Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Nightcrawling 5/24/11

What do you do when you’ve been locked out of your building…on the first nasty day of summer in New York? You go see a show, obviously. Several of them, if possible, where there’s air conditioning. That’s what we did. First stop was le Poisson Rouge, where Not Waving But Drowning were playing. Turns out that this show was also a book release event, the author frequently reading random passages at the beginning or end of songs while the band vamped behind her. For the most part, she was inaudible – the show wasn’t in the main room but in an auxiliary area where the club had thrown up a makeshift stage, and the sound was atrocious. But when she could be heard, the plainspoken, random dissociative images added an extra surreal edge to the band’s steampunk psychedelia. And the band didn’t let the sound phase them: they’ve got three strong singers and rely on a lot of harmonies, but they had their parts down pretty much cold. And even though they didn’t have drums this time out, they were tight, passing a bass around between the Gretsch player, the banjo player and powerhouse violinist/singer Pinky Weitzman, all of them able to hold down the low end with a sweet growl. The songs, from their new album Procession, were a lot of fun. The actress in our crew loved Thanks a Lot, Lancelot, its funny Renaissance Fair bounce and punny lyrics. The tricky intricacies of November 3rd reminded someone else of Peter Gabriel; our staff cynic liked the metaphorically-charged Tiger Hunting, calling it a teens update on the Talking Heads’ Life During Wartime. And despite being obviously unable to hear themselves, the band nailed the high lonesome three-part harmonies on the eerily shuffling, warped bluegrass opening tune, Sleep Before I Wake. All these songs are on the album, recently reviewed here.

Next stop, it turned out, was across the street at the Village Lantern. This isn’t the famous folk club from the 50s and 60s (naming it that is sort of like calling yourself Bob Dylan if you’re a singer-songwriter). But it’s a nice place: the crowd was surprisingly un-touristy and nondescript (it looks like the douches and douchettes have all gone east for good), the bartenders were nice and the drinks weren’t ridiculously overpriced. Over in the corner, a pretty good Gibson SG player named Jerry Cherry (whose real name, we decided, is Gennady Shevchenko) and a couple of other guys from New Jersey played easy-listening oldies radio songs: Three Dog Night, Creedence, Elvis, Bad Company and a segue into Chubby Checker. Maybe if they get really good at this they’ll do their own stuff, and it won’t sound anything like that.

Last stop of the night was Pete’s Candy Store, where Raquel Bell was playing solo on electric guitar. Seeing her for the first time without her old art-rock band Norden Bombsight roaring and careening behind her was like wandering into one of Patti Smith or Exene’s early shows before they had bands: she’s that interesting, and original. On one hand, it made perfect sense that her wounded wail would make such a good fit with Norden Bombsight, and some of the songs she played last night might work with extended psychedelic arrangements. But she’s more diverse than that. She’s a better electric mandolinist and pianist than she is on guitar, but she’ll get those chops one of these days. As a singer, wow. There’s no one who sounds remotely like her. Her voice would be like butterscotch one second, and like blood the next, sometimes in the same syllable. She’d start a phrase as a whisper and in a split second it would be a murder indictment. Or maybe just a chuckle. And all that emotional leapfrogging didn’t sound the least bit contrived, although it was kind of scary. It was impossible to know what to expect, and she knows that, and works it. If Joanna Newsom decided someday to grow up and project some real menace instead of singing wike a wittoo teeny baby, she might sound something like this.

Bell delivered one distantly menacing number over just a simple bassline. Another set a more optimistic, sultry vocal against eerie Syd Barrett-style major/minor changes. A short, very amusing one explained what the “most excellent, excellent thing” you can give a narcissist is (the joke is too good to spoil). She dedicated a casually deadpan cover of Waylon and Willie’s Gimme the Weed to someone who’s been ostensibly been struggling with addiction, and failing, and probably having a good time with it. From that cover, and the rest of the show, it was obvious how she’s moving in more of an Americana direction, but a dark and complex one. One of her last songs was a punkish country shuffle that sounded like X circa Under the Big Black Sun; her best song of the night was a Nashville noir ballad with a wary, doomed edge evoking the Walkabouts’ Carla Torgerson, Bell musing how “he won’t help you, but he’ll drive.” It’ll be fun to see where she takes all this.

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May 25, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Not Waving but Drowning’s New Album Is a Trip

Tuneful and trippy to the extreme, Brooklyn band Not Waving but Drowning’s new theatrical rock album Processional is in some ways a more adventurous take on the Dresden Dolls. It makes a good companion piece with Aunt Ange’s recent psychedelic masterpiece. Where that one’s downright menacing, this one’s more lightheartedly surreal, although not without its disquieting moments. Where Aunt Ange goes out on the gypsy rock tip, Not Waving but Drowning reach back to the sly surrealistic humor of 60s psychedelia. Like that era’s great psychedelic bands, they draw on a kitchen sink’s worth of influences: folk music from literally around the globe, vaudeville, cabaret and garage rock. What’s it all about, other than the shambling procession through an endless succession of surreal images that the title foreshadows? After hearing it several times, it’s hard to tell, although it gets more interesting every time around. To say that there’s a lot going on here is an understatement.

The opening track, Sleep Before I Wake, is basically a mashup of the bluegrass standards Seven Bridges Road and Shady Grove, done Appalachian gothic style with psychedelic, reverb-toned lead guitar and guy/girl vocals, like a more surreal version of the Walkabouts circa 1990. The next track, November 3rd weaves a magical web of bass, banjo, guitar and violin and a lyric about a honeybee. If he’s made it to November 3, either he’s a very lucky guy, or a not so lucky one. Which isn’t clear. Is he running for office? A question worth asking. Tabor Island is a gleefully brisk shuffle over an Indian-flavored drone: “We shall all be made free again on Tabor Island.” A Jules Verne reference? Maybe.

Like a track from Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, Thanks a Lot Lancelot is a funny, sarcastic garage-pop song. “Sometimes love won’t do and you knew that from the start,” the singer reminds the poor knight. They follow that with a banjo tune, Windowsill, giving it a gentle evening ambience with trumpet and flute, and then pick up the pace with the scurrying, carnivalesque Station Light. A twisted casino scene of sorts, it’s the most theatrical number here. By the end, they’re not taking any bets – figure that one out.

The funniest song here is Sing to Me, a bumbling attempt at seduction that gets squashed fast, with a pretty hilarious quote from an awful 60s pop hit and an equally amusing outro. The Mission, with its 5/4 rhythm, offcenter violin and piano, is just plain inscrutable; they follow that with the album’s best song, Tiger Hunting, a creepy, slinky chromatic tune with an apocalyptic edge that hints at an old Talking Heads theme. Long Short Walk sounds like a cut from Nico’s Chelsea Girl album, but with better vocals and more interesting rhythm;Willow Garden evokes Country Joe & the Fish at their most reflective and acoustic. The album winds up with the title track, a twisted, swaying waltz that builds to a crescendo of delirious harmonies – it seems to be sort of an acoustic version of what Pink Floyd was going for with Waiting for the Worms. A pleasantly uneasy note on which to end this very entertaining journey. Not Waving but Drowning are at le Poisson Rouge on May 24.

May 13, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment