Lucid Culture


Concert Review: Botanica at the Knitting Factory, Brooklyn NY 2/12/10

Botanica are off on European tour starting February 16 (their myspace has the complete list of dates). Friday night’s show at the Knitting Factory went from incandescent to pyrotechnic, transcending a wretchedly muddy sound mix, leaving no doubt that they are still New York’s best band, possibly the best band in America right now. EU audiences are in for a richly melodic, menacingly hypnotic treat over the next couple of months.

Along with frontman/keyboardist Paul Wallfisch (heavily duct-taped since he’d ripped his trousers earlier during the day doing only god knows what) were longtime guitarist John Andrews – equal parts Daniel Ash and Dick Dale – along with bassist Jason Binnick (of Kerry Kennedy’s band) and Dresden Dolls drummer Brian Viglione propelling the juggernaut with a joyous, careening Tamir Muskat-esque intensity. Bee & Flower’s Dana Schechter lent her soaring wail to a mercilessly pummeling, murderously reverberating version of a new Andrews song, You Might Be the One. The title track from the new album Who You Are, a defiantly unfashionable, insistently soulful defense of all things passionate got an especially energetic treatment, keys and guitar refracting a pointillistic metal-in-the-microwave Moonlight Mile vibe on a long, extended outro.

Andrews turned into Mr. Moto, tremolo-picking the opening bars of their first number, What You Need with a casually macabre reverb-fueled menace that turned warm and soulful on the chorus, only to revert to haunting, cautionary mode seconds later. This is the most diverse – and inclusionary – version of the band so far, with songwriting contributions beyond the constantly deepening Wallfisch catalog: the Binnick song they played was a strikingly warm, upbeat 6/8 ballad imbued with a vintage sixties soul feel. But the old classics still resonated: the stately, anguished requiem for lost time And Then Palermo; the furiously scurrying, savagely lyrical gypsy rock hit How, and the towering noir cabaret blues anthem The Truth Fish, one of the few 9/11 elegies to effectively capture the outrage and horror that swept through New York in the weeks afterward. Kinetic behind his battered Wurlitzer, Wallfisch railed against the dying of the light, the absence of missing people and places and “the code orange bullshit of Machiavellian ideals” of the Bush years. Zef Noise guested on violin along with a trumpeter who, though they clearly were giving it their all, simply weren’t given the chance to cut through the sound mix. Knowing European sound guys for who they are, they’ll get it right in Bratislava and Berlin.

February 15, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble, Spottiswoode and Steve Wynn at the Delancey, NYC 4/30/09

An appropriate way to end a grade-A grey day, to steal a phrase from the Wade Schuman songbook. This being a Thursday, that meant Small Beast, Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch’s weekly upstairs show at the Delancey and this was the best ever, no question, in fact arguably the best show of the year so far. Maybe because the quality of the talent on the bill was so obscene, Wallfisch brought his A-game – not that he doesn’t typically put on a good show, but one of the reasons the Beast came to exist was to give him a chance to work out new material solo on piano in a live setting. Consequently, sometimes his set is more akin to a view of an artist’s studio rather than a gallery view of the finished product. Finished or not, the songs resonated with characteristic noir glimmer: the savagely beautiful Botanica concert favorite Three Women; a new one, Waits-ish and gospel-inflected; a towering, majestic new 6/8 ballad that could be the band’s Eldorado; a super-fast romp through the Little Annie noir cabaret hit Because You’re Gone and then the Botanica show-closer, How, a galloping, unstoppable gypsy caravan blazing with torrents of piano and eventually a satirical Riders on the Storm quote, held on a steady course by Linda Pitmon (the best rock drummer on the planet, from Steve Wynn’s band) on tambourine.

Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble was next, the band spilling over onto the floor in front of the stage. Their name is well chosen. There was an offhandedly menacing look to the whole black-clad crew, and they were tight beyond belief, their bluesiness most vividly visible in their dramatic, stately noir cabaret numbers. With roaring, punk-inflected guitar, keyboards, rhythm section and guest accordionist Marni Rice supplying the night’s most haunting tonalities behind her, Beren was an avenging angel. Her powerful, anguished contralto wail going full throttle, she radiated intensity throughout a ferocious 45 minutes of big anthems, mostly in 6/8 time. “I’ve seen the lights beyond, I’ve seen the lights that could have gone on if I’d demanded,” she reflected with a passion only enhanced by longing and regret. The high point of her set was the relentlessly haunting gypsy vamp The Nod, her keyboardist opening the song with a murky Balkan trombone riff. Beren opened and closed the set at the piano, playing with a restrained savagery. But it was Rice who stole the show, her wrenchingly sad, poignant tones a stark contrast with Beren’s righteous wrath.

Spottiswoode was next. His myspace shows him in faux-mugshot pose, shades on, a homemade Marseille police department clapboard in hand, a persona that earlier in his career sometimes overshadowed his music. The persona is still there, but he’s grown into the old rake he always wanted to be, albeit with a strikingly politically aware sensibility – Marty Willson-Piper is an apt comparison. He started out solo on guitar with a bawdy English dancehall number, That’s What I Like, imbued with characteristic boozy sarcasm. Then he went to the piano and got serious, resulting in an often riveting show, the rest of his songs imbued with a woodpaneled, rain-soaked, early 70s European ambience. His best number was a big, somewhat anguished ballad with some tasty major/minor changes: “Save up the days until the war begins,” he cautioned. It’s still sometimes hard to tell whether he’s being satirical or not, but this show was a revelation.

Steve Wynn headlined, playing with his longtime lead guitarist Chris Brokaw for the first time in eight years. Wynn’s stock in trade is menace, but this show had an especially warm, intimate feel, not only because the two guys were jammed up there on the little stage with Pitmon looking on warily, tambourine in hand, but because this was all about joy and rediscovery. Their guitar duels, both on record and onstage, are the stuff of legend: get your hands on a classic like Melting in the Dark or Here Come the Miracles (both of which you’ll find on our upcoming Best Albums of the Decade list), or spend an hour or two (you’ll probably be there that long) at This time it was about trading off, about getting back in touch with the songs, stripping them to nothing but the shell (they played that one, sorry, couldn’t resist) to see what they were made of. More often than not, it was lush, jangly melody, without hardly a hint of the noise or unrestrained wrath you’d expect from a full-band show by these two.

An unexpected cover of Waiting for the Man was every bit as tense and nervous as Lou Reed should have made it. The big, grim suicide anthem Southern California Line was transformed into a terse, minimalist dirge. The menacing Morning After – the best song ever written about perjury – segued into an even more menacing, skeletal Silence Is Your Only Friend. Then they took it up, transforming the darkly galloping Death Valley Rain into a swaying, hypnotic clinic in harmony and overtones before bringing it all the way down with a slow, evil version of the Dream Syndicate classic When You Smile. How cruelly ironic that the only place in town you could see a show this good this year would not be at Madison Square Garden, where by all rights all these acts deserve to play, but upstairs at the Delancey on a little stage half-occupied by the Small Beast, an 88-key spinet piano.

And walking across the bridge after the show, it was impossible not to smile seeing all those HIPSTERS GO HOME stencils on the pavement. In fact, in every case they all happened to be very close to stencils for THE BROOKLYN WHAT FOR BOROUGH PRESIDENT, and in the exact same spray paint color.

May 6, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Song of the Day 4/11/09

New reviews coming very soon: haunting nouveau-Romanticism by Botanica pianist Paul Wallfisch, vengeful vocal intensity from Larkin Grimm, powerful and socially aware jazz by the Gregg August Large Ensemble and tons more. To keep the front page here fresh, as we try to do every day, we continue our top 666 songs of alltime countdown  all the way to #1. Saturday’s song is #473:

The Electric Light Orchestra – Showdown

Not the 1973 British blues-lite hit from the On the Third Day lp – this is the careening, absolutely out-of-control live version the band was playing circa 1977-78, building to a swirling cauldron of noise with all the strings going full tilt right before the last chorus. Then they do it again at the end. Worth digging through the files at limewire or elsewhere: the dodgy sound only enhances the mayhem.

April 11, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Carol Lipnik and Spookarama at the Delancey, NYC 4/2/09

Yet another good reason why the weekly Small Beast Thursday shows at the Delancey are the musical event of the week: a chance to see both Paul Wallfisch of Botanica and Dred Scott play back-to-back. It’s hard to imagine a more fascinating piano doublebill (in this case particularly apt, since the Small Beast in question here is the club’s 88-key spinet that somehow survives week to week). Since Wallfisch hosts the salon/concert series and also serves as the opening act, he gets a lot of ink here. Suffice it to say that he was in typically provocative, darkly incisive mode. He’s taken to covering a new song by another major artist also playing on the same night every time out. This time, in tribute to Marianne Faithfull (playing for megabucks in the West Village), he did It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue in addition to plenty of his own stuff including the fiery, politically charged How which this time around became an audience-participation number. Wallfisch does not acknowledge any fourth wall: attend this show and you are always in danger of becoming part of it, an especially enticing prospect for those who enjoy living dangerously.


Next on the bill was Carol Lipnik, the extraordinary and unique noir chanteuse who hasn’t played out in awhile. We covered her exquisitely beautiful but sonically disastrous show at the Spiegeltent downtown last fall. As it turned out, a member of last night’s audience was also in the vicinity that October night and had equally bitter memories of watching another performer, in her case John Kelly, being drowned out by the woomp-woomp-woomp blasting from the adjacent tent where the women onstage were undulating and taking off their clothes. But nothing like that happened last night (as far as anyone could see – if anybody was disrobing, they’d found a private place). Her voice awash in eerie reverb, Lipnik seemingly went into a trance, turning the loud, chatty crowd at the bar silent and riveted.


Backed by just her longtime keyboardist Scott (who also leads a spectacularly good jazz trio), she delivered a mix of both darkly familiar and new material, by turns phantasmagorical, carnivalesque, gleefully macabre and irresistibly compelling. With her red hair swaying behind her and the hint of a devious grin, Lipnik does not exactly look the part of someone who delights in mining the darkness, but that’s her home turf. She started out low, ominous and strong, at the bottom of her range with Scott playing a hypnotic, minimalist melody on a little synth organ he’d brought along. On the Tom Waits-ish Freak House Blues, she lept several octaves, seemingly to the top of her formidable four-octave range in a split-second as Scott played macabre major-on-minor behind her. When she sang “Take my life, please, take my will” as The Last Dance with You rose to a crescendo, it was impossible to look away. A couple of times – particularly on the darkest song of the night, the brand-new, literally morbid Cuckoo Bird – the two bedeviled the audience by stopping cold, mid-phrase. They also took the Michael Hurley cult classic Werewolf (also covered brilliantly by Sarah Mucho) and redid it as a swinging singalong before closing with a hypnotic, soulful retelling of the Rumi poem Don’t Go. Lipnik’s next show is at the Rockwood on Tues Apr 28 with Scott at 11, followed by Scott and his trio at midnight. 


Not to overstate the issue, but this is typical of what happens on Thursday nights at the Delancey. Next week’s show features another chanteuse, Larkin Grimm, whom Wallfisch insists is the next great voice to come along. Come out and find out for yourself. Or miss it at your peril.

April 3, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Palmyra Delran at Arlene’s, NYC 3/26/09

This is the kind of band you see in a bar and suddenly an hour has elapsed and you’re still there watching them. More specifically, this is what happens when you give very simple songs to very intelligent people. What Palmyra Delran plays in this band and with the newly reformed (and reportedly reinvigorated) Friggs is your basic nuts-and-bolts, riff-driven garage rock. Barre chords on the guitar, rhythm four on the floor, verse/chorus/verse/chorus/solo/verse, maybe an intro or an outro if you’re lucky. Amazing how they made it sound so fresh. One of the not-so-secret secrets of this band is how much everybody listens to each other, Delran passing the baton along to her lead guitarist, then to the bassist and back again while everybody added a part that meshed like a Turbo Hydramatic (that’s vintage rockspeak for automatic transmission). For music with orchestration this good, you usually have to go to a place like Carnegie Hall.


They opened with a hotrod instrumental driven by Delran’s Fender Jazzmaster. There’s bite, growl and sinew in her playing, dirty enough to keep you guessing but always there to grab the song if it needs grabbing. The night’s first vocal number was a noir 60s flavored rocker possibly titled Drag You Down: “Learn to crave what will hurt you, you wanna know what’s on the other side…she digs the ride,” Delran sang with not a little sarcasm. The fast backbeat number Shy Boy swung along over a gorgeous four-chord hook, Delran pogoing and driving the band along: “Nobody can get close to you, even if you want them to.”


The lead player – on a beautiful black Gibson SG – rattled off a ferociously good, chord-fueled solo on a simple but potently anthemic number that sounded like something Stiv Bators probably would have wished he’d written. Then the whole band went up in flames together on the solo on another ridiculously catchy garage-pop song. Then it was the bass player’s turn to feed the inferno as Delran sardonically reminisced how “one more heart goes down the drain.” They wrapped up the set with a blazing version of the surf-inflected Love Has Gone Away from Delran’s new cd, drummer Nancy Polstein aggressive but counterintuitive with those Mel Taylor beats like she’d been doing all night. It was SG guy’s birthday, so the crowd converged in two directions, on him and Delran, the minute the show was over. What a fun way to keep the night going. Watch this space for future shows by Delran and her band; on an auspicious note, she plays with the Friggs on what promises to be one of the great doublebills of the year, May 8 at Santos Party House at 7 PM, opening for the recently regrouped Chrome Cranks.


A stop into the Delancey earlier in the evening provided not only shelter from the nasty drizzle but also a sneak preview of some new Botanica songs. As usual, Paul Wallfisch, host of the weekly Small Beast series here, opened the night solo on piano. He stripped down the big audience hit Someone Else Again to a skeletal yet elegant swing, ran through a couple of brand-new songs – one darkly anthemic and Nick Cave-ish, another, possibly titled New Girlfriend, with a noir cabaret tinge – as well as a PJ Harvey cover, a French waltz and a couple of trips into the vault – or crypt, if you will – for some older material. Because this guy’s there every week, the temptation is to take him for granted. Don’t. While it lasts, carpe noctem.   

April 2, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Darren Gaines and the Key Party – My Blacks Don’t Match

First-rate noir rock by probably the first-ever good band to be frontpaged at the CMJ site. On My Blacks Don’t Match, Gaines’ second cd, the musicianship is terrific, the songs are inspired and tuneful, the arrangements are purist and even the production is first-class.  If you can get past the vocals with this – indie rock types won’t notice or care, but purists will have a hard time with some of them – you’re in for a real treat. The weak link here is Gaines himself, who sang perfectly fine on his previous cd Hit or Miss but now seems to be flailing all over the place for an identity – he can’t decide whether he wants to be Nick Cave or Tom Waits, when who he really ought to be is himself. Drop the pose, drop the persona, guy, you’ll be glad you did someday.


Much of this cd will remind New York fans of the weary, 4 AM gutter jazz poetry of Blasco Ballroom spiced with anthemic Nick Cave Romanticism, Leonard Cohen gloom, boozy Waits saloon jazz and even the ominous nocturnalia of Botanica. The cd kicks off with Nightshade, a fast noir blues with a gypsy tinge a la Firewater before they went all South Asian. Track two, She Says She Does is sardonic, minimalist and dismissive, somewhere between Steve Wynn and vintage Iggy with acoustic guitar and a vintage soul horn chart. “The hits get harder/The kisses get shorter/Find me a porter/I can’t carry these bags anymore,” Gaines complains.


The snide anti-nostalgia anthem Good Old Days (Wash Away) builds to a fast, scurrying chorus with more horns soaring over dirty guitars: “What’s so good about the good old days?” Snowdrift is a dead ringer for Nick Cave in stark ballad mode, guitar feedback ringing eerily in the distance for extra ambience. The low-key noir vibe continues with the laid-back Tripped Down Memory and its tasty bed of watery flanged guitars.


Hey Napoleon, with its Peter Gunn bassline, Keystone Kops horns and careening guitar reverts to a vintage Firewater feel; Midnight, which follows, brings it down again with its strung-out wee-hours atmospherics: “I see no reason why I should be sincere.” The Litterati is an imaginative, pretty spot-on spoof of an unlikely target; Hallelujahville is a smartly sarcastic, swaying country ballad that screams out for a deadpan, unaffected lead vocal. The cd winds up with the Lou Reed-inflected Very Different Times and and the actually somewhat anguished Speechless: “I broke my fingers keeping them crossed for you/And the cross I bear is broken too.” Give this band credit, they really know their noir. This is one of those albums that sounds better the later the hour and the smaller the crowd – and foreshadows even better things for the band as they evolve. Darren Gaines and the Key Party play the cd release show for this one at 8 PM on March 14 at the Gershwin Hotel.

February 19, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 2/9/09

Here’s this week’s hit parade. All of the links here lead to the individual song except for #9 which you’ll have to see live since the band hasn’t recorded it yet. But it was so good we had to include it anyway.


1. The Brooklyn What – We Are the Only Ones

Yet another smash from the Brooklyn What’s sprawling, multistylistic, funny and furious debut cd. This one’s absolutely right for the here and now: a call to the cool kids to overthrow everything that’s keeping everybody down and start something new. What’s this make, six #1 hits from the album, by our reckoning? If this was 1978, that would be the case. They’re at Red Star on 2/20 at 11.


2. Botanica – Who You Are

Absolutely gorgeous, majestic, wickedly sardonic art-rock anthem from this era’s greatest art-rock band. They’re at Joe’s Pub on 3/21 at 7, early, after getting back from a whirlwind European tour.


3. Edison Woods – Finding the Lions

Warm, reassuring, hypnotic art-rock ballad with gorgeous harmonies from one of New York’s most unique and captivating groups, equal part classical and rock. They’re at Galapagos on 2/19.


4. King Khan & the Shrines – Live Fast Die Strong

This band is completely insane but they’re a lot of fun. Bizarre, completely over-the-top funny garage rock, like Emmett Kelly sharing the stage with Jesse Bates’ Flying Guitars, recorded live at a record store. 


5. Pearl & the Beard – Vessel

Disquieting, dark, slow and artsy with melodica, cello and guitar. They’re at Union Hall on 2/18.


6. The JD Allen Trio – iD

Is it id or ID or…? Typical of this guy. He makes you think. From his latest, magnificent jazz trio album I Am I Am (reviewed here recently), this is as catchy as it is haunting.


7. The Latin Giants of Jazz – Trip to Mamboland

This is serious oldschool stuff, essentially what’s left of Tito Puente’s band playing a sizzling, upbeat salsa gem that sounds like something Machito could have done but with better production values.


8. The Dirt Luck Outlaws – Whiskey Song

Punkabilly, cowpunk, country punk, whatever you call it, it’s a lot of fun. This is one of those songs that every band is tempted to write and it’s a good thing these guys did. 


9. The Disclaimers – The Damage Is Done

Typical Disclaimers song: killer tune, killer hooks, sardonically brooding lyric and a gorgeously jangly two-guitar tune by rhythm player Dylan Keeler.


10. Jerry Teel & the Big City Stompers– Sugarbaby

Hypnotic Howlin Wolf style blues as done by one of the legends of Lower East Side noir glam rock. It always brings down the house when they play it live. They’re at the Mercury on 2/20.

February 10, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch and And the Wiremen at the Delancey, NYC 2/5/09

“I started doing this so I could see all my favorite bands play,” Small Beast impresario and Botanica bandleader Paul Wallfisch admitted to the assembled multitude. For regular readers of this space, the weekly Thursday Small Beast shows at the Delancey have within the span of only a few weeks become the most exciting musical event in New York, a throwback to the days when Tonic was still open and booking edgy, late-night shows. Wallfisch also started a club in Paris back in the day, which is still open and thriving: consider that an omen.


Even though Wallfisch runs the show – running himself ragged, it seems, on the prowl for cables, or duct tape, or whatever might hold the candles to the top of his piano so their light can be dispersed via the disco ball above – he doesn’t shortchange the audience, this time around playing more or less solo for an entire hour. Menace may be his usual stock in trade, but tonight the piano was in, um, roadhouse tuning. So he ran with it, delivering a set of mostly warm, thoughtful, major-key gospel and blues-tinged material, much of it obscure or unreleased. The gentle Botanica ballad This Perfect Spot was augmented with the playful faux-orchestrated tonalities of an Omnichord; And Then I Met her, another ballad, lacked only the Omnichord. He debuted a new number fueled by menacingly insistent, chordal piano; a bit later, the trumpeter from the evening’s headline act, And the Wiremen joined him on a song.


Pete Simonelli from the LA group the Enablers was next, doing a spoken-word set over buzzsaw guitar loops, Wallfisch, adding the occasional incisive upper-register tonality. The set evoked what it might have been like to have seen the Stooges’ legendary stage debut, Iggy and the rest of the guys slinging electric drills since they didn’t have any songs (they got a record deal out of it). You may be able to eventually hear this set and Wallfisch’s as well since a French radio station was there to record them.  


With two guitars, keyboards, upright bass and trumpet, And the Wiremen (don’t bother googling to find where they got the name) closed the evening with a gorgeous, reverb-drenched set that mixed a couple of pretty standard indie rock songs in with a bunch of haunting, southwestern gothic compositions. Their first number held hypnotically on a single chord til its anthemic chorus kicked in, with an ominous, tremolo wail from the lead guitar. Frontman Lynn Wright has played with a million other good bands, including Rev. Vince Anderson, Bee & Flower and Cordero. In this unit, he’s taken on the role of bandleader and minimalist, darkly terse rhythm guitarist. Their brooding, pensive songs occasionally building to unbridled rage, they’re the kind of band that would be headlining Tonic on a Saturday night if a greedy landlord hadn’t put the club out of business.


The second song of the set was a beautifully eerie, bluesy southwestern gothic dirge, “sleeping while the world goes by,” trumpet floating over the ominous clang of the guitars, then building to a tastefully minimalist guitar solo. A couple of later numbers featured some spooky, pointillistic tremolo-picking. Wallfisch joined them on a slinky noir cabaret number and didn’t waste any time turning in the best solo of the night, a matter-of-factly macabre, flamenco-inflected descending progression that ended the song with particularly dark intensity. Such is the state of things on Thursday nights at the Delancey now: if your taste runs to adventurousness and darkness, there is no better place to be. Watch this space for upcoming shows by And the Wiremen; Botanica play Joe’s Pub, early, 7 PM on March 21.

February 6, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch and Abby Travis at the Delancey, NYC 1/22/09

Botanica frontman/keyboardist Paul Wallfisch has taken over booking Thursdays upstairs at the Delancey, effectively creating one of the very few “must-see” nights anywhere in the New York rock scene, especially considering that for the time being it’s free. Simply put, New York hasn’t had a consistent home for intelligent, challenging rock and rock-related music since Tonic closed two and a half years ago. With this new series, playfully titled Small Beast, Wallfisch aims to change that. Typically, he starts the evening solo on piano, perhaps introducing a guest or two and then bringing up the night’s featured artist or artists.


In a fascinating if all-too brief forty minutes, Wallfisch ran through a set that illustrated pretty much every style his band plays: an eerie, carnivalesque tune; a fast, scurrying ragtimish number, a noir minor-key blues and the pretty, impressionistic A Matter of Taste, with echoes of the Strawbs’ classic New World on the chorus: “I’m not the tragic figure I once was,” he sang nonchalantly. Then he launched into the gorgeous lament Eleganza and Wines (from Botanica’s most recent US release, Berlin Hi-Fi) and as usual, he used it as a lesson in 7/8 time, getting the crowd to clap and stomp along and for the most part this was successful. Who says American audiences don’t understand anything other than 4/4, anyway? He closed with a Jacques Brel cover and then the fiery, politically charged gypsy rocker How and finally took the solo that everybody’d been waiting for, part high romantic anguish, part sly Tom Waits blues.


Torchy balladeer Abby Travis followed with a gorgeously melodic, frequently riveting, mostly solo show. A striking presence on the small stage, she held the crowd rapt through almost an hour’s worth of songs. As well-known a sidewoman (she’s made a living playing bass on tour with innumerable big-name acts) as she is a songwriter, she impressed as much with her writing and her vocals as with her chops. The obvious comparison is Jeff Lynne: like the ELO mastermind, Travis welds an ironclad pop intelligence to a big dramatic sensibility, in her case part classical and part noir cabaret. “I look in the mirror and see myself dead,” she sang on the first of several big anthems, dramatic yet understatedly so: impressive as her range is and as much as she likes to leap around and belt, she doesn’t overdo it and that only adds to her songs’ considerable suspense. The best song of the night was a new number, Lulu, a lush, crescendoing anthem that built to a chorus rich with subdued longing and anguish, a tune that wouldn’t have been out of place on Out of the Blue or A New World Record.


After a few more on piano, she switched to bass. The idea of just bass and vocals might sound supremely boring, but Travis gave a clinic in smart, tuneful playing. With a muscular, fluidly melodic style, she demonstrated effortless command of every weapon in a good bassist’s arsenal – chords, slides, hammer-ons and vibrato – without wasting a single note or inflection, on an original and then a stunningly good cover of I Put a Spell on You. The world may be full of great bass players, but this was really something special.


Then she brought up Wallfisch to take over the keys on the beautiful, regretful anthem Now Was and then another big, torchy original, Hangover Flower: “Your seeds are lying on my bed, the hangover flower is in bloom,” she sang with nonchalant, breathy sarcasm. Travis then went out the way she came in, solo on piano with yet another big 6/8 ballad possibly titled Our Last Ride. Travis makes much of her material available generously via her podcast; New Yorkers who remember the glory day of Lisa Lost’s noir pop band DollHouse about eight years ago will love Travis’ stuff. Readers in the LA area ought to go check out her upcoming show on Feb 3 at the Cavern Club, 1920 Hyperion Ave in Silverlake.

January 24, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Little Annie and Paul Wallfisch at Santos Party House, NYC 11/6/08

Smoky-voiced noir cabaret chanteuse Little Annie Bandez has been riding the wave of a long, long-awaited career resurgence lately, with a couple of resoundingly successful European tours in the last year or so. Last night’s show at Santos Party House was a revelation. She’s never sung better or written better and maybe never looked better either. Some artists need to grow into themselves and it seems that Annie –  despite all protestations to the contrary – has found her holy grail at last. “This week was going to be either a celebration or a funeral,” she remarked. “Paul and I just did this really sad New York album and now…”she was at a loss for words. There’s never been an election that’s lifted the spirits of so many Americans, maybe ever, and Annie was trying to figure out how to deal with it. Predictably, she dedicated a song to Obama, “Even though I never dated him.”


Annie’s been a figure on the New York music scene, sometimes a bit player, sometimes a star, dating from the late 70s Mudd Club no wave scene. Discovered by noted reggae producer Adrian Sherwood in the mid-80s, the “dub diva” put out a series of now-collectible eps, all the while battling a small army of personal demons. In recent years she’s made her stories of life on the fringes into a marvelous source of stage banter, wearing the persona of a survivor, battlescarred yet with her sense of humor intact. Tiny and sepulchral as she emerged under the low lights, she and pianist Paul Wallfisch opened with a rivetingly dark version of Private Dancer that was pure punk in intensity if not volume. Wallfisch – this generation’s greatest rock keyboardist and frontman of the New York noir band Botanica– added characteristic touches of menace, but only when the song called for them. “You can’t look in their faces,” Annie sang, reaching down for the darkest, most gravelly timbre she could find. This isn’t just a singer-and-her-accompanist act: there’s a great deal of interplay and call-and-response between the two. Typically, Wallfisch would echo a phrase, but often counterintuitively, subtly twisting or even wrenching the emotion from the lyric. 


They followed that with a somewhat uncharacteristically upbeat take on It Was a Very Good Year before running through a set of originals. The first chronicled the life and unexpected demise of a legendary party animal. The Other Side of Heartache was arguably the high point of the set, a bitter, knowing yet defiantly witty reflection on addiction and bad behavior. As the song wound down, Annie launched into a long spoken-word outro: maybe I’ve acted badly, but so what, she asked. Do we have to have a meeting and another meeting and another meeting?


A couple of times she broke the fourth wall, stopping the song when she’d broken character to the point where she couldn’t return. “Paul, do I amuse you as much as I amuse myself?” she laughed. “Even more,” Wallfisch replied. The rest of the show alternated between riverting intensity and devious fun. If You Go Away (the Anglicized version of the Edith Piaf classic) and a shockingly transformed cover of the U2 schlockfest I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For fell into the former camp. The duo also did a silly beach vacation number where they “shake their Bootsy Collins in the sand.” Wallfisch threw in a brief run down the scale, and Annie recognized it at once. “That’s Scheherezade. But in the wrong scale!” The two then digressed into a brief but hilarious interlude about music theory. “There are three scales,” Annie riffed, “Major, minor and…foreign.”


The encore was Yesterday When I Was Young, which in its original version is a requiem for a cad. Annie’s made it her own, and a theme song of sorts, by transforming into a requiem for lost time. She’s a la recherche de temps perdu just like the rest of us, only perhaps more so and that’s what makes her version so wrenchingly beautiful, fist balled tightly to her cheek as she half-whispered, half-choked her way through the lyric, her trademark deer-in-the-headlights stare fixed probably on a spot on the back wall. But she sings to you, to your dead dreams, unrequited loves, missed opportunities and most of all to the hope that all might not be lost after all. It is pure, it is completely without artifice, and so heartfelt that sometimes the song brings her to tears by the time she’s done. This time she held them back. When the song was over, the audience – most of them obviously fans – didn’t know to react, silent for several seconds after Wallfisch touched its last two gentle notes.


Artsy, ambient chamber-rock septet Edison Woods opened the night on an equally magical note. With tastefully minimal sax, cello, keyboards and layers of vocal harmonies from their two frontwomen coloring their slow, atmospheric songs, their sonic web was as hypnotic as it was seamless. The best song of their too-brief set was a vivid number in 6/8 possibly titled Dance to the End of the World, an apt way to capsulize their sound.


By the way, Little Annie is also an extraordinary painter, blending colorfully playful, Frida Kahlo-influenced psychedelics with pre-Renaissance European religious iconography and a gritty urban sensibility. While generally more optimistic than her music, her visual art has a similar gleefully impish wit. 

November 7, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment