Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review from the Archives: The Sons of Hercules and the Pretty Things at the Village Underground, 8/24/01

[Editor’s note: while we’re on vacation, we’ll be raiding the archives for some memorable NYC shows from the past several years: here’s a really great night from a few years back.]

The night began at the C-Note on Avenue C with the beginning of what promised to be a great Americana night: jazzy chanteuse Lynn Ann’s wickedly smart blues band, Gate 18, folllowed by Matthew Grimm, frontman of the Hangdogs, playing solo on Telecaster and showing off some particularly fiery new material, including a typically funny, anti-consumerist anthem called Memo From the Corner Office (a.k.a The Shit That We Don’t Need) and an even more scathing one, Hey Hitler, which connects the dots between the Bush regime (Bush’s grandfather was the #1 American fundraiser for the Nazis in the years leading up to World War II) and their prototypes in the Reichstadt. Wild, jam-oriented bluegrass band Brooklyn Browngrass, f.k.a. Kill Devil Hills were next on the bill, but it was time to head over to the Village Underground for what turned out to be a killer garage band night. The most adrenalizing part of the evening was San Antonio garage-punks the Sons of Hercules. They sound like a Radio Birdman cover band except that they write their own songs. They were pretty phenomenal all the way through. The Telecaster player knew every Deniz Tek lick and played them perfectly: wild hammer-ons, ferocious tremolo-picking and equally fiery chromatic riffs. The bass player didn’t do Warwick Gilbert’s crescendoing runs up the scale, but the drummer could have been Ron Keeley and the Rickenbacker guitarist threw in some tastily minimal, macabre leads from song to song. Meanwhile, the frontman did the Iggy thing, “lookit me, I’m INSAAAANE!!!” Finally, at one in the morning, the Pretty Things took the stage, not the complete original 1964 crew, but close to it. Drums were left up to the group’s manager Mark St. John, who didn’t nail every change, but these guys are lucky they have someone so good who could take over on what was obviously short notice. Lead guitarist (and original Rolling Stones bassist) Dick Taylor held it all together, with his searing blues runs. They opened with a lot of chugging, amped-up early 60s style R&B rock, Roadrunner and such, then touched base with their 70s repertoire with the drugrunning anthem Havana Bound. The best part of the night, unsurprisingly, came during a series of songs from their classic 1967 psychedelic album SF Sorrow: the ominous folk-rock of SF Sorrow Is Born, the foreshadowing of the antiwar number Private Sorrow, a surprisingly understated version of the anguished Balloon Burning and then Taylor taking over with his froggy vocals on the over-the-top metaphors of Baron Saturday (“Dick Taylor IS Baron Saturday,” keyboardist John Povey told the crowd). Later they did an early 70s song that was the obvious inspiration for Aerosmith’s Draw the Line and a fast, bluesy version of the recent Going Downhill. The long encore began with a tentative Rosalyn, a tersely vivid version of the acoustic vignette The Loneliest Person in the World, then a brief, screaming version of their banned 1964 R&B-flavored hit LSD into the galloping, psychedelic Old Man Going, Taylor going to the top of his fretboard and screaming with an intensity that threatened to peel the paint off the walls.

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August 24, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: LJ Murphy at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 4/24/10

LJ Murphy’s set last night started out incisive and sometimes menacing, picked up the pace and ended on a defiantly ecstatic note, the crowd afterward murmuring bits and pieces of whatever song lingered most resonantly to them. Murphy’s signature style is a noir, literate blend of oldschool blues and soul with a punk rock edge, sometimes venturing into other shades of Americana as with the gorgeously sad, swaying country song Long Way to Lose. Audiences frequently mistake that one for a classic by Hank Williams or someone similar – this crowd didn’t because it was obviously all fans.

Like the old blues and jazz guys Murphy admires, he’s been playing with a rotating cast of musicians lately. This time out featured first-rate New Orleans pianist Willie Davis and a drummer supplying a mostly minimalist beat on kick drum and cymbal. They set the tone with the ominous Weimar march of Mad Within Reason, the surreal, apocalyptic title track to his classic 2005 cd, kept the cynical double entendres going with the fast soul shuffle of Imperfect Strangers and then went deep into vintage blues with a more recent one, Nothing Like Bliss, a bitter chronicle of seduction gone hopelessly wrong: “Now that your train’s left the station, you might as well go home,” he reflected. The high point of the evening, at least the early part was Fearful Town, a minor key East Village nightmare of tourists and trendoids displacing all the familiar haunts, Davis throwing off a casual trail of sparks with his solo as he’d do all night.

Happy Hour, a savage afterwork Wall Street chronicle of young Republicans getting their freak on, took the intensity up, then Murphy brought it down with a cover of Doc Pomus’ Lonely Avenue (he’d learned it from Ray Charles and Van Morrison, he said), then his biggest hit, the gorgeously brooding Saturday’s Down and then brought the volume up again with the ferocious bluespunk of Nowhere Now. He closed with a couple other equally ferocious blues numbers and encored with a singalong of Barbed Wire Playpen, yet another swipe at Wall Street, in this case a hedge fund type who visits his favorite dungeon one time too many. Murphy dedicated that one to Goldman Sachs. The worse the depression gets, the more relevant Murphy becomes – it’s hard to imagine a more catchy chronicler of life among those of us whose Christmas bonus is simply having any job at all.

April 25, 2010 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/6/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Tuesday’s song is #114:

Bob Dylan – Mississippi

Essentially, this is his self-penned obituary, a cynical, anguished requiem for the promise of an era gone forever:

The emptiness is endless
Cold as the clay
You can always come back
But you can’t come back all the way
 
From Love & Theft (released 9/11/01), arguably his best album.

April 5, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Mickey Wynne – Running on Empty

We’re late in reviewing this one, but Mickey Wynne’s guitar playing and songwriting defy the ravages of time: the Liverpool-born rock vet delivers vivid, smartly played, smartly written Americana rock. As befits a guy with an Electric Ladyland/Abbey Road Studios pedigree, the song are superbly produced, blending rustic acoustic textures with a savage, electric, early 70s psychedelic bent, guitars swirling, bending, phasing in and out. Perfectly illustrative song: the lush ballad Against All Odds I’ll Do It, with its layers of acoustic guitar and mandolin that build to a big, sweeping crescendo before coming back down again with a majestic grace.

The tour de force here is the fiery, insistent Bush era parable All Quiet on the Eastern Frontier, funky acoustic guitar giving way to macabre, reverb surf guitar on the chorus and an equally nightmarish outro. It could have been an A-list Dire Straits album cut from 1982 or so. The title track is a shapeshifting John Lee Hooker-style blues with sparse, incisive slide guitar accents that morphs into pounding Led Zep style riff-rock; the hallucinatory, reverb-drenched French Blooze evokes recent work by Spottiswoode or Marty Willson-Piper. Wynne plays the usual UK roots music haunts: the 12 Bar, et al.; the live tracks up on Wynne’s site confirm his reputation as a dynamic, intense live performer.

February 24, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Song of the Day 2/18/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Thursday’s song is #161:

String Driven Thing – Suicide

Just so you know, we deleted Decades by Joy Division to make room for this somewhat more direct, fiery blues-rock song by the cult band responsible for the 1972 The Machine That Cried album. This one’s from the band’s 1992 Live in Manchester reunion tour cd, a bitter rocker’s graveside tableau:

The T in contract

The I in impasse

The M in muzak

The E in Ex-lax

The S in suicide

The long, Dave Swarbrick style violin solo winds this up ferociously.

February 18, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 2/4/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Thursday’s song is #175:

String Driven Thing – Starving in the Tropics

Labelmates of Van Der Graaf Generator, British folk/blues rockers String Driven Thing are best remembered for their 1972 cult album The Machine That Cried. This one’s a searing, bluesy eco-disaster anthem from the Keep Yer ‘And On It lp, 1975. If you can find a link to a digital recording (it was never reissued), let us know. Frontman/guitarist Chris Adams still maintains a myspace page for the band.

February 4, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jennifer Niceley Live at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 2/7/08

Move over, Eleni Mandell. Make some room, Rachelle Garniez. Neko Case, scooch. Meet the next great noir chanteuse: Jennifer Niceley. Tonight the Tennessee singer/guitarist held the crowd at the Rockwood spellbound throughout her all-too-brief, barely half-hour set. Singing with a smoky, slightly breathy contralto rich with jazz and soul inflections and playing a hollowbody Danelectro Les Paul copy with just a hint of distortion, she proved as adept at sunny soul music as the eerily glimmering, reverb-drenched, slowly swaying minor-key ballads that she clearly loves so well. Her best song of the evening, possibly titled Shadows & Mountains, describes a woman taking a long, David Lynch-esque drive through the night. At the end of the song, after she’s finally gotten past them, she ends up at the edge of a lake praying in the dark that everything will be all right. Niceley followed this with two more slow, torchy minor-key numbers from her new album, Luminous, that were equally chilling.

Growing up in the country in East Tennessee, she explained, her father was a huge Jimmy Rodgers fan, so she played a slightly jazzed-up version of one of his songs. She also treated the audience to her own rearrangement of the Bobby Bland/Little Milton blues classic Blind Man (which she retitled Blind Woman), a showcase not only for her vocals but also for her lead guitarist, who played the most riveting solo we’ve heard all year long. Using a slide, he swooped around, pushing the beat as if to mimic the sound of backward masking (sounds like somebody in this band’s been listening to Jim Campilongo!). At the end, he abandoned the effect and flew up the fretboard to the highest registers, throwing in a couple of lickety-split, Ravi Shankar-ish licks to seal the deal. The crowd was awestruck. It’s early in the year, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if this turned out to be the best show of 2008. If the aforementioned Mme. Case, Garniez or Mandell are your cup of tea, or if you love Snorah Jones’ voice but wish the girl would grow up and learn how to write a damn song, don’t miss the chance to get to know Jennifer Niceley.

February 7, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

LJ Murphy and Myles Turney Live at Trash Bar, Brooklyn NY 1/23/08

I once dragged an acquaintance – I wouldn’t call him a friend – to see one of the great songwriters of our time. She was playing solo acoustic at a dingy little place, and even though the sound was lousy, she was great. I asked him afterward what he thought and he replied, “Yeah, one time I went to see a girl at a coffeehouse.” Obviously, he didn’t get it.

When producer Eric Ambel makes an album for someone, he doesn’t want to hear fancy, highly produced demos. All he wants to hear is voice and guitar. His reason is that if the song sounds good in its most basic, simple form, it’ll sound great once he builds something more complex around it. The reverse is true. And because of that, a lot of people shy away from acoustic shows, which is can be a mistake. The LJ Murphy fans who didn’t brave the cold tonight because, “oh, it’s just an acoustic show,” made a big mistake. The man wailed, as usual, even if it was just him and his guitar.

The best thing about acoustic shows is that you can hear all the lyrics. Murphy’s gruff baritone is a powerful instrument, but with the band roaring behind him it’s not always possible to make everything out, and with this guy, that’s what you want to do because that’s what he’s all about. Murphy has a vision: a dark, contrarian, stubbornly defiant vision. It’s often very funny, but it’s all about the here and now. There are other lyricists who will leave behind a chronicle of our time, should there be future generations, but it’s hard to think of anyone who paints a clearer, more concise picture than Murphy. Tonight, over an ominous E minor blues tune, he offered a look at the state of the nation from the point of view of an average working stiff:

Days of work and nights of fun
Shade your red eyes from the sun
Was it all a joke or were you mistaken
You stood pat while the world was shaken
Welcome to the golden age
Time to turn another page
Dreaming of the bells and towers
Pass the hat and send the flowers
When your life’s Geneva Conventional
From the hot bed to the confessional
Kiss the ground, dry your tears

See what’s come of your best years

Murphy wrote that a few years before 9/11, making it all the more prescient. Later he did a vividly surreal new number, Another Lesson I Never Learned, set to a deceptively simple, potently crescendoing post-Velvets melody:

The indiscretions of pillow talk
They don’t erase like limestone chalk
The broken wisdom was perfectly slurred
It wasn’t just your vision that blurred
Like the manuscript that refused to burn
Here’s another lesson I never learned

He also did the gorgeous, sad ballad Saturday’s Down, a requiem for the death of half the weekend (and for Williamsburg’s McCarren Park, soon to be surrounded by “luxury” towers made of plastic and sheetrock); the bouncy crowd-pleaser Midnight Espresso; the fiery blues Nowhere Now, and a newly reworked, 6/8 version of one of his most apt cautionary tales, Bovine Brothers:

The young girls and their brothers drink to victory in the bars
And a sermon blares out all night from the roof of a radio car
Now who’ll be left to be afraid when everyone’s so damn brave
Jump headlong into their graves, beware these bovine brothers

Since most clubs – this one included – usually don’t have a clue what the word “segue” means, most New York audiences reflexively get up and leave after the act they came to see leaves the stage. Which can be a big mistake (how do you think we discovered half the acts we’ve profiled here for the better part of a year?). Trash Bar is usually a rock venue, but tonight they were having acoustic performers. The sound was excellent as it always is here, but the following player had a hard act to follow in Murphy. And he absolutely kicked ass. Myles Turney played a passionate, virtuosic mix of acoustic delta blues along with a few choice Hank Williams covers, rearranged for slide and open tunings. Vocally, he’s not exactly overwhelming, but he’s a hell of a guitarist. Some players approach old Robert Johnson songs and the like tentatively, as if they’re in a museum, but Turney lit into them with absolute delight. All those old blues guys wrote those songs as dance tunes, and Turney completely understands that. Nobody left the room til he was done playing. As it turns out, he’s a guitar teacher: it’s not hard to imagine that his students have as much fun as he does.

January 24, 2008 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: James Apollo at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 12/20/07

“They should do at least one song in Spanish,” remarked one of our crew. What a great discovery. James Apollo and his terrific band sound exactly like the late, great NY band Industrial Tepee in their more subtle moments. They do one thing and one thing only, and they absolutely nail it. They’re Southwestern gothic, with haunting, mariachi-inflected melodies, the occasional tango beat and a quietly dusky, otherworldly feel. We’d stopped in for a drink, still flying from another concert we’d just seen, feeling cynical to the point that we were all dreading whoever might be playing here tonight. Although Banjo Jim’s has had a good run lately – they’re picking up a lot of the spillover from the songwriters who are leaving the Living Room in droves – their stock in trade is still generally the kind of generic lite FM songwriters you hear piped over the PA in shopping malls.

Apollo sang and played acoustic, backed by an excellent lead player who played lush washes of sound on lapsteel, and occasionally on a Telecaster, using an ebow for sustain. From time to time, he’d flick on a percussion device that looked like a kick pedal but sounded like a rattle. Apollo’s rhythm section didn’t waste a single beat all night. His upright bassist delivered a pulsing, propulsive groove and his drummer, playing with metal brushes, set the haunting, hushed tone from which they never strayed. Every now and then he’d throw in a couple of judiciously placed thumps on the kick and the snare, or a rimshot or two, to keep things interesting, and he made them all count. Tonight was a great example of the best that can happen when guys with jazz chops decide to play rock: it was a clinic in subtlety and counterintuitive, smart musicianship.

With admirable restraint, they resisted the urge to turn one of the songs they played mid-set into straight-up rockabilly. The following cut, I’ve Got It Easy, from Apollo’s latest album Hide Your Heart in a Hive could have been early Calexico, or Friends of Dean Martinez with a vocal track, all sunburnt and slightly hallucinatory. They wrapped up the set – ten songs, all of them good – with a couple of numbers with a somewhat Tom Waits-ish, bluesy feel. Check out this band and share our delight in running into them, completely by accident.

[postscript: Banjo Jim’s happily grew edgier in the time since this review appeared, the Lite FM singer-songwriter types apparently staying home in Long Island or going back to the Living Room. We rated Banjo Jim’s Best Manhattan Venue in 2010]

December 22, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review from the Archives: Mary Lee Kortes, LJ Murphy, the Dog Show, Douce Gimlet, the Scholars and Steak at the C-Note, NYC 9/8/00

[Editor’s note -during our first year, when we found ourselves in a particularly slow week, we’d put up an article or two from the exhaustive archive we’d inherited a few months earlier from our predecessor e-zine. In those days we didn’t know how easy we had it.]

This was an ass-backwards night. By all rights, the opening act should have headlined, but acoustic acts tend to play here earlier in the evening. The later it gets, the louder it usually is here. Mary Lee’s Corvette frontwoman Mary Lee Kortes held the crowd rapt throughout her 45-minute solo acoustic set: you could have heard a pin drop. Plainly and simply, there is no better singer out there right now. Her favorite vocal device is to leap an octave or more, in a split second, always landing like a cat. Tonight she made it seem effortless, even if her songs, and her vocals, tend to be white-knuckle intense, her steely wail soaring over her subtle, judicious guitar playing. And there’s no better songwriter out there right now either. The songs she played tonight, a mix of concert favorites and new material, are striking in their craftsmanship. The French word for it is travaille, something Kortes would understand and probably agree with.

She opened with a quiet, almost skeletal version of the unreleased Redemption Day, radically different from the blazing riff-rock smash she plays with the band. Still, the anguished intensity of the lyric was undiminished. Later, she did several swinging, country-inflected songs from the band’s most recent, panstylistically brilliant album True Lovers of Adventure. She closed with Lost Art, a ballad from the album, that she sang a-capella, forgetting the words to the last verse for a second and then recovering, to the crowd’s clear delight. I haven’t seen an audience so riveted in a long time.

Another first-class songwriter, LJ Murphy followed. He’s also a band person at heart, although he’s been doing a weekly solo acoustic residency here for over a year now. Residencies can be a dangerous thing for a musician: they’ll wear out your crowd quickly. But there was a vocal contingent here tonight that clearly knows his material well, and he rewarded them by playing mostly requests. He cuts a striking figure with his immaculate black suit, porkpie hat and gravelly baritone. Like Kortes, many of his blues and soul-inflected songs have a stinging lyrical edge, including his minor-key opener, Geneva Conventional, a withering broadside about selling out. His best song of the night was St. James Hotel, a catchy, crescendoing tale of a drunk in a Times Square welfare hotel who hopes he’ll fall asleep “before this bottle’s empty.”

The Dog Show brought a small but enthusiastic crowd. Tonight was lead guitarist Jack Martin’s turn to shine. He plays pretty straightforward lead guitar in Knoxville Girls, but in this project he plays with a slide, and tonight saw him doing his best Mick Taylor impression, all scorching leads and wailing excursions to the uppermost reaches of the fretboard, giving a vintage, Stonesy edge to the band’s lyrical, Costello-esque songs. They wailed through the 6/8 blues Diamonds and Broken Glass (with a long guitar solo), the quietly excoriating Saturday Nights Are for Amateurs, the joyous, Latin-inflected Halcyon Days and a ska number called Back to the Mine which the backup singer (the frontman’s wife) punctuated with percussion on a cooking pan.

Douce Gimlet packed the place. They’re a kitchen-sink band: frontman/guitarist Ben Plummer can literally write anything. Tonight they did a mix of silly instrumentals that could be tv show themes, a handful of aching country ballads (Plummer excels at these) and their best song, a haunting janglerock number called Destitute. This band is a magnet for talent: Martin joined them on slide, Dog Show frontman Jerome O’Brien is the bass player, and they have Moisturizer frontwoman Moist Paula Henderson on baritone sax. She and Plummer began and ended the show with a New Orleans-style march on which he joined her on saxophone, walking up to the stage to begin the set, and then, at the end, the two somehow made way to the door through the throngs of people as the rhythm section kept playing onstage. The crowd roared for more but the club wouldn’t let them do an encore.

The Lower East Side bands that play here are a closeknit scene, many of them sharing members. The Scholars’ drummer had already played a tight set with the Dog Show, and held down a slow, smoldering groove with this electric Neil Young-inflected quartet. They had a guest cellist, who played haunting washes that fit in perfectly with this band’s dark, glimmering, rain-drenched Pacific Northwest gothic vibe. Finally, after their set, the crowd started to trickle out and I wasn’t far behind. Steak, which is Jack Grace’s Denver jam band relocated to New York, have a very Little Feat sound: lots of improvisation (Grace is a terrific guitarist who blends country with jazz licks on his big Gibson hollowbody), and the band swings. But they drove me out of the club when the rhythm guitarist started bellowing “Steve McQueen” over and over again while the band turned it up as loud as they could behind him. But all in all, a rewarding evening for anyone (and there were a few) who’d had the stamina (or alcohol tolerance) to stick around for the whole night.

[postscript: Mary Lee’s Corvette continues to record and tour, with a cameo in the film Happy Hour. LJ Murphy’s solo residency at the C-Note ended later that year – since then he’s been recording and playing with his band. The Dog Show hung it up in 2007, although frontman Jerome O’Brien remains active in music. Douce Gimlet broke up in 2002; their frontman died under suspicious circumstances shortly thereafter, although no one was ever charged in his death. Scholars frontman Whiting Tennis still records and will from time to time play a live show with the Scholars, although in recent years his focus has been mainly on his critically acclaimed, hauntingly intense visual art. While Steak is for all intents and purposes defunct, Jack Grace continues to enjoy a successful career as a country bandleader and booking agent]

September 8, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment