Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Larch Finally Make a Classic Album

For over ten years, long before 80s music was all the rage again, Brooklyn rockers the Larch have been making solidly good, cleverly lyrical albums that draw deeply on British new wave. Their latest one, Larix Americana is a bonafide classic, one of the best albums of 2010. It’s sort of the missing link between Squeeze and the Auteurs: edgy, politically charged, fearlessly and sometimes caustically cynical yet warmly catchy. Frontman/guitarist Ian Roure has never sung better, projecting with more than a hint of a grin or even a leer; surprisingly, he keeps his fret-burning to a minimum, maybe a half a verse or a chorus of a sizzling, Richard Lloyd-inspired wah-wah solo at a time. He’s the rare lead player who leaves you wanting more. Keyboardist Liza Garelik Roure (frontwoman of the equally excellent, somewhat more psychedelic Liza & the WonderWheels) adds clever synthesizer and organ along with her trademark sultry vocals.

The wickedly catchy opening cut, Sub-Orbital Getaway is paisley underground disguised as new wave, the guitar hook on the intro referencing PiL’s Poptones. It’s an escape anthem, albeit one with “privatization engines to take us up.” The question here is whether “suborbital” means earthbound, or refers to an area of the skull: expressway from your mind? With Love from Region One (a DVD reference) is a bittersweet tribute to all good things American from Roure’s perspective as a first-generation expatriate Brit: “We’ve taken root where you live, delicious and inedible,” he winks. And is that vamp a reference to Eddie Money’s Two Tickets to Paradise?

Tracking Tina might be the best song of the year. Roure has always been a spot-on social critic, and this is his best yet, a caustic look at cluelessly hypervigilant yuppie parents who “only want what’s best for our baby:” they won’t let her out of their sight whether they’re there or not. Likewise, the offhandedly gorgeous travel narrative Strawberry Coast has an ominous undercurrent. Behind the chalet, the holiday’s complete: “Smile ’cause you’re on cctv as you’re walking home.” Roure brings it all the way up with yet another one of his trademark wah solos. In the Name Of…, a slam at religious zealots, has bassist Ross Bonadonna enhancing its Moods for Moderns vibe with his perfectly crescendoing Bruce Thomas impression. Inside Hugh mines more familiar territory for this band, in this case a dayjob from hell. Queues Likely is equally caustic, imagining no respite from a wait “from bumper to brakelight.” And Space Vacation is a clever, tongue-in-cheek update on the faux reggae of the Boomtown Rats’ House on Fire. The album ends with The Long Tail, an aptly sardonic sendup of corporate groupthink. As good as this is, the band’s sizeable back catalog is also worth getting to know, particularly their previous one Gravity Rocks. Watch this space for upcoming NYC dates.

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July 2, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unsteady Surfing 10/6/07

The night began at the Bohemian Hall out in Astoria. This is the big, outdoor, authentically Bavarian-style beer garden that you probably already know about, perhaps because there was a big article about them in this past Sunday’s Times. The beer is pricier than it ought to be, but it’s good. The music was not. A bunch of geezers on the big stage amid the picnic tables wheezed their way through rote covers of Dylan, Tom Petty and Bob Marley songs, the kind of stuff you learn in the first two months of taking guitar lessons. Then they took a break, probably smoked up some more and then came back and played Grateful Dead covers. The crowd got more into the music as the night wore on and the booze kicked in, even though the band was pretty out of it. And the no-see-ums were out in full effect: don’t anyone dare criticize Joba Chamberlain for throwing that wild pitch.

The game plan was to get back to town and head down to the Parkside where Love Camp 7 and Liza and the WonderWheels were playing. Each band played a fantastic set the last time we saw them, and odds are they did as well Saturday night. But the best laid plans, etc., etc., ad infinitum. We ended up at Otto’s where Unsteady Freddie’s monthly surf night was in full swing. This is reliably a good time, sometimes an absolutely transcendent one. Unsteady Freddie is a longtime Dick Dale fan who has done more to promote surf music on the east coast than anyone except NESMA founder and 9th Wave bandleader Mike “Staccato” Rosado. Rosado’s band was unfortunately absent from tonight’s bill, but there were other good ones. The big surprise was the Clams. They’re from Connecticut and have really pulled themselves together recently, with the addition of a new bass player. They did all covers, mostly standards, Out of Limits and Baja and Pipeline and the requisite Misirlou to close the set, but that stuff is not easy to play and they pulled it off. And they had a horn section, two women sax players, one of them being multi-instrumentalist Sandy from 9th Wave, and they were spot-on. Which you pretty much have to be if you’re the Clams’ horn section (that’s a joke: a flat note played on a horn is called a clam). The high point of their set was a surprisingly careening version of Mr. Moto, reminding a bit of the out-of-control version that the Coffin Daggers used to do. A lot of people think surf music is cheesy, including some of the people who play it, but not these guys. Surf music at its best is as haunting and gorgeous as it is danceable. Tonight the Clams grew legs, pulled themselves out of the muck and had the crowd hollering for more when they left the stage.

The Twangtones were next. This trio appears to be a pickup band with NY rockabilly/surf legend Simon Chardiet (of Simon & the Bar Sinisters) on bass and a guy who looks like Gaylord Perry (the way Perry looks now….which I guess is the way he’s pretty much always looked) playing guitar. Chardiet played with his eyes closed, lost in the music, the way he always does. He’s a virtuoso. He swings, he has impeccable touch and unimpeachable taste. Other bass players should watch him closely. The guitarist clearly knows his stuff as well. Like the Clams, they played Ventures covers and other classics, impressing with their ability to avoid replicating the previous band’s set. It would have been nice if I could have stuck around for the night’s final act instead of being pressed into emergency crisis mediation duty just when the night was starting to take off.

October 11, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Liza & the WonderWheels/Skelter/System Noise at Kenny’s Castaways, NYC 8/23/07

Everbody makes fun of the Bleecker Street strip. It’s so NOT New York, right? Wide-eyed, blue-collar Jersey/Long Island tourists, cheap jewelry stores, faux Italian bistros and so-bad-they’re-funny suburban bands playing the clubs, trapped in a time warp where U2 is considered cutting-edge. Predictably, there was a gaggle of overdressed, fake-tanned girls from Deer Park or Marlton or somewhere the same, all nervous and self-conscious to be for perhaps the first time in their lives inside a place that’s not advertised on network tv. Just as predictably, when the first band started, they were gone in less than a minute.

Over the arch where the main room here starts, there’s a purple neon sign announcing that “Through these portals amble the famous,” or something equally stilted, followed by two exclamation points. Maybe one of Phil Collins’ backup singers walked in here once, thinking it was the Bottom Line, then realized where she was and promptly exited. Over the bar, there are framed gold records by 80s New Jersey REM wannabes the Smithereens (after the band had run its course, the notoriously right-wing nutjob who fronted the band had a brief run as a wannabe politician). This could be anywhere: Deer Park, Marlton, El Cajon. It’s the last place anyone would expect to see the bands on the bill tonight.

And it was Continental loud. For those who don’t get the reference, the sound at the Continental on Bowery just north of St. Mark’s was earsplitting. Then they stopped having bands a couple of years ago. It’s now a tourist bar. Maybe that’s where Mallory, Alexis, Madison, Keighleigh, Kelceigh, AshLee, Prada and Taylor were headed next as they went east armed with their parents’ credit cards. And that’s too bad, because if they’d stuck around they actually might have enjoyed Liza & the WonderWheels. This band looks and sounds like something you’d see in a movie set in New York circa 1981 in the requisite CBGB scene: catchy hooks and cheery vocals, with a quirky 80s vibe. If they were around at that time, they’d also undoubtedly have a record deal and probably at least a couple of radio hits. They have a tight, powerful rhythm section, a dynamic frontwoman and an equally captivating lead guitarist. Their hooks are simple, memorable and driven by the vocals rather than the songs’ chord structures. Frontwoman Liza Garelik was in a great mood tonight because she could actually hear herself onstage, and the sound in the room was equally good: her vocals were coming through strong, all the way to the front door. They ran through a bunch of mostly upbeat, fast material and closed with what has become their signature song, Eddie Come Down, a typically warped number about getting a psycho to chill out that begins slowly and eventually builds to a long jam on a single chord. Tonight the bass and drums pushed it hard as Ian Roure’s guitar screamed through a wah-wah pedal. They built it up, then brought it down, they went up again, then went all quiet and it was Garelik’s rhythm guitar ringing starkly and quietly evil, like the spirit of Bob Weir against drummer Joe Filosa’s sepulchral cymbals, that provided the set’s most mesmerizing moment.

We should be grateful for bands like Skelter, who came next on the bill. This comfortably melodic, garagey upstate trio stays within the world of major and minor chords, and they’re all proficient on their instruments. In a world where most of the descendants of Sonic Youth play like they’ve never seen a guitar in their lives, much less held one, these guys are a pleasure: one audience member compared them to Oasis, and while they don’t steal Beatles licks, they definitely have a sense of drama. And a tendency toward garish guitar and drum flourishes, which they should avoid. But since this was their ten-year anniversary show, there’s little chance of that happening. Their myspace has a very catchy, jangly garage rock song called Ghost Town, and they played that tonight, but with distortion, and it sounded pretty indistinguishable from everything else. Bands like this sound better the more you drink.

Headliners System Noise are arguably the best live band in New York, in fact, arguably the best live band anywhere. “Progressive punk,” one audience member called them. Lithe, cat-eyed frontwoman Sarah Mucho is a force of nature: tonight she belted like Grace Slick raised to the power of ten, wailed like Mary Lee Kortes at her most scary-beautiful, teased and seduced the crowd like Erica Smith. It’s hard to think of anyone outside the world of, say, opera or gospel who can unleash such a mighty, pitch-perfect blast of beautiful sound. They rhythm section handled a lot of tricky time changes and odd tempos with aplomb and the lead guitarist alternated between fiery, virtuosic riffs and sheets of blistering noise. For a band this loud, and this noisy, they are amazingly tuneful. They burned through an all-too-brief, barely 35-minute set including a lot of unreleased material. The macabre Good Enough to Eat, a song about cannibalism, began with a percussive, chromatic hook that wouldn’t be out of place in an Iron Maiden song. Perhaps their strongest number was the equally dark, fiery No One Saw What I Saw, Mucho’s vocals taking flight in the chorus after a relentless, pounding run through the wilderness of the verse.

The night’s big crowd-pleaser was the slow, towering anthem Daydreaming. “A power ballad,” Mucho sarcastically called it, which built in an instant from a mysterious, ominously quiet verse to a literally breathtaking crescendo, then subsided almost as fast. It was heartwarming to hear the crowd’s awestruck, spontaneous applause when the band did this the first time around, affirming that there are still people in town who can appreciate that kind of thing in rock music. The set ended with a ridiculously catchy, Talking Heads-ish funk number from the band’s self-titled ep, with a snide, overtly political lyric that Mucho rapped. What a great night: three bands for eight bucks, the sound was good if a little loud and we weren’t surrounded by assholes. Somebody should start a Take Back Bleecker Street campaign: get all the good bands who used to play Tonic, for example, and bring them down here. It’s easy to get to on the subway and it sure beats Ludlow Street.

From there, we went east to Banjo Jim’s – again (we didn’t see Mallory, Alexis, Madison, Keighleigh, Kelceigh, AshLee, Prada or Taylor – perhaps their Humvee stretch limo had picked them up before they collectively turned into pumpkins). What a pleasant surprise, there was actually somebody good onstage here. Will Scott really has a handle on hypnotic, Mississippi hill country blues. It was just him playing acoustic, backed by a boisterous drummer. It actually would have been nice if they had been louder: people might have danced. This guy gets it: an unabashed T-Model Ford/R.L. Burnside fan, he understands that this is party music. Tonight he played it with fierce abandon, judicious use of guitar chops and without Pearl Jamming the vocals. He’s been playing Wednesdays at 68 Jay St. Bar in Dumbo for awhile. If you miss ole R.L. or have a lot of the Fat Possum catalog in your collection or on your ipod, go see this guy, you won’t be disappointed.

August 24, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments