Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Ninth House at Otto’s, NYC 1/9/10

By a quarter to eleven, the world’s most inept rockabilly band is finishing up. The bass player can’t figure out the chords to Mystery Train. But they have an excuse: they’re in high school.

Ninth House take the stage minus their keyboardist, but with the reliably intense Susan Mitchell on viola. Rightaway she finds her spot and holds it down, playing eerie washes of sound, doubling the vocal line, foreshadowing it or establishing a harmony since guitarist Keith Otten – the best six-string player this band’s ever had-  is wailing with a casually savage Jimmy Page-gone-terse vibe. They open with a new one, Fifteen Miles to Hell’s Gate, galloping along a la vintage Social Distortion. “Fifteen miles to Hell’s Gate, from New York City, the one that drags me into a hole,” roars bassist/singer Mark Sinnis in his sinister baritone.

They usually open with Long Stray Whim and its blast of guitar fury, but this time they play it second. Mitchell brings an eerie bluesiness to her solo and Otten follows her, even eerier. They should be at odds with the defiant, major-key triumph of the melody but they’re not.

Another new one, Funeral for Your Mind is a brutal anthem. Drummer Francis Xavier rides the toms to drive the chorus home, hard. When the time comes, another paint-peeling Otten guitar solo over Mitchell’s stark ambience.

Injury Home is a noir cabaret blues, and Mitchell takes the lead, giving it an oldtimey feel; they follow that with the catchy, poppy, swaying, mid-80s Cure-ish Down Beneath.

“That song is about dying. This song is about dying too,” Sinnis tells the packed house. And then launches into a fast country shuffle. “Death is your friend, in harmony.” The crowd loves it. They want more and they get it.

“Here’s another song about dying.”  This is a brand new one, “A world premiere,” as Sinnis cynically puts it. More pounding post-Social Distortion punkabilly. The guy wants to be buried “in a suit of black, with a bottle of whiskey at my feet.” That doesn’t exactly come as a shock.

They close with a pummeling punked-out cover of Ghost Riders, flying along until Sinnis ends it cold. The rockabilly kids have stayed; some have their phones out, taking pictures, making videos. They’ve just seen one of New York’s best bands for the last ten years at the top of their macabre game, most likely for the first time. They probably will again.

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January 13, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Twilight Time

Fall is the most beautiful season. Spring slips away and before we notice, it’s gone. In this age of global warming, we take cover and burn while Brian Wilson’s dream – the endless summer – scorches the earth and fevers our minds to the point of delirium. We long for a respite, some karmic reward for the endless months of toil, sweat and forebearance while what’s left of the sky above us sizzles and disappears. And just when it seems that there will be no vacation and the summer is really going to last forever, we get a break. In the twilight of our lives, the twilight of life on earth as we know it, comes a respite. We can breathe again, and walk under the stars. We have been handed a reprieve.

And with this reprieve comes a renewed sense of hope, a hope against all hope that perhaps all hope is not lost after all. Autumn is for romantics – and Romantics. Count us in the latter category. All that is most precious takes on an even greater significance when you realize that it’s not going to last forever. Perhaps that’s why we evolved, or mutated, as we did: if we knew that there would be tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, then perhaps we’d have no reason to savor what we have, preserve what we were lucky enough to be born into, temporary as it may be. Armageddon would be meaningless if every day was Groundhog Day, always coming around again no matter how badly we fucked up.

Last night at Hank’s, in the disarming, dusky cool, Ninth House played an elegy for the human spirit. It was a swinging, relaxed requiem, part bitter and resigned yet possessed of a great power and generosity of spirit. As dark as this band’s vision is, they still find a way to have fun. What Ninth House does is completely anathema to the trendoid esthetic. Their songs are towering, majestic, passionate, in touch with everything that makes life worth living, driven by righteous anger, raging against the dying of the light. So many of their songs deal with death, but they’re not going out without a fight. Last night they fought and, for now, they won. They’ve been through several different incarnations, particularly recently – but this band has never sounded better. And they didn’t even have their most powerful weapon – brilliant violinist Susan Mitchell – with them tonight.

They opened auspiciously with Long Stray Whim, from their most recent album. It’s an uncharacteristically upbeat song, played in a major key, a pummeling anthem about escaping crushing, workday drudgery, going off to somewhere where hope exists. It could be the theme song for any kid stuck in a prison called public school, or anyone putting in meaningless hours for a minimal reward for people who couldn’t care less about anyone other than themselves. Later they played Mistaken for Love, a swaying, ferociously accusatory country song about the dissolution of a marriage, and extended it by several bars while their new guitarist took a long, fiery solo. He took an even longer, more searing one at the end of the slow, ominous Jealousy, building to the point where the song’s relentless tension built to where it could no longer be contained and exploded in a ball of flame. Drummer Francis Xavier played the best show he may have ever done with this band, swinging the beat like crazy. Ever since the band brought in the new keyboardist, guitarist and violinist, he’s taken it to the next level. No matter what happens to this band – knowing them, they’ll probably be around for another ten years – this guy will always have a gig. Too few rock drummers have his timing or his ability to flat-out groove.

The band gamely tackled the old Sisters of Mercy goth hit Nine While Nine, even though it didn’t seem that they’d had the chance to rehearse it much, and managed to pull it off, even if the song missed its poignant central hook. Their swinging version of the Nashville gothic song Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me replicated all the knowing, confrontational majesty of the version on their album Swim in the Silence. And their roaring, closing cover of Ghost Riders in the Sky got some unlikely dancers swaying and whirling in front of the stage. The audience refused to let them leave the stage, even though they’d run out of material that everyone in the band knew how to play, so frontman Mark Sinnis put down his gorgeous, black hollowbody Gretsch bass, picked up the guitarist’s Strat and played a beautifully plaintive, country-inflected new song called That’s Why I Won’t Love You. The bar – a usually raucous late-night rock n roll hangout – went completely silent. Nights like this are why people stay in New York even as rents rise, beloved city institutions are shuttered and torn down and the summers become ever more unbearable. We may not have many more nights like this, or autumns like this, to look forward to, certainly not in what remains of this city, physically and esthetically. Let’s enjoy them while we’re still here.

October 13, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment