Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Sick Free Jazz Guys Cover the White Light/White Heat Album

This is better than the original – although that’s really not saying much. It’s way funnier too, like what Rawles Balls might have done with it if they were a horn band. Lou Reed used up all his best songs on the Velvets’ first album; White Light/White Heat is basically just a crappy garage band taking a stab at psychedelia. The members of Puttin’ on the Ritz, whose song-for-song if not exactly note-for-note cover of White Light/White Heat is just out on Hot Cup Records, seem to share that view. The group is BJ Rubin on vocals, Moppa Elliott on bass and Kevin Shea on drums (half of irrepressible, iconoclastic free jazz crew Mostly Other People Do the Killing), Nate Wooley on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on saxes, Sam Kulik on trombones and Talibam’s Matt Mottel on “Turkish organ” on Sister Ray.

Rubin is not much of a singer, although he enunciates well enough so you can understand the lyrics – which is half the fun. They’re awful. Lady Godiva’s Operation? He does both the lead and the overdubs in one take. Bastardizing its inner artsy pop song might have felt revolutionary for Lou and crew in 1967; these guys expose it as amateurish and overdone.

Likewise, on The Gift, Rubin’s deadpan, nasal delivery is an improvement on John Cale’s half-buried mumble, although the sad tale of Waldo Jeffers mailing himself to his beloved Marsha has not aged well either. I Heard Her Call My Name, as it goes completely over the top, Gossip-style, reveals the original to be a parody of soul music. Sister Ray, all seventeen minutes and sixteen seconds of it, sounds like a bad jam Lou came up with on the spot when Verve’s people realized he was out of material. It’s there that Rubin’s enunciation really kicks in: counting how many times the word “ding-dong” appears in the song would make a great drinking game. The band – a formidable mix of A-list talent – basically slum it, playing the changes pretty straight with a minimum of the kind of mayhem they’re capable of. Which seems intentional.

If you like this one, you should check out Bryan and the Haggards’ equally sick album of Merle Haggard covers, Pretend It’s the End of the World. The likelihood of this crew putting out another album isn’t all that good, but here are some other overrated albums that definitely deserve this kind of treatment: Bitches Brew (guys, you would have the time of your life with this); Harvest, by Neil Young (super easy changes!); Evol, by Sonic Youth. Think about it.

July 21, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 12/3/08

The top 666 songs of alltime countdown continues, one day at a time all the way to #1. Wednesday’s is #601:

The Yayhoos – I Love You Baby

The most touching love song ever written…heh heh heh. It’s got a sweet little early 60s style pop melody and nicely swinging guitar from its author, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel from Steve Earle’s band. “I love you baby, just leave me the fuck alone.” From the Yayhoos’ 2002 cd Fear Not the Obvious. Ambel almost always plays this live when he does shows with his trio: check the Lakeside calendar.

December 3, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Rawles Balls at Otto’s, NYC 10/1/08

By showtime, 9 PM, Rawles Balls were already into their set. You can’t say that this band doesn’t love to  be onstage. From time to time, they actually sounded pretty good.

 

That’s a problem.

 

Rawles Balls’ shtick is that they’re the cover band from hell, taking great relish in butchering both pop hits and obscurities from across the decades. If their sound isn’t quite punk, their spirit is, snotty, sarcastic and often devastatingly funny, as they mock the so-called stars the big corporations have given us over the years. Their repertoire is jaw-droppingly extensive, even if they only know how to play a small fraction of the material all the way through, and with the right changes. Rawles Balls may also own the alltime record for number of cds released (over fifty at last count). Trouble is, if your goal is to be a human jukebox and play shows constantly, something happens to you.

 

 

You get good.

 

 

That right there eliminates part of what has made Rawles Balls’ shows so funny in the five or six years they’ve been playing: their complete ineptitude. Frontman Nigel Rawles (who was the drummer in the late, lamented Scout) has always been a far better guitarist than he lets on in this group, but Wednesday night he took a couple of solos and not only nailed them but managed to make them terse and intelligent. Which goes completely against the grain of what this band has been doing up to now. If this show is any indication, you can tell which songs the band likes from the ones they don’t by how well they play them. The Cramps’ Human Fly was actually inspired and pretty spot-on, drummer Monica Castellanos (who’s been by far the best musician of this crew until recently) actually doing a better job than Nick Knox did on the original. But the Smashing Pumpkins’ 1979 was a trainwreck, Rawles calling it quits mid-song when it became apparent that his bandmates weren’t up to the task (who would be? The song is awful). Ditto the Dolls’ Personality Crisis and Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman, wherein bassist Patrick Glynn seemed to be feigning ignorance of the hook that every single male bassist keeps close at hand, waiting for the opportunity to slip it in somewhere.

 

 

Their version of 20 Flight Rock was actually serviceable, although their new lead player (who didn’t seem to have been given the chance to rehearse) sang it off-mic. Here Comes Your Man by the Pixies is pretty simple, and the band managed to get their fingers around that one pretty much, too. Then they did Creedence’s Have You Ever Seen the Rain, the lead player finally figuring out the song’s big hook too late as Rawles segued into another song with the same chord progression (he’s encyclopedic like that), and then into Down on the Corner, which he quickly gave up on in disgust. “Let’s do something that sounds good,” he told the band. High point of the night was, as usual, the Shangri-La’s Great Big Kiss, featuring a great big MWAH on the chorus from Rawles and his dead-serious backup singer Michelle, who unlike the rest of the band actually knows the words to the songs.

 

When they came to the song’s bridge, Michelle had a question for Rawles: “How does she make love?”

 

“Like the way Patrick plays bass. Loud and sloppy.”

 

Meanwhile, Rawles’ ex-bandmate A.K. Healey, whose long-awaited solo debut cd is finally close to completion, wandered around the room making video clips. Wherever their always-expanding repertoire and newfound chops may take them, Rawles Balls do it star style: there’s an official Rawles Balls fan club, and a new Rawles Balls fanzine in the works as well. Who knows, maybe you’ll see them on Comedy Central someday. Check the Lucid Culture concert calendar for updates on upcoming Rawles Balls’ shows.

October 5, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment