Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Wire at South Street Seaport, NYC 5/30/08

A pounding, hypnotic, energetic show, revealing the seminal British punk/new wave band none the worse for the thirty years since they played their first New York show at CBGB in 1977. If anything, the prototypical art-school punks are more minimalist than they were three decades ago when their highly influential debut album Pink Flag came out. Running their guitars through a labyrinth of digital reverb and delay effects, they roared through almost an hour of the “modernist deconstructed rock distanced from the form” or whatever bullshit their website says their music is about. Like so many of their punk contemporaries, they weren’t the greatest musicians, but their uniquely eerie melodicism was matched by an equally quirky sense of humor: frontman Colin Newman’s off-key, semi-shouted nonsequiturs have always imbued with a very subtle, very British sense of fun, something their legions of imitators (REM, said Michael Stipe, would never have existed without Wire) have been oblivious to. This wasn’t the original unit: they now have a woman (not Justine Frischmann) serving as the second guitarist, and her aggressive, noisy playing is just what this band needs to keep the old songs sounding fresh.

The set they played last night spanned the group’s entire career, from the barely ninety-second 106 Beats That, from Pink Flag, to a long, pummeling, danceable number that hung on the same chord for about four minutes as the overtones from the guitars built a seemingly impenetrable wall. A lot of Wire’s songs make great dance music, but, predictably, the surprisingly small crowd scattered around the stage didn’t move a muscle. Although, as one concertgoer remarked, it was a totally 90s crowd in all the best ways, a refreshingly diverse mix of gay and straight, old and young, with hardly a $300 bedhead haircut to be seen anywhere.

“You haven’t taken the opportunity to see the Eagles,” Newman noted (apparently the El Lay schlockmeisters were in town: who knew?). Some things never change: Wire’s subtly biting, percussively optimistic tunes remain just as much of an antidote to top 40 as they were three decades ago.

“I’m going to get epilepsy up here,” said bassist Graham Lewis, imploring the light person to be a little less creative. Otherwise, they didn’t say much, hitting the audience with one song after another, flailing away through several of their signature, sudden, cold endings. The last of their encores was a song they’d played at that first CBGB show, inbued with all the energy and intensity that one could hope for from a band from that era.

The next stop of the evening was Crash Mansion, that tourist trap on lower Bowery where El Jezel were playing the release show for their new cd The Warm Frequency. Word on the street is that it’s excellent, the album that Portishead should have made this year but didn’t. Sadly, it didn’t take long to figure out that the bands were running way, way behind schedule. Surrounded by the entire cast of the O.C. (or what looked like it, anyway) and with plenty of booze at home, the choice was clear. But you should see El Jezel sometime – they play around town at least once a month.

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May 31, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The B-52’s at Asser Levy Park, Brooklyn NY 8/9/07

Tonight was full of surprises. The sky was a late-period Turner painting, wave after wave of thunderclouds galloping in from the ocean, rolling out toward central Brooklyn. Of course, we’d brought a picnic. The park was crawling with cops. Mathematically speaking, there had to be at least a small handful who hadn’t yet met their monthly quota of “quality of life” arrests, i.e. people pissing in the bushes, shagging in the grass or, perish the thought, drinking in public. These quotas officially don’t exist and are probably illegal, but as any New York cop will tell you, you’ll never get promoted unless you write the kind of tickets the top brass wants. Rudy Mussolini may be off running for President, but his stench remains. Yet nobody showed any interest in the suspicious little plastic cups into which we poured the beaujolais we’d brought in an equally suspicious clear plastic container. Maybe they weren’t paying any attention because they, too had come for the music. Maybe some of them actually were B-52’s fans. Not implausible.

 

Just like it would have been if this was 1979 and it was the band’s first tour, this was a gathering of the most unlikely people, like the off-duty firefighter in front of us hollering for the band to play Planet Claire. It definitely wasn’t the usual crowd that comes out to shows here: by the looks of it, the overwhelmingly white, local blue-collar contingent had been scared off by the impending monsoon. This time, the lawn was packed with kids who had come from all over New York to see “the world’s #1 party band.” It definitely wasn’t a nostalgia trip: they’d come expecting a good time, and maybe even because in a weird way, the B-52’s are actually kind of important. The band would probably laugh at that, but it’s true.

 

Considering that the nucleus of the group has basically been playing the same songs over and over and over again for practically thirty years, it’s hard to believe that they can inject any enthusiasm into their set. Yet somehow they do.  In the decades since their first album, Cindy Wilson, believe it or not, has become a hell of a singer. Kate Pierson has not. Fred Schneider is still a one-trick pony, and Keith Strickland has switched from drums to guitar. The other musicians are competent, if they don’t seem to be in on the joke that the original B-52’s still seem to find at least mildly entertaining after all these years. They ran through all the hits: Private Idaho, Strobe Light, Give Me Back My Man, Roam, and Love Shack (reinvented as funk, a genre this band should avoid at any cost). They also did three new numbers, a couple of garage songs and something of a midtempo ballad sung by Pierson. The new material is pretty generic: the silly spontaneity of their first couple of albums is completely absent. Played through concert-quality amps and bolstered by a bass player with studio chops, the old songs sound oddly focused but not rote: Schneider still barks and preens like in the old days, the womens’ vocals are still flat and ultimately, the music’s blatantly derivative but inimitably dadaesque sense of fun prevails. Say what you want about how original this band was (they weren’t), what good musicians they were (they weren’t) or what they had to say (not much), but they’re definitely in the Secret Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. A lot of the second-generation 60s garage-meets-new-wave songs they played tonight have become standards. Who ever would have thought in 1978 that almost thirty years later, Joe Strummer would be dead, but the B-52’s would still be together and playing stadiums.

 

On the minus side, the B-52’s brought camp to the masses. Not such a good thing, considering that the affectations of camp, along with the sarcasm that’s commonly mistaken for irony, have become the defining characteristics of the trendoid esthetic. But that crowd wasn’t here tonight, obviously: this band is all about fun, and they don’t have that in Williamsburg.

 

The firefighter in front of us roared and leaped with delight when they launched into the bassline from the Peter Gunn Theme, Pierson sang along with the synthesizer and Schneider began to intone, “She came from Planet Claire.” They saved Rock Lobster for last and did it note for note with the record. Nobody went “down, down, down” and did the crabwalk, but that was to be expected, as the first few raindrops were just starting to hit.

 

The show had started inexplicably early, causing a large portion of the crowd to show up halfway through the band’s set, or even later. Perhaps the promoters wanted them to get the show in before the rains came, figuring that nobody would bother to stick around for the other scheduled act, Patty Smyth and Scandal. If that was their hunch, they were right.

 

From there, we went to Banjo Jim’s, which has become an after-concert ritual lately. The former 9C is a nice, cozy place, a generally reliable reminder of what the East Village used to be. It wasn’t tonight. A balding, fortyish folksinger was playing loud acoustic guitar, badly, and going on and on about how we should just turn everything over to the Dalai Lama and everything will be ok. And what a sensitive guy he is and how he can’t wait to get back to California. I say, get this guy a ticket on the first plane out. I think his name was Ellie Elliott – can’t remember, considering how hard I was trying to tune him out. One of my accomplices spent most of her time outside the bar smoking, waiting for him to finish up and leave. And when she wasn’t outside, she was wishing she was. Banjo Jim’s, please do us all a favor and don’t bring this loser back, whatever his name was. 

August 10, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment