Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Sunday’s Amazing Flatiron District Roots Rock Doublebill

People will be talking about this all year: one of the best doublebills of 2011, Sunday at Madison Square Park with Those Darlins and Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears. Both bands draw deeply on 60s sounds, yet they’re completely original and in the here and now. Both have a charisma and tightness that only comes with constant touring: they pretty much live on the road, as bands need to do these days in order to make a living.

Those Darlins opened. Frontwoman Jessi Darlin ran her Fender Jaguar through a vintage repeater box for a hypnotic Black Angels vibe on a couple of long, drawn-out psychedelic numbers. Nikki Darlin started out playing dark trebly tones on a Hofner bass and then switched to a Les Paul Jr. Kelley Darlin played sweet, vicious Telecaster leads until midway through the set, when she took over the bass, getting a fat, rich pulse on what looked like an old Vox Les Paul copy. The band’s taste in music is as purist as their instruments (not sure what drummer Linwood Regensburg was playing – his party rumble is as important to the band as their museum’s worth of guitars).

The women’s twangy three-part harmonies gave even the hardest-hitting garage rock songs a country charm. The lighthearted I Wanna Be Your Bro is a vastly cooler take on what Dar Williams tried to do with When I Was a Boy, followed by a Time Is Tight-flavored, soul-infused number sung by Kelley. Later on they brought it down with a gorgeously noirish, 6/8 ballad that Nikki thought might clear out the crowd (it didn’t). The rest of the set mixed catchy two-chord party-rock vamps with a swinging country song about eating an entire chicken, another long, trippy Black Angels-style anthem, a raw, careening cover of Shaking All Over and the best song of a long, entertaining set, a moody, minor-key janglerock tune possibly called What’re You Running From, sung by Nikki.

Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears had a hard act to follow, but they made it look easy: not bad for a band who had a second show to play later that night at Maxwell’s. Their albums play up their songs’ funky, purist 1960s grooves, and their potent three-part horn section, but live they give everything a raw punk fury. Lewis is a great guitarslinger in the Texas tradition of Albert Collins and Freddie King. Like Collins, he goes for a chilly, reverb-drenched tone; stylistically, the guy he resembles the most is Hendrix, but the early, noisy, unhinged Crosstown Traffic-era Hendrix. Throughout the set, his right hand was a blur, strumming up and down furiously as he fired off long, searing volleys of hammer-ons: although his chops are scary, he’s more about mood and power than he is about precision. The band is tight beyond belief. On one of the early songs, second guitarist Zach Ernst followed Lewis’ rapidfire solo by leading the band through a razor’s-edge verse of the eerie Otis Rush Chicago blues classic All Your Love.

The intensity just wouldn’t let up. One of the highest points of the afternoon was during the band’s one instrumental, where Lewis finally worked his way out of a long vamp with a relentless solo where the tenor sax player finally stepped all over it, followed in turn by the trumpet and baritone sax knocking each other out of the ring in turn. The crowd reacted energetically to Lewis’ nod to his punk influences as he blasted through a barely minute-and-a-half version of the Dead Boys’ classic What Love Is, and followed that with a funked-up cover of the Stooges’ I Got a Right. From there they wound their way through a casually jangly number that was basically an update on Smokestack Lightning, Lewis finally quoting the riff toward the end of the song. The best song of the afternoon was the fiery antiwar broadside You Been Lying, a tune that sounded like the Stooges’ I’m Sick of You without the machine-gun bassline, the bassist finally picked it up with a bunker-buster blast of sixteenth notes as it wound out. The band got two encores: “H-I-G-H,” Lewis grinned as he led the crowd through a singalong of the intro to Get High, a searing, sun-blasted punk funk song. By the time they got to Louie Louie, everybody was still there, hoping for even more. Lewis and band were scheduled to tape Letterman the following night, a rare triumph – it’s not often that network tv features bands anywhere near as good, or original, as these guys.

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June 15, 2011 Posted by | concert, funk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 4/3/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album was #667:

Jefferson Airplane – After Bathing at Baxter’s

The bass player owns this album. Jack Casady’s growling, spiraling climbs, slinking funky rhythm and burning chords defined the Airplane at peak altitude, 1968. Add to that Paul Kantner’s stinging rhythm, Jorma Kaukonen’s crazed, jagged twelve-string leads, Spencer Dryden’s jazz-influenced drumming and Grace Slick’s presence (on the wane at this point) and you have a psychedelic rock classic. Kaukonen’s anxious ballad The Last Wall of the Castle, Slick’s darkly hypnotic James Joyce homage, Rejoyce and Kantner’s ferociously incisive Young Girl Sunday Blues are all great cuts. So is Two Heads, pulsing along on Casady’s bass chords. Watch Her Ride and Wild Tyme are slamming upbeat numbers; The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil a big crowd-pleaser and Won’t You Try/Saturday Afternoon a reversion to the folk-rock of Surrealistic Pillow. There’s also the woozy instrumental Spare Chaynge, which sounds like Jorma and Jack jamming out after way too much ganja, forgetting that the tape was rolling. It was also the last good studio album the band did. Here’s a random torrent.

April 4, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 11/27/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #794:

Funkadelic – America Eats Its Young

Here’s a band that pretty much everybody agrees on. But the two most popular “best-of” music lists up here in the cloud already grabbed One Nation Under a Groove and Maggot Brain. So what’s left? Pretty much everything P-Funk ever did. Here’s one you might not have thought about for awhile. This characteristically sprawling, eclectic, amusing, and frequently scathing 1972 double lp might be George Clinton’s most rock-oriented album, stone cold proof that these guys were just as good a rock act as a funk band. This is the core of the early group: the brilliant and underrated Tyrone Lampkin on drums, Bootsy on bass, Eddie Hazel on guitar and Bernie Worrell on swirling, gothic-tinged organ putting his New England Conservatory degree to good use. A lot of this takes Sly Stone-style funk to the next level: the fast antiwar/antiviolence shuffle You Hit the Nail on the Head; the artsy, orchestrated eco-anthem If You Don’t Like the Effects, Don’t Produce the Cause; and the vicious, bouncy antidrug anthem Loose Booty. I Call My Baby Pussycat is epic and funny; the title track is even more so, a slow stoner soul vamp with a message, an orgasmic girl vocalese intro, and a faux Isaac Hayes rap by Clinton: “Who is this bitch?” The pensive ballad Miss Lucifer’s Love predates Radiohead by 35 years; Bootsy gets down and dirty with an oldschool R&B feel on Philmore. Biological Speculation offhandedly makes the case that if we don’t pull our act together, nature just might do it for us – without us. And it’s got a pedal steel solo?!? The album closes with a politically charged gospel number, the guys in the choir trading verses with the girls. Here’s a random torrent.

November 27, 2010 Posted by | funk music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Avi Fox-Rosen – Welcome to the Show

This one dates from the end of last year, when Lucid Culture was running at, um, less than full speed. Meanwhile, the emails were piling up and so were the albums. We could have built a Compact Disc Ranch in the desert next to the Cadillacs with most of them. Because even the good ones that remained have lost their currency as far as press and bloggage are concerned, we moved on. But this one we couldn’t leave behind. Like a more rocking, shapeshifting Steely Dan, Avi Fox-Rosen’s latest album Welcome to the Show leaps to the top of this year’s list so far. It’s funky, carnivalesque and mystifyingly multistylistic – if there’s a genre this guy can’t write in, it isn’t apparent here. Most of the songs are terse and short, clocking in at three minutes or less. With a noir undercurrent matched by vividly aphoristic black humor, guitarist Fox-Rosen sings with a cool, suave, deviously jazzy vocal delivery that’s well-suited to the lyrics – think Donald Fagen’s equally gifted, more ill-at-ease bastard stepchild.

This is a loosely thematic concept album about the current, dismal state of the world, the intro like a carnival barker’s theme, completely apropos for the Bernie Madoff era. The first full-length track, Life Is Short & Then You Die cynically sets the stage, the CIA planting a flea on a blind man as a bug (the electronic kind) – bizarrely logical creative touches like that are all over this album. Truth & Beauty follows, a slinky reggae beat with accordion and a too-sweet-to-be-true music box theme – imagine Botanica in a good mood. The album’s centerpiece, the funky, breathless narrative White Collar Crime gets Bowie-esque with its watery chorus-box guitar hook, right down to an inspired, Adrian Belew-style shredding solo.

The next track sounds like Vampire Weekend if that band had balls; Tower of Babel is the most overtly ominous, bluesy of all the tracks so far with nice evil balalaika-ish organ.The menacing vibe lingers with Two Glasses, a stripped-down soul song with creepy accordion and bells, then lifts with the subtly sardonic Rhodes piano of the jazz-rock nocturne The Grey Area and then the LOL, marimba-reggae come-on Hot Girl on a Bike. The album winds up on a pensive note with a big piano ballad that turns into a defiant drinking song, and an atmospheric accordion tune. This is first and foremost an ipod record (if that turn of phrase doesn’t have you scratching your head): there are so many fun musical japes, lyrical jabs and hooks here that you need to spend awhile with it to discover all the good stuff. Fox-Rosen’s next band gig is Feb 20 at the Workmen’s Circle Purim Bash at the Synagogue for the Arts, downtown at 49 White Street at 9 PM-ish; his new theatrical creation, a puppet cabaret satire titled The Church of Babel co-written with Ora Fruchter takes place at the New Yiddish Repertory Theater in the Workmen’s Circle, 45 E. 33rd St. at 8 PM on 2/18.

February 10, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review from the Archives: Rev. Timmy James, DollHouse, Twin Turbine, Noxes Pond and the Sea Devils at the C-Note, NYC 10/26/01

[Editor’s note: this concert from our inherited archives dates from the brief period after 9/11 when New Yorkers demonstrated an amazing amount of solidarity. Ironic as it must seem, this town defiantly showed a great deal of joie de vivre while the pit downtown smoldered and burned. This is just one example.]

A gastronomic walking tour of what’s left of the old-school Jewish Lower East Side with a Massachusetts friend ended with takeout from Yonah Schimmel’s, where I ended up practically getting killed in traffic while trying to get back into his Jaguar while a traffic cop’s siren wailed behind us. I was sure we were going to get pulled over, and it was all my fault, but no. He dropped me off at the club and left with plenty of knishes and noshes for the ride home to Beacon Hill. Rev. Timmy James was on when I got there, playing open-tuned, acoustic blues with a slide. He’s a competent player, he doesn’t Pearl Jam the vocals and the Rev. thing seems to be neither religious nor sarcastic. A tip of the hat to Gary Davis, maybe. DollHouse, who haven’t played a live show in a long time, were introducing their new lead guitarist, who is vastly different from the two guys who preceded him: he’s totally 80s, alternating between fast funk/metal and more ambient licks that he played with an ebow. Not sure he’s right for this macabre, punk-inflected harmony-rock band. On their frontwoman/guitarist Lisa Lost’s big showstopper, Queen of Despair, he took an attractively minimal solo straight out of the Phil Manzanera book circa Avalon, which was by far the best thing he did all night. The band’s best song was a ridiculously catchy new one set to a ska beat, an uncharacteristically lighthearted, optimistic song called Smile driven by a deliciously melodic, pulsing Frankie Monroe bassline. The band also played Lisa Lost’s darkly entertaining Bride (as in bride of Frankenstein) along with Monroe’s scorching, minor-key punk-pop songs Conditioning and Night People.

“Heavy pop” power trio Twin Turbine weren’t the best segue, considering that this is a small club and they are very loud. But melodically it made sense: frontman/guitarist Dave Popeck is every bit as much a hookmeister as the previous band. “Husker Du,” a friend of mine hollered into my ear. I thought for a moment. “Social Distortion,” I hollered back. They don’t confine themselves strictly to major and minor chords but the hooks are relentless, as is the sonic assault: there isn’t much subtlety in this band. Their best song was a darkly careening number called Noreaster that resembled Guided by Voices at their most melodic.

Noxes Pond followed, and like the last time I saw them here, they packed the place. This isn’t a big club by any means, and it’s become a rocker hangout, in a lot of instances musicians basically playing to their peers, and the cognoscenti were here tonight to check out the newly resurrected incarnation of this popular LES noise/rock/funk unit. They’re much more melodic than they used to be, driven by catchy, jazz-inflected, tasteful guitar. And the rhythm section, with the guy from the Scholars on drums and the Supercilious bassist, has much more of a groove than they used to have. But it’s their frontwoman who steals the show, a petite powerhouse who dazzled with her spectacular range and potently soulful pipes. By the time the Sea Devils launched into the first of two long, exhausting sets, starting practically at the stroke of midnight, it was apparent that the person I’d been waiting patiently for wasn’t going to show up. But no matter. “Surf punk,” a well-known blogger told me, sarcastically. And he’s right, to an extent: energy and volume are important to this band. But so is authenticity: they have all the requisite vintage instruments and amps and get a completely 60s, reverb-drenched sound. They reminded tonight how vast their repertoire is, basically every good Ventures and Dick Dale song along with literally dozens of songs whose titles you wish they’d announce so you can go out looking for the originals. Their best song was the opener, the haunting Mr. Moto, followed by the Ventures classic Diamond Head and an obscure, gorgeously propulsive number called Tally Ho. And they kept the crowd in the house: after they’d finally wound up their second set, a clearly impressed audience member insisted that the band had just played the longest-ever set in the club’s history. Which wouldn’t be surprising: just under three hours of fiery, propulsive clang and twang. And I was there to hear all of it since I hadn’t had a drink til they’d taken the stage.

[postscript: Rev. Timmy James hasn’t played around New York in awhile: someone like him can pretty much take his act anywhere. DollHouse is defunct, and Twin Turbine has been on hiatus pretty much since 2006. Noxes Pond morphed into art-rockers System Noise, who were one of New York’s best bands for several years. The Sea Devils still appear live once in awhile with a reconfigured lineup.]

October 26, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

It’s Raining Moisturizer: Moisturizer Live at Black Betty, Brooklyn NY 10/10/07

Three reviews of Moisturizer and a side project in two weeks here: isn’t that sort of overkill? Consider this: critics said a lot about Miles Davis at Birdland in 1957. The media went ga-ga over the Ramones at CBGB twenty years later. Ten years after that, it was Yo La Tengo at Maxwell’s that everybody was talking about. Similarly, this is a band at the absolute peak of their career so far. Moisturizer has come to the point where they’ve become a band you absolutely have to see. And it’s not because of their anger or earsplitting volume, nor does Moisturizer have anything to do with a trend, a fashion or a fad. Moisturizer is pure, unadulterated fun.

 

Tonight they played two delirious, sweaty sets, all original instrumentals except for a very cleverly rearranged cover of the Burt Bacharach latin-pop classic The Look of Love. Special guest David Smith joined with the band to play ebullient, ecstatic trombone on the sultry, swinging, newly rearranged Unhaveable Blues, and joined with baritone saxist/frontwoman Moist Paula to bring the house down with a wild, clattering, practically heavy metal outro on one of the last songs of the night. Otherwise, the night belonged to Moist Paula, bassist Moist Gina and drummer Moist Yoshio. The latter is the most compelling evidence for Moisturizer’s ascendancy from merely good to absolutely transcendent: he swings, has command of what seems to be any time signature and can play anything from punk to funk to swing with an effortless, uncluttered grace. He’s given the rest of the trio the groove they always were going for but never had the drummer behind them to hit until now.

 

Moist Gina’s basslines are potently percussive, richly melodic and very hard to play. She makes it seem effortless even though she probably lost five percent of the weight on her strong, slender frame by the time the show was over. Her voicings are often completely unorthodox: watching her fingers swoop and slide up and down the fretboard was a clinic in how to play bass with an idiosyncratic, uniquely personal yet musically brilliant approach. To drive a point home, she’d slam on the occasional chord, slide with split-second timing up to a high note and punctuated a charming, catchy new one with gentle octaves and arpeggios. If there were Moisturizer action figures – in a more perfect world, every little kid would have their little plastic Moist people – Gina would be the one who packs the heat.

 

Moist Paula would be the one with the magic sax, whose keys she presses in order to create a secret Moist universe where the party is everywhere and everyone is invited. It’s her crafty sense of humor and surreal wit that makes Moisturizer’s songs as fun as they are, from the tricky time stop-and-start time changes of Actually I’m So Busy to the triumphantly buoyant Moisturizer Takes Mars. Yet it was their more serious songs that impressed most tonight. Their second set was the best series of segues I’ve seen this year: the sad tango Girl in the Goldfish Bowl, then a haunting, swinging, relatively new number about a baby lost in the Indonesian tsunami, and an irresistibly propulsive song called I Will Unmagic Your [something – the title is a long, complicated Salman Rushdie quote] with a crescendo capped by a wild, flying Moist Gina solo. It was after one in the morning when they finally closed the show with a boisterous take on their big audience hit Mission: Moisturizer.

 

The crowd wasn’t dancing this time, probably because of the nature of the crowd itself (the venue itself is charmingly laid-back and unpretentious, in stark contrast to trendoids who hang out here), and because a breakdancer had taken over the small space in front of the stage, frenetically flipping and twirling, effectively creating a barrier between band and audience. Yet there was a lot of chair-dancing: as hard as some of the crowd may have been trying to sit still, they didn’t exactly pull it off. How the audience reacts with their bodies is a reliably indicator of a band’s performance: the more people move, generally speaking, the better the music is and tonight’s show validated that theory. Miss seeing this band live and risk your health. 95% of all doctors recommend Moisturizer to cure any uptightness you may have. The other 5% are uptight themselves.

October 14, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review from the Archives: Revlover, Noxes Pond, Florence Dore, Patricia Vonne and Paul Foglino at the C-Note, NYC 9/28/01

The sky looking particularly ominous, I caught a cab up from my company’s satellite office at Union Square to a friend’s gallery for her very first curated opening. She did about seven grand worth of business, not bad considering what she was selling: the artist was sort of Edward Hopper lite, familiar outdoor and storefront NYC scenes including the H&H Bagel sign. Shadows falling everywhere: the guy’s in love with shadow, and when he isn’t doing shadows he’s doing the reverse with lights tracing a path in the dark. Then caught a cab down to the club where a wretched acoustic grungeboy tortured us for the better part of 40 minutes. Fake moveable chords, lame vocals and awful fashion sense. As Luke Haines said, junk shop clothes will get you nowhere, and this guy is living proof, playing to just about nobody at 7 PM at a little Lower East Side club that rightfully shouldn’t even be a club at all. It looked like he was trying to pester the promoter for another gig afterward and the promoter was having none of it. Hopefully he won’t be back.

Revlover were next. They didn’t have Ed Sargent on guitar like they did last time: it was just the three of them doing an exceptionally tight, catchy mix of indie janglerock and somewhat crunchier, tuneful, Guided by Voices-inflected material. They did the always amusing faux Irish ballad Emily, their song about a hermaphrodite, along with the very memorable On Ordinary Days (the title track to their album), sung by their excellent, melodic bass player. He also sang their closing number, a fiery, riff-driven, minor-key garage number called Men in Plastic featuring a fast, searing blues guitar solo at the end. Particularly appropriate, considering what’s going on downtown (body bags – as it turns out the bassist’s office was at 1 Liberty Plaza. He escaped into the Path station).

In the case of the recently regrouped Noxes Pond, word on the street is to be believed: their new lead singer is amazing. Sarah Mucho, all five feet one and maybe a hundred pounds of her, belts like a 300 pound black blueswoman from the 1940s. The songs they played tonight generally fell into a slinky, often funky, generally minor key groove; the steady, sinuous swing of the bass contrasted nicely with the rattle and clatter of the drums, with the vocals sailing spectacularly over it all. The guitarist seems to be the band’s rhythm center which is a very smart move because his timing is spot-on. This version of the band likes dynamics a lot more than their previous incarnation: if this gig is any indication, they’re on track to something really good.

Florence Dore is a star in the making. She didn’t bring a big crowd, but that was probably a good thing since Noxes Pond did and this is a small place. The NYU English professor is a real find, an excellent lyricist with a very strong sense of melody, a honey-sweet, soaring voice and an excellent, driving Americana rock band behind her featuring bassist-about-town Scott Yoder and former Smithereens drummer Dennis Diken pushing it along. She blends country songs with more rocking, upbeat tunes including a lot of material from her new album, including the fiery, early Who-inflected Framed, on which Diken did an impressive Keith Moon seance. But the quieter songs were the best. The highlight was the poignant, rueful Early World, the opening track on the new album, about what it feels like to know that you’ve probably missed the boat. Dore delivered it with a nonchalance that was downright scary.

Patricia Vonne took the stage late, but by the time her hourlong set was over – at almost a quarter to one – she had the crowd mesmerized. Playing without a drummer, backed by just her lead guitarist and bassist, the tall Texas ex-model played a masterfully nuanced set of very compelling material. Like Dore, she falls into the Americana category, but there’s a lot of Tex-Mex and mariachi influence in her songs (she’s Mexican-American and defiantly proud of her heritage). Her vocals are absolutely unique: though she didn’t have to sing over the noise of an electric band, she maintained her trademark passionate, throaty wail throughout the show. All her best songs tonight had an impressive political awareness; the usually stomping El Cruzado was given the tiptoe treatment, without the drums, but it still hit the spot. Dance in a Circle, written in support of wrongfully imprisoned Indian activist Leonard Peltier was as harrowing as the album version, even if it was quieter tonight. She and the band closed with her best song, the riveting escape anthem Blood on the Tracks. Obviously it took a lot of nerve to appropriate that title, but the song lives up to it: there’s absolutely no hubris here. “We ain’t never coming back,” she railed, with a barely restrained rage: “Our hearts have been scarred, there’s blood on the tracks.” It’s amazing that in this city you can see someone this popular – she’s something of a household word in Texas – on a stage this small.

Former Five Chinese Brothers bassist Paul Foglino was pulling mop-up relief duty, playing a solo acoustic set as the crowd slowly dispersed, but he held up his end. He’s very funny, and he knows what he’s doing. “Too old to rock and roll, too stupid to quit,” said the poster for his show taped to the inside of the club window, which is far too self-effacing. Some of the slightly bluesy, upbeat, major-key songs he played tonight were pretty amusing, including a number perhaps titled You Can’t Be too Drunk to Get Drunk. Given the crowd, the hour and the venue, he couldn’t have come up with a more apt choice. Spending this amount of time in a bar is usually a big mistake, but tonight’s bands made it all worthwhile. We ended up closing the club and then going over to Mona’s where a drunken college friend of one of the performers was trying to pick up somebody in my posse, so I went over to the deli on 6th and Ave. B for one of their trademark cheese heros (with jalapenos and avocado), then caught a cab home at around 4:30, waking up in the early afternoon to find that I’d been sharing the bed with what was left of the sandwich.

[Postscript: as Lucid Culture regulars know by now, the once-vibrant C-Note is now defunct, as are Revlover and Noxes Pond (the latter went through some lineup changes and morphed into spectacularly good art-rockers System Noise, who happen to be playing Arlene’s this Sunday, Sept. 30 at 9). Florence Dore’s academic career continues, though it’s been ages since she’s played a New York show. Patricia Vonne expanded her fan base to include Europe, where she became a star and tours regularly. Paul Foglino is still active in music and plays guitar in Ellen Foley’s band].

September 29, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Maul Girls Reunion at Crash Mansion; Ninth House at MI-5, NYC 9/8/07

There is hope. There are still pockets of coolness in this city, if you’re lucky enough to find them – vestiges still remain here from what was for a long time a vital, frequently exhilarating music scene. So good to be alive while the whole world is dying.

The first show of the night was part of the Howl festival, which seems to be an aging punk thing (nothing wrong with aging punks – many of them still rock). We got to the club (a somewhat swanky, spacious downstairs space that usually books hip-hop, all low lighting and black vinyl couches) to find a panel discussion onstage, wrapping up what they thought young artists should keep in mind. Their unanimous conclusion: DIY. I recognized the former Ramones manager; reputedly there was also an ex-Sex Pistol up there too, but I only know those faces from the albums and the documentaries and those were made a long time ago.

The Waldos opened, a long-running former Continental act fronted by ex-Heartbreaker Walter Lure, playing generic proto-punk in the style of, you guessed it, the New York Dolls. They weren’t painful, though everything they played sounded pretty much the same. But then they did Chinese Rocks, and the crowd was instantly energized: Dee Dee Ramone’s best hook ever is impossible not to like. And then they did Too Much Junkie Business, and even if Johnny Thunders wasn’t up there, it still rocked, authentically smirking punk defiance, even if the song endorses something that you should never do. In a once-proud city that kowtows to celebutards and office fascist types like Donald Trump, we need that defiance more than ever.

Reunion shows are a mixed bag. It’s always hard to get all the original members back together (the Guess Who, giving new meaning to their name, with NO original members in their “reunited” lineup), harder to find replacements (the Zombies, Sham 69) and next to impossible to get them all in the same room to play all the old songs. The Maul Girls had all of three rehearsals for this show yet played like they’d never been apart. As one band member noted afterward, they have an intuitive sense of what their cohorts are going to throw at them. What they threw at the audience was an amazing performance.

For a couple of years in the late 90s, the Maul Girls absolutely personified fun in downtown New York. In the true spirit of punk rock, their slightly askew mishmash of punk, funk and pop pulled an impressively mixed crowd, equal parts gay and straight, male and female, minority and caucasian. Everybody loved the Maul Girls because they rocked, they had absolutely no inhibitions and their songs were catchy as hell. Tonight the crowd was a roiling sea of dancing bodies, proof that they can still bring the party. Radiant in a sparkly dress and dramatic makeup, frontwoman Jenny Maul leaped and stalked the stage like a woman possessed. Unless you really had to watch what the musicians were doing, it was impossible to take your eyes off her, delivering as much irresistible allure as unleashed menace. “We’re here to maul you,” she growled as the show started, and she really got the crowd going when she jumped out into the audience. To find someone equally charismatic, you need to go back in history a ways: James Brown and Tina Turner come to mind. Among today’s performers? Maybe Tammy Faye Starlite in a particularly enraged moment.

They may not have always perfectly articulated it, but their message is still feminist and in your face, and they pull it off because they’re so disarmingly funny and fearless. The Spice Girls may have given lip service to “girl power,” but the Maul Girls made you want to dropkick Posh and her posse through the goalposts of Manchester United. Tonight they mixed up stuff from their lone album, Rump Roast along with some other choice, unreleased funk-inflected material. Guitarists Bobbie Maul and Leah Maul took turns and then traded off some searing wah-wah lines, drummer Stephanie Maul and bassist Anne-Marie Maul (who was the best musician in the band during their heyday) locked in and pushed the groove to the limit while their frontwoman reveled in showing off every wild timbre in her spectacular, four-octave range. They didn’t play their signature song Maul Girl Love, but the crowd was clearly gassed to hear Jenny Maul do a couple of rap numbers along with another big audience hit: “Whatchyou doing in this downtown underground with those clunky black shoes?” she snarled, more than a trace of a smile on her lips. Although they clearly had more material than they were given the chance to play, Jenny Maul told the crowd that they’d be doing another show in October. Stay tuned: although they’ve all become excellent musicians in the years since they initially went their separate ways, the Maul Girls showed tonight that they haven’t lost one iota of the reckless abandon that made them so popular.

We walked down to Chinatown, and then west to Tribeca to find the strangely named MI-5 (it’s the British designation for their equivalent of the CIA). Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were happily absent. This is a brand-new, cavernous, predictably expensive joint searching for personality before the Humvee stretch limo crowd with their parents’ credit cards discovers it and makes it their own. Until then, it’s an oasis in a weekend of hellholes. Tonight was goth night. Ninth House, who’ve received a lot of press here, have risen from the ashes once again: every time the band seems on the verge of packing it in for good, they bring in new blood. This time the transfusion is working out amazingly well. The new guitarist plays with a roar of distortion and a somewhat bluesy feel, although he’s quickly reining in the metal tendencies that reared their head in his first show with this band. They’ve also added the incomparable Susan Mitchell on violin, and although she was playing her first Ninth House show, she dazzled with her signature, evil gypsy flourishes. The new keyboardist is also the best they’ve had to date. They opened with a roar with Long Stray Whim, the first track from their new cd, which nicks a Stone Roses lick, later doing a pounding, desperate-to-get-home version of their drunk-driving anthem Follow the Line. But their finest moments were at the end of the ominously loping Jealousy and the best of their Nashville gothic songs, Mistaken for Love, where the band kept going after the final chorus while the guitar, violin and sometimes even the bass played off each other. Like a lot of art-rock units, the previous incarnation of this band brought out the epic grandeur in their songs, but with a clinical precision that sometimes felt cold and distant. This new version of the band may be a little rough around the edges, but with the newly improvisational vibe, they’ve added dynamics, making the crescendos all the more intense. The idea of a punk/art-rock/jam band may sound completely unappetizing, but Ninth House makes it work. Although the sound tonight was dodgy – the bar clearly wasn’t designed as a music venue, the sound guy quickly revealed himself as an amateur and the vocals became pretty much buried for the last half of the show – the floor space quickly filled up with dancers. Ninth House tapped a nerve tonight. And they’ll only get better.

September 9, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment