Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: LJ Murphy, Ninth House and Others at Galapagos, Brooklyn NY 7/5-7/07

The probability of two good things happening at Galapagos in the span of a week is about as high as Bono retracting his support for the privatization of third world nations’ water supplies and police forces in exchange for debt forgiveness. But this week it happened (the shows, not Bono coming to his senses and telling the Jeffrey Sachs crowd to fuck off). While both performances were excellent, the lesser-attended of the two was the greater success.

Thursday night LJ Murphy did a rare solo show in the club’s front room, hot on the heels of his scorching performance at the Knitting Factory last month, and it was no surprise to see him come out swinging. The sound was good and LOUD, just the way it ought to be at rock shows. Like Stephane Wrembel, Murphy knows that the guitar is a percussion instrument: how he manages to avoid breaking strings all the time is a mystery. He wailed through an all-too-short set of his more upbeat material, including a furious version of the Weimar blues Mad Within Reason (the title track to his latest album) and a commanding take of the careening Blue Silence (which was anything but silent tonight). But nobody – nobody – was listening. Maybe it was because the evening was billed as an old-school English variety show: you know, music, random entertainers and of course strippers. And of course, at these events, it’s obvious what the crowd comes out for. Now people should be able to see strippers whenever they want, but does every venue in town have to turn into a strip club? Isn’t this Brave New World all over again? And the funniest thing is how they try to make it all gentrified and upscale and call it “burlesque.” I defy you to identify any substantial difference between the Bada Bing Club just off Exit 11 of the Jersey Turnpike, and Le Choque du Monde at Chez Madame in the East Village.

In his excellent book The Making of American Audiences, Richard Butsch chronicled the shifting tides of communal meeting places. In the early 1800s, in urban areas, the public hangout of choice was the music hall, where crowds of drunks would holler at each other over the orchestra (in that sense, Galapagos got their history right Thursday night). Fifty years later, it was the vaudeville hall. And let’s not forget the “bowling ground” that B.B. King immortalized in Three O’Clock Blues. While it’s hardly obligatory for an audience to pay attention to whatever’s put in front of them, you’d think that somebody – SOMEBODY – would have been interested in what Murphy was doing up onstage. The guy fucking wailed. Toward the end of the set, he launched into a swinging, upbeat new one, then abruptly changed his mind, worked his way down the scale and segued into a punked-out take of his song Parking Lot Ball. “Taught you how to genuflect, taught you how to bow!” he roared, and not a soul in the crowd got it. The excellent ska band Tri-State Conspiracy was scheduled to play after him, but the long delay between acts proved too much to wait through.

Then last night Ninth House headlined in the back room, playing the cd release show for their new one Realize and It’s Gone (see our review of the album), and while it was a good night it wasn’t in the same league as Murphy’s absolutely riveting set. Yet it was a considerable success. The Whores opened, just guitar and drums, playing a bunch of generic mid-80s hardcore. Then they invited Ninth House’s new keyboardist up onstage to play bass, and finished the second half of the set with some decently melodic punk rock. The highlight was a halfspeed cover of We’re Desperate by X, where the guitarist and the female drummer traded off on the John Doe/Exene parts and to their credit it was actually better than the original.

The quartet Abraham Van were next. All that needs to be said about them is that they really want a major label deal but they aren’t goodlooking enough to get it. Forget about the music: the corporations these days have no interest in that. Or whether the band wants to be Matchbox 20 or the Goo Goo Dolls (hard to tell), or whether or not the rhythm section can keep time (they can’t).

Ninth House finally took the stage around 1 AM, after an hourlong delay while the evening’s projectionist struggled to get his gear working. This could have been a real long night for them, since their old keyboardist Zach has now switched to guitar, and this was his first show wielding an axe (a beautiful Epiphone ES355 copy). There were moments where they stumbled like a wounded beast, but this beast was always dangerous, from the opening crash of the new single Long Stray Whim through the blistering cover of Ghost Riders in the Sky that the audience begged for, that closed the show. It was heartwarming to see a good crowd turn out, enthusiastic about real rock music at a place that’s pretty much Trendoid Central (if you really have to know, there was a stripper, but she wasn’t the evening’s main attraction). Ninth House frontman/bassist Mark Sinnis is moving toward a pretty traditional, Nashville gothic sound these days, but tonight’s show proved that this band is still viable if he wants to keep it going. They’re also playing Hank’s Saloon on July 14 at 10.

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July 8, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Ninth House – Realize and It’s Gone

The fourth and possibly final cd from this long-running New York “cemetery and western” unit. This isn’t a country album by any means: it’s a dark, desperate, angry rock record. Aside from some of the songwriting (frontman/bassist Mark Sinnis continues in this promising direction in his solo work), the only concession to Nashville is that the vocals are mixed noticeably louder than the instrumentation, in the style of country records from the 1930s and 40s. Ninth House bridge the gap between Joy Division and Johnny Cash. The production values are strictly punk/new wave: layers of distorted and watery electric guitars, ominous string synthesizer and organ, and melodic bass, usually set to a fast 2/4 beat. The cd opens with a roar, on the magnificently ferocious chorus of the single Long Stray Whim (a deliriously good live take of this song was previously issued on the band’s sadly out-of-print Aerosol album). It’s a transcendentally powerful escape anthem:

This morning I stopped
It’s boring, I strayed
I’m on a long stray whim
It started
For a moment I fought it
I couldn’t persuade me
I’m on a long stray whim

In a dark, passionate baritone, Sinnis – one of the greatest male singers in all of rock – builds his case for getting away from it all. It’s ELO’s Eldorado for a new generation. The band follows this with the wickedly anthemic Burn, about a cremation. Ninth House frequently get pegged as a goth band, and while they’re much more diverse, this song makes it easy to see how they got that label. The next two tracks, Stretch Marks and Quiet Change could easily have fit onto a mid-80s Cure album like Head on the Door, although they crunch rather than jangle. After that, the slow What Are You Waiting For builds to a soaring crescendo of vocals and guitars.

The following cut Mistaken for Love is one of two straight-up country songs on the album, although the band – particularly guitarist Bernard San Juan, who has since left – gives it a rock treatment. It’s a savage look back at a failed marriage: Sinnis’ cold ending will send chills down your spine. Similarly, the next track Skeletons has country swing but an 80s rock sound. The tempo picks up even more on the relentless, minor-key Out of Reach, a concert favorite. Then it’s back to Nashville gothic with When the Sun Bows to the Moon, a gorgeous, catchy country anthem, a broadside fired at point-blank range at somebody who can’t get over herself:

You live in your own atmosphere
You create your own demise
Breathe your own tainted air

It’s taken on a particularly poignant significance in the wake of 9/11. The next song Cause You Want To is a slow, crescendoing, death-obsessed number that belies its catchy, major-key melody. The album closes with a blistering rock version of perhaps the original Nashville gothic song, Ghost Riders in the Sky and then the epic title track, which builds from a catchy, thorny major-key first section into a hypnotically dark, crashing, descending progression. And then it’s over.

Sinnis’ lyrics are terse and crystallized, the band is tight and the overall intensity of the album never lets up. This is serious stuff, a good album to blast at top volume after a rough day at work or school. Definitely one of the best half-dozen albums of the year to date, as consistently good as Ninth House’s two previous studio records. Five shots of bourbon, no chaser. Albums are available online, in better independent record stores and at shows. Ninth House plays the cd release show on July 7 at Galapagos at midnight.

June 17, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments