Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Fall 2010 Dresden Dolls Tour Dates

Nice to see the Dresden Dolls back together and on the road again after Amanda Palmer’s diverting diversion with Jason Webley in Evelyn Evelyn. They open the tour on Halloween at Irving Plaza in New York after Palmer wraps up her Broadway gig as the Emcee in the latest revival of Cabaret. Upcoming concert dates are:

Oct 31 – NEW YORK, NY- Irving Plaza

Nov 12 – NEW ORLEANS, LA- Tipitina’s (with Jason Webley)

Nov 13 – ATLANTA, GA- The Buckhead Theatre

Nov 14 – LEXINGTON, KY- Buster’s Billiards & Backroom

Nov 16 – ST. LOUIS, MO- The Pageant

Nov 17 – CHICAGO, IL- The Vic Theatre (with the excellent, horn-driven Mucca Pazza)

Nov 19th – DALLAS, TX- Granada Theatre

Nov 20 – HOUSTON, TX- Fitzgerald’s

Nov 21 – AUSTIN, TX- La Zona Rosa

September 9, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Magnifico Gives Gypsy Punk a Kick in the Pants

Slovenian dance music maven Magnifico sounds a lot like Eugene Hutz from Gogol Bordello, right down to the intentionally fractured English, the crazy beats and the more-subtle-than-you-think satire. A lot of his new album Magnification is completely over the top, but some of it isn’t. On the more disco-oriented songs here, he affects a lounge lizard persona that gets old pretty fast. But the rest of the album has a sarcastic, even savage punk edge. A lot of his lyrics are in English, yet one of the best, and most overtly hostile songs here, is a parody of corporate American pop – and those in the former Eastern Bloc who mindlessly imitate it. “Giv mi mani,” he asserts, phonetically, “And I will call you khhhhhoney.” As much as he tries, he can’t get the English aspirate “H” out.

Along with the insistent Balkan horns and the dancefloor beats, Magnifico blends in spaghetti western reverb guitar as well as train-whistle C&W pedal steel for extra menace – or for an extra satirical edge. The most iconoclastic song here is a cover of House of the Rising Sun done spaghetti western style, substituting the former Yugoslavia for the whorehouse in the original. The most striking one is a big orchestrated ballad, Ljuba, whose crescendoing chorus is suspiciously intense – like so much of what’s here, it could be a parody of a dramatic Balkan standard from the 1950s. Bosangero Nero, which seems to have political overtones, slinks along on a Mexican groove with surfy reverb guitar; the somewhat obvious yet irresistibly amusing Emily riffs on American girls and features a theremin solo. There’s also a warped country song taken straight to the Balkans; a bouncy song in Slovenian with a soca beat, bachata guitar and weepy pedal steel; a mystifying trip-hop song where the narrator seems to be saying that you can do anything to him except insult him (but maybe not); and a menacing, completely unrecognizable guitar-noir cover of the cheesy 1950s hit That’s Amore. Because this is dance music, these tracks go on for a long time: it’s a long album, fifteen tracks in all, something that gypsy punk fans around the world – and pretty much anybody looking for a good beat and a good time – will have fun with.

September 2, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fishtank Ensemble’s New Album Is More Gypsy Than Ever

Fishtank Ensemble boast that they’re the “leading American gypsy band.” Their third album, Woman in Sin goes a long way to back up that claim: they just might be right. Energetically speaking, they raise the bar for pretty much everybody else. Frontwoman Ursula Knudson’s dramatic four-octave voice soars to the stratosphere along with Fabrice Martinez’ violin over Doug Smolens’ fleet, nimble acoustic guitar and Djordje Stijepovic’s incisive bass, frequently augmented by accordion or Knudson’s singing saw. Their previous album Samurai Over Serbia mixed Asian melodies into a wide range of gypsy and Eastern European styles; the melodies on this one run from Spanish flamenco to a Greek ouzo anthem to the shores of Tripoli. It’s an excellent approximation of their high-energy live show.

The title track is a scurrying oldtimey swing number, a feel replicated on the gypsy jazz version of Bessie Smith’s After You’ve Gone and, later, the Betty Boop flapper vibe of CouCou, both punctuated by inspired, spikily virtuosic Smolens solos. The instrumental Espagnolette, a live showstopper, is basically a Belgian barroom dance featuring some wild singing saw and vocalese. The somewhat epic Amfurat de la Haidouck kicks off with the gypsy equivalent of a heavy metal intro, a tricky sway with furious, rapidfire chromatic accordion and a long, methodical buildup to a wild, frenzied, swirling coda. They follow that on a smaller scale with the shapeshifting dance Djordje’s Rachenitza and then Pena Andalouz, which sounds like an acoustic Alabina song. The  album also includes another crazily metamorphosizing dance tune, a stately waltz that gives Knudson and Martinez a chance to show off a more introspective side, an ecstatic Greek drinking song and another dance that interpolates dark Middle Eastern passages within a more upbeat gypsy framework. It’s another winner from one of this era’s most adrenalizing, captivating bands in any style of music.

August 24, 2010 Posted by | folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Martin Bisi, Humanwine and Marissa Nadler at Union Pool, Brooklyn NY 7/2/10

It’s hard to think of a better dark rock triplebill anywhere else in New York this year. Martin Bisi came in with a blast of psychedelic guitar fury and ended quiet and creepy: in the middle, he and his band energized the crowd, leading them into a couple of bars of pure pandemonium during the break on the clever, satirical Goth Chick ’98 and getting them dancing to the pounding riff-rock of Mile High – Formaldehyde. Likewise, a new song, Fine Line (soon to be released as a split 7″ from Post Consumer Records with a Bisi remix of a Serena Maneesh track) mixed slinky Steve Wynn style noir rock with gypsy tinges, and a screaming crescendo at the end. Bisi’s bullshit detector is set to stun: introducing a pretty unhinged version of the trippy gothic anthem Rise Up Cowboy, he remarked how its cynical use-and-be-used ethos could be playing itself out anywhere in Williamsburg at that particular moment. He explained how the metaphorically charged sprawl of Sirens of the Apocalypse (title track from his excellent 2008 album) plays off gender-based stereotypes – bad men, like Hades, who abducts Persephone from a playground, and on the other side  the familiar Sirens: “It feels like home,” he commented dryly, adding that since he’d just invited Flaming Fire’s Justina Heckard onstage, the band now had a siren up there with them. She contributed vocals along with all kinds of acrobatics using an illuminated hula hoop.

Boston-area rockers Humanwine absolutely and colossally kicked ass. The noir cabaret crew’s frontwoman Holly Brewer is a dramatic, compelling presence – she was impossible to turn away from. With a sinister grace, she kept time by signalling along with the lyrics on many of the songs – sign language, maybe? Many of them seem to be set in an imaginary, pre-apocalyptic fascist state called Vinland, which is essentially America under the Bush regime. “Support your right to report…get it on tape!” she intoned sarcastically on their opening number – although that might have been an encouragement to watch the watchers. It built to a magnificent stomp out of a stately waltz rhythm. She and the band drove the point home, song after song, throughout a dusky southwestern gothic-tinged anthem and a tricky gypsy-ish number: they do not like living under a police state. “Cameras watching!” Brewer reminded yet again, following with a pregnant pause for anyone who might not have been paying attention. “It takes every one of us to bring them to their knees,” she insisted on a warmly wistful folk-tinged number. A Nashville gothic song emphasized the “paranoia rushing through your hands…can’t you feel the lockdown?” They wound up the set on with the deliriously triumphant bounce of a gypsy-rock anthem, sort of like the Dresden Dolls but done with Vera Beren-class menace. The audience reaction was explosive – now if only they’ll take those ideas home with them.

Confidently fingerpicking her acoustic guitar and laying down the occasional loop for an extra layer of melody, Marissa Nadler made as compelling a figure as Brewer did, but went at it the opposite way – she drew the audience in, warmly casual and conversational, sometimes in understatedly stark contrast to the anguished intensity of her songs. Many of her songs were new, and all of them were excellent – she’s on a roll. She’s also a lot more diverse than she used to be: there’s green and grey alongside the pitch black in her sonic palette now. Linda Draper is the obvious comparison: fast fingers, striking imagery and trouble around every corner. “Inside a room a cold wind blows; there are two of us in there.” The nonchalance was chilling. “The ghost has dreams, wants to leave – wind her up to speak,” Nadler sang gently on the next number. She switched guitars frequently, playing a twelve-string on a stately, brooding lament. A cover of Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat was as casually intense as the original; she closed the set on an insistent note. “Someone once called us a dying breed,” she mused, quietly but formidably unwilling to accept it.

July 6, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Katzenjammer – Le Pop

Katzenjammer’s new album Le Pop is pretty amazing, a strong contender for best of 2010. With their gorgeous harmonies, old-fashioned instrumentation and frequently lush production, the accordion-driven all-female Oslo quartet sound like the Dresden Dolls but better (more energetic, less cutesy and a whole lot darker as well). The self-styled “queens of sultry sound” balance an eerily rustic noir edge with tongue-in-cheek humor, and lyrics in English. On the new cd, multi-instrumentalist Solveig Heilo, accordionists Anne Marit Bergheim and Marianne Sveen and bassist Turid Jørgensen – who plays the largest four-string instrument in all of rock – bounce, scamper and blast their way through a mix of tempos and styles that evoke such diverse acts as the B-52s, Gruppo Sportivo and Gogol Bordello.

The album opens on a surprisingly pensive note with an instrumental “overture,” followed by the scurrying Keystone Kops vibe of A Bar in Amsterdam, which amusingly morphs into a Pat Benetar-style power ballad on the chorus. With its jaunty gypsy swing, Demon Kitty Rag evokes satirical New York trio the Debutante Hour. Tea with Cinnamon is an absolute delight, a vintage Toots and the Maytals-style rocksteady number with accordion and a surprisingly wistful lyric. The title track, a snidely exuberant Gruppo Sportivo-style satire of American corporate music is great fun, and the outro is absolutely priceless.

The darker material here is just as captivating. Hey Ho on the Devil’s Back sets charming harmonies and barrelhouse piano to a Nashville gothic arrangement with a funny but disquieting edge, and a series of trick endings. The big, anguished crescendo on the lushly orchestrated suicide anthem Wading in Deeper packs a visceral punch; the violin-driven To the Sea showcases the band’s harmonies at their most otherworldly, with an off-center, Icelandic vibe. There’s also the sternly tongue-in-cheek Mother Superior, with its eerie carnival organ; Der Kapitan, a macabre-tinged surf instrumental done oompah style; the coy country bounce of Play, My Darling; Ain’t No Thang, an oldtimey banjo tune; and Virginia Clemm, a sad, eerily atmospheric waltz. The depth and intelligence of the songs matches their good-time appeal: it’s been a long time since we discovered a band who could do that as consistently as Katzenjammer do. The group are currently on US tour (at Milwaukee’s Summerfest on July 3 and 4, opening for Elvis Costello), with a date at the Mercury Lounge on July 6.

June 29, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: The Big Small Beast

The big show happened at the Orensanz Center Friday night. Because the night had to end before midnight, it was like the Rolling Stones Revue, 2010 style: everybody got short sets but made the most of them. Spottiswoode opened, solo on piano. He’s never sounded better. He has a musical theatre production coming up in the fall and if the trio of brand-new songs he played are any indication, it ought to be good. Intense and pensive, he began with a gospel flavored number, following with one of the best songs of the whole night, a bitter, brooding wee-hours tableau possibly titled Wall of Shame. He then dedicated a passionate ballad to a pretty, short-haired brunette in the crowd named Nicole: “I would follow you to Philadelphia,” he intoned.

Barbez have never sounded better either – their set was amazing, maybe the best of the entire night, an offhanded reminder of how brilliant this band is. Even more impressive, when you consider that their van had just been broken into the previous night, most of their gear stolen (Williamsburg bands beware – this is the second one in two days). This was their instrumental set, all minor keys, erasing all cross-country and cross-genre borders with perfect effortlessness. Guitarist Dan Kaufman led the band into a Balkan surf groove in 7/8 time, building to a squall with the clarinet going full blast, down to a masterfully nuanced passage featuring the marimba, then bringing it up again and ending it cold. The next one had a tango flavor, more prominent marimba and tricky rhythms. After that, they worked down from a furious gallop to atmospherics and then more tango, then started the next one with an ominously funereal, minimalist rumble that picked up in a rawtoned Savage Republic vein, ending with a creepy, carnivalesque waltz.

Since Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch had booked the night, he was pulling triple duty onstage, his first set of the night being with his longtime sparring partner Little Annie Bandez. This was the cd release show for their new one, Genderful, arguably the high point of their career together up to now. The crowd was silent, rapt, amazed – as a raconteur, Bandez has no equal, but since time was tight she kept the songs tight and terse and absolutely haunting, beginning with Wallfisch on guitar and backed by the full band on a wistful, sad version of Billy Martin Requiem, a tribute not only to the fallen Yankee skipper but also that era’s AIDS casualties. “Thirty years in business to learn a word like ‘monitor,'” she joked as soundman Marco, on loan from the Delancey, made some expert adjustments (big up to Marco by the way – the sound was outstanding all night). The wee-hours lament Suitcase Full of Secrets was poignant and loaded with understatement, on the wings of Heather Pauuwe’s violin; they closed with a brand-new song, Dear John, a requiem for a suicide. Bandez looked up, then around at the majestic synagogue facade behind the stage and did a slow, thoughtful 360, leading the crowd’s eyes just as she’d led their ears.

Bee and Flower have been conspicuously absent from the New York stage, but they haven’t lost a step. Frontwoman/bassist Dana Schechter began their all-too-brief set as chanteuse, swaying and playing shakers on a particularly haunting version of the slowly sweeping, characteristically cinematic minor-key 6/8 anthem Homeland. They picked up the pace briefly with a bouncy number that saw lead guitarist Lynn Wright (leader of the amazing And the Wiremen) swooping on his low E string to provide a second bassline against Schechter’s slinky groove. Switching pensively from tango inflections to starlit wonder to a pounding, hypnotically intense version of Twin Stars, a standout track from their first album, the only thing missing was the epic suspense film for which the songs would have made the perfect score.

The crowd peaked for Botanica, who were serenaded on and then offstage, from the balcony overhead, with the exquisive and otherworldly Balkan vocals of two completely unamplified singers, Black Sea Hotel’s Corinna Snyder and her equally haunting pal Kelly. Wallfisch had just played keys for Bee and Flower, so he switched to his battered Wurlitzer-and-organ combo and then went into a zone. Guitarist John Andrews blasted out wild Dick Dale-style tremolo-picked passages, playing through a skin-peeling cloud of reverb and delay. He also sang what might have been the best song of the whole night, the menacing art-rock epic Xmas, opening with just guitar and vocals for a Beatlesque verse, finally exploding with a crash on the second chorus. Their opener, the title track to their new album Who You Are (whose release was also being celebrated this evening) moved from stately menace to unaffected, longing angst; La Valse Magnetique, sort of the title track to their previous studio cd, featured more insane surf guitar and a very pregnant pause. Monster surf met Elvis Costello on a pointed, relentless version of the gypsy-punk Witness. There were other acts on the bill, but after a set like this, anything that followed it would have been anticlimactic – after five bands, maybe more (this is just the highlights), it was time to take a break and enjoy what was left of the early summer evening outside.

So sold as we were on this show (in case you were away, we plugged it shamelessly for a week), it pretty much delivered on its promise. The weekly Small Beast concert upstairs at the Delancey – from which this sprang – is the closest thing we have these days in New York to what CBGB was in the 70s, or what Tonic was from 1995 to 2005: the most fertile, fearlessly imaginative rock and rock-oriented scene in town. And from a blogger’s perspective, it’s a dream come true – for the price of a few hours worth of an otherwise fairly useless Monday, it’s an absurdly easy way to keep in touch with some of the world’s most vital rock and rock-oriented acts. Shame on the other Manhattan venues for not doing something like this on a Saturday and promoting it to a wider audience.

May 24, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Gato Libre – Shiro

“Our fourth cd release,” says Gato Libre trumpeter/bandleader Natsuki Tamura, “Is largely thanks to Otoya-Kintoki, the live house where we play in Nishi-Ogikubo, Tokyo. As soon as we finish a performance there, regardless of whether customers showed up or not (usually the latter), the couple who run the place always ask us, ‘When can you play here next? Do you have an open date next month?’ To which I say, ‘Are you sure that’s all right with you? Hardly anyone ever shows up at our gigs.'” Bless the folks at Otoya-Kintoki for sustaining this excellent if not exactly popular instrumental quartet. Besides Tamura, the band features Satoko Fujii on accordion, Kazuhiko Tsumura on acoustic guitar and Norikatsu Koreyasu on bass. Another thing that stands in Gato Libre’s path to worldwide recognition is how diverse and genre-smashing they are. Although they’re all accomplished (and actually famous) jazz players, this particular band blends elements of flamenco, Middle Eastern, gypsy and rock music into a fearlessly improvisational free-for-all. It works because it’s all about atmosphere, there’s a tight chemistry between band members, and Tamura’s stunningly terse, catchy themes make such a good basis for jams.

The first track is a perfect illustration: simple variations on a minor chord, plaintive accordion segue into brisk flamenco-flavored modal tune, accordion acidically shadowing the guitar’s nimble runs, incisive Arab-inflected trumpet solo and a big flamencoesque chordal crescendo as a trick ending. The next cut lets the bass state a thoughtful theme which then rises ominously with a series of crescendos and then an otherworldly jam where everybody goes off to a cabaret of the mind. The aptly titled Falling Star is stark and gypsy-tinged, highlit by a terse modal conversation between guitar and bass. Going Back Home is a swinging Balkan dance that Fujii slowly ushers outside into the netherworld where the rest of the band join her – Tamura offers up a sad flamenco solo, and then they’re off to the races again.

Mountain, River, Sky is essentially a country song, bass introducing the theme and then counterintuitively carrying the lead for most of its eight minutes; Memory of Journey [sic] sends a stately levantine dance further south on a tricky, rhythmic West African tangent followed by the most overtly post-bop passages on the album. The album wraps up with the warmly bucolic title track, evocative of the jazz/country hybrids of Jeremy Udden or Bill Frisell. Gato Libre may not be very popular but they’ve managed to put out one of the best albums of the year, one that will resonate equally well with fans of Balkan and gypsy music as well as adventurous rock and jazz people.

March 12, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Canteca de Macao at Highline Ballroom, NYC 2/17/10

An eclectic choice for this year’s New York Flamenco Festival, popular Spanish rockers Canteca de Macao played a deceptively sophisticated, dizzyingly multistylistic show that was impossible to resist. America doesn’t have anything like these guys: their closest relative, and obvious precursor is the theatrical Mexican band El Tri. Ana, their frontwoman shifted effortlessly between a powerful, dramatic, slightly smoky contralto and a more lighthearted delivery that she used when the intensity level dipped a little. With a rhythm section that included two percussionists (on timbales, congas or cajon) it was obvious from the git-go that Canteca de Macao are first and foremost a party band – within a minute from the time they took the stage, the front rows were bouncing. Most of the upbeat numbers had a gypsy rock feel, spiced with a lot of playful tug-of-war between flute and lead guitar. Chiki, their acoustic guitarist – who also took lead vocals on several cuts – got to take all of one solo all night long, on one of the more overtly flamencoish numbers, and it turned out to be the best one of the evening.

It was a carnival ride of shifting tempos, slowing down into reggae or speeding up into ska, as they did on a number that lept from merengue into a brisk one-drop rhythm, sung by Juancho, their conguero. He may be a small guy, but as it turns out he’s also a babe magnet – and he knows it, as he told the crowd. Another gypsy rock tune bounced along on a bachata basssline that took a crescendoing swoop to the upper registers on the turnaround out of the verse. They worked brief rap interludes into a few songs, including a rapidfire kazoo-fueled anthem for fashion misfits everywhere. As good and diverse as their musicianship is, they don’t take themselves particularly seriously in the lyric department: “It doesn’t matter,” Ana and the rest of the band hollered defiantly on one of the best-received dance numbers. The first of the encores featured a smartly terse, flamenco-flavored bass solo; as they wound up the show, they broke songs down into halftime, sped them up again and threw out a handful of false endings until that device had been used to death. The crowd – a pleasantly surprising mix of nationalities and demographics, kids and others old enough to be their parents – didn’t want to let them go. It was something like a Gogol Bordello show in Spanish – a lot of the same tonalities, a brighter, more carefree vibe but the same kind of energy.

And while we’re at it, let’s big up the sound guys: the Highline is a great-sounding room to begin with, but you had a tough mix to deal with, all those mics onstage, and you delivered.

February 18, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Greg Garing at the Delancey, NYC 1/4/10

The Monday night Small Beast show at the Delancey being New York’s most brazen display of good songs and good chops, the parade of talent that’s come through here over the last eight months or so far exceeds anything any other club in town has seen over that span of time. As far as pure talent is concerned, Greg Garing tops the list – and for anyone who was lucky enough to catch his solo show last night, that’s no disrespect to any of the other artists who’ve played here. If you can imagine Willie Nelson if his drug of choice was moonshine instead of pot, you’d be on the right track. Garing is the kind of artist who inhabits his songs – it’s impossible to separate him from them, seeing as he practically goes into a trance and becomes them. His guitar virtuosity, soulful terseness and stylistic chops are unsurpassed, matching a jazzy Chet Atkins-gone-punk countrypolitan feel along with a seemingly effortless whirlwind of flatpicking on a couple of bluegrass numbers, along with some judicious blues and country gospel work. As when Black Sea Hotel played a couple of weeks ago, the room was silent, absolutely rapt. Garing may have a four-octave vocal range – from Tennessee Ernie Ford bass to a falsetto and a heartwarming blue yodel – but he used all of those devices subtly. It would not be an overstatement to mention him in the same sentence as Jimmie Rodgers. And while he did play a few covers – a brisk, unadorned Deep Ellem Blues, a slowly smoldering take of the blues How Long and a Jerry Lee Lewis barrelhouse romp through Real Wild One (he also played pretty amazing piano on that one and a brief ragtime number that he seemed to make up on the spot), it was his originals that resonated most intensely.

The biggest crowdpleaser was a gentle ballad, a reflection on how nature has no preference for any season, with the refrain “We’ll be happy once again.” With the mercury outside below twenty, this hit the spot, along with a beautifully heartfelt gospel-inflected number possibly titled Teardrops Falling in the Snow. One of the more upbeat numbers sounded like a Hasil Adkins song; he also did a resonant cover of the #1 country single of 1968, the politically charged Skip a Rope, written by his old friend Henson Cargill. Garing admitted as his set got underway that he’s “a lucky boy,” having played with several original members of the Grand Old Opry as well as bluegrass legend Jimmy Martin (Garing was reputedly the only sideman that Martin would allow to drink with him, maybe because he could). And some years later, as leader of the Alphabet City Opry, he jumpstarted a fertile New York country scene that’s still going strong almost fifteen years down the road.

Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch played mostly solo on piano beforehand, covering Leonard Cohen, Serge Gainsbourg and then, with Bellmer Dolls frontman Peter Mavrogeorgis on guitar, the Stooges’ Gimme Danger (Paul sang) and a spine-tingling noir version of She Cried ( a Del Shannon cover that Peter, who sang, discovered via the late Roland S. Howard ). Wallfisch’s longtime onstage sparring partner Little Annie also contributed characteristically charming, smoky vocals on songs by Jacques Brel and Leon Russell.

Before Wallfisch, a boyfriend/girlfriend duo called the Pinky Somethings [wasn’t really paying attention] opened the night with carefree if barely competent covers of a lot of good songs: Warren Zevon, John Prine, George Jones, more John Prine. This is how you start out, playing your favorites. If they keep it up and reach the point where they’re writing songs like the ones they like so much, they’ll be really good too.

January 5, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Valerie Kuehne, System Noise, Black Sea Hotel, Lenny Kaye and Paul Wallfisch 12/14/09

The last Beast of the decade (for us, anyway) was one of the best. That such a ridiculously spectacular display of talent doesn’t instantly leap to the top of our Best New York Concerts of 2009 list speaks to how good, and how essential, Paul Wallfisch’s weekly Small Beast concert at the Delancey has become. It’s like this every week.

This one was characteristic in that it ran the gamut from the avant garde to noise-rock (a welcome if unrelated excursion to the downstairs room) to Bulgarian choral music to powerpop to sinister gypsy rock played solo on piano: eclectic to the extreme. New music composer Valerie Kuehne opened the show on cello and vocals, backed by violin, upright bass, electric guitar and drums. Her shapeshifting songs stopped as fast as they started, went doublespeed, lept abruptly and then crept quietly, sometimes in the span of what seemed a few seconds. She sings with the wide-open belt of a classically trained singer, her vocals typically impatient and uneasy. “Do you believe in patterns? Patterns? Patterns?” she inquired accusatively, early on. Her second number, Now We Know set eerie tremolo guitar against jagged, disjointed rhythms that evolved out of the song’s initial stately 6/8 sway. She closed her brief set with a study in abrupt hard/soft contrasts with the vocals and also the stringed instruments. Not exactly easy listening, but then it wasn’t meant to be.

The next act had cancelled, so there was a long lull, long enough to head downstairs where art/punk/funk/noise rockers System Noise had launched into their own magnificent set, unrelated to what was going on upstairs, but it made a perfect segue (and because the next Small Beast act didn’t want to start early and be done by the time their fans had turned up, there was plenty of time to catch this one). Known for their assaultive, roaring guitar and vocal attack, they’ve never been more catchy and accessible, even if it’s a savage, cynical accessibility. A new one, Blame It on the Rain ran an absurdly catchy funk/blues phrase over a slinky groove while frontwoman Sarah Mucho gave it a characteristic sultry ominousness. Hair and Nails (the two parts of the body that continue to grow after death) followed in a similar vein; the best song of the entire night was another new one, a magnificently morbid epic that grew from apprehensive David Gilmour-inflected guitar arpeggios to an almost punk chorus, ending with a dramatic, classically infused buildup that would have been perfectly at home in the Procol Harum catalog. The even more punk number after that maintained the ornate intensity. It’s too bad that the band has since gone on what turned out to be a long-anticipated hiatus: what a run they’ve had, five years at least as one of New York’s best bands.

Upstairs, the four women of Black Sea Hotel assembled onstage. Their claim to fame – beyond having four of the most amazing voices of any New York group, in any style – is their innovative arrangements of traditional Bulgarian choral and folk music. Sometimes they’ll scale down a big, lavish chart to four-part harmony, other times they’ll embellish a folk song’s original single vocal line. Either way, the songs in their repertoire are hypnotic, otherworldly and haunting, but they’re also funny, ironic and sometimes completely absurd, and the crowd clearly got as much of a kick out of hearing the meaning of the Bulgarian lyrics as much as the band did relating them. A woman defiantly tells her guy that even if she’s wearing his clothes, he still can’t have her body; a (probably drunken) guy leaves home dressed in the garb of both his male and female relatives; a hot-to-trot single guy can’t make up his mind whether he’ll continue to court the women of his hometown or try his luck (not so good, so far) elsewhere.

Yet another advantage of Small Beast is that you get to watch the bands up close. Black Sea Hotel’s debut cd (look for it on our Best Albums of 2009 list) is gorgeous and swirling, but it’s impossible to know who’s singing what. Seeing them here, it was a lot of fun to discover that of the four, Corinna Snyder takes the biggest risks and the highest leaps, jumping octaves with split-second precision and losing nothing in pitch or power. Joy Radish is the smallest member of the group but sings with the most power. Willa Roberts has a stunning clarity and precision, and got to deliver the evening’s single most captivating moment,  ending a song about a soldier gone off to war with a final, poignant verse in English. Sarah Small, meanwhile, achieved the impossible by being simultaneously raw and intense yet hypnotically atmospheric, and this time out she was the one who got to add the striking, strange ornamentation that Bulgarian vocal music is best known for. The audience was awestruck. The group have a reputation for being a sort of punk rock version of le Mystere des Voix Bulgares – they’ll sing anywhere – but where they really ought to be is Carnegie Hall.

Putting legendary Patti Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye next on the bill was a smart move – it completely changed the vibe yet maintained it, at least as far as smart songwriting is concerned. Kaye’s stock in trade has always been his guitar playing, but he’s also a formidable songwriter, a first-class powerpop tunesmith. Playing most of the show solo on Strat, occasionally joined by his old 80s bandmate Paul Dugan (of Big Lazy) on upright bass, he ran through a catchy, hook-laden set of mostly original tunes with lyrics ranging from sardonic to fearlessly political. In Style casually dismissed a tourist on the Lower East Side: “You must like that Def Leppard, I know you do.” A rueful garage pop ballad, and another big anthem, were dead ringers for Willie Nile tunes. A jangly ballad by the Weather Prophets – whom Kaye had produced in the 80s – was compelling and pretty, while The Things You Leave Behind – a dedication to Jim Carroll – managed to be both ominously wistful and sarcastic. The duo closed with a sizzling, completely off-the-cuff version of Gloria, Kaye finally cutting loose with a couple of leads, the first going over the edge into noise-rock (this is the guy who basically invented the style, on Radio Ethiopia) before bringing it back to a delirious audience singalong. The crowd wouldn’t let him leave, so he rewarded them with a nasty, sarcastic cover of Jesse’s Girl and then a dark, subdued, jangly meditation on distance and absence, Telltale Heart.

Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch usually opens these shows – the series started as just a way for him to work out new material in front of live audience – but this time he closed it. Because we’ve reviewed so many of these shows this past year, he’s gotten more ink here than anybody else, but it wouldn’t be fair to neglect to mention how intense his own set was. Shira and Sofia is a swinging, noir cabaret-infused Botanica number about two WWII whores – essentially, its theme is make love, not war. When Wallfisch got to the part of the lyric where one of the hookers can “suck your dick,” he screamed it as if was the last thing he’d ever say and the crowd didn’t know whether to completely crack up (it was hilarious, actually) or do something else. He also played a tango, a waltz, a couple of soul numbers, a whiplash version of his collaboration with Little Annie, Because You’re Gone, and an absolutely morbid, Satie-esque rearrangement of Nature Boy (retitled Nature Girl). And had the crowd dancing to pretty much all of it. Small Beast will be off for a couple of weeks and then back on January 10.

December 22, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment