Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Classic Small Beast Reunion of Sorts

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.

January 9, 2013 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Photo Review: David Lynch at Morrison Hotel Gallery, NYC

“I’ve got to learn more about this guy!” the college-age girl in the expensive dress exclaimed from behind her bangs.

“You know, if I was seeing this exhibit and I didn’t know who the photographer was, I would say that he was ripping off David Lynch,” the guy with the backpack to her right grinned. “I wasn’t aware that he also did photography.”

The girl looked at him quizzically.

“A lot of these look like movie stills, don’t you think?” the guy asked.

The girl looked confused. “I’ve never heard of him,” she explained.

The guy leaned in gently: maybe there was some confusion. “Blue Velvet? Did you ever see that? Wild at Heart?” He reached for an obscure one: “The Straight Story?”

No reaction.

“Eraserhead?”

The girl shook her head. “I really like his stuff, though.”

Which in a way perfectly crystallizes everything that’s wrong with the art scene in New York, 2010. The one college sophomore in town with zero awareness of who David Lynch might be, and she’s one of the few who actually had the fortune to get into last night’s invite-only opening of his photo show at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in the old CB’s Gallery Space at Bowery and Bleecker. Ten thousand film students from throughout the five boroughs would have enthusiastically paid good money to take her place.

The exhibit collects fifty characteristically stylized, noir photos – both color and black-and-white – that Lynch contributed to the new album Dark Night of the Soul, a collaboration with the late Mark Linkous, a.k.a. Sparklehorse. In a way, it makes sense that Lynch would find himself at home with Linkous’ sad, bucolic, Big Star-inflected Americana rock songs: behind the violence and the menace, Lynch’s characters long for a safe haven amid comfortable surroundings. There are plenty of both on display here. While the show is an absolute must-see for dedicated Lynch fans, it also doesn’t break any new ground: Lynch the filmmaker and Lynch the photographer are one and the same.

All the shots come in sets of three or four. The black-and-whites have an expectedly grainy Eraserhead feel. Aside from a couple of predictable down-and-out portraits, the best of these seems to be an overhead shot of a homeless woman’s shopping cart, her shadow juxtaposed with a lurid poster of a woman’s face staring to the side atop it.

The most indelibly Lynchian of these is a set of four that could have been Wild at Heart stills. Its centerpiece depicts a quartet of uniformed policemen ineptly trying to hose down a man whose lower extremities are dripping some ominous blue-green substance. A couple of neighborhood middleschool kids look on, puzzled, in the background. A close-up of the two kids adds detail, as does an absolutely classic shot of a girl flipping the bird from the backseat of a two-toned, half primer-painted 1972 Nova sedan.

Lynch indulges his lightning-in-the-eyes fixation in another foursome: headshots of a screaming man, shaking and blurry, with the last in the series being a shot of railroad cars passing in the night. His iconic child/demon creature makes an appearance, in the form of what looks like a cross between a patched-together Mayan sculpture and a twistedly cartoonish, reassembled pinata. Meanwhile, a child plays in the dirt behind it, oblivious.

Another series of four features a smiling man in what looks to be a trance amidst a shower of Christmas ornaments and then shards of glass; almost predictably, there’s also a frame of an emergency services Econoline van speeding beneath a billboard of the guy suspended in midair, blissed out as everywhere else.

Which perfectly captures the show’s appeal. The master noir filmmaker of this era (and the one before that, for that matter), Lynch’s images provoke, intrigue and induce the occasional gruesome smile. Most of these also have all the subtlety of that Econoline van – or the flying man – hitting a grimy brick wall. After dark, of course, under flickering neon light. The gallery has advertised limited edition prints of all of the photos on display here, which at their typically surprisingly affordable prices have most likely been snapped up already. But you can still look. Hours at the Bowery gallery are noon to 7 PM Tuesday through Sunday.

July 14, 2010 Posted by | Art, photography, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Mascott – Art Project

Pure concentrated sunshine. If you can’t wait for spring, this is your daily dose of vitamin D minus those nasty UV rays. It’s sort of the musical equivalent of what the elves in Lord of the Rings ate on long trips: one tasty cookie will sustain you, and in the case of this album, lift your spirits for a month. Mascott’s two previous cds were good but this is really something special, a showcase for frontwoman Kendall Jane Meade’s jewel-like, brilliantly nuanced purist pop songcraft. Even the sad songs here glimmer and sparkle with jangly guitar, vividly incisive piano and even strings in places; Jim Bentley’s production is terse, understated and true to form. The arrangements are playful and fun; Meade’s lyrics, like her tunes, are beautifully crystalized and strikingly smart yet deceptively simple, with the occasional indelible urban image. This is a quintessential New York album. “I wanna make you press play then repeat,” she cajoles early on, succeeding better than she ever probably imagined. Likewise, the former Juicy bandleader and frequent Sparklehorse collaborator’s high, pretty voice has an effortless, reassuring warmth: she comes across as someone who would always be there to walk you home from the train if you called, even if it was late and you had several blocks to go after the subway.

 

Spiked with bright electric piano, the cd’s first cut Live Again is a pop gem, the narrator gently nudging her way into rekindling a relationship that’s gone cold. Fourth of July follows in more of a rock vein, wistful but far from maudlin. Chiming with gorgeously pointillistic piano and acoustic guitar textures, Opposite is the high point of the cd, soberly matter-of-fact yet fearlessly optimistic:

 

I map out my days in the sand, I know that the water could wash it away

I feel what I feel, I do what I can, it took me so long to feel this way

 

Dream Another Day is a brief, bustling and considerably funny Penny Lane-style rush hour narrative: friends may be wondering how consuming the dayjob has become, but not to worry, Meade reassures: she won’t be out of circulation forever. The theme recurs in the utterly charming, harmony-driven Nite Owl (a real showstopper when the band plays it live). Only on the starkly bluesy, minor-key 6/8 breakup ballad Letting Go of the Sun does the mood go completely dark, and even that one’s leavened somewhat by a big instrumental sigh on the chorus, all the instruments going “awwwww,” down the scale in unison. The cd closes with a rousing campfire singalong of Wildwood Flower. The only complaint about this cd is that it has an end. But that’s what the repeat button is for. Definitely one of the top four or five cds to come over the transom here this year, and a likely soundtrack for a whole lot of people’s lives for the summer of 2009. Mascott have also teamed up with Gramercy Arms to release a wonderful new single, This Christmastime, available for free download here. Mascott’s next NYC date is Jan 19 at Cake Shop.

December 6, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment