Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Vieux Farka Toure Burns His Guitar

Vieux Farka Toure didn’t really burn his guitar, at least the way Hendrix burned his. He just turned in an incandescent performance. It’s a useful rule of thumb that if a performer plays well in daylight, he or she will rip up whatever joint they’re in come nightfall. Or maybe Toure’s just a morning person. Thursday afternoon in Metrotech Park in downtown Brooklyn, the Malian guitarist didn’t let the crushing tropical heat and humidity phase him, blasting through one long, hypnotic, minimalistically bluesy number after another.

Like his father, desert blues pioneer Ali Farka Toure, he’ll hang on a chord for minutes at a clip, building tension sometimes thoughtfully, sometimes with savage abandon. That intensity – along with a long, pointless percussion solo- is what got the audience – an impressively diverse mix of daycamp kids and their chaperones, office workers and smelly trendoids – on their feet and roaring. Using his signature icy, crystalline, Albert Collins-esque tone, he took his time getting started, subtly varying his dynamics. What he does is ostensibly blues, inasmuch as his assaultive riffage generally sticks within the parameters of the minor-key blues scale. But the spacious, slowly unwinding melodies are indelibly Malian, with the occasional latin tinge or a shift into a funkier, swaying rhythm. This time out the band included a bass player along with Toure’s steady second guitarist, playing spikily hypnotic vamps on acoustic, along with a sub drummer who was clearly psyched to be onstage and limited himself to a spirited, thumping pulse, and a duo of adrenalized percussionists, one on a large, boomy calabash drum.

Lyrics don’t seem to factor much into this guy’s songwriting: a couple of numbers featured call-and-response on the chorus in Toure’s native tongue, but otherwise it was all about the guitar. As the energy level rose, he’d launch into one volley after another of blistering 32nd-note hammer-ons. And he wouldn’t waste them – after he’d taken a crescendo up as far as he could, he’d signal to the band and in a split second they’d end the song cold. It’s hard to think of another player who blends purposefulness with blinding speed to this degree (although, again, Albert Collins comes to mind – although Toure is more playful than cynical). Toure’s show this past spring at le Poisson Rouge was the last on an obviously exhausting tour: he’d sprint as far as he could, then back off when it was obvious that he needed a breather. Thursday was more of a clinic in command: Toure was completely in control this time out. Like most great guitarists, he spends a lot of time on the road (and has a killer new live album just out, very favorably reviewed here), so you can expect another New York appearance sooner than later.

August 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Vieux Farka Toure – Live

A characteristically intense, often exhilarating album by one of the great guitarists of our time. Vieux Farka Toure’s dad Ali Farka Toure was one of the inventors of duskcore, the patiently meandering, hypnotic desert blues. Unlike his dad, Vieux Farka Toure is not exactly a patient player, but in the family tradition he’s also invented his own style of music. Whether it’s blues, or an electrified and electrifying version of Malian folk music is beside the point. He may be playing in a completely different idiom, but Vieux Farka Toure’s approach is essentially the same as Charlie Parker’s, creating mini-symphonies out of seemingly endless, wild volleys of notes within a very simple chord structure. Bird played the blues; sometimes Toure does. Other times he just jams on a single chord. Whatever the case, Toure is the rare fret-burner who still manages to make his notes count for something: this album isn’t just mindless Buckethead or Steve Vai-style shredding. The obvious comparison (and one which invites a lot of chicken-or-the-egg questions, which may be academic) is to hypnotic Mississippi hill country bluesmen like Junior Kimbrough and Will Scott.

Toure’s attack is fluid and precise, utilizing lightning-fast hammer-ons whether he’s sticking to the blues scale, or working subtle shifts in timbre and rhythm during the songs’ quieter passages. He plays with a cool, watery, chorus-box tone very reminiscent of Albert Collins. Here he’s backed by an acoustic rhythm guitarist who holds it down with smooth yet prickly repetitive riffs, along with percussion, sometimes bass and a guest guitarist or two (Australian slide player Jeff Lang converses and eventually duels with him memorably on one track). The album collects several of the hottest moments of a 2009 European and Australian tour.

The midtempo opening number is a teaser, only hinting at the kind of speed Toure is capable of. As with several of the other numbers here, call-and-response is involved, this time with band members (later on he tries to get the audience to talk back to him in his own vernacular, with particularly mystified results). The slow jam that serves as the second track here is a study in dynamics and tension-building up to the ecstatic wail of the next cut.

A couple of songs here work a boisterous, reggae-tinged groove; another echoes the thoughtful, Castles Made of Sand side of Hendrix. When Toure’s taken the energy as high as anyone possibly could, sometimes he’ll stop cold and end the song there rather than doing something anticlimactic. He winds up the album with a big blazing boogie with a trick ending and then a stomp featuring a couple of characteristically paint-peeling solos along with a breakdown where the band takes it low and suspenseful until Toure is ready to wail again. If lead guitar is your thing, this is somebody you need to know – and somebody you really ought to see live. Like most of the great lead guitarists, Toure pretty much lives on the road – his next NYC gig is at Metrotech Park in Brooklyn at noon on July 29.

July 2, 2010 Posted by | blues music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/19/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Monday’s song is #101:

Richard Thompson – Can’t Win

Arguably Thompson’s most ferocious song, among many, is this scathing, nine-minute anti-conformity, anti-fascist epic. “The nerve of some people!” The studio version on the 1987 Amnesia album is fine (see the link above), but it’s a live showstopper. Look for a bootleg, the longer the better because the guitar solo will be especially intense.

April 19, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Die Hipster Scum: Simon and the Bar Sinisters Live at Lakeside, NYC 4/12/08

Simon Chardiet surveyed the packed house at Lakeside last night. “I’m always amazed that you come out,” he told the crowd.

“Because you’re good, Simon,” somebody in the back murmured. Understatement of the year. Chardiet and his rhythm section are a New York institution: they’re been playing as Simon and the Bar Sinisters since 1991. Chardiet isn’t just one of the best rock guitarists in town: he’s one of the best rock guitarists in the world. When you hear Simon, you know it could be nobody but Simon. Playing with his signature growly, distorted tone, he alternated between the big, expansive chords he loves so much, fast, precise chicken-scratch staccato solos and some awe-inspiring surf, rockabilly and jazz work. He’s a musician’s musician, the kind of player who, just for kicks, would take the time to score the entirety of The Planets by Holst for bass (true story).

He’s also extremely funny. “Never mind real estate, the oil companies, defense contractors: when it comes to craven greed, nothing matches mine,” Chardiet told the audience. “Somebody told me that I could make money being a guitar player,” he mused sarcastically as a young woman made the first of three trips through the crowd with the tip bucket. Someone had recently asked to be taken off his email list, offended by one of Chardiet’s famous anti-yuppie screeds, and in removing the guy, Chardiet accidentally deleted his entire email fan base. “Don’t sign the mailing list if you can’t handle sarcastic humor. I don’t mean to offend anyone, I just want to tell the truth,” he explained, and there was no sarcasm in that. Although along with his cds, he was also selling “Die Hipster Scum” bumper stickers, a welcome concept, especially in this day and age.

Chardiet may have assimilated every worthwhile retro guitar style ever invented, but ultimately he remains true to his punk roots. As wickedly smart and witty as his music is, his songwriting has all the good fun, fearlessness and in-your-face antagonism that made classic punk rock so great. Tonight it took him awhile to warm up, but once he got rolling he and the band were unstoppable. The surf interlude in the middle of the set was the best part of the show, all original songs, beginning with a surprisingly wistful, nostalgic one possibly titled Mr. Pickle, then a scorching, chromatically fired tune that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Dead Kennedys album. He took a few requests, including the amusing Bad Boy, an expansively jazzy, torchy tune about a lunatic. Later, he dedicated a rockabilly number to Eliot Spitzer: “I can’t believe this guy…I never paid more than $5 to get laid in my life” Then he changed the lyrics at the end of the verse into “I’m leaving town, gonna get me a $5 whore.”

Toward the end of his long set (over an hour and a half), he and the band played one of his best songs, the ruefully sarcastic rockabilly number Wooden Nickel, about meeting someone who doesn’t exactly turn out to be as advertised, using it to address first the women, then the men in the audience, leaving everyone in stitches (Chardiet’s comedic timing is just as spot-on as his playing). The rhythm section was excellent: the drummer is a hard hitter, but he swings like crazy; although he was playing bass guitar, the bassist frequently slapped at it, as if playing an upright bass, to create a boomy, low tone on the rockabilly songs. They’re back at Lakeside on May 10: be aware that since this band is very popular, you need to get here early if you want a seat. Lakeside shows usually start around 11 on weekend nights, but Chardiet would probably play four sets if they let him. Expect the festivities to start around quarter after ten.

April 13, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Champagne Francis – I Start to Daydream

Champagne Francis’ debut full-length cd came out last year and it’s stood the test of time: in fact, it’s one of the best albums of the decade, a gorgeous blend of catchy, jangly guitar, bass and drums. There’s literally not a bad song on this record. It’s ostensibly indie rock, but guitarist/frontman Brian Silverman’s playing is light-years ahead of most of his contemporaries. Armed with an ironclad sense of melody and a total inability to waste a single note, the songs here are finely crafted gems that will rattle around your mind when you least expect them. Imagine Guided by Voices at their most melodic, or the Lemonheads if they’d paid attention in college and actually learned something instead of posing for paparazzi.

The album opens auspiciously with Old Vampires, its supremely memorable break bursting out of the verse. The next track Waterskis is killer, with its inscrutable lyric about somebody who “can’t get out of the water.” This is the only song here where Silverman shows off his phenomenally fast guitar chops, and the result is a hilarious parody of a Steve Vai-style shredding solo.

Done So Secretly follows, with its percussive, fast 8th note new wave-ish bassline: Silverman adds a layer of distorted guitar after the second chorus. The title track continues in the same vein, building to another great chorus. The best cut on the cd is Burned to the Ground. Silverman’s deviously opaque lyrics are effective both in setting a mood and leaving you guessing and this is a prime example, told from the point of view of somebody watching the remains of a party from across the street:

Pissing in the bushes, passed out on the lawn
Cops showed up and busted anyone they could see
Burned to the ground, drunk and hanging round
Turned into stone, end of the day

There are layers and layers of textured overdubs on the break rather than an actual guitar solo: it’s one of the most memorable, hooky melodies of recent years.

Of the other tracks, Prize is more indie rock than anything else on the album, with lots of open chords which are usually the curse of the genre. But the vocal melody carries it here – and is that the solo from Two Tickets to Paradise?!? Photos of You picks up the pace with its sweet bent note intro. Once Only is fast and growly with insistent drums like early Versus. High Comedy is the loudest tune here, layers of distorted Fender guitars, wickedly catchy verse crescendoing into a chorus that’s just as good. Walter doesn’t get going til the chorus but then it’s brilliant, like the great lost pop song by the Church. Our Parents Had Money is a gently scathing tale of trendoids and the soft fate that awaits them:

Shopped in used clothes stores, favorite one’s the Salvation Army
We were the best dressed kids on our block down on Bedford St.[sic]
Everyone got this cause our parents had money

After they get sick of Williamsburg, they take their lame act out to the suburbs. This has to be one of the funniest and most apt New York songs in recent memory.

The rhythm section of Connie on bass and backing vocals and Nigel Rawles (of Scout and Rawles Balls fame) on drums is supertight and rolls this thing along like a motorcycle weaving effortlessly between rows of cars stalled on the interstate at rush hour. Silverman is a pro who teaches guitar and gets paid for playing, i.e. musicals and such, so this project has been pretty much on hiatus for awhile: we’ll keep you posted on any live shows, which are predictably terrific.

July 18, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Roscoe Trio at Lakeside Lounge 6/15/07

A clinic in good guitar and good fun. Besides being Lakeside head honcho, producer of note, Steve Earle’s lead guitarist and member of the Yayhoos, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel sometimes finds the time to play in this self-described “party band.” With an open date on the Lakeside calendar, he’d apparently had enough of a break in his schedule to pull a show together. This was a pickup band of sorts, Phil Cimino on drums and Alison Jones on bass. It didn’t seem that anybody had the chance to rehearse much for this, but Jones is a quick study and Cimino can pretty much play anything. Tonight they played a lot of blues, but it wasn’t lame whiteboy blues, a bunch of aging fratboys hollering their way through Sweet Home Chicago and similar. “Craft” is a favorite word of Ambel’s, and tonight was a chance to watch an artisan pulling good stuff out of thin air and making it work every time.

Ambel is one of the most dynamic, interesting guitarists out there, a four-on-the-floor, purist rock guy at heart but equally adept at pretty much any Americana genre. In Steve Earle’s band the Dukes he plays a lot of wrenchingly beautiful stuff along with his usual twang; this band gives him the chance to parse his own back catalog and cut loose on some covers. Tonight he was in typically terse, soulful mode: he can solo like crazy when he wants to, which is hardly ever. This show was all about thoughtful, sometimes exploratory licks and fills with a few tantalizingly good moments of evil noise. With Ambel, melody is always front and center, but he’s a hell of a noise-rock player  – think Neil Young in a particularly pathological, electric moment – when the mood strikes him.

We arrived to find the band burning through Merle Haggard’s Workingman’s Blues. They then did a quietly captivating take on the old blues standard Ain’t Having No Fun, followed by J.J. Cale’s eerie The Sensitive Kind, which began with a long, darkly glimmering Ambel solo. A little later, they played an obscure Steve Earle tune, Usual Time of the Night, a cut from Ambel’s most recent solo album Knucklehead. It’s Earle’s attempt at writing a Jimmy Reed song, and tonight they did justice to the old bluesman, calmly wringing out every ounce of sly, late-night seductiveness.

They also played a really cool, slow surf instrumental; an amusingly upbeat, chromatically-fueled theme called How ‘Bout It (an expression, Ambel told the audience, that he used to death for a couple of years); the angry, blazing indie rock tune Song for the Walls (the opening track on Ambel’s Loud & Lonesome album); and closed the set with a rousing version of his classic song Garbagehead, written in about five minutes for a Lakeside New Year’s Eve show a few years ago. They wrapped it up with a completely over-the-top, heavy metal finale. Fucking A, fucking right. Fucking A, fucking A, Friday night, gimme five more beers and a snootfull of garbagehead. Who needs garbagehead when you can go out and see a show like this instead. For free. Even though it was past midnight by this point and therefore past Lakeside’s strict curfew (they’re trying to be good neighbors), the audience wasn’t about to let them go without an encore, so Ambel obliged them with the soul-inflected Hurting Thing, from the Yayhoos’ most recent album.

June 16, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments