Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Toneballs Bounce Around the Parkside

For those who’re going to miss out on Elvis Costello’s November 1 show at the Greene Space – most likely a whole lot of people – the Toneballs’ show Friday night to a packed house at the Parkside made a suitable substitute. Frontman Dan Sallitt is somewhat younger but shares a similarly cynical worldview and a love for double entendres. Where Costello draws on American soul and the Beatles, Sallitt looks back to Richard Thompson, Big Star and lot of powerpop. This time out the band – Sallitt on acoustic guitar and vocals; Love Camp 7’s Dann Baker on bass; Paul McKenzie on lead guitar and Beefstock mastermind Joe Filosa, king of the rock backbeat, behind the kit – mixed several slow, hypnotic ballads in with the ridiculously catchy, tension-laden, new wave style hits. They opened with Fran Goes to School, a tongue-in-cheek look at a recluse slowly making her way into the world. Mr. Insensitive, unlike what the title implies, is sarcastic, a stunner of a kiss-off song and one of Sallitt’s previous band Blow This Nightclub’s best-remembered moments: “Hoping for a revelation, settling for a change…a figment of my alcoholic brain, til then I remain, Mr. Insensitive.”

A newer one, Chelsea Clinton Knows, brought the savagery to boiling point: she knows people are bad, so all she has to do is make sure daddy turns up the sanctions. And if she has a kid she hopes it’s a boy. They followed that with a slow, noirish, suspenseful 6/8 number with McKenzie on lapsteel. One of Sallitt’s most effective devices is to hint at a resolution and then turn away at the last second, something the chord changes did all the way through another old Blow This Nightclub number, a sardonic one that looks forward to the future “because it will be fun, not like now.” Their obligatory Richard Thompson cover – they debut a new one at every show – was Hand of Kindness, complete with absolutely perfect, rivetingly intense lead guitar breaks from McKenzie. He didn’t turn a newer one, the fiery, chromatic Max Planck’s Day, into as much of a guitar workout as he did last time around, but it still resonated, a sardonic mix of physics and unrequited love. They closed on a more playful note with a Hawaiian-themed co-write between Sallitt and Baker, whose melodic four-string lines had soared and simmered all night long and were just as compelling as McKenzie’s pyrotechnics.

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October 26, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Liza & the WonderWheels – Pavlov’s Garage

Their best album. Liza and the WonderWheels spun off of New York new wave/80s revivalists the Larch (who also have a career-defining new album out), and to a certain extent they mine a similar vibe: the songs here would have been huge hits in the 80s. Most of the numbers here work riffs and variations on those riffs – they’re singalongs, with an understated social awareness that hits you upside the head just like the melodies. Liza Garelik Roure (who also plays keys in the Larch with her husband, lead guitarist Ian Roure) leads this band on guitar, keys and vocals, anchored by the Plastic Beef rhythm section, Andy Mattina on bass and Joe Filosa on drums, who combine to create a sort of New York rock counterpart to Motown Records’ Funk Brothers. Liza’s always had ferocious vocal chops, but this is the first album they’ve done which fully utilizes them.

The opening cut After Last Night perfectly captures the vibe of being stuck at the dayjob but still resonating from the fun of the previous evening, a Standells stomp recast as sly new wave with a blazing guitar solo that quotes blithely from Reeling in the Years by Steely Dan. The catchy, riff-driven Where’s My Robot Maid sarcastically pokes fun at blind faith in technology, at a world where “Science will all make sense as we all eat such healthy foods.” Learning Lessons, a pounding girl-power anthem comes on like an edgier version of the Motels without all the drama – which is ironic because that’s what the song’s about. The backbeat anthem Straight to the Body evokes the Go Go’s with its snide lyric about gutless guys who won’t make a move on a girl, flying along on the wings of Mattina’s scurrying bass.

The two big live hits here are the ferociously sarcastic Petroleum: “Let’s go, oil barons, let’s go!” with Mattina leading the charge again, and No Exceptions, which rips the melody from Franklin’s Tower by the Grateful Dead for a subtly snarling anti-authoritarian anthem:

Your definitions should be doublechecked for accuracy…
Sometimes I feel our day has yet to dawn
To the end of the night we must journey on

There’s also The Hats, a scampering rocker that seems to be about a Chicago band that may or may not exist (although there is a British funk/blues act who go by that name); Smug Ugly which shifts the time back another ten years to the early 70s with a darkly psychedelic bluesy vibe, a strikingly thoughtful response to the too-cool-for-school affectations all the rage in New York music circles; and Take Us to the Stars, the only rock song to celebrate climbing Mount Rainier (although that could be purely metaphorical), a creepy, breathtaking art-rock epic driven by Ian’s magisterial, otherworldly bluesy guitar, and a showcase for Liza’s dramatic, operatic range. Count this among the best and most satisfying releases of 2010.

June 5, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beefstock 2010 Day Two

Day One of Beefstock 2010 is covered here. Day Two began early in the afternoon with Peter Pierce and his jangly, two-guitar band, sounding like a tuneful cross between the Silos and Neil Young. They did a darkly clanging outlaw ballad early on, a couple of comfortably expansive, jangly paisley underground style tunes and some riff-rock featuring one of the festival’s hardest-working players, Ross Bonadonna on sax.

Erica Smith was next on the bill, but she was asleep, having been knocked cold by a morning yoga session with Paula Carino. Finally roused, she alluded onstage to still feeling the effects, but whatever other world she’d been in, she brought some of it with her in a brief but absolutely devastating solo set. With an otherworldly lushness added to a voice already steeped in an evocative brew of just about every emotion possible (especially the sad ones), she was the highlight of the festival, opening with an acoustic version of Firefly, an impossibly catchy, sunny pop hit on album but in this context bittersweet and plaintive. A new song, the vividly brooding vacation scenario River King, rivalled the Church’s classic Bel Air, its wounded narrator drifting defiantly down to the local watering hole in all her finery when the guys wouln’t let her sit in with them and sing. The song had come to her in a dream, she explained, ostensibly written by Adam Cooper and her bandmate Dann Baker; the joke is that the song sounds like nothing either one of them would probably ever come up with. She closed with a swaying yet intense version of her bossa nova-pop hit Tonight, an old folk song that she did a-capella and got lost in, taking the crowd with her, and a shattering version of the towering, anguished country anthem The World Is Full of Pretty Girls, from her classic 2008 album Snowblind.

This is where we dropped out – being part of the blogosphere requires a far closer-than-ideal umbilical cord to the web, especially in a place sans cellphone reception like this. So we missed Clancy’s Ghost and probably others but managed to get back in time for Rebecca Turner, her rustic, maple sugar voice, first-rate rhythm section, charming Americana-pop songs and Josh Roy Brown playing characteristically spine-tingling lapsteel. Turner swung her way through the ridiculously catchy, metaphorically charged Tough Crowd, a little later her signature anthem Brooklyn – probably the only song ever to namecheck McCarren Pool – and simultaneously indulged her Linda Ronstadt and Neil Young fixations with a rousing version of Love Is a Rose. She bookended these around a short set by Brown featuring a fiery, hypnotic open-tuned blues number.

Paula Carino, the hands-down star of Beefstock 2009 has a new yoga book coming out. Leading a session in the morning may have knocked the crowd out but it energized her. Carino’s new cd Open on Sunday looks like a lock for best album of 2010; like last year (hell, like always), this was Carino the hookmeister. Having the cd around is pretty cool: turns out that the ridiculously catchy new wave riff-rock of Mother I Must Go to Maxwell’s has an angst-driven undercurrent. Having Ross Bonadonna on lead guitar is just as cool. He’d spend much of the night onstage: his role in this band is lead guitar powerhouse, whether firing off a snarling Wes Montgomery-gone-to-Brixton solo on the indelibly catchy, dark Great Depression or a sarcastically animalian carnival of riffs on the snide Rough Guide. Carino debuted a punchy new one, Three Legged Race; she also went back into the archive and delivered the metaphorically loaded Venus Records with her best mentholated purr. A little later on, she brought the show to a peak when she kicked off a crescendoing version of Paleoclimatology with just her Strat and velvet vocals for a couple of bars. “Just let it go, that ancient snow, that wrecked Tyrannosaurus,” she intoned as the song took the intensity up into the rafters.

The Larch had a tough act to follow and they delivered. Bonadonna was on bass this time – a great lead guitarist playing a four-string is a treat (Marty Willson-Piper of the Church, on the occasions he does it, is a good comparison). Frontman Ian Roure has never written better – their seventh (count ’em) album, Larix Americana is coming out on May 22 (the cd release show is at the Parkside) and could well be their best if this show was any indication. Roure’s best known as a songwriter, these days sort of a missing link between Ray Davies and Robyn Hitchcock but as a guitarist he can shred with anybody and this was a shred-a-thon. Blending his wah-wah pedal with a watery chorus box effect, he blasted through one brief, maybe eight-bar, supersonic solo after another. Those catchy new wave-ish songs didn’t leave much room for stretching out, from the bouncy, Costelloesque powerpop of the Strawberry Coast, the funky, Taxman-ish In the Name Of or one of the best songs of the whole festival, the resolute anthem With Love from Region One. Roure explained beforehand that it’s his indelibly British tribute to all good things American: “People don’t realize that it’s not all Disney and McDonald’s here.” He mixed his tones for the longest and most savage solo of the night as Bonadonna ground out one boomy chord after another at the end.

Solar Punch were next, playing cheery, sunny, Grateful Dead-inspired songs on a small side stage since they’re a solar-powered band: lead guitarist Alan Bigelow had charged a battery with solar panels on the ride up from Manhattan, which gave them enough juice for a full 40-minute set with two electric guitars, bass, vocal mics and (one assumes) unamplified drums. Bigelow played through a piano patch on several of the songs; their best one was a boomy, hypnotic Indian-influenced psychedelic number most likely inspired by the group’s tour of that country a year ago. Plastic Beef’s Andy Mattina held down the bass chair as he would later with Paula Carino and others.

Brute Force was a trip, plain and simple. Seeing the singer/pianist and his band was a time warp back to the Summer of Love, because Brute was there, and soon thereafter would be signed to Apple Records. Copies of his signature song, the underground comedy rock hit The King of Fuh (he was the Fuh King – get it?) are prized on the collector market. They closed with that song, a tongue-in-cheek swipe at the censors that comes across as a lot tamer in the age of gangsta rap than it did then. Brute Force’s songs foreshadowed what Ragni and Rado would do with their musical Hair – anthemic and theatrical, often seemingly completely guileless, they also have a social conscience, topics ranging from a simple antiwar number to his famous Pledge of Allegiance to the Universe to a more anguished, newer one about global warming.

A completely different stripe of pianist/bandleader, Tom Warnick and World’s Fair brought the thunder after the sunshine. With just the hint of an evil grin, he and his now four-piece backing unit (featuring both John Sharples and Bonadonna, again on lead guitar, turning in his some of his most intense salvos of the night) romped and then raced through a noir-tinged, soul-inflected set including a lickety-split, Ramones-ish version of the Jersey Turnpike nightmare scenario How Do You Get to Ho-Ho-Kus, a ska-punk singalong, a Stax/Volt style soul jump and some wickedly catchy pop. They wrapped up the set with a particularly ecstatic version of what has become a sort of signature song for the band, Keep Me Movin’. The band was tight; despite the late hour, the bass player appeared sober – although jumping all over the stage and trying to steal the spotlight from a frontguy like Warnick doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Erica Smith may have turned in the most intense single set of the evening, but the best song of the night was delivered by her husband, John Sharples and his band. Taking his vocals down, down into the murky depths of his register, he and the band (Bonadonna up there yet again on lead guitar) made their way ominously through a spine-tingling, bluesily noir version of a pensive 6/8 Warnick ballad, The Impostor. Bonnadonna used it as a springboard for the most dazzling display of speed of the whole night, a firestorm of staccato madness that perfectly matched the Kafkaesque lyric. With Smith on harmony vocals, they stampeded through an inspired cover of Chinatown by the Move, a ferocious blast of powerpop with When Amy Says by Blow This Nightclub, a couple of pensive ballads where Sharples moved to piano, and a medley that uncovered the Thin Lizzy hidden inside Paula Carino’s tongue-in-cheek Robots Helping Robots.

The Nopar King is the latest incarnation of Plastic Beef, and the tightest one yet. By now the crowd was finally dancing as the band passed around percussion instruments to random drunks, some who still had their timing, some who didn’t. Drummer Joe Filosa and new (relatively new, anyway) singer Diane O’Connell traded soulful vocals as they made their way through some funky originals and a couple of covers. Billy from Norhmal joined them a little later on and brought the energy level up even higher. They wrapped up the set with a deliriously stretched-out version of their signature song, the latin-disco-jamband number The Pyramid Club, a wistful look back at a better time and place where a band could shuttle back and forth between that place and A7 up the block.

All-female trio Out of Order were the best conceivable headliner the festival could have had. With their ridiculously catchy postpunk songs, they’re part new wave throwbacks, part no wave (their guitarist is a monster noiserock player) and part straight up punk. They managed to keep a crowd who’d either been playing all day, drinking all day or both either completely rapt or on their feet and dancing (well, at least stumbling) throughout their almost hourlong set. As John Sharples observed, one of the cool things about this band is that not only do the songs disregard any kind of conventional verse/chorus structure, the melody weaves back and forth between the bass and the guitar just as unexpectedly. The guitarist’s chirpy, defiant vocal riffs punched and swung overhead as the drummer mauled her kit, whether hammering out a precise hardcore beat, a mammoth metal stomp or more energetic, intricate patterns. They roared and skittered through a couple of eerie ones fueled by chromatic riffs, a couple that reminded of the Slits, a couple of others that evoked the early B-52s but with balls. That a band this smart, fun and goodlooking (no intention to be sexist here, but they dress to kill when they hit the stage) isn’t famous says more about the state of the music business in 2010 than pretty much anything else could.

There was a jam afterward. Most of the people had cleared out by then; memory seems to indicate that they did Twist and Shout at some point and considering how the day’s overindulgence had by now become wretched excess, they probably shouldn’t have. Special shout-out to spoken-word artist Eric Mattina, whose wise, lucid, understated poem earlier in the evening spoke more eloquently about the perils of gentrification than any prose ever could: as Mattina asked, have you ever been happy in a bank?

There are multi-band extravaganzas this good in New York City – if the Gypsy Tabor Festival comes back to Brooklyn again, there’s a place where you can also see nine or ten first-class acts one after another. The annual all-day Main Squeeze Accordion Festival is the same way. The Brooklyn What often find a way to get three or four other similarly minded, kick-ass rock bands on the same stage on the same night. And then there’s always Make Music NY on June 21. But Beefstock 2010 was about as good as it gets.

April 16, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Beefstock 2010 Day One

Beefstock is sort of Bonnaroo for great obscure New York bands, an annual two or three-day spring music festival in the Catskills. We’ve covered the previous two – the backstory is here. In the beginning, it was skewed more toward jam bands, but in recent years it’s become more and more diverse. As with all festivals, it’s impossible to take everything in, and the quality of the bands at this one – arguably the best Beefstock ever – was frustratingly good. Standing around watching music for seven or eight hours at a clip gets exhausting, so, apologies in advance to the acts who played who aren’t covered here. With breaks for food, wine, more wine (Beefstock requires a lot of refueling!), checking email (there’s no cell service at the festival site, the Full Moon Resort in Big Indian, NY) and general socializing, this is simply one perspective on this year’s festivities.

A later-than-expected departure from Manhattan meant missing the early Friday night performances. By eight in the evening, Fred Gillen Jr. was wrapping up a characteristically tuneful, invigorated set of socially aware acoustic rock with his new drummer. If memory serves right, this was their first show together, and they rocked, concluding with a spirited version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Liza Garelik Roure and her husband Ian Roure, who would play Saturday night in their band the Larch, followed with a duo set showcasing songs from the band she fronts, Liza and the WonderWheels, and these proved more richly tuneful and emotionally diverse than ever (their upcoming cd ought to be awfully good). “Trailer punk” band Mr. McGregor followed them, including in their set an inspired, rocking Joe Maynard cover and a resonant ode to grilled cheese.

Girl to Gorilla were good at last year’s Beefstock. This time around they absolutely and colossally kicked ass, with a clanging, careening set that was part southwestern gothic, part paisley underground psychedelia, all of it with a snotty punk sense of humor. The electric violin wailing over the din of the guitars is the icing on the cake with this band, the violinist contributing some intense harmony vocals on a couple of numbers as well. One song sounded like the Dream Syndicate. The catchy, minor-key Evil Man was like a cross between True West and Ninth House. The equally catchy Waste of My Time was followed by a new wave-flavored one, a ska-punk number, a Steve Wynn-style riff-rocker and more menacing, jangly stuff. They encored with an aptly wired cover of Koka Kola by the Clash.

The next band, Black Death also absolutely and colossally kicked ass. To say that they sounded like the UK Subs but with better lyrics doesn’t give them enough credit. They jokingly describe themselves as not stupid enough to be metal but not good enough to be punk while they combine the best elements of both styles, punk fearlessness and heavy metal fun. Their Les Paul player gave a free clinic in good bluesmetal solos while their frontguy roared his way through one ferocious, pounding number after another with both his voice and his guitar. Maybe appropriately, their biggest audience hit, I Like Pussy, had a death metal feel. They closed their set with a Balkan death metal waltz and encored with the blasting Live Free or Die (not the Bill Morrissey comedy-folk hit recently resurrected by Hayes Carll) with a deliciously long, bluesy guitar solo.

Following Black Death was a Plastic Beef spinoff, Live and Let Diane (an inside joke), with backbeat drum monster/Beefstock impresario Joe Filosa showing off the same kind of casual cool brilliance on the mic that characterizes his work behind the kit. By now, the wine had kicked in, the really nice guy behind the bar had given one of us a generous glass of Jameson’s on the house, and it was time to call it a night or miss out on a lot of the next day’s fun.

An account of Day Two continues here.

April 15, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Bucketful of Beefstock

A teaspoon is more like it. Beefstock is an annual three-day music festival held at the Full Moon Resort in upstate Oliverea, New York, a relatively short drive from Woodstock. Dedicated to local musician Darren Bohan, a talented guitarist/bassist and fireman who was killed when the World Trade Center was detonated, the gathering, now in its eighth year, features mostly bands and songwriters from the Freddy’s Bar scene in Brooklyn, where Bohan was highly respected and served as the bass player in Livia Hoffman’s band. Other than a few shows at the now-defunct Blu Lounge in Williamsburg, her annual appearances here are the only ones Hoffman has played in recent years.

Hoffman is the best songwriter you’ve never heard of, flying so far below the radar she doesn’t even have a myspace. She plays what she calls “lit-rock,” catchy guitar-driven songs with frequently scathing, literate lyrics, spiced with references to literature from throughout the ages. Example: the opening song of her early Saturday evening set, a fiery, propulsive number called Infinite Jest. The title is the only David Foster Wallace-ism in the song: it doesn’t go on for a thousand verses. It’s the haunting tale of a road trip punctuated by a breakup, where the narrator finds herself wanting to get back into a café – by herself – but comes up against a locked door with a sign on it saying “back in five minutes,” as the outro raises the song’s emotional level to redline. Backed by filmmaker James Dean Conklin on lead guitar, Plastic Beef leader Joe Filosa on drums and Erica Smith’s bass player, Hoffman reminded how much she’s been missed on the scene, and how good her songs would sound if she and her crew had a chance to work them up: this was clearly a pickup band. They tentatively made their way through the elegaic U-Shaped Hole in the Universe, the title track from the ep Hoffman made as a tribute to Bohan, stabbed at the Badfinger hit Day After Day, and finally pulled it together on the brilliantly catchy, heartwarming major-key janglerocker Carry. They closed their brief, barely half-hour set with a rousing if loose version of Hoffman’s excoriating, bluesy Paper Bag, an anti-trendoid broadside if there ever was one, done as an attempt at an early Beatles-style R&B raveup.

After a break for dinner, the show continued with Erica Smith and most of her band, John Sharples sitting in impressively on drums, playing a bunch of songs from her new album Snowblind. The title track featured a woozy noise jam mid-song with lead guitarist Dann Baker (of Love Camp 7) trading off wails and roars with Sharples’ drum freakout. They also ran through a riveting version of The World Is Full of Pretty Girls, which could be the great missing track from American Beauty. Their take of the ridiculously catchy, all-too-brief 60s-ish hit Firefly, also from the new album, had bounce and swing; another brief number, the soul-inflected Who Are You was a study in contrast. They closed with the cover of One for My Baby that’s usually a centerpiece of their live shows, Smith’s heartwrenching vocals a big hit with the audience, a mix of fellow musicians and locals whom one suspects seldom get to hear material this good.

Paula Carino and her band were hands-down the stars of at least this part of the show, following with a blistering, upbeat, abbreviated set including the tongue-in-cheek Robots Helping Robots, a lickety-split version of the wrenchingly lyrical alienation anthem Grace Before Movie, and the spirited, Latin-inflected, sarcastic Rough Guide to You, a travelogue through a relationship where the road runs out, leaving the narrator wishing for a guidebook that obviously doesn’t exist. With its big stage and powerful sound system, the acoustics here are generally marvelous and they were tonight, Carino’s casual low soprano cutting through strong and clear. As a lyricist, she’s unsurpassed; one could also say that of the crystalline craftsmanship of her songs and the tightness of her band, Filosa doing what was probably sextuple duty this evening. Beefstock usually features a lot of jamming in the wee hours, with predictable focus and tightness issues, but Carino hit the ground running and burst through the finish line seemingly without breaking a sweat.

Kirsten Williams and then the John Sharples Band were next on the bill. Williams’ stock in trade is understatement and metaphor, and backed by bassist Andy Mattina (who was also doing multiple duty tonight, in Carino’s band and with others despite being under the weather) ran through a lilting, subtly smart set of catchy acoustic pop. Sharples’ trademark is playing well-chosen covers by obscure bands. Switching to guitar, he ran through a bunch including a countrified version of the Erica Smith janglerock hit Secrets, joined by Smith on backing vocals and guitar. Predictably, Smith stole the show with her spectacular, Aretha Franklin-esque vocals on a cover of the Beatles’ I’ve Got a Feeling. There’d been a whole slate of good bands including the Sloe Guns on Friday night and more coming up this evening, but the driving rain outside was turning to snow and the lights of New York, though invisible to the eye, were beckoning.

If you’re wondering where Beefstock gets its name, it’s because Plastic Beef usually provides the the rhythm section (and sometimes the whole backing band) for several of the artists who play here. Look for upcoming post-Beefstock shows at Freddy’s on March 22 as well as another coming up shortly at Hank’s.

March 10, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Tom Warnick & World’s Fair/The Saudi Agenda/Plastic Beef/John Sharples Band at Hank’s, Brooklyn NY 8/31/07

It was Freddy’s Bar night at Hank’s, in other words, a bunch of bands that usually play Freddy’s booked themselves into another neighborhood venue for the evening. This was particularly appropriate since both places are doomed: the scam developers of the Atlantic Yards luxury housing complex are poised to demolish the building that houses Freddy’s, and Hank’s owner has put the place on the block as a “development site.”

Tonight’s lesson was trust your friends. Living in New York, you run into the great minds of your generation. Like everyone else here, I count among my peeps some of the greatest rockers of our time. One of them was recently insisting that I go see Tom Warnick someday soon. Yeah, I told her, I know him. Good writer, dynamic performer, excellent guitarist on the eerie retro reverb tip, sort of Tav Falco without the glam. Throws confetti at the audience. Yeah, he’s worth seeing.

Uh-huh. This guy has made the jump from being someone who reliably puts on a good show to someone you absolutely have to see, now. He’s always written pretty funny, stream-of-consciousness lyrics, but the new stuff – and there is a lot of it – is funnier than ever. Tonight’s best song was an exasperated tale of getting a Monday night, midnight gig from a club manager who expected the band to bring at least 40 people. Warnick still does the googly-eyed lookit-me-I’m-insaaaane look, but there’s a newfound subtlety to it: it looks like he’s having more fun messing with the audience than he ever has. And mess with them he does, with false starts, false endings and just clever lyrical interpretations. At the end of the show, he got the crowd to boo his encore and of course they followed his order, and the joke was on them because it was a good song. And this is a guy who’s survived not one but two brushes with death recently. Since the muscles in his fret hand aren’t all the way back yet, he’s taken up playing keyboards and his melodies are as subtly ominous as always. The backing band feeds off his energy: lead guitarist Ross Bonnadonna played the show of his life, all eerie chromatics and firestorms of blues. Warnick was obviously the evening’s big attraction. By the time his set was over, half of the audience was gone, the area by the front of the stage predictably littered with confetti.

The Saudi Agenda were next, just vocals, drums and former Paula Carino guitarist David Benjoya playing politically charged ska-punk. Their best number was a diatribe about how everyone in the Bush regime, current and former operatives alike, is a piece of shit. The energy was good, they’re right on politically and Benjoya’s guitar didn’t immediately go out of tune the way it usually does. They closed their brief set with a number about how the singer would kill for a falafel. I know what you mean, bro, nothing beats deep-fried, tahini-soaked chickpeas falling out of a torn pita pocket and staining your trousers.

Plastic Beef were next. They’re a jam band who play mostly covers, a rotating cast of Freddy’s characters backed by arguably the most imaginative rhythm section in town. Drummer Joe Filosa and bassist Andy Mattina are sort of the New York version of what Sly and Robbie used to be, the rare bass/drums combo with an instantly recognizable, signature groove and a lot of work: lately they’ve been playing with Liza & the WonderWheels, Paula Carino and others. They’ve also been doing the free live band karaoke thing on Sunday nights at Kenny’s Castaways, which by all accounts is actually quite fun. Tonight they jammed with sort of a Grateful Dead feel, then did a disco number about old East Village clubs, as well as a couple of covers. They closed with an energetic take on the Echo & the Bunnymen goth standard The Killing Moon and arguably did it better than the original. Sensing that the rest of the band weren’t going to do the silly scale solo that the lead guitar plays at the tail end of the recorded version, the keyboardist – who was obviously unrehearsed and pretty clueless up to this point – decided to take it and pretty much nailed it, note for note with the record.

The John Sharples Band closed the night, surmounting some serious technical difficulties to play an inspired set of obscure covers. They opened with When Amy Says by Blow This Nightclub, building to a terrific crescendo before the first verse kicked in (that’s the Plastic Beef rhythm section for you: like a lot of players tonight, they were doing double duty). They’ve recently added Erica Smith on rhythm guitar and backing vocals, and her haunting harmonies took many of the songs to the next level, including a swinging, countrified version of her janglerock song Secrets. They closed with the Beatles’ I’ve Got a Feeling done as an oldschool soul number, and Smith brought the house down: she plays mostly rock, but she’s a soul/jazz cat at heart and she belted this one out of the bar, over the YWCA building across the street and probably over the Gowanus Canal. A walk-off home run to end a physically exhausting but ultimately rewarding evening.

September 1, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Concert Review: Liza & the WonderWheels/Skelter/System Noise at Kenny’s Castaways, NYC 8/23/07

Everbody makes fun of the Bleecker Street strip. It’s so NOT New York, right? Wide-eyed, blue-collar Jersey/Long Island tourists, cheap jewelry stores, faux Italian bistros and so-bad-they’re-funny suburban bands playing the clubs, trapped in a time warp where U2 is considered cutting-edge. Predictably, there was a gaggle of overdressed, fake-tanned girls from Deer Park or Marlton or somewhere the same, all nervous and self-conscious to be for perhaps the first time in their lives inside a place that’s not advertised on network tv. Just as predictably, when the first band started, they were gone in less than a minute.

Over the arch where the main room here starts, there’s a purple neon sign announcing that “Through these portals amble the famous,” or something equally stilted, followed by two exclamation points. Maybe one of Phil Collins’ backup singers walked in here once, thinking it was the Bottom Line, then realized where she was and promptly exited. Over the bar, there are framed gold records by 80s New Jersey REM wannabes the Smithereens (after the band had run its course, the notoriously right-wing nutjob who fronted the band had a brief run as a wannabe politician). This could be anywhere: Deer Park, Marlton, El Cajon. It’s the last place anyone would expect to see the bands on the bill tonight.

And it was Continental loud. For those who don’t get the reference, the sound at the Continental on Bowery just north of St. Mark’s was earsplitting. Then they stopped having bands a couple of years ago. It’s now a tourist bar. Maybe that’s where Mallory, Alexis, Madison, Keighleigh, Kelceigh, AshLee, Prada and Taylor were headed next as they went east armed with their parents’ credit cards. And that’s too bad, because if they’d stuck around they actually might have enjoyed Liza & the WonderWheels. This band looks and sounds like something you’d see in a movie set in New York circa 1981 in the requisite CBGB scene: catchy hooks and cheery vocals, with a quirky 80s vibe. If they were around at that time, they’d also undoubtedly have a record deal and probably at least a couple of radio hits. They have a tight, powerful rhythm section, a dynamic frontwoman and an equally captivating lead guitarist. Their hooks are simple, memorable and driven by the vocals rather than the songs’ chord structures. Frontwoman Liza Garelik was in a great mood tonight because she could actually hear herself onstage, and the sound in the room was equally good: her vocals were coming through strong, all the way to the front door. They ran through a bunch of mostly upbeat, fast material and closed with what has become their signature song, Eddie Come Down, a typically warped number about getting a psycho to chill out that begins slowly and eventually builds to a long jam on a single chord. Tonight the bass and drums pushed it hard as Ian Roure’s guitar screamed through a wah-wah pedal. They built it up, then brought it down, they went up again, then went all quiet and it was Garelik’s rhythm guitar ringing starkly and quietly evil, like the spirit of Bob Weir against drummer Joe Filosa’s sepulchral cymbals, that provided the set’s most mesmerizing moment.

We should be grateful for bands like Skelter, who came next on the bill. This comfortably melodic, garagey upstate trio stays within the world of major and minor chords, and they’re all proficient on their instruments. In a world where most of the descendants of Sonic Youth play like they’ve never seen a guitar in their lives, much less held one, these guys are a pleasure: one audience member compared them to Oasis, and while they don’t steal Beatles licks, they definitely have a sense of drama. And a tendency toward garish guitar and drum flourishes, which they should avoid. But since this was their ten-year anniversary show, there’s little chance of that happening. Their myspace has a very catchy, jangly garage rock song called Ghost Town, and they played that tonight, but with distortion, and it sounded pretty indistinguishable from everything else. Bands like this sound better the more you drink.

Headliners System Noise are arguably the best live band in New York, in fact, arguably the best live band anywhere. “Progressive punk,” one audience member called them. Lithe, cat-eyed frontwoman Sarah Mucho is a force of nature: tonight she belted like Grace Slick raised to the power of ten, wailed like Mary Lee Kortes at her most scary-beautiful, teased and seduced the crowd like Erica Smith. It’s hard to think of anyone outside the world of, say, opera or gospel who can unleash such a mighty, pitch-perfect blast of beautiful sound. They rhythm section handled a lot of tricky time changes and odd tempos with aplomb and the lead guitarist alternated between fiery, virtuosic riffs and sheets of blistering noise. For a band this loud, and this noisy, they are amazingly tuneful. They burned through an all-too-brief, barely 35-minute set including a lot of unreleased material. The macabre Good Enough to Eat, a song about cannibalism, began with a percussive, chromatic hook that wouldn’t be out of place in an Iron Maiden song. Perhaps their strongest number was the equally dark, fiery No One Saw What I Saw, Mucho’s vocals taking flight in the chorus after a relentless, pounding run through the wilderness of the verse.

The night’s big crowd-pleaser was the slow, towering anthem Daydreaming. “A power ballad,” Mucho sarcastically called it, which built in an instant from a mysterious, ominously quiet verse to a literally breathtaking crescendo, then subsided almost as fast. It was heartwarming to hear the crowd’s awestruck, spontaneous applause when the band did this the first time around, affirming that there are still people in town who can appreciate that kind of thing in rock music. The set ended with a ridiculously catchy, Talking Heads-ish funk number from the band’s self-titled ep, with a snide, overtly political lyric that Mucho rapped. What a great night: three bands for eight bucks, the sound was good if a little loud and we weren’t surrounded by assholes. Somebody should start a Take Back Bleecker Street campaign: get all the good bands who used to play Tonic, for example, and bring them down here. It’s easy to get to on the subway and it sure beats Ludlow Street.

From there, we went east to Banjo Jim’s – again (we didn’t see Mallory, Alexis, Madison, Keighleigh, Kelceigh, AshLee, Prada or Taylor – perhaps their Humvee stretch limo had picked them up before they collectively turned into pumpkins). What a pleasant surprise, there was actually somebody good onstage here. Will Scott really has a handle on hypnotic, Mississippi hill country blues. It was just him playing acoustic, backed by a boisterous drummer. It actually would have been nice if they had been louder: people might have danced. This guy gets it: an unabashed T-Model Ford/R.L. Burnside fan, he understands that this is party music. Tonight he played it with fierce abandon, judicious use of guitar chops and without Pearl Jamming the vocals. He’s been playing Wednesdays at 68 Jay St. Bar in Dumbo for awhile. If you miss ole R.L. or have a lot of the Fat Possum catalog in your collection or on your ipod, go see this guy, you won’t be disappointed.

August 24, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Paula Carino and Liza & the WonderWheels at Parkside Lounge, NYC 5/30/07

Paula Carino may lack for national exposure but she’s found a devoted fan base among her peers. It would be gossipy to enumerate them, but tonight the audience was packed with A-list New York musicians. Lately she’s been playing scaled-down duo and trio shows, but this time she had a full band, a stellar supporting cast from the Freddy’s Bar scene. With Ross Bonnadonna on lead guitar, the ubiquitously excellent Andy Mattina on bass and Tom Pope on drums, she turned in a triumphant 50-minute set that set the place on fire. Her songs clang more than they jangle, driven by riffs and hooks rather than broken chords. Carino sings in a nonchalantly alluring alto that only occasionally reaches the upper registers, but when it does, the anguished longing in her delivery is bone-chilling. As a songwriter, she is unsurpassed. Like Richard Thompson or Elvis Costello, Carino’s songs are sardonic but intensely emotional, rich with symbolism, double endendres and laugh-out-loud clever puns. Tonight she played a lot of new and unreleased material along with a few choice cuts from her classic Aquacade album. Among the more recent numbers were a sinister Twilight Zone style account of a seemingly benign alien invasion, “trying to help the humans out so the others can take over,” then another set to a catchy backbeat, laden with quiet exasperation (a recurrent theme).

Set to a fast rockabilly beat, the next song was one of the show’s best. Carino set her narrator in a theatre watching a movie, loaded imagery flying past:

The bad guy never dies, he lives on in the sequel…
I’m always sitting in the dark
With my hands over my heart
I’m saying grace before the movie starts

A bit later the band launched into the exhilarating, riff-driven Paleoclimatology, another exasperated entreaty to let go of the past:

Just let it go, that ancient snow, that wrecked Tyrannosaurus
I need a hammer
To break this amber
And let the fly fly away

The crowd screamed for an encore: Carino and the band treated them to her finest new one, Lucky in Love. It’s a slow, slightly torchy, somewhat Nina Simone-inflected blues, Carino at her cynical yet darkly hopeful best:

I am so lucky in love
Even when I am alone…
I don’t need your comfort or care
I am so lucky in love
Even when life is unfair

“Don’t tell me life is unfair,” she wailed quietly at the end. The audience was riveted.

Liza & the WonderWheels followed with a rambunctious set featuring some of their fearlessly political numbers. Someone in the audience requested the scathing We Are the Media, a quietly pointed number from their second album, so they played it. They also did a stomping, cynical rocker with a cheerleader-style refrain, “Let’s go, oil barons, let’s go!” As usual, fronwoman/guitarist Liza Garelik’s voice soared effortlessly over the jangle and rasp of the band: getting her out from behind the keyboard in the Larch, who she always plays with, was a great idea. Garelik and her cohorts onstage tonight built their songs rhythmically, using hooks and riffs instead of chordal melodies. They’re fortunate to have Larch frontman Ian Roure playing lead guitar. In his own band, Roure is a very terse songwriter and soloist, if he even solos at all. This unit frees him up to utilize his dazzling chops, launch into some supersonic runs up the scale, or, as he did tonight, use his wah-wah pedal to evince some winks and grins out of the tunes.

The highlight of the WonderWheels’ show, a 10-minute, ecstatically psychedelic version of Eddie Come Down, from their second album saw Mattina (who was doing double duty tonight) taking a brisk walk down the nuthouse corridor. Roure chased him, firing off stun-gun blasts from his guitar using both his distortion and wah-wah pedals. Toward the end of the solo Mattina leaned over at drummer Joe Filosa, and Filosa playfully responded by taking a whack at him with his drumstick. It reminded of the way David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez trade signs and high-fives when the Red Sox are winning big. The audience begged for a longer jam but didn’t get it. “It’s Saturday night on a Wednesday!” beamed Garelik, and for a couple of hours tonight, it didn’t matter that everybody had to work in the morning.

June 4, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments