Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Kerry Kennedy at the Delancey, NYC 7/20/09

Faced with a laughably absurd amount of work catching up here in the wake of last week’s computer meltdown, Kerry Kennedy’s gig Monday night at Small Beast at the Delancey wasn’t the most disciplined choice of show to go see and write about afterward. She’s been reviewed here very favorably before, and given how ecstatic a response a shockingly big Monday night crowd gave her, she probably doesn’t need any more press. But this was transcendent. In the same spirit if not quite the same style as Neko Case, she’s taken a very stylized genre – twangy, noir, David Lynchian southwestern gothic rock- and puts a uniquely intense yet completely unselfconscious stamp on it. A lesser artist would put his or her personality centerstage; not Kennedy.

She’s a young woman with an old voice. But it’s her voice, not Nina Simone’s or Marlene Dietrich’s, two artists whose worn-down yet electric charisma resemble hers so closely. Kennedy has the added advantage of not only being a first-class songwriter but also a collector of great songs – in her case, she’s been going deep into the James Jackson Toth catalog with astonishingly powerful results. The towering, anguished 6/8 anthem More From the Mountain (see the top of Kennedy’s myspace page) grew with Walkabouts-class power to landslide-inducing volume, lead guitarist Nathan Halpern hacking volcanic torrents of sound from the chords and hurling them down the slope. By contast, the pensive ballad Sons of Sons took a melody very reminiscent of the Jesus & Mary Chain’s Happy When It Rains deep into noir territory, stalking along on a suspenseful, staggered beat. Singing with her eyes closed and backed by Small Beast impresario and Botanica mastermind Paul Wallfisch on piano, she took the Little Annie noir cabaret angsthem Because You’re Gone pitch black, quietly, drummer Heather Wagner driving the dirge with the subtlest, wispiest accents.

The rest of the show ranged from a fast, eventually explosive rocker built around a catchy two-chord riff, a swinging, swaying, apprehensive version of the big audience hit Wishing Well, a mighty, Orbisonesque ballad and a co-write with Toth, Dive, a bitter and brutal kiss-off ballad that only gets better every time she plays it. Throughout the set, Kennedy struck a casual, resolute stance, swaying slowly, expertly working the darkest corners of the lyrics with a breathy delivery that ranged from exasperation to exhaustion to inextinguishable rage, all the while staying in a zone. At times it seemed like she’d almost gone into a trance, taking the audience with her – after she’d end a song, there would be silence for a few seconds before the crowd would start to burst into applause. Here in the blogosphere, it’s considered gauche to review the same artist again and again, but there’s simply no denying how good this show was. Every year, we put up a Top 20 NYC shows of the year list and while there’s no way we’ll be able to call this year’s anything remotely definitive, this one will be on it.

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July 23, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, Nathan Halpern and Thomas Simon at the Delancey, NYC 7/13/09

Why do we love Small Beast? Because we’re lazy. Small Beast will be happening every Monday at the Delancey until October, when it moves back to its original Thursday. Which from a music blogger’s perspective is good for so many reasons, particularly since there are almost always three or four first-rate acts on the bill who’ve never been profiled here before. So Lucid Culture gets four night’s worth of work done in a single Monday evening when there are  no conflicts with other shows. And Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch always opens the night solo on piano. Imagine if you’d been able to see Bud Powell every week for free, in 1953 – completely different idiom, same vibe. It’s all about passion.

Since Wallfisch gets a good review here pretty much every week, suffice it to say that last night’s set was characteristically rich and multistylistic. He’d played a money gig earlier in the day, so he was all warmed up and got even warmer very quickly. He did lots of new material including some songs from the next Botanica album and some even newer than that – a soaring, classically-inflected ballad, a pretty, vivid pop song and counterintuitive covers of songs by Baby Dee, Little Annie, Aimee Mann and the Stones (Faraway Eyes done hilariously with faux-gospel piano).

Nathan Halpern really opened some eyes after that. The lead guitarist from Kerry Kennedy’s paisley underground noir band proved to be a first-rate songwriter as well, sort of Orbison seen through the warped prism of Pulp. Halpern is a crooner, likes a counterintuitive, sardonically literate lyric and a big countrypolitan sound gone somewhat apprehensively askew. As he does in Kennedy’s band, he’d build a crescendo to an unhinged tremolo-picking break, wailing up and down on the strings with a Black Angel’s Death Song style savagery. Backed by Andrew Platt alternating between piano, guitar and bass and drummer Heather Wagner adding marvelously subtle shades, Halpern made his way through a mix of big 6/8 anthems, a couple of jaunty, more overtly country-inflected numbers and closed with a towering, knowingly rueful number perhaps titled Darling When.

Viennese expat Thomas Simon closed the night on a frequently mesmerizing note with a long, practically seamless, improvisational set, something akin to Bauhaus doing a sidelong Abbey Road-style suite, fragments of songs segueing into each other while he and his extraordinarily good djembe player dug a murky sonic pit that swirled deeper and darker as the night went on with layers and layers of loops reverberating and pulsing throughout the mix. Simon’s guitar playing is very Daniel Ash – like the Bauhaus guitarist, he really has a handle how to build eerie tonalities using open strings. Frequently he’d start a segue with a single low, resonant bass note just as David J did on Bela Lugosi’s Dead. Simon moved to piano for a couple of interludes, using the same chordal voicings he’d been playing on the guitar for an intriguing textural contrast. At the end, they picked up the pace with an insistent, percussively hypnotic rhythm, then they took the drums completely out of the mix and Simon took all the effects off his guitar, letting the melody’s ominous, Syd Barrett-esque inflections speak for itself.

July 14, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment