Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Erica Smith Brings Her Poignant, Spectacular Voice and Eclectically Shattering Songs to the East Village

Erica Smith is one of New York’s most distinctive and often harrowing voices in folk noir and Americana. But even in this city, Smith’s ability to shift effortlessly from style to style is pretty spectacular. In addition to performing her own music, she’s currently a member of both the Richard Thompson cover group the Shootout Band – in which she puts her own stamp on Linda Thompson’s vocals – and also the explosive gospel-rock band Lizzie and the Sinners. Smith can belt a blues ballad or deliver a plaintive Appalachian narrative with anyone. And she’s also a versatile jazz stylist. Her latest album, a jazz recording with her band the 99 Cent Dreams, is One for My Baby, streaming at Spotify. She’s got a gig coming up on an excellent twinbill at Hifi Bar on May 10 at 7:30 PM; similarly lyrical and somewhat sunnier Americana singer Rebecca Turner follows at around 8:30 PM.

There’s a tragic backstory here: as it turned out, this was the final recording by the great New York drummer Dave Campbell. Perhaps best known for his serpentine, turn-on-a-dime work with psychedelic rock band Love Camp 7, Campbell was also a terrific swing jazz player with a flair for Brazilian grooves, which comes across vividly on the more upbeat tunes here. This is a collection of counterintuitive versions of standards recorded with rock band instrumentation – electric guitar, bass, drums and Leif Arntzen’s soulful muted trumpet on two numbers – along with an obscure treasure by one of this era’s great lit-rock songwriters. It opens with The Very Thought of You, where Smith distinguishes her version from the famous Billie Holliday take with her inscrutable delivery, growing more playfully optimistic as she goes along. Guitarist Dann Baker (also of Love Camp 7) mashes up Barney Kessel and Wes Montgomery as he follows Smith’s emotional trajectory.

Interestingly, there are a couple of songs commonly associated with Sinatra here. Smith does I Could Write a Book as ebullient, optimistic swing: the song feels like it’s about jump out of its shoes, but Smith holds it in check over a slightly ahead-of-the-beat bassline And she does the title track a tad faster than the Ol’ Blue Eyes original, echoing the bartender’s desire to call it a night as much as the wee-hours angst of the lyrics, Baker with her every step of the way through an alternately woozy and vividly brooding interpretation.

She does Rodgers and Hart’s It Never Entered My Mind as lingering, noir-tinged torch jazz, Baker’s gracefully stately chordal ballet in tandem with Campbell’s tersely slinky 6/8 groove. Smith’s careful, minutely jeweled, woundedly expressive vocals mine every ounce of ironic, biting subtext in the lyrics. Ain’t Misbehavin’ gets a hushed low-key swing treatment that builds to coyly nonchalant optimism, Arntzen’s trumpet following suit.

Campbell’s artfully acrobatic tumble opens Everything I’ve Got as an altered bossa before the band swings it by the tail, Smith leading the group on a long upward trajectory that far outpaces the Blossom Dearie original. The album’s most shattering track is a desolate, rainswept take of Cry Me a River, Baker shifting Kessel’s lingering lines further into the shadows over Campbell’s low-key, sepulchrally minimalistic brushwork. The band does the first recorded version of Livia Hoffman’s Valentine as a slow swing tune: “What are childhood crushes for? For crushing all your dreams forevermore,” Smith intones in a knowing, wounded mezzo-soprano. The album winds up with a wryly good-naturedly suspenseful, rainforest-swing solo take of Campbell’s drums on Everything I’ve Got: just wait til the hip-hop nation finds out that this exists. Throughout the record, Smith’s disarmingly direct, imaginative, emotionally vivid phrasing breathes new life into songs that other singers sometimes phone in, reason alone to give this a spin if classic jazz is your thing.

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May 8, 2016 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 7/27/09

We do this every Tuesday. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere.  Every link here except for #1 will take you to each individual song.

1. Livia Hoffman – Friday

This is one of those great “finally the weekend’s here” numbers that manages not to be trite. Watch this space for upcoming live dates – this one’s unreleased.

2. Curtis Eller – Sugar in My Coffin

One of the great NYC rockers of this era – it just happens that the banjo is his axe. “The drinks are getting weaker with every round they serve.” He’s at Banjo Jim’s on 7/30 at 10

3. The French Exit – Bones & Matches

Typically haunting, wrenching, eventually explosive lament from NYC’s best noir rock crew. They’re at Local 269, 269 E Houston at 9 on 7/29

4. The Brooklyn What – For the Best

Characteristically snarling, smart punkish song from their first album (their new ep Gentrification Rock is killer too).  They’re at Don Pedro’s on 8/7 on an amazing bill with Escarioka, Palmyra Delran and others.

5. Rescue Bird – Montauk

Catchy, artsy country tune with an autoharp and glockenspiel! They’re at Spikehill on 7/30 at 8.

6. Carrie Clark – Josephine

Smartly soaring, Rachelle Garniez-esque oldtimey cabaret song. She’s at Spikehill on 7/30 at 9

7. Andrea Wittgens – Everything Is Relative to You

Clever, catchy, Greta Gertler-ish artsy piano pop tune. She’s at Spikehill on 7/30 at 11

8. Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens – What Have You Done

Killer minor-key oldschool gospel tune. They’re at Prospect Park Bandshell on 7/30 at 7:30 opening for Burning Spear

9. Rev. Vince Anderson – Don’t Think Jesus

Country music as liberation theology dating from the waning days of the Bush regime. He’s at at 55 Bar on 7/31 at 10.

10. Ansambl Mastika – Gde si Bre

Characteristicaly wild horn-diven Balkan dance. They’re at Mehanata on 7/30 at 9.

July 28, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 7/20/09

We do this every Tuesday. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Every link here except for one will take you to each individual song.

1. Livia Hoffman – All My Imaginary Children

Bitter, brittle and brilliant. And unreleased – you’ll have to see this one live, assuming the underground rock legend keeps coming out of her lair to play it. It’s a fan favorite.

2. Mickey Wynne – All Quiet on the Eastern Frontier

Absolutely spot-on, darkly bluesy critique of war profiteering, Bush and Tony Blair-style. Roger Waters would approve.

3. Sabrosa Purr – One Weak Moment

Hypnotic and sad in a Sparklehorse kind of way

4. Billy Magee – The Happy Song

NOT. But it’s funny. He’s from the Statues of Liberty.

5. The Hellblinki Sextet – Indelicate Brew

Deliciously ominous oldtimey noir cabaret from this excellent, totally original Asheville, North Carolina band.

6. Romashka – Shimdiggy

Characteristically fiery balkan dance instrumental. They’re at Pier One on the upper West on 8/9 at 7 PM.

7. Skelter – Lucifer Sam

Classic Pink Floyd cover, not quite up to the True West version but pretty awesome anyway.

8. Mazarkabul – Behind the Veil

Classic Turkish metal. And here’s a cover of Fear of the Dark by Iron Maiden.

9. Lisa Burns – When You Walk in the Room

Irresistible Jackie DeShannon cover, totally retro 60s style.

10. The Whiskey Daredevils – Mickey’s Big Mouth

Barroom rock. “A six of Mickey’s Big Mouth and a half ounce of weed. I’ve got Mickey’s Big Mouth on ice, a buck ninety nine!” Scroll down the page and you’ll see it.

July 21, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Beefstock Recipes

Every few years, somebody tries to put out an anthology that captures a time and place in New York rock history. Too bad it never seems to work. The two Live at CBGB albums (which now sell for hundreds of dollars apiece) were perfect examples, forgettable songs by forgotten bands whose only claim to fame was playing a club that pretty much everybody else was playing too. While a definitive anthology of the best current New York bands would require a hefty, unwieldy box set, we finally have a collection, the improbably titled Beefstock Recipes, which succeeds brilliantly at capturing some of the most original and exciting New York bands of the here-and-now. All the artists represented on the cd have played the annual upstate Beefstock music festival at one time or another, many on multiple occasions. Originally conceived as a one-off memorial concert for bassist Darren Bohan, who was murdered when the Twin Towers were detonated on 9/11, the first show (put together by Brooklyn jam band Plastic Beef, hence the name), was so successful that they did another one the next year, and the next, and…voila. Beefstock Nine is scheduled for sometime in early spring 2010.

 

In the Beefstock tradition, the album is divided into two cds, titled Afternoon and Evening – typically, the quieter, acoustic acts and singer-songwriters play the festival during daylight hours, followed by the rock bands at night. It opens on an auspicious note with Brooklyn Is (So Big), Americana songwriter Rebecca Turner’s lilting tribute to the borough that spawned most of the bands here: “Brooklyn is so big, because it has to hold a lot of beautiful songs.” There’s a rare version of the Erica Smith classic The World Is Full of Pretty Girls with the chanteuse backed by Plastic Beef, doing it as straight-up country by comparison to the lush American Beauty-style take on her Snowblind album. Spindale contribute a catchy, fun dreampop number, followed by a rare, bizarre eco-anthem set to the tune of an old Lutheran hymn by 60s cult artist Brute Force.

 

Kirsten Williams, a rare American songwriter who’s equally capable of writing and singing in French, contributes the vividly wary, characteristically terse Arsenal. The most current of the cuts here, Paranoid Larry’s Stimulate THIS is an amusingly spot-on interpretation of Obama’s stimulus package: “They’re sitting in their castles while we’re rotting in debtors’ prison.” There’s also You-Shaped Hole in the Universe, Livia Hoffman’s haunting tribute to Bohan, her bandmate and close friend, and the aptly environmentalist Sunset by solar-powered band Solar Punch, winding up the first cd with some richly melodic work by bassist Andy Mattina.

 

But it’s disc two where things really heat up. The John Sharples Band’s ecstatic anthem Brooklyn sets it up for the Gun Club/Cramps-style noir garage intensity of Tom Warnick & World’s Fair’s Skull and Crossbones. Black Death’s Abandoned Cemetery is a rousing death-metal spoof; Liza & the WonderWheels’ Where’s My Robot Maid continues in a similar tongue-in-cheek vein, frontwoman Liza Garelik wondering in lush, rich tones about when her household deus ex machina is going to arrive. Skelter’s Dawn Marie is one of the most deliciously vengeful kiss-off anthems ever written, a mighty smack upside the memory of a treacherous girl who sprinkles her Apple Jacks with cocaine (?!?!?) and screws around. Road to Hell is a characteristically metaphorical, amusing number from jangerock siren Paula Carino, followed by Cell Phone or Schizo, a song that needed to be written and it’s a good thing that it’s new wave revivalists the Larch who’re responsible. The best cut on the entire album is the sadly defunct Secrets‘ obscure classic How to Be Good, a gorgeous, darkly downcast, jangly anthem set in a shadowy milieu that could only be New York. There’s also a smoldering powerpop gem by the Actual Facts and Love Camp 7’s Start from Nothing (a song covered better by its writer, playing on Erica Smith’s Snowblind). 

 

Both cds tail off about three-quarters of the way through, but Evening ends on an inspiring note with the “Tom Tom Warnick Club” i.e. a Tom Warnick & World’s Fair tribute band with vocal cameos from Paula Carino and others here doing a rousing take on one of his more straightforward songs, the soul-fueled My Troubles All Fall Apart. The official cd release show is June 13 at Freddy’s featuring Plastic Beef along with Warnick, Sharples, Liza Garelik and Ian Roure of the WonderWheels and the Larch and Baby Daddy. In the meantime, information on how to obtain one of these beautiful rarities can be found here.

April 22, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 4/6/09

In case you haven’t noticed, the nucleus of the crew here went to the Beefstock festival over the weekend. Consequently, much of this week’s Top Ten was inspired by those two deliriously fun nights, one great band after another. All the links here will take you to the individual songs or bands with the exception of #4 and 5 (nothing online for either of them – sorry, we can’t stop loving the obscure stuff).

 

1. Gillen and Turk – Dear Mr. President

A funny and completely spot-on period piece, high point of the past weekend.

 

2. Paula Carino & Walking Wikipedia – For the Modern Day

Carino dragged this catchy one by her old band Regular Einstein out of the archives and slayed with it onstage on Saturday.

 

3. Tom Warnick & World’s Fair – Keep Moving

Like the Doors but in the best possible way, carnivalesque and dramatic with eerie organ and fiery guitar.

 

4. Peter Pierce – Party’s Over

First-class Americana janglerock anthem, the kind of tune that runs through your head after the weekend’s over.

 

5. Livia Hoffman – Sorry

Sorry, as in “sorry’s what you are,” by one of the Beefstock headline acts.

 

6. Girl to Gorilla – Next Weekend

Gorgeous janglerock anthem from one of the nicest discoveries of the past couple of days.

 

7. Thy Burden – Sandy

Not a Springsteen cover – this is an uncharacteristically dark, minor-key tune by NYC’s most exhilarating bluegrass improvisers. They’re at Connolly’s on 4/10 at 11. 

 

8. Kristin Hoffmann – Infinity

Dark epic Chopinesque grandeur. She’s at the Canal Room tonight 4/7 at 8. 

 

9. McGinty White – Everything Is Fine

Purist pop from the former Psychedelic Furs keyboardist and the brilliant, literate underground NYC songwriter with characteristic lyrical snarl and bite over a pretty pretty tune. From the forthcoming cd McGinty & White Sing Selections from the McGinty & White Songbook.

 

10. Supermajor – Kaleidoscope

Super major key catchy janglerock.

April 7, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Beefstock 2009

In many respects, the two-day festival was a snapshot of the future of live music, not just in terms of cutting-edge talent but also the way it was presented. Beefstock began simply as a tribute concert to Darren Bohan, bass player in Livia Hoffman’s band, killed on 9/11 when the Twin Towers were detonated. Held upstate at the Full Moon Resort in Big Indian, NY because of the site’s proximity to Bohan’s hometown, the initial concert was so successful that the festival’s founder, veteran Brooklyn drummer Joe Filosa decided to do another one the following year. Playfully called Beefstock by the first couple of years’ crowd (it’s in the Catskills, near Woodstock, and always features a closing jam by Filosa’s band Plastic Beef), the name quickly became official. This year’s show was Beefstock 8. A straw poll of the crowd returned a unanimous verdict: without question, this was the best ever.

 

Beefstock is best appreciated as a festival, a vacation in the same vein as Coachella or Reggae on the River: for roughly $140 per person, you get two nights of comfortable lodging, parking, four big meals and concert admission (drinks in the bar in the lodge with the stage are extra). The most striking difference is the vibe. Since Beefstock is so comparatively small-scale, all the big-festival hassles – the traffic, the endless list of Nazi rules and regulations, the exorbitant drink prices, the ubiquitous rent-a-pigs, the crowds, the lines at the porta-potties – are all conspicuously absent. As the depression tightens its grip, Beefstock could be the template for a new kind of event, as TicketBastard and Live Nation go belly-up by pricing themselves beyond the reach of ordinary citizens.

 

Because of the sheer quantity of bands on the bill (no stupid “second stages” and Hobson’s choices of who to see), bands were typically limited to no more than forty minutes onstage, sometimes considerably less. But the quality was extraordinary. Friday night kicked off with a jam and then a reputedly excellent set by new wave revivalists the Larch (caveat: leave your bottle opener at home, go hunting for one at the hotel and you miss a whole set). The Actual Facts ran through a fiery set of brand-new, unreleased reverb-drenched, Wire-inflected Britrock, long pounding hypnotic drones paired off with post-Velvets stomp and even one funky number, Gang of Four without the affectations.

 

Black Death roared through a tuneful set of riff-driven, amusing punk rock, followed by the night’s first real surprise, Girl to Gorilla. With their two guitars, viola and rhythm section, they added a roaring, anthemic Irish edge to their janglerock, the viola in particular a plus, bringing an unexpectedly eerie edge to the upbeat catchiness of the songs. A darkly backbeat-driven number titled Next Weekend was an early highlight.

 

By the time Friday’s headline act, Livia Hoffman, took the stage, it was past one in the morning. Playing solo on the Actual Facts’ Tim Simmonds’ Telecaster, running through a dense, chilly wall of reverb, she turned the chatty crowd silent in a split second with a relentlessly intense, haunting performance. Live shows by Hoffman have become increasingly rare in recent years, but this one revealed the songwriter at the top of her game, showing off some ferociously good new material including the pun-laden, sardonically bitter All My Imaginary Children. Part of the song is a long and very funny litany of these twisted kids’ personalities, set to an anthemic tune lifted from an Angelic Upstarts song (Hoffman’s songs are not often loud but she knows her punk). The big abandonment anthem Infinite Jest (absent any other David Foster Wallace reference) didn’t let up, all the way through the fiery outro where Hoffman alternated the main vocals with the backing line: “Back in five minutes/Don’t you lie!” And then her voice went out on her, but the effect made the Bohan tribute You-Shaped Hole in the Universe especially heartwrenching. She also did another sad requiem – this time for a cat – and wound up the set with the fiery, accusatory Sorry (as in “sorry’s what you are”).

 

Saturday started early in the afternoon with a series of films curated by documentarian James Dean Conklin, followed eventually by a catchy set of Americana-inflected rock by frequent Brute Force collaborator Peter Pierce. The haunting ballad Party’s Over quickly became the high point of the early part of the show. Americana chanteuse Rebecca Turner was next, turning in a characteristically melodic, lilting set shared with brilliant guitarist Josh Roy Brown, who contributed a couple of stark, stinging tunes from his own cd, notably the oldschool LES anthem Back in the Old Days (later covered by John Pinamonti).

 

Another Americana chanteuse, Erica Smith started out backed only by the bassist from her band the 99 Cent Dreams, working the low-key format for all it was worth, drawing in the crowd with the crystalline, bittersweet clarity of her voice and her haunting lyrics while the bassist grappled with the sound system and lost, badly. Then Smith’s main man John Sharples joined them onstage as did the Larch’s Ian Roure, providing sizzling slide guitar on a spiritedly psychedelic cover of the old sea chantey Johnny Come Down to Hilo.

 

Sharples and his band were next. His shtick is covering songs by all his friends, and he obviously has good taste: included  in the set were a fiery new wave rocker by the late, lamented Blow This Nightclub; Erica Smith’s Secrets, rearranged as straight-up country; a fiery, unreleased Matt Keating anthem; a punk stomp by Box of Crayons and finally the Beatles I’ve Got a Feeling (it’s unknown whether Sharples was ever friends with Lennon, but it’s not inconceivable), Smith taking the mic and belting it out of the park as usual.

 

Best band name of the night was Paula Carino and Walking Wikipedia – they’ve been through a few, but that’s a keeper – who scorched through an incandescently jangly set of her lyrically rich, playfully counterintutive two-guitar hits, among them the bouncy Road to Hell, the strikingly wistful Summer’s Over and a ferocious version of a song by her previous band Regular Einstein titled For the Modern Day. Carino was the hands-down star of last year’s Beefstock, and with her casual, clear vocals, swaying stage presence and endless barrage of hooks staked a claim to this year’s as well.

 

Tom Warnick and World’s Fair took the energy level even higher. He may look a lot like Josh Beckett but his songwriter is a lot closer to Samuel, in particularly incisively entertaining mode. The sky is always falling, but the surreal, carnivalesque cast of characters in Warnick’s songs battle it out against all odds and usually win. At least they did in the fiery, Doors-y Keep Moving – “I go to restaurants past the dead and the dying,” he intoned in his casually ominous baritone, guitarist Ross Bonnadonna (who’d just played with Carino) burning Robbie Krieger-style against Warnick’s eerie organ. Referencing both ice cream headache and the former New Hampshire rock formation the Old Man in the Mountain, stomping minimistically and suspensefully through the tongue-in-cheek Gravity Always Wins and then the gleefully off-kilter City of Women, he was a force of nature. Not bad for a guy whose brush with death a couple of years ago – along with his subsequent and continuing recovery – are something of a legend in New York rock circles.

 

By the time Warnick and crew were done, half the crowd were wearing glowsticks passed out by one of the organizers. The revelation of the evening was Gillen and Turk. To say that their whole is greater than the sum of the parts is in their case an actual compliment, Fred Gillen Jr.’s fiery lyricism and oldschool Americana folk songwriting a perfect complement to Matt Turk’s soulfully virtuosic acoustic guitar and mandolin work. The best song of the whole festival was a new number possibly titled Dear Mr. President, an absolutely spot-on critique. “Dear Mr. Governor, did you really call on her to comfort you in your hour of need?” Gillen asked the crowd, to considerable laughter. The song’s last verse celebrated that “it’s really great, the votes were really counted in 2008!” The duo also held the increasingly celebratory crowd hushed through the dark 9/11 blowback ballad We All Fall Down, then an oldtimey number where Turk mimed a muted trumpet and got the audience going with an increasingly complicated call-and-response, and a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah that had some of the audience in tears.

 

Liza & the WonderWheels brought the party vibe back in a hurry, although frontwoman Liza Garelik wanted to keep things from completely boiling over: “Settle down, Joe,” she admonished Filosa, her imperturbable drummer, before a catchy, somewhat hypnotic new song with a slyly boisterous B-52s feel. Then she opened a musical greeting card and held it up to the mic. They cut their set a bit short with the snarling faux football cheer song Petroleum – “Let’s go, oil barons, let’s go!” – and then a gorgeously catchy, jangly song driven by a vintage 1960s Britrock riff, possibly titled What You Want.

 

The rest of the evening kept the party going. Skelter – another real eye-opener – roaring through a ferocious set of post-Oasis anthems as well as fast, sizzling covers of the Pistols’ Pretty Vacant and the Pink Floyd classic Lucifer Sam. The recently revamped Plastic Beef proved as adept at terse, three-minute pop songs as they’ve always been with their typical jams, although they did their signature song The Pyramid Club featuring bassist Andy Mattina in particularly melodic, virtuosic Phil Lesh mode.

 

Circus Guy offered spot-on, perfectly ornate covers of Blue Oyster Cult classics including a note-for-note version of Astronomy, departing bassist Greg Ross doing a killer job with those beautifully melodic Joe Bouchard lines. Progressive Dementia delivered a set of prog-rock parodies, alternately subtly satirical or completely over-the-top, followed by Baby Daddy, tight beyond belief and virtuosic with a terse mix of funk, bluesy grooves and their signature song, the predictably amusing (and very well-timed) 700 Beers. And then the festival’s closing jam, where the musicians demonstrated considerably more staying power than the crowd.

 

Watch this space for a review of the Beefstock Recipes compilation cd, a mix of past and present Beefstock performers. In the meantime, some observations and performer photos. Update – more photos/commentary…   

April 6, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Bucketful of Beefstock

A teaspoon is more like it. Beefstock is an annual three-day music festival held at the Full Moon Resort in upstate Oliverea, New York, a relatively short drive from Woodstock. Dedicated to local musician Darren Bohan, a talented guitarist/bassist and fireman who was killed when the World Trade Center was detonated, the gathering, now in its eighth year, features mostly bands and songwriters from the Freddy’s Bar scene in Brooklyn, where Bohan was highly respected and served as the bass player in Livia Hoffman’s band. Other than a few shows at the now-defunct Blu Lounge in Williamsburg, her annual appearances here are the only ones Hoffman has played in recent years.

Hoffman is the best songwriter you’ve never heard of, flying so far below the radar she doesn’t even have a myspace. She plays what she calls “lit-rock,” catchy guitar-driven songs with frequently scathing, literate lyrics, spiced with references to literature from throughout the ages. Example: the opening song of her early Saturday evening set, a fiery, propulsive number called Infinite Jest. The title is the only David Foster Wallace-ism in the song: it doesn’t go on for a thousand verses. It’s the haunting tale of a road trip punctuated by a breakup, where the narrator finds herself wanting to get back into a café – by herself – but comes up against a locked door with a sign on it saying “back in five minutes,” as the outro raises the song’s emotional level to redline. Backed by filmmaker James Dean Conklin on lead guitar, Plastic Beef leader Joe Filosa on drums and Erica Smith’s bass player, Hoffman reminded how much she’s been missed on the scene, and how good her songs would sound if she and her crew had a chance to work them up: this was clearly a pickup band. They tentatively made their way through the elegaic U-Shaped Hole in the Universe, the title track from the ep Hoffman made as a tribute to Bohan, stabbed at the Badfinger hit Day After Day, and finally pulled it together on the brilliantly catchy, heartwarming major-key janglerocker Carry. They closed their brief, barely half-hour set with a rousing if loose version of Hoffman’s excoriating, bluesy Paper Bag, an anti-trendoid broadside if there ever was one, done as an attempt at an early Beatles-style R&B raveup.

After a break for dinner, the show continued with Erica Smith and most of her band, John Sharples sitting in impressively on drums, playing a bunch of songs from her new album Snowblind. The title track featured a woozy noise jam mid-song with lead guitarist Dann Baker (of Love Camp 7) trading off wails and roars with Sharples’ drum freakout. They also ran through a riveting version of The World Is Full of Pretty Girls, which could be the great missing track from American Beauty. Their take of the ridiculously catchy, all-too-brief 60s-ish hit Firefly, also from the new album, had bounce and swing; another brief number, the soul-inflected Who Are You was a study in contrast. They closed with the cover of One for My Baby that’s usually a centerpiece of their live shows, Smith’s heartwrenching vocals a big hit with the audience, a mix of fellow musicians and locals whom one suspects seldom get to hear material this good.

Paula Carino and her band were hands-down the stars of at least this part of the show, following with a blistering, upbeat, abbreviated set including the tongue-in-cheek Robots Helping Robots, a lickety-split version of the wrenchingly lyrical alienation anthem Grace Before Movie, and the spirited, Latin-inflected, sarcastic Rough Guide to You, a travelogue through a relationship where the road runs out, leaving the narrator wishing for a guidebook that obviously doesn’t exist. With its big stage and powerful sound system, the acoustics here are generally marvelous and they were tonight, Carino’s casual low soprano cutting through strong and clear. As a lyricist, she’s unsurpassed; one could also say that of the crystalline craftsmanship of her songs and the tightness of her band, Filosa doing what was probably sextuple duty this evening. Beefstock usually features a lot of jamming in the wee hours, with predictable focus and tightness issues, but Carino hit the ground running and burst through the finish line seemingly without breaking a sweat.

Kirsten Williams and then the John Sharples Band were next on the bill. Williams’ stock in trade is understatement and metaphor, and backed by bassist Andy Mattina (who was also doing multiple duty tonight, in Carino’s band and with others despite being under the weather) ran through a lilting, subtly smart set of catchy acoustic pop. Sharples’ trademark is playing well-chosen covers by obscure bands. Switching to guitar, he ran through a bunch including a countrified version of the Erica Smith janglerock hit Secrets, joined by Smith on backing vocals and guitar. Predictably, Smith stole the show with her spectacular, Aretha Franklin-esque vocals on a cover of the Beatles’ I’ve Got a Feeling. There’d been a whole slate of good bands including the Sloe Guns on Friday night and more coming up this evening, but the driving rain outside was turning to snow and the lights of New York, though invisible to the eye, were beckoning.

If you’re wondering where Beefstock gets its name, it’s because Plastic Beef usually provides the the rhythm section (and sometimes the whole backing band) for several of the artists who play here. Look for upcoming post-Beefstock shows at Freddy’s on March 22 as well as another coming up shortly at Hank’s.

March 10, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Erica Smith & the 99 Cent Dreams Live at Parkside, NYC 1/25/08

The best show of the year so far. Erica Smith and her backing trio were celebrating the release of their long-overdue new album Snowblind, and rose to the occasion with a majestic, transcendent performance. Smith is one of those panstylistic rock goddesses like Neko Case, steeped in Americana but lately delving deep into jazz. Nonetheless, this is a rock band, and they rocked. Lead guitarist Dann Baker and drummer Dave Campbell are two-thirds of Beatlemaniac psychedelic rockers Love Camp 7, and they were at the absolute top of their game. Baker’s playful, frequently fiery virtuosity is the perfect complement to Smith’s wickedly catchy, jangly songs, and Campbell might well be the best drummer in rock, an Elvin Jones disciple who in all fairness really ought to be leading his own jazz group.

They soared through the opening track on the cd, the Merseybeat hit Easy Now, then lit into a 60s Memphis soul soundalike driven by a bass riff stolen straight from Duck Dunn. Baker took a screaming, noisy solo after the second chorus and really got the crowd going. They followed with the heartbreakingly beautiful The World Is Full of Pretty Girls, a rivetingly sad, swaying, country ballad, and the lush, romantic Brazilian-inflected Tonight, Campbell expertly conducting the band through a slow, hypnotic fade at the end.

Smith’s set of jazz reminded what a vividly instinctive feel she has for the genre, with a high-spirited version of The Very Thought of You, a very slow, haunting take of One for My Baby, a bouncy Ain’t Misbehaving with false ending and an effectively jazzed-up cover of Livia Hoffman’s sad, beautifully literate Valentine. Campbell brought it down to almost complete silence with a tensely minimal solo. He also got the crowd roaring on a careening, bluesy cover of the obscure Judy Henske/Jerry Yester song Snowblind, the title track from the cd. When the band does this live, they generally don’t give Campbell enough time to solo, probably because drum solos – on the rare occasion that any rock bands other than, say, Journey play them anymore – can take a song into Spinal Tap territory in a split second and leave it there for good. This time, Campbell got at least a couple of minutes to span the globe, throw out some summer snapshots of Bahia, a trip into the mountains of Morocco and then before anyone knew it, he was back on the Lower East Side again.

They saved their best for last, with a towering, nine-minute version of their epic parable All the King’s Horses. It’s a slow, 6/8 ballad, music by Smith, Sean Dolan’s lyric transposing all the deadly effects of post-WWII monopoly capitalism onto a medieval battlefield. Audience members were brought to tears. The bass player, clearly caught up in the moment, went off-mic and sang along with Smith as she brought it to a crescendo at the end of the last verse: “Do you have enough hours to bury your dead, or days in which to atone?” Except that he sang “bodies” instead of “hours.” And then missed his cue to join in with the band singing harmonies on the chorus. They encored with 31st Avenue, a haunting, melancholy track from her previous album, rearranged as a backbeat-driven, psychedelic, lushly romantic hit.

January 28, 2008 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment