Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 8/7/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #541:

Elvis Costello – Costello & Nieve Live

Recorded on tour in five different cities, one per cd, this limited-edition box set went out of print shortly after its 1996 release – but thanks to the folks at For the Dishwasher, you can still download it. Just Costello playing acoustic guitar, and genius noir pianist Steve Nieve turning in a lot of characteristically transcendent performances. Highlights of the 27 tracks here: the best-ever version of what might be Costello’s most paradoxically brilliant song, Man Out of Time; an especially creepy Long Honeymoon; a skeletal, low-key Temptation; the surreal, seven-minute Brecht/Weill-influenced My Dark Life; a plaintively plainspoken cover of the Grateful Dead’s Ship of Fools; a biting, jaunty You’ll Never Be a Man; a real showstopping version of the suicide anthem All the Rage; and a lot of stuff from All This Useless Beauty, including takes of The Other End of the Telescope, Little Atoms, Poor Fractured Atlas and I Want to Vanish, all of which are even better than the studio versions. To those who say there are too many Elvis Costello albums on this list: he’s probably made at least a dozen classic albums, and plenty more than that are also worth hearing, so why shouldn’t we include half of them?

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August 7, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ward White Slashes and Burns at Bowery Electric

This is why live shows are where everything is happening. Ward White’s new album Done with the Talking Cure is urbane, and funny, and lyrically intense, but onstage Tuesday night at Bowery Electric he and an A-list of New York rock talent brought the monster to life. There was plenty of nuance, but it was good to see White cut loose with some righteous wrath. Jeremy Chatzky nonchalantly swung the Taxman bass riff as White jangled and clanged his way through the title track; with his signature deadpan ease, keyboardist Joe McGinty tossed off a quote from Dreaming by Blondie toward the end of the brutally cynical Change Your Clothes. “I could do it in the dark, I could do it in my sleep,” White crooned – he was talking about crawling out a window. Drummer Eddie Zwieback gave the gorgeously bitter Radio Silence a backbeat cushion for White’s corrosive lyrics and McGinty’s sizzling, allusive organ work. We Can’t Go on Like This had a sultry, decadent, bolero-tinged slink, aloft on violinist Claudia Chopek’s hypnotic string arrangement, augmented by frequent Botanica collaborator Heather Paauwe on violin and Eleanor Norton on cello.

Following the sequence of the album, White sank his fangs into Accomplice. “One of those narratives that sounds menacing, I’m not entirely sure what’s happening but it’s not good,” he explained. Live, the combination of McGinty’s circus organ and White’s Strat was all that and a lot more, and it was about here that he started crooning less and snarling more. They took it down to just the strings and vocals for Be Like Me, a withering chronicle of disingenuousness. “This song may…be about how I feel about New York City, but it’s also some kind of pretentious metaphor,” White sneered sardonically. “Whichever offends you less, don’t go with that one,” he encouraged the crowd and followed with Pretty/Ugly Town, the least cloaked of all of his attacks tonight, this one taking aim at at a clueless, trendy girl. “Everything is poison if you swallow enough, so be careful what you put in your mouth,” White sang as it opened, somewhere between Jeff Buckley and Roger Waters.

The next song, 1964 may be a thinly veiled swipe at fashion slaves, but its irresistibly cheery mod-pop had the crowd bouncing along, all the way through McGinty’s sarcastic wah-wah synth solo. Then they brought it down with the morose, drugged-out ambience of Who’s Sorry Now, switching to stark yet funny with the “damaged metaphor” of Family Dog and then to ferocious with the album’s closing track, Matchbox Sign. White supplied some useful background: “It’s a term used in the psychiatric event book to describe delusory parasitosis: ‘Take me home tonight!'” he laughed. “People are convinced that they’re infested with insects and parasites…desperately itching and scratching and trying to prove to the medical community that they’re real. Morgellons Disease is one of the more common ones…Joni Mitchell has come out in public as saying she’s infected,” White explained to considerable applause. The strings gave some relief to the exasperated narrator through his drive somewhere – the hospital? – with his crazy passenger.

It was too bad to miss the opening acts. Jim Allen, who a few years ago fronted a killer Elvis Costelloish outfit called the Lazy Lions, has gone back to the Americana stuff he did so well earlier in past decade; after his band, McGinty was scheduled to play a set of his own stuff.

April 24, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 2/22/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #707:

Lloyd Cole – Easy Pieces

The British janglerock songwriter made a splash in 1985 with his catchy Rickenbacker guitar-stoked debut, Rattlesnakes. Following up with this one a year later, just as Elvis Costello – the guy he most resembled at the time – had hit a barren period, it looked like the world of lyrical rock might have a new guy at the top. It never happened. Although Cole wrote some nice tunes after this one, he pretty much gave up on lyrics, which is too bad because these are ferociously smart and match the bite of the music. Rich, the stomping opening track, savages an old corporate type withering away in retirement; Pretty Gone takes no prisoners as far as lovelorn guys are concerned. Brand New Friend nicks a line from Jim Morrison and gives it some genuine intensity; there’s also the beautifully clanging Grace and Minor Character; the big college radio hit Cut Me Down, the morose and pretty spot-on Why I Love Country Music along with the chamber pop James and Perfect Blue, foreshadowing the direction he’d take later in the decade. If you like what you hear here, Rattlesnakes and 1989’s lushly orchestrated Don’t Get Weird on Me, Babe are also worth a spin. Here’s a random torrent.

February 22, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 20 Best New York Area Concerts of 2010

This is the list we like best for so many reasons. When we founded this blog in 2007, live music was our raison d’etre, and after all that time it’s still the biggest part of the picture here. While along with just about everyone else, our 100 Best Albums of 2010 and 100 Best Songs of 2010 lists have strayed further and further from what the corporate media and their imitators consider the “mainstream,” this is still our most personal list. As the year blusters to a close, between all of us here, we’ve seen around 250 concerts – the equivalent of maybe 25% of the shows on a single night here in New York. And the ones we saw are vastly outnumbered by the ones we wanted to see but didn’t. The Undead Jazz Festival, where all the cheesy Bleecker Street clubs suddenly became home to a horde of jazz legends and legends-to-be? We were out of town. We also missed this year’s Gypsy Tabor Festival way out in Gerritsen Beach, choosing to spend that weekend a little closer to home covering punk rock on the Lower East, latin music at Lincoln Center and oldschool soul in Williamsburg. We worked hard to cast a wide net for all the amazing shows that happened this year. But there’s no way this list could be anything close to definitive. Instead, consider this a sounding, a snapshot of some of the year’s best moments in live music, if not all of them. Because it’s impossible to rank these shows in any kind of order, they’re listed chronologically:

The Disclaimers at Spike Hill, 1/2/10 – that such a potently good band, with two charismatic frontwomen and so many catchy, dynamic soul-rock songs, could be so ignored by the rest of the New York media and blogs speaks for itself. On one of the coldest nights of the year, they turned in one of the hottests sets.

Jenifer Jackson at Banjo Jim’s, 1/21/10 – on a welcome if temporary stay from her native Austin, the incomparably eclectic, warmly cerebral tunesmith assembled a killer trio band and ripped joyously through a diverse set of Beatlesque pop, Americana and soul songs from throughout her career.

Gyan Riley and Chicha Libre at Merkin Concert Hall, 2/4/10 – Terry Riley’s guitarist kid opened with ambient, sometimes macabre soundscapes, followed by the world’s most entertaining retro 70s Peruvian surf band synching up amusingly and plaintively with two Charlie Chaplin films. Silent movie music has never been so fun or so psychedelic.

The New York Scandia String Symphony at Victor Borge Hall, 2/11/10 – the Scandia’s mission is to expose American audiences to obscure classical music from Scandinavia, a cause which is right up our alley. On a bitter, raw winter evening, their chamber orchestra sold out the house and turned in a frenetically intense version of Anders Koppel’s new Concerto Piccolo featuring hotshot accordionist Bjarke Mogensen, a deviously entertaining version of Frank Foerster’s Suite for Scandinavian Folk Tunes, and more obscure but equally enlightening pieces.

Masters of Persian Music at the Skirball Center, 2/18/10 – Kayhan Kalhor, Hossein Alizadeh and their ensemble improvised their way through an often wrenchingly powerful, climactic show that went on for almost three hours.

The Greenwich Village Orchestra playing Prokofiev and Shostakovich, 2/21/10 – like the Scandia, this well-loved yet underexposed ensemble plays some of the best classical concerts in New York, year after year. This was typical: a playful obscurity by Rienhold Gliere, and subtle, intuitive, deeply felt versions of Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto along with Shostakovich’s dread-filled Fifth Symphony.

Charles Evans and Neil Shah at the Hudson View Lounge, 2/28/10 – February was a great month for us for some reason. Way uptown, baritone saxophonist Evans and pianist Shah turned in a relentlessly haunting, powerful duo performance of brooding, defly improvisational third-stream jazz.

AE at the Delancey, 3/8/10 – pronounced “ash,” Eva Salina Primack and Aurelia Shrenker’s innovative duo vocal project interpolates Balkan folk music with traditional Appalachian songs, creating all kinds of unexpectedly powerful connections between two seemingly disparate styles. They went in and found every bit of longing, intensity and exquisite joy hidden away in the songs’ austere harmonies and secret corners.

Electric Junkyard Gamelan at Barbes, 3/20/10 – most psychedelic show of the year, bar none. Terry Dame’s hypnotic group play homemade instruments made out of old dryer racks, rubber bands of all sizes, trash cans and more – in a marathon show that went almost two hours, they moved from gamelan trip-hop to rap to mesmerizing funk.

Peter Pierce, Erica Smith, Rebecca Turner, Paula Carino, the Larch, Solar Punch, Brute Force, Tom Warnick & the World’s Fair, the John Sharples Band, the Nopar King and Out of Order at the Full Moon Resort in Big Indian, NY, 4/10/10 – this one’s the ringer on the list. We actually listed a total of 21 concerts on this page because even though this one was outside of New York City, it’s as good a choice as any for best show of the year, anywhere. In order of appearance: janglerock; haunting solo acoustic Americana; country soul; more janglerock; lyrical retro new wave; jamband music; a theatrical 60s survivor and writer of novelty songs; a catchy, charismatic noir rocker; a band that specializes in obscure rock covers; soul/funk, and an amazing all-female noiserock/punk trio to wind up twelve hours of music. And that was just one night of the festival.

Rev. Billy & the Life After Shopping Gospel Choir at Highline Ballroom, 4/18/10 – an ecstatic, socially conscious 25-piece choir, soul band and a hilarious frontman who puts his life on the line every time out protesting attacks on our liberty. This time out the cause was to preserve mountaintop ecosystems, and the people around them, in the wake of ecologically dangerous stripmining.

The Big Small Beast: Spottiswoode, Barbez, Little Annie and Paul Wallfisch, Bee & Flower and Botanica at the Orensanz Center, 5/21/10 – this was Small Beast taken to its logical extreme. In the weeks before he abandoned this town for Dortmund, Germany, Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch – creator of the Monday night Small Beast dark rock night at the Delancey – assembled the best dark rock night of the year with a mini-set from lyrical rocker Spottiswoode, followed by amazingly intricate gypsy-tinged instrumentals, Little Annie’s hilarious poignancy, and smoldering, intense sets from Bee & Flower and his own band.

The Grneta Duo+ at Bechstein Hall, 5/27/10 – Balkan clarinet titans Vasko Dukovski and Ismail Lumanovski joined with adrenalinista pianist Alexandra Joan for a gripping, fascinating performance of Bartok, Sarasate, Mohammed Fairouz and a clarinet duel that stunned the crowd.

The Brooklyn What at Trash, 5/28/10 – New York’s most charismatically entertaining rock band, whose monthly Saturday show here is a must-see, roared through a characteristically snarling, snidely funny set of mostly new material – followed by Tri-State Conspiracy, the popular, noirish ska band whose first few minutes were amazing. Too bad we had to leave and take a drunk person home at that point.

The New Collisions at Arlene’s, 7/1/10 – Boston’s best rock band unveiled a darker, more powerpop side, segueing into one killer song after another just a couple of months prior to releasing their stupendously good second album, The Optimist.

Martin Bisi, Humanwine and Marissa Nadler at Union Pool, 7/2/10 – darkly psychedelic bandleader Bisi spun a swirling, hypnotic, roaring set, followed by Humanwine’s savagely tuneful attack on post-9/11 paranoia and then Nadler’s pensively captivating solo acoustic atmospherics.

Maynard & the Musties, Me Before You, the Dixons and the Newton Gang at Urban Meadow in Red Hook, 7/10/10 – the one Brooklyn County Fair show we managed to catch this year was outdoors, the sky over the waterfront a venomous black. We lasted through a spirited attempt by the opening band to overcome some technical difficulties, followed by rousing bluegrass from Me Before You, the twangy, period-perfect 1964 Bakersfield songwriting and playing of the Dixons and the ferocious paisley underground Americana rock of the Newton Gang before the rains hit and everybody who stayed had to go indoors to the Jalopy to see Alana Amram & the Rough Gems and others.

The Universal Thump at Barbes, 7/16/10 – amazingly eclectic pianist Greta Gertler and her new chamber pop band, accompanied by a string quartet, played a lushly gorgeous set of unpredictable, richly tuneful art-rock.

Etran Finatawa, los Straitjackets and the Asylum Street Spankers at Lincoln Center, 8/1/10 – bad segues, great show, a perfect way to slowly return to reality from the previous night’s overindulgence. Niger’s premier desert blues band, the world’s most popular second-generation surf rockers and then the incomparably funny, oldtimey Spankers – playing what everybody thought would be their final New York concert – made it a Sunday to remember.

Elvis Costello at the Greene Space, 11/1/10 – as far as NYC shows went, this was the best one we saw, no question – along with maybe 150-200 other people, max. Backed by his most recent band the Sugarcanes, Costello fielded questions from interviewer Leonard Lopate with a gleeful defiance and played a ferociously lyrical, assaultively catchy set of songs from his latest classic album, National Ransom

Zikrayat, Raquy & the Cavemen and Copal at Drom, 11/4/10 – slinky, plaintive Levantine anthems and Mohammed Abdel Wahab classics from Egyptian film music revivalists Zikrayat, amazingly original, potent Turkish-flavored rock and percussion music from Raquy & the Cavemen and then Copal’s trance-inducing string band dancefloor grooves.

December 27, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, country music, folk music, gospel music, gypsy music, latin music, lists, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hipster Demolition Night Still Rules

Thursday night was Hipster Demolition Night at Public Assembly. Last time we caught one of these, it was at Glasslands in the dead of summer, 120 degrees inside the club on a night where four excellent bands met the challenge head on but we didn’t. We left in the middle of a literally scorching set by Muck and the Mires, which pretty much speaks for itself. Since then, Hipster Demolition Night has moved to Public Assembly, whose larger back room is an improvement on every conceivable level. The Demands opened this show. They’re what the White Stripes ought to wish they were. The three-piece band’s frontwoman plays simple, catchy bass riffs that lock tight with the garage-rock drumbeat. Much of the time their guitarist would punch out chords on the beat but there were also a lot of places where he’d go out on a limb and explore, adding an unexpectedly psychedelic element. The operative question was whether he was going to go out too far and fall off – nope. Even with those diversions, they kept it tight, and with the vocals’ sarcastic, playfully confrontational edge, it was a fun set.

Jay Banerjee & the Heartthrobs were next. Between songs, Banerjee chugged from a Cloraseptic bottle and complained about his health. But whatever was in there – hey, cold medicine works fine for L’il Wayne – gave him a noticeable boost. Meanwhile, Vinnie, the drummer was bleeding all over his kit. If that isn’t rock and roll, then Williamsburg is cool. And just when we had them pegged as a band who write songs for guys, they get a woman to play 12-string lead guitar. She’s brilliant. She ended one of the songs with a casually stinging charge down the scale that evoked nothing less than 12-string titan Marty Willson-Piper of the Church. They opened with a blistering version of the deliciously catchy Long Way Home, an amusingly brutal account of a gentrifier girl being brought down to reality: OMG, she might actually have to get a job to pay the rent on her newly renovated $5000-a-month Bushwick loft! With a snort or two, Banerjee and the band did her justice. Maybe desperate to get the show over with, they ripped through the rest of the set: a Byrdsy janglerock song with cynical la-la’s, a guy assuring his girlfriend that he’ll stick around “because I’m too lazy to look for someone else,” a couple with an ecstatic early Beatles feel, another fueled by a catchy, melodic bassline that sounded like the Jam without the distortion and finally an equally ecstatic cover of I Can’t Stand up for Falling Down, reinventing it as a powerpop smash in the same way that Elvis Costello reinvented What’s So Funny About Peace Love & Understanding. If Banerjee was really feeling as miserable as he insisted he was, no one would have known if he hadn’t mentioned it.

Garage rockers Whooping Crane were scheduled to headline afterward, but there were places to go (the train) and things to do (kill self-absorbed, nerdy boys in skinny jeans standing in the middle of the sidewalk and texting – just kidding). Hipster Demolition Night returns to Public Assembly next month, watch this space.

December 12, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jay Banerjee’s New Album Slashes and Clangs

Cynical janglerock heaven. Jay Banerjee may be best known at the moment as the creator of Hipster Demolition Night, arguably New York’s best monthly rock event, but he’s also a great tunesmith. On his new album “Ban-er-jee,” Just Like It’s Spelled, he plays all the instruments, Elliott Smith style (aside from a couple of a couple of harmonica and keyboard cameos, anyway). Drawing deeply on the Byrds, the Beatles, the first British invasion and 60s soul music, Banerjee offers a slightly more pop, more straightfoward take on what Elvis Costello has done so well for so long, crafting a series of three-minute gems with a biting lyrical edge. The obvious influence, both guitar- and song-wise, is the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn – like McGuinn, Banerjee plays a Rickenbacker. The tunes here are brisk, with an impatient, scurrying pulse like the Dave Clark Five, with layers of guitar that ring, jangle and chime, throwing off fluorescent washes of magically glimmering overtones as only a Rickenbacker can do.

Lyrically, Banerjee goes for the jugular, sometimes with tongue in cheek but generally not. These are songs for guys. Banerjee’s characters, if they are in fact characters, have no stomach for drama, no patience for indecisive girls holding out for men they’ll never be able to measure up to. And these women don’t get off easy. The funniest and most spot-on cut here is Long Way Home: what the Stooges’ Rich Bitch was to Detroit, 1976, this one is to Brooklyn, 2010, a brutal dismissal of a “dress up doll with a goofy drawl” who finds that she’s no match for New York heartlessness. By contrast, Just Another Day (not the McCartney hit, in case you’re wondering) is equally vicious but far more subtle. Banerjee lets the gentrifier girl’s aimless daily routine slowly unwind: finally awake by noon, “She tells herself if life’s a game, it isn’t hard to play/’Cause all you lose is just another day.”

A handful of the other tracks have obviously pseudonymous womens’ names. Dear Donna, the opening cut, sarcastically rejoices in pissing off the girl’s mother – via suicide note. Kate is rewarded for having “too many feelings” with a memorable Byrds/Beatles amalgam. Lindsay won’t be swayed by any overtures, and her shallow friends may be partially at fault: “They said you pray that I just find someone desperate/Lindsay, all that they say, already I could have guessed it.” Another cut manages to weld the artsy jangle of the Church to a Chuck Berry boogie, with surprisingly effective results. There’s also the early 60s, Roy Orbison-inflected noir pop of Leave Me Alone; See Her Face, the Byrdsiest moment here; and the clanging 60s soul/rock of No Way Girl. Fans of both classic pop and edgy, wounded rock songwriters like Stiv Bators have plenty to sink their teeth into here.

With his band the Heartthrobs, Banerjee rocks a lot harder than he does here: your next chance to see them is the next Hipster Demolition Night at Public Assembly on December 9, starting at 8 with the garage rocking Demands, then Banerjee at 9 followed at 10 by psychedelic rockers Whooping Crane and then oldschool soul stylists the Solid Set. Cover is seven bucks which comes out to less than $2 per act: did we just say that this might be New York’s best monthly rock night, or what?

By the way, for anyone lucky enough to own a turntable, the album’s also available on vinyl.

December 1, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lucid Culture Interview: Patti Rothberg

Irrepressible, cleverly lyrical tunesmith Patti Rothberg has toured worldwide with Midnight Oil, the Wallflowers and Chris Isaak. She’s responsible for the albums Between the 1 and the 9, Candelabra Cadabra and Double Standards. She can play guitar behind her back if you ask her. And if you see a Patti Rothberg sticker at the Beacon Theatre, row P, seat 9, she’s the one who put it there, to commemorate her first show at the venue. Now she’s back with a new album, Overnite Sensation. As much as it’s a return to her roots, it also comes as something of a shock. We’ll let her explain:

Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: You were one of the last quality songwriters to catch a ride on the major label gravy train: you had a hit album, Between the 1 and the 9, a Top 30 single, and you toured with a whole bunch of quality acts. I remember the first time I saw you play – you were sharing a bill with Aimee Mann at the Beacon Theatre. When your label EMI America sank without a trace, you went to an indie label, Cropduster, and then another one with your Double Standards album which came out a couple of years ago. Are you completely independent now? To what degree are you open to suggestion if a label should come knocking again?

Patti Rothberg: I am completely open to suggestions. After all, it’s only a suggestion, and these things are by nature negotiable. My friend Lou Christie – lightning’s striking again – puts it this way: the internet was the Pandora’s Box. It leveled the playing field for most artists. It comes down to dollars, but not necessarily who gets the boost and gets noticed. You could be the indiest of nubies or a dues paid old school road dog: someone is paying for manufacture, promotion, distribution. Some people use the words quote unquore Rock Star like a curse word. But that was certainly the model I grew up with, and gave me more to dream about and aspire to than say, a smelly van and Days Inns as far as the eye can see.

LCC: Do you miss those days at all?

PR: I miss it all! Even the Days Inns! The other talented musicians we encountered, the characters you couldn’t invent if you were the best scriptwriter in the world. The experience of playing in front of 70,000 screaming fans and making them do the wave, and them actually going for it! I’ve always wanted every day of my life to be different since I was very little. I wanted to be a bus driver, or astronomer, which is funny since either of those fantasies have a reality that’s quite repetitive…even being a “rock star” on the road is INSANELY repetitive – wake, interview, soundcheck, show, sleep, repeat… but it’s the inbetween that has magic.

LCC: Through all the ups and downs, you’ve maintained a consistent vision, both lyrically and musically. To what degree have you had to resist being twisted into a different shape? To avoid selling out?

PR: Let me tell you how lucky I am! My debut album was produced by my friend, basically a first timer, Dave Greenberg…because we had such a strong rapport – this was UNHEARD OF! I got to illustrate my entire cd artwork, experiment in the coolest studio around – Electric Ladyland – and experience life as a total rock and roll superstar! Because that was my first and only time doing this til then, I just thought it was ALWAYS like this, and, tougher to take…I thought it WOULD always be like that for me [sigh]…if you look at the nine portraits on the album Between the 1 and the 9, they have really foreshadowed my reluctance to be stuck to any KIND of music or physical appearance! I still write songs very much the way I did before I ever dreamed of having a giant record deal. The songs are like fireflies, and the albums capture them in a jar to be understood in context, later.

LCC: Do you ever feel that you were pigeonholed? Maybe as a singer-songwriter, when you’re really more of a rocker?

PR: Yes, at first I HATED being called quote unquote folk rocker or acoustic rocker because the combinations of those words created an image of myself which didn’t match my superego…in other words, here I am playing Rod Stewart, the Pretenders, Led Zeppelin, Jane’s Addiction, the Runaways, Black Sabbath, etcetera, and I felt I was being chalked up as some chick with a guitar. I thought this advent was insulting to the other chicks as well! Now, I don’t mind it so much. One reason is because there are plenty of other so-called folk rockers who I respect and think are beautiful – such as Joni Mitchell or even Lou Reed. Even if the bare bones of your song were written using an acoustic, this shouldn’t necessarily mean you’re a folkie. Some of it is instrumentation, some of it is simply image. How many copies of Dark Side of the Moon sell and continue to sell? The cover is black with the image of a prism. The music is fully orchestrated with lots of sound effects and genres I can’t even name – ok, Money is a blues riff…but it’s about the journey the music takes you on and people across the board can identify with it. By the way, which one’s pink? [laughs].

LCC: I think ultimately that we can attribute the death of the major labels to one crucial mistake, which is the failure to be willing to work with quality artists. Do you agree?

PR: Yes, quantity and the desire for more and more kills quality! When A&R folk became afraid to lose their jobs for choosing the “wrong” bands to stick their necks out for, for fear of having their heads chopped off, lots of amazing bands ended up on the chopping block too. At the end of the day it’s about the numbers…the mind numbing numbers. A&R used to stand for “Artist and Repetoire”..when talented artists were given the space to develop into geniuses and not this year’s models! It was a privilege to have a record deal, not just anyone could get one! Later I think A&R started to stand for “already” and “repeating,” Music Biz fat cat chomping on cigar: “Say, I hear Electra’s got Lady DaDa and she’s movin’ units! Go find us OUR DaDa!!!”

LCC: You have a unique vocal style: you sound like the cat who ate the canary, there’s something up your sleeve, but at the same time it doesn’t sound fake or contrived. How did you arrive at that style or did it just happen?

PR: I think sometimes mid vocal take I am amused at my own lyrics which makes for a smile in my voice [grins]. It’s nice to agree with or relate to oneself, even if it’s about something embarrasing, and that makes it inviting for others to sing along [smile].

LCC: You love puns and double entendres. I can’t help but think of Elvis Costello when I hear you sometimes, he has the same kind of classic pop sensibility matched to a lyrical wit. Did he influence you at all?

PR: Woah, that’s the magic! Go back to where I said “this year’s model” in this very interview! Yes, I adore Elvis Costello…when he says on Blood and Chocolate, “I hope you’re happy now,” he takes an idiomatic expression and makes it a delicious chocolate layer cake of double meaning. I love that he writes in all different tempos and sentiments, making him in my eyes a true artist with a full pallette! The song “I Want You” is one of the most exquisite demonstrations of obsessively wanting someone, through music and arrangement AND lyrics that I have ever heard!

LCC: Every time I see a good, lyrical live band, I’m impressed how many people I see in the crowd: there’s definitely an audience for accessible music that’s not stupid, even if the corporate media won’t acknowledge that it exists. How does a smart rocker get the word out these days?

PR: You know, it’s amazing…this buttery ladder we all climb in the music biz. When I was growing up, I looked up to rock bands, some who are guys now in their 60s. They are looking to open for younger, hotter bands who are really just trying to make it themselves…I think the best thing to do WHATEVER level you may be at is to stand still, let the universe scramble by, and seek for something true. All the best stuff in my career I can recall has been serendipitous.

LCC: I understand you have a great new band now. Who’s in it and where’d you find them?

PR: I am back with the bass player I’d played with live and on Double Standards for ten plus years, David Leatherwood. We met on the 1 train around 1997 when my cd 1&9 was still happening – serendipity!? We’ve always had a great vibe and I’m so happy to have him back! On drums is the lovely Mark Greenberg. We have a similar sense of mischief, and I met him singing back up vocals for [former Utopia keyboardist] Moogy Klingman’s band the Peacenicks. David and Mark were in the successful band Apache Stone together already as their rhythm section, and Mark and I had Peacenicks, David and I together are magic, so even the first and only time we rehearsed, it was like it was meant to be! So far we only played one gig, at Don Hill’s and it was beautiful. Electric! More to come!

LCC: On Between the 1 and the 9, you played all the guitars and bass, correct? Are you also doing that on the new one?

PR: Overnite Sensation’s first five tracks were prewritten with drum loops, synths and such on protools. I wrote and sang lyrics and melodies over them. As for the rock tracks – the rest of the album – the drums are played by Adrian Harpham, with the exception of the song “Interest” which was played by Mike Demetrius. Because I am always filled with so many ideas, I just instinctively grabbed the guitar and bass and played everything myself.

LCC: Where does a song start for you? What comes first, the hook, the tune, the lyrics? What’s your process?

PR: Believe it or not, my process often starts with a situation! The impossibly complex universe can sometimes seem like an unfriendly ocean, but then suddenly I’m thrown a life raft in the form of a song title which expresses the exact situation I’d been drowning to describe [smile]. Then it’s easy, I just transcribe that into lyrics which have their own meter…and meter implies melody in my mind. Then I just color inside, or even outside the lines. Other times a melodic hook or riff gets stuck in my head and I need to grab a pen and a napkin [grin].

LCC: Can we talk about the new album? It’s a mix of both the richly lyrical, catchy rock that we know and love…and also some Britney Spears-style dance-pop – is this all brand-new material or stuff that’s been percolating for awhile?

PR: The quote unquote fireflies that I described before became Overnite Sensation over many years! That’s why the the title is funny. Dave and my first record really WAS more of an Overnite Sensation for us…over the ten years I’d been recording with Freddie Katz – ’98 to ’08 – Dave and I made these dance demos and completely intended for them to go to Kylie Minogue, but I came to him with my new collection of rock tracks, which naturally sounded a lot like 1&9 due to our combo…but also Harphamed [referring to Adrian Harpham] back ’cause he was the drummer on both albums. When we were taking inventory of all the stuff we had done, we listened to the dance tracks with my vocals on them..and the concept of Overnite Sensation was born.

LCC: On the dance-pop songs – but not the rock songs – there’s autotune on your voice. With Taylor Swift, for example, that makes some sense, since she can’t hold a note. But you’re a strong singer, you don’t have a pitch problem. Why?

PR: Believe it or not, there is a technique to singing along with autotune! Theoretically if you sing a note flat or sharp and you set the parameters right it FIXES you. But…I can tell you as a blues style singer with lots of dips, wiggles and other stylistic goodies the folks today might call imperfections, you really have to vanillafy your voice…think it straight, focus into the mic to make that autotune work as an effect. I know you won’t believe this, but the theory behind my using autotune is that ears today can only hear autotuned vocals. I actually heard the executive producer of Double Standards say to me years ago, “I can’t even LISTEN to a vocal that hasn’t been pitch corrected.” So my autotune use is like ritalin in a riddled world. How can you reach the masses if you don’t speak their language!?

LCC: You’ve always had an individual voice – you’ve always come across as someone who doesn’t take shit from anyone. How would you respond if I said that all these lovey-dovey dance-pop songs send the message that a girl should put a guy’s needs before hers? Doesn’t that go against everything you’ve ever stood for? Or am I taking things way too seriously here?

PR: I could write a novel on this one. Do you remember the song “Treat Me Like Dirt” from 1&9? It was #1 in Kosovo! That’s a lotta masochists! I wrote it in the spirit of “here I go again falling for the bad boy,” kind of making fun of myself. But it could be argued that it means I would take A LOT of shit for love. I’m not sure which lovey dovey pop songs you are referring to, but lets start with the dance tracks.

LCC: Yeah, them.

PR: Remember when everyone danced in their black trenchcoats and asymetrical haircuts to “Tainted Love”? Have you listened to those lyrics recently!? This is a dysfunctional relationship, a very painful one that we have been boogieing to all these years. “Touch me baby, tainted love.” He might as well be saying “Treat Me Like Dirt.” I also think that it’s okay to sometimes put a guy’s needs before your own. It can be romantic! If you really want to know what I stand for, it’s being able to express every aspect of your being! To admit being hurt and fragile, while also sometimes screaming you want to beat somebody’s balls with your rolling pin.

LCC: One of the new rock tunes reminds me a lot of Ashes to Ashes by Bowie. You covered Moonage Daydream on Candelabra Cadabra. I’d love to hear what you could do with something a little more sinister…All the Madmen, maybe?

PR: Ooh, that’s a good one! I haven’t heard that whole album in a Diamond Dog’s age!

LCC: I’m hearing more of an artsy 70s powerpop style on some of the new stuff: that new piano ballad that sounds a little like ELO; that backbeat glamrock number, is that a deliberate move on your part?

PR: 70s powerpop is a natural direction I go in because I’ve listened to so much of it! I grew up listening to ELO A LOT – and then the Beatles – the fact that you picked up on Interest sounding like John Lennon’s Woman is quite astute. Track number 8 has lots of harmonies which always make things sound ELO-like which is fine with me!

LCC: The new rock stuff is more direct, more stripped-down, compared to the work you did with Freddie Katz which is a lot more ornate, sometimes psychedelic. Let It Slide, for example, very direct yet very allusive at the same time. A lot more like 1 and the 9. A return to your roots?

PR: YES!! Believe it or not, while Double Standards made some deliberate attempts to sound like 1&9 in places, Overnite does it effortlessly because of who done it! You can identify John Bonham’s drumming in one bar…Jerry Garcia’s slinky guitar in a few notes. This is signature, and though it can be developed a lot of times, it is the simple equation of artist plus instrument!

LCC: How about that torchy trip-hop song, you give it a really sultry jazz feel. I’ve never known you to have any interest in jazz, am I missing something?

PR: Would you call The Velvet Underground’s “After Hours” jazz? If so I ADORE jazz. You aren’t missing a thing though, I’m not much of a jazz freak, but I LOVE some of the lighter 60s pop jazz stuff. I can get into anything if I like it, I try not to write off whole genres if I don’t yet know enough about them!

Q: I’ve noticed you’ve been doing a lot of live shows lately around town. Any plans to take the show on the road sometime in the near future?

PR: In between intentions and actions lies a lifetime. In other words, I’ve been performing the Overnite dance tracks as an alter ego character called “Precious Metals!”

LCC: I saw the flyer, you dressed up in this metallic outfit like Madonna. You should do Vegas…

PR: I’d love to do the act in Vegas, but as of now it’s so far from ideal, and my rock trio is KILLER!!! With just a few rehearsals we could play anywhere in the world and be astounding. Ah, but where to find the clubs that pay guarantees?

LCC: Out of town, Patti! People out in Middle America are starving for good music! One last question: You were famously discovered while busking in the subway. When’s the last time you played there? Any plans to go back?

PR: I had a wonderful thing happen! I met a fellow busker, Randy Stern, on the R train a few years ago. We have since become friends, and we learned the Tom Petty/Stevie Nicks duet “Stop Draggin My Heart Around”. One night after hanging out at a Peacenicks show, Randy was going downtown on the subway platform as I was going up. He took out his guitar and we just started playing our duet across the tracks. People were amazed and the whole station applauded when we finished. That is the last time I played in the subway…but it won’t be the last time ever I’m certain!!!

Patti Rothberg plays Caffe Vivaldi on November 26 at 9:30 PM; watch this space for upcoming live dates.

November 16, 2010 Posted by | interview, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 11/8/10

We’re getting better at this. Our weekly Kasey Kasem-inspired luddite DIY version of a podcast is supposed to happen on Tuesdays; last week we didn’t get to it til Friday, so at this rate we’ll be back on schedule by December! Every week, we try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone: sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. We’ve designed this as something you can do on your lunch break if you work at a computer (or if you can listen on your iphone at work: your boss won’t approve of a lot of this stuff). If you don’t like one of these songs, you can always go on to the next one: every link here will take you to each individual song. As always, the #1 song here will appear on our Best Songs of 2010 list at the end of the year.

1. Elvis Costello – One Bell Rings

From his sensational new album National Ransom, this chillingly allusive account of a torture victim draws on the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes as inspiration.

2. LJ Murphy – Fearful Town

One of New York’s greatest chroniclers takes on the gentrification era, live with the superb New Orleans pianist Willie Davis. This one topped the charts here in 2007 so we can’t put it up at #1 again…that would be cheating.

3. The Newton Gang – Westbound

JD Duarte’s soulful Texas baritone delivers this pedal steel-driven country escape anthem: live, they really rock the hell out of it. They’re at the Brooklyn County Fair at the Jalopy on 11/13 at 10.

4. The New Collisions – Dying Alone

This is the video for their offhandedly chilling new powerpop smash from their new album The Optimist. “God knows you hate the quiet, when you’re dying, dying alone.”

5. The Gomorran Social Aid & Pleasure Club – The Great Flood

Noir cabaret by a brass band with a scary girl singer. They’re at the Jalopy on 11/18.

6. Ljova Zhurbin & Clifton Hyde – Theme from The Girl and Her Trust

A new theme for the DW Griffith silent film, live in Brooklyn’s Atlantic Ave. Tunnel.

7. Los Crema Paraiso – Shine on You Crazy Diablo

Venezuelan tinged Floyd cover – for real.

8. Shara Worden with Signal – The Lotus Eaters

The frontwoman of My Brightest Diamond singing one of the highlights of Sarah Kirkland Snider’s new song cycle Penelope.

9. Wayman Tisdale – Let’s Ride

The late NBA star doing some serious funk, featuring George Clinton – this is the cartoon video.

10. Witches in Bikinis – All Hallows Eve

Not the surf punk original but a disco remix, even more over the top and just as funny

November 11, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, blues music, classical music, country music, funk music, lists, Music, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Elvis Costello Lights up the Greene Space

Last night, in his only New York performance this fall, Elvis Costello and his latest band the Sugarcanes treated a sold-out crowd at WNYC’s Greene Space in SoHo to a lush, often riveting mix of new material (the interview with host Leonard Lopate airs tomorrow, November 3). Costello’s politically charged new album National Ransom is just out, a tuneful, erudite, classy state-of-the-world address which would be the highlight of just about any other musician’s career. For Costello, it’s just another album (double vinyl album, to be precise, also available in the usual digital configurations). Looking wiry and wired, the greatest songwriter in the history of the English language bantered bitingly between songs with Lopate, who quickly sized up the situation and smartly backed off, letting his fellow chatshow host take over and entertain the crowd. At one point, Costello leaned over to look at Lopate’s cheat sheet: Lopate feigned umbrage, Costello graciously responding that his own guests always peek at the questions before they’re asked.

Given the new album’s vintage Americana flavor, Lopate remarked that the songs would be suited for a 78 RPM recording (which Costello has actually done recently). Costello replied that he’d be “utilizing all the available formats to the fullest extent possible…I’m trying to make as many records as possible before the whole thing shuts down.” He was quick to belittle the sonic limitations of an mp3: “They sound like hell – can I say ‘shite?””

Lopate reminded him that there was no going back since the cat was now out of the bag. “Direct to the ears is the best,” Costello grinned, playing to the crowd. He belittled his own guitar chops, as usual, but he played well, firing off a deft series of chromatics on his concluding solo out of a tense, potently evocative version of One Bell Rings, a chillingly allusive account of a torture victim inspired by the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes. Lopate focused on the album’s social relevance: when prodded, Costello didn’t claim to have any answers, although he was quick to assert that, referring to the 2008 market crash, “In other times, if you could have a negative value as currency, they would have thought you were a witch!” The theme played to a murderous crescendo on a rousing version of the album’s title cut, accordionist Jeff Taylor imbuing it with a bit of a zydeco flavor as he would many of the other songs.

The rest of the show was equally gripping. They’d opened with a swinging version of a straight-up country song, I Lost You, following with Dr. Watson I Presume, which builds to an understatedly haunting, relentless, deathly countdown. Jimmie Standing in the Rain, a brooding chronicle of a 1930s performer who “picked the wrong time to do cowboy music – not that there’s a right time,” evoked the terse grimness of Richard Thompson’s Al Bowlly’s in Heaven. The upbeat R&B of The Spell That You Cast had the whole band doing a call-and-response with backing vocals; That’s Not the Part of Him You’re Leaving may be the best country song Costello’s ever written, a lushly successful mix of vintage countrypolitan and characteristically acerbic lyricism. They closed with a mysteriously lyrical spy story, All These Strangers. The album comes out today.

November 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Toneballs Bounce Around the Parkside

For those who’re going to miss out on Elvis Costello’s November 1 show at the Greene Space – most likely a whole lot of people – the Toneballs’ show Friday night to a packed house at the Parkside made a suitable substitute. Frontman Dan Sallitt is somewhat younger but shares a similarly cynical worldview and a love for double entendres. Where Costello draws on American soul and the Beatles, Sallitt looks back to Richard Thompson, Big Star and lot of powerpop. This time out the band – Sallitt on acoustic guitar and vocals; Love Camp 7’s Dann Baker on bass; Paul McKenzie on lead guitar and Beefstock mastermind Joe Filosa, king of the rock backbeat, behind the kit – mixed several slow, hypnotic ballads in with the ridiculously catchy, tension-laden, new wave style hits. They opened with Fran Goes to School, a tongue-in-cheek look at a recluse slowly making her way into the world. Mr. Insensitive, unlike what the title implies, is sarcastic, a stunner of a kiss-off song and one of Sallitt’s previous band Blow This Nightclub’s best-remembered moments: “Hoping for a revelation, settling for a change…a figment of my alcoholic brain, til then I remain, Mr. Insensitive.”

A newer one, Chelsea Clinton Knows, brought the savagery to boiling point: she knows people are bad, so all she has to do is make sure daddy turns up the sanctions. And if she has a kid she hopes it’s a boy. They followed that with a slow, noirish, suspenseful 6/8 number with McKenzie on lapsteel. One of Sallitt’s most effective devices is to hint at a resolution and then turn away at the last second, something the chord changes did all the way through another old Blow This Nightclub number, a sardonic one that looks forward to the future “because it will be fun, not like now.” Their obligatory Richard Thompson cover – they debut a new one at every show – was Hand of Kindness, complete with absolutely perfect, rivetingly intense lead guitar breaks from McKenzie. He didn’t turn a newer one, the fiery, chromatic Max Planck’s Day, into as much of a guitar workout as he did last time around, but it still resonated, a sardonic mix of physics and unrequited love. They closed on a more playful note with a Hawaiian-themed co-write between Sallitt and Baker, whose melodic four-string lines had soared and simmered all night long and were just as compelling as McKenzie’s pyrotechnics.

October 26, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment