Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Toneballs Bounce Around the Parkside

For those who’re going to miss out on Elvis Costello’s November 1 show at the Greene Space – most likely a whole lot of people – the Toneballs’ show Friday night to a packed house at the Parkside made a suitable substitute. Frontman Dan Sallitt is somewhat younger but shares a similarly cynical worldview and a love for double entendres. Where Costello draws on American soul and the Beatles, Sallitt looks back to Richard Thompson, Big Star and lot of powerpop. This time out the band – Sallitt on acoustic guitar and vocals; Love Camp 7’s Dann Baker on bass; Paul McKenzie on lead guitar and Beefstock mastermind Joe Filosa, king of the rock backbeat, behind the kit – mixed several slow, hypnotic ballads in with the ridiculously catchy, tension-laden, new wave style hits. They opened with Fran Goes to School, a tongue-in-cheek look at a recluse slowly making her way into the world. Mr. Insensitive, unlike what the title implies, is sarcastic, a stunner of a kiss-off song and one of Sallitt’s previous band Blow This Nightclub’s best-remembered moments: “Hoping for a revelation, settling for a change…a figment of my alcoholic brain, til then I remain, Mr. Insensitive.”

A newer one, Chelsea Clinton Knows, brought the savagery to boiling point: she knows people are bad, so all she has to do is make sure daddy turns up the sanctions. And if she has a kid she hopes it’s a boy. They followed that with a slow, noirish, suspenseful 6/8 number with McKenzie on lapsteel. One of Sallitt’s most effective devices is to hint at a resolution and then turn away at the last second, something the chord changes did all the way through another old Blow This Nightclub number, a sardonic one that looks forward to the future “because it will be fun, not like now.” Their obligatory Richard Thompson cover – they debut a new one at every show – was Hand of Kindness, complete with absolutely perfect, rivetingly intense lead guitar breaks from McKenzie. He didn’t turn a newer one, the fiery, chromatic Max Planck’s Day, into as much of a guitar workout as he did last time around, but it still resonated, a sardonic mix of physics and unrequited love. They closed on a more playful note with a Hawaiian-themed co-write between Sallitt and Baker, whose melodic four-string lines had soared and simmered all night long and were just as compelling as McKenzie’s pyrotechnics.

October 26, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Liza & the WonderWheels – Pavlov’s Garage

Their best album. Liza and the WonderWheels spun off of New York new wave/80s revivalists the Larch (who also have a career-defining new album out), and to a certain extent they mine a similar vibe: the songs here would have been huge hits in the 80s. Most of the numbers here work riffs and variations on those riffs – they’re singalongs, with an understated social awareness that hits you upside the head just like the melodies. Liza Garelik Roure (who also plays keys in the Larch with her husband, lead guitarist Ian Roure) leads this band on guitar, keys and vocals, anchored by the Plastic Beef rhythm section, Andy Mattina on bass and Joe Filosa on drums, who combine to create a sort of New York rock counterpart to Motown Records’ Funk Brothers. Liza’s always had ferocious vocal chops, but this is the first album they’ve done which fully utilizes them.

The opening cut After Last Night perfectly captures the vibe of being stuck at the dayjob but still resonating from the fun of the previous evening, a Standells stomp recast as sly new wave with a blazing guitar solo that quotes blithely from Reeling in the Years by Steely Dan. The catchy, riff-driven Where’s My Robot Maid sarcastically pokes fun at blind faith in technology, at a world where “Science will all make sense as we all eat such healthy foods.” Learning Lessons, a pounding girl-power anthem comes on like an edgier version of the Motels without all the drama – which is ironic because that’s what the song’s about. The backbeat anthem Straight to the Body evokes the Go Go’s with its snide lyric about gutless guys who won’t make a move on a girl, flying along on the wings of Mattina’s scurrying bass.

The two big live hits here are the ferociously sarcastic Petroleum: “Let’s go, oil barons, let’s go!” with Mattina leading the charge again, and No Exceptions, which rips the melody from Franklin’s Tower by the Grateful Dead for a subtly snarling anti-authoritarian anthem:

Your definitions should be doublechecked for accuracy…
Sometimes I feel our day has yet to dawn
To the end of the night we must journey on

There’s also The Hats, a scampering rocker that seems to be about a Chicago band that may or may not exist (although there is a British funk/blues act who go by that name); Smug Ugly which shifts the time back another ten years to the early 70s with a darkly psychedelic bluesy vibe, a strikingly thoughtful response to the too-cool-for-school affectations all the rage in New York music circles; and Take Us to the Stars, the only rock song to celebrate climbing Mount Rainier (although that could be purely metaphorical), a creepy, breathtaking art-rock epic driven by Ian’s magisterial, otherworldly bluesy guitar, and a showcase for Liza’s dramatic, operatic range. Count this among the best and most satisfying releases of 2010.

June 5, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beefstock 2010 Day Two

Day One of Beefstock 2010 is covered here. Day Two began early in the afternoon with Peter Pierce and his jangly, two-guitar band, sounding like a tuneful cross between the Silos and Neil Young. They did a darkly clanging outlaw ballad early on, a couple of comfortably expansive, jangly paisley underground style tunes and some riff-rock featuring one of the festival’s hardest-working players, Ross Bonadonna on sax.

Erica Smith was next on the bill, but she was asleep, having been knocked cold by a morning yoga session with Paula Carino. Finally roused, she alluded onstage to still feeling the effects, but whatever other world she’d been in, she brought some of it with her in a brief but absolutely devastating solo set. With an otherworldly lushness added to a voice already steeped in an evocative brew of just about every emotion possible (especially the sad ones), she was the highlight of the festival, opening with an acoustic version of Firefly, an impossibly catchy, sunny pop hit on album but in this context bittersweet and plaintive. A new song, the vividly brooding vacation scenario River King, rivalled the Church’s classic Bel Air, its wounded narrator drifting defiantly down to the local watering hole in all her finery when the guys wouln’t let her sit in with them and sing. The song had come to her in a dream, she explained, ostensibly written by Adam Cooper and her bandmate Dann Baker; the joke is that the song sounds like nothing either one of them would probably ever come up with. She closed with a swaying yet intense version of her bossa nova-pop hit Tonight, an old folk song that she did a-capella and got lost in, taking the crowd with her, and a shattering version of the towering, anguished country anthem The World Is Full of Pretty Girls, from her classic 2008 album Snowblind.

This is where we dropped out – being part of the blogosphere requires a far closer-than-ideal umbilical cord to the web, especially in a place sans cellphone reception like this. So we missed Clancy’s Ghost and probably others but managed to get back in time for Rebecca Turner, her rustic, maple sugar voice, first-rate rhythm section, charming Americana-pop songs and Josh Roy Brown playing characteristically spine-tingling lapsteel. Turner swung her way through the ridiculously catchy, metaphorically charged Tough Crowd, a little later her signature anthem Brooklyn – probably the only song ever to namecheck McCarren Pool – and simultaneously indulged her Linda Ronstadt and Neil Young fixations with a rousing version of Love Is a Rose. She bookended these around a short set by Brown featuring a fiery, hypnotic open-tuned blues number.

Paula Carino, the hands-down star of Beefstock 2009 has a new yoga book coming out. Leading a session in the morning may have knocked the crowd out but it energized her. Carino’s new cd Open on Sunday looks like a lock for best album of 2010; like last year (hell, like always), this was Carino the hookmeister. Having the cd around is pretty cool: turns out that the ridiculously catchy new wave riff-rock of Mother I Must Go to Maxwell’s has an angst-driven undercurrent. Having Ross Bonadonna on lead guitar is just as cool. He’d spend much of the night onstage: his role in this band is lead guitar powerhouse, whether firing off a snarling Wes Montgomery-gone-to-Brixton solo on the indelibly catchy, dark Great Depression or a sarcastically animalian carnival of riffs on the snide Rough Guide. Carino debuted a punchy new one, Three Legged Race; she also went back into the archive and delivered the metaphorically loaded Venus Records with her best mentholated purr. A little later on, she brought the show to a peak when she kicked off a crescendoing version of Paleoclimatology with just her Strat and velvet vocals for a couple of bars. “Just let it go, that ancient snow, that wrecked Tyrannosaurus,” she intoned as the song took the intensity up into the rafters.

The Larch had a tough act to follow and they delivered. Bonadonna was on bass this time – a great lead guitarist playing a four-string is a treat (Marty Willson-Piper of the Church, on the occasions he does it, is a good comparison). Frontman Ian Roure has never written better – their seventh (count ’em) album, Larix Americana is coming out on May 22 (the cd release show is at the Parkside) and could well be their best if this show was any indication. Roure’s best known as a songwriter, these days sort of a missing link between Ray Davies and Robyn Hitchcock but as a guitarist he can shred with anybody and this was a shred-a-thon. Blending his wah-wah pedal with a watery chorus box effect, he blasted through one brief, maybe eight-bar, supersonic solo after another. Those catchy new wave-ish songs didn’t leave much room for stretching out, from the bouncy, Costelloesque powerpop of the Strawberry Coast, the funky, Taxman-ish In the Name Of or one of the best songs of the whole festival, the resolute anthem With Love from Region One. Roure explained beforehand that it’s his indelibly British tribute to all good things American: “People don’t realize that it’s not all Disney and McDonald’s here.” He mixed his tones for the longest and most savage solo of the night as Bonadonna ground out one boomy chord after another at the end.

Solar Punch were next, playing cheery, sunny, Grateful Dead-inspired songs on a small side stage since they’re a solar-powered band: lead guitarist Alan Bigelow had charged a battery with solar panels on the ride up from Manhattan, which gave them enough juice for a full 40-minute set with two electric guitars, bass, vocal mics and (one assumes) unamplified drums. Bigelow played through a piano patch on several of the songs; their best one was a boomy, hypnotic Indian-influenced psychedelic number most likely inspired by the group’s tour of that country a year ago. Plastic Beef’s Andy Mattina held down the bass chair as he would later with Paula Carino and others.

Brute Force was a trip, plain and simple. Seeing the singer/pianist and his band was a time warp back to the Summer of Love, because Brute was there, and soon thereafter would be signed to Apple Records. Copies of his signature song, the underground comedy rock hit The King of Fuh (he was the Fuh King – get it?) are prized on the collector market. They closed with that song, a tongue-in-cheek swipe at the censors that comes across as a lot tamer in the age of gangsta rap than it did then. Brute Force’s songs foreshadowed what Ragni and Rado would do with their musical Hair – anthemic and theatrical, often seemingly completely guileless, they also have a social conscience, topics ranging from a simple antiwar number to his famous Pledge of Allegiance to the Universe to a more anguished, newer one about global warming.

A completely different stripe of pianist/bandleader, Tom Warnick and World’s Fair brought the thunder after the sunshine. With just the hint of an evil grin, he and his now four-piece backing unit (featuring both John Sharples and Bonadonna, again on lead guitar, turning in his some of his most intense salvos of the night) romped and then raced through a noir-tinged, soul-inflected set including a lickety-split, Ramones-ish version of the Jersey Turnpike nightmare scenario How Do You Get to Ho-Ho-Kus, a ska-punk singalong, a Stax/Volt style soul jump and some wickedly catchy pop. They wrapped up the set with a particularly ecstatic version of what has become a sort of signature song for the band, Keep Me Movin’. The band was tight; despite the late hour, the bass player appeared sober – although jumping all over the stage and trying to steal the spotlight from a frontguy like Warnick doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Erica Smith may have turned in the most intense single set of the evening, but the best song of the night was delivered by her husband, John Sharples and his band. Taking his vocals down, down into the murky depths of his register, he and the band (Bonadonna up there yet again on lead guitar) made their way ominously through a spine-tingling, bluesily noir version of a pensive 6/8 Warnick ballad, The Impostor. Bonnadonna used it as a springboard for the most dazzling display of speed of the whole night, a firestorm of staccato madness that perfectly matched the Kafkaesque lyric. With Smith on harmony vocals, they stampeded through an inspired cover of Chinatown by the Move, a ferocious blast of powerpop with When Amy Says by Blow This Nightclub, a couple of pensive ballads where Sharples moved to piano, and a medley that uncovered the Thin Lizzy hidden inside Paula Carino’s tongue-in-cheek Robots Helping Robots.

The Nopar King is the latest incarnation of Plastic Beef, and the tightest one yet. By now the crowd was finally dancing as the band passed around percussion instruments to random drunks, some who still had their timing, some who didn’t. Drummer Joe Filosa and new (relatively new, anyway) singer Diane O’Connell traded soulful vocals as they made their way through some funky originals and a couple of covers. Billy from Norhmal joined them a little later on and brought the energy level up even higher. They wrapped up the set with a deliriously stretched-out version of their signature song, the latin-disco-jamband number The Pyramid Club, a wistful look back at a better time and place where a band could shuttle back and forth between that place and A7 up the block.

All-female trio Out of Order were the best conceivable headliner the festival could have had. With their ridiculously catchy postpunk songs, they’re part new wave throwbacks, part no wave (their guitarist is a monster noiserock player) and part straight up punk. They managed to keep a crowd who’d either been playing all day, drinking all day or both either completely rapt or on their feet and dancing (well, at least stumbling) throughout their almost hourlong set. As John Sharples observed, one of the cool things about this band is that not only do the songs disregard any kind of conventional verse/chorus structure, the melody weaves back and forth between the bass and the guitar just as unexpectedly. The guitarist’s chirpy, defiant vocal riffs punched and swung overhead as the drummer mauled her kit, whether hammering out a precise hardcore beat, a mammoth metal stomp or more energetic, intricate patterns. They roared and skittered through a couple of eerie ones fueled by chromatic riffs, a couple that reminded of the Slits, a couple of others that evoked the early B-52s but with balls. That a band this smart, fun and goodlooking (no intention to be sexist here, but they dress to kill when they hit the stage) isn’t famous says more about the state of the music business in 2010 than pretty much anything else could.

There was a jam afterward. Most of the people had cleared out by then; memory seems to indicate that they did Twist and Shout at some point and considering how the day’s overindulgence had by now become wretched excess, they probably shouldn’t have. Special shout-out to spoken-word artist Eric Mattina, whose wise, lucid, understated poem earlier in the evening spoke more eloquently about the perils of gentrification than any prose ever could: as Mattina asked, have you ever been happy in a bank?

There are multi-band extravaganzas this good in New York City – if the Gypsy Tabor Festival comes back to Brooklyn again, there’s a place where you can also see nine or ten first-class acts one after another. The annual all-day Main Squeeze Accordion Festival is the same way. The Brooklyn What often find a way to get three or four other similarly minded, kick-ass rock bands on the same stage on the same night. And then there’s always Make Music NY on June 21. But Beefstock 2010 was about as good as it gets.

April 16, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Beefstock 2010 Day One

Beefstock is sort of Bonnaroo for great obscure New York bands, an annual two or three-day spring music festival in the Catskills. We’ve covered the previous two – the backstory is here. In the beginning, it was skewed more toward jam bands, but in recent years it’s become more and more diverse. As with all festivals, it’s impossible to take everything in, and the quality of the bands at this one – arguably the best Beefstock ever – was frustratingly good. Standing around watching music for seven or eight hours at a clip gets exhausting, so, apologies in advance to the acts who played who aren’t covered here. With breaks for food, wine, more wine (Beefstock requires a lot of refueling!), checking email (there’s no cell service at the festival site, the Full Moon Resort in Big Indian, NY) and general socializing, this is simply one perspective on this year’s festivities.

A later-than-expected departure from Manhattan meant missing the early Friday night performances. By eight in the evening, Fred Gillen Jr. was wrapping up a characteristically tuneful, invigorated set of socially aware acoustic rock with his new drummer. If memory serves right, this was their first show together, and they rocked, concluding with a spirited version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Liza Garelik Roure and her husband Ian Roure, who would play Saturday night in their band the Larch, followed with a duo set showcasing songs from the band she fronts, Liza and the WonderWheels, and these proved more richly tuneful and emotionally diverse than ever (their upcoming cd ought to be awfully good). “Trailer punk” band Mr. McGregor followed them, including in their set an inspired, rocking Joe Maynard cover and a resonant ode to grilled cheese.

Girl to Gorilla were good at last year’s Beefstock. This time around they absolutely and colossally kicked ass, with a clanging, careening set that was part southwestern gothic, part paisley underground psychedelia, all of it with a snotty punk sense of humor. The electric violin wailing over the din of the guitars is the icing on the cake with this band, the violinist contributing some intense harmony vocals on a couple of numbers as well. One song sounded like the Dream Syndicate. The catchy, minor-key Evil Man was like a cross between True West and Ninth House. The equally catchy Waste of My Time was followed by a new wave-flavored one, a ska-punk number, a Steve Wynn-style riff-rocker and more menacing, jangly stuff. They encored with an aptly wired cover of Koka Kola by the Clash.

The next band, Black Death also absolutely and colossally kicked ass. To say that they sounded like the UK Subs but with better lyrics doesn’t give them enough credit. They jokingly describe themselves as not stupid enough to be metal but not good enough to be punk while they combine the best elements of both styles, punk fearlessness and heavy metal fun. Their Les Paul player gave a free clinic in good bluesmetal solos while their frontguy roared his way through one ferocious, pounding number after another with both his voice and his guitar. Maybe appropriately, their biggest audience hit, I Like Pussy, had a death metal feel. They closed their set with a Balkan death metal waltz and encored with the blasting Live Free or Die (not the Bill Morrissey comedy-folk hit recently resurrected by Hayes Carll) with a deliciously long, bluesy guitar solo.

Following Black Death was a Plastic Beef spinoff, Live and Let Diane (an inside joke), with backbeat drum monster/Beefstock impresario Joe Filosa showing off the same kind of casual cool brilliance on the mic that characterizes his work behind the kit. By now, the wine had kicked in, the really nice guy behind the bar had given one of us a generous glass of Jameson’s on the house, and it was time to call it a night or miss out on a lot of the next day’s fun.

An account of Day Two continues here.

April 15, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Beefstock Recipes

Every few years, somebody tries to put out an anthology that captures a time and place in New York rock history. Too bad it never seems to work. The two Live at CBGB albums (which now sell for hundreds of dollars apiece) were perfect examples, forgettable songs by forgotten bands whose only claim to fame was playing a club that pretty much everybody else was playing too. While a definitive anthology of the best current New York bands would require a hefty, unwieldy box set, we finally have a collection, the improbably titled Beefstock Recipes, which succeeds brilliantly at capturing some of the most original and exciting New York bands of the here-and-now. All the artists represented on the cd have played the annual upstate Beefstock music festival at one time or another, many on multiple occasions. Originally conceived as a one-off memorial concert for bassist Darren Bohan, who was murdered when the Twin Towers were detonated on 9/11, the first show (put together by Brooklyn jam band Plastic Beef, hence the name), was so successful that they did another one the next year, and the next, and…voila. Beefstock Nine is scheduled for sometime in early spring 2010.

 

In the Beefstock tradition, the album is divided into two cds, titled Afternoon and Evening – typically, the quieter, acoustic acts and singer-songwriters play the festival during daylight hours, followed by the rock bands at night. It opens on an auspicious note with Brooklyn Is (So Big), Americana songwriter Rebecca Turner’s lilting tribute to the borough that spawned most of the bands here: “Brooklyn is so big, because it has to hold a lot of beautiful songs.” There’s a rare version of the Erica Smith classic The World Is Full of Pretty Girls with the chanteuse backed by Plastic Beef, doing it as straight-up country by comparison to the lush American Beauty-style take on her Snowblind album. Spindale contribute a catchy, fun dreampop number, followed by a rare, bizarre eco-anthem set to the tune of an old Lutheran hymn by 60s cult artist Brute Force.

 

Kirsten Williams, a rare American songwriter who’s equally capable of writing and singing in French, contributes the vividly wary, characteristically terse Arsenal. The most current of the cuts here, Paranoid Larry’s Stimulate THIS is an amusingly spot-on interpretation of Obama’s stimulus package: “They’re sitting in their castles while we’re rotting in debtors’ prison.” There’s also You-Shaped Hole in the Universe, Livia Hoffman’s haunting tribute to Bohan, her bandmate and close friend, and the aptly environmentalist Sunset by solar-powered band Solar Punch, winding up the first cd with some richly melodic work by bassist Andy Mattina.

 

But it’s disc two where things really heat up. The John Sharples Band’s ecstatic anthem Brooklyn sets it up for the Gun Club/Cramps-style noir garage intensity of Tom Warnick & World’s Fair’s Skull and Crossbones. Black Death’s Abandoned Cemetery is a rousing death-metal spoof; Liza & the WonderWheels’ Where’s My Robot Maid continues in a similar tongue-in-cheek vein, frontwoman Liza Garelik wondering in lush, rich tones about when her household deus ex machina is going to arrive. Skelter’s Dawn Marie is one of the most deliciously vengeful kiss-off anthems ever written, a mighty smack upside the memory of a treacherous girl who sprinkles her Apple Jacks with cocaine (?!?!?) and screws around. Road to Hell is a characteristically metaphorical, amusing number from jangerock siren Paula Carino, followed by Cell Phone or Schizo, a song that needed to be written and it’s a good thing that it’s new wave revivalists the Larch who’re responsible. The best cut on the entire album is the sadly defunct Secrets‘ obscure classic How to Be Good, a gorgeous, darkly downcast, jangly anthem set in a shadowy milieu that could only be New York. There’s also a smoldering powerpop gem by the Actual Facts and Love Camp 7’s Start from Nothing (a song covered better by its writer, playing on Erica Smith’s Snowblind). 

 

Both cds tail off about three-quarters of the way through, but Evening ends on an inspiring note with the “Tom Tom Warnick Club” i.e. a Tom Warnick & World’s Fair tribute band with vocal cameos from Paula Carino and others here doing a rousing take on one of his more straightforward songs, the soul-fueled My Troubles All Fall Apart. The official cd release show is June 13 at Freddy’s featuring Plastic Beef along with Warnick, Sharples, Liza Garelik and Ian Roure of the WonderWheels and the Larch and Baby Daddy. In the meantime, information on how to obtain one of these beautiful rarities can be found here.

April 22, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Beefstock 2009

In many respects, the two-day festival was a snapshot of the future of live music, not just in terms of cutting-edge talent but also the way it was presented. Beefstock began simply as a tribute concert to Darren Bohan, bass player in Livia Hoffman’s band, killed on 9/11 when the Twin Towers were detonated. Held upstate at the Full Moon Resort in Big Indian, NY because of the site’s proximity to Bohan’s hometown, the initial concert was so successful that the festival’s founder, veteran Brooklyn drummer Joe Filosa decided to do another one the following year. Playfully called Beefstock by the first couple of years’ crowd (it’s in the Catskills, near Woodstock, and always features a closing jam by Filosa’s band Plastic Beef), the name quickly became official. This year’s show was Beefstock 8. A straw poll of the crowd returned a unanimous verdict: without question, this was the best ever.

 

Beefstock is best appreciated as a festival, a vacation in the same vein as Coachella or Reggae on the River: for roughly $140 per person, you get two nights of comfortable lodging, parking, four big meals and concert admission (drinks in the bar in the lodge with the stage are extra). The most striking difference is the vibe. Since Beefstock is so comparatively small-scale, all the big-festival hassles – the traffic, the endless list of Nazi rules and regulations, the exorbitant drink prices, the ubiquitous rent-a-pigs, the crowds, the lines at the porta-potties – are all conspicuously absent. As the depression tightens its grip, Beefstock could be the template for a new kind of event, as TicketBastard and Live Nation go belly-up by pricing themselves beyond the reach of ordinary citizens.

 

Because of the sheer quantity of bands on the bill (no stupid “second stages” and Hobson’s choices of who to see), bands were typically limited to no more than forty minutes onstage, sometimes considerably less. But the quality was extraordinary. Friday night kicked off with a jam and then a reputedly excellent set by new wave revivalists the Larch (caveat: leave your bottle opener at home, go hunting for one at the hotel and you miss a whole set). The Actual Facts ran through a fiery set of brand-new, unreleased reverb-drenched, Wire-inflected Britrock, long pounding hypnotic drones paired off with post-Velvets stomp and even one funky number, Gang of Four without the affectations.

 

Black Death roared through a tuneful set of riff-driven, amusing punk rock, followed by the night’s first real surprise, Girl to Gorilla. With their two guitars, viola and rhythm section, they added a roaring, anthemic Irish edge to their janglerock, the viola in particular a plus, bringing an unexpectedly eerie edge to the upbeat catchiness of the songs. A darkly backbeat-driven number titled Next Weekend was an early highlight.

 

By the time Friday’s headline act, Livia Hoffman, took the stage, it was past one in the morning. Playing solo on the Actual Facts’ Tim Simmonds’ Telecaster, running through a dense, chilly wall of reverb, she turned the chatty crowd silent in a split second with a relentlessly intense, haunting performance. Live shows by Hoffman have become increasingly rare in recent years, but this one revealed the songwriter at the top of her game, showing off some ferociously good new material including the pun-laden, sardonically bitter All My Imaginary Children. Part of the song is a long and very funny litany of these twisted kids’ personalities, set to an anthemic tune lifted from an Angelic Upstarts song (Hoffman’s songs are not often loud but she knows her punk). The big abandonment anthem Infinite Jest (absent any other David Foster Wallace reference) didn’t let up, all the way through the fiery outro where Hoffman alternated the main vocals with the backing line: “Back in five minutes/Don’t you lie!” And then her voice went out on her, but the effect made the Bohan tribute You-Shaped Hole in the Universe especially heartwrenching. She also did another sad requiem – this time for a cat – and wound up the set with the fiery, accusatory Sorry (as in “sorry’s what you are”).

 

Saturday started early in the afternoon with a series of films curated by documentarian James Dean Conklin, followed eventually by a catchy set of Americana-inflected rock by frequent Brute Force collaborator Peter Pierce. The haunting ballad Party’s Over quickly became the high point of the early part of the show. Americana chanteuse Rebecca Turner was next, turning in a characteristically melodic, lilting set shared with brilliant guitarist Josh Roy Brown, who contributed a couple of stark, stinging tunes from his own cd, notably the oldschool LES anthem Back in the Old Days (later covered by John Pinamonti).

 

Another Americana chanteuse, Erica Smith started out backed only by the bassist from her band the 99 Cent Dreams, working the low-key format for all it was worth, drawing in the crowd with the crystalline, bittersweet clarity of her voice and her haunting lyrics while the bassist grappled with the sound system and lost, badly. Then Smith’s main man John Sharples joined them onstage as did the Larch’s Ian Roure, providing sizzling slide guitar on a spiritedly psychedelic cover of the old sea chantey Johnny Come Down to Hilo.

 

Sharples and his band were next. His shtick is covering songs by all his friends, and he obviously has good taste: included  in the set were a fiery new wave rocker by the late, lamented Blow This Nightclub; Erica Smith’s Secrets, rearranged as straight-up country; a fiery, unreleased Matt Keating anthem; a punk stomp by Box of Crayons and finally the Beatles I’ve Got a Feeling (it’s unknown whether Sharples was ever friends with Lennon, but it’s not inconceivable), Smith taking the mic and belting it out of the park as usual.

 

Best band name of the night was Paula Carino and Walking Wikipedia – they’ve been through a few, but that’s a keeper – who scorched through an incandescently jangly set of her lyrically rich, playfully counterintutive two-guitar hits, among them the bouncy Road to Hell, the strikingly wistful Summer’s Over and a ferocious version of a song by her previous band Regular Einstein titled For the Modern Day. Carino was the hands-down star of last year’s Beefstock, and with her casual, clear vocals, swaying stage presence and endless barrage of hooks staked a claim to this year’s as well.

 

Tom Warnick and World’s Fair took the energy level even higher. He may look a lot like Josh Beckett but his songwriter is a lot closer to Samuel, in particularly incisively entertaining mode. The sky is always falling, but the surreal, carnivalesque cast of characters in Warnick’s songs battle it out against all odds and usually win. At least they did in the fiery, Doors-y Keep Moving – “I go to restaurants past the dead and the dying,” he intoned in his casually ominous baritone, guitarist Ross Bonnadonna (who’d just played with Carino) burning Robbie Krieger-style against Warnick’s eerie organ. Referencing both ice cream headache and the former New Hampshire rock formation the Old Man in the Mountain, stomping minimistically and suspensefully through the tongue-in-cheek Gravity Always Wins and then the gleefully off-kilter City of Women, he was a force of nature. Not bad for a guy whose brush with death a couple of years ago – along with his subsequent and continuing recovery – are something of a legend in New York rock circles.

 

By the time Warnick and crew were done, half the crowd were wearing glowsticks passed out by one of the organizers. The revelation of the evening was Gillen and Turk. To say that their whole is greater than the sum of the parts is in their case an actual compliment, Fred Gillen Jr.’s fiery lyricism and oldschool Americana folk songwriting a perfect complement to Matt Turk’s soulfully virtuosic acoustic guitar and mandolin work. The best song of the whole festival was a new number possibly titled Dear Mr. President, an absolutely spot-on critique. “Dear Mr. Governor, did you really call on her to comfort you in your hour of need?” Gillen asked the crowd, to considerable laughter. The song’s last verse celebrated that “it’s really great, the votes were really counted in 2008!” The duo also held the increasingly celebratory crowd hushed through the dark 9/11 blowback ballad We All Fall Down, then an oldtimey number where Turk mimed a muted trumpet and got the audience going with an increasingly complicated call-and-response, and a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah that had some of the audience in tears.

 

Liza & the WonderWheels brought the party vibe back in a hurry, although frontwoman Liza Garelik wanted to keep things from completely boiling over: “Settle down, Joe,” she admonished Filosa, her imperturbable drummer, before a catchy, somewhat hypnotic new song with a slyly boisterous B-52s feel. Then she opened a musical greeting card and held it up to the mic. They cut their set a bit short with the snarling faux football cheer song Petroleum – “Let’s go, oil barons, let’s go!” – and then a gorgeously catchy, jangly song driven by a vintage 1960s Britrock riff, possibly titled What You Want.

 

The rest of the evening kept the party going. Skelter – another real eye-opener – roaring through a ferocious set of post-Oasis anthems as well as fast, sizzling covers of the Pistols’ Pretty Vacant and the Pink Floyd classic Lucifer Sam. The recently revamped Plastic Beef proved as adept at terse, three-minute pop songs as they’ve always been with their typical jams, although they did their signature song The Pyramid Club featuring bassist Andy Mattina in particularly melodic, virtuosic Phil Lesh mode.

 

Circus Guy offered spot-on, perfectly ornate covers of Blue Oyster Cult classics including a note-for-note version of Astronomy, departing bassist Greg Ross doing a killer job with those beautifully melodic Joe Bouchard lines. Progressive Dementia delivered a set of prog-rock parodies, alternately subtly satirical or completely over-the-top, followed by Baby Daddy, tight beyond belief and virtuosic with a terse mix of funk, bluesy grooves and their signature song, the predictably amusing (and very well-timed) 700 Beers. And then the festival’s closing jam, where the musicians demonstrated considerably more staying power than the crowd.

 

Watch this space for a review of the Beefstock Recipes compilation cd, a mix of past and present Beefstock performers. In the meantime, some observations and performer photos. Update – more photos/commentary…   

April 6, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Concert Review: Tom Warnick & World’s Fair/The Saudi Agenda/Plastic Beef/John Sharples Band at Hank’s, Brooklyn NY 8/31/07

It was Freddy’s Bar night at Hank’s, in other words, a bunch of bands that usually play Freddy’s booked themselves into another neighborhood venue for the evening. This was particularly appropriate since both places are doomed: the scam developers of the Atlantic Yards luxury housing complex are poised to demolish the building that houses Freddy’s, and Hank’s owner has put the place on the block as a “development site.”

Tonight’s lesson was trust your friends. Living in New York, you run into the great minds of your generation. Like everyone else here, I count among my peeps some of the greatest rockers of our time. One of them was recently insisting that I go see Tom Warnick someday soon. Yeah, I told her, I know him. Good writer, dynamic performer, excellent guitarist on the eerie retro reverb tip, sort of Tav Falco without the glam. Throws confetti at the audience. Yeah, he’s worth seeing.

Uh-huh. This guy has made the jump from being someone who reliably puts on a good show to someone you absolutely have to see, now. He’s always written pretty funny, stream-of-consciousness lyrics, but the new stuff – and there is a lot of it – is funnier than ever. Tonight’s best song was an exasperated tale of getting a Monday night, midnight gig from a club manager who expected the band to bring at least 40 people. Warnick still does the googly-eyed lookit-me-I’m-insaaaane look, but there’s a newfound subtlety to it: it looks like he’s having more fun messing with the audience than he ever has. And mess with them he does, with false starts, false endings and just clever lyrical interpretations. At the end of the show, he got the crowd to boo his encore and of course they followed his order, and the joke was on them because it was a good song. And this is a guy who’s survived not one but two brushes with death recently. Since the muscles in his fret hand aren’t all the way back yet, he’s taken up playing keyboards and his melodies are as subtly ominous as always. The backing band feeds off his energy: lead guitarist Ross Bonnadonna played the show of his life, all eerie chromatics and firestorms of blues. Warnick was obviously the evening’s big attraction. By the time his set was over, half of the audience was gone, the area by the front of the stage predictably littered with confetti.

The Saudi Agenda were next, just vocals, drums and former Paula Carino guitarist David Benjoya playing politically charged ska-punk. Their best number was a diatribe about how everyone in the Bush regime, current and former operatives alike, is a piece of shit. The energy was good, they’re right on politically and Benjoya’s guitar didn’t immediately go out of tune the way it usually does. They closed their brief set with a number about how the singer would kill for a falafel. I know what you mean, bro, nothing beats deep-fried, tahini-soaked chickpeas falling out of a torn pita pocket and staining your trousers.

Plastic Beef were next. They’re a jam band who play mostly covers, a rotating cast of Freddy’s characters backed by arguably the most imaginative rhythm section in town. Drummer Joe Filosa and bassist Andy Mattina are sort of the New York version of what Sly and Robbie used to be, the rare bass/drums combo with an instantly recognizable, signature groove and a lot of work: lately they’ve been playing with Liza & the WonderWheels, Paula Carino and others. They’ve also been doing the free live band karaoke thing on Sunday nights at Kenny’s Castaways, which by all accounts is actually quite fun. Tonight they jammed with sort of a Grateful Dead feel, then did a disco number about old East Village clubs, as well as a couple of covers. They closed with an energetic take on the Echo & the Bunnymen goth standard The Killing Moon and arguably did it better than the original. Sensing that the rest of the band weren’t going to do the silly scale solo that the lead guitar plays at the tail end of the recorded version, the keyboardist – who was obviously unrehearsed and pretty clueless up to this point – decided to take it and pretty much nailed it, note for note with the record.

The John Sharples Band closed the night, surmounting some serious technical difficulties to play an inspired set of obscure covers. They opened with When Amy Says by Blow This Nightclub, building to a terrific crescendo before the first verse kicked in (that’s the Plastic Beef rhythm section for you: like a lot of players tonight, they were doing double duty). They’ve recently added Erica Smith on rhythm guitar and backing vocals, and her haunting harmonies took many of the songs to the next level, including a swinging, countrified version of her janglerock song Secrets. They closed with the Beatles’ I’ve Got a Feeling done as an oldschool soul number, and Smith brought the house down: she plays mostly rock, but she’s a soul/jazz cat at heart and she belted this one out of the bar, over the YWCA building across the street and probably over the Gowanus Canal. A walk-off home run to end a physically exhausting but ultimately rewarding evening.

September 1, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments