Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Let’s Hear It for the Dixie Chicks

Among the cool bands we’ve never given a shout out to here before: the Dixie Chicks. Yeah, you heard that right, the Dixie Chicks. Texas may have a reputation as a troglodyte state but it’s given birth to plenty of smart, nonconformist women, among them Natalie Maines, Emily Robison and Martie Maguire. When they first came out back in the 90s, the Dixie Chicks were viewed as sort of the Go-Go’s of country music, which is more than a little off the mark – the Chicks may have started out as a bluegrass band, but by the time they achieved nationwide fame, they’d had most of the country squeezed out of them. And quality musicianship by women in Americana roots music is a hundred-year-old tradition. But they left a mark. Getting caught standing up to Bush regime repression won them a mainstream audience at the price of the lunatic fringe of their “country” crowd: if not for Maines’ offhand comment about being embarrassed that George W. Bush considered himself a fellow Texan, they probably wouldn’t have reached much more than cult status north of the Mason-Dixon line. The Berklee-trained Maines remains one of the most influential singers of her time, and by the end of the road they were writing most of their own songs, something unthinkable in millennial corporate Nashville. The new anthology, The Essential Dixie Chicks (up at itunes and all the usual spots) does justice to the women who somewhat unexpectedly became one of the very last genuinely good top 40 bands.

The double-cd compilation has most of their best stuff from their post-1998 era (they independently released a handful of highly regarded albums before then); for those who missed them the first time around, it’s as good as any way to get to know them. Interestingly, the sequence of tracks looks at their career in reverse, starting out with the bristling Not Ready to Make Nice, Maines’ response to the tea party crowd in the wake of her anti-Bush comments (which she’s vaccillated about since then). Their feminism is all the more genuine, considering how mundanely they expressed it: women refusing to assume traditional roles, keep sweet or subsume their dreams in order to get a guy. At their best, their sarcastic response to the conformity around them is pure punk rock, perfectly capsulized in the snarling Texas shuffle Lubbock or Leave It, where there are “more churches than trees.” Even before the Iraq war, they took an antiwar stance, more than alluded to here, notably on Traveling Soldier, which was a sizeable hit. The bitterness of the post-Top of the World stuff is visceral; barn-burners like Long Time Gone still resonate good vibes even if they’re basically pop songs with rustic instrumentation, and the blistering bluegrass breakdown White Trash Wedding shows they could still play that stuff if they wanted to. And Earl’s here too: ironically, it was that exuberantly silly murder ballad that established their cred with fans who’d missed their earlier, more traditionalist incarnation. The band’s future isn’t clear, although sisters Robison and Maguire continue as the Court Yard Hounds. If this is it, this retrospective sends them out with the respect they deserve.

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November 3, 2010 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hipster Demolition Night II at Glasslands

This would have been the best rock show of the year if it hadn’t been so physically taxing. Thursday night, an atrocious sound mix and hundred-ten degree heat (the club has no air conditioning) couldn’t stop four excellent bands. Hipster Demolition Night III moves to Public Assembly in August, which has both air conditioning and much better sonics, an auspicious move for both musicians and fans, especially those who stuck around in the sweatbox this time out. The Anabolics opened. This band just gets better and better with every gig, it seems. Frontwoman/guitarist Anna Anabolic ran her Gibson through a vintage Vox amp for some of the most delicious natural distortion you can possibly imagine: in their finest moments, they sounded like the Dead Boys. Other times they resembled another first-rate female-fronted garage band, the Friggs (whose frontwoman Palmyra Delran happened to be playing Maxwell’s the same night). Anna’s chirpy vocals were buried in the mix most of the time, as were the bass player’s agile, fluid Rickenbacker lines. The drummer took a few vocals but never got the chance to cut through either. At least the songs were good: the ferocious Dead Boys-ish anthem they played early in the set, the Go Go’s-style girl-group punk song Bad Habit and the ghoulish Kill for Thrills that they closed with. They’re at Bruar Falls on August 1.

Jay Banerjee & the Heartthrobs were next. Banerjee is the creator of Hipster Demolition Night and really knows his way around a retro janglerock song. They have two Rickenbacker guitars in the band, which usually means a feast of ringing overtones; this show only hinted how good they’d sound with in a club with a competent sound engineer. Lead player Jason Szutek was obviously working hard, but most of what he played got lost in the sonic sludge. With the guitars abetted by some neat upper-register, melodic bass work, the band battled through a couple of powerpop numbers that could have been the Raspberries if those guys had been born right around the time they were making records. Several more echoed the way the Jam would amp up old R&B hits; a couple of tasty, jangly ballads had more than a few echoes of the Byrds. They closed with an ecstatically fun cover of the Beatles’ You Can’t Do That.

If the Gaslight Anthem could actually write a song, they might sound something like Wormburner. The anthemic New Jersey five-piece powerpop band blasted through one fiery, smartly lyrically-driven anthem after another. Escape is a constant theme with them (any surprise, considering where they’re from?). Early in the set, one of their janglier numbers, Peekskill, chronicled an aimless trip up and down (mostly down) along the Hudson, from one dead-end town to another, through power outages and worse. A cover of Guided By Voices’ Teenage FBI perfectly evoked its contempt and frustration at pressure to conform; their closing version of the Undertones’ Teenage Kicks was tighter and ballsier than the original. In between they threw in a catchy ba-ba-ba pop song, but done as the mid-80s Ramones might have done it, a couple of big midtempo stomps, and a long, drawn-out version of Interstate, their towering, distantly Springsteenish highway alienation anthem, their lead guitarist switching to bass and doing some tremendously interesting, melodic work with it (it was hard to hear much of anything else in the din, let alone their charismatic frontman’s lyrics). Interestingly, they also contributed the night’s lone, caustic anti-trendoid moment [From day one, we were pioneers here in refusing to use the h-word, even though Banerjee thinks that’s a mistake. He thinks that the more overtly hostile slur, “trendoid” plays into their “esthetic,” if you can call it that, because the word’s robotic connotation mirrors what they’d most like to be. He’s probably right.] Wormburner once shared a rehearsal space with the Rapture, and when they moved out they liberated one of the Rapture’s keyboard stands. That this stand was being used to support a keyboard being played by an actual human being (the rhythm guitarist) was a point that resonated with the crowd.

Muck & the Mires headlined. The moptopped, redshirted heirs to the throne occupied for decades by the Lyres and the Fleshtones, this era’s kings of garage rock were as fun as always. They mixed up a bunch of songs from their most recent album, Hypnotic one along with some older crowd-pleasers. Drummer Jessie Best and bassist John Quincy Mire kicked out a boisterously slinky British Invasion beat while frontman/rhythm guitarist “Muck” Shore and lead player Brian Mire punched and clanged over it with just enough vintage tube amp distortion to add a tinge of danger: considering how hot it must have been onstage by the time they went on, it’s surprising that nothing caught fire, at least in a literal sense.

Shore alluded to having Kim Fowley in the merch booth, which may or may not have been true, although Fowley did produce the new record. A couple of songs had a Jeff Beck-era Yardbirds rattle and clatter; the rest of the set smartly mixed up punch riff-rockers, jangly midtempo tunes and a couple with a ghoulabilly feel. The best song of the night was one of the set’s early ones, Do It All Over Again, a dead ringer for a Lyres classic circa 1981 with its snarling, insanely catchy chorus. By the time they finally called it a night, most of the crowd, withered by the heat, had escaped into the relative cool of Kent Avenue. Public Assembly in August has never looked so good.

July 18, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Cudzoo & the Fagettes at Arlene’s, NYC 2/26/10

It’s hard to imagine a New York band right now who are more fun than than Cudzoo & the Fagettes. As one of the band members said Friday night at Arlene’s, it may have been snowy outside but it sure was hot inside. This group really pulls out all the stops, putting on a fullscale spectacle. While a screen was being set up in the corner, the mic stands each stood erect between a pair of big pink balloons. Juvenile as the visual was, it was impossible not to laugh. Meanwhile, a pretty girl wandered through the crowd handing out free raffle tickets (more on that later).

Dressed in matching pink sequined dresses, the band’s three frontwomen – the fearlessly bodacious E-Bomb and her cohorts J-Train and Mamrie – took the stage while a montage of old newsreel footage, complete with blaring, martial orchestral music, played on the screen. A voiceover began: “The world’s a fucked up place. War in the Middle East. A recession with no end in sight. Global warming. Wife-swapping. Very large, unhealthy fast-food portions.” Luckily, Cudzoo, “those sassy, sashaying little sweethearts out of Astoria, Queens” had arrived to spread their “brand of glitter and whiskey fun.” All of a sudden, their album – which we reviewed last year – started to make perfect sense. Funny as it is, it’s a soundtrack: the experience isn’t complete without the show.

Their first song bitchslapped sorority girl-style conspicuous consumption: the ditz doesn’t want her parents to know that a “dirty Mexican” knocked her up, but when she gets the abortion she gets the fetus goldplated and suddenly it’s bling. J-Train sang the hilariously weird You Beat the Shit Out of My Heart, which may or may not be a cautionary tale about S&M. A new one, Walk of Shame was even funnier, a girl waking up with poo-poo mouth, gum in her hair and having to fight strollers on the sidewalk in order to get home incognito. Another new one about the pros and cons of friends with benefits was their one semi-thoughtful number; they also did tributes to fingerfucking, sleeping with a guy’s siblings, and a rapidfire hip-hop song about breasts on the subway. That one’s open to audience participation – if you can come up with a rhyming couplet about seeing boobs on the train, bring it to the next Cudzoo show.

The grand prize winner of the raffle was a guy. He sent his girlfriend, Jenny, up to collect her prize. The band leered at her, sat her down onstage and proceeded to give her everything but a lap dance (Mamrie nibbled her ear lasciviously) while serenading her with a newly lesbian version of Drummer Boy, E-Bomb’s come-on to her favorite kind of musician. Jenny took it all bravely but the second the song was over, she bolted (Jenny’s boyfriend may also be single now). Meanwhile, the “drunkest working band in New York City,” the Fagettes stood deadpan behind the action, doing their lo-budget garage-pop and pseudo-Ramones thing and staying out of the way. That seems to be what they’re supposed to do. Actually, bassist Lorenzo Potenzo, platinum-haired drummer Dr. Eviller and the guitarist didn’t look drunk – but the front line did, particularly E-Bomb, who’d obviously been pregaming.

They closed with a phony country song, a girl getting revenge on her ex by blogging about his “tiny penis and lack of class,” and then the self-explanatory punk-pop My Boyfriend’s Got a Boyfriend. Before they left the stage, they fired off a couple of tubes of glitter into the crowd. The front rows were cannon fodder: they didn’t have a prayer.  By now it was a little after one in the morning –  the crowd screamed for an encore but didn’t get one. We’ll leave it to the Village Voice to talk about how these women speak truth to power about sexual politics – what’s important is that last night, Cudzoo got the whole house laughing, Democrats and wrong-thinkers alike.

February 27, 2010 Posted by | concert, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

CD Review: Cudzoo & the Faggettes – The Prettiest Girls with the Filthiest Mouths

Truth in advertising. Cudzoo & the Faggettes aren’t bad looking, and they seem to be on a mission to offend everyone within earshot. They’ve got more in common with the nastiest gangsta rap you can imagine, rather than the 60s girl-group pop they imitate (or parody) on their debut cd. This project seems to be the brainchild of one E-Bomb AKA Erin McCarson, an actress with a background in underground theatre. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the songs here seem like they were written to be part of a larger skit – again, like hip-hop. The band’s other frontwomen Jess “J-Train” Bartley and Mamrie “Mame-Town” Hart join her singing over a decent facsimile of the Shangri-La’s with a little glamrock thrown in. Most of their songs are about sex – they are absolutely obsessed with it. This isn’t the best album of the year but it is one of the funniest.

Their pro-choice song is in-your-face, nasty and about as far from politically correct as you can get – Bodies by the Pistols has nothing on this. When E-Bomb can’t snag the guy she wants, she does his whole family instead. If the lyrics are to be taken on face value (yeah, right), she seems to have a thing for drummers. Mame-Town contributes a hilarious number about being dumped by a cheater who then gets married in seconds flat – it’s got to be the only song that’s ever tried to make a rhyme with “commitment” and “eat a dick then.” There’s also a bizarre number about getting picked by a S&M weirdo (and liking it), a song about fingerfucking, and a surprisingly straight-up pop tune that winds up the album. And a song about their favorite hairstyle –  what the B-52s did for the bouffant, Cudzoo would like to do for the French braid. It’s retro and it’s a lot of fun. The band doesn’t seem to be playing out much – unsurprising, since they’re probably busy with plays and shoots (and guys) – watch this space for upcoming shows.

August 17, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Some Usual Suspects You Might Have Missed

We don’t review every show we see. Some of them suck. Or sometimes a good performer has a off night, and since we’d rather report good news than bad – believe it or not – we hold back til we have something worth recommending. And we don’t want to get pegged as a fansite that goes on and on about the same stale faces. There’s a lot going on in this town and we try to make Lucid Culture a reflection of that.

 

But this week was one of familiar faces, none of them the least bit stale. Went to the Roulette Sisters a week ago at Barbes. Unsurprisingly the place was packed: this band has a huge following, and there was no way that all their fans were going to be able to squish themselves, sardine-like into the little back room here. They did their usual mix of innuendo-laden old blues covers along with a completely over-the-top original in that vein, and another called Border Radio, a tribute to the Carter Family that the band recorded on an Edison cylinder last summer as part of a as-yet unissued compilation album. The band’s four-part harmonies, the lead guitar, National steel guitar, washboard and viola have never sounded better. They also covered a song by Uncle Leon and the Alibis. Uncle Leon apparently wrote a song about some product and is now off on tour playing that song, courtesy of the manufacturer (whoever they are – doesn’t really matter, does it?). Speaking of which, considering that artists can’t really make that much money off cd sales anymore, we don’t have any problem with musicians licensing their songs to commercials and such. Whether the song is any good or not, if there is anyone left alive twenty years from now, nobody is going to remember if a song was used to hawk product X or Y a generation before. Nobody listens to commercials anyway: everybody mutes or Tivos them. That the corporations haven’t realized this and are still wasting fifteen percent of earnings on advertising is a mystery we don’t have an answer to.

Then on Wednesday we ended up at Luna where Ninth House were playing an uncharacteristically early, midweek show. Luna is a big space, and in order to pay the rent they put a lot of bands on the bill here, starting early. The opening act tonight was the Duelists. We don’t usually do bad reviews, but these guys were something worse than awful. Completely beyond the pale: Uncle Pumpkin, whom we excoriated a few weeks ago, are delightful by comparison. This unit is essentially a dorky, flannel-shirted white guy who can’t sing a lick, accompanied by his Asian girlfriend who shares his inability to sing on key and who also proved that she can’t dance in time with the music. We calculated that the backing band behind them – a rhythm section, lead guitarist, keyboardist and two horns – probably cost the couple at least $700 for this show and maybe a rehearsal or two. It’s impossible to imagine the musicians doing this gig for anything other than money, because the squeaky-clean, G-rated, wide-eyed Up with People-style straight-to-the-Disney-Channel pop they played was arguably the worst set we’ve seen all year. You could say that their songs are anthems for the kind of kids who stay virgins until they get married, except that the songs aren’t anthemic: there’s no melody to remember. And their lyrics sound like something their frontboy lifted  directly from some random page of a Tony Robbins self-help paperback: “I just want to be myself but I can’t!” he exclaimed tunelessly, over and over again while his galpal jumped joyously if clumsily in front of her mic. Their ineffably white, pep-rally enthusiasm wouldn’t have been out of place at a Klan rally. Who were those Pennsylvania twins who about a year ago were doing white supremacist Madonna-style pop? The Duelists should hook up with them. “We have one more for you,” dorkboy finally told the crowd. “No more!” bellowed a Ninth House fan, a sentiment echoed by the crowd, who’d come out probably expecting a potentially bad segue, but nothing remotely this awful. What were the Duelists thinking? That their neighbors and co-workers from suburban New Jersey – or wherever they hail from – would shlep all the way out to Williamsburg to see them? They didn’t. Hopefully they’ll go back to the strip mall land that spawned them and stay there.

Ninth House’s newfound taste for improvisation seems to have reached its outer limits, limited strictly to intros, outros and the extra verse or chorus here and there. As much as the idea of improvisational art rock might seem off-putting, this is a band you should see. Everybody in the band is listening to everyone else. With the addition of the new guitarist and violinist, they’ve discovered interplay, and the effect can be delicious. On the potent Nashville gothic kiss-off anthem Mistaken for Love, the violin gave it a cajun flavor, further spiced up with biting, bluesy guitar. Then they took an extra verse right before the end of the song, and the guitarist took it into Ziggy Stardust glam territory: unexpected, to say the least, and potentially ugly, but it worked perfectly. And then they ended it cold. Their version of the old Sisters of Mercy goth hit Nine While Nine is perfect for what they’re doing now: it’s only two chords, giving everybody a lot of latitude to stretch out. Bands like Phish and the Moe may have given jamming a bad name, but it’s been an important part of rock since before rock was rock: they don’t call it a bluegrass jam for nothing. When a band gets really good at improvising, it adds a completely new dimension to their live show: you’ll never see them play the same song the same way twice. Which gives the audience a whole new reason to come to shows. Props to Ninth House for taking the road less traveled, especially at this relatively late stage of their career.

November 10, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments