Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Radio Birdman’s Live in Texas Goes Out on a High Note

Albums like this just warm your heart…and make it beat a lot faster. Most of the guys in this particular edition of iconic Australian garage-punk band Radio Birdman were in their fifties when their Live in Texas album was recorded on their final tour in 2006, but they play with the rampaging intensity of musicians half their age. This isn’t the original band – this regrouped version has frontman Rob Younger plus guitarists Deniz Tek and Chris Masuak, with Jim Dickson of the New Christs burning through Warwick Gilbert’s melodic basslines (and adding a furious, propulsive edge of his own), and Russell Hopkinson – who played on the band’s final studio album, Zeno Beach – doing an only slightly more restrained take on Ron Keeley’s machine-gun work behind the drum kit. This sounds like a soundboard recording – there’s plenty of room for quibbling about the balance of the instruments, but who cares. It’s a good thing somebody had the sense to make a decent-quality live recording from this often transcendent tour (the band’s NYC debut at Irving Plaza on September 8 of that year was beyond amazing: do a little youtube surfing and see for youself). This one’s streaming in its entirety at Spotify, and it’s available from the kick-ass Australian Citadel label via mailorder.

The tracks are full of surprises. Our predecessor e-zine picked Radio Birdman’s final studio album, Zeno Beach, as the best album of 2006, and several of those tracks are represented here. The triumphantly menacing We’ve Come So Far to Be Here Today is a little faster than the album version, and it’s interesting to hear Masuak tackle the brief solo breaks with an off-kilter Ron Asheton bluesmetal attack. Likewise, Locked Up – the last song before the encores – is the only cut here with any kind of extended ending, and it’s very rewarding. Die Like April sets Masuak’s phased washes and ornate McCartneyesque lead lines against Tek’s sputtering distored chords and chordlets, Hopkinsons’s unhinged volleys completing the picture. The riff-rockers You Just Make It Worse and Subterfuge are surprisingly stripped down, arguably mellower than the studio versions, the latter holding its own despite the absence of Pip Hoyle’s catchy piano leads.

But it’s the old classics here that resonate the most. Murder City Nights, with bandleader Tek’s blistering, chromatic solo; the similar Anglo Girl Desire, with Masuak and Tek taking the solo together until Tek goes off bending notes and searing his way through the passing tones; and tantalizing, supersonic versions of the catchy punk-pop hits Burned My Eye and What Gives. The single best track here might be Smith & Wesson Blues, Dickson nailing that killer bassline against the twin guitar assault, Tek soloing out into the ionosphere by the second verse, Hopkinson murdering his snare. Or it could be I-94, one of the most savagely catchy songs ever written, Younger comparing late 70s American beer brands in an Australian accent. The six-minute, dynamically charged version of Hand of Law, a platform for some of Tek’s wildest playing here, is pretty exhilarating too.

There are also some unexpected covers. The version of Circles by the Who improves on the original; Til the End of the Day, which the Kinks absolutely ripped to shreds on their last couple of tours, gets a similarly punked-out fury; and the band do a spot-on impersonation of Blue Oyster Cult on Hot Rails to Hell, right down to the backing vocals. The album was released last fall – do we count this as one of our “best of 2011” when we put up that page at the end of this year? Stay tuned.

July 23, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Powerpop Trifecta at Bowery Electric

Wednesday night at Bowery Electric, Don Piper and his group opened the evening with a richly melodic, often hypnotic set. Piper’s primary gig these days is producing great albums – the Oxygen Ponies’ lushly layered, darkly psychedelic classic Harmony Handgrenade is one of his credits – but he’s also a bandleader. This time out he alternated between slowly swirling, atmospheric, artsy rock and a vintage Memphis soul sound, backed by a large, spirited crew including keyboards, a two-piece horn section (with Ray Sapirstein from Lenny Molotov’s band on cornet), bass and the Silos’ Konrad Meissner on drums (doing double duty tonight, as would many of the other musicians). Midway through the set Briana Winter took over centerstage and held the crowd silent with her wary, austerely intense, Linda Thompson-esque voice on a couple of midtempo ballads. They closed with a long, 1960s style soul number, Piper and Winter joining in a big crescendo as the band slowly circled behind them.

Edward Rogers followed, backed by much of the same band including Piper, Meissner, Claudia Chopek on violin and Ward White playing bass. A British expat, Rogers’ wry, lyrical songs draw on pretty much every good British pop style through the mid-70s. The most modern-sounding song, a pounding, insistent number, evoked the Psychedelic Furs, White throwing in some Ventures-style tremolo-picking on his bass at a point where nobody seemed to be looking. Whatever You’ve Been Told, from Rogers’ latest album Sparkle Lane, held an impassioned, uneasy ambience that brought to mind early David Bowie. A pensive, midtempo backbeat tune with a refrain about the “seventh string on your guitar, the one you never use” reminded of the Move (like Roy Wood, Rogers hails from Birmingham), as did a bracingly dark new one, Porcelain, highlighted by some striking, acidic violin from Chopek. And a pair of Beatles homages wouldn’t have been out of place on the Rutles albums – or George’s later work with Jeff Lynne. But the best songs were the most original ones. The most stunning moment of the night came on the understatedly bitter Passing the Sunshine, a Moody Blues-inflected requiem for an edgy downtown New York destroyed by greedy developers, gentrifiers and the permanent-tourist class: “This’ll be the last time you steal with your lies,” Rogers insisted, over and over again. In its gentle, resolute way, it was as powerful as punk. They wound up the show with a surprisingly bouncy psychedelic pop tune and then the new album’s droll, swaying title track.

Seeing headliner Maura Kennedy onstage with a bright red Les Paul slung from her shoulder was a surprise, as it was to see her guitar genius husband Pete Kennedy in the back with the drums, leaving most of the solos to his wife. But as fans of their acoustic project the Kennedys know, she’s an excellent player – and also one of the most unselfconsciously soulful voices in rock, or folk, if you want to call them that. This was her powerpop set, many of the songs adding a subtly Beatlesque or Americana edge to fast new wave guitar pop. The best songs were the darker ones, including the bitterly pulsing 1960s style psych/pop hit Just the Rain. Sun Burns Gold swayed hauntingly and plaintively, leaving just a crack for the light to get in; another minor-key number, Chains was absolutely gorgeous in a jangly Dancing Barefoot garage-pop vein, and she used that as a springboard for one of several sharply staccato, chordally charged solos. “I wrap myself in melancholy comfort of the waiting game,” she sang on a brooding ballad that evoked Richard and Linda Thompson. But there were just as many upbeat moments. White, who was doing double duty despite being under the weather, took an unexpected and welcome bass solo on a funkily hypnotic number toward the end of the set; they wound it up with the first song she’d written, she said, the country-pop ballad Summer Coulda Lasted Forever. The rest of the musicians joined them for an amazingly tight, completely deadpan cover of A Day in the Life, Maura leading her little orchestra with split-second precision all the way through the two long, interminable crescendos, a wry vocal from her husband on Paul’s verse, and then up and up and up some more and then finally out. It was an apt way to end a night of similarly expert craftsmanship.

December 10, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Jeremy Messersmith – The Reluctant Graveyard

Jeremy Messersmith’s third album of smart indie pop continues in the same vein he mined on his first two. This one plays down the death fixation in favor of an upbeat, wistfully tuneful 60s psychedelic pop feel. But unlike the rest of the slavish Beach Boys and Ellliot Smith imitators, Messersmith has established a voice of his own: there’s a depth and a thoughtfulness to his lyrics and a subtly clever wit throughout the tunes and the arrangements, an indication of how successfully he’s immersed himself in intelligent oldschool pop sounds.

The first song here is something of a cross between late 60s English dancehall-style Kinks and Elliott Smith, with some absolutely gorgeous piano/guitar textures on the chorus. The second track, Dillinger Eyes is Badfinger-esque powerpop, followed by the album’s best song, Organ Donor. With a dark, reggae-inflected Watching the Detectives vibe enhanced by brooding strings, it’s a vividly metaphorical look at how we fall apart: “Took my brain to the seminary, never seen again…left my spine at the wedding chapel…” John the Determinist works off a bracing, tense string arrangement that underscores the narrator’s obliviously stubborn OCD vibe. Knots blends an old PiL guitar riff with a string section straight out of the Moody Blues circa 1967, a feel that returns with the mellotron-driven sympathy-for-the-devil ballad Repo Man, all sad and alone since nobody cares that he’s dead and gone. The funniest track here is the lushly jangly Rickenbacker guitar anthem Deathbed Salesman, its protagonist trying to upscale a potential casket buyer:

You’ve got a reservation
But you don’t have to wait if you don’t want to
You won’t feel a thing
All your friends are there already
This is how it has to end…

Fans of the original stuff as well as 60s revivalists like the Essex Green and Love Camp 7 will love this. Jeremy Messersmith plays Joe’s Pub on May 28 at 7 PM. Memo to Messersmith’s publicist; email this anonymously to pitchfork and tell them it’s the long lost Beach Boys album. They won’t be able to tell the difference.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Smiles and Frowns

Wow- these Arizona guys really know their 1960s British style psychedelia. The Smiles and Frowns set gentle, understated vocals over vintage guitar and keyboard sounds – as with the early bands of that era, this new album is basically tripped-out pop songs clocking in at three minutes or less. American hippie bands were more jam-oriented; the Brits added a surreal, often theatrical lyrical feel. The songs here are period-perfect: many of them would be perfectly at home on albums by the Pretty Things, the early Move, the Kinks, the Kaleidoscope, the Idle Race…the list goes on and on, getting more obscure and trippier the further out you go. Like so many artifacts of the time, this could be construed as the soundtrack to a short but intense trip…or maybe a long one. Time distorts under the influence of that stuff, as this album reminds.

Things get surreal right off the bat with the first two numbers. Sam, its vocals perfectly enunciated and tongue-in-cheek in the style of the day, is about a bird (symbolism anybody?). He drinks cappucino and “ripped off everyone…everyone was so psyched that he was so sincere.” Cornelius, for his part, is a pied piper character – is that a mellotron in the background? The Memory Man, train approaching as the song begins, is LSD personified. This one introduces a slightly more ominous feel to its steady, harmonica-laced piano pop.

The next cut, Huevos Rancheros sounds like the Kinks enjoying a harry rag with the Beatles in the Abbey Road parking lot during the Sgt. Pepper sessions. The instrumental March of the Phantom Faces is woozy and darkly carnivalesque with autoharp, Vox organ and a crazyquilt of methodically layered reverb keyb textures. By the time the big Beatlesque mellotron ballad When the Time Should Come kicks in, so has the acid. It’s a deadpan, defiant ode to idleness even as the time flashes by. The high point of the album – no pun intended – is the long outsider anthem Mechanical Songs, opening with a swirling Jeff Lynne style keyboard intro. It winds up with The Echoes of Time echoing the Moody Blues, its wistful lyric set to a blithe jugband tune with bells and eventually that mellotron again. Alice – how did we get here and how do we get back? Where the hell are you?

February 18, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 1/17/10

More reviews, etc. momentarily. Til then, as we do every day the best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s song is #193:

The Kinks – Rock n Roll Fantasy

Gorgeously catchy backbeat anthem, and a vivid reminder why sometimes musicians deserve to take themselves seriously. Their fans need them! “Don’t want to spend my life living on the edge of reality!” From the Misfits album, 1976, not to be confused with the Bad Company atrocity of the same title.

January 17, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cabaret Review: Sarah Mucho in Subterranean Circus at the Duplex, NYC 12/3/07

This was a triumphant return for Sarah Mucho. Although she’s best known as the frontwoman for the ferocious, artsy rock band System Noise, her roots are in the cabaret scene. Her Ziggy Stardust shows at Mama Rose’s and other rooms a couple of years ago earned her rave reviews in the theatre press and a MAC Award, but since then she’s been busy with the band. Subterranean Circus, as this show is billed, is a futuristic cautionary tale blending surreal, often sacrilegious humor with a haunting, apocalyptic vibe, with echoes of early 80s punk rock performance art. There’s not much of a book, aside from between-song jokes (which are hysterical). The songs are mostly rock, other than a heart-stopping version of Nature Boy, where Mucho, backed only by superb accordionist Annette Kudrak, gets to show off and belt at the very top of her spectacular range. Otherwise, over the course of a little less than an hour, Mucho and her band ran through an impressively imaginative reworking of material ranging from Bjork (Human Behavior, rearranged as acoustic, piano-based funk), to Johnny Cash (Man in Black, augmented with a very funny sermon mid-song and ending with the outro to Stairway to Heaven), to an absolutely wrenching take of Cat Power’s Werewolf, rearranged for just accordion and bass and played with the lights almost all the way down.

Mucho does two Kinks covers, Apeman and Lola, taking an irresistibly silly turn on harmonica on the former. The latter, recast as noir jazz driven by a steady, walking bassline has the phenomenally talented Bobby Peaco coming out from behind the piano to deliver a very amusing turn on vocals. Other highlights include Simon and Garfunkel’s Most Peculiar Man, with horror-movie music-box piano from Peaco, an equally macabre cover of a Blonde Redhead song and a powerhouse rendition of Dress by PJ Harvey.

There’s also a surprise ending (much of which may not have been scripted) that wouldn’t be fair to give away. And then there’s Mucho’s voice. One of the maybe half-dozen most compelling singers in all of rock, (think Mary Lee Kortes intensity and strength throughout her entire range, and Neko Case for all-stops-out sultriness and stylistic diversity), she’s never sung better than she did tonight.

Mucho’s supporting cast gets pretty much everything right. The diversity and authenticity of Peaco’s arrangements are amazing: the guy can literally play anything, from gospel to honkytonk to classical. Director Kristine Zbornik has everything timed so perfectly tight the audience doesn’t even have time to finish laughing before Mucho’s next emotion-tugging move is on them, equally effective in inducing chuckles as well as awestruck silence. The show continues this Friday Dec 7 at 9:30 PM and as of this writing reservations (required: the first show sold out quickly) are available, call (212) 255-5438.

December 4, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Concert Review: Thee Minks at Magnetic Field, Brooklyn NY 8/3/07

Thee Minks are the kind of band that you see and you say, mmm-hmmm, good. If you’ve had a few drinks, YOU FUCKING LOVE THEM. Hope Diamond, their guitarist, turns her amp up so loud she doesn’t even use a pick. All she has to do is brush the strings of her Gibson SG to get the most evil, distorted, overtone-laden tone you can imagine. Liz Lixx, the bass player, is still pretty primitive, but she has good ideas and you know that if she sticks with it she’ll be fine. And she has a cool bass, a beautiful black-and-white Gretsch Les Paul copy. The drummer, who goes by the name of the Playthang, is excellent, and the band rewarded him by giving him an amusing vocal cameo toward the end of the show.

The Philadelphia band’s best songs came toward the end of the set. They’d started out pretty much by-the-book garage/punk, nothing you haven’t heard before if that’s your music, if the 13th Floor Elevators, MC5, Kinks, Lyres or Mooney Suzuki are your thing. Their website says they bear some resemblance to Radio Birdman, but that wasn’t particularly apparent. About halfway through the set things suddenly got a lot more interesting: more melodies, unexpected chord changes and a lot more imaginative stuff coming out of the bass. The songs’ subject matter seems to be limited to drinking and sex – or both – but at least they’re about something, which is more than you can say about 99.999% of the Sonic Youth ripoffs out there. And there’s absolutely nothing trendy, pretentious or affected about this band. They just want to kick. Your. Ass. And then they do it. This was a good party.

Their last numbers included a punked-out cover of Loaded by Judas Priest (it seems that they actually like the song, instead of making fun of it: whatever the case, their version kicks the shit out of the original). And they did a song about their drummer where he got to sing about what kind of crazy animal he is. “I’ll eat your fucking children,” he hollered, before a series of false endings that wound up with him flailing around Spinal Tap style. The crowd loved it. Not that there was much of a crowd: they were an out-of-town band, after all, and since the audience that actually comes out for real rock music in New York continues to be priced out of town, that wasn’t unexpected.

For anybody who misses the Continental, this place is LOUD: even back by the door the volume was still earsplitting. But the mix was excellent: no surprise, since Zach from Ninth House was doing sound.

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

Album Review: Steve Wynn – …tick…tick…tick

The best cd of 2006 was the one I didn’t review last year. No great surprise – always behind the eightball half the time. This is the concluding chapter of Wynn’s “desert trilogy” that began with 2001’s volcanic tour de force Here Come the Miracles, followed by the erratic but frequently brilliant Static Transmission. Steve Wynn is the Carl Yastrzemski of rock: he’s been so reliably good for so long that he gets taken for granted. Oh yeah, Steve Wynn, great live performer, hundreds of great songs, a gazillion albums. The guy from the Dream Syndicate. Yeah, him.

Yeah, this album. Unlike its two predecessors, it sounds like it was recorded old school, 1960s style in a couple of days’ time, everyone in the band coming in knowing exactly what they had to do and pinning the meter to the red when it was their turn to record. At this point in history, Wynn and his band the Miracle 3 are the best straight-up rock band in the world, bar none. Their live shows are legendary (check out the goodies up on archive.org), so much that it begs the question: why get a Steve Wynn studio album when you can hear him and band at their molten-lava best in concert or on a bootleg? Answer: their studio albums are shows unto themselves. For all I know, this one was probably recorded more or less live: at least that’s how it sounds. The band is more terse, more focused than ever, especially noisemeister Jason Victor on lead guitar and the nimble, inventive Dave DeCastro on bass. As usual, drummer Linda Pitmon distinguishes herself as the best in the business: like her idol Keith Moon, she’s all about surprise, throwing accents and rolls in when least expected, making the most seemingly random beats absolutely crucial to the song.

Wynn’s stock in trade is menace, and this album is no exception, from the title’s bomb reference to the hot pepper glowing fire engine red on the album cover. He gets a lot of Neil Young and Velvet Underground comparisons, and while both influences lurk in the background, three times removed, he’s established his own signature sound. It’s basic two-guitar, meat-and-potatoes rock, frequently based around a central riff (think the Stooges or Kinks), colored with all kinds of delicious noise and overtones, driven by a relentless, dark lyrical vision. There’s less guitar dueling here than there is in his most recent work, but the intensity is undiminished, from the cd’s pummeling opening cut Wired (“oh no, why am I wired this way?!?”) through its closing partita, the haunting No Tomorrow, a remarkably successful shot at ending the album on an uplifting note without getting stuck in cheese. Otherwise, it’s pretty much nonstop adrenaline. The album’s second cut, Cindy, It Was Always You features lyrics by acclaimed crime novelist (and screenwriter for HBO’s The Wire) George Pelecanos: it’s ostensibly a lament for the girl a guy never got, but Wynn delivers it with characteristically evil glee, sounding like a serial killer. The following cut, Freak Star continues in a similar vein, Victor and Wynn’s sinewy guitars coiling and uncoiling and licking the melody like flames around a gasoline tanker that’s just jackknifed on the freeway. Plenty of other good songs on the album: the darkly amusing, stomping Bruises (“I fall down easy but I get up slow/I really really hope that the bruises don’t show”); the macabre urban blues All the Squares Go Home, and the similar, quietly ominous Turning of the Tide.

There’s also the frenetic Wild Mercury, a worthy, out-of-control follow-up to Amphetamine, from Wynn’s previous album: Wynn has explained how this is what happens when guy from Amphetamine keeps doing what he’s doing and goes from blissed-out, adrenaline-fueled ecstasy to being utterly impossible to deal with. The album ends better than I thought it would after hearing most of these songs live. Its final cut is in two parts, the first a gorgeous, fast anthem, staring death straight down the middle of the blacktop. But then it morphs into a happily stomping retro 60s pop hit that owes more than a little to All the Young Dudes. And it works, because even though the mood changes, the band keeps cooking, all the way through. What remains is burned around the edges and very tasty, maybe something akin to the goat curry that Wynn credits for helping with the creative process out in Tucson where this and his previous two studio albums were recorded. Since being recorded, this album has been superseded by a live version, Live Tick, released in Europe last summer, all the more reason to pick up this one and then hear how they’ve mangled it even more. Wynn is back on his feet after a broken ankle and will appear on new albums coming out this year from Danny & Dusty and Smack Dab, so some area live appearances should be in store at some point.

May 5, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment