Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Maul Girls Reunion at Crash Mansion; Ninth House at MI-5, NYC 9/8/07

There is hope. There are still pockets of coolness in this city, if you’re lucky enough to find them – vestiges still remain here from what was for a long time a vital, frequently exhilarating music scene. So good to be alive while the whole world is dying.

The first show of the night was part of the Howl festival, which seems to be an aging punk thing (nothing wrong with aging punks – many of them still rock). We got to the club (a somewhat swanky, spacious downstairs space that usually books hip-hop, all low lighting and black vinyl couches) to find a panel discussion onstage, wrapping up what they thought young artists should keep in mind. Their unanimous conclusion: DIY. I recognized the former Ramones manager; reputedly there was also an ex-Sex Pistol up there too, but I only know those faces from the albums and the documentaries and those were made a long time ago.

The Waldos opened, a long-running former Continental act fronted by ex-Heartbreaker Walter Lure, playing generic proto-punk in the style of, you guessed it, the New York Dolls. They weren’t painful, though everything they played sounded pretty much the same. But then they did Chinese Rocks, and the crowd was instantly energized: Dee Dee Ramone’s best hook ever is impossible not to like. And then they did Too Much Junkie Business, and even if Johnny Thunders wasn’t up there, it still rocked, authentically smirking punk defiance, even if the song endorses something that you should never do. In a once-proud city that kowtows to celebutards and office fascist types like Donald Trump, we need that defiance more than ever.

Reunion shows are a mixed bag. It’s always hard to get all the original members back together (the Guess Who, giving new meaning to their name, with NO original members in their “reunited” lineup), harder to find replacements (the Zombies, Sham 69) and next to impossible to get them all in the same room to play all the old songs. The Maul Girls had all of three rehearsals for this show yet played like they’d never been apart. As one band member noted afterward, they have an intuitive sense of what their cohorts are going to throw at them. What they threw at the audience was an amazing performance.

For a couple of years in the late 90s, the Maul Girls absolutely personified fun in downtown New York. In the true spirit of punk rock, their slightly askew mishmash of punk, funk and pop pulled an impressively mixed crowd, equal parts gay and straight, male and female, minority and caucasian. Everybody loved the Maul Girls because they rocked, they had absolutely no inhibitions and their songs were catchy as hell. Tonight the crowd was a roiling sea of dancing bodies, proof that they can still bring the party. Radiant in a sparkly dress and dramatic makeup, frontwoman Jenny Maul leaped and stalked the stage like a woman possessed. Unless you really had to watch what the musicians were doing, it was impossible to take your eyes off her, delivering as much irresistible allure as unleashed menace. “We’re here to maul you,” she growled as the show started, and she really got the crowd going when she jumped out into the audience. To find someone equally charismatic, you need to go back in history a ways: James Brown and Tina Turner come to mind. Among today’s performers? Maybe Tammy Faye Starlite in a particularly enraged moment.

They may not have always perfectly articulated it, but their message is still feminist and in your face, and they pull it off because they’re so disarmingly funny and fearless. The Spice Girls may have given lip service to “girl power,” but the Maul Girls made you want to dropkick Posh and her posse through the goalposts of Manchester United. Tonight they mixed up stuff from their lone album, Rump Roast along with some other choice, unreleased funk-inflected material. Guitarists Bobbie Maul and Leah Maul took turns and then traded off some searing wah-wah lines, drummer Stephanie Maul and bassist Anne-Marie Maul (who was the best musician in the band during their heyday) locked in and pushed the groove to the limit while their frontwoman reveled in showing off every wild timbre in her spectacular, four-octave range. They didn’t play their signature song Maul Girl Love, but the crowd was clearly gassed to hear Jenny Maul do a couple of rap numbers along with another big audience hit: “Whatchyou doing in this downtown underground with those clunky black shoes?” she snarled, more than a trace of a smile on her lips. Although they clearly had more material than they were given the chance to play, Jenny Maul told the crowd that they’d be doing another show in October. Stay tuned: although they’ve all become excellent musicians in the years since they initially went their separate ways, the Maul Girls showed tonight that they haven’t lost one iota of the reckless abandon that made them so popular.

We walked down to Chinatown, and then west to Tribeca to find the strangely named MI-5 (it’s the British designation for their equivalent of the CIA). Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were happily absent. This is a brand-new, cavernous, predictably expensive joint searching for personality before the Humvee stretch limo crowd with their parents’ credit cards discovers it and makes it their own. Until then, it’s an oasis in a weekend of hellholes. Tonight was goth night. Ninth House, who’ve received a lot of press here, have risen from the ashes once again: every time the band seems on the verge of packing it in for good, they bring in new blood. This time the transfusion is working out amazingly well. The new guitarist plays with a roar of distortion and a somewhat bluesy feel, although he’s quickly reining in the metal tendencies that reared their head in his first show with this band. They’ve also added the incomparable Susan Mitchell on violin, and although she was playing her first Ninth House show, she dazzled with her signature, evil gypsy flourishes. The new keyboardist is also the best they’ve had to date. They opened with a roar with Long Stray Whim, the first track from their new cd, which nicks a Stone Roses lick, later doing a pounding, desperate-to-get-home version of their drunk-driving anthem Follow the Line. But their finest moments were at the end of the ominously loping Jealousy and the best of their Nashville gothic songs, Mistaken for Love, where the band kept going after the final chorus while the guitar, violin and sometimes even the bass played off each other. Like a lot of art-rock units, the previous incarnation of this band brought out the epic grandeur in their songs, but with a clinical precision that sometimes felt cold and distant. This new version of the band may be a little rough around the edges, but with the newly improvisational vibe, they’ve added dynamics, making the crescendos all the more intense. The idea of a punk/art-rock/jam band may sound completely unappetizing, but Ninth House makes it work. Although the sound tonight was dodgy – the bar clearly wasn’t designed as a music venue, the sound guy quickly revealed himself as an amateur and the vocals became pretty much buried for the last half of the show – the floor space quickly filled up with dancers. Ninth House tapped a nerve tonight. And they’ll only get better.

September 9, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment