Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: The Roscoe Trio at Lakeside, NYC 3/23/10

The big news is that Eric “Roscoe” Ambel’s 80s band the Del Lords are back together, having just returned from a short Spanish tour, their first in practically twenty years. They were one of the best bands of the 80s – forget that silly synthesizer stuff, there were so many great guitar bands back then, it’s not funny – the Dream Syndicate, True West, the Long Ryders, the list goes on and on – and the Del Lords represented New York. So any Roscoe appearance at Lakeside these days could be a Del Lords show, considering that they’ve already done at least one unannounced gig there under a phony name. But it was not to be. “I saw an open date on the calendar. So I put my name on it,” said Ambel, and this time he brought his trio, Demolition String Band drummer Phil Cimino and Spanking Charlene bassist Alison Jones. It was like a casual night in the band’s rehearsal space – or a trip to the supermarket in a vintage Trans Am, laid back and comfortable in the bucket seat until you put the hammer down and then all of a sudden you’re burning rubber and your eyeballs are getting pushed way back into your brain.

Ambel had a couple of amps going at once, gleefully blending an eerie, watery chorus tone with distorted clang and roar. Since he’s a gearhead, any time he gets to experiment with textures is a treat for the crowd because that means he goes for the jugular. He’s a melody guy, but he’s just as good at evil noise and that was tonight’s special. It was obvious from the git-go, with a nasty little blaze of wailing bent notes on the stomping Song from the Walls, from his Loud and Lonesome album. Another snarling number from that uncharacteristically angry cd, Way Outside, blew the embers all over the place. A cover of Gillian Welch’s Look At Miss Ohio started out slow and soulful and then careened all the way into the outro from Hendrix’ Hey Joe, which the rhythm section had a ball with. They also did a plaintively jangly version of the Everly Brothers-ish Peter Holsapple tune Next to the Last Waltz, Dee Dee Ramone’s Chinese Rocks done Johnny Thunders Style (which gave Ambel a chance to relate his first encounter with Thunders, who’d been hogging the men’s room at the Mudd Club so he could shoot up), and a slinky, characteristically funny version of the Hank Williams Jr. sendup Monkey with a Gun. They wrapped up the show with a slow, surfy instrumental that Ambel suddenly attacked with a frenzy of tremolo-picking, only to gracefully bring it back around. And was that the Power Lounger Theme they closed with? That’s a blast from the past. Despite what the indie blogs will tell you, great lead guitar never went away – the great thing about living in New York is that you can see it for the price of a beer and a couple of bucks in the tip jar for the rhythm section.

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March 24, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Drew Glackin Memorial Concert at Rodeo Bar/The Deciders at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 1/17/08

Drew Glackin, who died unexpectedly earlier this month was honored tonight by a small handful of the literally hundreds who had the good fortune to share a stage or record with him. Like anyone else, musicians have different ways of coping with loss: usually, this boils down to disguising the pain with humor, drinking heavily or turning up really loud. Tonight there was plenty of all of the above. “This band will never be the same,” Jack Grace told the packed house, and he was right. Glackin was the baritone countrycrooner/bandleader’s lead player, on steel, and pretty much defined the sound of the band with his soaring, ringing washes of country soul and his fiery, terse, incisively bluesy solos. Glackin was not a nasty person, but his solos were. In country music, it’s so easy to fall into clichés, playing the same licks that have been Nashville staples for decades, but Glackin always avoided that trap. Taking his spot tonight on steel was Mike Neer, who to his credit didn’t try to hit the same highs Glackin would typically reach on a given night. The ex-Moonlighter is a purist and knew to hang back when necessary. Bill Malchow played honkytonk piano, and Grace’s wife Daria was at the top of her game, groovewise: it’s hard to think of a more fluid, spot-on country bass player. And she’s basically a rocker.

For some reason (a Glackin idea come to life?) the band also featured two drummers, Bruce Martin and Russ Meissner sharing what looked like a kit and a half. Grace is a great showman, and to his credit he played to the crowd as if this was a typical weekend at the Rodeo. The high points of his all-too-brief set came at the end where he went from absolutely white-knuckle intense, singing “angels, take him away” on the old John S. Hurt number Miss Collins, then bringing back the levity with his big audience hit Worm Farm. Grace explained that he’d written it during a period when pretty much all he could write was sad songs, and considering what the evening was all about, it hit the spot. In the middle of the song, Grace segued into a Joni Mitchell song for a couple of bars, complete with falsetto, just to prove that he hadn’t lost his sensitivity, and this was predictably amusing.

From the first scream from Walter Salas-Humara’s Telecaster, the Silos came out wailing, hard. Glackin’s replacement was Rod Hohl, best known for his sizzling guitar work, but as he proved tonight he’s also an excellent bassist. The band played a tantalizingly brief set of bristling indie rock, with Eric Ambel from Steve Earle’s band sitting in on second guitar. The high point was a thirteen-minute cover of a Glackin favorite, the Jonathan Richman chestnut I’m Straight, wherein the two guitarists faced off, trading licks throughout a blisteringly noisy duel every bit as good as anything Steve Wynn ever did. Nice to see Roscoe playing noise-rock again, something he’s very good at but hardly ever does anymore. His wife Mary Lee Kortes provided searing high harmonies on one tune with a recurrent chorus motif of (if memory serves right) “keep your dreams away from your life.” The band didn’t dedicate it to Glackin, but they might as well have: the guy never sold out. Which probably did him in. Very sad to say that if he’d been Canadian (or British, or Dutch, or French, or Cuban, for that matter), he would have had health insurance and the doctors would have detected the thyroid condition that went undiagnosed for too long.

Daria Grace’s band was scheduled to play next, but it was time to head east before the downtown 6 train stopped running (as it turned out, it already had), so that meant a 14-block walk south in the rain and a crosstown bus over to Banjo Jim’s for a nightcap. Which turned out to be a particularly good choice, because the Deciders were still onstage. They’re Elena Skye and Boo Reiners from Demolition String Band plus Lenny Kaye from Patti Smith’s band on pedal steel, plus a rhythm section. Tonight their bassist couldn’t make it, but that didn’t matter. Hearing Skye’s intense, emotionally charged voice in such small confines was a special treat, and watching Reiners and Kaye trade off on a bunch of DSB originals was fascinating to watch. Kaye’s guitar playing is edgy, incisive and potently melodic, but tonight he left that role to Reiners, instead playing fluid washes of sound in a call-and-response with the guitar. The high point of the night was a potently riff-driven new Skye song, Your Wish, from her band’s new album Different Kinds of Love, benefiting vastly from the energy of having two killer electric lead players sharing a stage. They finally shut it down after midnight. Just when it’s tempting to say that it’s time to stick a fork in New York and head out for parts unknown, the devil you know rears its head and reminds you why you haven’t left yet. Nights like this make it all worthwhile.

January 18, 2008 Posted by | country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Spanking Charlene – Dismissed with a Kiss

This band sounds almost exactly like X! Except with better vocals. Spanking Charlene’s frontwoman Charlene McPherson sings with a powerful, accusatory wail: her voice can be very pretty, and it is on a couple of the quiet songs on the album. But most of the time it’s fierce and intense, and really packs a wallop. The songs are gritty and slightly Stonesy: this could be the great lost X album, sandwiched between Under the Big Black Sun and More Fun in the New World. Although McPherson’s songs are more intentionally amusing, and she doesn’t try to be deliberately poetic like Exene: her lyrics rhyme, often very cleverly. “Beauty is subjective/And I know your objective,” McPherson taunts the guy trying to pick her up, in the in-your-face punk smash Pussy Is Pussy.

The other songs are a mix of short, roaring guitar tunes along with a couple of surprisingly thoughtful, quiet numbers. I Hate Girls catalogs the innumerable ways women can make each other miserable with catty behavior; When I Get Skinny is a sarcastic swipe at the multibillion-dollar business of making women insecure about their looks. “When I’m skinny maybe I’ll finally get myself that record deal” and “drink red red wine with every meal…the girls I see on MTV shake their ass and don’t look like me,” McPherson laments, speaking for every normal woman perplexed by the popularity of anorexics with implants.

Guitarist Mo Goldner sings the potently gritty, percussive Fidgety – “My dog is on that Prozac too!” – slamming out a series of licks straight out of the early Billy Zoom catalog. Red Rolling Papers is McPherson’s not-so-nostalgic look back at the hungover residue of late-night high school partying. The brief, lickety-split When Things Were New evokes X’s Year One, from Wild Gift. The gentle, introspective Easy to Be Sad and Behind (as in, leaving it all behind) prove McPherson isn’t just a one-trick pony, giving her the chance to show off her subtle, country-inflected side. On the album, bassist Keith Christopher (of Yayhoos notoriety) also shows off his versatility, keeping everything impressively simple and direct. Drummer Phil Cimino (from the Demolition String Band) proves he can play this hard fast stuff just as well as the more complicated material he’s used to. Eric Ambel’s production is spot-on, as usual: everything is dirty right where it needs to. Unsurprisingly, Spanking Charlene’s New York home base is Lakeside, where they play this coming February 16 at 10 PM. We reviewed one of their shows there last year [third most popular review in the history of this blog – Ed.] and it was as excellent as you would expect after hearing this fun, fiery album. Four bagels. With safety pins stuck through them.

January 11, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

CD Review: Demolition String Band – Different Kinds of Love

It’s been a few years since Demolition String Band’s fantastic last cd, Where the Wild Wild Flowers Grow and it was worth the wait. This album manages to capture the explosive energy of their live show. In general, it’s more rock-oriented than their other stuff. Frontwoman Elena Skye has been a songwriting tear, and she hits a lot of highs here. The country influence is still in full effect, both in Skye’s mandolin work and Telecaster monster Boo Reiners’ spectacular bluegrass-inflected playing, but even the slower numbers here blaze with the twangy fire they bring to the stage. Considering the direction country radio has taken since the turn of the century, they couldn’t have released this album at a better time.

The cd opens with their big crowd-pleaser Who Taught You, with its catchy chorus of “hurt so bad.” The second track, the powerful, minor-key, midtempo backbeat-driven Your Wish may be the single best song on the album, a feast of guitar and mandolin textures. Wisteria is the obvious hit single, with its gorgeous intro and rolling, clanging, multitracked guitars (there must be about six of them on this tune), sounding like a Laura Cantrell rock song. It’s urban Americana at its best: “Wisteria on the hills of Jersey City.” After that, Baby Come Home is a traditional country song, but far more lushly arranged than your typical Nashville commercial fare, with mandolin and electric over a bed of acoustic guitars. Real Good Mama, dedicated to Skye’s daughter, is an optimistic number driven by incisive, heartfelt Reiners fingerpicking. They also do a surprisingly scorching, guitar-fueled version of the Ola Belle Reed classic Undone in Sorrow (an acoustic version of which appears on Where the Wild Wild Flowers Grow). After a sizzling Reiners electric bluegrass instrumental, the cd winds up with the boisterous Drinkin’ Whiskey, which will no doubt be useful to connoisseurs looking to differentiate between “your sellin’, and your drinkin’ whiskey.”

The rhythm section of Winston Roye on bass and the ubiquitous Phil Cimino on drums swings like crazy. Reiners’ Telecaster work is smart, effortlessly virtuosic, and hits the mark every time, imbued with a wit that runs the gamut from very subtle to completely off-the-charts funny. Skye’s vocals are raw, direct and potently real: she doesn’t try to fake a Bible Belt accent like the amber waves of gruesomely affected trendoids who’ve grown weary of imitating Sonic Youth and picked up their acoustic guitars.

Memo to college radio program directors: get your hands on this and spin Thinking About Drinking til you’re sick of all the audience requests. Memo to frathouse social directors: get your hands on this and put it on about 2 AM on a Friday night if you really want to keep the party rolling. Memo to the rest of the college population: if you have the means and the energy to do the Spring Break thing, leave the Jimmy Buffett, the Kenny and the Dave Matthews at home and bring this instead. It’s early in the year, but this album will definitely be on a lot of Best Of lists: watch this space about a year from now. Four bagels with a pitcher of strong bloody marys. What a great way to kick off the new year.

January 5, 2008 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Demolition String Band CD Release Show at Rodeo Bar, NYC 11/16/07

If you want to buy something substantial, say, a car or a guitar, you want to take it for a spin. You want to hear what it sounds like. Likewise, it makes no sense to buy a cd sight unseen: no matter who’s putting it out, you need to know if it’s worth it. One surefire way is to hear the songs live: anybody can fix mistakes in the studio, overdub guitars or vocals til the cows come home, but how do the songs stand up without any added embellishments? If this show is any indication, Demolition String Band’s new one Different Kinds of Love completely and totally kicks ass.

X would be the closest comparison for this band. Although Demolition String Band aren’t punk by any stretch, they share the legendary LA band’s love for both American roots music and sheer guitar volume. In an age where rock has actually taken over country radio, this album is particularly well-timed. Tonight they mixed up a bunch of catchy, twangy country tunes with a couple of blazing straight-up rock songs and some dazzlingly played bluegrass.

They opened on the rock tip with Hurt So Bad, featuring a Stonesy Keith Richards-esque intro from Telecaster master Boo Reiners and followed that with the best song of the night. Written by frontwoman Elena Skye – who’s been on something of a tear lately coming up with new material – it rocked all the way through its ominous minor-key intro until they reprised it at the end. Then they invited their friend Rina (Did we spell it right?) to sub the backing vocal part that Mary from Southern Culture on the Skids did on the recorded version of the pretty, traditional country tune I Wanna Wear White.

The band blazed through their reliably crowd-pleasing cover of Madonna’s Like a Prayer – “See, Madonna can write a great country song, she just doesn’t know it,” Skye told the audience – and then returned to their originals with a fast, backbeat-driven song inspired by Skye’s daughter, and then the twangy, midtempo Baby Won’t You Come Home on which Skye switched to mandolin. Reiners took over lead vocals on another relatively new Skye song, the fast, electric bluegrass number Thinking About Drinking, then thry brought it down again with a slow ballad on which Reiners played his heart out with a long solo.

Their cover of the Ola Belle Reed classic Where the Wild Wild Flowers Grow rocked hard, crescendoing with a bluesy 70s rock guitar solo. On the tune after that, Reiners left his wah-wah pedal (or was it a flange?) wide open during another long solo, letting his tone phase in and out and the way he made the melody work with it was as impressive as it was amusing. After a fast bluegrass instrumental followed by their excellent new song Drinking Whiskey (a tribute to bootleggers, it seems, carefully explaining how “you got your selling, and your drinking whiskey”) they closed their long, exuberant first set with the old bluegrass standard True Love Never Dies. As if to check to see how hard the crowd was listening, Reiners threw in several sly Beatles quotes, then they sped it up almost doublespeed, finally wrapping it up as he played the big hook from Hendrix’ Little Wing. Party music doesn’t get much more clever or entertaining than this. Lookout Nashville, here they come. CDs are currently available online for pre-order or at shows (Demolition String Band usually play Rodeo Bar at least once a month when they’re not on the road playing with SCOTS or some other good country touring band).

November 19, 2007 Posted by | concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Concert Review: Demolition String Band at Rodeo Bar, NYC 6/9/07

Uncommonly fun country band at the top of their game. Demolition String Band know how to work a crowd, raising their glasses and leading the audience in a “holler and a swaller,” and speeding up a bluegrass tune to the point where it was practically unplayable. But these guys (and frontwoman) aren’t a bar band: they may thrive in that milieu, but they’re a lot smarter. This is real country music: as LJ Murphy famously said, country music is the kind of music that has nothing to do with Garth Brooks. Although Demolition String Band are a boisterous, electric outfit, they wear their bluegrass and old-timey roots proudly on their sleeves.

Lead singer Elena Skye sang with a casual grace, in the Maybelle Carter mold: she doesn’t overemote. Telecaster player Boo Reiners pretty much stole the show all night with his spectacular, sometimes supersonic, twangy leads and fills – although Skye caught fire as well when she picked up her mandolin and started wailing. Predictably, alcohol figures in a lot of their songs – they’ll be huge if the swinging Thinking About Drinking and the fast, electrified bluegrass tune Drinking Whiskey (both of which they played tonight) get onto college radio.

They’d played a John Prine tribute a few days earlier and dragged out a particularly apt cover, the outlaw country tune Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You into Heaven Anymore. They also did their signature spaghetti western theme, Reiners playing baritone guitar on it this time: Skye told the crowd that she wrote it in the bathroom during a recording session. Pretty productive bathroom break. They stretched it out, drummer Phil Cimino taking a long solo that the crowd went nuts over (nobody ever said the audience here was sophisticated – which is odd because New York country audiences tend to be very sharp, sometimes ridiculously so).

At the end of their first set, they launched into the old bluegrass standard True Love Never Dies and then segued into Fortunate Son by Creedence. How nice to be able to actually understand the lyrics – which are actually really good. Then they segued back into the bluegrass tune and took it just about doublespeed. Impressively, bassist Winston Roye didn’t cop out and play everything in the usual tempo and let the drummer do all the hard work (a common trick): he stuck with the same blues scale, never missing a note, sweating his way through it and coming out victorious. At the end of the song, Reiners stole one out of the Bill Kirchen playbook, throwing in a couple of amusingly obvious Beatles hooks, and, finally and seemingly inevitably, Hendrix.

As good as the show was, you know something has gone wrong in this town when Rodeo Bar – strictly by default – becomes your best bet as a weekend destination. Sure, the music is reliably good, and so is the sound. And it’s free. But there are ominous signs: the bar has cut back on the free peanuts (although you can still find a basket if you look around) and their signature tekillya slurpies are significantly smaller than the tall glass you’d get for eight bucks until very recently. And forget about getting a seat: you still have to jockey for position with the sloppy drunk Baruch college kids who are oblivious to the music and make it pretty near impossible to hear unless you can negotiate a spot toward the front of the bar.

But…there’s not a trendoid in the house, and the tourist crowd generally hails from places like Georgia and Nebraska. And is very nice. As annoying as the Baruch kids can be, chances are they’re going to Baruch because they can’t afford to go elsewhere, so they don’t have the prissy sense of entitlement you find in Williamsburg or the East Village. Considering the alternatives, the Rodeo could become your local. And you could actually be happy there.

June 10, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Concert Review: Hazmat Modine and Dr. John at the Hoboken Arts and Music Festival 5/6/07

Knowing what time the bands start at this semi-annual outdoor deepfried food festival is always a crapshoot: the schedule on the festival’s official website didn’t gybe with stagetimes the day of the show. Reportedly this is par for course. Word on the street was that Demolition String Band’s 1 PM set was excellent. Hazmat Modine took the stage at just a little after two, looking like they’d just crawled out of bed, the lot of them (and there are a lot of them: two harmonicas, trumpet, bari sax, a rhythm section with a tuba substituting for bass, and two guitarists who traded off on lapsteel and banjitar). Confined to a set that ran just over 45 minutes, there was a minimum of the expansive, frequently exhilarating soloing that they’re best known for. Instead, they worked on squeezing in as many songs as they could from their wildly psychedelic new cd Bahamut along with some road-tested crowd-pleasers. They opened with the exuberant So Glad, frontman Wade Schuman and his sparring partner, Randy Weinstein trading bluesy harmonica licks over a bouncing reggae beat. Later they did a spirited cover of the Irving Berlin novelty tune Walking Stick: while it’s easy to see this song becoming totally Sesame Street (perhaps as its creator intended it), Schuman worked the lyric’s innuendo for all it was worth. Trumpeter Pam Fleming stole the show as usual with a flamenco-flavored solo, particularly apt since the song is basically a tango. When her 12 bars were up, she paused for a second, gave a quick look to the band as if to say, “look out!” and then launched the song into the stratosphere with one of her trademark crescendos.

Though Schuman looked sleepy and wasn’t nearly as boisterous as he usually is in front of the band, he had no difficulty getting the crowd hollering, with a long, James Cotton-inflected harmonica solo that he took by himself as the band looked on, singing through the reeds as does from time to time. He also added some unusual textures by playing through a wah-wah pedal on a couple of songs. The band wound up the set with an especially terse version of the title track from the new cd, a calypso-flavored behemoth about “the largest thing that never existed,” which seems to be some kind of Borges reference. The crowd didn’t want them to leave: perhaps because Hoboken is replete with blues cover bands, this exposure to something far more authentically blues-based went over particularly well.

Afterward on the Sixth Street stage, local guitarist Karyn Kuhl and her mostly female backing band stomped through a painlessly formulaic set of punky pop with cheerleaderesque vocals and forgettable lyrics. Their best song was a minor-key blues that Kuhl said they’d never played live before.

Back to the main stage where Dr. John was headlining. He’s a hot-and-cold performer: when the mood strikes him, especially in a small club, he can be electrifying, but he’s just as likely to take the money and phone it in, especially at an outdoor festival. Happily, the Night Tripper was in a particularly dark and stormy mood, the result being a fiery, impassioned, hourlong show. Before launching into the two-part post-Katrina salute to his hometown, Sweet Home New Orleans, he berated the audience to give their money only to smallscale charities: “With the big ones, the money disappears before it gets there.” A bit later he did a bristling, impressively fresh take on the old standard St. James Infirmary Blues that he ended by pounding out the opening hook from the famous Grieg A Minor prelude.

“We call ourselves Dr. John and the Lower 9/11th,” he told the crowd. He posed the rhetorical question of why they’d continue to dwell on something the rest of the world has pretty much forgotten: we’re tough customers, he said: “We carry a grudge.” This was still a party (it’s always a party when the Doctor is in town), but a defiant celebration delivered in minor keys. No Iko Iko: we got Gris-Gris instead and it was clear that Mr. Rebennac felt like he wanted to hoodoo someone. At the end of the show they lightened up a bit, the drummer showing off his collection of funk beats before bringing Dr. John back to the stage for the encores.

Despite a degree of disorganization, the Hoboken Arts & Music Festival always has some first-rate performers on the bill: the Moonlighters, Patti Smith, Mary Lee’s Corvette and Laura Cantrell have all recently played there, and it’s safe to say that this fall’s lineup should be a good one.

May 7, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment