Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Greta Gertler & the Extroverts at Mercury Lounge, NYC 8/13/07

Expat Australian keyboardist/singer Greta Gertler’s imagination knows no bounds. Tonight she ran amok, trampling every convention, leaving no good idea unexplored. She’s a shapeshifter: the first album she recorded was orchestrated rock, the second a richly layered pop record, and her latest, Edible Restaurant blends art-rock and ragtime (see our very favorable review). Tonight saw her doing completely rearranged versions of some of her pop gems, including Martin’s Big Night Out (“They danced to this in Australia,” she told the audience encouragingly, but the impressively good Monday night crowd was rapt and stayed put), and Everyone Wants to Adore You. Radiant in a shimmery blue dress, she mined the depths of her Nord Electro keyboard for some of her favorite, 70s-inflected settings: echoey Fender Rhodes, Arp synthesizer with a watery flange effect, and the classic, slightly trebly Yamaha electric piano tone that seemingly every band from Supertramp to the Boomtown Rats were using late in the decade. She’s a fine player, but what really comes across live is the strength of her writing and how counterintuitive it is: just when you think she’s going to settle into a standard verse/chorus/verse progression, she goes off on some wild tangent that sounds like something from early, Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, or Shostakovich, or some bizarre English dancehall song from the 1920s.

Her backing band, including Beaver Bausch on drums, Hazmat Modine guitar sharpshooter Michael Gomez and the reliably high-energy J. Walter Hawkes alternating between muted trombone and ukelele, stayed with her and held up their end. Gomez is a fiery, bluesy cat: after he took a particularly evil, tersely minor-key solo toward the end of Veselka, Gertler’s tribute to the East Village kasha-and-pierogies institution, she followed his lead, closing the song with an ostentatiously eerie, monster-movie run down the scale into a cold, echoey pool of noise. They also played a new one about the komodo dragon in a zoo who recently experienced spontaneous oogenesis (or immaculate conception, if you prefer), as well as a slightly abbreviated take of the new album’s bustling title track, and the strangely captivating If Bob Was God, which does double duty as Dylan tribute and sultry tale of longing and determination to bring it to a crescendo, if you follow my drift. They closed with a deadpan, oompah version of the AC/DC karaoke standard It’s a Long Way to the Top If You Wanna Rock N Roll – deadpan until Hawkes took a long, completely silly, completely over the top heavy metal ukelele solo. By the time he finally got to the top of his tiny little fretboard, everybody in the house, the band included, couldn’t stop chuckling. All in all, this was pretty typical of what you can expect from a bandleader – and band – with a boundless sense of fun. What a great night!

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August 14, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

CD Review: Greta Gertler & the Extroverts – Edible Restaurant

David Byrne got it right: we need more songs about buildings and food. This album doesn’t have much of the former, but there’s a lot of the latter. How delicious. This is Australian expat singer/keyboardist Greta Gertler’s third consecutive brilliant album. Her first one, The Baby That Brought Bad Weather (recorded after her second one), was a meticulously arranged pop masterpiece. Her second one, Nervous Breakthroughs, was a richly melodic orchestral rock record and even better than the first. This comes as quite a change: it’s a gorgeously stark, retro, mostly acoustic album, tastefully produced with grand piano, electric guitar, tuba, drums and occasional strings. Unsurprisingly, the whole cd has a somewhat old-timey, ragtimish feel to it.

The album opens with Wrist Slasher, a blithely eerie number that’s mostly just voice and solo piano: the narrator sometimes dreams of “floating away on the back of a stingray in a glass of champagne.” Gertler sings in a high, cheery soprano, which occasionally seems at odds with her frequently pensive songwriting. It gives the listener pause: she may want music, and happiness, that’s “good and simple,” as she explains on another track here, but there’s always a lot going on in her songs. Most usually it’s absolutely fascinating.

The album’s title track vividly evokes the chaos of a busy eatery at peak hour, an endless series of unexpected shifts: staccato piano, tuba and guitar, then horror-movie chromatics on the chorus, then back to bouncy, then the eerie piano again. It winds up with a slow, swinging passage straight out of 70s art-rockers Supertramp. The first time around, there’s a dirty, skronky guitar solo by head Extrovert Pete Galub, then a bluesy one by dangerous retro virtuoso Michael Gomez (who also plays lead in Hazmat Modine). The lyrics are a hoot, but they’re poignant as well:

This piano is out of tune
The neighbourhood is filled with gloom
I’m bumping into chairs
I’m spilling drinks on tables
Some may say I’m a nervous wreck
No therapist can cure my debt
I want to find a place
Where I know how to relax
Here I came from a lucky land
Sometimes I miss the grass and sand
An immigrant without a plan
Just a shitload of luggage
Now I’ve circled the city seven times
Like a conservative Jewish bride
And for the reception
I’d like to invite you all to
The Edible Restaurant
Where you can even take a bite out of the waitress

The next track, Bessie is a mostly slow piano ballad, an inscrutably wistful number, seemingly about a friend who’s gone AWOL. Gomez contributes a beautiful, deceptively dark David Gilmour-esque solo on lapsteel. After that, on the hustling, bustling Bergen Street, the narrator finds herself “caught in the middle of a passive aggressive storm,” yet intent on pursuing the object of her desires. The following track If Bob Was God is an intense, heartfelt ballad, electric with longing and desire:

I don’t want to be
One of the boys again
It’s happened to me
Ever since the age of ten…
I have to let you know tonight

This album is littered with New York references and this is one of the most evocative.

The next song, Aching Melody is a slinky, sexy tune, Wurlitzer and drum machine, which Gertler will employ occasionally to entertaining effect at solo shows. She follows that with a powerful antiwar anthem, Uniform, which could be for the zeros what Supertramp’s Crime of the Century was for the 70s. Told from the point of view of a nameless, nationless draftee who did everything to avoid joining in the killing, it’s the most powerful song on the album. The cd’s next track, Veselka, brings some substantial, stick-to-your-ribs comic relief: it’s a tribute to the legendary Ukrainian pierogi joint on Second Avenue. Apparently Gertler had been away from the place for awhile and the waitstaff missed her. “See the years passing by, Veselka still serves the oldest recipes!” Gertler blissfully exclaims. There’s a very witty Balkan interlude toward the end of the song, with some juicy guitar from Gomez (Gertler knows her gypsy music: see Nervous Breakthroughs for her sizzling instrumental The Hot Bulgar). The cd concludes with a brief instrumental reprise of the opening track. What a great album, definitely one of the two or three best of the year so far. Five pierogies. With applesauce and sour cream and several beers. CD’s are available at shows, in Australia and online. Incidentally, if you read the small print at the bottom of the cd case, you’ll see that the album was produced with the assistance of the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body. Now just imagine the NEA giving, say, Randi Russo a grant. Makes you want to…well, shouldn’t say here, not since everyone’s eating.

June 13, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments