Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Dina Rudeen’s Common Splendor is Uncommonly Splendid

Dina Rudeen is the missing link between Neko Case and Eartha Kitt. The way she slides up to a high note and then nails it triumphantly will give you shivers. Her songs draw you in, make you listen: they aren’t wordy or packed with innumerable chord changes, but they pack a wallop. With just a short verse and a catchy tune, Rudeen will paint a picture and then embellish it while the initial impact is still sinking in. Musically, she reaches back to the magical moment in the late 60s and early 70s when soul music collided with psychedelic rock; lyrically, she uses the metaphorically loaded, witty vernacular of the blues as a foundation for her own terse, literate style. Some of the songs on her new album The Common Splendor sound like what Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks could have been if he’d had a good band behind him; the rest runs the gamut from lush, nocturnal oldschool soul ballads, to jaunty, upbeat, Americana rock. Behind Rudeen’s nuanced vocals, Gary Langol plays keyboards and stringed instruments along with Tim Bright on electric guitars, Tim Luntzel on bass, Konrad Meissner on drums, Jordan MacLean on trumpet, the ubiquitously good Doug Wieselman on baritone sax and clarinet, Lawrence Zoernig on cello, bells and bowls, Smoota’s Dave Smith on trombone, Lars Jacobsen on tenor sax and Jake Engel of Lenny Molotov’s band on blues harp. The arrangements are exquisite, with tersely interwoven guitar and keyboard lines, and horn charts that punch in and then disappear, only to jump back in on a crescendo. This also happens to be the best-produced album of the year: it sounds like a vinyl record.

The opening track, Hittin’ the Town is a sly, ultimately triumphant tune about conquering inner demons, driven by a defiant horn chart over a vintage 50s Howlin Wolf shuffle beat:

I hit a dry spell
I hit a low note
I hit the deck
But missed the boat
I hit the top, cracked the jewel in my crown
When it hit me like a ton of bricks that’s when I hit the ground
But now I’m just hitting the town

The second cut, Steady the Plow slinks along on a low key gospel/blues shuffle, Rudeen’s sultry contralto contrasting with layers of reverberating lapsteel, piano and dobro moving through the mix – psychedelic Americana, 2011 style. Safe with Me, a southern soul tune, wouldn’t have been out of place in the Bettye Swann songbook circa 1967. The lush, gorgeously bittersweet, Rachelle Garniez-esque Yvette eulogizes a teenage party pal who died before her time, maybe because she pushed herself a little too hard (Rudeen doesn’t say, an example of how the ellipses here speak as loudly as the words). Hold Up the Night succinctly captures the “beautiful, unfolding sight” of a gritty wee hours street scene; Blue Bird, a bucolic tribute to the original songbird – or one of them – has more of Langol’s sweet steel work. And Prodigal One, another requiem, vividly memorializes a crazy neighborhood character who finally got on the Night Train and took it express all the way to the end.

Not everything here is quiet and pensive. There’s also some upbeat retro rock here, including the sultry Cadillac of Love and a couple of rockabilly numbers: Repeat Offender, with its Sun Records noir vibe, and Gray Pompadour, a tribute to an old guy who just won’t quit. There’s also the unselfconsciously joyous closing singalong, On My Way Back Home, namechecking a characteristically eclectic list of influences: Bowie, Elvis, the Grateful Dead, among others. Count this among one of the best releases of 2011 in any style of music. Watch this space for upcoming NYC live dates.

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April 6, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Nightcrawling 2/21/11

Monday night in New York might not be professional night anymore – every night is Saturday for the pampered sons and daughters of the ruling classes – but vestiges of it remain. If only out of habit, crowds are still smaller on Mondays. A crawl around town last night started out disappointing and ended every bit as ecstatically as hoped. This week’s installment of Chicha Libre’s weekly Monday residency at Barbes was cancelled, and the early act playing in the back room wasn’t exactly setting the place on fire, so it was time to go to plan B: Small Beast.

Small Beast is now a global event. Founder and Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch has taken it on the road with him to the Stadt Theater in Dortmund, Germany, but the original weekly Monday night series at the Delancey has continued on, virtually nonstop since he moved. Last night’s was Beast #103, if memory serves right, and it’s safe to say that at this point, at least stateside, this Beast is cooked. The night doesn’t even have a web presence anymore – none of the rotating cast of musicians who book it have bothered to update the Small Beast myspace page, or create a new calendar somewhere else – and without Wallfisch and his bottomless rolodex of amazing dark rock and rock-related acts, it’s been on life support other than on the few nights where Vera Beren or Carol Lipnik have taken charge. Which is a shame: its first couple of years will go down in New York rock history for being every bit as exciting and cutting-edge as the early days of CBGB were. To make a long story short, last night the room was practically empty and there was good reason for that. At least the drinks were cheap.

But the night wasn’t over. Next stop was across the river at Union Pool where Rev. Vince Anderson made all the shlepping around in the cold worthwhile. The place was mobbed, as usual. Like Bowie or Madonna, he never ceases to amaze as he reinvents himself or his band. This time they opened with a long, hypnotically circling Afrobeat instrumental – maybe the presence of star trombonist Dave Smith, from the Fela pit band, had something to do with it. Later they did a fiery, minor-key reggae song with a Peter Tosh feel: “You have to know the law to break the law,” Anderson insisted again and again, pumping juicy organ chords out of his Nord Electro keyboard.

The first set peaked with a long dance contest. The Rev. works a crowd like nobody else in this town, and he got everybody screaming as a handful of brave contestants showed off their Big Man Dance moves. “This is for the oldschool people here tonight,” Anderson explained. “I wrote this when I was fifty pounds heavier.” This particular dance is a soul shuffle where you stick out your gut, hold your lower back and walk with your legs apart as if it’s midsummer and you’ve run out of Gold Bond Powder. After a couple of elimination rounds and endless tongue-in-cheek vamping by the band, the winner got to enjoy a few seconds of triumph, a free glass of whiskey and a big shout-out from Anderson. After that, the woman who serves as Anderson’s excellent backup singer led the band in a volcanic, psychedelic blowout of Amazing Grace that actually managed to transcend the song’s dubious origins (the guy who wrote it was the captain of a slave ship). Baritone saxophonist Paula Henderson showed her usual wry virtuosity and spectacular range, but it was guitarist Jaleel Bunton who sent it off into orbit and wouldn’t let up, through a warped, reverb-drenched bluesmetal solo that must have gone on for five minutes and was impossible to turn away from. Even when the rest of the band had all come back in, he wouldn’t stop, alternating between sizzling hammer-ons and eerie off-center atmospheric washes. After all that, Anderson’s usual singalong of This Little Light of Mine couldn’t help but be anticlimactic. That was it for the first set: by now, it was one in the morning, the temperature outside had dipped into the teens and it was time to get lucky and catch a shockingly fast L train home.

February 22, 2011 Posted by | concert, gospel music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Williamsburg’s Best Dance Party

The idea of a dance party in Williamsburg might sound like an oxymoron, but there is one and it’s great fun. To the uninitiated, Rev. Vince Anderson might seem like an unlikely host, but to his fans – who packed Union Pool Monday night to the point where it was hard to move – he puts on the best party in town. Anderson has reinvented himself as many times as Bowie or Madonna, and the keyboardist/showman’s latest incarnation is as the leader of a deliriously slinky gospel-flavored groove orchestra. Which makes sense: he’s got the rhythm section from Chin Chin, Paula Henderson (late of Moisturizer) on baritone sax, and Dave Smith of Smoota and the Fela pit band on trombone, who all know something about getting a crowd to move. Monday night Anderson also had a dynamite girl backup singer along with Jaleel Bunton (known to some as the drummer in TV on the Radio) on fiery, noisy funk guitar, and longtime Stevie Wonder and David Bowie drummer Dennis Davis celebrating his birthday by sitting in on a couple of numbers. As Anderson has been doing for years, he jams out all the songs for sometimes as much as twenty minutes or more. This time, there wasn’t much sermonizing (the Rev. is a real minister): he was in too good a mood to do much more than play, sing, leap up on the bar, send the chandeliers overhead swaying ominously, and jump from the stage to surf on the outstretched arms of the crowd.

Anderson’s new songs are also a lot different from his older material. Throughout the first set, he stuck with a darkly reverberating, sometimes piercing electric piano tone, playing incisive funk lines worthy of Billy Preston (one of his idols). He opened the set with a long oldschool disco vamp to get the crowd energized, and it worked. The band followed that with a sultry, sexy, fast funk groove where Henderson and then Smith both blasted through a verse and then straight through the turnaround, they were having so much fun.

Anderson then flipped the script with a long, dynamically charged song that sounded like a murder ballad, reaching a roar as the chorus finally kicked in. From what managed to cut through the PA, the lyrics seemed to be directed at someone who’d be the kind of person to just stand and watch Jesus struggle all the way up to Golgotha. Davis joined them for a couple of numbers, bringing back the ecstatic dance vibe. Then Anderson launched into a doo-wop flavored soul song about having a hard time saying goodnight to a girl, which served as the springboard for some searing, bluesy electric piano cascades. They wrapped up the set with a long singalong on This Little Light of Mine, which continued on the dance floor and in the entryway to the back room after the band had left the stage. At half past one in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, it was kind of weird seeing a bunch of white kids who’ll never have to work a day in their lives singing along to an old gospel song written by slaves their great-great-grandparents possibly owned. But there was also something undeniably heartwarming about it. Rev. Vince Anderson plays every Monday night at Union Pool starting around 11.

September 1, 2010 Posted by | concert, funk music, gospel music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Rev. Vince Anderson’s Last Show at Black Betty, Brooklyn NY 6/15/09

There’s a downside to running a live music blog: if the concept is to cover as much ground as as possible, to spread the word about as many scenes as there are in New York, there isn’t much time left to see old favorites. After all, nobody wants to read about the same old people over and over again. But this show was special. Rev. Vince Anderson has gotten a lot of space here by virtue of the ecstatic quality of his live shows, and this one was especially high-voltage since Black Betty, the Middle Eastern restaurant/bar where he and his band the Love Choir have played a Monday night residency since 2004 (and for awhile back in the early zeros too) is closing. Tonight was supposedly the closing party and the vibe was electric, a lot of love in the room. Anderson has always drawn a remarkably diverse crowd, a lot of segments that usually don’t mix (the trendoid exiting in a huff because the bar wouldn’t take his parents’ credit card, a bunch of blue-collar neighborhood folks, Europeans, Middle Easterners and college kids). It was impossible to get into the inner room. When Anderson moves to Union Pool next Monday, it’ll be a step up because that space is considerably larger and the PA is a lot more powerful, more headroom for him to literally take his already energetic show to another level.

It was hard to imagine him working any harder or more exaltedly than he did tonight, opening with a swinging version of the Tom Waits-inflected free beer bar tale Sweet Redemption – from his second album The 13th Apostle – a heartfelt dedication to Black Betty. Playing every week, sometimes more than that has made this band incredibly tight, with a rare chemistry between band members. The rhythm section does double duty in slinky, sly groove/funk/soul band Chin Chin; trombonist Dave Smith is a blues purist in this band but also an innovative composer in his own jazz project, The Perfect Man; likewise, baritone sax player Paula Henderson leads the uniquely devious low-register band Moisturizer and does her own cinematic solo project Secretary. You’d never know from Jaleel Bunton’s energetically psychedelic guitar that he’s also the drummer in TV on the Radio. Anderson himself has evolved from eerily Balkan-inflected barrelhouse pianist to one of this era’s most successfully groove-oriented funk/soul keyboardists.

Deep in the Water, from Anderson’s most recent album 100% Jesus was especially moist and fluid, as was a cover of Amazing Grace, reinvented as a minor-key, House of the Rising Sun-style blues featuring what could have been Bunton’s best-ever solo in this band, a wrenchingly beautiful excursion that started out somberly emphatic with his wah pedal, finally blowing wide open with some searing upper-register work. The version of Anderson’s Get Out of My Way was especially amped, but the best song of the first set was a surprise cover of Springsteen’s Atlantic City, Anderson reinventing the hitman’s coldly disingenuous narrative as redemption song. “Everybody dies, that’s a fact, but maybe someday, everything comes back” – in Anderson’s world, this is a possibility. By the time he led the band through the stomping funk of Come to the River, the cops had arrived, the club finally closed the back door – which had been open for the first hour of the show since there was no room inside – and for anyone who wasn’t already in there, it was impossible to hear. No doubt the festivities after that were equally or more intense. Anderson’s next show is June 22 at 11 PM at Union Pool.

June 16, 2009 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Rev. Vince Anderson Live at Black Betty, Brooklyn NY 3/3/08

After seeing Serena Jost’s triumphant performance at Joe’s Pub, winding down was not an option. Rev. Vince Anderson’s weekly gospel show at Black Betty proved to be the perfect choice of detour. By about a quarter after eleven, he’d already begun his first set and was jamming out on a funky gospel groove, using the very authentic-sounding Hammond B3 setting on his Nord Electro keyboard. It was like wandering into a random bar and seeing Jimmy Smith in mid-set. And it looks like the NYU Class of 2012 has discovered Rev. Vince. If this particular sampling is any indication, this class dances. Which is a great thing. At first glance, it was impossible to tell the faux-bohemians from the faux-faux-bohemians. But a second glance revealed a clear distinction: the real faux-bohemians maintain their habitually stoned distance. The fake phonies’ intoxicant of choice is Jagermeister.

Faux-bohemianism has been commodified to the point that any rat from a mall with an Urban Outfitters can declare himself or herself a trendoid. And now there are even European trendoids wandering Williamsburg, casting icky looks at the remaining nonwhite establishments, murmuring to each other in French slang. And old trendoids too! Fat, graying old guys who had the good sense to get out of dotcom stocks before the bubble burst, then eight years down the road dumped the wife and kids and can now be seen in fullblown midlife crisis with a gold-digging girl (or boy) from Pratt on the arm, gazing upward in search of “for sale” signs on the dark towers of Mordor across the park from Bedford. Being a trendoid was never anything more than a pose, anyway. It’ll be good to be rid of the whole thing. Passion is the new detachment! Excitement is the new boredom! And Rev. Vince is leading the way, with the class of 2012 in tow.

As the Rev. told the audience, if an interviewer wants to talk about church, and their first question is about a parishioner, good things are happening. He’d been interviewed a couple of days previously, and the first thing the writer asked him was about one particular “parishioner” who regularly shows up every week and dances deliriously for practically three hours, as long as the Rev. and his band are onstage. Tonight happened to be the guy’s birthday. He’s not someone you’d mistake for a dancer if you saw him on the street: he’s a pretty hefty dude who looks like he spends his non-dancing hours lying around eating bags and bags of junk food. But the Rev., who as recently as a year ago tipped the scales at over two hundred pounds, apparently sees a kindred spirit in him. Like his mentor, the Rev. works in mysterious ways, and instead of offering a hale, hearty HAPPY BIRTHDAY, he needled the guy. “Don’t be afraid,” he cautioned him, launching into the reliable crowd-pleaser Bon Voyage, the boisterous tale of an Irish wake, from Anderson’s first album. Anderson brought the birthday kid up with him behind the keyboard and eventually handed him the microphone, taking a mincing, somewhat sarcastic piano solo on the high keys that was straight out of Mozart – or Liberace. In an impressively penetrating falsetto, the big dude led the the ladies in the audience in a call-and-response. Now this guy is anything but a trendoid. Dancing with wild abandon in front of a crowd of sneering anorexics takes a lot of guts if you are the antithesis of what they are, and Anderson seized on this. A church where a big fat dancing guy with a falsetto is welcome is simply a great place to be. It’s our kind of church, and this was our kind of show.

And the band was great as always. They did a soulful, slowly crescendoing take of Anderson’s new song about the breakup of a longtime relationship and a long, sizzling, completely funked-out version of his song Come to the River, rising to delirious heights. The horn section of Dave Smith on trombone and Paula Henderson on baritone sax alternated between subtlety and exuberance, and Anderson was in particularly wild, frenetic mode on the keys. If there’s any criticism of how this band has developed, it’s that Henderson doesn’t get to take as many solos as she used to now that they have the trombone. But that’s what her band Moisturizer is for.

March 4, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rev. Vince Anderson Live at Black Betty, Brooklyn NY 2/19/08

Rev. Vince Anderson had a rough week. While training in the park for an upcoming road race, the newly svelte Rev. was socked in the jaw by an old codger who told him, “This is for Jimmy.” It didn’t hurt, said the Rev., but it was a New York moment. Recently single, he’d spent Valentine’s Day alone with half a bottle of Trader Joe’s wine and a pizza and garlic sauce that tasted like butter (from a national chain: figures, right?). And his friend was in ICU after the Lincoln Town Car he was riding in pulled up at the curb just outside the club a couple of days before and within seconds was t-boned by a couple of drunk kids who then ran from the scene. These are just some of the things Brooklyn’s best-loved keyboard-pounding minister has to deal with, and he delivered a prayer onstage for his banged-up pal. Unsurprisingly, it took Anderson about half his first set to really get going. But the band took over and got things moving right along.

This is the best unit he’s played with, which is pretty impressive, considering that right around the turn of the century the stuff he was doing had a wildly intense, deliriously fun gypsy rock feel. But since then he’s apparently decided to become king of all keyboard instruments. Tonight in the first forty-five minutes he played blues piano, gospel organ, Billy Preston-influenced funk, and psychedelic Fender Rhodes-ish electric piano while the band wailed behind him. This time around he had a full three-piece horn section including Dave Smith from Who Put the Bad Mouth on Me taking center stage on trombone, plus not-so-secret weapon Paula Henderson from Moisturizer and Secretary on baritone sax, playing clever, devious harmonies off Smith’s straight-ahead blues while a new addition on tenor sax contributed as well.

At first thought, guitarist Jaleel Bunton (who’s also the drummer in TV on the Radio) would be the last musician you’d think would work in this unit, but he does. The guy has monster chops, a lightning-fast attack and the kind of silvery vibrato that a lot of metal players have. But notwithstanding its ecstatic crescendos, Anderson’s music is really all about groove, swing and subtlety. Bunton likes playing up in the mix and was there tonight with some nice natural distortion screaming from his amp, showing off a very impressively thoughtful side with a seemingly endless supply of juicy 60s soul and blues licks. Meanwhile, drummer Torbitt Schwartz (also of Chin Chin) swung like crazy, building up a big woooosh on his crash cymbal during an absolutely rapturous version of Anderson’s psychedelic gospel number Deep in the Water.

They’d opened the set quietly but quickly rose to ecstatic heights with a cover of Precious Lord, Take My Hand and another hymn, along with the propulsively hypnotic Come to the River, which Anderson used as a showcase for the many echo effects on his Nord Electro keyboard when they brought the song down gently at the end after a deliriously good ten-minute jam. They also debuted Anderson’s first-ever breakup song, titled A Ring in My Pocket and Leaving on Her Heart. It built slowly like a long Tom Waits epic: eventually, Anderson finds himself on the train out to Brooklyn, the borough of churches, looking for any redemption he may find. And the song isn’t bitter: when it finally hit a peak, about five minutes in, Anderson sang of how he was thinking about what it would be like to grow old with that woman, and how much he loved her. It was impossible not to be moved. The band brought it down after that with a warm, reflective take of Peace in the Valley, but the crowd, which had packed the little place and had been dancing all night, kept swaying. Shows like these make all the daily hassles seem like a small price to pay for living in a city that may be on its last legs but isn’t dead yet. Rev. Vince Anderson plays Black Betty every Monday at around 10:45, when he isn’t touring.

February 20, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

It’s Raining Moisturizer: Moisturizer Live at Black Betty, Brooklyn NY 10/10/07

Three reviews of Moisturizer and a side project in two weeks here: isn’t that sort of overkill? Consider this: critics said a lot about Miles Davis at Birdland in 1957. The media went ga-ga over the Ramones at CBGB twenty years later. Ten years after that, it was Yo La Tengo at Maxwell’s that everybody was talking about. Similarly, this is a band at the absolute peak of their career so far. Moisturizer has come to the point where they’ve become a band you absolutely have to see. And it’s not because of their anger or earsplitting volume, nor does Moisturizer have anything to do with a trend, a fashion or a fad. Moisturizer is pure, unadulterated fun.

 

Tonight they played two delirious, sweaty sets, all original instrumentals except for a very cleverly rearranged cover of the Burt Bacharach latin-pop classic The Look of Love. Special guest David Smith joined with the band to play ebullient, ecstatic trombone on the sultry, swinging, newly rearranged Unhaveable Blues, and joined with baritone saxist/frontwoman Moist Paula to bring the house down with a wild, clattering, practically heavy metal outro on one of the last songs of the night. Otherwise, the night belonged to Moist Paula, bassist Moist Gina and drummer Moist Yoshio. The latter is the most compelling evidence for Moisturizer’s ascendancy from merely good to absolutely transcendent: he swings, has command of what seems to be any time signature and can play anything from punk to funk to swing with an effortless, uncluttered grace. He’s given the rest of the trio the groove they always were going for but never had the drummer behind them to hit until now.

 

Moist Gina’s basslines are potently percussive, richly melodic and very hard to play. She makes it seem effortless even though she probably lost five percent of the weight on her strong, slender frame by the time the show was over. Her voicings are often completely unorthodox: watching her fingers swoop and slide up and down the fretboard was a clinic in how to play bass with an idiosyncratic, uniquely personal yet musically brilliant approach. To drive a point home, she’d slam on the occasional chord, slide with split-second timing up to a high note and punctuated a charming, catchy new one with gentle octaves and arpeggios. If there were Moisturizer action figures – in a more perfect world, every little kid would have their little plastic Moist people – Gina would be the one who packs the heat.

 

Moist Paula would be the one with the magic sax, whose keys she presses in order to create a secret Moist universe where the party is everywhere and everyone is invited. It’s her crafty sense of humor and surreal wit that makes Moisturizer’s songs as fun as they are, from the tricky time stop-and-start time changes of Actually I’m So Busy to the triumphantly buoyant Moisturizer Takes Mars. Yet it was their more serious songs that impressed most tonight. Their second set was the best series of segues I’ve seen this year: the sad tango Girl in the Goldfish Bowl, then a haunting, swinging, relatively new number about a baby lost in the Indonesian tsunami, and an irresistibly propulsive song called I Will Unmagic Your [something – the title is a long, complicated Salman Rushdie quote] with a crescendo capped by a wild, flying Moist Gina solo. It was after one in the morning when they finally closed the show with a boisterous take on their big audience hit Mission: Moisturizer.

 

The crowd wasn’t dancing this time, probably because of the nature of the crowd itself (the venue itself is charmingly laid-back and unpretentious, in stark contrast to trendoids who hang out here), and because a breakdancer had taken over the small space in front of the stage, frenetically flipping and twirling, effectively creating a barrier between band and audience. Yet there was a lot of chair-dancing: as hard as some of the crowd may have been trying to sit still, they didn’t exactly pull it off. How the audience reacts with their bodies is a reliably indicator of a band’s performance: the more people move, generally speaking, the better the music is and tonight’s show validated that theory. Miss seeing this band live and risk your health. 95% of all doctors recommend Moisturizer to cure any uptightness you may have. The other 5% are uptight themselves.

October 14, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Rev. Vince Anderson at Black Betty, Brooklyn NY 7/16/07

People were dancing. Hardly worth mentioning, except for the fact that the venue is in the heart of Trendoid Central, where it is strictly verboten to crack a smile or, heaven help us, move your ass. A few weeks ago it was a mostly Israeli crowd here, testament to Rev. Vince Anderson’s ecumenical appeal (he’s a real ordained minister, with credentials from the Universal Life Church if memory serves right).

The Rev., as he’s best known, is something of a New York institution, a charismatic, frequently mesmerizing performer and keyboardist who surrounds himself with like-minded players. Tonight, in addition to the rhythm section from groovemeisters Chin Chin (including the redoubtable Torbitt Schwartz on drums), he had his usual main weapon Moist Paula Henderson (frontwoman of the excellent instrumental trio Moisturizer) on baritone sax, as well as trombonist Dave Smith and TV on the Radio guitarist Jaleel Bunton. With his gravelly voice, jumping around and wailing on his Nord Electro keyboard, the Rev. was in a particularly boisterous mood tonight. His newly svelte physique may come as something of a shock to those who haven’t seen him lately, but he hasn’t lost any of his usual energy.

One A-list New York rocker recently remarked that the Rev. and his band are something akin to Phish playing gospel, and that’s could be true in the sense that they jam the hell out of pretty much everything they play (although there’s absolutely nothing cutesy about them). They opened with a cover of Ben Harper’s Power of the Gospel, rearranged with percussive verses building to a slinky, jazzy chorus. They followed with a rousing, authentically vintage, 60s-sounding Come to the River, from his latest album 100% Jesus. The Rev. had just returned from his native California, where he’d baptized his new nephew and was clearly amped from the experience.

Since the Rev.’s shows are about more than just the music – he’s a preacher with an uncommonly strong social conscience – he took time to address the crowd as the band launched into the chords to a long, hypnotically psychedelic version of his song Deep in the Water. “We can talk about baptism and the healing power of water…and you know how hot it is in Fresno, when you get off the plane? It was 122 degrees when I got off the plane. I’m not exaggerating…not the misery index, it was fucking 122 degrees! Fresno used to be the agricultural capital of the world. This is where you got your fruits: you get that nectarine from the deli, and it says from California? It comes from Fresno. Raisins, Sunmaid raisins? Fresno. Asparagus, Fresno. Anything you want green or fruity comes from Fresno.”

Sensing the Rev. winding up a tribute to his hometown, the band picked it up for a second, but he brought them back down. He wasn’t finished. “Every time that I come back to Fresno, I see all this beautiful land of my childhood, these beautiful fig groves and orange groves, and I see an apricot field and a vineyard, and lately they’ve all been torn down to put up these cheap, cheap tract houses, and they name the tract of the house after the crop that used to be there. So there’s a tract of homes called Fig Garden, and a tract of homes called Orange Grove, and another tract of homes called Raisinville. And this year, I don’t like to be apocalyptic – I’m not an apocalyptic preacher – but I have to figure that pretty soon people are not gonna want to give water to Fresno anymore. And all these Raisinvilles are just gonna be ghost towns and then they’ll miss their water.”

From there, the song built to a hypnotic, warm vibe, something akin to the Stones’ Moonlight Mile with lots of Rhodes-y electric piano from the Rev. Using his tone controls, he gradually worked his way up to an eerie, distorted setting as the band went quiet and ended on a somber note. The next tune was a country gospel number with a swing beat, featuring solos around the horn: first trombone, then baritone sax, then piano, and predictably, the Rev. stole the show with some delicious honkytonk playing. Then they brought it down to just the bass.

Their deliberate, crescendoing take of the blues classic John the Revelator began with same minor key groove that the Rev. uses for his big audience hit Get Out of My Way, and became an audience singalong directed from the Rev.’s pulpit behind the keys. “When you say ‘John the Revelator,’ you can’t do it like this,” the Rev. instructed his parishioners, struggling to fasten the top button of his shirt and making a poindexter face. In a second, he’d undone the button and a couple below and roared the line at the audience. This time they got it and roared back. The first set of the evening came to an end with a jam into a fast, shambling version of Ease on Down the Road, from the Wiz soundtrack, the Rev. pounding out some nice Billy Preston-style funk fills. This guy raises the bar for live performers: when he’s on, it’s hard to imagine anything much more exhilarating. Tonight was a prime example.

July 18, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments