Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Trio Tritticali’s Issue #1 – One of 2011’s Best Albums

Brooklyn string ensemble Trio Tritticali have just released their new Issue # 1, one of the most gripping, intelligent, richly eclectic albums of recent years. Drawing on elements as diverse as Egyptian dance vamps, the baroque, bossa nova, tango and European Romantic chamber music, they blend those styles together seamlessly and imaginatively for a bracingly intricate sound that’s uniquely their own. The chemistry between violinist Helen Yee, violist Leanne Darling and cellist Loren Dempster is intuitively playful. As the songs slowly unwind, the band exchanges thematic variations, converses, intertwines and occasionally locks horns, individual voices often disappearing or reappearing when least expected: they may be a trio, but there are surprisingly many moments when it’s only two or even one of them. They love minor keys, and have a thing for chromatics, no surprise considering that Darling also jams with the Near East River Ensemble. Yee also plays yangqin dulcimer in Music from China; Dempster also performs with the avant-garde Dan Joseph Ensemble and with well-known dance ensembles.

Which makes a lot of sense: Dempster’s rhythmic, often funky edge is key to this group, right from the title track, which alternates stark, dark funk, then goes quiet and mysterious, then finally explodes in a blaze of chamber metal. It’s the most dramatic moment on the album. They follow that with a bracing tango, La Yumba, which takes a detour into early Beethoven with a cello solo that rises imperceptibly until it’s sailing over the lushness of the other strings. The dynamic shifts in this one are especially yummy.

A long, suspensefully crescendoing Middle Eastern piece, Azizah begins with a casually ominous series of taqsims (individual improvisations), shifting methodically from tone poem to processional to triumphant swing, voices constantly shifting and handing off ideas to each other. By contrast, Corcovado is a nostalgic bossa ballad that takes a turn in a more wistful direction, Dempster’s brooding solo leading to an intricate, stately thicket of violin and viola. A jazz-pop song in disguise that goes unexpectedly dark, Stolen Moments is a showcase for Dempster’s walking basslines, pensively swinging lines and bluesy accents. The sarcastically titled Ditty is actually one of the album’s most stunning compositions, another long detour into the Middle East with a funky modal edge, a memorably apprehensive Darling solo and an equally memorable lead-in from Yee, who comes in buzzing like a mosquito with an off-kilter, swoopy edge while the cello and viola lock in an intense, chordally pulsing bassline.

The seventh track, Who Knows Yet is a gorgeous, starkly wary waltz with a series of artful rhythmic shifts and a series of bitingly bluesy variations – it reminds a bit of Rasputina in an especially reflective moment. Psychedelic and very clever, Sakura is a diptych: an austere tone poem with the cello mimicking a koto, then a pensive, minor-key 5/4 funk theme with yet more deliciously unexpected tradeoffs between instruments. The concluding tone poem, Heart Lake, evokes Brooklyn Rider’s adventures in Asian music, viola and violin trading atmospherics over Dempster’s hypnotic, circular bassline – it’s like Copal at their most ambient, with distantly Asian motifs. This is one of those albums where every time you listen to it, you’ll discover something new – you can get lost in this music. With compositions like this, it won’t be long before Trio Tritticali will be playing big stages like Symphony Space; for the moment, you can catch them at low-key Brooklyn brunch spot Linger Cafe (533 Atlantic Ave. between 3rd and 4th Aves) on frequent Sundays – the next one is December 10 – starting around 1 PM.

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November 24, 2011 Posted by | classical music, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Nation Beat Plays Every Fun Style of Music Ever Invented

Nation Beat’s new album Growing Stone is a potent reminder why New York has, despite all attempts to whitewash it, remained such a great cauldron for new music. This band is absolutely impossible to categorize – there is no other group who sound remotely like Nation Beat. Willie Nelson is a fan (he booked them at Farm Aid). With the improvisational flair of a jam band, the danceable vibe of a Brazilian maracatu drumline and the soul of a country band, what they play is first and foremost dance music. If you took Poi Dog Pondering – a good jam band from another generation – subtracted the bluegrass and replaced it with Brazilian flavor, you’d have a fair if not completely accurate approximation of what Nation Beat sound like. They’re sunny and upbeat but also pretty intense.

With its hip-hop beat and Mark Marshall’s wah guitar harmonizing with the violin, the opening track sets the stage for the rest of this incredibly eclectic record. The second track, Bicu de Lambu sets sunbaked slide guitar over Rob Curto’s accordion for a zydeco/country feel with blippy bass and bandleader Scott Kettner’s rolling surf drums. Meu Girassol is the Duke Ellington classic Caravan redone as eerily off-kilter, guitar-driven Afrobeat bubbling over guest Cyro Baptista’s percussion, followed by a briskly cheery horn-driven forro-ska number.

With its soaring fiddles and Memphis soul guitar, the bouncy, swaying title track is a showcase for frontwoman Liliana Araujo’s laid-back but raw, down-to-earth vocals – and is that a Dixie quote? Forro for Salu has a rustic Brazilian string band vibe with the twin fiddles of Skye Steele and Dennis Lichtman over Kettner’s rumbling, hypnotic percussion. They follow that with a summery soca-flavored tune and then a reggae song that goes sprinting into ska. The rest of the album blends bouncy forro, ecstatic New Orleans second-line sounds, retro 20s blues, rocksteady, vintage 60s funk and swaying oldschool C&W and and makes it all seem effortless. It’s out now on similarly eclectic Brooklyn label Barbes Records.

September 29, 2011 Posted by | country music, funk music, latin music, Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews, ska music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Killer Danceable Psychedelica from CSC Funk Band

Kick-ass instrumental funk from Brooklyn. The vibe is raw and live. CSC Funk Band play killer tunes with all kinds of unexpected twists and turns, in other words, everything you could possibly want from a good jam band. On their new album Things Are Getting Too Casual they keep things simple and proper instead of getting all self-indulgent: after all, it’s obvious what they really want you to do, after you’re done bugging out, is dance to this. Most of the jams seem longer than they are: four minutes in their universe seems like twice that, considering how much the band manages to pack into them.

The opening track, Caneca, sets James Brown to a lickety-split Afrobeat groove, reverberating Wurly piano, clanky guitar and an eerie noir trombone solo that the guitars slither around. We Don’t Care is a launching pad for the whole band – the drumming on the album is good, but on this track it’s absolutely amazing, punching and slashing wherever it’s not expected. Usually having drums this loud in the mix is a dead giveaway that the rest of the band sucks, but not with these guys: funkmetal guitar squeaks distortedly, brass blasts over a fat, sustained, minimalist bass groove lit up by a trebly trippy organ solo, an apprehensive alto sax solo and a ripping reverb-toned psychedelic guitar solo that adds a paint-peeling noiserock edge. That’s just the second track, by the way.

Opening with a big, anthemic, Mission Impossible style hook, Little Business motors along on an insistent Afrobeat-fueled 2-chord vamp with swirling keys and guitar, the trombonist lighting into another ominous chromatic solo. The most psychedelic song here is Thrift Store Find, which kicks off as a suspensefully ragged roots reggae vamp that explodes into a big fireball and then hangs in the air with the whole band blasting and then goes back down. The horns get trippy and a little later the guitar goes all the way down the rabbit hole with a slow-baked bluesmetal solo that keeps blasting all the way through the chorus. After that, Fiesta sets an insistent Afrobeat groove over swirling atmospherics, noise versus murk. The murk drops out and the noise wins as the groove continues and finally straightens out, before slowly pulling apart – how that happens is what keeps you hooked. And the microtones created by the blippy, reverberating clavinova versus a screechy Moroccan ney flute will clean out your brain along with your ears.

Bad Banana Bread sounds like a vintage 70s cop show theme done as roots reggae: with its eerie roto organ and echoing soprano sax, it could be straight out of the early Quincy Jones catalog. Funk Shoppe – a 2 Live Crew reference? – is a summery midtempo groove and the most hypnotic tune here, casually bluesy guitar over organ swirling in the distance and finally another one of the band’s trademark, mammoth choruses. There’s a deliciously unexpected interlude where they take it down to the keys bubbling animatedly over the bass. A Troll’s Soiree adds subtle dub echoes to what could be an early 70s Mulatu Astatke tune. The album winds up with Old Motel, a completely unexpected turn into briskly stomping, straight-up anthemic Irish rock that goes on for almost eleven minutes. And you can dance to it, too. CSC Funk Band plays the cd release show tomorrow night, 9/22 at 9:30 PM at Zebulon – if you can’t make it, check them out at the Free Music Archive – where more bands should be.

September 20, 2011 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Piñataland Release Their Best Album This August 26

Over the years, Brooklyn “historical orchestrette” Piñataland has staked out an elegantly manicured piece of turf as purveyors of an inimitable brand of historically aware, hyper-literate chamber pop. Their new album Hymns for the Dreadful Night – streaming in its entirety online – is their hardest-rocking effort to date, their least opaque and by far their best. Their previous one Songs for a Forgotten Future, Vol. 2 contemplated a Manhattan without humans, and the still-smoldering ghost town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, among other places. This one skips in a heartbeat from the American Revolution (a recurrent milieu) to various eras of New York, across the country and back again. The driving rhythm section of Ross Bonadonna on bass and Bill Gerstel on drums give the louder songs here a mighty majesty – there are plenty of warmly inviting string-driven pop bands out there, nobody who attacks those songs with as much verve as Piñataland. Violinist Deni Bonet is a one-woman orchestra, showing off sizzling Balkan, country and classical chops, frequently contrasting with Dave Wechsler’s pensive, rain-drenched piano and organ.

The title track, which opens the album, is exactly as advertised, a gospel prelude of sorts. From there they leap into Island of Godless Men, a bouncy fiddle-driven Irish rock tune a la Black 47 with a clever trick ending and then a delirious reel to finish it off. An American Man is like Mumford & Sons on steroids, a rousing homage to Thomas Paine delivered via a team of archeologists (or graverobbers?) gone out into the darkness to find his grave.

A violin-fueled anger drives The Death of Silas Deane, which commemorates the Continental Congress’ first ambassador to France, later brought down (and possibly murdered) in the wake of an embezzlement scandal of which he was quite possibly innocent (and was officially exonerated, forty years after his death). “Let my reputation crawl through the mud of this unforgiving land,” the onetime Revolutionary hero rails at the end. The real classic here is a country song, Oppie Struck a Match, which recasts the detonation of the first atom bomb as the creepy tale of a rainmaker in a small town fifty years previously. Gerald Menke’s dobro ripples blithely as singer Doug Stone recalls the dreadful moment where Robert Oppenheimer, the “master from the other side” gave the order: “Will he open a cage to a heavenly age or set the skies onfire?”

The rest of the album is more allusive. Robin Aigner, who lights up many of these songs with her harmonies, knocks one out of the park with her lead vocal on the lush countrypolitan shuffle Border Guard, and plays her cameos to the hilt against Menke’s big-sky pedal steel whine on Hiawatha, a surreal, theatrical cross-country radio dial epic. The most chilling song on the album, musically at least, is The Oldest Band in Town, a bitter, Balkan-flavored requiem set in a Lower Bowery of the mind. The album closes with the towering, bittersweet, death-fixated anthem Cemetery Mink. Pinataland play the album release for this one this Friday the 26th at Barbes at 11; another first-class tunesmith, Greta Gertler kicks things off at 10.

August 24, 2011 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Mast’s New Album Wild Poppies Is Unselfconsciously Intense

New York rock duo the Mast’s latest album Wild Poppies blends elements of minimalism, dark 80s rock, goth and trip-hop into a pensive, completely original sound. Frontwoman/multi-instrumentalist Haale writes darkly psychedelic, briskly rhythmic rock songs, backed by one-man percussion orchestra Matt Kilmer. In her previous work, Haale has explored classical Iranian melodies as well scorching, hypnotic, frequently exhilarating Jimi Hendrix-inspired jams. This time, while she pulls back on the volume, the songs are often just as intense and eclectic.

The album’s title track sets a bracingly catchy progression over rolling, rippling percussion and a characteristically surreal, imagistic lyric. The second cut, the sardonically titled Trump, is something of a dreampop take on Joy Division, or like early 90s Lush but with a more gritty, earthy vibe. Most of these songs use a lot of nature imagery: this one’s the most intense. “Oh some pockets run so deep, the rest are struggling for a piece of a fast-turning pie…the waters while we sleep are being bought up by a thief with paper bills for eyes,” Haale sings apprehensively.

EOA [End of Anxiety] shuffles eerily and minimalistically, like an analog version of Radiohead, its mantra-like hook shifting between major and minor modes. My All is hypnotic, minimalist trip-hop with a majestic post-Velvets processional pulse; Prize, a warped, syncopated one-chord boogie, winds down plaintively and hauntingly on the chorus. With its repetitive central riff and insistent 80s-style bass, The Lake builds to a potent crescendo with guitars slamming over a whirlwind of beats. Setting lush, ethereal vocals over yet another catchy, simple guitar riff and a stately shuffle beat (sounds like an oxymoron, but Kilmer pulls it off elegantly), Definitions wouldn’t be out of place on a Randi Russo album from about five years ago.

Hummingbird picks up the pace with fuzz bass and the vocals fading in and out, dreampop style, Kilmer rattling and then hitting some swirling cymbal crashes early on. Lucid Dream, a minimalist, moody early 90s style anthem, builds to a big, intense, anthemic outro. Carefully and tersely crafted, the album grows on you and carries even more of an impact with repeated listening: count this as one of 2011’s best. The whole thing is streaming at the band’s site. The Mast are great live: they’re at Bar 4 in Park Slope at 9 on 7/28.

July 22, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bad Weekend at the Blog

One of the few downsides of running a music blog is that concerts become less of a social event: if you’re going to write about them, you need to pay attention. Another downside is that your favorite bands get squeezed out. The freedom to go up to Rodeo Bar on the spur of the moment to see Demolition String Band quickly disappears as the calendar fills up. There’s no shortage of good music in this city, the corporate media couldn’t care less and most of the blogs as well – somebody ought to be paying attention, and that’s where we come in. It’s a big job, and somebody’s got to do it, or at least try to, because that’s where our roots are. We spent our first year chronicling great New York rock bands who were far too scary and intelligent for the bland, conformist Bushwick blogs and the corporate media they imitate. But, predictably, this blog didn’t really take off until we expanded our base and started covering other worthwhile artists who’d built a larger following than the obscure local acts we love so much. However, it’s always a bad thing to forget your roots: humble as ours are, we’re proud of them, and we made it a point to revisit them this past weekend. Big mistake.

Mistake #1 was going to Astoria on a Friday night. It didn’t seem that way in the beginning. Ninth House (whose frontman Mark Sinnis has a ghoulish new acoustic album out and a cd release show Saturday night at Duff’s) were in rare form in the middle of a sleepy residential block at an opulent Greek bar that seems…um…to have an alternate source of income, considering that the only people in the place were the 25 remaining goths in Queens (it was goth night). It’s no secret that this band’s days are numbered: since Sinnis’ solo career has taken off, the band has become more of a side project. They’re not playing any more gigs until the Coney Island rockabilly festival around Labor Day, and then that might be it for them. If so, they had a great run. This show mixed old classics like the swaying, Nashville gothic Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me with a tremendously poignant, restrained version of the big escape anthem Long Stray Whim and newer material like the cynical Fallible Friend, a showcase for guitarist Keith Otten’s surreal, maniacal post-Jimmy Page attack. Never mind that the sound was far from perfect and it was a slow night: they gave 200%, closing with an uncharacteristically lighthearted country drinking song from the new Sinnis solo record that got the crowd singing along (think for a minute about how hard it is to get goths to do anything in unison, let alone raise their voices).

By one in the morning, the place wasn’t exactly hopping, and it was time to head out. And there were no Manhattan-bound trains, which meant a 45-minute trip deep into Queens. Not so bad if you live there, but if it means having to turn around and go back to Manhattan, with two out of three subway lines out of service at this particular station, that’s a dealbreaker. Will we be back? Maybe, but not if it means a three-hour subway ride. Could something as mundane as bad subway service destroy what’s left of good live rock music in New York? You figure it out.

Saturday’s debacle was a different kind of scenario. If you’re in the right mood, Tompkins Square Park is a great place to be on a Saturday, whether for a punk show, or the Charlie Parker Festival. This past Saturday was the Howl Festival, a longrunning annual event in homage to Allen Ginsberg that ignores his NAMBLA affiliation. It’s basically amateur hour. There’s nothing wrong with setting up a neighborhood stage so that friends and neighbors can share songs, but it’s usually not something you would want to see unless you happened to be playing yourself, or have a friend who is. So it was a lot of fun to show up around three and discover a tuneful, hypnotic, psychedelic Afrobeat band onstage who call themselves Timbila (after the Zimbabwean proto-vibraphone that frontwoman Nora Balaban played nimbly and energetically). Singer Louisa Bradshaw joined voices with her for some often otherwordly harmonies, singing in Shona, while guitarist Banning Eyre jangled and tossed off one incisive riff after another over the trancey groove of bassist Dirck Westervelt and drummer Ed Klinger. On one long number, Balaban switched to a mbira (thumb piano) that she’d hooked up to an amp: because it’s tuned to a microtonal scale, the dissonances with the guitar made for some blissfully strange timbres and textures.

Eventually, a couple of neighborhood guys did low-key but inspired versions of an old Fugs song, and a William Blake poem set to a pensive minor-key guitar tune. LJ Murphy was next on the bill. He’s been on our radar since his long-running weekly residency at the old C-Note a couple of blocks east of the park about ten years ago. He’s amazingly charismatic: give this guy an audience, and he delivers. What mot juste would he pull out of his hat in front of this crowd? Nothing, as it turned out. His set was cut back to two songs, the second, Barbwire Playpen a ferociously pun-infused tale of a Wall Street swindler who can’t resist the lure of the dungeoness, “begging to be punished while he’s dancing like a jester,” as the song goes. And then he was off the stage. Their loss.

At least Randi Russo’s show at Matchless the weekend before last was problem-free. One of us first saw her play a songwriters-in-the-round type thing way back in 2000 and was intrigued by her lefthanded guitar style. Seeing her with a band for the first time at the old Luna Lounge that same year, we were absolutely blown away. Since then she’s become one of the endless succession of New York rock acts who’s popular in Europe (her new album Fragile Animal, which we’ve ranked #1 for 2011 ought to go over well there) but plays it pretty low-key here in town, probably because she never fit in with the zeros’ trendoid esthetic (they only like other boys) or with this decade’s doucheoisie invasion (she sounds nothing like Bon Jovi). And the average, intelligent rock music fan thinks to himself or herself: Williamsburg on a Sunday? Trains aren’t running, are they?

But they were running, and she made it worth the effort. From show to show, she thrives on the unexpected: her last show featured a full band, keyboards and two drummers, while this one was just Russo methodically strumming her Gibson SG, and drums. Behind the kit, Josh Fleischmann was just as interesting as she was: watching him build the songs, following and enhancing Russo’s lyrics, crescendos and quieter passages literally phrase by phrase was something you don’t expect to see from a rock drummer (this guy’s very diverse, it turns out). He gave the towering, angst-driven anthem Wonderland a lush bed of cymbals, brought out every bit of the funk in the biting, bitter workingwoman’s anthem Battle on the Periphery and then negotiated the endless tricky time changes of the playful, funky shuffle Parasitic People and made it look easy. And made it easy to forget that the act who’d preceded them was an American Idol wannabe.

And the next band, Bugs in the Dark were great too! Two singers, two guitars and drums. The first song sounded like a haunted Middle Eastern version of Sonic Youth crossed with My Bloody Valentine, with defiant, pissed-off vocals, scorched-earth guitars and gargantuan drums. The second song was more of a dreampop stomp. What a fun discovery they were: so many good bands, so little time to see them all.

June 9, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nightcrawling 5/24/11

What do you do when you’ve been locked out of your building…on the first nasty day of summer in New York? You go see a show, obviously. Several of them, if possible, where there’s air conditioning. That’s what we did. First stop was le Poisson Rouge, where Not Waving But Drowning were playing. Turns out that this show was also a book release event, the author frequently reading random passages at the beginning or end of songs while the band vamped behind her. For the most part, she was inaudible – the show wasn’t in the main room but in an auxiliary area where the club had thrown up a makeshift stage, and the sound was atrocious. But when she could be heard, the plainspoken, random dissociative images added an extra surreal edge to the band’s steampunk psychedelia. And the band didn’t let the sound phase them: they’ve got three strong singers and rely on a lot of harmonies, but they had their parts down pretty much cold. And even though they didn’t have drums this time out, they were tight, passing a bass around between the Gretsch player, the banjo player and powerhouse violinist/singer Pinky Weitzman, all of them able to hold down the low end with a sweet growl. The songs, from their new album Procession, were a lot of fun. The actress in our crew loved Thanks a Lot, Lancelot, its funny Renaissance Fair bounce and punny lyrics. The tricky intricacies of November 3rd reminded someone else of Peter Gabriel; our staff cynic liked the metaphorically-charged Tiger Hunting, calling it a teens update on the Talking Heads’ Life During Wartime. And despite being obviously unable to hear themselves, the band nailed the high lonesome three-part harmonies on the eerily shuffling, warped bluegrass opening tune, Sleep Before I Wake. All these songs are on the album, recently reviewed here.

Next stop, it turned out, was across the street at the Village Lantern. This isn’t the famous folk club from the 50s and 60s (naming it that is sort of like calling yourself Bob Dylan if you’re a singer-songwriter). But it’s a nice place: the crowd was surprisingly un-touristy and nondescript (it looks like the douches and douchettes have all gone east for good), the bartenders were nice and the drinks weren’t ridiculously overpriced. Over in the corner, a pretty good Gibson SG player named Jerry Cherry (whose real name, we decided, is Gennady Shevchenko) and a couple of other guys from New Jersey played easy-listening oldies radio songs: Three Dog Night, Creedence, Elvis, Bad Company and a segue into Chubby Checker. Maybe if they get really good at this they’ll do their own stuff, and it won’t sound anything like that.

Last stop of the night was Pete’s Candy Store, where Raquel Bell was playing solo on electric guitar. Seeing her for the first time without her old art-rock band Norden Bombsight roaring and careening behind her was like wandering into one of Patti Smith or Exene’s early shows before they had bands: she’s that interesting, and original. On one hand, it made perfect sense that her wounded wail would make such a good fit with Norden Bombsight, and some of the songs she played last night might work with extended psychedelic arrangements. But she’s more diverse than that. She’s a better electric mandolinist and pianist than she is on guitar, but she’ll get those chops one of these days. As a singer, wow. There’s no one who sounds remotely like her. Her voice would be like butterscotch one second, and like blood the next, sometimes in the same syllable. She’d start a phrase as a whisper and in a split second it would be a murder indictment. Or maybe just a chuckle. And all that emotional leapfrogging didn’t sound the least bit contrived, although it was kind of scary. It was impossible to know what to expect, and she knows that, and works it. If Joanna Newsom decided someday to grow up and project some real menace instead of singing wike a wittoo teeny baby, she might sound something like this.

Bell delivered one distantly menacing number over just a simple bassline. Another set a more optimistic, sultry vocal against eerie Syd Barrett-style major/minor changes. A short, very amusing one explained what the “most excellent, excellent thing” you can give a narcissist is (the joke is too good to spoil). She dedicated a casually deadpan cover of Waylon and Willie’s Gimme the Weed to someone who’s been ostensibly been struggling with addiction, and failing, and probably having a good time with it. From that cover, and the rest of the show, it was obvious how she’s moving in more of an Americana direction, but a dark and complex one. One of her last songs was a punkish country shuffle that sounded like X circa Under the Big Black Sun; her best song of the night was a Nashville noir ballad with a wary, doomed edge evoking the Walkabouts’ Carla Torgerson, Bell musing how “he won’t help you, but he’ll drive.” It’ll be fun to see where she takes all this.

May 25, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two Cool Singles from Fun, Entertaining Brooklyn Bands

Spanking Charlene have a brand-new version of Dismissed with a Kiss – the title track to their deliciously fun album – just out on Little Steven Van Zandt’s label Wicked Cool. How cool is that? The pay-radio conglomerate SiriusXM ran a yearlong “best unsigned band contest,” which we had no idea existed. And Spanking Charlene won! Imagine that. When is the last time a band that didn’t suck actually won some kind of contest? Maybe never? And as you can hear from the single (at the band’s reverbnation), it’s a lot of fun. We’re partial to the Eric Ambel-produced original because it’s on the album, one of the first ones we ever got in the mail back when we started the blog in 2007, but this is killer. Charlene McPherson’s wounded wail is as seductive as ever and Mo Goldner’s guitars roar and sizzle. They’ve got a new album due out this fall, titled Where Are the Freaks which is something to look forward to, ostensibly a blast from a much cooler East Village NYC past.

Strange Haze also have a new single out, Let Me Hear the Dropping Pin, available at cdbaby both as a download AND on purple vinyl, which we obviously recommend. It’s as hilarious as pretty much everything the Brooklyn stoner retro-metal band has ever come up with. It’s kind of a three-minute history of weedhead music from, say, 1964 to 1974. A fuzztone funk intro and classic garage riffage sets the stage for the woozy one-liners, which begin with “I don’t have nothing to do today, but I got all day to do it, so I got to get away.” The rest are just as good, or…at least as surreal. The band has the oldschool, rolling, kinda funky early 70s groove down cold and some musical jokes to go with the lyrical ones, and of course a guitar solo. It might sound like an insult to say the higher you are, the more fun this is, but that’s the point.

May 10, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ward White Slashes and Burns at Bowery Electric

This is why live shows are where everything is happening. Ward White’s new album Done with the Talking Cure is urbane, and funny, and lyrically intense, but onstage Tuesday night at Bowery Electric he and an A-list of New York rock talent brought the monster to life. There was plenty of nuance, but it was good to see White cut loose with some righteous wrath. Jeremy Chatzky nonchalantly swung the Taxman bass riff as White jangled and clanged his way through the title track; with his signature deadpan ease, keyboardist Joe McGinty tossed off a quote from Dreaming by Blondie toward the end of the brutally cynical Change Your Clothes. “I could do it in the dark, I could do it in my sleep,” White crooned – he was talking about crawling out a window. Drummer Eddie Zwieback gave the gorgeously bitter Radio Silence a backbeat cushion for White’s corrosive lyrics and McGinty’s sizzling, allusive organ work. We Can’t Go on Like This had a sultry, decadent, bolero-tinged slink, aloft on violinist Claudia Chopek’s hypnotic string arrangement, augmented by frequent Botanica collaborator Heather Paauwe on violin and Eleanor Norton on cello.

Following the sequence of the album, White sank his fangs into Accomplice. “One of those narratives that sounds menacing, I’m not entirely sure what’s happening but it’s not good,” he explained. Live, the combination of McGinty’s circus organ and White’s Strat was all that and a lot more, and it was about here that he started crooning less and snarling more. They took it down to just the strings and vocals for Be Like Me, a withering chronicle of disingenuousness. “This song may…be about how I feel about New York City, but it’s also some kind of pretentious metaphor,” White sneered sardonically. “Whichever offends you less, don’t go with that one,” he encouraged the crowd and followed with Pretty/Ugly Town, the least cloaked of all of his attacks tonight, this one taking aim at at a clueless, trendy girl. “Everything is poison if you swallow enough, so be careful what you put in your mouth,” White sang as it opened, somewhere between Jeff Buckley and Roger Waters.

The next song, 1964 may be a thinly veiled swipe at fashion slaves, but its irresistibly cheery mod-pop had the crowd bouncing along, all the way through McGinty’s sarcastic wah-wah synth solo. Then they brought it down with the morose, drugged-out ambience of Who’s Sorry Now, switching to stark yet funny with the “damaged metaphor” of Family Dog and then to ferocious with the album’s closing track, Matchbox Sign. White supplied some useful background: “It’s a term used in the psychiatric event book to describe delusory parasitosis: ‘Take me home tonight!'” he laughed. “People are convinced that they’re infested with insects and parasites…desperately itching and scratching and trying to prove to the medical community that they’re real. Morgellons Disease is one of the more common ones…Joni Mitchell has come out in public as saying she’s infected,” White explained to considerable applause. The strings gave some relief to the exasperated narrator through his drive somewhere – the hospital? – with his crazy passenger.

It was too bad to miss the opening acts. Jim Allen, who a few years ago fronted a killer Elvis Costelloish outfit called the Lazy Lions, has gone back to the Americana stuff he did so well earlier in past decade; after his band, McGinty was scheduled to play a set of his own stuff.

April 24, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

LJ Murphy and Curtis Eller: On the Same Stage At Last

The crowd at Banjo Jim’s Saturday night was stomping, clapping, making pigeon noises and singing “I’m gonna burn like a sweatshop fire” over and over again. In other words, pretty much what you would expect at a show featuring two of the world’s most charismatic rockers. LJ Murphy and Curtis Eller may not be household names, but each has a cult following that spans the globe, and legendary status as live performers. Murphy has been playing regularly here; Eller was up from his new home in North Carolina for a gig in Queens and then this one. It was sort of the underground lyrical rock equivalent of an Iggy Pop/James Brown doublebill, and it’s likely the two had never shared a stage before. They’re very similar: both draw deeply on the blues and write catchy, torrentially lyrical songs full of puns, double entendres and historical references. Murphy played with an acoustic trio featuring Tommy Hoscheid on second rhythm guitar and Patrick McClellan on piano; Eller’s show afterward was a solo performance on banjo. With his signature hundred-yard stare, Murphy and his band were tight beyond belief; Eller’s show afterward saw him going up on one foot, wielding his axe like a cross between Dontrelle Willis and Darryl Strawberry, wandering out into the crowd and engaging them in a series of animated singalongs.

Murphy opened with a tight, intense version of Geneva Conventional, a swaying minor-key blues about the consequences of selling out, McClellan’s rippling attack set against the lush backdrop of guitars. They steamrolled through the snide, angst-driven Imperfect Strangers, a twisted, Costelloish look at a failed hookup, then took the theme to its logical extreme with the resolute, morose oldschool soul ballad This Is Nothing Like Bliss. Long Way to Lose, Murphy’s most successful venture into vintage C&W, was especially amped, with the audience spontaneously getting involved. From there, Murphy careened through a scathing take of the cabaret-tinged blues Mad Within Reason (where “The music was sampled from Bach to James Brown/They saddled the mistress and lowered her down”), then a sun-speckled version of his biggest hit, the plaintive lost weekend scenario Saturday’s Down. Murphy took Barbwire Playpen, his sendup of Wall Street swindlers who spend more time in the dungeon than on the trading floor, down to just the vocals at its most vicious moments and closed with an unexpected choice, the quiet, Orwellian nightmarish Bovine Brothers. McClellan followed Murphy’s ominous revelation that “a sermon blares all night long from the roof of a radio car” with some spot-on gospel fills. And then it was over.

Intentionally or not, Eller continued the religious allusion with the surreal Nashville gothic Taking Up Serpents. Where Murphy’s everyman battles the system and encroaching fascism, Eller employs actual historical figures and events. The recently commemorated Triangle Shirtwaist Fire gets a sideways reference in Sweatshop Fire (that was the singalong), a grimly metaphorical evocation of all hell breaking loose. The brooding slow waltz Last Flight of the Pigeon Club offered a bleak outer-borough scenario: “If they find someplace better to die than New Jersey, I’ll probably go there myself,” the song’s eccentric hobbyist laments. An even more surreal, menacing minor-key blues number chronicled black crows circling the North Pole, satellites gone haywire and a storm outside unwilling to break (an ironic touch, with the torrential downpour outside the club). The most richly satisfying song of the night was Eller’s best one, the apocalyptic After the Soil Fails, creepy and terse with just the banjo and Eller’s chronicle of CIA-sponsored assassinations and third world misadventures. “The drinks are getting weaker with every round they serve: the way they keep us sober is getting on my nerves,” Eller snarled on the sarcastic Sugar in My Coffin; he closed the set with a hushed, chilling singalong of Save Me Joe Louis, based on what were supposedly the last words of the first man (who may well have been innocent) to be executed in the gas chamber. “Everybody is gonna have that moment when they step in front of a taxi, or fall down the stairs…or the gas chamber, and you’re gonna have your guy you call out for. And it’s gonna be a surprise for you…how many of you are going to be surprised to say, “Save me, Obama?” Eller asked the laughing crowd. “So when you’re singing, just think of your own Joe Louis – it could be Buster Keaton, Amelia Earhart, Elvis Presley, Richard Nixon…” From there, he let the audience whisper the chorus along with him. It’s hard to think of a more intense, memorable end to any doublebill in New York in recent memory.

April 18, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment