Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Small Beast, New York’s Edgiest Rock Night, Lives On

Monday night at the Delancey is still the most happening night of the week for rock music in New York. Small Beast founder and Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch may have taken his act on the road to Dortmund, Germany for the next year, but the weekly series lives on. This must have been close to Beast #100 and it was characteristically fascinating. Black Fortress of Opium frontwoman Ajda the Turkish Queen opened. That band’s 2008 Martin Bisi-produced album is a highwater mark in recent dark rock, but hearing their singer play solo was a real revelation. Switching between mandolin and piano, she showed off a versatile, nuanced and even playful vocal style that with the band sometimes gets subsumed in the din of the guitars. On album, her song Ari is a slowly crescendoing, ferociously guitar-fueled epic; live, it was hypnotic and plaintive. As it turns out, it imagines the life of the son Nico had with 70s French actor Alain Delon. A new, ornate ballad featuring some unexpectedly nimble mandolin work followed an upward trajectory; another new one, Fata Morgana was lyrically charged, “shot down by a man with disillusion in his eyes,” she sang with a wounded understatement. A fragmentary piano sketch with a long, intense a-cappella passage was claustrophobic and intense, followed by a percussive, insistent requiem. Her band is back in the studio working with Bisi again, a collaboration that promises even better results a second time around.

Pete Galub followed with a clinic in great guitar solos. He’s reached the point where he ranks with Gilmour, Frisell, B.B., whoever you care to put in your guitar pantheon. Galub matches wit to intensity, surprise to adrenaline and does it over incredibly catchy changes. He’s a powerpop guy at heart, so there’s always a memorable tune playing underneath his rhythmically tricky, dynamically shifting solo excursions. Watching him with just his Telecaster running through a few off-the-shelf pedals, it was a chance to see those solos completely unadorned: you could imagine any backing you wanted and they’d still work, whether that might be the Undertones, Big Star or even ELO. He’s a maven of melodic rock, opening with a relatively obscure but typically tuneful Only Ones anthem, Woke Up Sticky, eventually running through a thoughtfully paced version of his 6/8 ballad Boy Gone Wrong (title track to his surprisingly quiet singer-songwriter album from a couple of years back), and two fiery, noirish, minor-key anthems, the second a bitter, metaphorically loaded kiss-off song. He wrapped up his set with a clever, somewhat tongue-in-cheek reworking of Steely Dan’s Every Major Dude Will Tell You.

Atmospheric, edgy guitar noir soundtrack guy Thomas Simon – whose new album Moncao is one of the year’s best – had booked the night and was next on the bill, but the trains were messed up so it was time to go. And he’s gotten plenty of ink here before.

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August 18, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: The Universal Thump at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 7/16/10

Keyboardist/singer Greta Gertler’s new band the Universal Thump were something beyond amazing Friday night. The orchestrated rock bands of the 70s may have gone the way of the dinosaurs (except for the Moody Blues) but this was like being in the front row at an ELO or Procol Harum show at the Royal Albert Hall. Except with better vocals. Gertler’s sometimes stratospheric high soprano fits this band well: she went up so far that there was no competing sonically with the lush, rich atmospherics of the Thumpettes, a.k.a. the Osso String Quartet, whose presence made all the difference. With Adam D. Gold terse yet sometimes surprising behind the drum kit, equally terse bass from Groove Collective’s Jonathan Maron, fiery powerpop guitar god Pete Galub on lead and Gertler at the piano, they segued seamlessly from one richly melodic, Romantically-tinged, counterintuitively structured song to the next.

Gertler’s been writing songs like that since she was in her teens: one Aimee Mann-inflected number in stately 6/8 time dated from 1993. Otherwise, the set was mostly all new material from the Universal Thump’s ongoing album (now an ep, with a kickstarter campaign in case you have money to burn). The opening number worked a wistful post-baroque melody down to a piano cascade where Gertler rumbled around in the low registers for awhile, then the strings took it up again. The wistful vibe kept going, an uneasy, brooding lyric soaring over an austere minor-key melody, with a terse viola solo out. Damien, from Gertler’s now-classic 2004 album The Baby That Brought Bad Weather was all understated longing, cached in the mighty swells of the strings.

Galub used the next song’s Penny Lane bounce as the launching pad for an unabashedly vicious, percussively crescendoing guitar solo, something he’d repeat a couple more times – even by his standards, he was especially energized. The best song of the evening, possible titled Closing Night began with a matter-of-factly dramatic series of piano chords, worked its way into a lush backbeat anthem with another one of those Galub slasher solos, and gracefully faded out. Gertler explained that her closing number had been appropriated (and turned into a sizeable hit) by an unnamed Australian band, who’d transformed it into a song about playing the lottery. As it rose to a ridiculously catchy chorus out of just vocals and strings, its hitworthiness struck home, hard. The audience wouldn’t let them go: the band encored with a majestically fluid version of Everybody Wants to Adore You, another smash of a pop song from The Baby That Brought Bad Weather. We do our own individual list of the best New York concerts of the year in December, and you can bet that this one will be on it. This was it for the Universal Thump’s shows this summer – adding yet another reason to look forward to fall, which at this point couldn’t come too soon.

July 19, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Make Music NY 2010

Nice to see the organizers of New York’s version of La Fete de la Musique get their own site going this year. We went through it and cherrypicked the best shows we could find, just for you, if you’re feeling up for a little wandering around town during lunch, or after work – or if you’re one of the legions of the unemployed here, why not make a day out of it? As far as we can tell (last year’s master calendar only listed a fraction of the day’s actual performances), these are your best bets for all the free shows happening Monday, June 21. Note that many ambitious acts offer you more than one chance to see them. As far as locations are concerned, Monday’s best lineup is at the cube at Astor Place starting at a quarter to one with the Xylopholks, Electric Junkyard Gamelan at 1:45, Balthrop Alabama at 3:30, Black Sea Hotel at 4:30 and then Pearl and the Beard at 5:15. Also worth checking out later: the country/blues night at 68 Jay St. Bar, the all-day funk extravaganza at Rose Bar and the reggae night at SOB’s. Fortuitously, you can also go to the Punk Island show and not miss a thing because that’s on Sunday starting at 10 AM (early arrival advised) and going til five with DOA, Blanks 77, Hub City Stompers and all kinds of other excellent bands.

At noon fun and innovative latin soul/bugalu revivalists Spanglish Fly plays outside Rose Bar; at 6 they’re at the park at 2nd Ave. and E 10th St.

At noon French reggae/dub crew Dub. Inc. play City Winery; at 8 they’re at SOB’s

At noon powerpop guitar god Pete Galub plays Society Coffee, 2104 Frederick Douglass Blvd in Harlem.

At noon jazz chanteuse Carolyn Leonhart and her bass player dad Jay Leonhart play the eco-houseware store at 432 Myrtle Ave. in Ft. Greene; at 1:30 they move to 350 Myrtle.

At half past noon five-string Celtic fiddler Cady Finlayson and guitarist Vita Tanga play Irish music at 40 Wall St.; they move to the NYPL branch at 112 E 96th St. at 3 PM

Starting at 1 PM avant garde composer Iannis Xenakis’ trancey, intense percussion piece Oresteia will be performed at the Swedish Marionette Cottage Theatre in Central Park, enter on the west side at 79th St and follow the signs (or the noise). His Persephassa will be performed at the lake in Central Park (enter on the west side, 72nd St.) at 3:30 and 5:30

12:45 PM furry-suited vibraphone ragtime swing outfit the Xylopholks play the cube at Astor Place.

1 PM the Famous Accordion Orchestra play Brooklyn Bridge Park, Plymouth and Main St. in Dumbo – note that this is a state park so be careful if you’re drinking alcohol.

1:45 PM Electric Junkyard Gamelan – who played one of the most amazing shows we’ve seen all year – at the cube at Astor Place.

2 PM popular synth-pop dance duo Hank and Cupcakes play at the Loving Cup Cafe, 93 N 6th St. in Williamsburg; they seem to be doublebooked with funk mob Turkuaz, who are also playing outside Rose Bar on Grand St. at 6.

2 PM Mission on Mars plays psychedelic acoustic raga/rock/jazz hybrid stuff at the great hill in Central Park, enter on the west side at 103rd St.

2 PM Sukari play reggae and ska at Hunts Point Park, Lafayette Ave. and Edgewater Road in the Bronx

3 PM torchy, no-nonsense jazz/pop pianist Jeanne Marie Boes plays at Cafe Bar, 32-90 36th St. in Astoria; at 6 PM she’s at Brick Cafe at 30-95 33rd St. in Astoria.

3 PM literate, Springsteen-ish blue collar songwriter Al Lee Wyer plays Battery Park

3:30 PM Balthrop, Alabama plays at the cube at Astor Place followed by the wonderful, otherworldly Balkan vocal quartet Black Sea Hotel at 4:30 and then bracingly smart cello rockers Pearl & the Beard at 5:15

4 PM klezmer jazz crew Talat at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine

4 PM Benny and the Ben-Ja-Min Band play reggae and ska at Beach 21st St. and the boardwalk in Far Rockaway; at 7 PM, they move to the Bushwick Project for the Arts, 304 Meserole St.

4 PM Chink Floyd at Tompkins Square Park – gotta love that name

4 PM violinist Karen Lee Larson and jam-oriented friends are at Society Coffee, 2104 Frederick Douglass Blvd in Harlem.

4:30 PM Gamelan Son of Lion plays Pier One at Brooklyn Bridge Park, Columbia Heights and Cranberry St. in Dumbo

5 PM the Hsu-Nami play ferocious, Asian-tinged metal/art-rock instrumentals with guitars and a Chinese erhu fiddle at the Peach Frog Companies (?), 136 N 10th St. in Williamsburg

6 PM tuneful, smart avant garde cellist/songwriter Jody Redhage & Fire in July at the Dumbo Arts Center, 30 Washington St. in Dumbo

7 PM the Voxare String Quartet at Bargemusic in Dumbo, program TBA

7 PM blazing, dark Balkan dance music from across the centuries with Raya Brass Band at Bubby’s at 1 Main St. in Dumbo

7 PM the satirical, playful, ageless Remy de Laroque plays Roosevelt Park in Chinatown, Houston and Christie.

7 PM artsy, clever accordion pop with Cassis & the Sympathies at Battery Park, moving to the Fulton Ferry Landing in Dumbo at 9

7 PM oldschool Brooklyn rock vet John Hovorka and his band at McGoldrick Park, Driggs Ave and Russell St. in Greenpoint

7 PM Num & Nu Afrika Project play roots reggae at Drastadub Studio, 58 W. 127th St.

7 PM the Old Rugged Sauce play deviously virtuosic guitar jazz standards at Mousey Brown Salon, 732 Lorimer St. in Williamsburg

7 PM punkish rockers Diabolique play Barretto Point Park, Tiffany St. and Viele Ave. in the Bronx – we saw them a couple of years ago and thought that by now they’d be even more interesting.

7:30 PM scathingly literate noir rocker LJ Murphy (completely mischaracterized on the MMNY site as “folk”) at 136 Milton St. in Greenpoint

7:30 PM Jan Bell’s soaring, haunting Americana band the Maybelles at 68 Jay St. Bar followed at 8:15 PM by hypnotic Mississippi hill country blues guitar genius Will Scott

7:30 PM Hungry March Band play Balkan brass music at Jackson Square, Horatio St. and 8th Ave. in the west village

8 PM lyrically dazzling, fiery art-rock band Changing Modes play Cafe Bar, 32-90 36th St. in Astoria

8 PM the phantasmagorical Carol Lipnik & Spookarama play the community garden at 346 E Houston between B and C

June 15, 2010 Posted by | blues music, classical music, concert, funk music, irish music, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Typical Beastly Monday

So good to be back at Small Beast after a few weeks’ absence. Nothing has changed – New York’s most unpredictably fun weekly musical event was as edgy as always. This time around, Pete Galub opened the night while Botanica keyboardist and Small Beast impresario Paul Wallfisch furiously wrote out charts for his show later in the evening with Sally Norvell. Most solo shows are boring to the extreme, but Galub had brought along a gorgeous hollowbody electric guitar and gave a clinic in powerpop songwriting – and when the time came, guitar solos, playing along methodically as if he had his usual band behind him. Galub gets props for his playing, and deservedly so, but his songs are every bit as clever as his work as a lead guitarist for a cavalcade of A-list writers: Amy Allison, Serena Jost and others. He opened with a sardonic, Big Star inflected number possibly titled Exclusive Guest, following that with a gorgeously poignant, minor-key, somewhat Neil Finn-esque tune, Crying Time. A cover of the late former LA Trash frontman Alan Andrews‘ big 6/8 ballad Undiscovered Life maintained the poignant tone while adding a tongue-in-cheek vibe, segueing into a nasty, noisy riff-rocker that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Kevin Salem catalog – complete with an offhandedly savage solo. And then a real surprise, a pensive and heartfelt version of Any Major Dude by Steely Dan. When Galub opened his set, he’d hinted that he might take a detour into the Dan catalog, and this was a typically counterintuitive choice. Most solo shows are a clinic in how to bore an audience: Galub reaffirmed that if you have the chops, the material and a sense of humor, you don’t necessarily need a band.

Guitarist Thomas Simon and his drummer cohort were next on the bill, with a long set of swirling, atmospheric, effects-laden numbers that took the shape of a suite as they segued into one another. “A Spacemen 3 kind of thing,” one of the cognoscenti in the crowd murmured – this set had remarkably more aggression than Simon’s previous appearance at the Beast in July (very favorably reviewed here).

For one reason or another the women who play Small Beast turn out to be the night’s biggest stars, and an Austin punk legend, former Gator Family and Norvells frontwoman Sally Norvell maintained the tradition, backed by Wallfisch and erstwhile Big Lazy bassist Paul Dugan on a few numbers. Norvell is best known as a menacing noir cabaret femme fatale, but this set was a showcase in stylistic diversity, masterful subtlety matched by wrenching, raw intensity. Norvell can belt with anyone, but it’s how she holds back, how she works whatever emotion the lyrics call for that makes her such a captivating presence – and one sorely missed, at least around these parts. A few years back, right around the time that her duo with Kid Congo Powers, Congo Norvell was pretty much finished, she put out an amazing, sparsely beautiful album, Choking Victim, backed just by Wallfisch and occasional minimalist percussion or guitar. They opened with one of the songs from that one, One Gentle Thing, replete with longing and regret, Wallfisch obviously in his element and relishing the moment from its first few stately chords. A creepy, swaying Congo Norvell song pulsed along with a steady, ominous eight-note pulse from the bass. And then noir cabaret personality Little Annie joined them for an understatedly anguished version of her big audience hit Because You’re Gone – the contrast of Annie’s bitter contralto and Norvell’s breathy soprano, and the counterpoint between the two, was absolutely transcendent and the two women made it seem effortless. And unaffectly intense – it brought Norvell to tears. The rest of the set could have been anticlimactic but it wasn’t – a brief, menacing Paul Bowles song (Wallfisch worked with him for a time), a sad minor ballad in 6/8, a gorgeously dark lament, and then Norvell finally cut loose with a soaring version of the old spiritual Trouble in the World, imbuing it with a nihilistic fury. “You can’t have an apocalypse without Jesus,” she grinned gleefully.

Keyboardist and Americana soul stylist Matt Kanelos and then another keyb guy, frequent Thalia Zedek collaborator M.G. Lederman were scheduled to follow, but there were places to go and things to do. Next week’s Beast is a beauty, with Julia Kent, Carol Lipnik and Rebecca Cherry in addition to Wallfisch doing his usual set solo at the piano – if you’re in New York this coming Monday you’d be crazy to miss it.

October 7, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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

Concert Review: Serena Jost and Matt Kanelos at le Poisson Rouge, NYC 4/29/09

A particularly well-conceived art-rock doublebill. Both performers are people whose music lives between the lines, thriving on subtlety, understatement and ellipses rather than grand gestures. Serena Jost, when she’s not dabbling in modeling or getting work as a sidewoman (she’s a classically trained cellist who did time in Rasputina), leads a semi-rotating cast of characters through a vast landscape that spans the world of classical balladry, artsy pop, surf music, no-wave funk and straight-up rock. Wednesday night at le Poisson Rouge she had the benefit of keeping things fairly austere and low-key since she had a great sound system at her disposal. This time out she had the melodic Rob Jost on electric bass, multi-instrumentalist Rob DiPietro playfully and artfully handling the drums and in place of her regular axeman Julian Maile she had Pete Galub (just reviewed here leading his own band) handling lead guitar duties while she alternated between cello, piano and acoustic guitar.

Galub transformed the group, bringing the melodies front and center while adding an artsy, early 70s tinged bluesy feel that ran the gamut from plaintive to towering and majestic. The most dramatic moment came on the bridge during the long partita I Wait where Galub took Maile’s Dick Dale-ish lines deep into the Middle East, tossing the baton to Jost with a flourish where she grabbed it, held on for dear life and kept the revelry going. Then he took the usually stark Almost Nothing and added a vivid solo, part fiery blues and part big ornate ballad, that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Ian Bairnson playbook. Jost had been singing with her usual full, round and inscrutable clarity – she’s so direct that it would be impossible for there to be no subtext – but picked an insistent new ballad to cut loose and wail, as she did on another new one which she played on cello. Cellists don’t usually let their hair down to this extent, but Jost did.

By the time frequent Jenifer Jackson collaborator Matt Kanelos and his band the Smooth Maria hit the stage, the tables had all filled up, depression or no depression, a heartwarming sight. Nice to hear him cut loose on vocals, too, unadorned, casual and unaffected, much like the opening act. Backed by an excellent lead guitarist with a noisy edge as well as a subtle, swinging rhythm section, he alternated between acoustic guitar and piano, playing mostly new songs from the band’s brand-new cd Silent Show. While Americana is his fallback space, many of his songs have an undercurrent alternating between tastefully jazzy complexity and an almost minimalist, purist classical sensibility. The influences combine to create a dreamy yet focused, frequently poignant late summer atmosphere, replete with longing for something that doesn’t always overtly make itself known. Like Jost, Kanelos can be hard to read, all the more reason to listen closely. 

The big 6/8 piano ballad Rain evoked early 70s Pink Floyd (circa Obscured by Clouds), hypnotic and eerily edgy, Kanelos going completely rubato as it built to a big crescendo and then subsided to the point where he could step back in without any altercations. The night’s opening number, Abandoned Town reminded of middle-period Wilco with its “we won’t go back, we won’t go” insistence and noisily ringing crescendo of guitar chords. Another number felt like Chet Baker doing southwestern gothic, Kanelos and his lead player taking turns playing off and then on the beat as it wound down at the end. The crowd, quietly attentive to the end, went crazy for an encore and after a wait that didn’t bode well, were rewarded with a nostalgic ballad that Kanelos played solo on piano.

May 4, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review – Pete Galub at Lakeside Lounge, NYC 4/22/09

If you want to play great guitar, watch this guy. This is somebody who once placed Comfortably Numb all the way through, solo onstage on electric guitar, as a funk instrumental. And it actually worked. Brilliantly, in fact. As a sideman, Pete Galub has a resume that would make a lot of guys blush, as Amy Allison’s once-and-future lead guitarist and as one of the original Extroverts in Greta Gertler’s band. That he’d pick up gigs with those two songwriters makes even more sense when you hear his own material: Galub can’t resist a clever pun or a playful musical jape and neither can those two. But he saves his most ferocious playing for his own stuff. Thursday night at Lakeside he put on a clinic in understatedly melodic powerpop and noise-rock guitar, two styles that you wouldn’t think would go well together, maybe, unless you were a Steve Wynn fan. In fact, it sounded a lot like Galub had been holed up with a bunch of Steve Wynn bootleg tracks, which as it turned out, he hadn’t. Then again, maybe the wheel was invented simultaneously by two different guys who barely knew each other.

 

Fast and furious as he can be, Galub didn’t waste any notes, choosing his spots judiciously before hitting his distortion pedal or shading the textures with a deft twist or two on the bass, the treble or the volume (subtlety is everything in this guy’s book). Backed by a subtle, in-the-pocket rhythm section, he’d start out with a low growl and then make his way methodically to the upper registers, adding a snarling, wailing, dirty ferocity, then backing off, then turning the demons loose again. Bending and twisting a series of richly sustained chords, sinuous pop and country licks, he’d go on for a couple of minutes and would still leave the crowd wanting more when he wrapped up the solo. The midtempo Big Star-inflected number that he played next-to-last turned into a launching pad for some pyrotechnics that sounded straight out of the Karl Precoda songbook. Perhaps somewhat fortuituosly, Galub closed the set with the slow, tongue-in-cheek 6/8 ballad Boy Gone Wrong ( the title track from his most recent solo cd), inviting up Steve Wynn lead player Jason Victor to join him. Victor took his time tuning up. “Is there something you’d like to promote?” Galub asked him, giving him a chance to plug a gig or two.

 

“Sleep,” Victor mumbled. Yet when the time came, Galub looked stage right and started pouncing on a quick series of chords, and Victor was right there to join him in a noisy duel just as he does in Wynn’s band. Galub held down the lows, wildly tremolo-picking until he’d built a roaring, whirring cauldron of sound, Victor chopping at his strings like the chainsaw killer in Last House on the Left. It wasn’t pretty but it was a blast to hear. The crowd roared for an encore and Galub reverted to quick, tersely effective powerpop mode. Suddenly choosing this gig over Devi (whose lead player is also a serious monster), who were playing at Shrine, seemed like the right choice this time around. Galub’s next gig is with Serena Jost’s band at 7:30 PM on Apr 29 at le Poisson Rouge; watch this space for his next as a bandleader.

April 24, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Lee Feldman – I’ve Forgotten Everything

Lee Feldman is a keyboard player who excels at seemingly all styles of pop music, from ragtime to slightly Steely Dan-inflected jazz-rock. He’s perhaps best known for his musical Starboy, the rare adult entertainment which is actually suitable for children of all ages. It’s a marvelously lo-fi, heart-tugging yet completely schlock-free production about an alien who lives in the ocean and has all sorts of adventures, set to astonishingly imaginative piano-pop. As a vocalist, Feldman often takes on the character of a naïf, a plainspoken persona which on this cd allows him to be disarming, yet also gives him a truly sinister edge. If Jonathan Richman took his shtick to the logical extreme, he’d be Lee Feldman. This somewhat fragmentary concept album about the life of a man teetering on the edge of sanity, told in the first person, is very disquieting. At first listen, it’s awfully pretty, but the vocals and particularly the lyrics reveal something else entirely. It’s packed with allusions, defined more by what isn’t here than what is, ultimately revealing itself as a very subtle but extremely potent satire of American conformist culture.

The title track has the optimism of an amnesiac, piano and rhythm section until a nice organ flourish and strings on the outro: “We’ve got a lot of dreaming to do.” The following cut, My Sad Life pretty much sets the stage for the rest of the album, a not-so-fond look back at the protagonist’s early years, set to a deceptively bouncy melody punctuated by ba-ba-ba backup vocals and horn flourishes:

I’ve got a car and I’ve got a wife
She likes to be alone
So after dark I go for a drive

He’s stuck out in suburbia with just his wife, so he ends up smoking a lot of weed. We later learn on the upbeat, bracing blues Morning Train that the ride makes him feel optimistic, or so he says, “But I’m no magic when the evening comes.” Joel Frahm’s tenor sax takes a breezy solo, then Feldman comes in with some slightly eerie upper register piano at the end. The next song, titled Lee Feldman, takes an unexpectedly dark detour, the narrator reciting two Social Security numbers – both of which he claims are his – over piano that comes just thisclose to macabre but doesn’t completely go there.

On the next cut, Mrs. Green, it turns out he’s her limo driver. As we discover in the final verse, he has a very specific destination in mind and it’s clearly not somewhere she’s planning on going. Pete Galub supplies appropriately buoyant, supple, incisive lead guitar. After that, on the slow, pretty ballad Of All the Things, the guy applauds a woman who for some reason didn’t see the sign that everyone else saw up above. As usual, Feldman doesn’t say what it was. After the troubling piano/bass/drums instrumental Bowling Accident in Lane 3, there’s a slow 6/8 number, Give Me My Money with nice textures from Brock Mumford accordionist Will Holshouser and backing vocals from Greta Gertler. “You don’t need to worry, the baby is sleeping,” Feldman sings in his completely affect-free voice: suddenly the guy is old and misses his footsteps. “It’s not just athletes who hate to come last.”

On Big Woman on the Shelves, Holshouser and Feldman play together on a sweet Gallic run down the scale that punctuates the chorus. The proprietor of a store with big women on the shelf is trying to kick the guy out. In Paris. He ends up taking one of the women with him. Feldman finally gets to take a piano solo and really makes this one count. He follows with the self-explanatory instrumental Waltz for a Sad Girl and then the slinky, jazz-inflected organ-driven Diagonal S’s at the Motel 6. It turns out that the protagonist’s daughter is waiting there for some guy to pump her for information. And then it really gets disturbing:

Magic Shop is open
But everything inside is broken
How did we get so clumsy?
Clumsy with our fingers
I took a little piece of my own action
And let myself evaporate
In your swimming pool

Then the scene jumps to Little While, a sad solo piano number that seems to be when his Sara leaves him:

I would be walking into the snow
Watching the penguins play

Next we’re told that something bad happened in the basement of the Hippy Store and that’s why the guy’s afraid of it. Of course, the song doesn’t say what, maybe because he could spend his life with the people who did whatever they did there. At the end of the song, Feldman and band mimic the sound of a vinyl record slowing down. Then the lights go down, and then out completely on Cave, where he lights fires with his glasses and drinks from the falls:

Now that you’re living in a corporate nightmare
You look so sad
But you don’t have to feel bad

Feldman reminds, having reverted to mankind’s original, natural state. The horns go crazy for a long time at the end, falling away one by one until only Steven Bernstein’s slide trumpet is left. The next track, Mr. Feldman, has the protagonist talking to himself in a nuthouse. The cd comes to a close with See You Again, “in the shadows of time. Again.” Impeccably and tersely produced, this album has cult classic written all over it. Shame on us for taking so long to review it. Five bagels. With whitefish. Because it’s full of mercury and makes you forget everything.

January 24, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Greta Gertler & the Extroverts – Edible Restaurant

David Byrne got it right: we need more songs about buildings and food. This album doesn’t have much of the former, but there’s a lot of the latter. How delicious. This is Australian expat singer/keyboardist Greta Gertler’s third consecutive brilliant album. Her first one, The Baby That Brought Bad Weather (recorded after her second one), was a meticulously arranged pop masterpiece. Her second one, Nervous Breakthroughs, was a richly melodic orchestral rock record and even better than the first. This comes as quite a change: it’s a gorgeously stark, retro, mostly acoustic album, tastefully produced with grand piano, electric guitar, tuba, drums and occasional strings. Unsurprisingly, the whole cd has a somewhat old-timey, ragtimish feel to it.

The album opens with Wrist Slasher, a blithely eerie number that’s mostly just voice and solo piano: the narrator sometimes dreams of “floating away on the back of a stingray in a glass of champagne.” Gertler sings in a high, cheery soprano, which occasionally seems at odds with her frequently pensive songwriting. It gives the listener pause: she may want music, and happiness, that’s “good and simple,” as she explains on another track here, but there’s always a lot going on in her songs. Most usually it’s absolutely fascinating.

The album’s title track vividly evokes the chaos of a busy eatery at peak hour, an endless series of unexpected shifts: staccato piano, tuba and guitar, then horror-movie chromatics on the chorus, then back to bouncy, then the eerie piano again. It winds up with a slow, swinging passage straight out of 70s art-rockers Supertramp. The first time around, there’s a dirty, skronky guitar solo by head Extrovert Pete Galub, then a bluesy one by dangerous retro virtuoso Michael Gomez (who also plays lead in Hazmat Modine). The lyrics are a hoot, but they’re poignant as well:

This piano is out of tune
The neighbourhood is filled with gloom
I’m bumping into chairs
I’m spilling drinks on tables
Some may say I’m a nervous wreck
No therapist can cure my debt
I want to find a place
Where I know how to relax
Here I came from a lucky land
Sometimes I miss the grass and sand
An immigrant without a plan
Just a shitload of luggage
Now I’ve circled the city seven times
Like a conservative Jewish bride
And for the reception
I’d like to invite you all to
The Edible Restaurant
Where you can even take a bite out of the waitress

The next track, Bessie is a mostly slow piano ballad, an inscrutably wistful number, seemingly about a friend who’s gone AWOL. Gomez contributes a beautiful, deceptively dark David Gilmour-esque solo on lapsteel. After that, on the hustling, bustling Bergen Street, the narrator finds herself “caught in the middle of a passive aggressive storm,” yet intent on pursuing the object of her desires. The following track If Bob Was God is an intense, heartfelt ballad, electric with longing and desire:

I don’t want to be
One of the boys again
It’s happened to me
Ever since the age of ten…
I have to let you know tonight

This album is littered with New York references and this is one of the most evocative.

The next song, Aching Melody is a slinky, sexy tune, Wurlitzer and drum machine, which Gertler will employ occasionally to entertaining effect at solo shows. She follows that with a powerful antiwar anthem, Uniform, which could be for the zeros what Supertramp’s Crime of the Century was for the 70s. Told from the point of view of a nameless, nationless draftee who did everything to avoid joining in the killing, it’s the most powerful song on the album. The cd’s next track, Veselka, brings some substantial, stick-to-your-ribs comic relief: it’s a tribute to the legendary Ukrainian pierogi joint on Second Avenue. Apparently Gertler had been away from the place for awhile and the waitstaff missed her. “See the years passing by, Veselka still serves the oldest recipes!” Gertler blissfully exclaims. There’s a very witty Balkan interlude toward the end of the song, with some juicy guitar from Gomez (Gertler knows her gypsy music: see Nervous Breakthroughs for her sizzling instrumental The Hot Bulgar). The cd concludes with a brief instrumental reprise of the opening track. What a great album, definitely one of the two or three best of the year so far. Five pierogies. With applesauce and sour cream and several beers. CD’s are available at shows, in Australia and online. Incidentally, if you read the small print at the bottom of the cd case, you’ll see that the album was produced with the assistance of the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body. Now just imagine the NEA giving, say, Randi Russo a grant. Makes you want to…well, shouldn’t say here, not since everyone’s eating.

June 13, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments