Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Blues in Space at le Poisson Rouge, NYC 8/19/09

Nice to see a good crowd come out late on a brutally hot weeknight and fill the house for a creative band who refuse to be pigeonholed. Are Blues in Space a metal band? Art-rock? Avant garde? Yes, all of the above and more. This time out bandleader/cellist Rubin Kodheli was backed by a powerfully propulsive drummer and two guitarists, one playing an eight-string a la Charlie Hunter for basslines when Kodheli himself wasn’t fingerpicking a line himself. But bass isn’t what this band is all about – the show was a whirlwind of rich textures, mostly in the high midrange where most noise-rockers make their home. Matching lush melody to ferocious roar, they played a mix of both recorded and unreleased material that almost predictably spanned a vast range of styles.

They opened with the appropriately titled Rage, a chromatically-charged, minor-key stomp perfect for Ozzfest. Kodheli transcends the mold of the classically trained string player, showing off a smirkingly vast knowledge of metal licks and an ability to transpose guitar voicings to the cello. The single best song of the night was a spaghetti western instrumental, Tumbleweed, probably the last thing you’d ever expect an ornate, amplified string ensemble to tackle, but it worked, masterfully, right up to the understated diminuendo of the ending. In the same vein, the group reworked the metal raveup Apocalypse almost as a chamber music suite, the two guitarists feeding the fire with a remarkable restraint. The playfully titled Happy Minor was in fact upbeat, inspiring and completely psychedelic, with the echoey effects on the stringed instruments blending into one another. They closed with another playful, ornate, smartly crafted multistylistic number, The Greatest, matching atmospherics to a crushing metal crescendo. Bands like Blues in Space make a good battering ram: they destroy boundaries. It would make as much sense for them to do Bang on a Can as it would for them to do Ozzfest or for that matter take up residency at a place like Barbes.

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August 20, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Rasputina at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn NY 10/31/07

Legend is that back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, bands like this would sell out football and soccer stadiums around the world. Every year, a new generation of schoolkids would discover them, leaving their song lyrics on their desks as graffiti for their friends to respond to in kind. All of these bands became impossibly rich and famous, with many of their songs becoming part of the cultural landscape. While that era may be gone forever, it is safe to say for every year that the world manages to survive, a new generation will discover Rasputina. The ultimate Halloween band reminded yet again what an incredible live act they are, with a deep back catalog of songs to match. Tonight they treated an unusually diverse crowd – a mix of goth kids and nondescript couples in their twenties and thirties, with not a trendoid to be seen anywhere – to a riveting set of mostly more recent material.

They opened with an apt, deapan cover of All Tomorrow’s Parties, following that with the tongue-in-cheek, slightly Bollywood-inflected Thimble Island and a stomping, completely rearranged version of their early audience hit Transylvanian Concubine. Frontwoman/cellist Melora Creager introduced the song with a joke about Hitler telling his shrink that he ejaculates during his strident speeches. The punchline that the shrink ostensibly responded with wasn’t audible: while the sound here is much improved since the former Northsix space was taken over by the folks who own Bowery Ballroom and the Mercury, it wasn’t always easy to make out what Creager was saying, and that’s too bad, because she’s one of the funniest people in rock. And this show rocked. They followed that with a new one, possibly titled Antique High-Heeled Red-Soled Shoes, and the uncharacteristically pretty pop song Fox in the Snow, the hungry animal personifying someone looking to get laid. For the last couple of years, Creager has streamlined the band’s live lineup down to just herself, another cellist who dazzled with her screechy monster-movie fills, soaring flights up the scale and spot-on harmony vocals, and a drummer who also dazzled with his imagination, musicality and ability to turn on a dime and follow Creager when she’d stop a lyric cold to say something funny to the audience.

Rasputina’s longest-running joke is that they were formed sometime in the 1800s. Creager has long had a fascination with bizarre historical events, and tonight they treated the crowd to the characteristically haunting global warming cautionary tale 1816 the Year Without a Summer, from the band’s latest and best album, Oh Perilous World, along with another, quieter, creepier cut, Oh Bring Back the Egg Unbroken. But these songs, in addition to the 9/11 trilogy from the new album that they ended their set with, carry a lot more weight than their earlier, more playful material. Creager is still a master of the clever double entendre and the off-the-wall cultural or historical reference, but the new material packs a potent, politically charged wallop. The audience roared their approval when Creager told them that the trilogy was written based on the conclusion that the Bush regime engineered 9/11. “But that’s old news,” she sighed after the applause had finally subsided.

They closed the show with some older concert staples: the ridiculously catchy, almost heavy metal, completely off-the-wall Saline the Salt Lake Queen; a scorching, distortion-laden version of the riff-rocking Trenchmouth, from their second album, and the sly, innuendo-filled old 1930s pop/swing hit If Your Kisses Won’t Hold the Man You Love. With all the great symphonic rock bands from the pleistocene era now either fossilized or playing exclusively to the hedge fund set for hundreds of dollars a ticket, it’s reassuring to see Rasputina pick up the torch, sounding better than ever. Who knew: a dozen years ago, when they first started, conventional wisdom was that they were a novelty act, three cello-weilding women dressed in Victorian underwear. Some novelty, seven great albums and five ep’s later.

November 4, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments