Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The People’s Champs Get the Party Started

The People’s Champs are a New York supergroup composed of members of some of the best and/or funkiest bands in town: Blitz the Ambassador and Larkin Grimm’s bands, Slavic Soul Party, Meta and the Cornerstones, the Superpowers, Nation Beat and Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds. Together they create a unique, individual sound that mixes psychedelic funk with Afrobeat. With the songs’ intricate arrangements, unexpected changes and edgy melodies, their new ep works just as well over headphones as it probably does on the dance floor.

These tunes are a trip. The first one, Angihambe is the most traditional, Fela-style vamp here, with the horns, accordion and then guitar kicking in over a warmly circling, syncopated midtempo pulse. Guitarist David Bailis hits his repeater box and then slyly shadows the band, panning almost imperceptibly across the mix and then back as the horns break free joyously and swirly keyboards join the frenzy. They manage to do all this in about four minutes. The next track, Family (a free download at the band’s bandcamp site) is pretty straight-up funk punctuated by powerful blasts from guitar and keys together. A woman sings nonchalantly about the “daily struggle” against the grit of the tune. They take it down to a staggered beat, Josiah Woodson’s trumpet gently playing against Mitchell Yoshida’s reverberating Rhodes piano, then they take it back up again.

The best and most psychedelic song here is Keep on Coming Back. Starting atmospherically with dub elements that echo in and out of the mix all the way through, darkly bluesy guitar flings glowing shards of reverb against the murky backdrop. As the swirl rises and falls, the horns play off the guitar, followed by a rumbling dub interlude. The last song is Truth Assumption, a hard-hitting yet amusing tune blending Afrobeat with funk, with a blippy synthesizer up in the mix to raise the smile factor. Distorted, staccato keys and guitar fire punch against the warmth of the horn section, followed by a big, satisfying swell that fades out, dirty and distorted. It’s a good ride all the way through.

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May 4, 2011 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Larkin Grimm and Martin Bisi at the Knitting Factory, Brooklyn NY 12/27/09

 Larkin Grimm’s solo show last spring at the Delancey was a dazzling display of imaginative vocal technique. This one was a lot more accessible, a mix of lush, smartly arranged, often rustic and unabashedly sexy songs. What Grimm does is closer to an update on folk-rock bands of the 70s like Fairport Convention, but more stark and sparse. Alternating between a miniature harp and acoustic guitar and backed by a concert harpist, two violinists (one of whom doubled on keys and then mandolin) and former David Bowie bassist (and producer to the stars) Tony Visconti playing some really excellent, interesting four-string work, Grimm was a strikingly down-to-earth presence even as her songs took off into artsy territory. The strings fluttered and flew off the beat as the harps’ lines interwined and Visconti moved from minimalist metronomic lines, to graceful slides, the occasional well-chosen boomy chord and even some harmonics. The songs ranged from the lush, dreamy, pastoral number that opened the show, to a sultry cabaret-inflected song about a hooker, a disquieting number inspired by “finding [your] inner child while fucking,” a one-chord Indian-style tune done with Visconti on recorder, another hypnotic song about waking up in a cornfield and having to dodge tractors, and an understatedly fiery retelling of a Greek myth about Apollo skinning some poor guy alive. That one Grimm wrote, she said, after she’d paid a visit to Dolllywood (she’d snuck in, too broke to pay for admission), thinking about her own disastrous experiences in the music business. She closed with a translation of a Hafez poem cast as a crescendoing anthem where a woman goes to bed with a guy, takes off her clothes and decapitates him. “But isn’t that…philosophy?” she asked, deadpan.

Martin Bisi played the first half-hour of his set as a suite, segueing from one part to another by frantically laying down one searing loop of guitar feedback on top of another.  This time Bisi’s band had lead guitar, bass, drums and a caped crusader wailing frantically on what sounded like a little Casio running through a million noisy effects, sharing the stage with a woman whose graceful miming quickly became the show’s focal point. In a strange twist of fate, Bisi, like Visconti, is best known for producing great albums for famous bands (Sonic Youth, Herbie Hancock, the Dresden Dolls, ad infinitum), but ultimately it’s his songwriting which is his strongest suit. This evening’s numbers had a distinctly early 80s, East Village feel, sort of Nick Cave as covered by Blue Oyster Cult, ornate and haunting but also with a sense of humor that ran from cynicism to unaffected amusement. About halfway into his suite he ran through the mythology-based Sirens of the Apocalypse (title track of his excellent 2008 album), barrelling through the lyrics without a pause to take a breath. A more recent track, Drink Your Wine came off with an irresistible sarcasm, a word of warning to a lightweight; a dedication to his daughter, far from being mawkish, was a dark garage rocker evocative of the Libertines but tighter. They finally closed their set with a big riff-rock anthem that threatened to burst into flame after it had finally gone out, but it didn’t. The audience wanted more but didn’t get it.

December 28, 2009 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The 20 Best Concerts in New York in 2009

Of all our year-end best-of lists (the 100 Best Songs of 2009 and 50 Best Albums of 2009 included), this is our favorite, because it’s the most individual (everybody has a different list) and it’s closest to our raison d’etre, live music in New York. Last year’s was difficult enough to narrow down to twenty; this year’s is criminally short. We could have put up a top 100 concerts list and it would be five times as good. 

This was the year of the Beast – Small Beast at the Delancey, New York’s most exciting weekly rock event. We caught onto this slowly – the concert series ran for about a month before we discovered it – but when we did we were there almost every week. Occasionally someone will ask, since you have a music blog, why don’t you start booking shows? With Small Beast, there’s no need: it’s your weekly chance to discover the edgiest, smartest rock-ish talent from Gotham and across the globe. You’ll see a lot of those shows on this list.

Yet 2009 was a weird year for us – running a New York live music blog and not being in town much of the time made it problematic, to say the least. Week after week, we watched from a distance, enviously as half the city got to see stuff we never did. In August, the Brooklyn What did a killer triple bill with Palmyra Delran’s garage band and amazing latin ska-punk-gypsy rockers Escarioka at Trash Bar, but we weren’t there. The second night of the Gypsy Tabor Festival just a few weeks later looked like a great time, but we missed that one too. As the year winds down and we finally (hopefully!) start to reap the rewards of a whole lot of hard work, it appears, pending some absolutely transcendent show exploding onto the radar, that this is it for our Best Shows of 09 list. Needless to say, we can’t wait for 2010.

Since any attempt to rank these shows in any kind of order would be an exercise in futility, we just listed them as they happened:

The Brooklyn What at Fat Baby, 1/15/09 – since we’d just reviewed a couple of their shows in the fall of 08, we didn’t even review this one, fearing overkill. But on what was the coldest night of the winter up to that point, they packed the club and burned through a characteristically fun, ferocious set, maybe fueled by the knowledge that one of their idols, Ron Asheton, had left us.

Kerry Kennedy at Rose Bar, 1/21/09 – the noir chanteuse was at the absolute top of her game as quietly resilient siren and southwestern gothic bandleader.

Paul Wallfisch and Larkin Grimm at Small Beast at the Delancey, 4/9/09 – the Botanica frontman (who books Small Beast) turned in a typically fiery set, followed by the avant-chanteuse who battled and finally lashed out at a crowd of clueless yuppie puppies who just didn’t get what the show was all about.

Kotorino at Pete’s Candy Store, 4/13/09 – the quietly multistylistic, gypsyish band filled the place on a Monday night and kept the crowd riveted as they all switched instruments, beats and genres over and over.

The New Collisions at Arlene’s, 4/23/09 – Boston’s best new band blazed through an early 80s inflected set of edgy powerpop.

Paul Wallfisch, the Ulrich-Ziegler Duo and McGinty and White at Small Beast at the Delancey, 4/23/09 – after Wallfisch had set the tone for the night, Big Lazy’s Steve Ulrich and Pink Noise’s Itamar Ziegler played hypnotic, macabre guitar soundscapes followed by the ferociously lyrical retro 60s chamber pop of Joe McGinty and Ward White.

The American String Quartet playing Irving Fine and Robert Sirota’s Triptych at Bargemusic, 4/26/09 – a sinister ride through works by one of the leading lights of the 1950s avant garde followed by a haunting, intense performance of contemporary composer Sirota’s 9/11 suite.

Paul Wallfisch, Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble, Spottiswoode and Steve Wynn at Small Beast at the Delancey, 4/30/09 – after Wallfisch got the night started, Beren roared and scorched her way through a pummeling, macabre set. Then Spottiswoode impressed with a subtle set of nocturnes, setting the stage for Wynn, playing together with his friend and ex-lead guitarist Chris Brokaw for the first time in several years, a feast of swirling, otherworldly guitar overtones.

The Friggs and the Chrome Cranks at Santos Party House, 5/8/09 – a triumphant return for the popular 90s garage girl rockers followed by the equally triumphant, reinvigorated, snarling sonic attack of another one of NYC’s best bands of the 90s.

The French Exit at Local 269, 5/13/09 – NYC’s best new dark rockers playing one of their first shows as a four-piece, rich with reverb, tersely incisive piano, haunting vocals and defiant lyricism.

Chicha Libre on the Rocks Off Concert Cruise Boat, 5/15/09 – definitely the best party of the year that we were party to, a swaying excursion through psychedelic, surfy cumbia music, past and present.

Paul Wallfisch, Darren Gaines & the Key Party and Alice Texas at Small Beast at the Delancey, 6/4/09 – Wallfisch kicked it off, Gaines and a stripped-down trio impressed with gutter-poet, Lou Reed/Tom Waits style rock and then Alice Texas turned in a swirling, incandescent, gently assaultive show that reminded how much we miss Tonic, the club where she used to play before it was torn down t0 put up plastic luxury condos.

Paul Wallfisch, Marni Rice and the Snow at Small Beast at the Delancey, 6/22/09 – another Wallfisch night, this one featuring the great LES accordionist/chanteuse/cabaret scholar and then Pierre de Gaillande’s clever, haunting art-r0ck crew.

Ian Hunter at Rockefeller Park, 6/24/09 – the former Mott the Hoople frontman, at age 70, has simply never written, played, or sung better. This show was a real revelation.

Daniel Bernstein at Sidewalk, 7/9/09 – the underground songwriter/lyricist/tunesmith casually burned through one haunting, haunted, ridiculously catchy tune after another.

Randi Russo and the Oxygen Ponies at the Saltmines, 7/10/09 – another haunting show opened with the absolute master of the outsider anthem, who did double duty playing in Paul Megna’s equally dark, intense, lyrical indie band.

The Main Squeeze Accordion Festival: Musette Explosion, Suspenso del Norte, Hector Del Curto’s Eternal Tango Quintet, the Main Squeeze Orchestra, Roberto Cassan and John Munatore, Liony Parra y la Mega Mafia Tipica and Peter Stan at Pier One, 7/11/09 – squeezebox heaven.

Amir ElSaffar’s Two Rivers Ensemble and the Dave Brubeck Quartet at Damrosch Park, 8/5/09 – cutting-edge Middle Eastern-inflected jazz followed by one of the great ones, undiminished and still inventive at 89.

Jenifer Jackson at Rockwood Music Hall, 11/19/09 – the panstylistic rock goddess played several good New York shows this past year, but this one with Matt Kanelos on piano and glockenspiel and Billy Doughty on drums and melodica was pure transcendence.

Carol Lipnik, Bonfire Madigan, Rachelle Garniez, Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble and McGinty and White at Small Beast at the Delancey, 11/23/09 – what seems at this point to be the single best show of the year (if only because it’s the most recent one on the list) matched Lipnik’s phantasmagoria to Madigan’s equally artful chamber pop, Garniez’ irresistible charisma and ferocity, Beren’s contralto classical punk assault and then Ward White took over where the sirens had been and sang what could have been his best show ever.

December 3, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, Darren Gaines & the Key Party and Alice Texas at the Delancey, NYC 6/4/09

An intimate gathering of cognoscenti were treated to a transcendent trifecta to wind up this season’s Thursday Small Beast shows at the Delancey (the series continues, switching to Mondays on June 22 at 8:30 PM with Paul Wallfisch, the Snow and Marni Rice). Wallfisch was gassed from some obviously rewarding mixing sessions for the latest cd by his darkly intense art-rock band Botanica, opening the set as he always does, solo at the Beast (the 88-key spinet whose nickname spawned this weekly series). This time out the great noir keyboardist (and Little Annie partner-in-crime) aired out a more Americana-inflected bag of tricks, whether the rapidfire cabaret of the Little Annie tune Because You’re Gone, the Botanica number Asia Minor (which is actually an oldschool 60s soul song at heart), the warmly vivid Three Women and then venturing north of the border for a sly, sexy take of Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man.

A stripped-down trio version of Darren Gaines & the Key Party were next and while Wallfisch is a hard act to follow, they were anything but anticlimactic. With his hollowbody guitar providing a delicious, distorted blast of sound, Gaines led the two bandmates he’d brought along – violinist/singer Sara Syms (also of excellent country/roots band Dirty Water) and “lead trombonist” Rick Parker – through a mix of darkly witty, literate songs, mostly from the band’s latest, excellent album My Blacks Don’t Match. The band may play in a very stylized genre  – think every noir style ever invented, from Tom Waits to Lou Reed – yet so much of their material is out-of-the-box imaginative. What was most striking right off the bat were Gaines’ casual, unaffected intensity and offhandedly wry sense of humor. Like Wallfisch, he’s something of a raconteur, musing on some nasty song ideas that came to mind while stuck behind a quartet of sidewalk slowpokes on the way down to the bar from 23rd St. They opened with a roaring version of the caustic The Litterati, a snarling putdown of pretension, following with a worn-down, heartfelt, Steve Wynn-inflected take of She Says She Does, also from the new album. Syms – who sadly didn’t get to contribute piano as she does on the album – matched soaring vocals with terse, edgy violin lines while Parker added a tasteful, even minimalist oldtime saloon blues feel. They wrapped up the set with a handful of bitter “significant other songs,” as Gaines called them, ending with Monday Morning, a long, depressive countryish anthem from his first album Hit Or Miss. As good as this was, one can only imagine how intense the songs would sound with a full band.

Several women have headlined Small Beast this year and have been transcendent – Carol Lipnik, Larkin Grimm, Ingrid Olava in particular. Add Alice Texas to the list. The noir siren has the same kind of petite porcelain beauty as actress Pamela Karp and comes across as something akin to a darker, East Coast Exene: on key, more direct, less free-associative. She’s a reliably good performer but this time out she was extraordinary – maybe her protracted absence from the New York stage had something to do with it. Playing acoustic guitar, she was backed by bassist Kai Eric and Peter Mavrogeorgis, frontman of the excellent Bellmer Dolls – whose show opening for Nick Cave under Madison Square Garden last fall was crazy good –  as well as Wallfisch contributing honkytonk piano on a song, and backing vocals from Liz Tormes – another first-class songwriter – on a couple of numbers including an utterly psychedelic take of Blondie’s Fade Away and Radiate. Mavrogeorgis – one part Don Wilson of the Ventures, one part Daniel Ash from Bauhaus, one part John Andrews of Botanica – simply has never played better, ornamenting the songs with graceful slides, eerie reverberating overtones and the occasional terse, fiery lead. They opened with a couple of Nashville gothic numbers, the second more percussive, featuring a scorchingly gorgeous, melodic guitar solo. Then a couple of Velvets-ish tunes and the highlight of the set, which came toward the end, an insistent anthem titled Oh, My Beautiful, haunting and sweeping with more eerie tremolo-bar guitar.

Small Beast – New York’s edgiest, most exciting weekly musical event, in case you don’t already know it – continues Monday, June 22 at the Delancey, upstairs at around 8:30 PM with Wallfisch, Marni Rice and the Snow, free admission plus a free barbeque on the roof.

June 6, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch and Larkin Grimm at the Delancey, NYC 4/9/09

Steve Nieve had played Wednesday night for megabucks in the West Village. No disrespect to the master of menace from Elvis Costello’s band, but it’s a fair assumption that Botanica keyboardist/frontman Paul Wallfisch’s free show the following evening at his weekly Thursday salon/performance series Small Beast was every bit as good. Both artists shade their songs with a dark luminosity made even more striking when they leaven it with humor, sometimes subtly, sometimes completely over the top. Nieve’s fallback space is the Romantics; Wallfisch is more overtly Chopinesque, going for the eerie Balkan tonality when he has to drive a point home.

 

Last time out he did the Botanica song Someone Else Again and swung it. This time around it scurried, furtively, following by a pounding blues (a Marianne Faithfull cover, perhaps – he’s taken to mischievously covering other artists playing in the same time frame or thereabouts). Then he pulled out the Botanica classic Swimming in the Ocean at Night. Without Christian Bongers’ stately, sepulchral bassline, it was even more gleefully macabre and glimmering than the full-band version on the Botanica vs. the Truth Fish cd (look for that one on our Best Albums of the Decade list at the end of the year), especially when Wallfisch went all pointillistic and shimmery in place of the gently searing John Andrews tremolo-picking on the album. The rest of the set included the Little Annie noir cabaret collaboration Because You’re Gone, a menacing version of Stan Ridgway’s Town Called Fate, a French ballad and finally the quietly resigned anguish of Eleganza and Wines, Wallfisch coming out from behind the 88s as he usually does and giving the crowd a clinic in keeping 7/8 time. The temptation is to take this guy for granted because this is his Beast and he’s here every week. That would be a foolish mistake.

 

Believe everything good you’ve heard about Larkin Grimm. If the measure of a musician is how he or she holds up under duress, Grimm got a month’s worth, fighting relentlessly and finally winning out against an uncharacteristically tough sound mix, the yuppie puppies at the private party in the adjacent room and the impatient crowd of kids who’d found out about the free booze after midnight and packed the place, oblivious to the drama and intensity onstage. Backed only by a harmony vocalist who sang on a few songs, she started out with a single song on dulcimer before switching to acoustic guitar. Her playing is skeletal and minimalistic – it took her almost two long, eight-minute songs before she even changed chords – leaving 95% of the space in her music for vocals. She filled it to the brim, a hypnotically boiling cauldron of anguish, vengeance, insistence and sly wit. In four octaves worth of range, she was darkly austere, soaringly optimistic, savagely confrontational and wrenchingly poignant, often within the span of a single song. Diamanda Galas in her most recent incarnation is the obvious comparison, with all the operatic dramatics, but Grimm has even more nuance and subtlety. And she’s about half Galas’ age.

 

Inscrutable on her chair with her eyes closed, she made her way with what seemed complete effortlessness through a mantra-like chant, an atmospheric lullaby, finally raising the ante with an accusatory number that perhaps fit the bill more than she’d anticipated, telling the crowd she couldn’t hear a thing onstage. Not that anyone would have known. A bluesy, noirish number in the same open tuning she’d been using all night worked its way into exasperation: “Just to prove I still exist, ride that cyclone all night long.”

 

The crowd in front of the stage was riveted, but the party in the back wanted none of it, culminating when some drunken sorority girl began mocking Grimm’s upper-register flights. “This is a song where you can howl at the moon if you like,” retorted Grimm, “a song about killing people,” inspiring the front rows to do an energetic facsimile of her stratospheric vocalese. But the drunk girl wouldn’t shut up. Nor would the yammering drunk guys in line by the door, thirsty for a free shot or two of cachaca.

 

“This is for all you rich boys,” Grimm snarled and then wound up her set with the two best songs of the night, the first a mesmerizing, repetitive song that saw her take a split-second plunge from the heights down to the bottom of her register and land flawlessly, then her ghostly closing cut exploring where “your body is gone but your brain lives on.” Given how impossible it was to turn away from her at this show, one can only wonder what wonders she’s capable of when the monitors are working and she’s in front of a crowd that actually likes music.

 

By the way, Small Beast isn’t usually like this. It’s probably safe to assume that the tourists who brought their inimitable cluelessness to this particular night probably won’t be back – not when instead of being able to holler along to Journey and Taylor Swift, they have to put up with the likes of Paul Wallfisch and Larkin Grimm. 

April 11, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/11/09

New reviews coming very soon: haunting nouveau-Romanticism by Botanica pianist Paul Wallfisch, vengeful vocal intensity from Larkin Grimm, powerful and socially aware jazz by the Gregg August Large Ensemble and tons more. To keep the front page here fresh, as we try to do every day, we continue our top 666 songs of alltime countdown  all the way to #1. Saturday’s song is #473:

The Electric Light Orchestra – Showdown

Not the 1973 British blues-lite hit from the On the Third Day lp – this is the careening, absolutely out-of-control live version the band was playing circa 1977-78, building to a swirling cauldron of noise with all the strings going full tilt right before the last chorus. Then they do it again at the end. Worth digging through the files at limewire or elsewhere: the dodgy sound only enhances the mayhem.

April 11, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment