Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 8/13/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #900:

Laika & the Cosmonauts – Laika Sex Machine Live

Incredibly eclectic surf and instrumental rock from Finland, 1999. These guys did it all: pounding Dick Dale chromatic stomps, spacy sci-fi themes, rapidfire chase scenes, twangy bucolic vignettes and dozens of catchy, two-and-a-half minute hits that are every bit as iconic in Europe as the Ventures are here. Laika & the Cosmonauts’ sound frequently uses keyboards as well as guitars, often in the same song, further diversifying their textures. This is a greatest-hits album of sorts recorded before ecstatic crowds in Germany and Finland: happily, we don’t have to suffer through any of their applause until the very end. As with so many of the great surf bands to come out of the Nordic regions, the band uses a lot of moody minor-key and chromatic passages, sometimes bordering on the macabre. Several others are satirical and quite funny. This collection includes the late 60s psychedelia of The Hypno-Wheel; the utterly gorgeous Turquoise; Disconnected, a surfy spoof of disco music, the bitter chromatics of Sycophant and Boris the Conductor (a bombastic sendup of Boris Yeltsin) as well as the themes from the Avengers, Get Carter and a pastiche of the Psycho and Vertigo themes. 26 songs in all, a terrific representation of one of the world’s great instrumental bands, one that literally never made a bad album. Their surprisingly traditional sounding first album, C’Mon Do the Laika and the psychedelically-tinged tour de force Absurdistan are especially worth seeking out. Be careful looking for torrents for this one: because of the title, attack sites disguised as porn have it listed, as do several dubious-looking sites located in Russia (where surf music is as huge as it is in the US).

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August 13, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sunday at Lincoln Center Out of Doors: Bad Segues, Amazing Show

By any standard, this year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival is one of the best ever: of all of New York’s summer festivals, this is one you really should investigate if you’re in town – especially because it’s free. Sunday’s lineup outdoors on the plaza under the trees was an improbable but smartly assembled “roots of American music” bill.

“Are you awake?” Etran Finatawa’s electric guitarist asked the crowd, in French: from the response, the answer was barely. With their swaying triplet rhythms and expansively hypnotic, gently crescendoing one-chord jams, the Niger-based duskcore band were a perfect choice to get the afternoon started. They’re as captivating as Tinariwen, starting methodically and getting more diverse and interesting as the set went on. One of the earlier numbers started with a meandering solo guitar intro, like a Middle Eastern taqsim, and grew surprisingly into a boisterously shuffling anthem. One of the band’s percussionists – dressed in what looked like warrior regalia – opened a percussive, stop-and-start number solo on screechy ritti fiddle. Desert blues bands change modes more than they change actual chords, but Etran Finatawa’s most memorable song, an especially epic one, worked a dramatic shift from minor to major and then back again for all it was worth. And then like many of their other songs, they shut it down cold.

Los Straitjackets, arguably the world’s most popular surf band after the Ventures and Dick Dale, made about the most incongruous segue imaginable. But counting them as a roots band isn’t an overstatement: there isn’t a band alive in the small yet thriving surf rock subculture that hasn’t felt their influence, especially because they write original songs, in a whole slew of styles. Happily keeping the choreography and the cheesy stage antics to a minimum, they aired out their repertoire instead with a mix of cheery Buck Owens-flavored country stomps, Gene Vincent twang, three-chord Chuck Berry-style shuffles, and a couple of attempts at a happier spaghetti western style (along with one that was not happy at all – it was the highlight of the show). Drummer Jason Smay’s playful Gene Krupa-isms got the crowd roaring on an extended surf version of Sing Sing Sing; guitarist Danny Amis (who played bass on one song) led the band in a rousing version of a Jimi Hendrix song (ok, it wasn’t a Hendrix song, but that was Jimi on lead guitar on Joey Dee and the Starliters’ Peppermint Twist). Guitarist Eddie Angel showed off expert and boisterous command of every twangy guitar style ever invented, from Dick Dale tremolo-picking to sinuous, fluid Bill Kirchen country licks. The crowd screamed for an encore but didn’t get one.

The Asylum Street Spankers were their usual adrenalized selves, but a sadness lingered: the band is breaking up. Other than the show they played right afterward at Joe’s Pub (one hopes they got there in time), this was their last one in New York. It’s hard to imagine another band who were as funny as they were virtuosic. Banjo player Christina Marrs, multi-instrumentalist Charlie King, resonator guitarist Nevada Newman and the rest of the crew (Wammo was AWOL) all showed off their prodigious chops in turn, tersely and intensely. Their big college radio hit, Scrotum, was “a mixed-blessing song,” as Marrs put it, but she traded off vocals with Newman and King with a freshness and salaciousness that made it hard to believe they’ve sung it a thousand times before. The high points of the show were the political ones: the hillbilly sway of Lee Harvey Was A Friend of Mine, which cites Jack Ruby as “the biggest sleaze in town,” and My Baby in the CIA, a hilariously understated chronology of CIA-sponsored anti-democracy coups over the decades – and a lot of other things, some relevant, some less so but still fun, like King’s throat-singing. Marrs cranked up the volume with her amazing pipes on fierily sultry covers of the Violent Femmes’ Jesus Walking on the Water and Muddy Waters’ Got My Mojo Working; they closed with a swinging version of Don’t Let the Music Die, but it was about to and that was too bad. At least it’ll be fun to find out where all the individual Spankers end up once this year’s ongoing farewell tour has run its course.

August 3, 2010 Posted by | blues music, concert, country music, folk music, gospel music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Some Songs For You Until We Return

As regulars here know by now, Lucid Culture HQ is undergoing some big renovations and for that reason we have to leave this site more or less in limbo until about the middle of October  when we  return with more of the stuff you may have grown accustomed to: the NYC live music calendar, cd and concert reviews, Song of the Day and our Tuesday Top Ten Songs list. This will also serve as a test of sorts to see how much traffic we get while there’s not much going on here. In the meantime, here are the songs of the day that we’d scheduled to appear, a new one every day through October 15, 2009  as the countdown to #1 on the Top 666 Songs of Alltime list continues.  If this isn’t enough to satisfy your curiosity, look around a little, browse the index above and we’ll be back before you know it.

304. Joy Division – Walked in Line

“All dressed in uniforms so fine/They drank and killed to pass the time/Wearing the shame of all their crimes/With measured steps they walked in line.” Nazis as metaphor for conformity as a whole, stepping to a ridiculously simple, potent descending punk riff. An early, 1977-era song released on the posthumous 1981 Still lp, available in a ridiculous number of live and studio versions: peek around.

303. Dick Dale – Misirlou

The lefty guitar genius and surf music pioneer is Lebanese-American and probably heard this iconic Greek melody as a kid in the 50s. Nice to see him healthy again and back on the road. New York Greek party rockers Magges also do a tremendously fun version.

302. The Dog Show – If I Laugh Anymore I’ll Break

Blistering and catchy, sort of a cross between the Dead Boys and 50s R&B. One of the more obscure tracks here, this is on a rare ep by the NYC mod punks from 2003 or so and well worth seeking out, whether on a live bootleg (they exist) or otherwise.

301. Elvis Costello – Riot Act

One of Steve Nieve’s finest, most poignant moments in the band with all those hauntingly restrained piano arpeggios. From Get Happy, 1980; mp3s are everywhere.

300. The Grateful Dead – Days Between

Every now and then, Jerry and co. would pull out the gravitas and this is a prime, extremely poignant example from right before the end, an elegiac epic that in its dark, determined way might just be their best song. Not that it really mattered, but the Dead never released it during their lifetime as either a studio or live recording. So you need to go to dead.net or archive.org, where this 12-minute gem resides in several places.

299. The Go-Betweens – You Can’t Say No Forever

Haunting, percussive janglerock cautionary tale about the dangers of succumbing to the lure of marriage. An apt companion piece to the Fun Boy Three’s Tunnel of Love…and a million blues and country songs. It doesn’t sound much like anything the artsy New Zealand pop band ever did before or after. From 16 Lovers’ Lane, 1989; mp3s are everywhere.

298. The Rolling Stones – Black Limousine

A poignant requiem for a good time, Ron Wood’s warmly fluid blues solo one of his finest moments in the band over a neat hesitation-step series of basic blues changes. From Tattoo You, 1981; mp3s are everywhere, and don’t be shy about downloading it because like all major label releases, this one will never make the band any more money. Not that they need it anyway. The link above is a spirited live version from the tour of the same year.

297. Telephone – Au Coeur de la Nuit

The title translates as “heart of the night,” which to songwriter Jean-Louis Aubert’s credit transcends cliche here. One of the most iconic songs in French rock, it’s a blistering requiem, title track from the Parisian rockers’ 1981 lp. Which you can download all over the place; the link above is a careening live version from German tv.

296. Zager & Evans – In the Year 2525

OK, some of you may find this cheesy and over-the-top. But we think the 1969 one-hit wonder is spooky in a psychedelic California Dreaming kind of way. Whatever you think, the video above is hilarious – and it screams out for someone with a little more depth to cover the song and bring out all its apocalyptic angst. By the way, the song was a last-minute addition to the band’s first album (if you find it, pick it up, it’s rare). Available for taping off your favorite oldies radio station as well as all over the web.

295. Randi RussoWonderland

Arguably the iconic indie rock siren’s signature song, this is a bruised, towering anthem about being left behind. And the injustice and cruel irony of it. From her classic Solar Bipolar cd, 2000; the link in the title above is the considerably faster but still dangerous version from the Live at Sin-e album, 2005.

294. Amy Rigby – Rode Hard

Culture shock has seldom been more amusingly, or more poignantly portrayed: fearless big city girl goes south and she doesn’t understand the natives any better than they understand her. She might be jealous of their brightly lit homes and seemingly secure lives, but she’s not sure. And are there any eligible guys within a hundred mile radius? Is there one? From the Sugar Tree cd, 2000, which you could download, or you could get at her site, she’s an independent artist so none of your money will go to any sleazy record label exec.

293. Erika Simonian – Bitter & Brittle

Best song on the classic 2003 All the Plastic Animals cd by the NYC underground songwriter/chanteuse and Sprinkle Genies guitarist, grimly yet wittily contemplating a fullscale breakdown with one of her characteristically gemlike lyrics.

292. Elvis Costello – Love Went Mad

“Do you know how I feel? Do you have a heart, do you have a heart of iron and steel?” the King inquires with a savage amphetamine insistence. A fast, anthemic smash from Punch the Clock, 1983, driven by Steve Nieve’s incisively bright piano. Mp3s are everywhere.

291. Curtis Eller – After the Soil Fails

Apocalyptic opening track on the fiery NYC banjo rocker’s 2008 cd Wirewalkers & Assassins:

This time the dream is a Russian oil tanker

Fidel Castro and Cuban sugarcane

Richard Nixon’s having the same old nightmare

Jack Ruby’s black secret crawling up through the drain…

When the hurricanes finally take out New Orleans

And scarlet fever has finally left Philadelphia bare…

There’s a ghost that we remember hanging in the air

290. Ninth House – Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me

Catchy, swaying Nashville gothic existentialist cautionary tale: “I know all your secrets,” frontman Mark Sinnis intones ominously. From Swim in the Silence, 2000.

289. Elena Zazanis – Stingray

The highly regarded indie film actress is also a terrific singer and songwriter, with a powerful alto wail and a haunting chromatic edge that reflect her Greek heritage. For a few years during the early part of the decade, she led a first-rate, dark New York powerpop band and this is their finest moment, a towering anthem vividly depicting a surreal nightmare scenario that doesn’t end well. Never recorded, although live bootlegs exist.

288. REM – Find the River

Arguably their best song, about as far from their indie roots as they ever got, lush and anthemic with a string section. It’s about getting old, and failure, and death. “All of this is coming your way.” From Automatic for the People, 1992. Click on the video in the link above.

287. Latin QuarterTruth About John

For about a year the British rock press were all gaga over this lyrically brilliant, Costelloesque band who were one of the first to bring Afropop flourishes into rock. This is probably their most straight-up rock song, a bruising anthem about Albert Goldman’s hatchet-job John Lennon bio. From the Modern Times lp, 1985. The Pip Hoyle style organ solo out is luscious. Frontman Steve Skaith now fronts his own band, continuing to play and record intriguingly polystylistic, lyrical songs. The link in the title above is the stream at imeem.

286. Flash & the Pan – Restless

A few years after their legendary 60s garage-pop band the Easybeats had run its course, Australians Harry Vanda and George Young led this pioneering, truly extraordinary dark new wave studio project best known for their big 1979 hit Hey St. Peter. This apocalyptic number sets a haunting Middle Eastern melody to a fast, hypnotic dance beat, the lyrics as offhandedly disconcertingly as ever. From the classic Lights in the Night lp, 1980, more easily downloaded than you would think – the link above is a torrent.

285. The Room – Naïve

Best song on probably the best ep ever made, the Liverpool new wave legends’ 1985 release Jackpot Jack. This updates noir 60s pop with a jazzy tinge and haunting Hammond organ, Dave Jackson’s ominously breathy voice and characteristically biting lyrics. It’s also a great drinking song – who knew beer goggles could be so lyrical. Jackson and bassist Becky Stringer would carry on in the equally captivating Benny Profane and currently the Nashville gothic act the Dead Cowboys.

September 27, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Serena Jost – Closer Than Far

A richly melodic, stylistically diverse masterpiece. Serena Jost (pronounced Yost) is a multi-instrumentalist who for quite a while played cello in Rasputina. On this album, her second, she also plays acoustic guitar and keyboards and sings in a truly beautiful, carefully modulated voice. What she does here falls under the nebulous umbrella of art-rock, although her tunes are uncommonly catchy, adding both classical and jazz influences. Jost’s lyrics are deliberately opaque, and like her music, they can be very playful: she clearly delights in paradoxes and contradictions, making her listeners think. This is a terrific ipod album. Here she’s backed by her band including Julian Maile on electric guitar, Brad Albetta (who also produced) on bass and keys, and Colin Brooks and Matt Johnson on drums along with strings and horns in places.

It opens, counterintuitively, with a cover, a stomping yet heartfelt take of Iris DeMent’s sad requiem Our Town: could this be a metaphor for New York? The next cut, Halfway There is a beautifully catchy, artsy pop song whose keys surprisingly end up in the hands of guest banjo player Jim Brunberg about halfway through, who drives it home with very rewarding results. The following cut Vertical World ought to be the hit single, opening all dramatic and coy with a faux-gospel intro:

No I’m not from Georgia, but you are on my mind
I swear I am from Georgia, ‘cause I like it when you take your time

From there it morphs into ridiculously catchy piano pop, on one level seemingly a view of New York through the eyes of an ingénue. But as in the rest of the songs here there are possibly several shades of meaning: taken as sarcasm, it’s a slap in the face of anyone in the permanent-tourist class with their 24/7 party lifestyle and fondness for chainstores like Krispy Kreme. After that, we get the inscrutable I Wait, with a long intro that eventually builds to a cello solo that Jost turns over to Maile, who responds by building something that could be Dick Dale in an unusually pensive moment. The next track, Almost Nothing, a lament, begins with stark classical guitar and features some nice background vocals from Alice Bierhorst and Greta Gertler. Speaking of the unexpected, Maile throws in a completely bombastic, Robin Trower-esque fuzztone guitar solo.

The following song Reasons and Lies reverts to a catchy art-pop feel, with a cello solo from Jost doubletracked with eerily reverberating vocalese. Jost likes to take the same kind of liberties with tempos that she pulls with melody and lyrics, and the next cut Awake in My Dreams gently jolts and prods the listener with echoey vocals and sudden tempo shifts. The next cut Jump is as eerie as it is playful: the production is pure 70s disco, utilizing cheesy period keyboard settings, but the darkness of the melody gives it away: “Down is not so far away,” intones Jost without divulging anything more. With its layers of fluttery acoustic guitars and cello, Falling Down reverts to a chiming pop feel. The album wraps up with In Time, featuring more tricky time changes, and then Stowaway, which perfectly sums up what Jost is all about:

I’m hoping for a shore I can seek
Where dusk and dawn always meet

Challenging, captivating, thought-provoking and very pretty. Time may judge this a classic. Serena Jost and band play the cd release show for Closer Than Far at Joe’s Pub on March 3 at 9:30 PM.

February 25, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Magges Live at Mehanata, NYC 1/12/08

[editor’s note: this is a half-assed review, although it’s the best we could do under the circumstances. Greek songwriters are known for their excellent lyrics and acerbic social commentary, and since we don’t have any native Greek speakers on staff, this review is limited to the band’s music. If any Greek speakers want to comment on the band here – in English, please – be our guest]

As a casual glance at just about any city courthouse will tell you, earlier generations of Americans were in love with everything Greek. The time has come for a new generation of Americans to discover what is perhaps Greece’s finest export: its music. A cynic might say that you can hear what Magges does in any taverna in Astoria on the weekend, but that’s not true. Magges is Greek slang for “bad guys,” which is something of an understatement: this band is positively evil. It was particularly appropriate to see them play at Gogol Bordello’s home base, since they share that band’s wild exuberance and unbridled passion. The place was packed, lots of people were dancing and taking shots from the ouzo bottles that the band very generously brings along to every show. Every New Yorker should experience this band at least once: they’re that good.

In a marathon set that went on for what seemed like hours, they played a wildly danceable mix of Greek vocal music from the past several decades, big major-key arenaesque ballads and long dance numbers burning with chromatic fire that went on for practically ten minutes apiece. Frontman Kyriakos “Chuck” Metaxas played exhilarating, fast runs on his electric bouzouki, accompanied by an acoustic bouzouki player, the ubiquitous Steve Antonakos on acoustic guitar, the also somewhat ubiquitious Susan Mitchell on violin as well as upright bass and percussion. And a belly dancer who got the crowd on their feet.

Metaxas sings in the somewhat dramatic, stagy style that’s characterized Greek pop for what seems forever. A lot of their songs utilize unorthodox time signatures and turn on the drop of a dime, but the band tackled the changes effortlessly. Even to foreign ears, several of the songs were recognizable, foremost among them a scorching, bouzouki-driven take of the original vocal song that Dick Dale appropriated and turned into Misirlou. Magges’ strongest suit is rembetiko, a dark, Middle Eastern-inflected style of stoner music that originated in the Greek underground resistance movement in the 1930s and 40s, and they played several of these. They also did their signature song, Ouzo, an upbeat, somewhat pastoral anthem that predictably got the crowd roaring. The only problem was the sound: the thud from the downstairs disco was painfully audible during quieter moments, and it was only then that Mitchell – one of the most captivating soloists around – could be heard. The chime and clang of the bouzoukis, guitar and bass was delicious, but Magges without Mitchell isn’t the same.

January 13, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Unsteady Surfing 10/6/07

The night began at the Bohemian Hall out in Astoria. This is the big, outdoor, authentically Bavarian-style beer garden that you probably already know about, perhaps because there was a big article about them in this past Sunday’s Times. The beer is pricier than it ought to be, but it’s good. The music was not. A bunch of geezers on the big stage amid the picnic tables wheezed their way through rote covers of Dylan, Tom Petty and Bob Marley songs, the kind of stuff you learn in the first two months of taking guitar lessons. Then they took a break, probably smoked up some more and then came back and played Grateful Dead covers. The crowd got more into the music as the night wore on and the booze kicked in, even though the band was pretty out of it. And the no-see-ums were out in full effect: don’t anyone dare criticize Joba Chamberlain for throwing that wild pitch.

The game plan was to get back to town and head down to the Parkside where Love Camp 7 and Liza and the WonderWheels were playing. Each band played a fantastic set the last time we saw them, and odds are they did as well Saturday night. But the best laid plans, etc., etc., ad infinitum. We ended up at Otto’s where Unsteady Freddie’s monthly surf night was in full swing. This is reliably a good time, sometimes an absolutely transcendent one. Unsteady Freddie is a longtime Dick Dale fan who has done more to promote surf music on the east coast than anyone except NESMA founder and 9th Wave bandleader Mike “Staccato” Rosado. Rosado’s band was unfortunately absent from tonight’s bill, but there were other good ones. The big surprise was the Clams. They’re from Connecticut and have really pulled themselves together recently, with the addition of a new bass player. They did all covers, mostly standards, Out of Limits and Baja and Pipeline and the requisite Misirlou to close the set, but that stuff is not easy to play and they pulled it off. And they had a horn section, two women sax players, one of them being multi-instrumentalist Sandy from 9th Wave, and they were spot-on. Which you pretty much have to be if you’re the Clams’ horn section (that’s a joke: a flat note played on a horn is called a clam). The high point of their set was a surprisingly careening version of Mr. Moto, reminding a bit of the out-of-control version that the Coffin Daggers used to do. A lot of people think surf music is cheesy, including some of the people who play it, but not these guys. Surf music at its best is as haunting and gorgeous as it is danceable. Tonight the Clams grew legs, pulled themselves out of the muck and had the crowd hollering for more when they left the stage.

The Twangtones were next. This trio appears to be a pickup band with NY rockabilly/surf legend Simon Chardiet (of Simon & the Bar Sinisters) on bass and a guy who looks like Gaylord Perry (the way Perry looks now….which I guess is the way he’s pretty much always looked) playing guitar. Chardiet played with his eyes closed, lost in the music, the way he always does. He’s a virtuoso. He swings, he has impeccable touch and unimpeachable taste. Other bass players should watch him closely. The guitarist clearly knows his stuff as well. Like the Clams, they played Ventures covers and other classics, impressing with their ability to avoid replicating the previous band’s set. It would have been nice if I could have stuck around for the night’s final act instead of being pressed into emergency crisis mediation duty just when the night was starting to take off.

October 11, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments