Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Serena Jost, Brookland and Evan Schlansky at Pete’s Candy Store, Brooklyn NY 5/31/07

Serena Jost is a multi-instrumentalist whose main axe is the cello, and who spent awhile in the haunting, (formerly) all-female cello trio Rasputina. Accompanied by brilliant keyboardist Greta Gertler (who mostly played bells and a strange electronic contraption that looked like an autoharp but sounded like the full orchestra patch on a Fairlight synth) and drummer Alice Bierhorst, she played mostly acoustic guitar and impressed with the fluidity of her playing. As one of the editors here is quick to insist, if you know one stringed instrument well enough you can always pick up the others. Outside the little music room here, the crowd was loud and so was the music playing over the PA at the bar, which was a little disconcerting considering that this was a quiet, mostly acoustic show. But Jost won over the crowd with her impressive vocal range, the literate wit of her lyrics and brilliantly composed art-pop songs.

It is impossible not to like Brookland. Matt Singer is the guitarist, banjo player and low harmony singer who holds the unit to the rails. He makes the perfect foil for ebullient, radiant frontwoman Robin Aigner. Tonight she played mostly ukelele, singing lead on most of the songs. Their old-timey stuff – a mix of covers and originals – is contagiously fun and hard to resist singing along to. To their credit, two of their covers came from the most unlikely sources imaginable. Their Strokes cover revealed the awkward junior-high poetry of the original, but also redeemed the melody by giving it a catchy bounce. They then did a song by terminally constipated songwriter-du-jour Elvis Perkins (Tony’s kid), transforming it into a gypsyish number. Brookland have a thing for gypsy music, tackling two gypsy tunes and playing them perfectly. In many ways, they’re the quintessential Pete’s Candy Store act, with their harmonies, good cheer and acoustic instrumentation. Yet there is a complete absence of artifice, pretension or the sarcasm that the trendoids mistake for irony. They’re just plain fun.

Evan Schlansky was a good choice to headline, even if this time around he happened to be a last-minute replacement since Whisky Rebellion frontman Alex Battles had fallen victim to a booking mistake by the club. Schlansky comes across as someone who wouldn’t be likely to wake and bake unless there was a 9 AM meeting at his dayjob. He may be phoning it in with the suit-and-tie crowd, but he’s firing on all cylinders when it comes to life. A lot of his songs deal with bullshit: Schlansky has obviously seen a lot of it, doesn’t like it and calls it even when it might be his own. There’s no bullshit in his vocals either: along with his impressively dexterous, bluesy playing, he displayed a casual, twangy voice, without any phony accent or grungy slurring. He took requests from the crowd that was still in the house when he hit the stage with his sidekick, an impressively fluid lefty acoustic lead guitarist. Two of the highlights of his tantalizingly brief set were upbeat, major key, Dylanesque tunes: the ridiculously catchy Crocodile Tears, and the equally memorable I Took Your Plane Down, a metaphor-driven song that took on an unexpected and completely unintentional new meaning after 9/11 He ended the set with a song ostensibly about pot: “Maybe we should medicate them all,” he mused. But as with his other material, the song also raised the question of what life would be like without “medication.” Or, if, with “medication,” there is life at all. The terse simplicity of Schlansky’s melodies sometimes mask his songs’ lyrical depth, and this was a prime example. Audience members came and went as the night went on, but there was a considerable payoff for those with the time or the energy to sit through all three acts.

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June 4, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Flugente

A quietly brilliant debut solo album from Jerry Adler, frontman of highly regarded indie rockers the Blam. Just him, his acoustic guitar and casually unpretentious voice. Adler describes his music as “expatriate songs.” This is a probably mostly autobiographical concept album, written over the course of a European trip from the point of view of someone who’s reached the end of his rope and needs to get away for awhile so he can pull his shit together. The trip comes across as totally ghetto, all house-sitting, roughing it and fretting about money, and it’s obvious that he didn’t have a very good time. But the return to New York looms even more dreadful.

“It’s ok, it’s ok” whispers Adler at the end of the initial song, Animals, after he’s worked himself into a frenzy, clearly fed up with the same old rut. Memo to self: chill out before you hurt yourself or someone else. The next cut finds him in Spain on his 38th birthday, all by himself and slowly losing it:

Yeah I’m lying in the bed of a famous artist
But the artist isn’t me
We’re just apartment-sitting
And I can do that successfully

The following track is a flashback to night in New York. The wee hours. The narrator jolted from his sleep by the earsplitting screech of a garbage truck’s reverse-gear alarm. Homicide is an option, contemplated but eventually abandoned. He ends up waking up late in a room with walls stained by “blood from other evenings.”

Jump cut to Europe again on track four, Reflections in France on the Subject of Sleeping in the Rain. One of the creepiest vocals ever recorded, Adler’s gleeful grin only underscoring the barely restrained rage of a man who’s reached his limit and might just do the unspeakable: “I guess this is not my day of reckoning,” he intones.

Eventually the trip takes an encouraging turn, on Reflections in Italy on the Subject of Speaking Again. Then another rainstorm (lots of rain on this album, almost Dostoyevskyan), with Standing Pissing on the Pebbles. But the rage has congealed, the inspiration concretized, and he’s reinvigorated, not ready to give in. This comes to a spectacular crescendo on the next track, It’s a Modern World. “Death to all hipsters!” rails Adler in this furious broadside against the corruption of Bushite apocalypse-mongers and the effeteness of the privileged classes. It’s mostly a rap, the guitar kicking in only when the song’s almost,over, and it’s a genuine classic. “The world needs people singing these songs and at least I can say I’m singing one,” he concludes. Live in concert, watching the audience at a Flugente show during this song is an experience to die for: slack jaws drop even lower, glazed eyes begin to focus from behind carefully coiffed mops of greasy hair and the occasional muttered curse word can even be heard.

After that, in From a Hilltop Cabin, he ends up in Switzerland looking down on the “belly of the beast” and not looking forward to going home. While his father came to this bastion of Nazi collaboration to kill, Adler realizes that he’s here for a completely opposite reason. Hope has returned, even in the presence of six million ghosts.

On the cd’s concluding cut, I’m Thinking about Going Home, Adler returns from the trip liberated, not particularly happy to be back but ready to embrace all that makes this city beautiful, in its uniquely twisted way. The secret? What he probably was doing before slipping into the chasm: getting off the couch, away from the tv and going out. Seeing people instead of just talking to them on the phone. Living as intensely as we can do only here. All this may seem obvious, but to so many of us, scattered across the five boroughs, working way too many hours, getting too little sleep and maybe polluting ourselves with things almost as toxic as what we have to deal with on the job, it’s a welcome reminder.

This album speaks with a universality to anyone who has lived here and loved this town. Adler is New York to the core: tough, urbane, full of self-effacing black humor. He’s a master of understatement and ellipsis: violence is always alluded to, never oncamera, but never far away. Things are defined by antithesis, shadows, what they’re not supposed to be. Melodically, Dylan and Leonard Cohen are obvious reference points, but through a glass, darkly. Or imagine Evan Schlansky in a particularly black mood. But ultimately Adler AKA Flugente is his own man. This is a killer 3 AM album, the musical equivalent of The Sun Also Rises for a new generation – hell, for ageneration that’s alive. Get this if you have any affection for or fond memories of this dear, rapidlydying city.

Flugente is terrific live;  CDs are available at shows. Flugente plays Pete’s Candy Store on Fri Apr 20 at 10 PM.

April 19, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments