Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: The Roscoe Trio at Lakeside, NYC 3/23/10

The big news is that Eric “Roscoe” Ambel’s 80s band the Del Lords are back together, having just returned from a short Spanish tour, their first in practically twenty years. They were one of the best bands of the 80s – forget that silly synthesizer stuff, there were so many great guitar bands back then, it’s not funny – the Dream Syndicate, True West, the Long Ryders, the list goes on and on – and the Del Lords represented New York. So any Roscoe appearance at Lakeside these days could be a Del Lords show, considering that they’ve already done at least one unannounced gig there under a phony name. But it was not to be. “I saw an open date on the calendar. So I put my name on it,” said Ambel, and this time he brought his trio, Demolition String Band drummer Phil Cimino and Spanking Charlene bassist Alison Jones. It was like a casual night in the band’s rehearsal space – or a trip to the supermarket in a vintage Trans Am, laid back and comfortable in the bucket seat until you put the hammer down and then all of a sudden you’re burning rubber and your eyeballs are getting pushed way back into your brain.

Ambel had a couple of amps going at once, gleefully blending an eerie, watery chorus tone with distorted clang and roar. Since he’s a gearhead, any time he gets to experiment with textures is a treat for the crowd because that means he goes for the jugular. He’s a melody guy, but he’s just as good at evil noise and that was tonight’s special. It was obvious from the git-go, with a nasty little blaze of wailing bent notes on the stomping Song from the Walls, from his Loud and Lonesome album. Another snarling number from that uncharacteristically angry cd, Way Outside, blew the embers all over the place. A cover of Gillian Welch’s Look At Miss Ohio started out slow and soulful and then careened all the way into the outro from Hendrix’ Hey Joe, which the rhythm section had a ball with. They also did a plaintively jangly version of the Everly Brothers-ish Peter Holsapple tune Next to the Last Waltz, Dee Dee Ramone’s Chinese Rocks done Johnny Thunders Style (which gave Ambel a chance to relate his first encounter with Thunders, who’d been hogging the men’s room at the Mudd Club so he could shoot up), and a slinky, characteristically funny version of the Hank Williams Jr. sendup Monkey with a Gun. They wrapped up the show with a slow, surfy instrumental that Ambel suddenly attacked with a frenzy of tremolo-picking, only to gracefully bring it back around. And was that the Power Lounger Theme they closed with? That’s a blast from the past. Despite what the indie blogs will tell you, great lead guitar never went away – the great thing about living in New York is that you can see it for the price of a beer and a couple of bucks in the tip jar for the rhythm section.

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March 24, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Spanking Charlene – Dismissed with a Kiss

This band sounds almost exactly like X! Except with better vocals. Spanking Charlene’s frontwoman Charlene McPherson sings with a powerful, accusatory wail: her voice can be very pretty, and it is on a couple of the quiet songs on the album. But most of the time it’s fierce and intense, and really packs a wallop. The songs are gritty and slightly Stonesy: this could be the great lost X album, sandwiched between Under the Big Black Sun and More Fun in the New World. Although McPherson’s songs are more intentionally amusing, and she doesn’t try to be deliberately poetic like Exene: her lyrics rhyme, often very cleverly. “Beauty is subjective/And I know your objective,” McPherson taunts the guy trying to pick her up, in the in-your-face punk smash Pussy Is Pussy.

The other songs are a mix of short, roaring guitar tunes along with a couple of surprisingly thoughtful, quiet numbers. I Hate Girls catalogs the innumerable ways women can make each other miserable with catty behavior; When I Get Skinny is a sarcastic swipe at the multibillion-dollar business of making women insecure about their looks. “When I’m skinny maybe I’ll finally get myself that record deal” and “drink red red wine with every meal…the girls I see on MTV shake their ass and don’t look like me,” McPherson laments, speaking for every normal woman perplexed by the popularity of anorexics with implants.

Guitarist Mo Goldner sings the potently gritty, percussive Fidgety – “My dog is on that Prozac too!” – slamming out a series of licks straight out of the early Billy Zoom catalog. Red Rolling Papers is McPherson’s not-so-nostalgic look back at the hungover residue of late-night high school partying. The brief, lickety-split When Things Were New evokes X’s Year One, from Wild Gift. The gentle, introspective Easy to Be Sad and Behind (as in, leaving it all behind) prove McPherson isn’t just a one-trick pony, giving her the chance to show off her subtle, country-inflected side. On the album, bassist Keith Christopher (of Yayhoos notoriety) also shows off his versatility, keeping everything impressively simple and direct. Drummer Phil Cimino (from the Demolition String Band) proves he can play this hard fast stuff just as well as the more complicated material he’s used to. Eric Ambel’s production is spot-on, as usual: everything is dirty right where it needs to. Unsurprisingly, Spanking Charlene’s New York home base is Lakeside, where they play this coming February 16 at 10 PM. We reviewed one of their shows there last year [third most popular review in the history of this blog – Ed.] and it was as excellent as you would expect after hearing this fun, fiery album. Four bagels. With safety pins stuck through them.

January 11, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

CD Review: Demolition String Band – Different Kinds of Love

It’s been a few years since Demolition String Band’s fantastic last cd, Where the Wild Wild Flowers Grow and it was worth the wait. This album manages to capture the explosive energy of their live show. In general, it’s more rock-oriented than their other stuff. Frontwoman Elena Skye has been a songwriting tear, and she hits a lot of highs here. The country influence is still in full effect, both in Skye’s mandolin work and Telecaster monster Boo Reiners’ spectacular bluegrass-inflected playing, but even the slower numbers here blaze with the twangy fire they bring to the stage. Considering the direction country radio has taken since the turn of the century, they couldn’t have released this album at a better time.

The cd opens with their big crowd-pleaser Who Taught You, with its catchy chorus of “hurt so bad.” The second track, the powerful, minor-key, midtempo backbeat-driven Your Wish may be the single best song on the album, a feast of guitar and mandolin textures. Wisteria is the obvious hit single, with its gorgeous intro and rolling, clanging, multitracked guitars (there must be about six of them on this tune), sounding like a Laura Cantrell rock song. It’s urban Americana at its best: “Wisteria on the hills of Jersey City.” After that, Baby Come Home is a traditional country song, but far more lushly arranged than your typical Nashville commercial fare, with mandolin and electric over a bed of acoustic guitars. Real Good Mama, dedicated to Skye’s daughter, is an optimistic number driven by incisive, heartfelt Reiners fingerpicking. They also do a surprisingly scorching, guitar-fueled version of the Ola Belle Reed classic Undone in Sorrow (an acoustic version of which appears on Where the Wild Wild Flowers Grow). After a sizzling Reiners electric bluegrass instrumental, the cd winds up with the boisterous Drinkin’ Whiskey, which will no doubt be useful to connoisseurs looking to differentiate between “your sellin’, and your drinkin’ whiskey.”

The rhythm section of Winston Roye on bass and the ubiquitous Phil Cimino on drums swings like crazy. Reiners’ Telecaster work is smart, effortlessly virtuosic, and hits the mark every time, imbued with a wit that runs the gamut from very subtle to completely off-the-charts funny. Skye’s vocals are raw, direct and potently real: she doesn’t try to fake a Bible Belt accent like the amber waves of gruesomely affected trendoids who’ve grown weary of imitating Sonic Youth and picked up their acoustic guitars.

Memo to college radio program directors: get your hands on this and spin Thinking About Drinking til you’re sick of all the audience requests. Memo to frathouse social directors: get your hands on this and put it on about 2 AM on a Friday night if you really want to keep the party rolling. Memo to the rest of the college population: if you have the means and the energy to do the Spring Break thing, leave the Jimmy Buffett, the Kenny and the Dave Matthews at home and bring this instead. It’s early in the year, but this album will definitely be on a lot of Best Of lists: watch this space about a year from now. Four bagels with a pitcher of strong bloody marys. What a great way to kick off the new year.

January 5, 2008 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: The Roscoe Trio at Lakeside Lounge 6/15/07

A clinic in good guitar and good fun. Besides being Lakeside head honcho, producer of note, Steve Earle’s lead guitarist and member of the Yayhoos, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel sometimes finds the time to play in this self-described “party band.” With an open date on the Lakeside calendar, he’d apparently had enough of a break in his schedule to pull a show together. This was a pickup band of sorts, Phil Cimino on drums and Alison Jones on bass. It didn’t seem that anybody had the chance to rehearse much for this, but Jones is a quick study and Cimino can pretty much play anything. Tonight they played a lot of blues, but it wasn’t lame whiteboy blues, a bunch of aging fratboys hollering their way through Sweet Home Chicago and similar. “Craft” is a favorite word of Ambel’s, and tonight was a chance to watch an artisan pulling good stuff out of thin air and making it work every time.

Ambel is one of the most dynamic, interesting guitarists out there, a four-on-the-floor, purist rock guy at heart but equally adept at pretty much any Americana genre. In Steve Earle’s band the Dukes he plays a lot of wrenchingly beautiful stuff along with his usual twang; this band gives him the chance to parse his own back catalog and cut loose on some covers. Tonight he was in typically terse, soulful mode: he can solo like crazy when he wants to, which is hardly ever. This show was all about thoughtful, sometimes exploratory licks and fills with a few tantalizingly good moments of evil noise. With Ambel, melody is always front and center, but he’s a hell of a noise-rock player  – think Neil Young in a particularly pathological, electric moment – when the mood strikes him.

We arrived to find the band burning through Merle Haggard’s Workingman’s Blues. They then did a quietly captivating take on the old blues standard Ain’t Having No Fun, followed by J.J. Cale’s eerie The Sensitive Kind, which began with a long, darkly glimmering Ambel solo. A little later, they played an obscure Steve Earle tune, Usual Time of the Night, a cut from Ambel’s most recent solo album Knucklehead. It’s Earle’s attempt at writing a Jimmy Reed song, and tonight they did justice to the old bluesman, calmly wringing out every ounce of sly, late-night seductiveness.

They also played a really cool, slow surf instrumental; an amusingly upbeat, chromatically-fueled theme called How ‘Bout It (an expression, Ambel told the audience, that he used to death for a couple of years); the angry, blazing indie rock tune Song for the Walls (the opening track on Ambel’s Loud & Lonesome album); and closed the set with a rousing version of his classic song Garbagehead, written in about five minutes for a Lakeside New Year’s Eve show a few years ago. They wrapped it up with a completely over-the-top, heavy metal finale. Fucking A, fucking right. Fucking A, fucking A, Friday night, gimme five more beers and a snootfull of garbagehead. Who needs garbagehead when you can go out and see a show like this instead. For free. Even though it was past midnight by this point and therefore past Lakeside’s strict curfew (they’re trying to be good neighbors), the audience wasn’t about to let them go without an encore, so Ambel obliged them with the soul-inflected Hurting Thing, from the Yayhoos’ most recent album.

June 16, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Demolition String Band at Rodeo Bar, NYC 6/9/07

Uncommonly fun country band at the top of their game. Demolition String Band know how to work a crowd, raising their glasses and leading the audience in a “holler and a swaller,” and speeding up a bluegrass tune to the point where it was practically unplayable. But these guys (and frontwoman) aren’t a bar band: they may thrive in that milieu, but they’re a lot smarter. This is real country music: as LJ Murphy famously said, country music is the kind of music that has nothing to do with Garth Brooks. Although Demolition String Band are a boisterous, electric outfit, they wear their bluegrass and old-timey roots proudly on their sleeves.

Lead singer Elena Skye sang with a casual grace, in the Maybelle Carter mold: she doesn’t overemote. Telecaster player Boo Reiners pretty much stole the show all night with his spectacular, sometimes supersonic, twangy leads and fills – although Skye caught fire as well when she picked up her mandolin and started wailing. Predictably, alcohol figures in a lot of their songs – they’ll be huge if the swinging Thinking About Drinking and the fast, electrified bluegrass tune Drinking Whiskey (both of which they played tonight) get onto college radio.

They’d played a John Prine tribute a few days earlier and dragged out a particularly apt cover, the outlaw country tune Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You into Heaven Anymore. They also did their signature spaghetti western theme, Reiners playing baritone guitar on it this time: Skye told the crowd that she wrote it in the bathroom during a recording session. Pretty productive bathroom break. They stretched it out, drummer Phil Cimino taking a long solo that the crowd went nuts over (nobody ever said the audience here was sophisticated – which is odd because New York country audiences tend to be very sharp, sometimes ridiculously so).

At the end of their first set, they launched into the old bluegrass standard True Love Never Dies and then segued into Fortunate Son by Creedence. How nice to be able to actually understand the lyrics – which are actually really good. Then they segued back into the bluegrass tune and took it just about doublespeed. Impressively, bassist Winston Roye didn’t cop out and play everything in the usual tempo and let the drummer do all the hard work (a common trick): he stuck with the same blues scale, never missing a note, sweating his way through it and coming out victorious. At the end of the song, Reiners stole one out of the Bill Kirchen playbook, throwing in a couple of amusingly obvious Beatles hooks, and, finally and seemingly inevitably, Hendrix.

As good as the show was, you know something has gone wrong in this town when Rodeo Bar – strictly by default – becomes your best bet as a weekend destination. Sure, the music is reliably good, and so is the sound. And it’s free. But there are ominous signs: the bar has cut back on the free peanuts (although you can still find a basket if you look around) and their signature tekillya slurpies are significantly smaller than the tall glass you’d get for eight bucks until very recently. And forget about getting a seat: you still have to jockey for position with the sloppy drunk Baruch college kids who are oblivious to the music and make it pretty near impossible to hear unless you can negotiate a spot toward the front of the bar.

But…there’s not a trendoid in the house, and the tourist crowd generally hails from places like Georgia and Nebraska. And is very nice. As annoying as the Baruch kids can be, chances are they’re going to Baruch because they can’t afford to go elsewhere, so they don’t have the prissy sense of entitlement you find in Williamsburg or the East Village. Considering the alternatives, the Rodeo could become your local. And you could actually be happy there.

June 10, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments