Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 1/18/11

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Tuesday’s is #742:

Gillen & Turk – Backs to the Wall

Songwriter Fred Gillen Jr. appropriated Woody Guthrie’s “this guitar kills fascists” for his own six-string. This 2008 collaboration with first-class Americana multi-instrumentalist Matt Turk – whose performance on acoustic and electric guitars and mandolin here is as soulful as it is virtuosic – perfectly captures the zeitgeist of the final, tense months of the Bush regime, when nobody knew if Dick Cheney was going to cede power or had something even more apocalyptic up his sleeve. The songs here alternate between fiery and brooding: this album is the high-water mark for both artists up to this point. The centerpiece is the ferocious, prophetic Fall Down, a nightmare scenario where the blowback from the war comes back to haunt us much like Malcolm X predicted. They explore smalltown anomie with the gorgeously harmony-driven These Nameless Streets, inner city bleakness with the allusive fingerstyle blues Satchmo, love during wartime with the stark Takes Me Away and aptly make the connection between military service and a jail sentence on the brutal war veteran’s remembrance, Killing Machine. The eerie psychedelic jam Three resembles early Country Joe & the Fish. The lone cover here is a joyous, piano-drenched version of Steve Kirkman’s Peace Rant. Turk also contributes Peruvian-flavored political pop, Gillen a soaring, historically aware anthem about the Black Hills. The album ends optimistically with the Beatlesque title track and the mandolin-infused singalong This Town Is Our Song. Hard copies of this one quickly sold out, but it’s still available at cdbaby and itunes.

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January 17, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Model Army Rock the Bell House

Imagine if the Clash never broke up and that Joe Strummer was still alive. That’s a fair if not completely accurate approximation of what New Model Army sounded like at the Bell House last night. They’re playing two sets again tonight starting at 9. Thirty years after the British rockers began, they roared through two hours of fiery, politically charged anthems, a mix of hits from the 80s and 90s alongside newer material which is just as relevant and memorable as their best-known songs. Frontman Justin Sullivan started the show playing acoustic, joined by lead guitarist Dean White, who often switched to organ on some of the early numbers and then stayed on keys for the second set. Twenty minutes into the first set, the rest of the band was up onstage, and they were on their game. Even the quieter, more folk-oriented numbers took on an anthemic grandeur, aloft on the roar of the guitars and the swooping organ. With its Atrocity Exhibition drum rumble, Drummy B became more of a funeral march than an elegy for a friendship gone sour. The 1987 Orwellian nightmare scenario Courage, and Fate, from the 1993 Love of Hopeless Causes album, were especially amped, as was a ferocious version of Today Is a Good Day, a sardonic response to the 2008 global market crash: “And the birds of prey love September, flying like the harbingers of the winter,” Sullivan snarled.

The second set concentrated on the hits. NMA’s game plan for their 30th anniversary tour has been to do two stands in each city, two sets a night, neither repeating any of the previous night’s material – which they can do since their back catalog is so vast – and so strong. They dedicated a roaring, punked-out version of 51st State (as in “51st state of America”) to Brooklyn, stomped through the hypnotic, swirling biotech-apocalypse scenario White Coats, a characteristically sarcastic take of the 1981 hit A Liberal Education and ferocious versions of Vengeance and White Light, with its nimble bass riffage. The biggest crowd-pleaser was a surprise, the wistful, folk-tinged Green and Grey: referring to the cities to the south that lure kids from their northern England homes, Sullivan changed the lyric to “the land of unemployment that beckons to us all.” As the second verse began, he turned the mic over to the audience, who by now were well-oiled, knew all the words and were only too glad to join in. Whether critiquing the wave of destruction unleashed by Margaret Thatcher and her cronies, the evils of globalization or just fondly remembering the woods and fields of his youth as he did with that song, Sullivan and the rest of the band had the packed house energized, and if only for a couple of hours, fused as one against the forces of evil. Even a somewhat comical little fender-bender outside the club – “Didn’t know there’d be three sets tonight,” said one bemused onlooker – couldn’t distract from the intensity onstage.

September 4, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review from the Archives: The John Kerry Fundraiser at Sin-e, 8/26/04

[Editor’s note – we’re still on vacation and raiding the archive for some fond memories. This is a particularly bittersweet one, from the days when every New York band, outside of Williamsburg, at least, was desperate to vote the Bush regime out of office…and for awhile it looked like it really would happen in 2004]

Randi Russo had organized this fundraiser for the John Kerry campaign, unsurprisingly drawing an A-list of New York rock talent who connected electrically with the audience: they may have been preaching to the converted, but this show left no doubt that New York is still a Democratic town. Literate songwriter Erika Simonian opened. Nuance is her defining characteristic, along with a deadpan, cynical sense of humor. The highlight of her set, for that matter probably the highlight of the night – at least from the crowd’s delirious reaction – was I’ve Got a Song (as in, “I’ve got a song, it goes FUCK YOU”), a kiss-off anthem that this time out took on extra significance when she dedicated it to Bush. Her band was tight, accordionist Paul Brady was incisive and captivating as always but the muddy sound mix sometimes deadened her vocals – the sound guy was obviously trying to fix it, with minimal results.

Paul Wallfisch of Botanica did three songs solo on his trust old Wurlitzer electric piano, one of them a Jacques Brel cover, before the rest of his band joined him for a spot-on, passionate version of The Flag (“When I stand and face the flag/I see my country wrapped in rags”), from their 9/11-themed album Botanica vs. the Truth Fish. They eventually did a stripped-down, careening version of the gypsy-punk title track from that album plus some more straight-ahead, rock-oriented new material. Guitarist Pete Min ably channeled their former axeman John Andrews’ reverb-laden parts and their new drummer locked with bassist Christian Bongers’ spiraling, melodic lines.

Interestingly, Melora Creager, frontwoman and first-chair cellist of goth-tinged chamber rock band Rasputina was the big draw of the early part of the night: the goth girls shrieked when she hit the stage, then exited en masse when she was done. Seeing her play solo for over 40 minutes was even more impressive than watching her with the band. She plays most of the leads herself and didn’t miss a beat while singing in her signature deadpan, vibrato-laden, oldtimey delivery. She went into character and stayed there, cracking everybody up: too many jokes to remember. The highlight of the set was her closer, A Quitter, an uncharacteristically direct account of teen suicide.

Russo would later release her set as the Live at Sin-e album (still streaming in its entirety at deezer after all these years). Happily, that recording minimizes the boominess that plagued her set. They opened with a bouncy, funky League of the Brigands, followed with a swinging cover of Merle Travis’ Sixteen Tons, a marauding blast through the Middle Eastern-tinged antiwar anthem Live Bait and a gently mysterious, warmly swinging version of the janglerock hit Get Me Over. A rapidfire, scurrying version of Parasitic People contrasted with the hypnotic, Smog-like ambience of Shout Like a Lady (title track to her 2006 studio album), a snarling version of the embattled workingwoman’s anthem Battle on the Periphery and a clattering take of the usually hypnotic, strikingly optimistic Ceiling Fire to close the set on a high note.

Tammy Faye Starlite headlined. Backed by just an acoustic guitarist, the fearless satirist/actress/comedienne ran through a pointed, typically hilarious mix of songs and spontaneous riffage on the Bush regime. She’s a potent voice for the Democrats this time around (if they can stomach her genuine punk rock attitude and take-no-prisoners commentary). The big showstopper this time out was I Shaved My Vagina for This, one of the most amusingly feminist numbers from her country-flavored first album. Matching the ferocity of Amy Rigby to the uninhibited, stream-of-consciousness hilariousness of Lenny Bruce, it was a girl-power anthem that anyone could sing along to if they stopped laughing long enough.

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

Album of the Day 8/25/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #888:

Black 47 – Iraq

Our pick for best album of 2008, this rivals anything the Clash ever did. Black 47 frontman Larry Kirwan is also a novelist and playwright, with a terrific ear for dialogue. The album succeeds as well as it does as an antiwar statement because it simply recounts the daily stress of combat as seen through the eyes of the American soldiers there. Some are profiteers, but a lot of them ended up over there because the promise of a payday was better than anything they could get here. Now they can’t wait to leave, they’re scared as hell, and not a little disillusioned. Kirwan doesn’t preach: he lets their anxiety and dread speak for itself. Over catchy, anthemic, Celtic- or blues-tinged rock, Kirwan offers an eyewitness view of the war that the corporate media types “embedded” with the soldiers were never allowed to depict: the guy from Brooklyn who finds himself shocked by the natural beauty of the Iraqi desert; the embittered, cynical GI who can’t wait to get home to watch his beloved San Diego Padres; a heartwrenching account of Cindy Sheehan’s transformation from war supporter to iconic antiwar activist following the death of her son; and finally, the savage Battle of Fallujah, whose narrator leaves no doubt that “If there’s a draft you know damn well yourself this war would be over by dawn…your tax dollars can go to building it all back over again.” What Frankenchrist by the Dead Kennedys was to 1985, what Wallace ’48 by the Hangdogs was to 2002, Iraq by Black 47 was to 2008: an important historical work that also happened to have some good tunes.

August 25, 2010 Posted by | irish music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Bush Years Remembered Vividly and Bitterly

Dave Wechsler is the founder and accordionist of the marvelously smart, lush Brooklyn “historical orchestrette” Pinataland. As The Tyranny of Dave (a tongue-in-cheek comment by poet Genya Turovskaya that he ended up adopting for his solo projects), he released a marvelously brooding travelogue of an album, Vacations, in 2007. His new one The Decline of America, Part One: The Bush Years is a personal rather than a political statement, although the sardonic, occasionally bitter tone of these songs echoes that era’s sadness. Much of this is pretty morose, with a sort of Elliott Smith quality, characteristically melodic chamberpop with a few surprises that come as an unexpected and very welcome jolt of adrenaline. Here Wechsler is joined by his Chicago band – bassist Aaron Zemelko, Cameroonian guitarist Didi Afana, and drummer Ben Gray – along with cameos from cellist Serena Jost, chanteuses Robin Aigner and Anna Soltys and guitarist Ross Bonadonna. What’s best is that Wechsler is offering it as a free download at his bandcamp site.

Months after he wrote the pensive, dynamically shifting 6/8 chamber pop ballad America’s Oldest Home, which opens the album, Wechsler decided it was about 9/11: you decide whether or not he was one of those who knew what was coming before it happened. The second track, Greatest Generation has a blithe, Summerteeth-era Wilco swing – it’s a subtle examination of the personal as political in the wake of 9/11, with a lively choir featuring Codapendency’s Tara Shenoy and Athanasia Sawicz along with Carla Budesinsky, Brittany Petersen and Kate Nylander (ex-Wildcats Marching Band), and trumpeter Megan Beugger.

The 6/8 ballad Abraham Man slowly makes its way to a swirling, off-center cauldron of strings and keyboards; the bouncy Too Late offers a tongue-in-cheek yet resonant look at the consequences of the current depression. The similarly upbeat Chicago River Song, sort of an uncredited Pinataland number, features characteristically incisive, nebulously bluesy lead guitar work from Afana plus vivid violin by Claudia Chopek. Every Damn Light, a Hurricane Katrina narrative, ups the ante with more bluesy, echoey guitar and the ex-Wildcats horn section. The real shocker, and the best number here is When All the Stores are Closed, a swinging early 70s psychedelic blues-rock number unlike anything Wechsler’s ever done before, quite a contrast with the next cut, the ornate chamber pop of Fire Drill, which evokes the elegaic understatement of REM’s Find the River.

The fast, blippy keyboard pop of Raise a Glass camouflages its bitter, sardonic edge. Remember the Maine, an Iraq war parable, sways with minor-key bite and some gorgeously plaintive harmonies from Aigner: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Pierre de Gaillande catalog. The album winds up with the ghostly, organ-fueled Call of the Waters and the similarly regret-tinged oldtimey-flavored Americana ballad Wake Up in Brooklyn. Fans of lyrical, smartly melodic rock from Elvis Costello to the aforementioned Elliott Smith will find plenty to enjoy here: if this is any indication, Tyranny of Dave’s planned volume two is something to look forward to.

August 22, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment