Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 3/12/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #689:

Shonen Knife – Brand New Knife

Shonen Knife don’t sing about choco bars or ripping the heads off Barbie dolls on this one. To be counterintuitive, we picked one of their most accessible albums, where Naoko’s guitar is multitracked and beefed up and Atsuko’s drumming is still skittish but better than anything she’d done before. By 1997, the lo-fi Japanese all-girl punk band had become an institution with a devoted cult following who didn’t care whether they’d ever actually get proficient on their instruments. In the meantime, that’s exactly what they did: for anyone who wants to claim them as kitsch relics of the 80s or 90s, eat shit and die. The classic here is the Black Sabbath parody (or homage – it could be both) Buddha’s Face. A close second is Fruits and Vegetables, a topic close to our hearts. There’s also the irresistibly catchy Wonder Wine (the Japanese version of Night Train?); the surreal E.S.P.; the amusement park tale Loop-Di-Loop; the ridiculously catchy but completely inscrutable Explosion and One Week. Here’s a random torrent.

March 12, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Red Molly’s Third Album Takes Americana Roots Music to New Places

One of the best-loved and smartest Americana roots bands, Red Molly pretty much live on the road. The seamless, soaring intensity of the harmonies and the chemistry between the musicians reflect it: these women are pros. The obvious comparison is the Dixie Chicks, another road-seasoned group, although Red Molly are lot more rootsy and less pop: they’re one of the few groups out there who can slide into an oldtime vernacular without sounding the least bit cliched or contrived. With their high lonesome harmonies, catchy bluegrass-inspired songwriting and incisive acoustic arrangements, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be any less popular than, say, Lady Antebellum (although in certain parts of the world, Red Molly are already more popular than Lady Antebellum). In case they’re new to you, the “Mollies” are Laurie MacAllister on bass, guitar and banjo, Abbie Gardner on dobro and guitar along with the newest addition to the band, Molly Venter (that’s her real name). Their latest album, James, holds to the high standard they set on their first two, while adding a slightly more propulsive edge which makes sense in that this is the first album they’ve done with drums.

The songs are a mix of light and dark. Gardner gets to show off her jazz chops on the western swing classic The End of the Line – Patsy Cline as done by the Moonlighters, maybe? – with some jaunty ragtime piano from her dad, Herb Gardner. The bitter Appalachian gothic lament Black Flowers could be a classic folk song, its narrator taking pains to explain how the only guy in town who’s doing well is the undertaker. The creepy You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive shatters any romantic notion you might have about Tennessee coal mining country, and Tear My Stillhouse Down wouldn’t be out of place on one of Dolly Parton’s bluegrass albums.

Falling In, a suspensefully lush, sultry ballad features some absolutely brilliant, understated drum and percussion work from Ben Wittman, who adds similarly clever contributions throughout the album. Gardner’s Jezebel imaginatively blends blues and gospel influences: beware, this girl’s a barracuda! Fred Gillen Jr. guests on Gulf Coast Highway, a warmhearted portrait of an old bluecollar Florida couple trying to hang on in the new depression. There’s also the slowly crescendoing Looking for Trouble, a cautionary tale for a big boozer; the hypnotic, bluesy Troubled Mind, featuring some memorable violin work from Jake Amerding; the swinging honkytonk blues I Can’t Let Go, a showcase for Gardner’s characteristically biting, edgy dobro; and a gorgeous a-cappella version of the old folk song Foreign Lander. Red Molly play the big room at the Rockwood on 2/24 at 7:30 PM; they’re also at the First Acoustics Coffeehouse in downtown Brooklyn with Pat Wictor on guitar on 3/19.

February 16, 2011 Posted by | country music, folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Roulette Sisters’ New Album Is a Winner

Oldtimey harmony hellraisers the Roulette Sisters burst on the New York scene in the mid-zeros. They were one of the first groups to have a Saturday night residency at Barbes, put out a wickedly fun debut album, Nerve Medicine (which made our 1000 Best Albums of All Time list), and then went their separate ways for awhile. Resonator guitarist Mamie Minch made a career for herself as a solo artist, releasing her defiant solo debut, Razorburn Blues in 2008. Meanwhile, electric guitarist/banjo uke player Meg Reichardt joined forces with Kurt Hoffman in charming French chanson revivalists Les Chauds Lapins, washboard player Megan Burleyson kept busy in New York’s “hottest washboard swing ensemble,” the 4th St. Nite Owls, and violist Karen Waltuch maintained a career as a player and composer encompassing everything from klezmer, to country, to the avant garde. They reunited last year, and they’ve got a new album out, Introducing the Roulette Sisters, whose title makes sense in that this is Waltuch’s first full-length recording with the group

They open and close the album with lushly beautiful harmony-driven songs; a viscerally plaintive cover of A. P. Carter’s The Birds Were Singing of You, with a poignant guitar solo from Reichardt and lead vocal from Minch, and at the end a winsome version of Baby Please Loan Me Your Heart by Papa Charlie Jackson. Likewise, they take It Could’ve Been Sweet, by Leon Chase – of hilarious cowpunk band Uncle Leon & the Alibis – rearranging it into a shuffle that becomes a sad waltz on the chorus: “I’m not looking for a twenty year loan, just a little something extra to get me home.” The rest of the album is the innuendo-laden fun stuff that they’re best known for.

Your Biscuits Are Big Enough for Me, the Bo Carter novelty song, gets a female perspective. A Reichardt original, In the Shade of the Magnolia Tree, is an outdoor boudoir tune in a balmy Carolina setting. Burleyson does a pitch-perfect hot 20s bluesmama evocation on Hattie Hart’s I Let My Daddy Do That – as in getting her ashes hauled, i.e. opening the door to the coal chute. As funny as the vocals are, it’s one of the most musically rich moments here, a lush interweave of acoustic and electric guitars and viola – Waltuch’s pizzicato solo, like a koto playing the blues, is as much a showstopper as it is in concert.

Their version of Do Da Lee Do takes an old western swing standard and adds lyrics out of Reichardt’s collection of bawdy songs from over the years: “Roses are red and ready for plucking, I’m sixteen and ready for high school,” for example. Scuddling, by Frankie Half Pint Jaxon, is a “dance” you can do by yourself – which you could also do with someone else if they were willing – but definitely not in public. And Al Duvall’s Jake Leg Blues explores the legacy of Jamaica ginger, a Prohibition-era concoction whose side effects produced a whole lot of Eves without Adams: “In the garden I hang my head, I’m grabbing for apples now the snake is dead,” Minch snorts authoritatively. The album comes in a charming, old-fashioned sleeve handmade on an antique letterpress. There are hundreds of bands who mine the treasures of oldtime blues and Americana, few with the fearlessness and sass of the Roulette Sisters. As fun as it is to see them in small clubs in Brooklyn, where they really deserve to be is Lincoln Center, doing their vastly more entertaining version of a great American songbook.

January 19, 2011 Posted by | blues music, country music, folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 11/5/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Since we’ll be making another quick out-of-town jaunt, here’s Friday’s album, #816, a little ahead of schedule:

The Slits – Cut

We’re trying to avoid duplicating the most obvious choices which have been featured on other popular best albums lists, but this characteristically weird, irreproducible moment from the peak of punk, 1979 deserves a place here: every so often, good things actually become popular and this is one of them. Quirky and often irresistible, the lone album by the original all-female Slits (drummer Palmolive quit before the band could record: the drums here are played with surprising dubwise groove by Budgie from Siouxsie & the Banshees) has been imitated a million times but never duplicated. It’s hard to imagine Bjork without this. What’s coolest about the album is how dubwise it is, smartly and tersely produced by noted reggae bassist/bandleader Dennis Bovell. Frontwoman Ari Up was seventeen when she recorded this – her hybrid German/Jamaican accent is a long WTF moment – and leads the band with an unselfconscious defiance through the sarcastic, minimalist reggae-pop of Spend Spend Spend, So Tough (a sendup of macho poseurs); the gleeful Shoplifting; the cynical anticonformist anthem Typical Girls; and the scurrying, ominously minor-key garage-punk Love und Romance. Their darker, louder, more punk side comes across with the overtly Siouxsie-esque Newtown and Adventures Close to Home. They’d reunite with a new drummer in 2007 and tour until Ari Up tragically died at 48 just a few weeks ago. RIP. Here’s a random torrent.

November 4, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 6/11/10

Every day, our best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. After that we’ll start with the 666 best albums of alltime. As we creep a little closer to #1, Friday’s song is #48:

The Go Go’s – Forget That Day

Ostensibly this uncharacteristically epic, ornate art-pop masterpiece of a breakup ballad also broke up the band: guitarist Jane Weidlin, who wrote it, wanted to sing and Belinda Carlisle wouldn’t let her. From their gorgeous first-time-around swan song, Talk Show, 1984. Here’s a bootleg from a reputedly legendary show, Portland, Maine, summer 1984; here’s the band twenty-five years later, more propulsive and more poignant.

June 10, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Killer Triple Bill on the Lower East 5/14/10

Three bands, a lot of fun, in fact one of the funnest nights of music so far this year in New York – at just about the last place you would expect it to happen. Toronto rock trio People You Know opened. They’re growing into their good ideas, and they seem to have an unlimited supply. It’ll be interesting to see what they do once they have a more polished sound because their rough edges are what make them so appealing. It’s not easy to find their influences because their sound is so original – biting electric guitar, skittish rhythms and insistent, trebly bass, on one level totally retro 80s but also in the here and now because guitarist Aimee Bessada jumps from style to style with zero regard for tradition, fearlessly, punk rock style. And it always works. Bass player Devon Clarke is a newcomer to the instrument, already writing catchy riffs that promise to get even more interesting as she grows more comfortable with them. Drummer Iman Kassam held it simple and spot-on for Bessada’s explorations through acidic Sonic Youth noise, screechy Slits quasi-funk and plaintive Wire-esque major/minor changes. She may not be listening to any of those bands, just writing her own hooks in her bedroom by herself – if so, good for her. She dealt with adversity well, tuning and singing at the same time, Tom Rush style, and when her Gibson SG finally became untunable, she borrowed one of the next band’s guitars and scorched her way with a terse bluesiness through the next catchy postpunk number, sounding like a more down-to-earth Interpol.

AwShockKiss were a thrill ride. They really know how to write a song, slamming into one fiery, insanely memorable chorus after another. Hits have to be simple enough to stick in your mind and this band knows that. Tightly and intensely, they jumped from one to another, barely leaving any time between them. Almost everything they did was in a bracing minor key. Frontwoman Kiri Jewell took over center stage with a throaty wail similar to Bessada’s. Considering that this was Crash Mansion, it was no surprise that her lyrics didn’t often cut through the sound mix – when they did, they carried a cynical, sarcastic bite. Like People You Know, they have an 80s sound, but a good one: they would have ruled the Billboard Hot 100 in 1985. Their new bass player Charlie Cervone may have a Berklee degree but he doesn’t waste notes (a John Lockwood student, maybe?), adding an extra level of catchiness with a climb or a fill on a turnaround; their Telecaster player usually had the good sense to stick with roaring chords, mingling with Stefanie Bassett’s perfectly paced piano for some really gorgeous textures. They switched up the rhythm with a devious 7/8 verse on one number; their big 6/8 ballad was lit up with some spine-tingling tremolo-picking and then an otherworldly, reverb-drenched solo from the Tele player. The crowd screamed for an encore but the club wouldn’t give them one.

Another Toronto band, Hunter Valentine do one thing – fast, roaring new wave/punk pop – and do it tightly and passionately. Swinging her gorgeous hollow-body Gibson all over the stage, charismatic singer/guitarist Kiyomi McCloskey belted out her songs with a ferocious contralto wail in the same vein as Vera Beren – or, a generation before, Carole Pope of Rough Trade. Bassist Adrienne Lloyd and drummer Laura Petracca joined forces to provide a pummeling beat and sassy vocals when needed. Their biggest hit with the crowd was the savage powerpop song Stalker, McCloskey cutting loose with an unearthly shriek at the end of the second verse that practically drew blood – she hinted that she might do it again, but she didn’t. They wrapped up their fairly short set with Test Collision (a Toronto reference), quiet verse exploding into a roaring chorus, and then a bouncy number that they started with a wall of nails-down-the-blackboard guitar feedback.

May 15, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trouble in Tribeca, Part One: Bad Reputation, Rana Santacruz and Pistolera at the 92YTribeca, NYC 1/8/10

Friday night was Trouble Worldwide night at the 92YTribeca, part of the annual booking agents’ convention with sets from a mix of the best Barbes bands along with a couple of ringers, Rana Santacruz and the Cuban Cowboys. The Snow’s frontman Pierre de Gaillande opened the night with his latest side project (this guy seems to always be in about five bands at once), Bad Reputation, whose raison d’etre is English versions of the songs of iconic, often bawdy French individualist Georges Brassens. Guillotinings and the Bastille aside, the French typically allow for a greater freedom of expression in song lyrics than has traditionally been the case here, so it was as striking as it was amusing to hear Gaillande deadpanning about “the nun who defrosts the penis of the amputee” in the ribald Don Juan. Guitarist Tony Jarvis lit up that one with some casually intense tremolo-picking, then switching to bass clarinet for most of the other numbers as the band gave them a swinging noir cabaret feel. Gaillande has obviously put a great deal of effort into making Brassens’ wordy, argotique narratives flow smoothly in English – and with rhymes! – and this paid off immensely in the curmudgeonly but sweet 1953 song Public Benches, the blithely cynical 95% of the Time (a hilarious tale of a woman who won’t settle for anything less than sex with love), the minor-key waltz Philistines (a tribute to teenage delinquency), the O. Henry-esque Princess and the Troubadour and the first song Brassens ever wrote, a defiant outsider anthem probably dating from 1940s. Bad Reputation’s debut cd is due out auspiciously on Barbes Records sometime this year.

Backed by a boisterous band including rhythm section, violin, accordion and banjo, Mexican songwriter Rana Santacruz delivered a wry, quirky set that brought a brisk Celtic edge to traditional Mexican folkloric styles. A characteristically tongue-in-cheek number, Noche de Perro reminisced about an affair gone sour, the howling of the dogs in the night a vivid reminder that “they were more faithful than you were.” They wrapped up a very well-received show with a punked out – or Pogued-out – cover of a Vicente Fernandez ranchera number and a drinking song.

In their micro-set, Pistolera sounded like the Mexican Go-Go’s with their playful, sunny, sweetly melodic janglepop. The songs – from their forthcoming second album which transplants New York to the desert – included a bouncy ranchera rocker about the New York subway, a reggae-flavored vacation song and the swinging, effervescent, minor-key Todos se Cai (Everybody Falls Down). Then they switched gears and proceeded to play as their alter ego, the children’s music group Moona Luna. 99% of the time, children’s music is smarmy, condescending and patronizing, obviously as a selling point for the yuppie moms who buy it regardless of the fact that they too were once young and hated that stuff. But just when it seemed that like every other children’s band, this group should be exiled to the lowest circle of hell, they played the most anti-parent song of the night, which goes something like this, in both Spanish and English:

I like to jump on the bed
I like to jump on the couch
I like to jump on the floor
More! More! More!

Pistolera frontwoman Sandra Lilia Velasquez’ two-year-old daughter inspired that one. Obviously, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Maybe someday the two can share a stage and do that together.

The second half of the show, with Chicha Libre, the Cuban Cowboys and Slavic Soul Party is reviewed here.

January 11, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Catspaw Live at Hank’s Saloon, Brooklyn NY 1/3/08

It’s too easy to be jaded. It’s all too easy to say you’ve seen it all before. If you put yourself in a situation where exciting things can happen, they generally do. Case in point: tonight.

It was cold, sixteen degrees according to a digital readout visible from the Manhattan bridge. Returning from a long absence from the NYC stage, Catspaw shook off the rust, shed some sparks and got the crowd dancing. And they played Southbound Line. It’s their signature song, and it’s a classic, the kind of song that sends your adrenaline straight into the red when they play it live. The version they played tonight was somewhat offhand, kind of casual, but no less intense. It’s a fast minor-key rockabilly shuffle about a woman losing it in a hurry, on the train ride from hell. Or to hell – the southbound New Jersey Transit line runs in the opposite direction of Manhattan. Frontwoman Jasmine Sadrieh crams so many lyrics into the verse that it’s not easy to sing without losing your breath, but she did it, effortlessly. Random drunken kids asking her which way to the Jersey shore, a sketchy guy with a brown paper bag and toothpaste sitting across the aisle, and she doesn’t even know what train she’s on. When she gets to the guitar solo after the second verse, you can see what’s coming as soon as she starts with the deliberate, determined steps down the scale that she throws in between splashes of chords, but the reverb-drenched blast of guitar fury at the end is still the high point of a real thrill ride. Moments like these make a long walk in the cold and the always uncertain availability of a train ride home worthwhile.

Catspaw is pretty much defined by Sadrieh’s vintage Gretsch guitar sound and her deadpan sense of humor. One of the songs they played tonight, the darkly clanging Ancient Irish Ballad is a prime example. “We wrote this song….although I don’t think anyone in the band has Irish blood,” Sadrieh told the crowd. “But we are ancient.”

She was joking, of course. It was almost a year to the day since we saw them for the first time, seven years ago, playing one of their very first shows to an empty house on one of the last nights at the old Chicago Blues, opening for the Sea Devils (who also played to a pretty empty room). At the time, it was obvious that they had some good songs, but they weren’t very tight and as much as it was clear that everybody in the band liked playing rockabilly and surf covers, they didn’t have much of a feel for the music. How times change. In actuality, they got good in a hurry after that cold January night gig at 14th St. and 8th Ave. This time around they had their work cut out for them. On nights like this, guitars go out of tune fast and most people stay home (which is why it’s always fun to venture out on the coldest night of the year: you always pretty much have the whole place to yourself). But there was a crowd, maybe because Catspaw hadn’t played out in awhile, since their bass player left to join her husband in now-defunct garage rockers the Dark Marbles. It’s good to see that they’ve found a replacement as fluid and melodic as she was, and he was clearly having fun up there.

They opened with a couple of lively originals and then tackled a couple of rockabilly covers, 20 Flight Rock and Brand New Cadillac, staying impressively true to the originals. Sadrieh’s guitar was LOUD, so loud in fact that it wasn’t easy to hear the drums. Drummer Erica Golino is an equally powerful player. With her smart, rolling, Keith Moon-style barrage, she’s as good at building a crescendo and flying out of the chorus at full tilt as Joe Filosa (of Plastic Beef and Liza and the WonderWheels infamy). And she knows it, flinging her long hair back behind her at the end as if to say, GOTCHA.

They also did the tongue-in-cheek surf instrumental ABW, from their album Ancient Bateyed Wallman, which they were giving away for free to lucky fans tonight: “I’m sick of it,” Sadrieh winkingly told the crowd. They encored with Jailhouse Rock. It was a little incongruous hearing Elvis’ vocal delivered in Sadrieh’s carefree, unaffectedly pretty voice, but that’s how bands ought to play covers: if you can’t match the original, do it completely your way, and Catspaw did exactly that. They’re a lot of fun. It’ll be good to see them playing out more now that they have a bass player again.

January 4, 2008 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

Concert Review: The Roulette Sisters at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 6/18/07

A deliriously fun, hot, sweaty show. It was late on a Monday night, but the place was packed. The crowd sang along, and when they weren’t singing, they were laughing at all the subtle and not-so-subtle double entendres the band was harmonizing on. Because (other than great musicianship and gorgeous 4-part harmonies and stone cold authentic acoustic blues playing), sex is what the Roulette Sisters are all about. Lou Pearlman couldn’t have come up with a better marketing concept: four attractive women singing innuendo-laden oldtime music – an impressively wide-ranging mix of blues, country and 1920s/30s pop – playing their own instruments, singing beautifully and writing a lot of their own material. They opened with Coney Island Washboard: guitarist Mamie Minch explained how it was an instrumental from the early 20s given lyrics by a popular pop group, the Mills Brothers, about ten years later. Lead guitarist Meg Reichardt (also of les Chauds Lapins) added a typically suggestive postscript, telling the audience about a co-worker who was walking around the office all day wearing something akin to the “brand new suit of easy breezes” in the song’s chorus. A little later they did another original, inspired by the Carter Family, that wouldn’t be out of place on the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack.

Minch had just asked her bandmates whether they should do a pretty song or a dirty song when she was suddenly interrupted. “Fuck!” She’d just gotten a jolt of electric current from her mic. Her bandmates grinned at each other, and the question was answered: they launched into the hokum blues classic Keep on Churnin’:

Keep on churning til the butter comes
Keep on pumping, let the butter flow
Wipe off the paddle and churn some more

The crowd roared for another in the same vein, so they obliged, with heir most popular original, Hottest Girl in Town. The song is a hoot: each band member takes a verse laden with Freudian imagery, some verging on X-rated, detailing how their boyfriends like to please them. Viola player Karen Waltuch, who played incisive, somewhat dark solos all night long, took her most intricate one of the evening after her verse and the crowd loved it.

Then was Reichardt’s turn to bring the house down with an outtake from Dolly Parton’s first album, a deliciously righteous tale of a jilted woman wanting to get even with the woman who married her man: “I feel like tying dynamite to her side of the car.” After that, Minch delivered an especially sly version of the Bessie Smith hit Sugar in My Bowl.

The excellent Al Duvall – who’s quite the master of thinly veiled dirty lyrics himself – accompanied them on banjo on their last four songs, ending with a brand-new composition about a sheet music plugger (plugger: get it?) which Minch sang off a lyric sheet. She began the song as a talking blues but by the end she’d written a vocal melody and had it down cold.

You heard it here first: this band is going places. Our predecessor e-zine picked their cd Nerve Medicine as best debut album of 2006. Good to see that prediction come true, with this fantastic band getting some real momentum.

June 19, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments