Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

New Model Army Rock the Bell House

Imagine if the Clash never broke up and that Joe Strummer was still alive. That’s a fair if not completely accurate approximation of what New Model Army sounded like at the Bell House last night. They’re playing two sets again tonight starting at 9. Thirty years after the British rockers began, they roared through two hours of fiery, politically charged anthems, a mix of hits from the 80s and 90s alongside newer material which is just as relevant and memorable as their best-known songs. Frontman Justin Sullivan started the show playing acoustic, joined by lead guitarist Dean White, who often switched to organ on some of the early numbers and then stayed on keys for the second set. Twenty minutes into the first set, the rest of the band was up onstage, and they were on their game. Even the quieter, more folk-oriented numbers took on an anthemic grandeur, aloft on the roar of the guitars and the swooping organ. With its Atrocity Exhibition drum rumble, Drummy B became more of a funeral march than an elegy for a friendship gone sour. The 1987 Orwellian nightmare scenario Courage, and Fate, from the 1993 Love of Hopeless Causes album, were especially amped, as was a ferocious version of Today Is a Good Day, a sardonic response to the 2008 global market crash: “And the birds of prey love September, flying like the harbingers of the winter,” Sullivan snarled.

The second set concentrated on the hits. NMA’s game plan for their 30th anniversary tour has been to do two stands in each city, two sets a night, neither repeating any of the previous night’s material – which they can do since their back catalog is so vast – and so strong. They dedicated a roaring, punked-out version of 51st State (as in “51st state of America”) to Brooklyn, stomped through the hypnotic, swirling biotech-apocalypse scenario White Coats, a characteristically sarcastic take of the 1981 hit A Liberal Education and ferocious versions of Vengeance and White Light, with its nimble bass riffage. The biggest crowd-pleaser was a surprise, the wistful, folk-tinged Green and Grey: referring to the cities to the south that lure kids from their northern England homes, Sullivan changed the lyric to “the land of unemployment that beckons to us all.” As the second verse began, he turned the mic over to the audience, who by now were well-oiled, knew all the words and were only too glad to join in. Whether critiquing the wave of destruction unleashed by Margaret Thatcher and her cronies, the evils of globalization or just fondly remembering the woods and fields of his youth as he did with that song, Sullivan and the rest of the band had the packed house energized, and if only for a couple of hours, fused as one against the forces of evil. Even a somewhat comical little fender-bender outside the club – “Didn’t know there’d be three sets tonight,” said one bemused onlooker – couldn’t distract from the intensity onstage.

September 4, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/1/10

New NYC live music calendar for September and October coming later today! In the meantime, every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #881:

New Model Army – Raw Melody Men

The missing link between the Clash and Midnight Oil, British rockers New Model Army have built a thirty-year career on the fiery, uncompromising, anthemic, politically aware songwriting of frontman Justin Sullivan: they’ve literally never made a bad record. This 1992 double live album captures the band at the peak of their majestic art-rock fury (they’ve been through many different phases: currently, they’re just as likely to whip out a gentle acoustic folk-rock number as a straight-up punk stomp). The swirls of electric violin and occasional keyboards here add an eerie ambience above the din of the guitar. Sullivan doesn’t confine his razor-sharp critiques to globalization or the evils of monopoly capitalism: there are few more astute critics of the left, especially coming from a progressive point of view. This one has most of the band’s early 90s concert favorites: the anguished escape anthem Get Me Out; the eco-disaster atmospherics of White Coats; the spot-on examinations of leftwing cliquishness Purity and Better Than Them; and the towering, Middle Eastern inflected majesty of Lurhstaap, a warning in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall that “You can buy a crown/It doesn’t make you king/Beware the trinkets that we bring.” Over the years, a NMA “family” has sprung up, sort of a more conscious Deadhead crew whose common passions happen to be intransigence and defiance of rightwing authority rather than drugs. New Yorkers can look forward to New Model Army’s latest appearance at 8 PM at the Bell House in Brooklyn on September 3 and 4.

September 1, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 666 Best Songs of Alltime Continues All The Way Through the End of the Zeros

As regular readers remember, for over a year we counted down the 666 best songs of all time, one a day, until the end of this past September when Lucid Culture went halfspeed. As we get into December, we’re still at halfspeed but we’ll be back with new stuff on a daily basis here in just a couple of weeks. Which gives us plenty of time to say good riddance to the decade of the Zeros and welcome in the Teens – til then, here are the songs on the list which will take us up to the first of the new year. Enjoy!

237. Randi Russo – So It Must Be True

Careening, otherworldly, somewhat flamenco-inflected epic from this era’s greatest writer of outsider anthems. The studio version on the classic 2001 Solar Bipolar album is great, but it can’t quite match the out-of-control intensity of the live version from Russo’s 2000 Live at CB’s Gallery cd.

236. Erica Smith – Pine Box

The multistylistic New York rock goddess has been off on a sultry jazz tangent lately, but five years ago she was writing lusciously jangly Americana rock and this is a prime example, ecstatically crescedoing yet dark and brooding as the title would imply. Recorded and leaked on a few bootlegs, but officially unreleased as of now.

235. The Electric Light Orchestra – From the Sun to the World

You can hear echoes of this clattering, frenetic suite in a lot of obscure art-rock and indie rock from the last thirty years. Jeff Lynne’s scary, out-of-focus apocalypse anthem kicks off with a Grieg-like morning theme, followed by a warped boogie and then an unhinged noise-rock outro that falls apart once it’s clear that it’s unsalvageable. From ELO II, 1972; mp3s are everywhere.

234. X – Nausea

The combination of Ray Manzarek’s organ swirling dizzyingly under Billy Zoom’s growling guitar and Exene’s thisclose-to-passing-out vocals is nothing if not evocative. From Los Angeles, 1980; mp3s are everywhere.

233. Stiff Little Fingers – Piccadilly Circus

Big punk rock epic about an Irish guy who gets the stuffing knocked out of him by a bunch of knuckleheads on his first night in London. From Go For It, 1981; there are also a million live versions out there, official releases and bootlegs and most of them are pretty awesome too.

232. The Wallflowers – Sixth Avenue Heartache

Elegiac slide guitar and organ carry this surprise 1996 top 40 hit’s magnificent eight-bar hook, the best song the band ever did and the only standout track on their disappointing sophomore effort Bringing Down the Horse. Mp3s are everywhere.

231. Bruce Springsteen – The Promised Land

This backbeat anthem makes a killer (literally) opening track on the Boss’ 1977 Darkness on the Edge of Town lp, perfectly capturing the anomie and despair of smalltown American life. In the end, the song’s protagonist speeds away into the path of a tornado. A million versions out there, most of them live, but it’s actually the album track that’s the best.

230. The Moody Blues – Driftwood

Towering powerpop anthem from the band’s 1977 “comeback” lp Octave, opening with a big whooosh of cymbals and lush layers of acoustic guitar. And Justin Hayward’s long electric guitar solo out, over the atmospheric wash of the strings, is a delicious study in contrasts. Many different versions out there, some of them live, and they’re all good (the link above is the studio track).

229. David Bowie – Diamond Dogs

Surreal, Stonesy apocalyptic anthem from the Thin White Duke’s vastly underrated 1974 lp. Did you know that’s Bowie on all the guitars – and the saxes too?

228. Mary Lee’s Corvette – 1000 Promises Later

Centerpiece of the NYC Americana rockers’ classic True Lovers of Adventure album, 1999-ish, this was a live showstopper for frontwoman Mary Lee Kortes and her steely, soaring, multiple-octave voice for several years afterward. It’s a rueful breakup anthem sung with typical counterintuitive verve from the villain’s point of view.

227. New Model Army – Luhrstaap

Written right as the Berlin Wall came down, this ominous, bass-driven, Middle Eastern-inflected art-rock anthem accurately foretold what would happen once East Germany tasted western capitalism: “You can buy a crown, it doesn’t make you king/Beware the trinkets that we bring.” From Impurity, 1989; the live version on 1992’s double live Raw Melody Men cd is even better (the link above is the studio version).

226. David Bowie – Life on Mars

Soaring epic grandeur for anyone who’s ever felt like an alien, from Hunky Dory, 1971. Ward  White’s live Losers Lounge version (click on the link and scroll down) is equally intense.

225. Telephone – Ce Soir Est Ce Soir

Absolutely creepy, methodical epic nocturne that wraps up the legendary French rockers’ 1982 Dure Limite lp on a particularly angst-ridden note. “Ce soir est ce soir/J’ai besoin d’espoir [Tonight’s the night/I need some hope].”

224. Al Stewart – Bedsitter Images

The live acoustic track in the link above only hints at the lush, orchestrated original, a big radio hit for the British songwriter in 1969, Rick Wakeman doing his best Scarlatti impression on piano. It’s a masterpiece of angsted existentialist songwriting, the song’s narrator slowly and surreally losing it, all by himself in his little flat.

223. LJ Murphy – Pretty for the Parlor

Our precedessor e-zine’s pick for best song of 2005, this blithely jangly yet absolutely sinister murder anthem perfectly captures the twistedness lurking beneath suburban complacency. Unreleased, but still a staple of the New York noir rock legend’s live show.

222. Wall of Voodoo – Lost Weekend

Creepy, hauntingly ambient new wave string synthesizer ballad from the band’s best album, 1982’s Call of the West, a couple gone completely off the wheels yet still on the road to somewhere. In the years afterward, frontman Stan Ridgway has soldiered on as an occasionally compelling if sometimes annoyingly dorky LA noir songwriter.

221. Randi Russo – House on the Hill

One of the New York noir rocker’s most hauntingly opaque lyrics – is she alive or dead? In the house or homeless? – set to an absolutely gorgeous, uncharacteristically bright janglerock melody. Frequently bootlegged, but the version on her 2005 Live at Sin-e cd remains the best out there.

220. The Wirebirds – This Green Hell

Our predecessor e-zine’s pick for best song of 2003 is this towering janglerock anthem, sort of a global warming nightmare epic as the Church might have done it but with amazing harmonies by songwriter Will Dial and the band’s frontwoman, Amanda Thorpe.

219. The Psychedelic Furs – House

“This day is not my life,” Richard Butler insists on this pounding, insistent, anguished anthem from the band’s best album, 2000’s Book of Days, the only post Joy Division album to effectively replicate that band’s unleashed, horrified existentialist angst. Mp3s are out there, as are copies of the vinyl album; check the bargain bins for a cheap treat.

218. X – See How We Are

The link above is the mediocre original album version; the best version of this offhandedly savage anti-yuppie, anti-complacency diatribe is the semi-acoustic take on the live Unclogged cd from 1995.

217. The Sex Pistols – EMI

Gleefully defiant anti-record label diatribe from back in the day when all the majors lined up at Malcolm McLaren’s knee. How times have changed. “Unlimited supply,” ha!

216. Amy Allison – No Frills Friend

As chilling as this casually swaying midtempo country ballad might seem, it’s actually not about a woman who’s so alienated that she’s willing to put up with someone who won’t even talk to her. It just seems that way – Allison is actually being optimistic here. Which is just part of the beauty of her songwriting – you never know exactly where she’s coming from. Title track from the excellent 2002 cd.

215. X – Johny Hit & Run Paulene

One of the greatest punkabilly songs ever, nightmare sex criminal out on a drug-fueled, Burroughs-esque bender that won’t stop. From Los Angeles, 1980; mp3s, both live and studio, are out there.

214. The Sex Pistols – Belsen Was a Gas

Arguably the most tasteless song ever written – it’s absolutely fearless. The lp version from the 1978 Great Rock N Roll Swindle soundtrack lp features its writer, Sid Vicious along with British train robber Ronnie Biggs. There are also numerous live versions out there and most of them are choice. Here’s one from Texas and one from San Francisco.

213. Randi Russo – Battle on the Periphery

Russo is the absolute master of the outsider anthem, and this might be her best, defiant and ominous over a slinky minor-key funk melody anchored by Lenny Molotov’s macabre, Middle Eastern guitar. From Shout Like a Lady, 2006.  

212. The Dead Kennedys – Holiday in Cambodia

True story: Pepsi wanted to license this song for a commercial despite its savage anti-imperialist message. Jello Biafra said no way – which might have planted the seed that spawned his bandmates’ ultimately successful if dubiously lawful suit against him. So sad – when these guys were on top of their game they were the best American band ever. From Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, 1980.

211. X – Los Angeles

One of the great punk rock hooks of all time, title track to the 1980 album, a perfect backdrop for Exene’s snide anti-El Lay diatribe. Ice-T and Body Count would sneak it into their notorious Cop Killer twelve years later.

210. The Sex Pistols – Anarchy in the UK

Yeah, you know this one, but our list wouldn’t be complete without it. As lame as the rhyme in the song’s first two lines is (Johnny Rotten has pretty much disowned them), this might be the most influential song of all time. If not, it definitely had the most beneficial effect. Go download Never Mind the Bollocks if you haven’t already: the band isn’t getting any royalties.

December 2, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

More Songs For Yesterday and Today

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Wednesday’s song was #483:

Rachelle Garniez – Crazy Blood

Title track to her superb 2001 cd, a haunting, minor-key blues as anguished as anything Bessie Smith or Nina Simone ever wrote – and as uncharacteristically direct as the great New York noir songwriter/multi-instrumentalist has ever been:

 

No one knows the trouble I’ve been

Torn up, twisted, time and time again

Had a chance to make changes but I threw it away…

 

and Thursday’s song is #482:

New Model Army – 225

Fast Lillywhite-beat anthem from the 80s…of course. Justin Sullivan’s prophetic lyrics reprinted in full below:

 

She stares at the screen at the little words of green,

Tries to remember, what to do next

There’s a trace of frustration, that crosses her face

Searching for the key she should press

And I would help her, if I only know how

But these things are a mystery to me too

And it seems that the corporate eyes they are watching.

She fears for her job and the moments are passing

I stare at her nametag and think to myself

Both you and I

We never asked

For any of this

 

So let’s take a walk

Up past the chemical works

Where the sky turns green at night

And we’ll talk

About getting away from here

Some different kind of life

But even in the freshest mountain air

The jet fighters practice overhead

And they’re drilling these hills for uranium deposits

And they’ll bury the waste for our children to inherit.

And though this is all done for our own benefit, I swear

We never asked

For any of this

 

This golden age of communication

Means that everyone talks the same time.

And liberty just means some freedom to exploit

Any weakness that you can find

Well turn of the TV just for a while

Let us whisper to each other instead

And we’ll hope that the corporate ears do not listen.

Lest we find ourselves committing some kind of treason

And filed in the tapes without rhyme, without reason.

While they tell us that it’s all for our own protection,

I swear, we never asked

For any of this

 

This was 1989, folks. From the album Thunder and Consolation. Here’s a cool  video.

April 2, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Ray – Death in Fiction

Sweepingly majestic and savagely beautiful, a serious contender for best rock album of 2008. This cd ought to establish British rock quartet Ray as frontrunners for this year’s Mercury Prize (at least that’s how it looks from five thousand feet). With a big, anthemic sound that manages to be accessible without sacrificing intelligence or intensity, both in abundance here, Ray draws deeply from just about the darkest possible well of 80s influences. Their sound could be described as a mix of Bauhaus minus the, you know, “Alone, in a darkened room, The Count!!!” along with the big, potent anthemic sensibility of vintage, early 90s New Model Army and perhaps Madrugada albeit without that band’s Hollywoodisms or Stooges obsession. Death in Fiction is a concept album of sorts about dissolution, despair and missed opportunities. Frontman Nev Bradford has the baritone delivery that’s all the rage, but like his forerunners Peter Murphy and Nick Cave, he’s confident, completely unaffected, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the uptight, constipated posers of the National or Interpol. There is nothing whatsoever cold or detached about Ray’s music: John Rivers’ magnificent, epic production only serves to elevate these songs’ passion, tension and resolution, the clash of hope up against the cruel barbwire of reality. The trendoid crowd over here on this side of the pond will not get this band (although the cool kids will).

The album kicks off with a ferocious blast of sound on the opening hook to the catchy Five Times Cursed, what quickly becomes characteristically howling, anguished lead guitar over a lush, roaring, pounding wash of sound echoing and glistening with reverb and digital delay. The following cut Days to Come nicks the bass lick from the Alarm Clocks’ 60s garage rock classic No Reason to Complain, although they take it completely in the opposite direction. Lead guitarist Mark Bradford plays with an extraordinarily terse ferocity, like Peter Koppes of the Church in his most dramatic moments while the rhythm section of Martin Tisdall on bass and Chris Lowe on drums holds this relentless juggernaut to the rails.

The title track methodically builds to a crescendo over a propulsive Sister Ray groove: “This is the price you pay for believing that/A death in fiction would be fine.” After that, Roulette Sun raises a glass of absinthe to Pink Floyd’s iconic Time, Mark Bradford’s anguished lead lines painted stark against a somber Hammond organ background. The tense, desperate minimalism of Little Joy (“For a little joy…to call your own, what would you do?”) evokes nothing less than Joy Division at their most guitarish, again punctuated by another deliciously screaming, reverberating solo.

Next, Great Strange Dream is a meticulously arranged anthem that once again sounds a lot like the Church. Sound of the End is a snarling, slowly crescendoing broadside at conformists and their entertainment-industrial complex, building to a heartbreakingly beautiful, recurring hook, only to slip away gracefully at the end. Begging Like a Dog rages out at mindless consumption:

They have a lot of ways of placing
A godless advert on your shrine
They have a lot of ways of thieving
What was yours and what was mine
They have you begging like a dog

The album ends with the majestic Cut Out, both cautionary tale and a sort of requiem for a dream unfulfilled. All things considered, this a terrific ipod album, although its lush sonics benefit greatly from loud volume and big speakers. For readers in London, Ray next plays Sat June 21 at 8 PM at the ULU Duck and Dive Bar, 1st Floor, University of London Union, Malet Street London WC1E 7HY, five quid / £3 for students.

June 12, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment