Lucid Culture


Concert Review: Daniel Bernstein at Sidewalk, NYC 7/9/09

Even by Daniel Bernstein’s standards, this show was particularly transcendent. Like Luminescent Orchestrii, just reviewed here, Bernstein gets raves from his fellow musicians. No matter how he ends up putting his songs out there – as punk/metal in the great early zeros band the Larval Organs, as austere chamber pop in Hearth, in the ferocious, coyly named Whisper Doll or simply solo acoustic as he delivered them last night, they always pack a wallop. Railing more than he was singing, alternating between unleashed rage and kvetchy discomfort and backed by soaring harmonies from Erin Regan – an equally good songwriter in her own right – he nonchalantly burned through a nine-song set of bleak, brilliantly lyrical and very catchy existentialist angsthems. This may have been an acoustic show, but the sound was loud, the sound guy very impressively pulling a good mix together, Regan’s pitch-perfect wail in stark contrast with Bernstein’s haphazard snarl.

Death pervades his lyrics. Decaying carcasses, dying light and dashed dreams are so abundant as to be inescapable. As is a sense of being completely and overwhelmingly alone. To say that Bernstein channels Beckett in places would not be an overstatement: his lyrics are plainspoken yet profound and symbolically loaded. And as with Beckett, there’s plenty of stream-of-consciousness gallows humor to make things a bit more tolerable, if only momentarily before the plunge back into the abyss. The best of this stuff ranks with Ian Curtis, Roger Waters, Leonard Cohen and any other legendary dark songwriter you can think of. Bernstein’s catalog of songs is considerably deep, this show mixing new material along with a couple of genuine classics from his Larval Organs days. He opened with a characteristically anthemic number chronicling miscommunication, burned bridges and “summers spent in ashy crash.” The dark, forsaken Wizard Gardenia, an upbeat Larval Organs song was inspired, he said, by a brand of aerosol disinfectant: “Her skin is young like a dead man’s tongue…if I never wake up for a thousand years would you still be blowing those Pyrex tears?”

The forsaken vibe continued with another more recent tune, skeletal fingerpicking on the verse giving way to an upbeat chorus: “God thinks it’s treason if you ask why…a quarter ounce of truth is the only truth we divine…ain’t no way out of here, look how far we’ve come.”

In these songs, love is always fleeting, a momentary yet irresistible distraction that becomes a destructive obsession, vividly illustrated in the Larval Organs song City Parks:

Grey skin like the hue of rotten meat

That is cooking itself in the heat of its desire…

I know that love is not some sort of prize

And I am all alone on this ride

Still I wish that you would hold me in

They saved the best for last, the Larval Organs classic Joyless Now:

There’s gold in the hills

There’s a thousand bottles of pills…

We go on to John Brown’s grave

I’ve got a heartache the size of a great lake

I’m so faraway

I’m on the outside either way

I want to bring myself into a room

Pretend the lighting fixture is the moon…

I’m on the outside and I’m going insane

Let’s speed and drive all night

Into the diffused grey light

With that, he sent everyone off into the as-yet-undiffused, unseasonably cool black comfort of a relatively tourist-free Thursday midnight in the East Village. Watch this space for upcoming shows: if lyrical rock is your thing, you need to get to know this guy’s songs.

July 10, 2009 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Erin Regan and Randi Russo at Sidewalk, NYC 11/17/07

As if we need more proof of how New York has gone to hell, a girl playing onstage early here tonight did a pro-gentrification song. It used to go without saying that at least you could count on the music community here to stand up against the destruction of working-class and minority neighborhoods. Not anymore. Maybe the girl likes having a Starbucks on every corner, or she can’t wait to push that Humvee stroller straight down the middle of the sidewalk, scattering less fortunate people left and right. Or maybe her song was a thank-you card to mom for buying her that $3 million condo in Park Slope.

As inauspiciously as the night began, Erin Regan turned everything around in a matter of seconds. If you saw Ghost World and instantly wanted the Thora Burch character for your best friend, Regan is for you. She doesn’t do the movie’s almost over-the-top personification of clinical depression – she actually smiled and joked a little with the audience. But her songs would do Enid proud. Regan’s vocal delivery is deadpan and sullen, with an icy dismissiveness. Whatever wounds she’s sustained still seem fresh (probably a simple case of having grown up as a cool kid surrounded by morons – it’s a common injury, but it can take years before it’s safe to look back and just laugh). Her stage persona may say stay the hell away from me, but her bleak, outsider chronicles are welcoming and inclusive, and will resonate hard with any other cool kids who’ve been liberated (or long to be liberated) from a stifling environment. She made a great segue with Randi Russo. Her best number was a snide, bitter look back at a wasted youth spent bumming cigarettes from older kids and stealing things: if only things were simple then, she mused sarcastically. But they’re not. It might have been just Regan and her acoustic guitar onstage tonight, but she packed a wallop. Add her to your must-see list.

Russo and her band are too loud and too popular for a room this size. Credit Somer the soundwoman for keeping their sonic onslaught at a listenable level. Since returning from her solo European tour this past summer, she’s been working the band out a lot more than she was earlier this year and they’ve benefited from it, two blazing electric guitars (Russo being one of them) and a pummeling rhythm section who have really pulled it together. Nobody writes a more potent outsider anthem than Russo, and tonight she and her supporting cast played a bunch of them. After opening with the stomping, Velvets-esque One Track Mind (“Stay true to the one,” she admonished the audience: don’t sell out, don’t let the bastards wear you down), she led the band through the pretty, backbeat-driven escape ballad Get Me Over, the fiery, slightly funky workday alienation number Battle on the Periphery, the towering, sarcastic epic Wonderland (which has become something of a signature song for her) and the stomping That Corpse, which sounds completely macabre until you listen closely and then it’s obvious that it’s a joke, like something the Cramps would do. The high point of the set was new one, a 3-section partita that begins with a relentless, driving drum and bassline, eventually morphing into a blistering, guitar-fueled outro where the bass eventually picks up on a recurrent Middle Eastern riff. “Keep your head high while you lie low,” Russo intoned over the maelstrom. They closed with the uncharacteristically sunny, optimistic, ambient Ceiling Fire, with lead guitarist Lenny Molotov playing gorgeous, Byrds-like jangle melody on the choruses. The sound woman then took over the stage, playing solo through a big amp. From what we could tell, she had good energy, but the place was clearing out and we had places to go and things to do.

November 19, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Concert Review: Erin Regan and Mark Sinnis at Spike Hill, Brooklyn NY 8/24/08

Playing solo acoustic, Erin Regan turned in a riveting set of stark, bleak, clear-eyed, tersely imagistic tales of life on the fringes. Suicide, divorce, poverty, alienation and despair figure heavily in her songs, delivered with a calm assurance over fluidly fingerpicked guitar. But she’s less Tom Waits than Barbara Ehrenreich, vividly evoking the desolate stripmall hell that lies beyond the yuppies in the exurbs, that the media pretends doesn’t exist. Her characters drive around aimlessly, contemplate petty crime, casually disrespect each other and seem mostly to have given up completely. But just when it seemed that this was her defining style, she flipped the script with a jaunty ragtime song that wouldn’t be out of place in the Moonlighters catalog, sung with a remarkably jazzy panache. Keep your eye on her: if word of her spreads among the kids she chronicles, she will be very popular. She’s playing Sidewalk on Sept 4 at 11.


Mark Sinnis’ long-running band Ninth House has been through several incarnations and is currently going through yet another: an educated guess has them mixing the artsy, Psychedelic Furs-ish, 80s vein they were mining about eight years ago with the guitar-stoked Nashville gothic material they’ve been playing lately. Playing solo, he’s invented his own genre: gothic country lounge. Casually fingerpicking his acoustic guitar and backed by Brunch of the Living Dead’s Sara Landeau playing eerie, reverberating, minimalist Twin Peaks lead guitar, Sinnis held the audience captive with a mix of new material and often drastically reworked versions of Ninth House songs. For a guy, he’s a terrific song stylist (why are women so much better singers than the men these days? Blame it on Nirvana?), especially when he doesn’t have to roar over a loud band. If he liked jazz, he’d be good at it. Among the highlights of the set: the opener, a haunting, Tom Waits-inflected minor-key blues perhaps titled There’s No Heaven, another darkly existential ballad on the same theme that appeared later on and a slowly unwinding version of the Ninth House country-goth ballad Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me. If Nick Cave is too pricy for you, Sinnis makes a good substitute.

August 25, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment