Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Comic Wow’s New Album is Pure Psychedelic Genius

A couple of weeks ago we invented a drink. We call it Drano. It’s very simple, Tropical Fantasy Blue Raspberry soda and vodka (hey, when there’s torrential rain outside, sometimes you have to make do with what you have in the fridge). It’s the perfect drink, both visually and tastewise, for the new Comic Wow album Music for Mysteries of Mind Space and Time. Playful, tongue-in-cheek, sometimes silly, often ridiculously psychedelic, it’s 1960s-flavored, cinematic rock instrumentals in the same vein as the Vampyros Lesbos soundtrack or XTC’s Dukes of Stratosphear project. And it’s pure genuius: it could be a stoner soundtrack to a long-lost low-budget 1968 Cypriot detective film. With an absurd collection of every rock effect from the era – wah-wah, reverb, echo, melodies sputttering up dubwise into the mix only to retreat seconds later, or panning across the speakers and then back – it works equally well as satire and homage to psychedelic excess, especially because the tunes are so catchy. With a museum’s worth of vintage keyboard patches, banjo (?!), guitar, bass and drums, it has the same kind of WTF, out-of-the-box creative quality as the Peruvian chicha music from the 70s we love so much.

The first track is typical: a distantly Pink Floyd-style melody but with honkytonk instrumentation that telegraphs the ornate art-rock majesty that will appear soon. The second track is also basically a country melody, starting out with banjo and then morphing into an oscillating electro keyb song and again. The unselfconsciously amusing, swinging Jazz Computer assembles an impossible series of electric piano layers, blippy, bouncy and reverberating – and is that an Omnichord? Another track sets woozily oscillating Dr. Dre synth over Penny Lane piano – it’s ridiculously catchy and ought to go on longer than it does.

The next one takes what you can do with a clavinova to its logical extreme and then suddenly morphs into a trippy late 90s style interlude – with a vocoder. After that, a spy theme emerges gradually from a clubby techno vamp with fake horns and Spike Jones effects, switches to a brief, off-kilter Beefheart guitar-and-drums interlude followed by an Alan Parsons Project sequencer-and-synth segment. A march titled Encore Electronics Flute Fax starts out just plain hilarious and then gets ominous and dramatic, then goes for even more laughs with a flute-driven early 70s style chase scene. Chimp on a Pew reaches for trippy menace a la the Electric Prunes, a feel they take to the next level on Minor Hexagons. The longest number is Water Music Treadmill, a one-chord jam that mines dark, thumping, hypnotic Black Angels ambience. The album closes with Meet the Vampeatles which is just plain sick, a tv theme as written by Jeff Lynne and done by the Bonzo Dog Band, maybe. It’s out now on Asthmatic Kitty.

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November 1, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/9/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #904:

The Bonzo Dog Band – The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse

Verrrrrry British stoner humor from 1968. This album gets the nod over the others in the Bonzos’ frequently hilarious catalog, as it’s more song-oriented than skit-oriented – which ironically means that there are more jokes here. They’re also especially biting, even for these guys, right down to the album title (“granny’s greenhouse” is 60s-era British slang for “outhouse”). It doesn’t have anything as hysterically funny as The Intro and the Outro (that one’s on their first album, Gorilla, from 1967), but it’s solid all the way through. It’s also their hardest-rocking album: Vivian Stanshall, Neil Innes and the rest of the crew are quick to lampoon anything and everything, especially 60s psychedelic rock excess, with the distorto organ rocker We Are Normal (which nicks an Arthur Lee trope), Beautiful Zelda and 11 Mustachioed Daughters. The snide Can Blue Men Sing the Whites? throws a jab in the direction of Cream; Rockaliser Baby mixes woozy, smoky one-liners into what sounds like a parody of the Move. The satire turns absolutely caustic on Trouser Press, a spoof of dance-craze songs introduced by a creepy Misterogers-type emcee. The jokes run the gamut from completely over-the-top – Stanshall mixing a drink and then slurping it on the intro to the phony ragtime ballad Hello Mabel – to clever and deadpan, best exemplified by the status-grubbing neighbors of My Pink Half of the Drainpipe. Pretty much everything the Bonzos did is worth owning, and it’s all up in the cloud online.

August 9, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Neil Innes at B.B. King’s, NYC 4/20/10

It’s a vaudeville device as old as vaudeville itself: get the crowd to repeat a series of phrases that begin innocuously and gradually become more and more ridiculous until the entire audience are making complete fools of themselves. Neil Innes got the house to affirm, in pretty perfect unison, that they’d never repeat anything that anyone purporting to being an authority figure wanted them to repeat – and they kept going, through a couple rounds of “Help me, Rhonda,” and would have gone on longer had the legendary Monty Python funnyman not grown sick of it. He did it again at the end of the show, getting everybody to do a big, fat raspberry, and spit all over each other. What was it that W.C. Fields said you could never underestimate?

Not every joke that Innes made was this broad or unsubtle, in fact just the opposite. The genius of Monty Python is in the casual absurdities, the little asides that you might miss if you’re not paying attention, or not on the same wavelength. There was a lot of that kind of humor, and a lot of music too – this was every bit the concert it was billed as, Innes showing off an impressive proficiency on acoustic guitar, piano and an oversized mandolin and a wryly tuneful, new wave soul songwriting style more than a little evocative of Graham Parker. And not all of it was funny, particularly a rather morbid, chordally complex number toward the end of the set, and the final encore, titled Old Age Becomes Me, a recent song that Innes had written to commemorate his 65th birthday. And old age does become him, resolutely absurdist after all these years, as quick to pick up on any incongruity or hypocrisy that crosses his radar as he ever was.

It was a mix of material from throughout Innes’ career. He briefly revisited his Bonzo Dog Band days, then ran through some silly old 1920s British music hall pieces, getting a boisterous call-and-response going with the crowd. The recent stuff riffed on an old guy trying to come to grips with the internet, a faux Mexican folk song about the seemingly impossible but very real decline of television to even greater lows – “I was the toilet bowl germ with the wicked grin,” the perplexed narrator dreams – and a send-up of French chanson delivered in the person of “Jean-Paul Satire.” The audience responded warmly to a couple of bits from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But the pieces de resistance were the Rutles songs, both from the movie and the even more hilarious 1997 Archaeology album, a phony Beatles Anthology that remains the gold standard for musical parody. The musical riffs were only half the fun – hearing the songs live, the gems hidden in the nooks and crannies jumped out when least expected. The curmudgeonly Irish cop in Doubleback Alley (i.e. Penny Lane) may drive the local kids crazy, but he’s looking out for them: “Stay away from the man in the ice cream van whose face was queer.” Innes proved equally adept at parodying Elton John, donning a pair of Williamsburg trendoid glasses, pounding the piano and slurring his lyrics through an absolutely ridiculous, absolutely spot-on ballad titled Godfrey Daniel. Considering that Monty Python after all this time remains a phenomenon that a new generation discovers every year, it wasn’t surprising to see how young most of the crowd was. Now if they can only put their slavish devotion to the man behind them and take his words of wisdom literally…

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