Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 10/19/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #833:

Stiff Little Fingers – Nobody’s Heroes

Possibly the longest-running of the classic punk bands from the 70s, Belfast’s Stiff Little Fingers are still touring, but in over thirty years on the road, frontman Jake Burns hasn’t lost a step. This 1980 album is the classic lineup including Henry Cluney on guitar and Ali McMordie (one of the most brilliant, unsung players from the era) on bass. We picked this because while it’s not as blisteringly assaultive as their 1979 debut Inflammable Material, or as diverse as 1981’s Go For It, it’s probably their most consistent one. Smalltown anomie and the desperate need to escape it pervades this album. The songs snarl with contempt for authority and conformity: Gotta Getaway and At the Edge resonate as potently now as when the album came out. Wait and See is one of their funniest songs, a snide slap back at everyone who’d dismissed them in their early days, “You’re not good enough to be a jazz band.” The album’s high point is the antiwar anthem Tin Soldiers, still a concert favorite. There’s also the defiant title track, the caustic Fly the Flag and an energized cover of the Specials’ Doesn’t Make All Right. The 2003 cd reissue also included a couple of cuts originally released on mid-90s greatest-hits compilations, including the amusing anti-censorship You Can’t Say Crap on the Radio along with the topical Troubles-era Straw Dogs and Bloody Sunday. Everything the band released through the decade of the 80s is worth owning, along with their handful of live albums: they’re still ferociously good in concert. Here’s a random torrent.

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October 19, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 7/22/10

Our daily best 666 songs of alltime countdown is working its way through the top ten: just a week left before we reach the greatest song ever. Thursday’s is #7:

The Boomtown Rats – Rat Trap

In his autobiography, Bob Geldof explained that this song was inspired by his brief tenure working at a slaughterhouse, particularly the line “pus and grime ooze from its scab-crusted sores.” An apt metaphor for the dead-end blue-collar life he chronicles here, a Springsteenish epic filtered through the cruel prism of punk rock. With a killer bassline by Pete Briquette, and the most exhilarating outro in the history of rock, Garry Roberts’ and Gerry Cott’s guitars melting into a firestorm, Johnnie Fingers sharpshooting through it on the electric piano. It’s on the classic Tonic for the Troops album from 1978.

July 22, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 7/7/10

About three weeks til our best 666 songs of alltime countdown reaches #1…and then we start with the 1000 best albums of alltime. Wednesday’s song is #22:

The Boomtown Rats – When the Night Comes

Savage, sarcastic and more than somewhat desperate afterwork scenario. How little the corporate world has changed since 1979:

You get hooked so quick to everything, even your chains
You’re crouching in your corner til they open up your cage

Garry Roberts’ amphetamine, flamenco-spiked guitar solo is one of the most exhilarating moments in the history of rock. From the Fine Art of Surfacing.

July 7, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 6/10/10

Every day til the end of July, our best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues, all the way to #1. And then we’ll start with the 666 best albums of alltime. Thursday’s song is #49:

The Boomtown Rats – I Can Make It If You Can

Fiery, towering, anguished anthem that serves as the centerpiece of the band’s classic 1977 debut album, Garry Roberts and Gerry Cott trading searing riffage:

Don’t talk about the future, please don’t talk about the past
Let’s forget about the present, it’s hard enough to laugh

The link in the title above is a ferocious high quality live take.

June 10, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 5/25/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Tuesday’s song is #65:

The Boomtown Rats – Close As You’ll Ever Be

As punk as they ever got, a savage, macabre blast of machine-shop guitar fury from the band’s first album, 1977.

May 25, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/23/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Friday’s song is #97:

The Boomtown Rats – Someone’s Looking At You

Walk on the Wild Side-inflected new wave anthem, a nasty summertime police state scenario from The Fine Art of Surfacing, 1979 that only gets more prophetic and apropos as the years go by:

There’s a spy in the sky
There’s noise on the wire
There’s a tap on the line for every paranoid’s desire

The link above is the album version; here’s a nice live take.

April 23, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/15/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Thursday’s song is #105:

The Boomtown Rats – Watch Out for the Normal People

The artsy Irish punk rockers open the song with one of the most savagely beautiful guitar hooks ever recorded, then tease the listener til they finally bring it back at the end. In between there’s some tasty, stomping riff-rock. “Watch out for the normal people, there’s more of us than there’s of you.” From the British version (and also the late-90s cd reissue) of their classic 1978 lp A Tonic for the Troops.

April 14, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Black 47 – Bankers and Gangsters

Another year, yet another excellent album from Black 47. It’s hard to fathom how they can keep it so fresh after twenty years, but they do it. Their previous album Iraq, a vividly thematic soldiers-eye view of the never-ending war, took the #1 spot on our best-of-2008 albums list. This one finds the Irish-American rockers exploring more diverse terrain, a characteristically eclectic mix of Clash-style anthems, a small handful of electrified Celtic dances, a reminiscence of better days in the New York rock scene, snarling sociopolitical commentary and more lighthearted, comedic fare. Black 47 make it very easy for you to like them and get to know them: the lyrics to the all the songs on the album are here and the “song bios,” each one explaining what they’re about, should you want the complete story, are here. Musically speaking, they go for a big, blazing, somewhat punk-inflected sound, equal parts Boomtown Rats and Pogues with frequent tinges of ska, reggae and of course traditional Irish tunes, bandleader/guitarist Larry Kirwan (who has an excellent new novel out, Rockin’ the Bronx) charismatically railing and wailing out front.

The title track, a big sardonic Clash-style anthem speaks for the generations disenfranchised by the new Great Depression; likewise, the vivid opening cut, Long Hot Summer Coming On ominously foreshadows a city where all hell’s about to break loose. Wedding Reel, a duet, is a somewhat less brutal take on what the Pogues did with A Fairytale of New York. There’s also a fiery tribute to Rosemary Nelson, the murdered Irish human rights crusader; a cynical number about an Irish music groupie; and a couple of absolutely surreal ones, the first about a Lower East Side romance circa a hundred years ago that isn’t actually as unlikely as it might seem (and on which the band proves perfectly capable of playing a good freilach), the other a long anthem based on the true story where former Jimi Hendrix bassist Noel Redding absconded with tapes of Hendrix’ last live recordings, using them as collateral for a mortgage in Ireland. All of this is catchy, a lot it is funny and you can sometimes dance to it, in other words, typical Black 47.

Black 47 typically play Connolly’s on Saturday nights at 10 when they’re not on the road; they’re also doing their annual St. Paddy’s Day show early on the 17th at B.B. King’s at 7, which despite the Times Squaresville location should be a good way to spend the evening away from the amateurs.

March 13, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Black 47 at Connolly’s, NYC 2/20/10

One of New York’s most popular bands is hidden in plain sight. When Black 47 aren’t on the road, or frontman Larry Kirwan isn’t putting on a play (he’s written over ten at last count) or he’s off on a book tour (his new novel Rockin’ the Bronx is a real page-turner – more on that one here soon), the band plays Connolly’s in midtown on Saturday nights. This week the legendary Irish-American rockers – whose 2008 cd Iraq we picked as best album of the year – are doing a benefit for Haiti on the 24th at Connolly’s at 7 PM with a roots reggae band, a better segue than you might think. This past Saturday’s show was a real revelation. After 20 years on the road, the band might be better than ever. How do you keep a legend fresh?

With new material. Black 47’s forthcoming cd – which you can get at shows now – is titled Bankers and Gangsters. You can’t get much more apropos than that. It’s not all jigs and reels either – the band played a couple for the dance contests, one of them an eerie reverb number like an Irish version of Pipeline or a Link Wray song – but what they most resemble these days is the Boomtown Rats or the Clash. “Songs of freedom,” Kirwan reminded the crowd more than once, and the audience – an impressively polyglot, demographically mixed bunch of drinkers – drank it up. At this point in their careeer, Black 47 could phone it in and probably get away with it, but instead they opt for spectacle, again like the Clash. They gave away cds, t-shirts and gave their killer horn section plenty of time centerstage, taking a Stevie Wonder riff to the Emerald Isle and teasing the crowd with a classic Clash intro. Later soprano sax player Geoffrey Blythe, trombonist Fred Parcells and uilleann piper Joseph Mulvanerty would take a ska jazz interlude with a bunch of classic 50s riffs from Miles Davis et al. They played a bunch of their signature songs, the defiant, raised-middle-finger emigrant anthem Funky Ceili and the off-kilter, whiskey-fueled hangover-from-hell number 40 Shades of Blue among them, Kirwan with his megawatt grin often reaching into the crowd for a lyric, seeing that pretty much everybody knew them and were only too glad to holler them back. But it was the new songs that impressed the most: the vividly anticipatory Long Hot Summer Comin’ On, the characteristically anthemic, sardonic title track from the new album, the surreal Lower East Side narrative Izzy’s Irish Rose and the long, even more tongue-in-cheek minor-key ballad Long Lost Tapes of Hendrix.

Kirwan could have picked another old favorite for the first of the encores, but he didn’t, instead going with the bluesy, sarcastic Sadr City, which is basically Kansas City rewritten from the point of view of an American soldier in Iraq who can’t wait to get out. Anyone who might misguidedly think that political songs can’t galvanize an audience should have seen the fist-raising, Guinness-fueled reaction to that one. They closed with the ridiculously catchy janglerock hit Maria’s Wedding, a still-jealous wedding crasher’s equally belated and useless apology. After over an hour and a half worth of music, the crowd still wanted more. The band’ll be back here on the 24th for the Haiti benefit at 7, then on the 27th at 10, followed by a gig at the College of Staten Island on March 12. Kirwan is also playing at stops on his book tour: his next New York signing is March 8 at Barnes & Noble at 97 Warren St. in Tribeca.

February 22, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Black 47 – Iraq

By turns fierce, fervent, brilliantly lyrical and subtly witty, this is an album that needed to be made and it’s a good thing Black 47 were the ones to do it. To say that this is an ambitious project is an understatement, but it works, brilliantly because frontman Larry Kirwan’s songs tell the story of the war through the eyes of those stuck over there fighting it: the songs here have a ring of desperate authenticity. Whatever the reason for anyone being over there, the inevitable refrain is “just get me out of here alive.” Being an Irish-American rock band that spends most of its time on the road in front of a heavily immigrant, sometimes right-wing audience, Black 47 have heard from both the antiwar and the pro-Bush camps (and until Cindy Sheehan took up the cause of sanity, the band caught considerable flak at live shows for their consistently strong antiwar stance). But there isn’t much editorializing going on here: this album simply recounts the often grisly day-by-day lives of the men and women inadvertently risking their lives for the benefit of the Bush family and Halliburton. The implication – a very subtle but powerful one – is that this is the cost of war profiteering. The characters in the songs on this album didn’t go to Iraq with high and mighty ideals: they either ended up there because they either saw a good payday, or simply some kind of payday, because they couldn’t find one here.

Set to bright, major-key, generally upbeat meat-and-potatoes rock melodies spiced with motifs from traditional Irish music, the songs here paint a bleak picture. Kirwan’s songwriting is typically replete with rousing, crescendoing choruses and plenty of high drama, and within these songs it all works spectacularly well. The album’s opening cut Stars & Stripes appropriates the melody from the old calypso standard Sloop John B., whose chorus – not used here – is “let me go home, please let me go home,” turning the song into a fiery backbeat rocker. “Hey President Bush, what’re you doing to us,” the narrator asks quizzically, as he encourages his dying buddy to hold on, just hold on til the helicopter comes. The big anthem Downtown Baghdad Blues begins with sound of a helicopter fluttering overhead over ebow guitar. “Me I don’t care much about Jesus and Mohammed,” sputters its protagonist, a baseball fan who’d rather be home watching the Padres. “I didn’t wanna come here, I didn’t get to choose,” he adds sarcastically. The following cut, the bluesy, sax-driven Sadr City tells the eerie tale of a GI going out for some R&R guy in all-too-familiar territory: “I’ve got one thing on my mind, I’ve gotta get out of this city alive.”

But all is not so harrowing, in at least such a predictably gruesome fashion, in Sunrise on Brooklyn. “I can’t believe it’s so peaceful…I hope I see the sunrise in your eyes again,” laments a soldier, amazed by the natural beauty of Iraq yet dreading the inevitable attack which could come at any time. The slow, heartwrenching Ballad of Cindy Sheehan paints her dead soldier son as something of a naïf, who would never have believed that the draft dodgers who led this country to war would have ever used false pretenses to do so. The pace picks up with the scorching, sarcastic The Last One to Die, the bridge punctuated by a sample of Bush declaring that “major combat operations are over in Iraq.” The album’s high point, The Battle of Fallujah is a towering 6/8 anthem, something that Black 47 does enviably well: “Don’t let em know that they used ya/ Kicking ass at the battle of Fallujah…if there’s a draft you know damn well yourself this war would be over by dawn…your tax dollars can go to building it all back over again.”

The album’s requisite soldier-missing-home ballad Ramadi begins by nicking the acoustic guitar intro from Graham Parker’s Watch the Moon Come Down and builds from there. In Southside Chicago Waltz, a GI discovers to his horror that for the first time, he’s been sent to the one place where even the police and firefighters in his family are powerless to save him. The album closes with an instrumental that mimics the sound of falling bombs. Not just a great rock record, this is an essential piece of history. Every band ought to be doing what Black 47 has done here. What Frankenchrist by the Dead Kennedys was to 1985, what Wallace ’48 by the Hangdogs was to 2002, Iraq by Black 47 is to 2008. A classic. Five stars, without stripes. Available in better record stores, online and at shows. Black 47 next play New York at B.B. King’s on St. Patrick’s Day.

March 7, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment