Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: The Zevon-athon at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 11/12/09

by Richard Wallace

Warren Zevon was an American songwriter whose vocabulary, both written and musical, earned him acclaim from the music press, his peers and his loyal following throughout a 30 year-plus career that ended too soon when he died after a short battle with cancer in 2003.  It may have been his Russian heritage that fueled many of his songs with an unforgettably rebellious, muscular, Cossack spirit.  

It must have been that same spirit that drove Nate Schweber to lead the cavalry into Banjo Jim’s on Thursday night for the very first Warren Zevon-athon. Schweber, frontman of the New Heathens, pulled together a band of stellar downtown Americana talent to perform a robust double barrel set of Zevon’s material. The audience that packed into Banjo Jim’s shared the small club’s confined, standing-room-only space with the dozens of musicians on the bill, and they reveled all night long, celebrating in the work of an indelible artist.

For this show, Schweber was joined by J.D. Hughes on drums, Alison Jones on bass, Rich Hinman (of the Madison Square Gardeners, among others) on guitar and Andy Mullen on piano, and together they were able to do an outstanding job of recreating the stylish west coast feel of Zevon’s early recordings.

Among the standup performances were Jesse Bates (“I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”), Mr. Somebody (“I Was in the House when the House Burned Down”),  Mr. Somebodyelse (“Mr. Bad Example”) and Andy Mullen (“The French Inhaler”).  Schweber and his bandmates added “Frank and Jesse James”, “Mohammed’s Radio”, “Lawyers, Guns and Money” and of course the irrepressible “Werewolves of London.” In addition, Steve Welnter delivered “I Was In The House When The House Burned Down,” and Steve Strunsky performed “Mr. Bad Example”. 

But the highlights of the evening may have been the contributions of the female vocalists in the house:  Mary Lee Kortes of Mary Lee’s Corvette (“Desperados Under the Eaves”)  Charlene McPherson of Spanking Charlene (“Hasten Down the Wind”), Eleanor Whitmore (“Carmelita”), Monica Passin and Drina Seay (“Keep Me in Your Heart”).  Each one of these striking performances were done with a remarkable forthrightness and amazing compassion for the material. 

Leave it to Zevon. The Excitable One’s foot-stomping numbers are models of boyish swagger. A notorious womanizer, Zevon may have been dead for six years now, yet he can still charm his way through to all the female hearts in a room with his poignantly candid lyrics. 

And then Serena Jean Southam (of the Whisky Trippers) belted out “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” and the night was allowed to proceed to its fitful conclusion.   Leave it to Schweber, who’d courageously orchestrated the night, and yes, “His hair was perfect.”

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November 19, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Amy Allison at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 5/30/09

In addition to being a great songwriter, Amy Allison is also one of the funniest performers around. Once she gets going it pretty much steamrolls from there, but this time out, playing solo for most of the show, she basically stuck to the set list without a lot of interplay with the crowd. Instead, it was a night of masterfully crafted, minute inflections that packed a wallop: she can say more with the careful twist of a phrase than most singers can in an album’s worth of songs. Most of the set was from her forthcoming, career-best cd Sheffield Streets (look for a review here toward the end of June when it comes out), including the title track. Allison lived in Sheffield, UK for a time when she was married, this particular number cataloguing some of the more amusing street names in the area: Spittle Hill and so forth. The song also sets up a joke, in that there are so many of them that they’re hard to remember. This time around (cheat sheet? – it was hard to see, there were so many people in the bar) she got through without a hitch.

Otherwise, it was a mix of styles: the rootsy, snidely cheery pop of Hate at First Sight; the gorgeously swaying country ballad Thank God for the Wine (what an appropriate song for the evening, from this perspective, anyway); an older tune, the catchy Everybody Ought to Know By Now, which she’d re-recorded for the new album as a duet with Dave Alvin, although she said wryly  that in retrospect, “It doesn’t work as a duet.”

 Toward the end of the set guitarist Rich Hinman of the Madison Square Gardeners, an occasional Allison sideman, came through the front door and immediately Allison did a doubletake. He’d been at one gig, he was about to play another, unbeknownst to the both of them, so he immediately plugged in his Telecaster, both she and the crowd immediately appreciative of his incisively thoughtful fills and a couple of brief solos. They ended with an audience request (Allison is always deluged with more than there’s time to play), her signature song, The Whiskey Makes You Sweeter, and with at least one member of her old band the Maudlins looking on, it was as fresh and funny as when she’d first debuted it some fifteen years ago. Watch this space for news of a cd release show somewhere.

June 2, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Amy Allison at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 1/31/09

An understated clinic in expert songcraft, double entendres, metaphors and just good fun. Tonight Amy Allison was all business (aside from reciting a scatalogical jumprope rhyme from her childhood that just crossed her mind, she said). Backed by Madison Square Gardeners guitarist Rich Hinman on Telecaster and the redoubtable Lee Feldman adding marvelously incisive, smart piano, the cult artist ran through a brisk, thirteen-song set comprising mostly new material. Of the older stuff, the tongue-in-cheek Garden State Mall was the biggest hit with the absolutely packed house (it was practically impossible to enter the bar), Feldman adding some beautifully authentic oldschool honkytonk licks (on the out-of-tune piano) to Allison’s big enchilada The Whiskey Makes You Sweeter. A quiet, subdued version of the as-yet unreleased Anywhere You Are Is Where I Am hinted that it has all the makings of a classic vocal jazz song – what Allison could do with that one backed by her dad (Mose Allison) and his band!

 

The most striking of the new ones was a remarkably optimistic, even triumphant song, a starkly celebratory nocturne called Come, Sweet Evening. “I can’t wait to see the dying of the light, a deeper blue,” she implored with characteristic mystery and restraint. She got almost all the way through the catalog of names in Sheffield Streets, the wry tribute to her onetime UK home, without forgetting a handful (“I’ve never gotten all the names right,” she laughed). The crowd implored her for an encore, so she indulged them with one of her very best (a request, naturally), the suicide anthem Turn Out the Lights. A vividly direct, unsparing portrayal of clinical depression, it must not be an easy song to sing, but Allison made her way through it methodically just as she does with her lighter fare. It would have been nice to be able to stick around for brilliant Americana rock guitarist Tom Clark and his band the High Action Boys, but the crowd proved even more overwhelming than the cold outside.

February 1, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Classical, Country and Other Stuff Live in NYC 1/20/08

Professor, the thesis of this paper is to prove what a fantastic variety of music there is to see for free in New York on the worst possible night, arguably the coldest night of the year, and a Sunday, the last day most people think of going out. The night began at St. Thomas Church where their main organist John Scott was playing a recital. Regular readers of this page might think we have some kind of crush on this casually witty British gentleman. Tonight he started with a piece from French romantic composer Henri Mulet’s magnum opus Esquisses Byzantines. Scottt kept its ostentation at a minimum, as if it was a piece for strings, and this worked wonders. Next on the program were a couple of Messiaen works from the Livre du Saint-Sacrement. The first was Messiaen at his occasionally but spectacularly dark, ambient best: Scott had played Messiaen’s The Birth of Our Lord here last month, and the work he played tonight was a welcome encore to the exhaustively haunting suite he played in December. The next piece, however, was not. Messiaen was famously enamored with the sounds of nature, in particular birdsong, and this piece, A Child Is Born to Us celebrates the birth of Christ. Messiaen’s liturgical works are not known for corresponding with textual passages, but this one actually did, effectively evoking the wonder of onlookers in the manger until the birds started chirping. At that point, one can only wonder why the church fathers wherever Messiaen was working at the time didn’t seal off his window or cut off his access to breadcrumbs.

Scott then pulled out the stops with Max Reger’s famous Morningstar Chorale. Reger’s name ought to have been Rigor. At this best, he wrote roaring organ chorales echoing Bach but more freely. Otherwise, the German romanticist is best known for his knotty, impeccably crafted pieces which can only be described as Teutonic: as scorching as Reger could be, craft often supersedes emotion in many of his compositions. Happily, that was not the case with this piece, an unusually warm, happy excursion bookended by Reger’s usual sturm und drang, and Scott brought out all the warmth he could on what would in this age of global warming be considered an unusually cold night.

Which leaves the obvious question: how to interest the kids in what performers like Scott are doing? So much of classical music is vastly more powerful, more passionate and more fun than most rock music. So how to spread the word? Repost this somewhere, where the trendoids will be mystified?

Next stop was Banjo Jim’s where Amy Allison – who wrote our pick for best song of 2007 – was playing a duo show with Rich Hinman from the Madison Square Gardeners on acoustic lead guitar. To say that he’s a quick study is an understatement: casually and deliberately, the guy wailed. Regular readers here will recall how much Allison likes playing without a net, throwing caution to the wind, bringing up new backing talent every time she plays, as if to see what happens. Tonight she played to a rapt crowd, dazzling with new songs including the wry Mardi Gras Moon and the absolutely riveting Dreamworld, wishing the best to everyone freezing on the street. Allison is such a hilarious live performer that half the time she’s cracking herself up, sometimes barely able to contain a laugh in the middle of a song, bringing the crowd along with her. With her mint citrus voice – cool and calming but with a serious bite – she treated the audience to the warm, hopeful new song Calla Lily as well as classics from her country period like Garden State Mall, as well as newer material like the potent girl-power anthem Have You No Pride, from her latest album Everything and Nothing Too. Allison is totally punk rock too: she played the whole set bleeding on her guitar, blood streaming from her index finger (she’d cut herself peeling potatoes, and the bandaid she was using wasn’t enough).

Next stop was Otto’s, where sometime Willie Nile sideman Steve Conte and his band were wrapping up a set of predictable Detroit-style riff-rock, vintage 1978. The place was completely packed: it was impossible to get into the little back room until after he’d finished playing. It would be interesting to see him do this stuff in more spacious confines – or somewhere on Woodward, where they could find some action and where the old-school crowd would have their bullshit detectors set to stun. Richard Lloyd, the legendary Television (and most recently, Rocket from the Tombs) lead guitarist followed, leading a trio featuring his longtime drummer Billy Ficca, who proved the most interesting member of this particular unit. In the past several months, Lloyd has proven himself absolutely undiminished – as a sideman – and tonight’s show reaffirmed that.

January 21, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment