Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 6/11/10

Every day, our best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. After that we’ll start with the 666 best albums of alltime. As we creep a little closer to #1, Friday’s song is #48:

The Go Go’s – Forget That Day

Ostensibly this uncharacteristically epic, ornate art-pop masterpiece of a breakup ballad also broke up the band: guitarist Jane Weidlin, who wrote it, wanted to sing and Belinda Carlisle wouldn’t let her. From their gorgeous first-time-around swan song, Talk Show, 1984. Here’s a bootleg from a reputedly legendary show, Portland, Maine, summer 1984; here’s the band twenty-five years later, more propulsive and more poignant.

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June 10, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Pat Benatar and Blondie at Coney Island 8/13/09

What promised to be a gay old night of high camp turned out to be more like a trip to the supermarket: interminable lines of rude, obnoxious people, pleasantly cool temperatures, pretzels and drinks within easy reach and oldies radio songs playing over the PA. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, every out-of-town scam luxury housing developer’s best pal, spent a rambling, senile hour and a half on and off the mic before the show, ass-kissing and giving shout-outs to every corporate type he could still recognize who’d showed up. Finally, he was assisted off so that big lesbian faves the Donnas could phone in a small handful of generic bubblegum metal songs.

Long Island’s very own fifty-four year old Pat Benatar was next. It took about three seconds before it was obvious that the poor woman’s voice is completely gone. Like a battered cassette tape from the eighties, she’d waver on and off pitch, then drop unexpectedly out of the mix, then come back in like one of Marge Simpson’s sisters attempting to do karaoke. At this point in Benatar’s career, lipsynching might not be such a bad idea. Meanwhile, her husband Neil Giraldo released his inner fantasy over and over again with an incessant barrage of garish, gratuitous heavy metal guitar licks. Like that Love Camp 7 song goes, he plays a million notes where one would do, and if it fits the song that’s ok too. Not many of them did. Benatar’s set allowed for plenty of time to find the local McDonalds and the urinal – woops, dumpster – adjacent to it. Forty-five minutes after she’d taken the stage, she was still struggling to stay in the mix, one cliched power ballad after another. Benatar is a gay icon – there at least used to be several YMCA’s worth of Chelsea boys who wanted to be her. Not many of them seemed to have made the trip. Perhaps they were on to something the rest of the crowd wasn’t.

Similarly, Deborah Harry has made a career of singing off-key for the better part of 35 years if you count her time in the Stillettos. Be that it what it may, when Blondie were at the top of their game, they were one of the world’s greatest powerpop bands and they were all that Thursday night. What they did was anything but camp. This version of the band sizzled and burned, layering nonchalantly stinging, distorted guitar and playfully oscillating synth over a steady, thumping backbeat. Now in her sixties, Harry carried herself with grace, even gravitas in places, holding back for when she had to go to the top of her range and when she really had to nail the note, she inevitably did. Benatar ought to find out who her vocal coach is. Because this band plays so many of the same songs over and over again, they way they keep them fresh is to reinvent them. Children of the Grave – woops, Call Me – bore a much closer resemblance to the Black Sabbath original that Georgio Moroder ripped off and glued to a disco beat for the soundtrack to the Richard Gere vehicle American Gigolo (anybody ever sit through that one all the way? Yikes!). The best song of the night was a stinging, slightly mariachi-esque version of Maria. The Tide Is High was no better than Johnny Clarke’s cloying  rocksteady original, but Rapture was reinvented as evilly slinky funk with a big guitar break and then a new rap at the end which only offerered further proof that hip-hop is not Harry’s thing. A couple newer numbers were starkly minor-key and equally compelling. After they’d burned through a pleasantly loud, swaying One Way or Another, they left the stage and then it was clear that  Benatar had overdone it in more ways than one, cutting into Blondie’s stage time. The second of the band’s two brief encores was a rocking, organ-driven take of Heart of Glass. If you’re contemplating seeing Blondie on tour this month or next, you won’t be disappointed – especially when they have another charismatic, platinum-tressed siren, Sarah Guild and her amazing band the New Collisions opening for them.

August 16, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Cabaret Review: Michael Isaacs in Isaacs Schmisaacs at Don’t Tell Mama, NYC 5/20/09

Decked out in a bright green shirt and equally garish tie under a bathrobe, tumbling onstage with bottle in hand, 2009 MAC nominee Michael Isaacs effectively evoked the blithe yet doomed spirit of late 60s/early 70s pop crooner Harry Nilsson in an impressively well-chosen 21-song revue lit up with some sparkling comic bits and an outstanding supporting cast, imbued with characteristic out-of-the-box spontaneity by director Kristine Zbornik. A favorite of the Beatles, cult songwriter and Hollywood bad boy with several pop hits to his name, Nilsson (1941-94) walked a tightrope between sensitivity and schlock. Thankfully, Isaacs focused far more closely on the former than the latter, balancing boozy bravado with a significant undercurrent of unease. Ranging from a smooth, breathy lounge-pop croon to a showy glamrock baritone, he delivered the songs with a remarkably self-aware comedic timing that had him breaking the fourth wall whenever things threatened to go completely over the top.

While no amount of good comedy could rescue the show’s opener – the odious Three Dog Night hit One – from schlockville, things got brighter in a flash as the ensemble (the incomparable Bobby Peaco on piano, System Noise’s MAC-awardwinning Sarah Mucho on acoustic guitar, Elaine Brier, Maria Gentile and Jay Rogers on vocals plus a subtle, supple rhythm section featuring Dan Barton on bass) took the stage. Driving Along became an exercise in road rage, as Isaacs explained beforehand, speeding up to the point where the band couldn’t play it anymore and then stopped cold. Isaacs’ bathrobe finally came off for a medley of the Tin Pan Alley-esque 1941 (the year of Nilsson’s birth) and Daddy’s Song, Mucho singing the first verse with a vividly bitter astringence before passing the mic off to Isaacs. The Puppy Song and Best Friend got a vaudevillian treatment from Brier that brought the house down, punctuated by a hilarious sequence involving dog poop (it ended up with a couple at one of the front tables).

Peaco illuminated a wonderfully nocturnal version of Moonbeam with gentle rivers of triplets, Nashville gone glampop. In his cameo, Rogers offered a gentle, wistful take on another proto-power ballad, Lifeline, followed by Gentile raising the ante with her big, affecting vibrato on Without Her. One of the prettiest, warmest songs of the night belonged to Mucho, just her and Peaco taking a pensive, wary stroll through the abandoned gardens of Morning Glory.

Unsurprisingly, they saved the best for last. The best single song of the night was a hauntingly beautiful take of All I Think About Is You, Peaco singing with a tremendously moving, stark unsentimentality, Isaacs at the piano adding strikingly pointed jazz inflections. They wrapped it up with just Isaacs and Mucho on guitars and some devious, was-this-scripted-or-is-this-totally-improv moments, the guy cajoling and toying with the increasingly irked siren on soulful versions of  I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City (written for Midnight Cowboy but rejected by the producers) and then finally the one song that Nilsson didn’t write (that was the late Fred Neil) but won a Grammy for, Everybody’s Talkin’. This was the show’s last night, and it screams out from the gutter to the stars to be resurrected.

May 21, 2009 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Ellen Foley at Lakeside Lounge, NYC 7/19/07

The most unlikely comeback of the decade is an improbable success. OK, maybe not the most unlikely comeback: who knew that Vashti Bunyan would hit the road again? But this wasn’t exactly expected. As Ellen Foley told it tonight, she was sitting on former Five Chinese Brothers bassist Paul Foglino’s couch, and he suggested that they write some songs together and do some shows. Fast forward to tonight: he wrote some songs, the band worked up some her of her older material and, blam, comeback in full effect.

In addition to her career as an actress, Foley had a successful run in Europe in the 80s as a top 40 singer. Here, she remains a generational footnote, musically at least, best known for her vocals on Meatloaf’s epic monstrosity Paradise By the Dashboard Light. You know, “Stop right theeeeeeeere, I gotta know right now!” But her great shining moment was as the singer on the great lost Clash album, her 1981 Sire release Spirit of St. Louis. If you have a turntable and see this kicking around the dollar bins, by all means, pick it up: it proves that Strummer and Jones (who was her boyfriend at the time) could write gorgeously orchestrated, politically charged ballads. Foley also sang lead on Hitsville UK, the Clash’s lone (and considerably successful) venture into Motown.

Tonight, she was at the top of her game, sounding better than ever – she’s got a big, somewhat showy voice with impressive range – and looking great. Backed by an inspired 4-piece unit including Foglino and Steve Antonakos (what band is he NOT in) on guitars, Steve Houghton on bass and Kevin Hangdog on drums, she delivered a mix of some of her European hits along with Foglino’s wry, bluesy, Americana-pop songs.

On the outro to What’s the Matter Baby, she improvised an explanation: “I was replaced on Night Court by Markie Post!” The audience loved her take of We Belong to the Night (which was a #1 hit for her in Holland before Pat Benetar’s iconically schlocky version). “This song is for…Ann Coulter,” she told the crowd as they launched into a fiery version of the Stones’ Stupid Girl. Foglino may have a thing for goofy songwriting (he’s the guy who wrote the college radio classic You’re Never too Drunk to Get Drunk), but he clearly gives a damn about this unit, tailoring his material to the nuances of Foley’s voice. On one slowly swaying new tune, she mined the verse with her beautifully quiet upper register for everything she could get out of it: “These dreams shine like diamonds/But I’m digging for…coal.”

Her first encore was written about her, she told the crowd, and then did a shambling, fun version of Should I Stay or Should I Go, Antonakos having fun making up some Spanglish in place of Mick Jones’ fractured espanol. They closed the show with a fragment of the big Meatloaf hit (probably to pre-empt the wiseass element in the audience), and it was impossible to leave without a smile on your face. Where Foley wants to go with this is anybody’s guess, but even if all she wants to do is play Lakeside on the random night, she’s more fun than 99% of the other singers out there. If you have fond memories of Europe in the 80s, a thing for brilliant obscurities from the bargain bins, or just enjoy hearing a great voice, you should go see her.

July 20, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments