Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: My Pet Dragon at the Cameo Gallery, Brooklyn NY 2/8/10

My Pet Dragon opened their February residency at the Cameo Gallery with a fiery yet trance-inducing show including a considerable amount of new material. From their first few notes, they went for sweeping, epic grandeur, part 90s British anthem band, part shoegaze and whichever way they turned, completely psychedelic. Frontman/guitarist Todd Michaelsen’s voice functions as an instrument in the band rather than a distinct lead vocal over instrumentation. He’s got a range that would make Thom Yorke jealous, and uses the entirety of that range with an unselfconscious intensity. Harmony vocalist/dancer Reena Shah would judiciously pick her spots to echo or play off Michaelsen’s soaring wail when she wasn’t moving around her corner of the stage with a grace that was as trance-inducing as the music. Lead guitarist Anthony Rizzo layered precise, reverberating raindrops of melody when he wasn’t making a sonic Jackson Pollock behind the atmospheric washes and roars of Michaelsen’s guitar. Several of the songs would riff off a hypnotic two-chord vamp until the chorus would sail in, bright and catchy, sweeping the clouds away.

They opened with an insistent, creepy, Radiohead-inflected new one, Michaelsen running the lyric “with a minute to go,” over and over, mantra-like. There’s a remarkable social awareness to their lyrics, which really came to the forefront on New Nation, a hopeful post-apocalyptic duet between Michaelsen and Shah. Another new one, Yellow Brick Road was a study in unease, Rizzo bringing just a hint of a bluesy tinge to the pensiveness underlying the song’s sturdy, anthemic theme. A couple of other recent tunes swung and swayed, buoyed by bassist Mario Padron, taking advantage of the opportunity to emerge from his usual insistent pulse with some potently incisive runs up the scale as the verses would turn around. Another more recent one added subtle shades and shadows to a four-chord hook that wouldn’t be out of place in the Brian Jonestown Massacre catalog. Their last song – one of three brand-new ones they debuted tonight – became a mesmerizing, swirling echo chamber with the two guitars roaring full blast, the two singers rising wordlessly out of the morass, part exaltation and part scream.

The opening band were like a good ipod mix of b-sides – they have excellent taste. The end of their set included a Nashville gothic ballad, a ska-rock number like early No Doubt but with an edge, a song that sounded like Wire and another like Blur (or like bands who’ve ripped off those two groups, whose sound these guys were now recycling). My Pet Dragon are back here on the 15th and then the 27th at 10.

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February 9, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

CD Review: Craig Chesler’s New One

Craig Chesler’s main gig is rhythm guitarist in Tom Clark & the High Action Boys, one of the best roots-rock bands anywhere. He’s also been a fixture on the New York oldtimey scene for awhile. This cd gives him the chance to show off not only his clever, often tongue-in-cheek grasp of several Americana styles along with several richly evocative takes on 1960s British psychedelic pop: fans of second-generation bands like XTC, Love Camp 7 and Brian Jonestown Massacre ought to get the references. It reminds somewhat of a recent album by another A-list NYC sideman, Homeboy Steve Antonakis’ solo effort. In a way, this is sort of an audition reel that proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that this guy knows a whole bunch of different genres inside out and plays them with taste and a good sense of humor.

The best song on the album is the brisk Nothing Out of Something, sounding like an early 70s Ray Davies country song. Likewise, the wistful This Should Be My Summertime wouldn’t have been out of place on the Kinks’ Village Green. The one cover here is an aptly rapt version of Beautiful Night by Amy Allison. The rest of the cd includes – are you ready? – a shuffle like Wilco in an especially poppy mood; an oldtimey crooner song with ukelele and a string section; a similar one with more of a hillbilly feel; some shuffling 60s Britpop like the early Move; a stagy glampop song that could have been a radio hit for Queen; a bizarre, swinging piano pop song with a long break for solo ukelele; more proto-glampop; more oldtimey crooner stuff;and the rueful ballad with harmonies straight out of ELO that closes the album on a lushly pretty note.

Chesler plays the cd release show for this one at Banjo Jim’s on Jan 23 with Amy Allison opening the show at 8; seemingly half of the good musicians in town are on the bill with Chesler afterward. Memo to the musician re: the album title – dude, what were you thinking?

January 17, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

CD Review: Steve Kilbey – Painkiller

His best solo album. Steve Kilbey, visionary frontman and main songwriter of legendary Australian art rockers the Church, usually saves his best material for the band. Some of the lush, intricately crafted songs here have the percussive insistence that characterized much of the band’s 1984 Remote Luxury album, others sound an awful lot like the neo-psychedelia of Brian Jonestown Massacre, which makes sense since Ricky Rene Maymi of that band is on this cd. Kilbey’s infrequent solo albums (this is his first in eight years) typically have a lo-fi charm, a mix of what often sound like sketches and outtakes, many of them acoustic, Kilbey playing most if not all of the instruments. But this is a full-band album, eight of its eleven tracks credited to the group Kilbey assembled for it (along with Maymi there’s Scott Von Ryper of the Black Ryder and Morning After Girls and William Bowden on electronics as well as Tim Powles from the Church on drums). While Kilbey’s signature sound has always been atmospheric, this is a new direction for him, equal parts retro and futurist and it works extremely well. As Kilbey calls it on his myspace, it’s “space rock,” richly layered with oscillating keyboards and what sound like a small city worth of guitar tracks fading in and out of the mix.

 

The cd begins with the fast, driving Outbound, Kilbey’s vocals impressively strong, even aggressive, what seems to be an escape anthem. He’s quick to insist that he’s “not what the man in the street supposes…not a real time being, it’s the shadow you’re seeing.” There’s an eerie, minimalist guitar solo with a Middle Eastern tinge. The next two tracks share the same fast 80s beat, Wolfe (with what sound like sarcastic faux Sonic Youth vocals) seemingly a slap at a monkey on the back (LOTS of drug references here), Celestial maintaining the sarcastic feel with watery late 80s Robert Smith style guitar.

 

Song for the Masking (a pun on Song for the Asking, a beautiful ballad from the 2001 Church album After Everything Now This) builds from insistent downstroke acoustic guitar, getting darker and murkier with umpteen layers of effects and…of course…backward masking. “Come on,” Kilbey gleefully intones as the next cut, Look Homeward Angel gets underway, basically a swirling one-chord jam: “Got a heart like mercury…got a silver lining hanging over me.” The wooziest and the most overtly retro, BJM-influenced of all the songs here, Spirit in Flame pounds along, slow and hypnotic. 

 

The best song on the album, the fleetingly gorgeous Forever Lasts for Nothing comes toward the end, a Kilbey classic that in a lot of ways sounds like a rewrite of Bel Air from the Church’s first album, Of Skins and Heart. Dating from the waning days of the Bush regime, it’s a call to arms, not something you’d expect here – to say that it packs a punch would be an understatement:

 

Standing at the junction of two great highways, post-industrial breeze

No one fucking cares about your broken heart, or your slow release…

I got a little plan, I’ll start acting like a man, you can act like me…

Just like a welcome mat you lay down on the floor

Just like the love for rich and fist for the poor…

 

There are also a couple of one-chord stoner jams including one really long one to close the album, ending with samples of a thunderstorm and what sound like whale songs. Fans of any kind of psychedelia from throughout the ages should get this; for Church fans, it’s a must-own. Kilbey’s blog is also worth bookmarking: his prose poems are often as insightful and savagely amusing as his song lyrics.      

April 25, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: La Fleur Fatale – Night Generation

A big, ambitious effort by Swedish rockers la Fleur Fatale, part retro garage, part big anthemic Britrock, 90s style. Think Oasis, middle of the decade, when they were still putting out good tunes (and ripping off the Beatles at every turn), or Brian Jonestown Massacre in a particularly lucid moment. La Fleur Fatale distinguish themselves from those two bands by ripping off as many and probably more old groups than the both of them combined, but then that’s a garage rocker’s job, to evoke the guitar-fueled glories of bygone eras. By that yardstick, la Fleur Fatale succeed smashingly, with tunesmithing that’s consistently good and often downright excellent. The production does a good job simulating the big-room sound that was all the rage toward the end of the major-label era.

Three of the songs here work off a simple riff-driven melody given the atmospheric treatment a la BTM, the cd’s first cut opening with a suspicious similarity to the Strawbs’ Queen of Dreams (hey, at least these guys really know their source material). I Wanna Be Adored isn’t a Randi Russo cover; rather, it’s a plaintive, mostly acoustic pop ballad. Children of Neon Lights works a Lady Madonna style piano intro followed by synthesized flute into a neo-Oasis anthem. Sunshine Underground has galloping bass and big slashing chords a la Pete Townshend flying over a mellotron, again building into a catchy third-generation Beatles chorus. With its California Dreaming style 12-string guitar intro, Swift Flash of Mind builds to a propulsive, bounding minor key vamp. The oddly titled Gigantic Boredom isn’t boring at all, bright with a 60s folk-rock feel and Farfisa organ,and a nice Strawberry Alarm Clock style solo. The cd winds up on a 90s vibe with another Oasis ballad, a glammy second-generation riff-rocker and a midtempo piano pop song.

Throughout, the musicianship is excellent: everybody in this band can really play. Lyrically, it’s pretty much what you would imagine – give the band credit for singing in unaccented, clearly understandable English. Best thing about this cd is that it’s free, download it here
and enjoy!

January 13, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment