Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Dub Is A Weapon Vaporises the Competition

Dub Is a Weapon is another one of those great live bands that everybody takes for granted: like John Brown’s Body (just reviewed here), the road is where they excel. But they’re just as good in the studio.Want to get to know Dub Is a Weapon? This band knows how to get you hooked. Head on over to their music page and get four free downloads of their most popular songs. Then you can download the live shows up at archive.org. After all that, if reggae, or dub, or stoner music is your thing, you will probably want their latest album Vaporised, which is just out.

These guys really max out the possibilities you can get with reggae. Their instrumentals typically kick in with a catchy hook, feature a lot of gorgeous guitar/alto sax harmonies, and as much as you can get absolutely lost in a lot of this, it’s more straight-ahead and tuneful than all the dub acts who just vamp out on a single chord. If you know somebody who thinks dubstep is cool, turn them on to this – it’s the real deal. In fact, in a strangely woozy way, this album is one of the best of 2011.

These songs are long, six or seven minutes at a clip. The first one, Turbulence sets an eerie minor tune over a bubbly bassline and quickly goes down to just bass, percussion and wah guitar. Then the horns come in – it’s like classic Lee “Scratch” Perry but with more energy. They go spinning down to bass versus drums, then up to a sunbaked bluesmetal guitar solo that eventually pans your headphones. Finally, after about six minutes, it goes back to the hook and then sneaks out. It’s a good indication of what to expect as the album goes deeper.

Turmoil lets the aliens in the front door early. A balmy sax emerges and floats overhead, the bass goes up an octave, unexpectedly, the band cooks and then chills out again. Track three, Seven Doors starts out as ska before the rhythm goes completely haywire – is that 17/4 time? And then they do a really cool organ interlude, like dub Lonnie Smith. Asheville is not the bluegrass that its title might lead you to believe: it’s a launching pad for a long, thoughtful alto sax solo. The one vocal number here, Forwarding Home, is a sly, knowing Rasta repatriation anthem with a nice chromatic chorus and lots of snaky Middle Eastern-tinged guitar.

Persistence is another fast one with a sweet Balkan horn hook, a brisk drum/bass interlude and a lot of tongue-in-cheek scratchy guitar noise. A slinky minor-key groove, Curva Peligrosa has more of those nice guitar/sax harmonies, a slow, hypnotic guitar solo and a couple of echoey breakdowns. The best solo of all of them is from the guitar, on the devious, poppy Destiny – which is actually a one-chord jam if you think hard enough about it. The last cut, Insurrection keeps a suspenseful roots pulse going all the way from the trippy intro through some LOL swoopy stuff from a theremin, which the guitar finally nudges out of the picture, as if to say, enough. Then the theremin comes back in just to give the guitar the finger. Watch this space for NYC area shows.

April 27, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Gowanus Reggae and Ska Society Burn One in Soho

If you might be wondering why a band would call themselves the Gowanus Reggae and Ska Society, just spell out their initials. Yeah mon – for one reason or another, they played the cd release show for their new one, G.R.A.S.S. on Fire, at the Apple store in Soho. It’s hard to think of a more unlikely venue, and the fact that the store went for the idea turned out to be pure stoner genius. The sound in the little upstairs auditorium was great and so was the band.

The new album is instrumental versions of the songs on the Wailers’ famous Catch a Fire album. G.R.A.S.S. put their own original spin on them. More unpredictable and adventurous than Dub Is a Weapon, more straight-ahead than Giant Panda, less jazzy than Monty Alexander, the hourlong show saw them sticking pretty much to the verses and choruses of the originals while adding their own solos and some extended psychedelic jamming that was tasty to the extreme. Their sound is strictly oldschool, anchored by a onetime Jack Grace Band rhythm section, J. Granelli on bass and Russ Meissner (who’s still in that band) on drums. Granelli spent most of his time hanging just behind the beat like Family Man Barrett would do in Marley’s band, while Meissner kept things simple and smart, on one occasion hitting a pedal for some echoey dubwise riddims. Keyboardist Nate Shaw spun between effects, from high, oscillating Dr. Dre drones to lush organ chords, while his counterpart across the stage, Nick Balaban, worked edgy blues piano, murky clavinova basslines and some scary, tinny synth leads into a neat tradeoff with Shaw on a long, extended version of 400 Years.

After a long, suspenseful, sustained guitar intro by David Bailis, Paul Carlon’s bright, melodic soprano sax lines lit up the opening tune, Concrete Jungle. Shaw’s melodica dodged the torrents from David Barnes’ harmonica on a long, crescendoing take of Baby We Got a Date; they turned Kinky Reggae and Midnight Ravers into a mini-suite with some sweet horn charts. They didn’t do much of any straight-up dub with the exception of a quiet, spacy interlude toward the end of Stir It Up (a smart move – take a pop song and make it totally psychedelic). They wound up the show with a long Stop That Train, a version of High Tide or Low Tide (a Wailers outtake which might have been the most truly gorgeous tune of the night) that stayed true to the original, right down to the plaintive turnaround at the end of the verse, and an epic 400 Years that Bailis used as a platform for a gently contemplative intro, ferocious raga lines in midstream and finally at the end, when the organ and horns were at full force, took it deep into the heart of metal like Burning Spear’s band would do 25 years ago. It was that good. The new album is streaming right now at the band’s site.

March 22, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Hard Times: Too Fat to Record

In the music blog business (or facsimile of a business, anyway), recording a concert is sort of like hitting with a corked bat. Pay no attention to the band, talk with your friends, drink as much as you want and the next day, the whole thing’s waiting for you (unless you pressed the wrong button by accident: umm…when you get a chance, can you please email me the set list?) Armed with a brand-new recorder that worked just fine in the jazz club, then in the church, the question was, would it be up to the challenge of a loud rock show? Let’s see, Wednesday night, who’s playing? Oh yeah, ska night at Otto’s, the perfect opportunity to see how much volume it might be able to handle.

By a little after nine, the Hard Times had taken the stage. They’ve got a cool concept: instrumental reggae. They don’t do dub, just long, slinky, rootsy grooves. If they keep this up, maybe someday they’ll be the next John Brown’s Body or Giant Panda. They’ve got an excellent organist who uses an oldschool Vox setting, for a real vintage Studio One sound, and who handles most of the the leads and solos. Their lead guitarist, who was amped lower in the mix, with a tuneful, jazz-tinted sound, handled the others: he’s good, and it would have been nice to have heard more of him. If their set wasn’t all that tight, that might have been due to the fact that onstage at Otto’s it’s awfully hard to hear the drums if they’re quiet and the rest of the band is loud – which was the case tonight, with just a steady shuffle beat going on behind the band. Midway through the set a big guy came up and did a long number about ganja and that went over well; later, they took a stab at Bill Withers’ Use Me and that wasn’t as successful, although the girl who joined them for that one sang the hell out of it. The crowd was into it, and it was a cool crowd: multicultural, multigenerational, both genders represented, a telling reminder of the great things that can happen in this city when you take the trendoids and the yuppies out of the picture.

The recorder? Definitely not up to the challenge of a reggae band, at least one with bass as fat as these guys have. The Hard Times are up at Shrine this Saturday at 8, opening an excellent triplebill with the oldschool rocksteady Bluebeats at 9 and then the reliably fun King Django at 10.

March 11, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment