Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 5/10/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #630:

Sonic’s Rendezvous Band – Sweet Nothing

Back in the 70s, while the southern midwest had bands like the fictitious Stillwater (the sadly spot-on stoners from the movie Almost Famous), Detroit had hard, intense, uncompromising bands like these guys. Tragically, the bandleader didn’t live to see this album or its successors, and during the band’s lifetime, Sonic’s Rendezvous band (named after its leader, Fred “Sonic” Smith of the MC5) released only one vinyl single. This 1998 collection was the first in a series of reissues that culminated in a six-cd box set for you completists who have to have every outtake with Smith messing around on the saxophone. From the aptly titled first track, Dangerous, it’s careening riff-rock with a surreal, bluesy menace: it’s hard to imagine a lot of garage-punks bands like Radio Birdman without them. There’s some resemblance to the Stooges, but this stuff is heavier, slower and more soul-oriented, especially with the influence of Detroit legend Scott Morgan. The one track that sort of made it into the public eye is City Slang, one of the catchiest rock songs ever written: it blows the Ramones to shreds. There’s also the swaying, potent Getting There Is Half the Fun, the stalking, eight-minute title track; the warped boogie Asteroid B-612; the hammering Song L; the cynical Love and Learn and a careening cover of the Stones’ Heart of Stone. Here’s a random torrent via digitalmeltdown.

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May 10, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 2/24/11

Today we’ll be completely out of commission until early evening, at which point we’ll do our best to get back to business and open up the floodgates. In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #705:

The MC5 – Kick Out the Jams

Here’s one you know. We’re trying to steer clear of the stuff on the web’s two most popular “best albums” lists, but this one pretty much everybody agrees on. It works whether you consider this metal, proto-punk, garage rock or the avant garde (it’s a bit of all of them). The MC5’s 1968 debut kicks off with frontman Rob Tyner screaming “Motherfuckers!” and ends with the drony proto-noiserock epic Starship. In between we get a practically punk version of an old folk song and then the title track – an urgent message to self-indulgent hippie musicians to keep things tight – as well as the completely nonsensical but deliriously fun Rocket Reducer No. 62, the lumpen, proletarian Come Together and Borderline, the searing bluesmetal anthem Motor City Is Burning (which nicks a page from fellow Detroiter John Lee Hooker’s book) and I Want You Right Now, one of the first attempts to blend metal and funk. Guitarists Fred “Sonic” Smith and Wayne Kramer kick up a cataclysm while Dennis Thompson, one of the most exhilarating rock drummers ever, adds extra firepower to the river of molten sludge. Here’s a random torrent.

February 24, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ron Asheton Lives On In Death

For fans of long-running New England roots reggae band Lambsbread, seeing three of the members onstage at Damrosch Park out back of Lincoln Center Saturday night playing terse, period-perfect, occasionally savage mid-70s Detroit-style rock must have come as a shock – for those who didn’t know the backstory. It’s well-known now: three Detroit brothers start a soul-funk band, discover the MC5 and Stooges, Dennis Thompson rhythm and Ron Asheton guitar snarl, and a new band is born. They called themselves Death, before any heavy metal band could; signed to Columbia Records in 1975, they were unceremoniously dropped when Clive Davis couldn’t persuade them to change their name. The band themselves released a single, then eventually moved to Vermont where they would  turn in a direction about as far from proto-punk as you can get. Nine years after guitarist David Hackney died, Drag City finally released a seven-track cd, For the Whole World to See, last year. And the surviving members, bassist Bobby and drummer Dannis Hackney, enlisted their Lambsbread bandmate, guitarist Bobby Duncan (who as a child was given his first guitar by David). The result: a time trip back to a Detroit of the mind, the Stooges at the peak of their woozy, raw power. Forget for a minute that all three of these men are black – this was yet more enduring testament to how music transcends any racial or ethnic differences.

What was most revealing about this show was what a smart band these guys were – and remain. Introducing the ornately scurrying, utterly psychedelic Politicians in My Eyes (the A-side of their prized 1975 single), Bobby Hackney explained that he’d written it in protest of the Vietnam War, watching his friends and neighbors getting drafted left and right. When the band launched into the funereal four-chord progression on the song’s bridge, it was unaffectedly intense. The band’s riff-rock songs – notably the brief Rock N Roll Victim, which could have been early Joy Division, or a cut from the Stooges’ Kill City period – are very simple and catchy. Yet like the Stooges, they didn’t limit themselves to three-minute gems.

And the ghost of Ron Asheton was everywhere. David Hackney internalized Asheton’s bluesy wail and careening riffage as well any other guitarist ever did, and so does Duncan, if with considerably more focus and precision, often tossing off a brief, perfectly executed, barely two-bar lead at the end of a phrase. This version of the band makes every note count, often leaving a lot of space in between guitar fills. Duncan was playing without any effects, which combined with the park’s dodgy sonics to limit his sustain. As a result, a lot of the songs took on a skeletal feel that isn’t present on the album, or in the various live versions scattered around the web. This didn’t pose a problem during the slow, bluesy epic Let the World Turn, with its tricky 7/4 interlude, but it sapped the energy during the chromatically charged You’re a Prisoner and the band’s ridiculously catchy encore, possibly titled Blood on the Highway, to be released by Drag City sometimes this Fall. Like the great Detroit bands who preceded them, Death undoubtedly sound best the closer you are to them. Ron Asheton would approve.

August 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Quartet Offensive – Carnivore

We need more jazz like this: counterintuitive, surprising, innovative and tuneful as hell. Although capable of a gem like the long lyrical ballad Jelly, the album’s next-to-last track, Quartet Offensive also like their noise. On this new cd, the Baltimore jazz group prove equally adept at an MC5-style amalgam of gritty riff-rock and free jazz, as well as intermingling plenty of effectively haphazard improvisation within the strikingly terse, melodic architecture of their compositions. Much of this compares favorably with the excellent, melodic Boston free jazz outfit Gypsy Schaeffer. John Dierker gets a surprising amount of range out of his bass clarinet, adding unexpected textures in tandem with Eric Trudel’s tenor sax. Matt Frazao‘s often heavily processsed guitar also adds a wealth of shades and frequencies over the often astonishingly minimalist, subtle groove of the rhythm section, Adam Hopkins on bass and Nathan Ellman-Bell on drums. Headphone music, most definitely.

The big riff-rockers are the opening and closing tracks here. The first works a raunchy funk-metal riff down into a guitar-and-horns freakout in the same vein as King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid Man, then winds its way back up. The last cut moves deftly from riff-rock to swing, sax and guitar effects bubbling like acid on cinderblock in midsummer until the insistent pulse of the horns brings the track back into focus. The single best track might be the langorous yet fascinating dirge Heavy-Light. An off-kilter conversation between Dierker and Trudel opens it, guitar entering mysteriously over the horns’ repetitive insistence, sax eventually rising overhead. Then a sunbaked guitar solo that morphs into a rippling firestorm as the effects pedals seem to gleefully fry themselves. Meanwhile, the rhythm section maintains the pace of a tortoise. But it’s a funky tortoise: he just moves at about a third of the speed that we do.

Or, the best song here might be the tongue-in-cheek narrative The Sheep Ate the Flowers, kicking off with a staccato guitar riff that works itself into a maelstrom of noise into guitar feedback that fades down until it’s mostly inaudible, then up to a hypnotic, circular, guitar-driven fusionesque vamp. Or it could be the self-explanatory O.D., kicking off with yet more staccato guitar echoed restlessly by the horns, followed by what sounds like a playful rip of the chorus from Steely Dan’s Josie – in 13. Sax and then guitar solos grow increasingly unhinged, to the point where at the end of Frazao’s crazed trip to the emergency room, the horns have to take over and comp and keep the restraints tightly knotted. There’s also a evocatively pensive ballad titled Gooodbye, Cavendish and the straight-up groove Yo Banana Boy with its thoughtful Wes Montgomery-inflected guitar and shapeshifting harmonies between the horns. The liner notes indicate that this album was recorded with help from the Peabody Office of Career Development and the Maryland State Arts Council: money well spent. One can only wonder how many other excellent groups like this are kicking around towns like “Ballmer.” Quartet Offensive’s next gig is a free show on September 12 at 9 PM at Windup Space, 12 W North Ave. in Baltimore with Brooklyn group Afuche.

September 3, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Thee Minks at Magnetic Field, Brooklyn NY 8/3/07

Thee Minks are the kind of band that you see and you say, mmm-hmmm, good. If you’ve had a few drinks, YOU FUCKING LOVE THEM. Hope Diamond, their guitarist, turns her amp up so loud she doesn’t even use a pick. All she has to do is brush the strings of her Gibson SG to get the most evil, distorted, overtone-laden tone you can imagine. Liz Lixx, the bass player, is still pretty primitive, but she has good ideas and you know that if she sticks with it she’ll be fine. And she has a cool bass, a beautiful black-and-white Gretsch Les Paul copy. The drummer, who goes by the name of the Playthang, is excellent, and the band rewarded him by giving him an amusing vocal cameo toward the end of the show.

The Philadelphia band’s best songs came toward the end of the set. They’d started out pretty much by-the-book garage/punk, nothing you haven’t heard before if that’s your music, if the 13th Floor Elevators, MC5, Kinks, Lyres or Mooney Suzuki are your thing. Their website says they bear some resemblance to Radio Birdman, but that wasn’t particularly apparent. About halfway through the set things suddenly got a lot more interesting: more melodies, unexpected chord changes and a lot more imaginative stuff coming out of the bass. The songs’ subject matter seems to be limited to drinking and sex – or both – but at least they’re about something, which is more than you can say about 99.999% of the Sonic Youth ripoffs out there. And there’s absolutely nothing trendy, pretentious or affected about this band. They just want to kick. Your. Ass. And then they do it. This was a good party.

Their last numbers included a punked-out cover of Loaded by Judas Priest (it seems that they actually like the song, instead of making fun of it: whatever the case, their version kicks the shit out of the original). And they did a song about their drummer where he got to sing about what kind of crazy animal he is. “I’ll eat your fucking children,” he hollered, before a series of false endings that wound up with him flailing around Spinal Tap style. The crowd loved it. Not that there was much of a crowd: they were an out-of-town band, after all, and since the audience that actually comes out for real rock music in New York continues to be priced out of town, that wasn’t unexpected.

For anybody who misses the Continental, this place is LOUD: even back by the door the volume was still earsplitting. But the mix was excellent: no surprise, since Zach from Ninth House was doing sound.

August 4, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Radio Birdman – Zeno Beach

Volcanic comeback album by these legendary Australian garage punks that mixes a violent apocalypticism with a handful of black humor-driven, traditional garage rock numbers that sometimes veer to the goofy side. For three years in the late 70s, there was no better band on the planet. Driven by lead guitarist Deniz Tek’s maniacal Middle Eastern-inflected playing over a pummeling surf beat, Radio Birdman’s first two studio albums set the standard for uncompromising, raw, fast rock. Influenced by the Stooges, MC5, Blue Oyster Cult, Doors (you should hear the bootleg of their cover of LA Woman) and Ventures, they burned from 1976 to 1980 when Tek left the band for the Air Force and two of the remaining members spun off into the New Christs. Radio Birdman’s releases after the initial breakup are a mixed bag: the mix of alternate versions of songs from their classic 1979 album Radios Appear, including a couple of deliriously good outtakes, is a masterpiece; their 1997 live album, recorded at one of their annual reunion concerts in Australia, found the band lost in a maze of Marshall stacks and high-tech gear, their signature raw power blunted by a booming sound system. This, then is their real comeback, and it’s pretty amazing. With the exception of the new drummer, these guys are in their fifties now and can still outplay and out-write just about any band out there.  

As with their best work, it’s an eerie, death-defying ride. Just a glance at the song titles proves they haven’t lost their dark vision. You Just Make It Worse. Remorseless. Found Dead. Die Like April. Hungry Cannibals. Locked Up. This is desperate stuff; the rage that drove them in 1979 hasn’t dissipated one iota. The album kicks off with We’ve Come So Far (To Be Here Today), sounding nothing like the Grateful Deadly title might imply: it’s a blast of chromatic, minor-key fury, fueled by the twin guitars of Tek and Chris Masuak (who’s become a brilliant lead player in his own right), and organist Pip Hoyle. The album’s next track is a surprisingly trad garage riff-rocker, something that would sound perfectly at home on a good Lyres record. Next we get the haunting, aptly titled Remorseless: the tension of this burning, funereal midtempo song never lets up. After that’s over, Found Dead continues in the same vein. Connected explores reincarnation, a topic Tek has addressed in his solo work. The impressively ornate, artsy Die Like April builds off a hook that sounds suspiciously similar to something by their Aussie compatriots the Church. Heyday takes a Beatles lick and does pretty much the same thing.

 

Eventually it’s back to the nuevo-60s garage feel with the tracks If You Say Please and Hungry Cannibals, the latter of which brings some welcome comic relief. But it’s black humor, it doesn’t last long and you get the feeling that just maybe, the band might not be joking after all. After that, Locked Up is a scorching, Stooges-inflected riff-rocker; then the album winds up with two uncharacteristically sunny tunes, both by keyboardist Hoyle. The Brotherhood of Al Wazah riffs on Middle East terrorism, and the title cut works both as a tribute to a good surf beach and a warning that we could all be On the Beach.

 

Frontman Rob Younger no longer comes across as the Australian Iggy Pop; the oldest member of the band, he’s come to sound eerily like another Australian rock legend, guitarist/songwriter Marty Willson-Piper from the Church. You wouldn’t think a voice like that would necessarily work with such a ferocious band behind it, but it does. Descend into the maelstrom with these guys if you dare. One of the best albums of the decade so far, end of story.

April 26, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment