Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 2/4/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Wednesday’s is #539:

Johnny Thunders – You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory

You know this one: about ten years ago every indie rock band was covering it (and usually butchering it). One of the saddest songs ever written, by a guy who for one reason or another knew a lot about that particular emotion. The original is available wherever mp3s are (avoid the lame, lo-fi solo acoustic outtakes); Rachelle Garniez also does an inscrutably haunting version which is also floating around in bootleg-land.

February 4, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Prima Ballerina at Lakeside, NYC 10/25/08

This was the debut show for Tammy Faye Starlite’s latest rock project, in this case a New York Dolls cover band. As a solo performer, the insurgent actress/comedienne plays a gut-bustingly funny born-again, washed-up, recently rehabbed country singer, in the process shooting daggers at all things rightwing and stupid (much like the Inbreeds, whose Friday night show we just reviewed). She also has three rock acts. In addition to this group, the Mike Hunt Band – her first one – is a Stones cover band (she plays Mick). The Stay-At-Homes are possibly the world’s only Runaways cover band (she’s Cherie Currie). While both groups actually make an effort to be musically competent, they basically serve as an excuse for Tammy to do improv. There is no one funnier, not even John Monteith.

 

Prima Ballerina – if you know the Dolls’ songs at all, you get the reference –  is the Stay-At-Homes playing Dolls songs. Tammy had names for everyone in the band: Sit N Spin frontwoman/guitarist Heidi Lieb was Heidi Thunders; rhythm player Jill Richmond was Jillvain Jillvain; drummer Linda Pitmon (from her husband Steve Wynn’s band, the Baseball Project and Smack Dab) was Nolinda; what Lieb’s bandmate, bassist Mony Falcone was evades the memory (although Tammy had plenty of vitriol for her and bass players in general). Another woman stood in for Todd Rundgren on keys on a few songs.

 

“I’m Tammy Jo,” Tammy said in her best Queens accent. “This swong’s really about about a stwop on the Ell Oy Aw Aw,” she told the crowd as the band launched into a decently careening version of Babylon. The recurrent joke of the night revolved around universal healthcare: that was the premise of Pills, Tammy explained. Jet Boy had to do with Barack Obama (big round of applause) hopefully “not getting killed before he comes out of the clouds.” Stranded in the Jungle, she revealed, was a cover of a Vietnam-era soul song by the 60s group the Jayhawks (“Not the alt-country band, you know, the guy who married Victoria Williams. THEY SUCK!!!”).

 

When they reached the bridge during Trash, Tammy accosted a bewildered guy sitting at one of the front tables: “When you’re hanging out in Chelsea, how you call your loverboy?” When it came time to wrap up the set, she explained that during her tenure in the Ridiculous Theatre Company, Charles Ludlam had been her mentor, and that he had been known to accuse people of having a personality crisis. Dedicating the song to the one John McCain’s been having, the band did a spirited, serviceable version of what was the closest thing the Dolls ever had to a top 40 hit. Memo to Ms. Rundgren: you ought to try that piano hook, it’s easy and it really makes the song. So, what a great weekend –  funny band, intense band, funny band. Prima Ballerina’s next show is at the Cutting Room sometime in November: watch this space for details.

October 27, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Maul Girls Reunion at Crash Mansion; Ninth House at MI-5, NYC 9/8/07

There is hope. There are still pockets of coolness in this city, if you’re lucky enough to find them – vestiges still remain here from what was for a long time a vital, frequently exhilarating music scene. So good to be alive while the whole world is dying.

The first show of the night was part of the Howl festival, which seems to be an aging punk thing (nothing wrong with aging punks – many of them still rock). We got to the club (a somewhat swanky, spacious downstairs space that usually books hip-hop, all low lighting and black vinyl couches) to find a panel discussion onstage, wrapping up what they thought young artists should keep in mind. Their unanimous conclusion: DIY. I recognized the former Ramones manager; reputedly there was also an ex-Sex Pistol up there too, but I only know those faces from the albums and the documentaries and those were made a long time ago.

The Waldos opened, a long-running former Continental act fronted by ex-Heartbreaker Walter Lure, playing generic proto-punk in the style of, you guessed it, the New York Dolls. They weren’t painful, though everything they played sounded pretty much the same. But then they did Chinese Rocks, and the crowd was instantly energized: Dee Dee Ramone’s best hook ever is impossible not to like. And then they did Too Much Junkie Business, and even if Johnny Thunders wasn’t up there, it still rocked, authentically smirking punk defiance, even if the song endorses something that you should never do. In a once-proud city that kowtows to celebutards and office fascist types like Donald Trump, we need that defiance more than ever.

Reunion shows are a mixed bag. It’s always hard to get all the original members back together (the Guess Who, giving new meaning to their name, with NO original members in their “reunited” lineup), harder to find replacements (the Zombies, Sham 69) and next to impossible to get them all in the same room to play all the old songs. The Maul Girls had all of three rehearsals for this show yet played like they’d never been apart. As one band member noted afterward, they have an intuitive sense of what their cohorts are going to throw at them. What they threw at the audience was an amazing performance.

For a couple of years in the late 90s, the Maul Girls absolutely personified fun in downtown New York. In the true spirit of punk rock, their slightly askew mishmash of punk, funk and pop pulled an impressively mixed crowd, equal parts gay and straight, male and female, minority and caucasian. Everybody loved the Maul Girls because they rocked, they had absolutely no inhibitions and their songs were catchy as hell. Tonight the crowd was a roiling sea of dancing bodies, proof that they can still bring the party. Radiant in a sparkly dress and dramatic makeup, frontwoman Jenny Maul leaped and stalked the stage like a woman possessed. Unless you really had to watch what the musicians were doing, it was impossible to take your eyes off her, delivering as much irresistible allure as unleashed menace. “We’re here to maul you,” she growled as the show started, and she really got the crowd going when she jumped out into the audience. To find someone equally charismatic, you need to go back in history a ways: James Brown and Tina Turner come to mind. Among today’s performers? Maybe Tammy Faye Starlite in a particularly enraged moment.

They may not have always perfectly articulated it, but their message is still feminist and in your face, and they pull it off because they’re so disarmingly funny and fearless. The Spice Girls may have given lip service to “girl power,” but the Maul Girls made you want to dropkick Posh and her posse through the goalposts of Manchester United. Tonight they mixed up stuff from their lone album, Rump Roast along with some other choice, unreleased funk-inflected material. Guitarists Bobbie Maul and Leah Maul took turns and then traded off some searing wah-wah lines, drummer Stephanie Maul and bassist Anne-Marie Maul (who was the best musician in the band during their heyday) locked in and pushed the groove to the limit while their frontwoman reveled in showing off every wild timbre in her spectacular, four-octave range. They didn’t play their signature song Maul Girl Love, but the crowd was clearly gassed to hear Jenny Maul do a couple of rap numbers along with another big audience hit: “Whatchyou doing in this downtown underground with those clunky black shoes?” she snarled, more than a trace of a smile on her lips. Although they clearly had more material than they were given the chance to play, Jenny Maul told the crowd that they’d be doing another show in October. Stay tuned: although they’ve all become excellent musicians in the years since they initially went their separate ways, the Maul Girls showed tonight that they haven’t lost one iota of the reckless abandon that made them so popular.

We walked down to Chinatown, and then west to Tribeca to find the strangely named MI-5 (it’s the British designation for their equivalent of the CIA). Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were happily absent. This is a brand-new, cavernous, predictably expensive joint searching for personality before the Humvee stretch limo crowd with their parents’ credit cards discovers it and makes it their own. Until then, it’s an oasis in a weekend of hellholes. Tonight was goth night. Ninth House, who’ve received a lot of press here, have risen from the ashes once again: every time the band seems on the verge of packing it in for good, they bring in new blood. This time the transfusion is working out amazingly well. The new guitarist plays with a roar of distortion and a somewhat bluesy feel, although he’s quickly reining in the metal tendencies that reared their head in his first show with this band. They’ve also added the incomparable Susan Mitchell on violin, and although she was playing her first Ninth House show, she dazzled with her signature, evil gypsy flourishes. The new keyboardist is also the best they’ve had to date. They opened with a roar with Long Stray Whim, the first track from their new cd, which nicks a Stone Roses lick, later doing a pounding, desperate-to-get-home version of their drunk-driving anthem Follow the Line. But their finest moments were at the end of the ominously loping Jealousy and the best of their Nashville gothic songs, Mistaken for Love, where the band kept going after the final chorus while the guitar, violin and sometimes even the bass played off each other. Like a lot of art-rock units, the previous incarnation of this band brought out the epic grandeur in their songs, but with a clinical precision that sometimes felt cold and distant. This new version of the band may be a little rough around the edges, but with the newly improvisational vibe, they’ve added dynamics, making the crescendos all the more intense. The idea of a punk/art-rock/jam band may sound completely unappetizing, but Ninth House makes it work. Although the sound tonight was dodgy – the bar clearly wasn’t designed as a music venue, the sound guy quickly revealed himself as an amateur and the vocals became pretty much buried for the last half of the show – the floor space quickly filled up with dancers. Ninth House tapped a nerve tonight. And they’ll only get better.

September 9, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment