Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Uncle Leon and the Alibis Raise the Roof at Rodeo Bar

“I love you, Leon!” a girl hollered from the back of the bar. Uncle Leon, frontman of Uncle Leon and the Alibis is not your typical babe magnet – he could be Joba Chamberlain’s wiser, older brother (they have a similar midwestern blue-collar look). But he pulls demographics that your average bunch of Strokes wannabes would kill for. Back in the early-to-mid zeros these guys put on some of the funnest, funniest shows in town…and then they broke up. It didn’t really matter that they weren’t particularly tight, because Leon’s David Allan Coe-style songs were so funny. The first thing that hits you is what a good band this new version of the group is – they don’t need to be funny all the time to be interesting. Lead guitarist Charlie Aceto plays the stuff Leon can’t, and has a good handle on Bakersfield guitar – and he can do Social Distortion roots-punk and blues too. Maria on the drums is missed – she was always at least half of why the original band was so irresistible – but the guy who replaced her is solid and and can really swing, teaming up with bassist Neil Magnuson.

The thing that separates these guys from the rest of the funny country bands out there is that their jokes are usually pretty smart and edgy: they don’t just rely on cornball cornpone humor. Leon’s specialty is the battle of the sexes: the good guys always lose, badly. That’s how he comes across – that, and his resonant baritone probably explain the presence of all the women at his shows. Sure, he’s having fun up there, but the guy can flat-out sing. That this particular set was successful without either of his big hits, I Hate My Job or Drugstore Roses (or his cover of Baby Got Back), speaks for how good the rest of the material was. They opened with a blackly funny faux murder ballad based on a real-life encounter between Leon and a bounty hunter in a Dairy Queen parking lot somewhere in Kansas. My Love Is Like a Monster Truck was what you’d think it was: monster trucks use up a lot of rubber (that might not have actually been one of the lyrics, but it could have been). A slowly swaying, mournful ballad turned into a kiss-off anthem: “When you said ‘I love you,’ I thought that meant just me,” Leon explained. They blasted through a truck-driving number, Blue Sky and Asphalt and then a boisterous version of Hot Rod Mamas, where he skewered “catalog girls” with their perfect everything and their selfcenteredness – he likes a girl with a little junk in the trunk but with brains too.

They did three covers: an understatedly vicious version of Hank Williams’ My Love For You Has Turned to Hate, the Merle Haggard classic Swingin’ Doors and a practically halfspeed, swinging, straight-up country take of the Stones’ Dead Flowers – that song’s retirement date may have come and gone a long time ago, but damned if these guys didn’t make it sound fresh. They wrapped up their first set with a cowpunk number – Good Time Woman? Two Time Woman? Two Ton Woman? It could have been any of them, maybe more than one.

Uncle Leon is not only a singer, he’s a co-founder of Brooklyn Country, who maintain an excellent site dedicated to country and roots music in New York, with a concert calendar, interviews and the occasional album review. Kind of like us, but more specialized. Uncle Leon and the Alibis’ next gig is at midnight on 9/11 at Southpaw as part of the excellent three-day Brooklyn Country Music Festival.

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July 26, 2010 Posted by | concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Song of the Day 6/14/10

Boston was fun but it’s good to be home. Regardless of where we might be, our best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Monday’s song is #45:

Radio Birdman – Death by the Gun

The original 1978 studio version of this punked-out country murder ballad with one of the greatest guitar solos of all time doesn’t appear to exist in digital form anywhere – although there are live versions, most of them very dodgy, floating around the web (like this one by RB guitarist Chris Masuak’s band the Hitmen). The Horehounds also had the good sense to cover it

June 14, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Jack Grace Band at Rodeo Bar, NYC 5/5/10

The first thing you notice when you see the Jack Grace Band up close is what a well-oiled machine they are – in both senses of the word. OK, maybe not everyone onstage last night was half in the bag, but they’d been on close to a 36-hour tear, nonstop, with appearances on the WPIX morning show and then a live performance on satellite radio, so with a long Cinco de Mayo evening ahead of them at Rodeo Bar, the tequila was flowing and a lot of it had made it to the stage by the time they started playing. The Jack Grace Band’s new album Drinking Songs for Lovers is just out, so ultimately it all made sense. “Everything seems so simple after three martinis” is Grace’s mantra, and the band played that song, a careening version of The Lonesome Entertainer, on album a noir-ish blues shuffle a la Tom Waits but this time out it was more Grateful Dead, except with a brief interlude into a perfectly executed, funky excerpt from Kurtis Blow’s The Breaks. Tequila, an older song from Jack Grace’s old jam band Steak, swung mightily along on a sunbaked minor-key hook, part bossa nova, part hallucinatory Tex-Mex anthem.

Jack [scrunching his face into a tortured scowl]: Would you rather be dead?
Bass player Daria Grace: [completely deadpan]: No.

It’s kind of sweet how he gives his wife the best of the punch lines every time. They’d started, appropriately, with Morning Margaritas, the twangy, retro 60s country song that opens the album, everybody from the horn section to the pedal steel player stepping out, boisterous and tequila-fueled, so the sound guy could get the levels right. Daria swooped and dove on her gorgeous hollowbody bass on a more 70s, outlaw country style tune from the album, True Tonight. They jammed on Jambalaya, took a stab at the Mexican Hat Dance (Jack wanted to keep going but the band wouldn’t let him), then piano player Bill Malchow sang one. At the end, Jack put his guitar down and the piano and rhythm section playing a pretty generic power ballad melody. Which morphed into the early 70s Neil Diamond hit I Am, I Said. Jack got up on a chair, pondered the highly vandalized stuffed bison head coming out of the wall at the edge of the stage and then decided against doing something to it (that’s a prop for another song of his). Then when he got to the line in the song where no one heard him, not even the chair, he got off the chair and raised it high. And then went into the audience, caught a table full of diners completely off guard, sat down with them and then serenaded them. With the chair. Meanwhile, the band didn’t blink an eyelash. Pretty punk rock for a country band. And that was just the first set.

The Jack Grace Band continues to celebrate the release of the new album with shows at Hill Country tonight at 9, Barbes at 10 tomorrow (Friday the 7th), and a doublebill with the equally devious Luther Wright and the Wrongs at the Rodeo on the 11th.

May 6, 2010 Posted by | concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Podunk, BFE – Get Your Hole Ready

Editor’s note – thanks to Jayne for the heads-up about this one

From Portland, Oregon comes this consistently funny, sometimes hilarious album of bluegrass/grasscore punk songs. The cd cover shot is a pretty skyscape through what looks like a doorframe, like in some Caribbean travel brochure – until you realize that it’s the view upward from the bottom of a grave. If you’re wondering what the BFE in Podunk, BFE means, that’s Bum Fuck Egypt which says a lot about how this sounds. The instrumentation here is bristly and tasty with banjo, mandolin, guitar, and upright bass along with drums on some of the cuts. Some of the songs are so fast that it sounds like the band is scrambling to catch up, which only adds to the mayhem (although the playing is really good, especially for a crew who obviously don’t take themselves all that seriously). The lyrics mostly concern alcohol and sex, not necessarily in that order. A father-son duo pass the time at the local 24-hour bar; a sympathetic friend tries to lure a jumper down from the ledge with a beer (“I know you’ve got tears to cry, but he’s not your kind of guy”), and in the best of the cheating songs, the guy who first appears to be a sensitive listener type proves to be a lying, cheating SOB just like all the rest. Another ends up going home from the bar with the wrong person (whose name turns out to be Earl). Then there’s the woozy dude with holes in his memory a mile wide, except for his jailhouse tattoo. The one song with an obscenity in the title turns out to be a really nice instrumental. And the best song on the album ends with a Dolly Parton style litany of dead icons, except that these guys are all in hell, Lefty Frizzell, Tupac, Townes Van Zant, Keith Richards – “oh yeah, he’s not dead yet.” When the jokes get old, the tunes will keep your toes tapping: the drunker you get, the better this probably sounds.

January 5, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Spanking Charlene – Dismissed with a Kiss

This band sounds almost exactly like X! Except with better vocals. Spanking Charlene’s frontwoman Charlene McPherson sings with a powerful, accusatory wail: her voice can be very pretty, and it is on a couple of the quiet songs on the album. But most of the time it’s fierce and intense, and really packs a wallop. The songs are gritty and slightly Stonesy: this could be the great lost X album, sandwiched between Under the Big Black Sun and More Fun in the New World. Although McPherson’s songs are more intentionally amusing, and she doesn’t try to be deliberately poetic like Exene: her lyrics rhyme, often very cleverly. “Beauty is subjective/And I know your objective,” McPherson taunts the guy trying to pick her up, in the in-your-face punk smash Pussy Is Pussy.

The other songs are a mix of short, roaring guitar tunes along with a couple of surprisingly thoughtful, quiet numbers. I Hate Girls catalogs the innumerable ways women can make each other miserable with catty behavior; When I Get Skinny is a sarcastic swipe at the multibillion-dollar business of making women insecure about their looks. “When I’m skinny maybe I’ll finally get myself that record deal” and “drink red red wine with every meal…the girls I see on MTV shake their ass and don’t look like me,” McPherson laments, speaking for every normal woman perplexed by the popularity of anorexics with implants.

Guitarist Mo Goldner sings the potently gritty, percussive Fidgety – “My dog is on that Prozac too!” – slamming out a series of licks straight out of the early Billy Zoom catalog. Red Rolling Papers is McPherson’s not-so-nostalgic look back at the hungover residue of late-night high school partying. The brief, lickety-split When Things Were New evokes X’s Year One, from Wild Gift. The gentle, introspective Easy to Be Sad and Behind (as in, leaving it all behind) prove McPherson isn’t just a one-trick pony, giving her the chance to show off her subtle, country-inflected side. On the album, bassist Keith Christopher (of Yayhoos notoriety) also shows off his versatility, keeping everything impressively simple and direct. Drummer Phil Cimino (from the Demolition String Band) proves he can play this hard fast stuff just as well as the more complicated material he’s used to. Eric Ambel’s production is spot-on, as usual: everything is dirty right where it needs to. Unsurprisingly, Spanking Charlene’s New York home base is Lakeside, where they play this coming February 16 at 10 PM. We reviewed one of their shows there last year [third most popular review in the history of this blog – Ed.] and it was as excellent as you would expect after hearing this fun, fiery album. Four bagels. With safety pins stuck through them.

January 11, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Fuck American Idol

Tonight voices ruled: not the tiresome parade of flashy melismatic effects that the American Idol crowd reaches for, but uniquely individual voices, each with its own signature style. Pure, unleashed passion, wit, sadness, rage, exuberance, the whole gamut. Real, original voices delivering real, original material with real emotion.

After several rounds of stiff Bacardi 151 drinks at the Holiday Lounge, the Ukrainian bar on St. Mark’s (that venerable dive doesn’t take credit cards, so there’s no worry about losing your place at the bar to some trust fund child from Malibu), we made our way down to the LES to a tourist trap we would normally never be caught dead at. Ninth House was scheduled to play, but their drummer was stuck in midtown traffic, caught in a security gauntlet, a byproduct of the current westside gathering of multinational robber barons. So frontman Mark Sinnis did a trio show with his lead guitarist and piano player. Sinnis sings in a low, ominous baritone somewhere from the nether regions where Johnny Cash, Ian Curtis and Jim Morrison reside. He can croon with anyone, but he’d rather belt, raging against the dying of the light. Death figures in most of his Nashville gothic songs: he knows that country is the original goth music and mines it for every eerie tonality he can pull out of that deep, dark well. The sound at this yuppie puppie trashpit usually frightfully bad, and it was tonight, the vocals struggling to pull themselves from under the piano. One would think that at a folkie club like this that bills itself as sonically superior, vocals should automatically be the highest thing in the mix, but the sound guy was lost in his comic book and didn’t do anything to fix things. Sinnis fought the PA, and like John Henry, man against machine, the machine won. But he put up a good fight: hearing him project all the way to the back of the little room, virtually without amplification, was pretty impressive. If you were there (you probably weren’t – it was a small crowd) and liked what you heard, wait til you hear this guy through a mic that’s on.

Elsewhere, janglerock quartet Sputnik took the stage just as Sinnis and crew were wrapping up their set. Shockingly, the sound they had to deal with was actually pretty good: their tall, willowy blonde frontwoman Genie Morrow has never sung better. Tonight she was in effortlessly seductive mode, her sultry, breathy, sometimes whispery soprano peeking around the corners of the melodies. You have to listen closely for the drama in this band’s pleasantly catchy, jangly songs, but it’s there. Part of a frontperson’s job is to grab the audience somehow or other and hold them, while keeping the band all on the same page at the same time (a job that most corporate and indie rockers don’t have a clue about). Morrow delivered as if she was born to do this, and with a little luck (maybe a song in a good cult indie flick), she’ll be able to. She’d borrowed an accordion from an especially generous neighborhood shop, and its gently wistful tones were the perfect complement to her vocals’ gentle allure. This band has everything it takes to be big: hooks, tunes, a generally sunny disposition and casually virtuosic musicianship. And they were clearly having a great time onstage. It was particularly nice to see excellent drummer Nigel Rawles involved with something that has as much promise as his previous band Scout.

The high point of the night was at Lakeside where the excellent 4-piece punk band Spanking Charlene were playing. They’re not straight-up punk like the Ramones or UK Subs, but more Stonesy, like the Heartbreakers. Like Sputnik, they also have a casually charismatic frontwoman, but she’s a completely different type of animal, armed with a big, powerful wail. It’s a dangerous weapon, and she wields it expertly. This band’s lyrics are sardonic and funny. As with any punk band, they also have some anger, but in their case it seems to be inner-directed. In the night’s most intense moment – there were a lot of them – the singer launched into a crescendoing chorus, singing “stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid me,” berating herself over and over again, and this was as incongruous as it was disturbing. From the lyrics, it was obvious that she’s no dummy: what on earth could she have done that was so stupid? Maybe the song is a cautionary tale. Either way, it made an impact. She also proved that she’s no one-trick pony with a surprisingly quiet, sweetly twangy country song. Their big audience hit right now seems to be a riff-rocker called Pussy Is Pussy (“People are afraid of pussy,” the singer knowingly told the audience) which isn’t even their best number. But it’ll be huge if they can get somebody to pull some public-domain footage (or, hell, any footage), make a primitive video and put it up on youtube. Spanking Charlene have a cd coming out in November, and if the live show is any indication, it will kick serious ass. Stay tuned.

Like Bob Lefsetz is fond of saying, the mainstream is dead. But the underground has never been more vital. So good to be alive in a place where, against all odds, there are still so many great bands – and killer singers. American Idol? Simon says, stick a fork in it.

September 16, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments