Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: The Universal Thump at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 7/16/10

Keyboardist/singer Greta Gertler’s new band the Universal Thump were something beyond amazing Friday night. The orchestrated rock bands of the 70s may have gone the way of the dinosaurs (except for the Moody Blues) but this was like being in the front row at an ELO or Procol Harum show at the Royal Albert Hall. Except with better vocals. Gertler’s sometimes stratospheric high soprano fits this band well: she went up so far that there was no competing sonically with the lush, rich atmospherics of the Thumpettes, a.k.a. the Osso String Quartet, whose presence made all the difference. With Adam D. Gold terse yet sometimes surprising behind the drum kit, equally terse bass from Groove Collective’s Jonathan Maron, fiery powerpop guitar god Pete Galub on lead and Gertler at the piano, they segued seamlessly from one richly melodic, Romantically-tinged, counterintuitively structured song to the next.

Gertler’s been writing songs like that since she was in her teens: one Aimee Mann-inflected number in stately 6/8 time dated from 1993. Otherwise, the set was mostly all new material from the Universal Thump’s ongoing album (now an ep, with a kickstarter campaign in case you have money to burn). The opening number worked a wistful post-baroque melody down to a piano cascade where Gertler rumbled around in the low registers for awhile, then the strings took it up again. The wistful vibe kept going, an uneasy, brooding lyric soaring over an austere minor-key melody, with a terse viola solo out. Damien, from Gertler’s now-classic 2004 album The Baby That Brought Bad Weather was all understated longing, cached in the mighty swells of the strings.

Galub used the next song’s Penny Lane bounce as the launching pad for an unabashedly vicious, percussively crescendoing guitar solo, something he’d repeat a couple more times – even by his standards, he was especially energized. The best song of the evening, possible titled Closing Night began with a matter-of-factly dramatic series of piano chords, worked its way into a lush backbeat anthem with another one of those Galub slasher solos, and gracefully faded out. Gertler explained that her closing number had been appropriated (and turned into a sizeable hit) by an unnamed Australian band, who’d transformed it into a song about playing the lottery. As it rose to a ridiculously catchy chorus out of just vocals and strings, its hitworthiness struck home, hard. The audience wouldn’t let them go: the band encored with a majestically fluid version of Everybody Wants to Adore You, another smash of a pop song from The Baby That Brought Bad Weather. We do our own individual list of the best New York concerts of the year in December, and you can bet that this one will be on it. This was it for the Universal Thump’s shows this summer – adding yet another reason to look forward to fall, which at this point couldn’t come too soon.

July 19, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 6/21/10

Today is Make Music NY! Ditch work, or if you’re unemployed, just go and see something. Our top picks for the day’s concerts are here. In the meantime, every day, for a little more than a month, our best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s song is #38:

Procol Harum – Conquistador

Sympathy for the devil: dead imperialist lies half-buried at the water’s edge, rusty scabbard in what’s left of his hand. And at this point, all he can command is pity: “You came to conquer, but only died.” The best version is the 1972 hit single from the Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra lp, string section kicking off the song’s majestic flamencoesque hook, David Ball’s guitar solo one of the greatest moments of noise-rock ever recorded. The link above includes some audience noise – start it and then mute it until about :20.

June 21, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Norden Bombsight – Pinto

One of the challenges of writing about music is to be quick enough to spot a genuine classic when it appears. This is one of them. Raw yet ornate, ferocious yet intricate, Norden Bombsight’s debut album Pinto hails back to the early 70s but adds a snarling, desperate punk edge that’s uniquely their own. It’s sort of the missing link between Pink Floyd and Joy Division. It’s art-rock, but it’s not prog; it boils over with anguished intensity, but it’s not goth. The current band they most closely resemble is New York gypsy-punk-art-rockers Botanica. Guitarist David Marshall plays with a raw, vintage 70s tone that enhances his unhinged, fiery attack on the strings over the nimble, melodic, shapeshifting rhythm section of Jonathan Gundel on bass, Julian Morello on drums and Derrick Barnicoat on percussion, loops and processing. Frontwoman Rachael Bell holds down centerstage with a savagely beautiful, wounded wail, adding starkly eerie keyboard textures as well as incisive mandolin. Norden Bombsight’s lyrics match their music, fragmented, ominous and disquieting. This is an after-dark album, one that resonates best by the light of a distant streetlight, or no light at all.

Like a vinyl record, it has a side one and a side two, each of them a suite. Side one opens with a dark, stately three-chord progression, the backup alarm on a garbage truck screeching evil, mechanical and assaultive in the distance, building to a desperate gallop and eventually back again, evoking late 70s noir art-rock cult favorites the Doctors of Madness. The song segues into Four on the Lawn, a feedback loop fading up to Bell’s accusative, Siouxsie-esque vocals over a reverberating, swaying march, burning David Gilmour-esque guitar chords against upper-register piano. Another segue takes them to Help Desk, noir cabaret as Procol Harum might have done it, Bell’s organ and then electric piano holding gentle but firm against the stately punch of the guitars, which finally cut loose in a forest of wild tremolo picking at the end.

Side two begins with a pretty lullaby for solo electric guitar, followed by the towering, 6/8 anthem The Raven. “You won’t have my yellow hair/Lay me down to rest/You left me there,” Bell laments. “I’ll never get you back to the town of West Haven” –  whatever that means. Marshall’s reverb-drenched tremolo guitar climbs with an unleashed fury, and then back down again into Snakes, which with its staggered, tango-ish beat and southwestern gothic ambience reminds of the Walkabouts. The band brings it up, then down again, into the scorching Nektar-style stomp of Altercation, shifting time signatures unexpectedly into a wild, circular organ-and-guitar-fueled jam straight out of Remember the Future, and an unexpectedly funky outro. Catchy and resolutely swaying, Virgil evokes the Grateful Dead, but not so grateful now that they’re in Hades: “Virgil, you’re out of your jurisdiction, now you’re just another man with a gun,” snarls Marshall. The album ends with its most overtly Pink Floyd-influenced number, slide guitar blasting like an August sunset over blacktop. And then it stops cold.

As intense as this album is, Norden Bombsight are even better live. They play Matchless tonight at eleven; watch this space for future shows.

May 6, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 3/29/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Monday’s song is #122:

Procol Harum – The Dead Man’s Dream

It’s hard to imagine a much more macabre song than this: Chris Copping’s swirling funeral organ and Gary Brooker’s eerily incisive piano set the stage for a truly nightmare scenario. And a trick ending. “The lights went dark in the deathroom…” From the Home lp, 1970.

March 29, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 3/13/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Saturday’s song is #138:

Procol Harum – Fires That Burnt Brightly

With the organ and the piano and all those murky gypsyish melodies, these guys could get completely macabre and this is one of their most ominous numbers, especially with the Swingle Singers’ phantasmic vocalese in the background. The last truly great song the band ever wrote, from the Grand Hotel album, 1973.

March 13, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Some More Songs for You While We Fix This Thing

As many of you remember, we’ve had a longstanding tradition here putting up a new song every day, counting down our Top 666 Songs of Alltime list all the way to #1, until we were forced to break with that tradition about three weeks ago. Since it now looks like we may not be in a position to put up a new post every day til about November 1, here are the songs in the list which take us up to that point where we will hopefully resume daily activity here:

284. Procol Harum – Homburg

Very British, very stately, very subtle slap at authority from 1967, ominous organ and piano beneath Gary Brooker’s deadpan voice and one of lyricist Keith Reid’s best early ones. The single had to wait til 1974 to be released on album on Procol’s Best; mp3s are everywhere. The link above is the unintentionally hilarious original promo video.

283. Stiv Bators – A Million Miles Away

Haunting, majestic epic, the best song and sort of title track to Bators’ solo debut Disconnected, recorded as the Dead Boys were self-destructing around 1980 but not released til a few years later. RIP.

282. The Vapors – News at Ten

Furious, exasperated punk rock from the classic New Clear Days lp from 1979 (the same one that spawned their lone American hit, Turning Japanese), a generational battle taken up close and personal: “Still I can’t hear you!!!”

281. Al Stewart – Man for All Seasons

One of the popular 70s British art-rock songwriter’s most epic moments – and he had a bunch of them. This is a classic of existentialist rock, one of his smartest, most philosophical lyrics, slide guitar in the background providing lusciously ominous atmospherics. From the Time Passages lp, 1978, frequently found in the dollar bins at your favorite used vinyl purveyor.  Mp3s are everywhere (the link above is a torrent of the whole album).

280. The Dead Boys – Detention Home

Never recorded in the studio, this careening, menacing number was a live showstopper and one of the punk legends’ best songs. The best version is on the classic Night of the Living Dead Boys album from 1981, Jimmy Zero and Cheetah Chrome’s guitars screaming with feedback as the late Stiv Bators snarls his murderous lyrics.

279. Roxy Music – Out of the Blue

Haunting, swaying minor-key art-rock anthem, one of Bryan Ferry’s darkest numbers despite the upbeat lyrics. The studio version on the Country Life lp isn’t bad, but in concert the band went nuts with it. The link above is a tasty live clip from 1976. There are also delicious versions on the Roxy Music Live lp from the same year as well as the 2002 live reunion double cd, but the best is from the first live reunion cd featuring one of Phil Manzanera’s most exhilarating solos ever.

278. The Doors – The End

Listen closely: this is a pop song that morphs into a raga. Sure, it’s a “classic rock” standard, but deservedly so. Ray Manzarek’s swirling, funereal Balkan organ in tandem with Robbie Krieger’s evil guitar runs over John Densmore’s equally evil, crashing drums make the vocals almost an afterthought. “Mother, I want to fuck you!!!” Whatever.

277. The Church – Life Speeds Up

This macabre Syd Barrett-inflected epic was a mid-80s concert staple for the extraordinary, still vital Australian art-rockers. As Steve Kilbey has noted, the studio version on the 1988 double lp retrospective Hindsight is a bit stiff, but it’s still great. And there are bootlegs out there: Church fans are obsessive and generous with their files.

276. The Damned – Plan 9 Channel 7

The punk legends’ best song is this ornate, darkly anthemic masterpiece. The lyrics don’t make much sense – they seem to be about falling asleep with the tv on – but the raging guitar against a haunting organ backdrop are one of the high points in goth music. There are a million live tracks kicking around, many of them excellent, but it’s the 1979 studio version from the impressively diverse Machine Gun Etiquette lp that’s the classic.

275. The Church – The Maven

The Australian art-rock legends long ago proved that they didn’t need a major label behind them to succeed – in fact, the opposite is true, and this scorching, crescendoing broadside wastes no words in making that apparent. The clanging, crushing roar of what sounds like a thousand guitar tracks as the song reaches a peak at the end is one of the most majestic, sonically exquisite passages ever recorded, in any style of music. “Just turn the light off when you go, just tell the jury all you know,” Steve Kilbey snarls. From Sometime Anywhere, 1994.

274. Radio Birdman – Hand of Law

If you’ve been following this list from the beginning, you may have noticed that Australian garage-punks Radio Birdman’s classic 1979 album Radios Appear is very well represented here – and here we go again, with another cauldron of guitar fury, almost five minutes of paint-peeling, macabre, screaming intensity from Deniz Tek and Chris Masuak.

273. The Saints – Follow the Leader

The studio version (see the link above) on the Out in the Jungle album is decent, but when the band were at their peak – as a janglerock unit, for about ten years starting in the early 80s – they transformed this catchy, swaying number into one of their most beautiful songs. The version that opens the 1985 Live in a Mud Hut lp is transcendent, a feast of jangly guitar textures and lushly metallic overtones.

272. The New Race – Love Kills

The New Race were a Detroit supergroup of sorts, Ron Asheton and Deniz Tek on guitars, Warwick Gilbert of Radio Birdman on bass and Dennis Thompson from the MC5 on drums. They did a couple of Australian tours and then ruined what should have been a phenomenal live album with studio overdubs. But their two other subsequent live cds both effectively capture the band’s transcendent, unearthly power. This is one of Tek’s most vividly lyrical songs, a deathly winter road trip from Chicago to the Murder City. The stark, semi-acoustic studio recording by Radio Birdman is unforgettable, but the New Race version from The First To Pay, driven by Gilbert’s roaring, distorted bass chords, is even better. And very hard to find in a digital format other than the grooveshark stream in the title above. Here’s a live Radio Birdman take; here’s another.

271. Radio Birdman – Monday Morning Gunk

The original, released as a single by Radio Birdman mastermind Deniz Tek’s first Australian Band TV Jones in 1972 (and included on the 1988 Tek retrospective Orphan Tracks) is a blazing, somewhat woozily psychedelic masterpiece. Others prefer Radio Birdman’s even more scorching, professionally recorded version, released on the European version of the classic 1979 Radios Appear album some nine years later.The multitracked guitars of Tek and Chris Masuak on the solo are hit a literally unreal crescendo.

270. Howlin Wolf – Sitting on Top of the World

The iconic bluesman’s 1954 studio single hews much closer to the Mississippi Sheiks’ rustic version from the 20s that he probably learned it from. But believe it or not, his best version is on the 1969 London Sessions album with none other than Eric Clapton on guitar – given sufficient inspiration, even a hack can sometimes rise to the occasion. And it’s Bill Wyman’s casually soaring bass work that carries it over the top. Wondering who that tight in-the-pocket drummer is? It’s Ringo.

269. Bob Dylan – Positively 4th St.

The prototypical anti-trendoid anthem. Hypocritical as it may have been, Dylan had nothing but contempt for class tourism and most of the hippies who shared his comfortable upper middleclass background. And it’s obvious that a lot of them didn’t like him either since being one of them, he sussed them out. “You’d rather see me paralyzed” – how true. Download this with impunity because he isn’t getting any royalties from it. 

October 20, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 9/3/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Thursday’s song is #328:

Procol Harum – As Strong As Samson

An unusually caustic world-is-going-to-hell commentary by lyricist Keith Reid (who didn’t play in the legendary British art-rock band but went to all their shows) set to a wrenchingly beautiful organ melody. The studio track from the 1974 Exotic Birds and Fruit album (above) is fine, but the best version is on their Live on the BBC cd, a 1974 recording finally issued in 1999. Frontman Gary Brooker continues to lead a considerably more heavy metal version of the band.

September 3, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 3/1/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Sunday’s song is #514:

Procol Harum – Wreck of the Hesperus

Written and sung by organist Matthew Fisher, the centerpiece of this towering, haunting two-keyboard, proto-goth anthem is an anguished, minimalist fuzztone solo from guitarist Robin Trower. What a colossally good band. From the Salty Dog lp, 1969; mp3s at the usual spots.

March 1, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 1/12/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown continues, one day at a time all the way to #1. Monday’s is #562:

Procol Harum – New Lamps For Old

You know this band, at least from their big 1967 hit Whiter Shade of Pale, a staple of oldies radio. The legendary art-rockers distinguished themselves from the era’s legions of wanky “prog” groups via a darkly ornate, noir, even macabre sensibility, spooky Hammond organ looming in the background. This is one of their lesser-known but most haunting tracks, the band’s intricate interplay perfectly evoking Keith Reid’s disillusioned, despairing lyric. Originally on the 1975 lp Exotic Birds & Fruit; the best version is on their Live on the BBC cd, a 1974 recording finally issued in 1999. Check the usual sites for mp3s. The band still tours Europe albeit sans most of the original members.

January 12, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , | Leave a comment