Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Last True Small Beast?

Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch, creator of the Small Beast concert series at the Delancey – New York’s most cutting-edge, exciting and important rock event – played his final set at the club Monday night, since he’s moving to host another Small Beast in Dortmund, Germany. Sharing a characteristically rich bill with Wallfisch were ”cemetery and western” crooner Mark Sinnis, cello rockers Blues in Space and Wallfisch’s longtime co-conspirator Little Annie Bandez.

All of these acts get a lot of ink here. Sinnis played a terse duo show on acoustic guitar, backed by the reliably extraordinary Susan Mitchell on gypsy-tinged violin. His trademark Nashville gothic material went over as well with the crowd gathered at the bar as the blast of air conditioning flowing from the back of the upstairs space did. The two mixed up creepily quiet and more upbeat songs from Sinnis’ new album The Night’s Last Tomorrow along with older ones like the hypnotic, vintage Carl Perkins-flavored That’s Why I Won’t Love You.

Blues in Space featured composer/frontman Rubin Kodheli playing electric cello, accompanied by eight-string guitar and drums. Hearing their swirling, chromatically charged, metal-spiced instrumentals up close (the band set up on the floor in front of the stage) was like being inside a cyclotron, witnessing the dawn and decay of one new element after another. And yet the compositions were lushly melodic, especially an unselfconsciously catchy new one which was basically just a good pop song arranged for dark chamber-rock trio. Kodheli fretted afterward that he wanted to take special care not to sound “bombastic,” something he shouldn’t worry about. A little bombast actually wouldn’t have hurt.

After Blues in Space, Wallfisch made the long wait for his set worthwhile. Small Beast is his baby, and as much passion as he put into it, it obviously wasn’t easy to let it go. As much as he didn’t hold back – the guy is one of the most charismatic frontmen in any style of music – he also didn’t go over the top, letting his songs speak for themselves. And they spoke volumes: his glimmering solo piano arrangement of the Paul Bowles poem Etiquette, and his closing number, Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man, equal parts seduction and anguish. “One and a half years, it seems like a lifetime ago,” he mused, which makes sense: in that short span of time, Small Beast in its own way took its place in the history of music in New York alongside CBGB, Minton’s and Carnegie Hall.

In between, Little Annie joined him for flickering, torchy, regret-steeped versions of Jacques Brel’s If You Go Away (interrupted by a posse of drunken tourists barreling down the stairs and past the stage, oblivious to the moment), the reliably amusing anti-trendoid anthem Cutesy Bootsies, a genuinely wrenching requiem for a suicide titled Dear John, and an apt encore of It Was a Very Good Year. Annie is reliably hilarious; tonight she was just as preoccupied. And who can blame her (she goes on tour with Baby Dee in late summer/early fall).

As for the future of Small Beast, the Delancey’s Dana McDonald has committed her ongoing support (she’s no dummy – being known for running a club that books smart music is always a plus, no matter how much more moronic the world of corporate and indie rock gets). Vera Beren – a rare bandleader who can match Wallfisch pound for pound in terms of charisma – hosts next week’s Beast on July 12, featuring her band along with ambient, minimalist synth goths Sullen Serenade and ornate, artsy Italian/New York 80s-style goth band the Spiritual Bat.

July 7, 2010 Posted by | concert, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Emily Hope Price at the Delancey, NYC 5/17/10

“I’m in a band called Pearl and the Beard,” cellist Emily Hope Price told the crowd at Small Beast last night.

“Which one are you?” host Paul Wallfisch asked, completely deadpan (his Big Small Beast extravaganza, maybe the best NYC rock show of the year, takes place on Friday at the Orensanz Center – tickets still available as of Monday night).

Price thought about it. “I’m the ‘and’.” And followed with a set of casually quirky art-rock that was as fun as it was virtuosically brilliant. Swaying on her feet instead of sitting down, she started out by building a series of loops – first a bouncy beat, then a cleverly plucked groove, then embellishments, building to ferocious, roaring cello metal – and then a cold ending. She varied her vocals from song to song, moving from a full, plaintive, soul-tinged delivery to one a lot more tongue-in-cheek and more than a little creepy on an oldschool country-style number that she played on tenor guitar. She explained that she’d just toured the south for the first time and gotten the inspiration for it from all the “Jesus Saves” billboards down there. “They don’t have a phone number – you know how billboards have phone numbers?”

Price is in the midst of a 365 project, writing a song a day for a year, ambitious to say the least, and she played a couple of what must be very recent creations, one a slinky cello groove number propelled along by fast broken chords, the other a mini-suite of sorts called War that began sparse and reflectively with judiciously dynamic textures and then grew to a fullscale roar. The audience demanded an encore: she rewarded them with the closest thing to a pop song she did all night. Price somehow finds the time to play frequent solo shows like this as well as gigs with her band, in addition to her daily compositions. Pearl and the Beard’s next NYC-area gig is at Maxwell’s on June 23.

May 18, 2010 Posted by | concert, experimental music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Blues in Space

Cellist Rubin Kodheli is a busy sideman in the New York scene, perhaps best known as a member of lush, hauntingly atmospheric art-rockers Edison Woods. He’s also a composer, and considering how gracefully he leaps from genre to genre as an ensemble player, it’s no surprise that his own band Blues in Space spans many different styles as well.

There are five songs on this captivating ep (it’s up on itunes), a mix of clever, playful and frequently ferocious instrumentals. Three of them have a crunchy metal edge in the same vein as Apocalyptica or Rasputina in a particularly enraged moment; others are quieter. Under the layers and layers of cello, soaring, grinding, roaring or wailing through an army’s worth of digital effects, there’s also Justin Sabaj’s tasteful, incisive guitar and Garrett Brown’s percussion, from a pounding metal thump to judicious tribal beats.

The first track, Like a Tree is full of evocative soundtrack-style vistas, swaying and ornate with an eerie, stark cello passage about halfway through before returning to its earlier atmospherics. As its title would imply, Apocalypse is straight-up thrash metal – it’s a showcase for Kodheli’s virtuosic ability to transpose metal guitar voicings to the cello. This particular apocalypse is pretty much done with destroying the world by about halfway through, eventually fading out with an evil oscillation.

With its blithe, pizzicatto stroll, Happy Minor evokes another genre-bending New York string ensemble, Ljova and the Kontraband. The self-explanatory Rage is a wild, crunchy metal number, its darkest segments interestingly played with clean tone without any of the crazy electronic effects. The last cut, The Greatest swirls around atmospherically for a couple of minutes before exploding with more sizzling metal riffs. Throughout the songs, Kodheli shows off an impressive restraint, a welcome change from the self-indulgence in most metal. He’s more interested in hooks, and in developing a mood. There are definitely plenty of indie films in development who would get good mileage out of the stuff here. Blues in Space play le Poisson Rouge on August 19 at 11ish with special guest Eleanor Norton of Divahn on cello.

August 11, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Persian Passion: Haale at BAM Cafe , Brooklyn NY 3/22/08

A mesmerizing, passionate, intoxicatingly good performance by the Bronx-born, second-generation Iranian-American psychedelic rocker and her four-piece band. Haale – as in jalapeno – treated the crowd to a hypnotic, pulsing blend of indie rock and classical Persian music. Her backing unit featured violin, cello and two percussionists, one of whom had a spiral gong that he waited til almost the end of the show to make a massive, magnificent splash with. Most of the solos were taken by the violinist, who showed off a spectacularly eerie, gypsy side; the cellist often played dark chords low on the register, frequently evoking another superb New York band, Rasputina. Haale frequently utilizes open guitar tunings that lend themselves especially well to the trancelike feel of much of her music. Vocally, she goes for a drawling, soul-inflected style, but somehow she manages to make it sound completely unaffected, perhaps because it fits her lyrics and her vision so well: this artist is all about adrenaline, exhilaration and transcendence, the soaring exuberance of her voice contrasting with the frequently haunting chromatics of the music.

Speaking in Persian, she rattled off a poem with an obviously impressive, intricate rhythm and rhyme scheme. “That was written eight hundred years ago, in Iran,” she told the audience. “That’s hip-hop!” she exclaimed. And the beat her band was using was pure trip-hop, even if it dates back centuries. Much of the set was new songs from her just-released full-length debut cd, No Ceiling, including the tongue-in-cheek yet plaintive Off Duty Fortune Teller. She told the audience of how Jimi Hendrix, during his brief time as an Army paratrooper, resolved to find a way to make his guitar produce the droning rumble of an airplane engine, then played an evocative new song inspired by that revelation. The set built a crescendo to a wild, swirling finish; Haale saved her best songs for last. The crowd – an impressively diverse crew – wanted more, but it was almost closing time. If this show is any indication, the new album is amazing.

March 24, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Serena Jost Live at Joe’s Pub, NYC 3/3/08

The adrenaline was flowing. Walking up Fourth Avenue at about half past ten, it was impossible not to be moving with a defiant bounce, humming Our Town, the stomping Iris DeMent cover that Serena Jost and band had just played to close their set at Joe’s Pub. And it wasn’t even all that good, mostly drums and hardly anything else in the mix. Not that the band played it badly, and drummer Colin Brooks was just doing his job. This was strictly a sound issue: Jost’s music is all about dynamics, tension and resolution, and this was their big crescendo of the night. It just must have caught the sound guy off-guard.

Between everybody who contributes here, we see scores if not hundreds of concerts, openings and movies every year. Serena Jost has been a fixture on the Lower East Side music scene for awhile. She’s been featured here before, and her new album Closer Than Far has been in heavy rotation here in Lucid Cultureland. Familiarity usually brings with it a certain comfort and ultimately a ho-hum factor, but not tonight. It was impossible not to be moved, tickled and sometimes even left spellbound by this show.

They opened with the absolutely, ridiculously catchy, bouncy Vertical World, an artsy pop song that serves as something of a centerpiece within the new album. It’s something that could become iconic if someone with good ears working on an indie film has the brains to run the whole song over the closing credits. The band followed that with another pretty, upbeat new one, In Time, which made a good segue. Jost moved around the stage a lot, beginning the set on keyboards, then switching to acoustic guitar, then cello, then back to keys. Her onstage persona is deliberately inscrutable. She often sings with a full, ripe, somewhat heartbroken tone, but she’s actually most mysterious when she’s having fun. The high point of the night as far as the audience was concerned was Jump, a playful straight-up 70s disco number driven by Brad Albetta’s stone-cold authentic, tongue-in-cheek bassline. But the melody gives the listener pause: it’s actually pretty dark. And why jump, anyway? This wasn’t exactly Van Halen. But the audience reveled in it. Jost and crew – once-and-future Mary Lee’s Corvette bassist Albetta holding pushing the rhythm along with Brooks, Julian Maile on electric guitar, and also guests Rob Jost (no relation) on French horn and Greta Gertler, contributing ethereal high harmonies on one song – were having the time of their lives. There was a lot of baton-tossing – Maile would fire off a solo, pass it along to the horn, then to the cello and so on – along with tricky time changes and clever wordplay. They encored with a song solo on cello, plumbing big, dark chords from the depths of the instrument: “her first love,” she reminded everyone. This is the kind of band, and the kind of show that would resonate especially with the latest yearly crop of 16-year-olds who have just discovered Pink Floyd: the passion, wit, melody and sheer intelligence that Jost and crew put into their music makes a good match.

March 4, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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