Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Rev. Vince Anderson at Black Betty, Brooklyn NY 7/16/07

People were dancing. Hardly worth mentioning, except for the fact that the venue is in the heart of Trendoid Central, where it is strictly verboten to crack a smile or, heaven help us, move your ass. A few weeks ago it was a mostly Israeli crowd here, testament to Rev. Vince Anderson’s ecumenical appeal (he’s a real ordained minister, with credentials from the Universal Life Church if memory serves right).

The Rev., as he’s best known, is something of a New York institution, a charismatic, frequently mesmerizing performer and keyboardist who surrounds himself with like-minded players. Tonight, in addition to the rhythm section from groovemeisters Chin Chin (including the redoubtable Torbitt Schwartz on drums), he had his usual main weapon Moist Paula Henderson (frontwoman of the excellent instrumental trio Moisturizer) on baritone sax, as well as trombonist Dave Smith and TV on the Radio guitarist Jaleel Bunton. With his gravelly voice, jumping around and wailing on his Nord Electro keyboard, the Rev. was in a particularly boisterous mood tonight. His newly svelte physique may come as something of a shock to those who haven’t seen him lately, but he hasn’t lost any of his usual energy.

One A-list New York rocker recently remarked that the Rev. and his band are something akin to Phish playing gospel, and that’s could be true in the sense that they jam the hell out of pretty much everything they play (although there’s absolutely nothing cutesy about them). They opened with a cover of Ben Harper’s Power of the Gospel, rearranged with percussive verses building to a slinky, jazzy chorus. They followed with a rousing, authentically vintage, 60s-sounding Come to the River, from his latest album 100% Jesus. The Rev. had just returned from his native California, where he’d baptized his new nephew and was clearly amped from the experience.

Since the Rev.’s shows are about more than just the music – he’s a preacher with an uncommonly strong social conscience – he took time to address the crowd as the band launched into the chords to a long, hypnotically psychedelic version of his song Deep in the Water. “We can talk about baptism and the healing power of water…and you know how hot it is in Fresno, when you get off the plane? It was 122 degrees when I got off the plane. I’m not exaggerating…not the misery index, it was fucking 122 degrees! Fresno used to be the agricultural capital of the world. This is where you got your fruits: you get that nectarine from the deli, and it says from California? It comes from Fresno. Raisins, Sunmaid raisins? Fresno. Asparagus, Fresno. Anything you want green or fruity comes from Fresno.”

Sensing the Rev. winding up a tribute to his hometown, the band picked it up for a second, but he brought them back down. He wasn’t finished. “Every time that I come back to Fresno, I see all this beautiful land of my childhood, these beautiful fig groves and orange groves, and I see an apricot field and a vineyard, and lately they’ve all been torn down to put up these cheap, cheap tract houses, and they name the tract of the house after the crop that used to be there. So there’s a tract of homes called Fig Garden, and a tract of homes called Orange Grove, and another tract of homes called Raisinville. And this year, I don’t like to be apocalyptic – I’m not an apocalyptic preacher – but I have to figure that pretty soon people are not gonna want to give water to Fresno anymore. And all these Raisinvilles are just gonna be ghost towns and then they’ll miss their water.”

From there, the song built to a hypnotic, warm vibe, something akin to the Stones’ Moonlight Mile with lots of Rhodes-y electric piano from the Rev. Using his tone controls, he gradually worked his way up to an eerie, distorted setting as the band went quiet and ended on a somber note. The next tune was a country gospel number with a swing beat, featuring solos around the horn: first trombone, then baritone sax, then piano, and predictably, the Rev. stole the show with some delicious honkytonk playing. Then they brought it down to just the bass.

Their deliberate, crescendoing take of the blues classic John the Revelator began with same minor key groove that the Rev. uses for his big audience hit Get Out of My Way, and became an audience singalong directed from the Rev.’s pulpit behind the keys. “When you say ‘John the Revelator,’ you can’t do it like this,” the Rev. instructed his parishioners, struggling to fasten the top button of his shirt and making a poindexter face. In a second, he’d undone the button and a couple below and roared the line at the audience. This time they got it and roared back. The first set of the evening came to an end with a jam into a fast, shambling version of Ease on Down the Road, from the Wiz soundtrack, the Rev. pounding out some nice Billy Preston-style funk fills. This guy raises the bar for live performers: when he’s on, it’s hard to imagine anything much more exhilarating. Tonight was a prime example.

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July 18, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Concert Review: LJ Murphy at the Knitting Factory, NYC 6/12/07

One of the most charismatic performers in rock, LJ Murphy and his band blazed through an incendiary performance including a lot of recent, unreleased material. Murphy was rocking his usual black suit, porkpie hat and Ray Charles shades, so it was impossible to see the expression on his face, but it was obvious from the start that he was especially amped for this show. This time around, in addition to his rhythm section, he had Jerome O’Brien from the Dog Show guesting on Rickenbacker guitar. O’Brien’s judiciously percussive fills and chordal work added a lush, jangling waterfall of textures to Murphy’s usual careening, blues-inflected sound. From beginning to end, Murphy belted his sharp, biting lyrics in a raspy baritone, with a characteristic panache that sometimes bordered on the theatrical. He’s quite the showman.

They opened with the tersely powerful Geneva Conventional, a minor-key cautionary tale about the dangers of selling out. They followed that with the bouncy, Elvis Costello-esque Damaged Goods. On the long, surreal Falling Backwards Up the Stairs, drummer Jonathan Levy set the tone for the rest of the night, flailing on the top of his ride cymbal as the song grew to a crescendo.

O’Brien added some welcome twang to the haunting country song Long Way to Lose. The dark undercurrent continued with the swinging, understatedly ominous Sleeping Mind, one of the most accurate depictions of clinical depression ever sung. Then they did the title track from Murphy’s latest album, Mad Within Reason, a Weimar blues with a scathing lyric that sounds as if it was written about the Bush regime (it wasn’t: it’s more of a general critique of creeping fascism). The beautiful, sad, 6/8 ballad Saturday’s Down, a vividly imagistic, symbolically loaded look at how fast the weekend goes by, was an audience singalong: the crowd of young women closest to the stage became an accidental choir. Murphy then played a brand-new song, possibly titled Lesson I Never Learned, a chronicle of misadventures in romance. After the bluesy Buffalo Red and the supercharged rocker Imperfect Strangers, he and the band closed the set with a bruising take of what is arguably his most potent song, the Velvet Underground-inflected Happy Hour. It’s an indelible portrait of the idiocy that sticks to you even after the workday is over:

Swallowing the two-for-ones
Dressed in chewing-gum cologne
Dancing in corporate uniforms
To the exalted metronome
As the aging dollies chuckle
At a joke that no one gets
Their daytime dramas wait at home
On videocassette

Then it was over, the band high-fiving each other, the lights went up and the house music went on.

Now what’s up with this new trend, not giving bands an encore? The audience screamed and roared for a long time while somebody’s ipod played over the PA. The sound guy fled the booth, not wanting to deal with the wrath of the crowd. Memo to venues: there’s an overproliferation of you. Alienate your customers and you’ll lose them. There are literally scoress of other places for people to see their favorite bands.

June 13, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments