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 7/6/09

We do this every Tuesday. 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 every link here will take you to each individual song.

 

1. Marty Willson-Piper – Sniper

The Church guitarist has a career-best solo album just out (very favorably reviewed here) and this is its centerpiece, a towering anthem about the ethics of assassinations. Not what you might think. The Church are at Irving Plaza on 7/8, tix still available.

 

2. Moist Paula – Your Singlet

Haunting and hypnotic, something probably from the great underground composer/baritone saxist’s cinematic Secretary project.

 

3. Painted on Water – 1000 Faced Man

Eerie Doorsy art-rock by this innovative Turkish-American group.

 

4. Dagmar – Secret Agent Men

Harmony-driven dark pop with a noir cabaret feel. They’re playing the cd release show for their new one at Caffe Vivaldi on 7/15 at 8.

 

5. Heather & the Barbarians – Kiss Me or Kill Me

Slow snarling country song. They’re at Spikehill on 7/8 at 9.

 

6. Kendra Smith – Heart & Soul

Joy Division cover by the legendary ex-Dream Syndicate bassist. Most Joy Division covers suck. This one doesn’t.  

 

7. Dan Berg & the Gestalt – Minty Bembe

Real cool song – part latin jazz, a little gypsy feel over a hypnotic African groove.

 

8. Reverb Galaxy – Balkan Stomp

Self-explanatory surf rock madness. They’re playing on the Coney Island boardwalk at 4 PM on 8/15.

 

9. Lorrie Doriza – Elle, en Nuit

Magnificent piano-based art-rock. Wow – check out those high notes.

 

10. Mustard Plug – Waiting Room

Very much better-than average ska punk with horns with a little Hawaii 5-0 feel

July 7, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Ghost of Cesar Franck, Part Two

Monday night began with a stellar performance of Romantic music for cello and piano featuring a gorgeously permutating version of terminally underrated Belgian composer Cesar Franck’s Sonata in A Major. It was as if his ghost was in the room. After the show, it was time to head up to Small Beast at the Delancey, the weekly edgy music salon (now with free barbecue!)  that’s recently migrated from Thursdays to Mondays for at least the time being as the weather heats up (let’s face it, this respite we’ve been enjoying is about to end). Franck’s ghost came along for the ride, maybe bringing Chopin along (it’s unknown if the two composers knew each other – Chopin was at the height of his popularity just as Franck was graduating from the conservatory, but both were wallflowers so it’s unlikely). Seated at the Small Beast (the 88-key spinet piano) doing his own Romantic thing was Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch, who since he books Small Beast has received an enormous amount of ink here. Suffice it to say that his own individual blend of classical and gypsy influences, along with the rock and the honkytonk and the gospel, is something you ought to see if you like any of those styles. This time was characteristic: some new Botanica material (one a dead ringer for vintage Procol Harum), some noir cabaret and a soul song.

Marni Rice was next. The accordionist/chanteuse is a quintessentially New York artist, a throwback to a more dangerous, vastly more interesting, pre-condo era, around the time Bernie Madoff was president of  the NASDAQ exchange (presumably because his Ponzi scheme was so successful). She opened solo with one of Edith Piaf’s first recordings, Mon Pernod, a haphazard barroom narrative from 1926 that she’d transcribed from an old record. With a twilight feel on her accordion, Rice switched between a slightly menacing, noir cabaret delivery and a soulful alto, backed by former Pere Ubu bassist Michelle Temple (who also doubled on guitar) and Wallfisch on piano on one song. Another evocative narrative, Rice explained, she’d written after returning from Paris to her old stomping grounds near the old Second Ave. sidewalk sale, a reliable source of bargains run by a rotating cast of junkies and derelicts around 6th and 7th Sts. in the 80s and early 90s. “I’ll be all right…til winter comes,” one of them casually tells his sidewalk pal.

The duo also swung their way through the noir cabaret of Dripping with Blue, a spot-on rainy NYC street tableau and Priere, an original that gave Rice a chance to relate a hilarious anecdote about playing one of Louise Bourgeois’ salons, Bourgeois giving her an earful about how the stuff she grew up listening to in Paris was “so much more elevated” than the old barroom songs in Rice’s catalog…but did Rice know this one, and that one, and could she play it? They closed with Red Light, “about insomnia and spending too much time on the subway,” and a fuzz bass-driven punk rock song. When the luxury condos all turn into crackhouses and the old days come back, we’ll undoubtedly still have Marni Rice around to usher them in a second time.

Next on the bill: the Snow, rocker Pierre de Gaillande’s main band these days when he’s not doing his amazing Georges Brassens Translation Project, Melomane having gone on hiatus for the time being. This was a full-band show, drum kit down on the floor in front of the bar. Cesar Franck’s ghost was still in full effect, the Parisian vibe more evident than ever in Gaillande’s writing – in a lot of ways it makes sense that he’d be the one to introduce Brassens to English-speaking audiences because the two writers share a cleverness, a punk rock fearlessness but also a meticulous sense of craft. Frontwoman/keyboardist Hilary Downes, as usual, got to take center stage and keep the crowd entertained, but it was the songwriting that carried the night: the noir garage swing of Reptile, the subtly shifting, understatedly haunting Undertow, a swirling version of True Dirt (title track to the band’s excellent debut cd), a soul duet and the hilarious Russians, an aptly snide look at what happens when a corrupt communist regime goes even more corruptly capitalist.

Hindsight being 20/20, it would easily have been possible to stick around and see what Christof Widholm of Morex Optimo was doing with his latest project Pharmacy & Gardens. However, in the interest of staying on top of the scene to the extent that there is a scene and there’s a top to be found there, the game plan was to get over to Union Pool in time to see how Rev. Vince Anderson’s first night there was going. Answer: another mobscene, even more delirously populated than closing night at Black Betty a week ago. Union Pool is a lot bigger than Black Betty, and the crowd filled it, a swirl of bodies in refreshingly diverse shades swaying and bouncing to the pulse of the band. They were celebrating baritone sax player Moist Paula’s birthday, so there was a full horn section up with Anderson and the Moist One and the guitar and rhythm section and they were positively cooking, one of the jams going on for at least 25 minutes. While it’s a safe bet that most of the crowd had no concern about how late the party went – this was Williamsburg, after all – the house was still full well past two in the morning. And it was clear that Cesar had come along along for the ride – though you won’t hear any Franck in Anderson’s fiery electric piano cascades or Billy Preston-inflected organ, it’s safe to say that not only does Anderson know Franck’s work, but it’s quite possible he’s played it on a church organ at some point. At least the vibe was the same – Anderson’s gospel is the gospel of the heart, where emotion rules, where the rules are cast to the wind and the good guys always win. At least they did Monday night.

June 24, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.]

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

Rev. Vince Anderson Live at Black Betty, Brooklyn NY 2/19/08

Rev. Vince Anderson had a rough week. While training in the park for an upcoming road race, the newly svelte Rev. was socked in the jaw by an old codger who told him, “This is for Jimmy.” It didn’t hurt, said the Rev., but it was a New York moment. Recently single, he’d spent Valentine’s Day alone with half a bottle of Trader Joe’s wine and a pizza and garlic sauce that tasted like butter (from a national chain: figures, right?). And his friend was in ICU after the Lincoln Town Car he was riding in pulled up at the curb just outside the club a couple of days before and within seconds was t-boned by a couple of drunk kids who then ran from the scene. These are just some of the things Brooklyn’s best-loved keyboard-pounding minister has to deal with, and he delivered a prayer onstage for his banged-up pal. Unsurprisingly, it took Anderson about half his first set to really get going. But the band took over and got things moving right along.

This is the best unit he’s played with, which is pretty impressive, considering that right around the turn of the century the stuff he was doing had a wildly intense, deliriously fun gypsy rock feel. But since then he’s apparently decided to become king of all keyboard instruments. Tonight in the first forty-five minutes he played blues piano, gospel organ, Billy Preston-influenced funk, and psychedelic Fender Rhodes-ish electric piano while the band wailed behind him. This time around he had a full three-piece horn section including Dave Smith from Who Put the Bad Mouth on Me taking center stage on trombone, plus not-so-secret weapon Paula Henderson from Moisturizer and Secretary on baritone sax, playing clever, devious harmonies off Smith’s straight-ahead blues while a new addition on tenor sax contributed as well.

At first thought, guitarist Jaleel Bunton (who’s also the drummer in TV on the Radio) would be the last musician you’d think would work in this unit, but he does. The guy has monster chops, a lightning-fast attack and the kind of silvery vibrato that a lot of metal players have. But notwithstanding its ecstatic crescendos, Anderson’s music is really all about groove, swing and subtlety. Bunton likes playing up in the mix and was there tonight with some nice natural distortion screaming from his amp, showing off a very impressively thoughtful side with a seemingly endless supply of juicy 60s soul and blues licks. Meanwhile, drummer Torbitt Schwartz (also of Chin Chin) swung like crazy, building up a big woooosh on his crash cymbal during an absolutely rapturous version of Anderson’s psychedelic gospel number Deep in the Water.

They’d opened the set quietly but quickly rose to ecstatic heights with a cover of Precious Lord, Take My Hand and another hymn, along with the propulsively hypnotic Come to the River, which Anderson used as a showcase for the many echo effects on his Nord Electro keyboard when they brought the song down gently at the end after a deliriously good ten-minute jam. They also debuted Anderson’s first-ever breakup song, titled A Ring in My Pocket and Leaving on Her Heart. It built slowly like a long Tom Waits epic: eventually, Anderson finds himself on the train out to Brooklyn, the borough of churches, looking for any redemption he may find. And the song isn’t bitter: when it finally hit a peak, about five minutes in, Anderson sang of how he was thinking about what it would be like to grow old with that woman, and how much he loved her. It was impossible not to be moved. The band brought it down after that with a warm, reflective take of Peace in the Valley, but the crowd, which had packed the little place and had been dancing all night, kept swaying. Shows like these make all the daily hassles seem like a small price to pay for living in a city that may be on its last legs but isn’t dead yet. Rev. Vince Anderson plays Black Betty every Monday at around 10:45, when he isn’t touring.

February 20, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 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

Concert Review from the Archives: Mary Lee Kortes, LJ Murphy, the Dog Show, Douce Gimlet, the Scholars and Steak at the C-Note, NYC 9/8/00

[Editor’s note -during our first year, when we found ourselves in a particularly slow week, we’d put up an article or two from the exhaustive archive we’d inherited a few months earlier from our predecessor e-zine. In those days we didn’t know how easy we had it.]

This was an ass-backwards night. By all rights, the opening act should have headlined, but acoustic acts tend to play here earlier in the evening. The later it gets, the louder it usually is here. Mary Lee’s Corvette frontwoman Mary Lee Kortes held the crowd rapt throughout her 45-minute solo acoustic set: you could have heard a pin drop. Plainly and simply, there is no better singer out there right now. Her favorite vocal device is to leap an octave or more, in a split second, always landing like a cat. Tonight she made it seem effortless, even if her songs, and her vocals, tend to be white-knuckle intense, her steely wail soaring over her subtle, judicious guitar playing. And there’s no better songwriter out there right now either. The songs she played tonight, a mix of concert favorites and new material, are striking in their craftsmanship. The French word for it is travaille, something Kortes would understand and probably agree with.

She opened with a quiet, almost skeletal version of the unreleased Redemption Day, radically different from the blazing riff-rock smash she plays with the band. Still, the anguished intensity of the lyric was undiminished. Later, she did several swinging, country-inflected songs from the band’s most recent, panstylistically brilliant album True Lovers of Adventure. She closed with Lost Art, a ballad from the album, that she sang a-capella, forgetting the words to the last verse for a second and then recovering, to the crowd’s clear delight. I haven’t seen an audience so riveted in a long time.

Another first-class songwriter, LJ Murphy followed. He’s also a band person at heart, although he’s been doing a weekly solo acoustic residency here for over a year now. Residencies can be a dangerous thing for a musician: they’ll wear out your crowd quickly. But there was a vocal contingent here tonight that clearly knows his material well, and he rewarded them by playing mostly requests. He cuts a striking figure with his immaculate black suit, porkpie hat and gravelly baritone. Like Kortes, many of his blues and soul-inflected songs have a stinging lyrical edge, including his minor-key opener, Geneva Conventional, a withering broadside about selling out. His best song of the night was St. James Hotel, a catchy, crescendoing tale of a drunk in a Times Square welfare hotel who hopes he’ll fall asleep “before this bottle’s empty.”

The Dog Show brought a small but enthusiastic crowd. Tonight was lead guitarist Jack Martin’s turn to shine. He plays pretty straightforward lead guitar in Knoxville Girls, but in this project he plays with a slide, and tonight saw him doing his best Mick Taylor impression, all scorching leads and wailing excursions to the uppermost reaches of the fretboard, giving a vintage, Stonesy edge to the band’s lyrical, Costello-esque songs. They wailed through the 6/8 blues Diamonds and Broken Glass (with a long guitar solo), the quietly excoriating Saturday Nights Are for Amateurs, the joyous, Latin-inflected Halcyon Days and a ska number called Back to the Mine which the backup singer (the frontman’s wife) punctuated with percussion on a cooking pan.

Douce Gimlet packed the place. They’re a kitchen-sink band: frontman/guitarist Ben Plummer can literally write anything. Tonight they did a mix of silly instrumentals that could be tv show themes, a handful of aching country ballads (Plummer excels at these) and their best song, a haunting janglerock number called Destitute. This band is a magnet for talent: Martin joined them on slide, Dog Show frontman Jerome O’Brien is the bass player, and they have Moisturizer frontwoman Moist Paula Henderson on baritone sax. She and Plummer began and ended the show with a New Orleans-style march on which he joined her on saxophone, walking up to the stage to begin the set, and then, at the end, the two somehow made way to the door through the throngs of people as the rhythm section kept playing onstage. The crowd roared for more but the club wouldn’t let them do an encore.

The Lower East Side bands that play here are a closeknit scene, many of them sharing members. The Scholars’ drummer had already played a tight set with the Dog Show, and held down a slow, smoldering groove with this electric Neil Young-inflected quartet. They had a guest cellist, who played haunting washes that fit in perfectly with this band’s dark, glimmering, rain-drenched Pacific Northwest gothic vibe. Finally, after their set, the crowd started to trickle out and I wasn’t far behind. Steak, which is Jack Grace’s Denver jam band relocated to New York, have a very Little Feat sound: lots of improvisation (Grace is a terrific guitarist who blends country with jazz licks on his big Gibson hollowbody), and the band swings. But they drove me out of the club when the rhythm guitarist started bellowing “Steve McQueen” over and over again while the band turned it up as loud as they could behind him. But all in all, a rewarding evening for anyone (and there were a few) who’d had the stamina (or alcohol tolerance) to stick around for the whole night.

[postscript: Mary Lee’s Corvette continues to record and tour, with a cameo in the film Happy Hour. LJ Murphy’s solo residency at the C-Note ended later that year – since then he’s been recording and playing with his band. The Dog Show hung it up in 2007, although frontman Jerome O’Brien remains active in music. Douce Gimlet broke up in 2002; their frontman died under suspicious circumstances shortly thereafter, although no one was ever charged in his death. Scholars frontman Whiting Tennis still records and will from time to time play a live show with the Scholars, although in recent years his focus has been mainly on his critically acclaimed, hauntingly intense visual art. While Steak is for all intents and purposes defunct, Jack Grace continues to enjoy a successful career as a country bandleader and booking agent]

September 8, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Rev. Vince Anderson at Black Betty, Brooklyn NY 7/16/07

People were dancing. Hardly worth mentioning, except for the fact that the venue is in the heart of Trendoid Central, where it is strictly verboten to crack a smile or, heaven help us, move your ass. A few weeks ago it was a mostly Israeli crowd here, testament to Rev. Vince Anderson’s ecumenical appeal (he’s a real ordained minister, with credentials from the Universal Life Church if memory serves right).

The Rev., as he’s best known, is something of a New York institution, a charismatic, frequently mesmerizing performer and keyboardist who surrounds himself with like-minded players. Tonight, in addition to the rhythm section from groovemeisters Chin Chin (including the redoubtable Torbitt Schwartz on drums), he had his usual main weapon Moist Paula Henderson (frontwoman of the excellent instrumental trio Moisturizer) on baritone sax, as well as trombonist Dave Smith and TV on the Radio guitarist Jaleel Bunton. With his gravelly voice, jumping around and wailing on his Nord Electro keyboard, the Rev. was in a particularly boisterous mood tonight. His newly svelte physique may come as something of a shock to those who haven’t seen him lately, but he hasn’t lost any of his usual energy.

One A-list New York rocker recently remarked that the Rev. and his band are something akin to Phish playing gospel, and that’s could be true in the sense that they jam the hell out of pretty much everything they play (although there’s absolutely nothing cutesy about them). They opened with a cover of Ben Harper’s Power of the Gospel, rearranged with percussive verses building to a slinky, jazzy chorus. They followed with a rousing, authentically vintage, 60s-sounding Come to the River, from his latest album 100% Jesus. The Rev. had just returned from his native California, where he’d baptized his new nephew and was clearly amped from the experience.

Since the Rev.’s shows are about more than just the music – he’s a preacher with an uncommonly strong social conscience – he took time to address the crowd as the band launched into the chords to a long, hypnotically psychedelic version of his song Deep in the Water. “We can talk about baptism and the healing power of water…and you know how hot it is in Fresno, when you get off the plane? It was 122 degrees when I got off the plane. I’m not exaggerating…not the misery index, it was fucking 122 degrees! Fresno used to be the agricultural capital of the world. This is where you got your fruits: you get that nectarine from the deli, and it says from California? It comes from Fresno. Raisins, Sunmaid raisins? Fresno. Asparagus, Fresno. Anything you want green or fruity comes from Fresno.”

Sensing the Rev. winding up a tribute to his hometown, the band picked it up for a second, but he brought them back down. He wasn’t finished. “Every time that I come back to Fresno, I see all this beautiful land of my childhood, these beautiful fig groves and orange groves, and I see an apricot field and a vineyard, and lately they’ve all been torn down to put up these cheap, cheap tract houses, and they name the tract of the house after the crop that used to be there. So there’s a tract of homes called Fig Garden, and a tract of homes called Orange Grove, and another tract of homes called Raisinville. And this year, I don’t like to be apocalyptic – I’m not an apocalyptic preacher – but I have to figure that pretty soon people are not gonna want to give water to Fresno anymore. And all these Raisinvilles are just gonna be ghost towns and then they’ll miss their water.”

From there, the song built to a hypnotic, warm vibe, something akin to the Stones’ Moonlight Mile with lots of Rhodes-y electric piano from the Rev. Using his tone controls, he gradually worked his way up to an eerie, distorted setting as the band went quiet and ended on a somber note. The next tune was a country gospel number with a swing beat, featuring solos around the horn: first trombone, then baritone sax, then piano, and predictably, the Rev. stole the show with some delicious honkytonk playing. Then they brought it down to just the bass.

Their deliberate, crescendoing take of the blues classic John the Revelator began with same minor key groove that the Rev. uses for his big audience hit Get Out of My Way, and became an audience singalong directed from the Rev.’s pulpit behind the keys. “When you say ‘John the Revelator,’ you can’t do it like this,” the Rev. instructed his parishioners, struggling to fasten the top button of his shirt and making a poindexter face. In a second, he’d undone the button and a couple below and roared the line at the audience. This time they got it and roared back. The first set of the evening came to an end with a jam into a fast, shambling version of Ease on Down the Road, from the Wiz soundtrack, the Rev. pounding out some nice Billy Preston-style funk fills. This guy raises the bar for live performers: when he’s on, it’s hard to imagine anything much more exhilarating. Tonight was a prime example.

July 18, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments