Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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

Concert Review: Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens and Burning Spear at Prospect Park Bandshell, Brooklyn NY 7/30/09

A frequently spellbinding show by two spiritually-inclined artists who don’t overstate their case. Brooklyn gospel veteran Naomi Shelton and her backing vocal trio the Gospel Queens – a recent addition to the Daptone roster – were backed by a capable four-piece band, their keyboardist sitting inscrutable behind his wraparound shades Brother Ray style. With her contralto rasp, Shelton doesn’t implore or go into a frenzy: she lets the songs speak for themselves. Likewise, the Gospel Queens – two of whom were given a turn on lead vocals and didn’t disappoint – keep the harmonies going without any ostentation. Their eleven-song set mixed scurrying vamps, warm Sam Cooke-inspired sixties-style gospel/soul and finally a funk number punctuated fluidly and soulfully by the bassist. But their best songs were ominously bluesy and minor-key: their opener, an understatedly dark version of Wade in the Water and their closing tune, the hauntingly memorable anthem What Have You Done.

Between sets, Burning Spear casually walked from the wings and addressed the crowd. Nobody seemed to notice or pay any mind: it looked as if he was presenting his guitar player with a ticket to the Grammies (Spear is a perennial nominee). Then the two went backstage again. But when the band took the stage, with a brief number sung by the rhythm guitarist and then a brief instrumental medley of hits, the crowd reaction was 180 degrees the opposite. This was a young massive, about 90% West Indian from the looks of it – awfully nice to see the youth of today in touch with the man who when all is said and done will probably rank as the greatest reggae artist of alltime. Jah Spear rewarded them with a characteristically intense, hypnotic show: now in his sixties, in his fourth decade of playing and recording, his warm, unaffected voice, casually magnetic stage presence and socially aware songwriting remain as strong as ever. Probably the most popular Jamaican artist throughout the decade of the 70s (Marley’s audience back home never matched his fan base in Babylon), Burning Spear’s songs typically build on long, trance-inducing vamps, in concert frequently going on for ten or fifteen minutes at a clip. Because this show had an early curfew, the band didn’t stretch out quite as long as they can, but it didn’t matter considering how strong the set list was – Spear has a vast back catalog, but this one was rich with gems from throughout his career. He opened with the sly boast Me Gi Dem, as in “Me gi dem what they want, yes me do.” The swaying 70s classic Old Marcus Garvey got a Tyrone Downie-style clavinet solo and then an incongruous metal solo (thankfully the only one of the night until the very end) from the lead guitarist. Slavery Days, from the classic Marcus Garvey album became an audience singalong, mostly just bass and drums behind the impassioned vocals. Burning Spear can be very funny despite himself: this time out, he was already asking the crowd, “Do you want more original reggae music?” three songs into the set.

They finally went into dub territory a bit on a long version of Jah No Dead, followed by a characteristically mesmerizing version of Driver (i.e. Jah is my driver; Jah is my rider also!). They closed the set with a soulful version of the backcountry anthem Man in the Hills, a tersely delicious take of the catchy Nyah Keith (best track on the classic 1980 Social Living album) and the only even relatively new song of the night, Jah Is Real (title track to last year’s excellent cd) which never really got off the ground as a singalong. But the first of the encores did: the scathing anthem Columbus, inarguably the most resonant deflation of the “Columbus discovered America” myth had the whole arena raising their voices to dismiss the “damn blasted liar” who happened upon Jamaica several millennia after the Arawaks did. After that, the catchy 70s hit The Sun couldn’t be anything but anticlimactic, but they ended the show on a high note with African Postman, Burning Spear relating the contents of a telegram with the message that “Now is the time that I and I and I should go home, yes Jah!” And with that the mellow posse of merrymakers departed, Jah Spear encouraging everyone to “watch your back on the way out, and on the way in.” If you weren’t there, you missed a real good one. Considering how vital he still is, it looks like he’s going to be around for a long time; watch this space for upcoming NYC dates.

July 31, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments