Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: The Disclaimers at Spikehill, Brooklyn NY 1/2/10

Half past midnight Saturday night, Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg, coldest night of the year. Even Anna Maria Pizza is practically empty. It’s an omen. This is our decade and this is part of the soundtrack. The Disclaimers are waiting onstage for the sound guy, who looks like he really knows what he’s doing, to finish checking all the mics. The hi-hat clutch has disappeared from the drum kit, then miraculously reappears. And they’re off.

It’s like being in college, seeing a favorite band for the first time. All the hits. The audience is pumped, old friends in the crowd materialize out of nowhere. Happy New Year, long time no see! The band starts with Stay out of My Nightmares which is in a way self-explanatory; no big violin buildup on the intro or outro like they usually do but that’s ok.

Under the Belly of the 7 Train is a behemoth, a careening surreal Syd Barrett style chromatic art-rock monstrosity alive with danger swirling around in the shadows beneath the ironwork.

An apprehensive backbeat-driven country anthem is a dead ringer for the Walkabouts. It’s relatively new. Kate Thomason does her best understated avenging angel impression on the mic, “Stranger in this stranger’s land.”

Lead guitarist Dan Sullivan sings Damage, all organ and jangly Dylan guitar and soul girl harmonies, cynical vintage r&b flavor, “Not even the damage gets done.”

Absolution has a casual sexy soulfulness on the verse, Naa Koshie Mills’ trombone leading into the anguish of the chorus, Kate’s wounded vocal – “Rips me apart!!”

Next is a big riff-rocker that sounds like X with blues harp – down to Andy Nelson’s growly bass groove, and then a cold ending.

“She’s going for sultry,” says drummer Phil McDonald who seems to be the band spokesman tonight. Naa Koshie nails a new song, an artsy, resigned, beautifully Beatlesque ballad. And another new one, an anthem, Tell Me What You Want, sweet major/minor changes.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind is an old garage rocker of theirs – “not again not again not again not again” – Dan sings this one.

Strat player Dylan Keeler sings Just Desserts. It sways along on Dan’s organ riffs -“If you’re gonna write a suicide note you should at least spell all the words right.”

Phil: “Love in the back seat.” Kate:”And ice cream.” The big soul ballad’s not quite as much a showstopper as it was the last time out but it’s still impossible to turn away from: “How can you give up something so sweet?” Kate won’t let it go without a fight.

Tiptoe is ferocious when it gets to Dan’s unhinged Leslie speaker solo – he breaks a string but keeps going. Actually he’s not using a Leslie, just a wah turned wide open for a chorus box effect.

They’ve got a theme song now! “We’re the Disclaimers!” Long build to a cold ending. Up front where the drums and the guitar hit you in the chest, the sound is intoxicating, this is why people come out in the cold in the wee hours. This is why we live here instead of somewhere else. Saturday night, ground zero in Williamsburg, and there’s not a single trendoid or tourist to be seen anywhere.

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January 4, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Somebodies’ Christmas Show 12/16/09

You know a band has to be good if they can keep a smart crowd entertained with a bunch of Christmas songs. Let’s face it – Christmas music sucks, bigtime. Almost as much as Nickelback or Lady Gag. In fact, the only holiday music that’s any good is the non-Western stuff: Diwali, Passover, Ramadan. And of course Halloween. But the Somebodies – with a lot of help from some good friends – had obviously really worked hard on putting together a theme night that in a lesser group’s hands would have been pure schlock.

The band’s sound is concretized sometime in the 80s: their faster stuff has a scurrying new wave beat; the anthems look back to a time before grunge, before hair metal, in fact, when you were supposed to sing them casually, unaffectedly, without any cliches. But they didn’t play any of those. Usually the bass carries the melody, as Graham Maby used to do on Joe Jackson’s early albums. Their three originals in their set list at Lakeside on the sixteenth included a brisk, punchy pop number that would have made a good b-side to What I Like About You, another with a propulsive, melodic reggae bassline that went doublespeed on the chorus, and the last song of the night, where bassist Luke Mitchell got  to go deep into his bag of chops for some slinky slides, hammer-ons and fat, boomy chords. And these were all well-received, but it was the holiday stuff that made smiles out of winces.

They started with the Eric Carmen weepie (and Rachmaninoff ripoff) All By Myself, just Mitchell and drummer Phil McDonald who gave it the most deviously deadpan vocal you could want. Then frontman/guitarist Pete Derba joined them for Feliz Navidad, which in his hands was basically the same lyric over and over again. That was mercifully over fast. Dylan Keeler of the Disclaimers took a reluctantly amusing turn as Elvis impersonator on Santa’s Back in Town; later, Derba did Blue Christmas back into deadpan territory with some help from a ringer chorus on backup vocals. Kate Thomason and Naa Koshie Mills – the duo who give the Disclaimers their signature soul sound – did a lighthearted rap number, and later a Christmas soul song from the 60s. For her absolutely sultry cover of Eartha Kitt’s Santa Baby, Mills peeled off her shiny fake fur coat to reveal an equally shiny 60s cocktail dress and then brought down the house.

Keeler and his fellow Disclaimers guitarist Dan Sullivan gave Santa Claus Is Coming to Town a sublimely ridiculous Blues Brothers vibe, Sullivan doing most of the jumping and kicking around in front of the stage: “He knows when you forget the lyrics,” he deadpanned. But the most affecting moment of the night was when Jerome and Susan O’Brien of the Dog Show led the crowd in an acoustic singalong of So This Is Christmas. “War is over, if you want it…” If only this year’s Nobel winner could have been there, he undoubedly would have a good time, notwithstanding this timely reminder of how little has actually changed since that auspicious day in November of last year.

December 23, 2009 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Disclaimers at Spikehill, Brooklyn NY 5/29/09

Sign of the times or what: even with the implosion of the major labels, with most of the indie labels a step behind them, it’s hard to believe that a band like the Disclaimers, with not one but two telegenic, charismatic frontwomen and as many great songs as they have, would not be famous. Friday night they ran through a characteristically tuneful, varied set of jangly rock and sultry soul, emphasis on the latter. Unveiling at least three new songs (they sometimes rearrange some of their older tunes), violinist/trombonist Naa Koshie Mills traded off her signature breathy yet nuanced vocals with Kate Thomason’s full-throttle wail. As usual, one of the set’s high points was a snarling, snide version of the propulsive janglerock anthem Tiptoe (an unreleased gem that ranked high on our Top 100 Songs of 2008 list), Dylan Keeler and Dan Sullivan’s guitars slamming their way through with casual, even offhand intensity. Thomason brought down the house as usual with that big summertime soul ballad she always does (it’s unreleased, and this band doesn’t often announce song titles). Mills also took a particularly gripping star turn on a slinky new one, and a duet with drummer Phil McDonald who in his own casual way is as good a singer as anyone else in this band. And you could tell because the sound mix, like it always is at this place, was so pristine. Watch this space for upcoming NYC shows.

June 2, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Disclaimers at Spikehill, Brooklyn NY 2/6/09

Supposedly it’s a big blogosphere faux pas to review too many shows by one band because it smacks of fandom. Well, dammit, we ARE fans of the Disclaimers. They’re one of those killer bands whose songs are so catchy and so intelligent, and who put on such an intense live show that everybody wonders why they’re not famous. Woops, that’s 80s thinking: it’s been a long time since a major label signed a good band (last time we said that about a band, their independently produced cd got a great distribution deal – here’s hoping lightning strikes twice). This band has everything: tunes, tight musicianship and two charismatic frontwomen in Naa Koshie Mills and Kate Thomason. Thomason set the place on fire last time out; last night was Mills’ turn to steal the spotlight, immaculate in a two-tone black-and-white pencil dress and coordinated stockings (black on the left, white on the right), in addition to a real flower hair accessory to match her co-lead singer and also a big ostrich feather. She also sang and played violin, trombone and keyboards, a pretty good average for somebody who was so under the weather that she had to go off mic and clear her throat when she wasn’t crooning in that effortlessly breathy style of hers.

 

The rest of the band kicked ass too. Keyboardist/guitarist Dan Sullivan didn’t have his Leslie pedal with him, but he still wailed when it came time for his solo in the best song of the night, the scorching, sarcastic janglerock anthem Tiptoe. They’ve rearranged a lot of their songs lately:  Below the Belly of the 7 Train, their opener, now has a macabre organ intro from Sullivan, and a lot of dynamics – they don’t just barrel through it anymore. They did another one that had a beautiful Elvis Costello keyboard pop ballad feel, another equally gorgeous new jangly garage rock song called The Damage Is Done and even a Springsteen cover, a stunningly successful version of No Surrender. When Thomason sang “No retreat, baby, no surrender,” it was as much cajolement as defiance: disbelief was simply not an option. They closed with a typically fiery, snidely powerful version of their usual closer, Get Out of My Nightmares, fueled by Mills’ usual frenetic staccato violin crescendo at the beginning and then at the end. The place wasn’t as jampacked as it was last time they played here but there was a decent crowd, the sound was pristine as always and the crowd was into it. And maybe because of the depression or the cold night, Bedford Avenue was pretty much clear of trendoids and tourists. A sign of things to come? Let’s hope so.

February 7, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Maynard & the Musties and the Disclaimers Live at Red Star, Brooklyn NY 1/9/08

This place has to be the most unlikely venue in the entire New York area: a split-level, midtown-style sports bar/restaurant, complete with several flat screen tv’s downstairs and a long, spacious music room upstairs – in the middle of nowhere, in Greenpoint. It’s also midtown expensive, as one might expect from such unexpectedly plush surroundings. If their intention is to make a profit from door and bar receipts, they might actually have a chance, a scary thought: book enough popular trendoid bands, a few people who call themselves celebrity dj’s and pay Tara Reid a few grand to show up and drink for free, and they might be able to make a go of it in this former loft gallery space down the block from the Pencil Factory. Such is the state of Greenpoint, 2008.

Maynard & the Musties were playing their first show since the tragic death of their lapsteel player Drew Glackin. To their immense credit, not only did they pull themselves together, they played an exuberant, passionately twanging show. Hot on the heels of their Lakeside show last month (which we reviewed, and was marvelous), they proved that a throwback outlaw country singer backed by a bunch of indie rockers who may be game, but don’t really know their country music, can still kick ass. It was pretty much the same set list as at the Lakeside show. Maynard is an unapologetic advocate for the underdog and the down-and-out, and the band tore through his chronicle of a couple of derelicts in the wilds of a different part of Brooklyn as well as his only slightly tongue-in-cheek love song about a guy with his eyes on a woman and her Volkswagen (which seems in his eyes to be the ideal place to spend the night – with her, naturally). Maynard would probably cringe to hear this, but at their best the band sounded like the Grateful Dead: rockers jamming their way through some Americana with deliciously unpredictable results. In his band introductions, Maynard included the conspicuously absent Glackin, who received a massive round of applause. They closed with a subtly edgy new song, possibly titled It’s Been a Good Life, a chronicle of disengagement while the world goes to hell, set to a deceptively catchy, vintage Velvets-style melody, jamming it out at the end to a fiery crescendo.

Considering the bizarre location, Maynard and his crew brought a good crowd, most of whom stuck around for the Disclaimers. About three years ago, they were one of the best live bands in New York, until their bass player left the band. Since then, they’ve played only infrequently. Battling the club’s horrible sound (the sound guy tried gamely to make it work, to no avail), they reclaimed their status as one of the most exciting acts in town. Steeped in vintage 60s garage and soul, they dazzled with a set of mostly new material, proving that while they may have been absent from the live circuit, they haven’t exactly been idle. The band has the good fortune to have not one but two first-class songwriters, frontman/guitarist Dylan Keeler and keyboardist/lead guitarist Dan Sullivan. Generally speaking, Keeler has more of a classic 60s pop sensibility hitched to a fiery Radio Birdman-style garage-punk vibe while Sullivan is more of a hard-rocking garage traditionalist (and a spectacular lead player, as he proved again tonight). Because of problems with the sound system, Sullivan was reduced to playing only guitar on several of the songs, meaning that he had to come up with lead parts on the spot for the numbers he usually plays on organ, but he was up to the task.

One of their best new numbers, a supremely catchy oldschool garage tune, was sung by drummer Phil McDonald (one of the most sought-after players in town), with everyone in the band joining in on a bizarre doo-wop vocal breakdown between the second chorus and the next verse. Another new number put violinist/trombonist Naa Koshie Mills (who was doing double duty tonight, also providing incisive and ambient textures for Maynard & the Musties) out in front of the unit, a vivid reminder of how effortlessly charismatic a frontwoman she can be. The song was called Leslie Garwick: Sullivan told the crowd that it was a cross between Leslie Gore and Dionne Warwick, therefore, the title. One can only wonder how many Brooklyn bands know who Leslie Gore is, or who Dionne Warwick was before she did infomercials for a notorious psychic hotline scam. But that’s a story, or a rant, for another day.

They closed with their best song, Stay Out of My Nightmares, whose furious, staccato, violin-driven hook on the intro tantalizingly doesn’t recur until after the last verse. Because of trouble with the PA, Mills didn’t get the chance to do it the second time around, but no matter: the crowd, or what was left of it, was completely rapt. This band is the perfect choice to headline the next Cavestomp – or open for whatever 60s relic the promoters have dragged out of the woodwork. The audience will love them. Half Ajar, featuring some of the Disclaimers, was next on the bill, but we had places to go (home) and things to do (catch the train before the last one left the Greenpoint Ave. station).

January 10, 2008 Posted by | concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment