Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Ian Hunter at Rockefeller Park, NYC 6/24/09

“You goin’ to Poughkeepsie?” a paunchy, greyhaired guy in a Zappa tour shirt and jeans eagerly asked his somewhat more nattily attired friend reclining on a blanket in the wet grass. The friend grimaced as he made an attempt to shift his weary bones into a more comfortable position. The guy to their right had a Bowie shirt: the Sound & Vision Tour, 1990 (wait a minute – Sound & Vision was a 70s song!).

“It’s just like the Fillmore, ’73!” exclaimed another concertgoer into his cellphone, ratty ponytail swinging below what was left of his hair, his voice equal parts wonderment and self-deprecation.

But this was no nostalgia show. Ian Hunter and his five-piece backing unit the Rant Band went on a little late, without a soundcheck and transcended a dodgy sound mix, playing a fiery, anthemically melodic mix of mostly upbeat, smartly literate, glam-inflected four-on-the-floor rock. Most of the songs were more recent and were unequivocally excellent: Hunter has never written or sounded better. Kinda heartwarming to see a guy who’s pushing seventy at the peak of his artistic career. Hunter is something of an anomaly in rock, the former frontman of a generic 70s “hard rock” band whose solo career vastly surpasses any radio or arena rock success he might have enjoyed with Black Crowes foreshadowers Mott the Hoople. Decked out in his trademark shades, playing acoustic guitar (and piano on the set’s closing numbers), he was characteristically energetic and intense throughout his practically 90-minute battle with one technical difficulty after another. “There are women and children here, I can’t vent my spleen,” he snarled after the crew finally got his mic at the piano working.

They opened with the big anthem Once Bitten Twice Shy, just Hunter and the drums until the two electric guitars and the bass finally came in on the second chorus. Central Park and West, from Hunter’s underrated 1981 Short Back and Sides album (produced by Mick Jones) was warmly received as the chorus kicked in: “New York City’s the best!!!” By the time they launched into the gritty, backbeat-driven anthem Soul of America, a ridiculously catchy number that wouldn’t be out of place in the Willie Nile catalog, they’d finally gotten all the guitar issues ironed out. Big Mouth, from Hunter’s Shrunken Heads cd was a characteristically sardonic, urbane urban tale with a surprisingly ornate bridge, finally given some guitar firepower with a couple of ferocious twin solos. Then they took the volume up even further with the snidely riff-rocking 9/11 memorial song Twisted Steel.

Best song of the night was the title track from the forthcoming album Man Overboard, a wrenching, towering, anguished 6/8 ballad, a bitter chronicle of disappointments and a desperate need to escape. After that, the rest of the show could have been anticlimactic, but it wasn’t, the feeling of unease recurring in the potent anthem 23A Swan Hill: “There’s gotta be some way outta here, this can’t be life.” They also treated the crowd to one of the closest things Hunter’s had to a radio hit here, Just Another Night, and a Bowie-esque two-keyboard song building a Moonlight Sonata-ish ascending riff into hypnotic intensity. The last of the recent songs was a big, stomping riff-rocker, Out of the Running, also from the new album. They did some songs after that, but those were for the nostalgia crowd and were pretty tired. Most of the dark rockers of the 70s like Lou Reed may have gone off to “experimental” land or elsewhere, but Ian Hunter’s midnight oil still smokes and burns.

June 25, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Concert Review: Steel Pulse at Rockefeller Park, NYC 7/16/08

[Editor’s note: the author of this review was still seething over how disrespectfully police and security had treated an all-black crowd at an O’Jays concert in Crown Heights, Brooklyn the previous night, therefore the the angry tone and occasional profanity here.]

 

There is no need for overwhelming security at outdoor concerts in New York. End of story.

 

The Steel Pulse concert at Rockefeller Park tonight and the O’Jays show in Crown Heights Monday night were a study in contrasts. To any racist who would insinuate something to the effect of “the reason why we need ironclad security at Wingate Field is because it’s a bad neighborhood:” FUCK YOU. The crowd at Rockefeller Park in Battery Park City tonight was a quintessentially New York, beautifully multi-racial and multi-generational mix, probably about half-black. And just as at Wingate Field, there were no fights. There was a lot more weed-smoking tonight, and half the crowd was drinking – OMIGOD, THERE WERE PEOPLE DRINKING ALCOHOL, DECLARE A STATE OF EMERGENCY AND CALL OUT THE NATIONAL GUARD!!! But unlike at Wingate Field, this park is on the water, with innumerable exits available: if necessary the crowd could have dispersed in thirty seconds flat, rather than being forced to leave single-file through one single barbwire fence exit. Emphatic verdict: New Yorkers do not go to concerts to cause trouble. Repeat: THERE IS NO NEED FOR OVERWHELMING SECURITY AT ANY CONCERT ANYWHERE IN NEW YORK, EVER. EVER. EVER.

 

Sure, it never hurts to have a couple of big guys on hand to usher out the occasional drunk who’s had enough and can’t stop hitting on the women or otherwise causing trouble. But the all-black crowd Monday night in the middle of the ghetto in Crown Heights was just as lethargic and overwhelmed by the heat as the crowd at Steel Pulse tonight in the middle of yuppieville.

 

If you don’t already know them, Steel Pulse were the best of the many excellent British reggae bands of the 70s. Contemporaries of the Clash and Bob Marley, they distinguished themselves with their remarkable tunefulness as well as their penchant for relevant, spot-on social commentary. Their songwriting was remarkably complex, utilizing a lot of jazz chords, a far cry from the typically gnomic Rasta “reasoning” set to interminable two-chord jams that dominated a lot of classic-era reggae (although, if you’re, um, in the mood, all that can be great fun). Despite the fact that the band hit the stage at about 7:40 PM, most of the windows in the luxury highrises above were dark: the yuppies who live there are obviously all working overtime and unable to enjoy treats such as this. Their loss.

 

Steel Pulse are celebrating thirty years on the road and despite that managed to turn in a passionate, powerful set, even though most of it simply amounted to running through a lot of hits. They went on to a sarcastic intro of the Star Spangled Banner before launching into their own flag ballad, Rally Round (“Rally round the red, black, gold and green,” i.e. the colors of Africa). On the next tune, frontman David Hinds stopped it short, a typical move roots reggae bands use to energize the crowd: “Mi na waan stop-and-start, but,” he looked around,” Black holocaust still here.” If only he could have been in Crown Heights Monday night. Then he and the band launched back into No More Weapons, an anti-chemical warfare song echoing the Peter Tosh classic No Nuclear War. The sound system had been acting up, resulting in Hinds’ vocals being inaudible for the first half of Bodyguard, a ruthlessly deadly rejoinder to anyone who would safeguard the life of a fascist.

 

Reaffirming the band’s continuing relevance, they continued with a new song, the propulsive Door of No Return, about a visit to the infamous Ghanian prison where slaves were thrown in chains into slave ships. They closed the set with the big Rasta hit Stepping Out, but returned for a long encore that basically served as a second set. A medley of their classic hits came first: the fiery Soldiers, the defiant Taxi Driver (about how hard it is for a black man to catch a cab in New York City), and Blues Dance Raid, about getting an illegal concert shut down by the police. They kept the crowd bouncing with a remarkably raw, heartfelt version of Earth Crisis and then a tongue-in-cheek new cautionary tale, Global Warning, followed by the wry Babylon Makes the Rules. Steel Pulse are known for marathon sets, but at this point they played one final number and called it a night. It dread in dis year Babylon, but Jah (and Steel Pulse) give to I and I spiritual nourishment. And no guns. And no security.

 

Think about that for a minute. Remember – in a police state, everyone is a criminal.

July 17, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments