Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Adam Masterson at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 5/1/07

So often the best shows are the ones you never expect to see. The only reason I was there was because a friend of mine was tending bar and invited me down to alleviate the boredom on what was to soon become a slow rainy night.We had the place to ourselves til Adam Masterson showed up. Neither one of us had any idea of what to expect and cynic that I am, I expected the worst. After screwing around with the soundboard for half an hour, the bartender and I finally got it up and running, soundchecked the guy and then kicked back with a beer. The club was empty except for us: Masterson’s crowd was depleted since he’d played a gig the previous night.

He piqued our interest during soundcheck: to say that his guitar skills are a cut above your average performer is faint praise, in this post-grunge era, but he impressed with his sense of melody and the licks he threw in between chords. Then he took a seat at the piano and showed us a rolling, gospel-inflected chordal style. He launched into his set before anyone else got to the bar.

Two hours and three sets later, he’d made a fan of everyone who’d braved the rain. What a discovery this guy is: you should see him. He’s British, sounding a lot like a young, pre-delirium tremens Shane MacGowan, casting himself as an acoustic punk gutter poet of sorts. Most of his vivid, hook-driven tales of life among the down-and-out take place in “twisted nightmare alleys past rotten rags and half-chewed chicken bones,” to quote a line from one of his songs. He delivers them in a hoarse, soul-inflected voice (which rang especially true on a rousing cover of Sam Cooke’s Change Is Gonna Come).

The first of the night’s two best songs was a surprise cover of the obscure Clash b-side Gates of the West (available on the Super Black Market Clash anthology), an apt choice for an expatriate. He didn’t do it note for note with the original, but the bittersweet longing of someone who made it “from Camden Town Station to 44th and 8th” and still feels like an outcast here rang true.

The other was his strongest original, a brilliantly catchy portrait of dejection and despair in the London slums. While Masterson’s lyrics generally express optimism despite all odds, this haunting story of a junkie, his prostitute girlfriend and their sketchy neighborhood doesn’t end well: To his credit, Masterson could have gone all mawkish and romanticized it, but he didn’t.

In what amounted to about two hours onstage, he did several other impressive originals (sometimes more than once for the sake of latecomers), including the fiery Can’t Control Myself and My Only Way Out; Avenue Walk (a piano song that could be a dead ringer for a swinging, country-inflected Sam Llanas Bodeans hit); Metropolitan, a London cityscape set to a rolling piano melody, and the 6/8 cabaret blues The Actress, which casts drugs as an actress who’s always there for the “show, show, show.” Mighty good stuff. Masterson is a rock band type at heart, but he’s a passionate performer and an uncommonly intelligent songwriter and for that reason very much worth seeing play solo. Fitting that I’d see this guy for the first time on a rainy night in what used to be a slum. Masterson has a demo cd that’s worth taking home for the songs even if it doesn’t capture the fire of his live performance.

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May 4, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment