seen in fullblown midlife crisis with a gold-digging girl (or boy) from Pratt on the arm, gazing upward in search of “for sale” signs on the dark towers of Mordor across the park from Bedford. Being a trendoid was never anything more than a pose, anyway. It’ll be good to be rid of the whole thing. Passion is the new detachment! Excitement is the new boredom! And Rev. Vince is leading the way, with the class of 2012 in tow.

As the Rev. told the audience, if an interviewer wants to talk about church, and their first question is about a parishioner, good things are happening. He’d been interviewed a couple of days previously, and the first thing the writer asked him was about one particular “parishioner” who regularly shows up every week and dances deliriously for practically three hours, as long as the Rev. and his band are onstage. Tonight happened to be the guy’s birthday. He’s not someone you’d mistake for a dancer if you saw him on the street: he’s a pretty hefty dude who looks like he spends his non-dancing hours lying around eating bags and bags of junk food. But the Rev., who as recently as a year ago tipped the scales at over two hundred pounds, apparently sees a kindred spirit in him. Like his mentor, the Rev. works in mysterious ways, and instead of offering a hale, hearty HAPPY BIRTHDAY, he needled the guy. “Don’t be afraid,” he cautioned him, launching into the reliable crowd-pleaser Bon Voyage, the boisterous tale of an Irish wake, from Anderson’s first album. Anderson brought the birthday kid up with him behind the keyboard and eventually handed him the microphone, taking a mincing, somewhat sarcastic piano solo on the high keys that was straight out of Mozart – or Liberace. In an impressively penetrating falsetto, the big dude led the the ladies in the audience in a call-and-response. Now this guy is anything but a trendoid. Dancing with wild abandon in front of a crowd of sneering anorexics takes a lot of guts if you are the antithesis of what they are, and Anderson seized on this. A church where a big fat dancing guy with a falsetto is welcome is simply a great place to be. It’s our kind of church, and this was our kind of show.

And the band was great as always. They did a soulful, slowly crescendoing take of Anderson’s new song about the breakup of a longtime relationship and a long, sizzling, completely funked-out version of his song Come to the River, rising to delirious heights. The horn section of Dave Smith on trombone and Paula Henderson on baritone sax alternated between subtlety and exuberance, and Anderson was in particularly wild, frenetic mode on the keys. If there’s any criticism of how this band has developed, it’s that Henderson doesn’t get to take as many solos as she used to now that they have the trombone. But that’s what her band Moisturizer is for.

March 4, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment