Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review from the Archives: Mary Lee Kortes, LJ Murphy, the Dog Show, Douce Gimlet, the Scholars and Steak at the C-Note, NYC 9/8/00

[Editor’s note -during our first year, when we found ourselves in a particularly slow week, we’d put up an article or two from the exhaustive archive we’d inherited a few months earlier from our predecessor e-zine. In those days we didn’t know how easy we had it.]

This was an ass-backwards night. By all rights, the opening act should have headlined, but acoustic acts tend to play here earlier in the evening. The later it gets, the louder it usually is here. Mary Lee’s Corvette frontwoman Mary Lee Kortes held the crowd rapt throughout her 45-minute solo acoustic set: you could have heard a pin drop. Plainly and simply, there is no better singer out there right now. Her favorite vocal device is to leap an octave or more, in a split second, always landing like a cat. Tonight she made it seem effortless, even if her songs, and her vocals, tend to be white-knuckle intense, her steely wail soaring over her subtle, judicious guitar playing. And there’s no better songwriter out there right now either. The songs she played tonight, a mix of concert favorites and new material, are striking in their craftsmanship. The French word for it is travaille, something Kortes would understand and probably agree with.

She opened with a quiet, almost skeletal version of the unreleased Redemption Day, radically different from the blazing riff-rock smash she plays with the band. Still, the anguished intensity of the lyric was undiminished. Later, she did several swinging, country-inflected songs from the band’s most recent, panstylistically brilliant album True Lovers of Adventure. She closed with Lost Art, a ballad from the album, that she sang a-capella, forgetting the words to the last verse for a second and then recovering, to the crowd’s clear delight. I haven’t seen an audience so riveted in a long time.

Another first-class songwriter, LJ Murphy followed. He’s also a band person at heart, although he’s been doing a weekly solo acoustic residency here for over a year now. Residencies can be a dangerous thing for a musician: they’ll wear out your crowd quickly. But there was a vocal contingent here tonight that clearly knows his material well, and he rewarded them by playing mostly requests. He cuts a striking figure with his immaculate black suit, porkpie hat and gravelly baritone. Like Kortes, many of his blues and soul-inflected songs have a stinging lyrical edge, including his minor-key opener, Geneva Conventional, a withering broadside about selling out. His best song of the night was St. James Hotel, a catchy, crescendoing tale of a drunk in a Times Square welfare hotel who hopes he’ll fall asleep “before this bottle’s empty.”

The Dog Show brought a small but enthusiastic crowd. Tonight was lead guitarist Jack Martin’s turn to shine. He plays pretty straightforward lead guitar in Knoxville Girls, but in this project he plays with a slide, and tonight saw him doing his best Mick Taylor impression, all scorching leads and wailing excursions to the uppermost reaches of the fretboard, giving a vintage, Stonesy edge to the band’s lyrical, Costello-esque songs. They wailed through the 6/8 blues Diamonds and Broken Glass (with a long guitar solo), the quietly excoriating Saturday Nights Are for Amateurs, the joyous, Latin-inflected Halcyon Days and a ska number called Back to the Mine which the backup singer (the frontman’s wife) punctuated with percussion on a cooking pan.

Douce Gimlet packed the place. They’re a kitchen-sink band: frontman/guitarist Ben Plummer can literally write anything. Tonight they did a mix of silly instrumentals that could be tv show themes, a handful of aching country ballads (Plummer excels at these) and their best song, a haunting janglerock number called Destitute. This band is a magnet for talent: Martin joined them on slide, Dog Show frontman Jerome O’Brien is the bass player, and they have Moisturizer frontwoman Moist Paula Henderson on baritone sax. She and Plummer began and ended the show with a New Orleans-style march on which he joined her on saxophone, walking up to the stage to begin the set, and then, at the end, the two somehow made way to the door through the throngs of people as the rhythm section kept playing onstage. The crowd roared for more but the club wouldn’t let them do an encore.

The Lower East Side bands that play here are a closeknit scene, many of them sharing members. The Scholars’ drummer had already played a tight set with the Dog Show, and held down a slow, smoldering groove with this electric Neil Young-inflected quartet. They had a guest cellist, who played haunting washes that fit in perfectly with this band’s dark, glimmering, rain-drenched Pacific Northwest gothic vibe. Finally, after their set, the crowd started to trickle out and I wasn’t far behind. Steak, which is Jack Grace’s Denver jam band relocated to New York, have a very Little Feat sound: lots of improvisation (Grace is a terrific guitarist who blends country with jazz licks on his big Gibson hollowbody), and the band swings. But they drove me out of the club when the rhythm guitarist started bellowing “Steve McQueen” over and over again while the band turned it up as loud as they could behind him. But all in all, a rewarding evening for anyone (and there were a few) who’d had the stamina (or alcohol tolerance) to stick around for the whole night.

[postscript: Mary Lee’s Corvette continues to record and tour, with a cameo in the film Happy Hour. LJ Murphy’s solo residency at the C-Note ended later that year – since then he’s been recording and playing with his band. The Dog Show hung it up in 2007, although frontman Jerome O’Brien remains active in music. Douce Gimlet broke up in 2002; their frontman died under suspicious circumstances shortly thereafter, although no one was ever charged in his death. Scholars frontman Whiting Tennis still records and will from time to time play a live show with the Scholars, although in recent years his focus has been mainly on his critically acclaimed, hauntingly intense visual art. While Steak is for all intents and purposes defunct, Jack Grace continues to enjoy a successful career as a country bandleader and booking agent]

September 8, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment