Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 3/6/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Thursday’s song is #509:

System Noise – No One Saw What I Saw

The New York rockers’ finest moment to date is this savagely macabre, ornately orchestrated six-minute art rock anthem replete with all kinds of tempo shifts, a million layers of volcanic guitar licks swirling around each other, and wild crescendos from frontwoman Sarah Mucho. Unreleased, and once a staple of their live show; what the future holds for this, we’ll see. They’re playing the Delancey on 3/18.

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March 6, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cabaret Review: Sarah Mucho in Subterranean Circus at the Duplex, NYC 12/3/07

This was a triumphant return for Sarah Mucho. Although she’s best known as the frontwoman for the ferocious, artsy rock band System Noise, her roots are in the cabaret scene. Her Ziggy Stardust shows at Mama Rose’s and other rooms a couple of years ago earned her rave reviews in the theatre press and a MAC Award, but since then she’s been busy with the band. Subterranean Circus, as this show is billed, is a futuristic cautionary tale blending surreal, often sacrilegious humor with a haunting, apocalyptic vibe, with echoes of early 80s punk rock performance art. There’s not much of a book, aside from between-song jokes (which are hysterical). The songs are mostly rock, other than a heart-stopping version of Nature Boy, where Mucho, backed only by superb accordionist Annette Kudrak, gets to show off and belt at the very top of her spectacular range. Otherwise, over the course of a little less than an hour, Mucho and her band ran through an impressively imaginative reworking of material ranging from Bjork (Human Behavior, rearranged as acoustic, piano-based funk), to Johnny Cash (Man in Black, augmented with a very funny sermon mid-song and ending with the outro to Stairway to Heaven), to an absolutely wrenching take of Cat Power’s Werewolf, rearranged for just accordion and bass and played with the lights almost all the way down.

Mucho does two Kinks covers, Apeman and Lola, taking an irresistibly silly turn on harmonica on the former. The latter, recast as noir jazz driven by a steady, walking bassline has the phenomenally talented Bobby Peaco coming out from behind the piano to deliver a very amusing turn on vocals. Other highlights include Simon and Garfunkel’s Most Peculiar Man, with horror-movie music-box piano from Peaco, an equally macabre cover of a Blonde Redhead song and a powerhouse rendition of Dress by PJ Harvey.

There’s also a surprise ending (much of which may not have been scripted) that wouldn’t be fair to give away. And then there’s Mucho’s voice. One of the maybe half-dozen most compelling singers in all of rock, (think Mary Lee Kortes intensity and strength throughout her entire range, and Neko Case for all-stops-out sultriness and stylistic diversity), she’s never sung better than she did tonight.

Mucho’s supporting cast gets pretty much everything right. The diversity and authenticity of Peaco’s arrangements are amazing: the guy can literally play anything, from gospel to honkytonk to classical. Director Kristine Zbornik has everything timed so perfectly tight the audience doesn’t even have time to finish laughing before Mucho’s next emotion-tugging move is on them, equally effective in inducing chuckles as well as awestruck silence. The show continues this Friday Dec 7 at 9:30 PM and as of this writing reservations (required: the first show sold out quickly) are available, call (212) 255-5438.

December 4, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Concert Review from the Archives: Revlover, Noxes Pond, Florence Dore, Patricia Vonne and Paul Foglino at the C-Note, NYC 9/28/01

The sky looking particularly ominous, I caught a cab up from my company’s satellite office at Union Square to a friend’s gallery for her very first curated opening. She did about seven grand worth of business, not bad considering what she was selling: the artist was sort of Edward Hopper lite, familiar outdoor and storefront NYC scenes including the H&H Bagel sign. Shadows falling everywhere: the guy’s in love with shadow, and when he isn’t doing shadows he’s doing the reverse with lights tracing a path in the dark. Then caught a cab down to the club where a wretched acoustic grungeboy tortured us for the better part of 40 minutes. Fake moveable chords, lame vocals and awful fashion sense. As Luke Haines said, junk shop clothes will get you nowhere, and this guy is living proof, playing to just about nobody at 7 PM at a little Lower East Side club that rightfully shouldn’t even be a club at all. It looked like he was trying to pester the promoter for another gig afterward and the promoter was having none of it. Hopefully he won’t be back.

Revlover were next. They didn’t have Ed Sargent on guitar like they did last time: it was just the three of them doing an exceptionally tight, catchy mix of indie janglerock and somewhat crunchier, tuneful, Guided by Voices-inflected material. They did the always amusing faux Irish ballad Emily, their song about a hermaphrodite, along with the very memorable On Ordinary Days (the title track to their album), sung by their excellent, melodic bass player. He also sang their closing number, a fiery, riff-driven, minor-key garage number called Men in Plastic featuring a fast, searing blues guitar solo at the end. Particularly appropriate, considering what’s going on downtown (body bags – as it turns out the bassist’s office was at 1 Liberty Plaza. He escaped into the Path station).

In the case of the recently regrouped Noxes Pond, word on the street is to be believed: their new lead singer is amazing. Sarah Mucho, all five feet one and maybe a hundred pounds of her, belts like a 300 pound black blueswoman from the 1940s. The songs they played tonight generally fell into a slinky, often funky, generally minor key groove; the steady, sinuous swing of the bass contrasted nicely with the rattle and clatter of the drums, with the vocals sailing spectacularly over it all. The guitarist seems to be the band’s rhythm center which is a very smart move because his timing is spot-on. This version of the band likes dynamics a lot more than their previous incarnation: if this gig is any indication, they’re on track to something really good.

Florence Dore is a star in the making. She didn’t bring a big crowd, but that was probably a good thing since Noxes Pond did and this is a small place. The NYU English professor is a real find, an excellent lyricist with a very strong sense of melody, a honey-sweet, soaring voice and an excellent, driving Americana rock band behind her featuring bassist-about-town Scott Yoder and former Smithereens drummer Dennis Diken pushing it along. She blends country songs with more rocking, upbeat tunes including a lot of material from her new album, including the fiery, early Who-inflected Framed, on which Diken did an impressive Keith Moon seance. But the quieter songs were the best. The highlight was the poignant, rueful Early World, the opening track on the new album, about what it feels like to know that you’ve probably missed the boat. Dore delivered it with a nonchalance that was downright scary.

Patricia Vonne took the stage late, but by the time her hourlong set was over – at almost a quarter to one – she had the crowd mesmerized. Playing without a drummer, backed by just her lead guitarist and bassist, the tall Texas ex-model played a masterfully nuanced set of very compelling material. Like Dore, she falls into the Americana category, but there’s a lot of Tex-Mex and mariachi influence in her songs (she’s Mexican-American and defiantly proud of her heritage). Her vocals are absolutely unique: though she didn’t have to sing over the noise of an electric band, she maintained her trademark passionate, throaty wail throughout the show. All her best songs tonight had an impressive political awareness; the usually stomping El Cruzado was given the tiptoe treatment, without the drums, but it still hit the spot. Dance in a Circle, written in support of wrongfully imprisoned Indian activist Leonard Peltier was as harrowing as the album version, even if it was quieter tonight. She and the band closed with her best song, the riveting escape anthem Blood on the Tracks. Obviously it took a lot of nerve to appropriate that title, but the song lives up to it: there’s absolutely no hubris here. “We ain’t never coming back,” she railed, with a barely restrained rage: “Our hearts have been scarred, there’s blood on the tracks.” It’s amazing that in this city you can see someone this popular – she’s something of a household word in Texas – on a stage this small.

Former Five Chinese Brothers bassist Paul Foglino was pulling mop-up relief duty, playing a solo acoustic set as the crowd slowly dispersed, but he held up his end. He’s very funny, and he knows what he’s doing. “Too old to rock and roll, too stupid to quit,” said the poster for his show taped to the inside of the club window, which is far too self-effacing. Some of the slightly bluesy, upbeat, major-key songs he played tonight were pretty amusing, including a number perhaps titled You Can’t Be too Drunk to Get Drunk. Given the crowd, the hour and the venue, he couldn’t have come up with a more apt choice. Spending this amount of time in a bar is usually a big mistake, but tonight’s bands made it all worthwhile. We ended up closing the club and then going over to Mona’s where a drunken college friend of one of the performers was trying to pick up somebody in my posse, so I went over to the deli on 6th and Ave. B for one of their trademark cheese heros (with jalapenos and avocado), then caught a cab home at around 4:30, waking up in the early afternoon to find that I’d been sharing the bed with what was left of the sandwich.

[Postscript: as Lucid Culture regulars know by now, the once-vibrant C-Note is now defunct, as are Revlover and Noxes Pond (the latter went through some lineup changes and morphed into spectacularly good art-rockers System Noise, who happen to be playing Arlene’s this Sunday, Sept. 30 at 9). Florence Dore’s academic career continues, though it’s been ages since she’s played a New York show. Patricia Vonne expanded her fan base to include Europe, where she became a star and tours regularly. Paul Foglino is still active in music and plays guitar in Ellen Foley’s band].

September 29, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Liza & the WonderWheels/Skelter/System Noise at Kenny’s Castaways, NYC 8/23/07

Everbody makes fun of the Bleecker Street strip. It’s so NOT New York, right? Wide-eyed, blue-collar Jersey/Long Island tourists, cheap jewelry stores, faux Italian bistros and so-bad-they’re-funny suburban bands playing the clubs, trapped in a time warp where U2 is considered cutting-edge. Predictably, there was a gaggle of overdressed, fake-tanned girls from Deer Park or Marlton or somewhere the same, all nervous and self-conscious to be for perhaps the first time in their lives inside a place that’s not advertised on network tv. Just as predictably, when the first band started, they were gone in less than a minute.

Over the arch where the main room here starts, there’s a purple neon sign announcing that “Through these portals amble the famous,” or something equally stilted, followed by two exclamation points. Maybe one of Phil Collins’ backup singers walked in here once, thinking it was the Bottom Line, then realized where she was and promptly exited. Over the bar, there are framed gold records by 80s New Jersey REM wannabes the Smithereens (after the band had run its course, the notoriously right-wing nutjob who fronted the band had a brief run as a wannabe politician). This could be anywhere: Deer Park, Marlton, El Cajon. It’s the last place anyone would expect to see the bands on the bill tonight.

And it was Continental loud. For those who don’t get the reference, the sound at the Continental on Bowery just north of St. Mark’s was earsplitting. Then they stopped having bands a couple of years ago. It’s now a tourist bar. Maybe that’s where Mallory, Alexis, Madison, Keighleigh, Kelceigh, AshLee, Prada and Taylor were headed next as they went east armed with their parents’ credit cards. And that’s too bad, because if they’d stuck around they actually might have enjoyed Liza & the WonderWheels. This band looks and sounds like something you’d see in a movie set in New York circa 1981 in the requisite CBGB scene: catchy hooks and cheery vocals, with a quirky 80s vibe. If they were around at that time, they’d also undoubtedly have a record deal and probably at least a couple of radio hits. They have a tight, powerful rhythm section, a dynamic frontwoman and an equally captivating lead guitarist. Their hooks are simple, memorable and driven by the vocals rather than the songs’ chord structures. Frontwoman Liza Garelik was in a great mood tonight because she could actually hear herself onstage, and the sound in the room was equally good: her vocals were coming through strong, all the way to the front door. They ran through a bunch of mostly upbeat, fast material and closed with what has become their signature song, Eddie Come Down, a typically warped number about getting a psycho to chill out that begins slowly and eventually builds to a long jam on a single chord. Tonight the bass and drums pushed it hard as Ian Roure’s guitar screamed through a wah-wah pedal. They built it up, then brought it down, they went up again, then went all quiet and it was Garelik’s rhythm guitar ringing starkly and quietly evil, like the spirit of Bob Weir against drummer Joe Filosa’s sepulchral cymbals, that provided the set’s most mesmerizing moment.

We should be grateful for bands like Skelter, who came next on the bill. This comfortably melodic, garagey upstate trio stays within the world of major and minor chords, and they’re all proficient on their instruments. In a world where most of the descendants of Sonic Youth play like they’ve never seen a guitar in their lives, much less held one, these guys are a pleasure: one audience member compared them to Oasis, and while they don’t steal Beatles licks, they definitely have a sense of drama. And a tendency toward garish guitar and drum flourishes, which they should avoid. But since this was their ten-year anniversary show, there’s little chance of that happening. Their myspace has a very catchy, jangly garage rock song called Ghost Town, and they played that tonight, but with distortion, and it sounded pretty indistinguishable from everything else. Bands like this sound better the more you drink.

Headliners System Noise are arguably the best live band in New York, in fact, arguably the best live band anywhere. “Progressive punk,” one audience member called them. Lithe, cat-eyed frontwoman Sarah Mucho is a force of nature: tonight she belted like Grace Slick raised to the power of ten, wailed like Mary Lee Kortes at her most scary-beautiful, teased and seduced the crowd like Erica Smith. It’s hard to think of anyone outside the world of, say, opera or gospel who can unleash such a mighty, pitch-perfect blast of beautiful sound. They rhythm section handled a lot of tricky time changes and odd tempos with aplomb and the lead guitarist alternated between fiery, virtuosic riffs and sheets of blistering noise. For a band this loud, and this noisy, they are amazingly tuneful. They burned through an all-too-brief, barely 35-minute set including a lot of unreleased material. The macabre Good Enough to Eat, a song about cannibalism, began with a percussive, chromatic hook that wouldn’t be out of place in an Iron Maiden song. Perhaps their strongest number was the equally dark, fiery No One Saw What I Saw, Mucho’s vocals taking flight in the chorus after a relentless, pounding run through the wilderness of the verse.

The night’s big crowd-pleaser was the slow, towering anthem Daydreaming. “A power ballad,” Mucho sarcastically called it, which built in an instant from a mysterious, ominously quiet verse to a literally breathtaking crescendo, then subsided almost as fast. It was heartwarming to hear the crowd’s awestruck, spontaneous applause when the band did this the first time around, affirming that there are still people in town who can appreciate that kind of thing in rock music. The set ended with a ridiculously catchy, Talking Heads-ish funk number from the band’s self-titled ep, with a snide, overtly political lyric that Mucho rapped. What a great night: three bands for eight bucks, the sound was good if a little loud and we weren’t surrounded by assholes. Somebody should start a Take Back Bleecker Street campaign: get all the good bands who used to play Tonic, for example, and bring them down here. It’s easy to get to on the subway and it sure beats Ludlow Street.

From there, we went east to Banjo Jim’s – again (we didn’t see Mallory, Alexis, Madison, Keighleigh, Kelceigh, AshLee, Prada or Taylor – perhaps their Humvee stretch limo had picked them up before they collectively turned into pumpkins). What a pleasant surprise, there was actually somebody good onstage here. Will Scott really has a handle on hypnotic, Mississippi hill country blues. It was just him playing acoustic, backed by a boisterous drummer. It actually would have been nice if they had been louder: people might have danced. This guy gets it: an unabashed T-Model Ford/R.L. Burnside fan, he understands that this is party music. Tonight he played it with fierce abandon, judicious use of guitar chops and without Pearl Jamming the vocals. He’s been playing Wednesdays at 68 Jay St. Bar in Dumbo for awhile. If you miss ole R.L. or have a lot of the Fat Possum catalog in your collection or on your ipod, go see this guy, you won’t be disappointed.

August 24, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments