Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Jack Grace Band Live at Rodeo Bar, NYC 4/6/06

The Jack Grace Band is at Rodeo Bar every Sunday this month at about 9:15, and this is a residency you should see. As the Dog Show said, Saturday nights are for amateurs, so it follows that Sundays are for the pros. Seeing the baritone country crooner/guitarist and his cohorts onstage with such a small crowd in the house was bizarre: in fact, being able to see everybody in the band without standing on tiptoe behind a bunch of people was weird. But good. This residency is born of tragedy: Grace is trying to put together a new sound without the services of his longtime lead player, lapsteel genius Drew Glackin, whose sudden, unexpected death at a young age last January caught everyone he played with (and that’s a LOT of New York musicians) completely off guard. But Grace is an excellent lead guitarist, with a terse, incisive, bluesy style, and armed with his new Telecaster, he let loose a lot of searing, even raging solos, getting the new axe to scream like his trusty old hollowbody Gibson can’t. It’s clear that this is somebody who’s still furious about losing his good friend and bandmate (Glackin had a rare thyroid condition that, if he’d had health insurance, would almost surely have been diagnosed long before it killed him). Although the anger doesn’t make it into Grace’s voice: his smooth, soulful delivery was as sly as ever, as he and the band kicked off the set with a new song, the swinging drunk-driving anthem The Worst Truck Driver in the World, a dead ringer for Junior Brown at his most entertaining.

Grace didn’t have his usual bassist, his wife Daria with him onstage tonight, but the sub guy held up his end admirably (drummer Russ Meissner, a jazzcat playing country music, made it easy). Piano player Bill Malchow added a New Orleans blues feel, especially on the darker, minor-key, somewhat Tom Waits-inflected numbers, and sang in a Dr. John-style N’awlins drawl when Grace gave him a lead vocal.

The band mixed upbeat party anthems including This Hangover Ain’t Mine and 7:30 in the Afternoon (a wise, knowing guide to how to kick a really bad hangover: sleep!) with several eerie, bluesy tunes including Kick off Your Shoes Moonshine, an older song that Grace has yet to record. Grace’s lyrics are craftsmanlike and imbued with great wit. He knows that the best country music is anything but unsophisticated: in the pre-rock era, if you wanted really good lyrics, you either had to listen to blues or “hillbilly music.” This sophistication came to the forefront on the dark, haunting, minor-key Cry, from Grace’s most recent album The Martini Cowboy, which begins as the blissed-out, wired narrator offers a girl coke, knowing fully well that the blow will only keep the angst away for so long.

Late in their first set, they segued out of a song into a long, meandering, somewhat swampy interlude that could have been vintage Little Feat. And then they played (Let Your) Mind Do the Talking. It’s Grace’s best song, a haunting, backbeat-driven blues tune about a drunk slowly losing it, and his version tonight was nothing short of transcendent. “I got a dream for a dog but it always needs walking/When you’ve got nothing to lose you let your mind do the talking,” Grace intoned ominously, building to a crescendo at the end with a screaming, noisy guitar solo while the piano and drums pounded out the beat. Grace and his band have a pretty Herculean live schedule, so you always have several chances a month to see them, but if this residency is anything like tonight’s show, it could be something special.

By the way, in case there are any deep-fried pickle enthusiasts out there, Rodeo Bar is one of the few places in town (other than, say, some stand at the San Gennaro festival) that sells them. They come with a sour cream and onion dipping sauce – and if you ask, the waiter will bring you some freshly chopped jalapenos as well – and are enthusiastically recommended.

April 7, 2008 Posted by | concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Demolition String Band at Rodeo Bar, NYC 6/9/07

Uncommonly fun country band at the top of their game. Demolition String Band know how to work a crowd, raising their glasses and leading the audience in a “holler and a swaller,” and speeding up a bluegrass tune to the point where it was practically unplayable. But these guys (and frontwoman) aren’t a bar band: they may thrive in that milieu, but they’re a lot smarter. This is real country music: as LJ Murphy famously said, country music is the kind of music that has nothing to do with Garth Brooks. Although Demolition String Band are a boisterous, electric outfit, they wear their bluegrass and old-timey roots proudly on their sleeves.

Lead singer Elena Skye sang with a casual grace, in the Maybelle Carter mold: she doesn’t overemote. Telecaster player Boo Reiners pretty much stole the show all night with his spectacular, sometimes supersonic, twangy leads and fills – although Skye caught fire as well when she picked up her mandolin and started wailing. Predictably, alcohol figures in a lot of their songs – they’ll be huge if the swinging Thinking About Drinking and the fast, electrified bluegrass tune Drinking Whiskey (both of which they played tonight) get onto college radio.

They’d played a John Prine tribute a few days earlier and dragged out a particularly apt cover, the outlaw country tune Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You into Heaven Anymore. They also did their signature spaghetti western theme, Reiners playing baritone guitar on it this time: Skye told the crowd that she wrote it in the bathroom during a recording session. Pretty productive bathroom break. They stretched it out, drummer Phil Cimino taking a long solo that the crowd went nuts over (nobody ever said the audience here was sophisticated – which is odd because New York country audiences tend to be very sharp, sometimes ridiculously so).

At the end of their first set, they launched into the old bluegrass standard True Love Never Dies and then segued into Fortunate Son by Creedence. How nice to be able to actually understand the lyrics – which are actually really good. Then they segued back into the bluegrass tune and took it just about doublespeed. Impressively, bassist Winston Roye didn’t cop out and play everything in the usual tempo and let the drummer do all the hard work (a common trick): he stuck with the same blues scale, never missing a note, sweating his way through it and coming out victorious. At the end of the song, Reiners stole one out of the Bill Kirchen playbook, throwing in a couple of amusingly obvious Beatles hooks, and, finally and seemingly inevitably, Hendrix.

As good as the show was, you know something has gone wrong in this town when Rodeo Bar – strictly by default – becomes your best bet as a weekend destination. Sure, the music is reliably good, and so is the sound. And it’s free. But there are ominous signs: the bar has cut back on the free peanuts (although you can still find a basket if you look around) and their signature tekillya slurpies are significantly smaller than the tall glass you’d get for eight bucks until very recently. And forget about getting a seat: you still have to jockey for position with the sloppy drunk Baruch college kids who are oblivious to the music and make it pretty near impossible to hear unless you can negotiate a spot toward the front of the bar.

But…there’s not a trendoid in the house, and the tourist crowd generally hails from places like Georgia and Nebraska. And is very nice. As annoying as the Baruch kids can be, chances are they’re going to Baruch because they can’t afford to go elsewhere, so they don’t have the prissy sense of entitlement you find in Williamsburg or the East Village. Considering the alternatives, the Rodeo could become your local. And you could actually be happy there.

June 10, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments