Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, Darren Gaines & the Key Party and Alice Texas at the Delancey, NYC 6/4/09

An intimate gathering of cognoscenti were treated to a transcendent trifecta to wind up this season’s Thursday Small Beast shows at the Delancey (the series continues, switching to Mondays on June 22 at 8:30 PM with Paul Wallfisch, the Snow and Marni Rice). Wallfisch was gassed from some obviously rewarding mixing sessions for the latest cd by his darkly intense art-rock band Botanica, opening the set as he always does, solo at the Beast (the 88-key spinet whose nickname spawned this weekly series). This time out the great noir keyboardist (and Little Annie partner-in-crime) aired out a more Americana-inflected bag of tricks, whether the rapidfire cabaret of the Little Annie tune Because You’re Gone, the Botanica number Asia Minor (which is actually an oldschool 60s soul song at heart), the warmly vivid Three Women and then venturing north of the border for a sly, sexy take of Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man.

A stripped-down trio version of Darren Gaines & the Key Party were next and while Wallfisch is a hard act to follow, they were anything but anticlimactic. With his hollowbody guitar providing a delicious, distorted blast of sound, Gaines led the two bandmates he’d brought along – violinist/singer Sara Syms (also of excellent country/roots band Dirty Water) and “lead trombonist” Rick Parker – through a mix of darkly witty, literate songs, mostly from the band’s latest, excellent album My Blacks Don’t Match. The band may play in a very stylized genre  – think every noir style ever invented, from Tom Waits to Lou Reed – yet so much of their material is out-of-the-box imaginative. What was most striking right off the bat were Gaines’ casual, unaffected intensity and offhandedly wry sense of humor. Like Wallfisch, he’s something of a raconteur, musing on some nasty song ideas that came to mind while stuck behind a quartet of sidewalk slowpokes on the way down to the bar from 23rd St. They opened with a roaring version of the caustic The Litterati, a snarling putdown of pretension, following with a worn-down, heartfelt, Steve Wynn-inflected take of She Says She Does, also from the new album. Syms – who sadly didn’t get to contribute piano as she does on the album – matched soaring vocals with terse, edgy violin lines while Parker added a tasteful, even minimalist oldtime saloon blues feel. They wrapped up the set with a handful of bitter “significant other songs,” as Gaines called them, ending with Monday Morning, a long, depressive countryish anthem from his first album Hit Or Miss. As good as this was, one can only imagine how intense the songs would sound with a full band.

Several women have headlined Small Beast this year and have been transcendent – Carol Lipnik, Larkin Grimm, Ingrid Olava in particular. Add Alice Texas to the list. The noir siren has the same kind of petite porcelain beauty as actress Pamela Karp and comes across as something akin to a darker, East Coast Exene: on key, more direct, less free-associative. She’s a reliably good performer but this time out she was extraordinary – maybe her protracted absence from the New York stage had something to do with it. Playing acoustic guitar, she was backed by bassist Kai Eric and Peter Mavrogeorgis, frontman of the excellent Bellmer Dolls – whose show opening for Nick Cave under Madison Square Garden last fall was crazy good –  as well as Wallfisch contributing honkytonk piano on a song, and backing vocals from Liz Tormes – another first-class songwriter – on a couple of numbers including an utterly psychedelic take of Blondie’s Fade Away and Radiate. Mavrogeorgis – one part Don Wilson of the Ventures, one part Daniel Ash from Bauhaus, one part John Andrews of Botanica – simply has never played better, ornamenting the songs with graceful slides, eerie reverberating overtones and the occasional terse, fiery lead. They opened with a couple of Nashville gothic numbers, the second more percussive, featuring a scorchingly gorgeous, melodic guitar solo. Then a couple of Velvets-ish tunes and the highlight of the set, which came toward the end, an insistent anthem titled Oh, My Beautiful, haunting and sweeping with more eerie tremolo-bar guitar.

Small Beast – New York’s edgiest, most exciting weekly musical event, in case you don’t already know it – continues Monday, June 22 at the Delancey, upstairs at around 8:30 PM with Wallfisch, Marni Rice and the Snow, free admission plus a free barbeque on the roof.

June 6, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Mark Steiner, the Crass Brass and Ingrid Olava at Small Beast at the Delancey, NYC 3/19/09

You’ve heard it before, you’ll hear it again, get used to it: Small Beast is the best weekly music event in New York, as much in the spirit of an Enlightenment-era salon as it is a concert. Thursday nights, the Delancey is where the cognoscenti hang out, and host Paul Wallfisch (of Botanica, who are playing Joe’s Pub tonight at 7 with a string section!) always brings a fascinating and eclectic group of edgy acts to fill a bill that runs from about nine to midnight.

 

Thursday’s Small Beast was one of the best. Former Piker Ryan and Kundera frontman Mark Steiner now makes his home in Norway; his debut solo cd made Lucid Culture’s Top Ten Albums of 2007 list. Casually blasting away on a Strat through a fiery wall of distortion and reverb and accompanied only by the incomparable Susan Mitchell (who plays with everybody: Magges and Mark Sinnis, to name a couple) on viola, he ran through a set auspiciously loaded with new material, dark, haunting, dramatic but sometimes unexpectedly funny. From the tempo of the new ones, it was clear that he’s still a big fan of 6/8 time.  One was a hypnotic two-chord minor-key vamp with some characteristically eerie pizzicato work from Mitchell (who’s been working with Steiner for fifteen years, she said); another built slowly and ominously with an anthemic Nick Cave feel to a repetitive, ringing chorus that saw Mitchell slashing against it with some fiercely staccato runs. Steiner was in his usual wiseass mood, eventually revealing that the Icelandic word for toast (as in prost, nasdarovye, l’chaim, cheers) is pronounced “scowl.”

 

Wallfisch joined the duo for a cover written by a mutual friend, now deceased, providing the most compelling solo of the night, a moment that was nothing short of heartwrenching. It was clear that both he and Steiner had lost a good friend. Starting with a little honkytonk (didn’t know he had that in him!), he took it down the scale with a restrained anguish. They closed with an old Piker Ryan song, the tongue-in-cheek Weimar blues Devil in the Bottle.

 

The Crass Brass were next. This is saxist/guitarist Tony Jarvis and trumpeter Jeff Pierce’s jazzy project. They were making their live debut, at least in this particular configuration with an excellent pianist and tight rhythm section featuring ex-Botanica bassist Christian Bongers. Most of the set was occasionally sloppy but playfully fun trip-hop instrumentals with inspired playing from all members: once they get the songs in their fingers, or get the solos worked out, they’ll be fine. The only drawback was a guest singer who surprisingly nailed Crying (the Orbison tune) with some spot-on falsetto but couldn’t rise above a generically showy 70s Bad Company style on the bluesier songs.

 

Norwegian chanteuse Ingrid Olava closed the night, having wrapped up the last of her three-day stand headlining at Cake Shop just minutes earlier. Although she confessed to being a little buzzed from the booze (and promptly took up Wallfisch on his offer of more wine), it didn’t show. She explained that she wanted to do something different, a wee-hours show. Instead of playing her standard set of originals, she treated the crowd to an intriguing and intensely passionate mix of covers along with a couple of her own. No matter that the piano, having been used by all four of the acts on the bill (Wallfisch had opened the night solo, as usual), was going further and further out of tune. Opening with the old blues Nobody’s Fault but Mine, she wowed the crowd with her powerful vocals, proving as much a bonafide oldschool soul belter as sultry noir cabaret stylist. An original set to a staggered tango beat began as a caution to stay away but quickly took on a compelling, longing tone: “We’ve just begun,” she intoned, equal parts hopefulness and dread.

 

After a couple of heartfelt diversions into the Tom Waits and Gillian Welch songbooks, she told the crowd that she was going to do something “unbelievably pretentious,” but it was the furthest thing from that. With perfect recall of the song’s epic lyrics, she dove into It’s All Right Ma, I’m Only Bleeding and played it all the way through, her piano giving it a gorgeously noir edge, bringing out every bit of anguish and intensity in Dylan’s classic lyric. By the time she got to “It’s all right, ma, it’s life and life only!” and then an ominously perfect little outro, the once-chatty crowd was rapt. No doubt Olava will be playing a considerably larger space the next time she’s in town. Shows like this make a walk across the Williamsburg Bridge in chilly 2 AM drizzle worth every step.  

March 21, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: System Noise and Across the Aisle at the Delancey, NYC 3/18/09

These two played here on the same bill back in November, and a return engagement proved much the same, only better. Both bands have received a fair share of ink here, System Noise especially (their most recent cd Give Me Power made our Top Ten Albums of the Year list in 2008). What else is there to say about them? Last night they delivered characteristic epic grandeur, sly funk, scorching noise-rock and wild intensity, except even more than usual: the whole band seemed in especially “on” mode. They put on a show ripe for photobloggers: Pouth the drummer wailing away on the kit in what’s left of his mohawk (it’s growing out); Kurt the virtuoso guitarist thrashing around and almost losing his glasses, and frontwoman Sarah Mucho stalking the stage with her usually evilly gleeful fifty-yard stare. She’d been under the weather, she said, and she took out her hostility on the mic. As usual, the big anguished ballad Daydreaming was the high point, Mucho pulling out all the stops on the chorus with a wail that was nothing short of primal. They also did the killer new song Hair & Nails, a sharp, typically snide minor-key pop hit with sarcastic, morbid lyrics and an absolutely gorgeous run down the guitar for a hook over the final measures. “It’s us against them now,” Mucho intoned hypnotically on the catchy political-funk anthem Shitkickers. They closed with a loose, careening cover of Rainy Day Women by Dylan, a counterintuitive choice, to say the least.

 

Across the Aisle could have been anticlimactic but weren’t at all. Megg their frontwoman displayed even more arrestingly powerful vocal chops than she did last time out here, and the rest of the band was especially energized as well. This time around, it wasn’t all catchy ska-rock: the band turned up their amps all the way for a couple of straight-up punk numbers including a hilarious hardcore one about Paris Hilton. Another new-ish and equally amusing one, Walk of Shame proved destined to be an anthem throughout dorm rooms worldwide. As usual, the horn section was so tight you couldn’t fit a piece of paper between them, fiery trumpet complemented nicely by slinky tenor sax (the tenor player also providing sly harmony vocals whenever called on: they ought to put her out in front of the band and let her take a long solo at some point).

 

From there it was over to Cake Shop to catch a glimpse of highly regarded, somewhat noir Norwegian songwriter/keyboardist Ingrid Olava, whose final songs of the night were auspiciously good (she’s playing tonight at half past midnight at the Delancey, upstairs). And then it was Mark Steiner, noir rocker par excellence, sadly missed around these parts (he’s in Norway most of the time now), but he did open his set with an offhandedly intense version of one of his classic songs, Cigarettes, violist Susan Mitchell providing her usual gypsy menace and fire. Angst has never looked so easy. Steiner didn’t have his trusty old Epiphone guitar with him, but he still got plenty of twangy, reverb-fueled menace out of a Strat (would have been nice to be able to stick around for the whole set, but the subway card was about to expire at midnight and a walk home would have been the proverbial straw that broke something). Steiner is also at the Delancey tonight around ten, all the cognoscenti will be there – today is Thursday and that means it’s time for Small Beast. 

March 19, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments