Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Powerpop Trifecta at Bowery Electric

Wednesday night at Bowery Electric, Don Piper and his group opened the evening with a richly melodic, often hypnotic set. Piper’s primary gig these days is producing great albums – the Oxygen Ponies’ lushly layered, darkly psychedelic classic Harmony Handgrenade is one of his credits – but he’s also a bandleader. This time out he alternated between slowly swirling, atmospheric, artsy rock and a vintage Memphis soul sound, backed by a large, spirited crew including keyboards, a two-piece horn section (with Ray Sapirstein from Lenny Molotov’s band on cornet), bass and the Silos’ Konrad Meissner on drums (doing double duty tonight, as would many of the other musicians). Midway through the set Briana Winter took over centerstage and held the crowd silent with her wary, austerely intense, Linda Thompson-esque voice on a couple of midtempo ballads. They closed with a long, 1960s style soul number, Piper and Winter joining in a big crescendo as the band slowly circled behind them.

Edward Rogers followed, backed by much of the same band including Piper, Meissner, Claudia Chopek on violin and Ward White playing bass. A British expat, Rogers’ wry, lyrical songs draw on pretty much every good British pop style through the mid-70s. The most modern-sounding song, a pounding, insistent number, evoked the Psychedelic Furs, White throwing in some Ventures-style tremolo-picking on his bass at a point where nobody seemed to be looking. Whatever You’ve Been Told, from Rogers’ latest album Sparkle Lane, held an impassioned, uneasy ambience that brought to mind early David Bowie. A pensive, midtempo backbeat tune with a refrain about the “seventh string on your guitar, the one you never use” reminded of the Move (like Roy Wood, Rogers hails from Birmingham), as did a bracingly dark new one, Porcelain, highlighted by some striking, acidic violin from Chopek. And a pair of Beatles homages wouldn’t have been out of place on the Rutles albums – or George’s later work with Jeff Lynne. But the best songs were the most original ones. The most stunning moment of the night came on the understatedly bitter Passing the Sunshine, a Moody Blues-inflected requiem for an edgy downtown New York destroyed by greedy developers, gentrifiers and the permanent-tourist class: “This’ll be the last time you steal with your lies,” Rogers insisted, over and over again. In its gentle, resolute way, it was as powerful as punk. They wound up the show with a surprisingly bouncy psychedelic pop tune and then the new album’s droll, swaying title track.

Seeing headliner Maura Kennedy onstage with a bright red Les Paul slung from her shoulder was a surprise, as it was to see her guitar genius husband Pete Kennedy in the back with the drums, leaving most of the solos to his wife. But as fans of their acoustic project the Kennedys know, she’s an excellent player – and also one of the most unselfconsciously soulful voices in rock, or folk, if you want to call them that. This was her powerpop set, many of the songs adding a subtly Beatlesque or Americana edge to fast new wave guitar pop. The best songs were the darker ones, including the bitterly pulsing 1960s style psych/pop hit Just the Rain. Sun Burns Gold swayed hauntingly and plaintively, leaving just a crack for the light to get in; another minor-key number, Chains was absolutely gorgeous in a jangly Dancing Barefoot garage-pop vein, and she used that as a springboard for one of several sharply staccato, chordally charged solos. “I wrap myself in melancholy comfort of the waiting game,” she sang on a brooding ballad that evoked Richard and Linda Thompson. But there were just as many upbeat moments. White, who was doing double duty despite being under the weather, took an unexpected and welcome bass solo on a funkily hypnotic number toward the end of the set; they wound it up with the first song she’d written, she said, the country-pop ballad Summer Coulda Lasted Forever. The rest of the musicians joined them for an amazingly tight, completely deadpan cover of A Day in the Life, Maura leading her little orchestra with split-second precision all the way through the two long, interminable crescendos, a wry vocal from her husband on Paul’s verse, and then up and up and up some more and then finally out. It was an apt way to end a night of similarly expert craftsmanship.

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December 10, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 8/24/09

We do this every Tuesday. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Every link here except for #1 will take you to each individual song.

1. The Oxygen Ponies – Finger Trigger

Big scorching venomous rock anthem written at the nadir of the Bush regime. From their amazing new Randi Russo-designed cd Harmony Handgrenade

2. Sad Little Stars – I’m Going to Paris

Hilarious deadpan anti-trendoid broadside

3. Zebu – You Can’t Polish Shit

Noise rock. Self-explanatory. They’re at Mehanata on Aug 29 with the Brooklyn What and Escarioka.

4. Edward Rogers – You Haven’t Been Where I’ve Been

The expat Manchester rock crooner live at the NME awards doing the ELO thing – title track to his latest excellent album.

5. Basia Bulat – Snakes & Ladders

Orchestrated piano/orchestra ballad by this usually lo-fi Canadian songstress. Is this an anomaly? She’s at the Bell House on 10/7 at 8:30.

6. The French Exit – 3 & 12

We’re just going to hit you over the head again and again until everybody realizes what an amazing band these New York noir rockers are. They’re at Local 269 on 9/17 at 8.

7. Escarioka – Algun Dia Llegara

Every single song the Brooklyn What have ever played has probably been included in this list this year at some point, but we haven’t yet done the same with rock/ska en Espanol hellraisers Escarioka, who are also on the bill on 8/29 at Mehanata. This is a surprisingly gentle number but they’ll no doubt rip it to shreds live.

8. Her Vanished Grace – Sirens

They call what they play “power dreampop” which isn’t a bad way to describe it. They’re at Trash on 9/16 at 9:30.

9. The Anabolics – Je Ne Sais Quoi

Wicked garage punk. They’re at Union Pool on 10 on 9/4.

10. Rebecca Turner – Tough Crowd

Ridiculously catchy Americana rock song from the gorgeous-voiced chanteuse. She’s at Banjo Jim’s on 9/2 at 8.

August 25, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Bedsit Poets – Rendezvous

Not what you might expect. The Bedsit Poets’ 2006 debut The Summer That Changed was a gorgeously summery collection of soaring, harmony-driven, Britfolk-flavored anthems and mellower pop numbers. By contrast, this is their autumn album, pensive, jazzier and more stylistically diverse. The charming harmonies of Amanda Thorpe and Edward Rogers (both of whom have released excellent solo cds this year) are still there, as are the virtuosic, thoughtful guitar of Mac Randall, and Nancy Polstein’s tasteful drums and percussion work. But this time the band looks outside Rogers’ and Thorpe’s native England for influences ranging from 60s French ye-ye pop to Norah Jones.

 

Standouts from among the cd’s fourteen tracks include a couple of deliciously melodic, classic Carnaby St. style 60s Britpop numbers: the rueful, revealing The Highs Can’t Beat the Lows, and NoTel Rendezvous, which picks up the pace as Thorpe and Rogers trade off jazzily on vocals. Daze for Love sets their harmonies sailing over a slinky bossa beat. The single best track on the cd is Hardened Ground, a stoic, atmospheric 6/8 lament featuring a beautifully restrained Thorpe vocal and lyric that could be about the destruction of New York by luxury condo developers, or could mean something else entirely: “What do you get by taking away/Building glass houses with nothing to say.” There’s also Top Shop, imaginatively blending bossa nova with Byrdsy twelve-string janglerock; the tersely melancholy New Year; and the blithely tongue-in-cheek Winson Green, a dead ringer for a vintage, comedic 60s hit by the Move or the Kinks, recounting the tale of a prisoner finally set free who decides that the outside world is a bit too threatening and that ultimately he’d prefer to remain behind bars. Fans of the first album are in for a bit of a surprise, but the elements that made it such a smashing success are still in place, voices and guitars ringing every bit as true as they did the first time around. The Bedsit Poets play the cd release show for this one on Tues Oct 21 at the Cutting Room. Rogers’ longtime collaborator George Usher opens the night with a solo set at 7:30 PM, and the Bedsit Poets’ labelmate Dave Rave follows with a set of his own at 9:30.

October 9, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Amanda Thorpe/Randi Russo/Ninth House at Hank’s Saloon, Brooklyn NY 8/25/07

Amanda Thorpe has made a career out of joining bands that are ok and making them suddenly great. She did that with the Wirebirds, and recently with the Bedsit Poets. Tonight she showed how, with just her voice, her songs and her new Christian guitar (it’s a gospel model that New York musicians apparently love to play in the guitar store until they notice the big white cross on the headstock). She opened with a Richard Thompson song, a-capella.“That’s as close to Linda Thompson as I can get,” Thorpe sheepishly told the crowd, but what could have been pure hubris wasn’t. As a singer, British expat Thorpe is in the same league, with a similarly haunting, resigned delivery. But she can also belt and wail and has a very playful, jazzy side that she showed off tonight. If and when Norah Jones falls off the radar – not that she should – Thorpe could very well take her place.

She played a lot of material from her forthcoming cd Union Square, including its understatedly wistful, beautifully melancholy title track. Her Bedsit Poets bandmate Edward Rogers joined her onstage for a duet on the sad, knowing The Highs Can’t Beat the Lows. A couple of times, she tried to engage the audience in a singalong, but this fell flat: everybody was too busy listening. The crowd here drinks and gabs: that she got them to shut up pretty much says it all. Her best songs were an unreleased number called the River Song, a bitter tale of rejection and betrayal, and the morbid, 6/8 Bedsit Poets sea chantey Around and Around. She also did a marvelously nuanced version of Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire, jazzed up the Mama Cass hit Dream a Little Dream of Me and closed with a breathtakingly powerful version of the Steve Wynn classic For All I Care, bringing out every ounce of the lyrics’ suicidal wrath.

The only complaint about Randi Russo’s show was that it was too quiet. Otherwise, she and her trio (minus her lead guitarist Lenny Molotov, who was out of town) played a set of some of her most powerful songs, including the hypnotic, pounding, Velvets-inflected One Track Mind (from her obscure Live at CB’s Gallery ep), the eerie, chromatic Adored, the towering, 6/8 alienation anthem Prey and the scathing minor-key dayjob-from-hell number Battle on the Periphery. She’s been playing lead guitar in the Oxygen Ponies lately, and the careening, noisy solo she took toward the end of the unreleased Hurt Me Now turned the atmospheric, melancholy song into a blazing rocker as the rhythm section channeled Joy Division. Tonight, for some reason, all the bands were quiet: at least this put her cutting lyrics and velvety vocals out front and center.

Ninth House frontman Mark Sinnis was celebrating his birthday, and they predictably packed the place. They’ve shuffled their lineup yet again, with a new guitarist. Despite not having had the chance to do much rehearsing, the Anti-Dave, as he calls himself attacked the songs with passion and imagination. Until very recently Ninth House had a very 80s dark anthemic feel, and while the majesty of the songs remains, there’s a newly bluesy, somewhat improvisatory feel to the music, particularly in the interplay between the keyboards and the guitar: an unexpected and very promising development. They burned their way through the swinging, country-inflected When the Sun Bows to the Moon and Mistaken for Love, found some new, bluesy energy in Injury Home (from their second cd Swim in the Silence) and closed with a blistering cover of Ghost Riders in the Sky.

We went to Superfine afterward and were reassured to find this place as good a choice of late-night hang as it’s always been: all the yuppies go home by 1 AM, and the crowd that remains is pretty much like any other crowd you’d find in what used to be New York, a motley crew that keeps to themselves and doesn’t annoy.

August 26, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Concert Review: The Bedsit Poets, Don Piper and the Oxygen Ponies at Luna Lounge, Brooklyn NY 6/3/07

The show probably would have sold out if not for the elements: torrential rain, umbrellas blown inside out, everyone in the house soaked to the bone. The marvelous Bedsit Poets opened. Their sound is totally late 60s/early 70s, windswept pastoral beauty in places, otherwise super catchy harmony-driven Britpop, the Kinks circa Arthur hanging out with the Fairport Convention crowd. Frontman Ed Rogers and rhythm guitarist/singer Amanda Thorpe blend voices beautifully. Both British expats, he has a classic pop delivery which pairs well with Thorpe’s soaring, passionate Britfolk style.

Thorpe was celebrating her birthday, and she held the audience in the palm of her hand, particularly on the sweeping, anthemic Reach for the Sky, from their well-received album The Summer That Changed (as in “changed our lives”). On the quiet, ethereal Chemical Day, Thorpe played a small keyboard that for a minute sounded as if it was producing some quiet, strategically placed layers of feedback. They closed their rousing 50-minute set with the title track from the album, a supremely catchy pop tune punctuated by lead guitarist Mac Randall’s swinging country licks. Rogers and Thorpe sang a round with each other at the end of the song: he launched into Mungo Jerry and she countered with Gershwin, the result being a typical Bedsit moment. They’re a very playful band. The audience wanted an encore but didn’t get one.

Singer/guitarist Don Piper and his band – including many of the people who would play later in the evening – followed with a painless set of slow-to-midtempo jangle and clang. At one point, guest guitarist Drew Glackin (who also plays with the Jack Grace Band and the Silos) took a slowly growling climb up the scale, turned around and came back down the way he went up. Against the steady wash of the two guitars behind him, it was almost as if it was 1984 and True West was onstage. But they never hit that peak again: Piper seems to be more interested in mood and atmosphere than saying anything specific. He doesn’t have the voice for rock – it’s a keening, high tenor – but to his credit he tackled a Curtis Mayfield number and absolutely nailed it. He has a real future as a soul singer if he wants it.

The Oxygen Ponies are basically songwriter Paul Megna and whoever he can rustle up for a show. Tonight he brought a whole herd, 11 musicians including a trio of backup singers, two guitarists in addition to Megna himself, lapsteel, rhythm section and two horn players. Megna comes from the gutter-poet school of songwriting, all bedraggled, depressed and chain-smoking. His melodies are contagiously catchy (think a less skeletal Leonard Cohen, or a more pop-oriented Nick Cave) and he can write a hell of a lyric, with a sometimes savagely cynical edge. And the band pushed him to project and sing, keeping his vocals at a safe distance from the dreaded cesspool of grunge. The band’s ability to hit a crescendo out of nowhere was literally breathtaking, especially on the final track from their new cd, The Quickest Way to Happiness.

What was perhaps most striking about their performance was that everyone onstage was clearly having a great time, and this carried over to the audience. What could have been dirges became anthems. The lead guitarist didn’t play much, but when he did, his slashing pyrotechnics never failed to ignite. The horns played in perfect unison with each other and the backup singers delivered joyous, heartfelt harmonies. Megna’s songs tend to go on for at least five minutes, sometimes much more, but they never dragged. And the sound system was crystal clear all night long. What fun.

June 9, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments