Is it possible to be nostalgic for something that happened just four years ago? Is nostalgia a healthy emotion to begin with? Probably not. But with this week being the four-year anniversary of Small Beast, seeing that date memorialized Monday night upstairs at the Delancey brought back fond memories of the weekly series’ glory days here in New York. Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch – this era’s finest rock keyboardist – founded the night in 2008 as a solo residency, followed by an endless cavalcade of some of New York’s, and the world’s, finest and darkest rock acts. This evening was a fond reminder of what an amazing run Small Beast had up to the summer of 2010, when Wallfisch took his show on the road to Germany. He now runs the State Theatre in Dortmund, which also serves as the European base for the Beast.
The night opened explosively with Valerie Kuehne. She’s part punk classical cellist, part performance artist, but her performance art isn’t the foofy, mannered kind – it’s oldschool 80s style and it has fangs. And it’s hilarious. Whether or not Kraft pasteurized processed American cheese qualifies as food, or how yoga has been transformed from oasis of relaxation to yuppie clusterfuck, might seem obvious. But Kuehne’s rapidfire rants about both were irresistibly funny all the way through to the punchlines…and then she played a roaring solo cello piece that became surprisingly lyrical, as violinist Jeffrey Young strolled in through the audience, and then she and accomplice Esther Neff donned masks and handed out instructions to the audience. Which turned out to be a cruel kind of dada – watching the crowd make fools of themselves, looking up at them from the floor of the club (music bloggers aren’t immune to being spoofed) was almost as funny. Then she and Neff ran off to Cake Shop, where they were doing another show.
Martin Bisi cautioned before his duo improvisation with fellow guitarist Ernest Anderson that it might be “sleepy.” Nightmarish, maybe, but definitely not sleepy: fifteen seconds into it, and Bisi hit a ringing tritone and then sent it spiraling devilishly through the mix as Anderson anchored the ambience with keening layers of sustain from his ebow. Meanwhile, Bisi slammed out chords when he wasn’t building a murky, echoey cauldron of implied melody. And then in a raised middle finger to the sound system, he stuck his guitar in his amp and mixed the noise through a labyrinth of bleeding, pulsing effects. Although he’s not known as a jam guy – epic dark songcraft is his thing – he’s actually a tremendously entertaining improviser who never plays the same thing the same way twice. Jamming out soundscapes is probably the last thing he or anybody who knows his music would expect him to be doing, but this was good trippy fun.
Roman Wallfisch was the star of this show. The guitarist son of the night’s impresario has been playing banjo for a couple of weeks now, and he’s already figured out all sorts of cool voicings mixing old folk tropes with new rock ones. He casually made his way through a couple of shambling narratives, Monsoon Season and Parts of Speech, both songs showing off a wryly surreal lyrical sensibility and a wicked sense of melody: the apple obviously didn’t fall far from the tree. Oh yeah – in case you’re wondering, Roman Wallfisch is fourteen years old.
And the Wiremen – in a duo performance with guitarist/bandleader Lynn Wright and violinist Jon Petrow – could have been anticlimactic, but they weren’t. Wright’s plaintive English/Spanish vocals over broodingly jangly, reverb-toned southwestern gothic melodies were as surrealistically dusky as ever. Wright held the crowd rapt with a quiet new song and ended the set with Sleep, which seems to be a cautionary tale, Petrow’s even more reverb-drenched lines raising the sepulchral ambience as high as anything sepulchral can go.
Guitarist Alexander Hacke and electric autoharpist Danielle Depicciotto treated the crowd to an equally brooding southwestern gothic ballad and then Cuckoo, the old Austrian folk song, complete with yodeling. Noir cabaret personality Little Annie was supposed to be next, but she was under the weather, so pianist Wallfisch was joined by another brilliant dark chanteuse, Sally Norvell, whose takes of three haunting tracks from her duo album with him a few years back were lustrous and riveting, running the gamut from joyously torchy and seductive to funereal.
Wallfisch wrapped up the night with the kind of intuitively eclectic mix that defined the Beast for a couple of years, capturing the raw innocence of the Kinks’ Waterloo Sunset and the apprehension of Dylan’s Blind Willie McTell before a wry Little Annie Christmas song, the furtive gypsy punk of the Botanica song Money (from their latest, towering, intense album What Do You Believe In) and then the scorching gypsy punk of How, a crowd-pleaser from the old days. Petrow made another ghostly cameo or two. By now, it was after one in the morning, so Wallfisch wrapped up the evening with the nocturne Past One O’Clock (an audience request), the towering anthem Judgment (centerpiece of the new album) and a gorgeously brooding new number inspired by – among other things – the college kid in New Jersey who lept to his death from a bridge after being outed as gay. If there’s any lesson to take away from this show, it’s carpe diem: if there’s a scene this vital that you hang out in, don’t hide yourself at home, even if it’s Monday night. It could be gone sooner than you think.
Monday night in New York might not be professional night anymore – every night is Saturday for the pampered sons and daughters of the ruling classes – but vestiges of it remain. If only out of habit, crowds are still smaller on Mondays. A crawl around town last night started out disappointing and ended every bit as ecstatically as hoped. This week’s installment of Chicha Libre’s weekly Monday residency at Barbes was cancelled, and the early act playing in the back room wasn’t exactly setting the place on fire, so it was time to go to plan B: Small Beast.
Small Beast is now a global event. Founder and Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch has taken it on the road with him to the Stadt Theater in Dortmund, Germany, but the original weekly Monday night series at the Delancey has continued on, virtually nonstop since he moved. Last night’s was Beast #103, if memory serves right, and it’s safe to say that at this point, at least stateside, this Beast is cooked. The night doesn’t even have a web presence anymore – none of the rotating cast of musicians who book it have bothered to update the Small Beast myspace page, or create a new calendar somewhere else – and without Wallfisch and his bottomless rolodex of amazing dark rock and rock-related acts, it’s been on life support other than on the few nights where Vera Beren or Carol Lipnik have taken charge. Which is a shame: its first couple of years will go down in New York rock history for being every bit as exciting and cutting-edge as the early days of CBGB were. To make a long story short, last night the room was practically empty and there was good reason for that. At least the drinks were cheap.
But the night wasn’t over. Next stop was across the river at Union Pool where Rev. Vince Anderson made all the shlepping around in the cold worthwhile. The place was mobbed, as usual. Like Bowie or Madonna, he never ceases to amaze as he reinvents himself or his band. This time they opened with a long, hypnotically circling Afrobeat instrumental – maybe the presence of star trombonist Dave Smith, from the Fela pit band, had something to do with it. Later they did a fiery, minor-key reggae song with a Peter Tosh feel: “You have to know the law to break the law,” Anderson insisted again and again, pumping juicy organ chords out of his Nord Electro keyboard.
The first set peaked with a long dance contest. The Rev. works a crowd like nobody else in this town, and he got everybody screaming as a handful of brave contestants showed off their Big Man Dance moves. “This is for the oldschool people here tonight,” Anderson explained. “I wrote this when I was fifty pounds heavier.” This particular dance is a soul shuffle where you stick out your gut, hold your lower back and walk with your legs apart as if it’s midsummer and you’ve run out of Gold Bond Powder. After a couple of elimination rounds and endless tongue-in-cheek vamping by the band, the winner got to enjoy a few seconds of triumph, a free glass of whiskey and a big shout-out from Anderson. After that, the woman who serves as Anderson’s excellent backup singer led the band in a volcanic, psychedelic blowout of Amazing Grace that actually managed to transcend the song’s dubious origins (the guy who wrote it was the captain of a slave ship). Baritone saxophonist Paula Henderson showed her usual wry virtuosity and spectacular range, but it was guitarist Jaleel Bunton who sent it off into orbit and wouldn’t let up, through a warped, reverb-drenched bluesmetal solo that must have gone on for five minutes and was impossible to turn away from. Even when the rest of the band had all come back in, he wouldn’t stop, alternating between sizzling hammer-ons and eerie off-center atmospheric washes. After all that, Anderson’s usual singalong of This Little Light of Mine couldn’t help but be anticlimactic. That was it for the first set: by now, it was one in the morning, the temperature outside had dipped into the teens and it was time to get lucky and catch a shockingly fast L train home.
Monday night at the Delancey is still the most happening night of the week for rock music in New York. Small Beast founder and Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch may have taken his act on the road to Dortmund, Germany for the next year, but the weekly series lives on. This must have been close to Beast #100 and it was characteristically fascinating. Black Fortress of Opium frontwoman Ajda the Turkish Queen opened. That band’s 2008 Martin Bisi-produced album is a highwater mark in recent dark rock, but hearing their singer play solo was a real revelation. Switching between mandolin and piano, she showed off a versatile, nuanced and even playful vocal style that with the band sometimes gets subsumed in the din of the guitars. On album, her song Ari is a slowly crescendoing, ferociously guitar-fueled epic; live, it was hypnotic and plaintive. As it turns out, it imagines the life of the son Nico had with 70s French actor Alain Delon. A new, ornate ballad featuring some unexpectedly nimble mandolin work followed an upward trajectory; another new one, Fata Morgana was lyrically charged, “shot down by a man with disillusion in his eyes,” she sang with a wounded understatement. A fragmentary piano sketch with a long, intense a-cappella passage was claustrophobic and intense, followed by a percussive, insistent requiem. Her band is back in the studio working with Bisi again, a collaboration that promises even better results a second time around.
Pete Galub followed with a clinic in great guitar solos. He’s reached the point where he ranks with Gilmour, Frisell, B.B., whoever you care to put in your guitar pantheon. Galub matches wit to intensity, surprise to adrenaline and does it over incredibly catchy changes. He’s a powerpop guy at heart, so there’s always a memorable tune playing underneath his rhythmically tricky, dynamically shifting solo excursions. Watching him with just his Telecaster running through a few off-the-shelf pedals, it was a chance to see those solos completely unadorned: you could imagine any backing you wanted and they’d still work, whether that might be the Undertones, Big Star or even ELO. He’s a maven of melodic rock, opening with a relatively obscure but typically tuneful Only Ones anthem, Woke Up Sticky, eventually running through a thoughtfully paced version of his 6/8 ballad Boy Gone Wrong (title track to his surprisingly quiet singer-songwriter album from a couple of years back), and two fiery, noirish, minor-key anthems, the second a bitter, metaphorically loaded kiss-off song. He wrapped up his set with a clever, somewhat tongue-in-cheek reworking of Steely Dan’s Every Major Dude Will Tell You.
Atmospheric, edgy guitar noir soundtrack guy Thomas Simon – whose new album Moncao is one of the year’s best – had booked the night and was next on the bill, but the trains were messed up so it was time to go. And he’s gotten plenty of ink here before.
Chrissie Hynde’s new band made their US debut, playing their first-ever full-length concert at Rockwood Music Hall last night. To say that JP, Chrissie and the Fairground Boys are the best project she’s taken on in over twenty years is not the compliment it could be, but she proved that she’s still got a way with a catchy hook and a spine-tingling vocal style that just keeps getting more and more exquisite. Hynde has never sung better: what a voice, what subtlety and nuance. She said more in just the minute inflection of a blue note, or those little melismas that she lets fall away, wounded but graceful, than most singers can relate over the course of a whole album. Yet what was most inspiring about the show – which went on for over an hour – was that much of the material was up to the level of that voice. Alongside Hynde, her boyfriend JP Jones (formerly of tuneful, anthemic British rockers Grace) and lead guitarist Patrick Murdoch switched back and forth between acoustic and electric guitar: when all three were playing, they frequently evoked the swampy Americana of Moby Grape, the 1960s Bay Area band they credit as a primary inspiration.
The best song of the night was Hynde’s, a slow, jangly lament possibly titled Misty Valley, blending the counterintuitive chordal structure of the Pretenders with a more traditional Americana vibe. Another even more vividly evoked her main band circa 1980 with its deluge of rapidfire, angst-tinged but disdainful lyrics. Other songs tinted the ramshackle jangle and clang with shades of powerpop, blues or, on one number where Jones hung on his open strings, indie rock. As much as this is clearly Hynde’s project, Jones impressed with a big, swaying, unhinged anti-trendoid anthem possibly titled Portobello, about the spoiled, aimless milieu of the former slum that’s now the London equivalent of Williamsburg: “You burn up money, you think it’s funny, you can laugh til you die,” he railed, after which Murdoch launched into a fiercely flailing minor-key solo.
But some of the songs were simply too much information. Beyond the obvious: he likes a drink, she likes a smoke (and has her California medical marijuana card – or did, anyway, before she lost it), two or three songs were simply uncomfortable to hear. Chrissie Hynde can do what she feels like at this point in her career, but hardly anyone in the demographic she most appeals to knows what couplecore is (or should, really, other than it’s a genre to avoid). This was most obvious when the duo tried to wring some humor out of all the gratuitous references to their May-December romance: several times throughout the set, the otherwise very friendly crowd couldn’t help roaring with laughter at some of their couplets. And watching Jones play straight man to Hynde on a song about a couple of misfits in love was nothing short of cringe-inducing, evoking Tina Turner turning to Ike onstage and trying to channel some semblance of devotion: “Yes, love.”
To the Rockwood’s considerable credit, the room was sold out, but not oversold: the club could have squeezed a few dozen others in on top of the standing-room crowd and would have gotten away with it, but they didn’t succumb to that kind of greed. And the sound was superb as always: they even sent one of the crew into the thicket of bodies to make sure that the vocal levels were up to snuff.
Afterward, a trip down the block and around the corner to Small Beast at the Delancey (our usual Monday night haunt) offered an intriguing reminder that different versions of the edgy female-fronted rock that Hynde made her mark in are still very much alive, in vividly intense sets by guitar/cello noir rock duo Nihla and the fearless grand guignol sway of Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble.
The big show happened at the Orensanz Center Friday night. Because the night had to end before midnight, it was like the Rolling Stones Revue, 2010 style: everybody got short sets but made the most of them. Spottiswoode opened, solo on piano. He’s never sounded better. He has a musical theatre production coming up in the fall and if the trio of brand-new songs he played are any indication, it ought to be good. Intense and pensive, he began with a gospel flavored number, following with one of the best songs of the whole night, a bitter, brooding wee-hours tableau possibly titled Wall of Shame. He then dedicated a passionate ballad to a pretty, short-haired brunette in the crowd named Nicole: “I would follow you to Philadelphia,” he intoned.
Barbez have never sounded better either – their set was amazing, maybe the best of the entire night, an offhanded reminder of how brilliant this band is. Even more impressive, when you consider that their van had just been broken into the previous night, most of their gear stolen (Williamsburg bands beware – this is the second one in two days). This was their instrumental set, all minor keys, erasing all cross-country and cross-genre borders with perfect effortlessness. Guitarist Dan Kaufman led the band into a Balkan surf groove in 7/8 time, building to a squall with the clarinet going full blast, down to a masterfully nuanced passage featuring the marimba, then bringing it up again and ending it cold. The next one had a tango flavor, more prominent marimba and tricky rhythms. After that, they worked down from a furious gallop to atmospherics and then more tango, then started the next one with an ominously funereal, minimalist rumble that picked up in a rawtoned Savage Republic vein, ending with a creepy, carnivalesque waltz.
Since Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch had booked the night, he was pulling triple duty onstage, his first set of the night being with his longtime sparring partner Little Annie Bandez. This was the cd release show for their new one, Genderful, arguably the high point of their career together up to now. The crowd was silent, rapt, amazed – as a raconteur, Bandez has no equal, but since time was tight she kept the songs tight and terse and absolutely haunting, beginning with Wallfisch on guitar and backed by the full band on a wistful, sad version of Billy Martin Requiem, a tribute not only to the fallen Yankee skipper but also that era’s AIDS casualties. “Thirty years in business to learn a word like ‘monitor,'” she joked as soundman Marco, on loan from the Delancey, made some expert adjustments (big up to Marco by the way – the sound was outstanding all night). The wee-hours lament Suitcase Full of Secrets was poignant and loaded with understatement, on the wings of Heather Pauuwe’s violin; they closed with a brand-new song, Dear John, a requiem for a suicide. Bandez looked up, then around at the majestic synagogue facade behind the stage and did a slow, thoughtful 360, leading the crowd’s eyes just as she’d led their ears.
Bee and Flower have been conspicuously absent from the New York stage, but they haven’t lost a step. Frontwoman/bassist Dana Schechter began their all-too-brief set as chanteuse, swaying and playing shakers on a particularly haunting version of the slowly sweeping, characteristically cinematic minor-key 6/8 anthem Homeland. They picked up the pace briefly with a bouncy number that saw lead guitarist Lynn Wright (leader of the amazing And the Wiremen) swooping on his low E string to provide a second bassline against Schechter’s slinky groove. Switching pensively from tango inflections to starlit wonder to a pounding, hypnotically intense version of Twin Stars, a standout track from their first album, the only thing missing was the epic suspense film for which the songs would have made the perfect score.
The crowd peaked for Botanica, who were serenaded on and then offstage, from the balcony overhead, with the exquisive and otherworldly Balkan vocals of two completely unamplified singers, Black Sea Hotel’s Corinna Snyder and her equally haunting pal Kelly. Wallfisch had just played keys for Bee and Flower, so he switched to his battered Wurlitzer-and-organ combo and then went into a zone. Guitarist John Andrews blasted out wild Dick Dale-style tremolo-picked passages, playing through a skin-peeling cloud of reverb and delay. He also sang what might have been the best song of the whole night, the menacing art-rock epic Xmas, opening with just guitar and vocals for a Beatlesque verse, finally exploding with a crash on the second chorus. Their opener, the title track to their new album Who You Are (whose release was also being celebrated this evening) moved from stately menace to unaffected, longing angst; La Valse Magnetique, sort of the title track to their previous studio cd, featured more insane surf guitar and a very pregnant pause. Monster surf met Elvis Costello on a pointed, relentless version of the gypsy-punk Witness. There were other acts on the bill, but after a set like this, anything that followed it would have been anticlimactic – after five bands, maybe more (this is just the highlights), it was time to take a break and enjoy what was left of the early summer evening outside.
So sold as we were on this show (in case you were away, we plugged it shamelessly for a week), it pretty much delivered on its promise. The weekly Small Beast concert upstairs at the Delancey – from which this sprang – is the closest thing we have these days in New York to what CBGB was in the 70s, or what Tonic was from 1995 to 2005: the most fertile, fearlessly imaginative rock and rock-oriented scene in town. And from a blogger’s perspective, it’s a dream come true – for the price of a few hours worth of an otherwise fairly useless Monday, it’s an absurdly easy way to keep in touch with some of the world’s most vital rock and rock-oriented acts. Shame on the other Manhattan venues for not doing something like this on a Saturday and promoting it to a wider audience.
“Which one are you?” host Paul Wallfisch asked, completely deadpan (his Big Small Beast extravaganza, maybe the best NYC rock show of the year, takes place on Friday at the Orensanz Center – tickets still available as of Monday night).
Price thought about it. “I’m the ‘and’.” And followed with a set of casually quirky art-rock that was as fun as it was virtuosically brilliant. Swaying on her feet instead of sitting down, she started out by building a series of loops – first a bouncy beat, then a cleverly plucked groove, then embellishments, building to ferocious, roaring cello metal – and then a cold ending. She varied her vocals from song to song, moving from a full, plaintive, soul-tinged delivery to one a lot more tongue-in-cheek and more than a little creepy on an oldschool country-style number that she played on tenor guitar. She explained that she’d just toured the south for the first time and gotten the inspiration for it from all the “Jesus Saves” billboards down there. “They don’t have a phone number – you know how billboards have phone numbers?”
Price is in the midst of a 365 project, writing a song a day for a year, ambitious to say the least, and she played a couple of what must be very recent creations, one a slinky cello groove number propelled along by fast broken chords, the other a mini-suite of sorts called War that began sparse and reflectively with judiciously dynamic textures and then grew to a fullscale roar. The audience demanded an encore: she rewarded them with the closest thing to a pop song she did all night. Price somehow finds the time to play frequent solo shows like this as well as gigs with her band, in addition to her daily compositions. Pearl and the Beard’s next NYC-area gig is at Maxwell’s on June 23.
The Big Small Beast happens at the Angel Orensanz Foundation, 172 Norfolk St. on the Lower East Side on Friday, May 21. It might be the best New York concert of 2010- and it starts with free good-quality Magic Hat beer for an hour if you have a ticket. Which alone might or might not make it the year’s best rock and rock-oriented show. Performing (in order) are Lapis Lazuli, Spottiswoode, Services, Barbez, Little Annie and Paul Wallfisch, Black Sea Hotel, Bee and Flower, Botanica, Savoir Adore and Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson. We spoke with Wallfisch, who’s doing quadruple duty, playing with Bee and Flower (whose keyboardist Rod Miller stayed in Berlin after the band’s sojourn there), Little Annie and Botanica (whose new album Who You Are is enjoying its official release) as well as curating the whole thing.
Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: Are tickets still available?
Paul Wallfisch: Yes – you never know how long they’re gonna last. You can get them at the bar at the Delancey after 5 PM on any day, or at Other Music [15 E 4th St. just west of Lafayette]-, or ticketweb, (866) 468-7619. Seven bands, plus free beer from 7 to 8, plus an extra show, for $20. Music starts right away at 6:30, and after the show with a ticket you get free admission to the afterparty at the Delancey at midnight with the debut performance of Hallelujah, who are a 50/50 mixture of the Fever and the Flesh. Other Music – let’s hear it for Other Music! – is giving $3 off cds by all the Big Small Beast artists through May 21, plus the first two people who buy a pair of Big Small Beast tickets at other music get a free copy of the new Botanica cd Who You Are.
LCC: Is there a theme to the night or is this basically just an unusually good multiple-band bill?
PW: The theme is the eclecticism of what makes New York great. The artists range in age from twenties to fifties, but all produce unique music – dance, electronica, rock, instrumental, art-song. Most bills try to be as homogenous as possible. And many bands seeems to be more concerned with finding a retro musical niche to conveniently pilfer. That’s not the case here. And despite the incredible diversity of sounds, there’s at least a tenuous personal connection running through the entire lineup. Besides that, in curating the Small Beast at the Delancey on Monday nights and this Big Beast, I always try to get away from a focus on the singer-songwriter strumming the guitar. So that’s a theme – as little of that shit as possible. And the irony would be embedded in the intelligent lyrics and not the posturing of the performers. We’ve got that here too.
LCC: As someone who, other than putting together the weekly Small Beast show, is a working musician rather than a promoter, give us your perspective of the acts on the bill.
PW: In lieu of a dj, Lapis Lazuli will serenade the crowd as they enter. That’s Kurt Wolf – Pussy Galore, Boss Hog and Foetus are his pedigree. Go to lapislazulimusic.com to see one of the kick-ass best music websites ever! He’ll offer us between-act soundscapes as well. Spottiswoode is next, then Services.
LCC: Services used to be Flux Information Sciences, right?
PW: That’s correct. Trztn, from Services co-wrote and produced two songs that Karen O sang in Where the Wild Things Are. Then Barbez are going to play, then I’ll be playing with Little Annie…
LCC: The two of you have a new album, Genderful, just out, is that right?
PW: Yes, in fact this is the cd release for Genderful, the first day it will be available. It came out in the UK about a week ago. Andrew W.K. appears on it; Martin Wenk from Calexico also plays trumpet on one song as well as doing the same on Botanica’s new album. It’s also the cd release show for Botanica’s new album Who You Are, which will be available on limited edition white vinyl – it’s available at all the usual places like itunes and amazon.com but this will be Botanica’s first US release, stateside, in ten years, believe it or not. The official release date is May 25; you can pre-order it now.
LCC: Bee and Flower are playing after Little Annie, they haven’t played a US show in ages.
PW: This will be the only US show by Bee and Flower this year – their only 2009 show was at the Small Beast. In fact, this is the original B&F lineup, plus I’ll be playing keyboards, plus Danny Tunick from Barbez on drums. Black Sea Hotel will serenade the audience from the balcony before and after.
LCC: I really enjoy Black Sea Hotel’s otherworldly Balkan vocal music, but I don’t know the headliners, what can you tell us about them?
PW: Savoir Adore are a couple from Brooklyn, signed to the same label as MGMT. They sold out the Mercury last time they played there. They have a certain Stereolab quality, a pleasant chamberpoppy thing – but not like Vampire Weekend at all. Miles just made two really good records, he’s the youngest guy on the bill and the most oldfashioned fella of all of them. He has something of that plaintive yet thick sound that Black Heart Procession can muster at their finest, and also a Velvets thing, but more like their soul-informed moments. But really doesn’t sound like any of that – primarily due to his unique voice.
LCC: I’m amazed by the sheer number of good bands on the bill. Is everybody going to play a short set a la the Rollling Stones Revue, 1964?
PW: We have a soundscape by Lapis Lazuli, 45 minutes apiece from two headliners, about a half hour for everybody else, short sets from Services and Spottiswoode. The music and bar stops at 11:30: the Delancey is just around the corner, everybody’s invited to the afterparty there.
LCC: Why the Angel Orensanz Foundation? Do you really think that a crowd who’re used to old warehouse spaces and dingy former bodega basements will appreciate the old-world haunted-mansion beauty of this converted synagogue?
PW: No disrespect to, say, Cake Shop or Lit Lounge, but there’s such an element of struggle for bands, with little reward, that I thought it would be great to put on a “local” show in the best local venue possible, a venue we can all be excited about inhabiting for a few hours. Visually and sonically, the Angel Orensanz Foundation is such a spectacular place. We all settle for less so often that I think the beauty of the venue alone will inspire audience and artists to come together for a particularly special night. The venue, being one of the last examples standing of the hundreds of Lower East Side synagogues, is a great place to celebrate a night of timeless New York music. I’m an atheist, but the institution of religion has given us a lot of beauty over the ages.
LCC: Is this show, the Big Beast, the logical extreme to which the Small Beast can be taken? Or do you envision a Beaststock or Beastaroo at some point? Beast on the River? Beastsplash?
PW: Lollapabeasta! I can’t believe I’ve become an impresario. There will be a monthly Small Beast Germany for nine months while I’m over there – and maybe a one-off Small Beast in select cities – Paris, Berlin, London, Istanbul, possibly. Attractive as it is, it’s killing me. I’m being devoured by my own beast, I feel like Dr. Frankenstein, I’m being swallowed whole by my own Beast! Although I do derive a lot of pleasure from the evenings.
LCC: What reality tv stars will be there? What do we tell all the Lindsay Lohan wannabes out there who’re debating whether or not to get a ticket to the show because they don’t know if they’ll be able to tweet about all the celebrities they brushed elbows with on the way out of the bathroom?
PW: I like Lindsay Lohan! People have told me that celebrities come to the Small Beast. I wouldn’t know. I never recognize anybody.
“There’s Passover and there’s true spirituality,” Small Beast impresario and Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch reassured the assembled multitudes at Monday’s episode of his weekly residency/salon/talentfest. Whatever your feelings about missing a big holiday might be, there was a lot of soul on this particular bill. It seems that Wallfisch’s early 90s pal Mike Rimbaud was ill-fated to be coming up right when Graham Parker and Elvis Costello were at the peak of their popularity. Twenty years later, just like those songwriting icons, Rimbaud remains an equally vital force. Throughout his 45-minute set, Rimbaud particularly evoked Parker with his catchy, soul-influenced tunes, sardonically aware, pun-laden, aphoristic lyrics and rakish delivery. “Stimulate me, baby,” he railed, sarcastically referencing Obama’s trickle-down economics while the percussionist behind him rattled a museum’s worth of bangable objects from around the globe. His guitar running through a dense fog of reverb, Rimbaud shuffled his way through a couple of catchy new wave soul numbers possibly titled Dirty Little Bomb and Pretty Green Baby, the latter a sendup of “fashion fascists.” Diva in a Dive Bar was pretty self-explanatory; Mother Was a Punk was bracing, to say the least: “She had a mouth like a peanut and an ass like a rattlesnake.” One Way Ticket to a Vicious Circle might well have been an allusion to his career on a major label. By now, Rimbaud’s guitar had gone just enough out of tune to add a menacing edge. The rest of the set ran from bitterly hostile – a chronicle about somebody who’s “famous in Japan” – to doggedly persistent – the most Parkeresque number of the night, I’ll Follow Your Sidewalks – to unabashedly romantic.
Serena Jost has gotten a lot of ink here, not only because she manages to find herself in a lot of good places, but because in a lot of ways she exemplifies what we stand for, the idea that great art can be perfectly accessible to a mass audience. She’s been playing a lot lately with Amanda Thorpe, whose torchy intensity is unrivalled, and this time Jost pulled out some of her own with an absolutely sultry cover of Doris Fisher’s Whispering Grass, talking her way through the last chorus: “It’s no secret anymore – whispering grass, don’t tell the trees ’cause the trees don’t need to know.” Jost usually approaches a song a lot more obliquely – mystery is her thing, and she works it – so this was a welcome change. Julian Maile’s potently allusive electric guitar gave the lyrics a chance to resonate, a mode he’d remain in for the evening.
Jost went back behind the curtain, metaphorically speaking, for most of the rest of the show. Although she did throw in a mean glissando down the piano keys at the end of a particularly upbeat version of her impossibly catchy, bouncy pop hit Vertical World. She played guitar on a couple of upbeat, equally catchy janglerock numbers, switching to cello for the more pensive ones, including several new tunes. A nocturne worked minimalistic triplet arpeggios against Maile’s otherworldly flange voicings; another took on a southwestern gothic feel (this woman can write anything). They encored with a stately, enigmatic chamber-pop track from Jost’s latest album Closer Than Far.
Wallfisch was next on the bill. It used to be that a solo show by this guy was a rare treat – now it’s a frequent one. And since one of the nearby uptown trains was scheduled to turn into a pumpkin at midnight, it was time to exit into the mist and look forward to next week’s episode. Paul Wallfisch plays pretty much weekly at around ten PM at Small Beast; Serena Jost plays Lakeside on April 21 at 7 PM in a trio show with Amanda Thorpe and Mary Lee Kortes.
Two days after declaring Electric Junkyard Gamelan to be the most original band in New York, we have another one for you: Norden Bombsight. Although they draw on plenty of well-known influences, there is no band in town who sound remotely like them. At this week’s Small Beast concert/salon at the Delancey, the five-piece group careened and pounded through a ferocious, frequently haunting 40-minute set that proved impossible to turn away from. They’re something of the missing link between Joy Division and Pink Floyd, like art-rock seen through the prism of punk, or punk rock with a noir, nineteenth century Romantic sensibility. You could call them goth, which would make sense considering how much they like ominous chromatic riffs, but their energy is pure punk – they seem to be dying to live a lot more than living to die.
With the combination of agile drummer Julian Morello (hmm…any relation to Joe?) and hypnotically intense percussionist Derrick Barnicoat (who did double duty quarterbacking their loops and sound effects), they have more stomp and clatter than most bands, which backfired during the first couple of songs as their guitar amps seemed to be misfiring. That actually worked out fine since bassist Jonathan Gundel’s snaky, bluesy lines, part Geezer Butler and part James Brown-era Bootsy, stood out and carried the melody while frontwoman Rachael Bell soared and snarled, clear and menacing above the din, moving between a tiny shortscale electric guitar and piano. The songs shifted shape constantly: early in the set, they launched into a funk groove that took an unexpected detour into a sneaky 5/4 interlude before crescendoing with a bass-driven early Sabbath feel. They were as messy as they were ornate, guitarist David Marshall building to a couple of fret-melting tremolo-picked noiserock solos that Barnicoat sent reeling off into the ozone (they used the same effect on Bell’s vocals in places for an extra eerie touch).
From the piano, Bell delivered a chilling 6/8 dirge strongly evocative of Botanica (whose frontman, Small Beast impresario Paul Wallfisch, had just returned from yet another European tour and was scheduled to play afterward), with a galloping, noisy instrumental break. A creepy Syd Barrett-inflected partita began with yet another catchy Gundel blues bass hook and morphed into a hypnotic, headlong Nektar-style stomp that went on for what seemed like ten minutes. They closed with a stately, elegaic 6/8 anthem which may be the only song ever written to memorialize West Haven, Connecticut (with the limitations of the space, it was hard to hear the vocals when the band cranked it up), complete with nasty white-noise explosion from the guitar, building to an outraged crescendo of voices. Definitely the best rock show we’ve seen this year, sonic issues and all. Norden Bombsight play Matchless in Williamsburg on May 6 at 10ish.