Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Typical Beastly Monday

So good to be back at Small Beast after a few weeks’ absence. Nothing has changed – New York’s most unpredictably fun weekly musical event was as edgy as always. This time around, Pete Galub opened the night while Botanica keyboardist and Small Beast impresario Paul Wallfisch furiously wrote out charts for his show later in the evening with Sally Norvell. Most solo shows are boring to the extreme, but Galub had brought along a gorgeous hollowbody electric guitar and gave a clinic in powerpop songwriting – and when the time came, guitar solos, playing along methodically as if he had his usual band behind him. Galub gets props for his playing, and deservedly so, but his songs are every bit as clever as his work as a lead guitarist for a cavalcade of A-list writers: Amy Allison, Serena Jost and others. He opened with a sardonic, Big Star inflected number possibly titled Exclusive Guest, following that with a gorgeously poignant, minor-key, somewhat Neil Finn-esque tune, Crying Time. A cover of the late former LA Trash frontman Alan Andrews‘ big 6/8 ballad Undiscovered Life maintained the poignant tone while adding a tongue-in-cheek vibe, segueing into a nasty, noisy riff-rocker that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Kevin Salem catalog – complete with an offhandedly savage solo. And then a real surprise, a pensive and heartfelt version of Any Major Dude by Steely Dan. When Galub opened his set, he’d hinted that he might take a detour into the Dan catalog, and this was a typically counterintuitive choice. Most solo shows are a clinic in how to bore an audience: Galub reaffirmed that if you have the chops, the material and a sense of humor, you don’t necessarily need a band.

Guitarist Thomas Simon and his drummer cohort were next on the bill, with a long set of swirling, atmospheric, effects-laden numbers that took the shape of a suite as they segued into one another. “A Spacemen 3 kind of thing,” one of the cognoscenti in the crowd murmured – this set had remarkably more aggression than Simon’s previous appearance at the Beast in July (very favorably reviewed here).

For one reason or another the women who play Small Beast turn out to be the night’s biggest stars, and an Austin punk legend, former Gator Family and Norvells frontwoman Sally Norvell maintained the tradition, backed by Wallfisch and erstwhile Big Lazy bassist Paul Dugan on a few numbers. Norvell is best known as a menacing noir cabaret femme fatale, but this set was a showcase in stylistic diversity, masterful subtlety matched by wrenching, raw intensity. Norvell can belt with anyone, but it’s how she holds back, how she works whatever emotion the lyrics call for that makes her such a captivating presence – and one sorely missed, at least around these parts. A few years back, right around the time that her duo with Kid Congo Powers, Congo Norvell was pretty much finished, she put out an amazing, sparsely beautiful album, Choking Victim, backed just by Wallfisch and occasional minimalist percussion or guitar. They opened with one of the songs from that one, One Gentle Thing, replete with longing and regret, Wallfisch obviously in his element and relishing the moment from its first few stately chords. A creepy, swaying Congo Norvell song pulsed along with a steady, ominous eight-note pulse from the bass. And then noir cabaret personality Little Annie joined them for an understatedly anguished version of her big audience hit Because You’re Gone – the contrast of Annie’s bitter contralto and Norvell’s breathy soprano, and the counterpoint between the two, was absolutely transcendent and the two women made it seem effortless. And unaffectly intense – it brought Norvell to tears. The rest of the set could have been anticlimactic but it wasn’t – a brief, menacing Paul Bowles song (Wallfisch worked with him for a time), a sad minor ballad in 6/8, a gorgeously dark lament, and then Norvell finally cut loose with a soaring version of the old spiritual Trouble in the World, imbuing it with a nihilistic fury. “You can’t have an apocalypse without Jesus,” she grinned gleefully.

Keyboardist and Americana soul stylist Matt Kanelos and then another keyb guy, frequent Thalia Zedek collaborator M.G. Lederman were scheduled to follow, but there were places to go and things to do. Next week’s Beast is a beauty, with Julia Kent, Carol Lipnik and Rebecca Cherry in addition to Wallfisch doing his usual set solo at the piano – if you’re in New York this coming Monday you’d be crazy to miss it.

October 7, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 6/8/09

We do this every week. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Every link here will take you to each individual song.

 

1. Botanica – How

About time we had a Botanica song at #1 here – this is a blistering version of the politically-fueled gypsy rocker from their killer new live album americanundone. Frontman Paul Wallfisch’s weekly Small Beast show upstairs at the Delancey resumes on 6/22 at 8:30ish.

 

2. Serena Jost – Vertical World

Deliciously smart, artsy pop song by the art-rock siren, live on the radio with her band. Other good stuff here too!

 

3. Jason Rigby – Moon Goddess

Quietly hypnotic, very pretty modal jazz. The sax player is at Cornelia St. Cafe on 6/12 at 9.

 

4. Bodies Full of Magic – La Fin Du

Catchy acoustic-based, Americana-inflected, lyrical pop from South Carolina. A little earnest but ultimately spot-on. They’re at Arlene’s on 6/18 at 7.

 

5. Tribella – Saucer Eyes

Girl power, fun jangly stuff from Austin. “Get her offstage, get her offstage.” They’re at Arlene’s at 8 on 6/22

 

6. Ghost Ghost – St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

Driving, percussive indie rock motoring along with a killer rhyhtm section and a dark lyrical sensibility – like early Wire but with more balls.

 

7. Mayaeni – All the Time

Smartly aware, bluesy acoustic soul song. She’s at Drom on 6/16 at 11 with her band.

 

8. The Five Points Band – I’m Funny

Maybe in a dark and sick way. Good, creepy stuff. They’re at Rodeo Bar on 6/18 at 10:30ish

 

9. Woodhands – I Kissed a Girl

Two gay Canadian guys doing an absolutely hilarious over-the-top disco version of the odious Katy Perry radio commercial, um, corporate radio hit

 

10. Zane Alan – Boone’s Farm

Sounds like he had a few bottles before recording this. He’s at Arlene’s on 6/20 at 7.

June 9, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Concert Review: Serena Jost and Matt Kanelos at le Poisson Rouge, NYC 4/29/09

A particularly well-conceived art-rock doublebill. Both performers are people whose music lives between the lines, thriving on subtlety, understatement and ellipses rather than grand gestures. Serena Jost, when she’s not dabbling in modeling or getting work as a sidewoman (she’s a classically trained cellist who did time in Rasputina), leads a semi-rotating cast of characters through a vast landscape that spans the world of classical balladry, artsy pop, surf music, no-wave funk and straight-up rock. Wednesday night at le Poisson Rouge she had the benefit of keeping things fairly austere and low-key since she had a great sound system at her disposal. This time out she had the melodic Rob Jost on electric bass, multi-instrumentalist Rob DiPietro playfully and artfully handling the drums and in place of her regular axeman Julian Maile she had Pete Galub (just reviewed here leading his own band) handling lead guitar duties while she alternated between cello, piano and acoustic guitar.

Galub transformed the group, bringing the melodies front and center while adding an artsy, early 70s tinged bluesy feel that ran the gamut from plaintive to towering and majestic. The most dramatic moment came on the bridge during the long partita I Wait where Galub took Maile’s Dick Dale-ish lines deep into the Middle East, tossing the baton to Jost with a flourish where she grabbed it, held on for dear life and kept the revelry going. Then he took the usually stark Almost Nothing and added a vivid solo, part fiery blues and part big ornate ballad, that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Ian Bairnson playbook. Jost had been singing with her usual full, round and inscrutable clarity – she’s so direct that it would be impossible for there to be no subtext – but picked an insistent new ballad to cut loose and wail, as she did on another new one which she played on cello. Cellists don’t usually let their hair down to this extent, but Jost did.

By the time frequent Jenifer Jackson collaborator Matt Kanelos and his band the Smooth Maria hit the stage, the tables had all filled up, depression or no depression, a heartwarming sight. Nice to hear him cut loose on vocals, too, unadorned, casual and unaffected, much like the opening act. Backed by an excellent lead guitarist with a noisy edge as well as a subtle, swinging rhythm section, he alternated between acoustic guitar and piano, playing mostly new songs from the band’s brand-new cd Silent Show. While Americana is his fallback space, many of his songs have an undercurrent alternating between tastefully jazzy complexity and an almost minimalist, purist classical sensibility. The influences combine to create a dreamy yet focused, frequently poignant late summer atmosphere, replete with longing for something that doesn’t always overtly make itself known. Like Jost, Kanelos can be hard to read, all the more reason to listen closely. 

The big 6/8 piano ballad Rain evoked early 70s Pink Floyd (circa Obscured by Clouds), hypnotic and eerily edgy, Kanelos going completely rubato as it built to a big crescendo and then subsided to the point where he could step back in without any altercations. The night’s opening number, Abandoned Town reminded of middle-period Wilco with its “we won’t go back, we won’t go” insistence and noisily ringing crescendo of guitar chords. Another number felt like Chet Baker doing southwestern gothic, Kanelos and his lead player taking turns playing off and then on the beat as it wound down at the end. The crowd, quietly attentive to the end, went crazy for an encore and after a wait that didn’t bode well, were rewarded with a nostalgic ballad that Kanelos played solo on piano.

May 4, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review – Pete Galub at Lakeside Lounge, NYC 4/22/09

If you want to play great guitar, watch this guy. This is somebody who once placed Comfortably Numb all the way through, solo onstage on electric guitar, as a funk instrumental. And it actually worked. Brilliantly, in fact. As a sideman, Pete Galub has a resume that would make a lot of guys blush, as Amy Allison’s once-and-future lead guitarist and as one of the original Extroverts in Greta Gertler’s band. That he’d pick up gigs with those two songwriters makes even more sense when you hear his own material: Galub can’t resist a clever pun or a playful musical jape and neither can those two. But he saves his most ferocious playing for his own stuff. Thursday night at Lakeside he put on a clinic in understatedly melodic powerpop and noise-rock guitar, two styles that you wouldn’t think would go well together, maybe, unless you were a Steve Wynn fan. In fact, it sounded a lot like Galub had been holed up with a bunch of Steve Wynn bootleg tracks, which as it turned out, he hadn’t. Then again, maybe the wheel was invented simultaneously by two different guys who barely knew each other.

 

Fast and furious as he can be, Galub didn’t waste any notes, choosing his spots judiciously before hitting his distortion pedal or shading the textures with a deft twist or two on the bass, the treble or the volume (subtlety is everything in this guy’s book). Backed by a subtle, in-the-pocket rhythm section, he’d start out with a low growl and then make his way methodically to the upper registers, adding a snarling, wailing, dirty ferocity, then backing off, then turning the demons loose again. Bending and twisting a series of richly sustained chords, sinuous pop and country licks, he’d go on for a couple of minutes and would still leave the crowd wanting more when he wrapped up the solo. The midtempo Big Star-inflected number that he played next-to-last turned into a launching pad for some pyrotechnics that sounded straight out of the Karl Precoda songbook. Perhaps somewhat fortuituosly, Galub closed the set with the slow, tongue-in-cheek 6/8 ballad Boy Gone Wrong ( the title track from his most recent solo cd), inviting up Steve Wynn lead player Jason Victor to join him. Victor took his time tuning up. “Is there something you’d like to promote?” Galub asked him, giving him a chance to plug a gig or two.

 

“Sleep,” Victor mumbled. Yet when the time came, Galub looked stage right and started pouncing on a quick series of chords, and Victor was right there to join him in a noisy duel just as he does in Wynn’s band. Galub held down the lows, wildly tremolo-picking until he’d built a roaring, whirring cauldron of sound, Victor chopping at his strings like the chainsaw killer in Last House on the Left. It wasn’t pretty but it was a blast to hear. The crowd roared for an encore and Galub reverted to quick, tersely effective powerpop mode. Suddenly choosing this gig over Devi (whose lead player is also a serious monster), who were playing at Shrine, seemed like the right choice this time around. Galub’s next gig is with Serena Jost’s band at 7:30 PM on Apr 29 at le Poisson Rouge; watch this space for his next as a bandleader.

April 24, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Serena Jost and Jennifer O’Connor at the Delancey, NYC 3/5/09

A clinic in good songwriting from two of the best. Serena Jost has gotten a lot of ink here since Lucid Culture’s inception, and deservedly so. A virtuoso cellist who did time in Rasputina, her artsy, classically-inflected songs are often imbued with an old-world stateliness that takes on an even greater poignancy when she sings, in a cautious, wary, highly nuanced delivery. Yet she’s just as likely to break the mold and launch into a playful pop song that suddenly and unexpectedly morphs into something else – think rustic, early ELO-era Jeff Lynne. Both styles were in abundance last night. Starting out on guitar and accompanied by her longtime lead guitarist Julian Maile, the two ran through a swirling, catchy janglepop song and then the noirish, 6/8 ballad Falling Down. Switching to cello, she tackled another 6/8 ballad, the brand-new Blue Flowers with its surprise-laden Moonlight Sonata-ish broken chords. Almost Nothing, from her excellent, most recent cd Closer Than Far featured some eerily dexterous tremolo-picking from Maile, more Daniel Ash than Dick Dale. They closed with the ridiculously catchy, multi-part Reasons and Lies, Maile’s trebly twang interpolated beautifully amidst Jost’s stark cello textures.

 

Believe everything good you’ve ever heard about Jennifer O’Connor. Though signed to Matador, there’s nothing remotely indie about her. Setting brooding, gemlike, angst-ridden lyrics to tersely melodic, occasionally Americana-inflected rock tunes, she delivered a seemingly effortless, forty-minute set backed by just an excellent bassist and a woman singing harmonies (and playing soulful harmonica on one song), validating pretty much any claim that’s been made about her. From a listener’s point of view, it was a tantalizing glimpse of what it would be like to see O’Connor leading a good electric band, with her on lead guitar.

 

This being the Delancey’s weekly Thursday Small Beast extravaganza, there was the usual A-list of New York musicians in the house. When asked whose music she thought O’Connor’s resembles, one of the great songwriters of our time weighed the question. “Barbara Brousal,” she replied, which makes sense if you subtract the Brooklyn chanteuse’s tropicalia fixation: Brousal can really rock out when she’s in the mood, as does O’Connor. Someone else mentioned Steve Wynn, a particularly apt comparison during the best parts of the show where O’Connor resolutely swung her way through two deliriously catchy, darkly garage-inflected songs. There’s a striking, offhand strength and intensity to both her playing and her vocals, her big, often counterintuitive chords rich and sustained as she reflected on relationships gone wrong or hopelessly doomed. She’s spent a lot of time on the road lately, and the night’s best song (one of the Steve Wynn-esque numbers) seemed to echo that: “When I close my eyes, I see the highway/When I go, I go to sleep.”

 

The next song maintained a sense of longing despite the hopeful tone of the lyrics: “It will be easy for me,” she sang uneasily, wailing up and down on her acoustic to end the song on a fiery note. Another number saw her projecting in a powerful contralto for an entire verse before sailing to the upper ranges for the second, immediately bringing the intensity to redline. By contrast, the title track to her new cd Here with Me revealed itself as a surprisingly gentle, optimistic song with a catchy 60s pop feel. She closed the set returning to plaintive, haunting mode with a midtempo tune that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Matt Keating songbook: “I have a hard time of hiding everything,” she lamented.

 

Jennifer O’Connor’s next New York gig is April 3 at Cake Shop; Serena Jost and her full band play an auspiciously long 90-minute set at Barbes on Mar 12 at 8.

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

Concert Review: Amanda Thorpe and Serena Jost at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 10/1/08

This show managed to be informal and off-the-cuff yet virtuosic, like what VH1 seems to be shooting for when they put together a stripped-down, acoustic “Live from Abbey Road” type program. They should have been on hand for this one, considering that Bedsit Poets frontwoman Amanda Thorpe and Serena Jost are two of New York’s top tunesmiths. Oops, they’re not on some huge corporate record label. Better to get Justin Timberlake and John Mayer instead. J-Ti (was that Lou Perlman’s pet name for the moppet?) can play Chopsticks while Mayer noodles innocuously in the background between commercials. All cynicism aside, Wednesday night the few who braved the rain and the construction work going on all the way down Avenue C were treated to a clinic in great songcrafting.

 

The two women traded off songs, each accompanying the other. Sometimes that meant Jost improvising a slinky bassline on her cello, or Thorpe doing the same on her guitar. Thorpe also played a small synth on one of Jost’s songs. They both sang gorgeous harmonies (even though Jost was under the weather and running on fumes), each lending something of her own personality to the other’s work. It was just beautiful to watch, plain and simple. British expat Thorpe is best known as a singer. Her writing is characteristically terse and direct and has considerable bite. When she sang “There is no mercy this time,” in what could have been the night’s best number, The River Song, a bitter heartbreak ballad, there could be no doubt that she meant exactly what she said. Jost, by contrast, is best known for her work as a sidewoman and multi-instrumentalist (she did an extended stretch in Rasputina). Her songwriting is more opaque, and felt the benefit of Thorpe’s clear, steely harmonies. Likewise, Jost’s playful flourishes added gleam and shimmer to the austere beauty of Thorpe’s songs.

 

Both women debuted new songs. Thorpe’s was a bouncy, upbeat bossa number. Jost reminded what a fine guitarist she’s becoming on yet another of her disarmingly complex art-pop songs, and did another accompanying herself with warm, loping runs that she plucked on her cello while Thorpe filled out the melody with spot-on harmonies. Jost also played piano on one song. The only thing missing was their pal Mary Lee Kortes, the Mary Lee’s Corvette mastermind who’s been playing with them recently. As fascinating as this show was to watch, one can only imagine how much another great songwriting voice would add to the equation.

 

Thorpe’s next show is at the Cutting Room on Oct 21 at 7:30 with the Bedsit Poets, playing the cd release to their remarkably multistylistic new one, Rendezvous. Powerpop legend George Usher opens, solo acoustic. Watch this space for Serena Jost’s next performance.

October 3, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rev. Vince Anderson Live at Black Betty, Brooklyn NY 3/3/08

After seeing Serena Jost’s triumphant performance at Joe’s Pub, winding down was not an option. Rev. Vince Anderson’s weekly gospel show at Black Betty proved to be the perfect choice of detour. By about a quarter after eleven, he’d already begun his first set and was jamming out on a funky gospel groove, using the very authentic-sounding Hammond B3 setting on his Nord Electro keyboard. It was like wandering into a random bar and seeing Jimmy Smith in mid-set. And it looks like the NYU Class of 2012 has discovered Rev. Vince. If this particular sampling is any indication, this class dances. Which is a great thing. At first glance, it was impossible to tell the faux-bohemians from the faux-faux-bohemians. But a second glance revealed a clear distinction: the real faux-bohemians maintain their habitually stoned distance. The fake phonies’ intoxicant of choice is Jagermeister.

Faux-bohemianism has been commodified to the point that any rat from a mall with an Urban Outfitters can declare himself or herself a trendoid. And now there are even European trendoids wandering Williamsburg, casting icky looks at the remaining nonwhite establishments, murmuring to each other in French slang. And old trendoids too! Fat, graying old guys who had the good sense to get out of dotcom stocks before the bubble burst, then eight years down the road dumped the wife and kids and can now be seen in fullblown midlife crisis with a gold-digging girl (or boy) from Pratt on the arm, gazing upward in search of “for sale” signs on the dark towers of Mordor across the park from Bedford. Being a trendoid was never anything more than a pose, anyway. It’ll be good to be rid of the whole thing. Passion is the new detachment! Excitement is the new boredom! And Rev. Vince is leading the way, with the class of 2012 in tow.

As the Rev. told the audience, if an interviewer wants to talk about church, and their first question is about a parishioner, good things are happening. He’d been interviewed a couple of days previously, and the first thing the writer asked him was about one particular “parishioner” who regularly shows up every week and dances deliriously for practically three hours, as long as the Rev. and his band are onstage. Tonight happened to be the guy’s birthday. He’s not someone you’d mistake for a dancer if you saw him on the street: he’s a pretty hefty dude who looks like he spends his non-dancing hours lying around eating bags and bags of junk food. But the Rev., who as recently as a year ago tipped the scales at over two hundred pounds, apparently sees a kindred spirit in him. Like his mentor, the Rev. works in mysterious ways, and instead of offering a hale, hearty HAPPY BIRTHDAY, he needled the guy. “Don’t be afraid,” he cautioned him, launching into the reliable crowd-pleaser Bon Voyage, the boisterous tale of an Irish wake, from Anderson’s first album. Anderson brought the birthday kid up with him behind the keyboard and eventually handed him the microphone, taking a mincing, somewhat sarcastic piano solo on the high keys that was straight out of Mozart – or Liberace. In an impressively penetrating falsetto, the big dude led the the ladies in the audience in a call-and-response. Now this guy is anything but a trendoid. Dancing with wild abandon in front of a crowd of sneering anorexics takes a lot of guts if you are the antithesis of what they are, and Anderson seized on this. A church where a big fat dancing guy with a falsetto is welcome is simply a great place to be. It’s our kind of church, and this was our kind of show.

And the band was great as always. They did a soulful, slowly crescendoing take of Anderson’s new song about the breakup of a longtime relationship and a long, sizzling, completely funked-out version of his song Come to the River, rising to delirious heights. The horn section of Dave Smith on trombone and Paula Henderson on baritone sax alternated between subtlety and exuberance, and Anderson was in particularly wild, frenetic mode on the keys. If there’s any criticism of how this band has developed, it’s that Henderson doesn’t get to take as many solos as she used to now that they have the trombone. But that’s what her band Moisturizer is for.

March 4, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Serena Jost Live at Joe’s Pub, NYC 3/3/08

The adrenaline was flowing. Walking up Fourth Avenue at about half past ten, it was impossible not to be moving with a defiant bounce, humming Our Town, the stomping Iris DeMent cover that Serena Jost and band had just played to close their set at Joe’s Pub. And it wasn’t even all that good, mostly drums and hardly anything else in the mix. Not that the band played it badly, and drummer Colin Brooks was just doing his job. This was strictly a sound issue: Jost’s music is all about dynamics, tension and resolution, and this was their big crescendo of the night. It just must have caught the sound guy off-guard.

Between everybody who contributes here, we see scores if not hundreds of concerts, openings and movies every year. Serena Jost has been a fixture on the Lower East Side music scene for awhile. She’s been featured here before, and her new album Closer Than Far has been in heavy rotation here in Lucid Cultureland. Familiarity usually brings with it a certain comfort and ultimately a ho-hum factor, but not tonight. It was impossible not to be moved, tickled and sometimes even left spellbound by this show.

They opened with the absolutely, ridiculously catchy, bouncy Vertical World, an artsy pop song that serves as something of a centerpiece within the new album. It’s something that could become iconic if someone with good ears working on an indie film has the brains to run the whole song over the closing credits. The band followed that with another pretty, upbeat new one, In Time, which made a good segue. Jost moved around the stage a lot, beginning the set on keyboards, then switching to acoustic guitar, then cello, then back to keys. Her onstage persona is deliberately inscrutable. She often sings with a full, ripe, somewhat heartbroken tone, but she’s actually most mysterious when she’s having fun. The high point of the night as far as the audience was concerned was Jump, a playful straight-up 70s disco number driven by Brad Albetta’s stone-cold authentic, tongue-in-cheek bassline. But the melody gives the listener pause: it’s actually pretty dark. And why jump, anyway? This wasn’t exactly Van Halen. But the audience reveled in it. Jost and crew – once-and-future Mary Lee’s Corvette bassist Albetta holding pushing the rhythm along with Brooks, Julian Maile on electric guitar, and also guests Rob Jost (no relation) on French horn and Greta Gertler, contributing ethereal high harmonies on one song – were having the time of their lives. There was a lot of baton-tossing – Maile would fire off a solo, pass it along to the horn, then to the cello and so on – along with tricky time changes and clever wordplay. They encored with a song solo on cello, plumbing big, dark chords from the depths of the instrument: “her first love,” she reminded everyone. This is the kind of band, and the kind of show that would resonate especially with the latest yearly crop of 16-year-olds who have just discovered Pink Floyd: the passion, wit, melody and sheer intelligence that Jost and crew put into their music makes a good match.

March 4, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Serena Jost – Closer Than Far

A richly melodic, stylistically diverse masterpiece. Serena Jost (pronounced Yost) is a multi-instrumentalist who for quite a while played cello in Rasputina. On this album, her second, she also plays acoustic guitar and keyboards and sings in a truly beautiful, carefully modulated voice. What she does here falls under the nebulous umbrella of art-rock, although her tunes are uncommonly catchy, adding both classical and jazz influences. Jost’s lyrics are deliberately opaque, and like her music, they can be very playful: she clearly delights in paradoxes and contradictions, making her listeners think. This is a terrific ipod album. Here she’s backed by her band including Julian Maile on electric guitar, Brad Albetta (who also produced) on bass and keys, and Colin Brooks and Matt Johnson on drums along with strings and horns in places.

It opens, counterintuitively, with a cover, a stomping yet heartfelt take of Iris DeMent’s sad requiem Our Town: could this be a metaphor for New York? The next cut, Halfway There is a beautifully catchy, artsy pop song whose keys surprisingly end up in the hands of guest banjo player Jim Brunberg about halfway through, who drives it home with very rewarding results. The following cut Vertical World ought to be the hit single, opening all dramatic and coy with a faux-gospel intro:

No I’m not from Georgia, but you are on my mind
I swear I am from Georgia, ‘cause I like it when you take your time

From there it morphs into ridiculously catchy piano pop, on one level seemingly a view of New York through the eyes of an ingénue. But as in the rest of the songs here there are possibly several shades of meaning: taken as sarcasm, it’s a slap in the face of anyone in the permanent-tourist class with their 24/7 party lifestyle and fondness for chainstores like Krispy Kreme. After that, we get the inscrutable I Wait, with a long intro that eventually builds to a cello solo that Jost turns over to Maile, who responds by building something that could be Dick Dale in an unusually pensive moment. The next track, Almost Nothing, a lament, begins with stark classical guitar and features some nice background vocals from Alice Bierhorst and Greta Gertler. Speaking of the unexpected, Maile throws in a completely bombastic, Robin Trower-esque fuzztone guitar solo.

The following song Reasons and Lies reverts to a catchy art-pop feel, with a cello solo from Jost doubletracked with eerily reverberating vocalese. Jost likes to take the same kind of liberties with tempos that she pulls with melody and lyrics, and the next cut Awake in My Dreams gently jolts and prods the listener with echoey vocals and sudden tempo shifts. The next cut Jump is as eerie as it is playful: the production is pure 70s disco, utilizing cheesy period keyboard settings, but the darkness of the melody gives it away: “Down is not so far away,” intones Jost without divulging anything more. With its layers of fluttery acoustic guitars and cello, Falling Down reverts to a chiming pop feel. The album wraps up with In Time, featuring more tricky time changes, and then Stowaway, which perfectly sums up what Jost is all about:

I’m hoping for a shore I can seek
Where dusk and dawn always meet

Challenging, captivating, thought-provoking and very pretty. Time may judge this a classic. Serena Jost and band play the cd release show for Closer Than Far at Joe’s Pub on March 3 at 9:30 PM.

February 25, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Serena Jost at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 12/21/07

Arguably the best show we’ve ever seen her do. We’ve given Serena Jost a lot of space here this year, because she’s earned it. A cellist by trade, she did a long stretch in Rasputina before hanging out her own shingle. Tonight she started out on acoustic guitar, then switching to piano, then to cello and so forth. The songs in the set, a mix of new material and stuff from a long-overdue full-length cd were a richly melodic grab-bag of styles, from jazz to chamber-rock, with bits of gospel and surf music added for extra spice. Jost’s work is very intricate and very playful, and it was clear that the band of Julian Maile on reverb-drenched Fender guitar, Rob Jost (no relation) on upright bass and Rob DiPietro on drums were having a great time up there (after a crowd of fans, the bartender and another great songwriter each took a turn at the sound board, trying to get it working properly – the sound is always hit and miss here).

One accident of having dodgy sound was that it forced Jost to run her acoustic through the club’s little Peavey amp which was turned up to where it was about to break up into distortion. How fortuitous that was: suddenly the songs had a grit and a growl they’d never had before, and they liked it! One of the highlights of the night was the bouncy, irresistibly catchy piano pop hit Vertical World, which as it turns out may be about how New York is changing for the worse – Jost’s lyrics are very subtle, so it’s hard to tell – but at the end of the second verse, she ends up sardonically grinning, “here I am, in Krispy Kreme!” Another tune, I Wait, is something of a mini-epic that turns into a surf instrumental about halfway through. Maile played a mix of finely refined skronk and classic Ventures licks, ending his solo with some fast tremolo picking a la Dick Dale. Serena Jost jumped in and continued the solo, playing the same lick staccato on cello and the effect was mouth-watering. Her almost-namesake on bass (whose name is pronounced with a J instead of a Y) played sinuous, fast fills, sneaking in effortlessly to make a contribution to the melody whenever he had the chance. DiPietro felt the room perfectly and didn’t hit too hard, although he had plenty of opportunities to contribute to the songs’ crescendos and nailed all of them. It’s always more fun when the band themselves are clearly having a good time: tonight was a prime example. Serena Jost is doing a cd release show early next year, watch this space for details.

December 22, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment