Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Nightcrawling 3/3/11

There’s been a wave of buzz lately about Americana songwriter Kelley Swindall, who’ll be on southern tour with Lorraine Leckie in the not-so-distant future. And it would have been nice to have been able to catch her whole set at Banjo Jim’s Thursday night. By almost eight, she was wrapping up it up with a couple of low-key, tuneful country-pop numbers that sounded like Sheryl Crow with a college degree. It’ll be interesting to catch more of her songs somewhere down the road.

Israeli-American rocker Rony Corcos was next. She’s a raw talent, somebody worth keeping your eye on. Watching her run her beautiful Les Paul through a series of pedals was something you rarely see at Banjo Jim’s, and what was obvious right off the bat was how good she’d sound if she had bass and drums behind her: she’s clearly a rocker, somebody who knows her way around the fretboard and has real command of a surprisingly diverse number of styles. PJ Harvey is the obvious influence, and that really made itself known when she did an understatedly intense cover of The Piano late in the show, delivering it with an only slightly restrained, compelling wail. Her other cover was a raw, vivid version of Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine, a launching pad for some poignantly soulful, incisive, amazingly precise blues runs. Her originals, some of them so new they didn’t have titles yet, put a harder-rocking spin on inventively jazz-tinged, late 70s Joni Mitchell stylings, along with a big, crunchy, hypnotic rock anthem that she artfully assembled layering one loop on top of another and then singing and soloing over it. What was too bad was that as intelligent and diverse as most of her playing is, sometimes she falls back on the stupid moveable chords (think Pearl Jam, Dashboard Confessional or just about any dumb indie guitar band) that have defined indie music pretty much since the 80s. It would be nice if this was just a part of a learning curve (the last musician we criticized for that kind of lazy playing made one of the best albums of the following year – here’s hoping lightning strikes twice).

At Pete’s Candy Store about an hour later, Whiting Tennis, former leader of popular lower East Side band the Scholars, took the stage and played a potently captivating set, also solo on electric guitar, to a full house. Where Corcos is exploring a whole slew of styles while she finds her own voice, Tennis’ music has the same penetrating consistency of vision as his visual art – at this point in his career, he’s best known as a painter and sculptor with a eerily impactful, rustic Pacific Northwest gothic sensibility. Musically, growling peak-era Neil Young and Crazy Horse are the obvious influences, although as he told the crowd late in the set, his quietly blistering kiss-off song Heart of Soap grew out of a line he misheard from a Smog song, which makes sense in that he’d make a good doublebill with Bill Callahan. Other than a simmering bluesy shuffle toward the end of the show, everything he played was slow-to-midtempo. His pensive, sardonic, sometimes brutally sarcastic lyrics are excellent. And as stylistically, and sonically similar as his songs are (he stuck with his signature gritty, distorted guitar tone all night), a close listen revealed how diverse the tunes are. Bad Checks – “Was a time when you’d write a check,” he grinned nostalgically – sounded like As Tears Go By as done by Neil Young. Another had the feel of Crazy Horse tackling Wish You Were Here: “Save us from these Christian men,” he intoned sarcastically. The night’s funniest moment came when he recalled a nightmare family scenario – his father’s a minister, and there was an argument over whether tap water or river water were more appropriate for a baptism. “Hit a deer broadside on the highway…as I dragged it across the road it felt like I was dragging the whole world on a blanket,” he sang nonchalantly on the chorus, a rapid return to brooding, intense mode. He wrapped up his hour onstage with a bitter evocation of John Brown’s execution. Tennis makes the occasional return trip to his old hometown when he’s not in Seattle; his 2006 album Three Leaf Clover is one of the underrated gems of the last decade.

March 7, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review from the Archives: Mary Lee Kortes, LJ Murphy, the Dog Show, Douce Gimlet, the Scholars and Steak at the C-Note, NYC 9/8/00

[Editor’s note -during our first year, when we found ourselves in a particularly slow week, we’d put up an article or two from the exhaustive archive we’d inherited a few months earlier from our predecessor e-zine. In those days we didn’t know how easy we had it.]

This was an ass-backwards night. By all rights, the opening act should have headlined, but acoustic acts tend to play here earlier in the evening. The later it gets, the louder it usually is here. Mary Lee’s Corvette frontwoman Mary Lee Kortes held the crowd rapt throughout her 45-minute solo acoustic set: you could have heard a pin drop. Plainly and simply, there is no better singer out there right now. Her favorite vocal device is to leap an octave or more, in a split second, always landing like a cat. Tonight she made it seem effortless, even if her songs, and her vocals, tend to be white-knuckle intense, her steely wail soaring over her subtle, judicious guitar playing. And there’s no better songwriter out there right now either. The songs she played tonight, a mix of concert favorites and new material, are striking in their craftsmanship. The French word for it is travaille, something Kortes would understand and probably agree with.

She opened with a quiet, almost skeletal version of the unreleased Redemption Day, radically different from the blazing riff-rock smash she plays with the band. Still, the anguished intensity of the lyric was undiminished. Later, she did several swinging, country-inflected songs from the band’s most recent, panstylistically brilliant album True Lovers of Adventure. She closed with Lost Art, a ballad from the album, that she sang a-capella, forgetting the words to the last verse for a second and then recovering, to the crowd’s clear delight. I haven’t seen an audience so riveted in a long time.

Another first-class songwriter, LJ Murphy followed. He’s also a band person at heart, although he’s been doing a weekly solo acoustic residency here for over a year now. Residencies can be a dangerous thing for a musician: they’ll wear out your crowd quickly. But there was a vocal contingent here tonight that clearly knows his material well, and he rewarded them by playing mostly requests. He cuts a striking figure with his immaculate black suit, porkpie hat and gravelly baritone. Like Kortes, many of his blues and soul-inflected songs have a stinging lyrical edge, including his minor-key opener, Geneva Conventional, a withering broadside about selling out. His best song of the night was St. James Hotel, a catchy, crescendoing tale of a drunk in a Times Square welfare hotel who hopes he’ll fall asleep “before this bottle’s empty.”

The Dog Show brought a small but enthusiastic crowd. Tonight was lead guitarist Jack Martin’s turn to shine. He plays pretty straightforward lead guitar in Knoxville Girls, but in this project he plays with a slide, and tonight saw him doing his best Mick Taylor impression, all scorching leads and wailing excursions to the uppermost reaches of the fretboard, giving a vintage, Stonesy edge to the band’s lyrical, Costello-esque songs. They wailed through the 6/8 blues Diamonds and Broken Glass (with a long guitar solo), the quietly excoriating Saturday Nights Are for Amateurs, the joyous, Latin-inflected Halcyon Days and a ska number called Back to the Mine which the backup singer (the frontman’s wife) punctuated with percussion on a cooking pan.

Douce Gimlet packed the place. They’re a kitchen-sink band: frontman/guitarist Ben Plummer can literally write anything. Tonight they did a mix of silly instrumentals that could be tv show themes, a handful of aching country ballads (Plummer excels at these) and their best song, a haunting janglerock number called Destitute. This band is a magnet for talent: Martin joined them on slide, Dog Show frontman Jerome O’Brien is the bass player, and they have Moisturizer frontwoman Moist Paula Henderson on baritone sax. She and Plummer began and ended the show with a New Orleans-style march on which he joined her on saxophone, walking up to the stage to begin the set, and then, at the end, the two somehow made way to the door through the throngs of people as the rhythm section kept playing onstage. The crowd roared for more but the club wouldn’t let them do an encore.

The Lower East Side bands that play here are a closeknit scene, many of them sharing members. The Scholars’ drummer had already played a tight set with the Dog Show, and held down a slow, smoldering groove with this electric Neil Young-inflected quartet. They had a guest cellist, who played haunting washes that fit in perfectly with this band’s dark, glimmering, rain-drenched Pacific Northwest gothic vibe. Finally, after their set, the crowd started to trickle out and I wasn’t far behind. Steak, which is Jack Grace’s Denver jam band relocated to New York, have a very Little Feat sound: lots of improvisation (Grace is a terrific guitarist who blends country with jazz licks on his big Gibson hollowbody), and the band swings. But they drove me out of the club when the rhythm guitarist started bellowing “Steve McQueen” over and over again while the band turned it up as loud as they could behind him. But all in all, a rewarding evening for anyone (and there were a few) who’d had the stamina (or alcohol tolerance) to stick around for the whole night.

[postscript: Mary Lee’s Corvette continues to record and tour, with a cameo in the film Happy Hour. LJ Murphy’s solo residency at the C-Note ended later that year – since then he’s been recording and playing with his band. The Dog Show hung it up in 2007, although frontman Jerome O’Brien remains active in music. Douce Gimlet broke up in 2002; their frontman died under suspicious circumstances shortly thereafter, although no one was ever charged in his death. Scholars frontman Whiting Tennis still records and will from time to time play a live show with the Scholars, although in recent years his focus has been mainly on his critically acclaimed, hauntingly intense visual art. While Steak is for all intents and purposes defunct, Jack Grace continues to enjoy a successful career as a country bandleader and booking agent]

September 8, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment