Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Pat Benatar and Blondie at Coney Island 8/13/09

What promised to be a gay old night of high camp turned out to be more like a trip to the supermarket: interminable lines of rude, obnoxious people, pleasantly cool temperatures, pretzels and drinks within easy reach and oldies radio songs playing over the PA. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, every out-of-town scam luxury housing developer’s best pal, spent a rambling, senile hour and a half on and off the mic before the show, ass-kissing and giving shout-outs to every corporate type he could still recognize who’d showed up. Finally, he was assisted off so that big lesbian faves the Donnas could phone in a small handful of generic bubblegum metal songs.

Long Island’s very own fifty-four year old Pat Benatar was next. It took about three seconds before it was obvious that the poor woman’s voice is completely gone. Like a battered cassette tape from the eighties, she’d waver on and off pitch, then drop unexpectedly out of the mix, then come back in like one of Marge Simpson’s sisters attempting to do karaoke. At this point in Benatar’s career, lipsynching might not be such a bad idea. Meanwhile, her husband Neil Giraldo released his inner fantasy over and over again with an incessant barrage of garish, gratuitous heavy metal guitar licks. Like that Love Camp 7 song goes, he plays a million notes where one would do, and if it fits the song that’s ok too. Not many of them did. Benatar’s set allowed for plenty of time to find the local McDonalds and the urinal – woops, dumpster – adjacent to it. Forty-five minutes after she’d taken the stage, she was still struggling to stay in the mix, one cliched power ballad after another. Benatar is a gay icon – there at least used to be several YMCA’s worth of Chelsea boys who wanted to be her. Not many of them seemed to have made the trip. Perhaps they were on to something the rest of the crowd wasn’t.

Similarly, Deborah Harry has made a career of singing off-key for the better part of 35 years if you count her time in the Stillettos. Be that it what it may, when Blondie were at the top of their game, they were one of the world’s greatest powerpop bands and they were all that Thursday night. What they did was anything but camp. This version of the band sizzled and burned, layering nonchalantly stinging, distorted guitar and playfully oscillating synth over a steady, thumping backbeat. Now in her sixties, Harry carried herself with grace, even gravitas in places, holding back for when she had to go to the top of her range and when she really had to nail the note, she inevitably did. Benatar ought to find out who her vocal coach is. Because this band plays so many of the same songs over and over again, they way they keep them fresh is to reinvent them. Children of the Grave – woops, Call Me – bore a much closer resemblance to the Black Sabbath original that Georgio Moroder ripped off and glued to a disco beat for the soundtrack to the Richard Gere vehicle American Gigolo (anybody ever sit through that one all the way? Yikes!). The best song of the night was a stinging, slightly mariachi-esque version of Maria. The Tide Is High was no better than Johnny Clarke’s cloying  rocksteady original, but Rapture was reinvented as evilly slinky funk with a big guitar break and then a new rap at the end which only offerered further proof that hip-hop is not Harry’s thing. A couple newer numbers were starkly minor-key and equally compelling. After they’d burned through a pleasantly loud, swaying One Way or Another, they left the stage and then it was clear that  Benatar had overdone it in more ways than one, cutting into Blondie’s stage time. The second of the band’s two brief encores was a rocking, organ-driven take of Heart of Glass. If you’re contemplating seeing Blondie on tour this month or next, you won’t be disappointed – especially when they have another charismatic, platinum-tressed siren, Sarah Guild and her amazing band the New Collisions opening for them.

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August 16, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Concert Review: The B-52’s at Asser Levy Park, Brooklyn NY 8/9/07

Tonight was full of surprises. The sky was a late-period Turner painting, wave after wave of thunderclouds galloping in from the ocean, rolling out toward central Brooklyn. Of course, we’d brought a picnic. The park was crawling with cops. Mathematically speaking, there had to be at least a small handful who hadn’t yet met their monthly quota of “quality of life” arrests, i.e. people pissing in the bushes, shagging in the grass or, perish the thought, drinking in public. These quotas officially don’t exist and are probably illegal, but as any New York cop will tell you, you’ll never get promoted unless you write the kind of tickets the top brass wants. Rudy Mussolini may be off running for President, but his stench remains. Yet nobody showed any interest in the suspicious little plastic cups into which we poured the beaujolais we’d brought in an equally suspicious clear plastic container. Maybe they weren’t paying any attention because they, too had come for the music. Maybe some of them actually were B-52’s fans. Not implausible.

 

Just like it would have been if this was 1979 and it was the band’s first tour, this was a gathering of the most unlikely people, like the off-duty firefighter in front of us hollering for the band to play Planet Claire. It definitely wasn’t the usual crowd that comes out to shows here: by the looks of it, the overwhelmingly white, local blue-collar contingent had been scared off by the impending monsoon. This time, the lawn was packed with kids who had come from all over New York to see “the world’s #1 party band.” It definitely wasn’t a nostalgia trip: they’d come expecting a good time, and maybe even because in a weird way, the B-52’s are actually kind of important. The band would probably laugh at that, but it’s true.

 

Considering that the nucleus of the group has basically been playing the same songs over and over and over again for practically thirty years, it’s hard to believe that they can inject any enthusiasm into their set. Yet somehow they do.  In the decades since their first album, Cindy Wilson, believe it or not, has become a hell of a singer. Kate Pierson has not. Fred Schneider is still a one-trick pony, and Keith Strickland has switched from drums to guitar. The other musicians are competent, if they don’t seem to be in on the joke that the original B-52’s still seem to find at least mildly entertaining after all these years. They ran through all the hits: Private Idaho, Strobe Light, Give Me Back My Man, Roam, and Love Shack (reinvented as funk, a genre this band should avoid at any cost). They also did three new numbers, a couple of garage songs and something of a midtempo ballad sung by Pierson. The new material is pretty generic: the silly spontaneity of their first couple of albums is completely absent. Played through concert-quality amps and bolstered by a bass player with studio chops, the old songs sound oddly focused but not rote: Schneider still barks and preens like in the old days, the womens’ vocals are still flat and ultimately, the music’s blatantly derivative but inimitably dadaesque sense of fun prevails. Say what you want about how original this band was (they weren’t), what good musicians they were (they weren’t) or what they had to say (not much), but they’re definitely in the Secret Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. A lot of the second-generation 60s garage-meets-new-wave songs they played tonight have become standards. Who ever would have thought in 1978 that almost thirty years later, Joe Strummer would be dead, but the B-52’s would still be together and playing stadiums.

 

On the minus side, the B-52’s brought camp to the masses. Not such a good thing, considering that the affectations of camp, along with the sarcasm that’s commonly mistaken for irony, have become the defining characteristics of the trendoid esthetic. But that crowd wasn’t here tonight, obviously: this band is all about fun, and they don’t have that in Williamsburg.

 

The firefighter in front of us roared and leaped with delight when they launched into the bassline from the Peter Gunn Theme, Pierson sang along with the synthesizer and Schneider began to intone, “She came from Planet Claire.” They saved Rock Lobster for last and did it note for note with the record. Nobody went “down, down, down” and did the crabwalk, but that was to be expected, as the first few raindrops were just starting to hit.

 

The show had started inexplicably early, causing a large portion of the crowd to show up halfway through the band’s set, or even later. Perhaps the promoters wanted them to get the show in before the rains came, figuring that nobody would bother to stick around for the other scheduled act, Patty Smyth and Scandal. If that was their hunch, they were right.

 

From there, we went to Banjo Jim’s, which has become an after-concert ritual lately. The former 9C is a nice, cozy place, a generally reliable reminder of what the East Village used to be. It wasn’t tonight. A balding, fortyish folksinger was playing loud acoustic guitar, badly, and going on and on about how we should just turn everything over to the Dalai Lama and everything will be ok. And what a sensitive guy he is and how he can’t wait to get back to California. I say, get this guy a ticket on the first plane out. I think his name was Ellie Elliott – can’t remember, considering how hard I was trying to tune him out. One of my accomplices spent most of her time outside the bar smoking, waiting for him to finish up and leave. And when she wasn’t outside, she was wishing she was. Banjo Jim’s, please do us all a favor and don’t bring this loser back, whatever his name was. 

August 10, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Hippiefest at Asser Levy Park, Brooklyn NY 7/26/07

Old hippies tend to skew hard in one of two directions, either totally inspiring or completely pathetic. Think back to the most recent antiwar protest you attended, and who was doing most of the heavy lifting, and who came out in full force: that segment of the demographic is clearly still firing on all cylinders, role models for all of us.

Then there’s the wrinkly, potbellied element lost in the ozone of whatever residual chemicals remain from all the groovy lids and trips they undoubtedly wish they could remember. If they only could remember what it’s like to remember. That element doesn’t come out much but usually trickles out for shows like this one. But not tonight. This free Thursday summertime outdoor concert series has a smalltown vibe, local merchants taking the stage to hawk their wares, the wide expanse of lawn taken up mostly by what’s left of the indigenous white blue-collar community here, local celebrity and longtime New York dj Cousin Brucie Morrow serving as master of ceremonies tonight.

We got there as former Wings guitarist Denny Laine, his voice shot, was wrapping up his set. He and his generic backing band phoned in Go Now (the single he sang with the Moody Blues before he left the band and they got really good), and the edited, single version of Band on the Run, complete with cheesy synthesizer. After what seemed an interminable break, Cousin Brucie going on and on about not much of anything, Melanie took the stage, backed by a young guitarist who may have been a family member: the vocals weren’t coming through very clearly at this point, so it was hard to understand what anyone, Cousin Brucie included, was saying.

While it obviously took Melanie considerable determination to drive down from Brooklin, Maine, past the Whitestone Bridge where she’d burst into tears (she’s from Queens: can you think of any other city, Paris included, that evokes such powerful nostalgia for returnees?), to play the longest set by anyone we saw here tonight, she really shouldn’t have been up there. Her voice is completely gone, and to make matters worse, she tried to hit all the high notes. Watching her struggle and miss the mark every time was viscerally painful. She’s a perfectly adequate acoustic guitarist: why she didn’t capo up her guitar and transpose the songs to a lower key is a mystery. When she did the obligatory version of Brand New Key, she made it abundantly clear that it was not what she wanted to be remembered for, telling the audience how she’d originally conceived of it as a roughhewn, Leon Redbone-style song, blaming her producer for making it fluffy: “Here I am, with silver hair and what am I doing? Cute!” she railed. Though she went out of her way to make it clear that she’d always seen herself as a socially conscious songwriter (which she was), tonight she did the hits, ending with Lay Down, which dissolved in a mess.

Country Joe McDonald was next, also solo acoustic, and got all of three songs. “Gimme an F,” he joked, then did some nice fingerpicking on an excerpt from the 1967 Country Joe & the Fish psychedelic classic Bass Strings. Then he launched into a fiery, sarcastic new song called Support the Troops. “Draft dodging chickenhawk son of a Bush,” he spat, and any preconceptions about this part of town being redneck Rudy Mussolini territory went out the window. The crowd loved it.  When McDonald hit the second chorus, “son of a Bush” became “sonofabitch,” undoubtedly the nastiest word ever to resound from the loudspeakers here, and the crowd was completely energized for the first time tonight. McDonald followed with another recent number,  a sea chantey about saving sea creatures. And then he was done. When Cousin Brucie returned to the stage, it turned out that he’s also against the Iraq war. And that Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz (a craven shill for luxury housing developers) wanted to hear Country Joe do the Fish Cheer! Cousin Brucie always came across as a man of the people, but Markowitz? A complete surprise.

Finally, the Zombies took the stage, just singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent left from the original band, joined by their very first bass player (who’d returned to the fold in 1969 in Argent’s self-titled project), along with a decent drummer who didn’t overplay and a heavy metal guitarist who unfortunately did. Though it was clear to everyone, Cousin Brucie included, that they were the act that everybody had come out to see, they got all of a half-hour onstage.

It wouldn’t be fair to expect Blunstone, now in his sixties, to have the pretty, airy voice of his youth, and he doesn’t, but he still hit the notes. One would, however, expect the musicians in the band to play the songs pretty much note-for-note with the records, especially considering how iconic their hits have become, but Argent didn’t, and his extemporizing didn’t add anything to the material. They opened with I Love You and followed with a bouncy, aptly bluesy I’ve Been Abused. Then they did Time of the Season, with a long, pointless keyboard jam at the end, followed by Argent’s lone, long top 40 hit, the forgettable stoner riff-rocker Hold Your Head Up.

Their best song of the night was Tell Her No, the chorus just as fresh and memorable as it was when the song was released over 40 (!) years ago. They closed with She’s Not There, the solo at the end unfortunately taken not by Argent but by the guitarist, who failed to ignite the crowd with a grotesquely self-indulgent, excruciatingly long heavy metal wank-a-thon. And then they were done. The Turtles and the Rascals – woops, Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals – were scheduled to play afterward, but even as brief as the Zombies’ performance was, most anything else would have been anticlimactic. So we went over to the beach to see why there’d been a police helicopter circling with its searchlight on during the show (a young girl had happily escaped the clutches of a predator, who’d managed to escape by the time the helicopter showed up).

By the way, if you haven’t been out to Coney Island lately, make sure you do. Developers are salivating over the beachfront, and not that there are enough rich Americans or Eurotrash to buy the whole strip of coastline, but the Russian beach bars, deep-fried bellybomb stands and surprisingly cheap Astroland with its $2 rides will undoubtedly not survive the onslaught. The Mets’ single-A minor league affiliate plays at the ballpark toward the end of the boardwalk, admission is $7 and there’s not a bad seat in the house. The Pakistani taxi driver joint on Ocean Ave. a couple blocks north of Surf Ave. is heaven for hot pepper addicts, and Mrs. Adler’s Knishes a block north of that is still open and delicious. Don’t take this place for granted: it won’t be here much longer, take a long walk along the sand before it’s patrolled by private security from Halliburton.

July 28, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments