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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 8/15/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #533:

Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear – The Ghost of Rock n Roll

Ex-Hangdogs frontman Grimm’s second album with this fiery, Social Distortion-esque Iowa highway rock band is what the Dead Kennedys might have sounded like, had they survived Tipper Gore’s assault and traded in the surf music for Americana. This 2009 release mixes snidely, sometimes viciously humorous cuts like Hang Up and Drive (a hilarious chronicle of idiots calling and texting behind the wheel), Cinderella (the self-centered girl who wants it all) and My Girlfriend’s Way Too Hot for Me (a raised middle finger at the yuppie who has everything but the hot chick, and who just can’t seem to complete his collection) with more savage, politically fueled songs. The centerpiece is the cold-blooded, murderous 1/20/09, celebrating the end of the Bush regime and looking forward the day when the “cloistered and dull trust-fund kid” might have to face up to his crimes in The Hague. There’s also the amusing Wrath of God, a sendup of doomsday Christians; White, an irresistibly funny, spot-on parody of white hip-hop; the triumphant and quite possibly prophetic singalong One Big Union, and the LMFAO Ayn Rand Sucks, which bitchslaps the memory of the “Nazi skank.” Mysteriously AWOL from the usual sources for free music, but it’s still available from cdbaby. The band’s first album, Dawn’s Early Apocalypse, is just about as entertaining too.

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August 15, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 7/18/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #561:

The Hangdogs – Wallace ’48

These New York hellraisers got their start as sharply literate if drunken alt-country types in the late 90s. By 2003, when this final album came out, they’d gone in more of an Americana rock direction: imagine Jello Biafra fronting Social Distortion, and you’ll get some idea of what the Hangdogs were all about at the end. This is a slice of life from the early Bush era, a scathingly hilarious account of everyday people battling sadistic bosses, broke and too wasted on reality tv to realize how much closer to slaves they became every day. The title track is a bluegrass homage to perennial Socialist Party candidate George Wallace, followed by Waiting For the Stars To Fall, the towering, elegaic ballad that Oasis never wrote. Lots of funny country songs here: Memo from the Head Office, making sure that we max out our credit cards on the all shit we don’t need; Drink Yourself to Death, a spot-on satire of “new Nashville” music; the self-explanatory Alcohol of Fame, and Serious Guy, who’s somebody you hope you never work for. And just as many genuinely serious songs: the workingman’s lament Early to Bed; the plaintive She’s Leaving You; lead guitarist Texas Tex’s hallucinatory, somber Porch Swing; and the bitter band-on-the-road anthem Goodnight, Texas. Frontman Matthew Grimm would go on to equally good things as the leader of socially aware Iowa rockers the Red Smear later in the decade. Utterly impossible to find as a torrent; the usual pay sites have mp3s, and the whole thing is streaming at Spotify.

July 18, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review from the Archives: The Sons of Hercules and the Pretty Things at the Village Underground, 8/24/01

[Editor’s note: while we’re on vacation, we’ll be raiding the archives for some memorable NYC shows from the past several years: here’s a really great night from a few years back.]

The night began at the C-Note on Avenue C with the beginning of what promised to be a great Americana night: jazzy chanteuse Lynn Ann’s wickedly smart blues band, Gate 18, folllowed by Matthew Grimm, frontman of the Hangdogs, playing solo on Telecaster and showing off some particularly fiery new material, including a typically funny, anti-consumerist anthem called Memo From the Corner Office (a.k.a The Shit That We Don’t Need) and an even more scathing one, Hey Hitler, which connects the dots between the Bush regime (Bush’s grandfather was the #1 American fundraiser for the Nazis in the years leading up to World War II) and their prototypes in the Reichstadt. Wild, jam-oriented bluegrass band Brooklyn Browngrass, f.k.a. Kill Devil Hills were next on the bill, but it was time to head over to the Village Underground for what turned out to be a killer garage band night. The most adrenalizing part of the evening was San Antonio garage-punks the Sons of Hercules. They sound like a Radio Birdman cover band except that they write their own songs. They were pretty phenomenal all the way through. The Telecaster player knew every Deniz Tek lick and played them perfectly: wild hammer-ons, ferocious tremolo-picking and equally fiery chromatic riffs. The bass player didn’t do Warwick Gilbert’s crescendoing runs up the scale, but the drummer could have been Ron Keeley and the Rickenbacker guitarist threw in some tastily minimal, macabre leads from song to song. Meanwhile, the frontman did the Iggy thing, “lookit me, I’m INSAAAANE!!!” Finally, at one in the morning, the Pretty Things took the stage, not the complete original 1964 crew, but close to it. Drums were left up to the group’s manager Mark St. John, who didn’t nail every change, but these guys are lucky they have someone so good who could take over on what was obviously short notice. Lead guitarist (and original Rolling Stones bassist) Dick Taylor held it all together, with his searing blues runs. They opened with a lot of chugging, amped-up early 60s style R&B rock, Roadrunner and such, then touched base with their 70s repertoire with the drugrunning anthem Havana Bound. The best part of the night, unsurprisingly, came during a series of songs from their classic 1967 psychedelic album SF Sorrow: the ominous folk-rock of SF Sorrow Is Born, the foreshadowing of the antiwar number Private Sorrow, a surprisingly understated version of the anguished Balloon Burning and then Taylor taking over with his froggy vocals on the over-the-top metaphors of Baron Saturday (“Dick Taylor IS Baron Saturday,” keyboardist John Povey told the crowd). Later they did an early 70s song that was the obvious inspiration for Aerosmith’s Draw the Line and a fast, bluesy version of the recent Going Downhill. The long encore began with a tentative Rosalyn, a tersely vivid version of the acoustic vignette The Loneliest Person in the World, then a brief, screaming version of their banned 1964 R&B-flavored hit LSD into the galloping, psychedelic Old Man Going, Taylor going to the top of his fretboard and screaming with an intensity that threatened to peel the paint off the walls.

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

CD Review: Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear – The Ghost of Rock n Roll

This is hands-down the funniest album of the year. It might also be the best. Matthew Grimm is the populist that Springsteen probably wishes he still was – over a pummeling highway rock backdrop, one part Social Distortion stomp, one part turbocharged Bottle Rockets barroom roar, he drops one direct hit after another on religious fanatics, Wall Street swindlers and the system that allowed them to take power in the first place. If the Dead Kennedys had survived Tipper Gore’s assault and traded in the surf rock for Americana, they might sound something like this.

Like Stephen Colbert, Grimm’s satire knows no bounds. He’s been as formidable a social critic as songwriter since his days in the 90s and early zeros fronting twangy New York rockers the Hangdogs and this time out he spares no one, and despite the full-frontal assault he’s a lot subtler than it might seem. The first cut on the cd is typical, hardly the self-effacing narrative the title, My Girlfriend’s Way Too Hot for Me, might suggest: it’s a raised middle finger at the yuppie who has everything but the hot girlfriend and who just can’t seem to be able to buy the piece of ass who would complete his collection. Grimm makes it clear how aware he is that it’s always the smart guys who get the hottest girls (and vice versa). Lead guitarist Jason Berge mimics an air-raid siren as Grimm has a laugh or five at the expense of doomsday Christians on the next cut, the Bodeans-ish Wrath of God.

Hang Up and Drive is a late-period Hangdogs song, a deliciously unleashed barrage of invective against the kind of guy who doesn’t exactly need those three tons of steel and glass to chill out in the left lane at 60 MPH while he calls his wife. The even funnier and characteristically spot-on Ayn Rand Sucks explores the righteous world of a rich suburban girl who brags about her fondness for the “Nazi skank” on her Facebook page: “Mein Kampf by any other name is Mein Kampf.” If that realization doesn’t get you, you won’t get this album. The best song on the album – and maybe the best song of the decade – is a savage, anthemic kiss-off to George Bush titled 1/20/09. “I know you won’t be troubled with states of reflection/Still a cloistered and dull trust-fund kid,” Grimm rails. “But maybe one shiny day, we’ll see each other again in the Hague.” The album’s exhilaratingly optimistic final cut, One Big Union is just as catchy and just as fiery an anthem, and it’s been picked up by more than one political campaign as a theme song.

Even the less politically-charged tracks here have a remarkable social awareness. The title track does double duty as an evocative examination of working-class drudgery and how people somehow manage to make it through the day fueled by tunes from realms people who have never opened their ears have never seen. There’s also Cry, which manages to be sympathetic while reminding a heartbroken girl how much better off she is than the rest of the world, and the less sympathetic Cinderella, where Grimm turns both barrels on a woman looking for soap opera-style yuppie contentedness and ends it by hitting on her. And he also proves himself adept at hip-hop during the break on White, which might be a parody:

Who thinks Sarah Palin’s smart? Who still watches MTV?

Who thinks sitcoms are funny and reality shows are reality?

Who deducts hookers, cooks the books and burns the paper trail?

Grifted away your 401K, won’t ever spend a fuckin day in jail?

I don’t wanna be white anymore

Turning in my Amstel Light, my golf clubs and my gun…

Look for this one high at the top of our best albums of 2009 list at the end of the year. Iowa-based Grimm and his band’s next show is an acoustic gig at Tornado’s, 1400 3rd St. SE in Cedar Rapids on October 1, sharing the bill with Sarah Cram.

September 12, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Hangdogs Reunion Show at Rodeo Bar, NYC 9/18/08

Shows like this can be extremely depressing; this benefit concert for Iowa flood relief was anything but (more on that later). The band actually looked better than ever. Maybe it was a good thing they broke up when they did, because the way they’d been drinking, they might not have lasted much longer anyway. For a substantial chunk of time in the late 90s and early zeros, there was no better New York band than the Hangdogs. Watching them evolve from overamped, politically incorrect honkytonkers to a magnificent, lyrically-charged Americana rock unit with a national following was one of the most satisfying things a concertgoer here could have witnessed – and countless did. But unable to tour constantly to support themselves, embittered by the corporatization of the music industry (and everything else) and the depletion of their mainly working-class audience, they packed it in in 2004, frontman Matthew “Banger” Grimm moving back to his native Iowa where he started an equally good, smart band, Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear. If memory serves right, this week’s two-night stand at their old haunt, the Rodeo (they play tonight as well) is the third time they’ve regrouped.

 

This time around, they didn’t have the full lineup – lead guitarist/keyboardist Kevin Karg AKA Texas Tex was AWOL. They did, however, have every bass player who’d ever been in the band, or so it seemed, a constant rotation taking turns depending on who knew what song. As usual, they saved most of the best stuff for their second set, toward the end of the night when everybody’d had more than a few. Standing in for Karg was Mick Hargreaves (formerly of Buddy Woodward’s Nitro Express), playing acoustic; southpaw guitarist Automatic Slim delivered his usual fast, crescendoing lead lines, and for once Grimm’s Telecaster wasn’t too low in the mix. The result was a fiery, ferocious blend of roar and twang. While a little loose from the booze and time spent away from the songs, they still played what has to be one of the best shows of the year so far.

 

Grimm marveled at how many sports bars have sprung up in the neighborhood since he left town. He was taken aback by a comment from somebody in the crowd: “I’m a pacifist. You have to hit me first.” As a writer, he’s as politically astute as Steve Earle or James McMurtry but a whole lot funnier, which is probably the secret to his success: instead of smacking you upside the head, he makes you laugh.  He and the band barreled through a mix of funny songs – the anti-consumerist Memo from the Corner Office, the New Nashville satire Drink Yourself to Death (which poses the question, why does country radio sound like Celine Dion?), Alcohol of Fame (sung by one of the bass players) and their signature song, Beware the Dog – along with more serious fare like The Little Man in the Boat, a darkly prophetic number about the destitution of the working class.

 

With a gleeful grin, Grimm got his amp howling with feedback before lauching into a blistering version of Flatlands, a savage chronicle of bad times on the great plains that’s been a crowd favorite for years. As usual, they threw some covers into the set: Cheri Knight’s pensive If Wishes Were Horses, a Johnny Horton cover and a Chuck Berry-ish number that a ton of bar bands do. As much as this could have been a cruelly tantalizing nostalgia trip for those who miss the days before 9/11, it wasn’t. The best song of the night was their last, a brand-new number possibly titled 1/20/09, delivered by just Grimm and the rhythm section. It’s a brutal yet ultimately optimistic 6/8 ballad, set indelibly in the here and now, looking forward to the day when 5.4 billion people on the planet will rejoice in George W. Bush’s departure from the office he stole in the coup d’etat in 2000. Like Grimm, many or maybe even most of us would rejoice if Cheney’s Toy got terminal cancer, and nobody’s looking forward to the messy task of cleaning up the debacle he leaves behind. It’s the kind of song you walk out of the bar singing to yourself, at least in the snippets you can remember. If Grimm can get it recorded in the next couple of months, we’ll have the anthem of the decade.

 

In case you missed this one, the Hangdogs are playing a second show, pretty much the same stuff, tonight (Friday, 9/19/08) at the Rodeo starting around 10ish.     

September 19, 2008 Posted by | concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment