Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Classic Small Beast Reunion of Sorts

Is it possible to be nostalgic for something that happened just four years ago? Is nostalgia a healthy emotion to begin with? Probably not. But with this week being the four-year anniversary of Small Beast, seeing that date memorialized Monday night upstairs at the Delancey brought back fond memories of the weekly series’ glory days here in New York. Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch – this era’s finest rock keyboardist – founded the night in 2008 as a solo residency, followed by an endless cavalcade of some of New York’s, and the world’s, finest and darkest rock acts. This evening was a fond reminder of what an amazing run Small Beast had up to the summer of 2010, when Wallfisch took his show on the road to Germany. He now runs the State Theatre in Dortmund, which also serves as the European base for the Beast.

The night opened explosively with Valerie Kuehne. She’s part punk classical cellist, part performance artist, but her performance art isn’t the foofy, mannered kind – it’s oldschool 80s style and it has fangs. And it’s hilarious. Whether or not Kraft pasteurized processed American cheese qualifies as food, or how yoga has been transformed from oasis of relaxation to yuppie clusterfuck, might seem obvious. But Kuehne’s rapidfire rants about both were irresistibly funny all the way through to the punchlines…and then she played a roaring solo cello piece that became surprisingly lyrical, as violinist Jeffrey Young strolled in through the audience, and then she and accomplice Esther Neff  donned masks and handed out instructions to the audience. Which turned out to be a cruel kind of dada – watching the crowd make fools of themselves, looking up at them from the floor of the club (music bloggers aren’t immune to being spoofed) was almost as funny. Then she and Neff ran off to Cake Shop, where they were doing another show.

Martin Bisi cautioned before his duo improvisation with fellow guitarist Ernest Anderson that it might be “sleepy.” Nightmarish, maybe, but definitely not sleepy: fifteen seconds into it, and Bisi hit a ringing tritone and then sent it spiraling devilishly through the mix as Anderson anchored the ambience with keening layers of sustain from his ebow. Meanwhile, Bisi slammed out chords when he wasn’t building a murky, echoey cauldron of implied melody. And then in a raised middle finger to the sound system, he stuck his guitar in his amp and mixed the noise through a labyrinth of bleeding, pulsing effects. Although he’s not known as a jam guy – epic dark songcraft is his thing – he’s actually a tremendously entertaining improviser who never plays the same thing the same way twice. Jamming out soundscapes is probably the last thing he or anybody who knows his music would expect him to be doing, but this was good trippy fun.

Roman Wallfisch was the star of this show. The guitarist son of the night’s impresario has been playing banjo for a couple of weeks now, and he’s already figured out all sorts of cool voicings mixing old folk tropes with new rock ones. He casually made his way through a couple of shambling narratives, Monsoon Season and Parts of Speech, both songs showing off a wryly surreal lyrical sensibility and a wicked sense of melody: the apple obviously didn’t fall far from the tree. Oh yeah – in case you’re wondering, Roman Wallfisch is fourteen years old.

And the Wiremen – in a duo performance with guitarist/bandleader Lynn Wright and violinist Jon Petrow – could have been anticlimactic, but they weren’t.  Wright’s plaintive English/Spanish vocals over broodingly jangly, reverb-toned southwestern gothic melodies were as surrealistically dusky as ever. Wright held the crowd rapt with a quiet new song and ended the set with Sleep, which seems to be a cautionary tale, Petrow’s even more reverb-drenched lines raising the sepulchral ambience as high as anything sepulchral can go.

Guitarist Alexander Hacke and electric autoharpist Danielle Depicciotto treated the crowd to an equally brooding southwestern gothic ballad and then Cuckoo, the old Austrian folk song, complete with yodeling. Noir cabaret personality Little Annie was supposed to be next, but she was under the weather, so pianist Wallfisch was  joined by another brilliant dark chanteuse, Sally Norvell, whose takes of three haunting tracks from her duo album with him a few years back were lustrous and riveting, running the gamut from joyously torchy and seductive to funereal.

Wallfisch wrapped up the night with the kind of intuitively eclectic mix that defined the Beast for a couple of years, capturing the raw innocence of the Kinks’ Waterloo Sunset and the apprehension of Dylan’s Blind Willie McTell before a wry Little Annie Christmas song, the furtive gypsy punk of the Botanica song Money (from their latest, towering, intense album What Do You Believe In) and then the scorching gypsy punk of How, a crowd-pleaser from the old days. Petrow made another ghostly cameo or two. By now, it was after one in the morning, so Wallfisch wrapped up the evening with the nocturne Past One O’Clock (an audience request), the towering anthem Judgment (centerpiece of the new album) and a gorgeously brooding new number inspired by – among other things – the college kid in New Jersey who lept to his death from a bridge after being outed as gay. If there’s any lesson to take away from this show, it’s carpe diem: if there’s a scene this vital that you hang out in, don’t hide yourself at home, even if it’s Monday night. It could be gone sooner than you think.

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January 9, 2013 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 7/16/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #563:

Firewater – The Ponzi Scheme

A pre-millennial concept album about the deadly consequences of capitalist excess: the personal as political taken to a stunningly prophetic extreme. Fiery art-punks Firewater get extra props for spawning both Balkan Beat Box and Botanica, groups they heavily influenced. This 1998 release is intense and brilliantly lyrical all the way through, along with a couple of evilly cartoonish Balkan brass instrumental romps. The gypsy barroom rock of Green Light comments on the perils of chasing the almighty dollar, “going down like a pederast in a boys school;” Dropping Like Flies sounds like the Damned on a literate gypsy rampage. Caroline cruelly chronicles a girl who “starved herself of everything that money couldn’t buy,” while the noir piano boogie Whistling in the Dark reminds that you can only live on borrowed time for so long. There’s also Isle of Dogs, a snarling, spot-on hypocrite’s tale fueled by Oren Kaplan’s reverb guitar; the twisted tango Another Perfect Catastrophe; the savagely mocking So Long Superman, essentially a punk rock remake of Tainted Love; I Still Love You Judas, proof positive that there really is no honor among thieves; Knock Em Down, a savagely sarcastic noir cabaret tune, and the potent concluding song, Drunkard’s Lament, a searing look at the psychology of spectacles like reality tv a few years before it existed: “Misery loves company, that’s why everybody loves me.” Firewater frontman Tod A. has kept the band alive over the years with a shifting cast of characters, slowly moving further away from rock toward the East, with excellent results. The whole album is streaming at Spotify (you haven’t signed up for Spotify yet? You must – you get six months of unlimited streaming before the service turns into last.fm and becomes just another useless pay-radio site); here’s a random torrent via Cosmo Zebra.

July 16, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 7/11/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #568:

Sally Norvell – Choking Victim

Recorded in an old church in Northhampton, Massachusetts, this 2002 noir classic pairs off cult heroine Norvell’s icy/sultry vocals with Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch’s plaintive, haunting, reverb-drenched piano. The pitch-black intensity never lets up, through the Marlene Dietrich-ish gothic waltz Blake in the Cake; the seductive Brecht/Weill-tinged One Gentle Thing; Big Louise, a sad ballad for an aging party animal; the blackly sardonic AIDS-era memoir November; the self-explanatory Goodbye Song; the gleefully opiated wee-hours madness of Murder, as well as a hypnotic setting of a Paul Bowles poem, Tom Waits’ Please Call Me, Baby done as noir cabaret, and the Appalachian gothic ballad Forgotten and Abandoned done as straight-up, creepy neoclassical. Surprisingly, it ends on a very funny note (alluded to by the album cover), complete with a deadpan, amusing cameo from Norvell’s old bandmate Kid Congo Powers, with whom she recorded more rock-oriented versions of some of these songs. This one’s very hard to find. The sharelockers have nothing; once in awhile copies will turn up in the used bins – check your local used record store, if one still exists.

July 11, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marianne Dissard’s L’Abandon Glimmers in the Shadows

French-American rocker Marianne Dissard’s Paris One Takes, from last year, was a bristling, deliciously tuneful record with hints of noir cabaret: it made our best albums of the year list. It’s also found a new life as the bonus disc with the recent and very captivating new Rough Guide to Paris Lounge anthology. Her latest album L’Abandon has been blowing up in Europe: it’s also a lot darker and deeper. You could call it the soundtrack to the long-lost Jim Jarmusch southwestern gothic movie. Dissard’s world-weary, breathy delivery enhances the songs’ dusky ambience without making it cheesy or over-the-top. She’s also an excellent lyricist. Singing in French and occasionally English, she intones her way through an endless series of surreal images, puns and double entendres, some of them amusing, some genuinely disturbing. Here she’s backed by a huge supporting cast that revolves around a central band with Christian Ravaglioli on keyboards and oboe, Connor Gallaher and Luke Doucet on guitars, Giant Sand’s Thoger Lund on bass and Arthur Vint on drums.

The opening track, La Peau Du Lait (Porcelain Skin) matches an insanely catchy Grateful Dead bounce to a snarling new wave lyric. Dissard’s view of the the media is as a battlefield and also a call to war: spot-on, in the wake of the Bush era. Fueled by reverberating Rhodes electric piano, Almas Perversas (Perverse Souls) sets a seedy Mexican underworld tableau over a creepy, carnivalesque ranchera waltz. The murderously slow, whispery, sunbaked anthem Un Gros Chat (A Big Cat) wouldn’t be out of place on Steve Wynn’s genre-defining classic Here Come the Miracles. Ecrivain Public (Writing in Public) starts out as a dark, chromatic blend of Botanica-esque gypsy rock, blues and tortured art-song with a crushingly ironic lyric, Dissard screaming back the promises to the guy who once shouted them to her off the top of a cliff, but who now bitches at her in public. It’s Edith Piaf updated for a darker, hotter century.

The most haunting track here, Eté Hiver (Summer Winter) paints a grim portrait of disollution and decay over brooding, creeping piano-rock atmospherics. Neige Romaine (Roman Snow), an understatedly bitter duet with Brian Lopez, quotes Pier Paolo Pasolini over the most overtly southwestern tune here, other than the next track, the galloping, rapidfire lost-weekend narrative L’Exilé (In Exile). Fugu is a literally venomous kiss-off anthem lit up with lurid tremolo-bar guitar and a big crescendo. The album winds up with the quietly memorable, swaying angst of Fondre (Melting) and The One and Only, Dissard’s homage to her adopted hometown, Tucson, now under siege from the usual suspects: real estate speculators and the trendoids and yuppies who fill the new “luxury” condos and drive all the cool people out to the fringes. There’s also a secret track and a bonus DVD with Dissard’s remake of Warhol’s 1968 western, shot in Tucson (she directs and also plays the Taylor Mead role). There literally isn’t a single substandard song here: count this among one of the best dark rock records in recent years.

May 10, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ward White Slashes and Burns at Bowery Electric

This is why live shows are where everything is happening. Ward White’s new album Done with the Talking Cure is urbane, and funny, and lyrically intense, but onstage Tuesday night at Bowery Electric he and an A-list of New York rock talent brought the monster to life. There was plenty of nuance, but it was good to see White cut loose with some righteous wrath. Jeremy Chatzky nonchalantly swung the Taxman bass riff as White jangled and clanged his way through the title track; with his signature deadpan ease, keyboardist Joe McGinty tossed off a quote from Dreaming by Blondie toward the end of the brutally cynical Change Your Clothes. “I could do it in the dark, I could do it in my sleep,” White crooned – he was talking about crawling out a window. Drummer Eddie Zwieback gave the gorgeously bitter Radio Silence a backbeat cushion for White’s corrosive lyrics and McGinty’s sizzling, allusive organ work. We Can’t Go on Like This had a sultry, decadent, bolero-tinged slink, aloft on violinist Claudia Chopek’s hypnotic string arrangement, augmented by frequent Botanica collaborator Heather Paauwe on violin and Eleanor Norton on cello.

Following the sequence of the album, White sank his fangs into Accomplice. “One of those narratives that sounds menacing, I’m not entirely sure what’s happening but it’s not good,” he explained. Live, the combination of McGinty’s circus organ and White’s Strat was all that and a lot more, and it was about here that he started crooning less and snarling more. They took it down to just the strings and vocals for Be Like Me, a withering chronicle of disingenuousness. “This song may…be about how I feel about New York City, but it’s also some kind of pretentious metaphor,” White sneered sardonically. “Whichever offends you less, don’t go with that one,” he encouraged the crowd and followed with Pretty/Ugly Town, the least cloaked of all of his attacks tonight, this one taking aim at at a clueless, trendy girl. “Everything is poison if you swallow enough, so be careful what you put in your mouth,” White sang as it opened, somewhere between Jeff Buckley and Roger Waters.

The next song, 1964 may be a thinly veiled swipe at fashion slaves, but its irresistibly cheery mod-pop had the crowd bouncing along, all the way through McGinty’s sarcastic wah-wah synth solo. Then they brought it down with the morose, drugged-out ambience of Who’s Sorry Now, switching to stark yet funny with the “damaged metaphor” of Family Dog and then to ferocious with the album’s closing track, Matchbox Sign. White supplied some useful background: “It’s a term used in the psychiatric event book to describe delusory parasitosis: ‘Take me home tonight!'” he laughed. “People are convinced that they’re infested with insects and parasites…desperately itching and scratching and trying to prove to the medical community that they’re real. Morgellons Disease is one of the more common ones…Joni Mitchell has come out in public as saying she’s infected,” White explained to considerable applause. The strings gave some relief to the exasperated narrator through his drive somewhere – the hospital? – with his crazy passenger.

It was too bad to miss the opening acts. Jim Allen, who a few years ago fronted a killer Elvis Costelloish outfit called the Lazy Lions, has gone back to the Americana stuff he did so well earlier in past decade; after his band, McGinty was scheduled to play a set of his own stuff.

April 24, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Aunt Ange Releases a Psychedelic Rock Classic

This one makes a good segue with today’s album by the Pretty Things: it’s a creepy masterpiece of current-day psychedelic rock. Incorporating elements of art-rock, gypsy punk and noir cabaret, Brooklyn band Aunt Ange’s new album Olga Walks Away is trippy, and strange, and memorably tuneful. It seems to be a chronicle of an acid trip, but it might be something else entirely: there’s obviously a lot of symbolism in the lyrics. Sometimes these are sharp and literate; other times they seem to be going for a more stereotypical mid-60s surrealism. Likewise, the music draws heavily on 60s psychedelia, with layers of reverb guitar, melodic basslines, sweeping keyboards, but also accordion, occasional horns, and a carnivalesque feel that at its most frenetic brings to mind World Inferno or Botanica.

With a blithely macabre sway, the opening track, Black Funeral Dress, sets the tone for what’s to come, bouncing along “like funeral drums.” After a clip-clop trip-hop dub version of the opening theme, they stick with the trip-hop with To the Sun and Die (try that one on for symbolism!). Loaded with dynamics, plinking along with Casio organ and electric harpsichord, it builds to a big, martial bridge – and then like many of the following tracks, it subsides. Pumpkins and Patches layers soaring slide guitar over an ominous chamber pop backdrop.

A couple of the tracks here have a more obviously contemporary feel: the Radiohead-inflected Monks and the big, crunchy powerpop stomp Crucify the Blackbird – which when least expected drops down to a long, quiet accordion vamp. At this point it makes sense to mention that at least on this album, the band has a food fixation, which comes to the forefront on the genuinely macabre 6/8 epic Lady by the Window: “26 birthdays, not one funeral, five star smoked salmon…down comes the rain from the aspartame cloud/Up grow sweet nothings from the cellophane ground.” Meanwhile, the backing vocals invoke a refrain of “cheesy cheese” in the background – which is anything but cheesy here.

After a sitar intro, the storm gathers with screaming reverb guitar on Down the Rabbit Hole: “One must travel through hell to get to heaven.” The most phantasmagorical song here, King of the Damned swirls with ominous layers of vocals, followed by the bizarrely haunting title track, Olga – a fleeting character throughout this journey – exhaustedly trying to resist the lure of “the one and lonely Charlie Tree,” a Hades character of sorts. It appears that Olga eventually does manage to walk away, but not unscathed: “Once you start you just can’t stop,” as the dynamically-charged epic Butternut Sunshine explains. The album winds up with Velvet Sidewalks, which starts out as a country ballad and winds up as a chilling circus song, an audience roaring for something – blood, maybe? – as it ends. Without any drugs, it’s a wild ride – we’ll leave that part to more adventurous listeners. Either way, it’s one of the best albums to come over the transom (or through the looking glass) here in a long time.

January 5, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The 20 Best New York Area Concerts of 2010

This is the list we like best for so many reasons. When we founded this blog in 2007, live music was our raison d’etre, and after all that time it’s still the biggest part of the picture here. While along with just about everyone else, our 100 Best Albums of 2010 and 100 Best Songs of 2010 lists have strayed further and further from what the corporate media and their imitators consider the “mainstream,” this is still our most personal list. As the year blusters to a close, between all of us here, we’ve seen around 250 concerts – the equivalent of maybe 25% of the shows on a single night here in New York. And the ones we saw are vastly outnumbered by the ones we wanted to see but didn’t. The Undead Jazz Festival, where all the cheesy Bleecker Street clubs suddenly became home to a horde of jazz legends and legends-to-be? We were out of town. We also missed this year’s Gypsy Tabor Festival way out in Gerritsen Beach, choosing to spend that weekend a little closer to home covering punk rock on the Lower East, latin music at Lincoln Center and oldschool soul in Williamsburg. We worked hard to cast a wide net for all the amazing shows that happened this year. But there’s no way this list could be anything close to definitive. Instead, consider this a sounding, a snapshot of some of the year’s best moments in live music, if not all of them. Because it’s impossible to rank these shows in any kind of order, they’re listed chronologically:

The Disclaimers at Spike Hill, 1/2/10 – that such a potently good band, with two charismatic frontwomen and so many catchy, dynamic soul-rock songs, could be so ignored by the rest of the New York media and blogs speaks for itself. On one of the coldest nights of the year, they turned in one of the hottests sets.

Jenifer Jackson at Banjo Jim’s, 1/21/10 – on a welcome if temporary stay from her native Austin, the incomparably eclectic, warmly cerebral tunesmith assembled a killer trio band and ripped joyously through a diverse set of Beatlesque pop, Americana and soul songs from throughout her career.

Gyan Riley and Chicha Libre at Merkin Concert Hall, 2/4/10 – Terry Riley’s guitarist kid opened with ambient, sometimes macabre soundscapes, followed by the world’s most entertaining retro 70s Peruvian surf band synching up amusingly and plaintively with two Charlie Chaplin films. Silent movie music has never been so fun or so psychedelic.

The New York Scandia String Symphony at Victor Borge Hall, 2/11/10 – the Scandia’s mission is to expose American audiences to obscure classical music from Scandinavia, a cause which is right up our alley. On a bitter, raw winter evening, their chamber orchestra sold out the house and turned in a frenetically intense version of Anders Koppel’s new Concerto Piccolo featuring hotshot accordionist Bjarke Mogensen, a deviously entertaining version of Frank Foerster’s Suite for Scandinavian Folk Tunes, and more obscure but equally enlightening pieces.

Masters of Persian Music at the Skirball Center, 2/18/10 – Kayhan Kalhor, Hossein Alizadeh and their ensemble improvised their way through an often wrenchingly powerful, climactic show that went on for almost three hours.

The Greenwich Village Orchestra playing Prokofiev and Shostakovich, 2/21/10 – like the Scandia, this well-loved yet underexposed ensemble plays some of the best classical concerts in New York, year after year. This was typical: a playful obscurity by Rienhold Gliere, and subtle, intuitive, deeply felt versions of Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto along with Shostakovich’s dread-filled Fifth Symphony.

Charles Evans and Neil Shah at the Hudson View Lounge, 2/28/10 – February was a great month for us for some reason. Way uptown, baritone saxophonist Evans and pianist Shah turned in a relentlessly haunting, powerful duo performance of brooding, defly improvisational third-stream jazz.

AE at the Delancey, 3/8/10 – pronounced “ash,” Eva Salina Primack and Aurelia Shrenker’s innovative duo vocal project interpolates Balkan folk music with traditional Appalachian songs, creating all kinds of unexpectedly powerful connections between two seemingly disparate styles. They went in and found every bit of longing, intensity and exquisite joy hidden away in the songs’ austere harmonies and secret corners.

Electric Junkyard Gamelan at Barbes, 3/20/10 – most psychedelic show of the year, bar none. Terry Dame’s hypnotic group play homemade instruments made out of old dryer racks, rubber bands of all sizes, trash cans and more – in a marathon show that went almost two hours, they moved from gamelan trip-hop to rap to mesmerizing funk.

Peter Pierce, Erica Smith, Rebecca Turner, Paula Carino, the Larch, Solar Punch, Brute Force, Tom Warnick & the World’s Fair, the John Sharples Band, the Nopar King and Out of Order at the Full Moon Resort in Big Indian, NY, 4/10/10 – this one’s the ringer on the list. We actually listed a total of 21 concerts on this page because even though this one was outside of New York City, it’s as good a choice as any for best show of the year, anywhere. In order of appearance: janglerock; haunting solo acoustic Americana; country soul; more janglerock; lyrical retro new wave; jamband music; a theatrical 60s survivor and writer of novelty songs; a catchy, charismatic noir rocker; a band that specializes in obscure rock covers; soul/funk, and an amazing all-female noiserock/punk trio to wind up twelve hours of music. And that was just one night of the festival.

Rev. Billy & the Life After Shopping Gospel Choir at Highline Ballroom, 4/18/10 – an ecstatic, socially conscious 25-piece choir, soul band and a hilarious frontman who puts his life on the line every time out protesting attacks on our liberty. This time out the cause was to preserve mountaintop ecosystems, and the people around them, in the wake of ecologically dangerous stripmining.

The Big Small Beast: Spottiswoode, Barbez, Little Annie and Paul Wallfisch, Bee & Flower and Botanica at the Orensanz Center, 5/21/10 – this was Small Beast taken to its logical extreme. In the weeks before he abandoned this town for Dortmund, Germany, Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch – creator of the Monday night Small Beast dark rock night at the Delancey – assembled the best dark rock night of the year with a mini-set from lyrical rocker Spottiswoode, followed by amazingly intricate gypsy-tinged instrumentals, Little Annie’s hilarious poignancy, and smoldering, intense sets from Bee & Flower and his own band.

The Grneta Duo+ at Bechstein Hall, 5/27/10 – Balkan clarinet titans Vasko Dukovski and Ismail Lumanovski joined with adrenalinista pianist Alexandra Joan for a gripping, fascinating performance of Bartok, Sarasate, Mohammed Fairouz and a clarinet duel that stunned the crowd.

The Brooklyn What at Trash, 5/28/10 – New York’s most charismatically entertaining rock band, whose monthly Saturday show here is a must-see, roared through a characteristically snarling, snidely funny set of mostly new material – followed by Tri-State Conspiracy, the popular, noirish ska band whose first few minutes were amazing. Too bad we had to leave and take a drunk person home at that point.

The New Collisions at Arlene’s, 7/1/10 – Boston’s best rock band unveiled a darker, more powerpop side, segueing into one killer song after another just a couple of months prior to releasing their stupendously good second album, The Optimist.

Martin Bisi, Humanwine and Marissa Nadler at Union Pool, 7/2/10 – darkly psychedelic bandleader Bisi spun a swirling, hypnotic, roaring set, followed by Humanwine’s savagely tuneful attack on post-9/11 paranoia and then Nadler’s pensively captivating solo acoustic atmospherics.

Maynard & the Musties, Me Before You, the Dixons and the Newton Gang at Urban Meadow in Red Hook, 7/10/10 – the one Brooklyn County Fair show we managed to catch this year was outdoors, the sky over the waterfront a venomous black. We lasted through a spirited attempt by the opening band to overcome some technical difficulties, followed by rousing bluegrass from Me Before You, the twangy, period-perfect 1964 Bakersfield songwriting and playing of the Dixons and the ferocious paisley underground Americana rock of the Newton Gang before the rains hit and everybody who stayed had to go indoors to the Jalopy to see Alana Amram & the Rough Gems and others.

The Universal Thump at Barbes, 7/16/10 – amazingly eclectic pianist Greta Gertler and her new chamber pop band, accompanied by a string quartet, played a lushly gorgeous set of unpredictable, richly tuneful art-rock.

Etran Finatawa, los Straitjackets and the Asylum Street Spankers at Lincoln Center, 8/1/10 – bad segues, great show, a perfect way to slowly return to reality from the previous night’s overindulgence. Niger’s premier desert blues band, the world’s most popular second-generation surf rockers and then the incomparably funny, oldtimey Spankers – playing what everybody thought would be their final New York concert – made it a Sunday to remember.

Elvis Costello at the Greene Space, 11/1/10 – as far as NYC shows went, this was the best one we saw, no question – along with maybe 150-200 other people, max. Backed by his most recent band the Sugarcanes, Costello fielded questions from interviewer Leonard Lopate with a gleeful defiance and played a ferociously lyrical, assaultively catchy set of songs from his latest classic album, National Ransom

Zikrayat, Raquy & the Cavemen and Copal at Drom, 11/4/10 – slinky, plaintive Levantine anthems and Mohammed Abdel Wahab classics from Egyptian film music revivalists Zikrayat, amazingly original, potent Turkish-flavored rock and percussion music from Raquy & the Cavemen and then Copal’s trance-inducing string band dancefloor grooves.

December 27, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, country music, folk music, gospel music, gypsy music, latin music, lists, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Black Water’s Disasters Album Is Anything But

Catching up to all the albums that have been sitting around here for months is getting to be a lot of fun! We were sussed to this one via excellently uncategorizable indie chamberpop rockers Bern & the Brights. On their most recent album Disasters (available from their bandcamp as a free download), New Jersey band Black Water go for a somewhat retro 80s indie songwriting style but with vastly better production values and influences that run the gamut from ska and reggae to dreampop and the occasional anthemic 90s Britpop vibe. It’s a compelling and completely original blend of catchy and hypnotic.

The opening track sets a tone for the rest of the album, darkly reggae-tinged with a swirling My Bloody Valentine edge, noisy but also hook-driven. “At night, we take cover,” is the phrase they run over and over again. The second cut has more of a Britpop feel, like a slightly less herky-jerky Wire. Arizona is southwestern gothic ska with tastily intertwining guitar and bass. “I’d rather die than live one more day in fear,” the singer intones in a quavery voice that adds genuine apprehension. Black Water Song begins with a funky pulse but grows hypnotic and atmospheric, with an ominous bridge featuring distant sirens and outdoor ambience that builds to a cyclotron of guitars – and ends cold, as if the tape just ran out at some random point.

The theme continues where it left off on the next track, Keep Your Eyes Closed, which after awhile starts to sound like an absolutely unhinged version of Ceremony by New Order. The single best song here is the ridiculously memorable, darkly ska-inflected Drugstore Model, rich with layers of reverb guitar, like a faster and more skittish version of the Dream Syndicate. With its noisy, funky verse working up to chorus anthemics, Oh My God wouldn’t be out of place in the Botanica catalog, especially when it switches to a long ska vamp with layers of slamming guitar chords and wild tremolo-picking. The album winds up with the inventive dreampop/soul blend of 7 Years. Solid songs, all of them, not a single miss here: you don’t see that very often. Shame on us for not getting around to it sooner. Since releasing this one, the band has gone through some changes, with an additional vocalist, lead guitarist and a new, supposedly more pop-oriented album due early in 2011. If it bears any resemblance to this one, it’ll be great.

December 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Top Ten Songs of the Week 9/13/10

This is sort of our weekly, Kasey Kasem-inspired luddite DIY version of a podcast. Every week, we try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone: sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. We’ve designed this as something you can do on your lunch break if you work at a computer (and you have headphones – your boss won’t approve of a lot of this stuff). If you don’t like one of these songs, you can always go on to the next one: every link here will take you to each individual song. As always, the #1 song here will appear on our Best Songs of 2010 list at the end of the year.

1. Botanica – Who You Are

The lure of comfort and complacency punctured with vivid, characteristically savage skill by this era’s greatest art-rock band, the title track from their shockingly diverse latest album. Click the link and then on the music player in the upper righthand corner of the page.

2. Serena Jost – A Bird Will Sing

Intriguing solo version of the title track to the art-rock siren’s forthcoming album. In case you’d rather hear the finished version sooner than later you can always contribute to her kickstarter campaign.

3. Brass Menazeri – Da Zna Zora

Wild live version of a Serbian folksong by the blazing Bay Area brass band.

4. Gamelan Dharma Swara – Tour Medley 2010

New York’s own community gamelan orchestra went on competition tour to Bali this past summer: this is a series of hypnotic, beguiling excerpts from those performances, including Tabuh Pisan Bangun Anyar, the rarely played Kebyar Legong, Sikut Sanga and Sudamala. Scroll down to the “listen” link on the left side of the page. They’re playing the Fat Cat on 10/24 at 8.

5. Matthew McCright – Dance Prelude #3

Scroll down to hear the Minnesota pianist have a great time with a ragtime song that sounds like vintage Scott Joplin – but it’s a brand new piece by Daniel Nass. He’ll be playing this possibly at Merkin Hall on 9/25 at 8.

6. The Black Angels – The Sniper/Bad Vibrations

Deliciously rever-drenched, dark garage stuff from their new album Phosphene Dream, recorded live at a secret show at the Orensanz Center last week.

7. Carl Wayne – Midnight Blue

A rare b-side from 1983 – the late frontman of the Move finds the inner pop gem in a song bastardized in its only previous appearance on ELO’s Discovery album.

8. The Mike Baggetta Quartet – Olive Tree

The noir-tinged jazz guitarist and his combo in warm lyrical mode.

9. Radio I Ching – untitled

This is free jazz legend/impresario Dee Pop’s latest crazy project – this is a dark and twistedly cool dub reggae tune.

10. Christian Marclay compositions streaming live at the Whitney

In case you’ve gotten over to the Whitney Museum recently (we haven’t), they’re doing a Christian Marclay retrospective there year and streaming it live. The next one is at 1 PM on the 15th and features accordionist Guy Klucevsek.

September 14, 2010 Posted by | folk music, jazz, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review from the Archives: The John Kerry Fundraiser at Sin-e, 8/26/04

[Editor’s note – we’re still on vacation and raiding the archive for some fond memories. This is a particularly bittersweet one, from the days when every New York band, outside of Williamsburg, at least, was desperate to vote the Bush regime out of office…and for awhile it looked like it really would happen in 2004]

Randi Russo had organized this fundraiser for the John Kerry campaign, unsurprisingly drawing an A-list of New York rock talent who connected electrically with the audience: they may have been preaching to the converted, but this show left no doubt that New York is still a Democratic town. Literate songwriter Erika Simonian opened. Nuance is her defining characteristic, along with a deadpan, cynical sense of humor. The highlight of her set, for that matter probably the highlight of the night – at least from the crowd’s delirious reaction – was I’ve Got a Song (as in, “I’ve got a song, it goes FUCK YOU”), a kiss-off anthem that this time out took on extra significance when she dedicated it to Bush. Her band was tight, accordionist Paul Brady was incisive and captivating as always but the muddy sound mix sometimes deadened her vocals – the sound guy was obviously trying to fix it, with minimal results.

Paul Wallfisch of Botanica did three songs solo on his trust old Wurlitzer electric piano, one of them a Jacques Brel cover, before the rest of his band joined him for a spot-on, passionate version of The Flag (“When I stand and face the flag/I see my country wrapped in rags”), from their 9/11-themed album Botanica vs. the Truth Fish. They eventually did a stripped-down, careening version of the gypsy-punk title track from that album plus some more straight-ahead, rock-oriented new material. Guitarist Pete Min ably channeled their former axeman John Andrews’ reverb-laden parts and their new drummer locked with bassist Christian Bongers’ spiraling, melodic lines.

Interestingly, Melora Creager, frontwoman and first-chair cellist of goth-tinged chamber rock band Rasputina was the big draw of the early part of the night: the goth girls shrieked when she hit the stage, then exited en masse when she was done. Seeing her play solo for over 40 minutes was even more impressive than watching her with the band. She plays most of the leads herself and didn’t miss a beat while singing in her signature deadpan, vibrato-laden, oldtimey delivery. She went into character and stayed there, cracking everybody up: too many jokes to remember. The highlight of the set was her closer, A Quitter, an uncharacteristically direct account of teen suicide.

Russo would later release her set as the Live at Sin-e album (still streaming in its entirety at deezer after all these years). Happily, that recording minimizes the boominess that plagued her set. They opened with a bouncy, funky League of the Brigands, followed with a swinging cover of Merle Travis’ Sixteen Tons, a marauding blast through the Middle Eastern-tinged antiwar anthem Live Bait and a gently mysterious, warmly swinging version of the janglerock hit Get Me Over. A rapidfire, scurrying version of Parasitic People contrasted with the hypnotic, Smog-like ambience of Shout Like a Lady (title track to her 2006 studio album), a snarling version of the embattled workingwoman’s anthem Battle on the Periphery and a clattering take of the usually hypnotic, strikingly optimistic Ceiling Fire to close the set on a high note.

Tammy Faye Starlite headlined. Backed by just an acoustic guitarist, the fearless satirist/actress/comedienne ran through a pointed, typically hilarious mix of songs and spontaneous riffage on the Bush regime. She’s a potent voice for the Democrats this time around (if they can stomach her genuine punk rock attitude and take-no-prisoners commentary). The big showstopper this time out was I Shaved My Vagina for This, one of the most amusingly feminist numbers from her country-flavored first album. Matching the ferocity of Amy Rigby to the uninhibited, stream-of-consciousness hilariousness of Lenny Bruce, it was a girl-power anthem that anyone could sing along to if they stopped laughing long enough.

August 26, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment