Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 6/14/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Sunday’s song is #409:

The Sloe Guns – Guardian Angel

One of the most beautifully savage kiss-off anthems ever written, by these fiery two-guitar New York Americana rockers, from their 2004 cd Last Will & Testament, still a staple of their reliably bracing live show. “You’d never stab me in the back, unless you thought that I deserved it.” They’re playing Arlene’s on 6/27 at 10 PM.

June 14, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 11/10/08

Counting down the top 666 songs of alltime one day at a time all the way to #1. Here’s a celebratory one to fit the mood the whole world’s seemed to be in since the election:  

624. Fordfalconblue – Eldorado Road

Exhilarating, vividly imagistic good-to-be-alive anthem from these underrated late 90s/early zeros NYC Americana rockers, lead player Eric Alter (who would go on to acclaim in the Sloe Guns) mixing it up nicely as frontman Richard Wallace’s 12-string clangs magnificently in the background. Never officially released by the band, although there are bootlegs kicking around; Wallace has a solo version on his site.

November 10, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Sloe Guns and the Toneballs at Freddy’s, Brooklyn NY 8/2/08

Long-running New York Americana rockers the Sloe Guns were too loud for the room: they’re used to big stages, and this time they weren’t on one. On one hand, hearing the clang of frontman Eric Alter’s beautiful Gretsch hollowbody (and then his Telecaster) against the roar of lead player Mick Izzo’s Gibson (and then his Tele) was texture heaven. But in a small downstairs room like Freddy’s, it’s hard to sing over that kind of sonic assault, and with the vocal mic turned up into the red, the crowd got out their earplugs. Echoes of CBGB circa 1977. Textures are one of the Sloe Guns’ trademarks, along with guitar duels (none of those tonight) and first-rate songwriting. The band is responsible for a couple of genuine classics, and they played both of them. Dillon, a slowly burning, backbeat-driven outlaw ballad from their first album was one of them, and they upped the ante even further with Guardian Angel, an excoriating kiss-off anthem from their Last Will & Testament album. Hearing just one of those songs made the whole evening worthwhile; hearing both was a real treat.

 

Best known as an arthouse filmmaker, former Blow This Nightclub frontman Dan Sallitt is also a first-rate songwriter. Over the course of a relatively long (for him, anyway), fifty-minute set, he and his new band the Toneballs proved the former LA post-new wave rocker as vital as ever. Like Elvis Costello or Ward White, Sallitt is something of a psychopathologist, minutely dissecting the pathology of relationships gone horribly wrong. Tonight’s show featured some impressive new, post BTN material, including a slow, pensive, somewhat Neil Young-ish number in 6/8 that they played early in the set, a long look at a woman who can’t seem to pull herself together. They followed with the characteristically caustic, sarcastic BTN song Mr. Insensitive. Sallitt then announced that the band had decided to play a new Richard Thompson cover every time out. “I thought this was our only gig,” bassist Dann Baker (who fronts amazing psychedelic rockers Love Camp 7 and plays lead in Erica Smith’s band) said puckishly.

 

Sallitt didn’t respond directly. “I promise not to sing in a British accent,” he told the crowd, and promptly steered the unit into very treacherous waters. Covering a pantheonic artist like Thompson is always a risk, especially such an iconic choice as Shoot Out the Lights, but the band actually rose to the occasion and delivered, testament to the quality of the players: drummer Bill Gerstel (who’d just finished a set with his regular band, the Sloe Guns) kept it slow and dark, Sallitt stayed within himself as promised and lead guitarist Paul McKenzie – who’d been getting some delicious, watery tonalities with a Leslie effects pedal earlier – not only managed to play a couple of the leads that Thompson plays on the record, but also added his own anguished, chromatic, Thompsonesque, bent-note work. The audience was awestruck. After a somewhat ominous new song featuring the lead player on electric bouzouki, providing a clanging, Rickenbacker-style effect, they encored with the punchy Blow This Nightclub song Fran Goes to School. It’s a tongue-in-cheek tune about a shut-in finally seeing daylight, building from a Talking Heads-ish verse into an impossibly catchy, fluid chorus. The crowd wanted more, but that was all the band had rehearsed. Considering that this was the Toneballs’ debut performance, one can only hope that they’ll do another, and sooner than the six months it’s been since Sallitt last played a live set.

 

August 5, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Concert Review: The Sloe Guns at Arlene Grocery, NYC 10/5/07

Bad segue city: the opening band was a heavy metal act straight out of Spinal Tap, carefully coiffed long hair obscuring their sweaty faces, all metal studs, skintight jeans and leather, preening and screeching. After they finished, the room emptied out completely, and as they left, it became obvious that most of the crowd was children. Not the trust fund children armed with cellphones and their parents’ credit cards clogging the streets outside. These were rugrats, ten-year-olds at best. Maybe somebody’s big brother is in the band and the whole fifth-grade class took a field trip up from Teaneck to see him. No wonder the door guy didn’t card me (although the girl inside taking money was tweaking hard – crystal meth? – and with shaking hands tried to stamp my shirtsleeve. Hands off, bitch, I wanted to tell her. That was a birthday present).

The Sloe Guns battled an awful sound mix for the better part of an hour, and though they ultimately lost, it was like watching the Yankees lose to the Red Sox in the fifth game of the 2004 playoffs. Everybody was firing on all cylinders for that one, remember? Even Esteban Loaiza was good that night. But there was a 500-pound gorilla in the room named David Ortiz, and tonight the gorilla was a sound guy who carries about as much weight as the Red Sox slugger, but on a frame half the size. When the direct input box on the bass amp broke, resulting in a couple of songs being played with little if any bottom end, the rotund little guy huffed and puffed his way onto the stage but didn’t do anything about it. Exasperated, the bass player plugged straight into the amp and turned his beautiful black Danelectro Lyre copy bass up really loud, just to be safe. So did the sound guy pay attention and bring up the vocals to compensate? Hell no.

But this lit a fire under the band. “Thanks for nothing, asshole,” muttered the frontman under his breath. A lot of bands sound best when they’re pissed off, and the Sloe Guns might be one of them. The remainder of the show was a blazing success, given the sonic limitations. The band had promoted the show as being all new material, and while they did a couple of older numbers, the time they’ve spent writing has not been wasted. A lot of the new songs are more straight-ahead, anthemic, meat-and-potatoes rock in a somewhat similar vein as Willie Nile, driven by riffs and hooks as opposed to the Sloe Guns’ usual twang. They even played a pop song with a surprisingly complex verse, complete with jazz chords, and pulled it off.

Then they took it to the next level. The frontguy switched guitars, running an acoustic into his Fender amp, and they launched into the most beautiful new song I’ve heard this year. It’s a gorgeously swaying, sad country song, melodically very similar to Son Volt’s Tearstained Eye. The Sloe Guns’ lead guitarist is a tremendous slide player, and the solo he played, all unexpected passing tones, was absolutely heartwrenching. And the band didn’t lose any steam afterward, following with their classic 2004 kiss-off anthem Guardian Angel, from their most recent full-length album, another slide guitar-driven number:

You’d never stab me in the back
Unless you thought that I deserved it
You’d always protect me if I was attacked
Unless you could avoid it
All the kindest of hearts you always had on display
That’s why every night I get down on my knees and pray
You’re not my guardian angel

They closed with a stomping, Stonesy new one on which they went round the horn with closing licks at the end, first the lead guitar, then the bass, then the drums, then back to the head and boom, it was over. As lousy as a lot of the experience was: why can’t this sometimes great-sounding club find a reliable sound engineer? – it was bracing to watch these guys fight and claw their way through the set. Take a chance on this band’s next gig Oct 27 at 10 PM at the Baggot Inn. The sound can’t be any worse than it was here.

October 10, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Concert Review: Blow This Nightclub Reunion (Sort of…) at Freddy’s, Brooklyn NY 8/12/07

This wasn’t technically a reunion of the original members of this obscure but brilliant late 80s/early 90s Los Angeles indie/new wave group: only frontman Dan Sallitt and lead guitarist Larry Jacobson were present. Yet the Zombies played Brooklyn recently, with just Colin Bluntstone and Rod Argent from the original lineup onstage. If that’s the standard, then this show ought to qualify.

Blow This Nightclub had the misfortune to come out right around the time the major labels stopped signing quality acts. Otherwise you would know them well. They aren’t quite as obscure as you might think. This show came together on the spur of the moment: since Jacobson was going to swing through town, Sallitt pulled together a pickup band consisting of the Sloe Guns’ Bill Gerstel on drums, Dann Baker (from Love Camp 7 and Erica Smith’s band) on bass and former Sinclair frontwoman Donna Upton on backing vocals. They played this show after just two rehearsals yet ended up sounding as good if not better than the original band. Sallitt’s soul-inflected tenor sounded particularly strong, ably abetted by Upton’s powerful pipes. Gerstel gave the songs some swing, and Baker proved he’s the best bass player in Erica Smith’s group. While Sallitt occasionally plays an acoustic show or two, Jacobson hadn’t played some of these songs in ten years, yet as he said after the show, they were still in his fingers. In almost exactly a half-hour’s time, the band ran through some of their best material and a surprise cover.

Fueled by Sallitt’s clever, cynical lyricism, Marriage for Beginners was one of the show’s high points, as was the gorgeously crescendoing When Amy Says, with Sallitt’s and Upton’s harmonies on the chorus. The best song of the night was the caustic, brutally dismissive Love Camp Summer, a withering portrait of a bunch of trust fund kids vacationing in Mexico: “You’re having too much fun/You’ll be happy when it’s done.” They closed the set with the bouncy, tongue-in-cheek Fran Goes to School, a Dann Baker song seemingly about a shut-in who finally manages to get out of the house. The small but riveted audience screamed for an encore, and the band finally obliged with a spirited, impressively tight version of Neil Young’s Ohio, a song that everyone in the band had undoubtedly played before, but had never thought of rehearsing as a unit.

Which goes to show what can happen when you take some of the best players in town and put them together on a stage. This one will sadly be demolished at some indeterminate date in the near future, when New Jersey developer Bruce “Ratso” Ratner finally gets the go-ahead to tear down the building. Since Freddy’s is in the “footprint” for the Atlantic Yards luxury housing/basketball arena complex, its days are numbered. Tonight’s show, more than just a great moment in obscure rock history, is yet another reminder of what New York stands to lose from the explosion of luxury housing. For not only are all those cheaply prefabricated, plastic-and-sheetrock Legoland highrises displacing music venues, they’re displacing the people who play there. And raising rents to the point where musicians and other artists can’t afford to live here anymore. Cities have always served as a cauldron for great artistic alchemy, and we’re witnessing their extinction on a scale greater than any other time in history. If Ratner and his cronies get their way, what was once arguably this nation’s greatest musical metropolis will become a vapid highrise suburb devoid of anything edgier than American Idol. New York is already in the midst of an artistic brain drain, and it will only get worse. Ask yourself, when’s the last time you discovered a good New York band (or artist, or filmmaker, etc.) under thirty years old other than by pure accident? This city was once a magnet for great talent, but now nobody can afford to come here. In the absence of some cataclysmic event (or voter initiative) that puts an end to the luxury housing boom, what’s left of a vast and fertile scene won’t last much longer. Get out to Freddy’s – or Lakeside or Magnetic Field or wherever else something good is still happening – while you can.

August 13, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: The Sloe Guns – The Sun Sessions

Absolute hubris, right down to the cd packaging. Luckily the songs on this potently twangy NYC band’s third release have the muscle to stake a claim to a place in the Americana rock pantheon. The Sloe Guns’ new cd opens auspiciously with the slowly unwinding anthem Wild Sun, a majestically climactic number that bears some resemblance to the Wallflowers’ classic Sixth Avenue Heartache. Driven by lead player Mick Izzo’s searing slide guitar and anchored by Hammond organ, it’s a beautifully troubled song. The band has thoroughly thrashed the cd’s next tune, Try, in live shows for over a year and it’s evolved into a catchy number that evokes early Wilco, with an unexpected modulation toward the end. Nice barrelhouse piano from studio keyboardist Patience Clements. The ep concludes with Into the Sun (Sun Sessions – now you get it, right?), a stomping R&B-inflected number that sounds like something off of Aftermath by the Stones, but produced with care on fat-sounding two-inch tape. The Sloe Guns are a dynamite live band: when frontman Eric Alter trades off licks on his Telecaster against Izzo’s Les Paul riffage, it’s nothing short of exhilarating. See them if you’re into this kind of stuff. CD’s are extremely inexpensive, available online and at shows. The Sloe Guns play the Mean Fiddler at 10 PM on Sat May 5.

May 3, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment