Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Radio Birdman’s Live in Texas Goes Out on a High Note

Albums like this just warm your heart…and make it beat a lot faster. Most of the guys in this particular edition of iconic Australian garage-punk band Radio Birdman were in their fifties when their Live in Texas album was recorded on their final tour in 2006, but they play with the rampaging intensity of musicians half their age. This isn’t the original band – this regrouped version has frontman Rob Younger plus guitarists Deniz Tek and Chris Masuak, with Jim Dickson of the New Christs burning through Warwick Gilbert’s melodic basslines (and adding a furious, propulsive edge of his own), and Russell Hopkinson – who played on the band’s final studio album, Zeno Beach – doing an only slightly more restrained take on Ron Keeley’s machine-gun work behind the drum kit. This sounds like a soundboard recording – there’s plenty of room for quibbling about the balance of the instruments, but who cares. It’s a good thing somebody had the sense to make a decent-quality live recording from this often transcendent tour (the band’s NYC debut at Irving Plaza on September 8 of that year was beyond amazing: do a little youtube surfing and see for youself). This one’s streaming in its entirety at Spotify, and it’s available from the kick-ass Australian Citadel label via mailorder.

The tracks are full of surprises. Our predecessor e-zine picked Radio Birdman’s final studio album, Zeno Beach, as the best album of 2006, and several of those tracks are represented here. The triumphantly menacing We’ve Come So Far to Be Here Today is a little faster than the album version, and it’s interesting to hear Masuak tackle the brief solo breaks with an off-kilter Ron Asheton bluesmetal attack. Likewise, Locked Up – the last song before the encores – is the only cut here with any kind of extended ending, and it’s very rewarding. Die Like April sets Masuak’s phased washes and ornate McCartneyesque lead lines against Tek’s sputtering distored chords and chordlets, Hopkinsons’s unhinged volleys completing the picture. The riff-rockers You Just Make It Worse and Subterfuge are surprisingly stripped down, arguably mellower than the studio versions, the latter holding its own despite the absence of Pip Hoyle’s catchy piano leads.

But it’s the old classics here that resonate the most. Murder City Nights, with bandleader Tek’s blistering, chromatic solo; the similar Anglo Girl Desire, with Masuak and Tek taking the solo together until Tek goes off bending notes and searing his way through the passing tones; and tantalizing, supersonic versions of the catchy punk-pop hits Burned My Eye and What Gives. The single best track here might be Smith & Wesson Blues, Dickson nailing that killer bassline against the twin guitar assault, Tek soloing out into the ionosphere by the second verse, Hopkinson murdering his snare. Or it could be I-94, one of the most savagely catchy songs ever written, Younger comparing late 70s American beer brands in an Australian accent. The six-minute, dynamically charged version of Hand of Law, a platform for some of Tek’s wildest playing here, is pretty exhilarating too.

There are also some unexpected covers. The version of Circles by the Who improves on the original; Til the End of the Day, which the Kinks absolutely ripped to shreds on their last couple of tours, gets a similarly punked-out fury; and the band do a spot-on impersonation of Blue Oyster Cult on Hot Rails to Hell, right down to the backing vocals. The album was released last fall – do we count this as one of our “best of 2011” when we put up that page at the end of this year? Stay tuned.

July 23, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 5/23/11

In recent weeks you may have noticed how sluggish this blog has been during the weekend. That will change – promise! But this past one was one of those completely lost ones. To give you something new, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #617:

The New Race – The First to Pay

Think about this for a second: in 1988, the late great Ron Asheton was so broke that he had to sell the master tapes for this album to a French record label, since no American one would put it out. Another shocker is that it’s been out of print pretty much since then. The New Race were a Detroit rock supergroup with the MC5’s Dennis Thompson on drums, Asheton and Radio Birdman’s Deniz Tek on guitars, plus Warwick Gilbert on bass and Rob Younger from that band on vocals. They did a single Australian tour that resulted in three live albums of raw, searing, primevally intense garage punk metal. It’s a mix of Birdman and Stooges songs plus three tunes the group came up with together: the metalloid space shuttle tribute Columbia, the surprisingly poppy Living World and the maniacally scurrying Haunted Road. Gilbert’s menacing bass chords take the doomed intensity of Love Kills to another level; likewise, the chromatically-charged Smith & Wesson Blues and All Alone in the End Zone are completely unhinged. They also do a very satisfying, amped-up cover of Destroy All Monsters’ November 22, 1963 along with the Stooges’ Loose and TV Eye. The whole album is streaming at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent via rogkentroll.

May 23, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 5/10/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #630:

Sonic’s Rendezvous Band – Sweet Nothing

Back in the 70s, while the southern midwest had bands like the fictitious Stillwater (the sadly spot-on stoners from the movie Almost Famous), Detroit had hard, intense, uncompromising bands like these guys. Tragically, the bandleader didn’t live to see this album or its successors, and during the band’s lifetime, Sonic’s Rendezvous band (named after its leader, Fred “Sonic” Smith of the MC5) released only one vinyl single. This 1998 collection was the first in a series of reissues that culminated in a six-cd box set for you completists who have to have every outtake with Smith messing around on the saxophone. From the aptly titled first track, Dangerous, it’s careening riff-rock with a surreal, bluesy menace: it’s hard to imagine a lot of garage-punks bands like Radio Birdman without them. There’s some resemblance to the Stooges, but this stuff is heavier, slower and more soul-oriented, especially with the influence of Detroit legend Scott Morgan. The one track that sort of made it into the public eye is City Slang, one of the catchiest rock songs ever written: it blows the Ramones to shreds. There’s also the swaying, potent Getting There Is Half the Fun, the stalking, eight-minute title track; the warped boogie Asteroid B-612; the hammering Song L; the cynical Love and Learn and a careening cover of the Stones’ Heart of Stone. Here’s a random torrent via digitalmeltdown.

May 10, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 3/28/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #673:

Radio Birdman – The Ring of Truth

Hope it’s ok with you if we go with two ep’s in a row. If this 1988 release was a bootleg, as some say (all but one track were subsequently issued “officially,” for what it’s worth), the sound quality is amazing. Recorded ten years earlier at Dave Edmunds’ studio in Rockfield, Wales just prior to the band’s breakup, this captures the Australian garage punks at the peak of their fret-burning, frequently macabre power. Just four songs here, all of them winners, each a good example of the band’s ability to tackle a surprisingly diverse number of styles, considering what a loud, ferocious group they were. If I Wanted You is a creepily pulsing, low-key guitar/organ tune; Dark Surprise is an example of their Stooges-inspired riff-rock style, and the surprisingly mellow Didn’t Tell the Man (a 1979 hit for the Hitmen) features one of the most wrenchingly beautiful rock organ solos ever, courtesy of Pip Hoyle. The centerpiece here is Death by the Gun, a country murder ballad done Detroit style, lead player Deniz Tek’s lightning rampages blasting over Warwick Gilbert’s insanely catchy, punchy bassline (done decently thirty years later by the Horehounds). Here’s a random torrent via thewickedthing.

March 27, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Brooklyn What Are the New York Equivalent of the Clash

The corporate media wants you to believe that New York is all master mixologists mixing $26 heirloom lobster cilantro mochatinis, with celebrity djs pumping up the bass while Shtuppi, Blandie, Faylor and the rest of the cast of The Real Housewives of LoHo poledance for the camera. That element does exist, and in greater numbers with every passing tax break for the ultra-rich, but those people don’t represent New York. They’re not even from here. And while we wait, and wait, and wait, for a high-profile murder or two to send them scrambling for the next charter flight back to Malibu or Lake Wayzata, the Brooklyn What write songs for the rest of us. Like the Clash, they use punk as a stepping-off point for a range of styles that span the history of rock, from the 50s to the indie era. This may be old news for those who’ve seen them live, but they’re not just playing crazed punk music anymore: they’re become a truly great rock band. They have five newly recorded singles out: the songs are complex, psychedelic, and socially aware without losing the in-your-face edge that made the band so compelling from the start.

I Want You on a Saturday Night has been a big concert hit for them for awhile. It’s punked out doo-wop, a Weegee snapshot of a random night out. Guy’s at the bar, got only half a buzz, annoyed by the annoying crowd, trying to drown them out with Johnny Cash on the jukebox. He could go to Williamsburg, or to the Village where he’d meet some people and “want to kill them,” or stay home, get stoned and listen to Springsteen. But he wants out. And like the Uncle Sam poster, he wants you.

Punk Rock Loneliness is the shadow side of that picture. The guitars weave a staggered tango beat, distantly echoing the Dead Boys but more funky. Jamie Frey’s lyric sets the stage: “Rain through your canvas sneakers, nervous breakdown in your speakers…” Who hasn’t been there? Down at the corner of Bleecker and Bowery, where CBGB’s used to be, he thinks back on the girl who’s gone now. “All the things you had to give her, first your heart then your liver, drowned in the East River.” And the world couldn’t care less: there’s no more Johnny, or Joey, or Dee Dee with a song that would dull the pain, and the club they made famous is just another stupid shi-shi boutique now. A classic New York moment early in the decade of the teens.

Come to Me is like punked-out Sam Cooke. It’s sly and it’s irresistible – the singer understands that the girl’s been working a twelve-hour shift, she has to smile when her heart’s a frown, but he’ll make her forget about the long day and how light her purse feels at the end of it. The brief doubletracked guitar solo at the end is pure psychedelia: Evan O’Donnell and John-Severin Napolillo make the best one-two guitar punch this town’s seen in decades. A more rocking take on early 70s psychedelic funk/soul a la Curtis Mayfield, Tomorrow Night is more abstract, floating in on a catchy yet apprehensive slide guitar hook, winding out with another nimble, incisive solo. The fifth song, Status Quo, evokes Black Flag with its furious vocal tradeoffs, then goes for an anthemic garage punk Stooges/Radio Birdman knockout punch on the chorus. “I’m so bored with the status quo/Everything here has got to go,” the band roar. “You get all your sense of humor from reality shows,” Frey taunts the latest wave of gentrifiers. At the end, they finally let it fly completely off the hinges. The Brooklyn What also have a monthly residency at Trash Bar, a Saturday night where they play alongside some of the best of their colleagues in the Brooklyn underground scene. This month’s show is this Saturday, December 18 starting at 8 with power trio New Atlantic Youth, the Proud Humans (ex-Warm Hats), the Highway Gimps (the missing link between My Bloody Valentine and Motorhead), the Brooklyn What, postpunk rockers Mussles and finally the new Pistols 40 Paces at midnight. Check with the band for these songs as well as their classic 2009 album The Brooklyn What for Borough President.

December 16, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 11/1/10

Our weekly, Kasey Kasem-inspired luddite DIY version of a podcast is a little late again, sorry, we’ll try to have next week’s for you on Tuesdays like we usually do. Every week, we try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone: sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. We’ve designed this as something you can do on your lunch break if you work at a computer (and you have headphones – your boss won’t approve of a lot of this stuff). If you don’t like one of these songs, you can always go on to the next one: every link here will take you to each individual song. As always, the #1 song here will appear on our Best Songs of 2010 list at the end of the year.

1. The Toneballs – Chelsea Clinton Knows

Characteristically incisive lyrical rock from Dan Sallitt’s jangly post Blow This Nightclub crew. They slayed with this a couple of weeks ago at the Parkside.

2. Annabouboula – Opium Bride

Psychedelic Greek rebetika surf/dance rock with sultry female vocals. They’ve got a long-awaited new album out and it’s great.

3. The Del Lords – When the Drugs Kick In

The legendary 80s Americana rockers’ first new song in 20 years, and it was worth the wait.

4. The Visitors – Living World

The New Race garage-punk classic recorded live 2008 via thebarmansrant.

5. Para – Roboti

Quirky, catchy Slovakian 80s flavored rock. They’re at Drom 11/17 at 9.

6. Copal – Shadows

One-chord jams don’t get any cooler than this hypnotic, trippy violin/cello Middle Eastern dance-rock vamp. From their excellent new album. They’re at Drom tonight at 10 if you’re in the mood to get out of the rain and dance.

7. Meg Reichardt – Frozen Toe Blues

The Roulette Sister and Chaud Lapin on a rare solo jaunt doing a typically irresistible oldtimey blues number.

8. Jeremy Messersmith – A Boy, a Girl and a Graveyard

This is the Tattooine guy, Elliott Smith style.

9. Cee-Lo Green – Fuck You

We couldn’t let the year go by without at least giving this one a mention. C’mon, you know you love it.

10. Buffalo Springfield – Burned

From the initial reunion show by the 60s psychedelic pop/Americana rock legends – this is with Neil on vocals, live via Leftsetz.

November 4, 2010 Posted by | blues music, lists, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, rap music, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Pleasure Kills Are Pure Pleasure

Bay area rockers the Pleasure Kills’ new punk-pop album Bring Me a Match is a time warp from the days before autotune, before nonsense syllables replaced real lyrics in radio pop songwriting. There’s not a single bad song here. The tunes are irresistibly catchy and pack a punch, their signature sound blending distorted, melodic punk guitar with swooshy organ. The wounded wail of Lydiot, their frontwoman, has a regret-tinged phrasing like the Go-Go’s Belinda Carlisle except that she sings on key. At their best they evoke Angie Pepper’s legendary Australian proto-punk band the Passengers.

The opening cut Dancing on My Bed is a Ramones-style stomp with sweeping synth – “I’m stomping on my phone, I wanna be alone,” Lydiot insists: she may be all by herself, but she’s damned if she won’t have fun anyway. The title track is sort of Blondie gone punk; I Want You isn’t the Dylan hit, but a riff-rocking garage-punk song with some perfectly nasty Scott Asheton-style rolls on the drums. The strongest, and most original song here, is Hearts Run Out, with its wicked, catchy, growling guitar hook. Everything Lydiot sees reminds her of something from a dead affair: “I can never go home.” It wouldn’t be out of place on an album by legendary Milwaukee powerpop band the Shivvers.

Another standout cut is Modern Problems – with its snaky organ lines and ruthless pummelling drive, it’s like Radio Birdman at their most pop. Heartbreak in Space is a candy-coated punk-pump smash; Victoria isn’t a cover of the Kinks classic, but instead a jagged early 80s punk/new wave song and an insanely catchy chorus hook that fades out. They go back to the Radio Birdman pop, if not quite as intensely, with Ammunition, followed by the casually snide Bag of Bones, which bears some resemblance to post-X bands like Spanking Charlene. The album closes with And Me, nicking the intro from Agent Orange’s Living in Darkness, then launching into into an unstoppable punk/pop stomp with a surprise cold ending. It’s not an insult to say that if this had been released thirty years ago, an entire subculture would now regard it as a cult classic. Play it loud. San Francisco fans can catch the Pleasure Kills’ next show at Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk St. between Post and Sutter with Paul Collins’ Beat on 9/25 at 9.

September 15, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review from the Archives: The Sons of Hercules and the Pretty Things at the Village Underground, 8/24/01

[Editor’s note: while we’re on vacation, we’ll be raiding the archives for some memorable NYC shows from the past several years: here’s a really great night from a few years back.]

The night began at the C-Note on Avenue C with the beginning of what promised to be a great Americana night: jazzy chanteuse Lynn Ann’s wickedly smart blues band, Gate 18, folllowed by Matthew Grimm, frontman of the Hangdogs, playing solo on Telecaster and showing off some particularly fiery new material, including a typically funny, anti-consumerist anthem called Memo From the Corner Office (a.k.a The Shit That We Don’t Need) and an even more scathing one, Hey Hitler, which connects the dots between the Bush regime (Bush’s grandfather was the #1 American fundraiser for the Nazis in the years leading up to World War II) and their prototypes in the Reichstadt. Wild, jam-oriented bluegrass band Brooklyn Browngrass, f.k.a. Kill Devil Hills were next on the bill, but it was time to head over to the Village Underground for what turned out to be a killer garage band night. The most adrenalizing part of the evening was San Antonio garage-punks the Sons of Hercules. They sound like a Radio Birdman cover band except that they write their own songs. They were pretty phenomenal all the way through. The Telecaster player knew every Deniz Tek lick and played them perfectly: wild hammer-ons, ferocious tremolo-picking and equally fiery chromatic riffs. The bass player didn’t do Warwick Gilbert’s crescendoing runs up the scale, but the drummer could have been Ron Keeley and the Rickenbacker guitarist threw in some tastily minimal, macabre leads from song to song. Meanwhile, the frontman did the Iggy thing, “lookit me, I’m INSAAAANE!!!” Finally, at one in the morning, the Pretty Things took the stage, not the complete original 1964 crew, but close to it. Drums were left up to the group’s manager Mark St. John, who didn’t nail every change, but these guys are lucky they have someone so good who could take over on what was obviously short notice. Lead guitarist (and original Rolling Stones bassist) Dick Taylor held it all together, with his searing blues runs. They opened with a lot of chugging, amped-up early 60s style R&B rock, Roadrunner and such, then touched base with their 70s repertoire with the drugrunning anthem Havana Bound. The best part of the night, unsurprisingly, came during a series of songs from their classic 1967 psychedelic album SF Sorrow: the ominous folk-rock of SF Sorrow Is Born, the foreshadowing of the antiwar number Private Sorrow, a surprisingly understated version of the anguished Balloon Burning and then Taylor taking over with his froggy vocals on the over-the-top metaphors of Baron Saturday (“Dick Taylor IS Baron Saturday,” keyboardist John Povey told the crowd). Later they did an early 70s song that was the obvious inspiration for Aerosmith’s Draw the Line and a fast, bluesy version of the recent Going Downhill. The long encore began with a tentative Rosalyn, a tersely vivid version of the acoustic vignette The Loneliest Person in the World, then a brief, screaming version of their banned 1964 R&B-flavored hit LSD into the galloping, psychedelic Old Man Going, Taylor going to the top of his fretboard and screaming with an intensity that threatened to peel the paint off the walls.

August 24, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Great Album from the Whiskey Daredevils

The title of these Cleveland roots rockers’ new album, Introducing the Whiskey Daredevils, is characteristically tongue-in-cheek – it isn’t exactly their first. Over the last six years, they’ve put out one kick-ass album after another, all laced with their trademark sense of humor: they are simply one of the funniest bands on the planet. Some of their greatest hits (some but not all of which appear on their Greatest Hits album) include a tribute to Mickey’s Big Mouth malt liquor, a surreal chronicle about a road trip with a guy who can’t stop talking about Planet of the Apes, and the most hilarious song ever written about open mic nights for singer-songwriters. This album is their first with their new guitarist Gary Siperko, who brings a ferocious garage-punk intensity as well as a growling Stonesy edge and a solid handle on country sounds. Frontman Gary Miller’s deadpan, stoic delivery lets his surreal, absolutely spot-on narratives speak for themselves: he’s got a Hunter S. Thompson-class eye for twisted detail. Siperko – formerly of upstate New York surf rockers the Mofos, whose album Supercharged on Alcohol is a genuine classic – veers between an otherworldly reverb-drenched tone and gritty, vintage tube amp distortion while bassist Ken Miller and drummer Leo P. Love hold the beast to the rails.

The opening track, Never Saw Johnny Cash chronicles a series of missed once-in-a-lifetime opportunities from the point of view of a guy who always overdoes it: we all have somebody like that in our lives who likes to go to shows with us (or at least ride to shows with us). They follow that with an amped-up Bakersfield country song. With its sizzling, surfy ghoulabilly guitar, Left Me on a Train could be a Radio Birdman classic from 1979, a sound they bring down a little on the next track, Thicker Than Wine. Then they take it to the logical extreme with the garage-punk smash Drive: Murder City Nights, anybody?

As breakup songs go, the midtempo country ballad Last Guest List is a classic: “No more free stuff, no more free beer, I guess you are no longer with the band.” There’s also the predictably amusing, painfully hungover Me and My Black Eye; a southwestern gothic rock parody; the monster surf instrumental Railbender, which sounds like a Mofos classic; a Social Distortion-style country-punk number with a little Led Zep thrown in; and the album’s closing boogie, Empty Out the Shake, which is pretty self-explanatory, and as amusing as you’d think. The band’s best album? Maybe. The others are really good too. The Whiskey Daredevils’ next gig is August 6 at 10 PM at the Happy Dog, 5801 Detroit Ave. in Cleveland.

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

Song of the Day 6/14/10

Boston was fun but it’s good to be home. Regardless of where we might be, our best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Monday’s song is #45:

Radio Birdman – Death by the Gun

The original 1978 studio version of this punked-out country murder ballad with one of the greatest guitar solos of all time doesn’t appear to exist in digital form anywhere – although there are live versions, most of them very dodgy, floating around the web (like this one by RB guitarist Chris Masuak’s band the Hitmen). The Horehounds also had the good sense to cover it

June 14, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment