Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 5/1/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Friday’s song is #453:

The Moonlighters – Blue and Black-Eyed

From the longest-lived and arguably the best of the crop of oldtimey bands that sprang up throughout New York during the late 90s, this is an absolutely haunting, period-perfect,  original late 19th century-style ragtime song by bandleader Bliss Blood (formerly of teenage S&M hardcore band the Pain Teens). It’s the sad tale of a prostitute who hurls herself to her death from the fire escape at the notorious dive bar McGuirk’s Suicide Hall at 295 Bowery (now a complex of shoddy, hastily thrown up plastic-and-sheetrock “luxury” condos) when she discovers she’s pregnant. Henry Bogdan’s steel guitar solo will give you chills. From the Dreamland cd, 2000.

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May 1, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 11/15/08

Counting down the top 666 songs of alltime one day at a time all the way to #1, like we do every day here.

Here’s #619:

Nightcall – Blackwater

Moonlighters frontwoman Bliss Blood started this short-lived “crime jazz” side project toward the end of the Bush regime: this is a tersely scorching, noir 60s style broadside about the mercenaries from Blackwater, Halliburton and other private armies getting away with murder in Iraq. Available at Nightcall’s myspace

November 15, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marni Rice, Bliss Blood and Dreamboat Live at Laila Lounge, Brooklyn NY 2/20/08

This is the kind of place where music is only an occasional thing, as evidenced by the chalkboard outside on the sidewalk which simply said “open mic.” As at innumerable other bars, the musicians who play here apparently also do all the promotion. Either the night was running ahead of schedule, or there had been a switchup after the email announcing the event was sent out, because by quarter after ten, accordionist Marni Rice was wrapping up her solo set. She’s excellent, a player who’s equally influenced by French chanson and American garage rock. Singing in a smooth, confident alto, her last two songs were both excellent originals, the last a new one perhaps titled Red Light, a scuffling, klezmer-inflected broadside about the New York subway system’s inability to treat their customers with even a minimum of respect. She’s playing another solo set at Hank’s this Saturday at about 9:30, opening for some garage-rock friends. Musically, it might not be the smoothest segue, but energy-wise it ought to be perfect: Rice has considerably more edge and originality than your typical accordion-playing chanteuse.

Bliss Blood is a one-woman time machine, a brilliant songwriter with breathtaking command of pretty much every oldtime blues, ragtime and swing style ever found on shellac or celluloid. Unsurprisingly, she’s a major force in the New York music scene, as leader of the wildly popular, lushly romantic Moonlighters, the sizzling barrelhouse blues act Delta Dreambox, macabre “crime jazz” trio Nightcall and swing dance band Cantonement (that seems to be all for the moment). A Bliss Blood solo show is so rare that it’s a can’t-miss event: even thought she got her start here in town playing solo, she virtually never gets a chance to do that anymore. In the Moonlighters, she favors lush, complicated, harmony-laden arrangements, so hearing her songs pared down to just vocals and chordal rhythm was a treat worth braving the cold and this somewhat suspect, frequently trendoid-infested venue. Accompanying herself tonight with just her trusty ukulele, Blood reaffirmed her status as one of the smartest, most captivating performers around. As a singer, she alternates between seduction and indictment. Her serenades were sweet and clear, but she put her fangs in for the sad, rueful ballads and politically-charged anthems. In the bar’s intimate confines, she transcended the dodgy sound and put on a riveting show, opening with a brief cover of the Goldfinger theme, then the explosively powerful Nightcall song Blackwater, a corrosive, spot-on critique of the mercenary company killing innocent civilians in Iraq.

Introducing the breezy, seemingly carefree hobo tune Ballad of a Gink, she explained that “gink” is Depression-era slang for someone who’s lost or homeless. Broken Doll, a stark narrative about a battered woman, was just as evocative as the version on the Moonlighters’ latest album Surrender. Blood also did a handful of covers of songs by her idol, Bessie Smith, and also debuted a touching new one entited Winter in My Heart (“and snow in my eyes,” she sang wistfully). It was hard to remain dry-eyed after that one.

Before launching into a tersely intense version of the Moonlighters classic Blue and Black-Eyed, she told the audience it evoked a different New York, one a little more dangerous, in this case the Bowery at the turn of the 20th century when prostitutes would drink carbolic acid and throw themselves off the fire escape of the recently demolished tenement that once housed the notorious bar McGuirk’s Suicide Hall. She wrapped up the set with a request, the charming Hello Heartstring and then her fiery, minor-key, tango-inflected maquiladora ballad Dirt Road Life, told through the eyes of a Mexican sweatshop slave.

Dreamboat, the headliners (no relation to Bliss Blood’s similarly-titled band) were terrific, the best new act we’ve encountered since unexpectedly discovering James Apollo back in December. This new trio features excellent acoustic guitarist/singer Craig Chesler, upright bassist Tony Masselli and a frontwoman who jokingly told the audience that she was Kelly Ripa. Iowa expat Kelli Rae Powell, alternating between a wink, a smirk and an occasional shit-eating grin, showed off a spectacular, vastly entertaining and delightfully witty ability to absolutely nail a range of styles from Bessie Smith subtle, to Shirley Bassey over-the-top, and seemingly everywhere in between. If this band stays together, they’ll be huge. Like the Moonlighters, there’s a fondness for harmonies and an unabashed romanticism in most of what they do, but playing for laughs is also part of it. Powell’s onstage persona is as devious as it is virtuosic. Their best song, appropriate for tonight’s chill, was a very pretty, soaringly optimistic ballad called When My Winter Turns to Spring. They’re playing the Jalopy Café on March 8 with the Moonlighters, well worth the B61 bus ride to Red Hook and back home again.

February 21, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Neither Super nor Fine

“Welcome to Superfine!” exclaimed the eager-beaver waitress with the microphone. “Tonight we have Blood Bliss and her new band Nightcall here for the first time!”

Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States, Hoobert Heever.

Superfine in Dumbo may be a fine drink destination late on a Saturday night if you’re in the neighborhood. They have random bands here, but as a venue it is suitable only for death metal. The roar of the yuppies and trendoids that greets customers as they enter is rivaled only by an indoor jet engine testing facility. Rush Limbaugh could have wandered naked among the tables handing out free Oxycontin while Paris Hilton shot up Roger Clemens in the ass with steroids onstage, and nobody would have paid the slightest attention.

We showed up to see Bliss Blood’s new project for the second time this week. Having anointed them the most exciting new band in town, it made sense to see if Nightcall could replicate the brilliance they showed at their previous show on Sunday. There was no way of knowing. Seated scarcely two feet from the stage, it was impossible to hear. The band seemed to be able to hear themselves to a certain extent, but when the loudest thing coming through the PA is amplified upright bass, you know something’s drastically wrong.

Which is too bad. Although the food is pricy, the waitstaff here is uncommonly nice – aside from the random server who appeared out of nowhere and stole an unfinished beer off our table. No doubt they’re used to people who order $12 cosmos and then don’t drink them.

June 15, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, Rant, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Nightcall and Rawles Balls Live in NYC 6/10/07

Nightcall is the most exciting new band in New York. It’s retro revivalist Bliss Blood’s latest project, alongside the delightful, old-timey Moonlighters, Polynesian psychedelic unit Voodoo Suite and the acoustic blues band Delta Dreambox. “We’ve invented a new genre: snuff torch songs,” she told the audience, and the result was absolutely riveting. Playing her trusty ukelele, accompanied by upright bassist Peter Maness and electric guitarist Stu Spasm, who used a tiny amp with tons of reverb, she and her accomplices played a mix of covers and originals: all with a crime theme. “In all our songs, the criminal has to win,” she explained. They did sweetly ominous, noir versions of the theme to the James Bond film You Only Live Twice, a Leonard Bernstein composition called Big Stuff (“Not from West Side Story,” Blood told the crowd), and Tom Waits’ Black Market Baby. But their best numbers were all originals, including a haunting Moonlighters tune, Broken Doll. They also played their “signature song,” the lurid tale of an intruder aptly titled Nightcall, and Blackwater, which was far and away the high point of the night. “This is for Halliburton…and the mercenaries in Iraq,” Blood mused aloud. The song began with an ominous minor-key theme, the bass carrying the melody:

Don’t look too closely or you’ll find
He has a mercenary mind
He’ll be your man if you can pay
And when the gold is in his hands
He’ll acquiesce to your demands
Play any game you want to play

After a macabre, chromatic chorus, the bass player scurried up and down the scale like a twisted old man on the way to a Carlyle Group meeting.

In many ways Blood epitomizes what the Bush regime fears the most. She’s a charming, wickedly intelligent, completely innocent-looking Texan who never misses a chance to call truth to power, and does so in a blithely amusing way that doesn’t alienate audiences. Today was Puerto Rican day in Manhattan: “I’m from Vieques,” she joked. “You have to excuse me, I’m all messed up from the stuff they drop there,” referring to all the depleted uranium that’s covered the island over more than a decade of Air Force bomb testing.

“What’s an A minor?” Rawles Balls frontman Nigel Rawles – the former Scout drummer – asked his keyboardist, whom he’d just sent away from the stage.

“A-C-E,” came the reply.

“Can we write on the keys?” Rawles asked the soundman. The answer was no.

Rawles had for some inexplicable reason brought a guitar that was “broken,” he said. Nonetheless, he was determined to get through the show, seated at the piano, an instrument he doesn’t know how to play. Rawles Balls is the cover band from hell, capable of butchering pretty much any song from any era and tonight was a fullscale massacre. Doing his best to hammer out a bassline with two fingers, Rawles must have played At the Hop – or tried to, anyway – at least four times. When they’re on their game, Rawles Balls perfectly embody the true spirit of punk rock, having a gleeful time poking fun at every conceivable aspect of what they play. Taking the concept to the logical extreme, they never rehearse and the band is in a constant state of flux, with practically a new lineup every week: tonight Rawles dragged the estimable Ward White (who played bass in the band for a time) up to the stage. White fed Rawles lyrics as he struggled through the Bowie classic Five Years. “This is the last song we’ll ever play,” Rawles facetiously told the audience, managing to botch even the reference (that’s what Bowie says before Rock n Roll Suicide, dude).

At this point it looks like Rawles may have depleted the talent pool, such as it exists for a band like this. His backing unit tonight, such that it was, included a woman who sang harmonies on a few songs, a friend who knew a few piano chords and another who came up to the stage, tried to get through Fur Elise as Rawles whistled along but gave up in disgust after about fifteen seconds. And the Ward White cameo. And of course they recorded this show, since Rawles Balls has in the past three years released over 50 (fifty) albums, which has to be a record. All but two of those are live concert recordings.

In a sick way, it took a tremendous amount of nerve for Rawles to get up onstage and try to fake his way through an hourlong set, completely unrehearsed, playing an unfamiliar instrument. However, there were indications that he might not have been as completely lost as he seemed: there were clever segues between songs that shared the exact same chord changes, and he did exhibit an ability to at least figure out the bassline to maybe half of what he attempted to play. Then there was the issue of the “broken” guitar. When the Rawles Balls act is working, it’s unimaginably funny. Tonight was a new low: by the time the sound guy gave Rawles the two-minute warning, it was simply a reprieve. Which in itself was pretty amusing.

June 11, 2007 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment