Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review from the Archives: Douce Gimlet and White Hassle at CB’s Gallery, NYC 3/9/00

[editor’s note – here’s another blast from the past. More new stuff tomorrow!]

Part of an “underground film festival,” in reality just a bunch of friends of videographer Jim Spring. Thus, the Douce and WH on the bill together again. A funny short film by Spring about misadventures in the East Village in the late 80s preceded the Douce’s excellent, highly electrifying 40-minute set. Violinist Josh Diamond was AWOL, which put the burden of melodic embellishment on frontman/guitarist Ben Plummer, and he rose to the occasion. They did the old and new intros back to back, Plummer playing tenor sax in tandem with baritone saxist Paula Henderson (of Moisturizer). Later, they did the strangely touching country ballad Little Lovers’ Society and then the high point of the entire night, a chilling, chromatically charged version of their best new song, The Well, Plummer wailing slowly and methodically through two powerful, blackboard-scraping, Keith Levene-esque solos. A bit later they returned to catchy, jazz-inflected pop territory with the propulsive, deliciously chordal Trudy, then eventually the walk-off instrumental where Plummer and Henderson left the stage with their saxes and while playing in tandem, slowly walked all the way to the front exit and then out onto the street while the rhythm section continued onstage.

After two films (one a hideous exercise in video masturbation, featuring a striptease from a sagging, sixtysomething woman, then Plummer’s frequently hilarious, dadaesque college film Juan Frijoles), White Hassle took the stage and wailed through an all-too-brief half-hour set. The punk/folk/country trio (just two guitars and drums) opened with an intro featuring a dj on turntables, then ripped through a tight, driven cover of the Robert Johnson classic Rolling and Tumbling. On their version of the Hollies’ The Air That I Breathe, lead player Matt Oliverio was painfully out of tune until he realized it about halfway through and wisely sat it out until the end of the song. Their big audience hit Life Is Still Sweet, set to a classic soul chord progression, was as warmly uplifting – and warmly received – as it always is. They closed with a wild, hyperkinetic version of their percussion-driven instrumental Futura Trance 2000, frontman Marcellus Hall putting down his guitar at one point to flail away on the empty beer keg, kitchen pots and the frame from a window fan that drummer Dave Varenka had brought along.

[postscript: Douce Gimlet broke up only a year later; their talented frontman would tragically die under very suspicious circumstances later in the decade. White Hassle seem to be on hiatus at this point, while their frontman continues his remarkably excellent solo career; however, they toured Europe last year and another doesn’t seem to be out of the question.]

Advertisements

March 9, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: LJ Murphy and Band at the Knitting Factory, NYC 12/11/07

Ironic that some of New York’s best rock songwriters – Jerome O’Brien of the Dog Show, Mary Lee Kortes of Mary Lee’s Corvette, and now LJ Murphy – basically play with what amounts to a pickup band whenever they do a live show here in town. Although it’s not all that common in rock, jazz players have been doing this since the beginning. And it works more often than not, undoubtedly because musicians who are good enough to follow the changes and hit the stage without much rehearsal usually bring a lot of imagination and their own signature style. This show was a vivid reminder of how good things can get when you put together a bunch of good players who’ve never played with each other before. Tonight the dapper New York noir songwriter was backed by the hard-hitting drummer from the sadly disbanded garage rockers the Dark Marbles, along with the bass player from Erica Smith’s band the 99 Cent Dreams.  Playing lead was the guitarist from System Noise, who revealed himself to be a terrific blues player, channeling a lot of Hendrix into Murphy’s Stax/Volt-inflected melodies. But it wasn’t Star Spangled Banner Hendri; instead, the audience was treated to a lot of thoughtful, introspective, licks and tersely unwinding solos evocative of the Little Wing/Castles Made of Sand side of Jimi.

Perhaps because the band didn’t get a lot of time to rehearse, Murphy bookended the show with a couple of solo acoustic songs, the tongue-in-cheek Man Impossible and a somewhat drastic reworking of his haunting domestic-abuse saga, Don’t You Look Pretty When You Cry. In between, the band careened through a mix of newer material and songs from Murphy’s latest cd Mad Within Reason. It was a cold night, and Murphy’s guitar had gone out of tune by the time he finished his first song and brought the band to the stage. The crowd was impatient as Murphy retuned: “He’s a musician,” the bass player said sarcastically: shades of Stiv Bators sticking up for Cheetah Chrome on Night of the Living Dead Boys? You never know. This is New York, after all.

Like Marcellus Hall, (recently reviewed here), Murphy sets intelligent, witty lyrics to somewhat retro melodies. While Hall draws on 60s country and folk-rock, Murphy is a disciple of blues and jazz, Ray Charles in particular. At the end of a rousing take of the snide, somewhat caustic Imperfect Strangers, Murphy led the band on an obviously improvised, extended outro as he jammed out the vocals. Later in the set they did a boisterous version of the sharply literate, cabaret-ish minor key blues which serves as the title track to the cd, in addition to a soulful take of the gently swaying, mournful 6/8 ballad that’s perhaps improbably Murphy’s biggest audience hit, Saturday’s Down, a chronicle of how the week goes by so slowly but the weekend is gone in a nanosecond. The band turned their last song, Barbwire Playpen into a blazing rocker, Murphy roaring through his chronicle of a Wall Street tycoon whose “ugly little secret turns up again and again in the barbwire playpen,” where some dominatrix has him by the short and curlies and isn’t about to let him get up anytime soon. Despite a rainy, gloomy evening outside and an unusually sparse turnout – Murphy packed the place the last couple of times he played here – the man was his usual charismatic self and the band was clearly feeding off his energy.

December 16, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Marcellus Hall & the Headliners at Lakeside, NYC 12/8/07

Hall writes devastatingly funny, lyrically driven, catchy Americana rock songs and tonight he was at the top of his game. It was a little incongruous seeing him onstage with a bass player, considering how long his once-and-future band White Hassle went without one (they beat the White Stripes to the bassless rock thing by a couple of years but never got any credit for it). White Hassle was the late, great Joe Ben Plummer’s favorite band, and for good reason: Hall wrote some very good, very catchy, stream-of-consciousness funny songs with them. And also with Railroad Jerk, his band before that. But in the last few months he’s taken it to the next level. White Hassle were great because everything they did sounded completely off-the-cuff, completely uncontrived. Yet as good as they were, nobody writes devilishly funny, sardonic lyrical putdowns as well as Hall’s been doing with this band lately.

“This is a song from our myspace page,” he told the crowd with just enough of a smirk to make it obvious that he was being ironic. Just a couple of years ago he would have been telling the crowd that the track was from a new cd, which he’d have for sale, and maybe if you were really lucky he’d have a couple of copies on vinyl which some lucky schmuck in line in front of you would snatch up before you could get to them. His music, if not his lyrics, is retro, and a lot of his lyrical swipes are directed at ppl txtn n emailn (is that the right way to spell it? Is there a right way?). While Hall’s songs come at you from all kinds of different angles, never straight over the top, in the end it’s very honest stuff. He clearly doesn’t like the deception that is part and parcel of the myspace/textmessage esthetic, so his bullshit detector is set to stun, and who can blame him, after hearing what he’s got to say. Back Where I Started, one of the early songs in the set might be the best song he’s ever written, an ridiculously catchy, upbeat number that’s ostensibly about a breakup, but there’s all kinds of other levels going on and that’s what makes it so fun, just as much as the killer acoustic guitar intro and catchy chorus (Hall’s also taken his guitar chops to the next level).

The song from the myspace page, Gone, has a similar feel, and an unexpected joke at the end about nuts that had people practically rolling in the aisle. He did another new song, a surprisingly moving 6/8 number with an Everly Brothers feel: “You only see the neon/You don’t see the night,” he admonished. Dylan is obviously another influence, but it’s the young, funny stoner Dylan, that Hall’s funky, talking blues with the recurrent chorus, “It was the vodka talking and the gin listening,” most closely evoked.

Accompanied by a keyboard player who added melodic electric piano on about half the songs, they closed with a White Hassle classic, the title track to their ep Life Is Still Sweet. Having bass to push it along gave it a different feel with a lot of extra bounce, but it still hit the spot. Hall finally went down and did the splits during that one – he knows how to work a crowd, as anyone who ever saw White Hassle live will tell you. Too bad there aren’t more performers out there who put on a show as fun as the one this guy played tonight. Marcellus Hall plays Happy Ending Bar in Chinatown (Rivington just off Forsyth) on Dec 12 at 8 PM, presumably solo, as part of a prose reading series which has occasional music.

December 10, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments