Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: The Roscoe Trio at Lakeside, NYC 3/23/10

The big news is that Eric “Roscoe” Ambel’s 80s band the Del Lords are back together, having just returned from a short Spanish tour, their first in practically twenty years. They were one of the best bands of the 80s – forget that silly synthesizer stuff, there were so many great guitar bands back then, it’s not funny – the Dream Syndicate, True West, the Long Ryders, the list goes on and on – and the Del Lords represented New York. So any Roscoe appearance at Lakeside these days could be a Del Lords show, considering that they’ve already done at least one unannounced gig there under a phony name. But it was not to be. “I saw an open date on the calendar. So I put my name on it,” said Ambel, and this time he brought his trio, Demolition String Band drummer Phil Cimino and Spanking Charlene bassist Alison Jones. It was like a casual night in the band’s rehearsal space – or a trip to the supermarket in a vintage Trans Am, laid back and comfortable in the bucket seat until you put the hammer down and then all of a sudden you’re burning rubber and your eyeballs are getting pushed way back into your brain.

Ambel had a couple of amps going at once, gleefully blending an eerie, watery chorus tone with distorted clang and roar. Since he’s a gearhead, any time he gets to experiment with textures is a treat for the crowd because that means he goes for the jugular. He’s a melody guy, but he’s just as good at evil noise and that was tonight’s special. It was obvious from the git-go, with a nasty little blaze of wailing bent notes on the stomping Song from the Walls, from his Loud and Lonesome album. Another snarling number from that uncharacteristically angry cd, Way Outside, blew the embers all over the place. A cover of Gillian Welch’s Look At Miss Ohio started out slow and soulful and then careened all the way into the outro from Hendrix’ Hey Joe, which the rhythm section had a ball with. They also did a plaintively jangly version of the Everly Brothers-ish Peter Holsapple tune Next to the Last Waltz, Dee Dee Ramone’s Chinese Rocks done Johnny Thunders Style (which gave Ambel a chance to relate his first encounter with Thunders, who’d been hogging the men’s room at the Mudd Club so he could shoot up), and a slinky, characteristically funny version of the Hank Williams Jr. sendup Monkey with a Gun. They wrapped up the show with a slow, surfy instrumental that Ambel suddenly attacked with a frenzy of tremolo-picking, only to gracefully bring it back around. And was that the Power Lounger Theme they closed with? That’s a blast from the past. Despite what the indie blogs will tell you, great lead guitar never went away – the great thing about living in New York is that you can see it for the price of a beer and a couple of bucks in the tip jar for the rhythm section.

March 24, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Steve Wynn at Lakeside, NYC 2/19/10

When a band has as much fun onstage as Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3 had last night at Lakeside, it’s impossible not to get swept up in it. Over a career that spans parts of four decades (five if you count his early days in the late 70s),Wynn’s stock in trade has always been menace – that, and improvisation. These guys are the world’s tightest jam band. Wynn warned the crowd before they began that this wouldn’t be the usual set list – his birthday was coming up, and a milestone at that. But the show was anything but self-indulgent. The quartet spun a web of over a quarter century’s worth of riff-rock, psychedelia, Americana, a rare gem of a pop song and plenty of the growling, hallucinatory, overtone-laden post-Velvets stomp that established Wynn as one of the early titans of indie rock with his band the Dream Syndicate’s iconic 1981 debut album The Days of Wine and Roses. They closed the night with the title track, lead guitarist Jason Victor’s whirlwind of noise scattering pieces of alternate universes amidst the rhythm section’s 2/4 stampede.

Between that and the creepy foreshadowing of a another Dream Syndicate number, Some Kinda Itch, they careened through the bitter, wounded, gorgeously crescendoing Sustain, a hallucinatory, jangly version of the sinister Cindy It Was Always You (lyrics by George Pelecanos) and the epic sweep of No Tomorrow, morphing out of a hypnotic two-guitar charge into the striking contrast of its surprisingly upbeat retro-glamrock conclusion. Bass player Dave DeCastro (on a deliciously gritty-sounding shortscale Telecaster model) got to take a solo early on and made it a plaintive one; Linda Pitmon led a clinic in good fun, Keith Moon style, riffing off both the music and the lyrics and reaffirming her status as the best rock drummer around. Every other song, it seemed, Wynn would coerce Victor in from his forlorn stance by the window and the two would duel, Wynn’s jagged incisiveness versus his sparring partner’s wrathful, overtone-laden leave-me-alone roar.

Wynn’s ex-Green on Red buddy Dan Stuart materialized out of the crowd and led the band through an authentically gleeful version of Baby We All Gotta Go Down, from the legendary first Danny & Dusty record, way back in the 80s. The surprise of the night – there’s always one or two at every Wynn show – was Older, from Wynn’s cult classic Fluorescent cd, ominousness matched to catchy understatement. “Forgive me for living,” went the sarcastic refrain. He wrote that one about eighteen years ago. Predictably, Lakeside was packed, and conversations that would ordinarily be private suddenly were not. Some of the older faction groused about the crowded conditions: why doesn’t Wynn player bigger places? Answer: he does. Bowery Ballroom, for example, where he’s recently done gigs with both Danny & Dusty and his increasingly timely Baseball Project.

February 20, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Pretty Babies at Lakeside Lounge, NYC, Halloween 2009

by Heather M. Raphael

Halloween is by far my favorite holiday.  I don’t create wonderful and elaborate costumes myself, but I love to look at other peoples’ creative intoxications.  I was not let down by the Pretty Babies (insurgent comedienne/chanteuse Tammy Faye Starlite’s latest project) as Blondie, presenting the Parallel Lines album at Lakeside Lounge in the East Village on Halloween night.  We even had attendance by the current age Debbie Harry herself!  Was it really her or just a fabulous costume?  Unless she’s able to be in two places at once, the real Debbie Harry’s doppelganger had front row seats at our venue, while the real Blondie was playing Halifax, Nova Scotia.

My best laid plans for Halloween this year came crumbling down as the hours ticked away and my escape out of the city to a friend’s Halloween party was foiled by my love/hate relationship with technology.  Luckily a singer/songwriter friend came to my rescue, inviting me into her plans where we met up with some friends at the Lakeside.  It was empty and we scored a table right by the stage.  That’s when I learned about Tammy Fay Starlite and Linda Wynn, aka Linda Pitmon, one of the great female drummers (and also one of the great drummers, end of story).  We got to chat with Linda – very down-to-earth, instantly likeable – during set-up from our strategically placed table.

The Lakeside Lounge quickly packed in a crowd, some costumed, some not, as showtime was upon us.  Tammy…I mean, Debbie…I mean Blondie…oh whatever, gave several shout-outs to Steve Wynn, well known musician since the 1980’s for alternative and classic rock, who was there to see his lovely wife rock the drums.  And she kicked some butt up on that stage!  Not even an uncooperative snare could slow her down.  I’ve never been so mesmerized.  But let’s not forget the rest of the band that pulled this show together.  On bass was Sit n’ Spin’s Mony Falcone; on electric guitars were her bandmate Heidi Lieb and Jill Richmond of the Aquanettas; on keyboards was Bibi Farber; all dressed in black pants, white suit shirts and black skinny ties to boot.

The spot we had was perfect for viewing and listening.  Although Tammy’s mic could have been balanced louder, it did fit with how I always remember Blondie songs – missing half of the Debbie Harry vocals, whenever she sang in her lower, alto range.  At least it was authentic and a great ride down memory lane.  I don’t how the acoustics were for those on the side and and back to the bar: I can’t imagine they could see anything and since the visual aspects were as important as the music, those back there may not have gotten as much out of it.  Tammy Faye Starlite put on a fabulous performance, even getting up on a chair to reach out to her audience in back.  From what I hear, she is a crowd-pleaser, and was no less of one this night.

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

Concert Review: Mary Lee Kortes and Andy York at Lakeside Lounge, NYC 10/15/09

Back at Lakeside two nights in a row and this time had its moments of pure unadulterated transcendence. Mary Lee Kortes is best known as the frontwoman of Americana rockers Mary Lee’s Corvette; Andy York played in that band for a few years back in the late 90s and early zeros, all the while serving as John Mellencamp’s lead guitarist. Together again after a hiatus, the two seemed blissfully happy about sharing a stage once more. Reinforcing that presumption was the tightness of their set – with timing like theirs, who needs a rhythm section? – and the craftsmanship of the songs. Kortes gets props for her voice, an extraordinarily powerful instrument capable of effortless leaps of an octave or more that she typically cuts loose with vastly greater nuance than most other artists gifted with such potent pipes. And while she did take several of those spine-tingling jumps, it was the jewel-like terseness of her songwriting that impressed the most, whether the almost minimalist pop of a couple of her early numbers, Lonely World (from the film Happy Hour) and I Had Your Heart in Mind, to the flinty, counterintuitive, darkly tinged Americana of The Nothing Song, to the defiant, minor-key garage rock exhilaration of Out from Under It. York, true to form, didn’t play anything more than a song asked for, making everything count: a dusky, hypnotic intro on Nothing Song, some ominously incisive blues on the clever, chromatically charged retro 60s pop of Learn from What I Dream and an understatedly scorching solo on the big psychedelic crowd-pleaser One More Sun that drew a spontaneous round of applause from a rapt crowd of dedicated fans and rock luminaries (Ian Hunter and James Mastro among them) who’d proved themselves something better than “weather wimps,” as Kortes grinningly identified those who’d let the wind and rain keep them away.

The highlight of the night was a riveting, sometimes almost skeletal version of the big ballad Portland, Michigan, a revealingly lyrical look beneath the seemingly blissful obliviousness of Midwestern life. It would have been nice to have been able to stick around for the encores, but there were places to get to, late.

Kortes’ relative absence from the NYC stage (with her band, she used to play around town several times a month) can be attributed to her time recently spent writing a musical based on the life of Beulah Rowley (sp?), a long-forgotten but apparently brilliant, multistylistic songwriter from earlier in the past century (don’t bother googling) who is overdue for a career retrospective – watch this space for info and upcoming show dates.

October 20, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Spanking Charlene at Lakeside Lounge, NYC 7/18/09

To get a Saturday night gig at the Lakeside you have to be either very good or very popular. Spanking Charlene are both. Saturday night found the entertainingly punkish, Americana-inflected rockers at the top of their game. With Mo Goldner’s roaring, Billy Zoom-inflected guitar and frontwoman Charlene McPherson’s unleashed wail, they mixed a lot of new material in with songs from their excellent 2007 debut cd, which if we’d published a “top 50 albums of the year” list back then would have definitely been on it. The anti-cattiness diatribe I Hate Girls was a spot-on as usual, as was When I’m Skinny, a slap at media-driven obsession with thinness (McPherson isn’t rail-thin but she’s hardly fat). She insisted that a friend in the audience introduce the big crowd-pleaser Pussy Is Pussy, which he seemed especially happy to do.

The newer songs were just as good. The growling, glam-inflected Where Are the Freaks offered some snide commentary on how the question of how much you earn now passes for acceptable barroom banter in the East Village. An catchy, insistent X-ish number about gentrification pushing everyone further and further to the outer fringes of the five boroughs hit the spot as well. The highlight of the show was a stark contrast, a haunting, towering, Americana-inflected requiem. “This one’s gonna kill me,” McPherson told her bandmates, but it didn’t. Then they returned to the merriment with I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend, which as McPherson related was inspired by an attempt by a lesbian to pick her up. Lakeside head honcho and guitar genius Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, who produced their cd, joined them for their last three numbers, adding a tasty, extra layer of smoldering grit. Definitely a fun way to wrap up what had been a long Saturday running all over town.

July 21, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fuck American Idol

Tonight voices ruled: not the tiresome parade of flashy melismatic effects that the American Idol crowd reaches for, but uniquely individual voices, each with its own signature style. Pure, unleashed passion, wit, sadness, rage, exuberance, the whole gamut. Real, original voices delivering real, original material with real emotion.

After several rounds of stiff Bacardi 151 drinks at the Holiday Lounge, the Ukrainian bar on St. Mark’s (that venerable dive doesn’t take credit cards, so there’s no worry about losing your place at the bar to some trust fund child from Malibu), we made our way down to the LES to a tourist trap we would normally never be caught dead at. Ninth House was scheduled to play, but their drummer was stuck in midtown traffic, caught in a security gauntlet, a byproduct of the current westside gathering of multinational robber barons. So frontman Mark Sinnis did a trio show with his lead guitarist and piano player. Sinnis sings in a low, ominous baritone somewhere from the nether regions where Johnny Cash, Ian Curtis and Jim Morrison reside. He can croon with anyone, but he’d rather belt, raging against the dying of the light. Death figures in most of his Nashville gothic songs: he knows that country is the original goth music and mines it for every eerie tonality he can pull out of that deep, dark well. The sound at this yuppie puppie trashpit usually frightfully bad, and it was tonight, the vocals struggling to pull themselves from under the piano. One would think that at a folkie club like this that bills itself as sonically superior, vocals should automatically be the highest thing in the mix, but the sound guy was lost in his comic book and didn’t do anything to fix things. Sinnis fought the PA, and like John Henry, man against machine, the machine won. But he put up a good fight: hearing him project all the way to the back of the little room, virtually without amplification, was pretty impressive. If you were there (you probably weren’t – it was a small crowd) and liked what you heard, wait til you hear this guy through a mic that’s on.

Elsewhere, janglerock quartet Sputnik took the stage just as Sinnis and crew were wrapping up their set. Shockingly, the sound they had to deal with was actually pretty good: their tall, willowy blonde frontwoman Genie Morrow has never sung better. Tonight she was in effortlessly seductive mode, her sultry, breathy, sometimes whispery soprano peeking around the corners of the melodies. You have to listen closely for the drama in this band’s pleasantly catchy, jangly songs, but it’s there. Part of a frontperson’s job is to grab the audience somehow or other and hold them, while keeping the band all on the same page at the same time (a job that most corporate and indie rockers don’t have a clue about). Morrow delivered as if she was born to do this, and with a little luck (maybe a song in a good cult indie flick), she’ll be able to. She’d borrowed an accordion from an especially generous neighborhood shop, and its gently wistful tones were the perfect complement to her vocals’ gentle allure. This band has everything it takes to be big: hooks, tunes, a generally sunny disposition and casually virtuosic musicianship. And they were clearly having a great time onstage. It was particularly nice to see excellent drummer Nigel Rawles involved with something that has as much promise as his previous band Scout.

The high point of the night was at Lakeside where the excellent 4-piece punk band Spanking Charlene were playing. They’re not straight-up punk like the Ramones or UK Subs, but more Stonesy, like the Heartbreakers. Like Sputnik, they also have a casually charismatic frontwoman, but she’s a completely different type of animal, armed with a big, powerful wail. It’s a dangerous weapon, and she wields it expertly. This band’s lyrics are sardonic and funny. As with any punk band, they also have some anger, but in their case it seems to be inner-directed. In the night’s most intense moment – there were a lot of them – the singer launched into a crescendoing chorus, singing “stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid me,” berating herself over and over again, and this was as incongruous as it was disturbing. From the lyrics, it was obvious that she’s no dummy: what on earth could she have done that was so stupid? Maybe the song is a cautionary tale. Either way, it made an impact. She also proved that she’s no one-trick pony with a surprisingly quiet, sweetly twangy country song. Their big audience hit right now seems to be a riff-rocker called Pussy Is Pussy (“People are afraid of pussy,” the singer knowingly told the audience) which isn’t even their best number. But it’ll be huge if they can get somebody to pull some public-domain footage (or, hell, any footage), make a primitive video and put it up on youtube. Spanking Charlene have a cd coming out in November, and if the live show is any indication, it will kick serious ass. Stay tuned.

Like Bob Lefsetz is fond of saying, the mainstream is dead. But the underground has never been more vital. So good to be alive in a place where, against all odds, there are still so many great bands – and killer singers. American Idol? Simon says, stick a fork in it.

September 16, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Nightcrawling 8/17/07

The evening started at Barbes. If you’re thinking of hitting this cozy little Park Slope, Brooklyn backroom, take heed of the warning that reliably pops up on the weekly music calendar page here wherever there’s a Barbes listing: you simply have to get here way early. This Francophilic little joint is far too small for the acts they book, a sad testament to the state of the New York music scene: so many excellent acts pack this place week after week because they have enough of a following to sell out little Barbes but not enough to take it to the next level. A violinist was onstage when we arrived, and what was quietly wafting from behind the curtain sounded intriguing. But it was literally impossible to get inside.

Afterward, some of the crowd cleared out and former Rasputina multi-instrumentalist Serena Jost took the stage. Alternating between acoustic guitar, cello and piano, she and her inspired backing trio played a delightfully captivating set of hook-driven art-rock. The fun these players have onstage is contagious: drummer Rob DiPietro got his ride cymbal to make a big WHOOOSH with his brushes while guitarist Julian Maile punctuated the melodies with incisive, punchy, reverby fills from his Gibson SG. Upright bassist Rob Jost came close to stealing the show with his melodic, fluid playing, using a bow for some haunting cello-like tones when he wasn’t pushing the songs along with sinuous riffs and climbs. Although he and the frontwoman share the same last name – what’s the likelihood? – they pronounce it differently, she like the Milwaukee Brewers manager, he with a hard “j” as in journey.

Serena Jost writes cerebral, counterintuitive, incredibly catchy songs. Her vocals have a melancholy, sometimes dreamy feel, but the music is pure fun. She likes syncopation, bridges that appear seemingly out of nowhere and the occasional odd time signature. She’s been compared to Jeff Lynne here, and that’s accurate in the sense that she seamlessly merges classical and pop melodies. One of tonight’s best songs, Vertical World began with a slow, gospel crescendo at the beginning, just this side of sarcastic, morphing into a ridiculously catchy, bouncy piano-driven hit. I Wait, which came toward the end of the set also built slowly on the intro to a slinky snakecharmer melody, Maile taking a long, thoughtful solo, part surf and part skronk, like what Marc Ribot might sound like if he didn’t overintellectualize everything. Throughout the night, subtle interplay between the musicians abounded.

Serena Jost joked about people seeing her on the street with her cello case and calling her Yo-Yo Ma, or, “Pablo Casals for all you old school people.” It was that kind of crowd: most of her audience seems to be her peers, A-list New York rockers, by nature a pretty tough and critical bunch, and tonight she held them in the palm of her hand.

“You know what Pablo Casals said when he broke his hand mountain climbing?” Rob Jost asked the crowd. “Good. That means I don’t have to practice anymore.”

The East Village was our next stop, so it made sense to kill some time at Lakeside. Nice to be able to get a seat there on a Friday night (imagine doing that five years ago: impossible), but it was disheartening to see such a sparse crowd, even if it was mostly suburban tourists from the adjoining states. Goes to show that most real New Yorkers have given up on going out on the weekends anymore. The surf band Mr. Action and the Boss Guitars were playing, a whole lot tighter than they were last time we caught them here. According to the Northeast Surf Music Alliance, there are about sixty surf bands just in the Northeast alone: add the Eastern Seaboard, Florida and California and suddenly it becomes clear that twangy, mariachi- and Middle Eastern-inflected instrumental rock is probably bigger now than it was in the 60s. This band is the former Supertones rhythm section (Mr. Action is the drummer, “Long Island’s answer to Mel Taylor,” as the bassist called him) plus those two boss guitars. They all wear matching uniforms and if they have their act together, they probably make a fortune playing weddings and corporate year-end functions. But they’re also self-aware: “Continuing in the 1967 bar mitzvah vein,” the bassist joked as they launched into yet another instro version of a 60s pop hit. They did that for the first half of the show, and just as the early Beach Boys and Beatles tunes and stuff like It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To were starting to get old, they did a spot-on version of the obscure Ventures classic Ginza Lights, which was at one time the alltime bestselling single in Japan. Surf music fans are a notoriously obsessive bunch, and the crowd was clearly gassed: the Ventures virtually never play that song live, and until the days of file sharing it was extremely hard to find.

Then the band played Pipeline, and even if their version didn’t have the beautiful electric piano of the Chantays’ original, or the menace of the Agent Orange version or the evil cocaine intensity of the Heartbreakers’ cover (did I say something about how people become completely obsessed with this stuff?), it’s such a great song that pretty much anybody can play it and it still sounds good. They also did the requisite Wipeout, and I found myself wishing I’d picked up that live Surfaris album I saw in my favorite used record store a couple of months ago.

Then it was over to Banjo Jim’s to see Susan Mitchell play violin with Mark Sinnis’ trio. Sinnis is the frontman in Ninth House, who’ve received a lot of ink here lately. Although that band has gone further in the Nashville gothic direction that characterizes Sinnis’ solo work, they still have a 80s Joy Division/Cure/Psychedelic Furs feel. This unit, by contrast, plays what are basically country songs with a darkly bluesy feel. Mitchell, formerly with Kundera and currently playing in a number of good projects, is one of the most gripping soloists in New York: when she gets her swooping, sliding gypsy sound going, she is incredible. Tonight’s show, by contrast, was about interplay between her smooth legato lines and the biting, bluesy ferocity of Sinnis’ new guitarist the Anti-Dave (who also plays in Vulgaras). Sinnis gave the songs a heavy chassis with his ominous baritone voice and acoustic guitar, and his two soloists fleshed out the body, like an old black Cadillac filled with moonshine barreling down a back road somewhere near the Canadian border, its running boards whipping against the weeds and grass alongside the road. The best songs of the night were Sinnis’ original Mistaken for Love, with its brutal lyric and surprise cold ending; a new, slow shuffle with a 50s rockabilly feel, the drunk driving anthem Follow the Line with its fiery electric guitar, and the closer, a stark, surprisingly effective cover of the Sisters of Mercy song Nine While Nine that ended on an incredibly intense, haunting note as the electric guitar played half of the song’s eerie, reverberating central hook. After that, we closed down a couple of bars, watching crowds of tourists slowly stumble back to their stretch limos while we made sure the most inebriated among us didn’t lose their stuff. The sun came up as I made my way down Avenue A, the surprising chill of the early-morning air a final treat to cap off the kind of great night that only a few years ago could happen pretty much randomly at any time, but these days, all too seldom.

Maybe once oil really starts to run out and the peasants start to swarm back to the cities, just like in China, there’ll be a real urban contingent in the East Village again. A dangerous one, quite likely. Maybe then the tourists will stay in their parents’ McMansions – if they haven’t collapsed around them by then – instead of turning this city into a facsimile of New Jersey/Long Island/Los Angeles stripmall hell.

August 18, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Concert Review: Ellen Foley at Lakeside Lounge, NYC 7/19/07

The most unlikely comeback of the decade is an improbable success. OK, maybe not the most unlikely comeback: who knew that Vashti Bunyan would hit the road again? But this wasn’t exactly expected. As Ellen Foley told it tonight, she was sitting on former Five Chinese Brothers bassist Paul Foglino’s couch, and he suggested that they write some songs together and do some shows. Fast forward to tonight: he wrote some songs, the band worked up some her of her older material and, blam, comeback in full effect.

In addition to her career as an actress, Foley had a successful run in Europe in the 80s as a top 40 singer. Here, she remains a generational footnote, musically at least, best known for her vocals on Meatloaf’s epic monstrosity Paradise By the Dashboard Light. You know, “Stop right theeeeeeeere, I gotta know right now!” But her great shining moment was as the singer on the great lost Clash album, her 1981 Sire release Spirit of St. Louis. If you have a turntable and see this kicking around the dollar bins, by all means, pick it up: it proves that Strummer and Jones (who was her boyfriend at the time) could write gorgeously orchestrated, politically charged ballads. Foley also sang lead on Hitsville UK, the Clash’s lone (and considerably successful) venture into Motown.

Tonight, she was at the top of her game, sounding better than ever – she’s got a big, somewhat showy voice with impressive range – and looking great. Backed by an inspired 4-piece unit including Foglino and Steve Antonakos (what band is he NOT in) on guitars, Steve Houghton on bass and Kevin Hangdog on drums, she delivered a mix of some of her European hits along with Foglino’s wry, bluesy, Americana-pop songs.

On the outro to What’s the Matter Baby, she improvised an explanation: “I was replaced on Night Court by Markie Post!” The audience loved her take of We Belong to the Night (which was a #1 hit for her in Holland before Pat Benetar’s iconically schlocky version). “This song is for…Ann Coulter,” she told the crowd as they launched into a fiery version of the Stones’ Stupid Girl. Foglino may have a thing for goofy songwriting (he’s the guy who wrote the college radio classic You’re Never too Drunk to Get Drunk), but he clearly gives a damn about this unit, tailoring his material to the nuances of Foley’s voice. On one slowly swaying new tune, she mined the verse with her beautifully quiet upper register for everything she could get out of it: “These dreams shine like diamonds/But I’m digging for…coal.”

Her first encore was written about her, she told the crowd, and then did a shambling, fun version of Should I Stay or Should I Go, Antonakos having fun making up some Spanglish in place of Mick Jones’ fractured espanol. They closed the show with a fragment of the big Meatloaf hit (probably to pre-empt the wiseass element in the audience), and it was impossible to leave without a smile on your face. Where Foley wants to go with this is anybody’s guess, but even if all she wants to do is play Lakeside on the random night, she’s more fun than 99% of the other singers out there. If you have fond memories of Europe in the 80s, a thing for brilliant obscurities from the bargain bins, or just enjoy hearing a great voice, you should go see her.

July 20, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Concert Review: The Roscoe Trio at Lakeside Lounge 6/15/07

A clinic in good guitar and good fun. Besides being Lakeside head honcho, producer of note, Steve Earle’s lead guitarist and member of the Yayhoos, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel sometimes finds the time to play in this self-described “party band.” With an open date on the Lakeside calendar, he’d apparently had enough of a break in his schedule to pull a show together. This was a pickup band of sorts, Phil Cimino on drums and Alison Jones on bass. It didn’t seem that anybody had the chance to rehearse much for this, but Jones is a quick study and Cimino can pretty much play anything. Tonight they played a lot of blues, but it wasn’t lame whiteboy blues, a bunch of aging fratboys hollering their way through Sweet Home Chicago and similar. “Craft” is a favorite word of Ambel’s, and tonight was a chance to watch an artisan pulling good stuff out of thin air and making it work every time.

Ambel is one of the most dynamic, interesting guitarists out there, a four-on-the-floor, purist rock guy at heart but equally adept at pretty much any Americana genre. In Steve Earle’s band the Dukes he plays a lot of wrenchingly beautiful stuff along with his usual twang; this band gives him the chance to parse his own back catalog and cut loose on some covers. Tonight he was in typically terse, soulful mode: he can solo like crazy when he wants to, which is hardly ever. This show was all about thoughtful, sometimes exploratory licks and fills with a few tantalizingly good moments of evil noise. With Ambel, melody is always front and center, but he’s a hell of a noise-rock player  – think Neil Young in a particularly pathological, electric moment – when the mood strikes him.

We arrived to find the band burning through Merle Haggard’s Workingman’s Blues. They then did a quietly captivating take on the old blues standard Ain’t Having No Fun, followed by J.J. Cale’s eerie The Sensitive Kind, which began with a long, darkly glimmering Ambel solo. A little later, they played an obscure Steve Earle tune, Usual Time of the Night, a cut from Ambel’s most recent solo album Knucklehead. It’s Earle’s attempt at writing a Jimmy Reed song, and tonight they did justice to the old bluesman, calmly wringing out every ounce of sly, late-night seductiveness.

They also played a really cool, slow surf instrumental; an amusingly upbeat, chromatically-fueled theme called How ‘Bout It (an expression, Ambel told the audience, that he used to death for a couple of years); the angry, blazing indie rock tune Song for the Walls (the opening track on Ambel’s Loud & Lonesome album); and closed the set with a rousing version of his classic song Garbagehead, written in about five minutes for a Lakeside New Year’s Eve show a few years ago. They wrapped it up with a completely over-the-top, heavy metal finale. Fucking A, fucking right. Fucking A, fucking A, Friday night, gimme five more beers and a snootfull of garbagehead. Who needs garbagehead when you can go out and see a show like this instead. For free. Even though it was past midnight by this point and therefore past Lakeside’s strict curfew (they’re trying to be good neighbors), the audience wasn’t about to let them go without an encore, so Ambel obliged them with the soul-inflected Hurting Thing, from the Yayhoos’ most recent album.

June 16, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Nightcrawling 5/11/07: Basement, Lenny Molotov, Les Chauds Lapins, Moisturizer

The evening began at with happy hour at Lakeside, a reliably good way to kick off the night. The scheduled band had apparently cancelled and had been replaced by a country/rock outfit called Basement who took the stage at 8 instead of the usual 11 PM. They were excellent: two guitars, rhythm section and keyboardist who played mainly organ fills, from what little we got to hear. The lead player, on Telecaster, seems to be more of a rock guy, but he still gave them a shot of adrenaline. The flyer in the club window described them as rockers with a lot of bluegrass and Irish influences: the latter was in evidence, not the former. But there’s only so much you can tell from the first fifteen minutes of a band’s set. They’re definitely worth checking out.

Next stop was Sidewalk, where by the time we arrived Lenny Molotov was already into his 45-minute set. Funny how times change: ten years ago, this place was Dork Central and now it’s one of the more prestigious places to play. Same shitty sound, but it’s become a sane alternative to the Living Room, cheaper and usually pretty much tourist-free. And apparently musicians who want to play there no longer have to subject themselves to waiting ten hours for a 3-song audition in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, subject to the ridicule of the Woody Allen wannabe who’s been booking the place forever.

Molotov (who also fronts the excellent delta blues outfit Elgin Movement, and plays mean lead guitar for Randi Russo) was without his usual collection of effects pedals, so with only the club’s weak PA to amplify his acoustic guitar, the brilliance of his spiky, fingerpicked melodies wasn’t always readily apparent. He played a lot of new material, accompanied by his Elgin Movement sidekick, Jake Engel, on chromatic harp and Karl Meyer on violin. Engel was in a particularly buoyant mood and got a lot of response out of the surprisingly sparse crowd. Molotov’s original songs typically set darkly witty, brilliantly literate, contemporary lyrics to oldschool delta blues melodies, and tonight he played one of his best originals in that vein, possibly titled Hard to be an Outlaw. It’s a bleak, black-humor-driven chronicle about a kid from somewhere sketchy in Brooklyn who a couple of years ago went out to buy some weed, may or may not have been entrapped into starting a fatal shootout with an undercover cop, and ended up blowing his brains out later that night in an ex-girlfriend’s project apartment. Later, Molotov told the audience that he was going to do a number he’d never before played live, and that he’d just found out why everyone else plays it. After working out who was going to take a solo and when, he launched into a fascinating open-tuned arrangement of St. James Infirmary Blues, barely recognizable save for the lyrics. He closed the set with a new original song, Luxury Blues: “You say you don’t have a woman/Well try having two.”

We cut out moments after he left the stage and went east to Banjo Jim’s for about 40 minutes where Les Chauds Lapins were playing. They’re Kurt Hoffmann on banjo uke and clarinet, trading vocals with Roulette Sisters lead guitarist Meg Reichardt, who alternated between guitar and banjo uke as well. They were backed by a rhythm section (bringing in a new upright bass player for the second set, as their first had to leave for another gig), along with violin, cello and Frank London blowing exquisitely balmy muted trumpet on a couple of numbers. Translated literally from the French, Les Chauds Lapins means “the hot rabbits.” What it actually means is “hot mamas.” It can also mean “pains in the ass.” They play vintage French pop from the 20s and 30s, Hoffmann’s urbane tenor playing off of Reichardt’s breathy, sensual vocals. Like the Roulette Sisters, Les Chauds Lapins’ specialty is sex songs, laden with double entendres, sung more or less sans accent Americain, in the language of love. Strange that the place wasn’t packed – sex sells, as everybody knows – plus, the band was playing two whole sets. Their musicianship is superb, and the songs are well-chosen. For decades, in fact until very recently, French assembly-line songwriters from Charles Trenet to Didier Barbelivien had little in common with their American Tin Pan Alley counterparts: in France, even pop songwriting is an art form. Clever lyrics, complex song structures and real artistic achievement abound. Even the much-maligned varietes folk-pop from the 70s frequently has great lyrics. Hoffmann and Reichardt mine the archive for every innuendo they can whisper. Their new cd, which they were hawking tonight, promises to be excellent. But we were off to Luna to see Moisturizer.

The new Luna Lounge (across the street from Black Betty, just off the corner of Metropolitan and Havemeyer in Williamsburg) tries very hard to be likeable and succeeds on most counts. Sizewise, it’s about the same as Bowery Ballroom without the balcony: it’s obvious that the walls and ceiling have been expertly tricked out for sound. The staff and bartenders are uncommonly nice and the drinks aren’t outrageously overpriced. Moisturizer is strictly an instrumental band, so getting the sound right for them should have been a breeze. It wasn’t. Baritone sax player Moist Paula, bassist Moist Gina and their drummer fought magnificently for almost 40 minutes, trying in vain to cut through a relentless, drum-heavy morass of sonic sludge. One has to wonder: was the sound guy stoned? Did they bring in a sub because the regular guy wanted a night off and there was a “local” band playing?

Despite the dodgy sonics, Moisturizer won over the crowd: what a surprise. They’re the closest thing we have these days to the Funk Brothers, who were Motown Records’ studio band throughout the 60s and subject of the terrific documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown. Moisturizer’s irresistibly fun, danceable tunes had everyone at least swaying in their seats. They gets a lot of ESG comparisons, and that’s not a stretch, although Moisturizer is (pardon the pun) more fluid and a lot more melodic. Frontwoman Moist Paula, who has played with everybody and also has a fine, jazzy side project called Secretary, draws on a lot of influences, from Lonnie Smith go-go to Motown to hip-hop. But her sound is unique and instantly recognizable, always coming back to the melody even if she’s known to take a noisy excursion to the outer reaches of jazz from time to time. Bassist Moist Gina is one of the best in the business, one of the hardest hitters around, a terrifically melodic, imaginative, fluid player (there’s that word again) whose flying runs up and down the scale are adrenalizing to say the least. They’ve been through a succession of drummers lately, but the latest one is working out well.

Moist Paula was the only band member who had a mic, and she didn’t talk to the crowd much: maybe they were trying to pack as much material into the allotted time as they could, an admirable goal if that’s what they were shooting for. Moisturizer has a lot of material (dozens and dozens of songs), all of them “true stories,” as Moist Paula will proudly announce from time to time, and because they don’t announce them frequently it’s hard to tell what they’re called. The Satie-esque, surreal wit of the titles carries over from the title to the music. Among the tunes they played tonight were an uncharacteristically haunting, gorgeously melancholy number about a child who was reunited with his/her mother in the wake of the Indonesia tsunami, as well as the current Moisturizer crowd-pleaser Enactuate Our Love which features a blistering, breathtaking solo from Moist Gina at the end of the song. By then she’d turned off the flange she’d been using through most of the set, giving her propulsive lines a watery, 80s tone.

Everyone’s entitled to an off night: it’s just too bad Moisturizer and their fans came out on the wrong end of this one. Maybe it’s just growing pains at a new venue: by all other standards, the new Luna is actually a welcome addition to Williamsburg. Can you remember the last time you could say that about anything new in the neighborhood? I can’t.

May 13, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments