Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 3/27/11

Today may be a day of rest for a lot of you but it’s a day of work for us. We’ll be back Monday with more new stuff. In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #674:

Moisturizer – Moisturizer Takes Mars

The shortest album on this list, it clocks in at around nine minutes. Is this even an album? If you count ep’s, why not? And since it’s the only physical product one of the world’s most entertaining, exciting, danceable bands ever put out, it’ll have to do. For about ten years, there was no funner group in New York than this all-female instrumental trio. Blending their low-register sounds into an intoxicating, hip-shaking groove, baritone sax player Moist Paula, bassist Moist Gina and drummer Moist Tomoyo literally never wrote a bad song. And they had dozens more than just the three on this album: the title track, Cash Incentive and Selfish: Not a Dirty Word. When they started right before the turn of the century, they were basically a surf band with sax instead of guitar; when they wrapped it up in 2009, they’d become one of New York’s best bands, blending funk, punk, trip-hop, soul and go-go music into a uniquely moist sound. Since then, Paula has gone on to recognition as a composer of cinematic soundscapes and plays with innumerable projects including ambient big band Burnt Sugar. Gina went on to play with the Detroit Cobras, World Inferno and continues to be sought out as a touring pro; Tomoyo left the band in 2004 and was replaced by a guy, Moist Yoshio. Tomoyo is Japanese and we hope she’s ok. This one was a very limited edition, but there’s a bunch of tracks up at the band’s myspace and all are worth owning.

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March 27, 2011 Posted by | funk music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Moisturizer at Zebulon, Brooklyn NY 9/30/09

Moisturizer did their inimitable best to put a smile on it, but the inevitably sad truth is that the band is finished. After more than ten years of getting notoriously uptight New York crowds to bounce and twirl and sway, they’re packing it in. The funnest instrumental band in town probably has a final blowout up their collective sleeves, but for official club gigs, this was it. Blending 60s Memphis with clever funk, bits of jazz, film soundtrack, pop and a little punk rock (and some surf in the beginning), they ruled the Lower East Side in the early zeros and put out one classic ep, Moisturizer Takes Mars. There have been innumerable bands from these parts who never achieved the world dominance their fan base longed for, but nobody ever deserved it more than Moisturizer. Frontwoman/baritone saxophonist Paula Henderson AKA Moist Paula gets plenty of work and has her own equally devious side project, the cinematic Secretary; bassist Gina Rodriguez AKA Moist Gina, also of the Detroit Cobras, is moving to the Murder City where she will no doubt focus on that band and drummer Moist Yoshio, like all good drummers, is in at least two or three other groups. But there should have been Moisturizer action figures. They should have had their own Sunday morning cartoon. Maybe even the Moisturizer movie. With all those sly, Satie-esque song titles – Subway Flood, Mother’s Coming Over with a Bunch of Scallions, ad infinitum – and the joyous pulse of the tunes, they really should have been famous. Maybe, like ESG for example, there’ll be a Moisturizer revival.

Unsurprisingly, the set was mostly greatest hits: the fast, pogoing Cash Incentive; a similarly cute, clever cover of The Look of Love and the big crowd-pleaser Miss Psycho Jones with its unstoppable, lickety-split bassline. As Moist Paula has always been quick to remind, all their songs are true stories, none more strikingly and perhaps surprisingly haunting than the epic The Littlest Orphan, about a child lost in the Indonesian tsunami but then successfully reunited with his family. Maybe because of the circumstances the band was playing under, they gave the song a special gravitas and majesty. The brilliance of Moist Gina was never more apparent than it was on another big dramatic number, Enactuate Our Love, where she went for the furiously joyous crescendo at the end, missed her first step but then improvised a solo that was completely different yet also completely hit the spot. And it was indelibly hers. New York’s loss is Detroit’s gain. They returned to playful, upbeat mode and closed with the classic, catchy Pretend Boyfriend, Moist Gina and Moist Paula working a neat echo between them. Backing them was a guest guitarist who added color and contrast with some frequently eerie, Keith Levene-esque noise.

And the crowd, unsurprisingly, was less vibrant than usual: despite the fun onstage, it didn’t look like anybody was very psyched to see this band come to an end. The final Moisturizer show is at the new Knitting Factory in the old Luna Lounge space in Williamsburg on Oct 13.

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

Top Ten Songs of the Week 4/20/09

We do this every week. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Pretty much each link here will take you to the song; if not, you’ll have to check back here for live dates.

 

1. Juliana Nash – Love Song for New York

Classic, fiery, late 90s style underground NYC rock:  “It’s 6 AM and I’m drunk again…I turn incidents to habits!” Unreleased, as far as we know; watch this space for hopefully a live date or two sometime from the former Pete’s Candy Store proprietress.

 

2. Lenny Molotov – Brother Can You Spare a Dime

Updated for the new depression: stockbrokers become crackheads. Unreleased, watch this space for live dates.

 

3. Kerry Kennedy – Sons of Sons

Gorgeous NYC noir rock evocative of the Jesus & Mary Chain’s classic Deep One Perfect Morning

 

4. Moisturizer – The Kitchen Is Closed

Brilliant, counterintuitive bass goddess Moist Gina doing Larry Graham one better. They’re at Black Betty on 4/29 at 10 debuting their brand-new five-piece lineup!

 

5. The New Collisions – Ones to Wander

The Boston new wave revivalists have a ton of catchy, edgy three-minute gems and this is one of them. “Oh my eyes!” They’re at Arlene’s at 7 on 4/23 and the Delancey on 5/21

 

6. El Radio Fantastique – Riverbed 

Swaying, haunting, imaginative modern noir cabaret.

 

7. Linda DraperTime Will Tell

The great New York songwriter/lyricist has yet another new cd out, titled Bridge & Tunnel and this is a choice cut.  

 

8. Traquair – Perverted by the 21st Century

Scottish singer-songwriter – catchy, smart, terse.

 

9. This Spy Surfs – Spy Beach

Smartly virtuosic but tasteful guitar instrumental stylings. They’re at LIC Bar on May 15.  

 

10. King Django – Thirsty

Characteristically hypnotic but interesting dub reggae. They’re at Shrine on May 1.

April 20, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s Raining Moisturizer: Moisturizer Live at Black Betty, Brooklyn NY 10/10/07

Three reviews of Moisturizer and a side project in two weeks here: isn’t that sort of overkill? Consider this: critics said a lot about Miles Davis at Birdland in 1957. The media went ga-ga over the Ramones at CBGB twenty years later. Ten years after that, it was Yo La Tengo at Maxwell’s that everybody was talking about. Similarly, this is a band at the absolute peak of their career so far. Moisturizer has come to the point where they’ve become a band you absolutely have to see. And it’s not because of their anger or earsplitting volume, nor does Moisturizer have anything to do with a trend, a fashion or a fad. Moisturizer is pure, unadulterated fun.

 

Tonight they played two delirious, sweaty sets, all original instrumentals except for a very cleverly rearranged cover of the Burt Bacharach latin-pop classic The Look of Love. Special guest David Smith joined with the band to play ebullient, ecstatic trombone on the sultry, swinging, newly rearranged Unhaveable Blues, and joined with baritone saxist/frontwoman Moist Paula to bring the house down with a wild, clattering, practically heavy metal outro on one of the last songs of the night. Otherwise, the night belonged to Moist Paula, bassist Moist Gina and drummer Moist Yoshio. The latter is the most compelling evidence for Moisturizer’s ascendancy from merely good to absolutely transcendent: he swings, has command of what seems to be any time signature and can play anything from punk to funk to swing with an effortless, uncluttered grace. He’s given the rest of the trio the groove they always were going for but never had the drummer behind them to hit until now.

 

Moist Gina’s basslines are potently percussive, richly melodic and very hard to play. She makes it seem effortless even though she probably lost five percent of the weight on her strong, slender frame by the time the show was over. Her voicings are often completely unorthodox: watching her fingers swoop and slide up and down the fretboard was a clinic in how to play bass with an idiosyncratic, uniquely personal yet musically brilliant approach. To drive a point home, she’d slam on the occasional chord, slide with split-second timing up to a high note and punctuated a charming, catchy new one with gentle octaves and arpeggios. If there were Moisturizer action figures – in a more perfect world, every little kid would have their little plastic Moist people – Gina would be the one who packs the heat.

 

Moist Paula would be the one with the magic sax, whose keys she presses in order to create a secret Moist universe where the party is everywhere and everyone is invited. It’s her crafty sense of humor and surreal wit that makes Moisturizer’s songs as fun as they are, from the tricky time stop-and-start time changes of Actually I’m So Busy to the triumphantly buoyant Moisturizer Takes Mars. Yet it was their more serious songs that impressed most tonight. Their second set was the best series of segues I’ve seen this year: the sad tango Girl in the Goldfish Bowl, then a haunting, swinging, relatively new number about a baby lost in the Indonesian tsunami, and an irresistibly propulsive song called I Will Unmagic Your [something – the title is a long, complicated Salman Rushdie quote] with a crescendo capped by a wild, flying Moist Gina solo. It was after one in the morning when they finally closed the show with a boisterous take on their big audience hit Mission: Moisturizer.

 

The crowd wasn’t dancing this time, probably because of the nature of the crowd itself (the venue itself is charmingly laid-back and unpretentious, in stark contrast to trendoids who hang out here), and because a breakdancer had taken over the small space in front of the stage, frenetically flipping and twirling, effectively creating a barrier between band and audience. Yet there was a lot of chair-dancing: as hard as some of the crowd may have been trying to sit still, they didn’t exactly pull it off. How the audience reacts with their bodies is a reliably indicator of a band’s performance: the more people move, generally speaking, the better the music is and tonight’s show validated that theory. Miss seeing this band live and risk your health. 95% of all doctors recommend Moisturizer to cure any uptightness you may have. The other 5% are uptight themselves.

October 14, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Moisturizer at BAM Cafe, Brooklyn NY 9/28/07

A deliriously good show. The all-instrumental trio – baritone sax, bass and drums – swung like crazy. This band doesn’t just “bang out a good time,” as one New York periodical sarcastically put it a couple of years ago: they flat-out groove. Tonight virtuoso baritone sax player Moist Paula, inimitably imaginative bassist Moist Gina and the newest addition to the band, drummer Moist Yoshio laid down the sexiest groove heard anywhere in New York. It was clear that everybody in the band was especially amped for this show.

Moisturizer proved without a doubt that they are the funnest and maybe even – gasp – the best live band in New York. Moist Paula jokingly told the crowd before launching into the catchy, bouncy Cash Incentive that “that’s why we’re here tonight.” But afterward she admitted that she was just kidding. Cash is great, but these two girls and a guy are clearly in it for the love of it just as much as for the moola. The songs that Moist Paula and Moist Gina write are meticulously composed, effortlessly memorable and danceable as hell; it was incongruous to see the tables here full of people just sitting there. People usually get up and move around at Moisturizer shows. If there’s one criticism of this band, it’s that Moist Paula doesn’t always announce the songs’ sly, Satie-esque titles, and tonight she remedied that, making sure to let the crowd know whether they were about to play the gleefully busy Dimestore Aphrodisiac, the big audience hit Actually I’m So Busy, the haunting tango Girl in the Goldfish Bowl and a dynamite new funk number – perhaps titled Restaurant Delivery? – pulsing along on an absolutely luscious, Larry Graham-inflected Moist Gina bassline. They closed the set with guest trombonist David Smith invited up to join the band on a sexy, bluesy reworking of one of their usually more percussive numbers.

Moist Paula has jazz chops, but tonight was a reminder that she’s all about the melody, first and foremost. Moist Gina is a hard hitter, a melodic powerhouse herself, but she’s also become a master of textures, adjusting her effects pedals between every song to change her tone from boomy to watery to springy and back again. For some reason, her amp was producing a ton of interesting overtones in the big, cavernous space, resulting in some high octaves bouncing around the room, almost as if there was a vibraphone in the band. Moist Yoshio has impeccable timing and swings with the best of them, one of the reasons why this band has been able to take it to the next level in recent months.

Moisturizer’s songs are catchy, but they’re deceptively complex. Verses and choruses don’t repeat often: the melodies often seem to have a narrative, and as Moist Paula was quick to let everyone know, all their songs are true stories. Frequently the melody would switch between the sax and the bass, back and forth; other times the two instruments played off each other. The effect of all those low frequencies was as hypnotic and soothing as it should have been dance-inducing (although this venue doesn’t exactly seem like the place for that). The songs embody elements of jazz, funk, surf music, 60s go-go instrumentals, punk rock and even hip-hop. But ultimately Moisturizer plays something completely unique. Call it moist music.

Moisturizer also happens to have perhaps the most diverse fan base of any New York band, bringing an impressively polyglot following out tonight that seemed to embrace just about every ethnicity and age group in town. They were scheduled to do another set accompanied by a heavy metal guitarist from the 80s – this band seems like they’ll try anything once – but we had places to go and things to do.

September 29, 2007 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Nightcrawling 5/11/07: Basement, Lenny Molotov, Les Chauds Lapins, Moisturizer

The evening began at with happy hour at Lakeside, a reliably good way to kick off the night. The scheduled band had apparently cancelled and had been replaced by a country/rock outfit called Basement who took the stage at 8 instead of the usual 11 PM. They were excellent: two guitars, rhythm section and keyboardist who played mainly organ fills, from what little we got to hear. The lead player, on Telecaster, seems to be more of a rock guy, but he still gave them a shot of adrenaline. The flyer in the club window described them as rockers with a lot of bluegrass and Irish influences: the latter was in evidence, not the former. But there’s only so much you can tell from the first fifteen minutes of a band’s set. They’re definitely worth checking out.

Next stop was Sidewalk, where by the time we arrived Lenny Molotov was already into his 45-minute set. Funny how times change: ten years ago, this place was Dork Central and now it’s one of the more prestigious places to play. Same shitty sound, but it’s become a sane alternative to the Living Room, cheaper and usually pretty much tourist-free. And apparently musicians who want to play there no longer have to subject themselves to waiting ten hours for a 3-song audition in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, subject to the ridicule of the Woody Allen wannabe who’s been booking the place forever.

Molotov (who also fronts the excellent delta blues outfit Elgin Movement, and plays mean lead guitar for Randi Russo) was without his usual collection of effects pedals, so with only the club’s weak PA to amplify his acoustic guitar, the brilliance of his spiky, fingerpicked melodies wasn’t always readily apparent. He played a lot of new material, accompanied by his Elgin Movement sidekick, Jake Engel, on chromatic harp and Karl Meyer on violin. Engel was in a particularly buoyant mood and got a lot of response out of the surprisingly sparse crowd. Molotov’s original songs typically set darkly witty, brilliantly literate, contemporary lyrics to oldschool delta blues melodies, and tonight he played one of his best originals in that vein, possibly titled Hard to be an Outlaw. It’s a bleak, black-humor-driven chronicle about a kid from somewhere sketchy in Brooklyn who a couple of years ago went out to buy some weed, may or may not have been entrapped into starting a fatal shootout with an undercover cop, and ended up blowing his brains out later that night in an ex-girlfriend’s project apartment. Later, Molotov told the audience that he was going to do a number he’d never before played live, and that he’d just found out why everyone else plays it. After working out who was going to take a solo and when, he launched into a fascinating open-tuned arrangement of St. James Infirmary Blues, barely recognizable save for the lyrics. He closed the set with a new original song, Luxury Blues: “You say you don’t have a woman/Well try having two.”

We cut out moments after he left the stage and went east to Banjo Jim’s for about 40 minutes where Les Chauds Lapins were playing. They’re Kurt Hoffmann on banjo uke and clarinet, trading vocals with Roulette Sisters lead guitarist Meg Reichardt, who alternated between guitar and banjo uke as well. They were backed by a rhythm section (bringing in a new upright bass player for the second set, as their first had to leave for another gig), along with violin, cello and Frank London blowing exquisitely balmy muted trumpet on a couple of numbers. Translated literally from the French, Les Chauds Lapins means “the hot rabbits.” What it actually means is “hot mamas.” It can also mean “pains in the ass.” They play vintage French pop from the 20s and 30s, Hoffmann’s urbane tenor playing off of Reichardt’s breathy, sensual vocals. Like the Roulette Sisters, Les Chauds Lapins’ specialty is sex songs, laden with double entendres, sung more or less sans accent Americain, in the language of love. Strange that the place wasn’t packed – sex sells, as everybody knows – plus, the band was playing two whole sets. Their musicianship is superb, and the songs are well-chosen. For decades, in fact until very recently, French assembly-line songwriters from Charles Trenet to Didier Barbelivien had little in common with their American Tin Pan Alley counterparts: in France, even pop songwriting is an art form. Clever lyrics, complex song structures and real artistic achievement abound. Even the much-maligned varietes folk-pop from the 70s frequently has great lyrics. Hoffmann and Reichardt mine the archive for every innuendo they can whisper. Their new cd, which they were hawking tonight, promises to be excellent. But we were off to Luna to see Moisturizer.

The new Luna Lounge (across the street from Black Betty, just off the corner of Metropolitan and Havemeyer in Williamsburg) tries very hard to be likeable and succeeds on most counts. Sizewise, it’s about the same as Bowery Ballroom without the balcony: it’s obvious that the walls and ceiling have been expertly tricked out for sound. The staff and bartenders are uncommonly nice and the drinks aren’t outrageously overpriced. Moisturizer is strictly an instrumental band, so getting the sound right for them should have been a breeze. It wasn’t. Baritone sax player Moist Paula, bassist Moist Gina and their drummer fought magnificently for almost 40 minutes, trying in vain to cut through a relentless, drum-heavy morass of sonic sludge. One has to wonder: was the sound guy stoned? Did they bring in a sub because the regular guy wanted a night off and there was a “local” band playing?

Despite the dodgy sonics, Moisturizer won over the crowd: what a surprise. They’re the closest thing we have these days to the Funk Brothers, who were Motown Records’ studio band throughout the 60s and subject of the terrific documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown. Moisturizer’s irresistibly fun, danceable tunes had everyone at least swaying in their seats. They gets a lot of ESG comparisons, and that’s not a stretch, although Moisturizer is (pardon the pun) more fluid and a lot more melodic. Frontwoman Moist Paula, who has played with everybody and also has a fine, jazzy side project called Secretary, draws on a lot of influences, from Lonnie Smith go-go to Motown to hip-hop. But her sound is unique and instantly recognizable, always coming back to the melody even if she’s known to take a noisy excursion to the outer reaches of jazz from time to time. Bassist Moist Gina is one of the best in the business, one of the hardest hitters around, a terrifically melodic, imaginative, fluid player (there’s that word again) whose flying runs up and down the scale are adrenalizing to say the least. They’ve been through a succession of drummers lately, but the latest one is working out well.

Moist Paula was the only band member who had a mic, and she didn’t talk to the crowd much: maybe they were trying to pack as much material into the allotted time as they could, an admirable goal if that’s what they were shooting for. Moisturizer has a lot of material (dozens and dozens of songs), all of them “true stories,” as Moist Paula will proudly announce from time to time, and because they don’t announce them frequently it’s hard to tell what they’re called. The Satie-esque, surreal wit of the titles carries over from the title to the music. Among the tunes they played tonight were an uncharacteristically haunting, gorgeously melancholy number about a child who was reunited with his/her mother in the wake of the Indonesia tsunami, as well as the current Moisturizer crowd-pleaser Enactuate Our Love which features a blistering, breathtaking solo from Moist Gina at the end of the song. By then she’d turned off the flange she’d been using through most of the set, giving her propulsive lines a watery, 80s tone.

Everyone’s entitled to an off night: it’s just too bad Moisturizer and their fans came out on the wrong end of this one. Maybe it’s just growing pains at a new venue: by all other standards, the new Luna is actually a welcome addition to Williamsburg. Can you remember the last time you could say that about anything new in the neighborhood? I can’t.

May 13, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments