Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Sunday at Lincoln Center Out of Doors: Bad Segues, Amazing Show

By any standard, this year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival is one of the best ever: of all of New York’s summer festivals, this is one you really should investigate if you’re in town – especially because it’s free. Sunday’s lineup outdoors on the plaza under the trees was an improbable but smartly assembled “roots of American music” bill.

“Are you awake?” Etran Finatawa’s electric guitarist asked the crowd, in French: from the response, the answer was barely. With their swaying triplet rhythms and expansively hypnotic, gently crescendoing one-chord jams, the Niger-based duskcore band were a perfect choice to get the afternoon started. They’re as captivating as Tinariwen, starting methodically and getting more diverse and interesting as the set went on. One of the earlier numbers started with a meandering solo guitar intro, like a Middle Eastern taqsim, and grew surprisingly into a boisterously shuffling anthem. One of the band’s percussionists – dressed in what looked like warrior regalia – opened a percussive, stop-and-start number solo on screechy ritti fiddle. Desert blues bands change modes more than they change actual chords, but Etran Finatawa’s most memorable song, an especially epic one, worked a dramatic shift from minor to major and then back again for all it was worth. And then like many of their other songs, they shut it down cold.

Los Straitjackets, arguably the world’s most popular surf band after the Ventures and Dick Dale, made about the most incongruous segue imaginable. But counting them as a roots band isn’t an overstatement: there isn’t a band alive in the small yet thriving surf rock subculture that hasn’t felt their influence, especially because they write original songs, in a whole slew of styles. Happily keeping the choreography and the cheesy stage antics to a minimum, they aired out their repertoire instead with a mix of cheery Buck Owens-flavored country stomps, Gene Vincent twang, three-chord Chuck Berry-style shuffles, and a couple of attempts at a happier spaghetti western style (along with one that was not happy at all – it was the highlight of the show). Drummer Jason Smay’s playful Gene Krupa-isms got the crowd roaring on an extended surf version of Sing Sing Sing; guitarist Danny Amis (who played bass on one song) led the band in a rousing version of a Jimi Hendrix song (ok, it wasn’t a Hendrix song, but that was Jimi on lead guitar on Joey Dee and the Starliters’ Peppermint Twist). Guitarist Eddie Angel showed off expert and boisterous command of every twangy guitar style ever invented, from Dick Dale tremolo-picking to sinuous, fluid Bill Kirchen country licks. The crowd screamed for an encore but didn’t get one.

The Asylum Street Spankers were their usual adrenalized selves, but a sadness lingered: the band is breaking up. Other than the show they played right afterward at Joe’s Pub (one hopes they got there in time), this was their last one in New York. It’s hard to imagine another band who were as funny as they were virtuosic. Banjo player Christina Marrs, multi-instrumentalist Charlie King, resonator guitarist Nevada Newman and the rest of the crew (Wammo was AWOL) all showed off their prodigious chops in turn, tersely and intensely. Their big college radio hit, Scrotum, was “a mixed-blessing song,” as Marrs put it, but she traded off vocals with Newman and King with a freshness and salaciousness that made it hard to believe they’ve sung it a thousand times before. The high points of the show were the political ones: the hillbilly sway of Lee Harvey Was A Friend of Mine, which cites Jack Ruby as “the biggest sleaze in town,” and My Baby in the CIA, a hilariously understated chronology of CIA-sponsored anti-democracy coups over the decades – and a lot of other things, some relevant, some less so but still fun, like King’s throat-singing. Marrs cranked up the volume with her amazing pipes on fierily sultry covers of the Violent Femmes’ Jesus Walking on the Water and Muddy Waters’ Got My Mojo Working; they closed with a swinging version of Don’t Let the Music Die, but it was about to and that was too bad. At least it’ll be fun to find out where all the individual Spankers end up once this year’s ongoing farewell tour has run its course.

Advertisements

August 3, 2010 Posted by | blues music, concert, country music, folk music, gospel music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Demolition String Band at Rodeo Bar, NYC 6/9/07

Uncommonly fun country band at the top of their game. Demolition String Band know how to work a crowd, raising their glasses and leading the audience in a “holler and a swaller,” and speeding up a bluegrass tune to the point where it was practically unplayable. But these guys (and frontwoman) aren’t a bar band: they may thrive in that milieu, but they’re a lot smarter. This is real country music: as LJ Murphy famously said, country music is the kind of music that has nothing to do with Garth Brooks. Although Demolition String Band are a boisterous, electric outfit, they wear their bluegrass and old-timey roots proudly on their sleeves.

Lead singer Elena Skye sang with a casual grace, in the Maybelle Carter mold: she doesn’t overemote. Telecaster player Boo Reiners pretty much stole the show all night with his spectacular, sometimes supersonic, twangy leads and fills – although Skye caught fire as well when she picked up her mandolin and started wailing. Predictably, alcohol figures in a lot of their songs – they’ll be huge if the swinging Thinking About Drinking and the fast, electrified bluegrass tune Drinking Whiskey (both of which they played tonight) get onto college radio.

They’d played a John Prine tribute a few days earlier and dragged out a particularly apt cover, the outlaw country tune Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You into Heaven Anymore. They also did their signature spaghetti western theme, Reiners playing baritone guitar on it this time: Skye told the crowd that she wrote it in the bathroom during a recording session. Pretty productive bathroom break. They stretched it out, drummer Phil Cimino taking a long solo that the crowd went nuts over (nobody ever said the audience here was sophisticated – which is odd because New York country audiences tend to be very sharp, sometimes ridiculously so).

At the end of their first set, they launched into the old bluegrass standard True Love Never Dies and then segued into Fortunate Son by Creedence. How nice to be able to actually understand the lyrics – which are actually really good. Then they segued back into the bluegrass tune and took it just about doublespeed. Impressively, bassist Winston Roye didn’t cop out and play everything in the usual tempo and let the drummer do all the hard work (a common trick): he stuck with the same blues scale, never missing a note, sweating his way through it and coming out victorious. At the end of the song, Reiners stole one out of the Bill Kirchen playbook, throwing in a couple of amusingly obvious Beatles hooks, and, finally and seemingly inevitably, Hendrix.

As good as the show was, you know something has gone wrong in this town when Rodeo Bar – strictly by default – becomes your best bet as a weekend destination. Sure, the music is reliably good, and so is the sound. And it’s free. But there are ominous signs: the bar has cut back on the free peanuts (although you can still find a basket if you look around) and their signature tekillya slurpies are significantly smaller than the tall glass you’d get for eight bucks until very recently. And forget about getting a seat: you still have to jockey for position with the sloppy drunk Baruch college kids who are oblivious to the music and make it pretty near impossible to hear unless you can negotiate a spot toward the front of the bar.

But…there’s not a trendoid in the house, and the tourist crowd generally hails from places like Georgia and Nebraska. And is very nice. As annoying as the Baruch kids can be, chances are they’re going to Baruch because they can’t afford to go elsewhere, so they don’t have the prissy sense of entitlement you find in Williamsburg or the East Village. Considering the alternatives, the Rodeo could become your local. And you could actually be happy there.

June 10, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments