Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Bryan and the Haggards Pull Some Laughs in Park Slope

Bryan and the Haggards’ debut album Pretend It’s the End of the World is a collection of twisted instrumental covers of Merle Haggard songs, and it’s as funny as anything Ween ever did. Because its satirical bite sometimes goes completely over the top, it wasn’t clear how the band – a bunch of free jazz types – would approach the songs live. At Bar 4 in Park Slope on Monday night, tenor saxophonist and bandleader Bryan Murray wore a faded red Hag baseball hat; Jon Irabagon, the “heavyweight of the alto sax,” as Murray sardonically called him, sported a rare Bryan and the Haggards t-shirt. From the first few bars of the first song, what was most obvious, and unexpected, was that they’re a genuinely good straight-up country band if they want to be – for a few bars, until they start messing with the songs. Country music isn’t everybody’s thing, but it’s a lot of fun to play, and that fun comes intuitively to this crew. Guitarist Jon Lundbom would go deep off the jazz end at times, but he’s got a bag of C&W licks; bassist Moppa Elliott looked like he was having more fun than anybody else in the band even though he was mostly playing the simplest lines possible, one-five, one-five, and drummer Danny Fischer, whose leaden pulse is responsible for a lot of the humor on the album, gave the songs a jaunty swing when he wasn’t acting out. Which he did, a lot, and cracked everybody up, especially his bandmates. He began his first solo by stopping cold, followed by a pregnant pause: Elliott tried easing him in, but Fischer wouldn’t budge, finally doing a neanderthal Fred Flintstone impression all the way around his kit.

On Lonesome Fugitive, Elliott joined him in disfiguring the time signature while Lundbom took a long, incisive jazz solo, holding steady to the 4/4 even as he ran long, snaky passages, deadpan and seemingly oblivious to the joke. A slow, swaying 6/8 number with countrypolitan tinges – Miss the Mississippi and You, maybe? – featured a warmly melodic solo excursion from Murray that finally took on an insistent postbop intensity as he went for the upper registers. Likewise, it was nothing short of exhilarating to watch Irabagon – whose new album Foxy is due out this month – make short work of an endless series of razorwire glissandos. And maybe predictably, it was one of his solos, a mealymouthed, weepily retarded, off-key stumble during their opening number, that was the funniest moment in a night full of many.

Fischer had assembled some pint glasses behind his drums, a primitive marimba that he’d plink on or even use to add a little melody. When he took another lengthy pause during a solo, Lundbom asked him if he wanted another beer. The answer was no: for whatever reason, he didn’t need it. A crowd trickled in as the band played: patrons looked around quizzically, then smiled when they realized what was happening. There would have been a lot more of those looks, and a lot more audible laughter, had it been later in the evening. But that was just the first set.

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September 1, 2010 Posted by | concert, country music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Cudzoo & the Fagettes at Arlene’s, NYC 2/26/10

It’s hard to imagine a New York band right now who are more fun than than Cudzoo & the Fagettes. As one of the band members said Friday night at Arlene’s, it may have been snowy outside but it sure was hot inside. This group really pulls out all the stops, putting on a fullscale spectacle. While a screen was being set up in the corner, the mic stands each stood erect between a pair of big pink balloons. Juvenile as the visual was, it was impossible not to laugh. Meanwhile, a pretty girl wandered through the crowd handing out free raffle tickets (more on that later).

Dressed in matching pink sequined dresses, the band’s three frontwomen – the fearlessly bodacious E-Bomb and her cohorts J-Train and Mamrie – took the stage while a montage of old newsreel footage, complete with blaring, martial orchestral music, played on the screen. A voiceover began: “The world’s a fucked up place. War in the Middle East. A recession with no end in sight. Global warming. Wife-swapping. Very large, unhealthy fast-food portions.” Luckily, Cudzoo, “those sassy, sashaying little sweethearts out of Astoria, Queens” had arrived to spread their “brand of glitter and whiskey fun.” All of a sudden, their album – which we reviewed last year – started to make perfect sense. Funny as it is, it’s a soundtrack: the experience isn’t complete without the show.

Their first song bitchslapped sorority girl-style conspicuous consumption: the ditz doesn’t want her parents to know that a “dirty Mexican” knocked her up, but when she gets the abortion she gets the fetus goldplated and suddenly it’s bling. J-Train sang the hilariously weird You Beat the Shit Out of My Heart, which may or may not be a cautionary tale about S&M. A new one, Walk of Shame was even funnier, a girl waking up with poo-poo mouth, gum in her hair and having to fight strollers on the sidewalk in order to get home incognito. Another new one about the pros and cons of friends with benefits was their one semi-thoughtful number; they also did tributes to fingerfucking, sleeping with a guy’s siblings, and a rapidfire hip-hop song about breasts on the subway. That one’s open to audience participation – if you can come up with a rhyming couplet about seeing boobs on the train, bring it to the next Cudzoo show.

The grand prize winner of the raffle was a guy. He sent his girlfriend, Jenny, up to collect her prize. The band leered at her, sat her down onstage and proceeded to give her everything but a lap dance (Mamrie nibbled her ear lasciviously) while serenading her with a newly lesbian version of Drummer Boy, E-Bomb’s come-on to her favorite kind of musician. Jenny took it all bravely but the second the song was over, she bolted (Jenny’s boyfriend may also be single now). Meanwhile, the “drunkest working band in New York City,” the Fagettes stood deadpan behind the action, doing their lo-budget garage-pop and pseudo-Ramones thing and staying out of the way. That seems to be what they’re supposed to do. Actually, bassist Lorenzo Potenzo, platinum-haired drummer Dr. Eviller and the guitarist didn’t look drunk – but the front line did, particularly E-Bomb, who’d obviously been pregaming.

They closed with a phony country song, a girl getting revenge on her ex by blogging about his “tiny penis and lack of class,” and then the self-explanatory punk-pop My Boyfriend’s Got a Boyfriend. Before they left the stage, they fired off a couple of tubes of glitter into the crowd. The front rows were cannon fodder: they didn’t have a prayer.  By now it was a little after one in the morning –  the crowd screamed for an encore but didn’t get one. We’ll leave it to the Village Voice to talk about how these women speak truth to power about sexual politics – what’s important is that last night, Cudzoo got the whole house laughing, Democrats and wrong-thinkers alike.

February 27, 2010 Posted by | concert, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Concert Review from the Archives: Les Sans Culottes, Satanicide and Big Lazy Live in NYC 11/22/02

[Hope everybody had a good Thanksgiving! We’re digging into the archive til we’re back from the holiday next week. Hard to believe that it’s been five long years since this particular show – ed.] 

Went to Gwynne Duncan’s art opening in the afternoon in the wilds of Fort Greene. Actually, the space was just a few blocks off DeKalb Ave., but it felt like a long ways since it was pouring rain and pretty cold out. As expected, there was hardly anybody there. Duncan is excellent, paints in a whole mess of styles with strong command of all of them: gentle pastels, trippy psychedelic oils with tendrils of plants with eyes, social realism studies imagining evening subway commutes in the 30s and a ship named Ego adrift on the ocean. Ran into a friend who promised me a copy of the Robyn Hitchcock Royal Albert Hall Dylan cover show but still hasn’t delivered – we agreed that I’d give him a copy of the Mary Lee’s Corvette Blood on the Tracks show in exchange. Looks like somebody’s getting a way better deal here and that person isn’t me.

We waited a long time for the G train back to the F, then to CBGB where the Coffin Daggers had just left the stage. Bad information, lamented one of the band members. By now my companion was drunk on wine from the opening; we grabbed seats on a bench located comfortably in front of the sound board and were pleased to see some other friends come join us for the duration of the show. Les Sans Culottes have been around forever, since the late 80s. They’re a very good garage band playing a mix of Gainsbourg covers, some other French pop from 60s and their own faux-French originals. Everybody in the band has a silly French or franglais name: Clermont Ferrand, Jean-Luc Retard, Kit Kat Le Noir, ad infinitum. Frontman Bill Carney, whatever his nom de plume is, stays in character, affecting a French accent even while addressing the audience. They did their usual stuff, bolstered by a good, loud sound mix: Ecole de Merde (French for school of hard knocks), a few covers and a disco song that might or might not have been an original. It’s a tribute to these guys that it’s sometimes hard to tell.

Satanicide were next and also got good sound: people forget just how good the sonics at CB’s are. What Spinal Tap were to 70s British metal, Satanicide is to 80s American hair metal. They absolutely nail it, and the lack of a second guitarist doesn’t hurt them. Unsurprisingly, their one spandex-clad axeman didn’t do a lot of soloing. Dale May AKA Devlin Mayhem is actually an excellent singer, with a perfect take on the completely over-the-top Motley Crue thing. Sample song title: Pussy and Ice Cream. They also did a very funny one about a NJ metalhead girl that began as a sensitive power ballad that crescendoed predictably as it went on [most likely the title track to their hilarious cd Heather –  ed.]. After the show our crew scattered in different directions, so I went next door to the gallery to hang with another friend, who was closing, so on the spur of the moment I decided to catch Big Lazy at Tonic on the way home.

Timed this one pretty perfectly, as they went on about five minutes after I got there, about half past midnight. Technical difficulties abounded with the mix and the monitors on bassist Paul Dugan’s side of the stage. Victoria Hanna was in the house, and she eventually contributed delicious vocalese on the cinematic Tel Aviv Taxi, which the band played mid-set. Otherwise, they were somewhat subdued, at least by comparison to their usually scorching live sets, benefiting greatly from some unexpected restraint on the part of drummer Tamir Muskat. Which gave guitarist Steve Ulrich a chance to back off a little bit and use some wild fills as punctuation rather than wailing nonstop all night with descending runs, slides and his trademark eerie chromatic hooks. Most of their noir instrumentals were done very tersely, including the absolutely macabre Theme from Headtrader, the multi-part spaghetti western theme Our Lady of the Highways, a cover of an Astor Piazzolla tango, the pitch-black Amnesia, the lickety-split, rockabilly-inflected Princess Nicotine and finally the hourlong set’s closing number, the hilarious heavy metal parody Starchild. What’s the likehood of seeing two drastically different bands both do killer heavy metal sendups in one night? The band didn’t encore, and by now I’d reached the point where continued alcohol consumption would have required more energy than it would have been worth to reach any state of inebriation, so I went home.

[postscript: Les Sans Culottes – who will probably be around forever , continue to do what they do best, which is play live shows. CB’s and Tonic are both sadly defunct; Satanicide, true to its metal roots, plays the occasional reunion show, while Big Lazy are on indefinite hiatus.]

November 23, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Nightcall and Rawles Balls Live in NYC 6/10/07

Nightcall is the most exciting new band in New York. It’s retro revivalist Bliss Blood’s latest project, alongside the delightful, old-timey Moonlighters, Polynesian psychedelic unit Voodoo Suite and the acoustic blues band Delta Dreambox. “We’ve invented a new genre: snuff torch songs,” she told the audience, and the result was absolutely riveting. Playing her trusty ukelele, accompanied by upright bassist Peter Maness and electric guitarist Stu Spasm, who used a tiny amp with tons of reverb, she and her accomplices played a mix of covers and originals: all with a crime theme. “In all our songs, the criminal has to win,” she explained. They did sweetly ominous, noir versions of the theme to the James Bond film You Only Live Twice, a Leonard Bernstein composition called Big Stuff (“Not from West Side Story,” Blood told the crowd), and Tom Waits’ Black Market Baby. But their best numbers were all originals, including a haunting Moonlighters tune, Broken Doll. They also played their “signature song,” the lurid tale of an intruder aptly titled Nightcall, and Blackwater, which was far and away the high point of the night. “This is for Halliburton…and the mercenaries in Iraq,” Blood mused aloud. The song began with an ominous minor-key theme, the bass carrying the melody:

Don’t look too closely or you’ll find
He has a mercenary mind
He’ll be your man if you can pay
And when the gold is in his hands
He’ll acquiesce to your demands
Play any game you want to play

After a macabre, chromatic chorus, the bass player scurried up and down the scale like a twisted old man on the way to a Carlyle Group meeting.

In many ways Blood epitomizes what the Bush regime fears the most. She’s a charming, wickedly intelligent, completely innocent-looking Texan who never misses a chance to call truth to power, and does so in a blithely amusing way that doesn’t alienate audiences. Today was Puerto Rican day in Manhattan: “I’m from Vieques,” she joked. “You have to excuse me, I’m all messed up from the stuff they drop there,” referring to all the depleted uranium that’s covered the island over more than a decade of Air Force bomb testing.

“What’s an A minor?” Rawles Balls frontman Nigel Rawles – the former Scout drummer – asked his keyboardist, whom he’d just sent away from the stage.

“A-C-E,” came the reply.

“Can we write on the keys?” Rawles asked the soundman. The answer was no.

Rawles had for some inexplicable reason brought a guitar that was “broken,” he said. Nonetheless, he was determined to get through the show, seated at the piano, an instrument he doesn’t know how to play. Rawles Balls is the cover band from hell, capable of butchering pretty much any song from any era and tonight was a fullscale massacre. Doing his best to hammer out a bassline with two fingers, Rawles must have played At the Hop – or tried to, anyway – at least four times. When they’re on their game, Rawles Balls perfectly embody the true spirit of punk rock, having a gleeful time poking fun at every conceivable aspect of what they play. Taking the concept to the logical extreme, they never rehearse and the band is in a constant state of flux, with practically a new lineup every week: tonight Rawles dragged the estimable Ward White (who played bass in the band for a time) up to the stage. White fed Rawles lyrics as he struggled through the Bowie classic Five Years. “This is the last song we’ll ever play,” Rawles facetiously told the audience, managing to botch even the reference (that’s what Bowie says before Rock n Roll Suicide, dude).

At this point it looks like Rawles may have depleted the talent pool, such as it exists for a band like this. His backing unit tonight, such that it was, included a woman who sang harmonies on a few songs, a friend who knew a few piano chords and another who came up to the stage, tried to get through Fur Elise as Rawles whistled along but gave up in disgust after about fifteen seconds. And the Ward White cameo. And of course they recorded this show, since Rawles Balls has in the past three years released over 50 (fifty) albums, which has to be a record. All but two of those are live concert recordings.

In a sick way, it took a tremendous amount of nerve for Rawles to get up onstage and try to fake his way through an hourlong set, completely unrehearsed, playing an unfamiliar instrument. However, there were indications that he might not have been as completely lost as he seemed: there were clever segues between songs that shared the exact same chord changes, and he did exhibit an ability to at least figure out the bassline to maybe half of what he attempted to play. Then there was the issue of the “broken” guitar. When the Rawles Balls act is working, it’s unimaginably funny. Tonight was a new low: by the time the sound guy gave Rawles the two-minute warning, it was simply a reprieve. Which in itself was pretty amusing.

June 11, 2007 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Sasha Dobson and Van Hayride at Banjo Jim’s 5/6/07

Sasha Dobson, a jazz/pop singer who’s now playing guitar as well, has become one of the few NYC artists to get any press in the NY Times, and she’s earned it: she’s what Norah Jones should aspire to be in a couple of years. Dobson has paid her dues playing small clubs over the past several years and sings in a lower register than Jones, but still invites the inevitable Norah comparisons since she’s moved away from jazz toward a more pop style. Her stage persona is more confident, more world-weary and decidedly more mature, perhaps appropriately so. She has a fondness for minor keys and rhythms like bossa nova and tango which are well suited to her sultry delivery. Now if only she could stick to doing her own, surprisingly compelling original material instead of covering the likes of hacks like Richard Julian (who duetted with her on one of his songs and added absolutely nothing: to paraphrase Billy Preston, nothing plus nothing makes nothing).

Van Hayride, the headline act, shares a rhythm section with Dobson, the only conceivable reason (other than careless booking) for them to have followed on the bill: But segue or no segue, they were tremendous, and had the audience in hysterics throughout their completely over-the-top set. Van Hayride features the hardest working man in country music, Jack Grace as frontman plus the piano player from his country band along with guitarist Steve Antonakos (what NYC band is this guy NOT in???), doing country covers of Van Halen songs. These guys are smart: they know that 99% of heavy metal is comedy, and that Van Halen were its finest Borscht Belt practitioners. Grace does a spot-on David Lee Roth parody: during one song, he lay on the floor, the mic just out of his reach, as if so wasted that he lacked the eye/hand coordination to reach out and grab it. “Where’s my mic tech,” he growled. On another song, he slumped backwards against the drum kit, his head up against the kick drum. He put the mic everywhere but where it should be, and made his bandmates laugh to the point where they were screwing up. Which is all part of the act. Van Hayride is a thorough reminder of A) how moronic Van Halen’s lyrics were, B) how even stupider Eddie Van Halen’s guitar playing was and C) how absolutely necessary Van Hayride is. And it’s a good thing it’s these guys doing it. Grace is the consummate showman, whether fronting this unit or his own far more serious yet still gutbustingly funny band, and he’s never lacked for excellent players behind him. Antonakos plays Eddie Van Halen’s lines pretty much note for note, albeit without the fuzzy distortion or garish flourishes. Van Hayride are in a four-way tie for funniest New York band, along with Tammy Faye Starlite in all her many incarnations; cover band hellions Rawles Balls, whose most recent shows have turned into bacchanalian karaoke sessions; and Cocktail Angst, the Spinal Tap of lounge bands.

To fully appreciate Van Hayride, it helps to know the source material (Doug Henwood, I know you’re out there): there’s a certain target audience here, specifically those who were subjected to the stuff on FM radio in the early 80s (Van Hayride proudly declares that they’re a “David Lee Roth only” Van Halen cover band). But judging from the response of the crowd in the club – a broad cross-section of ages and locales – you don’t have to be a Van Halen fan (or hater) to get a kick out of this. Next time they play, you might as well jump (”So that’s what the song’s about?” Grace asked quizzically as they reached the end). Van Hayride plays every Sunday in May at 10 at Banjo Jim’s.

May 8, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments