Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Wishful Thinking: Led Zeppelin Live on West Ninth St., NYC 11/26/07

[Editor’s note: we’re going to let this writer get away with this just this once]

The concept was beyond ludicrous: the world’s most popular heavy metal band (maybe the world’s most popular band, period) schedules their first New York show in almost thirty years outdoors, for free, on a side street in the West Village. No matter that it wasn’t advertised or announced to the public: I learned about it about four hours earlier from a friend, who got a phone call from a friend in the union who was setting up the sound equipment. One can only assume that a few more phone calls would be made, and in a few minutes’ time a flashmob the size of several ocean liners would clog the westside streets, requiring a police presence sufficiently gargantuan to protect the band and the lucky few who made it inside the “security zone” hours before the band went on. Which is why I didn’t cancel my two scheduled afternoon appointments: after all, I had no expectation that I’d get to see the show. Or that it would happen at all. Altamont, by comparison, was a brilliant idea.

But curiosity got the best of me, and a few minutes after the 4 PM scheduled start time, I decided to get off the train a couple of stops away from where I was going so I could scope out the neighborhood, just for the hell of it. When I exited the subway, the sky was dark and ominous. It had been cold all day, and threatening rain. For that reason, it wasn’t surprising to see the streets pretty much empty of pedestrians. There was also absolutely no police presence. Or any sign, audible or otherwise, that anything was happening. I kept walking, and suddenly I began to hear music in the distance. It was the bassline to Kashmir. Could this be true? I was loaded down with gear but I must have started running. I don’t remember. I was in a dream state. When I reached the end of the block, there on the sidewalk, playing through their amps (Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones had huge 4X12 cabinets) was Led Zeppelin. The only thing going through the PA was Robert Plant’s vocals, amplified by a couple of medium-sized JBL speakers, like the kind you see at street fairs. For a band whose reputation was built on volume and grand gestures, they sure were quiet, especially considering the size of the amps they were using. But the most unbelievable thing about this was that it was happening at all. There wasn’t a cop in sight, nor was there any kind of canopy over the band, who were facing possible electrocution in the event that the rains finally came. By my count, there were about 200 people assembled, a mix of old hippies and working-class metalheads all watching silently and reverently from a distance, even though anyone could have gone right up to the mic and ripped it from Plant’s hand if they so desired: there were no barriers or bouncers. The band didn’t even have a stage to play on: the sound mixer was perched on a stoop behind them. Was it possible that not a single person who knew about this spilled the beans to anyone who would have then IM’d their entire address book in seconds flat? Or was everyone here on the same page as I was? After all, I didn’t tell anybody about this because I had no plans to be here in the first place. And what about all the people in the surrounding buildings? Maybe they heard the low volume and assumed that it was just a Zep cover band practicing. After all, it was all but impossible to hear anything but the bass just a couple of blocks away, and the songs they were playing were all pretty iconic: most musicians know how to play them, at least the central hooks.

After Kashmir, the rest of the band sat out while Jimmy Page played Tangerine, solo. He did it thoughtfully but deliberately, without hardly any of the ostentatious vibrato that is his trademark. This was Page’s show, a clinic in dynamics. He didn’t cut loose too much, so when he did, the effect was spine-tingling. His guitar had three necks, looking like a prop straight out of Spinal Tap: one with six strings, one with twelve, and one with bass strings (which he never used). Jones is still a groovemeister, and had a clavinet to his right that he played on Stairway to Heaven. Plant’s voice is shot: his upper register is completely gone, but that’s a blessing in disguise, since he can’t overemote anymore. He just stuck to the melodies, using what little range he has left, and in a sense he’s never sounded better. The new drummer played a simple seven-piece kit: kick, snare, a couple of toms, ride and crash cymbals and hi-hat. He wasn’t amplified, so when the music got loud, it was impossible to hear him. He didn’t even try to do any of the complicated double-bass stuff Bonham used to do, although it was clear that he was a good timekeeper and seemed to be locked with Jones when the two were both audible.

After Tangerine, they picked up the pace with The Ocean, then followed with some of the more obscure tracks from Physical Graffiti. Since I’d gotten there late, I missed what could have been the first two or three songs, which conceivably could have been big radio hits like Whole Lotta Love. They closed, predictably, with Stairway to Heaven. When they got to the big guitar break, Jones, who still had his bass hanging around his shoulders, left the keyboard and jammed with Page. At the end, they brought it down to just the vocals and the clavinet. The crowd was completely silent for a second or two, then breaking out into polite applause. Not what you’d expect at a heavy metal show.

“Go ahead and put some money in the tip bucket,” Page growled at the crowd, motioning to a big green bucket to his left that looked like it had held flowers and sod until a few minutes previously. “Or buy us some beer.” As if on cue, at least a couple dozen audience members made a beeline for the deli on the corner. Meanwhile, I was trying to recapture the whole experience, wondering how I could relate here what I’d just experienced, if I could remotely do justice to such an exhilarating, completely unexpected performance. Sadly, I never got the chance to figure that out, because that’s when I woke up. This, then, is the best I can do. Now before you get all worked up and upset at me for writing this piece, just think for a minute about how depressing it was for me to return to a waking state from a dream like this.

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November 28, 2007 Posted by | Conspiracy, Music, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: The Gotham 4 at Club Midway, NYC 7/31/07

You have to wonder why these guys do it. Is it the money? They brought a good crowd, but let’s face it, if everybody in the band got to bring home fifty bucks apiece they would have been lucky.

Is it the fame? Hardly. Everybody in this loud, nebulously 90s, two-guitar unit has been around the block a few times, and as we all know, you don’t get signed to a record label these days unless your parents arrange for it, or you’re college-age and cute. These guys’ frontman was once in a band with one of the Psychedelic Furs that came thisclose to getting signed; the bass player is a ubiquitous type who had the good sense to catch on with a couple of other acts (Randi Russo and Erica Smith, to be specific) who seem to be right on the verge. Otherwise, the Gotham 4 are barely distinguishable from the literally hundreds of acts playing this town in any given week.

Maybe it’s that they’re clearly having fun, at least that’s how it seemed tonight. Their lead singer/lead guitarist has become something of a belter lately, and it served him well, giving the songs a welcome edge. The bass player was bobbing and weaving around a corner of the stage in Spinal Tap mode, the rhythm player delivering a steady blast of chordal fury, the drummer having fun throwing in some neat rolls and fills to keep everyone on their toes. And the audience loved it. They opened with a brief number that pretty much encapsulates what they do, totally early 90s anthemic Britrock with more than a nod and a wink to Led Zeppelin, especially where the solos are concerned. But they’re far more melodic than, say, the Verve or Ride or early Radiohead, more like Oasis without all the stolen Beatles licks.

The high point of the night was a long, flamenco-colored number called 3001, building from a White Rabbit-style, staccato verse to an explosive chorus, to a long solo where the lead player got to stretch out while the bass player did his best John Paul Jones imitation. Later songs gave off echoes of U2, the Furs (big surprise), the Who circa Who’s Next and (sorry, guys) Oasis in their prime. Their lone cover was an attempt to rock out the Stones country classic Dead Flowers. One can only wonder how many other unsung bands tonight gave it their all and received as warm a response from such an unlikely large, enthusiastic crowd.

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