Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 5/1/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Friday’s song is #453:

The Moonlighters – Blue and Black-Eyed

From the longest-lived and arguably the best of the crop of oldtimey bands that sprang up throughout New York during the late 90s, this is an absolutely haunting, period-perfect,  original late 19th century-style ragtime song by bandleader Bliss Blood (formerly of teenage S&M hardcore band the Pain Teens). It’s the sad tale of a prostitute who hurls herself to her death from the fire escape at the notorious dive bar McGuirk’s Suicide Hall at 295 Bowery (now a complex of shoddy, hastily thrown up plastic-and-sheetrock “luxury” condos) when she discovers she’s pregnant. Henry Bogdan’s steel guitar solo will give you chills. From the Dreamland cd, 2000.

May 1, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Delta Dreambox at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 11/16/07

A killer show by New York’s best blues band. That’s right: blues band. Not a bunch of deaf, beerbellied baby boomers playing Clapton and Led Zep covers at earsplitting volume: this band plays like they stepped out of a whorehouse in a pre-code Mae West movie. Delta Dreambox is yet another one of Bliss Blood’s stunningly authentic old-timey bands, along with the irresistibly romantic Moonlighters, the irresistibly dark, haunting Nightcall and her swing jazz side project Cantonement (which seems to have gone on hiatus awhile ago). That’s a lot of work, but somehow she pulls it off. With an uncanny feel (and what seems to be an encyclopedic knowledge) of seemingly every retro style ever invented, she’s a goodwill ambassador from the late 20s come back to remind us what fun really is. Tonight she was in top form, her clear-as-a-churchbell voice soaring over the excellent band behind her. With the addition of a superb piano player doing some killer barrelhouse rolls and solos, they’re sexier than ever, maybe the reason why Blood was decked out in a red vintage outfit with matching boas that left just enough to the imagination.

Slide player Mark Deffenbaugh is their not-so-secret weapon. After Henry Bogdan left the Moonlighters for the Helmet reunion tour and then his adopted state of Hawaii, Blood has become a magnet for the best slide blues players on the planet, and this new guy is no exception. When it was time to cut loose, he ripped into the songs like a panther on a helpless bunny, firing off a flurry of notes but somehow managing not to waste anything. Like Bogdan, he likes the lower registers where it’s murkiest and most sinister. The band also has an excellent blues harpist, whose airy, upbeat playing reminded of Randy Weinstein’s work with Hazmat Modine. Together they ran through a bunch of mostly more obscure songs from the 1920s and 30s, including a couple of Bessie Smith numbers, a grim, haunting song about a guy rallying valiantly against tuberculosis but ultimately succumbing, and a rousing, guitar-driven Charley Patton song to close the set. To say that this band doesn’t play often enough isn’t really fair, because Blood is so busy with the Moonlighters (they’ll be off on European tour til mid-December). As tasty as the Moonlighters’ originals are, it would be nice to get to hear her dip deeper into this genre, considering how well she pulls it off. If you’re a big Janis or Melissa Etheridge fan, Delta Dreambox is probably too quaint, quiet and old-fashioned for you. On the other hand, if you are a purist, this band will make you sweat.

November 17, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Nightcall and Rawles Balls Live in NYC 6/10/07

Nightcall is the most exciting new band in New York. It’s retro revivalist Bliss Blood’s latest project, alongside the delightful, old-timey Moonlighters, Polynesian psychedelic unit Voodoo Suite and the acoustic blues band Delta Dreambox. “We’ve invented a new genre: snuff torch songs,” she told the audience, and the result was absolutely riveting. Playing her trusty ukelele, accompanied by upright bassist Peter Maness and electric guitarist Stu Spasm, who used a tiny amp with tons of reverb, she and her accomplices played a mix of covers and originals: all with a crime theme. “In all our songs, the criminal has to win,” she explained. They did sweetly ominous, noir versions of the theme to the James Bond film You Only Live Twice, a Leonard Bernstein composition called Big Stuff (“Not from West Side Story,” Blood told the crowd), and Tom Waits’ Black Market Baby. But their best numbers were all originals, including a haunting Moonlighters tune, Broken Doll. They also played their “signature song,” the lurid tale of an intruder aptly titled Nightcall, and Blackwater, which was far and away the high point of the night. “This is for Halliburton…and the mercenaries in Iraq,” Blood mused aloud. The song began with an ominous minor-key theme, the bass carrying the melody:

Don’t look too closely or you’ll find
He has a mercenary mind
He’ll be your man if you can pay
And when the gold is in his hands
He’ll acquiesce to your demands
Play any game you want to play

After a macabre, chromatic chorus, the bass player scurried up and down the scale like a twisted old man on the way to a Carlyle Group meeting.

In many ways Blood epitomizes what the Bush regime fears the most. She’s a charming, wickedly intelligent, completely innocent-looking Texan who never misses a chance to call truth to power, and does so in a blithely amusing way that doesn’t alienate audiences. Today was Puerto Rican day in Manhattan: “I’m from Vieques,” she joked. “You have to excuse me, I’m all messed up from the stuff they drop there,” referring to all the depleted uranium that’s covered the island over more than a decade of Air Force bomb testing.

“What’s an A minor?” Rawles Balls frontman Nigel Rawles – the former Scout drummer – asked his keyboardist, whom he’d just sent away from the stage.

“A-C-E,” came the reply.

“Can we write on the keys?” Rawles asked the soundman. The answer was no.

Rawles had for some inexplicable reason brought a guitar that was “broken,” he said. Nonetheless, he was determined to get through the show, seated at the piano, an instrument he doesn’t know how to play. Rawles Balls is the cover band from hell, capable of butchering pretty much any song from any era and tonight was a fullscale massacre. Doing his best to hammer out a bassline with two fingers, Rawles must have played At the Hop – or tried to, anyway – at least four times. When they’re on their game, Rawles Balls perfectly embody the true spirit of punk rock, having a gleeful time poking fun at every conceivable aspect of what they play. Taking the concept to the logical extreme, they never rehearse and the band is in a constant state of flux, with practically a new lineup every week: tonight Rawles dragged the estimable Ward White (who played bass in the band for a time) up to the stage. White fed Rawles lyrics as he struggled through the Bowie classic Five Years. “This is the last song we’ll ever play,” Rawles facetiously told the audience, managing to botch even the reference (that’s what Bowie says before Rock n Roll Suicide, dude).

At this point it looks like Rawles may have depleted the talent pool, such as it exists for a band like this. His backing unit tonight, such that it was, included a woman who sang harmonies on a few songs, a friend who knew a few piano chords and another who came up to the stage, tried to get through Fur Elise as Rawles whistled along but gave up in disgust after about fifteen seconds. And the Ward White cameo. And of course they recorded this show, since Rawles Balls has in the past three years released over 50 (fifty) albums, which has to be a record. All but two of those are live concert recordings.

In a sick way, it took a tremendous amount of nerve for Rawles to get up onstage and try to fake his way through an hourlong set, completely unrehearsed, playing an unfamiliar instrument. However, there were indications that he might not have been as completely lost as he seemed: there were clever segues between songs that shared the exact same chord changes, and he did exhibit an ability to at least figure out the bassline to maybe half of what he attempted to play. Then there was the issue of the “broken” guitar. When the Rawles Balls act is working, it’s unimaginably funny. Tonight was a new low: by the time the sound guy gave Rawles the two-minute warning, it was simply a reprieve. Which in itself was pretty amusing.

June 11, 2007 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment