Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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.

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

Concert Review: Blow This Nightclub Reunion (Sort of…) at Freddy’s, Brooklyn NY 8/12/07

This wasn’t technically a reunion of the original members of this obscure but brilliant late 80s/early 90s Los Angeles indie/new wave group: only frontman Dan Sallitt and lead guitarist Larry Jacobson were present. Yet the Zombies played Brooklyn recently, with just Colin Bluntstone and Rod Argent from the original lineup onstage. If that’s the standard, then this show ought to qualify.

Blow This Nightclub had the misfortune to come out right around the time the major labels stopped signing quality acts. Otherwise you would know them well. They aren’t quite as obscure as you might think. This show came together on the spur of the moment: since Jacobson was going to swing through town, Sallitt pulled together a pickup band consisting of the Sloe Guns’ Bill Gerstel on drums, Dann Baker (from Love Camp 7 and Erica Smith’s band) on bass and former Sinclair frontwoman Donna Upton on backing vocals. They played this show after just two rehearsals yet ended up sounding as good if not better than the original band. Sallitt’s soul-inflected tenor sounded particularly strong, ably abetted by Upton’s powerful pipes. Gerstel gave the songs some swing, and Baker proved he’s the best bass player in Erica Smith’s group. While Sallitt occasionally plays an acoustic show or two, Jacobson hadn’t played some of these songs in ten years, yet as he said after the show, they were still in his fingers. In almost exactly a half-hour’s time, the band ran through some of their best material and a surprise cover.

Fueled by Sallitt’s clever, cynical lyricism, Marriage for Beginners was one of the show’s high points, as was the gorgeously crescendoing When Amy Says, with Sallitt’s and Upton’s harmonies on the chorus. The best song of the night was the caustic, brutally dismissive Love Camp Summer, a withering portrait of a bunch of trust fund kids vacationing in Mexico: “You’re having too much fun/You’ll be happy when it’s done.” They closed the set with the bouncy, tongue-in-cheek Fran Goes to School, a Dann Baker song seemingly about a shut-in who finally manages to get out of the house. The small but riveted audience screamed for an encore, and the band finally obliged with a spirited, impressively tight version of Neil Young’s Ohio, a song that everyone in the band had undoubtedly played before, but had never thought of rehearsing as a unit.

Which goes to show what can happen when you take some of the best players in town and put them together on a stage. This one will sadly be demolished at some indeterminate date in the near future, when New Jersey developer Bruce “Ratso” Ratner finally gets the go-ahead to tear down the building. Since Freddy’s is in the “footprint” for the Atlantic Yards luxury housing/basketball arena complex, its days are numbered. Tonight’s show, more than just a great moment in obscure rock history, is yet another reminder of what New York stands to lose from the explosion of luxury housing. For not only are all those cheaply prefabricated, plastic-and-sheetrock Legoland highrises displacing music venues, they’re displacing the people who play there. And raising rents to the point where musicians and other artists can’t afford to live here anymore. Cities have always served as a cauldron for great artistic alchemy, and we’re witnessing their extinction on a scale greater than any other time in history. If Ratner and his cronies get their way, what was once arguably this nation’s greatest musical metropolis will become a vapid highrise suburb devoid of anything edgier than American Idol. New York is already in the midst of an artistic brain drain, and it will only get worse. Ask yourself, when’s the last time you discovered a good New York band (or artist, or filmmaker, etc.) under thirty years old other than by pure accident? This city was once a magnet for great talent, but now nobody can afford to come here. In the absence of some cataclysmic event (or voter initiative) that puts an end to the luxury housing boom, what’s left of a vast and fertile scene won’t last much longer. Get out to Freddy’s – or Lakeside or Magnetic Field or wherever else something good is still happening – while you can.

August 13, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment