Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Skye Steele at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 1/27/09

“I write too many slow songs,” violinist Skye Steele said with a wry grin. Wrong. What this guy absolutely excels at is slow songs. Slow, thoughtful, meditative instrumentals, full of beautiful little intricacies, often absolutely mesmerizing: you can get completely lost in this stuff. Last night at Barbes Steele was backed by an excellent band featuring upright bass, electric guitar and reed player Harel Shachal alternating between clarinet and sax. Most of what Steele writes has a dark, plaintive, hypnotic edge: he goes for atmosphere over ostentation every time, and absolutely nails it. You could call what he writes jazz, although it also embodies elements of classical and Balkan music, with glimpses of rock and even Afro-pop peeking in and showing their faces from time to time.

 

The material they played early in the set had a bracing, big-sky Americana feel in the same vein as Jenny Scheinman’s collaborations with Bill Frisell. A little later in the set, on a far eerier number, Shachal’s clarinet went deep into the lower registers for an ominously fluttery Balkan feel. A handful of their songs were suites, one of them facing off fluid, swoopingly legato bass against the noisy duel of the violin and clarinet; another featured a languidly thoughtful yet tensely wary solo from the guitar. Steele was clearly throwing songs at these guys that at least one of them had never played before, but the group was game and rose to the occasion, taking the old Scottish folksong Black is the Color off into the Great Plains with a wintry, windswept ambience. On their last number, another suite, Steele wound up a tightly compelling passage by playing major over minor for a few bars, adding an especially macabre edge. Steele’s next performance is a quintet show on Feb 5 at le Poisson Rouge on a bill with with Shachal’s excellent, haunting Middle Eastern/Balkan group Anistar.

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January 28, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Curtis Eller at Highline Ballroom, NYC 1/25/09

This was one of those good-to-be-in-NYC days. A trip to the Met to see the retrospective for departing director Philippe de Montebello was worth the shlep. The theme is simply a selection of the best of what the museum has acquired during his long tenure there. Everything is out of context, medieval Indian silk battle portraits side by side with antique instruments, pre-Renaissance Italian paintings, firearms, a Vermeer and a Van Gogh, effectively engaging and challenging the viewer with a whirlwind of art forms so diverse that it’s impossible not to discover something new and intriguing. The exhibit is up through the end of the month: you should see it.

 

After that it was down to St. Thomas Church where the estimable John Scott delivered a rousing, heart- and soul-warming program of Mendelssohn organ works, closing with a particularly inspiring, energetic take of the Second Organ Sonata. To fans of organ music, Scott needs no introduction; much has been written about him in this space, all of it good. The afternoon’s program was yet another reminder of how brilliant and stylistically diverse he is.

 

Next stop was Highline Ballroom, where songwriter/banjoist Curtis Eller was scheduled to play. Seafoam and the Psychedelic Chain Gang opened. Maybe because 70s music is so easy to lampoon, there are a whole bunch of parody bands around town who make fun of various 70s styles, Rawles Balls, Van Hayride and Mighty High notable among them. This band not only spoofs the music but also the look. Their frontman, his shaved chest festooned with the silliest temporary tattoos you could possibly imagine, affects a swishy, flamboyant gay stereotype (a swipe at Queen or Judas Priest, maybe?). The rest of the guys in the band all have the dirtbag look straight out of Almost Famous. Their musical satire ranges from predictable and dumb – give them credit for really knowing how to write a REO Speedwagon/Styx power ballad – to laugh-out-loud funny. The rhythm section plodded along predictably with the occasional faux Led Zep drum interlude. The guitarist and violinist would each simultaneously take a garish, masturbatory solo without paying the slightest attention to what the other was doing. Compounding the tasteless 70s vibe were the troupe of strippers with hula hoops cavorting across the stage while the band played. They closed with their Stonehenge number, all phony suspense as the volume rose to a crescendo that never arrived.

 

Curtis Eller took the stage and immediately climbed up on his chair, raising his mic to about a ten-foot height. To call him a dynamic performer would be an understatement. He spun, kicked up his leg a la Dontrelle Willis (now THERE’S a Curtis Eller song waiting to happen: The Ballad of Dontrelle Willis, the suspense is gonna kill us), darted out onto the tables to sing unamplified and at the end of the show took several sprints along the perimeter of the space, running outside til he reached the limit of how far the wireless mic on his banjo would carry. Because of his choice of instrument and maybe also because his songs have such a rich historical sensibility, he typically gets lumped in with the oldtimey crowd. Which doesn’t really do him justice: while his melodies frequently have a dark, Tom Waits-y bluesiness, the vibe is pure punk rock, especially when the lyrics hit you. And they hit hard and unsparing, with an Elvis Costello/LJ Murphy style brilliance. Eller’s bullshit detector is set to kill, whether playing psychopathologist and making fun of twisted everyday people or holding politicians to a pre-Bush regime standard. “I was extremely disappointed that plane made it back to Texas,” he mused. “Now it’s not an assassination, it’s just a murder.”

 

He opened with the aggressive, characteristically sardonic title track to his 2004 cd Taking Up Serpents Again, following with a coal miner’s bitter lament and then John Wilkes Booth, a fiery, minor-key call to arms that made an awfully good anthem before that one Tuesday last November. Like so many of Eller’s songs, Come Back to the Movies, Buster Keaton worked on several levels, in this case as both a sly, tongue-in-cheek slap at the entertainment-industrial complex and a revealing connection between the curmudgeonly and the reactionary.

 

To his further credit, Eller got the surprisingly young, obviously moneyed crowd going, especially on a quietly harsh 6/8 ballad about pigeon racing. Introducing the song, he mimicked a pigeon call: “You can do it, just pretend you’re from Hoboken,” he deadpanned, and by the time he’d reached the middle of the song, the crowd was a chorus of rats with wings.

 

As much as he energized the crowd, he antagonized them. “You know who Jack Ruby was? Some of you?” And then followed with the best song of the night, a blazing version of the haunting Appalachian gothic number Sweatshop Fire, from his latest cd Wirewalkers & Assassins (one of our top 50 picks of 2008):

 

I’m going down to Antietam with a quart of bourbon in my hand

I’m going to kick the shit out of Vicksburg…

I’m gonna get fucked up like Ulysses S. Grant

Get as black as a Tuesday in 1929

 

He closed with the barely restrained rage of Sugar in My Coffin – “There ain’t no such thing as Elvis Presley from the waist down, that’s one thing I learned from tv,” and encored with an evocatively wistful cityscape, “Coney Island right where it should be.” For anyone with an appreciation for what New York has lost and might create again now that all the money for luxury condos has evaporated, this show was a hopeful summer breeze on a nasty cold night. Curtis Eller is at Banjo Jim’s on 2/26 and then at Public Assembly on 3/14 before going off again on European tour.

January 26, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Concert Review: The Dixie Bee-Liners at le Poisson Rouge, NYC 12/14/08

The night opened on an auspicious note with a duo show by bluegrass siren Jen Larson and multi-instrumentalist Terry McGill, the brain trust behind excellent NYC-area act Straight Drive. With her signature, rustic wail, Larson induced more than a few goosebumps throughout a charming, low-key, intimate set – it was like being in her living room.

 

“We don’t usually play happy songs,” McGill cautioned the crowd.

 

“Uneasy listening,” added Larson.

 

Their version of Knoxville Girls hewed much closer to its even starker, Irish predecessor, Wexford Girl; the WWII-era dead-soldier lament That Star Belongs to Me was even darker. And Larson’s a-capella version of the old Scottish hymn The Lone Pilgrim gave her the chance to cut loose and summon a few ghosts. By contrast, their version of Worried Man Blues was bright and buoyant, and Larson delivered Blue Christmas with a warmly torchy subtlety.

 

Giving an opening slot to such a fine singer would make a show anticlimactic for a whole lot of vocalists, but not for Brandi Hart and Buddy Woodward’s  Dixie Bee-Liners. The Roots Music Association’s 2008 pick for bluegrass band of the year tore through their long set with a careening, propulsive fire, constantly threatening to go off the rails but always managing to rein themselves in when it counted. You’ll see this on the best-of list here in a few days. While the DBLs push the boundaries of where bluegrass can be taken, their oldtime spirit is pure: what they do that you can’t dance to will haunt you all the way home. Mixing originals, most of them from their second cd Ripe, along with a few choice covers, they started slowly and methodically with an instrumental, abruptly picking up the pace with a darkly bouncy version of their spiritual Lord, Lay Down My Ball and Chain. Striking a Pete Townshend-like stance, Woodward’s mandolin work was characteristically fiery (although he played his best solo of the night on guitar, a sarcastically intense, modal buildup on the Bible Belt noir haunter Lost in the Silence). Acoustic guitarist Jonathan Maness also fanned the flames into a conflagration at the end of the similarly haunting Why Do I Make You Cry.

 

But ultimately the night belonged to Hart. To find another song stylist whose intensity  matches her subtlety note for note, you have to go back to an earlier era for someone like Linda Thompson or even Patsy Cline. She still has the full-throttle Kentucky wail that characterized her earlier work, but at this show she stayed mostly in her lower register, toying with the phrasing with a playfulness that stopped just short of cruel. In the quietly sultry bend of a single note, or a phrase, Hart can say more than most can say in a whole album, and what’s more, it’s clear that she gets a kick out of never singing a song the same way twice. Arguably, the high point of the night was her casually but brutally nuanced, plaintive version of Roses Are Grey, the big, 6/8 alienation anthem that serves as the centerpiece of the latest cd. After mining the lyric for every bit of quietly stoic exasperation she could find, she finally cut loose at the end when redemption finally comes. Since the group’s fiddler Rachel Renee Johnson was unavailable for this gig, they’d scooped up Leah Calvert from the excellent Atlanta group the Dappled Grays, who nailed the songs’ often counterintuitive melodies and also provided warmly soaring, soul-stoked vocals (including a lead on the old Louvin Bros. classic My Baby’s Gone).

 

They wrapped up the show with a sizzling take of their amusingly lyrical character study Old Charlie Cross (he’s a big bullshitter, among other things) and closed with a rousing, bluesy version of the spiritual Working on the Building. The crowd wanted more, but the band, seemingly always on the road, had to get back to Philly. Awfully nice to see a band who cut their teeth in the NYC scene take it to the next level and get the recognition they deserve, that they never really got during their time here. The Dixie Bee-Liners’ next show is at on January 16 at 9 at Jack of the Wood, 95 Patton Avenue, Asheville, North Carolina for a mere pittance of $7.00

December 19, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Zikrayat – Live at Lotus

Zikrayat is Arabic for “memories.” Led by virtuoso violinist Sami Abu Shumays, this New York-based Middle Eastern combo have admirably dedicated themselves to reviving classic and obscure songs from the golden age of Egyptian cinema, from the late 40s to the 60s. This live cd, recorded completely acoustic so as to recreate the feel of the originals, does justice to the material while adding a brilliant, even psychedelic improvisational edge. Since most of the fourteen tracks here are songs from movies, the version of the group that recorded this (they’ve gone through numerous lineup shifts) included a trio of dancers whose occasional percussion and vocal contributions only enhance the songs’ authentic feel.

 

Most of what’s here is beautiful, haunting Levantine dance music driven by hand drum and percussion, violin and ney flute sailing over the hypnotic, sometimes rumbling beat, low frequencies anchored by the oud. On one song, Shumays switches to rababa, the rustic-tinged traditional Egyptian fiddle. The group handle the melodic interplay with a playful aplomb, violin and flute frequently doubling each others’ lines, working both sides of a call-and-response with each other or with the vocals. Ghaida, the vocalist is nothing short of sensational: when she takes off and vocalises an improvisation, the crowd responds immediately to her eerie yet warmly intimate trills and glissandos.

 

The cd opens with the beautifully slinky nocturne Yamma I Amar Aal Baab from the romantic film Tamr Hinma, the piece that Shumays credited with inspiring this project. A thoughtful, exploratory, subtly crescendoing oud taqsim (improvisation) by Brian Prunka follows, then after that another hypnotic film song, Imta Hataaraf, featuring several gripping vocal breaks by Ghaida.  Sardonically, the cd liner notes characterize the famous Mohamed Abdel Wahab number Aziza as “the most overplayed belly-dance piece in the repertory,” yet Zikrayat’s interpretation manages to breathe new life into its dark intro and outro while not taking any chances with the predictable, somewhat cheesy midsection. There’s also a somewhat Western pop tune, a delectable and all-too-brief ney solo from Bridget Robbins and a stunning closing cut featuring Shumays’ rababa, ominously booming drums and a trick ending before it fades out. World music fans will devour this. If there’s any one criticism of the cd, it’s that when the pace picks up and the drums really kick in, the oud is sometimes inaudible. It would be easy to say that the problem could have been fixed by close-miking the oud, but it’s also possible that would have been a moot point considering the sonic quality – or lack thereof – in the room.

 

While Zikrayat’s present lineup is considerably stripped-down, the music never ceases to entrance and captivate, as a recent Barbes gig proved. Shumays is also an intriguing and innovative composer whose passion for this kind of music is matched by an equally improvisational, exploratory feel. Watch this space for upcoming NYC area shows.

December 17, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Intodown – Brave New World

This is the darkest cd we’ve reviewed in awhile, maybe since Black Fortress of Opium’s gorgeously murky debut back in the spring. Aside from a couple of voiceovers and a brief excerpt from a 13th Floor Elevators song, it’s all instrumentals, basically just Texas guitarist Michael Clark’s million overdubs and a varied cast of bassists and drummers. Ominous, awash in reverb and absolutely hypnotic much of the time, this album blends surf music, Link Wray instrumental stomp, 70s stoner metal and noise rock into a constantly shifting morass of sound, less of an expressway to your skull than a moonlit beach road there. If there’s any comparison to one band in particular, much of this sounds like popular 80s indie instrumentalists the Raybeats on really good acid, with occasional echoes of one of Clark’s favorite bands, adventurous Cali guitar experimentalists the Mermen. Clark loves chromatics, maximizing the use of all those eerie tonalities. Melodically, as in much of South Asian music, he tends not to move far from where he starts out, further enhancing the songs’ trancelike quality.

 

These songs are long.  The cd’s first cut, clocking in at a mere eight minutes or so is by the far the fastest, starting out like a surfy version of The Ledge by the Replacements, Clark’s somewhat bluesy reverb guitar contrasting with some surprisingly balmy, bluesy trumpet work. The seven-minute title track starts out spacy, becoming alternatingly sinster and pensive. As with most of these songs, the dyamics here constantly shift and change shape, tension building as the melody rises and then falls, the bassist playing big, boomy chords while Clark builds a heavy sonic thundercloud using an ocean of contrasting guitar textures.

 

Clocking in at just a second short of 22 minutes, the seven-part epic Fire seems to have been tailor-made for college radio, particularly any dj who needs a song long enough for a quick trip to the liquor store and back before it’s time to change the cd. It’s often absolutely mesmerizing in its growling majesty. Much of this is written strictly in the chromatic scale, its loud, fast early sections evoking the dissonant fire of legendary New York rockers Live Skull, later becoming more percussive in a spaced-out, Queens of the Stone Age vein. As it moves on, it grows more ambient with swirls of feedback and natural overtones howling from the amps. As the opening theme comes back around, big beautiful chords looming low underneath, the song ends. “For destruction, ice is also great,” Clark adds. The following cut, Nostradamous [sic] clocks in at a mere 11:29 in the same vein but far more minimalist and direct. The cd wraps up with The Return, all weird washes of noise like a lot of stuff on the late Pink Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright’s second solo album, Broken China, a bizarre series of samples (shortwave radio, disembodied voices and horror movie laughter) way back in the mix. This isn’t something you’d want to listen to while driving – it draws your attention away from pretty much everything else – but it’s a killer headphone album. Also check out Intodown’s cool fanclub site, with all kinds of sonic goodies.

December 12, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Brooklyn Rider at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 12/10/08

Playing to a standing-room crowd in the back room of a Brooklyn bar, innovative string quartet Brooklyn Rider delivered a riveting, intense performance of some impressively eclectic material ranging from traditional Iranian and Armenian folksongs to classical and contemporary compositions. As visceral and intense as most of the set was, and as ever-present as the temptation to simply cut loose and go for the jugular must have been, the quartet managed to stay within themselves, maintaining a remarkable restraint and an uncannily subtle sense of dynamics. This made the crescendos – and there were a whole lot of them – all the more exhilarating.

 

They began with Ascending Bird, a traditional Persian tune from their innovative and sensationally good new cd Silent City, a collaboration with noted kamancheh (spike fiddle) player Kayhan Kalhor. The melody illustrates a sort of Icarus myth and was as rousingly fiery and stormy as the recorded version, violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen dexterously blending textures, whether plucking or playing wild sheets of melody. They followed with a set of their own arrangements of Armenian folksongs from their debut cd Passport. Most of these were very dark, including a couple of sad waltzes, one of them highlighted by some eerily emphatic doublestops from violist Nicholas Cords.

 

They then tackled Bartok’s Second String Quartet. Those sitting closest to the band had no choice but to confront the demons: this is an unabashedly violent, angry and strange work, a brave and marvelously affecting selection. Seizing on the typically Bartokian atonalities and a series of jarring ninth intervals, they built to a big, insistent devil’s choir of tritones, cellist Eric Jacobsen bringing a percussive, fiery attack to the low frequencies. As the second movement began, they brought out every bit of knowing suspicion in the opening theme, climbing to a mocking crescendo as the disonnances grew, all the way to a sarcastic, faux-Beethoven four-note coda: the end, goodbye. By contrast, the third movement was exhausted, mournful, defeated, a study in clinical depression. Bartok from a distance may seem offputting and weird; Bartok in this group’s hands became impossible to look away from. The audience didn’t know how to respond.

 

Composer Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin, leader of another sensationally good string band, Ljova and the Kontraband was in the audience and at this point interjected some welcome, characteristic humor: the seat next to him was empty, so, echoing Rod Blagojevich, he announced that he was auctioning it off to the highest bidder. The band rewarded him for his participation with a stirringly slinky version of a Finnish tango that he’d arranged, remarkable in its evocation of Piazzolla. The group further demonstrated their versatility on a Norwegian folksong that alternated between big-sky ambience and a rousing dance, the lush, hypnotic Ljova partita Plume (also from Passport) and closed with an intriguing cover of the Cafe Tacuba hit La Muerte Chiquita, Jacobsen’s subtle, deftly placed slides and accents enhancing its eerie ambience. For anyone wishing for another rare chance to see this group literally up close and personal, they’re playing Nublu on Ave. C on Dec 17 at 9.

December 11, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Elvis Costello – Momofuku

“I don’t watch tv,” said Elvis Costello, recently discussing his new tv show. “I wouldn’t watch it.” Consider: the greatest English-language songwriter in the history of the universe has to take a cheesy cable talk show host gig to pay the bills. Sign of the times or what? If there’s been one single must-own cd released this year, this is it, if only to get the King off the small screen and back in the studio or on the stage where he belongs.

 

Musically and lyrically, this ranks just below his dozen or so best (name another songwriter with a dozen classic albums to his credit: Richard Thompson, maybe? You have to look hard to find another). Put another way, it’s one of the best albums of the year. This is yet another of Costello’s periodic returns to his new wave roots, lots of loud melodic guitar and organ. Ostensibly conceived, written and recorded within the span of a week on a long stray whim after recording a Jenny Lewis cameo, that claim probably has only a small basis in fact (Costello demos his material to what would be certain death for any other composer). However, there’s a directness, a freshness and terseness here that ranks, if maybe not with Armed Forces, then certainly on par with Punch the Clock or Trust. Vocally, Costello has worn as many different hats as he’s put on as a songwriter and this one finds him back in slightly restrained punk/pop mode a la When I Was Cruel or Brutal Youth with the occasional detour into second-generation, second rate R&B. Most of this is a welcome return to Costello the psychopathologist finding the inner twistedness of everything he encounters with characteristically slashing, effortless grace.

 

He comes out swinging with No Hiding Place, distorted guitar and organ roaring into a catchy upbeat chorus, a broadside about the shallowness of celebrity:

 

Next time someone wants to hurt you

Or set alight your effigy

Don’t call on me to help you out

Don’t come crying to me for sympathy

You stay there with your daubs and scratches

While I summon up the red machine

I’ll be handing somebody matches

And carrying a can of kerosene

 

It sounds a lot like My Little Blue Window, from When I Was Cruel. The next track American Gangster Time is punkish with trebly Farfisa organ, like something from This Year’s Model but louder and a whole lot ruder. Like pretty much every other human being on earth, Costello can’t wait til the Bush regime is over, and this is an appropriate sendoff, complete with graphic description of a blowjob. Turpentine, with its clanging distorted guitar over fast rumbling percussion is a rueful look back on a lifetime of boozing (Costello doesn’t drink anymore) that manages to avoid being maudlin.

 

 

With the same bouncing beat as When I Was Cruel and some blippy organ, Harry Worth knowlingly chronicles the disillution of a marriage: “He said did you hear that noise, well that once was our song.” Costello really pushes his vocals on the fiery, distorted guitar narrative Stella Hurt, right from the start and that Hendrix quote that he loves to use. This one tells the bleak story of a singer used and then forgotten by an autocratic regime, with a long noise guitar outro. Mr. Feathers is piano-based noir cabaret as LJ Murphy would do it, building to a poppy Penny Lane chorus, a twisted look at a lecher. 

 

Kicking off with a haunting 12-string intro and a troubling, complex series of chords, layers of guitars and piano over Pete Thomas’ steady backbeat, Song With Rose guardedly looks for some hope in the same vein as some of Steve Wynn’s recent work:

 

Love like a wraith never made me afraid

Consoled as I was by that shade

 

Then Costello follows that with the snide, matter-of-factly despairing Pardon Me Madam, My Name Is Eve, an impressively feminist parable where Eve says get the hell away from that guy, he’s no good:

 

I came back looking for my man,

Wandered everywhere and then

Stood outside and gazed upon a beautiful garden,

A shimmering pond

See the sunlight on the leaves that dapple

Do you see my little teethmarks on the apple?

Don’t close the door on my hand I’m offering

There is always someone on the outside

Doing all of the suffering.

 

The only real clunker on the cd is My Three Sons, a pretty melody with wretchedly sentimental lyrics. Unless this is a sarcastic song about George Bush Sr., it’s just plain awful. Still, after more than three decades since My Aim Is True came out, it’s nothing short of astonishing that Costello can still reach back and deliver the same power, intensity and relevance that he does here. You’ll see this as a rare concession to something popular (relative term, these days – if he was so popular, he wouldn’t have to do that tv show) on our top 50 cds of the year list at the end of the month. 

December 11, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Alistair MacRae and Heather Conner at St. Paul’s Chapel, NYC 12/8/08

Those who braved the cold or who were sufficiently at liberty to spend their lunch hour at the historic downtown landmark were treated to a gorgeously Romantic performance. Cellist Alistair MacRae began solo with Bach’s Suite for Solo Cello No. 3 in C Major (BMV 1009), essentially a big, ambitious prelude followed by five dances (although one, the Sarabande, is sad, slow and in MacRae’s hands exquisitely beautiful). The cello not being the first instrument that comes to mind for dance music, the composition is one of Bach’s more puckish numbers, and MacRae gave it a robust treatment that often made it seem as if there was a whole string section playing. The Prelude was dark and majestic, MacRae taking advantage of the melody playing off a single low string for a sort of raga effect; the Allemande (first of the dances) was handled with briskness and efficiency. After the slow, 6/8 Courante and the Sarabande, he wrapped it up with the rather plaintive, multi-part Bouree (not the one made famous by NPR and Jethro Tull) and a brief, somewhat blustery Gigue that brought back the dark note on which the piece begins.

 

University of Utah Assistant Professor of Music Heather Conner then joined him on piano for a rich, emotional take of Prokofiev’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 119. Ostensibly the piece is in C major, but the overall effect was dark and windswept, Conner’s playing in the opening andante grave section beautifully plaintive and bell-like against the washes of cello. The piece began to brighten and scurry as the second movement got underway, both musicians carried along by the intensity of the melody, seamlessly riding out its frequently percussive fire. They wrapped up the hourlong show with Tschaikovsky’s brief Melodie from Souvenir d’un Lieu Cher (Memory of a Favorite Place), a somewhat wistful song without words which would seem to be a prime target for a contemporary balladeer searching for a catchy melody on which to hang a pop song.

 

The show was part of Trinity Church’s ongoing lunchtime free concerts (though contributions, all of which go to the musicians, are highly encouraged), held on Mondays at St. Paul’s and on Thursdays at Trinity, a superb way to experience topnotch artists playing a wide range of styles from classical to jazz to folk that would otherwise cost megabucks at the big concert halls uptown.  

December 8, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Coffin Daggers at Otto’s, NYC 12/7/08

A raw, cold, drizzly night didn’t stop their fans from coming out and dancing. Hitting the stage a little after midnight, the Coffin Daggers validated their reputation as one of New York’s half-dozen or so best live bands, tearing through one song after another without so much as a word to the audience. With Dick Dale temporarily on the shelf after surgery, it’s hard to think of a more intense, powerful surf band anywhere in the world right now. Last night their mix of scorching, distorted reverb guitar and ominous organ was as bracing as ever. Lead guitarist Viktor Venom played with his usual gleefully macabre sarcasm, much in the same vein as the Dead Kennedys’ East Bay Ray but with vastly greater speed and agility against organist Eudocia Rodzinak’s somber gothic atmospherics. The rhythm section hit with Joe Louis power and precision, bassist Peter Klarnet blasting out big, distorted chords on many of the songs’ massive crescendos.

 

Alternating between standards and originals, they opened with a Link Wray number with an eerily smoldering guitar feedback solo, later ripping through punked-out versions of The Cruel Sea and Out of Limits (lots of sci-fi instros in the set tonight). But their own songs were the best. A new one began dramatic and somewhat tongue-in-cheek, building to characteristic, chromatically-fueled menace. Another newish one, perhaps titled Monsters from the Id pounded along with a lot of call-and-response between the guitar and organ, winding itself up to a nasty, sunbaked fuzztone guitar solo. Perhaps the best one of the night was yet another new number, ghoulish and minor key with a sepulchral, watery tone from the guitar, climbing to an inexorably brutal, percussive chorus. While the band has tightened up, abandoning most of the noisy psychedelic wildness that was their stock in trade seven or eight years ago, they typically jam out at least one song and tonight that one was the snarling Avenue X from their 2004 full-length debut cd (which made our top ten list that year). They started it slowly with a wall of noise from the Echoplex unit, Klarnet playing evil tritones against the organ’s slowly rising flood. After a long, hypnotic noise solo, they suddenly hit a false ending before wrapping it up with a roaring blaze of guitar. They closed with Caravan, this time pretty close to the classic Ventures version on Live in Japan, right down to the drum solo, Pete Martinez putting his own propulsive spin on the Mel Taylor beat.

 

Like a lot of New York bands with a big out-of-town following, the  Coffin Daggers don’t play many dates here anymore (they do a lot of European and Midwest tours); this show was a stark reminder of what we’ve been missing. Watch this space for upcoming shows.

December 7, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, review | , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Andrew Vladeck – The Magnet EP

Talented, popular Brooklyn multi-instrumentalist plying the oldtimey circuit. On this ep he shows off a fervently lyrical style over sparse, tasteful, mostly acoustic instrumentation. Andrew Vladeck packs a lot of words into a phrase in an almost hip-hop vein, with more than a little nod of the head to Dylan (specifically the fun, freewheeling, early Dylan). The five tracks here range from fast and fierce to slower and more contemplative. Hold Me Back is an up-to-the-minute frustration anthem lamenting the wretched state of the world: “Hard to sit here and watch them run us off the track…somebody better hold me back.”

 

You Can’t Kill Time is a dark, open tuned banjo blues, slide guitar ringing ominously in the background as Vladeck recounts the stark tale of a trip to nowhere. Magnet follows, a dexterously fingerpicked acoustic ballad and then the cd’s best cut, Chinatown. It starts off slow, eerily plinking banjo intro over slide guitar and eventually gets marvelously intricate, even psychedelic, with something of a Blonde on Blonde lyrical feel. The most rustic of the cuts here, The 21st Century is a bitter meditation on aging, death and soldiers gone off to war. Uncompromising as this album may be, it’s a very accessible cd: it could sneak its way into a lot of Jack Johnson fans’ hearts, a stealthy victory for smart songwriting.

December 6, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment