Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, Nathan Halpern and Thomas Simon at the Delancey, NYC 7/13/09

Why do we love Small Beast? Because we’re lazy. Small Beast will be happening every Monday at the Delancey until October, when it moves back to its original Thursday. Which from a music blogger’s perspective is good for so many reasons, particularly since there are almost always three or four first-rate acts on the bill who’ve never been profiled here before. So Lucid Culture gets four night’s worth of work done in a single Monday evening when there are  no conflicts with other shows. And Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch always opens the night solo on piano. Imagine if you’d been able to see Bud Powell every week for free, in 1953 – completely different idiom, same vibe. It’s all about passion.

Since Wallfisch gets a good review here pretty much every week, suffice it to say that last night’s set was characteristically rich and multistylistic. He’d played a money gig earlier in the day, so he was all warmed up and got even warmer very quickly. He did lots of new material including some songs from the next Botanica album and some even newer than that – a soaring, classically-inflected ballad, a pretty, vivid pop song and counterintuitive covers of songs by Baby Dee, Little Annie, Aimee Mann and the Stones (Faraway Eyes done hilariously with faux-gospel piano).

Nathan Halpern really opened some eyes after that. The lead guitarist from Kerry Kennedy’s paisley underground noir band proved to be a first-rate songwriter as well, sort of Orbison seen through the warped prism of Pulp. Halpern is a crooner, likes a counterintuitive, sardonically literate lyric and a big countrypolitan sound gone somewhat apprehensively askew. As he does in Kennedy’s band, he’d build a crescendo to an unhinged tremolo-picking break, wailing up and down on the strings with a Black Angel’s Death Song style savagery. Backed by Andrew Platt alternating between piano, guitar and bass and drummer Heather Wagner adding marvelously subtle shades, Halpern made his way through a mix of big 6/8 anthems, a couple of jaunty, more overtly country-inflected numbers and closed with a towering, knowingly rueful number perhaps titled Darling When.

Viennese expat Thomas Simon closed the night on a frequently mesmerizing note with a long, practically seamless, improvisational set, something akin to Bauhaus doing a sidelong Abbey Road-style suite, fragments of songs segueing into each other while he and his extraordinarily good djembe player dug a murky sonic pit that swirled deeper and darker as the night went on with layers and layers of loops reverberating and pulsing throughout the mix. Simon’s guitar playing is very Daniel Ash – like the Bauhaus guitarist, he really has a handle how to build eerie tonalities using open strings. Frequently he’d start a segue with a single low, resonant bass note just as David J did on Bela Lugosi’s Dead. Simon moved to piano for a couple of interludes, using the same chordal voicings he’d been playing on the guitar for an intriguing textural contrast. At the end, they picked up the pace with an insistent, percussively hypnotic rhythm, then they took the drums completely out of the mix and Simon took all the effects off his guitar, letting the melody’s ominous, Syd Barrett-esque inflections speak for itself.

July 14, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, James Ross and Joe Benzola, Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble and Elisa Flynn at the Delancey, NYC 6/29/09

Small Beast has taken to Mondays like a vulture on a carcass. The beef carcasses, i.e. hamburgers and hotdogs at the upstairs barbecue now carry a $5 pricetag, although it’s a fill-your-plate type deal (and the totally El Lay crowd up there looks like they can afford it). Botanica pianist Paul Wallfisch, opened the night in the cool, darkened ground-level space as he always does, solo on piano. Since Small Beast is his event, he’s gotten a ton of ink here. Suffice it to say that if dark, virtuosic, unaffectedly intense piano with a gypsy tinge is something you might like, run don’t walk to this Monday night extravaganza. Although last night it wasn’t, it’s usually over before Rev. Vince Anderson gets going across the river, so if you’re really adventurous you can hit both shows. This time out Wallfisch ran through a rather touching Paul Bowles song about a fugitive, in French; a lickety-split version of a noir cabaret tune by his longtime collaborator, chanteuse/personality Little Annie; a Crystal Gayle cover done very noir, and Shira and Sofia, a Botanica tune about the original Joy Division, a couple of WWII era whores. Make love, not war is what the two are encouraging in their own completely over-the-top way, and a few in the audience did a doubletake when Wallfisch got to the chorus.

Multi-instrumentalist James Ross and percussionist Joe Benzola were next, playing hypnotic instrumentals that sounded something akin to the Dead jamming Space with Electric Junkyard Gamelan, with Benzola using a multitude of instruments including wooden flute, recorder, kazoo, and a small series of gongs in addition to his drum kit and then layering one loop on top of another for a Silk Road feel. They took awhile to get going, Ross playing a zhongruan, a Chinese lute with a biting tone like a higher-pitched oud. This was an improvisation, and when they hit their stride the crowd was very into it – avante garde though it was, there was a repetitive catchiness to it too. Ross eventually switched to electric guitar, winding up their brief set with a trancelike, drony number where he built a small wall of feedback as if to hold off the relentless procession of beats.

Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble then grabbed the crowd by the back of the neck and spun them in the opposite direction with a ferocity that was even more striking in contrast to the previous act’s quiet psychedelica. To find a worthy comparison to Beren, the former Die Hausfrauen frontwoman, you have to go into the icon section: Iggy Pop, Aretha, Umm Kalthum or Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello are a few who can match the raven-haired contralto siren’s unleashed, menacing intensity. Backed by two lead guitarists, a trombonist who doubled on keys and a pummeling rhythm section, Beren opened the set with anguished vocalese, part scream and part very reluctant acquiescence. There was no turning back after that. The band name is apt in that their grand guignol attack can be bluesily hypnotic, tinged with classical motifs (Beren played macabre piano on a couple of numbers) and if you take it to its extreme (this is very extreme music), there’s nobody more goth than this crew. But these goths don’t put on batwings and hug the wall, they come to pillage and avenge. A couple of their heavier, stomping numbers bore a little resemblance to Blue Oyster Cult, but Beren’s writing is more complex and cerebral, expertly switching between tempos, building inexorably to a roar of horror. Their last song grew ominously with a whoosh of cymbals and some beautifully boomy chord work on the intro by bassist Greg Garing into a careening, crashing gallop that ended with a noise jam, Garing throwing off a nasty blast of feedback.

That Elisa Flynn wasn’t anticlimactic playing in the wake of Hurricane Vera speaks for itself. In her own moody, pensive and equally dark way, she proved a match for Beren, in subtlety if not sheer volume. Flynn’s new cd Songs About Birds and Ghosts is one of the year’s best, and that comprised most of what she sang, playing solo on guitar, expertly working the corners of a compelling, wounded delivery that she’d occasionally turn up to a fullscale wail when she needed to drive a point home. Her guitar playing proved as smartly matched to the songs’ emotion as her vocals, alternating between hammering chords and stark fingerpicking, sometimes building an eerie undercurrent of overtones using her open strings. Her songs have considerable bitterness but also a wry wit, as well as a frequently majestic, anthemic feel that comes to the forefront when she uses 6/8 time (which is a lot). I’m Afraid of the Way I Go Off Sometimes, she said, took its title from an email she’d received from a friend a week before he went into rehab. She warned that a cover of The Pyramid Song by Radiohead might be awkward, but it was anything but, in fact even more haunting than the original with something of a Syd Barrett feel. A brand-new one called Shiver was potently angry, building to a tastily macabre chorus. She followed that with an understated version of the opening cut on the new album, Timber, a towering anthem (with a cool Blair Witch video up on youtube). She closed with No Diamond, something of a lullaby “to send you off to sleep,” she said, another pensive number in 6/8. By now, it was approaching one in the morning; had she kept playing, no doubt the crowd would have kept listening.

Small Beast continues next Monday, July 6 with Wallfisch, Spottiswoode and Pete Galub; Beren plays goth night at the Slipper Room on September 20; Flynn is at Sidewalk on July 14 at 8.

June 30, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Ghost of Cesar Franck, Part Two

Monday night began with a stellar performance of Romantic music for cello and piano featuring a gorgeously permutating version of terminally underrated Belgian composer Cesar Franck’s Sonata in A Major. It was as if his ghost was in the room. After the show, it was time to head up to Small Beast at the Delancey, the weekly edgy music salon (now with free barbecue!)  that’s recently migrated from Thursdays to Mondays for at least the time being as the weather heats up (let’s face it, this respite we’ve been enjoying is about to end). Franck’s ghost came along for the ride, maybe bringing Chopin along (it’s unknown if the two composers knew each other – Chopin was at the height of his popularity just as Franck was graduating from the conservatory, but both were wallflowers so it’s unlikely). Seated at the Small Beast (the 88-key spinet piano) doing his own Romantic thing was Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch, who since he books Small Beast has received an enormous amount of ink here. Suffice it to say that his own individual blend of classical and gypsy influences, along with the rock and the honkytonk and the gospel, is something you ought to see if you like any of those styles. This time was characteristic: some new Botanica material (one a dead ringer for vintage Procol Harum), some noir cabaret and a soul song.

Marni Rice was next. The accordionist/chanteuse is a quintessentially New York artist, a throwback to a more dangerous, vastly more interesting, pre-condo era, around the time Bernie Madoff was president of  the NASDAQ exchange (presumably because his Ponzi scheme was so successful). She opened solo with one of Edith Piaf’s first recordings, Mon Pernod, a haphazard barroom narrative from 1926 that she’d transcribed from an old record. With a twilight feel on her accordion, Rice switched between a slightly menacing, noir cabaret delivery and a soulful alto, backed by former Pere Ubu bassist Michelle Temple (who also doubled on guitar) and Wallfisch on piano on one song. Another evocative narrative, Rice explained, she’d written after returning from Paris to her old stomping grounds near the old Second Ave. sidewalk sale, a reliable source of bargains run by a rotating cast of junkies and derelicts around 6th and 7th Sts. in the 80s and early 90s. “I’ll be all right…til winter comes,” one of them casually tells his sidewalk pal.

The duo also swung their way through the noir cabaret of Dripping with Blue, a spot-on rainy NYC street tableau and Priere, an original that gave Rice a chance to relate a hilarious anecdote about playing one of Louise Bourgeois’ salons, Bourgeois giving her an earful about how the stuff she grew up listening to in Paris was “so much more elevated” than the old barroom songs in Rice’s catalog…but did Rice know this one, and that one, and could she play it? They closed with Red Light, “about insomnia and spending too much time on the subway,” and a fuzz bass-driven punk rock song. When the luxury condos all turn into crackhouses and the old days come back, we’ll undoubtedly still have Marni Rice around to usher them in a second time.

Next on the bill: the Snow, rocker Pierre de Gaillande’s main band these days when he’s not doing his amazing Georges Brassens Translation Project, Melomane having gone on hiatus for the time being. This was a full-band show, drum kit down on the floor in front of the bar. Cesar Franck’s ghost was still in full effect, the Parisian vibe more evident than ever in Gaillande’s writing – in a lot of ways it makes sense that he’d be the one to introduce Brassens to English-speaking audiences because the two writers share a cleverness, a punk rock fearlessness but also a meticulous sense of craft. Frontwoman/keyboardist Hilary Downes, as usual, got to take center stage and keep the crowd entertained, but it was the songwriting that carried the night: the noir garage swing of Reptile, the subtly shifting, understatedly haunting Undertow, a swirling version of True Dirt (title track to the band’s excellent debut cd), a soul duet and the hilarious Russians, an aptly snide look at what happens when a corrupt communist regime goes even more corruptly capitalist.

Hindsight being 20/20, it would easily have been possible to stick around and see what Christof Widholm of Morex Optimo was doing with his latest project Pharmacy & Gardens. However, in the interest of staying on top of the scene to the extent that there is a scene and there’s a top to be found there, the game plan was to get over to Union Pool in time to see how Rev. Vince Anderson’s first night there was going. Answer: another mobscene, even more delirously populated than closing night at Black Betty a week ago. Union Pool is a lot bigger than Black Betty, and the crowd filled it, a swirl of bodies in refreshingly diverse shades swaying and bouncing to the pulse of the band. They were celebrating baritone sax player Moist Paula’s birthday, so there was a full horn section up with Anderson and the Moist One and the guitar and rhythm section and they were positively cooking, one of the jams going on for at least 25 minutes. While it’s a safe bet that most of the crowd had no concern about how late the party went – this was Williamsburg, after all – the house was still full well past two in the morning. And it was clear that Cesar had come along along for the ride – though you won’t hear any Franck in Anderson’s fiery electric piano cascades or Billy Preston-inflected organ, it’s safe to say that not only does Anderson know Franck’s work, but it’s quite possible he’s played it on a church organ at some point. At least the vibe was the same – Anderson’s gospel is the gospel of the heart, where emotion rules, where the rules are cast to the wind and the good guys always win. At least they did Monday night.

June 24, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, Darren Gaines & the Key Party and Alice Texas at the Delancey, NYC 6/4/09

An intimate gathering of cognoscenti were treated to a transcendent trifecta to wind up this season’s Thursday Small Beast shows at the Delancey (the series continues, switching to Mondays on June 22 at 8:30 PM with Paul Wallfisch, the Snow and Marni Rice). Wallfisch was gassed from some obviously rewarding mixing sessions for the latest cd by his darkly intense art-rock band Botanica, opening the set as he always does, solo at the Beast (the 88-key spinet whose nickname spawned this weekly series). This time out the great noir keyboardist (and Little Annie partner-in-crime) aired out a more Americana-inflected bag of tricks, whether the rapidfire cabaret of the Little Annie tune Because You’re Gone, the Botanica number Asia Minor (which is actually an oldschool 60s soul song at heart), the warmly vivid Three Women and then venturing north of the border for a sly, sexy take of Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man.

A stripped-down trio version of Darren Gaines & the Key Party were next and while Wallfisch is a hard act to follow, they were anything but anticlimactic. With his hollowbody guitar providing a delicious, distorted blast of sound, Gaines led the two bandmates he’d brought along – violinist/singer Sara Syms (also of excellent country/roots band Dirty Water) and “lead trombonist” Rick Parker – through a mix of darkly witty, literate songs, mostly from the band’s latest, excellent album My Blacks Don’t Match. The band may play in a very stylized genre  – think every noir style ever invented, from Tom Waits to Lou Reed – yet so much of their material is out-of-the-box imaginative. What was most striking right off the bat were Gaines’ casual, unaffected intensity and offhandedly wry sense of humor. Like Wallfisch, he’s something of a raconteur, musing on some nasty song ideas that came to mind while stuck behind a quartet of sidewalk slowpokes on the way down to the bar from 23rd St. They opened with a roaring version of the caustic The Litterati, a snarling putdown of pretension, following with a worn-down, heartfelt, Steve Wynn-inflected take of She Says She Does, also from the new album. Syms – who sadly didn’t get to contribute piano as she does on the album – matched soaring vocals with terse, edgy violin lines while Parker added a tasteful, even minimalist oldtime saloon blues feel. They wrapped up the set with a handful of bitter “significant other songs,” as Gaines called them, ending with Monday Morning, a long, depressive countryish anthem from his first album Hit Or Miss. As good as this was, one can only imagine how intense the songs would sound with a full band.

Several women have headlined Small Beast this year and have been transcendent – Carol Lipnik, Larkin Grimm, Ingrid Olava in particular. Add Alice Texas to the list. The noir siren has the same kind of petite porcelain beauty as actress Pamela Karp and comes across as something akin to a darker, East Coast Exene: on key, more direct, less free-associative. She’s a reliably good performer but this time out she was extraordinary – maybe her protracted absence from the New York stage had something to do with it. Playing acoustic guitar, she was backed by bassist Kai Eric and Peter Mavrogeorgis, frontman of the excellent Bellmer Dolls – whose show opening for Nick Cave under Madison Square Garden last fall was crazy good –  as well as Wallfisch contributing honkytonk piano on a song, and backing vocals from Liz Tormes – another first-class songwriter – on a couple of numbers including an utterly psychedelic take of Blondie’s Fade Away and Radiate. Mavrogeorgis – one part Don Wilson of the Ventures, one part Daniel Ash from Bauhaus, one part John Andrews of Botanica – simply has never played better, ornamenting the songs with graceful slides, eerie reverberating overtones and the occasional terse, fiery lead. They opened with a couple of Nashville gothic numbers, the second more percussive, featuring a scorchingly gorgeous, melodic guitar solo. Then a couple of Velvets-ish tunes and the highlight of the set, which came toward the end, an insistent anthem titled Oh, My Beautiful, haunting and sweeping with more eerie tremolo-bar guitar.

Small Beast – New York’s edgiest, most exciting weekly musical event, in case you don’t already know it – continues Monday, June 22 at the Delancey, upstairs at around 8:30 PM with Wallfisch, Marni Rice and the Snow, free admission plus a free barbeque on the roof.

June 6, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 6/4/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Thursday’s song is #419:

BotanicaGood

Our predecessor e-zine’s pick for best song of 2004 was this towering, anguished 6/8 anthem, the centerpiece of the New York noir art-rockers’ classic 9/11-themed album Botanica vs. the Truth Fish, frontman Paul Wallfisch’s organ roaring in tandem with John Andrews’ reverb-drenched guitar. “I need a respite, just a moment of respite, I thought I caught it but now it is gone…” The link in the title above is the last.fm stream of the complete song. Wallfisch plays songs from the latest forthcoming Botanica studio album tonight at the Delancey at 8:30 PM.

June 4, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, Little Annie and the Miren at the Delancey, NYC 5/28/09

After next Thursday’s show (6/4/09 with Alice Texas and Darren Gaines & the Key Party), Small Beast will be moving from Thursdays to Mondays upstairs at the Delancey starting June 22 for the rest of the summer, then back to Thursdays in the fall. The official explanation is too many conflicts with private parties scheduled in the upstairs space: too many clueless tourists completely baffled and possibly annoyed by music far too edgy for the average New Jersey suburbanite is probably closer to the truth. More about that later.

As regular readers and Beastophiles know by heart, Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch opened the show as usual, solo on piano, fiery and intense as always. You never know what you’re going to get, week in, week out. This time the set was rich with songs from recent Botanica albums along with a fast take on Wallfisch’s cohort, smoky-voiced noir cabaret singer/personality/legend Little Annie’s Because You’re Gone. Eventually he brought up the drummer from the Miren, the next act, for what’s become the Small Beast theme, Eleganza and Wines. Without missing a 7/8 beat, the guy added a triphop vibe, bringing out every bit of slinkiness and sexiness in the album version (there are two, from Berlin Hi-Fi, the second with a string quartet). Even though the room was pretty empty, Wallfisch couldn’t resist coming out from behind the Beast (in tune, as it has been lately, a particularly pleasant development) and leading the crowd in a clapalong in an odd tempo. If the tourists hadn’t all gone straight up to the bar on the roof, there no doubt would have been some odd looks – we’re getting to that.

The next act, the Miren, an avant-jazz trio utilizing sax, guitar, both upright and electric bass and drums, were great fun. Their first song sounded like Morphine gone post-bop, bassist Ben Miller wailing on some big chords. The next piece layered trippy guitar effects over a 6/8 groove; after that, Miller switched to electric bass for a murky mood piece, then a growling, lumbering King Crimson-inflected number with squealing sax. Their last number set James Blood Ulmer-inflected fractured blues to a strolling, bass-driven 6/8 beat. This was their debut gig together, and Miller intimated that this might also be their last. If that’s true, that’s too bad.

Then Wallfisch brought up Annie, looking “very Chanel,” as the petite chanteuse noted sarcastically from behind a big floppy hat and huge onyx earrings. She’d been stuck in traffic and was obviously perturbed: “Apparently if you live in midtown, everybody thinks you’re a tourist now.” Her cab driver had tried to sleazily cajole her into letting him take her via a lengthy detour up Sixth Avenue, so she’d put a quick stop to that. “The television in the back of the cab looked like William Burroughs put it together,” she groused, noting how expensive a distraction it could be for unwary passengers. When it comes to September songs, Little Annie is the standard of the world, and she brought out several, casting shadows against Wallfisch’s vividly shiny, coloristic piano. Beside You, Beside Myself was characteristically pensive; Before You Got Carried Away, a requiem, played up the black-humor angle. Her obviously autobiographical, aptly amusing catalog of bad behavior, The Other Side of Heartache was pretty straight-up this time out. As the set went on, the volume of tourists passing on their way to the stairs picked up, including a couple of openly derisive fratboys (the same thing had happened to the equally formidable Larkin Grimm a few weeks ago). “I’m gonna shoot you and then beat your ass,” Annie threatened. The heckling continued from the bathroom. Annie stopped, mid-song and looked around, exasperated. “Honey…I can’t do this,” she said to Wallfisch.

“That’s ok,” he replied calmly. The duo took a few seconds’ breather and then kept going. Eventually one of the goons returned and mumbled an apology.

Annie would have no part of it. “Are you in the service? Did you get dishonorably discharged?” Finally, she forgave the fool, who retreated to the rooftop CEO’s-and-secretary-ho’s party. From there the mood brightened; the crowd, such that there was – Annie’s sold out two consecutive shows at Joe’s Pub and is a star in Europe, but apparently those crowds don’t venture below Houston – screamed for an encore and were rewarded with a tongue-in-cheek, festively beachy number.   

Those curious as to what Small Beast is all about can read all the Lucid Culture reviews of past shows. This being New York’s edgiest weekly music series, this is our usual Thursday night destination – until we switch to Mondays, which will be great because then that frees up Thursdays for other stuff for us, at least until the fall. Come out on June 4 at around 9 and see what you’ve been missing.

May 30, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, 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

Concert Review: The Reid Paley Trio and Mattison at the Delancey, NYC 5/14/09

Three things you can count on in this town: there will always be roaches under your stove, the train will be rerouted at the least opportune moment and the Reid Paley Trio will entertain you. Paley’s stock in trade, like so many other artists who play Thursday’s weekly Small Beast extravaganza at the Delancey, is menace. He understands absurdity, usually doesn’t like it very much and makes no secret of it, sometimes fending it off with a good joke. Characteristically charismatic in his black suitcoat and backed by his usual rhythm section of onetime Heroin Sheik Eric Eble on upright bass and James Murray on drums, Paley pretty much let the songs speak for themselves this time out. Much of the material was from his latest, excellent album Approximate Hellhound. With just a hint of natural distortion on his battered archtop guitar, Paley’s sound is part ghoulabilly without the schlock, part noir blues without the cliches, with a little vintage country or gypsy feel thrown in to shake things up. Live, he’s actually more of a singer than a rasper, sort of the opposite of what he is on album. “Gimme a chance, I’ll fuck it up,” went the refrain on his opening, slightly Cramps-ish number. Better Days, with its dread-filled “hangover sunrise Sunday morning, half dead on Bedford Avenue” was surprisingly subtle; a couple of the more countryish tunes from the cd got a bluesier, rawer treatment. Chanteuse Peg Simone eventually joined him for a slightly coy, seductive cameo on vocals; on the last song of the set, he ended it chopping at his strings as if he wanted to break them, then sticking his guitar into his amp where it started feeding back. Somebody cut the sound. Host Paul Wallfisch (who’d opened the evening) wanted it back: “That’s beautiful,” he leered. Meanwhile, the world’s #1 surf music impresario, Unsteady Freddie, wandered about, camera at hand. Who knew he was a fan.

Mattison frontwoman/keyboardist Kate Mattison brought down the lights, obscured behind the Small Beast (the 88 key spinet for which the night’s named), shadowy in the light of the candles above the keys and the disco ball’s twinkling swirls across the walls. And then played a show that made a perfect match with the ambience, soulful, smart retro pop, frequently over a live trip-hop beat pushed along by an excellent, terse rhythm section. The vocals started out somewhat disembodied and warmed up quickly, Mattison expertly shading her lyrics with a vintage soul feel, the occasional subtle blue note and just the hint of a rasp in places. Some of her songs had a pensive, almost minimalist sensibility in the same vein as Bee & Flower; others evoked modern artsy pop bands like For Feather or the Secret History, or that one great live album by Portishead. One began stately and beautiful in 6/8 time before morphing into a fast 4/4 hit; another built fetchingly and cajolingly into a “ringalingaling” chorus. Still another catchy pop number segued into a big, anthemic ballad with jazz-tinged vocals and gospel piano inflections. It was almost one in the morning by the time they wrapped up their too-brief, barely 40-minute set. They’re at Coco 66 at 8 on May 20.

By the way, in case you haven’t noticed, Lucid Culture reviews pretty much every Small Beast show. Pretty much a no-brainer, considering how it’s become simply the most vital, important music scene in town. So we’ve created a new category, Small Beast where we’ve archived all the other performers we’ve chronicled since the night first kicked off this past winter: click here or look toward top right here to that “A” right over the ARCHIVES section, click and scroll down to Small Beast to see what you’ve been missing.

May 15, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble, Spottiswoode and Steve Wynn at the Delancey, NYC 4/30/09

An appropriate way to end a grade-A grey day, to steal a phrase from the Wade Schuman songbook. This being a Thursday, that meant Small Beast, Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch’s weekly upstairs show at the Delancey and this was the best ever, no question, in fact arguably the best show of the year so far. Maybe because the quality of the talent on the bill was so obscene, Wallfisch brought his A-game – not that he doesn’t typically put on a good show, but one of the reasons the Beast came to exist was to give him a chance to work out new material solo on piano in a live setting. Consequently, sometimes his set is more akin to a view of an artist’s studio rather than a gallery view of the finished product. Finished or not, the songs resonated with characteristic noir glimmer: the savagely beautiful Botanica concert favorite Three Women; a new one, Waits-ish and gospel-inflected; a towering, majestic new 6/8 ballad that could be the band’s Eldorado; a super-fast romp through the Little Annie noir cabaret hit Because You’re Gone and then the Botanica show-closer, How, a galloping, unstoppable gypsy caravan blazing with torrents of piano and eventually a satirical Riders on the Storm quote, held on a steady course by Linda Pitmon (the best rock drummer on the planet, from Steve Wynn’s band) on tambourine.

Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble was next, the band spilling over onto the floor in front of the stage. Their name is well chosen. There was an offhandedly menacing look to the whole black-clad crew, and they were tight beyond belief, their bluesiness most vividly visible in their dramatic, stately noir cabaret numbers. With roaring, punk-inflected guitar, keyboards, rhythm section and guest accordionist Marni Rice supplying the night’s most haunting tonalities behind her, Beren was an avenging angel. Her powerful, anguished contralto wail going full throttle, she radiated intensity throughout a ferocious 45 minutes of big anthems, mostly in 6/8 time. “I’ve seen the lights beyond, I’ve seen the lights that could have gone on if I’d demanded,” she reflected with a passion only enhanced by longing and regret. The high point of her set was the relentlessly haunting gypsy vamp The Nod, her keyboardist opening the song with a murky Balkan trombone riff. Beren opened and closed the set at the piano, playing with a restrained savagery. But it was Rice who stole the show, her wrenchingly sad, poignant tones a stark contrast with Beren’s righteous wrath.

Spottiswoode was next. His myspace shows him in faux-mugshot pose, shades on, a homemade Marseille police department clapboard in hand, a persona that earlier in his career sometimes overshadowed his music. The persona is still there, but he’s grown into the old rake he always wanted to be, albeit with a strikingly politically aware sensibility – Marty Willson-Piper is an apt comparison. He started out solo on guitar with a bawdy English dancehall number, That’s What I Like, imbued with characteristic boozy sarcasm. Then he went to the piano and got serious, resulting in an often riveting show, the rest of his songs imbued with a woodpaneled, rain-soaked, early 70s European ambience. His best number was a big, somewhat anguished ballad with some tasty major/minor changes: “Save up the days until the war begins,” he cautioned. It’s still sometimes hard to tell whether he’s being satirical or not, but this show was a revelation.

Steve Wynn headlined, playing with his longtime lead guitarist Chris Brokaw for the first time in eight years. Wynn’s stock in trade is menace, but this show had an especially warm, intimate feel, not only because the two guys were jammed up there on the little stage with Pitmon looking on warily, tambourine in hand, but because this was all about joy and rediscovery. Their guitar duels, both on record and onstage, are the stuff of legend: get your hands on a classic like Melting in the Dark or Here Come the Miracles (both of which you’ll find on our upcoming Best Albums of the Decade list), or spend an hour or two (you’ll probably be there that long) at archive.org. This time it was about trading off, about getting back in touch with the songs, stripping them to nothing but the shell (they played that one, sorry, couldn’t resist) to see what they were made of. More often than not, it was lush, jangly melody, without hardly a hint of the noise or unrestrained wrath you’d expect from a full-band show by these two.

An unexpected cover of Waiting for the Man was every bit as tense and nervous as Lou Reed should have made it. The big, grim suicide anthem Southern California Line was transformed into a terse, minimalist dirge. The menacing Morning After – the best song ever written about perjury – segued into an even more menacing, skeletal Silence Is Your Only Friend. Then they took it up, transforming the darkly galloping Death Valley Rain into a swaying, hypnotic clinic in harmony and overtones before bringing it all the way down with a slow, evil version of the Dream Syndicate classic When You Smile. How cruelly ironic that the only place in town you could see a show this good this year would not be at Madison Square Garden, where by all rights all these acts deserve to play, but upstairs at the Delancey on a little stage half-occupied by the Small Beast, an 88-key spinet piano.

And walking across the bridge after the show, it was impossible not to smile seeing all those HIPSTERS GO HOME stencils on the pavement. In fact, in every case they all happened to be very close to stencils for THE BROOKLYN WHAT FOR BOROUGH PRESIDENT, and in the exact same spray paint color.

May 6, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, the Ulrich/Ziegler Duo and McGinty and White at the Delancey, NYC 4/23/09

Small Beast is rapidly becoming a New York institution. The kind of thing you’ll look back on and tell your kids assuming you live long enough to have them and they live long enough to understand you when you talk about how in the spring of 2009 you spent Thursday evenings upstairs at this one Lower East Side bar, in a space that by all rights shouldn’t even have music at all because it barely has a stage. But it does. And the shows just get better and better. It started midwinter when Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch’s desire to work up new material and collaborate with what seems an ever-expanding cast of quality players from some of music’s darker enclaves. It’s not limited to rock, either: there’ve been shows by  jazz, classical and gypsy acts here too.

 

Thursday’s was maybe the best to date. Or maybe not, there’ve been transcendent moments practically every week. Wallfisch opened as he always does, solo on piano, Chopinesque (in that his style blends the Romantics and the gypsies) and upbeat this time with almost a sprint through the Little Annie noir cabaret gem Because You’re Gone, a brand new tango and a ballad in French. His collaborator onstage this time was cellist Rubin Kodheli from the brilliant chamber rock group Edison Woods and the artsy, ambient Blues in Space. Despite a total lack of rehearsal, the two matter-of-factly made their way through a wrenchingly beautiful version of the subtly and brutally sarcastic Three Women and the stately, equally haunting Eleganza and Wines, Wallfisch as usual getting the crowd going in a clapalong in 7/8 time  – the premise seems to be that if the Arabs and the Bulgarians can do it, we should be able to follow along too. Then they brought Kerry Kennedy up onstage and did Because You’re Gone again, halfspeed, her bruised velvet vocals giving the lament special poignancy.

 

The Ulrich/Ziegler duo were next, supplying the requisite transcendence, boiling over with chilly reverb instrumental soundscapes evoking images of Tribeca alleyways in grim, rain-drenched late autumn predawn, black and silver but not in a Blue Oyster Cult way, not unless you count the two guitars. With Big Lazy on the shelf at the moment and what seems an endless series of film and tv projects going on, frontman/guitarist Steve Ulrich has been lately been playing duo shows with Pink Noise guitarist Itamar Ziegler. This team is a winner, part Mingus, part Ventures and part Morricone but with a savage, often macabre wit that transcends any of those styles and at times, unsurprisingly, sounds almost exactly like Big Lazy. Ziegler was a human metronome, holding the songs together while Ulrich played sharpshooter, alternating between ominously minimal tremolo licks, ominous washes of sound, reverberating chordlets and dirty skronk. They opened with a vintage Big Lazy song, following with a plaintive waltz and a surprisingly bluesy, minor-key one loping along on a garage rock beat. A new one, Since Cincinnati proved to be Ulrich’s most haunting lapsteel song, sort of a more noir, cinematic twist on the old Big Lazy hit Junction City. They wound up the set with a swinging, chicha-esque version of Caravan lit up with a long, blacklit solo from Ulrich in place of where the Ventures would have put the drums.

 

McGinty and White were a good segue because while many of their songs have a subtle menace, there was no resemblance between them and Ulrich and Ziegler other than that they could be competing offices of obstetricians. This was ostensibly the first live show together for the former Psychedelic Furs keyboardist and the “tippling gadabout [NOT]” who’s been putting out excellent, darkly lyrical janglerock albums since before the turn of the century. Occasionally putting down his acoustic guitar, White proved equally adept as a crooner while the backing band did a picture-perfect evocation of late 60s psychedelically-inclined chamber pop. Watching them was like being in the audience at Ed Sullivan, 1968 – and putting violinist Claudia Chopek out in front of the stage, on the floor, where her warmly compelling lead lines could resonate was a smart move. The title of their new cd McGinty and White Sing the McGinty and White Songbook is characteristically tongue-in-cheek. McGinty is no slouch at sardonic humor, offering a vivid reminder with the deadpan Get a Guy and the haunting, atmospheric ballad that closed the show. They’d opened the show with the sarcastic Everything Is Fine, punctuated by a surprisingly over-the-top metal solo from their lead player, later delivering the self-effacing Big Baby, McGinty’s effortless rivulets threatening to erode the piano keys. The savage Knees, written by White finally unleashed the demons: “You can keep my heart, bitch, just give me back my knees.” There’ll be a review of the album here closer to the date of the cd release show in May.

 

Super duper orange alert: unless people start dropping like flies in the streets, Lucid Culture has no intention to stop reviewing concerts, frequenting public places or riding the train. This “flu outbreak” has all the earmarks of hysteria (remember Y2K?). Mexico City has awful sanitation and services, it’s overcrowded, polluted and the most impoverished Mexicans suffer from malnutrition. In other words, it’s a prime spot for an outbreak of something. You could say the same about New York except that as bad as things can get it’s not that bad here. Yet. Keep your eyes open this fall and see if the bug mutates into the black plague.

April 27, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, Public Health, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment