Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: The Big Small Beast

The big show happened at the Orensanz Center Friday night. Because the night had to end before midnight, it was like the Rolling Stones Revue, 2010 style: everybody got short sets but made the most of them. Spottiswoode opened, solo on piano. He’s never sounded better. He has a musical theatre production coming up in the fall and if the trio of brand-new songs he played are any indication, it ought to be good. Intense and pensive, he began with a gospel flavored number, following with one of the best songs of the whole night, a bitter, brooding wee-hours tableau possibly titled Wall of Shame. He then dedicated a passionate ballad to a pretty, short-haired brunette in the crowd named Nicole: “I would follow you to Philadelphia,” he intoned.

Barbez have never sounded better either – their set was amazing, maybe the best of the entire night, an offhanded reminder of how brilliant this band is. Even more impressive, when you consider that their van had just been broken into the previous night, most of their gear stolen (Williamsburg bands beware – this is the second one in two days). This was their instrumental set, all minor keys, erasing all cross-country and cross-genre borders with perfect effortlessness. Guitarist Dan Kaufman led the band into a Balkan surf groove in 7/8 time, building to a squall with the clarinet going full blast, down to a masterfully nuanced passage featuring the marimba, then bringing it up again and ending it cold. The next one had a tango flavor, more prominent marimba and tricky rhythms. After that, they worked down from a furious gallop to atmospherics and then more tango, then started the next one with an ominously funereal, minimalist rumble that picked up in a rawtoned Savage Republic vein, ending with a creepy, carnivalesque waltz.

Since Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch had booked the night, he was pulling triple duty onstage, his first set of the night being with his longtime sparring partner Little Annie Bandez. This was the cd release show for their new one, Genderful, arguably the high point of their career together up to now. The crowd was silent, rapt, amazed – as a raconteur, Bandez has no equal, but since time was tight she kept the songs tight and terse and absolutely haunting, beginning with Wallfisch on guitar and backed by the full band on a wistful, sad version of Billy Martin Requiem, a tribute not only to the fallen Yankee skipper but also that era’s AIDS casualties. “Thirty years in business to learn a word like ‘monitor,'” she joked as soundman Marco, on loan from the Delancey, made some expert adjustments (big up to Marco by the way – the sound was outstanding all night). The wee-hours lament Suitcase Full of Secrets was poignant and loaded with understatement, on the wings of Heather Pauuwe’s violin; they closed with a brand-new song, Dear John, a requiem for a suicide. Bandez looked up, then around at the majestic synagogue facade behind the stage and did a slow, thoughtful 360, leading the crowd’s eyes just as she’d led their ears.

Bee and Flower have been conspicuously absent from the New York stage, but they haven’t lost a step. Frontwoman/bassist Dana Schechter began their all-too-brief set as chanteuse, swaying and playing shakers on a particularly haunting version of the slowly sweeping, characteristically cinematic minor-key 6/8 anthem Homeland. They picked up the pace briefly with a bouncy number that saw lead guitarist Lynn Wright (leader of the amazing And the Wiremen) swooping on his low E string to provide a second bassline against Schechter’s slinky groove. Switching pensively from tango inflections to starlit wonder to a pounding, hypnotically intense version of Twin Stars, a standout track from their first album, the only thing missing was the epic suspense film for which the songs would have made the perfect score.

The crowd peaked for Botanica, who were serenaded on and then offstage, from the balcony overhead, with the exquisive and otherworldly Balkan vocals of two completely unamplified singers, Black Sea Hotel’s Corinna Snyder and her equally haunting pal Kelly. Wallfisch had just played keys for Bee and Flower, so he switched to his battered Wurlitzer-and-organ combo and then went into a zone. Guitarist John Andrews blasted out wild Dick Dale-style tremolo-picked passages, playing through a skin-peeling cloud of reverb and delay. He also sang what might have been the best song of the whole night, the menacing art-rock epic Xmas, opening with just guitar and vocals for a Beatlesque verse, finally exploding with a crash on the second chorus. Their opener, the title track to their new album Who You Are (whose release was also being celebrated this evening) moved from stately menace to unaffected, longing angst; La Valse Magnetique, sort of the title track to their previous studio cd, featured more insane surf guitar and a very pregnant pause. Monster surf met Elvis Costello on a pointed, relentless version of the gypsy-punk Witness. There were other acts on the bill, but after a set like this, anything that followed it would have been anticlimactic – after five bands, maybe more (this is just the highlights), it was time to take a break and enjoy what was left of the early summer evening outside.

So sold as we were on this show (in case you were away, we plugged it shamelessly for a week), it pretty much delivered on its promise. The weekly Small Beast concert upstairs at the Delancey – from which this sprang – is the closest thing we have these days in New York to what CBGB was in the 70s, or what Tonic was from 1995 to 2005: the most fertile, fearlessly imaginative rock and rock-oriented scene in town. And from a blogger’s perspective, it’s a dream come true – for the price of a few hours worth of an otherwise fairly useless Monday, it’s an absurdly easy way to keep in touch with some of the world’s most vital rock and rock-oriented acts. Shame on the other Manhattan venues for not doing something like this on a Saturday and promoting it to a wider audience.

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May 24, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Embarrassment of Riches

Small Beast was a mobscene the week before last. You could hardly move. Who knows just how large this Beast will grow, or what its lifespan might be. Whatever the case, Botanica frontman/pianist Paul Wallfisch’s weekly Thursday residency upstairs at the Delancey is an event with posterity stamped all over it – someday a lot of people who never heard of the Beast until it was over will claim to have been here every week. This past week’s was something of a respite from the crowd, impresario/showman/alchemist Wallfisch solo on the piano as usual to open the night. As usual, it felt like forbidden fruit, a peek inside the next (obviously awesome) Botanica album, this time around gypsyish and intense as usual but with restraint, something akin to a subtler, more overtly literate Gogol Bordello if you can imagine that. He’d played a whole set of Paul Bowles songs a weekly previously at the Gershwin Hotel and reprised a couple of unsurprisingly doomed, poetic numbers from that show along with a savage, sarcastic version of the WWII bordello chronicle Shira and Sofia and an even angrier take on the big, impatient Botanica gypsy-dance show-closer How. Then cellist and self-described provocateur Peter Lewy took the stage and was excellent, opening with a darkly Romantic original instrumental, then joined by Wallfisch. It would have been nice to be able to stick around for the rest of his set, as well as for an all-too-infrequent set by once-and-future Scholars frontman Whiting Tennis, and to see what Barbez’ Dan Kaufman might be up to these days, but it was time to head over to Bowery Electric for McGinty & White’s cd release show.

Which as one of the cognoscenti in the packed house said, was like being at an ELO concert. With a string quartet led by the formidable Claudia Chopek, Mike Fornatale playing gorgeously terse, watery lead guitar through a vintage 70s Ibanez analog chorus pedal, former Psychedelic Fur McGinty’s battalion of keyboard effects, a potent yet subtle rhythm section of Jeremy Chatzky booming on the bass and Eddie Zweiback on drums and White on acoustic guitar, it was a feast of textures and tunes. Their new cd, recently reviewed here is an updage on the classic 60s psychedelic pop sound best exemplified by Jimmy Webb and Burt Bacharach; live, it rocks harder, the songs’ innumerable clever touches jumping out at the least expected moments with both a nod to and a smirk at the original stuff.

On the album, White’s kiss-off ballad Rewrite is savagely lyrical but this time out the music was equally intense, driven by Fornatale’s ruthless jangle and clang. So Tired matched Badfinger catchiness to ELO epic grandeur, White toying with the vocal melody at the end, only enhancing the lyric’s bled-white exasperation. “You can only follow the obligatory power ballad with the obligatory bubblegum song,” McGinty told the crowd, and suddenly his tongue-in-cheek Get a Guy made perfect sense – not only is it a dig at the girl in question, it’s also a dig at a whole style of music.

Predictably, the best song of the night was a lushly and powerfully vengeful version of another Ward White kiss-off ballad, Knees. After a piano-and-voice version of Wichita Lineman – “A song which is beautiful and disturbing at the same time as the best ones are,” as White said, they wrapped up the night with a song each from White’s and McGinty’s individual projects. Pulling Out, the title track from White’s most recent and best album had a beautiful, barely restrained viciousness,  the lyric “someone somewhere has to go” followed by a big, haphazard cymbal crash. The darkly Beatlesque Three Days Old, from McGinty’s old chamber-pop band Baby Steps positively smouldered, bursting into flame when the strings kicked in on the second chorus. Majestic, epic grandeur – when’s the last time you experienced that at a rock show?

By the time the band was over, free vodka night was over – a good thing, actually – and it was back to the Delancey where the New Collisions, Lucid Culture’s favorite Boston band were wrapping up a characteristically fiery, fun set. There is absolutely nothing contrived about this band – while they’re a dead ringer for an early 80s new wave group, with echoes of X Ray Spex, Missing Persons and Blondie, their lyrics are vastly smarter, considerably darker and frontwoman Sarah Guild – sporting a sharp new summer haircut that makes the blonde siren look wirier and more intense than ever – stalked across the stage with an uncanny edginess. Watching them do a couple of new songs – the haunting American Dream and one with a bouncy Friday on My Mind style guitar hook – as well as a blazing, soaring version of No Free Ride – was the perfect way to end what might have been the best night of live music anywhere in New York this year. Lucky Bostonians can see the New Collisions at TT Bear’s on the 29th for their ep release show.

May 23, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment