Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: The Sloe Guns and the Toneballs at Freddy’s, Brooklyn NY 8/2/08

Long-running New York Americana rockers the Sloe Guns were too loud for the room: they’re used to big stages, and this time they weren’t on one. On one hand, hearing the clang of frontman Eric Alter’s beautiful Gretsch hollowbody (and then his Telecaster) against the roar of lead player Mick Izzo’s Gibson (and then his Tele) was texture heaven. But in a small downstairs room like Freddy’s, it’s hard to sing over that kind of sonic assault, and with the vocal mic turned up into the red, the crowd got out their earplugs. Echoes of CBGB circa 1977. Textures are one of the Sloe Guns’ trademarks, along with guitar duels (none of those tonight) and first-rate songwriting. The band is responsible for a couple of genuine classics, and they played both of them. Dillon, a slowly burning, backbeat-driven outlaw ballad from their first album was one of them, and they upped the ante even further with Guardian Angel, an excoriating kiss-off anthem from their Last Will & Testament album. Hearing just one of those songs made the whole evening worthwhile; hearing both was a real treat.

 

Best known as an arthouse filmmaker, former Blow This Nightclub frontman Dan Sallitt is also a first-rate songwriter. Over the course of a relatively long (for him, anyway), fifty-minute set, he and his new band the Toneballs proved the former LA post-new wave rocker as vital as ever. Like Elvis Costello or Ward White, Sallitt is something of a psychopathologist, minutely dissecting the pathology of relationships gone horribly wrong. Tonight’s show featured some impressive new, post BTN material, including a slow, pensive, somewhat Neil Young-ish number in 6/8 that they played early in the set, a long look at a woman who can’t seem to pull herself together. They followed with the characteristically caustic, sarcastic BTN song Mr. Insensitive. Sallitt then announced that the band had decided to play a new Richard Thompson cover every time out. “I thought this was our only gig,” bassist Dann Baker (who fronts amazing psychedelic rockers Love Camp 7 and plays lead in Erica Smith’s band) said puckishly.

 

Sallitt didn’t respond directly. “I promise not to sing in a British accent,” he told the crowd, and promptly steered the unit into very treacherous waters. Covering a pantheonic artist like Thompson is always a risk, especially such an iconic choice as Shoot Out the Lights, but the band actually rose to the occasion and delivered, testament to the quality of the players: drummer Bill Gerstel (who’d just finished a set with his regular band, the Sloe Guns) kept it slow and dark, Sallitt stayed within himself as promised and lead guitarist Paul McKenzie – who’d been getting some delicious, watery tonalities with a Leslie effects pedal earlier – not only managed to play a couple of the leads that Thompson plays on the record, but also added his own anguished, chromatic, Thompsonesque, bent-note work. The audience was awestruck. After a somewhat ominous new song featuring the lead player on electric bouzouki, providing a clanging, Rickenbacker-style effect, they encored with the punchy Blow This Nightclub song Fran Goes to School. It’s a tongue-in-cheek tune about a shut-in finally seeing daylight, building from a Talking Heads-ish verse into an impossibly catchy, fluid chorus. The crowd wanted more, but that was all the band had rehearsed. Considering that this was the Toneballs’ debut performance, one can only hope that they’ll do another, and sooner than the six months it’s been since Sallitt last played a live set.

 

August 5, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments