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

Clara Engel’s Madagascar EP Is Dark and Intense

Canadian songwriter Clara Engel has a new ep out on Vox Humana, on vinyl, one of the best small-size collections to come over the transom here in recent months. You can also stream the tracks or download at their bandcamp site. The first cut, Blind Me begins with a moody stark minor-key guitar intro and becomes a darkly swaying folk pop anthem in 6/8 time, in a Marissa Nadler vein. Engel’s voice is sort of a cross between Penelope Houston and Patti Smith, with a pure, unaffected clarity that’s scary by itself, never mind the lyrics. The song gently picks up with smoldering, terse electric guitar and an ethereal choir. There’s a recurrent theme of “bloody echoes from the walls of this prison” – offhandedly lurid and compelling. The lurid factor picks up on the second track, Madagascar, seductive yet menacing, drummer Paul Kolinski building the ambience with some marvelous mallet work, Nicholas Buligan’s trumpet fluttering in occasionally as Engel’s guitar adds intensity. The third track, Accompanied by Dreams, from Engel’s album The Bethlehem Tapes, is just guitar, voice and Taylor Galassi’s cello, an imploring mini-epic that wouldn’t have been out of place on one of those great Penelope Houston albums from the early 90s. “Do I have to wait for another lifetime?” Engel asks plaintively. She’s also offering an excellent free download: Lick My Fins is noir cabaret with a stark, Creatures-style arrangement heavy on the drums, light on the shadowy orchestration. All of this is good stuff, reason to look forward to more in the future

May 9, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Best Triplebill of the Year

We move from the year’s best doublebill to the best triplebill of 2011 so far: Caithlin De Marrais, the Oxygen Ponies and Randi Russo at the Mercury on Sunday night, where Russo was playing the cd release show for her new one Fragile Animal (our pick for best of the year, maybe not so coincidentally). Each act was different, and yet the same (other than the fact that each one was playing with two drummers, Ray Rizzo and Konrad Meissner, whose interlocking, earthy groove was an unexpected treat). Tuneful, intense rock doesn’t get any better than this.

Caithlin De Marrais’ 2008 album My Magic City had a gorgeous rainy-day atmosphere: this was her fun set, material from an auspicious forthcoming album now being mixed. The former Rainer Maria bass player chose her spots and made her riffs count: few bassists get so much mileage out of such simple ideas. Often the bass carried the melody above Josh Kaufman’s ringing, jangly guitar. A few times, De Marrais would run a riff for a bar or two before launching into the next song: “You’ve got to watch, they catch up with you,” she grinned, “Not that you have watch your back in this town anymore.” As someone who was here before there was a “luxury” condo project on every ghetto block, she knows what she’s talking about. Kaufman made his ideas count for just as much, firing off suspenseful volleys of reverb-infused Sputnik staccato, or throwing shards of jangly chords into the mix. De Marrais is best known for plaintiveness and poignancy, and with characteristic nuance she added a more upbeat tinge to her vocals. Half the bands in Bushwick rip off New Order, but what De Marrais does with simple, catchy 80s hooks takes the idea to the next level. One of the new ones, maybe titled Cocoon, had a moody bounce; another new one, Rose Wallpaper, added carefree ba-ba-ba pop flourishes; still another paired off a bass riff straight out of Joy Division’s Ceremony with Kaufman’s pointillistic punch. The end of the set gave De Marrais the chance to cut loose and belt with impressive power, particularly a stomping, garage rock-tinged number with some ferocious guitar chord-chopping at the end, and a dead ringer for Scout that fell and then rose, apprehensive yet hopeful. “Just a dreamer after all…but let’s try,” De Marrais cajoled.

Where her vocals were all unselfconscious beauty, the Oxygen Ponies’ frontman Paul Megna doesn’t shy away from ugliness, or outright rage. And yet, when his vocals were up high enough in the mix, he was also all about nuance, adding more than the hint of a snarl to drive a particularly corrosive lyric home. This particular version of the OxPos (a revolving cast of characters) featured the drummers along with Don Piper on lead guitar, Devin Greenwood on keys and Chris Buckridge on bass. Their first song kept the New Order vibe going, followed by the cruelly sarcastic psychedelic pop of Fevered Cyclones, from their 2009 Harmony Handgrenade album. A hypnotic dirge from their highly anticipated forthcoming one sounded like the Church, with eerie, echoey guitar from Piper, building to a soaring anthem. The brooding, bitter Get Over Yrself gave Piper the chance to add his own corrosive noiserock edge; a more hopeful new anthem rose to a big swell fueled by Ray Sapirstein’s trumpet. They wrapped up the set with a gleefully ferocious, bouncy version of the Bush-era The War Is Over, followed by a pensive, Velvets-flavored anthem and then another new one that brought the garage-psych intensity all the way up with the two drummers going full steam.

Russo got the two drummers, JD Wood on bass, plus Piper, plus Megna on keyboards, plus Lenny Molotov on lead guitar and lapsteel. Resolute and velvety, she sang over the mini-orchestra behind her with a visceral sense of triumph. The album took longer to finish than anyone anticipated, but it was worth it and Russo drove that point home, opening with an especially amped version of Invisible. Speaking for every alienated individualist in the room, she grabbed victory from the jaws of defeat: “I am, I am invisible/I feel, I feel invincible.” With the three guitars going, The Invitation was exuberantly Beatlesque; the self-explanatory Alienation was another launching pad for some volcanic noiserock from Piper. Molotov’s falcon swoops on lapsteel added a menacing edge to the gorgeous, somewhat wistful Get Me Over, while Megna’s swirling keys gave the blistering kiss-off song Venus on Saturn a hypnotic ambience. Piper switched to harmonium for a fast, unusually short version of the Doorsy Restless Raga, Molotov’s solar flares bursting out of the murky mantra pulse. After a couple more hypnotically pounding numbers, she closed the show with the defiant Head High – Patti Smith as backed by Led Zep, maybe – and a counterintuitive choice, Swallow, a study in survival in the midst of being hit from all sides. It took some nerve to close on a down note with that one, and it worked.

And a shout out to Sergio Paterno, who earlier in the evening was playing gypsy and flamenco-flavored instrumentals on his guitar by tapping on the frets, using a lot of piano voicings, on the L train platform at 14th Street. It would have been fun to have heard more of what he was doing before the Mercury show.

April 21, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lorraine Leckie’s Martini Eyes Are Bloodshot and Sinister

For the better part of the last ten years, Lorraine Leckie has been writing dark, deadpan songs that owe as much to punk – at least the spirit of punk – as they do Americana. Her new album Martini Eyes is deliciously ghoulish, and it’s her best one yet. It’s her Nebraska: simple, spare arrangements, most of them with just vocals and acoustic guitar or piano. If Patti Smith had gone Nashville gothic instead of punk, she might have sounded something like this

The real gem here is Don’t Giggle at the Corpse. It might sound funny, but it’s not, at all: it’s a blackly cynical depiction of a funeral. “Take a sip of wine…here we go, it’s time for the show, don’t giggle at the corpse,” Leckie warns, completely serious, perfectly capturing the temporary insanity that comes with grief. “I wish this town would burn to the ground – I loved him a lot, show him what we’ve got,” she muses out loud. It’s a profound theme for a year that’s had too many funerals.

Leckie follows that with a couple of distantly Tom Waits-ish ones. Trouble is a stark, witchy blues: things die and summer turns to winter wherever this girl goes. “Crazy girls are easy to love/By morning you’ve had enough,” the off-center narrator of Red Light intones – she’s written her paramour’s name on her walls in lipstick, and crayon, and god knows what, and what makes it poignant is that she’s just sane enough to know she’s crazy. And the 6/8 murder ballad Hillbilly will strike a nerve with anyone who’s survived the gentrification that’s blighted New York, or anywhere: girl from the sticks comes to town, wants to be a star, blithely steals another girl’s guy…and gets what’s coming to her.

The unexpectedly hilarious track here is I Met a Man, a simple, cabaret-ish piano tune about scoring drugs all over the world. “Coppers all around me like rain,” sings Leckie – and then runs off to Amsterdam to score again. The album winds up with Listen to the Girl, a stark yet encouraging theme for brooding individualists, and the off-kilter title track, laden with regret for a lost love who might or might not have left under his own power. One of Leckie’s greatest strengths as a songwriter is what she leaves out, and this is a prime example. Count this as a late addition to the rapidly closing list of the best albums of 2010.

December 18, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Newspeak’s Fearless New Album Out 11/16; CD Release Show at Littlefield on the 14th

Much as there are innumerable great things happening in what’s become known as “indie classical,” there’s also an annoyingly precious substratum in the scene that rears its self-absorbed little head from time to time. Newspeak’s new album Sweet Light Crude is the antidote to that: you could call this punk classical. Fearlessly aware, insightfully political, resolutely defiant, it’s a somewhat subtler counterpart to the work of Joe Strummer, Bob Marley and Marcel Khalife even if it doesn’t sound like any of them. Sometimes raw and starkly intense, other times lushly atmospheric, this new music supergroup of sorts includes bandleader David T. Little on drums, Caleb Burhans on violin, Mellissa Hughes on vocals, James Johnston on keys, Taylor Levine (of hypnotic guitar quartet Dither) on electric guitar, Eileen Mack on clarinets, Brian Snow on cello and Yuri Yamashita on percussion.

The first track is Oscar Bettison’s B&E (with Aggravated Assault), a swinging, percussive Mingus-esque theme set to a blustery trip-hop rhythm with a noir organ break, and pummeling drums as it reaches an out-of-breath crescendo at the end. Stefan Wiseman’s I Would Prefer Not To – inspired by Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener, master of tactful disobedience – builds from austerity to another trip-hop vamp, Mack’s plaintive melody and Hughes’ deadpan, operatically-tinged vocals overhead. From there they segue into Little’s title track – essentially, this one’s about Stockholm Syndrome, a love song to a repressive addiction. As before, this one starts out plaintively, builds to a swirl and then a disco beat over which Hughes soars passionately. It’s as funny and over-the-top as it is disconcerting, and the big, booming rock crescendo with its cello chords, distorted guitar, strings and winds fluttering overhead leaves no doubt what the price of this addiction is.

Missy Mazzoli’s In Spite of All This holds to the hypnotic, richly interwoven style of her work with her mesmerizingly atmospheric band Victoire. Violin swoops and dives gently introduce wounded guitar-and-piano latticework, which extrapolates with a characteristically crystalline, unselfconsciously epic sweep as one texture after another enters the picture, only to leave gracefully to make room for another. Brenschluss (the German term for the tip of a ballistic missile), by Pat Muchmore alternates apprehensive, spoken-word passages evoking early Patti Smith or recent Sarah Mucho with tense atmospherics, overtone-spewing metal guitar and a tricky art-rock string arrangement that builds to a conclusion that is…pretty much what you’d expect it to be. The album closes with Burhans’ Requiem for a General Motors in Janesville, WI, a long, cinematically evocative, extremely Lynchian composition that seems to be modeled on Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks theme. As it picks up with slide guitar, vocalese, and dramatic drum crashes, it could be Pink Floyd’s Any Colour You Like for the 21st Century – although that would be Requiem for a Ford Plant in…probably somewhere in Mexico. The album’s out on New Amsterdam Records on Nov 16; Newspeak play the cd release show for this one this Sunday, Nov 14 at Littlefield at around 9. If the album is any indication, it could be amazing.

November 12, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/10/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #872:

The Patti Smith Group – Radio Ethiopia

This is the great Patti Smith album that everybody sleeps on. It’s her hardest-rocking, most musically interesting, least lyrical, and least accessible one. But a close listen really pays off. As usual, there’s plenty of defiant, tuneful powerpop: Ask the Angels; Pumping My Heart; the reggae-tinged Ain’t It Strange, and Distant Fingers, a co-write with Smith’s then-boyfriend Allen Lanier of Blue Oyster Cult. There’s also the absolutely gorgeous, plaintive, seven-minute Richard Sohl piano ballad Pissing in a River. But the best part is the epic twelve minutes that closes the album, wherein lead guitarist Lenny Kaye – one of the world’s most reliably melodic players – flipped the script and pretty much singlehandedly invented noise-rock. A murky cauldron of swirling, overtone-laden textures, it’s one of the high points of 70s music, and it shifted the paradigm a little further outside. It’s hard to imagine Public Image Ltd., the Dream Syndicate, or for that matter Sonic Youth, without it. Here’s a random torrent.

September 10, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Valerie Kuehne, System Noise, Black Sea Hotel, Lenny Kaye and Paul Wallfisch 12/14/09

The last Beast of the decade (for us, anyway) was one of the best. That such a ridiculously spectacular display of talent doesn’t instantly leap to the top of our Best New York Concerts of 2009 list speaks to how good, and how essential, Paul Wallfisch’s weekly Small Beast concert at the Delancey has become. It’s like this every week.

This one was characteristic in that it ran the gamut from the avant garde to noise-rock (a welcome if unrelated excursion to the downstairs room) to Bulgarian choral music to powerpop to sinister gypsy rock played solo on piano: eclectic to the extreme. New music composer Valerie Kuehne opened the show on cello and vocals, backed by violin, upright bass, electric guitar and drums. Her shapeshifting songs stopped as fast as they started, went doublespeed, lept abruptly and then crept quietly, sometimes in the span of what seemed a few seconds. She sings with the wide-open belt of a classically trained singer, her vocals typically impatient and uneasy. “Do you believe in patterns? Patterns? Patterns?” she inquired accusatively, early on. Her second number, Now We Know set eerie tremolo guitar against jagged, disjointed rhythms that evolved out of the song’s initial stately 6/8 sway. She closed her brief set with a study in abrupt hard/soft contrasts with the vocals and also the stringed instruments. Not exactly easy listening, but then it wasn’t meant to be.

The next act had cancelled, so there was a long lull, long enough to head downstairs where art/punk/funk/noise rockers System Noise had launched into their own magnificent set, unrelated to what was going on upstairs, but it made a perfect segue (and because the next Small Beast act didn’t want to start early and be done by the time their fans had turned up, there was plenty of time to catch this one). Known for their assaultive, roaring guitar and vocal attack, they’ve never been more catchy and accessible, even if it’s a savage, cynical accessibility. A new one, Blame It on the Rain ran an absurdly catchy funk/blues phrase over a slinky groove while frontwoman Sarah Mucho gave it a characteristic sultry ominousness. Hair and Nails (the two parts of the body that continue to grow after death) followed in a similar vein; the best song of the entire night was another new one, a magnificently morbid epic that grew from apprehensive David Gilmour-inflected guitar arpeggios to an almost punk chorus, ending with a dramatic, classically infused buildup that would have been perfectly at home in the Procol Harum catalog. The even more punk number after that maintained the ornate intensity. It’s too bad that the band has since gone on what turned out to be a long-anticipated hiatus: what a run they’ve had, five years at least as one of New York’s best bands.

Upstairs, the four women of Black Sea Hotel assembled onstage. Their claim to fame – beyond having four of the most amazing voices of any New York group, in any style – is their innovative arrangements of traditional Bulgarian choral and folk music. Sometimes they’ll scale down a big, lavish chart to four-part harmony, other times they’ll embellish a folk song’s original single vocal line. Either way, the songs in their repertoire are hypnotic, otherworldly and haunting, but they’re also funny, ironic and sometimes completely absurd, and the crowd clearly got as much of a kick out of hearing the meaning of the Bulgarian lyrics as much as the band did relating them. A woman defiantly tells her guy that even if she’s wearing his clothes, he still can’t have her body; a (probably drunken) guy leaves home dressed in the garb of both his male and female relatives; a hot-to-trot single guy can’t make up his mind whether he’ll continue to court the women of his hometown or try his luck (not so good, so far) elsewhere.

Yet another advantage of Small Beast is that you get to watch the bands up close. Black Sea Hotel’s debut cd (look for it on our Best Albums of 2009 list) is gorgeous and swirling, but it’s impossible to know who’s singing what. Seeing them here, it was a lot of fun to discover that of the four, Corinna Snyder takes the biggest risks and the highest leaps, jumping octaves with split-second precision and losing nothing in pitch or power. Joy Radish is the smallest member of the group but sings with the most power. Willa Roberts has a stunning clarity and precision, and got to deliver the evening’s single most captivating moment,  ending a song about a soldier gone off to war with a final, poignant verse in English. Sarah Small, meanwhile, achieved the impossible by being simultaneously raw and intense yet hypnotically atmospheric, and this time out she was the one who got to add the striking, strange ornamentation that Bulgarian vocal music is best known for. The audience was awestruck. The group have a reputation for being a sort of punk rock version of le Mystere des Voix Bulgares – they’ll sing anywhere – but where they really ought to be is Carnegie Hall.

Putting legendary Patti Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye next on the bill was a smart move – it completely changed the vibe yet maintained it, at least as far as smart songwriting is concerned. Kaye’s stock in trade has always been his guitar playing, but he’s also a formidable songwriter, a first-class powerpop tunesmith. Playing most of the show solo on Strat, occasionally joined by his old 80s bandmate Paul Dugan (of Big Lazy) on upright bass, he ran through a catchy, hook-laden set of mostly original tunes with lyrics ranging from sardonic to fearlessly political. In Style casually dismissed a tourist on the Lower East Side: “You must like that Def Leppard, I know you do.” A rueful garage pop ballad, and another big anthem, were dead ringers for Willie Nile tunes. A jangly ballad by the Weather Prophets – whom Kaye had produced in the 80s – was compelling and pretty, while The Things You Leave Behind – a dedication to Jim Carroll – managed to be both ominously wistful and sarcastic. The duo closed with a sizzling, completely off-the-cuff version of Gloria, Kaye finally cutting loose with a couple of leads, the first going over the edge into noise-rock (this is the guy who basically invented the style, on Radio Ethiopia) before bringing it back to a delirious audience singalong. The crowd wouldn’t let him leave, so he rewarded them with a nasty, sarcastic cover of Jesse’s Girl and then a dark, subdued, jangly meditation on distance and absence, Telltale Heart.

Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch usually opens these shows – the series started as just a way for him to work out new material in front of live audience – but this time he closed it. Because we’ve reviewed so many of these shows this past year, he’s gotten more ink here than anybody else, but it wouldn’t be fair to neglect to mention how intense his own set was. Shira and Sofia is a swinging, noir cabaret-infused Botanica number about two WWII whores – essentially, its theme is make love, not war. When Wallfisch got to the part of the lyric where one of the hookers can “suck your dick,” he screamed it as if was the last thing he’d ever say and the crowd didn’t know whether to completely crack up (it was hilarious, actually) or do something else. He also played a tango, a waltz, a couple of soul numbers, a whiplash version of his collaboration with Little Annie, Because You’re Gone, and an absolutely morbid, Satie-esque rearrangement of Nature Boy (retitled Nature Girl). And had the crowd dancing to pretty much all of it. Small Beast will be off for a couple of weeks and then back on January 10.

December 22, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 9/14/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Monday’s song is #317:

Katie Elevitch – Kindling For the Fire

If she keeps doing what she’s doing right now, someday the powerhouse New York rock siren will rank up there with Nina Simone and Patti Smith. The version on Elevitch’s live-in-the-studio 2008 cd is excellent as it is – and as its bassline menacingly rolls out, she and the band jam this out live into a witches’ sabbath. “Slaves stillborn gather round the hearse – kindling for the fire!”

September 14, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Hazmat Modine and Dr. John at the Hoboken Arts and Music Festival 5/6/07

Knowing what time the bands start at this semi-annual outdoor deepfried food festival is always a crapshoot: the schedule on the festival’s official website didn’t gybe with stagetimes the day of the show. Reportedly this is par for course. Word on the street was that Demolition String Band’s 1 PM set was excellent. Hazmat Modine took the stage at just a little after two, looking like they’d just crawled out of bed, the lot of them (and there are a lot of them: two harmonicas, trumpet, bari sax, a rhythm section with a tuba substituting for bass, and two guitarists who traded off on lapsteel and banjitar). Confined to a set that ran just over 45 minutes, there was a minimum of the expansive, frequently exhilarating soloing that they’re best known for. Instead, they worked on squeezing in as many songs as they could from their wildly psychedelic new cd Bahamut along with some road-tested crowd-pleasers. They opened with the exuberant So Glad, frontman Wade Schuman and his sparring partner, Randy Weinstein trading bluesy harmonica licks over a bouncing reggae beat. Later they did a spirited cover of the Irving Berlin novelty tune Walking Stick: while it’s easy to see this song becoming totally Sesame Street (perhaps as its creator intended it), Schuman worked the lyric’s innuendo for all it was worth. Trumpeter Pam Fleming stole the show as usual with a flamenco-flavored solo, particularly apt since the song is basically a tango. When her 12 bars were up, she paused for a second, gave a quick look to the band as if to say, “look out!” and then launched the song into the stratosphere with one of her trademark crescendos.

Though Schuman looked sleepy and wasn’t nearly as boisterous as he usually is in front of the band, he had no difficulty getting the crowd hollering, with a long, James Cotton-inflected harmonica solo that he took by himself as the band looked on, singing through the reeds as does from time to time. He also added some unusual textures by playing through a wah-wah pedal on a couple of songs. The band wound up the set with an especially terse version of the title track from the new cd, a calypso-flavored behemoth about “the largest thing that never existed,” which seems to be some kind of Borges reference. The crowd didn’t want them to leave: perhaps because Hoboken is replete with blues cover bands, this exposure to something far more authentically blues-based went over particularly well.

Afterward on the Sixth Street stage, local guitarist Karyn Kuhl and her mostly female backing band stomped through a painlessly formulaic set of punky pop with cheerleaderesque vocals and forgettable lyrics. Their best song was a minor-key blues that Kuhl said they’d never played live before.

Back to the main stage where Dr. John was headlining. He’s a hot-and-cold performer: when the mood strikes him, especially in a small club, he can be electrifying, but he’s just as likely to take the money and phone it in, especially at an outdoor festival. Happily, the Night Tripper was in a particularly dark and stormy mood, the result being a fiery, impassioned, hourlong show. Before launching into the two-part post-Katrina salute to his hometown, Sweet Home New Orleans, he berated the audience to give their money only to smallscale charities: “With the big ones, the money disappears before it gets there.” A bit later he did a bristling, impressively fresh take on the old standard St. James Infirmary Blues that he ended by pounding out the opening hook from the famous Grieg A Minor prelude.

“We call ourselves Dr. John and the Lower 9/11th,” he told the crowd. He posed the rhetorical question of why they’d continue to dwell on something the rest of the world has pretty much forgotten: we’re tough customers, he said: “We carry a grudge.” This was still a party (it’s always a party when the Doctor is in town), but a defiant celebration delivered in minor keys. No Iko Iko: we got Gris-Gris instead and it was clear that Mr. Rebennac felt like he wanted to hoodoo someone. At the end of the show they lightened up a bit, the drummer showing off his collection of funk beats before bringing Dr. John back to the stage for the encores.

Despite a degree of disorganization, the Hoboken Arts & Music Festival always has some first-rate performers on the bill: the Moonlighters, Patti Smith, Mary Lee’s Corvette and Laura Cantrell have all recently played there, and it’s safe to say that this fall’s lineup should be a good one.

May 7, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment