Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: LJ Murphy and Band at the Knitting Factory, NYC 12/11/07

Ironic that some of New York’s best rock songwriters – Jerome O’Brien of the Dog Show, Mary Lee Kortes of Mary Lee’s Corvette, and now LJ Murphy – basically play with what amounts to a pickup band whenever they do a live show here in town. Although it’s not all that common in rock, jazz players have been doing this since the beginning. And it works more often than not, undoubtedly because musicians who are good enough to follow the changes and hit the stage without much rehearsal usually bring a lot of imagination and their own signature style. This show was a vivid reminder of how good things can get when you put together a bunch of good players who’ve never played with each other before. Tonight the dapper New York noir songwriter was backed by the hard-hitting drummer from the sadly disbanded garage rockers the Dark Marbles, along with the bass player from Erica Smith’s band the 99 Cent Dreams.  Playing lead was the guitarist from System Noise, who revealed himself to be a terrific blues player, channeling a lot of Hendrix into Murphy’s Stax/Volt-inflected melodies. But it wasn’t Star Spangled Banner Hendri; instead, the audience was treated to a lot of thoughtful, introspective, licks and tersely unwinding solos evocative of the Little Wing/Castles Made of Sand side of Jimi.

Perhaps because the band didn’t get a lot of time to rehearse, Murphy bookended the show with a couple of solo acoustic songs, the tongue-in-cheek Man Impossible and a somewhat drastic reworking of his haunting domestic-abuse saga, Don’t You Look Pretty When You Cry. In between, the band careened through a mix of newer material and songs from Murphy’s latest cd Mad Within Reason. It was a cold night, and Murphy’s guitar had gone out of tune by the time he finished his first song and brought the band to the stage. The crowd was impatient as Murphy retuned: “He’s a musician,” the bass player said sarcastically: shades of Stiv Bators sticking up for Cheetah Chrome on Night of the Living Dead Boys? You never know. This is New York, after all.

Like Marcellus Hall, (recently reviewed here), Murphy sets intelligent, witty lyrics to somewhat retro melodies. While Hall draws on 60s country and folk-rock, Murphy is a disciple of blues and jazz, Ray Charles in particular. At the end of a rousing take of the snide, somewhat caustic Imperfect Strangers, Murphy led the band on an obviously improvised, extended outro as he jammed out the vocals. Later in the set they did a boisterous version of the sharply literate, cabaret-ish minor key blues which serves as the title track to the cd, in addition to a soulful take of the gently swaying, mournful 6/8 ballad that’s perhaps improbably Murphy’s biggest audience hit, Saturday’s Down, a chronicle of how the week goes by so slowly but the weekend is gone in a nanosecond. The band turned their last song, Barbwire Playpen into a blazing rocker, Murphy roaring through his chronicle of a Wall Street tycoon whose “ugly little secret turns up again and again in the barbwire playpen,” where some dominatrix has him by the short and curlies and isn’t about to let him get up anytime soon. Despite a rainy, gloomy evening outside and an unusually sparse turnout – Murphy packed the place the last couple of times he played here – the man was his usual charismatic self and the band was clearly feeding off his energy.

December 16, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Rachelle Garniez at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 12/6/07

[Editor’s note: regulars here will notice that we don’t usually review the same artist twice in a month (ok, we did it with Moisturizer). There are a lot of great bands out there, but this particular artist is really special. Springsteen had Jon Landau; Lou Reed had Lester Bangs; we’re throwing our hat in the ring with Rachelle Garniez]

Saturday night, December 22 if you’re in town, you should go see Rachelle Garniez at Joe’s Pub. She’s been doing a residency at Barbes the first Thursday of every month at 10 practically since the place opened. It’s a great place to see her – or see anybody, for that matter – but she’s very theatrical and having a real stage to do a show on will be a good thing for her. Early on in her set tonight, she noted that everything was going wrong: “That’s a very good thing,” she told the crowd. Musicians are a very superstitious bunch: the theory is that the rehearsal, or the gig before a big show should be substandard, because that way you get all the bad stuff out of the way. The PA was feeding back, and after considerable inspection it turned out that it was the speakers in the front room (they pipe the music out there, but you can’t really hear it). The piano was in bad shape, she said. And then somebody’s cellphone went off right as she was about to launch into a song. Not an auspicious way to start the night. But it was great anyway. Give this woman lemons and she makes lemon drops. With Everclear in them.

Since her longtime co-conspirator Matt Munisteri was on his way from another gig, she started out solo on accordion and showed off her four-octave range: she’s in the same ballpark as Carol Lipnik. Watching how high she can sing and still nail the notes is pretty breathtaking. And her playing is just as good: on accordion, she was all dark and murky and gypsyish. The song she opened with didn’t have much of a time signature and meandered along, but menacingly. A lot of her recent material is very sardonic, sometimes cynical, and completely rooted in the here and now. In those songs, doom is always around the corner, even if he’s wearing a clown mask.

Then she tackled the piano and whatever condition it may have been in, she made it sing, with After the Afterparty, the opening track on her amazing new cd Melusine Years. She started it out with an impressionistic, almost Asian interlude before launching into its offhandedly bitter first verse. And when the payoff finally came – it’s an understatedly vengeful song, something Garniez is a master of – it was visceral. Munisteri showed up with his guitar about halfway through her set and joined her on an amusing reworking of the Jimmy Van Heusen chestnut Swinging on a Star (“He makes my shirts,” Munisteri joked), and then an older song, her big audience hit Grasshopper, which is another fable revisited. Garniez turns Aesop on his head, making sure that the stodgy ant doesn’t get over on the fun-loving grasshopper. She’d brought some copies of the new cd, but quickly sold them all. “But I have other ones,” she reassured the audience. “They aren’t trendy, they don’t go out of style.” Understatement of the year: her songs are timeless. Mark your calendar: December 22 at Joe’s Pub. Time will stand still.

December 8, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment