Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Radio Birdman’s Live in Texas Goes Out on a High Note

Albums like this just warm your heart…and make it beat a lot faster. Most of the guys in this particular edition of iconic Australian garage-punk band Radio Birdman were in their fifties when their Live in Texas album was recorded on their final tour in 2006, but they play with the rampaging intensity of musicians half their age. This isn’t the original band – this regrouped version has frontman Rob Younger plus guitarists Deniz Tek and Chris Masuak, with Jim Dickson of the New Christs burning through Warwick Gilbert’s melodic basslines (and adding a furious, propulsive edge of his own), and Russell Hopkinson – who played on the band’s final studio album, Zeno Beach – doing an only slightly more restrained take on Ron Keeley’s machine-gun work behind the drum kit. This sounds like a soundboard recording – there’s plenty of room for quibbling about the balance of the instruments, but who cares. It’s a good thing somebody had the sense to make a decent-quality live recording from this often transcendent tour (the band’s NYC debut at Irving Plaza on September 8 of that year was beyond amazing: do a little youtube surfing and see for youself). This one’s streaming in its entirety at Spotify, and it’s available from the kick-ass Australian Citadel label via mailorder.

The tracks are full of surprises. Our predecessor e-zine picked Radio Birdman’s final studio album, Zeno Beach, as the best album of 2006, and several of those tracks are represented here. The triumphantly menacing We’ve Come So Far to Be Here Today is a little faster than the album version, and it’s interesting to hear Masuak tackle the brief solo breaks with an off-kilter Ron Asheton bluesmetal attack. Likewise, Locked Up – the last song before the encores – is the only cut here with any kind of extended ending, and it’s very rewarding. Die Like April sets Masuak’s phased washes and ornate McCartneyesque lead lines against Tek’s sputtering distored chords and chordlets, Hopkinsons’s unhinged volleys completing the picture. The riff-rockers You Just Make It Worse and Subterfuge are surprisingly stripped down, arguably mellower than the studio versions, the latter holding its own despite the absence of Pip Hoyle’s catchy piano leads.

But it’s the old classics here that resonate the most. Murder City Nights, with bandleader Tek’s blistering, chromatic solo; the similar Anglo Girl Desire, with Masuak and Tek taking the solo together until Tek goes off bending notes and searing his way through the passing tones; and tantalizing, supersonic versions of the catchy punk-pop hits Burned My Eye and What Gives. The single best track here might be Smith & Wesson Blues, Dickson nailing that killer bassline against the twin guitar assault, Tek soloing out into the ionosphere by the second verse, Hopkinson murdering his snare. Or it could be I-94, one of the most savagely catchy songs ever written, Younger comparing late 70s American beer brands in an Australian accent. The six-minute, dynamically charged version of Hand of Law, a platform for some of Tek’s wildest playing here, is pretty exhilarating too.

There are also some unexpected covers. The version of Circles by the Who improves on the original; Til the End of the Day, which the Kinks absolutely ripped to shreds on their last couple of tours, gets a similarly punked-out fury; and the band do a spot-on impersonation of Blue Oyster Cult on Hot Rails to Hell, right down to the backing vocals. The album was released last fall – do we count this as one of our “best of 2011” when we put up that page at the end of this year? Stay tuned.

July 23, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 1/9/11

OK, mini-vacation is over, we’re firing up the engines again. To get things started, as we do every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Sunday’s is #751:

Blue Oyster Cult – Tyranny and Mutation

The artsiest and most ornate metal band, at least until the new wave of British metal of the late 70s/early 80s, Blue Oyster Cult blended elegant classical flourishes and epic grandeur into their riff-rocking roar and stomp. Sarcastic, vicious and sometimes satirical, they collaborated with Patti Smith and were a considerable influence on punk, new wave and goth music, covered both by Radio Birdman and the Minutemen. This is their best studio album, from 1973. It kicks off with the split-second precise tripletracked riffage of The Red and the Black, followed by the gorgeously crescendoing O.D.’d on Life Itself. Hot Rails to Hell, Baby Ice Dog and Teen Archer are the heavy tracks here; 7 Screaming Diz-Busters is something of an epic, with a deliciously evil siren of an outro. Mistress of the Salmon Salt is catchy and matter-of-factly macabre; the best song here is the ghoulishly watery Wings Wetted Down, punctuated by a beautifully dark chorus-pedal solo by lead guitarist Buck Dharma. Everything the band released  through the live On Your Feet or On Your Knees album is worth hearing; forty years after they started, they’re still touring with a slightly revamped lineup and can still put on a good show. Here’s a random torrent.

January 9, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Renaissance at Rockefeller Park, NYC 6/23/10

Some will find this hubristic, but this is the best edition of Renaissance yet – including the original 1969 lineup. Unlike a lot of their art-rock contemporaries during their seventies heyday, Renaissance opted for drama and majesty over any overwhelming sense of angst or wrenching intensity. Downtown tonight under a starless sky and a welcome sea breeze, they made every one of their fifty power-packed minutes count. Annie Haslam wasn’t even in the original band – she replaced the late, great Keith Relf – but throughout her time in the group she’s made a lot of people forget that. And she’s still got that awe-inspiring five-octave range. Other singers use all kinds of technology to disguise their flaws – not Haslam, and that made itself known not because she backed off from the demanding arrangements of the original recordings, but from the occasional slight imperfection. That she can still deliver those stratospheric notes, even if sometimes more gently than she did 35 years ago, is extraordinary. Not that Haslam would ever subject herself to the indignity of Eurovision or American Idol, but at age 63, she’d still win either one in a heartbeat.

The rest of the band played with passion and precision. Haslam’s longtime collaborator Michael Dunford’s acoustic guitar was too low in the mix most of the time, but when he was audible he was jangly and inspiring, while the two keyboardists, Rave Tesar and Tom Brislin matched piano to sweeping synthesizer orchestration. New bassist David J. Keyes was nothing short of brilliant, firing his way nimbly through a thorny series of changes, using a bristly, trebly tone much like Mo Moore would do with Nektar. Drummer Frank Pagano, a guy with a solid, four-on-the-floor rep from his work with Willie Nile and the Fab Faux, really opened some eyes with his spot-on, boomy and joyously orchestral attack on a big kit. From the first few notes of vocalese on the ornate, Romantically-imbued instrumental Prologue, Haslam held the surprisingly young (that word is relative) audience rapt – one can only wonder how many, relaxing on the lawn, were only now getting to see the band for the first time. Carpet of the Sun was a pleasant, artsy pop hit on record: live, the band emphasized its sweeps and swells, particularly the occasional Middle Eastern allusion (a device that would recur several times, to welcome effect). Strikingly, the best song of the night was a new one, a marvelously suspenseful epic, The Mystic and the Muse (to be released on a forthcoming ep of all-new material), a feast of spine-tingling vocals, a series of distantly Blue Oyster Cult-ish galloping crescendos and a perfectly powerful ending from Haslam.

Like the rest of the first crop of art-rockers, Renaissance were not opposed to pilfering a classical motif or two, most obviously on Running Hard, which makes a rock song out of the theme from the great French composer Jehan Alain’s Litanies. It’s hard enough to do on the organ and must be even more so on piano, but Renaissance’s keyboardist nailed it with staccato abandon. They went out on a high note with the epic Mother Russia, a seamless suite of themes closer to Tschaikovsky than Shostakovich, ending with Haslam belting out a long, low note (low for her at least – D next to middle C?), fearless and unwavering. What’s impossible for most of us still seems easy for her. The rest of the North American tour schedule is here.

June 23, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review from the Archives: Blue Oyster Cult at Westbury Music Fair, Westbury, Long Island 6/13/97

[Editor’s note – out of town for the weekend, we’re mining the archive as we used to do during slow periods, our first year. This doesn’t qualify as a NYC concert since it was out in Westbury but here it is anyway]

Spur of the moment decision: ten minutes after dinner, we were on the LIRR on a cruise to nowhere. The crowd was as expected: kids from the smoking section in high school, twenty years later, with bigger beer guts and more cellulite. Pat Travers opened and only got about 25 minutes ending with Snorting Whiskey and Drinking Cocaine – he actually has good technique and a sense of melody, but bends every note he plays gratuitously like Jimmy Page at his most, well, gratuitous. Foghat followed and got a standing ovation. A long, long cover of Sweet Home Chicago (looks like they didn’t have enough tunes for a whole set), led into a wildly applauded Fool for the City and Slow Ride: enough mindless, audibly painful guitar masturbation for a lifetime. How someone as cool as Lynda Barry can like a band this awful stretches the imagination. Blue Oyster Cult vacillated between boredom and inspiration: half of lead guitarist Buck Dharma’s solos went nowhere. But the best wailed, hard. This particular version of the group has a new rhythm section (the Bouchard brothers haven’t been in this unit in awhile), but Dharma, guitarist/keyboardist Allan Lanier and frontman Eric Bloom are still in the band and game to be plying the nostalgia circuit. Bloom, in fact made it a point to mention how they were playing their old stomping ground, lapsing into his best Lawn Guyland accent with the knowing authenticity of someone who’d had the misfortune to grow up here. They opened with a swinging version of the art-rock anthem Stairway to the Stars opened, later ripping through a fast take on the drug dealer murder ballad Then Came the Last Days of May, where the band picked up the tempo and went almost doublespeed on the break before the last verse. The instrumental Buck’s Boogie screamed, like ZZ Top if they’d been born in Europe (impossible, but just try to imagine it) and featured a pleasantly brief drum solo; Cities on Flame and Godzilla were metal by the numbers as expected. The powerpop smash Burning for You was absolutely smoking; Dharma’s solo started wildly metallic, then suddenly note for note with the furious version on the live On Your Feet or On Your Knees album. Without much fanfare, Don’t Fear the Reaper closed the show, stripped down and a bit cursory. Since the venue was on a tight schedule, there no encores; Steppenwolf or whatever’s left of them were next so we were out of there after Sookie Sookie and two other awful tunes.

June 13, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 6/21/09

Happy solstice! Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Sunday’s song is #402:

Blue Oyster Cult – Nosferatu

Gorgeous, majestic, epic grand guignol vampire anthem from the legendary 70s artsy metal band, marvelously lowlit by Allen Lanier’s darkly graceful piano cascades. From the otherwise forgettable 1979 Spectres lp; mp3s abound.

June 20, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 6/19/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Friday’s song is #404:

Blue Oyster Cult – Wings Wetted Down

Throughout the 1970s, this artsy Long Island band was arguably the best heavy metal act on the planet. Augmenting their richly layered guitar attack with classically inflected piano, they bridged the gap between boorish Led Zep stomp and ornate Pink Floyd artistry with a menace rarely found in bands of the era. This is a quiet, methodical, absolutely bloodcurdling midtempo ballad from the classic Tyranny and Mutation album, 1973. Buck Dharma’s watery guitar solo through a Leslie organ speaker is a classic. Mp3s are everywhere.

June 19, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Ten Pound Heads

Ten Pound Heads play purist, dark, artsy, ballsy rock with the kind of lush, gorgeously intricate arrangements you hardly ever see anymore since record labels stopped putting bands up in the studio for months on end. Layers and layers and layers of guitar, ringing, roaring, clanging, pinging, strumming: you name something a guitar can do, it’s on this cd. Sometimes psychedelic, sometimes startlingly direct, either way this is a stunningly smart, potent album. Songwise, the whole cd has an indelibly New York noir feel, both lyrically and musically – this is the great long-lost mid-70s Blue Oyster Cult album, only smarter.

 

The first cut is All Hands On Deck, a darkly growling, pounding midtempo rocker more than a little evocative of Steve Wynn’s great first band the Dream Syndicate at their mid-80s peak. There’s a long outro where finally at the end the band falls out marvelously, dropping down to just the hypnotic acoustic guitar lick that’s been propelling the whole thing. This World follows, a sad, downbeat ballad with a thoughtful blend of acoustic and electrics.

 

Johnny Box O’Doughnuts is a big garagey riff-rocker, a spot-on funny noir New York character study about a wannabe gangster. Another riff-rocker, the wah-wah driven Snake in the Grass sneers at the creeps who make up a large percentage of the drug underworld. The beautifully ominous Paint Manhattan Black motors along on a fast eight-note new wave bassline over an eerie current of organ and guitar. Sweet, brief heavy metal outro. The tensely suspenseful Back to L.A. maintains the gleefully evil vibe, getting several steps closer to completely unhinged on the pummeling Hell or High Water. Finally, we get an extended guitar solo and it hits the spot head-on.

 

With its understatedly melancholy, George Harrison-inflected chorus, One for the Record speaks for generations of good musicians who put on thousands of good shows but never quite made it (one suspects this may be true of some of the band members). After the tongue-in-cheek My Guitar Is an Alien, the cd wraps up with the brooding What You Said, hauntingly stark electric guitar over funereal drums. Behind the board, Martin Bisi does an admirably purist take on what Sandy Pearlman (fans of the Dream Syndicate – or the Clash, for that matter – will appreciate the reference) might have done in the producer’s chair. If nothing else, this album has lasting power: it will be a hit with the cognoscenti and haunt some of the best obscure corners of the internet for as many years as it’s around. Watch this space for NYC area live shows.

February 19, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 2/6/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Friday’s is #537:

Blue Oyster Cult – Joan Crawford

Surreal, bizarrely comedic art-rock masterpiece about what happens when Joan Crawford rises from the grave: ornate classical piano intro, all kinds of weird effects (“Christina! Mother’s home!”) and a killer bassline by lead guitarist Buck Dharma. From the 1981 lp Fire of Unknown Origin, typically found in the dollar bins wherever vinyl is sold; also available wherever there are mp3s.

February 6, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Radio Birdman – Zeno Beach

Volcanic comeback album by these legendary Australian garage punks that mixes a violent apocalypticism with a handful of black humor-driven, traditional garage rock numbers that sometimes veer to the goofy side. For three years in the late 70s, there was no better band on the planet. Driven by lead guitarist Deniz Tek’s maniacal Middle Eastern-inflected playing over a pummeling surf beat, Radio Birdman’s first two studio albums set the standard for uncompromising, raw, fast rock. Influenced by the Stooges, MC5, Blue Oyster Cult, Doors (you should hear the bootleg of their cover of LA Woman) and Ventures, they burned from 1976 to 1980 when Tek left the band for the Air Force and two of the remaining members spun off into the New Christs. Radio Birdman’s releases after the initial breakup are a mixed bag: the mix of alternate versions of songs from their classic 1979 album Radios Appear, including a couple of deliriously good outtakes, is a masterpiece; their 1997 live album, recorded at one of their annual reunion concerts in Australia, found the band lost in a maze of Marshall stacks and high-tech gear, their signature raw power blunted by a booming sound system. This, then is their real comeback, and it’s pretty amazing. With the exception of the new drummer, these guys are in their fifties now and can still outplay and out-write just about any band out there.  

As with their best work, it’s an eerie, death-defying ride. Just a glance at the song titles proves they haven’t lost their dark vision. You Just Make It Worse. Remorseless. Found Dead. Die Like April. Hungry Cannibals. Locked Up. This is desperate stuff; the rage that drove them in 1979 hasn’t dissipated one iota. The album kicks off with We’ve Come So Far (To Be Here Today), sounding nothing like the Grateful Deadly title might imply: it’s a blast of chromatic, minor-key fury, fueled by the twin guitars of Tek and Chris Masuak (who’s become a brilliant lead player in his own right), and organist Pip Hoyle. The album’s next track is a surprisingly trad garage riff-rocker, something that would sound perfectly at home on a good Lyres record. Next we get the haunting, aptly titled Remorseless: the tension of this burning, funereal midtempo song never lets up. After that’s over, Found Dead continues in the same vein. Connected explores reincarnation, a topic Tek has addressed in his solo work. The impressively ornate, artsy Die Like April builds off a hook that sounds suspiciously similar to something by their Aussie compatriots the Church. Heyday takes a Beatles lick and does pretty much the same thing.

 

Eventually it’s back to the nuevo-60s garage feel with the tracks If You Say Please and Hungry Cannibals, the latter of which brings some welcome comic relief. But it’s black humor, it doesn’t last long and you get the feeling that just maybe, the band might not be joking after all. After that, Locked Up is a scorching, Stooges-inflected riff-rocker; then the album winds up with two uncharacteristically sunny tunes, both by keyboardist Hoyle. The Brotherhood of Al Wazah riffs on Middle East terrorism, and the title cut works both as a tribute to a good surf beach and a warning that we could all be On the Beach.

 

Frontman Rob Younger no longer comes across as the Australian Iggy Pop; the oldest member of the band, he’s come to sound eerily like another Australian rock legend, guitarist/songwriter Marty Willson-Piper from the Church. You wouldn’t think a voice like that would necessarily work with such a ferocious band behind it, but it does. Descend into the maelstrom with these guys if you dare. One of the best albums of the decade so far, end of story.

April 26, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment