Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The 20 Best Concerts in New York in 2009

Of all our year-end best-of lists (the 100 Best Songs of 2009 and 50 Best Albums of 2009 included), this is our favorite, because it’s the most individual (everybody has a different list) and it’s closest to our raison d’etre, live music in New York. Last year’s was difficult enough to narrow down to twenty; this year’s is criminally short. We could have put up a top 100 concerts list and it would be five times as good. 

This was the year of the Beast – Small Beast at the Delancey, New York’s most exciting weekly rock event. We caught onto this slowly – the concert series ran for about a month before we discovered it – but when we did we were there almost every week. Occasionally someone will ask, since you have a music blog, why don’t you start booking shows? With Small Beast, there’s no need: it’s your weekly chance to discover the edgiest, smartest rock-ish talent from Gotham and across the globe. You’ll see a lot of those shows on this list.

Yet 2009 was a weird year for us – running a New York live music blog and not being in town much of the time made it problematic, to say the least. Week after week, we watched from a distance, enviously as half the city got to see stuff we never did. In August, the Brooklyn What did a killer triple bill with Palmyra Delran’s garage band and amazing latin ska-punk-gypsy rockers Escarioka at Trash Bar, but we weren’t there. The second night of the Gypsy Tabor Festival just a few weeks later looked like a great time, but we missed that one too. As the year winds down and we finally (hopefully!) start to reap the rewards of a whole lot of hard work, it appears, pending some absolutely transcendent show exploding onto the radar, that this is it for our Best Shows of 09 list. Needless to say, we can’t wait for 2010.

Since any attempt to rank these shows in any kind of order would be an exercise in futility, we just listed them as they happened:

The Brooklyn What at Fat Baby, 1/15/09 – since we’d just reviewed a couple of their shows in the fall of 08, we didn’t even review this one, fearing overkill. But on what was the coldest night of the winter up to that point, they packed the club and burned through a characteristically fun, ferocious set, maybe fueled by the knowledge that one of their idols, Ron Asheton, had left us.

Kerry Kennedy at Rose Bar, 1/21/09 – the noir chanteuse was at the absolute top of her game as quietly resilient siren and southwestern gothic bandleader.

Paul Wallfisch and Larkin Grimm at Small Beast at the Delancey, 4/9/09 – the Botanica frontman (who books Small Beast) turned in a typically fiery set, followed by the avant-chanteuse who battled and finally lashed out at a crowd of clueless yuppie puppies who just didn’t get what the show was all about.

Kotorino at Pete’s Candy Store, 4/13/09 – the quietly multistylistic, gypsyish band filled the place on a Monday night and kept the crowd riveted as they all switched instruments, beats and genres over and over.

The New Collisions at Arlene’s, 4/23/09 – Boston’s best new band blazed through an early 80s inflected set of edgy powerpop.

Paul Wallfisch, the Ulrich-Ziegler Duo and McGinty and White at Small Beast at the Delancey, 4/23/09 – after Wallfisch had set the tone for the night, Big Lazy’s Steve Ulrich and Pink Noise’s Itamar Ziegler played hypnotic, macabre guitar soundscapes followed by the ferociously lyrical retro 60s chamber pop of Joe McGinty and Ward White.

The American String Quartet playing Irving Fine and Robert Sirota’s Triptych at Bargemusic, 4/26/09 – a sinister ride through works by one of the leading lights of the 1950s avant garde followed by a haunting, intense performance of contemporary composer Sirota’s 9/11 suite.

Paul Wallfisch, Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble, Spottiswoode and Steve Wynn at Small Beast at the Delancey, 4/30/09 – after Wallfisch got the night started, Beren roared and scorched her way through a pummeling, macabre set. Then Spottiswoode impressed with a subtle set of nocturnes, setting the stage for Wynn, playing together with his friend and ex-lead guitarist Chris Brokaw for the first time in several years, a feast of swirling, otherworldly guitar overtones.

The Friggs and the Chrome Cranks at Santos Party House, 5/8/09 – a triumphant return for the popular 90s garage girl rockers followed by the equally triumphant, reinvigorated, snarling sonic attack of another one of NYC’s best bands of the 90s.

The French Exit at Local 269, 5/13/09 – NYC’s best new dark rockers playing one of their first shows as a four-piece, rich with reverb, tersely incisive piano, haunting vocals and defiant lyricism.

Chicha Libre on the Rocks Off Concert Cruise Boat, 5/15/09 – definitely the best party of the year that we were party to, a swaying excursion through psychedelic, surfy cumbia music, past and present.

Paul Wallfisch, Darren Gaines & the Key Party and Alice Texas at Small Beast at the Delancey, 6/4/09 – Wallfisch kicked it off, Gaines and a stripped-down trio impressed with gutter-poet, Lou Reed/Tom Waits style rock and then Alice Texas turned in a swirling, incandescent, gently assaultive show that reminded how much we miss Tonic, the club where she used to play before it was torn down t0 put up plastic luxury condos.

Paul Wallfisch, Marni Rice and the Snow at Small Beast at the Delancey, 6/22/09 – another Wallfisch night, this one featuring the great LES accordionist/chanteuse/cabaret scholar and then Pierre de Gaillande’s clever, haunting art-r0ck crew.

Ian Hunter at Rockefeller Park, 6/24/09 – the former Mott the Hoople frontman, at age 70, has simply never written, played, or sung better. This show was a real revelation.

Daniel Bernstein at Sidewalk, 7/9/09 – the underground songwriter/lyricist/tunesmith casually burned through one haunting, haunted, ridiculously catchy tune after another.

Randi Russo and the Oxygen Ponies at the Saltmines, 7/10/09 – another haunting show opened with the absolute master of the outsider anthem, who did double duty playing in Paul Megna’s equally dark, intense, lyrical indie band.

The Main Squeeze Accordion Festival: Musette Explosion, Suspenso del Norte, Hector Del Curto’s Eternal Tango Quintet, the Main Squeeze Orchestra, Roberto Cassan and John Munatore, Liony Parra y la Mega Mafia Tipica and Peter Stan at Pier One, 7/11/09 – squeezebox heaven.

Amir ElSaffar’s Two Rivers Ensemble and the Dave Brubeck Quartet at Damrosch Park, 8/5/09 – cutting-edge Middle Eastern-inflected jazz followed by one of the great ones, undiminished and still inventive at 89.

Jenifer Jackson at Rockwood Music Hall, 11/19/09 – the panstylistic rock goddess played several good New York shows this past year, but this one with Matt Kanelos on piano and glockenspiel and Billy Doughty on drums and melodica was pure transcendence.

Carol Lipnik, Bonfire Madigan, Rachelle Garniez, Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble and McGinty and White at Small Beast at the Delancey, 11/23/09 – what seems at this point to be the single best show of the year (if only because it’s the most recent one on the list) matched Lipnik’s phantasmagoria to Madigan’s equally artful chamber pop, Garniez’ irresistible charisma and ferocity, Beren’s contralto classical punk assault and then Ward White took over where the sirens had been and sang what could have been his best show ever.

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December 3, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 9/7/09

We do this every Tuesday except for when we don’t – for all you Tuesday peeps, we’ll try to get back on schedule next week. As always, you’ll see this week’s #1 song on our 100 Best songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Every link here except #1 and #3, which are unreleased, will take you to each individual song.

1. Liza & the WonderWheels – Cold Wind

Haunting, shapeshifting, Penelope Houston-esque anthem from the NYC new wave/psychedelic crew. Brand new and unreleased – you’ll have to go see this live.

2. Woman – When the Wheel’s Red

Noiserock from their delicious new cd.

3. Mark Sinnis – Gloomy Sunday

The Ninth House frontman has revived the original version of the “Hungarian suicide song,” deleting the fake last verse added to the Billie Holiday cover and substituted  a macabre one of his own. From his upcoming third solo cd due out next year.

4. Mary Lorson & the Soubrettes – Anything Can Happen

The former Madder Rose frontwoman and pianist sounds better than ever.

5. Air Waves – Knock Out

Slightly off-key, lo-fi janglepop, fetching and catchy.

6. Emily Wells – Symphony 6: Fair Thee Well and the Requeim Mix

Cool, trippy string-driven triphop anthem.

7. Clare & the Reasons – Ooh You Hurt Me So

Catchy Motown-inflected pop. They’re at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on 10/27.

8. The Red Channels – Waltz

Weird kinda creepy lo-fi synth stuff like a more melodic version of the Residents. Is this cool or complete BS? You decide.

9. The Zac Brown Band – Toes

A total Magaritaville ripoff, from the opposite point of view. Is this a soundtrack for assholism or just alcoholism?

10. The French Exit – Your God

We’re just going to keep hitting you over the head about how good this ferocious female-fronted NYC noir band is until they’re huge. They’re at Local 269 on 9/17 at 8.

September 11, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 8/24/09

We do this every Tuesday. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Every link here except for #1 will take you to each individual song.

1. The Oxygen Ponies – Finger Trigger

Big scorching venomous rock anthem written at the nadir of the Bush regime. From their amazing new Randi Russo-designed cd Harmony Handgrenade

2. Sad Little Stars – I’m Going to Paris

Hilarious deadpan anti-trendoid broadside

3. Zebu – You Can’t Polish Shit

Noise rock. Self-explanatory. They’re at Mehanata on Aug 29 with the Brooklyn What and Escarioka.

4. Edward Rogers – You Haven’t Been Where I’ve Been

The expat Manchester rock crooner live at the NME awards doing the ELO thing – title track to his latest excellent album.

5. Basia Bulat – Snakes & Ladders

Orchestrated piano/orchestra ballad by this usually lo-fi Canadian songstress. Is this an anomaly? She’s at the Bell House on 10/7 at 8:30.

6. The French Exit – 3 & 12

We’re just going to hit you over the head again and again until everybody realizes what an amazing band these New York noir rockers are. They’re at Local 269 on 9/17 at 8.

7. Escarioka – Algun Dia Llegara

Every single song the Brooklyn What have ever played has probably been included in this list this year at some point, but we haven’t yet done the same with rock/ska en Espanol hellraisers Escarioka, who are also on the bill on 8/29 at Mehanata. This is a surprisingly gentle number but they’ll no doubt rip it to shreds live.

8. Her Vanished Grace – Sirens

They call what they play “power dreampop” which isn’t a bad way to describe it. They’re at Trash on 9/16 at 9:30.

9. The Anabolics – Je Ne Sais Quoi

Wicked garage punk. They’re at Union Pool on 10 on 9/4.

10. Rebecca Turner – Tough Crowd

Ridiculously catchy Americana rock song from the gorgeous-voiced chanteuse. She’s at Banjo Jim’s on 9/2 at 8.

August 25, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 8/17/09

We usually do this on Tuesday but this week we’re doing it on Friday. Just to see if you’re paying attention. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Pretty much every link here will take you to each individual song.

 

1. Daniel Bernstein – Joyless Now

He wrote this spot-on, manic-depressive account of madness and alienation with his old band the Larval Organs but he still plays it at shows. Unrecorded as a solo work – you’ll have to experience it live. He’s at Goodbye Blue Monday in Bushwick on 9/14 at 9.

 

2. The JD Allen Trio – Live at the Village Vanguard.

Did you know that NPR archives a ton of its live shows? This is a complete concert from the Village Vanguard (the 9 PM set on 8/12/09) and it’s transcendent, the band in particularly focused mode. There’s also a link to Neko Case at the Newport Folk Festival on the same page.

 

3. The French Exit – Your God

Joy Division recast as sultry trip-hop by this amazing, dark New York band.

 

4. Norden Bombsight – Help Desk

Majestic, anthemic, haunting art-rock dirge. They’re at Small Beast at the Delancey on 9/7.

 

5. TV Smith – Together Alone

“We love our life and we love our leaders, sound bites from the bottom feeders.” Anthemic postpunk brillliance from the legendary Adverts frontman – just randomly wandered onto his myspace to be reminded what a great songwriter he is.

 

6. Schaffer the Darklord – Night of the Living Christ

The Biblical rapture rewritted as a zombie movie. An undead messiah? Beyond funny. He’s at Bar on A at 9 on 8/30.

 

7. Witches in Bikinis – Witches in Bikinis

The horror-rock supergroup’s cool, funny signature song

 

8. Kariné Poghosyan – Excerpt from Manuel De Falla’s Fantasia Baetica

The pyrotechnic pianist shows off her spectacular chops live at Steinway Hall, NYC. You want adrenaline? Wow!

 

9. El Radio Fantastique – Tiptoe Suicide

Characteristically spooky noir New Orleans blues from this imaginative crew.

 

10. Lunch During Wartime – Rubulad

A New York moment. “Strange thoughts fill my head…”

August 21, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 7/27/09

We do this every Tuesday. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere.  Every link here except for #1 will take you to each individual song.

1. Livia Hoffman – Friday

This is one of those great “finally the weekend’s here” numbers that manages not to be trite. Watch this space for upcoming live dates – this one’s unreleased.

2. Curtis Eller – Sugar in My Coffin

One of the great NYC rockers of this era – it just happens that the banjo is his axe. “The drinks are getting weaker with every round they serve.” He’s at Banjo Jim’s on 7/30 at 10

3. The French Exit – Bones & Matches

Typically haunting, wrenching, eventually explosive lament from NYC’s best noir rock crew. They’re at Local 269, 269 E Houston at 9 on 7/29

4. The Brooklyn What – For the Best

Characteristically snarling, smart punkish song from their first album (their new ep Gentrification Rock is killer too).  They’re at Don Pedro’s on 8/7 on an amazing bill with Escarioka, Palmyra Delran and others.

5. Rescue Bird – Montauk

Catchy, artsy country tune with an autoharp and glockenspiel! They’re at Spikehill on 7/30 at 8.

6. Carrie Clark – Josephine

Smartly soaring, Rachelle Garniez-esque oldtimey cabaret song. She’s at Spikehill on 7/30 at 9

7. Andrea Wittgens – Everything Is Relative to You

Clever, catchy, Greta Gertler-ish artsy piano pop tune. She’s at Spikehill on 7/30 at 11

8. Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens – What Have You Done

Killer minor-key oldschool gospel tune. They’re at Prospect Park Bandshell on 7/30 at 7:30 opening for Burning Spear

9. Rev. Vince Anderson – Don’t Think Jesus

Country music as liberation theology dating from the waning days of the Bush regime. He’s at at 55 Bar on 7/31 at 10.

10. Ansambl Mastika – Gde si Bre

Characteristicaly wild horn-diven Balkan dance. They’re at Mehanata on 7/30 at 9.

July 28, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 6/15/09

We do this every Tuesday. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Just about every link here will take you to each individual song.

 

1. Steve Kilbey – Forever Last for Nothing

Gorgeously terse call to arms and cautionary tale from the Church’s frontman’s excellent latest album. They’re at Irving Plaza on 7/8.

 

2. The  French Exit – To Term

New song, characteristically intense. “Will I be ok…I just want to be left alone,” snarls frontwoman Mia Wilson in this fiery noir dirge. They’re at Local 269 at 269 E Houston on 6/17 at 9.

 

3. Silver Dollar – Showdown

Killer, bouncy, hypnotic oldschool ska.

 

4. Kerry Kennedy – As You Are

Big soul ballad in 6/8 with David Lynch unease by the up-and-coming New York noir chanteuse. Unreleased – see her now before she’s famous.

 

5. Ninth House – Fifteen Miles to Hell’s Gate

Characteristically furious lament about the death of New York by gentrification by the long-running Nashville gothic rockers. Frontman Mark Sinnis is at Sidewalk at 9 on 7/12.

 

6. La Res – Masters of War

Ominous cover of the Dylan classic by this fiery, artsy soul/metal trio with a powerful frontman.

 

7. Num & Nu Afrika – New Orleans

Resonant, politically conscious roots reggae. They’re playing Make Music NY on 6/21 at 3 at DRastadub Studio, 58 West 127th St., Harlem.

 

8. Bato the Yugo – My Mountainous Mind

Pensive Balkan jazz for solo piano. Usually a guitarist, he’s at Nublu on 6/21 at 11.

 

9. Cumbiagra – Dejame en Paz

They’ve taken over Monday nights at Barbes, replacing Chicha Libre, but the danceable vibe is undiminished.

 

10. Rock Plaza Central – Panama

Van Halen cover. Jack Grace (of our own sick/funny VH cover band Van Hayride) would approve.

June 16, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Make Music NY 2009 – The Top Shows or At Least a Few of Them

As with last year, the arduous task of keeping track of who’s playing where has become a debacle since Time Out NY’s music section is a one-person operation – and to be fair to Time Out, some of the acts playing outdoors somewhere in the five boroughs on the 21st may not have alerted the magazine. For lack of manpower (why don’t the organizers do it themselves? Is Time Out’s sponsorship money really THAT crucial, especially considering the puny amount of resources they contribute?), approximately 90% of the acts playing Make Music NY are NOT listed on Time Out’s master calendar (although if you search venue by venue, you’ll find hundreds more). So if you’re wondering if your favorite band’s doing anything that day, you ought to check their site or their myspace. On the basis of a look through what limited information Time Out actually has as well as some random sleuthing of our own, here’s a guide to some of the day’s most enticing shows, at least as many as we could find:

 

10 AM (yawn): How do you reassure Manhattan yuppies that they’ll be safe from the terrifying phenomenon known as punk music? Exile all the punk bands to Governors Island, where the festivities are supposed to start around ten in the morning (those must be all the Minor Threat types who don’t drink or get high) and ending at 5 PM sharp. The free ferry leaves on the half-hour from the slip at 11 South St., early arrival highly advised. Note that security will be fierce, and alcohol will be confiscated. Acts include Reagan Youth, the Blame, Blanks 77, countless others. On one level, it makes sense to separate by style i.e. the skate punk stage, ska-punk stage, hardcore stage, etc, but why separate all the female-fronted bands?

 

11:30 AM: dark, Siouxsie-esque rockers Her Vanished Grace at 187 Sackett St. between Hicks and Henry, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn

 

Noon: Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra Outside Symphony Space, 95th and Broadway

 

Half past noon: captivatingly atmospheric chanteuse Lulla at 33rd St and Newtown Ave., Astoria, Queens.

 

1 PM: Sami Abu Shumays of Egyptian film music revivalists Zikrayat has organized a Umm Kulthum singalong to take place in front of Rashid Sales in Brooklyn (155 Court Street, Brooklyn, corner of Pacific, 2/4 to Borough Hall or F to Bergen) starting at 1PM, open to all musicians, singers, and anyone who knows and loves the music of Umm Kulthum (the iconic Arab chanteuse and courageous activist) and can sing or play along! It will be somewhat informal, in the sense there’s no set list, no curfew. You can count on classics that everybody throughout the Middle East knows like Ghannili Shwayya, Alf Leyla, and Ana Fintizarek.

 

1 PM: ferocious, gypsy-inflected, fun rock/ska/punk en Espanol band Escarioka at Think Coffee, Bleecker and Bowery

 

2 PM: haunting, wrenchingly soulful noir rock trio the French Exit at Goodbye Blue Monday

 

2 PM: the hilarious, inspiring, carnivalesque and absolutely fearless noir songwriter/keyboardist/showman Tom Warnick & World’s Fair at Athens Square Park, 29th St and 30th Ave., Astoria, Queens

 

3 PM  a jazz showcase in tribute to the late Ghanaian percussionist Kofi Ghanaba (one of the first African-born musicians to find popularity in American jazz circles), starting with with Kwaku Martin Obeng, then at 4 PM Obo Addy and piano vet Randy Weston & African Rhythms and others at Dominick and Hudson Streets outside the Jazz Gallery.

 

Starting 3ish at Rose Bar in Williamsburg Mama Digdown’s Brass Band and then oldschool soul harmony sirens the Sweet Divines at around 5:30 or 6

 

3 PM New York’s original Balkan brass punks, Hungry March Band at the playground at Spring and Mulberry

 

3 PM Num & Nu Afrika play jazzy reggae at DRastadub Studio, 58 West 127th St, Harlem

 

3 PM sprawling oldtimey blues/country/roots juggernaut the Woes outside Spikehill

 

4 PM dark indie rock siren Randi Russo at Passout Records on Grand between Bedford and Berry in Williamsburg. If you’re planning on seeing the French Exit you should see her and vice versa.

 

4 PM the fascinating and hypnotic Electric Junkyard Gamelan in the community garden on the north side of Houston between B and C. They’re also at South St. Seaport on 6/22 and 6/29 at 3.  

 

4 PM the fiery, fun, jangly Any Day Parade – oldschool country meets paisley underground –  at Think Coffee, Bleecker at Bowery

 

5 PM Meta & the Cornerstones playing oldschool roots reggae with a Senegalese flavor at Trader Joe’s Wine Shop, 138 E 14th St, between Third Ave and Irving Pl. – be aware that heavy bus traffic including the odious M9 means the alarms that shriek as the doors open may drown out the music.

 

5 PM at the Old Stone House in Park Slope Bob Goldberg and the Accordion Forest premiering a new work by the Famous Accordion Orchestra.

 

5:30 PM the reliably surprising, edgy accordionist/chanteuse Cassis & the Sympathies outside Tavern on the Green, Central Park West and W 67th St,

 

6 PM smartly lyrical, blue-collar songwriter Al Lee Wyer at the park at First Ave and E 42nd St,

 

6 PM latin jazz flutist Carlos Jimenez and his Quartet at La Perla Garden, 78 W 105th St,

 

6:30 PM funk band the Pimps of Joytime at Washington Square Park

 

7:30 PM cabaret-pop chanteuse Jeanne Marie Boes outside Tavern on the Green Central Park West and W 67th St.

 

8:15 PM Gogol Bordello gypsy punk soundalikes Panonian Wave at 33rd St and Newtown Ave., Astoria, Queens

June 13, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: The French Exit and More Live in NYC 5/13/09

A good night for music started early at the Jazz Standard, currently playing host to an adventurous bunch of Catalan jazz artists. The club has been getting plenty of props here because they’ve earned it – with an ambience that rivals any swanky joint in town and a purist sensibility that respects all the classic jazz styles while reaching out to newer artists, they’re everything that both the Vanguard and the Stone should aspire to be. Thursday night’s early show for the media and the blogosphere kicked off with a long solo piano cameo by Chano Dominguez, whose claim to fame is transposing flamenco guitar to the piano. With an understated, percussive intensity, he played cleverly and directly with more than a hint of his early rock roots. Augusti Fernandez followed, also solo at the piano, delivering an absolutely transcendent, modally infused nocturne, a relentlessly uneasy piece that stayed just this side of total anguish. His show was last night, but if piano jazz is your thing, get to know him. The regularly scheduled act was unfortunately even more anticlimactic than expected, a Knitting Factory style unit with sax, drums and a bunch of electronics. As usual, if some machine’s doing it for you, your music invariably sounds like you get it from the bottom of a long black tube. The Spaniards remain at the Jazz Standard through the weekend: adventurous listeners should check out the calendar (see our current live picks)

From there it was down to Local 269, the latest and predictably upscaled version of the old Meow Mix space. As good as Fernandez had been two hours earlier, the French Exit were the highlight of the night, their dark, murkily beautiful reverb guitar-and-keyboard sound absolutely impossible to turn away from. Henri Harps’ richly metallic washes of chords rang out over Mia Wilson’s understatedly ornate, anguished piano arpeggios, drummer Bryan Sargent’s subtle accents quietly and effectively maintaining the intensity. Their songs burned like a pine pitch torch, slow and smoky but inexorably blazing, Wilson’s soul-simmered, wounded vocals impressively clear in the mix. There’s a hypnotic feel to pretty much everything they do: after awhile, the songs become pretty much impossible to dissect because they draw you in so deeply. Wilson’s lyrics were characteristically savage: “No, this won’t hurt,” she sang with an almost gleeful sarcasm in a new one, Bones and Matches, pounding and ferociously insistent over a repetitive piano hook. “Let me in, let me in,” she implored on the following number. They closed with a towering, majestic, organ-fueled version of Bad Sign, which might be their signature song, building to an explosion of distorted organ and reverb guitar as the chorus kicked in. Are the French Exit the best live band in town? They’re unquestionably one of them. If the darkness calls to you, so will their songs.

May 15, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Brixton Riot and the French Exit at the Mercury Lounge, NYC 11/16/08

The Brixton Riot’s name is something of a misnomer: they’re not a reggae band, nor do they sound a bit British. The outfit they most closely resemble, at times is the late, great Twin Turbine albeit with a Fender instead of a Gibson guitar attack, hewing closer to that band’s more accessible post-Guided By Voices side. If there could be such a thing as “good top 40” in this decade, the Brixton Riot would rule the charts. With both guitars blazing, they roared through a tight set, one catchy song after another. Even their lyrics are good. Their best number lamented that there are “too many people in the Garden State, too many vanity license plates…you better deal with the devil or the devil’s gonna deal with you.”

 

While the payola required to get on commercial radio may be beyond their budget, wait til college radio gets ahold of their song about being “born with a knack for inebriation.” They did a Strokes-ish number that bounced along on a fast Motown bassline til the Telecaster player lit into a slashing, rapidfire solo. Another pretty scathing tune lit into rockers who sell out, warning that they’ll “never win the battle of the bands” by trading their boss at the corporate dayjob for another one in the music business. A little later they segued out of a slower song into a deadpan version of the Dead Milkmen’s Take the Skinheads Bowling. On several occasions, the guitarists played twin solos and actually didn’t embarrass themselves: welcome to the Hotel California, not. The band’s only misstep was the pointless Replacements cover they closed with, although at least their frontman didn’t bleat the vocals the way Paul Westerberg would have.

 

If Tonic was still open, the French Exit would be headlining Saturday nights there. Sadly, that was 2006 – a lot has happened in this city since. There’s been a big buzz about this band lately, not just because of frontwoman Mia Wilson’s cheekbones or the distant, offhandedly menacing allure she cultivates. Like the band before them, they kept the ever-growing crowd rapt throughout their set of long, hypnotic noir anthems that sometimes bordered on goth (but in a good way – like Joy Divison rather than Nine Inch Nails). 

 

Drummer Bryan Sargent began with brushes, switched to sticks and by the end of the show was playing with mallets. Like Jim White of the Dirty Three, he’s an uncommonly musical player: throughout the show, he wasn’t content simply to keep time, sometimes pushing the numerous dynamic shifts, sometimes following them with deftly placed, counterintuitive accents. Henri Harps began on guitar, flavoring the songs with eerie, minimalistically twangy spaghetti western licks when he wasn’t blasting out chords lush with reverb and distortion before switching to bass and then back again. Wilson began on piano, switched to acoustic guitar (battling all kinds of sonic difficulties that could have been fixed had the soundman known how to do it) and then went back to keys for the remainder of the set. Vocally, Cat Power is the obvious influence, except that Wilson sings completely without affectation – in other words, she sings, she doesn’t seh-heng. Like the preceding band, the French Exit also have excellent lyrics. Wilson projects them with the same raw, wounded, vengeful authority as the great blueswomen of the 20s and 30s: she speaks to anyone who’s ever been done wrong.

 

Their first two songs built from creepy, minor-key intros from Wilson’s piano and then her guitar. The third song of the set was long and ominous over a repetitive three-chord descending progression: “I think I have seen this coming,” was Wilson’s lyrical mantra. They picked up the pace for a moment after that. “What I lack in speed I make up for in cruelty,” Wilson warned, “I don’t care what happens next, just don’t sleep near me…I’m rejecting them before they get me.”

 

A fast one in 6/8 maintained the bitter edge: “It was a slap in the face, can’t believe that’s what you dragged home after me,” Wilson wailed, “See you’ve found yourself a true fan who loves you like a child.” They closed with their best song, a magnificent new one titled Bad Sign that built to a towering, symphonic crescendo, Wilson expertly laying down layer after layer of piano and string synth loops as Sargent played big, beautiful cymbal splashes with his mallets. What a viscerally intense way to end what what’s been the best week of concerts in New York all year long.

November 17, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , | 1 Comment