Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Sometime Boys’ Debut: Excellent All the Way Through

With its layers of great guitar and smart Americana roots songwriting, the Sometime Boys’ album Any Day Now makes a good segue with the Hendrix box set reviewed here yesterday. It’s a lot more rustic and low-key but just as intense as frontwoman Sarah Mucho and guitarist Kurt Leege’s main project, the wildly powerful, cerebral art/funk/noiserock band System Noise. Mucho is a legitimate star in the New York cabaret world (she won a MAC award), best known for her unearthly, powerful wail. Here, she offers frequently chilling proof that she’s every bit as potent a stylist when she brings down the lights. Likewise, Leege’s electric playing is equal parts passion and virtuosity: here, his nimble, funky, soulful acoustic work is just as gripping if somewhat quieter than his usual unhinged, wailing tremolo-bar howl. The band here is rounded out by Pete O’Connell on bass, David Tuss on violin and eclectic drummer/percussionist Andy Blanco.

The album opens with Pretty Town, a slinky, smoldering acoustic version of a funk song by System Noise’s predecessor band Noxes Pond, Blanco’s lush cymbal washes mingling atmospherically with its understated angst and tersely edgy guitar solo. The bitter, backbeat-driven bluegrass number Master Misery is a gem, Mucho delivering its torrents of lyrics with a wounded grace: “There are no answers, just suggestions, and most folks don’t bother with the truth,” she posits. There’s a deft, ELO-style handoff as the solo moves from guitar to violin; in the end, Mucho’s tortured soul chooses solitude. The catchy Non Believers is a clinic in vocal subtlety and lyrical depth, Mucho gently railing at those who cluelessly accept the world around them at face value; Painted Bones, with its hypnotic verse building matter-of-factly to its big chorus hook, has more of a gothic, Siouxsie-esque undercurrent. With its rich layers of acoustic guitar, the title track manages to be both brisk and lush. The album winds up with a gorgeously allusive, understatedly suspenseful 6/8 Tom Waits country number about a house that may or may not be haunted, in every possible sense of the word; the band also reinvents Aimee Mann’s Wise Up as edgy funk. What a treat this is, all the way through: you’ll see this on our Best Albums of 2010 page when we finally put it up in the next week or so.

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December 23, 2010 Posted by | country music, funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Newspeak’s Fearless New Album Out 11/16; CD Release Show at Littlefield on the 14th

Much as there are innumerable great things happening in what’s become known as “indie classical,” there’s also an annoyingly precious substratum in the scene that rears its self-absorbed little head from time to time. Newspeak’s new album Sweet Light Crude is the antidote to that: you could call this punk classical. Fearlessly aware, insightfully political, resolutely defiant, it’s a somewhat subtler counterpart to the work of Joe Strummer, Bob Marley and Marcel Khalife even if it doesn’t sound like any of them. Sometimes raw and starkly intense, other times lushly atmospheric, this new music supergroup of sorts includes bandleader David T. Little on drums, Caleb Burhans on violin, Mellissa Hughes on vocals, James Johnston on keys, Taylor Levine (of hypnotic guitar quartet Dither) on electric guitar, Eileen Mack on clarinets, Brian Snow on cello and Yuri Yamashita on percussion.

The first track is Oscar Bettison’s B&E (with Aggravated Assault), a swinging, percussive Mingus-esque theme set to a blustery trip-hop rhythm with a noir organ break, and pummeling drums as it reaches an out-of-breath crescendo at the end. Stefan Wiseman’s I Would Prefer Not To – inspired by Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener, master of tactful disobedience – builds from austerity to another trip-hop vamp, Mack’s plaintive melody and Hughes’ deadpan, operatically-tinged vocals overhead. From there they segue into Little’s title track – essentially, this one’s about Stockholm Syndrome, a love song to a repressive addiction. As before, this one starts out plaintively, builds to a swirl and then a disco beat over which Hughes soars passionately. It’s as funny and over-the-top as it is disconcerting, and the big, booming rock crescendo with its cello chords, distorted guitar, strings and winds fluttering overhead leaves no doubt what the price of this addiction is.

Missy Mazzoli’s In Spite of All This holds to the hypnotic, richly interwoven style of her work with her mesmerizingly atmospheric band Victoire. Violin swoops and dives gently introduce wounded guitar-and-piano latticework, which extrapolates with a characteristically crystalline, unselfconsciously epic sweep as one texture after another enters the picture, only to leave gracefully to make room for another. Brenschluss (the German term for the tip of a ballistic missile), by Pat Muchmore alternates apprehensive, spoken-word passages evoking early Patti Smith or recent Sarah Mucho with tense atmospherics, overtone-spewing metal guitar and a tricky art-rock string arrangement that builds to a conclusion that is…pretty much what you’d expect it to be. The album closes with Burhans’ Requiem for a General Motors in Janesville, WI, a long, cinematically evocative, extremely Lynchian composition that seems to be modeled on Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks theme. As it picks up with slide guitar, vocalese, and dramatic drum crashes, it could be Pink Floyd’s Any Colour You Like for the 21st Century – although that would be Requiem for a Ford Plant in…probably somewhere in Mexico. The album’s out on New Amsterdam Records on Nov 16; Newspeak play the cd release show for this one this Sunday, Nov 14 at Littlefield at around 9. If the album is any indication, it could be amazing.

November 12, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Valerie Kuehne, System Noise, Black Sea Hotel, Lenny Kaye and Paul Wallfisch 12/14/09

The last Beast of the decade (for us, anyway) was one of the best. That such a ridiculously spectacular display of talent doesn’t instantly leap to the top of our Best New York Concerts of 2009 list speaks to how good, and how essential, Paul Wallfisch’s weekly Small Beast concert at the Delancey has become. It’s like this every week.

This one was characteristic in that it ran the gamut from the avant garde to noise-rock (a welcome if unrelated excursion to the downstairs room) to Bulgarian choral music to powerpop to sinister gypsy rock played solo on piano: eclectic to the extreme. New music composer Valerie Kuehne opened the show on cello and vocals, backed by violin, upright bass, electric guitar and drums. Her shapeshifting songs stopped as fast as they started, went doublespeed, lept abruptly and then crept quietly, sometimes in the span of what seemed a few seconds. She sings with the wide-open belt of a classically trained singer, her vocals typically impatient and uneasy. “Do you believe in patterns? Patterns? Patterns?” she inquired accusatively, early on. Her second number, Now We Know set eerie tremolo guitar against jagged, disjointed rhythms that evolved out of the song’s initial stately 6/8 sway. She closed her brief set with a study in abrupt hard/soft contrasts with the vocals and also the stringed instruments. Not exactly easy listening, but then it wasn’t meant to be.

The next act had cancelled, so there was a long lull, long enough to head downstairs where art/punk/funk/noise rockers System Noise had launched into their own magnificent set, unrelated to what was going on upstairs, but it made a perfect segue (and because the next Small Beast act didn’t want to start early and be done by the time their fans had turned up, there was plenty of time to catch this one). Known for their assaultive, roaring guitar and vocal attack, they’ve never been more catchy and accessible, even if it’s a savage, cynical accessibility. A new one, Blame It on the Rain ran an absurdly catchy funk/blues phrase over a slinky groove while frontwoman Sarah Mucho gave it a characteristic sultry ominousness. Hair and Nails (the two parts of the body that continue to grow after death) followed in a similar vein; the best song of the entire night was another new one, a magnificently morbid epic that grew from apprehensive David Gilmour-inflected guitar arpeggios to an almost punk chorus, ending with a dramatic, classically infused buildup that would have been perfectly at home in the Procol Harum catalog. The even more punk number after that maintained the ornate intensity. It’s too bad that the band has since gone on what turned out to be a long-anticipated hiatus: what a run they’ve had, five years at least as one of New York’s best bands.

Upstairs, the four women of Black Sea Hotel assembled onstage. Their claim to fame – beyond having four of the most amazing voices of any New York group, in any style – is their innovative arrangements of traditional Bulgarian choral and folk music. Sometimes they’ll scale down a big, lavish chart to four-part harmony, other times they’ll embellish a folk song’s original single vocal line. Either way, the songs in their repertoire are hypnotic, otherworldly and haunting, but they’re also funny, ironic and sometimes completely absurd, and the crowd clearly got as much of a kick out of hearing the meaning of the Bulgarian lyrics as much as the band did relating them. A woman defiantly tells her guy that even if she’s wearing his clothes, he still can’t have her body; a (probably drunken) guy leaves home dressed in the garb of both his male and female relatives; a hot-to-trot single guy can’t make up his mind whether he’ll continue to court the women of his hometown or try his luck (not so good, so far) elsewhere.

Yet another advantage of Small Beast is that you get to watch the bands up close. Black Sea Hotel’s debut cd (look for it on our Best Albums of 2009 list) is gorgeous and swirling, but it’s impossible to know who’s singing what. Seeing them here, it was a lot of fun to discover that of the four, Corinna Snyder takes the biggest risks and the highest leaps, jumping octaves with split-second precision and losing nothing in pitch or power. Joy Radish is the smallest member of the group but sings with the most power. Willa Roberts has a stunning clarity and precision, and got to deliver the evening’s single most captivating moment,  ending a song about a soldier gone off to war with a final, poignant verse in English. Sarah Small, meanwhile, achieved the impossible by being simultaneously raw and intense yet hypnotically atmospheric, and this time out she was the one who got to add the striking, strange ornamentation that Bulgarian vocal music is best known for. The audience was awestruck. The group have a reputation for being a sort of punk rock version of le Mystere des Voix Bulgares – they’ll sing anywhere – but where they really ought to be is Carnegie Hall.

Putting legendary Patti Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye next on the bill was a smart move – it completely changed the vibe yet maintained it, at least as far as smart songwriting is concerned. Kaye’s stock in trade has always been his guitar playing, but he’s also a formidable songwriter, a first-class powerpop tunesmith. Playing most of the show solo on Strat, occasionally joined by his old 80s bandmate Paul Dugan (of Big Lazy) on upright bass, he ran through a catchy, hook-laden set of mostly original tunes with lyrics ranging from sardonic to fearlessly political. In Style casually dismissed a tourist on the Lower East Side: “You must like that Def Leppard, I know you do.” A rueful garage pop ballad, and another big anthem, were dead ringers for Willie Nile tunes. A jangly ballad by the Weather Prophets – whom Kaye had produced in the 80s – was compelling and pretty, while The Things You Leave Behind – a dedication to Jim Carroll – managed to be both ominously wistful and sarcastic. The duo closed with a sizzling, completely off-the-cuff version of Gloria, Kaye finally cutting loose with a couple of leads, the first going over the edge into noise-rock (this is the guy who basically invented the style, on Radio Ethiopia) before bringing it back to a delirious audience singalong. The crowd wouldn’t let him leave, so he rewarded them with a nasty, sarcastic cover of Jesse’s Girl and then a dark, subdued, jangly meditation on distance and absence, Telltale Heart.

Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch usually opens these shows – the series started as just a way for him to work out new material in front of live audience – but this time he closed it. Because we’ve reviewed so many of these shows this past year, he’s gotten more ink here than anybody else, but it wouldn’t be fair to neglect to mention how intense his own set was. Shira and Sofia is a swinging, noir cabaret-infused Botanica number about two WWII whores – essentially, its theme is make love, not war. When Wallfisch got to the part of the lyric where one of the hookers can “suck your dick,” he screamed it as if was the last thing he’d ever say and the crowd didn’t know whether to completely crack up (it was hilarious, actually) or do something else. He also played a tango, a waltz, a couple of soul numbers, a whiplash version of his collaboration with Little Annie, Because You’re Gone, and an absolutely morbid, Satie-esque rearrangement of Nature Boy (retitled Nature Girl). And had the crowd dancing to pretty much all of it. Small Beast will be off for a couple of weeks and then back on January 10.

December 22, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: System Noise and Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble at Fontana’s, NYC 10/27/09

A pre-Halloween summit meeting of two of the most charismatic women in rock – or for that matter, any kind of music – went largely undiscovered due to an incessant drizzle. What is up with you, New Yorkers? You used to be so tough. Have all the cool people been priced out of town by the yuppies and trendoids, or is it the depression and the harsh reality that nobody except the yuppies and trendoids have any money to go out anymore? Likely so, since System Noise and Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble don’t exactly project the bland, corporate vibe preferred by the Malibu leisure class and the hedge fund nebbishes from New Jersey. Despite the light turnout, platinum blonde System Noise frontwoman Sarah Mucho and her raven-haired counterpart Beren seized the stage to represent two vastly different eras of cutting edge vocals. Both got their start in their teens – Beren’s legendary avant-punk first band Die Hausfrauen had already been signed, toured, put out an album and had broken up long before she reached her twenties – while Mucho honed her unearthly wail as an underage kid belting over crowds of drunks in piano bars. Both women also have a category-defying, intensely dramatic sensibility that draws considerably on underground theatre. System Noise kicked things off with their most ferocious set in a long time, and they’re ferocious most of the time anyway. Mucho, raccoon-eyed and dressed head-to-toe as a skeleton, cut loose with the single most bloodcurdling scream of the night on the band’s towering, macabre Carrie tribute, Prom Night. Otherwise, the band’s new material, particularly the opening number, Hair and Nails (the two parts of the body that continue to grow after death) showed off more catchy hooks than ever, even as they’d intersperse innumerable wild, screaming noise-rock interludes, off-the-cliff tempo shifts and rollercoaster dynamic shifts orchestrated with gleeful abandon by Pouth their drummer.

Beren had also done her best to make herself look dead – or undead – but that didn’t really work, from the moment she sat down at her keyboard and unleashed the contralto roar that has been her trademark since the 80s. Ecstatically alive as she comes across, this was a particularly forceful, intense set, maybe due to the fact that she did more straight-up rock songs instead of the titanic epics in 6/8 that she and her band – this time with two guitarists, trombonist and rhythm section – do so inimitably well. A couple of them evoked Patti Smith, another the Damned; others brought to mind Blue Oyster Cult with a gypsy-inflected downtown sensibility. The most gripping one of the night began stately and anguished in 6/8 before leaping into 4/4 on the wings of bassist Greg Garing’s booming, percussive chords.

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

Concert Review: Grace McLean and Sarah Mucho and Kurt Leege at the Delancey, NYC 8/18/09

Grace McLean really opened some eyes: as a keyboardist and bassist, she’s still taking baby steps, in stark contrast to the richness of her songwriting and her sophistication as a jazzy song stylist. From the sultry soul number that she opened with, a-capella, it seemed obvious that she’s spent some time out in front of a jazz band – the nuances, the effortless leaps and the out-of-the-box playfulness of her vocals are dead giveaways. Likewise, her songwriting is packed with devious tempo shifts, rhythmic devices, wickedly clever wordplay and a laugh-out-loud sense of humor, sort of a Rachelle Garniez Junior. Her number about being in love with her friend’s roommate had the room in hysterics and was something of an indelible New York moment. Likewise, a smartly swaying breakup number worked both as triumph over heartbreak and savage dis. The funniest song of the set was a breathless, rapidfire cabaret number about being jerked around by a clueless guy, done like Streisand with a graduate degree. Give this woman a piano player or a band behind her and there won’t be a cabaret room in town that she can’t rock.

The brain trust of ferocious, artsy rockers System Noise wound up the evening with a fascinating, virtuosic, low-key acoustic show, the kind that VH1 tries to get to work and inevitably fails with. This was a triumph. With guitarist Kurt Leege on acoustic and frontwoman/all-purpose siren Sarah Mucho alternating between percussion, harmonica and guitar and backed by excellent upright bassist, they revisited a trio of slinky, acerbic numbers from their early zeros band Noxes Pond. One of them was reinvented as a something of a dirge with stark bowed bass taking the lead part. They found the inner pop gem in Jimi Hendrix’ Angel, added a sly Talking Heads-style funkiness to Aimee Mann’s Wise Up and recast the Kinks’ Death of a Clown as a raucous barroom singalong. But their best song of the night was a brand new one,  a original fingerstyle Piedmont blues with a particularly chilling, anthemic lyric by Mucho, a reluctant embrace of angst and solitude to rival anything Ian Curtis ever wrote. It sounded nothing like anything System Noise ever did, and it’s a particularly promising new direction for them.

Opening act Kathleen Mock sang affectingly and often hauntingly in an Americana vein; Vanessa Boyd, who played after McLean also showed off some soaring vocal chops.

August 19, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cabaret Review: Michael Isaacs in Isaacs Schmisaacs at Don’t Tell Mama, NYC 5/20/09

Decked out in a bright green shirt and equally garish tie under a bathrobe, tumbling onstage with bottle in hand, 2009 MAC nominee Michael Isaacs effectively evoked the blithe yet doomed spirit of late 60s/early 70s pop crooner Harry Nilsson in an impressively well-chosen 21-song revue lit up with some sparkling comic bits and an outstanding supporting cast, imbued with characteristic out-of-the-box spontaneity by director Kristine Zbornik. A favorite of the Beatles, cult songwriter and Hollywood bad boy with several pop hits to his name, Nilsson (1941-94) walked a tightrope between sensitivity and schlock. Thankfully, Isaacs focused far more closely on the former than the latter, balancing boozy bravado with a significant undercurrent of unease. Ranging from a smooth, breathy lounge-pop croon to a showy glamrock baritone, he delivered the songs with a remarkably self-aware comedic timing that had him breaking the fourth wall whenever things threatened to go completely over the top.

While no amount of good comedy could rescue the show’s opener – the odious Three Dog Night hit One – from schlockville, things got brighter in a flash as the ensemble (the incomparable Bobby Peaco on piano, System Noise’s MAC-awardwinning Sarah Mucho on acoustic guitar, Elaine Brier, Maria Gentile and Jay Rogers on vocals plus a subtle, supple rhythm section featuring Dan Barton on bass) took the stage. Driving Along became an exercise in road rage, as Isaacs explained beforehand, speeding up to the point where the band couldn’t play it anymore and then stopped cold. Isaacs’ bathrobe finally came off for a medley of the Tin Pan Alley-esque 1941 (the year of Nilsson’s birth) and Daddy’s Song, Mucho singing the first verse with a vividly bitter astringence before passing the mic off to Isaacs. The Puppy Song and Best Friend got a vaudevillian treatment from Brier that brought the house down, punctuated by a hilarious sequence involving dog poop (it ended up with a couple at one of the front tables).

Peaco illuminated a wonderfully nocturnal version of Moonbeam with gentle rivers of triplets, Nashville gone glampop. In his cameo, Rogers offered a gentle, wistful take on another proto-power ballad, Lifeline, followed by Gentile raising the ante with her big, affecting vibrato on Without Her. One of the prettiest, warmest songs of the night belonged to Mucho, just her and Peaco taking a pensive, wary stroll through the abandoned gardens of Morning Glory.

Unsurprisingly, they saved the best for last. The best single song of the night was a hauntingly beautiful take of All I Think About Is You, Peaco singing with a tremendously moving, stark unsentimentality, Isaacs at the piano adding strikingly pointed jazz inflections. They wrapped it up with just Isaacs and Mucho on guitars and some devious, was-this-scripted-or-is-this-totally-improv moments, the guy cajoling and toying with the increasingly irked siren on soulful versions of  I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City (written for Midnight Cowboy but rejected by the producers) and then finally the one song that Nilsson didn’t write (that was the late Fred Neil) but won a Grammy for, Everybody’s Talkin’. This was the show’s last night, and it screams out from the gutter to the stars to be resurrected.

May 21, 2009 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: System Noise at Iridium, NYC 5/2/09

Arguably their best show to date. System Noise is the kind of band you see and you can’t believe they’re not famous (as in headlining stadiums, anyway – they’re not exactly unknown in the New York underground). They’re even good-looking, as shallow as it is to admit, platinum-haired frontwoman Sarah Mucho spiky, sarcastic and amusing as always until she’d launch into a song and then it was all chills. In a long set that ran almost an hour and a half – the first in a new series of Saturday night rock shows at Iridium – they alternated between catchy, edgily danceable funk-rock and the scorchingly dark, noisy yet melodic guitar-fueled style intimated by their name.

Two minutes into their hook-driven, Talking Heads-inflected opener, Shitkickers, Mucho put everyone on notice that this would not be a sedate show: “I say, fuck it, we don’t have to take this shit!” They followed with an even catchier, far darker tune, Hair and Nails, that would set the tone for pretty much the rest of the night, a savagely offhand dismissal of shallowness, Mucho musing what would make her a “better woman,” the hair and nails of the title both something to accessorize and the only two parts of the body that keep growing after death. Another new one set a wicked, funky chromatic progression over a hip-hop beat, Mucho working her range for every sultry inflection in her arsenal.

Eventually popular cabaret crooner/pianist Michael Isaacs joined them onstage for a particularly glammy Elton John-style take on Lady Stardust by Bowie, then remained at the keys, his punchy rhythm giving the guitarist a chance to stretch out and wail through many of the wild lead lines on their albums that, with only one guitarist, they can’t incorporate into their live show. Another cover, Chicago’s 25 or 6 to 4 turned into a guitar firestorm, morphing at the end from a spot-on version of the solo out on the recording into a screaming, overtone-laden upper-register noisefest.

As usual, the big crowd-pleaser was the towering, epic anthem Daydreaming with its whispery intro, and long, eventually completely unhinged crescendo, a showcase for the wild wail Mucho developed on the cabaret circuit (where she still plays: she’s doing a show with Isaacs at Don’t Tell Mama on May 19). They encored with a particularly macabre, savagely redemptive version of the Carrie-inspired art-rock anthem Prom Night and then a blistering version of the fast, Iron Maiden-ish Good Enough to Eat, which their new bass player hadn’t had a chance to rehearse but tackled gamely and acquitted himself impressively. He’s a keeper – where their most recent bassist would get all garish and wanky if you gave him a second’s time in the spotlight, this guy is pure competence, smooth, in the pocket and tasteful. System Noise is back at their usual haunt the Delancey on June 16.

May 6, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Carol Lipnik and Spookarama at the Delancey, NYC 4/2/09

Yet another good reason why the weekly Small Beast Thursday shows at the Delancey are the musical event of the week: a chance to see both Paul Wallfisch of Botanica and Dred Scott play back-to-back. It’s hard to imagine a more fascinating piano doublebill (in this case particularly apt, since the Small Beast in question here is the club’s 88-key spinet that somehow survives week to week). Since Wallfisch hosts the salon/concert series and also serves as the opening act, he gets a lot of ink here. Suffice it to say that he was in typically provocative, darkly incisive mode. He’s taken to covering a new song by another major artist also playing on the same night every time out. This time, in tribute to Marianne Faithfull (playing for megabucks in the West Village), he did It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue in addition to plenty of his own stuff including the fiery, politically charged How which this time around became an audience-participation number. Wallfisch does not acknowledge any fourth wall: attend this show and you are always in danger of becoming part of it, an especially enticing prospect for those who enjoy living dangerously.

 

Next on the bill was Carol Lipnik, the extraordinary and unique noir chanteuse who hasn’t played out in awhile. We covered her exquisitely beautiful but sonically disastrous show at the Spiegeltent downtown last fall. As it turned out, a member of last night’s audience was also in the vicinity that October night and had equally bitter memories of watching another performer, in her case John Kelly, being drowned out by the woomp-woomp-woomp blasting from the adjacent tent where the women onstage were undulating and taking off their clothes. But nothing like that happened last night (as far as anyone could see – if anybody was disrobing, they’d found a private place). Her voice awash in eerie reverb, Lipnik seemingly went into a trance, turning the loud, chatty crowd at the bar silent and riveted.

 

Backed by just her longtime keyboardist Scott (who also leads a spectacularly good jazz trio), she delivered a mix of both darkly familiar and new material, by turns phantasmagorical, carnivalesque, gleefully macabre and irresistibly compelling. With her red hair swaying behind her and the hint of a devious grin, Lipnik does not exactly look the part of someone who delights in mining the darkness, but that’s her home turf. She started out low, ominous and strong, at the bottom of her range with Scott playing a hypnotic, minimalist melody on a little synth organ he’d brought along. On the Tom Waits-ish Freak House Blues, she lept several octaves, seemingly to the top of her formidable four-octave range in a split-second as Scott played macabre major-on-minor behind her. When she sang “Take my life, please, take my will” as The Last Dance with You rose to a crescendo, it was impossible to look away. A couple of times – particularly on the darkest song of the night, the brand-new, literally morbid Cuckoo Bird – the two bedeviled the audience by stopping cold, mid-phrase. They also took the Michael Hurley cult classic Werewolf (also covered brilliantly by Sarah Mucho) and redid it as a swinging singalong before closing with a hypnotic, soulful retelling of the Rumi poem Don’t Go. Lipnik’s next show is at the Rockwood on Tues Apr 28 with Scott at 11, followed by Scott and his trio at midnight. 

 

Not to overstate the issue, but this is typical of what happens on Thursday nights at the Delancey. Next week’s show features another chanteuse, Larkin Grimm, whom Wallfisch insists is the next great voice to come along. Come out and find out for yourself. Or miss it at your peril.

April 3, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 3/26/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Thursday’s song is #489:

System Noise – Daydreaming

Our pick for best song of 2006, it began as an exercise in dynamics, the band exploring what might happen if they wrote a song that started quiet, got loud and then quiet again. This slow, towering, magnificently macabre anthem is the result, Sarah Mucho’s anguished yet brutally self-aware voice soaring over a maelstrom of guitars: “Loneliness is all I have tonight.” From a forthcoming cd; bootlegs abound, including the 2008 video above.

March 26, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: System Noise and Across the Aisle at the Delancey, NYC 3/18/09

These two played here on the same bill back in November, and a return engagement proved much the same, only better. Both bands have received a fair share of ink here, System Noise especially (their most recent cd Give Me Power made our Top Ten Albums of the Year list in 2008). What else is there to say about them? Last night they delivered characteristic epic grandeur, sly funk, scorching noise-rock and wild intensity, except even more than usual: the whole band seemed in especially “on” mode. They put on a show ripe for photobloggers: Pouth the drummer wailing away on the kit in what’s left of his mohawk (it’s growing out); Kurt the virtuoso guitarist thrashing around and almost losing his glasses, and frontwoman Sarah Mucho stalking the stage with her usually evilly gleeful fifty-yard stare. She’d been under the weather, she said, and she took out her hostility on the mic. As usual, the big anguished ballad Daydreaming was the high point, Mucho pulling out all the stops on the chorus with a wail that was nothing short of primal. They also did the killer new song Hair & Nails, a sharp, typically snide minor-key pop hit with sarcastic, morbid lyrics and an absolutely gorgeous run down the guitar for a hook over the final measures. “It’s us against them now,” Mucho intoned hypnotically on the catchy political-funk anthem Shitkickers. They closed with a loose, careening cover of Rainy Day Women by Dylan, a counterintuitive choice, to say the least.

 

Across the Aisle could have been anticlimactic but weren’t at all. Megg their frontwoman displayed even more arrestingly powerful vocal chops than she did last time out here, and the rest of the band was especially energized as well. This time around, it wasn’t all catchy ska-rock: the band turned up their amps all the way for a couple of straight-up punk numbers including a hilarious hardcore one about Paris Hilton. Another new-ish and equally amusing one, Walk of Shame proved destined to be an anthem throughout dorm rooms worldwide. As usual, the horn section was so tight you couldn’t fit a piece of paper between them, fiery trumpet complemented nicely by slinky tenor sax (the tenor player also providing sly harmony vocals whenever called on: they ought to put her out in front of the band and let her take a long solo at some point).

 

From there it was over to Cake Shop to catch a glimpse of highly regarded, somewhat noir Norwegian songwriter/keyboardist Ingrid Olava, whose final songs of the night were auspiciously good (she’s playing tonight at half past midnight at the Delancey, upstairs). And then it was Mark Steiner, noir rocker par excellence, sadly missed around these parts (he’s in Norway most of the time now), but he did open his set with an offhandedly intense version of one of his classic songs, Cigarettes, violist Susan Mitchell providing her usual gypsy menace and fire. Angst has never looked so easy. Steiner didn’t have his trusty old Epiphone guitar with him, but he still got plenty of twangy, reverb-fueled menace out of a Strat (would have been nice to be able to stick around for the whole set, but the subway card was about to expire at midnight and a walk home would have been the proverbial straw that broke something). Steiner is also at the Delancey tonight around ten, all the cognoscenti will be there – today is Thursday and that means it’s time for Small Beast. 

March 19, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments