Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 8/21/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1.

Sunday’s album was #527:

Curtis Eller – Wirewalkers and Assassins

2009 was a particularly good year for music – if you’ve been following this space, you’ll see we’ve been mining it quite a bit lately. This is Curtis Eller’s latest and best album – he plays banjo and happens to be one of the finest lyrical songwriters of our time. His specialty is fiery, minor-key, bluesy songs full of historical references and punk energy. This one has his very best one, the apocalyptic After the Soil Fails; the New York-centric Sugar for the Horses; the grim party anthem Sweatshop Fire; the chillingly summery, hallucinatory Hartford Circus Fire; the sardonic Firing Squad; the gentle, blackly humorous country sway of the Plea of the Aerialist’s Wife, and the wrenchingly haunting, whispery Save Me Joe Louis, its title taken from what were reputedly the last words of the first man (who was probably wrongfully convicted) to be executed in the gas chamber. It hasn’t made it to the filesharing sites yet but it’s still available from Eller’s bandcamp, where you can hear the whole thing.

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August 23, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Curtis Eller European Tour Dates – Fall 2009

Fiery, lyrical banjo-playing hellraiser Curtis Eller is off to Europe for another tour, playing a mix of stuff from his most recent Wirewalkers and Assassins (very favorably reviewed here) plus new songs. The schedule:

NORWAY:

Friday, 9 October

Lister Blues Club (full band)
w/ Daniel Eriksen and Slade
8th Avenue Bar, Brooklyn Sq.
4560 Vanse
Farsund, Norway
http://www.listerbluesclub.no/
Saturday, 10 October
Fan It (solo show)
6453 Kleive
Kleve, Norway
+47 91 37 07 53
http://www.fanit.no//
Sunday, 11 October
Langesund Bad
3970 Bamble Badevejen 4
Langesund, Norway
+47 35 97 35 29
http://www.langesundbad.no/default.asp?Folder=4686&IdEvent=1591
Monday, 12 October
Rallarhuset (solo show)
Storgata 22a
3660 Rjukan, Norway
+47 95 27 59 24

Wednesday, 14 October
John Dee (solo show)
w/ Vider Busk
Torggata 16
Oslo, Norway
+47 22 20 32 32
http://www.rockefeller.no/index.html?bb=J
Thursday, 15 October
Buddy Scene (full band)
w/ Daniel Eriksen
Amtmand Bloms, Gate 4
Drammen, Norway
+47 32 82 14 00
http://www.buddyscene.no/
Friday, 16 October
Kafe K (full band)
w/ Daniel Eriksen
Storgata 174-C
Porsgrunn, Norway
+47 35 55 99 00
http://www.kafek.no/
Saturday, 17 October
Bø Vertshus/Grillen (full band)
w/ Daniel Eriksen
Bogata 61
Bø Norway
HOLLAND:
Tuesday, 20 October 8:00pm
De Nieuwe Anita
Frederik Hendrikstr 111
Amsterdam, Netherlands
http://www.denieuweanita.nl/
Wednesday, 21 October 7:30pm
The Delicatessen
Sumatrastraat 32
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Friday, 23 October 10:30pm
Patronaat Cafe’
(Katzenjammer post show)
Zijlsingel 2
Haarlem, Netherlands
(023)517-5858
http://www.patronaat.nl/
BELGIUM:
Saturday, 24 October 8:00pm
Secret Hero House Concert
Ghent, Belgium
http://www.myspace.com/secretheroconcerts
for reservations e-mail: piere18@hotmail.com

October 5, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Some Songs For You Until We Return

As regulars here know by now, Lucid Culture HQ is undergoing some big renovations and for that reason we have to leave this site more or less in limbo until about the middle of October  when we  return with more of the stuff you may have grown accustomed to: the NYC live music calendar, cd and concert reviews, Song of the Day and our Tuesday Top Ten Songs list. This will also serve as a test of sorts to see how much traffic we get while there’s not much going on here. In the meantime, here are the songs of the day that we’d scheduled to appear, a new one every day through October 15, 2009  as the countdown to #1 on the Top 666 Songs of Alltime list continues.  If this isn’t enough to satisfy your curiosity, look around a little, browse the index above and we’ll be back before you know it.

304. Joy Division – Walked in Line

“All dressed in uniforms so fine/They drank and killed to pass the time/Wearing the shame of all their crimes/With measured steps they walked in line.” Nazis as metaphor for conformity as a whole, stepping to a ridiculously simple, potent descending punk riff. An early, 1977-era song released on the posthumous 1981 Still lp, available in a ridiculous number of live and studio versions: peek around.

303. Dick Dale – Misirlou

The lefty guitar genius and surf music pioneer is Lebanese-American and probably heard this iconic Greek melody as a kid in the 50s. Nice to see him healthy again and back on the road. New York Greek party rockers Magges also do a tremendously fun version.

302. The Dog Show – If I Laugh Anymore I’ll Break

Blistering and catchy, sort of a cross between the Dead Boys and 50s R&B. One of the more obscure tracks here, this is on a rare ep by the NYC mod punks from 2003 or so and well worth seeking out, whether on a live bootleg (they exist) or otherwise.

301. Elvis Costello – Riot Act

One of Steve Nieve’s finest, most poignant moments in the band with all those hauntingly restrained piano arpeggios. From Get Happy, 1980; mp3s are everywhere.

300. The Grateful Dead – Days Between

Every now and then, Jerry and co. would pull out the gravitas and this is a prime, extremely poignant example from right before the end, an elegiac epic that in its dark, determined way might just be their best song. Not that it really mattered, but the Dead never released it during their lifetime as either a studio or live recording. So you need to go to dead.net or archive.org, where this 12-minute gem resides in several places.

299. The Go-Betweens – You Can’t Say No Forever

Haunting, percussive janglerock cautionary tale about the dangers of succumbing to the lure of marriage. An apt companion piece to the Fun Boy Three’s Tunnel of Love…and a million blues and country songs. It doesn’t sound much like anything the artsy New Zealand pop band ever did before or after. From 16 Lovers’ Lane, 1989; mp3s are everywhere.

298. The Rolling Stones – Black Limousine

A poignant requiem for a good time, Ron Wood’s warmly fluid blues solo one of his finest moments in the band over a neat hesitation-step series of basic blues changes. From Tattoo You, 1981; mp3s are everywhere, and don’t be shy about downloading it because like all major label releases, this one will never make the band any more money. Not that they need it anyway. The link above is a spirited live version from the tour of the same year.

297. Telephone – Au Coeur de la Nuit

The title translates as “heart of the night,” which to songwriter Jean-Louis Aubert’s credit transcends cliche here. One of the most iconic songs in French rock, it’s a blistering requiem, title track from the Parisian rockers’ 1981 lp. Which you can download all over the place; the link above is a careening live version from German tv.

296. Zager & Evans – In the Year 2525

OK, some of you may find this cheesy and over-the-top. But we think the 1969 one-hit wonder is spooky in a psychedelic California Dreaming kind of way. Whatever you think, the video above is hilarious – and it screams out for someone with a little more depth to cover the song and bring out all its apocalyptic angst. By the way, the song was a last-minute addition to the band’s first album (if you find it, pick it up, it’s rare). Available for taping off your favorite oldies radio station as well as all over the web.

295. Randi RussoWonderland

Arguably the iconic indie rock siren’s signature song, this is a bruised, towering anthem about being left behind. And the injustice and cruel irony of it. From her classic Solar Bipolar cd, 2000; the link in the title above is the considerably faster but still dangerous version from the Live at Sin-e album, 2005.

294. Amy Rigby – Rode Hard

Culture shock has seldom been more amusingly, or more poignantly portrayed: fearless big city girl goes south and she doesn’t understand the natives any better than they understand her. She might be jealous of their brightly lit homes and seemingly secure lives, but she’s not sure. And are there any eligible guys within a hundred mile radius? Is there one? From the Sugar Tree cd, 2000, which you could download, or you could get at her site, she’s an independent artist so none of your money will go to any sleazy record label exec.

293. Erika Simonian – Bitter & Brittle

Best song on the classic 2003 All the Plastic Animals cd by the NYC underground songwriter/chanteuse and Sprinkle Genies guitarist, grimly yet wittily contemplating a fullscale breakdown with one of her characteristically gemlike lyrics.

292. Elvis Costello – Love Went Mad

“Do you know how I feel? Do you have a heart, do you have a heart of iron and steel?” the King inquires with a savage amphetamine insistence. A fast, anthemic smash from Punch the Clock, 1983, driven by Steve Nieve’s incisively bright piano. Mp3s are everywhere.

291. Curtis Eller – After the Soil Fails

Apocalyptic opening track on the fiery NYC banjo rocker’s 2008 cd Wirewalkers & Assassins:

This time the dream is a Russian oil tanker

Fidel Castro and Cuban sugarcane

Richard Nixon’s having the same old nightmare

Jack Ruby’s black secret crawling up through the drain…

When the hurricanes finally take out New Orleans

And scarlet fever has finally left Philadelphia bare…

There’s a ghost that we remember hanging in the air

290. Ninth House – Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me

Catchy, swaying Nashville gothic existentialist cautionary tale: “I know all your secrets,” frontman Mark Sinnis intones ominously. From Swim in the Silence, 2000.

289. Elena Zazanis – Stingray

The highly regarded indie film actress is also a terrific singer and songwriter, with a powerful alto wail and a haunting chromatic edge that reflect her Greek heritage. For a few years during the early part of the decade, she led a first-rate, dark New York powerpop band and this is their finest moment, a towering anthem vividly depicting a surreal nightmare scenario that doesn’t end well. Never recorded, although live bootlegs exist.

288. REM – Find the River

Arguably their best song, about as far from their indie roots as they ever got, lush and anthemic with a string section. It’s about getting old, and failure, and death. “All of this is coming your way.” From Automatic for the People, 1992. Click on the video in the link above.

287. Latin QuarterTruth About John

For about a year the British rock press were all gaga over this lyrically brilliant, Costelloesque band who were one of the first to bring Afropop flourishes into rock. This is probably their most straight-up rock song, a bruising anthem about Albert Goldman’s hatchet-job John Lennon bio. From the Modern Times lp, 1985. The Pip Hoyle style organ solo out is luscious. Frontman Steve Skaith now fronts his own band, continuing to play and record intriguingly polystylistic, lyrical songs. The link in the title above is the stream at imeem.

286. Flash & the Pan – Restless

A few years after their legendary 60s garage-pop band the Easybeats had run its course, Australians Harry Vanda and George Young led this pioneering, truly extraordinary dark new wave studio project best known for their big 1979 hit Hey St. Peter. This apocalyptic number sets a haunting Middle Eastern melody to a fast, hypnotic dance beat, the lyrics as offhandedly disconcertingly as ever. From the classic Lights in the Night lp, 1980, more easily downloaded than you would think – the link above is a torrent.

285. The Room – Naïve

Best song on probably the best ep ever made, the Liverpool new wave legends’ 1985 release Jackpot Jack. This updates noir 60s pop with a jazzy tinge and haunting Hammond organ, Dave Jackson’s ominously breathy voice and characteristically biting lyrics. It’s also a great drinking song – who knew beer goggles could be so lyrical. Jackson and bassist Becky Stringer would carry on in the equally captivating Benny Profane and currently the Nashville gothic act the Dead Cowboys.

September 27, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, Curtis Eller and Bliss Blood at the Delancey, NYC 8/17/09

It may have been a scorching Monday night in the dead of August, but Small Beast – the weekly salon/performance event we’ve been screeching about for the past six months or so – was pretty packed. The word of the night was charisma – reviled as passe in indie rock circles but as valid as ever for the other 95% of the world. This was simply one of the best triple bills of the year – although that possibility rears its head every week here. Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch (as regular readers of this space know, perhaps by heart) is a hard-rocking pianist who blends gypsy and classical motifs into his alternately ornate and austere art-rock songs. He was in a bad mood, brightened somewhat by the presence of a ringer percussionist, a tough-looking guy of about nine who contributed tambourine for practically the entirety of the set, demonstrating an appreciation for groove and an ear for creative rhythms that may develop into rock-solid timing if he keeps it up. He did a bunch of covers: a punked-out piano version of the Stones’ Faraway Eyes, a brief Paul Bowles song with a violent ending, a casually sultry take of Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man and a completely unhinged Why’d Ya Do It (the Marianne Faithfull rant from the Broken English lp). He closed on a raptly soulful note with the gentle, gospel-fueled title track to Botanica’s latest, forthcoming cd.

“This may be an asshole thing to say, but I didn’t expect him to be so good,” marveled the next act, banjo rocker Curtis Eller, without a trace of sarcasm. And then took the show to the next level. With his banjo hooked up to a wireless transmitter, Eller refused to stand in one place, alternating between a high-kicking Dizzy Dean stance and a righthanded Darryl Strawberry crouch, running the length of the floor past the bar, playing the piano with his ass and keeping the audience riveted. There may be no better lyricist out there right now – a set of Curtis Eller songs is just about as good and accurate a look at American history over the past two hundred years as A People’s History of the United States, and it’s a whole lot funnier. Referencing Elvis twice, Nixon several times, the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, the Las Vegas mob, Boss Tweed, doping in horseracing, Pentecostal rites and the death penalty, he ran through a mix of older songs and tunes from his most recent cd Wirewalkers and Assassins (which may prove over time to be a classic). Taking Up Serpents took a vividly literate look at how the ruling classes keep the lower ones divided and conquered; Sugar for the Horses examined the consequences of what happens when people like Boss Tweed and Elvis are separated at birth (that’s a quote). Three More Minutes with Elvis paradoxically worked equally well as wistful ballad and caustic portrayal of over-the-top idol worship; After the Soil Fails packed just about every contributing factor to the coming apocalypse into three furiously catchy minutes of minor-key noir blues. The crowd sang along on the bitterly tongue-in-cheek Come Back to the Movies, Buster Keaton and on the gently haunting closing number, Save Me Joe Louis, Eller sinking to his knees and whispering the outro like the song’s condemned man in the gas chamber.

Bliss Blood of the Moonlighters followed with a rare solo set of razor-sharp, period-perfect originals and a playful selection of covers from across the decades. A songwriter unsurpassed at evoking the subtle wit and exuberance of 1920s/30s swing, blues and Hawaiian music, her style is more cajolery than outright seduction, notwithstanding her stage outfit, in this case a vintage black slip over fishnets. “It’s like when the Moonlighters used to play Tonic, with industrial metal in the basement,” she sneered, as the thud from the downstairs room threatened to drown out her ukelele. “Let’s all stomp on the floor and scream!” The crowd was glad to comply. Her plaintive original Winter in My Heart (from the Moonlighters’ excellent new cd Enchanted) was inspired, she said, by an ex who refused her invites to join her on myspace and facebook – pretty cold, especially when you consider that there are guys out there who would probably be willing to pay to join Bliss Blood’s virtual circle of friends.

She worked every innuendo in Al Duvall‘s Sheet Music Man (also from the new album) for all they were worth, offered up cheerily swoony versions of the old jazz tunes Moanin’ Love and Fooling with the Other Woman’s Man, scurried through a fast, scorching take of the Moonlighters’ anti-maquiladora bolero Dirt Road Life as well as a trio of Kinks covers from Village Green. And then a request, Animal Farm (turns out she was a Kinks fan for a considerable time before she met the Davies brothers and Dave kissed her on the lips). “I could play all night,” she laughed before finally wrapping up her show with an original, the blithe hobo anthem Texarkana Bound, which is available as a free download. Comedic acoustic cowpunk Larry Bang Bang was next on the bill, which from what’s on his myspace could have been a lot of fun, but by then it was midnight on a work night and there were things to do, specifically, get home and stick a fan in the window before the place spontaneously combusted.

August 19, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 7/27/09

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.  Every link here except for #1 will take you to each individual song.

1. Livia Hoffman – Friday

This is one of those great “finally the weekend’s here” numbers that manages not to be trite. Watch this space for upcoming live dates – this one’s unreleased.

2. Curtis Eller – Sugar in My Coffin

One of the great NYC rockers of this era – it just happens that the banjo is his axe. “The drinks are getting weaker with every round they serve.” He’s at Banjo Jim’s on 7/30 at 10

3. The French Exit – Bones & Matches

Typically haunting, wrenching, eventually explosive lament from NYC’s best noir rock crew. They’re at Local 269, 269 E Houston at 9 on 7/29

4. The Brooklyn What – For the Best

Characteristically snarling, smart punkish song from their first album (their new ep Gentrification Rock is killer too).  They’re at Don Pedro’s on 8/7 on an amazing bill with Escarioka, Palmyra Delran and others.

5. Rescue Bird – Montauk

Catchy, artsy country tune with an autoharp and glockenspiel! They’re at Spikehill on 7/30 at 8.

6. Carrie Clark – Josephine

Smartly soaring, Rachelle Garniez-esque oldtimey cabaret song. She’s at Spikehill on 7/30 at 9

7. Andrea Wittgens – Everything Is Relative to You

Clever, catchy, Greta Gertler-ish artsy piano pop tune. She’s at Spikehill on 7/30 at 11

8. Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens – What Have You Done

Killer minor-key oldschool gospel tune. They’re at Prospect Park Bandshell on 7/30 at 7:30 opening for Burning Spear

9. Rev. Vince Anderson – Don’t Think Jesus

Country music as liberation theology dating from the waning days of the Bush regime. He’s at at 55 Bar on 7/31 at 10.

10. Ansambl Mastika – Gde si Bre

Characteristicaly wild horn-diven Balkan dance. They’re at Mehanata on 7/30 at 9.

July 28, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Curtis Eller at Highline Ballroom, NYC 1/25/09

This was one of those good-to-be-in-NYC days. A trip to the Met to see the retrospective for departing director Philippe de Montebello was worth the shlep. The theme is simply a selection of the best of what the museum has acquired during his long tenure there. Everything is out of context, medieval Indian silk battle portraits side by side with antique instruments, pre-Renaissance Italian paintings, firearms, a Vermeer and a Van Gogh, effectively engaging and challenging the viewer with a whirlwind of art forms so diverse that it’s impossible not to discover something new and intriguing. The exhibit is up through the end of the month: you should see it.

 

After that it was down to St. Thomas Church where the estimable John Scott delivered a rousing, heart- and soul-warming program of Mendelssohn organ works, closing with a particularly inspiring, energetic take of the Second Organ Sonata. To fans of organ music, Scott needs no introduction; much has been written about him in this space, all of it good. The afternoon’s program was yet another reminder of how brilliant and stylistically diverse he is.

 

Next stop was Highline Ballroom, where songwriter/banjoist Curtis Eller was scheduled to play. Seafoam and the Psychedelic Chain Gang opened. Maybe because 70s music is so easy to lampoon, there are a whole bunch of parody bands around town who make fun of various 70s styles, Rawles Balls, Van Hayride and Mighty High notable among them. This band not only spoofs the music but also the look. Their frontman, his shaved chest festooned with the silliest temporary tattoos you could possibly imagine, affects a swishy, flamboyant gay stereotype (a swipe at Queen or Judas Priest, maybe?). The rest of the guys in the band all have the dirtbag look straight out of Almost Famous. Their musical satire ranges from predictable and dumb – give them credit for really knowing how to write a REO Speedwagon/Styx power ballad – to laugh-out-loud funny. The rhythm section plodded along predictably with the occasional faux Led Zep drum interlude. The guitarist and violinist would each simultaneously take a garish, masturbatory solo without paying the slightest attention to what the other was doing. Compounding the tasteless 70s vibe were the troupe of strippers with hula hoops cavorting across the stage while the band played. They closed with their Stonehenge number, all phony suspense as the volume rose to a crescendo that never arrived.

 

Curtis Eller took the stage and immediately climbed up on his chair, raising his mic to about a ten-foot height. To call him a dynamic performer would be an understatement. He spun, kicked up his leg a la Dontrelle Willis (now THERE’S a Curtis Eller song waiting to happen: The Ballad of Dontrelle Willis, the suspense is gonna kill us), darted out onto the tables to sing unamplified and at the end of the show took several sprints along the perimeter of the space, running outside til he reached the limit of how far the wireless mic on his banjo would carry. Because of his choice of instrument and maybe also because his songs have such a rich historical sensibility, he typically gets lumped in with the oldtimey crowd. Which doesn’t really do him justice: while his melodies frequently have a dark, Tom Waits-y bluesiness, the vibe is pure punk rock, especially when the lyrics hit you. And they hit hard and unsparing, with an Elvis Costello/LJ Murphy style brilliance. Eller’s bullshit detector is set to kill, whether playing psychopathologist and making fun of twisted everyday people or holding politicians to a pre-Bush regime standard. “I was extremely disappointed that plane made it back to Texas,” he mused. “Now it’s not an assassination, it’s just a murder.”

 

He opened with the aggressive, characteristically sardonic title track to his 2004 cd Taking Up Serpents Again, following with a coal miner’s bitter lament and then John Wilkes Booth, a fiery, minor-key call to arms that made an awfully good anthem before that one Tuesday last November. Like so many of Eller’s songs, Come Back to the Movies, Buster Keaton worked on several levels, in this case as both a sly, tongue-in-cheek slap at the entertainment-industrial complex and a revealing connection between the curmudgeonly and the reactionary.

 

To his further credit, Eller got the surprisingly young, obviously moneyed crowd going, especially on a quietly harsh 6/8 ballad about pigeon racing. Introducing the song, he mimicked a pigeon call: “You can do it, just pretend you’re from Hoboken,” he deadpanned, and by the time he’d reached the middle of the song, the crowd was a chorus of rats with wings.

 

As much as he energized the crowd, he antagonized them. “You know who Jack Ruby was? Some of you?” And then followed with the best song of the night, a blazing version of the haunting Appalachian gothic number Sweatshop Fire, from his latest cd Wirewalkers & Assassins (one of our top 50 picks of 2008):

 

I’m going down to Antietam with a quart of bourbon in my hand

I’m going to kick the shit out of Vicksburg…

I’m gonna get fucked up like Ulysses S. Grant

Get as black as a Tuesday in 1929

 

He closed with the barely restrained rage of Sugar in My Coffin – “There ain’t no such thing as Elvis Presley from the waist down, that’s one thing I learned from tv,” and encored with an evocatively wistful cityscape, “Coney Island right where it should be.” For anyone with an appreciation for what New York has lost and might create again now that all the money for luxury condos has evaporated, this show was a hopeful summer breeze on a nasty cold night. Curtis Eller is at Banjo Jim’s on 2/26 and then at Public Assembly on 3/14 before going off again on European tour.

January 26, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments