Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Moisturizer at Zebulon, Brooklyn NY 9/30/09

Moisturizer did their inimitable best to put a smile on it, but the inevitably sad truth is that the band is finished. After more than ten years of getting notoriously uptight New York crowds to bounce and twirl and sway, they’re packing it in. The funnest instrumental band in town probably has a final blowout up their collective sleeves, but for official club gigs, this was it. Blending 60s Memphis with clever funk, bits of jazz, film soundtrack, pop and a little punk rock (and some surf in the beginning), they ruled the Lower East Side in the early zeros and put out one classic ep, Moisturizer Takes Mars. There have been innumerable bands from these parts who never achieved the world dominance their fan base longed for, but nobody ever deserved it more than Moisturizer. Frontwoman/baritone saxophonist Paula Henderson AKA Moist Paula gets plenty of work and has her own equally devious side project, the cinematic Secretary; bassist Gina Rodriguez AKA Moist Gina, also of the Detroit Cobras, is moving to the Murder City where she will no doubt focus on that band and drummer Moist Yoshio, like all good drummers, is in at least two or three other groups. But there should have been Moisturizer action figures. They should have had their own Sunday morning cartoon. Maybe even the Moisturizer movie. With all those sly, Satie-esque song titles – Subway Flood, Mother’s Coming Over with a Bunch of Scallions, ad infinitum – and the joyous pulse of the tunes, they really should have been famous. Maybe, like ESG for example, there’ll be a Moisturizer revival.

Unsurprisingly, the set was mostly greatest hits: the fast, pogoing Cash Incentive; a similarly cute, clever cover of The Look of Love and the big crowd-pleaser Miss Psycho Jones with its unstoppable, lickety-split bassline. As Moist Paula has always been quick to remind, all their songs are true stories, none more strikingly and perhaps surprisingly haunting than the epic The Littlest Orphan, about a child lost in the Indonesian tsunami but then successfully reunited with his family. Maybe because of the circumstances the band was playing under, they gave the song a special gravitas and majesty. The brilliance of Moist Gina was never more apparent than it was on another big dramatic number, Enactuate Our Love, where she went for the furiously joyous crescendo at the end, missed her first step but then improvised a solo that was completely different yet also completely hit the spot. And it was indelibly hers. New York’s loss is Detroit’s gain. They returned to playful, upbeat mode and closed with the classic, catchy Pretend Boyfriend, Moist Gina and Moist Paula working a neat echo between them. Backing them was a guest guitarist who added color and contrast with some frequently eerie, Keith Levene-esque noise.

And the crowd, unsurprisingly, was less vibrant than usual: despite the fun onstage, it didn’t look like anybody was very psyched to see this band come to an end. The final Moisturizer show is at the new Knitting Factory in the old Luna Lounge space in Williamsburg on Oct 13.

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October 1, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rev. Vince Anderson Live at Black Betty, Brooklyn NY 2/19/08

Rev. Vince Anderson had a rough week. While training in the park for an upcoming road race, the newly svelte Rev. was socked in the jaw by an old codger who told him, “This is for Jimmy.” It didn’t hurt, said the Rev., but it was a New York moment. Recently single, he’d spent Valentine’s Day alone with half a bottle of Trader Joe’s wine and a pizza and garlic sauce that tasted like butter (from a national chain: figures, right?). And his friend was in ICU after the Lincoln Town Car he was riding in pulled up at the curb just outside the club a couple of days before and within seconds was t-boned by a couple of drunk kids who then ran from the scene. These are just some of the things Brooklyn’s best-loved keyboard-pounding minister has to deal with, and he delivered a prayer onstage for his banged-up pal. Unsurprisingly, it took Anderson about half his first set to really get going. But the band took over and got things moving right along.

This is the best unit he’s played with, which is pretty impressive, considering that right around the turn of the century the stuff he was doing had a wildly intense, deliriously fun gypsy rock feel. But since then he’s apparently decided to become king of all keyboard instruments. Tonight in the first forty-five minutes he played blues piano, gospel organ, Billy Preston-influenced funk, and psychedelic Fender Rhodes-ish electric piano while the band wailed behind him. This time around he had a full three-piece horn section including Dave Smith from Who Put the Bad Mouth on Me taking center stage on trombone, plus not-so-secret weapon Paula Henderson from Moisturizer and Secretary on baritone sax, playing clever, devious harmonies off Smith’s straight-ahead blues while a new addition on tenor sax contributed as well.

At first thought, guitarist Jaleel Bunton (who’s also the drummer in TV on the Radio) would be the last musician you’d think would work in this unit, but he does. The guy has monster chops, a lightning-fast attack and the kind of silvery vibrato that a lot of metal players have. But notwithstanding its ecstatic crescendos, Anderson’s music is really all about groove, swing and subtlety. Bunton likes playing up in the mix and was there tonight with some nice natural distortion screaming from his amp, showing off a very impressively thoughtful side with a seemingly endless supply of juicy 60s soul and blues licks. Meanwhile, drummer Torbitt Schwartz (also of Chin Chin) swung like crazy, building up a big woooosh on his crash cymbal during an absolutely rapturous version of Anderson’s psychedelic gospel number Deep in the Water.

They’d opened the set quietly but quickly rose to ecstatic heights with a cover of Precious Lord, Take My Hand and another hymn, along with the propulsively hypnotic Come to the River, which Anderson used as a showcase for the many echo effects on his Nord Electro keyboard when they brought the song down gently at the end after a deliriously good ten-minute jam. They also debuted Anderson’s first-ever breakup song, titled A Ring in My Pocket and Leaving on Her Heart. It built slowly like a long Tom Waits epic: eventually, Anderson finds himself on the train out to Brooklyn, the borough of churches, looking for any redemption he may find. And the song isn’t bitter: when it finally hit a peak, about five minutes in, Anderson sang of how he was thinking about what it would be like to grow old with that woman, and how much he loved her. It was impossible not to be moved. The band brought it down after that with a warm, reflective take of Peace in the Valley, but the crowd, which had packed the little place and had been dancing all night, kept swaying. Shows like these make all the daily hassles seem like a small price to pay for living in a city that may be on its last legs but isn’t dead yet. Rev. Vince Anderson plays Black Betty every Monday at around 10:45, when he isn’t touring.

February 20, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Secretary Feat. Big Boss/Nina Nastasia & Jim White at Mercury Lounge, NYC 10/3/07

Secretary is Moisturizer frontwoman and baritone sax player Paula Henderson’s Hollywood soundtrack side project. Or at least that’s what it sounded like tonight, like Angelo Badalamenti covering Moisturizer. Hollywood would do well to seek her out. As she made a point of reminding the audience, everything she writes is a true story. The resulting compositions, whether the utterly unique dance-rock that she plays with Moisturizer or the quieter, more atmospheric works she played tonight, all have a narrative feel, and it’s often very compelling. Or very funny. Or both simultaneously.

 

Although for Secretary gigs she hides behind a pair of spectacles and a vintage secretary suit, Henderson didn’t bother trying to shed the slightly coy, deviously witty Moist Paula persona that she assumes at Moisturizer shows. Maybe that’s just who she really is. Big Boss is a new addition, a sharp-dressed man busily multitasking on a laptop and mixer, occasionally contributing trombone, keyboards and even turntable scratching on one song. Although Moisturizer is defined by playfulness and fun, and that sensibility isn’t lost here, the quieter, more downtempo tunes Henderson does in this project afford her a chance to explore more thoughtful, pensive terrain. Tonight she played lead lines on her bari sax as Big Boss ran the tracks, most of which are on the excellent debut Secretary album. They opened with a sultry, jazzy, unreleased number perhaps titled 37 Again, Henderson’s achingly torchy, jazzy melody playing against a dense mix of textures created by playing sax through a bunch of garageband patches and then mixing everything. Later she did the balmy, ambient South Carolina Holiday, the long, playful Mouse (which is actually about chasing a mouse around the apartment), the catchy Latin dance tune Mofongo Raincheck and a somewhat classically-inflected fanfare, live sax playing call-and-response with harmonies using several different textures. Toward the end of the set, she did a lively new number called Mushrooms with Strangers that wouldn’t be out of place at a Moisturizer show. The evening’s most amusing moment was another new one called The Perfect Boss. Henderson played repetitive, staccato riffs while the computer run a shrieking, metallic wash of noise that sounded like Suicide or something from Metal Machine Music. If that’s the perfect boss, one can only wonder what the boss from hell sounds like.

 

Nina Nastasia sold out the room. It had been ten years since she’d played here, she said, “When I was…18.”

 

“Not,” she said under her breath, barely audible. She may wield an acoustic guitar but she hardly fits the singer-songwriter mold. You’ll never hear a Nina Nastasia song in a credit card commercial. Tonight she played mostly new material from her album with Dirty Three bandleader/drummer Jim White, her only backing musician. He was amazing: no wonder everyone wants to work with him. Using a flurry of rimshots, cymbal splashes and boomy tom-tom cascades, he orchestrated her often grimly minimalistic songs with both precision and abandon. Often he’d leave Nastasia to hold the rhythm as he’d accelerate or slow down, or play deftly off the beat. There are only a few drummers in rock who are in his league, perhaps Dave Campbell of Love Camp 7/Erica Smith renown or Linda Pitmon from Smack Dab and Steve Wynn’s band.

 

In the years since she first played here, Nastasia has developed a seemingly effortless fingerpicking style on the guitar. Hearing the new songs stripped down to just the guitar and drums was a revelation: it was instantly clear where the melodies for all the layers of strings and keyboards on her albums come from. I found myself playing orchestrator, imagining violin, viola and cello parts. One of the great keyboardists of our time was in the audience and was overheard raving about how good the piano on the new album is.

 

Nastasia has also become an excellent singer. That creepy little voice she had when she put out her landmark 1999 debut, Dogs (whose title track she played tonight, to much applause) is still there when it needs to be, but in the intervening years she’s learned how to belt. And project, with an anguished wail that serves her songs, particularly the new ones, spectacularly well. Her earlier material was typically noir urban tableaux; now, she’s taking on more abstract, universal emotional territory, though her vision remains the same, as bleak, angst-driven, desperate and sometimes exasperated as it’s always been. The dark glimmer has become a gleam. If this show is any indication, the new album is a must-own.

 

The only problem tonight (one hopes uncharacteristically) was the sound. The sound guy was playing annoying, effeminate computer-disco over the PA before Secretary went on, and predictably mixed the backing tracks from the laptop louder than Henderson’s sax. Bad mistake. Then Nastasia’s guitar started to generate a lot of low feedback, perhaps because it needed to be amped high in the mix and she didn’t have one of those little rubber thingys that fits into the sound hole. Where was Freddie Katz when we needed him.

October 8, 2007 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Secretary – Secret Life of Secretary

This is the solo project by Moist Paula Henderson, frontwoman and baritone sax player from New York’s terrific all-instrumental trio Moisturizer (Moist Paula from Moisturizer: get it?). On the album, she plays all the instruments, meaning lots of bari sax, sometimes played through Garageband patches so they sound like other instruments. This could be the soundtrack to a really cool indie film. Let’s make some pizza bagels and watch the movie. Are you down?

The movie’s first scene is South Carolina Holiday. It’s a balmy, beachy day, not a cloud in the sky and not even hungover, listening to some dreamy, ambient sax lines. Suddenly it’s almost 5 in the morning and the scene shifts to a Dominican restaurant: you can almost smell the spices rising in the steam from the rice and beans and fresh chuletas. Mofongo Raincheck, which sounds like a song from Paula’s band, is playing: a catchy, sexy vamp set to a Latin beat with bongos and surprisingly authentic-sounding upright bass patches. It builds to a wild little interlude as a couple of scary-looking, drunk dudes enter the joint but ultimately nothing bad happens.

After the restaurant, suddenly it’s a crowded mini-mall somewhere in the Midwest except that it’s way after it should be closed and the sketchy dudes from the Dominican place are back and suddenly they’re running after somebody. It’s Instant Messenger Dream, bari sax grating through a distortion pedal, disquieting and weird, pairing what’s essentially a classical melody with a heavy metal feel against layers of ambient sax washes.

Just outside the mall at the edge of the parking lot, a girl is looking at her reflection under the lights in a shop window and rehearsing what she’s going to have to say to get Daddy’s Approval. Tastily doubletracked saxes play over weird, out-of-time electronic blips and bleeps.

Suddenly a Mouse appears and moves its mouth. It sounds like low bass synth with someone having fun with the portamento lever, holding down the low notes as attractively thoughtful, upbeat sax flies overhead. It’s Moist Paula the jazzcat. This a long scene, it gives the mouse a chance to go for an Oscar and the sax player to show off her great chops and sense of melody.

Then the New Age Ladies enter. This part of the soundtrack could also be a Moisturizer song if it had a real rhythm section behind it, layers of ambience over a percussion loop, what sounds like string synth and then a cimbalom. Where did that come from. And why are those women on the yoga mats wearing Hungarian capes and have all those rings on their fingers?

Jump cut to the inside of some tourist trap in Chelsea, a mob scene packed with fat old Wall Street guys in fancy suits smoking cigars and hitting on high school girls from central Jersey with big hair and way too much foundation. I guess they call this 10 Sex. One of those obnoxious drum machines is going whoomp whoomp whoomp whoomp. Ugh. Time for a bathroom break. Fast forward to the next scene, would you please?

OK, we’re back. This is where Moisturizer can be seen in the background if you look closely: I’ll bet the girls would love to play this one live. This must be Risk Failure, which starts with a snapping funk bass line, then a super catchy sax melody. When the camera pans to the Vietnamese Restaurant at the corner, the waitresses have all gathered around an older Arab gentleman who’s playing backgammon by himself while the waitresses sway in time and yet more sax hooks kick in over what sounds like gamelan percussion. Then an oud begins to play, the Arab gent gets up and opens his suit coat. Inside there is a leather holster with a spatula inside.

All this is Not It Vain (as opposed to Not In Vain). Right about here the movie gets very 80s. Is that Scott Bakula? He looks exactly like he’s always looked (just like every annoying boss I ever had). Didn’t know he was still acting. There’s a synthesizer, the images speed up early MTV-style, then suddenly slow down. There’s a gorgeously melodic bluesy sax way in the background. Something is going on here, you have to look very closely and suddenly it’s very different, very bleak. Someone has a Decrepit Heart. A dancer enters the frame, swaying sadly to a trip-hop beat, layers of synth chorus singing a sad refrain as she moves all by herself to an imaginary band.

And then the movie is over. The credits roll against a montage of of mountain and riverbank images. A tall, beautiful, raven-haired woman is messing with her cellphone and not hearing anything. Must be No Service in the Poconos. Layers of saxes play against each other, rubato. It’s completely random yet melodic at the same time.

So there you have it, a delightful, utterly surreal sound movie. Sundance, are you listening? This further solidifies Paula Henderson’s reputation not only as a rocker and a frontwoman but also as a bonafide, serious composer with jazz chops and a completely unique sense of humor. It will lift your mood and make you see a lot of things you probably never imagined before. Great album.

May 17, 2007 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments