Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Randi Russo and the Oxygen Ponies at the Saltmines, Brooklyn NY 7/10/09

Randi Russo has gotten a ton of ink here, and deservedly so: she’s simply one of the most powerful songwriters in rock, and a casually compelling live performer as well. In an invite-only show Friday night in a comfortable Dumbo rehearsal space, she treated a crowd of avid fans and friends to a set of mostly fan favorites, many of which will probably someday be regarded as classics. Characteristically resolute, quietly fearless, playing electric nylon-string guitar and accompanied by her longtime lead guitarist Lenny Molotov on acoustic, she got into a zone early on and stayed there, from the opening notes of Venus on Saturn – a corrosive dismissal of a drama queen – to the pretty, pastoral outro of the atmospheric, optimistic Ceiling Fire.

In between she did the ridiculously catchy nonconformist anthem Invisible, the big, anthemic crowd-pleaser Push-Pull, the towering, fiery, flamenco-inflected So It Must Be True (“Everything that’s good for them ain’t always good for you,” she reminded calmly), a fascinating, stripped-down version of the Middle Eastern-inflected stomp Head High While You Lie Low and the hypnotic Hurt Me Now. She picked up the pace again with a particularly biting version of the sarcastic pink-collar anthem Battle on the Periphery and finally cut loose with a wail on the relatively new Swallow, a vivid evocation of the pain of choking on thwarted ambitions and dreams. A playful version of the fast, scurrying Parasitic People provided a little, but not a lot, of comic relief.

Russo was doing double duty, next joining Oxygen Ponies frontman Paul Megna on percussion for an equally intense duo show. The Oxygen Ponies are off on their UK tour about a week from now and audiences there are in for a treat. Megna was every bit as much on top of his game as Russo, the two swaying through a mix of old and new material and the same two covers they played at their show here last week (a devious yet plaintive Cars song and a dexterously fingerpicked, hypnotic cover of Love Vigilantes by New Order, playing up the song’s antiwar theme much in the same vein as Laura Cantrell’s version). As strong as the songs from the OxPos’ new cd Harmony Handgrenade (a strong contender for best album of 2009) were, the older material had just as much snarl and passion, even a couple of vivid portayals of clinical depression, The Truest Thing and Chainsmoking. Of the newer songs, Megna and Russo brought out every ounce of blithe sarcasm in the suburban satire Fevered Cyclones along with characteristic fire in the anguished Love Yr Way and a roaring, crescendoing take of the biting garage rock anthem The War Is Over. Then it was back to the older material with a practically confrontational version of the angst ballad Brooklyn Bridge. At the end of the year, Lucid Culture always puts up a Best NYC Live Shows list and while there’s no way that it could ever be so comprehensive as to be remotely authoritative, you’ll probably see this one there.  

Afterward, there was a break to watch the end of Jonathan Sanchez’ no-hitter against the Padres and then a long jam where an audience member named Oliver took over handling the percussion and proved himself a perfectly competent timekeeper, in fact considerably better than the drunken bass player.

July 12, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Lenny Molotov and the Oxygen Ponies at the Saltmines, Brooklyn NY 7/3/09

Three hundred years ago, most low-key musical performances took place in private homes rather than on any kind of public stage. In yet another indication of how the future is reprising the past, there’s been a new and somewhat welcome trend in New York music circles, taking the old loft show idea to the next level: friends and fans of the band only, no advertising, strictly word of mouth. This was one of those shows. Opening act Lenny Molotov has gotten a tremendous amount of ink here, by virtue of his own oldtimey Americana songwriting as well as his longtime association with Randi Russo, whether playing bass or guitar in her band. Suffice it to say that Friday’s show with Ray Sapirstein on trumpet was as richly virtuosic as always. On the newer songs, it was like an oldschool jazz or blues session: Molotov would call out the key and Sapirstein would invariably find something interesting or appropriate to add. They did two songs about boxing (Randi Russo deviously adding synth flourishes to one of them), a rousing hobo song, a Lightning Hopkins blues and a couple of ragtime-inflected numbers.

The Oxygen Ponies followed with a characteristically brilliant, lyrical show, this time around just frontman/guitarist Paul Megna on a beautiful Danelectro hollowbody and Russo alternating between keys, percussion and backing vocals. The band’s latest cd Harmony Handgrenade (very favorably reviewed here) has been blowing up recently, and they’re capitalizing with a UK tour toward the end of the month. This set mixed new material with older and unreleased stuff plus a couple of devious covers: the Cars’ It’s All I Can Do was given the total noir treatment, while New Order’s Love Vigilantes became a stark antiwar dirge remarkably similar to the Laura Cantrell cover. The defiant soul-inflected anthem Grab Yr Gun was as sarcastic as the recorded version, with Russo’s deadpan harmonies; The War Is Over, a fiery, 60s-ish garage rock stomp on the album, was recast as ominous folk-rock. A new song, The Saddest Thing I’ve Ever Seen maintained the defiant feel: “When the angels come for me/I will not go comfortably,” Megna intoned. Another new number, said Megna was directed at someone “who won’t talk to me anymore since they became a movie star.” “I can’t save you…I always listened when you talked about yourself,” he railed. They closed with a couple of numbers from their first album, notably the hypnotic, antagonistic, Velvets-inflected Brooklyn Bridge. The UK is definitely in for a treat here.

The Oxygen Ponies play two other secret shows in the next couple of weeks, email for password/location/time.

July 7, 2009 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment