Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

James McMurtry Rocks the Bell House

Saturday night at the Bell House, James McMurtry kept switching guitars and then retuning them. More often than not, he didn’t bother to hit his pedal to find the right pitch: he didn’t have to. Although he played a lot of songs on acoustic guitar, this was the rock set. It was just as much about the tunes as the endless torrents of lyrics chronicling the disenfranchised Americans hanging over the line between blue-collar poverty and complete destitution. Forget for a minute how vivid his narratives are, or how memorably he’s captured the silent majority’s endless struggle to claw their way out of the poverty trap: he’s also a mighty interesting guitarist. After several rapidfire verses of Choctaw Bingo, a characteristic, offhandedly savage chronicle of the Oklahoma crystal meth economy, McMurtry and his band left behind the bluesy, Come Together-ish shuffle and let the tune explode in a blast of raw guitar fury straight out of R.L. Burnside. Childish Things swung with a snarling, sour mash-fueled groove, part Stones, part Steve Earle. Too Long in the Wasteland took on a careening desperation. And his best-known song, We Can’t Make It Here, stomped with a hypnotic desert-rock vibe complete with a flange guitar solo before the last chorus. “We were gonna drop this from the set list, but it’s still relevant – which sucks for everybody but us,” McMurtry dryly told the crowd. He was being sarcastic of course: in better times a songwriter of his caliber could fill Madison Square Garden. He’s played the song a million times, yet he doesn’t seem to be sick of it, maybe because the most potent chronicle of the economic devastation left behind by the Bush regime resonates as powerfully today as did five years ago. McMurtry drew a line in the sand and dared any Bush-apologist CEO to cross it:

Some have maxed out all their credit cards
Some are working two jobs and living in cars
Minimum wage won’t pay for a roof
It won’t pay for a drink and you gotta have proof…
Take a part time job at one of your stores
Bet you can’t make it here anymore

The stories, obviously, are what the crowd came out for, and McMurtry gave them plenty. His characters will squeeze a discarded soft pack in the case that the person who tossed it away might not have noticed that there was still a smoke or two inside. They regret the choices they’ve made, the kids they shouldn’t have had, they drink too much and do too many drugs, they think about giving up completely but they never do. Ultimately, McMurtry and his endless parade of the debt-ridden and the angst-ridden are optimists, if only because the idea of doing anything other than carrying on is impossible to imagine. Surprisingly, one of the biggest crowd-pleasers of the night was one of the most subtle, the disarmingly allusive Restless. Other songs went for the jugular: Levelland, with its cruel, almost caricaturish tableau of Midwestern anomie, satellite tv dishes and cover bands playing Smoke on the Water. Ruby and Carlos, done solo acoustic, kept the suspense going all the way through to the end, where the shellshocked veteran from the first gulf war lets the land line ring and misses the call from his long-lost, now-injured ex. And The Lights of Cheyenne glimmered distantly, capturing the casual, occasionally dramatic cruelty of life in small western highwayside towns, and the temptations to throw it all away in a futile shot at escape.

And it was good to kick off the night early with a show by another literate rocker whose narratives are just as vivid and intense. LJ Murphy’s songs chronicle the same parade of characters, albeit in a more urban milieu. At Banjo Jim’s, he and his band ran through a similarly bluesy set full of “cops on horseback, sleeping drunks and men who work three jobs” in a pre-condo era McCarren Park, pink-collar happy hour crowds too clueless to realize how exploited they are, CEOs getting a hard time from the dominatrixes they love so much, and imperfect strangers who never fail to drive away anyone who gets too close.

June 20, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 3/30/11

End of the month for us means a brand new NYC live music calendar. Fukushima be damned, we’re working on a new one, which will be up by Friday. In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #671:

Tom Warnick & the World’s Fair – May I See Some ID

The Raymond Chandler of indie rock, as he’s been called, played a characteristically devious, psychedelic set with his band at the Parkside on Saturday night, actually not drawing much from this 2006 album, generally regarded as his best – although everything the wry, cleverly lyrical, noir-tinged songwriter’s ever done is worth a spin. This one is most notable for the classic 40 People, a vicious swipe at greedy club owners and promoters told from the disheartened point of view of an obscure rocker trying to get a better slot than eleven on a Monday night. It’s also got the Orbisonesque janglerock of Whose Heart Are You Gonna Break Now; the spaghetti western sway of The Wild Bunch; the offhand menace of A Little Space, and the surreal shuffle of the title track, lit up by one of lead guitarist Ross Bonadonna’s trademark, incisive solos. There’s also the obvious but irresistible The Sky Is In Love With You; the eerie, off-kilter gothic stomp One of Us and the potently sarcastic Kissing Stand. It hasn’t made it to the sharelockers yet, but most of it is still streaming at myspace, and it’s up at the usual merchants and cdbaby.

March 30, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 3/29/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #672:

The Dog Show – “Hello, Yes”

Ferociously literate oldschool R&B flavored mod punk rock from this Lower East Side New York supergroup, 2004. Everything the Dog Show – who were sort of New York’s answer to the Jam – put out is worth hearing, if you can find it, including their debut, simply titled “demo,” along with several delicious limited edition ep’s. Frontman Jerome O’Brien and Keith Moon-influenced southpaw drummer Josh Belknap played important roles in legendary kitchen-sink rockers Douce Gimlet; Belknap and melodic bassist Andrew Plonsky were also LJ Murphy’s rhythm section around the time this came out. And explosive lead guitarist Dave Popeck fronted his own “heavy pop” trio, Twin Turbine. O’Brien’s songwriting here runs the gamut from the unrestrained rage of Hold Me Down, the sarcasm of Every Baby Boy, the gorgeous oldschool East Village memoir Halcyon Days – which just sounds better with every passing year – and the tongue-in-cheek, shuffling Everything That You Said. Diamonds and Broken Glass is a snarling, practically epic, bluesy kiss-off; White Continental offers a blistering, early 70s Stonesy let’s-get-out-of-here theme. Too obscure to make it to the sharelockers yet, the whole album is still streaming at myspace.

March 29, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 3/2/11

Thank you Google for changing your algorithm, all the ad sites are supposedly dying and we’re feeling a boost. New NYC live music calendar coming sometime today – we PROMISE. In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #699:

Paula Carino – Open on Sunday

Our pick for best album of 2010, it’s a cool, sometimes icy, sometimes velvety beautiful janglerock masterpiece, with some of the most clever lyrics of any rock record in recent years. Carino markets herself as part of the indie camp when she’s actually more of a missing link between vintage Chrissie Hynde and Richard Thompson, a deviously witty, wry observer who never fails to find some gallows humor in tough situations. This is a brooding yet occasionally hilarious concept album of sorts about dissolving relationships and what they leave in their wake. It’s got her best song, the poignantly metaphorical countrypolitan ballad Lucky in Love; the wry rockabilly-tinged Saying Grace Before the Movie; the wickedly catchy, minor-key rocker The Great Depression; and the gently swaying, rueful With the Bathwater – “It’s been raining since that day I threw your Nick Drake tapes away” – while The Road to Hell perfectly captures the exasperation that came before. There’s also the Rod Serling-esque Robots Helping Robots, the even more sinister The Others, and the irresistibly funny, rhythmically tricky Rough Guide with its faux-latin guitar. It hasn’t made it to the sharelockers but the whole thing is streaming at myspace (be careful, you have to reload the page after each song or else you’ll be assaulted by a loud audio ad), and it’s also up at cdbaby.

March 2, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Toneballs Bounce Around the Parkside

For those who’re going to miss out on Elvis Costello’s November 1 show at the Greene Space – most likely a whole lot of people – the Toneballs’ show Friday night to a packed house at the Parkside made a suitable substitute. Frontman Dan Sallitt is somewhat younger but shares a similarly cynical worldview and a love for double entendres. Where Costello draws on American soul and the Beatles, Sallitt looks back to Richard Thompson, Big Star and lot of powerpop. This time out the band – Sallitt on acoustic guitar and vocals; Love Camp 7’s Dann Baker on bass; Paul McKenzie on lead guitar and Beefstock mastermind Joe Filosa, king of the rock backbeat, behind the kit – mixed several slow, hypnotic ballads in with the ridiculously catchy, tension-laden, new wave style hits. They opened with Fran Goes to School, a tongue-in-cheek look at a recluse slowly making her way into the world. Mr. Insensitive, unlike what the title implies, is sarcastic, a stunner of a kiss-off song and one of Sallitt’s previous band Blow This Nightclub’s best-remembered moments: “Hoping for a revelation, settling for a change…a figment of my alcoholic brain, til then I remain, Mr. Insensitive.”

A newer one, Chelsea Clinton Knows, brought the savagery to boiling point: she knows people are bad, so all she has to do is make sure daddy turns up the sanctions. And if she has a kid she hopes it’s a boy. They followed that with a slow, noirish, suspenseful 6/8 number with McKenzie on lapsteel. One of Sallitt’s most effective devices is to hint at a resolution and then turn away at the last second, something the chord changes did all the way through another old Blow This Nightclub number, a sardonic one that looks forward to the future “because it will be fun, not like now.” Their obligatory Richard Thompson cover – they debut a new one at every show – was Hand of Kindness, complete with absolutely perfect, rivetingly intense lead guitar breaks from McKenzie. He didn’t turn a newer one, the fiery, chromatic Max Planck’s Day, into as much of a guitar workout as he did last time around, but it still resonated, a sardonic mix of physics and unrequited love. They closed on a more playful note with a Hawaiian-themed co-write between Sallitt and Baker, whose melodic four-string lines had soared and simmered all night long and were just as compelling as McKenzie’s pyrotechnics.

October 26, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/3/10

Happy birthday Alicia!

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #849:

Aimee Mann – Lost in Space

We’re trying to limit this list to one album per artist, so this was a really tough call. Aimee Mann is one of the few who’s literally never made a bad one. We picked this because it’s so consistently intense and tuneful, although you could say that about just about everything else she’s done other than the Christmas albums. The fans’ choice is the Magnolia soundtrack, a dynamite album; the critics’ pick tends to be her solo debut, Whatever, from 1993 (a solidly good effort, but one she’d quickly surpass – goes to show how much they know, huh?). Many other songwriters would have made this 2002 concept album about addiction and rehab mawkish and self-absorbed: not this woman. Mann sings the bitter anguish of the richly George Harrisonesque Humpty Dumpty, the savage cynicism of This Is How It Goes and Guys Like Me (Mann still venting at clueless corporate record label types after all these years) and the rich levels of Invisible Ink with a vivid, wounded nuance over seamless, carefully crafted, tersely played midtempo rock changes. It winds up just as intensely as it began with the venom of The Moth and the bitter, downcast It’s Not, reminding that after all this, all the perfect drugs and superheroes still won’t be enough to pull its narrator up from zero. Clinical depression has seldom been more evocatively or memorably portrayed. Here’s a random torrent.

October 3, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/1/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #851:

The Oxygen Ponies – Harmony Handgrenade

This album is about love under an occupation. Recorded during the last months of the Bush regime, it’s an attempt to reconcile the search for some sort of transcendence with the need to overthrow the enemy. Savagely lyrical, swirling and psychedelic, the New York art-rockers’ second cd was one of the great albums of 2009. Frontman Paul Megna offers Leonard Cohen-inflected menace through the eyes of a metaphorical, suicidal messenger on the skeletally crescendoing Love Yr Way; savages suburban smugness with the garage rock of Fevered Cyclones and the backhanded, sarcastic The War Is Over, and evokes the great Australian art-rockers the Church on the desperate, titanic anthem Finger Trigger: “Anything to dissipate the grey skies falling.” A vivid portrayal of a time and place that nobody who lived through it wants to remember. What is it that happens to those who can’t remember the past? So far this one hasn’t made it to the share sites; it’s still available from the band, whose follow-up is due out in a few months and reputedly maintains the power of this one.

October 1, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/27/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #855:

Florence Dore – Perfect City

These days she’s a Kent State professor, a Faulkner scholar and author of The Novel and the Obscene: Sexual Subjects in American Modernism (Stanford University Press, 2005) which makes the somewhat iconoclastic argument that early 20th century American writers’ embrace of forbidden subjects lagged behind the loosening of prudish obscenity laws. She was also the cool professor on the NYU campus in 2001 when she was playing clubs and released this, her only solo album (which she didn’t tell even her students about until late in the semester). Produced by Eric “Roscoe” Ambel and backed by a terrific, jangly Americana rock band featuring Chris Erikson on electric guitar, Scott Yoder on bass and the Smithereens’ Dennis Diken on drums, she runs through a tuneful, tersely literate mix of upbeat janglerockers and quieter, more country-tinged fare lit up by her honey-and-vinegar Nashville twang. There’s the unaffectedly gripping country ballad Early World (the most captivating song ever written about job-hunting in higher education); the raw, riff-rocking title track and the even rawer, early Who-style Framed; the absurdly catchy Americana pop of Everything I Dreamed; the sad, elegaic Wintertown (a sort of prayer for closure for the Kent State massacre); the brooding No Nashville and its vividly evocative dysfunctional family hell; and Christmas, arguably the finest, saddest and most satisfying December kiss-off song ever written. The original album has been out of print for years, although there are still used copies floating around, and amazon still has it as a download.

September 28, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/24/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #858:

Paula Carino – Aquacade

Seven years after her solo debut came out, the former frontwoman of popular indie rockers Regular Einstein remains a titan among New York rock songwriters. With her cool, nuanced voice like a spun silk umbrella on a windswept beach, her catchy, distantly Pretenders-inflected janglerock melodies and fiercely witty, literate lyrics, Carino ranks with Richard Thompson, Aimee Mann and Elvis Costello as one of the world’s great lyrical tunesmiths. She never met a pun or a double entendre she could resist, has a thing for odd time signatures and wields a stun-gun bullshit detector. This was one of the great albums of 2003 and it remains a classic. Pensive, watery miniatures like the title track lurk side by side with the mordantly metric cautionary tale Discovering Fire, the offhandedly savage Stockholm Syndrome and Guru Glut and the wistful, richly evocative sound-movie Summer’s Over. The symbolism goes deep and icy on the deceptively upbeat Tip of the Iceberg; Venus Records immortalizes a legendary New York used record store and remains the most charming love song to a prized vinyl album ever (that one’s loaded with symbolism too). The high point of the cd  is Paleoclimatology, a resolutely clanging masterpiece that will resonate with anyone longing to escape a past buried beneath “ancient snow that wrecked tyrannosaurus.” Carino’s 2010 album Open on Sunday is far darker yet still imbued with a similar wit: look for it high on our Best Albums of 2010 list at the end of the year. This one long since sold out its run of physical copies, although it’s still available online at emusic and all the other mp3 spots.

September 23, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Krista Detor’s Chocolate Paper Suites Are Dark and Delicious

Krista Detor’s album Chocolate Paper Suites has been out for awhile this year – but who’s counting. It’s a dark lyrical feast. Images and symbols rain down in a phantasmagorical torrent and then reappear when least expected – and the pictures they paint pack a wallop. This is first and foremost a headphone album: casual listening will get you nowhere with her. Detor’s carefully modulated alto vocals land somewhere between Aimee Mann and Paula Carino over a bed of tastefully artsy piano-based midtempo rock/pop that downplays the lyrics’ frequent offhand menace. While Detor sings in character, a bitterness and a weariness connects the dots between the album’s five three-song suites. Allusion is everything; most of the action is off-camera and every image that makes it into the picture is loaded. Not exactly bland adult contemporary fare.

The first suite is Oranges Fall Like Rain. The opening track swirls hypnotic and Beatlesque, essentially a one-chord backbeat vamp in the same vein as the Church. Detor’s heavy symbolism sets the stage: a green umbrella, the rich guy in the title pulling out a knife to cut the orange, a desire for a “white car driving up to the sun.” Its second part, Lorca in Barcelona mingles surreal, death-fixated imagery with a dark, tango-tinged chorus. Its conclusion is savage, a rail against not only the dying of the light but any death of intelligence:

Poetry is dead, Delilah said,
Maybe in a pocket somewhere in Prague
That’s all that’s left of it
Are you a good dog?

The Night Light triptych puts a relationship’s last painful days on the autopsy table. Its first segment, Night Light – Dazzling is an Aimee Mann ripoff but a very good one, its slowly swinging acoustic guitar shuffle painting an offhandedly scathing portrait, a snide party scene where the entitled antagonist acts out to the point where the fire department comes. What they’re doing there, of course, is never stated. Night Light – All to Do with the Moon is a stargazer’s lament, all loaded imagery: “It’s the synchronous orbit that blinds my view.” It ends with the slow, embittered, oldtimey shades of Teeter-Totter on a Star, Mama Cass as done by Lianne Smith, maybe. The Madness of Love trio aims for a sultry acoustic funk vibe, with mixed results. Its high point is the concluding segment, gospel as seen though a minimalistic lens, the narrator regretting her caustic I-told-you-so to her heartbroken pal, even though she knows she’s right.

By Any Other Name opens with a pensive reflection on time forever lost, Joni Mitchell meets noir 60s folk-pop; set to a plaintive violin-and-piano arrangement, its second segment is another killer mystery track, a couple out on a romantic two-seater bicycle ride with some unexpected distractions. The final suite was written as part of the Darwin Songhouse, a series of songs on themes related to Charles Darwin: a very funny if somewhat macabre-tinged oldtimey swing number told from the point of view of an unreconstructed creationist; a live concert version of a long Irish-flavored ballad that quietly and matter-of-factly casts the idea of divine predestination as diabolical hell, and a lullaby. New Yorkers can experience Detor’s unique craftsmanship and understatedly beautiful voice live at City Winery on October 18.

September 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment