Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Toneballs Bounce Around the Parkside

For those who’re going to miss out on Elvis Costello’s November 1 show at the Greene Space – most likely a whole lot of people – the Toneballs’ show Friday night to a packed house at the Parkside made a suitable substitute. Frontman Dan Sallitt is somewhat younger but shares a similarly cynical worldview and a love for double entendres. Where Costello draws on American soul and the Beatles, Sallitt looks back to Richard Thompson, Big Star and lot of powerpop. This time out the band – Sallitt on acoustic guitar and vocals; Love Camp 7’s Dann Baker on bass; Paul McKenzie on lead guitar and Beefstock mastermind Joe Filosa, king of the rock backbeat, behind the kit – mixed several slow, hypnotic ballads in with the ridiculously catchy, tension-laden, new wave style hits. They opened with Fran Goes to School, a tongue-in-cheek look at a recluse slowly making her way into the world. Mr. Insensitive, unlike what the title implies, is sarcastic, a stunner of a kiss-off song and one of Sallitt’s previous band Blow This Nightclub’s best-remembered moments: “Hoping for a revelation, settling for a change…a figment of my alcoholic brain, til then I remain, Mr. Insensitive.”

A newer one, Chelsea Clinton Knows, brought the savagery to boiling point: she knows people are bad, so all she has to do is make sure daddy turns up the sanctions. And if she has a kid she hopes it’s a boy. They followed that with a slow, noirish, suspenseful 6/8 number with McKenzie on lapsteel. One of Sallitt’s most effective devices is to hint at a resolution and then turn away at the last second, something the chord changes did all the way through another old Blow This Nightclub number, a sardonic one that looks forward to the future “because it will be fun, not like now.” Their obligatory Richard Thompson cover – they debut a new one at every show – was Hand of Kindness, complete with absolutely perfect, rivetingly intense lead guitar breaks from McKenzie. He didn’t turn a newer one, the fiery, chromatic Max Planck’s Day, into as much of a guitar workout as he did last time around, but it still resonated, a sardonic mix of physics and unrequited love. They closed on a more playful note with a Hawaiian-themed co-write between Sallitt and Baker, whose melodic four-string lines had soared and simmered all night long and were just as compelling as McKenzie’s pyrotechnics.

October 26, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Toneballs at Freddy’s, Brooklyn NY 2/27/10

Friday night we caught the new jacks: last night was the old warriors. The Toneballs were sans drummer, but it didn’t matter to the trio of Dan Sallitt, Dann Baker and Paul McKenzie. Lead guitarist McKenzie is the best Richard Thompson style guitarist other than Thompson himself, firing off furious leaps of an octave or more, atmospheric washes with the tone control, anguished staccato and supersonic blues runs tinted with bitter amber and onyx. If the eunuchs at the indie blogs had their way, lead guitar would be a lost art: McKenzie is defiant proof of its eternal vitality and appeal. Back in the 80s, Sallitt led legendary/obscure post-new wave LA noir outfit Blow This Nightclub – who (mostly) reunited here back in 2007 – so it made sense to catch his new group here as well. Baker plays bass like the jangly, psychedelic lead guitar monster he is in his own band Love Camp 7, as well as Erica Smith’s 99 Cent Dreams, swooping up the scale and adding the occasional tone-control wash of sound just as McKenzie would do. They opened with an epic, Where and When, stalking along ominously without any need for a drummer, right through the first of McKenzie’s tsunami solos. The understatedly snarling, sarcastic, Big Star-inflected Mr. Insensitive riffed off a Mexican vacation theme that Sallitt has used before to powerful effect. The band pride themselves on doing a new Richard Thompson cover every time out: this time it was a spikily bouncing version of She Twists the Knife Again.

Sallitt and Baker have been working up new material: one of them an Arthur Lee-inflected ballad set in a vivid LA milieu:

The imaginary girlfriend’s role was written just for you
I can see you riding shotgun as the sun goes down on Gower Avenue…
Watch over those unhappy times for me

Another worked a dreamy, acoustic Atomheart Mother-era Pink Floyd vibe.The best song of the night was Max Planck’s Time, but far from being, say, a Max Reger prelude and fugue, it turned out to be a ferocious Middle Eastern art-rock anthem making savage use of the hijaz scale, McKenzie springboarding off it for his most pyrotechnic display of the night when Sallitt wasn’t making sardonic astrophysical puns. Their last number painted a furtively scurrying Hawaiian getaway tableau – no disrespect to Hawaii, Baker deadpanned. The crowd, heavily sprinkled with talent as good as what was onstage, kept silent: when you get songwriting and musicianship this effortlessly spectacular, you want to enjoy it.

Afterward, another old favorite, Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co. were playing Hank’s. A leisurely stroll down Atlantic Ave. found the bar absolutely packed and SitNDie as fun as ever and doing the Bedbug Boogie, part satire, part homage to the early 50s hillbilly songwriting they replicate so well and have such a good time making fun of.

February 28, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Sloe Guns and the Toneballs at Freddy’s, Brooklyn NY 8/2/08

Long-running New York Americana rockers the Sloe Guns were too loud for the room: they’re used to big stages, and this time they weren’t on one. On one hand, hearing the clang of frontman Eric Alter’s beautiful Gretsch hollowbody (and then his Telecaster) against the roar of lead player Mick Izzo’s Gibson (and then his Tele) was texture heaven. But in a small downstairs room like Freddy’s, it’s hard to sing over that kind of sonic assault, and with the vocal mic turned up into the red, the crowd got out their earplugs. Echoes of CBGB circa 1977. Textures are one of the Sloe Guns’ trademarks, along with guitar duels (none of those tonight) and first-rate songwriting. The band is responsible for a couple of genuine classics, and they played both of them. Dillon, a slowly burning, backbeat-driven outlaw ballad from their first album was one of them, and they upped the ante even further with Guardian Angel, an excoriating kiss-off anthem from their Last Will & Testament album. Hearing just one of those songs made the whole evening worthwhile; hearing both was a real treat.

 

Best known as an arthouse filmmaker, former Blow This Nightclub frontman Dan Sallitt is also a first-rate songwriter. Over the course of a relatively long (for him, anyway), fifty-minute set, he and his new band the Toneballs proved the former LA post-new wave rocker as vital as ever. Like Elvis Costello or Ward White, Sallitt is something of a psychopathologist, minutely dissecting the pathology of relationships gone horribly wrong. Tonight’s show featured some impressive new, post BTN material, including a slow, pensive, somewhat Neil Young-ish number in 6/8 that they played early in the set, a long look at a woman who can’t seem to pull herself together. They followed with the characteristically caustic, sarcastic BTN song Mr. Insensitive. Sallitt then announced that the band had decided to play a new Richard Thompson cover every time out. “I thought this was our only gig,” bassist Dann Baker (who fronts amazing psychedelic rockers Love Camp 7 and plays lead in Erica Smith’s band) said puckishly.

 

Sallitt didn’t respond directly. “I promise not to sing in a British accent,” he told the crowd, and promptly steered the unit into very treacherous waters. Covering a pantheonic artist like Thompson is always a risk, especially such an iconic choice as Shoot Out the Lights, but the band actually rose to the occasion and delivered, testament to the quality of the players: drummer Bill Gerstel (who’d just finished a set with his regular band, the Sloe Guns) kept it slow and dark, Sallitt stayed within himself as promised and lead guitarist Paul McKenzie – who’d been getting some delicious, watery tonalities with a Leslie effects pedal earlier – not only managed to play a couple of the leads that Thompson plays on the record, but also added his own anguished, chromatic, Thompsonesque, bent-note work. The audience was awestruck. After a somewhat ominous new song featuring the lead player on electric bouzouki, providing a clanging, Rickenbacker-style effect, they encored with the punchy Blow This Nightclub song Fran Goes to School. It’s a tongue-in-cheek tune about a shut-in finally seeing daylight, building from a Talking Heads-ish verse into an impossibly catchy, fluid chorus. The crowd wanted more, but that was all the band had rehearsed. Considering that this was the Toneballs’ debut performance, one can only hope that they’ll do another, and sooner than the six months it’s been since Sallitt last played a live set.

 

August 5, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Concert Review: Blow This Nightclub Reunion (Sort of…) at Freddy’s, Brooklyn NY 8/12/07

This wasn’t technically a reunion of the original members of this obscure but brilliant late 80s/early 90s Los Angeles indie/new wave group: only frontman Dan Sallitt and lead guitarist Larry Jacobson were present. Yet the Zombies played Brooklyn recently, with just Colin Bluntstone and Rod Argent from the original lineup onstage. If that’s the standard, then this show ought to qualify.

Blow This Nightclub had the misfortune to come out right around the time the major labels stopped signing quality acts. Otherwise you would know them well. They aren’t quite as obscure as you might think. This show came together on the spur of the moment: since Jacobson was going to swing through town, Sallitt pulled together a pickup band consisting of the Sloe Guns’ Bill Gerstel on drums, Dann Baker (from Love Camp 7 and Erica Smith’s band) on bass and former Sinclair frontwoman Donna Upton on backing vocals. They played this show after just two rehearsals yet ended up sounding as good if not better than the original band. Sallitt’s soul-inflected tenor sounded particularly strong, ably abetted by Upton’s powerful pipes. Gerstel gave the songs some swing, and Baker proved he’s the best bass player in Erica Smith’s group. While Sallitt occasionally plays an acoustic show or two, Jacobson hadn’t played some of these songs in ten years, yet as he said after the show, they were still in his fingers. In almost exactly a half-hour’s time, the band ran through some of their best material and a surprise cover.

Fueled by Sallitt’s clever, cynical lyricism, Marriage for Beginners was one of the show’s high points, as was the gorgeously crescendoing When Amy Says, with Sallitt’s and Upton’s harmonies on the chorus. The best song of the night was the caustic, brutally dismissive Love Camp Summer, a withering portrait of a bunch of trust fund kids vacationing in Mexico: “You’re having too much fun/You’ll be happy when it’s done.” They closed the set with the bouncy, tongue-in-cheek Fran Goes to School, a Dann Baker song seemingly about a shut-in who finally manages to get out of the house. The small but riveted audience screamed for an encore, and the band finally obliged with a spirited, impressively tight version of Neil Young’s Ohio, a song that everyone in the band had undoubtedly played before, but had never thought of rehearsing as a unit.

Which goes to show what can happen when you take some of the best players in town and put them together on a stage. This one will sadly be demolished at some indeterminate date in the near future, when New Jersey developer Bruce “Ratso” Ratner finally gets the go-ahead to tear down the building. Since Freddy’s is in the “footprint” for the Atlantic Yards luxury housing/basketball arena complex, its days are numbered. Tonight’s show, more than just a great moment in obscure rock history, is yet another reminder of what New York stands to lose from the explosion of luxury housing. For not only are all those cheaply prefabricated, plastic-and-sheetrock Legoland highrises displacing music venues, they’re displacing the people who play there. And raising rents to the point where musicians and other artists can’t afford to live here anymore. Cities have always served as a cauldron for great artistic alchemy, and we’re witnessing their extinction on a scale greater than any other time in history. If Ratner and his cronies get their way, what was once arguably this nation’s greatest musical metropolis will become a vapid highrise suburb devoid of anything edgier than American Idol. New York is already in the midst of an artistic brain drain, and it will only get worse. Ask yourself, when’s the last time you discovered a good New York band (or artist, or filmmaker, etc.) under thirty years old other than by pure accident? This city was once a magnet for great talent, but now nobody can afford to come here. In the absence of some cataclysmic event (or voter initiative) that puts an end to the luxury housing boom, what’s left of a vast and fertile scene won’t last much longer. Get out to Freddy’s – or Lakeside or Magnetic Field or wherever else something good is still happening – while you can.

August 13, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment