Lucid Culture


A Cutting Edge Night at the Jewish Museum

It took a lot of nerve for the Jewish Museum to stage their first collaboration with the Bang on a Can folks. That the Bang on a Can folks – New York’s most entrenched avant garde franchise – could deliver a program that required as much nerve to sit through as this one did testifies to their ongoing vitality. The bill last night – designed to dovetail with the Museum’s current minimalist-themed sculpture exhibits – was as electrifying as it was exasperating.

Both of those qualities were intentional, and in tune with the compositions on the program.  The duo of guitarists James Moore and Taylor Levine, from the reliably exciting Dither guitar quartet, opened with David Lang’s Warmth [dude: get to know Title Case lest you someday wind up in the E.E. Cummings category], a series of subtly interwoven circular riffs which Moore attributed to Lang as being “really sad stadium rock, two guitars doing their best to play together and failing miserably.” As a subtle parody of dramatic gestures, it made a point, even if that point could have been made in somewhat less time than it took.

They followed with a selection of early John Zorn extended-technique guitar etudes that were more challenging to hear than they were to play. Those dated from the late 70s, in the days when Zorn might have been found blowing bubbles through his alto sax into a bucket of water in the basement of King Tut’s Wah-Wah Hut (now Niagara Bar on Avenue A; you can google it). By contrast, Michael Gordon’s City Walk,  the lone instrumental piece from an opera the Bang on a Can triumvirate (Gordon, Lang and Julia Wolfe) did back in the 90s with iconic New York cartoonist Ben Katchor, worked a tirelessly counterrhythmic, counterintuitive, minimalistic pulse, the guitarists joined by Bang on a Can Allstars‘ David Cossin on percussion (was that a car muffler, and then vibraphone?) and Vicky Chow on piano.

Moore switched to bass, but played it through a more trebly Fender DeVille guitar amp, for a take of Philip Glass’ even more hypnotic, subtly shapeshifting Music in Fifths, true to Cossin’s description as being “quite epic and really fun to do.” They wound up the show with Louis Andriessen’s Worker’s Union, a defiantly hammering 1975 piece that a larger Bang on a Can contingent had performed a couple of weeks previously at this year’s Marathon at the World Financial Center. That performance left any kind of resolution open: would the drilling, industrialist rhythm, absent harmony or melody, be triumphant, or a failed revolution? The answer wasn’t clear. Stripping it down to just bass, guitar, percussion and Chow’s electric piano – a cruelly difficult arrangement that she often wound up playing on the sides of her hands, chopping her way up the scale – they circled and circled and finally found what looked like a victory. The audience – a surprisingly diverse demographic – gave them the win. The next Bang on a Can event here is on November 6 featuring iconic progressive jazz composer and alto saxophonist Steve Coleman.


July 11, 2014 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 3/8/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Sunday’s (did you turn your clock ahead?) song is #507:

Elmore James – Cry for Me

One of the most technologically advanced artists of his era, James was multi-tracking in stereo as early as 1956! Not to be confused with the boogie Cry for Me Baby, this is a fast, sinister shuffle featuring the great Chicago blues guitarist in terse, fast, minor-key mode without his trademark slide. Mp3s are out there, but be prepared for some sifting.

March 7, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 3/3/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Tuesday’s song is #512:

The Gotham 4 – 3001

Ninth House guitarist Keith Otten originally released this towering, savage, flamenco-inflected anthem on the 1997 debut cd by his Kotten project, but it’s his 2006 two-guitar version with this later band that really burns down the house. Unlike what you might think, it’s not a sci-fi epic; the title refers to the number of days in a marriage.

March 3, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Intodown – Brave New World

This is the darkest cd we’ve reviewed in awhile, maybe since Black Fortress of Opium’s gorgeously murky debut back in the spring. Aside from a couple of voiceovers and a brief excerpt from a 13th Floor Elevators song, it’s all instrumentals, basically just Texas guitarist Michael Clark’s million overdubs and a varied cast of bassists and drummers. Ominous, awash in reverb and absolutely hypnotic much of the time, this album blends surf music, Link Wray instrumental stomp, 70s stoner metal and noise rock into a constantly shifting morass of sound, less of an expressway to your skull than a moonlit beach road there. If there’s any comparison to one band in particular, much of this sounds like popular 80s indie instrumentalists the Raybeats on really good acid, with occasional echoes of one of Clark’s favorite bands, adventurous Cali guitar experimentalists the Mermen. Clark loves chromatics, maximizing the use of all those eerie tonalities. Melodically, as in much of South Asian music, he tends not to move far from where he starts out, further enhancing the songs’ trancelike quality.


These songs are long.  The cd’s first cut, clocking in at a mere eight minutes or so is by the far the fastest, starting out like a surfy version of The Ledge by the Replacements, Clark’s somewhat bluesy reverb guitar contrasting with some surprisingly balmy, bluesy trumpet work. The seven-minute title track starts out spacy, becoming alternatingly sinster and pensive. As with most of these songs, the dyamics here constantly shift and change shape, tension building as the melody rises and then falls, the bassist playing big, boomy chords while Clark builds a heavy sonic thundercloud using an ocean of contrasting guitar textures.


Clocking in at just a second short of 22 minutes, the seven-part epic Fire seems to have been tailor-made for college radio, particularly any dj who needs a song long enough for a quick trip to the liquor store and back before it’s time to change the cd. It’s often absolutely mesmerizing in its growling majesty. Much of this is written strictly in the chromatic scale, its loud, fast early sections evoking the dissonant fire of legendary New York rockers Live Skull, later becoming more percussive in a spaced-out, Queens of the Stone Age vein. As it moves on, it grows more ambient with swirls of feedback and natural overtones howling from the amps. As the opening theme comes back around, big beautiful chords looming low underneath, the song ends. “For destruction, ice is also great,” Clark adds. The following cut, Nostradamous [sic] clocks in at a mere 11:29 in the same vein but far more minimalist and direct. The cd wraps up with The Return, all weird washes of noise like a lot of stuff on the late Pink Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright’s second solo album, Broken China, a bizarre series of samples (shortwave radio, disembodied voices and horror movie laughter) way back in the mix. This isn’t something you’d want to listen to while driving – it draws your attention away from pretty much everything else – but it’s a killer headphone album. Also check out Intodown’s cool fanclub site, with all kinds of sonic goodies.

December 12, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Devi – Get Free

The debut cd by this Hoboken, NJ power trio is a throwback to the 80s when the major labels were still signing good bands. This album has pretty much everything a band ought to deliver: catchy, melodic songs, gorgeously soaring vocals from Debra their frontwoman/guitarist, killer musicianship and a centerpiece that’s a genuine classic. But first and foremost this is a feast of good guitar: incisive, wickedly smart solos, contrasting textures, and dynamic shifts that run the gamut from slyly amusing to harrowingly beautiful. While the rhythm section clearly has a fondness for prog-rock, they keep things tight and terse


The cd kicks off with Another Day, replete with Runaways-style bad-girl sensuality. The second cut, When it Comes Down, a concert favorite, starts pensive and apprehensive, slowly crescendoing to a long, thoughtful, bluesy solo reminiscent of Robin Trower when he was good way back in his Procol Harum years. It ends with a hook that sounds straight out of a Nektar art-rock suite, but is actually original to the song. In case you might assume that the cover of Runaway here is a throwaway, don’t – it’s got the one of the best solos on the cd. Howl at the Moon, which follows, has the feel of a hit single, its catchy minor-to-major melody spiced with tasteful acoustic slide guitar against washes of organ.


The next song, whose title is the chemical formula for heroin, builds from pensive to crunchy and metalish riff-rock capped by long solo that starts out thoughtful and takes its time getting ferocious before ending gentle and acoustic. By contrast, Demon in the Sack starts out fierce and hardcore before its riff-rock chorus, poking fun at gender stereotypes and sexual politics. The high point of the cd is Welcome to the Boneyard, a wrenchingly beautiful ballad sung from the point of view of a ghost whose body lies buried in the smoking pile of rubble at Ground Zero after 9/11, vocals soaring against gorgeously watery guitar chords.


The cd’s title track echoes the brooding feel of When It Comes Down, with strikingly textured acoustic and electric guitars. All That I Need is a showcase for sweet slide guitar plus some nifty electric piano to change up the mood a bit. Love That Lasts begins sad and bluesy with clarinet from jazz great Perry Robinson and finally turns into something like a reprieve for the band: forced to behave like purists for almost the entire duration of the album, there’s a long, relaxed blues/metal guitar solo and finally the drums go totally apeshit, John Bonham style. And then it ends with a neatly melodic Steve Harris-like hook from the bass. The cd closes with a richly guitarish cover of The Needle and the Damage Done, its long outro layered hypnotically with multiple guitar tracks, as captivating as what the Church did on The Maven. This is a deceptively intelligent cd: as accessible as the melodies, the vocals and the songs are, at heart it’s a kick-ass rock cd that screams out for high volume and headphones. Although it promises to captivate just as many singer/songwriter fans as headbangers. Definitely one of the year’s very best, and available for the pittance of $5, DRM-free at cdbaby. Watch this space for a cd release show.


October 24, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , | 1 Comment