Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

From the Archives: Nightcrawling 9/23/00

The night began with bluesy trio Gate 18 at the dreaded Orange Bear (a seedy old-man bar downtown in the financial district on Murray St. that hardly ever had anyone there, yet for some inexplicable reason could afford an expensive, state-of-the-art sound system). Instructive how a venue this wretched can still pull a quality act like Gate 18 for a Saturday night show with a $5 cover charge. Indicative of how the proliferation of venues has affected bands that don’t always pack the house. Sad to see frontwoman Lynn Ann (an amazing singer equally at home with searing blues, sultry jazz, twangy country and just plain straight-up rock) being harrassed about the volume of her Gibson Les Paul guitar when she wasn’t actually that loud at all. And she’s a big belter – there was absolutely no reason why the sound guy couldn’t have raised that powerful voice above the volume she was playing at. It was equally annoying to see the band being driven from the stage without giving their extremely enthusiastic audience the encore they were screaming for.

The band did their big college radio hit Nikki’s Tits early in the set, Lynn Ann not even trying to belt it (maybe they’re sick of playing it). The rousing Give Me a Reason, which could be a commercial radio hit, featured bassist Chris Witting playing excellent, melodic fills whenever and wherever he could fit them in. They closed with the swinging cover of the Billie Holiday hit Lover Come Back to Me that they always do. The band seemed in good spirits despite having been treated less than cordially by the club.

The Cooler was our next destination. This venue really shouldn’t exist. It’s on the edge of nowhere in the meatpacking district, draws a crowd of weirdos, is never open when it should be and is owned by someone with a reputation for treating bands – female artists, especially – with disrespect. Said disrespectful owner can’t even find a way to put together his own shows: the bands tonight were assembled by Moonlighters frontwoman Bliss Blood. Too bad the turnout was mediocre at best: perhaps this was a last-minute booking. This time, we’d come out to see the Dimestore Dance Ensemble (the former Devil’s Grimy Ascot, with Jack Martin on guitar), but given how early they’d gone on (10ish), there’s no way we could have made it up from the Orange Bear in time. As it turned out, we got there in time to catch the last song by the excellent bluegrass band Jim & Jennie & the Pine Tops (formerly the Pine Barons – that was before they moved to Pennsylvania from Brooklyn. Go figure). Their stuff fit perfectly on an old-timey bill like this. The Moonlighters followed with a brief, 50-minute set (this band will play all night long if you let them), with a standin standup bass player who was clearly lost when they launched into their best song, Blue and Black-Eyed. It’s a harrowing tale of a prostitute who kills herself by leaping from the fire escape at McGuirk’s Suicide Hall, a notorious early 20th century dive bar known for its suicide jumpers. The tenement that housed it still exists today just south of Houston [not anymore: it’s luxury housing now]. While Bliss Blood didn’t bring the musical saw or the train whistle she played at her most recent show, she did hum along as her second vocalist Carla Murray did a great job with their big audience hit Humming to Myself.

The next act, the Hank Williams Lonesome Cheatin’ Hearts Club Band is a Hank Williams cover band fronted by a young, clean-cut, articulate, educated, possibly very affluent East Coast-bred singer/guitarist who has less in common with Hank Williams than most people. But the band – including a standup bassist, and the Pine Tops’ violin player – is super tight, and it’s impossible to have any complaint about their choice of material. The high point of their set was Ramblin’ Man, which actually gave me the chills. Most sensible people would have called it a night at this point, but not us: we had lost a couple of people from the posse, but a couple of late additions re-energized us and we moved on to Finally Freddie’s around half past one in the morning.

It’s another impossible venue way over on Washington St. a couple of blocks south of 14th. There’s a small bar upstairs, an even smaller one down a flight via a tight, spindly staircase that seems ready to collapse. The bands play in the back of the narrow room, which has benches instead of chairs. But at least the air conditioning was blasting. Too bad the sound was awful, which didn’t help things because the band onstage, Cabana Rock, got very loud in the small space. Their frontman is Cuban-American; their metalish lead guitarist seems to hail from somewhere in Eastern Europe, and their bassist, wherever he’s from, is tremendous (a Latin McCartney, said one of our entourage, rapt). In addition to their two percussionists, they have a rock drummer, a local punk legend who’s played with everybody including the Ramones. He’s very busy, and took a ridiculously long, clattering, Mitch Mitchell style solo that wasn’t exactly right for the venue. But the band was good: while Santana is the obvious comparison, he doesn’t seem to be an influence. They fit in better with the current crop of Mexican rock en espanol stars like Jaguares and Maldita Vecindad, building their songs on folky, sometimes eerie acoustic melodies with psychedelic, electric flourishes and lots of energy. Their best original was a syncopated, swaying number in English called In Your Sanity. They also did a good, boisterous cover of the Beatles’ Why Don’t We Do It In the Road. Since the plan the next day was to get up relatively early in order to get to Hoboken by early afternoon for their annual Arts & Music Festival, I cut out after the band was done instead of stopping at the Fish on the way home for a drink or however many may have followed that.

[postscript: each of the venues here are now defunct, as is every band except Jim & Jennie & the Pine Tops and the Moonlighters. The former have achieved real stardom playing the indie rock circuit and backing Neko Case on her live album; the latter have gone through numerous lineup changes yet seem to get better than ever whenever they bring new blood into the band]

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September 23, 2007 Posted by | concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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