Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Ninth House at Otto’s, NYC 1/9/10

By a quarter to eleven, the world’s most inept rockabilly band is finishing up. The bass player can’t figure out the chords to Mystery Train. But they have an excuse: they’re in high school.

Ninth House take the stage minus their keyboardist, but with the reliably intense Susan Mitchell on viola. Rightaway she finds her spot and holds it down, playing eerie washes of sound, doubling the vocal line, foreshadowing it or establishing a harmony since guitarist Keith Otten – the best six-string player this band’s ever had-  is wailing with a casually savage Jimmy Page-gone-terse vibe. They open with a new one, Fifteen Miles to Hell’s Gate, galloping along a la vintage Social Distortion. “Fifteen miles to Hell’s Gate, from New York City, the one that drags me into a hole,” roars bassist/singer Mark Sinnis in his sinister baritone.

They usually open with Long Stray Whim and its blast of guitar fury, but this time they play it second. Mitchell brings an eerie bluesiness to her solo and Otten follows her, even eerier. They should be at odds with the defiant, major-key triumph of the melody but they’re not.

Another new one, Funeral for Your Mind is a brutal anthem. Drummer Francis Xavier rides the toms to drive the chorus home, hard. When the time comes, another paint-peeling Otten guitar solo over Mitchell’s stark ambience.

Injury Home is a noir cabaret blues, and Mitchell takes the lead, giving it an oldtimey feel; they follow that with the catchy, poppy, swaying, mid-80s Cure-ish Down Beneath.

“That song is about dying. This song is about dying too,” Sinnis tells the packed house. And then launches into a fast country shuffle. “Death is your friend, in harmony.” The crowd loves it. They want more and they get it.

“Here’s another song about dying.”  This is a brand new one, “A world premiere,” as Sinnis cynically puts it. More pounding post-Social Distortion punkabilly. The guy wants to be buried “in a suit of black, with a bottle of whiskey at my feet.” That doesn’t exactly come as a shock.

They close with a pummeling punked-out cover of Ghost Riders, flying along until Sinnis ends it cold. The rockabilly kids have stayed; some have their phones out, taking pictures, making videos. They’ve just seen one of New York’s best bands for the last ten years at the top of their macabre game, most likely for the first time. They probably will again.

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January 13, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Rawles Balls at Otto’s, NYC 10/1/08

By showtime, 9 PM, Rawles Balls were already into their set. You can’t say that this band doesn’t love to  be onstage. From time to time, they actually sounded pretty good.

 

That’s a problem.

 

Rawles Balls’ shtick is that they’re the cover band from hell, taking great relish in butchering both pop hits and obscurities from across the decades. If their sound isn’t quite punk, their spirit is, snotty, sarcastic and often devastatingly funny, as they mock the so-called stars the big corporations have given us over the years. Their repertoire is jaw-droppingly extensive, even if they only know how to play a small fraction of the material all the way through, and with the right changes. Rawles Balls may also own the alltime record for number of cds released (over fifty at last count). Trouble is, if your goal is to be a human jukebox and play shows constantly, something happens to you.

 

 

You get good.

 

 

That right there eliminates part of what has made Rawles Balls’ shows so funny in the five or six years they’ve been playing: their complete ineptitude. Frontman Nigel Rawles (who was the drummer in the late, lamented Scout) has always been a far better guitarist than he lets on in this group, but Wednesday night he took a couple of solos and not only nailed them but managed to make them terse and intelligent. Which goes completely against the grain of what this band has been doing up to now. If this show is any indication, you can tell which songs the band likes from the ones they don’t by how well they play them. The Cramps’ Human Fly was actually inspired and pretty spot-on, drummer Monica Castellanos (who’s been by far the best musician of this crew until recently) actually doing a better job than Nick Knox did on the original. But the Smashing Pumpkins’ 1979 was a trainwreck, Rawles calling it quits mid-song when it became apparent that his bandmates weren’t up to the task (who would be? The song is awful). Ditto the Dolls’ Personality Crisis and Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman, wherein bassist Patrick Glynn seemed to be feigning ignorance of the hook that every single male bassist keeps close at hand, waiting for the opportunity to slip it in somewhere.

 

 

Their version of 20 Flight Rock was actually serviceable, although their new lead player (who didn’t seem to have been given the chance to rehearse) sang it off-mic. Here Comes Your Man by the Pixies is pretty simple, and the band managed to get their fingers around that one pretty much, too. Then they did Creedence’s Have You Ever Seen the Rain, the lead player finally figuring out the song’s big hook too late as Rawles segued into another song with the same chord progression (he’s encyclopedic like that), and then into Down on the Corner, which he quickly gave up on in disgust. “Let’s do something that sounds good,” he told the band. High point of the night was, as usual, the Shangri-La’s Great Big Kiss, featuring a great big MWAH on the chorus from Rawles and his dead-serious backup singer Michelle, who unlike the rest of the band actually knows the words to the songs.

 

When they came to the song’s bridge, Michelle had a question for Rawles: “How does she make love?”

 

“Like the way Patrick plays bass. Loud and sloppy.”

 

Meanwhile, Rawles’ ex-bandmate A.K. Healey, whose long-awaited solo debut cd is finally close to completion, wandered around the room making video clips. Wherever their always-expanding repertoire and newfound chops may take them, Rawles Balls do it star style: there’s an official Rawles Balls fan club, and a new Rawles Balls fanzine in the works as well. Who knows, maybe you’ll see them on Comedy Central someday. Check the Lucid Culture concert calendar for updates on upcoming Rawles Balls’ shows.

October 5, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Unsteady Surfing 10/6/07

The night began at the Bohemian Hall out in Astoria. This is the big, outdoor, authentically Bavarian-style beer garden that you probably already know about, perhaps because there was a big article about them in this past Sunday’s Times. The beer is pricier than it ought to be, but it’s good. The music was not. A bunch of geezers on the big stage amid the picnic tables wheezed their way through rote covers of Dylan, Tom Petty and Bob Marley songs, the kind of stuff you learn in the first two months of taking guitar lessons. Then they took a break, probably smoked up some more and then came back and played Grateful Dead covers. The crowd got more into the music as the night wore on and the booze kicked in, even though the band was pretty out of it. And the no-see-ums were out in full effect: don’t anyone dare criticize Joba Chamberlain for throwing that wild pitch.

The game plan was to get back to town and head down to the Parkside where Love Camp 7 and Liza and the WonderWheels were playing. Each band played a fantastic set the last time we saw them, and odds are they did as well Saturday night. But the best laid plans, etc., etc., ad infinitum. We ended up at Otto’s where Unsteady Freddie’s monthly surf night was in full swing. This is reliably a good time, sometimes an absolutely transcendent one. Unsteady Freddie is a longtime Dick Dale fan who has done more to promote surf music on the east coast than anyone except NESMA founder and 9th Wave bandleader Mike “Staccato” Rosado. Rosado’s band was unfortunately absent from tonight’s bill, but there were other good ones. The big surprise was the Clams. They’re from Connecticut and have really pulled themselves together recently, with the addition of a new bass player. They did all covers, mostly standards, Out of Limits and Baja and Pipeline and the requisite Misirlou to close the set, but that stuff is not easy to play and they pulled it off. And they had a horn section, two women sax players, one of them being multi-instrumentalist Sandy from 9th Wave, and they were spot-on. Which you pretty much have to be if you’re the Clams’ horn section (that’s a joke: a flat note played on a horn is called a clam). The high point of their set was a surprisingly careening version of Mr. Moto, reminding a bit of the out-of-control version that the Coffin Daggers used to do. A lot of people think surf music is cheesy, including some of the people who play it, but not these guys. Surf music at its best is as haunting and gorgeous as it is danceable. Tonight the Clams grew legs, pulled themselves out of the muck and had the crowd hollering for more when they left the stage.

The Twangtones were next. This trio appears to be a pickup band with NY rockabilly/surf legend Simon Chardiet (of Simon & the Bar Sinisters) on bass and a guy who looks like Gaylord Perry (the way Perry looks now….which I guess is the way he’s pretty much always looked) playing guitar. Chardiet played with his eyes closed, lost in the music, the way he always does. He’s a virtuoso. He swings, he has impeccable touch and unimpeachable taste. Other bass players should watch him closely. The guitarist clearly knows his stuff as well. Like the Clams, they played Ventures covers and other classics, impressing with their ability to avoid replicating the previous band’s set. It would have been nice if I could have stuck around for the night’s final act instead of being pressed into emergency crisis mediation duty just when the night was starting to take off.

October 11, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments