Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Pistolera Fires On All Cylinders at Joe’s Pub

Of all the excellent rock-en-Español bands in and passing through New York, Pistolera represent the elegant, catchy, tersely literate front. Their energetic, businesslike set at Joe’s Pub last night further cemented that reputation, mixing songs from their three albums which draw equally on ranchera ballads, American powerpop and older, more rustic Mexican styles. Frontwoman Sandra Lilia Velasquez kept her vocals smoldering and low-key for the most part, although she showed off a surprisingly powerful upper register on the most dramatic (and most intensely applauded) song of the night, a big, wounded border ballad. The bassist swung hard through his relentlessly rising, melodic lines as the drummer switched from straight-up, four-on-the-floor rock, adding a funkier edge or a scurrying shuffle beat on several other numbers.

Otherwise, the show was like Very Be Careful (with a better singer) playing Mexican rock. Not that Very Be Careful isn’t a great live band, or that the accordion isn’t a beautiful instrument: in the hands of Pistolera’s Maria Elena (a black belt kickboxer, as it turns out), there was a nonstop river of gorgeously plaintive tones sailing over the punch of the rhythm section. Too bad that other than vocals, that’s all there was in the mix. Pistolera gets their signature sound from the jangle and clang of their guitars, and throughout the set, the lead player was seldom audible and Velasquez hardly ever. Joe’s Pub isn’t known for good sound: this was a new low, and it doesn’t seem to be related to ongoing renovations which have shuffled the tables and bar seating.

But the band didn’t let it phase them. Even without the guitars, Todo Se Cae (Everything Falls Down) was an understatedly potent, anthemic reminder of the precarious state of the world. After alternating several similarly anthemic tunes, notably the irresistible, resolutely bouncy Nueva York (from their new concept album El Desierto Y La Cuidad) alongside a couple of pensive, minor-key laments, they closed with a practically gleeful version of the banda-rock hit Policia. “This is about when I got arrested,” Velasquez smirked, referring to the incident that inspired the song, when she discovered that it’s now illegal in this country for a woman to wear a bullet belt while boarding a flight.

An idea as to how Joe’s Pub might be able to banish the nasty feedback that plagues the PA system here, without turning off the guitars: why not do what the Rockwood Music Hall does? The sound booth at both of the rooms there is up in the rafters, just as it is at Joe’s Pub. But Ken Rockwood’s people operate as a team: in the larger room, the sound engineer tweaks the frequencies while a colleague makes his or her way through the crowd, texting the engineer with any needed modifications. It works like a charm there. Or maybe Joe’s Pub ought to take Rockwood onboard as a consultant: they sure could use him, or somebody like him, right now.

October 17, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pistolera’s New Album: Catchy Yet Deep

Simple and catchy yet often profoundly poetic, New York janglerock-en-Español band Pistolera’s new album El Desierto y La Ciudad is divided up into an A-side and B-side. Without being polemical, frontwoman/guitarist Sandra Lilia Velasquez contemplates the situation facing immigrants in America, first literally tracing their steps in the desert, then their struggles (and their joy) in New York. Her viewpoint may be Mexican-American, but her songs are universal. The terse, edgy band alongside her includes Maria Elena on accordion and piano, Inca B. Satz on bass and Sebastian Guerrero on drums, with Cordero’s Ani Cordero taking over behind the kit on the hardest-rocking songs.

An often unspoken irony abounds here. It’s front and center on the album’s most confrontational number, the catchy reggaeton-influenced singalong Escucha (Listen). Who’s illegal, Velasquez wants to know. You, me and everybody else, it seems. “Who takes care of your kids? Who cooks your food?…The hypocrisy is killing me,” she sings, in Spanish. The fieriest song here, Todo Se Cae (Everything Falls Down) alludes to the 2008 economic collapse and the current depression; it’s a cautionary tale to seize the moment, hold onto what you have as the foundations are shaking. The bustling subway anthem Laberinto (Labyrinth) projects an unspoken unease – “welcome to the underground life” – but also celebrates a city where there are parks and beaches everywhere, and a train to take you there. And the swaying, reggae-tinged Ponle Frenos (Put on the Brakes) ponders when a hardworking woman, or man, can get some time alone – with an incessant “beep beep beep” chorus.

The “desert side” of the album sets up all this drama artfully: the pensive, syncopated ranchera-rock of Polvo, apprehensively evoking the vastness of the desert and all that it represents; the imaginatively dub-flavored title track, and the mournful diptych that winds up memorably with David Bailis’ potently elegaic, ringing lead guitar, the immigrant knowing that it’s time to leave, that everything good comes to an end. The albums ends with Floating, a pretty, ethereal acoustic anthem and the only English-language track here. With a hallucinatory, dusky vibe, it echoes the Julee Cruise song : “I could walk a hundred miles and still not get there,” Velasquez muses. Not only is this a great listen, this album ought to be mandatory in Spanish classes in American schools. Velasquez’s crystalline, subtly nuanced vocals are easy to understand, the tunes are fun to sing along to – and her lyrics pack a wallop. No doubt you’ll be seeing this on a lot of “best albums of the year” lists by the end of 2011. Pistolera plays the cd release show for this one on July 29 at around 9 at Drom, with excellent country/Brazilian band Nation Beat opening the night at 8. Tickets are ridiculously cheap at $10.

July 17, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trouble in Tribeca, Part One: Bad Reputation, Rana Santacruz and Pistolera at the 92YTribeca, NYC 1/8/10

Friday night was Trouble Worldwide night at the 92YTribeca, part of the annual booking agents’ convention with sets from a mix of the best Barbes bands along with a couple of ringers, Rana Santacruz and the Cuban Cowboys. The Snow’s frontman Pierre de Gaillande opened the night with his latest side project (this guy seems to always be in about five bands at once), Bad Reputation, whose raison d’etre is English versions of the songs of iconic, often bawdy French individualist Georges Brassens. Guillotinings and the Bastille aside, the French typically allow for a greater freedom of expression in song lyrics than has traditionally been the case here, so it was as striking as it was amusing to hear Gaillande deadpanning about “the nun who defrosts the penis of the amputee” in the ribald Don Juan. Guitarist Tony Jarvis lit up that one with some casually intense tremolo-picking, then switching to bass clarinet for most of the other numbers as the band gave them a swinging noir cabaret feel. Gaillande has obviously put a great deal of effort into making Brassens’ wordy, argotique narratives flow smoothly in English – and with rhymes! – and this paid off immensely in the curmudgeonly but sweet 1953 song Public Benches, the blithely cynical 95% of the Time (a hilarious tale of a woman who won’t settle for anything less than sex with love), the minor-key waltz Philistines (a tribute to teenage delinquency), the O. Henry-esque Princess and the Troubadour and the first song Brassens ever wrote, a defiant outsider anthem probably dating from 1940s. Bad Reputation’s debut cd is due out auspiciously on Barbes Records sometime this year.

Backed by a boisterous band including rhythm section, violin, accordion and banjo, Mexican songwriter Rana Santacruz delivered a wry, quirky set that brought a brisk Celtic edge to traditional Mexican folkloric styles. A characteristically tongue-in-cheek number, Noche de Perro reminisced about an affair gone sour, the howling of the dogs in the night a vivid reminder that “they were more faithful than you were.” They wrapped up a very well-received show with a punked out – or Pogued-out – cover of a Vicente Fernandez ranchera number and a drinking song.

In their micro-set, Pistolera sounded like the Mexican Go-Go’s with their playful, sunny, sweetly melodic janglepop. The songs – from their forthcoming second album which transplants New York to the desert – included a bouncy ranchera rocker about the New York subway, a reggae-flavored vacation song and the swinging, effervescent, minor-key Todos se Cai (Everybody Falls Down). Then they switched gears and proceeded to play as their alter ego, the children’s music group Moona Luna. 99% of the time, children’s music is smarmy, condescending and patronizing, obviously as a selling point for the yuppie moms who buy it regardless of the fact that they too were once young and hated that stuff. But just when it seemed that like every other children’s band, this group should be exiled to the lowest circle of hell, they played the most anti-parent song of the night, which goes something like this, in both Spanish and English:

I like to jump on the bed
I like to jump on the couch
I like to jump on the floor
More! More! More!

Pistolera frontwoman Sandra Lilia Velasquez’ two-year-old daughter inspired that one. Obviously, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Maybe someday the two can share a stage and do that together.

The second half of the show, with Chicha Libre, the Cuban Cowboys and Slavic Soul Party is reviewed here.

January 11, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment