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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Sunday’s Amazing Flatiron District Roots Rock Doublebill

People will be talking about this all year: one of the best doublebills of 2011, Sunday at Madison Square Park with Those Darlins and Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears. Both bands draw deeply on 60s sounds, yet they’re completely original and in the here and now. Both have a charisma and tightness that only comes with constant touring: they pretty much live on the road, as bands need to do these days in order to make a living.

Those Darlins opened. Frontwoman Jessi Darlin ran her Fender Jaguar through a vintage repeater box for a hypnotic Black Angels vibe on a couple of long, drawn-out psychedelic numbers. Nikki Darlin started out playing dark trebly tones on a Hofner bass and then switched to a Les Paul Jr. Kelley Darlin played sweet, vicious Telecaster leads until midway through the set, when she took over the bass, getting a fat, rich pulse on what looked like an old Vox Les Paul copy. The band’s taste in music is as purist as their instruments (not sure what drummer Linwood Regensburg was playing – his party rumble is as important to the band as their museum’s worth of guitars).

The women’s twangy three-part harmonies gave even the hardest-hitting garage rock songs a country charm. The lighthearted I Wanna Be Your Bro is a vastly cooler take on what Dar Williams tried to do with When I Was a Boy, followed by a Time Is Tight-flavored, soul-infused number sung by Kelley. Later on they brought it down with a gorgeously noirish, 6/8 ballad that Nikki thought might clear out the crowd (it didn’t). The rest of the set mixed catchy two-chord party-rock vamps with a swinging country song about eating an entire chicken, another long, trippy Black Angels-style anthem, a raw, careening cover of Shaking All Over and the best song of a long, entertaining set, a moody, minor-key janglerock tune possibly called What’re You Running From, sung by Nikki.

Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears had a hard act to follow, but they made it look easy: not bad for a band who had a second show to play later that night at Maxwell’s. Their albums play up their songs’ funky, purist 1960s grooves, and their potent three-part horn section, but live they give everything a raw punk fury. Lewis is a great guitarslinger in the Texas tradition of Albert Collins and Freddie King. Like Collins, he goes for a chilly, reverb-drenched tone; stylistically, the guy he resembles the most is Hendrix, but the early, noisy, unhinged Crosstown Traffic-era Hendrix. Throughout the set, his right hand was a blur, strumming up and down furiously as he fired off long, searing volleys of hammer-ons: although his chops are scary, he’s more about mood and power than he is about precision. The band is tight beyond belief. On one of the early songs, second guitarist Zach Ernst followed Lewis’ rapidfire solo by leading the band through a razor’s-edge verse of the eerie Otis Rush Chicago blues classic All Your Love.

The intensity just wouldn’t let up. One of the highest points of the afternoon was during the band’s one instrumental, where Lewis finally worked his way out of a long vamp with a relentless solo where the tenor sax player finally stepped all over it, followed in turn by the trumpet and baritone sax knocking each other out of the ring in turn. The crowd reacted energetically to Lewis’ nod to his punk influences as he blasted through a barely minute-and-a-half version of the Dead Boys’ classic What Love Is, and followed that with a funked-up cover of the Stooges’ I Got a Right. From there they wound their way through a casually jangly number that was basically an update on Smokestack Lightning, Lewis finally quoting the riff toward the end of the song. The best song of the afternoon was the fiery antiwar broadside You Been Lying, a tune that sounded like the Stooges’ I’m Sick of You without the machine-gun bassline, the bassist finally picked it up with a bunker-buster blast of sixteenth notes as it wound out. The band got two encores: “H-I-G-H,” Lewis grinned as he led the crowd through a singalong of the intro to Get High, a searing, sun-blasted punk funk song. By the time they got to Louie Louie, everybody was still there, hoping for even more. Lewis and band were scheduled to tape Letterman the following night, a rare triumph – it’s not often that network tv features bands anywhere near as good, or original, as these guys.

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June 15, 2011 Posted by | concert, funk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 2/1/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Monday’s song is #178:

Scott Morgan’s Powertrane – Rock n Roll, Rest in Peace

Morgan is a legend in Detroit, a pioneer dating back to the 70s whose inimitable style blends gritty soul vocals with raw, uncompromising Murder City rock. This bruising anthem, with its endlessly, ominously circling series of chords on the way out, is a highlight from Morgan’s all-star crew Powertrane, a band that once featured both Ron Asheton and Radio Birdman’s Deniz Tek.

February 1, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Friggs and the Chrome Cranks at Santos Party House, NYC 5/8/09

Two very different bands with a long history together delivering the same good news, twice: they’re back. Well-loved, all-female garage rock revivalists the Friggs are the kind of band that always seemed up for a reunion show, and word on the street is they’ll be around for the occasional doublebill like this in the coming months even while lead player Palmyra Delran continues her excellent solo career. The Chrome Cranks? Same deal, a prospect that seemed something beyond impossible when the LES legends imploded in the mid-90s. More about them later.

With two Fender Jaguars and a Mustang bass, Delran, Jezebel, drummer Kitten LaChaCha and bassist Ruby Garnett – a distant relative of the Boston Celtics superstar who moonlights as a very compelling keyboardist/chanteuse under the name Rachelle Garniez – drew the crowd in. “Come up here, motherfuckers!” Delran cajoled, and nobody could resist. Over the course of a too-brief twelve-song set and a lone encore, the Friggs gave a clinic in good chord changes and good fun. The charm of the Friggs – beyond the obvious – is their raw edge: the band has just enough looseness to give their catchy, upbeat, jangly riff-rock a little bit of unease. The women smile and pogo and scooch across the stage, but mess with them and you’re liable to get hurt. They opened with Shake, sounding like the Go Go’s doing Link Wray (wouldn’t he have loved that), the fast, funny rockabilly-inflected Mama Blew a Hoody, the stomping, Cramps-ish I Cringe, which Delran prefaced with “This is not a love song, feels like one, but it’s not.” The surfy Friggs Theme had both guitarists playing harmonies on the central hook, almost a Hotel California spoof; after a Kinks-ish riff-rocker, the gorgeously clanging, tongue-in-cheek Kill Yourself and a guest vocalist roaring through a cover of Sam the Sham’s Deputy Dog, they closed with the defiant Bad Word for a Good Thing, Delran – who’d been unabashedly and gleefully showboating all night – straddling the monitors as she delivered yet another offhandedly savage, blissful solo.

Of all the Lower East Side bands of the early to mid 1990s, noisy bluespunks the Chrome Cranks were the best, an underground legend in the making, and maybe they knew it all along. Uncompromisingly abrasive, ferociously intense, caustic yet charismatic, they were an amazing live act whether they were on top of their game or the show was a complete trainwreck. Which was always a crapshoot. Now back together for the first time in twelve years with all the original members – guitarist/frontman Peter Aaron, lead player William G. Weber, bassist Jerry Teel (now doing his own noir rock thing leading the excellent New York City Stompers) and former Sonic Youth drummer Bob Bert – they’re better than ever, a scenario that hardly seems possible, especially considering that their blistering, assaultive show was fueled by nothing stronger than water. With songs like Slow Crash, Desperate Friend and Lost Time Blues (the latter two which they played), their inspiration was no secret. The Chrome Cranks’ music, both on album and onstage was seemingly created for the early morning hours, for a condition where sanity and madness have become one and the same, where everything is so impossibly faraway that’s too close for comfort. A cynic could say that they sound an awful lot like the Stooges, but for them it’s the Fun House era Stooges, 1970.

By the time the band was ready to go, the dj’s music was still playing over the PA. Aaron stepped over the monitors, fixing a glare on his target. “CHECK,” he spat. And then spat on the stage and with that, feedback screaming from his battered Strat, they launched into one pummeling stomp after another. As one of the cognoscenti in the crowd said afterward, it was like being in a movie. Desperate Friend gave Weber a chance to go off into savage Ron Asheton territory for a few bars. Teel stood impassive, stage left, cooly providing an eardrum-blasting low end, occasionally with chords. About eight songs into the set, Aaron finally peeled off his coat, soaked in sweat. On a few songs, notably an absolutely hypnotic version of Eight Track Mind, he hit his vintage repeater pedal, adding an even darker edge to the songs’ careening menace. Although Aaron was roaring at full voice, it would get lost in the maelstrom of guitars. Fragments of lyrics emerged: “You’ll fall down..I don’t wanna know you…I just want you dead.” At the end of the set, he and Teel both stuck their guitars in front of their amps, leaving the PA howling with feedback until Weber made his way over to the middle of the stage and gingerly clicked off Aaron’s Fender Twin. The crowd was stunned, both the young in front who’d obviously never seen the band before, and the oldsters in the back who had. Nobody had the energy to scream for an encore until the band had already played them.

With a new compilation, The Murder of Time (1993-1996) due out on Bang! Records, one can only hope for a tour in the wake of a series of New York area shows. For those kicking themselves because they missed this one, they’ll be at Glasslands on May 15, probably around 10 with a bunch of other bands on the bill.

May 9, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 2/16/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Today’s song is #527:

The Stooges – I’m Sick of You

Absolutely evil proto-punk from 1974, Iggy getting snuck out of heroin rehab to do vocals, James Williamson’s offhandedly vicious guitar over Ron Asheton’s bunker-buster descending progression on the bass. It’s on a million compilations on both vinyl and cd; mp3s are everywhere.

February 16, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Ray – Death in Fiction

Sweepingly majestic and savagely beautiful, a serious contender for best rock album of 2008. This cd ought to establish British rock quartet Ray as frontrunners for this year’s Mercury Prize (at least that’s how it looks from five thousand feet). With a big, anthemic sound that manages to be accessible without sacrificing intelligence or intensity, both in abundance here, Ray draws deeply from just about the darkest possible well of 80s influences. Their sound could be described as a mix of Bauhaus minus the, you know, “Alone, in a darkened room, The Count!!!” along with the big, potent anthemic sensibility of vintage, early 90s New Model Army and perhaps Madrugada albeit without that band’s Hollywoodisms or Stooges obsession. Death in Fiction is a concept album of sorts about dissolution, despair and missed opportunities. Frontman Nev Bradford has the baritone delivery that’s all the rage, but like his forerunners Peter Murphy and Nick Cave, he’s confident, completely unaffected, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the uptight, constipated posers of the National or Interpol. There is nothing whatsoever cold or detached about Ray’s music: John Rivers’ magnificent, epic production only serves to elevate these songs’ passion, tension and resolution, the clash of hope up against the cruel barbwire of reality. The trendoid crowd over here on this side of the pond will not get this band (although the cool kids will).

The album kicks off with a ferocious blast of sound on the opening hook to the catchy Five Times Cursed, what quickly becomes characteristically howling, anguished lead guitar over a lush, roaring, pounding wash of sound echoing and glistening with reverb and digital delay. The following cut Days to Come nicks the bass lick from the Alarm Clocks’ 60s garage rock classic No Reason to Complain, although they take it completely in the opposite direction. Lead guitarist Mark Bradford plays with an extraordinarily terse ferocity, like Peter Koppes of the Church in his most dramatic moments while the rhythm section of Martin Tisdall on bass and Chris Lowe on drums holds this relentless juggernaut to the rails.

The title track methodically builds to a crescendo over a propulsive Sister Ray groove: “This is the price you pay for believing that/A death in fiction would be fine.” After that, Roulette Sun raises a glass of absinthe to Pink Floyd’s iconic Time, Mark Bradford’s anguished lead lines painted stark against a somber Hammond organ background. The tense, desperate minimalism of Little Joy (“For a little joy…to call your own, what would you do?”) evokes nothing less than Joy Division at their most guitarish, again punctuated by another deliciously screaming, reverberating solo.

Next, Great Strange Dream is a meticulously arranged anthem that once again sounds a lot like the Church. Sound of the End is a snarling, slowly crescendoing broadside at conformists and their entertainment-industrial complex, building to a heartbreakingly beautiful, recurring hook, only to slip away gracefully at the end. Begging Like a Dog rages out at mindless consumption:

They have a lot of ways of placing
A godless advert on your shrine
They have a lot of ways of thieving
What was yours and what was mine
They have you begging like a dog

The album ends with the majestic Cut Out, both cautionary tale and a sort of requiem for a dream unfulfilled. All things considered, this a terrific ipod album, although its lush sonics benefit greatly from loud volume and big speakers. For readers in London, Ray next plays Sat June 21 at 8 PM at the ULU Duck and Dive Bar, 1st Floor, University of London Union, Malet Street London WC1E 7HY, five quid / £3 for students.

June 12, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Radio Birdman – Zeno Beach

Volcanic comeback album by these legendary Australian garage punks that mixes a violent apocalypticism with a handful of black humor-driven, traditional garage rock numbers that sometimes veer to the goofy side. For three years in the late 70s, there was no better band on the planet. Driven by lead guitarist Deniz Tek’s maniacal Middle Eastern-inflected playing over a pummeling surf beat, Radio Birdman’s first two studio albums set the standard for uncompromising, raw, fast rock. Influenced by the Stooges, MC5, Blue Oyster Cult, Doors (you should hear the bootleg of their cover of LA Woman) and Ventures, they burned from 1976 to 1980 when Tek left the band for the Air Force and two of the remaining members spun off into the New Christs. Radio Birdman’s releases after the initial breakup are a mixed bag: the mix of alternate versions of songs from their classic 1979 album Radios Appear, including a couple of deliriously good outtakes, is a masterpiece; their 1997 live album, recorded at one of their annual reunion concerts in Australia, found the band lost in a maze of Marshall stacks and high-tech gear, their signature raw power blunted by a booming sound system. This, then is their real comeback, and it’s pretty amazing. With the exception of the new drummer, these guys are in their fifties now and can still outplay and out-write just about any band out there.  

As with their best work, it’s an eerie, death-defying ride. Just a glance at the song titles proves they haven’t lost their dark vision. You Just Make It Worse. Remorseless. Found Dead. Die Like April. Hungry Cannibals. Locked Up. This is desperate stuff; the rage that drove them in 1979 hasn’t dissipated one iota. The album kicks off with We’ve Come So Far (To Be Here Today), sounding nothing like the Grateful Deadly title might imply: it’s a blast of chromatic, minor-key fury, fueled by the twin guitars of Tek and Chris Masuak (who’s become a brilliant lead player in his own right), and organist Pip Hoyle. The album’s next track is a surprisingly trad garage riff-rocker, something that would sound perfectly at home on a good Lyres record. Next we get the haunting, aptly titled Remorseless: the tension of this burning, funereal midtempo song never lets up. After that’s over, Found Dead continues in the same vein. Connected explores reincarnation, a topic Tek has addressed in his solo work. The impressively ornate, artsy Die Like April builds off a hook that sounds suspiciously similar to something by their Aussie compatriots the Church. Heyday takes a Beatles lick and does pretty much the same thing.

 

Eventually it’s back to the nuevo-60s garage feel with the tracks If You Say Please and Hungry Cannibals, the latter of which brings some welcome comic relief. But it’s black humor, it doesn’t last long and you get the feeling that just maybe, the band might not be joking after all. After that, Locked Up is a scorching, Stooges-inflected riff-rocker; then the album winds up with two uncharacteristically sunny tunes, both by keyboardist Hoyle. The Brotherhood of Al Wazah riffs on Middle East terrorism, and the title cut works both as a tribute to a good surf beach and a warning that we could all be On the Beach.

 

Frontman Rob Younger no longer comes across as the Australian Iggy Pop; the oldest member of the band, he’s come to sound eerily like another Australian rock legend, guitarist/songwriter Marty Willson-Piper from the Church. You wouldn’t think a voice like that would necessarily work with such a ferocious band behind it, but it does. Descend into the maelstrom with these guys if you dare. One of the best albums of the decade so far, end of story.

April 26, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: The Dirty Novels – Stealing Kisses

Word is that they don’t make kick-ass rock like this anymore – except they do. These raucous, stomping New Mexico garage rock hoodlums pump out a glorious blast of noise that blends the sound of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators with the early Damned, along with plenty of influence from the Stooges, Ramones, Seeds and Lyres, among others.

 

The album’s second song Slow It Down sounds like vintage Elevators, all nasty riffs over a jangly groove. Don’t Fit In (track four) sounds like a Stones song from Aftermath rearranged for one of their post-Blonde on Blonde albums like Between the Buttons. The following cut Candy Can’t Wait is uncharacteristically downbeat and creepy, shades of Steve Wynn at his most retro. Can’t Get Over You (track six) evokes the Damned circa Machine Gun Etiquette with its dark minor chord permutations. Stars Won’t Shine for You (track eight) starts out sounding practically like a dead ringer for the Damned classic Fan Club before taking a short detour down into la-la pop.  My Love Is Electric (track nine) launches on an evil Stoogoid riff, evoking nothing less than the great and recently reunited Radio Birdman. The album concludes with what sounds like a Stooges tribute, the TV Eye riff adapted just enough to beat a copyright suit. And it’s a worthy one: Asheton & co. would probably approve.

 

There are no deep lyrical concepts here, no shades of meaning. All these guys want to do is rock. There isn’t much about this album that’s original but that’s not the point. What the Dirty Novels want to do is kick your ass over and over and they do that exceptionally well. These guys are purists. They really know their stuff and obviously get a lot of pleasure bludgeoning your eardrums. Their live act is everything you would hope for after hearing the album. It all boils down to this: if you love unpretentious, catchy, balls-to-the-wall garage rock that you can get up and dance to, get this album and go see the Dirty Novels when they come to your town. All they need is somebody to hook them up with Little Steven and have them play a couple of his garage-a-thons and they’ll be packing ‘em in at dingy rock clubs from coast to coast. The cd is available online and at shows.

April 23, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment