Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Minor Adventure Upstate: Great Band, Great Show, Nobody Listens

In urban artistic communities, there’s a common perception that outside the city gates, there’s nothing but a vast wasteland of cultural indifference, conservatism and conformity. A more optimistic view is that the cultural innovators who, twenty years ago, would have flocked to the cities, have long since been priced out of the market. Therefore, they stay put, creating vital micro-scenes in all kinds of unexpected places all over the country. Those two theories were put to the test at dark New York rock band Ninth House’s show upstate at a carnival in Putnam Valley on Saturday evening.

Twenty years ago, a black-clad Nashville gothic band attempting to entertain crowds of families and toddlers in broad daylight in a more-or-less rural area would have been serious culture shock. Fast forward to 2011 – twenty years, maybe more, since the Psychedelic Furs and Social Distortion, two of the bands Ninth House often resembles, hit the peak of their popularity. Most of the kids who were listening to those bands back in the 80s are parents now. Would any of those people be in the crowd, reliving their lost youth as fans of what was then called “alternative rock?” Apparently not.

Which was sad. Pretty much any streetcorner busker with any charisma at all can attract a gaggle of people, but the crowd was absolutely oblivious. Which was no fault of the organizers: the sound wasn’t pristine, but it was loud. What about the kids, the next generation of nonconformists? Would any of them drift over to see what the band was up to? Nope. Was frontman Mark Sinnis’ baritone too ominous? Under ordinary circumstances, it wouldn’t seem so: there’s an awful lot of Johnny Cash fans out there. Was guitarist Keith Otten too abrasive? Hardly. Firing off ornately savage minor-key riffs or snarling rockabilly phases, he bridged the gap from Luther Perkins to Bernard Albrecht with effortless intensity alongside keyboardist Zach’s nonchalant piano and organ and drummer Francis Xavier’s steady shuffles.

Was the songs’ subject matter too disturbing? “I’ll have another drink of whiskey, because death is not so faraway,” Sinnis intoned cynically – a C&W philosophy that’s a hundred years old or more. They wailed methodically through two long sets of songs that have resonated with New York audiences since their first incarnation in the late 90s – the apprehensively swaying Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me, the savagely cynical Fallible Friend, and more – but nobody paid any attention save for a small posse of friends who’d gathered by the stage, drinking hard liquor from a thermos so as not to get busted.

Validation of theory #1? Just a random bad crowd? Or were all those Furs and Social Distortion fans the last wave of cool kids to escape to the city, waiting patiently at home for the band to get back to Manhattan?

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May 2, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cutting-Edge Contrasts in Brooklyn Heights

Guitar quartet Dither perched themselves high in the organ loft at Brooklyn Heights’ First Presbyterian Church last night. It was a dramatic move and it made perfect sense sonically, as loud as they got at times. Strikingly, they played a raw, stripped-down show rich with dynamic shifts. While everyone in the group brought his pedalboard, they didn’t often reach for the cyclotron swirl of their recently released debut album. Appropriately, they opened with an Arvo Part organ piece, an austere, minimalistically chilly four-bar phrase that repeated over and over again. Their tic-tac-toe arrangement was perfectly paced; it sounded like a miniature from an early Cure album, and it went on long beyond where it could have made any additional impact. Strat player James Moore switched to bass for a Ches Smith composition which they turned into round-robin music-box skronk, a showcase for Taylor Levine’s jaggedly incisive riffage, building to an assaultive, Kowalski/Einsturzende Neubauten crescendo of industrial crunch and then a surprisingly catchy, circular concluding riff.

A composition by guitarist Joshua Lopes was next, a brightly proggy dance with echoes of English folk, Steve Hackett and Weather Report. Their other Strat player, David Linaburg took it down and out elegantly with phrasing that reminded of Jerry Garcia (in “on” mode). Lisa R. Coons’ Cross-Sections, a cut from the new album, was stripped to its inner dread, jarring twin ascending progressions using adjacent notes and a concluding section where the guitars took on a staccato cello attack to maximize its disquiet. The last number, Telegraph, by First Presbyterian impresario and organist Wil Smith, was the icing on the cake, Lopes switching to bass this time. Opening with an echoey, staccato, U2 style pulse, it grew to majestic, otherworldly, Messiaenic proportions, atmospherics punctuated by percussive punches and eventually a magnificent, anguished noiserock gallop, Iron Maiden as played by Mogwai, maybe. It was stunning, and impossible to turn away from.

Accompanied by an eight-piece ensemble including four violins, two trumpets, bowed bass and bassoon, Canadian composer Kyle Bobby Dunn led them on guitar and keyboards (and echoey effects) from the lectern at the back of the church with the lights down low. Beginning with the long, hypnotic drone that would continue almost nonstop throughout the practically hourlong, horizontal work, the nocturne shifted shape almost imperceptibly, with trumpet, violin or the guitar/keys (it became next to impossible to tell which was which) moving a note or five, at the most, from the center. When Dunn added a throbbing pulse to the drone about fifteen minutes in, it was something akin to a long night ride through a Saskatchewan of the mind in an old Cadillac with a bad muffler, sinking comfortably into one of its big, cozy seats, the big shocks of the old gas-guzzler cushioning every impact the road might deliver, V8 rumbling low, warm and irresistibly soothing somewhere outside. Yet it was anything but a trip back to the womb; its judicious shifts in timbre and pitch, and its slow crescendos, evoked a distant anguish. A cautionary tale about the perils of complacency? Maybe. It concluded with what seemed to be a random scan of the radio dial: snippets of a baroque piece, a lush, sleepy wash of strings from a symphonic work (which the violins played along with, gently) and then the intro from She Sells Sanctuary by the Cult, cut off abruptly. In its own deliberate, understated way, it was every bit as intense and gripping as the withering, assaultive conclusion delivered by Dither.

The monthly series of cutting-edge concerts at First Presbyterian Church continues on October 8 at 8 PM with Eleonore Oppenheim.

September 11, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, experimental music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment