Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Amanda Thorpe/Randi Russo/Ninth House at Hank’s Saloon, Brooklyn NY 8/25/07

Amanda Thorpe has made a career out of joining bands that are ok and making them suddenly great. She did that with the Wirebirds, and recently with the Bedsit Poets. Tonight she showed how, with just her voice, her songs and her new Christian guitar (it’s a gospel model that New York musicians apparently love to play in the guitar store until they notice the big white cross on the headstock). She opened with a Richard Thompson song, a-capella.“That’s as close to Linda Thompson as I can get,” Thorpe sheepishly told the crowd, but what could have been pure hubris wasn’t. As a singer, British expat Thorpe is in the same league, with a similarly haunting, resigned delivery. But she can also belt and wail and has a very playful, jazzy side that she showed off tonight. If and when Norah Jones falls off the radar – not that she should – Thorpe could very well take her place.

She played a lot of material from her forthcoming cd Union Square, including its understatedly wistful, beautifully melancholy title track. Her Bedsit Poets bandmate Edward Rogers joined her onstage for a duet on the sad, knowing The Highs Can’t Beat the Lows. A couple of times, she tried to engage the audience in a singalong, but this fell flat: everybody was too busy listening. The crowd here drinks and gabs: that she got them to shut up pretty much says it all. Her best songs were an unreleased number called the River Song, a bitter tale of rejection and betrayal, and the morbid, 6/8 Bedsit Poets sea chantey Around and Around. She also did a marvelously nuanced version of Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire, jazzed up the Mama Cass hit Dream a Little Dream of Me and closed with a breathtakingly powerful version of the Steve Wynn classic For All I Care, bringing out every ounce of the lyrics’ suicidal wrath.

The only complaint about Randi Russo’s show was that it was too quiet. Otherwise, she and her trio (minus her lead guitarist Lenny Molotov, who was out of town) played a set of some of her most powerful songs, including the hypnotic, pounding, Velvets-inflected One Track Mind (from her obscure Live at CB’s Gallery ep), the eerie, chromatic Adored, the towering, 6/8 alienation anthem Prey and the scathing minor-key dayjob-from-hell number Battle on the Periphery. She’s been playing lead guitar in the Oxygen Ponies lately, and the careening, noisy solo she took toward the end of the unreleased Hurt Me Now turned the atmospheric, melancholy song into a blazing rocker as the rhythm section channeled Joy Division. Tonight, for some reason, all the bands were quiet: at least this put her cutting lyrics and velvety vocals out front and center.

Ninth House frontman Mark Sinnis was celebrating his birthday, and they predictably packed the place. They’ve shuffled their lineup yet again, with a new guitarist. Despite not having had the chance to do much rehearsing, the Anti-Dave, as he calls himself attacked the songs with passion and imagination. Until very recently Ninth House had a very 80s dark anthemic feel, and while the majesty of the songs remains, there’s a newly bluesy, somewhat improvisatory feel to the music, particularly in the interplay between the keyboards and the guitar: an unexpected and very promising development. They burned their way through the swinging, country-inflected When the Sun Bows to the Moon and Mistaken for Love, found some new, bluesy energy in Injury Home (from their second cd Swim in the Silence) and closed with a blistering cover of Ghost Riders in the Sky.

We went to Superfine afterward and were reassured to find this place as good a choice of late-night hang as it’s always been: all the yuppies go home by 1 AM, and the crowd that remains is pretty much like any other crowd you’d find in what used to be New York, a motley crew that keeps to themselves and doesn’t annoy.

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August 26, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Concert Review: Devi at Trash, Brooklyn NY 5/29/07

“I love New York!” exclaimed Devi frontwoman/guitarist Debra. “I’m from Wisconsin, where Friday nights the thing to do was go to Poppin’ Fresh Pies.

And eat pie.”

She and her power trio played with joy and abandon: it was as if they’d just been reprieved from a lifetime at the pie parlor. Tonight it was all about the songs. Maybe it was that Debra – like seemingly every singer in New York this week – had a bad case of allergies and didn’t feel like stretching out. For the most part, instead of getting all wild and psychedelic as they’re tending to do more these days, they hammered out one catchy powerpop number after another. Debra, one of the most exciting, original, virtuosic lead guitarists in rock, did stretch out one of their favorites for jamming, the edgy, anthemic When It Comes Down. First she launched into some blues, then some strategically placed feedback, then started feeling her way through the chorus. Like a cat looking around the house for food, she sniffed at her huge Marshall amp, brushed up against the drums and pawed at her effects pedals. Then, as if returning to a favorite spot by the window, she and the band went back into the song. Like the cat, the solo didn’t really go anywhere, but its insouciant grace was undeniably captivating.

Otherwise, it was nonstop energy, one song into another. They opened with the catchy riff-rocker Another Day and later did a growling, bouncy take on the old Del Shannon hit Runaway. Later, they played a couple of excellent new numbers: first the darkly gorgeous, minor-key, backbeat-driven Howl at the Moon, followed by the funky, sarcastic Miss Indispensable. On a couple of their songs, it was gratifying to see how much of a rapport has developed between band members. Debra led them in a call-and-response (could you imagine a band-du-jour like, say, the Killers playing off each others’ phrasing?), riffing on drummer John Hummel’s pounding tom-tom work as well as the fluid, upper-register melodicism of five-string bassist Dan Grennes.

Hummel’s drums kept scooching toward the front of the stage, which was a blessing in disguise since they were amped way too high in the mix, forcing him to hold back a little and this did a lot to bring the levels under control. While it would have been nice to have heard DeSalvo take a flying leap, swing out past the edge of the cliff and pull herself back with one hand, as she so often does, it was impressive to hear how strong her new songs are. Good to see this excellent, frequently exhilarating band getting some real momentum.

June 2, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Concert Review: Randi Russo at Cake Shop, NYC 5/8/07

When the band took the stage just after 8, there wasn’t much of a crowd, perhaps because this was a last-minute gig at an odd hour for NYC’s reigning chatelaine of outsider rock anthems. The sound, usually pristine at this venue, left something to be desired for much of the show, Randi Russo’s vocals cutting in and out of the mix. She and her bass player were clearly ticked off, but the drummer and lead guitarist Lenny Molotov were exuberant. The energy was high right off the bat, as they launched into a ridiculously catchy new song, possibly titled Invisible: “I am, I am invisible/I feel, I feel invincible.” At the end, Molotov picked up the delicious soul-infused lick that opens the song. Next on the set list was Wonderland, a big alienation anthem and audience favorite from Russo’s first full-length cd, Solar Bipolar. “I heard you went to Wonderland/Come back and see me if you can.”

They followed with another unreleased track, a titanic, 6/8 epic called Prey which the band built to a towering crescendo and an uncharacteristically metalesque ending. After that, they dug out one of her earlier songs, the stomping, hook-driven, Velvets-style One Track Mind, from her Live at CB’s Gallery ep. The next tune was another unreleased number, House on the Hill which built from a swinging backbeat on the verse to a percussive firestorm on the chorus, then back again. Following that, they did the funky, haunting, minor-key Battle on the Periphery, a dayjob-from-hell number that gave Molotov a chance to show off his love of evil, Middle Eastern-inflected licks. The set’s final song was the surprisingly upbeat Ceiling Fire, from Russo’s latest album Shout Like a Lady.

Russo didn’t say much between songs, busy changing from one tuning to another. She’s lefthanded and plays Hendrix-style, upside down, and with the odd tunings, gets a maelstrom of eerie, ringing overtones out of her Gibson SG guitar. She and the band encored with a long, ragaesque, psychedelic number that gave them a chance to stretch out and play off each other. They’ve been heading in a more improvisational direction lately, unusual for a group whose job is basically to flesh out Russo’s meticulously crafted songs. For anyone who missed this show – and by the looks of it, most did – they’re playing Cake Shop again at the early hour of 5:30 PM on Saturday May 19 in celebration of the bass player’s birthday, as they’ve done for three years in a row now. No doubt much of the crème de la crème of the NYC underground music scene will be there (which means that you won’t have to worry about bumping into Lindsay Lohan or her legions of lookalikes).

May 10, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album Review: Debra DeSalvo – Hoboken Demos

Her first album was called Electric Goddess, and this effort, her second, gets this prosaic title. She got it backwards. DeSalvo is best known as a fiery, virtuosic lead guitarist, a master of touch, tone and shading as well one of the most exhilirating fret-burners around. This cd highlights her songwriting, which falls somewhere between Scout, Neil Young circa Tonight’s the Night and PJ Harvey circa Raw. The songs here jangle and clang, build to catchy, crescendoing choruses and surprisingly don’t have as much wild guitar intensity as one would usually expect from her. The cd’s opening cut Welcome to the Boneyard is a bonafide classic, a gorgeously sad number sung from the point of view of someone beyond the grave. The following track All That I Need is a power pop smash that could be Scout or Patti Rothberg. After that, When It Comes Down (a big concert favorite) is the most guitarishly boisterous of the three. Yet what impresses here perhaps the most are DeSalvo’s vocals: she’s become a terrific singer with impressive range. Fans of the guitar pantheon – BB, Jimi, Gilmour, the Alberts (King and Collins), Debbie Davies, etc. – should not deprive themselves of the chance to get to know her. And for fans of Scout, this will be especially satisfying: DeSalvo has the same casual charisma as that band’s frontwoman A.K. Healey.

DeSalvo is also an author, and a very funny one at that: her book The Language of the Blues is imbued with heaping portions of the laugh-out-loud humor that until recently didn’t usually make it through the poker-faced intensity of her music. She and her power trio Devi (Hindi for “goddess”) play around New York every month or so.

April 30, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments