Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Pistolera Fires On All Cylinders at Joe’s Pub

Of all the excellent rock-en-Español bands in and passing through New York, Pistolera represent the elegant, catchy, tersely literate front. Their energetic, businesslike set at Joe’s Pub last night further cemented that reputation, mixing songs from their three albums which draw equally on ranchera ballads, American powerpop and older, more rustic Mexican styles. Frontwoman Sandra Lilia Velasquez kept her vocals smoldering and low-key for the most part, although she showed off a surprisingly powerful upper register on the most dramatic (and most intensely applauded) song of the night, a big, wounded border ballad. The bassist swung hard through his relentlessly rising, melodic lines as the drummer switched from straight-up, four-on-the-floor rock, adding a funkier edge or a scurrying shuffle beat on several other numbers.

Otherwise, the show was like Very Be Careful (with a better singer) playing Mexican rock. Not that Very Be Careful isn’t a great live band, or that the accordion isn’t a beautiful instrument: in the hands of Pistolera’s Maria Elena (a black belt kickboxer, as it turns out), there was a nonstop river of gorgeously plaintive tones sailing over the punch of the rhythm section. Too bad that other than vocals, that’s all there was in the mix. Pistolera gets their signature sound from the jangle and clang of their guitars, and throughout the set, the lead player was seldom audible and Velasquez hardly ever. Joe’s Pub isn’t known for good sound: this was a new low, and it doesn’t seem to be related to ongoing renovations which have shuffled the tables and bar seating.

But the band didn’t let it phase them. Even without the guitars, Todo Se Cae (Everything Falls Down) was an understatedly potent, anthemic reminder of the precarious state of the world. After alternating several similarly anthemic tunes, notably the irresistible, resolutely bouncy Nueva York (from their new concept album El Desierto Y La Cuidad) alongside a couple of pensive, minor-key laments, they closed with a practically gleeful version of the banda-rock hit Policia. “This is about when I got arrested,” Velasquez smirked, referring to the incident that inspired the song, when she discovered that it’s now illegal in this country for a woman to wear a bullet belt while boarding a flight.

An idea as to how Joe’s Pub might be able to banish the nasty feedback that plagues the PA system here, without turning off the guitars: why not do what the Rockwood Music Hall does? The sound booth at both of the rooms there is up in the rafters, just as it is at Joe’s Pub. But Ken Rockwood’s people operate as a team: in the larger room, the sound engineer tweaks the frequencies while a colleague makes his or her way through the crowd, texting the engineer with any needed modifications. It works like a charm there. Or maybe Joe’s Pub ought to take Rockwood onboard as a consultant: they sure could use him, or somebody like him, right now.

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October 17, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pistolera’s New Album: Catchy Yet Deep

Simple and catchy yet often profoundly poetic, New York janglerock-en-Español band Pistolera’s new album El Desierto y La Ciudad is divided up into an A-side and B-side. Without being polemical, frontwoman/guitarist Sandra Lilia Velasquez contemplates the situation facing immigrants in America, first literally tracing their steps in the desert, then their struggles (and their joy) in New York. Her viewpoint may be Mexican-American, but her songs are universal. The terse, edgy band alongside her includes Maria Elena on accordion and piano, Inca B. Satz on bass and Sebastian Guerrero on drums, with Cordero’s Ani Cordero taking over behind the kit on the hardest-rocking songs.

An often unspoken irony abounds here. It’s front and center on the album’s most confrontational number, the catchy reggaeton-influenced singalong Escucha (Listen). Who’s illegal, Velasquez wants to know. You, me and everybody else, it seems. “Who takes care of your kids? Who cooks your food?…The hypocrisy is killing me,” she sings, in Spanish. The fieriest song here, Todo Se Cae (Everything Falls Down) alludes to the 2008 economic collapse and the current depression; it’s a cautionary tale to seize the moment, hold onto what you have as the foundations are shaking. The bustling subway anthem Laberinto (Labyrinth) projects an unspoken unease – “welcome to the underground life” – but also celebrates a city where there are parks and beaches everywhere, and a train to take you there. And the swaying, reggae-tinged Ponle Frenos (Put on the Brakes) ponders when a hardworking woman, or man, can get some time alone – with an incessant “beep beep beep” chorus.

The “desert side” of the album sets up all this drama artfully: the pensive, syncopated ranchera-rock of Polvo, apprehensively evoking the vastness of the desert and all that it represents; the imaginatively dub-flavored title track, and the mournful diptych that winds up memorably with David Bailis’ potently elegaic, ringing lead guitar, the immigrant knowing that it’s time to leave, that everything good comes to an end. The albums ends with Floating, a pretty, ethereal acoustic anthem and the only English-language track here. With a hallucinatory, dusky vibe, it echoes the Julee Cruise song : “I could walk a hundred miles and still not get there,” Velasquez muses. Not only is this a great listen, this album ought to be mandatory in Spanish classes in American schools. Velasquez’s crystalline, subtly nuanced vocals are easy to understand, the tunes are fun to sing along to – and her lyrics pack a wallop. No doubt you’ll be seeing this on a lot of “best albums of the year” lists by the end of 2011. Pistolera plays the cd release show for this one on July 29 at around 9 at Drom, with excellent country/Brazilian band Nation Beat opening the night at 8. Tickets are ridiculously cheap at $10.

July 17, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 12/31/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #760:

Jaguares – Bajo El Azul de Tu Misterio

Jaguares is what Caifanes – the most popular Mexican rock band of the 80s and 90s – became when frontman/guitarist Saul Hernandez wanted to go in an artsier direction. It was a trajectory that Caifanes had followed steadily, shifting from trebly, Cure-inspired pop-rock anthems to a darker, slower, hallucinatory vibe. This double album from 2000 – one disc recorded live, one in the studio – captures both sides of his songwriting. The live stuff swirls, stalks and roars, all the way through the pensive, hypnotic Las Ratas No Tienen Alas (slang for “And pigs can fly”), De Noche Todos los Gatos son Pardos ((At Night All Cats Are Grey) and the harsh Amarrate a una Escoba y Vuela Lejos (Get on a Broom and Fly Away), the riff-rocking Quisiera Ser Alcohol (I’d Like to Be Alcohol) and the big singalong hits Dime Jaguar (Tell Me Jaguar) and No Dejes Que (Don’t Let…). The studio album sounds like the Church with a string section. The high point is the lushly gorgeous Fin (The End); there’s also the funky, atmospherically trip-hop tune Parapadea; the hypnotic piano-driven Deterrite (Melt), the blazing 2/4 stomper Tu Reino (Your Kingdom) and the symphonic sweep of No Me Culpes (Don’t Blame Me). Although way, way smarter than U2 and trippier than Midnight Oil, fans of those bands will probably enjoy this. Spanish not required. Here’s a random torrent.

December 31, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 10/18/10

This is sort of our weekly, Kasey Kasem-inspired luddite DIY version of a podcast. Every week, we try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone: sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. We’ve designed this as something you can do on your lunch break if you work at a computer (and you have headphones – your boss won’t approve of a lot of this stuff). If you don’t like one of these songs, you can always go on to the next one: every link here will take you to each individual song. As always, the #1 song here will appear on our Best Songs of 2010 list at the end of the year.

1. Norden Bombsight – Altercation

Nightmarish, twisting, turning art-rock anthem, another killer cut from their Pinto cd.

2. Randi Russo – Battle on the Periphery

A 2006 classic, newly streaming on hew new bandcamp site, where you can hear 25 more of the intense rock siren’s songs. Her forthcoming album Fragile Animal promises to be as wild and intense as her 2002 classic Solar Bipolar.

3. LJ Murphy – Another Lesson I Never Learned

Radically yet subtly reworked version of one of the literate, NYC noir rockers’ songs that topped the charts here in 2007. Scroll down for the video

4. Victoire – Cathedral City

Lush, swirling, psychedelic, atmospheric title track to Missy Mazzoli’s art-rock band’s deliriously enjoyable new album.

5. Los Shapis – El Aguajal

Classic surfy Peruvian chicha rock number from the early 70s, re-released on the Roots of Chicha 2 compilation.

6. The Moonlighters – I’m Still in Love with You

Charming, romantic oldtimey harmony swing: cool video by Nina Paley of Mimi & Eunice fame.

7. Benjamin Verdery plays Couperin’s Mysterious Barricades.

The pianist has a Carnegie Hall gig coming up and this is typical.

8. The Mast – Wild Poppies

Smart, edgy, jangly, minimal Randi Russo style literate rock from rocker Haale’s band.

9. Spectrals – Peppermint

The Smiths gone noir – the swishy singer is kind of annoying but the surfy guitar is delicious.

10. The Giving Tree Band – Red Leaves

More tasty retro acoustic Americana from these guys.

October 19, 2010 Posted by | classical music, latin music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/8/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #905:

Los Destellos – Seleccion de Los Destellos

Founded in 1966 by guitarist Enrique Delgado, the “father of cumbia Peruana,” Los Destellos may not have invented chicha music – the woozy, trebly blend of Colombian cumbia, American surf rock and psychedelia – but they were among the first to play it. Of their fifty-plus albums, this one, a sort of greatest-hits anthology with an emphasis on their 1960s catalog – is as good a representation as any. Delgado’s spikily reverb-tinged staccato guitar lines bounce and ping up against tinny electronic organ and a clattering percussion section, blending hypnotic two-chord vamps, surfy pop melodies, folk themes and even a twisted cover of Fur Elise. Virtually every track here is an off-kilter gem: the slinky, haunting El Avispon, the hypnotically catchy Jardin de Amor and Dulce Amor; the surfed-out folksongs Chachita and Otro Ano, the Asian-tinged La China Maria, the chordally delicious Traicionera and Guajira Sicodelica, a bizarrely beautiful twelve-string guitar instrumental drenched in so much reverb that it sounds like Delgado is playing through a chorus box. Although an icon in Peru, Delgado sadly never lived to see the worldwide success a regrouped version of the band would achieve over the last five years, under the direction of his sister and longtime musical director Edith Delgado.

August 8, 2010 Posted by | latin music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Chico Trujillo – Chico de Oro

Chico Trujillo are Chile’s #1 party band – they play soccer stadiums there, where this album has probably already gone oro. Currently on their first American tour, they make their New York debut on June 12 at La Oveja Negra in Astoria and then at Barbes with Chicha Libre on June 13. They spun off of popular punk band La Floripondio, but the undercurrent here isn’t rock, it’s ska – although they play cumbia, the one-two punch of Sebastian Cabezas’ trumpet and Luis Tabilo’s trombone gives the songs here a boisterously oldschool Studio One flavor. There are a lot of different types of cumbias, just like reggae, the genre it most closely resembles and may inevitably eclipse as the world’s most popular party music. Chico Trujillo play pretty much all of them.

They’re kind of like a bigger band version of Chicha Libre (their Barbes Records labelmates), with a slinky groove, twangy reverb guitar and eerie, trebly organ, but more lush arrangements. Likewise, a lot of the songs are mostly instrumental, some of them limited to just vocals on the chorus. The lyrics, such as they have them, are funny, whether kibitzing on the oldschool Conductor, the gonzo vaudeville of La Cosecha de Mujeres (Harvest of Women), the self-explanatory Loca (Crazy Woman) or No Me Busques (Don’t Go Looking for Me).

As it setttles into a slinky, hypnotic sway, the album’s opening track hints that it’s going to go completely noir, but it doesn’t – it’s closer to the psychedelic soundtrack sound that guys like Lee Hazlewood were mining in the late 60s, welded to a vintage Jamaican undercurrent. But guitarist Michael Magliocchetti gets the chance to surf out in tandem with the organ on the boisterous second cut; the third track incorporates echoes of hip-hop along with a rich, lush organ crescendo toward the end. Pollera Amarilla (Chicken Farmer) sends trumpet soaring over that classic, swaying groove, guitar and percussion rattling and cackling ominously in the background. A couple of other songs have a 60s rocksteady feel and happy horns; La Escoba (Sweep) is straight-up ska-punk; Lanzaplatos is a noir bolero rocker, and Los Sabanales sounds like a hyperspeed Mexican ranchera ballad. South America has a long tradition of fertile cross-pollination, which explains why these guys have so many flavors that it’s hard to keep track. The only miss here is a tongue-in-cheek cover of a Marc Anthony hit that’s so awful that even an inspired performance by pretty much everybody in the band can’t redeem it. The album clocks in at almost an hour, with fifteen tracks – they sound like they’re an awful lot of fun live.

June 9, 2010 Posted by | latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Las Rubias del Norte – Ziguala

The new cd by las Rubias del Norte would make a great Bunuel soundtrack. Otherworldly, surreal and frequently haunting bordering on macabre, it’s a characteristically eclectic, syncretic mix of old songs from around the world done as Veracruz’s best musicians might have imagined them circa 1964. Most of the melodies are in minor keys, the perfect backdrop for the sepulchrally soaring harmonies of the band’s two frontwomen, Allyssa Lamb (who’s also the band’s keyboardist) and Emily Hurst. Lamb and Hurst are a lot closer to Stile Antico than Shakira (or Jeanette, who sang the 1976 latin pop classic Porque Te Vas that the band turn into ghostly, organ-driven reggae to open the album). Which the two ought to be, considering that they met as members of the New York Choral Society. As the band’s website aptly points out, the album is more psychedelic rock than latin, “the opposite of Rock en Espanol,” even though most of the lyrics are in perfectly enunciated Spanish.

The title track is a Greek rembetika song with a bluesy, oldtimey gospel verse that gives way to a latinized chorus, followed by a clip-clop clave number a la Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, shuffling along with the muted strokes of Olivier Conan’s cuatro. A slyly levantine-inflected S.D. Burman Bollywood number lights up with Lamb’s eerily twinkling piano and the lushly brisk atmospherics of the Parker String Quartet, while a Brecht-Weill song gets an oversize margarita, a big sombrero and a balmy, slightly Jerry Garcia-ish electric guitar solo from Giancarlo Vulcano.

The rest of the album alternates psychedelia with stately, period-perfect angst and longing. A couple of the songs are dead ringers for Chicha Libre (with whom this band shares two members, Conan and percussionist Timothy Quigley). Navidad Negra turns a Caribbean big band number into cumbia noir, Lamb’s sultry organ passing the torch to Vulcano, who takes a surprisingly biting turn, while the traditional Viva La Fiesta becomes the theme to the saddest party ever. They close with hypnotic, classically inflected tropicalia that throws some welcome shade on the pitch-perfect brightness of the vocals, a Bizet cover bubbling with Lamb and Hurst’s contrapuntal sorcery and a downcast ballad, restrained melancholy over funeral-parlor organ. It’s gentle, scary and beautiful like just about everything else here. Look for this one high on our best albums of 2010 list at the end of December. Las Rubias del Norte play the cd release show for the album this Friday, March 12 at 7:30 PM at Joe’s Pub followed by a midwest tour.

March 10, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

El Grupo del Verano 2008! Chicha Libre Finally Puts Out a CD

This is the cultural artifact of the summer of 2008. It’s the one album released this year that you want to put on if you’re having a party and you want to get everyone’s attention (or impress everybody with your brilliant and eclectic taste): you’ll get plenty of “who’s that?”s. Readers of this space already know plenty about Chicha Libre’s intoxicatingly good live performances at Barbes throughout the past year: now, the party is available for takeout. On their debut cd, Sonido Amazonico, America’s best (and only) chicha band have revived the amazingly danceable, hypnotic, psychedelic sound that was popular in the slums of the Peruvian Andes thirty-five years ago, while adding their own inimitable vision and wit.

Chicha is what resulted when Peruvian bands first heard American surf and psychedelic rock and then added electric instruments, rock arrangements and Caribbean rhythms to their own sound. What Antibalas did with driving, horn-driven African groove music, what Dengue Fever is doing with deliciously psychedelic Cambodian pop, Chicha Libre is doing with chicha. When frontman/cuatro player Olivier Conan first heard the style, he was hooked, to the point where he found himself traveling to South America to track down as many original recordings as he could get his hands on, as well as the elusive musicians who created it. The result was the fascinating anthology The Roots of Chicha, released last year on his label, Barbes Records.

Chicha Libre’s debut mixes instrumentals and vocal numbers, originals as well as deviously crafted cover songs. While in most surf music the guitars carry the melody, in Chicha Libre’s music it’s usually keyboardist Josh Camp’s vintage Hohner Electrovox (a relic from the 70s which is basically an electronic organ with settings that mimic the sound of an accordion) which serves as the lead instrument. In addition to Conan, the rest of the band includes two percussionists, acoustic bass and Barbes co-owner Vincent Douglas playing reverb-drenched, surfy guitar. The result can be haunting, triumphant, celebratory or absolutely mesmerizing, often all in the same song. While just as in surf music, there’s occasional cheese in places, Chicha Libre thankfully tones it down as much as possible. The vocal numbers (in both Spanish and French) are the most overtly humorous songs on the album.

There are so many great songs here. The title track, a hypnotic yet danceable one-chord vamp that builds to a nasty Douglas solo, and Tres Pasajeros, an ominous train-ride theme written by Camp. The amusing Hungry Song plays with the macho posturing found in a lot of latin music. Their cover of the obscure El Borrachito (The Little Drunk Guy) has the narrator asking plaintively in Spanish, “Why are you making fun of me?”

They take the famous Ravel Pavane and chichafy it, breaking it down into dub reggae at one point, then the band starts chanting “pavane, pavane, pavane,” quiet and deadpan in the background while the guitar solos. Indian Summer tips its hat to Serge Gainsbourg in a big way, Conan and las Rubias del Norte frontwoman Allyssa Lamb doing spot-on early 70s ye-ye harmonies over a slinky spy theme. They also cover Hot Butter’s silly synth instrumental hit Popcorn with a sarcastic, punk edge: the Electrovox is out of tune on the highest registers, and there’s a silly bass solo. And then the band adds their own lyrics, a tribute to corn whiskey and weed. The album ends with its best song, a cover of what is probably composer Erik Satie’s signature work, Gnossienne #1 (you’ll recognize it from a million movie soundtracks). As simple as it is macabre, it’s also extremely difficult to play on the piano because Satie deliberately omitted the time signature, leaving the rhythm completely up to whoever’s playing it. Chicha Libre give it a slightly staggered tango pulse, making it as sexy as it is dark. What else is there to say – this is a great album, a must-own if you like psychedelia, right up there with the Vampiros Lesbos soundtrack and Mass in F Minor by the Electric Prunes. Five maduros con queso. The cd is available at better record stores, online and at shows. Chicha Libre play the cd release tonight at Drom at 10; Las Rubias del Norte open the show at 9.

April 4, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Chicha Libre at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 9/29/07

For lack of a better word, an amazing show. The little back room here became a sea of dancing bodies. Chicha Libre play chicha music, a style that originated in Peru in the 1970s which combines indigenous accordion-driven cumbia with American psychedelia, comparable to what Os Mutantes were doing in Brazil a few years earlier but more rock-oriented. Their long set mixed surfy originals from their cd Sonido Amazonico along with obscure covers, about 50/50 instrumentals and vocal numbers sung in Spanish. Like les Sans Culottes or Gaijin A-Go-Go, they’ve lovingly appropriated a genre that must be as foreign to them as American rock was to the artists whose material they cover. It’s not likely that anyone in the band is a native Spanish speaker, but no matter: they make the genre indelibly their own, and at this point in history, it doesn’t seem that they have much if any competition.

Tonight the band had two percussionists, reverb-drenched electric guitar, upright bass, cuatro (a four-stringed, small-bodied acoustic guitar widely used in Latin music) and their not-so-secret weapon Josh Camp running amok with his vintage Hohner Electrovox (an electrified accordion that he played using several different pedals, including tons of reverb and occasional wah-wah to maximize the psychedelic effect). Strangely (or perhaps not so strangely at all), the contemporary band they most closely resemble is virtuoso Finnish surf rockers Laika and the Cosmonauts, particularly their keyboard-driven material. And the mid-60s Ventures at their most far-out, after they’d discovered guitar effects other than reverb. Or imagine a Joe Meek production done under the influence of really good acid. Like Moisturizer, whose BAM Cafe show we just reviewed, Chicha Libre are as hypnotic as they are danceable, the relentless clatter of the percussion and the wild, soaring tones of the Electrovox trading off harmonies with the guitar: for someone lucky enough to have snagged one of the few chairs at the back of the tiny music room here, it was sometimes hard to figure out who was playing since it was practically impossible to see the band through the crowd. Camp’s solos predictably stole the show, including a loudly atmospheric one he took early in the set, and wild, frenetic one toward the end where he used guitar voicings, and with his volume up just to the point where the signal was starting to break up into distortion, he could have been playing one. The band closed with a silly cover of of the 70s novelty hit Popcorn which segued into another cover whose lyrics were something like “chicha de maiz con ganja” – corn whiskey and weed. Pretty apt for a show like this. The audience screamed for an encore, and somebody hollered “Freebird!” To which the cuatro player replied, “This is kind of the same thing.” Then they launched into a long, psychedelic version of Tequila. After a couple of verses they switched to 7/8 time, as if to see if the dancers could figure it out.

And a little post-show googling brought about an epiphany: why does Barbes book such good bands, day in, day out, month after month? Because the guys who own the place are in Chicha Libre! Now it all makes sense.

October 1, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

From the Archives: Nightcrawling 9/23/00

The night began with bluesy trio Gate 18 at the dreaded Orange Bear (a seedy old-man bar downtown in the financial district on Murray St. that hardly ever had anyone there, yet for some inexplicable reason could afford an expensive, state-of-the-art sound system). Instructive how a venue this wretched can still pull a quality act like Gate 18 for a Saturday night show with a $5 cover charge. Indicative of how the proliferation of venues has affected bands that don’t always pack the house. Sad to see frontwoman Lynn Ann (an amazing singer equally at home with searing blues, sultry jazz, twangy country and just plain straight-up rock) being harrassed about the volume of her Gibson Les Paul guitar when she wasn’t actually that loud at all. And she’s a big belter – there was absolutely no reason why the sound guy couldn’t have raised that powerful voice above the volume she was playing at. It was equally annoying to see the band being driven from the stage without giving their extremely enthusiastic audience the encore they were screaming for.

The band did their big college radio hit Nikki’s Tits early in the set, Lynn Ann not even trying to belt it (maybe they’re sick of playing it). The rousing Give Me a Reason, which could be a commercial radio hit, featured bassist Chris Witting playing excellent, melodic fills whenever and wherever he could fit them in. They closed with the swinging cover of the Billie Holiday hit Lover Come Back to Me that they always do. The band seemed in good spirits despite having been treated less than cordially by the club.

The Cooler was our next destination. This venue really shouldn’t exist. It’s on the edge of nowhere in the meatpacking district, draws a crowd of weirdos, is never open when it should be and is owned by someone with a reputation for treating bands – female artists, especially – with disrespect. Said disrespectful owner can’t even find a way to put together his own shows: the bands tonight were assembled by Moonlighters frontwoman Bliss Blood. Too bad the turnout was mediocre at best: perhaps this was a last-minute booking. This time, we’d come out to see the Dimestore Dance Ensemble (the former Devil’s Grimy Ascot, with Jack Martin on guitar), but given how early they’d gone on (10ish), there’s no way we could have made it up from the Orange Bear in time. As it turned out, we got there in time to catch the last song by the excellent bluegrass band Jim & Jennie & the Pine Tops (formerly the Pine Barons – that was before they moved to Pennsylvania from Brooklyn. Go figure). Their stuff fit perfectly on an old-timey bill like this. The Moonlighters followed with a brief, 50-minute set (this band will play all night long if you let them), with a standin standup bass player who was clearly lost when they launched into their best song, Blue and Black-Eyed. It’s a harrowing tale of a prostitute who kills herself by leaping from the fire escape at McGuirk’s Suicide Hall, a notorious early 20th century dive bar known for its suicide jumpers. The tenement that housed it still exists today just south of Houston [not anymore: it’s luxury housing now]. While Bliss Blood didn’t bring the musical saw or the train whistle she played at her most recent show, she did hum along as her second vocalist Carla Murray did a great job with their big audience hit Humming to Myself.

The next act, the Hank Williams Lonesome Cheatin’ Hearts Club Band is a Hank Williams cover band fronted by a young, clean-cut, articulate, educated, possibly very affluent East Coast-bred singer/guitarist who has less in common with Hank Williams than most people. But the band – including a standup bassist, and the Pine Tops’ violin player – is super tight, and it’s impossible to have any complaint about their choice of material. The high point of their set was Ramblin’ Man, which actually gave me the chills. Most sensible people would have called it a night at this point, but not us: we had lost a couple of people from the posse, but a couple of late additions re-energized us and we moved on to Finally Freddie’s around half past one in the morning.

It’s another impossible venue way over on Washington St. a couple of blocks south of 14th. There’s a small bar upstairs, an even smaller one down a flight via a tight, spindly staircase that seems ready to collapse. The bands play in the back of the narrow room, which has benches instead of chairs. But at least the air conditioning was blasting. Too bad the sound was awful, which didn’t help things because the band onstage, Cabana Rock, got very loud in the small space. Their frontman is Cuban-American; their metalish lead guitarist seems to hail from somewhere in Eastern Europe, and their bassist, wherever he’s from, is tremendous (a Latin McCartney, said one of our entourage, rapt). In addition to their two percussionists, they have a rock drummer, a local punk legend who’s played with everybody including the Ramones. He’s very busy, and took a ridiculously long, clattering, Mitch Mitchell style solo that wasn’t exactly right for the venue. But the band was good: while Santana is the obvious comparison, he doesn’t seem to be an influence. They fit in better with the current crop of Mexican rock en espanol stars like Jaguares and Maldita Vecindad, building their songs on folky, sometimes eerie acoustic melodies with psychedelic, electric flourishes and lots of energy. Their best original was a syncopated, swaying number in English called In Your Sanity. They also did a good, boisterous cover of the Beatles’ Why Don’t We Do It In the Road. Since the plan the next day was to get up relatively early in order to get to Hoboken by early afternoon for their annual Arts & Music Festival, I cut out after the band was done instead of stopping at the Fish on the way home for a drink or however many may have followed that.

[postscript: each of the venues here are now defunct, as is every band except Jim & Jennie & the Pine Tops and the Moonlighters. The former have achieved real stardom playing the indie rock circuit and backing Neko Case on her live album; the latter have gone through numerous lineup changes yet seem to get better than ever whenever they bring new blood into the band]

September 23, 2007 Posted by | concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment