Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Last True Small Beast?

Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch, creator of the Small Beast concert series at the Delancey – New York’s most cutting-edge, exciting and important rock event – played his final set at the club Monday night, since he’s moving to host another Small Beast in Dortmund, Germany. Sharing a characteristically rich bill with Wallfisch were ”cemetery and western” crooner Mark Sinnis, cello rockers Blues in Space and Wallfisch’s longtime co-conspirator Little Annie Bandez.

All of these acts get a lot of ink here. Sinnis played a terse duo show on acoustic guitar, backed by the reliably extraordinary Susan Mitchell on gypsy-tinged violin. His trademark Nashville gothic material went over as well with the crowd gathered at the bar as the blast of air conditioning flowing from the back of the upstairs space did. The two mixed up creepily quiet and more upbeat songs from Sinnis’ new album The Night’s Last Tomorrow along with older ones like the hypnotic, vintage Carl Perkins-flavored That’s Why I Won’t Love You.

Blues in Space featured composer/frontman Rubin Kodheli playing electric cello, accompanied by eight-string guitar and drums. Hearing their swirling, chromatically charged, metal-spiced instrumentals up close (the band set up on the floor in front of the stage) was like being inside a cyclotron, witnessing the dawn and decay of one new element after another. And yet the compositions were lushly melodic, especially an unselfconsciously catchy new one which was basically just a good pop song arranged for dark chamber-rock trio. Kodheli fretted afterward that he wanted to take special care not to sound “bombastic,” something he shouldn’t worry about. A little bombast actually wouldn’t have hurt.

After Blues in Space, Wallfisch made the long wait for his set worthwhile. Small Beast is his baby, and as much passion as he put into it, it obviously wasn’t easy to let it go. As much as he didn’t hold back – the guy is one of the most charismatic frontmen in any style of music – he also didn’t go over the top, letting his songs speak for themselves. And they spoke volumes: his glimmering solo piano arrangement of the Paul Bowles poem Etiquette, and his closing number, Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man, equal parts seduction and anguish. “One and a half years, it seems like a lifetime ago,” he mused, which makes sense: in that short span of time, Small Beast in its own way took its place in the history of music in New York alongside CBGB, Minton’s and Carnegie Hall.

In between, Little Annie joined him for flickering, torchy, regret-steeped versions of Jacques Brel’s If You Go Away (interrupted by a posse of drunken tourists barreling down the stairs and past the stage, oblivious to the moment), the reliably amusing anti-trendoid anthem Cutesy Bootsies, a genuinely wrenching requiem for a suicide titled Dear John, and an apt encore of It Was a Very Good Year. Annie is reliably hilarious; tonight she was just as preoccupied. And who can blame her (she goes on tour with Baby Dee in late summer/early fall).

As for the future of Small Beast, the Delancey’s Dana McDonald has committed her ongoing support (she’s no dummy – being known for running a club that books smart music is always a plus, no matter how much more moronic the world of corporate and indie rock gets). Vera Beren – a rare bandleader who can match Wallfisch pound for pound in terms of charisma – hosts next week’s Beast on July 12, featuring her band along with ambient, minimalist synth goths Sullen Serenade and ornate, artsy Italian/New York 80s-style goth band the Spiritual Bat.

Advertisements

July 7, 2010 Posted by | concert, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Big Small Beast

The big show happened at the Orensanz Center Friday night. Because the night had to end before midnight, it was like the Rolling Stones Revue, 2010 style: everybody got short sets but made the most of them. Spottiswoode opened, solo on piano. He’s never sounded better. He has a musical theatre production coming up in the fall and if the trio of brand-new songs he played are any indication, it ought to be good. Intense and pensive, he began with a gospel flavored number, following with one of the best songs of the whole night, a bitter, brooding wee-hours tableau possibly titled Wall of Shame. He then dedicated a passionate ballad to a pretty, short-haired brunette in the crowd named Nicole: “I would follow you to Philadelphia,” he intoned.

Barbez have never sounded better either – their set was amazing, maybe the best of the entire night, an offhanded reminder of how brilliant this band is. Even more impressive, when you consider that their van had just been broken into the previous night, most of their gear stolen (Williamsburg bands beware – this is the second one in two days). This was their instrumental set, all minor keys, erasing all cross-country and cross-genre borders with perfect effortlessness. Guitarist Dan Kaufman led the band into a Balkan surf groove in 7/8 time, building to a squall with the clarinet going full blast, down to a masterfully nuanced passage featuring the marimba, then bringing it up again and ending it cold. The next one had a tango flavor, more prominent marimba and tricky rhythms. After that, they worked down from a furious gallop to atmospherics and then more tango, then started the next one with an ominously funereal, minimalist rumble that picked up in a rawtoned Savage Republic vein, ending with a creepy, carnivalesque waltz.

Since Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch had booked the night, he was pulling triple duty onstage, his first set of the night being with his longtime sparring partner Little Annie Bandez. This was the cd release show for their new one, Genderful, arguably the high point of their career together up to now. The crowd was silent, rapt, amazed – as a raconteur, Bandez has no equal, but since time was tight she kept the songs tight and terse and absolutely haunting, beginning with Wallfisch on guitar and backed by the full band on a wistful, sad version of Billy Martin Requiem, a tribute not only to the fallen Yankee skipper but also that era’s AIDS casualties. “Thirty years in business to learn a word like ‘monitor,'” she joked as soundman Marco, on loan from the Delancey, made some expert adjustments (big up to Marco by the way – the sound was outstanding all night). The wee-hours lament Suitcase Full of Secrets was poignant and loaded with understatement, on the wings of Heather Pauuwe’s violin; they closed with a brand-new song, Dear John, a requiem for a suicide. Bandez looked up, then around at the majestic synagogue facade behind the stage and did a slow, thoughtful 360, leading the crowd’s eyes just as she’d led their ears.

Bee and Flower have been conspicuously absent from the New York stage, but they haven’t lost a step. Frontwoman/bassist Dana Schechter began their all-too-brief set as chanteuse, swaying and playing shakers on a particularly haunting version of the slowly sweeping, characteristically cinematic minor-key 6/8 anthem Homeland. They picked up the pace briefly with a bouncy number that saw lead guitarist Lynn Wright (leader of the amazing And the Wiremen) swooping on his low E string to provide a second bassline against Schechter’s slinky groove. Switching pensively from tango inflections to starlit wonder to a pounding, hypnotically intense version of Twin Stars, a standout track from their first album, the only thing missing was the epic suspense film for which the songs would have made the perfect score.

The crowd peaked for Botanica, who were serenaded on and then offstage, from the balcony overhead, with the exquisive and otherworldly Balkan vocals of two completely unamplified singers, Black Sea Hotel’s Corinna Snyder and her equally haunting pal Kelly. Wallfisch had just played keys for Bee and Flower, so he switched to his battered Wurlitzer-and-organ combo and then went into a zone. Guitarist John Andrews blasted out wild Dick Dale-style tremolo-picked passages, playing through a skin-peeling cloud of reverb and delay. He also sang what might have been the best song of the whole night, the menacing art-rock epic Xmas, opening with just guitar and vocals for a Beatlesque verse, finally exploding with a crash on the second chorus. Their opener, the title track to their new album Who You Are (whose release was also being celebrated this evening) moved from stately menace to unaffected, longing angst; La Valse Magnetique, sort of the title track to their previous studio cd, featured more insane surf guitar and a very pregnant pause. Monster surf met Elvis Costello on a pointed, relentless version of the gypsy-punk Witness. There were other acts on the bill, but after a set like this, anything that followed it would have been anticlimactic – after five bands, maybe more (this is just the highlights), it was time to take a break and enjoy what was left of the early summer evening outside.

So sold as we were on this show (in case you were away, we plugged it shamelessly for a week), it pretty much delivered on its promise. The weekly Small Beast concert upstairs at the Delancey – from which this sprang – is the closest thing we have these days in New York to what CBGB was in the 70s, or what Tonic was from 1995 to 2005: the most fertile, fearlessly imaginative rock and rock-oriented scene in town. And from a blogger’s perspective, it’s a dream come true – for the price of a few hours worth of an otherwise fairly useless Monday, it’s an absurdly easy way to keep in touch with some of the world’s most vital rock and rock-oriented acts. Shame on the other Manhattan venues for not doing something like this on a Saturday and promoting it to a wider audience.

May 24, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Little Annie and Paul Wallfisch – Genderful

Little Annie AKA Annie Bandez embodies the definition of a cult artist. She’s been called “the white Eartha Kitt” and she does highly sought-after, colorfully trippy Frida Kahlo-influenced paintings. Something of a legend in New York’s underground music scene, she’s best known as a torchy noir cabaret singer whose smoky contralto and hilariously free-associative live shows have earned her an avid worldwide following, notably in Europe. She’s been making records since the 80s when she collaborated with everyone from famous dub producer Adrian Sherwood to ambient goth band This Mortal Coil. There’s nobody in the world better at September songs than Little Annie. This cd, her second collaboration with Botanica’s extraordinary keyboardist Paul Wallfisch is infused with characteristically dadaesque wit and a rich lyricism, and more luxuriant than her stage show. The duo used their the studio time to create a considerably lush, chamber-pop ambience, judiciously adding strings and brass in places along with frequently otherworldly layers of keyboards. It’s the best album of Annie’s shapeshifting career, and one of the best of this year.

The offhand classic here is Cutesy Bootsies, a savagely satirical anti-trendoid broadside set to a jaunty ragtime tune:

We do not read the papers because they are depressing
And they’re full of words we do not understand …
We’re not so much as boring, more like bland
And when we’re not spending money we’re running off to yoga

Talking loudly on our cellphones making plans…
Don’t hate us because we’re stunning, just because we’ve got you running
And your homes will now be ours to renovate
And it’s like it never happened, no tears will be shedding
As you’re quietly evicted to your fate

We’ll take Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island
Oh what the hell we’ll take Brooklyn too…
We squeal because we’re witty and we’re conquering your city
And we shake our Bootsy Collins in the sand

The elegaic feel rises to a crescendo on several of the songs, even as they’re imbued with a very dark humor. Set to a Wallfisch trip-hop guitar groove, Billy Martin Requiem eulogizes a better New York time and place where the Yankees won even as the Bronx burned, the boys partied along the Chelsea Piers like it would never end, and a star like Sylvester could be discovered riding the subway in his feathers and boa. Echoing with eerie Omnichord synthesizer, Tomorrow Will Be riffs on what we have to look forward to, whether it be t-cells going through the roof…or permanent summer, with no shade. The most intense of all of these, Because You’re Gone pulses with understated anguish on waves of austere strings, trumpet entering mournfully on the last verse. And the stately, soul-infused Carried Away memorializes someone who reached for the bottle instead of the stars.

The rest of the album is often devastatingly funny. Zexy Zen Zage, a live showstopper, comments on new age charlatanism (Annie can spot one a mile away – she’s also a minister). In the Bar Womb is all torchy wee-hours ambience through a bemused cabernet squint. And The God Song thanks a higher power for being “Teddy Pendergrass on a Friday night!” The cd is already out in Europe; the duo celebrate its US release at the Big Small Beast at the Angel Orensanz Foundation on Norfolk St. on the LES this Friday, May 21 – the show starts at 6:30 with an hour of free beer beginning at 7; Annie and Paul will probably hit the stage at around eight. But you should show up for the whole night.

May 19, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Free Beer and the Best New York Rock Show of 2010 – the Big Small Beast, Friday, May 21

The Big Small Beast happens at the Angel Orensanz Foundation, 172 Norfolk St. on the Lower East Side on Friday, May 21. It might be the best New York concert of 2010- and it starts with free good-quality Magic Hat beer for an hour if you have a ticket. Which alone might or might not make it the year’s best rock and rock-oriented show. Performing (in order) are Lapis Lazuli, Spottiswoode, Services, Barbez, Little Annie and Paul Wallfisch, Black Sea Hotel, Bee and Flower, Botanica, Savoir Adore and Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson. We spoke with Wallfisch, who’s doing quadruple duty, playing with Bee and Flower (whose keyboardist Rod Miller stayed in Berlin after the band’s sojourn there), Little Annie and Botanica (whose new album Who You Are is enjoying its official release) as well as curating the whole thing.

Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: Are tickets still available?

Paul Wallfisch: Yes – you never know how long they’re gonna last. You can get them at the bar at the Delancey after 5 PM on any day, or at Other Music [15 E 4th St. just west of Lafayette]-, or ticketweb, (866) 468-7619. Seven bands, plus free beer from 7 to 8, plus an extra show, for $20. Music starts right away at 6:30, and after the show with a ticket you get free admission to the afterparty at the Delancey at midnight with the debut performance of Hallelujah, who are a 50/50 mixture of the Fever and the Flesh. Other Music – let’s hear it for Other Music! – is giving $3 off cds by all the Big Small Beast artists through May 21, plus the first two people who buy a pair of Big Small Beast tickets at other music get a free copy of the new Botanica cd Who You Are.

LCC: Is there a theme to the night or is this basically just an unusually good multiple-band bill?

PW: The theme is the eclecticism of what makes New York great. The artists range in age from twenties to fifties, but all produce unique music – dance, electronica, rock, instrumental, art-song. Most bills try to be as homogenous as possible. And many bands seeems to be more concerned with finding a retro musical niche to conveniently pilfer. That’s not the case here. And despite the incredible diversity of sounds, there’s at least a tenuous personal connection running through the entire lineup. Besides that, in curating the Small Beast at the Delancey on Monday nights and this Big Beast, I always try to get away from a focus on the singer-songwriter strumming the guitar. So that’s a theme – as little of that shit as possible. And the irony would be embedded in the intelligent lyrics and not the posturing of the performers. We’ve got that here too.

LCC: As someone who, other than putting together the weekly Small Beast show, is a working musician rather than a promoter, give us your perspective of the acts on the bill.

PW: In lieu of a dj, Lapis Lazuli will serenade the crowd as they enter. That’s Kurt Wolf – Pussy Galore, Boss Hog and Foetus are his pedigree. Go to lapislazulimusic.com to see one of the kick-ass best music websites ever!  He’ll offer us between-act soundscapes as well. Spottiswoode is next, then Services.

LCC: Services used to be Flux Information Sciences, right?

PW: That’s correct. Trztn, from Services co-wrote and produced two songs that Karen O sang in Where the Wild Things Are. Then Barbez are going to play, then I’ll be playing with Little Annie…

LCC: The two of you have a new album, Genderful, just out, is that right?

PW: Yes, in fact this is the cd release for Genderful, the first day it will be available. It came out in the UK about a week ago. Andrew W.K. appears on it; Martin Wenk from Calexico also plays trumpet on one song as well as doing the same on Botanica’s new album. It’s also the cd release show for Botanica’s new album Who You Are, which will be available on limited edition white vinyl – it’s available at all the usual places like itunes and amazon.com but this will be Botanica’s first US release, stateside, in ten years, believe it or not. The official release date is May 25; you can pre-order it now.

LCC: Bee and Flower are playing after Little Annie, they haven’t played a US show in ages.

PW: This will be the only US show by Bee and Flower this year – their only 2009 show was at the Small Beast. In fact, this is the original B&F lineup, plus I’ll be playing keyboards, plus Danny Tunick from Barbez on drums. Black Sea Hotel will serenade the audience from the balcony before and after.

LCC: I really enjoy Black Sea Hotel’s otherworldly Balkan vocal music, but I don’t know the headliners, what can you tell us about them?

PW: Savoir Adore are a couple from Brooklyn, signed to the same label as MGMT. They sold out the Mercury last time they played there. They have a certain Stereolab quality, a pleasant chamberpoppy thing – but not like Vampire Weekend at all. Miles just made two really good records, he’s the youngest guy on the bill and the most oldfashioned fella of all of them. He has something of that plaintive yet thick sound that Black Heart Procession can muster at their finest, and also a Velvets thing, but more like their soul-informed moments. But really doesn’t sound like any of that – primarily due to his unique voice.

LCC: I’m amazed by the sheer number of good bands on the bill. Is everybody going to play a short set a la the Rollling Stones Revue, 1964?

PW: We have a soundscape by Lapis Lazuli, 45 minutes apiece from two headliners, about a half hour for everybody else, short sets from Services and Spottiswoode. The music and bar stops at 11:30: the Delancey is just around the corner, everybody’s invited to the afterparty there.

LCC: Why the Angel Orensanz Foundation? Do you really think that a crowd who’re used to old warehouse spaces and dingy former bodega basements will appreciate the old-world haunted-mansion beauty of this converted synagogue?

PW: No disrespect to, say, Cake Shop or Lit Lounge, but there’s such an element of struggle for bands, with little reward, that I thought it would be great to put on a “local” show in the best local venue possible, a venue we can all be excited about inhabiting for a few hours. Visually and sonically, the Angel Orensanz Foundation is such a spectacular place. We all settle for less so often that I think the beauty of the venue alone will inspire audience and artists to come together for a particularly special night. The venue, being one of the last examples standing of the hundreds of Lower East Side synagogues, is a great place to celebrate a night of timeless New York music. I’m an atheist, but the institution of religion has given us a lot of beauty over the ages.

LCC: Is this show, the Big Beast, the logical extreme to which the Small Beast can be taken? Or do you envision a Beaststock or Beastaroo at some point? Beast on the River? Beastsplash?

PW: Lollapabeasta! I can’t believe I’ve become an impresario. There will be a monthly Small Beast Germany for nine months while I’m over there – and maybe a one-off Small Beast in select cities – Paris, Berlin, London, Istanbul, possibly. Attractive as it is, it’s killing me. I’m being devoured by my own beast, I feel like Dr. Frankenstein, I’m being swallowed whole by my own Beast! Although I do derive a lot of pleasure from the evenings.

LCC: What reality tv stars will be there? What do we tell all the Lindsay Lohan wannabes out there who’re debating whether or not to get a ticket to the show because they don’t know if they’ll be able to tweet about all the celebrities they brushed elbows with on the way out of the bathroom?

PW: I like Lindsay Lohan! People have told me that celebrities come to the Small Beast. I wouldn’t know. I never recognize anybody.

May 9, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Greg Garing at the Delancey, NYC 1/4/10

The Monday night Small Beast show at the Delancey being New York’s most brazen display of good songs and good chops, the parade of talent that’s come through here over the last eight months or so far exceeds anything any other club in town has seen over that span of time. As far as pure talent is concerned, Greg Garing tops the list – and for anyone who was lucky enough to catch his solo show last night, that’s no disrespect to any of the other artists who’ve played here. If you can imagine Willie Nelson if his drug of choice was moonshine instead of pot, you’d be on the right track. Garing is the kind of artist who inhabits his songs – it’s impossible to separate him from them, seeing as he practically goes into a trance and becomes them. His guitar virtuosity, soulful terseness and stylistic chops are unsurpassed, matching a jazzy Chet Atkins-gone-punk countrypolitan feel along with a seemingly effortless whirlwind of flatpicking on a couple of bluegrass numbers, along with some judicious blues and country gospel work. As when Black Sea Hotel played a couple of weeks ago, the room was silent, absolutely rapt. Garing may have a four-octave vocal range – from Tennessee Ernie Ford bass to a falsetto and a heartwarming blue yodel – but he used all of those devices subtly. It would not be an overstatement to mention him in the same sentence as Jimmie Rodgers. And while he did play a few covers – a brisk, unadorned Deep Ellem Blues, a slowly smoldering take of the blues How Long and a Jerry Lee Lewis barrelhouse romp through Real Wild One (he also played pretty amazing piano on that one and a brief ragtime number that he seemed to make up on the spot), it was his originals that resonated most intensely.

The biggest crowdpleaser was a gentle ballad, a reflection on how nature has no preference for any season, with the refrain “We’ll be happy once again.” With the mercury outside below twenty, this hit the spot, along with a beautifully heartfelt gospel-inflected number possibly titled Teardrops Falling in the Snow. One of the more upbeat numbers sounded like a Hasil Adkins song; he also did a resonant cover of the #1 country single of 1968, the politically charged Skip a Rope, written by his old friend Henson Cargill. Garing admitted as his set got underway that he’s “a lucky boy,” having played with several original members of the Grand Old Opry as well as bluegrass legend Jimmy Martin (Garing was reputedly the only sideman that Martin would allow to drink with him, maybe because he could). And some years later, as leader of the Alphabet City Opry, he jumpstarted a fertile New York country scene that’s still going strong almost fifteen years down the road.

Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch played mostly solo on piano beforehand, covering Leonard Cohen, Serge Gainsbourg and then, with Bellmer Dolls frontman Peter Mavrogeorgis on guitar, the Stooges’ Gimme Danger (Paul sang) and a spine-tingling noir version of She Cried ( a Del Shannon cover that Peter, who sang, discovered via the late Roland S. Howard ). Wallfisch’s longtime onstage sparring partner Little Annie also contributed characteristically charming, smoky vocals on songs by Jacques Brel and Leon Russell.

Before Wallfisch, a boyfriend/girlfriend duo called the Pinky Somethings [wasn’t really paying attention] opened the night with carefree if barely competent covers of a lot of good songs: Warren Zevon, John Prine, George Jones, more John Prine. This is how you start out, playing your favorites. If they keep it up and reach the point where they’re writing songs like the ones they like so much, they’ll be really good too.

January 5, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Strange Girls Sing: Rachelle Garniez, Carol Lipnik and Little Annie at Galapagos, Brooklyn NY 12/9/09

The concert was billed as “Strange Girls Sing.” Which was something of a misnomer. Rachelle Garniez, Carol Lipnik and Little Annie aren’t really that strange at all, they’re just a reminder – and a harbinger – of an era where quality rather than trendiness or effeteness is celebrated. The way Galapagos is set up, it holds only a fraction of the people a similar warehouse-sized club would, yet all the same it was heartwarming to see all the pods and tables fill up as the night got underway. People, there is a renaissance in bloom and this particular evening was a prime example.

Rachelle Garniez never plays anything remotely the same way twice. Part steampunk goddess, part noir cabaret chanteuse, she’s just about the most quotable performer out there – yeah, she’s been reviewed here a few times before, but that’s because she always makes good copy. She took the stage solo with her accordion. “It must be nice to be an ice queen, colder than ice cream but not as sweet,” she mused. “This little song is about hypothermia…when hypothermia sets in, everything begins to look wonderful.” With that, she launched into the swinging country anthem January Wind, its blithe, Hank Williams-esque tune belying the anguish of the lyrics.

After that, she went into a digression about frogs, how their hibernation so closely resembles a death state, and how some of them ooze a chemical with psychedelic properties. And followed that with the bluesy Medicine Man, squeaky vocalese giving way to the out-of-control orgasmic wailing on the album version – but only for a little while. Then she switched to piano and lit into an Asian melody that gradually took shape and became the tongue-in-cheek yet viscerally poignant letdown anthem After the Afterparty. My House of Peace, her most recent single on Jack White’s label, made a good contrast with its carefree barrelhouse stomp, but the atmosphere turned ominously warmer quickly with the snide apocalypse anthem The Best Revenge, ending with characteristically understated drama, a little boy cluelessly enjoying himself while the thermometer rises yet another notch. She encored on accordion with the single most scathing song of the night, People Like You, as much a tribute to a dangerous, infinitely more interesting New York gone forever as it is savage dismissal of the clueless, pampered children and their developer collaborators whose attempts to turn the city into a suburban mall town have been tragically successful. “You could sleep on Rockaway Beach,” she related. “Back in the day they didn’t have SPF in suntan lotion – a handful of sand from Rockaway Beach from back in the day would hook you up with your minimum RDA.” And then launched into the song’s breezy Rickie Lee Jones swing.  In the middle, she sarcastically imagined sitting across from a member of the permanent-tourist class: “I like you in spite of those times you were looking over my shoulder to see if there was someone more important in the room.”

Carol Lipnik’s roots are similar, and her phantasmagorical, carnivalesque songs often take on a defiantly freakish, punk edge, but lately she’s been equal parts sideshow siren and mystic (notably in her ongoing collaboration with John Kelly). This time out she brought along a reverb pedal which she’d hit when she really wanted to drive a crescendo home, when the uppermost reaches of her four-octave  range weren’t enough. Backing her was the reliably gripping Dred Scott on piano, in particularly terse mode – as adventurous as his own darkly tinged jazz compositions can be, he held back to what was necessary and in doing that left a powerful mark.  Lipnik opened with the noir waltz Last Dance and immediately took the energy level to redline, vocalizing a lightning-fast, Coltrane-esque melisma somewhere in the stratosphere. Scott, dressed in his best Raymond Chandler coat and fedora, brought considerable suspense to a newer number, My Firefly. The rest of Lipnik’s happily hourlong set alternated between an offhanded savagery – as in the casually eerie drowning anthem When I Was a Mermaid – and rapt, soulful ecstasy, subdued a bit with considerable gentleness on the hypnotic Two-Headed Calf. It may be headed for the museum tomorrow, Lipnik related, “But tonight it is alive and in the north field with its mother.” She wound up the set with the utterly macabre Cuckoo Bird, Scott playing minor against major for the first verse, and then an audience-participation version of the Michael Hurley (and more recently, Cat Power) cult classic Werewolf, coming down in front of the stage to lead the crowd in a gleeful howl-along.

“You know the sad clown? I’m the opposite. Crying on the outside, laughing on the inside,” Little Annie explained (not surprisingly, Garniez has described herself the exact same way). Annie and her longtime conspirator, Botanica keyboardist Paul Wallfisch had just returned from another European tour, and she was running on endorphins, creating a carnival of soul that would only get more dadaesque as the evening went on, and it did, for over an hour. With her contralto growl, she’s been described as something akin to a white Eartha Kitt, and she was dressed for the part in perfectly matching black skirt, heels, hat and shimmery black jacket. “Tomorrow we’ll all have wines and we’ll all be fine…Lenox Avenue, Coney Island and Istanbul will all be rolled into one,” she explained in a rapidfire rap number that could be her version of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. Her peppy little beachside tableau where people “shake their Bootsy Collins in the sand” revealed itself as a vicious anti-trendoid diatribe about wealthy New York newcomers “speaking loudly on their cellphones making plans…we do not read the papers because they’re depressing and we do not understand.”

The rest of the show mixed several requiems with a varying tongue-in-cheek quality along with a long digression about the karmic consequences of reporting misbehaving cabbies to the Taxi and Limousine Commission, a little straight-up noir cabaret (the Kid Congo Powers collaboration Good Ship Nasty Queen) and another rap number, Wallfisch taking a rare opportunity to play acoustic guitar onstage and proving as incisive as he is on piano. Annie marveled at the shaggy carpet that was making her work twice as hard when she kicked up her heels: “If I had a bedroom this is what I’d put on the floor.”

“You have a bedroom?” Wallfisch seemed surprised.

“No, that’s for people who sleep,” Annie replied, and then they resumed the show with a gospel-inflected number, more noir cabaret, a cover of the old pop standard Smile, the offhandedly defiant post-rehab broadside The Other Side of Heartache, a segue into Strange Love and by now it was past midnight and nobody had left.

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

Concert Review: Thomas Truax, Paul Wallfisch and Little Annie, and David J Survive CMJ at the Delancey, NYC 10/22/09

It wasn’t as bad as that: actually, it was transcendent. It’s hard to imagine a better bill in this year’s CMJ atrocity exhibition than Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch’s entrant, part of his weekly salon/extravaganza, Small Beast. Lots of talent on this bill: Pamelia Kurstin and Spottiswoode had played early in the evening. By ten, Thomas Truax had taken the stage, solo, accompanied by a couple of his Rube Goldberg-esque inventions, the Hornicator and something else whose name is lost to memory. It was something of a triumphant homecoming for the songwriter, now based in London but once a denizen of the late, lamented Tonic scene and a popular attraction here. He has a new album of songs from David Lynch films out, and played a handful of these, often leaping from the stage with his acoustic guitar and darting through the audience, Reverend Vince Anderson style. The best was a haunting version of the Orbison classic In Dreams, swaying along on the pulse of the Hornicator and its primitive echo/reverb effect. For an encore, with Wallfisch on piano, he tossed off a viscerally evil, feedback-driven version of I Put a Spell on You. Let’s hope he brings his menace back sometime sooner rather than later.

Wallfisch, joined by erstwhile Big Lazy bassist Paul Dugan and Botanica violinist Heather Paauwe, then ran through an especially passionate set of new material, surprises and covers, beginning with a knowing, cautionary tale affirming that “nothing is still too much,” set to a crescendoing five-note descending progression. Their cover of the Leonard Cohen classic I’m Your Man channeled a sultry triumph; the centerpiece of Botanica’s forthcoming album Who You Are had a similar exalted feel, albeit infused with classic gospel in place of classic soul. The quasi-official Small Beast theme, Eleganza and Wines was nothing short of exhilarating, Wallfisch effortlessly kicking out a Chopinesque solo before leading the crowd in a brief lesson in 7/8 time. After an angst-fueled Because You’re Gone, he then invited his longtime noir cabaret cohort Little Annie – who wrote it – up to do it again, infusing it with even more gravitas. But then she flipped the script with a brief, characteristically bitingly funny take of her post-rehab narrative The Other Side of Heartache: “If I could have invented an original sin, I would have and shared it with all of you,” the punk rock Eartha Kitt confided to the crowd.

Then they brought up David J. Over the past 25 years, the Bauhaus bassist has built a rich, stylistically diverse body of work that overshadows what he did with his original band. Without his bass, he embraced the role of noir crooner, sinking his fangs into the songs with unabashed relish, imbuing them with equal parts ominous deviousness and offhandedly snarling wit (he can be very funny – a few years ago he did a hilarious cover of Madonna’s What It’s Like for a Girl). He turned an LCD Soundsystem number into Orbisonesque pop, evinced every bit of gleeful menace as he could from Tom Waits’ Dead and Lovely and turned St. James Infirmary into a carnival of dead souls. Boulevard of Broken Dreams was as old-world phantasmagorical as it could have been: at the end, he finally let the audience know that “Bela Lugoi’s dead,” as close as he would come to a Bauhaus song. His lone original of the night, a new one titled Bloodsucker Blues was a caustic dismissal of twelve-step idiocy; he closed with an almost sadistic stalker cover of New York Telephone Conversation, finding yet another level of meaning in what was already a completely tongue-in-cheek lyric. There were other bands on afterward – this was a CMJ event, after all – but by then it was one in the morning and time to find an alternative to the now-dormant F train (FYI – after midnight when the F stops running, the J and M from Delancey will connect you with other trains at both Canal and Fulton). Small Beast returns with Wallfisch and another equally haunting rocker, Randi Russo on November 2 at 9.

October 24, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Typical Beastly Monday

So good to be back at Small Beast after a few weeks’ absence. Nothing has changed – New York’s most unpredictably fun weekly musical event was as edgy as always. This time around, Pete Galub opened the night while Botanica keyboardist and Small Beast impresario Paul Wallfisch furiously wrote out charts for his show later in the evening with Sally Norvell. Most solo shows are boring to the extreme, but Galub had brought along a gorgeous hollowbody electric guitar and gave a clinic in powerpop songwriting – and when the time came, guitar solos, playing along methodically as if he had his usual band behind him. Galub gets props for his playing, and deservedly so, but his songs are every bit as clever as his work as a lead guitarist for a cavalcade of A-list writers: Amy Allison, Serena Jost and others. He opened with a sardonic, Big Star inflected number possibly titled Exclusive Guest, following that with a gorgeously poignant, minor-key, somewhat Neil Finn-esque tune, Crying Time. A cover of the late former LA Trash frontman Alan Andrews‘ big 6/8 ballad Undiscovered Life maintained the poignant tone while adding a tongue-in-cheek vibe, segueing into a nasty, noisy riff-rocker that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Kevin Salem catalog – complete with an offhandedly savage solo. And then a real surprise, a pensive and heartfelt version of Any Major Dude by Steely Dan. When Galub opened his set, he’d hinted that he might take a detour into the Dan catalog, and this was a typically counterintuitive choice. Most solo shows are a clinic in how to bore an audience: Galub reaffirmed that if you have the chops, the material and a sense of humor, you don’t necessarily need a band.

Guitarist Thomas Simon and his drummer cohort were next on the bill, with a long set of swirling, atmospheric, effects-laden numbers that took the shape of a suite as they segued into one another. “A Spacemen 3 kind of thing,” one of the cognoscenti in the crowd murmured – this set had remarkably more aggression than Simon’s previous appearance at the Beast in July (very favorably reviewed here).

For one reason or another the women who play Small Beast turn out to be the night’s biggest stars, and an Austin punk legend, former Gator Family and Norvells frontwoman Sally Norvell maintained the tradition, backed by Wallfisch and erstwhile Big Lazy bassist Paul Dugan on a few numbers. Norvell is best known as a menacing noir cabaret femme fatale, but this set was a showcase in stylistic diversity, masterful subtlety matched by wrenching, raw intensity. Norvell can belt with anyone, but it’s how she holds back, how she works whatever emotion the lyrics call for that makes her such a captivating presence – and one sorely missed, at least around these parts. A few years back, right around the time that her duo with Kid Congo Powers, Congo Norvell was pretty much finished, she put out an amazing, sparsely beautiful album, Choking Victim, backed just by Wallfisch and occasional minimalist percussion or guitar. They opened with one of the songs from that one, One Gentle Thing, replete with longing and regret, Wallfisch obviously in his element and relishing the moment from its first few stately chords. A creepy, swaying Congo Norvell song pulsed along with a steady, ominous eight-note pulse from the bass. And then noir cabaret personality Little Annie joined them for an understatedly anguished version of her big audience hit Because You’re Gone – the contrast of Annie’s bitter contralto and Norvell’s breathy soprano, and the counterpoint between the two, was absolutely transcendent and the two women made it seem effortless. And unaffectly intense – it brought Norvell to tears. The rest of the set could have been anticlimactic but it wasn’t – a brief, menacing Paul Bowles song (Wallfisch worked with him for a time), a sad minor ballad in 6/8, a gorgeously dark lament, and then Norvell finally cut loose with a soaring version of the old spiritual Trouble in the World, imbuing it with a nihilistic fury. “You can’t have an apocalypse without Jesus,” she grinned gleefully.

Keyboardist and Americana soul stylist Matt Kanelos and then another keyb guy, frequent Thalia Zedek collaborator M.G. Lederman were scheduled to follow, but there were places to go and things to do. Next week’s Beast is a beauty, with Julia Kent, Carol Lipnik and Rebecca Cherry in addition to Wallfisch doing his usual set solo at the piano – if you’re in New York this coming Monday you’d be crazy to miss it.

October 7, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, Lillie Jayne, Alice Texas and We Intersect at the Delancey, NYC 8/24/09

Small Beast #31 (could that be?) was at least from this perspective a little sad yet ultimately optimistic, equal parts fond evocation of a lost time in New York music history and auspicious preview of the future. With the depression in full swing, many of the rock clubs here still prefer to book acts numbering among the idle rich. But with the market for “luxury” housing in freefall and the crowds of tourists who once swarmed like flies on the carcass of the Lower East Side largely absent, we’re getting our city back and with it the music of its dark underbelly. Last night was beautiful example.

Ten years ago, both Small Beast impresario Paul Wallfisch’s band Botanica and also Alice Texas made Tonic their home when they weren’t on the road. But Tonic closed in 2006, driven out by rising rents: the building site is now a shoddy, mostly vacant multimillion-dollar Legoland condo project. But with Small Beast on Monday nights (moving to Thursdays in September) upstairs at the Delancey, Tonic has been reborn. Once again, New York has a home for fearless, dark, adventurous rock and related styles. Wallfisch, with his blend of gypsy, Romantic, blues and gospel piano, gets a ton of ink here so suffice it to say that last night’s show was typical. His bad mood from the previous week hadn’t dissipated, and this was a solo show, without the ringer percussionist who’d stood in with him, representing the youngest generation of rock fans (who stand to inherit an impoverished, probably vastly more dangerous yet also probably vastly more fertile scene than has ever existed here). “Why do you want to fight when you can fuck all night? I cleared the room!” Wallfisch added gleefully, as the logic of one of the whores in the Botanica song Shira & Sofia sent a posse of overdressed, fake-tanned bridge-and-tunnel girls stumbling up the stairs on their once-a-week high heels to the rooftop barbecue. In a set that went on barely a half-hour, he veered from seduction to wrath to regret, covering Leonard Cohen,Marianne Faithfull and his longtime noir cabaret partner Little Annie.

He was followed by a brief set by actress and Glass Lamborghini frontwoman Lillie Jayne and her pianist “Fagen Beauregard” performing songs from her current Fringe Festival show A Night with Poppy Bulova. Channeling an obliviously self-obsessed Eastern European chanteuse, the obviousness of some of the comedy at least proved how well Jayne has assimilated the style. A living legend takes herself seriously, after all – except at the end, this one didn’t, which was the funniest part of the act. Her show runs through August 29 at the CSV Cultural and Educational Center at 107 Suffolk Street.

Alice Texas’ show here back in June was transcendent. This time out wasn’t bad either, especially considering that she was essentially backed by Botanica, or portions of various Botanicas: Dave Berger on drums, Wallfisch on piano and Christian Bongers on a gorgeous vintage 60s hollowbody bass. It was a considerably different set, more upbeat, giving the noir Americana chanteuse the chance to cut loose and really wail on a couple of numbers. She led the band into a long, mesmerizing Moonlight-mile style outro and kept going. It was obvious that the crew wasn’t particularly well-rehearsed, not because they made mistakes – these guys are pros, after all. But she made it clear that she was the only one who knew when it was going to stop, keeping the suspense on a knife’s edge. Then she did it again on one of the later numbers, giving Wallfisch another, welcome chance to get expansive. They closed with maybe the most hypnotic song of the night, Permission, a beautifully relentless post-Velvets dirge.

We Intersect is the side project of the Sad Little Stars‘ Rachel McIntosh and Max Low. With their insistent, pitch-perfect harmonies and Americana-inflected melodies, they played an hour of alternately warm and wary Pete’s Candy Store piano pop (to those outside New York, Pete’s Candy Store is the little Brooklyn bar that spawned a million country and bluegrass-inflected indie acts back in the 90s and early zeros). McIntosh added gently ambient layers of synth on occasion alongside Low’s smartly chordal piano work. They opened with a deadpan version of the Ramones’ The KKK Took My Baby Away, eventually did an impressive and understatedly fresh version of Big Star’s terminally overplayed 13 and at the end of the set, a suitably haunted take of the Smiths’ There Is a Light That Never Goes Out. But the originals were the best, one an upbeat 6/8 gospelish number, a couple of pensive ballads and a matter-of-factly delivered nocturne: “You dim the lights when you’ve arrived,” the two sang with a meticulous certainty.

August 25, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, Little Annie and the Miren at the Delancey, NYC 5/28/09

After next Thursday’s show (6/4/09 with Alice Texas and Darren Gaines & the Key Party), Small Beast will be moving from Thursdays to Mondays upstairs at the Delancey starting June 22 for the rest of the summer, then back to Thursdays in the fall. The official explanation is too many conflicts with private parties scheduled in the upstairs space: too many clueless tourists completely baffled and possibly annoyed by music far too edgy for the average New Jersey suburbanite is probably closer to the truth. More about that later.

As regular readers and Beastophiles know by heart, Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch opened the show as usual, solo on piano, fiery and intense as always. You never know what you’re going to get, week in, week out. This time the set was rich with songs from recent Botanica albums along with a fast take on Wallfisch’s cohort, smoky-voiced noir cabaret singer/personality/legend Little Annie’s Because You’re Gone. Eventually he brought up the drummer from the Miren, the next act, for what’s become the Small Beast theme, Eleganza and Wines. Without missing a 7/8 beat, the guy added a triphop vibe, bringing out every bit of slinkiness and sexiness in the album version (there are two, from Berlin Hi-Fi, the second with a string quartet). Even though the room was pretty empty, Wallfisch couldn’t resist coming out from behind the Beast (in tune, as it has been lately, a particularly pleasant development) and leading the crowd in a clapalong in an odd tempo. If the tourists hadn’t all gone straight up to the bar on the roof, there no doubt would have been some odd looks – we’re getting to that.

The next act, the Miren, an avant-jazz trio utilizing sax, guitar, both upright and electric bass and drums, were great fun. Their first song sounded like Morphine gone post-bop, bassist Ben Miller wailing on some big chords. The next piece layered trippy guitar effects over a 6/8 groove; after that, Miller switched to electric bass for a murky mood piece, then a growling, lumbering King Crimson-inflected number with squealing sax. Their last number set James Blood Ulmer-inflected fractured blues to a strolling, bass-driven 6/8 beat. This was their debut gig together, and Miller intimated that this might also be their last. If that’s true, that’s too bad.

Then Wallfisch brought up Annie, looking “very Chanel,” as the petite chanteuse noted sarcastically from behind a big floppy hat and huge onyx earrings. She’d been stuck in traffic and was obviously perturbed: “Apparently if you live in midtown, everybody thinks you’re a tourist now.” Her cab driver had tried to sleazily cajole her into letting him take her via a lengthy detour up Sixth Avenue, so she’d put a quick stop to that. “The television in the back of the cab looked like William Burroughs put it together,” she groused, noting how expensive a distraction it could be for unwary passengers. When it comes to September songs, Little Annie is the standard of the world, and she brought out several, casting shadows against Wallfisch’s vividly shiny, coloristic piano. Beside You, Beside Myself was characteristically pensive; Before You Got Carried Away, a requiem, played up the black-humor angle. Her obviously autobiographical, aptly amusing catalog of bad behavior, The Other Side of Heartache was pretty straight-up this time out. As the set went on, the volume of tourists passing on their way to the stairs picked up, including a couple of openly derisive fratboys (the same thing had happened to the equally formidable Larkin Grimm a few weeks ago). “I’m gonna shoot you and then beat your ass,” Annie threatened. The heckling continued from the bathroom. Annie stopped, mid-song and looked around, exasperated. “Honey…I can’t do this,” she said to Wallfisch.

“That’s ok,” he replied calmly. The duo took a few seconds’ breather and then kept going. Eventually one of the goons returned and mumbled an apology.

Annie would have no part of it. “Are you in the service? Did you get dishonorably discharged?” Finally, she forgave the fool, who retreated to the rooftop CEO’s-and-secretary-ho’s party. From there the mood brightened; the crowd, such that there was – Annie’s sold out two consecutive shows at Joe’s Pub and is a star in Europe, but apparently those crowds don’t venture below Houston – screamed for an encore and were rewarded with a tongue-in-cheek, festively beachy number.   

Those curious as to what Small Beast is all about can read all the Lucid Culture reviews of past shows. This being New York’s edgiest weekly music series, this is our usual Thursday night destination – until we switch to Mondays, which will be great because then that frees up Thursdays for other stuff for us, at least until the fall. Come out on June 4 at around 9 and see what you’ve been missing.

May 30, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment