Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Top Ten Songs of the Week 6/15/09

We do this every Tuesday. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Just about every link here will take you to each individual song.

 

1. Steve Kilbey – Forever Last for Nothing

Gorgeously terse call to arms and cautionary tale from the Church’s frontman’s excellent latest album. They’re at Irving Plaza on 7/8.

 

2. The  French Exit – To Term

New song, characteristically intense. “Will I be ok…I just want to be left alone,” snarls frontwoman Mia Wilson in this fiery noir dirge. They’re at Local 269 at 269 E Houston on 6/17 at 9.

 

3. Silver Dollar – Showdown

Killer, bouncy, hypnotic oldschool ska.

 

4. Kerry Kennedy – As You Are

Big soul ballad in 6/8 with David Lynch unease by the up-and-coming New York noir chanteuse. Unreleased – see her now before she’s famous.

 

5. Ninth House – Fifteen Miles to Hell’s Gate

Characteristically furious lament about the death of New York by gentrification by the long-running Nashville gothic rockers. Frontman Mark Sinnis is at Sidewalk at 9 on 7/12.

 

6. La Res – Masters of War

Ominous cover of the Dylan classic by this fiery, artsy soul/metal trio with a powerful frontman.

 

7. Num & Nu Afrika – New Orleans

Resonant, politically conscious roots reggae. They’re playing Make Music NY on 6/21 at 3 at DRastadub Studio, 58 West 127th St., Harlem.

 

8. Bato the Yugo – My Mountainous Mind

Pensive Balkan jazz for solo piano. Usually a guitarist, he’s at Nublu on 6/21 at 11.

 

9. Cumbiagra – Dejame en Paz

They’ve taken over Monday nights at Barbes, replacing Chicha Libre, but the danceable vibe is undiminished.

 

10. Rock Plaza Central – Panama

Van Halen cover. Jack Grace (of our own sick/funny VH cover band Van Hayride) would approve.

June 16, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Chicha Libre on the Rocks Off Concert Cruise, NYC 5/15/09

There have been more intense, more riveting shows this year but for sheer fun factor, this one tops the charts, a perfect match of band and milieu. Chicha Libre get plenty of ink here because they (at least at this point) seem to be the sole American practitioners of chicha, the intoxicatingly fun, reverb-drenched Peruvian hybrid of Colombian cumbias, American surf music, psychedelia and all kinds of other latin styles. The way Chicha Libre play it, on the surface it sounds a lot like surf music but it’s bouncier and although the music gets pretty dark in places, the band can’t resist taking pretty much anything – Michael Jackson, the Clash, Erik Satie – and doing it chicha style. They did pretty much everything last night. With much of the crowd gathered on the prow, the boat rocked on the waves as it left the harbor, guitarist Vincent Douglas gamely going with the flow and letting his richly twangy chords ring out while the floor shifted.

In two sets and what had to be at least two hours of music, the band mixed obscure chicha instrumentals by los Mirlos, Juaneco y Su Combo (whose anthology Chicha Libre’s own Barbes Records just put out) and others with originals which are arguably even better than the first wave stuff. Who knows, once word gets around and other bands start playing chicha, maybe someday Chicha Libre will be considered a good second wave act something like what the Specials were to ska. Douglas likes effects pedals, this time using a chorus box to add some aptly watery flavor to the title track from their album Sonido Amazonico (ranked in the top three on Lucid Culture’s Best Albums of 2008 list). As usual, the band couldn’t keep from grinning as they intoned “pavane, pavane, pavane” on their chichafied version of the famous Ravel Pavane, turning a requiem into a celebration. Both their versions of the Clash’s Guns of Brixton and Alone Again Or by Love held pretty close to the originals, while Popcorn Andino (a cover of the silly 70s novelty hit by Hot Butter) gave Electrovox keyboardist Josh Camp a chance to build eerily reverberating atmospherics over the rattle and clatter of the two percussionists, Greg Burrows throwing in the occasional big cymbal splash, equal parts high drama and carefree buffoonery. The best songs of the night were two eerie new ones, so period-perfect that it was impossible to tell whether they were covers or originals (one suspects the latter). Finally, on the tongue-in-cheek Hungry Song (also from the album), the band finally cut loose and jammed out, percussion and Electrovox again leading the stampede. 

A word about the cruise: it’s nothing like what you would expect. Since Rocks Off is independently owned and operated, there are no officious ushers or corporate security goons, no garish ad banners and in fact it’s hard to tell the crew from the passengers, since everybody seems to be having such a good time. Disabuse yourself of any horrific memories of freshman year booze cruises or Cancun. This is a different animal, a distinctly New York version. The boat was clean, there was never a wait for a bathroom, no sorority girls passing out, no fratboys bellowing over the music. Just a bracing breeze and Chicha Libre.

May 16, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Brooklyn’s Best Dance Party

There’s no celebrity dj at Brooklyn’s best dance party. For that matter, there’s no dj. No celebrities, either. No ipod that hasn’t been stowed in a pocket or a purse. And no ecstasy, at least the kind that comes in a pill. Chicha Libre’s weekly Monday night residency at Barbes, where the back room becomes a roiling mass of bodies, gets plenty of press here, as Lucid Culture regulars will recall from our NYC live music calendar. The band actually likes it when people dance! The more people jump around, the better the band sounds. A stop by the club to see how the residency is going found them fantastically tight and more fun than ever: this weekly gig has done wonders for them.

In case Chicha Libre are new to you, at this point in time they are possibly the only American practitioners of chicha, a mostly instrumental style of dance music that originated in the slums of the Peruvian Amazon in the late 1960s when indigenous groups discovered American surf music and psychedelic rock and started playing electric instruments. Many of the bands who played it then called it “green music,” not for the dollars they managed to scrimp together for all that equipment, but for what they were smoking when they played it: this is the most hypnotic style of dance music you’ll ever hear.

Tonight the band ran through a mix of originals and covers, both from their sensational new cd Sonido Amazonico as well as Barbes Records’ anthology The Roots of Chicha, released last year. The way the band plays these songs, they’re full of trick endings: unless you have the cd – which is possible, since it’s all the rage – or you know the songs inside out, it’s hard to be sure if you should keep dancing or not. Tonight just about everybody in the mixed Anglo and Latino crowd was moving around on the floor: even the gaggle of drunks at the back table had their heads bobbing. The other great thing about Chicha Libre is that they improvise a lot, especially keyboardist Josh Camp, who ran his vintage Hohner Electrovox (an electric organ designed to look like an accordion, devised as a marketing ploy to open up the Latin market to the company’s instruments) through a labyrinthine circuit of weird, spacy wah-wah and reverb effects. Their version of the famous Ravel Pavane was as amusing as always, frontman Olivier Conan intoning “Pavane, pavane, pavane,” while trying to keep a straight face (that didn’t last long). Then it was the audience’s turn, grins breaking out throughout the room as everyone realized that the band was taking a stab at the Love classic Alone Again Or. While they gave the intro a bouncy chicha groove, the rest of the song was remarkably true to the original. It’s the closest to Arthur Lee (or Bryan MacLean, for that matter) you’ll ever get at this point in time.

Otherwise, they ran through a powerfully propulsive, surprisingly dark version of Los Mirlos’ Muchachita del Mi Amor, as well as amped-up, surfy takes on Conan’s Primavera en la Selva, Camp’s La Cumbia del Zapatero and the cover Un Shipibo en Espana, the latter three of which are all on Sonido Amazonico. If dancing is your thing, if you don’t go out on Saturdays because all the amateurs are out in full effect, Monday nights with Chicha Libre at Barbes are everything we’ve been saying about them for the better part of a year. This band is at the point where they’re about to outgrow the space here: see them while you can.

April 22, 2008 Posted by | concert, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

El Grupo del Verano 2008! Chicha Libre Finally Puts Out a CD

This is the cultural artifact of the summer of 2008. It’s the one album released this year that you want to put on if you’re having a party and you want to get everyone’s attention (or impress everybody with your brilliant and eclectic taste): you’ll get plenty of “who’s that?”s. Readers of this space already know plenty about Chicha Libre’s intoxicatingly good live performances at Barbes throughout the past year: now, the party is available for takeout. On their debut cd, Sonido Amazonico, America’s best (and only) chicha band have revived the amazingly danceable, hypnotic, psychedelic sound that was popular in the slums of the Peruvian Andes thirty-five years ago, while adding their own inimitable vision and wit.

Chicha is what resulted when Peruvian bands first heard American surf and psychedelic rock and then added electric instruments, rock arrangements and Caribbean rhythms to their own sound. What Antibalas did with driving, horn-driven African groove music, what Dengue Fever is doing with deliciously psychedelic Cambodian pop, Chicha Libre is doing with chicha. When frontman/cuatro player Olivier Conan first heard the style, he was hooked, to the point where he found himself traveling to South America to track down as many original recordings as he could get his hands on, as well as the elusive musicians who created it. The result was the fascinating anthology The Roots of Chicha, released last year on his label, Barbes Records.

Chicha Libre’s debut mixes instrumentals and vocal numbers, originals as well as deviously crafted cover songs. While in most surf music the guitars carry the melody, in Chicha Libre’s music it’s usually keyboardist Josh Camp’s vintage Hohner Electrovox (a relic from the 70s which is basically an electronic organ with settings that mimic the sound of an accordion) which serves as the lead instrument. In addition to Conan, the rest of the band includes two percussionists, acoustic bass and Barbes co-owner Vincent Douglas playing reverb-drenched, surfy guitar. The result can be haunting, triumphant, celebratory or absolutely mesmerizing, often all in the same song. While just as in surf music, there’s occasional cheese in places, Chicha Libre thankfully tones it down as much as possible. The vocal numbers (in both Spanish and French) are the most overtly humorous songs on the album.

There are so many great songs here. The title track, a hypnotic yet danceable one-chord vamp that builds to a nasty Douglas solo, and Tres Pasajeros, an ominous train-ride theme written by Camp. The amusing Hungry Song plays with the macho posturing found in a lot of latin music. Their cover of the obscure El Borrachito (The Little Drunk Guy) has the narrator asking plaintively in Spanish, “Why are you making fun of me?”

They take the famous Ravel Pavane and chichafy it, breaking it down into dub reggae at one point, then the band starts chanting “pavane, pavane, pavane,” quiet and deadpan in the background while the guitar solos. Indian Summer tips its hat to Serge Gainsbourg in a big way, Conan and las Rubias del Norte frontwoman Allyssa Lamb doing spot-on early 70s ye-ye harmonies over a slinky spy theme. They also cover Hot Butter’s silly synth instrumental hit Popcorn with a sarcastic, punk edge: the Electrovox is out of tune on the highest registers, and there’s a silly bass solo. And then the band adds their own lyrics, a tribute to corn whiskey and weed. The album ends with its best song, a cover of what is probably composer Erik Satie’s signature work, Gnossienne #1 (you’ll recognize it from a million movie soundtracks). As simple as it is macabre, it’s also extremely difficult to play on the piano because Satie deliberately omitted the time signature, leaving the rhythm completely up to whoever’s playing it. Chicha Libre give it a slightly staggered tango pulse, making it as sexy as it is dark. What else is there to say – this is a great album, a must-own if you like psychedelia, right up there with the Vampiros Lesbos soundtrack and Mass in F Minor by the Electric Prunes. Five maduros con queso. The cd is available at better record stores, online and at shows. Chicha Libre play the cd release tonight at Drom at 10; Las Rubias del Norte open the show at 9.

April 4, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Chicha Libre at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 9/29/07

For lack of a better word, an amazing show. The little back room here became a sea of dancing bodies. Chicha Libre play chicha music, a style that originated in Peru in the 1970s which combines indigenous accordion-driven cumbia with American psychedelia, comparable to what Os Mutantes were doing in Brazil a few years earlier but more rock-oriented. Their long set mixed surfy originals from their cd Sonido Amazonico along with obscure covers, about 50/50 instrumentals and vocal numbers sung in Spanish. Like les Sans Culottes or Gaijin A-Go-Go, they’ve lovingly appropriated a genre that must be as foreign to them as American rock was to the artists whose material they cover. It’s not likely that anyone in the band is a native Spanish speaker, but no matter: they make the genre indelibly their own, and at this point in history, it doesn’t seem that they have much if any competition.

Tonight the band had two percussionists, reverb-drenched electric guitar, upright bass, cuatro (a four-stringed, small-bodied acoustic guitar widely used in Latin music) and their not-so-secret weapon Josh Camp running amok with his vintage Hohner Electrovox (an electrified accordion that he played using several different pedals, including tons of reverb and occasional wah-wah to maximize the psychedelic effect). Strangely (or perhaps not so strangely at all), the contemporary band they most closely resemble is virtuoso Finnish surf rockers Laika and the Cosmonauts, particularly their keyboard-driven material. And the mid-60s Ventures at their most far-out, after they’d discovered guitar effects other than reverb. Or imagine a Joe Meek production done under the influence of really good acid. Like Moisturizer, whose BAM Cafe show we just reviewed, Chicha Libre are as hypnotic as they are danceable, the relentless clatter of the percussion and the wild, soaring tones of the Electrovox trading off harmonies with the guitar: for someone lucky enough to have snagged one of the few chairs at the back of the tiny music room here, it was sometimes hard to figure out who was playing since it was practically impossible to see the band through the crowd. Camp’s solos predictably stole the show, including a loudly atmospheric one he took early in the set, and wild, frenetic one toward the end where he used guitar voicings, and with his volume up just to the point where the signal was starting to break up into distortion, he could have been playing one. The band closed with a silly cover of of the 70s novelty hit Popcorn which segued into another cover whose lyrics were something like “chicha de maiz con ganja” – corn whiskey and weed. Pretty apt for a show like this. The audience screamed for an encore, and somebody hollered “Freebird!” To which the cuatro player replied, “This is kind of the same thing.” Then they launched into a long, psychedelic version of Tequila. After a couple of verses they switched to 7/8 time, as if to see if the dancers could figure it out.

And a little post-show googling brought about an epiphany: why does Barbes book such good bands, day in, day out, month after month? Because the guys who own the place are in Chicha Libre! Now it all makes sense.

October 1, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments