Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Formerly Whooping Crane, Now Strange Haze, Same Great Album

“You have to be stoned to listen to this” is usually an insult. We don’t ordinarily advocate for or against the use of one substance or another – that should be an individual choice, and a legal one. But if the phrase “strange haze” has any kind of special meaning for you, Strange Haze’s album Riffin’ for Rent is the kind that you really ought to hear after indulging. If your dad still gets stoned, smoke him up and then try to convince him that this band was around when he was doing it all the time. He just might believe you.

Strange Haze (formerly known as Whooping Crane) should have been the band in Almost Famous. Hilariously satirical, sometimes cruelly, sometimes fondly, the Brooklyn rockers’ stoner shtick works as well as it does because they’re such excellent musicians. When’s the last time you heard a metal band with a drummer who can swing like crazy? Everybody knows that you have to have chops to play metal really well, but these guys don’t just know their early 70s stoner music, they know soul, and Stones, and Sabbath, and Skynyrd, and probably a bunch of bands from that era who were quickly forgotten because they weren’t as good. That’s what Strange Haze sound like. They’ll riff on a single chord for what seems minutes on end, and yet there’s something fresh and unselfconsciously fun about it. They know every cliche in the book and aren’t afraid to employ them wherever they’d be the most ridiculous. Likewise, their lyrics, delivered in a deadpan, period perfect faux-bluesy drawl, are beyond hilarious.

The opening track is She’s a Knockout, which sounds like the MC5 as done by Grand Funk Railroad. It’s about a girl “who was born in the heart of the whooping crane,” with an irresistible multiple-tracked bluesmetal solo out. Track two, Tomm Tapp starts out as sludgy but swinging riff-metal in the Poobah vein and adds honking harmonica for, you know, that authentic bluesy feeling – and suddenly goes all starlit and rapt for a second before the bludgeoning begins again. “Can you see the fork in the road? Close your eyes before they explode!” They follow that with Hang Loose, six minutes of wah funk, Sabbath style with some woozy southern overtones: “Summer of love don’t tell no lies ’cause we’re underneath the firefly…smoking the kingsized ultralights, still looking kinda tight.”

One Hit Sally is a tribute to a girl convinced that her smoke-filled room is more interesting than anything that could possibly exist outside it, pulsing along on a Stax/Volt bass groove with grand guignol art-rock guitar flourishes. The perfectly titled Voomp! keeps the funky groove going (if you remember early 70s Texas “hard rock” band Bloodrock, this is that kind of thing). The funniest song on the album is Straight Dope, playfully taking a 60s soul riff, adding more of that honking harmonica and a priceless lyric:

Walked down to the marble garden with a buckskin bottle of wine
Sometimes I get so drunk I can sing just like a child

The bonus track that you can get from their bandcamp site is That’s More Like It, working both sides of the Atlantic for a riff-loaded hash buzz, then a skunkweed heartland metal vibe: “Make you crawl like an armadillo, armageddon in an armchair!” In addition to this one, Strange Haze will be on the Soda Shop’s upcoming free compilation coming out Feb 22.

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February 16, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Cudzoo & the Fagettes at Arlene’s, NYC 2/26/10

It’s hard to imagine a New York band right now who are more fun than than Cudzoo & the Fagettes. As one of the band members said Friday night at Arlene’s, it may have been snowy outside but it sure was hot inside. This group really pulls out all the stops, putting on a fullscale spectacle. While a screen was being set up in the corner, the mic stands each stood erect between a pair of big pink balloons. Juvenile as the visual was, it was impossible not to laugh. Meanwhile, a pretty girl wandered through the crowd handing out free raffle tickets (more on that later).

Dressed in matching pink sequined dresses, the band’s three frontwomen – the fearlessly bodacious E-Bomb and her cohorts J-Train and Mamrie – took the stage while a montage of old newsreel footage, complete with blaring, martial orchestral music, played on the screen. A voiceover began: “The world’s a fucked up place. War in the Middle East. A recession with no end in sight. Global warming. Wife-swapping. Very large, unhealthy fast-food portions.” Luckily, Cudzoo, “those sassy, sashaying little sweethearts out of Astoria, Queens” had arrived to spread their “brand of glitter and whiskey fun.” All of a sudden, their album – which we reviewed last year – started to make perfect sense. Funny as it is, it’s a soundtrack: the experience isn’t complete without the show.

Their first song bitchslapped sorority girl-style conspicuous consumption: the ditz doesn’t want her parents to know that a “dirty Mexican” knocked her up, but when she gets the abortion she gets the fetus goldplated and suddenly it’s bling. J-Train sang the hilariously weird You Beat the Shit Out of My Heart, which may or may not be a cautionary tale about S&M. A new one, Walk of Shame was even funnier, a girl waking up with poo-poo mouth, gum in her hair and having to fight strollers on the sidewalk in order to get home incognito. Another new one about the pros and cons of friends with benefits was their one semi-thoughtful number; they also did tributes to fingerfucking, sleeping with a guy’s siblings, and a rapidfire hip-hop song about breasts on the subway. That one’s open to audience participation – if you can come up with a rhyming couplet about seeing boobs on the train, bring it to the next Cudzoo show.

The grand prize winner of the raffle was a guy. He sent his girlfriend, Jenny, up to collect her prize. The band leered at her, sat her down onstage and proceeded to give her everything but a lap dance (Mamrie nibbled her ear lasciviously) while serenading her with a newly lesbian version of Drummer Boy, E-Bomb’s come-on to her favorite kind of musician. Jenny took it all bravely but the second the song was over, she bolted (Jenny’s boyfriend may also be single now). Meanwhile, the “drunkest working band in New York City,” the Fagettes stood deadpan behind the action, doing their lo-budget garage-pop and pseudo-Ramones thing and staying out of the way. That seems to be what they’re supposed to do. Actually, bassist Lorenzo Potenzo, platinum-haired drummer Dr. Eviller and the guitarist didn’t look drunk – but the front line did, particularly E-Bomb, who’d obviously been pregaming.

They closed with a phony country song, a girl getting revenge on her ex by blogging about his “tiny penis and lack of class,” and then the self-explanatory punk-pop My Boyfriend’s Got a Boyfriend. Before they left the stage, they fired off a couple of tubes of glitter into the crowd. The front rows were cannon fodder: they didn’t have a prayer.  By now it was a little after one in the morning –  the crowd screamed for an encore but didn’t get one. We’ll leave it to the Village Voice to talk about how these women speak truth to power about sexual politics – what’s important is that last night, Cudzoo got the whole house laughing, Democrats and wrong-thinkers alike.

February 27, 2010 Posted by | concert, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Nightcall and Rawles Balls Live in NYC 6/10/07

Nightcall is the most exciting new band in New York. It’s retro revivalist Bliss Blood’s latest project, alongside the delightful, old-timey Moonlighters, Polynesian psychedelic unit Voodoo Suite and the acoustic blues band Delta Dreambox. “We’ve invented a new genre: snuff torch songs,” she told the audience, and the result was absolutely riveting. Playing her trusty ukelele, accompanied by upright bassist Peter Maness and electric guitarist Stu Spasm, who used a tiny amp with tons of reverb, she and her accomplices played a mix of covers and originals: all with a crime theme. “In all our songs, the criminal has to win,” she explained. They did sweetly ominous, noir versions of the theme to the James Bond film You Only Live Twice, a Leonard Bernstein composition called Big Stuff (“Not from West Side Story,” Blood told the crowd), and Tom Waits’ Black Market Baby. But their best numbers were all originals, including a haunting Moonlighters tune, Broken Doll. They also played their “signature song,” the lurid tale of an intruder aptly titled Nightcall, and Blackwater, which was far and away the high point of the night. “This is for Halliburton…and the mercenaries in Iraq,” Blood mused aloud. The song began with an ominous minor-key theme, the bass carrying the melody:

Don’t look too closely or you’ll find
He has a mercenary mind
He’ll be your man if you can pay
And when the gold is in his hands
He’ll acquiesce to your demands
Play any game you want to play

After a macabre, chromatic chorus, the bass player scurried up and down the scale like a twisted old man on the way to a Carlyle Group meeting.

In many ways Blood epitomizes what the Bush regime fears the most. She’s a charming, wickedly intelligent, completely innocent-looking Texan who never misses a chance to call truth to power, and does so in a blithely amusing way that doesn’t alienate audiences. Today was Puerto Rican day in Manhattan: “I’m from Vieques,” she joked. “You have to excuse me, I’m all messed up from the stuff they drop there,” referring to all the depleted uranium that’s covered the island over more than a decade of Air Force bomb testing.

“What’s an A minor?” Rawles Balls frontman Nigel Rawles – the former Scout drummer – asked his keyboardist, whom he’d just sent away from the stage.

“A-C-E,” came the reply.

“Can we write on the keys?” Rawles asked the soundman. The answer was no.

Rawles had for some inexplicable reason brought a guitar that was “broken,” he said. Nonetheless, he was determined to get through the show, seated at the piano, an instrument he doesn’t know how to play. Rawles Balls is the cover band from hell, capable of butchering pretty much any song from any era and tonight was a fullscale massacre. Doing his best to hammer out a bassline with two fingers, Rawles must have played At the Hop – or tried to, anyway – at least four times. When they’re on their game, Rawles Balls perfectly embody the true spirit of punk rock, having a gleeful time poking fun at every conceivable aspect of what they play. Taking the concept to the logical extreme, they never rehearse and the band is in a constant state of flux, with practically a new lineup every week: tonight Rawles dragged the estimable Ward White (who played bass in the band for a time) up to the stage. White fed Rawles lyrics as he struggled through the Bowie classic Five Years. “This is the last song we’ll ever play,” Rawles facetiously told the audience, managing to botch even the reference (that’s what Bowie says before Rock n Roll Suicide, dude).

At this point it looks like Rawles may have depleted the talent pool, such as it exists for a band like this. His backing unit tonight, such that it was, included a woman who sang harmonies on a few songs, a friend who knew a few piano chords and another who came up to the stage, tried to get through Fur Elise as Rawles whistled along but gave up in disgust after about fifteen seconds. And the Ward White cameo. And of course they recorded this show, since Rawles Balls has in the past three years released over 50 (fifty) albums, which has to be a record. All but two of those are live concert recordings.

In a sick way, it took a tremendous amount of nerve for Rawles to get up onstage and try to fake his way through an hourlong set, completely unrehearsed, playing an unfamiliar instrument. However, there were indications that he might not have been as completely lost as he seemed: there were clever segues between songs that shared the exact same chord changes, and he did exhibit an ability to at least figure out the bassline to maybe half of what he attempted to play. Then there was the issue of the “broken” guitar. When the Rawles Balls act is working, it’s unimaginably funny. Tonight was a new low: by the time the sound guy gave Rawles the two-minute warning, it was simply a reprieve. Which in itself was pretty amusing.

June 11, 2007 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment