Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Edgy Songwriters Bare Their Fangs at the Parkside

Songwriters in the round. No, wait, don’t click off the page, it was like that but it wasn’t. From the first few seconds of the night, the three women onstage at the Parkside on Thursday made it clear that this would not be a G-rated evening of terminally pretty voices singing terminally pretty songs. Given a chance to not only sing but also discuss their material at length, Rebecca Turner, Paula Carino and Erica Smith vented about the thankless side of their profession: clueless audiences, backhanded compliments, and the sheer expense of it all. Why do they do it? Because they can’t imagine not doing it – which was encouraging to hear. Carino is a wordsmith who can’t resist a catchy hook. Turner is a specialist, one of the finest, most indelibly original voices in Americana rock; Smith, the star of Beefstock 2010, is the eclectic one: she can write anything. Asked to explain how it feels to be a performer, Carino responded that it was much like police work: “Hours of boredom, moments of sheer terror.” Smith saved her derision for clueless listeners, the kind of morons who say things like “That’s a pretty song – who wrote it?” Turner explained that she’d come to grips with dumb crowds, especially since she’s been playing more covers at a lot of New Jersey gigs lately (she hastened to add that there’s also a considerable audience for quality original music there). Here on their home turf, the four fed off each others’ energy and banter and turned in a fascinating show.

Solo on electric guitar, Carino jangled her way through a bunch of rare gems that she seldom plays live: Readers Digest, which uses bulimia as a metaphor for a host of other ills; the angst-ridden existentialist lament Waiting for You (“Then the river froze and I started skating/Of course I’d rather swim but I’m tired of waiting”), and Sensitive Skin, a metaphorically loaded “public service announcement for people not to get involved with people who are too sensitive.” She explained that she’d changed the gender of the song’s central character to a woman: if the guy with the bathroom full of extra-sensitive formula lotions knows it, he’s undoubtedly grateful she did.

The night’s most exhilarating vocal moment belonged, unsurprisingly, to Turner. As the third verse of her big crowd-pleaser Tough Crowd (a little irony there) kicked in, she took it up as far as she could, which is a long way. She’d explained how each of the verses tackles a different subject: friends, then family, then an audience, deftly linking how absurd it can be to try to communicate with any of them sometimes. As warmly memorable as her melodies are, there’s also usually an undercurrent of unease, most strikingly apparent on Knocks, a chronicle of a trip to Maine circa 2004: “Go on, grey sky, open up,” she sang, as much a dare as resignation to an unwanted fate.

Smith pulled out a lot of new material: she’s never written better. “I lost my job and wanted to write a song about how good freedom is,” she explained defiantly and then launched into a catchy Americana-pop number: “If you’re lucky you’ll never work again in this town.” The last verse of another new one, River King, she explained, came to her in a dream, ostensibly written by Adam Cooper and her lead guitarist, Dann Baker. For whatever reason, that’s where central character, on vacation and miserable, gets dressed up in her lacy things and goes down to the waterfront bar. She clarified that it’s probably the last thing either of those two would ever be likely to write. And another new one, a garage rock number, turned out to be a bittersweet but encouraging tribute to enduring friendships – that’s why acoustic shows can be so interesting sometimes, since the lyrics are audible. Watch this space for future shows by these artists, very possibly as a trio again.

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August 1, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Erica Smith & the 99 Cent Dreams Live at Parkside, NYC 1/25/08

The best show of the year so far. Erica Smith and her backing trio were celebrating the release of their long-overdue new album Snowblind, and rose to the occasion with a majestic, transcendent performance. Smith is one of those panstylistic rock goddesses like Neko Case, steeped in Americana but lately delving deep into jazz. Nonetheless, this is a rock band, and they rocked. Lead guitarist Dann Baker and drummer Dave Campbell are two-thirds of Beatlemaniac psychedelic rockers Love Camp 7, and they were at the absolute top of their game. Baker’s playful, frequently fiery virtuosity is the perfect complement to Smith’s wickedly catchy, jangly songs, and Campbell might well be the best drummer in rock, an Elvin Jones disciple who in all fairness really ought to be leading his own jazz group.

They soared through the opening track on the cd, the Merseybeat hit Easy Now, then lit into a 60s Memphis soul soundalike driven by a bass riff stolen straight from Duck Dunn. Baker took a screaming, noisy solo after the second chorus and really got the crowd going. They followed with the heartbreakingly beautiful The World Is Full of Pretty Girls, a rivetingly sad, swaying, country ballad, and the lush, romantic Brazilian-inflected Tonight, Campbell expertly conducting the band through a slow, hypnotic fade at the end.

Smith’s set of jazz reminded what a vividly instinctive feel she has for the genre, with a high-spirited version of The Very Thought of You, a very slow, haunting take of One for My Baby, a bouncy Ain’t Misbehaving with false ending and an effectively jazzed-up cover of Livia Hoffman’s sad, beautifully literate Valentine. Campbell brought it down to almost complete silence with a tensely minimal solo. He also got the crowd roaring on a careening, bluesy cover of the obscure Judy Henske/Jerry Yester song Snowblind, the title track from the cd. When the band does this live, they generally don’t give Campbell enough time to solo, probably because drum solos – on the rare occasion that any rock bands other than, say, Journey play them anymore – can take a song into Spinal Tap territory in a split second and leave it there for good. This time, Campbell got at least a couple of minutes to span the globe, throw out some summer snapshots of Bahia, a trip into the mountains of Morocco and then before anyone knew it, he was back on the Lower East Side again.

They saved their best for last, with a towering, nine-minute version of their epic parable All the King’s Horses. It’s a slow, 6/8 ballad, music by Smith, Sean Dolan’s lyric transposing all the deadly effects of post-WWII monopoly capitalism onto a medieval battlefield. Audience members were brought to tears. The bass player, clearly caught up in the moment, went off-mic and sang along with Smith as she brought it to a crescendo at the end of the last verse: “Do you have enough hours to bury your dead, or days in which to atone?” Except that he sang “bodies” instead of “hours.” And then missed his cue to join in with the band singing harmonies on the chorus. They encored with 31st Avenue, a haunting, melancholy track from her previous album, rearranged as a backbeat-driven, psychedelic, lushly romantic hit.

January 28, 2008 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Erica Smith & the 99 Cent Dreams – Snowblind

Erica Smith got her start as a bartender at the old Fast Folk Café singing sea chanteys and similar ancient folk material after hours, and her first album reflected that, just stark acoustic guitar and a voice that could draw blood from a stone. Friend or Foe, her next one, was a lushly orchestrated affair, but the material was still mostly covers. This time around, Smith sings mostly her own material, a vastly diverse mix of retro styles. This is her quantum leap, an album which firmly places her in the top echelon of current Americana sirens along with Neko Case, Eleni Mandell, Jenifer Jackson et al. It may be early in the year, but if this doesn’t turn out to be the best album of 2008, something very special will have to come along to unseat it.

Although most of the album is recent material, everything here sounds like it was written no later than 1980. Both of the jangly Merseybeat numbers, Easy Now and Amanda Carolyn have an authentically mid-60s feel, as does the slinky samba-pop number Tonight. The tantalizingly brief Firefly bounces along on an impossibly catchy Carnaby Street melody. Feel You Go is a vehicle for Smith’s dazzlingly powerful soul vocals, snaking along on a Booker T riff. The best song on the album, the gorgeously swaying, country-inflected The World Is Full of Pretty Girls could be the great lost track on American Beauty, guest steel player Jon Graboff playing soaring, haunting washes against lead guitarist Dann Baker’s steady jangle. And In Late July, with its pastoral, hypnotic layers of vocals and organ would fit well on an early 70s, pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd album.

The title track is an authentically retro, completely psychedelic cover of the obscure Judy Henske/Jerry Yester blues/metal song, originally recorded in 1969. This version gives Smith a chance to do some goosebump-inducing belting, and lets drummer Dave Campbell – who may just be the finest drummer in all of rock – show off his devious, remarkably musical sensibility with a solo simmering with all kinds of unexpected textures. Guest organist Matt Keating spices the obscure Blow This Nightclub classic Where or When with weird, early 80s synth organ, as the bass player slams out a riff nicked directly from the Cure, circa 1980. And Smith’s lone venture into Nashville gothic here, appropriately titled Nashville, Tennessee evokes Calexico or the Friends of Dean Martinez with its eerie, tremolo guitar and haunting minor-key melody. The final cut on the album, a Beach Boys cover, may not be to everyone’s taste, but that’s beside the point. Recorded in analog on two-inch tape, Smith’s production gives this album the feel of a vinyl record, drums comfortably in the back, vocals and guitars front and center. In a particularly impressive display of generosity, the band will be giving away copies of the album to everyone in attendance at the cd release show this Friday, Jan 25 at 8 PM at the Parkside.

January 23, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Top 20 New York Area Concerts of 2007

We’ve done the top 100 songs of 2007, and the top 20 albums of the year, and now it’s time for what we like best, the live stuff. Since any attempt to rank these shows by sheer exhilaration factor would an exercise in futility, they’re listed chronologically. If the show you saw, or the show you played isn’t here, that doesn’t mean it was bad, that just means that in all likelihood we didn’t see it. There are more live gigs in New York in one evening than we saw all year long, and we were trying hard to go out as much as possible and to see the most diverse range of stuff we could, for the benefit of all you readers. Also keep in mind that a pandora’s box of factors that have nothing to do with a band or artists’s performance come into play here, from the sound system to the general comfort level of the venue to how well a club treats the musicians onstage. As with our other year-end lists, take this with a grain of salt: consider it a sounding of sorts, a general indication of what was happening last year in one small demimonde.

Mary Lee’s Corvette at Rodeo Bar, 1/17/07
Two sets of old rarities and current classics from the greatest rock singer of our generation, and a scorching four-guitar edition of her band.

The Avengers at Bowery Ballrooom, 2/3/07
Classic punk done by the most crucial half of the original band (frontwoman Penelope Houston and guitarist Greg Ingraham), less of a nostalgia show than a clinic in good fun.

Justin Bischof at the organ at St. Thomas Church, 3/11/07
The scheduled organist cancelled at the last minute, so the former St. Thomas assistant organist did improvisations, including a symphony that he made up on the spot. Nothing short of phenomenal.

Big Lazy at Luna, 5/20/07
The cd release show for their latest album Postcards from X saw the band thrashing through the instrumentals on their most diverse album to date with predictably fiery, macabre results.

Melomane at Hank’s, 6/7/07
The art-rock band at their majestic, epic best, sounding crystal-clear through the excellent PA at this Brooklyn country music bar

LJ Murphy at the Knitting Factory, 6/12/07
The rock world’s reigning lyrical genius played a typically passionate, fiery show backed by a great Rickenbacker guitarist and rhythm section.

System Noise at Broadway and West 3rd St., 6/21/07
The high point of the first-ever Make Music New York citywide outdoor music festival – that we were able to see before the rain started – was these scorching female-fronted art/noise/punk rockers.

The Mingus Big Band and Orchestra at Damrosch Park, 8/26/07
The grand finale of the year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival was the single best show we saw all year, no contest. A dark, stormy, virtuosic and breathtaking performance by a crowd of great players who realize that Mingus might be the greatest American composer ever.

Amanda Thorpe, Randi Russo and Ninth House at Hank’s, 8/26/07
The haunting Britfolk chanteuse followed by the equally haunting, chromatically inclined indie rock siren, and then the Nashville gothic rockers who at that point had just discovered improvisation, and were having a great time with it.

Chicha Libre at Barbes, 9/29/07
A wild, danceable, completely psychedelic performance of brilliant obscurities from the Peruvian Amazon circa 1972, as well as some originals that sounded completely authentic

Moisturizer at Black Betty, 10/10/07
Two sweaty, bacchanalian sets by the funnest instrumental band on the planet.

Mark Steiner at Otto’s, 10/16/07
He may have played his one New York show of the entire year with a pickup band, but the chemistry of the group was adrenalizingly contagious to the point where the club’s dodgy sound became a moot point.

Golem and Rasputina at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on Halloween
Deliriously danceable, oldtime orthodox Jewish dance music followed by a riveting show by the ever-darker, apocalyptically-minded chamber-rock trio.

Dina Dean at Rockwood Music Hall, 11/8/07
She’s always been an A-list tunesmith, but having a band behind her to passionately deliver her beautifully soulful songs is one of the best developments we’ve seen lately.

The Greenwich Village Orchestra Plays Rimsky-Korsakov, Bruch, Lam and Richard Strauss at Washington Irving HS Auditorium, 11/18/07
A sweeping, majestic, virtuosic show by a world-class orchestra bringing out all the earthy danceability of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Easter Overture, the longing and anguish of Bruch’s Kol Nidre, and the fascinating timbres of a world premiere by Angel Lam. And then they pulled out all the stops for Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration. And made it indelibly their own.

Paula Carino, Tom Warnick & World’s Fair and Erica Smith & the 99 Cent Dreams at the Parkside, 11/28/07
The brilliantly lyrical-minded, very funny Carino, the even funnier and inspiring Warnick and the ever-more-captivating, jazz-minded Smith played what was probably the best triple bill anywhere in New York last year.

The Inbreeds at Banjo Jim’s, 12/9/07
In a hilarious, somewhat stagy show that really ought to be brought to Broadway, the world’s funniest country parody band made fun of every conceivable style of country music.

John Scott Plays The Birth of Our Lord by Messiaen at St. Thomas Church, 12/20/07
Attuned to every emotion in this complex, absolutely haunting suite, Scott brought each and every one of them to life with verve and passion.

James Apollo at Banjo Jim’s, 12/20/07
The southwestern gothic songwriter impressed with a dusty, hypnotic set of one good song after another, not a single clunker. That doesn’t happen often.

Rachelle Garniez at Joe’s Pub, 12/22/07
The cd release for her new one, Melusine Years was a dark, terse yet devastatingly funny and entertaining affair. Just like the album

January 14, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, jazz, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment