Here’s the satirical, utterly original New York band Witches in Bikinis getting the boot on America’s Got Talent.
Now here’s the band the same day, singing the same song live on Fangoria Radio and nailing it with characteristic panache.
What the tv audience wasn’t told is that America’s Got Talent edited out 99% of what Witches in Bikinis actually sang and played. It appears that the clip is actually two edits – one from one of the choruses of Love Potion #9 and another from the very end of the song with the band edited out of the mix – pasted together to give the misleading impression that they’re getting the heave-ho after just seconds onstage. Trouble is, it didn’t happen that way. And you thought reality tv was real…
“You goin’ to Poughkeepsie?” a paunchy, greyhaired guy in a Zappa tour shirt and jeans eagerly asked his somewhat more nattily attired friend reclining on a blanket in the wet grass. The friend grimaced as he made an attempt to shift his weary bones into a more comfortable position. The guy to their right had a Bowie shirt: the Sound & Vision Tour, 1990 (wait a minute – Sound & Vision was a 70s song!).
“It’s just like the Fillmore, ’73!” exclaimed another concertgoer into his cellphone, ratty ponytail swinging below what was left of his hair, his voice equal parts wonderment and self-deprecation.
But this was no nostalgia show. Ian Hunter and his five-piece backing unit the Rant Band went on a little late, without a soundcheck and transcended a dodgy sound mix, playing a fiery, anthemically melodic mix of mostly upbeat, smartly literate, glam-inflected four-on-the-floor rock. Most of the songs were more recent and were unequivocally excellent: Hunter has never written or sounded better. Kinda heartwarming to see a guy who’s pushing seventy at the peak of his artistic career. Hunter is something of an anomaly in rock, the former frontman of a generic 70s “hard rock” band whose solo career vastly surpasses any radio or arena rock success he might have enjoyed with Black Crowes foreshadowers Mott the Hoople. Decked out in his trademark shades, playing acoustic guitar (and piano on the set’s closing numbers), he was characteristically energetic and intense throughout his practically 90-minute battle with one technical difficulty after another. “There are women and children here, I can’t vent my spleen,” he snarled after the crew finally got his mic at the piano working.
They opened with the big anthem Once Bitten Twice Shy, just Hunter and the drums until the two electric guitars and the bass finally came in on the second chorus. Central Park and West, from Hunter’s underrated 1981 Short Back and Sides album (produced by Mick Jones) was warmly received as the chorus kicked in: “New York City’s the best!!!” By the time they launched into the gritty, backbeat-driven anthem Soul of America, a ridiculously catchy number that wouldn’t be out of place in the Willie Nile catalog, they’d finally gotten all the guitar issues ironed out. Big Mouth, from Hunter’s Shrunken Heads cd was a characteristically sardonic, urbane urban tale with a surprisingly ornate bridge, finally given some guitar firepower with a couple of ferocious twin solos. Then they took the volume up even further with the snidely riff-rocking 9/11 memorial song Twisted Steel.
Best song of the night was the title track from the forthcoming album Man Overboard, a wrenching, towering, anguished 6/8 ballad, a bitter chronicle of disappointments and a desperate need to escape. After that, the rest of the show could have been anticlimactic, but it wasn’t, the feeling of unease recurring in the potent anthem 23A Swan Hill: “There’s gotta be some way outta here, this can’t be life.” They also treated the crowd to one of the closest things Hunter’s had to a radio hit here, Just Another Night, and a Bowie-esque two-keyboard song building a Moonlight Sonata-ish ascending riff into hypnotic intensity. The last of the recent songs was a big, stomping riff-rocker, Out of the Running, also from the new album. They did some songs after that, but those were for the nostalgia crowd and were pretty tired. Most of the dark rockers of the 70s like Lou Reed may have gone off to “experimental” land or elsewhere, but Ian Hunter’s midnight oil still smokes and burns.
Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Saturday’s song is #508:
David Bowie – Rock N Roll Suicide
The whole point of suicide songs is to discourage anyone considering it – those who write that kind of song typically do so as an alternative. Has this anthem ever saved a life? Wouldn’t bet against it. YOU’RE NOT ALONE!!! Last cut on Ziggy Stardust, 1972; mp3s are everywhere.
Nightcall is the most exciting new band in New York. It’s retro revivalist Bliss Blood’s latest project, alongside the delightful, old-timey Moonlighters, Polynesian psychedelic unit Voodoo Suite and the acoustic blues band Delta Dreambox. “We’ve invented a new genre: snuff torch songs,” she told the audience, and the result was absolutely riveting. Playing her trusty ukelele, accompanied by upright bassist Peter Maness and electric guitarist Stu Spasm, who used a tiny amp with tons of reverb, she and her accomplices played a mix of covers and originals: all with a crime theme. “In all our songs, the criminal has to win,” she explained. They did sweetly ominous, noir versions of the theme to the James Bond film You Only Live Twice, a Leonard Bernstein composition called Big Stuff (“Not from West Side Story,” Blood told the crowd), and Tom Waits’ Black Market Baby. But their best numbers were all originals, including a haunting Moonlighters tune, Broken Doll. They also played their “signature song,” the lurid tale of an intruder aptly titled Nightcall, and Blackwater, which was far and away the high point of the night. “This is for Halliburton…and the mercenaries in Iraq,” Blood mused aloud. The song began with an ominous minor-key theme, the bass carrying the melody:
Don’t look too closely or you’ll find
He has a mercenary mind
He’ll be your man if you can pay
And when the gold is in his hands
He’ll acquiesce to your demands
Play any game you want to play
After a macabre, chromatic chorus, the bass player scurried up and down the scale like a twisted old man on the way to a Carlyle Group meeting.
In many ways Blood epitomizes what the Bush regime fears the most. She’s a charming, wickedly intelligent, completely innocent-looking Texan who never misses a chance to call truth to power, and does so in a blithely amusing way that doesn’t alienate audiences. Today was Puerto Rican day in Manhattan: “I’m from Vieques,” she joked. “You have to excuse me, I’m all messed up from the stuff they drop there,” referring to all the depleted uranium that’s covered the island over more than a decade of Air Force bomb testing.
“A-C-E,” came the reply.
“Can we write on the keys?” Rawles asked the soundman. The answer was no.
Rawles had for some inexplicable reason brought a guitar that was “broken,” he said. Nonetheless, he was determined to get through the show, seated at the piano, an instrument he doesn’t know how to play. Rawles Balls is the cover band from hell, capable of butchering pretty much any song from any era and tonight was a fullscale massacre. Doing his best to hammer out a bassline with two fingers, Rawles must have played At the Hop – or tried to, anyway – at least four times. When they’re on their game, Rawles Balls perfectly embody the true spirit of punk rock, having a gleeful time poking fun at every conceivable aspect of what they play. Taking the concept to the logical extreme, they never rehearse and the band is in a constant state of flux, with practically a new lineup every week: tonight Rawles dragged the estimable Ward White (who played bass in the band for a time) up to the stage. White fed Rawles lyrics as he struggled through the Bowie classic Five Years. “This is the last song we’ll ever play,” Rawles facetiously told the audience, managing to botch even the reference (that’s what Bowie says before Rock n Roll Suicide, dude).
At this point it looks like Rawles may have depleted the talent pool, such as it exists for a band like this. His backing unit tonight, such that it was, included a woman who sang harmonies on a few songs, a friend who knew a few piano chords and another who came up to the stage, tried to get through Fur Elise as Rawles whistled along but gave up in disgust after about fifteen seconds. And the Ward White cameo. And of course they recorded this show, since Rawles Balls has in the past three years released over 50 (fifty) albums, which has to be a record. All but two of those are live concert recordings.
In a sick way, it took a tremendous amount of nerve for Rawles to get up onstage and try to fake his way through an hourlong set, completely unrehearsed, playing an unfamiliar instrument. However, there were indications that he might not have been as completely lost as he seemed: there were clever segues between songs that shared the exact same chord changes, and he did exhibit an ability to at least figure out the bassline to maybe half of what he attempted to play. Then there was the issue of the “broken” guitar. When the Rawles Balls act is working, it’s unimaginably funny. Tonight was a new low: by the time the sound guy gave Rawles the two-minute warning, it was simply a reprieve. Which in itself was pretty amusing.
Incendiary, twisted, quintessentially New York rock from one of its better guitar-wielding denizens. Paul Alves AKA Sousalves plays all the instruments here except the drums, slashing and scratching out a wired, distorted, strung-out concoction that sometimes eerily resembles legendary French rockers Noir Desir (whose frontman Bertrand Cantat murdered his girlfriend in a coke-fueled rage). There’s some vintage Gun Club somewhere in there, too, it seems. Sousalves likes minor keys, percussive riffs where the guitar doubles the rhythm of the drums, and the occasional evil chromatic hook. The whole album has a hallucinatory, 5 AM, out-too-late, out-of-control feel. It opens with a dirty instrumental passage that segues into Silver Shoes, which could be Noir Desir…or could be early Midnight Oil, from the days when they were a metal band. The cd’s title track features another notable Lower East Side denizen, Deborah Sassiver, playing Nico to Sousalves’ Lou here, adding layers of eerie,watery vocals to this cut and several others as well. The album’s next cut Passin Thru begins with a tinkling arpeggio played on what sounds like a koto, building to a titanic yet impressively terse, feedback-infused guitar solo before fading back to quiet again. The following track Tail Another Chase is as predictably warped as the title would imply, driven by a pounding chromatic riff. After that, Making It Happen takes it down a notch for a couple of minutes before reverting to the percussive fire of the rest of the album.
There’s ostensibly a video of Sousalves playing a live acoustic version of the next cut, Dance Tango, circulating on the internet somewhere: that’s a good thing, because this electric version strangely doesn’t have the hypnotic intensity of the unplugged take. The next song Painted It Black appeared on Sousalves’ previous ep …To Self and sounds something like what the Red Hot Chili Peppers would have done if they weren’t so interested in being rock stars. The highlight of the album, End of Your Rainbow reverts to a scorched-earth, nouveau Noir Desir fury, the odd tempo and ascending progression of the bridge exploding into its killer chorus. Sousalves closes the cd with a couple of hypnotic tracks, Waiting to Kiss You For Days which builds to a Jefferson Airplane-esque funk groove, and the quieter Meridians, with its neat trick ending. It’s a cliché but they really don’t make rock like this much anymore: fans of late great bands like the Chrome Cranks, Honeymoon Killers and Knoxville Girls will love this. Caveat – this album won’t really sound good unless you play it loud.
Sousalves plays the cd release for this album at Midway (the old Guernica space) at 10 PM on Tues May 1.