Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 7/11/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #568:

Sally Norvell – Choking Victim

Recorded in an old church in Northhampton, Massachusetts, this 2002 noir classic pairs off cult heroine Norvell’s icy/sultry vocals with Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch’s plaintive, haunting, reverb-drenched piano. The pitch-black intensity never lets up, through the Marlene Dietrich-ish gothic waltz Blake in the Cake; the seductive Brecht/Weill-tinged One Gentle Thing; Big Louise, a sad ballad for an aging party animal; the blackly sardonic AIDS-era memoir November; the self-explanatory Goodbye Song; the gleefully opiated wee-hours madness of Murder, as well as a hypnotic setting of a Paul Bowles poem, Tom Waits’ Please Call Me, Baby done as noir cabaret, and the Appalachian gothic ballad Forgotten and Abandoned done as straight-up, creepy neoclassical. Surprisingly, it ends on a very funny note (alluded to by the album cover), complete with a deadpan, amusing cameo from Norvell’s old bandmate Kid Congo Powers, with whom she recorded more rock-oriented versions of some of these songs. This one’s very hard to find. The sharelockers have nothing; once in awhile copies will turn up in the used bins – check your local used record store, if one still exists.

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July 11, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Last True Small Beast?

Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch, creator of the Small Beast concert series at the Delancey – New York’s most cutting-edge, exciting and important rock event – played his final set at the club Monday night, since he’s moving to host another Small Beast in Dortmund, Germany. Sharing a characteristically rich bill with Wallfisch were ”cemetery and western” crooner Mark Sinnis, cello rockers Blues in Space and Wallfisch’s longtime co-conspirator Little Annie Bandez.

All of these acts get a lot of ink here. Sinnis played a terse duo show on acoustic guitar, backed by the reliably extraordinary Susan Mitchell on gypsy-tinged violin. His trademark Nashville gothic material went over as well with the crowd gathered at the bar as the blast of air conditioning flowing from the back of the upstairs space did. The two mixed up creepily quiet and more upbeat songs from Sinnis’ new album The Night’s Last Tomorrow along with older ones like the hypnotic, vintage Carl Perkins-flavored That’s Why I Won’t Love You.

Blues in Space featured composer/frontman Rubin Kodheli playing electric cello, accompanied by eight-string guitar and drums. Hearing their swirling, chromatically charged, metal-spiced instrumentals up close (the band set up on the floor in front of the stage) was like being inside a cyclotron, witnessing the dawn and decay of one new element after another. And yet the compositions were lushly melodic, especially an unselfconsciously catchy new one which was basically just a good pop song arranged for dark chamber-rock trio. Kodheli fretted afterward that he wanted to take special care not to sound “bombastic,” something he shouldn’t worry about. A little bombast actually wouldn’t have hurt.

After Blues in Space, Wallfisch made the long wait for his set worthwhile. Small Beast is his baby, and as much passion as he put into it, it obviously wasn’t easy to let it go. As much as he didn’t hold back – the guy is one of the most charismatic frontmen in any style of music – he also didn’t go over the top, letting his songs speak for themselves. And they spoke volumes: his glimmering solo piano arrangement of the Paul Bowles poem Etiquette, and his closing number, Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man, equal parts seduction and anguish. “One and a half years, it seems like a lifetime ago,” he mused, which makes sense: in that short span of time, Small Beast in its own way took its place in the history of music in New York alongside CBGB, Minton’s and Carnegie Hall.

In between, Little Annie joined him for flickering, torchy, regret-steeped versions of Jacques Brel’s If You Go Away (interrupted by a posse of drunken tourists barreling down the stairs and past the stage, oblivious to the moment), the reliably amusing anti-trendoid anthem Cutesy Bootsies, a genuinely wrenching requiem for a suicide titled Dear John, and an apt encore of It Was a Very Good Year. Annie is reliably hilarious; tonight she was just as preoccupied. And who can blame her (she goes on tour with Baby Dee in late summer/early fall).

As for the future of Small Beast, the Delancey’s Dana McDonald has committed her ongoing support (she’s no dummy – being known for running a club that books smart music is always a plus, no matter how much more moronic the world of corporate and indie rock gets). Vera Beren – a rare bandleader who can match Wallfisch pound for pound in terms of charisma – hosts next week’s Beast on July 12, featuring her band along with ambient, minimalist synth goths Sullen Serenade and ornate, artsy Italian/New York 80s-style goth band the Spiritual Bat.

July 7, 2010 Posted by | concert, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, James Ross and Joe Benzola, Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble and Elisa Flynn at the Delancey, NYC 6/29/09

Small Beast has taken to Mondays like a vulture on a carcass. The beef carcasses, i.e. hamburgers and hotdogs at the upstairs barbecue now carry a $5 pricetag, although it’s a fill-your-plate type deal (and the totally El Lay crowd up there looks like they can afford it). Botanica pianist Paul Wallfisch, opened the night in the cool, darkened ground-level space as he always does, solo on piano. Since Small Beast is his event, he’s gotten a ton of ink here. Suffice it to say that if dark, virtuosic, unaffectedly intense piano with a gypsy tinge is something you might like, run don’t walk to this Monday night extravaganza. Although last night it wasn’t, it’s usually over before Rev. Vince Anderson gets going across the river, so if you’re really adventurous you can hit both shows. This time out Wallfisch ran through a rather touching Paul Bowles song about a fugitive, in French; a lickety-split version of a noir cabaret tune by his longtime collaborator, chanteuse/personality Little Annie; a Crystal Gayle cover done very noir, and Shira and Sofia, a Botanica tune about the original Joy Division, a couple of WWII era whores. Make love, not war is what the two are encouraging in their own completely over-the-top way, and a few in the audience did a doubletake when Wallfisch got to the chorus.

Multi-instrumentalist James Ross and percussionist Joe Benzola were next, playing hypnotic instrumentals that sounded something akin to the Dead jamming Space with Electric Junkyard Gamelan, with Benzola using a multitude of instruments including wooden flute, recorder, kazoo, and a small series of gongs in addition to his drum kit and then layering one loop on top of another for a Silk Road feel. They took awhile to get going, Ross playing a zhongruan, a Chinese lute with a biting tone like a higher-pitched oud. This was an improvisation, and when they hit their stride the crowd was very into it – avante garde though it was, there was a repetitive catchiness to it too. Ross eventually switched to electric guitar, winding up their brief set with a trancelike, drony number where he built a small wall of feedback as if to hold off the relentless procession of beats.

Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble then grabbed the crowd by the back of the neck and spun them in the opposite direction with a ferocity that was even more striking in contrast to the previous act’s quiet psychedelica. To find a worthy comparison to Beren, the former Die Hausfrauen frontwoman, you have to go into the icon section: Iggy Pop, Aretha, Umm Kalthum or Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello are a few who can match the raven-haired contralto siren’s unleashed, menacing intensity. Backed by two lead guitarists, a trombonist who doubled on keys and a pummeling rhythm section, Beren opened the set with anguished vocalese, part scream and part very reluctant acquiescence. There was no turning back after that. The band name is apt in that their grand guignol attack can be bluesily hypnotic, tinged with classical motifs (Beren played macabre piano on a couple of numbers) and if you take it to its extreme (this is very extreme music), there’s nobody more goth than this crew. But these goths don’t put on batwings and hug the wall, they come to pillage and avenge. A couple of their heavier, stomping numbers bore a little resemblance to Blue Oyster Cult, but Beren’s writing is more complex and cerebral, expertly switching between tempos, building inexorably to a roar of horror. Their last song grew ominously with a whoosh of cymbals and some beautifully boomy chord work on the intro by bassist Greg Garing into a careening, crashing gallop that ended with a noise jam, Garing throwing off a nasty blast of feedback.

That Elisa Flynn wasn’t anticlimactic playing in the wake of Hurricane Vera speaks for itself. In her own moody, pensive and equally dark way, she proved a match for Beren, in subtlety if not sheer volume. Flynn’s new cd Songs About Birds and Ghosts is one of the year’s best, and that comprised most of what she sang, playing solo on guitar, expertly working the corners of a compelling, wounded delivery that she’d occasionally turn up to a fullscale wail when she needed to drive a point home. Her guitar playing proved as smartly matched to the songs’ emotion as her vocals, alternating between hammering chords and stark fingerpicking, sometimes building an eerie undercurrent of overtones using her open strings. Her songs have considerable bitterness but also a wry wit, as well as a frequently majestic, anthemic feel that comes to the forefront when she uses 6/8 time (which is a lot). I’m Afraid of the Way I Go Off Sometimes, she said, took its title from an email she’d received from a friend a week before he went into rehab. She warned that a cover of The Pyramid Song by Radiohead might be awkward, but it was anything but, in fact even more haunting than the original with something of a Syd Barrett feel. A brand-new one called Shiver was potently angry, building to a tastily macabre chorus. She followed that with an understated version of the opening cut on the new album, Timber, a towering anthem (with a cool Blair Witch video up on youtube). She closed with No Diamond, something of a lullaby “to send you off to sleep,” she said, another pensive number in 6/8. By now, it was approaching one in the morning; had she kept playing, no doubt the crowd would have kept listening.

Small Beast continues next Monday, July 6 with Wallfisch, Spottiswoode and Pete Galub; Beren plays goth night at the Slipper Room on September 20; Flynn is at Sidewalk on July 14 at 8.

June 30, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Embarrassment of Riches

Small Beast was a mobscene the week before last. You could hardly move. Who knows just how large this Beast will grow, or what its lifespan might be. Whatever the case, Botanica frontman/pianist Paul Wallfisch’s weekly Thursday residency upstairs at the Delancey is an event with posterity stamped all over it – someday a lot of people who never heard of the Beast until it was over will claim to have been here every week. This past week’s was something of a respite from the crowd, impresario/showman/alchemist Wallfisch solo on the piano as usual to open the night. As usual, it felt like forbidden fruit, a peek inside the next (obviously awesome) Botanica album, this time around gypsyish and intense as usual but with restraint, something akin to a subtler, more overtly literate Gogol Bordello if you can imagine that. He’d played a whole set of Paul Bowles songs a weekly previously at the Gershwin Hotel and reprised a couple of unsurprisingly doomed, poetic numbers from that show along with a savage, sarcastic version of the WWII bordello chronicle Shira and Sofia and an even angrier take on the big, impatient Botanica gypsy-dance show-closer How. Then cellist and self-described provocateur Peter Lewy took the stage and was excellent, opening with a darkly Romantic original instrumental, then joined by Wallfisch. It would have been nice to be able to stick around for the rest of his set, as well as for an all-too-infrequent set by once-and-future Scholars frontman Whiting Tennis, and to see what Barbez’ Dan Kaufman might be up to these days, but it was time to head over to Bowery Electric for McGinty & White’s cd release show.

Which as one of the cognoscenti in the packed house said, was like being at an ELO concert. With a string quartet led by the formidable Claudia Chopek, Mike Fornatale playing gorgeously terse, watery lead guitar through a vintage 70s Ibanez analog chorus pedal, former Psychedelic Fur McGinty’s battalion of keyboard effects, a potent yet subtle rhythm section of Jeremy Chatzky booming on the bass and Eddie Zweiback on drums and White on acoustic guitar, it was a feast of textures and tunes. Their new cd, recently reviewed here is an updage on the classic 60s psychedelic pop sound best exemplified by Jimmy Webb and Burt Bacharach; live, it rocks harder, the songs’ innumerable clever touches jumping out at the least expected moments with both a nod to and a smirk at the original stuff.

On the album, White’s kiss-off ballad Rewrite is savagely lyrical but this time out the music was equally intense, driven by Fornatale’s ruthless jangle and clang. So Tired matched Badfinger catchiness to ELO epic grandeur, White toying with the vocal melody at the end, only enhancing the lyric’s bled-white exasperation. “You can only follow the obligatory power ballad with the obligatory bubblegum song,” McGinty told the crowd, and suddenly his tongue-in-cheek Get a Guy made perfect sense – not only is it a dig at the girl in question, it’s also a dig at a whole style of music.

Predictably, the best song of the night was a lushly and powerfully vengeful version of another Ward White kiss-off ballad, Knees. After a piano-and-voice version of Wichita Lineman – “A song which is beautiful and disturbing at the same time as the best ones are,” as White said, they wrapped up the night with a song each from White’s and McGinty’s individual projects. Pulling Out, the title track from White’s most recent and best album had a beautiful, barely restrained viciousness,  the lyric “someone somewhere has to go” followed by a big, haphazard cymbal crash. The darkly Beatlesque Three Days Old, from McGinty’s old chamber-pop band Baby Steps positively smouldered, bursting into flame when the strings kicked in on the second chorus. Majestic, epic grandeur – when’s the last time you experienced that at a rock show?

By the time the band was over, free vodka night was over – a good thing, actually – and it was back to the Delancey where the New Collisions, Lucid Culture’s favorite Boston band were wrapping up a characteristically fiery, fun set. There is absolutely nothing contrived about this band – while they’re a dead ringer for an early 80s new wave group, with echoes of X Ray Spex, Missing Persons and Blondie, their lyrics are vastly smarter, considerably darker and frontwoman Sarah Guild – sporting a sharp new summer haircut that makes the blonde siren look wirier and more intense than ever – stalked across the stage with an uncanny edginess. Watching them do a couple of new songs – the haunting American Dream and one with a bouncy Friday on My Mind style guitar hook – as well as a blazing, soaring version of No Free Ride – was the perfect way to end what might have been the best night of live music anywhere in New York this year. Lucky Bostonians can see the New Collisions at TT Bear’s on the 29th for their ep release show.

May 23, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment