Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Lenny Molotov and the Oxygen Ponies at the Saltmines, Brooklyn NY 7/3/09

Three hundred years ago, most low-key musical performances took place in private homes rather than on any kind of public stage. In yet another indication of how the future is reprising the past, there’s been a new and somewhat welcome trend in New York music circles, taking the old loft show idea to the next level: friends and fans of the band only, no advertising, strictly word of mouth. This was one of those shows. Opening act Lenny Molotov has gotten a tremendous amount of ink here, by virtue of his own oldtimey Americana songwriting as well as his longtime association with Randi Russo, whether playing bass or guitar in her band. Suffice it to say that Friday’s show with Ray Sapirstein on trumpet was as richly virtuosic as always. On the newer songs, it was like an oldschool jazz or blues session: Molotov would call out the key and Sapirstein would invariably find something interesting or appropriate to add. They did two songs about boxing (Randi Russo deviously adding synth flourishes to one of them), a rousing hobo song, a Lightning Hopkins blues and a couple of ragtime-inflected numbers.

The Oxygen Ponies followed with a characteristically brilliant, lyrical show, this time around just frontman/guitarist Paul Megna on a beautiful Danelectro hollowbody and Russo alternating between keys, percussion and backing vocals. The band’s latest cd Harmony Handgrenade (very favorably reviewed here) has been blowing up recently, and they’re capitalizing with a UK tour toward the end of the month. This set mixed new material with older and unreleased stuff plus a couple of devious covers: the Cars’ It’s All I Can Do was given the total noir treatment, while New Order’s Love Vigilantes became a stark antiwar dirge remarkably similar to the Laura Cantrell cover. The defiant soul-inflected anthem Grab Yr Gun was as sarcastic as the recorded version, with Russo’s deadpan harmonies; The War Is Over, a fiery, 60s-ish garage rock stomp on the album, was recast as ominous folk-rock. A new song, The Saddest Thing I’ve Ever Seen maintained the defiant feel: “When the angels come for me/I will not go comfortably,” Megna intoned. Another new number, said Megna was directed at someone “who won’t talk to me anymore since they became a movie star.” “I can’t save you…I always listened when you talked about yourself,” he railed. They closed with a couple of numbers from their first album, notably the hypnotic, antagonistic, Velvets-inflected Brooklyn Bridge. The UK is definitely in for a treat here.

The Oxygen Ponies play two other secret shows in the next couple of weeks, email for password/location/time.

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July 7, 2009 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Marty Willson-Piper – Nightjar

His best album. Marty Willson-Piper is the preeminent twelve-string guitarist of our time, whether creating rich layers of atmosphere as one of the two lead guitarists in legendary Australian art-rockers the Church, or building a ferocious, bluesy blaze moonlighting in the latest incarnation of the Saints. He’s also as good as songwriter as he is a guitarist. This cd, his first studio effort since 2000 is every bit the match for pretty much everything his main band has ever done. The production manages to be ornate yet terse, with judiciously arranged guitars, keys and occasional strings  (by the alluring Australian quartet the Mood Maidens) and harmony vocals by cult siren Tiare Helberg. Willson-Piper leads the band with a somewhat airy delivery (imagine Rob Younger of Radio Birdman today, in a relaxed, thoughtful moment, if that’s possible). The songs are mostly slow-to-midtempo anthems, and Willson-Piper also, somewhat surprisingly, proves particularly adept at mid-60s style country on the sardonic, pedal steel-driven Game for Losers and the unforgiving, stern The Love You Never Had.

The opening track, No One There sounds, unsurprisingly, towering and majestic just like the Church, right down to Willson-Piper’s trademark echoey, ominous, portentous bent-note phrases, a pensive study in alienation and, more importantly, disalienation. Willson-Piper does not suffer fools gladly, and though he’s often very funny about it, much of this album is a surgical strike against complacency. The theme echoes, amusing yet spot-on, in the thoughtful, eco-friendly More Is Less:

 

I heard that god was coming back

I didn’t know that he’d been here…

Even the angels enjoy a good cigar

They say, tone-deaf drunks sing sweet songs

 

The cd’s centerpiece The Sniper, is a similarly thoughtful, methodical track, an eerily calm, rational assessment of whether or not to assassinate an unnamed, crooked politician (this album being recorded during the waning days of the Bush regime, Dick Cheney is the obvious suspected victim). The world goes to hell, and we all let it happen, Willson-Piper calmly intones. What if we didn’t? What is the price, and what are the philosophical consequences of heroism, he ponders?

The rousing, countryfied Feed Your Mind is laugh-out-loud hilarious, a savagely lyrical anti-tourist tirade that begins almost inscrutably but gets less and less subtle as it goes on, ending on the same note as the Room’s classic Jackpot Jack. High Down Below is the requisite big rocker, its narrator retreating to a place of sanity to make sense of the idiocy all around. The most poignant of all the tracks here is the vivid, haunting Song for Victor Jara, commemorating the great Chilean songwriter and poet murdered in 1973 in the wake of a CIA-backed coup. Ferociously intelligent and richly melodic, this makes an ideal late-night headphone album: look for this at the end of the year high on our best albums of 2009 list in December. The Church are on tour this summer (they’re at Irving Plaza in New York on July 8th) and hopefully Willson-Piper will be able to do a few solo dates as well.

May 18, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review – Pete Galub at Lakeside Lounge, NYC 4/22/09

If you want to play great guitar, watch this guy. This is somebody who once placed Comfortably Numb all the way through, solo onstage on electric guitar, as a funk instrumental. And it actually worked. Brilliantly, in fact. As a sideman, Pete Galub has a resume that would make a lot of guys blush, as Amy Allison’s once-and-future lead guitarist and as one of the original Extroverts in Greta Gertler’s band. That he’d pick up gigs with those two songwriters makes even more sense when you hear his own material: Galub can’t resist a clever pun or a playful musical jape and neither can those two. But he saves his most ferocious playing for his own stuff. Thursday night at Lakeside he put on a clinic in understatedly melodic powerpop and noise-rock guitar, two styles that you wouldn’t think would go well together, maybe, unless you were a Steve Wynn fan. In fact, it sounded a lot like Galub had been holed up with a bunch of Steve Wynn bootleg tracks, which as it turned out, he hadn’t. Then again, maybe the wheel was invented simultaneously by two different guys who barely knew each other.

 

Fast and furious as he can be, Galub didn’t waste any notes, choosing his spots judiciously before hitting his distortion pedal or shading the textures with a deft twist or two on the bass, the treble or the volume (subtlety is everything in this guy’s book). Backed by a subtle, in-the-pocket rhythm section, he’d start out with a low growl and then make his way methodically to the upper registers, adding a snarling, wailing, dirty ferocity, then backing off, then turning the demons loose again. Bending and twisting a series of richly sustained chords, sinuous pop and country licks, he’d go on for a couple of minutes and would still leave the crowd wanting more when he wrapped up the solo. The midtempo Big Star-inflected number that he played next-to-last turned into a launching pad for some pyrotechnics that sounded straight out of the Karl Precoda songbook. Perhaps somewhat fortuituosly, Galub closed the set with the slow, tongue-in-cheek 6/8 ballad Boy Gone Wrong ( the title track from his most recent solo cd), inviting up Steve Wynn lead player Jason Victor to join him. Victor took his time tuning up. “Is there something you’d like to promote?” Galub asked him, giving him a chance to plug a gig or two.

 

“Sleep,” Victor mumbled. Yet when the time came, Galub looked stage right and started pouncing on a quick series of chords, and Victor was right there to join him in a noisy duel just as he does in Wynn’s band. Galub held down the lows, wildly tremolo-picking until he’d built a roaring, whirring cauldron of sound, Victor chopping at his strings like the chainsaw killer in Last House on the Left. It wasn’t pretty but it was a blast to hear. The crowd roared for an encore and Galub reverted to quick, tersely effective powerpop mode. Suddenly choosing this gig over Devi (whose lead player is also a serious monster), who were playing at Shrine, seemed like the right choice this time around. Galub’s next gig is with Serena Jost’s band at 7:30 PM on Apr 29 at le Poisson Rouge; watch this space for his next as a bandleader.

April 24, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment