Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Love Camp 7 – Union Garage

A strong follow-up to Love Camp 7’s classic 2007 cd Sometimes Always Never, this is aguably their most melodic and straightforward album – a direction from which the band once seemed completely alienated. That was a long time ago. Here the rhythms are as close to four on the floor as Dave Campbell – the closest thing to Elvin Jones that rock has ever seen – has ever done in this unit (he also lends his tropical, soulful beats to Erica Smith & the 99 Cent Dreams). Bassist Bruce Hathaway (also a noted contemporary classical and film composer) is his typical tuneful, melodic self, and it looks as if Steve Antonakos AKA Homeboy Steve, lead guitarist in a million other excellent projects has become a full-fledged member of the band. Frontman/guitarist Dann Baker (also of Erica Smith’s band) plays with characteristic wit and incisiveness, alternating between innumerable tasty shades of jangle and clang. Most of the songs here – including a mini-suite with a Civil War theme – are imbued with historical references in the same vein as the band’s previous cd.

The album opens with a 20-year old song, the Killers, slightly off-kilter film noir-inspired janglerock wherein the victim forgives his murderers since they’re just doing a day’s work.  Crazy Bet Van Law kicks off  the Civil War section, the tongue-in-cheek tale of an unlikely Union spy, its bridge morphing into a tidy little march. Crazy Bet’s funeral scene is the pretty, sad, harmony-driven Nobody Here but Us African-Americans – it seems she only wanted ex-slaves and servants there. Letting the Brass Band Speak For You is Beatlesque with a slightly Penny Lane feel, a snidely metaphorical slap at conformity and its consequences.

No Negro Shall Smoke is serpentine in the vein of the band’s earlier work, an actual segregationist proclamation from Richmond, Virginia set to herky-jerky, XTC-ish inflections.  The way the band just jumps on the word “smoke” and repeats it over and over again rivals the “stone, stone, stone” on Pigs by Pink Floyd. The version of the slightly Arthur Lee-ish Start from Nothing that Baker and Campbell recorded on Erica Smith’s most recent album beats the one here. Arguably the best song here is (Beware of the) Angry Driver (Yeah), a spot-on, deliciously jangly chronicle of road rage, one sadistic city bus driver after another careening through the narrow Brooklyn streets in Williamsburg and Greepoint.

Another highlight is Johnny’s Got a Little Bag of Tricks, a frankly hilarious send-up of masturbatory guitarists everywhere: “He plays a hundred notes where one would do/And if it fits the song that’s ok too.”

Antonakos, who can satirize pretty much anything, gets a couple of bars to show off the kind of chops he never shows off anywhere else (well, maybe in Van Hayride). Bobbing and weaving, Lady Ottoline Morrell is a vividly clanging tribute to a Bloomsbury-era patron of the arts. You’ll see this cd on our Best Albums of 2009 list in December. Love Camp 7 play Southpaw on May 20 at around 8:30.

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May 19, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Magges Live at Mehanata, NYC 1/12/08

[editor’s note: this is a half-assed review, although it’s the best we could do under the circumstances. Greek songwriters are known for their excellent lyrics and acerbic social commentary, and since we don’t have any native Greek speakers on staff, this review is limited to the band’s music. If any Greek speakers want to comment on the band here – in English, please – be our guest]

As a casual glance at just about any city courthouse will tell you, earlier generations of Americans were in love with everything Greek. The time has come for a new generation of Americans to discover what is perhaps Greece’s finest export: its music. A cynic might say that you can hear what Magges does in any taverna in Astoria on the weekend, but that’s not true. Magges is Greek slang for “bad guys,” which is something of an understatement: this band is positively evil. It was particularly appropriate to see them play at Gogol Bordello’s home base, since they share that band’s wild exuberance and unbridled passion. The place was packed, lots of people were dancing and taking shots from the ouzo bottles that the band very generously brings along to every show. Every New Yorker should experience this band at least once: they’re that good.

In a marathon set that went on for what seemed like hours, they played a wildly danceable mix of Greek vocal music from the past several decades, big major-key arenaesque ballads and long dance numbers burning with chromatic fire that went on for practically ten minutes apiece. Frontman Kyriakos “Chuck” Metaxas played exhilarating, fast runs on his electric bouzouki, accompanied by an acoustic bouzouki player, the ubiquitous Steve Antonakos on acoustic guitar, the also somewhat ubiquitious Susan Mitchell on violin as well as upright bass and percussion. And a belly dancer who got the crowd on their feet.

Metaxas sings in the somewhat dramatic, stagy style that’s characterized Greek pop for what seems forever. A lot of their songs utilize unorthodox time signatures and turn on the drop of a dime, but the band tackled the changes effortlessly. Even to foreign ears, several of the songs were recognizable, foremost among them a scorching, bouzouki-driven take of the original vocal song that Dick Dale appropriated and turned into Misirlou. Magges’ strongest suit is rembetiko, a dark, Middle Eastern-inflected style of stoner music that originated in the Greek underground resistance movement in the 1930s and 40s, and they played several of these. They also did their signature song, Ouzo, an upbeat, somewhat pastoral anthem that predictably got the crowd roaring. The only problem was the sound: the thud from the downstairs disco was painfully audible during quieter moments, and it was only then that Mitchell – one of the most captivating soloists around – could be heard. The chime and clang of the bouzoukis, guitar and bass was delicious, but Magges without Mitchell isn’t the same.

January 13, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments