Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: The Lost Crusaders and the Mike Edison Space Liberation Army at Lakeside, NYC 12/18/09

Looking a little pale and thin and fresh off a morphine drip (don’t worry, he’ll be fine), Lost Crusaders frontman/harmonica player Michael Chandler and his steady guitarist Johnny Vigneault were wrapping up their six-week-or so duo residency at Lakeside. Vigneault sat, stomped his foot and blasted the increasingly packed back room with a reverb-laden roar while Chandler, eyes tightly closed, slammed a tambourine against his leg and ran through a bunch of the garage-gospel songs that are the band’s specialty. The style was different, but the feel was totally R.L. Burnside or T-Model Ford  – it could have been a shotgun shack in the Mississippi hills. Midway through the set, they ran through the soulful What Have You Done, a standout track from their 2007 album Have You Heard About the World that features a fantastic Laura Cantrell vocal.  The whole thing went on nonstop for almost an hour, with a few oldschool spirituals amped up for good measure.

Early shows at Lakeside are a rare enough event, doublebills even more  so. Chandler’s old 80s Raunch Hands pal, Mike Edison, inventor of  the Bongcaster and author of the hellraising memoir I Have Fun Everywhere I Go brought his Space Liberation Army: Dean Rispler on bass, Hollis Queens of Boss Hogg supplying a supple, laid back drumbeat and Jon Spencer wailing – and tossing off a couple of perfect Hendrix quotes on lead guitar. Edison ranted and railed, occasionally punching a soul organ riff on his Nord Electro or lashing at his theremin to emphasize a point. Although drinking what looked to be straight bourbon, he didn’t miss a beat, only occasionally referring to a cheat sheet as he gleefully recounted tales from a booze-and-drug-soaked past or savaged the right wing, Jello Biafra style as the band snaked along behind him. His story of one particularly crazy one-off Raunch Hands gig in Spain was impossible not to smile at, especially when after that show, the band discovered that although the folks who’d hired them had left them a copious bagful of drugs, the cocaine was all gone. Predictably, pandemonium ensued. “What if I crush up some of these [unidentified] pills and snort them?”  a panicked Edison asked his guitarist.

“Nope, I already tried,” was the response.

Another long rant snidely revealed the truth about Jews for Jesus: they’re not Jews, they’re really rightwing Christian nuts who want all the Jews to convert so they can bring on the Rapture (presumably, that means nuclear war, or at least something Halliburton can use to get rid of all that nasty waste from their nuclear power plants). The crew closed with a careening salute to first amendment rights, drug legalization, alcohol and porn – and the criminalization of daytime tv (this is right about where all the very strong two-for-ones started to kick in and the memory gets fuzzy). Edison’s site doesn’t have any upcoming shows listed, but watch this space: you ought to see him sometime.

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December 23, 2009 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Asylum Street Spankers – God’s Favorite Band

Things like this happen with bands who’ve been around awhile and have the good sense to record themselves in fortuitous circumstances. Back in 2006, the Asylum Street Spankers – the world’s smartest, most deliriously fun oldtimey Americana band – recorded some live performances at the Saxon Pub in their hometown of Austin. Among the songs were several traditional gospel tunes along with a handful of originals that wouldn’t be drastically out of place, musically at least, in a straight-up gospel set. It isn’t implausible to imagine the band hanging around the dressing room one night after a show after someone put these songs on a boombox, while a  joint made its way around the room. Suddenly percussionist/singer Wammo has an epiphany and turns in amazement to multi-instrumentalist/siren Christina Marrs: “Holy shit, we have a gospel album here!”

As improbable as it might seem at first thought for the Spankers to be doing a gospel album, it actually makes perfect sense when you consider how deep their knowledge of American roots music is. As sacriligeous as the band is, Marrs has an amazing set of pipes and pulls out all the stops here. Likewise, the band’s vocal harmonies are tight and inventive when they’re not being tight and absolutely period-perfect, as with their minstrel-esque version of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

An ancient-sounding  instrumental version of the Blind Willie Johnson blues Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground opens the cd and sets a rustic tone. The standards Each Day, Down by the Riverside, By and By and Wade in the Water each get a fervent, ecstatic treatment which rather than being camp reaffirms the band’s seemingly innate feel for these songs as universal expression of the human spirit that transcend any doctrinaire limitations. Then they do the same thing with a contemporary Christian song (yes, that’s what it is), the Violent Femmes’ Gordan Gano’s Jesus Walking on the Water.

But as expected it’s the originals that bring down the house. Wammo’s somewhat snide Right and Wrong has an ironclad Iraq War-era logic to go along with the stoner humor: “I ain’t got no problem with Buddha, ’cause he’s a huge Nirvana fan.” And his other song here, Volkswagen Thing reclaims a Nazi-era relic as vehicle for the divine. In case you don’t remember it, the Thing during its brief revival in the 70s was  one of the most unsafe cars ever built, a car so rear-heavy that it could pop a wheelie despite being ridiculously underpowered. Satan, on the other hand, drives his Mercedes like the pig he is – and he’s got a Hummer, too. The band closes out this raucous collection with a defiant version of Gershwin’s It Ain’t Necessarily So, a vivid reminder of where they’re really coming from for anyone who might not have been paying attention. Steampunks everywhere, not to mention fans of both traditional and secular gospel alike (the Lost Crusaders and Rev. Vince Anderson especially come to mind) will love this album. The Spankers made it to NYC a couple of times this year and they will doubtlessly be back (they recorded their sensational What? And Give Up Show Business? live cd here), watch this space for details.

November 8, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: The Lost Crusaders at Lakeside Lounge, NYC 8/21/09

Sometimes all you need is a guitar and a beat – who needs anything fancy? The Lost Crusaders play gospel music garage-rock style; the full band also has rhythm section and an organ. This stripped-down unit was just frontman Michael Chandler (formerly of the Raunch Hands), guitarist Johny Vignault and a tambourine player who doubled on vox. On the few slow numbers,Vignault used a wamly pulsing tremolo tone; otherwise, he cranked it up with plenty of juicy natural distortion. The effect was like R.L. Burnside rocking some shotgun shack in the Mississippi hills – it was that hot outside before the rain, anyway, and the intimate Lakeside vibe put the music right in your face. It was so hard to walk away from that our table of happy hour revelers missed their last call for two-for-ones.

The band didn’t need drums – between Vignault’s stomping on the floor, the singers’ two tambourines (which they fought over, a little facetiously) and the audience, the room rocked. Most of the set list was boisterously shuffling songs from the band’s excellent debut album Have You Heard About the World, including the title track with its lickety-split call-and-response vocals. Too Late, sung with characteristic, plaintive intensity by Laura Cantrell on the album, became a big 6/8 60s soul ballad. “Oh, you want a political one?” asked Chandler and then did an especially fervent one about the “homosexuality between the government and the financial establishment.”

The new songs were just as good. One hypnotic number, possibly called Train to the Kingdom matched Wailers stomp to a delirious uptown ecstasy; a cover of what sounded like something from the 20s or even earlier was defiant and insistent, a flat-out refusal to lie down in the grave. Whatever your deity or lack thereof, this stuff will rock your soul; these guys ought to do a doublebill with Rev. Vince Anderson. The Lost Crusaders play the final date of their monthlong Lakeside residency this coming Friday August 28 at 7ish, then they’re off on European tour.

August 22, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: The Lost Crusaders at the Loving Cup Cafe, Brooklyn NY 1/11/09

Alana Amram & the Rough Gems opened, bringing a welcome sunny summer feel to a raw, nasty winter night. The latter half of their set was a soaring, fun mix of upbeat, major-key country-inflected songs. On Blackest Crow (it’s on her myspace; it’s got the same melody as the old Irish standard Rye Whiskey), they took a stark tune and made it a big anthem, bringing up half the crowd to gather around the various mics onstage and sing. Amram’s a fine singer, projecting strongly with a high, clear voice and an excellent band behind her including electric guitar, electric piano and pedal steel. She gets extra props for playing a twelve-string and managing to keep the thing in tune.

 

The sound in the back gallery, which had been absolutely pristine for Amram, took a sudden nosedive when the Lost Crusaders hit the stage, and it took a few songs to get everything right. But bandleader/harmonica player Michael Chandler and his tight backing unit (rhythm section, guitar, organ and a baritone sax player who doubled on keys on a few songs) didn’t let the late hour or the technical difficulties phase them a bit, barreling through an intense, high-energy set of twelve songs that proved their repertoire considerably more extensive than just the songs on their excellent debut cd Have You Heard About the World (reviewed here last year). Their songs are classic 60s style gospel delivered with a manic garage rock feel. Chandler (formerly of pioneering cowpunks the Raunch Hands) is a natural frontman and makes what he does look easy: the only indications that he was working hard were the sweat pouring down his face and the roar from the speakers. A lot of gospel involves testifying to the crowd, but other than just a brief ten-second interlude toward the end of the show, Chandler simply let the music summon the spirits. Didn’t take long for that to happen, with a pummeling version of the lickety-split I Don’t Ask Why. The bouncy I Don’t Believe You began with a tastily portentous Link Wray style intro. Chandler then invited Amram up for a duet on two songs, the first a sweetly swaying version of Arthur Alexander’s soul ballad Love’s Where Life Begins.

 

Predictably, nobody was dancing (this was Williamsburg, after all – forget about dancing, just cracking a smile in this part of town will earn you glares of disapproval). Until finally a couple of gay guys went up front and that finally loosened everybody up. Music like what the Lost Crusaders plays resonates in your muscles, the best thing you can do is not to fight it and just let it move you. The high points of the set were a roaring boogie number capped by a volcanically noisy guitar solo (the first of only two of the night for these guys) and a sprint through Where Did It Go, a straight-up gospel number from the latest cd. Watch this space for upcoming shows; in the meantime the band has a couple of free downloads on their myspace that you should get your hands on before they disappear.

January 13, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Lost Crusaders – Have You Heard about the World

Brothers and sisters, are you ready? I said ARE YOU READY? For the NEW gospel sound of the Lost Crusaders. This is the real deal, ecstatic, often exhilarating. It will redeem your soul whether you are a believer or you just like to dance. Fans of Rev. Vince Anderson will love this album. Some of the songs here blend 60s soul stylings with gospel, others are sort of gospel punk, with a handful of straight-ahead garage rock tunes. This is an incredible party record, something akin to what JSBX (or Blues Explosion, or whatever they’re calling themselves now) is to classic 60s garage rock. In case you might be suspicious, it’s not camp. It’s just a bunch of NYC garage rock types who love vintage 60s gospel and prove they can play it as well as any church group out there. Frontman Michael Chandler holds nothing back, his hoarse, gravelly vocals impassioned and inspired. As with all good gospel bands, this album has a very propulsive rhythm section, Brian McBride on bass and Joey Valentine on drums. Don’t let the religious nature of the lyrics scare you off: this is a celebration of the spirit in all of us, atheists and Christians alike. You can dance to this. The production, by Dean Rispler at Dead Verse Studios in Union City, NJ is impressively authentic, sounding almost like a vinyl record.

The album opens with the title track, a fast major key vamp that gleefully welcomes the apocalypse, with cool solos from Johnny Vignault’s guitar and ex-Fleshtone Steve Greenfield’s baritone sax. The next cut I Don’t Ask Why is even faster, call-and-response with the women in the choir, crunchy guitars spiced with Jerome Jackson’s tasty Hammond organ in the background and a nice solo out. I Wonder What Ever Happened has a killer 2-guitar intro, evoking Country Joe & the Fish in a particularly woozy moment at the end of their good period, 1970ish with a good long harp solo after the second chorus reminiscent of the late, great Knoxville Girls. The following cut, There Used to Be a River is an environmental cautionary tale – “it couldn’t outrun the hand of man” – garage gospel built on a descending progression on the bass. With a long, killer reverb guitar solo from the Fleshtones’ Keith Streng and Chandler’s ominous croak, it could be something from the recently reunited Electric Prunes.

After that, Wasted on the Wind is a Knoxville Girls or Gun Club soundalike with a great baritone guitar solo. Planted by the Water is a fast gospel vamp, piano and organ plus crunchy guitar and a fiery chromatic harp solo. Laura Cantrell’s sweet, soaring vocals channel Kitty Wells on the beautiful, slow Too Late, Matt Verta Ray’s lapsteel coming in and out like a string section.

Other standout cuts on the album include Whose Name Will I Call, with a Stagger Lee boogie kind of feel, and the fast, joyous Where Did It Go whose protagonist trades in his booze and drugs for the holy spirit, rejoicing in having found a new way to get high. Wow. What a great album. Five bagels. With a glass of communion wine. CDs are available at shows, online and in Europe on Everlasting Records.

April 15, 2008 Posted by | gospel music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments