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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 11/17/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #804:

Man or Astroman? – Intravenous Television Continuum

Don’t let their cutesy habit of introducing the songs with random snippets of dialogue from cheesy 1950s sci-fi movies turn you off. Back in the 90s, these masked men (and women – like the Ventures, there have been various editions of this band, including an all-girl version featuring Ani Cordero of Cordero on drums) put out a series of mostly first-rate instrumental rock albums, sputtering from surf to hotrod to sci-fi themes before going off on more of a dreampop/indie tangent late in the decade. This 1995 release gets the nod over the rest of their catalog because A) unlike a lot of their songs, most of the tracks here have bass in addition to guitar and B) the annoying nerdiness that occasionally surfaces on their other albums is pretty much absent. This is sort of a greatest-hits cd plus punked-out covers of surf classics. After the white noise of “Immersion Static,” they offer their big concert hits Put Your Finger In the Socket and Tomorrow Plus X as well as a 2012 version of the roaring, lo-fi Nitrous Burn Out. The best of the originals here is the eerie, jangly, Asian-tinged Tetsuwan Atomu. There are two version of their song Max Q here (including the weird and obviously titled Reverse Sync Moog Version). The covers range from obscure – an absolutely scorching version of Invasion of the Dragonmen and smartly chosen takes of Calling Hong Kong and Principles Unknown – to iconic, with punked-out versions of Out of Limits, the Munsters Theme, Deuces Wild, Cool Your Jets and a characteristically energetic, tongue-in-cheek Everyone’s Favorite Martian. If you like this, everything they did prior to 1998 is worth a listen. Here’s a random torrent – and you might also enjoy this download of a recent live show in Atlanta from earlier this year.

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November 17, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/13/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #839:

The Roots of Chicha 2

This is the first album to make its debut here on this list. Pretty impressive, considering what a major event its predecessor was. In 2007, the first Roots of Chicha anthology not only introduced the world to what, for better or worse, could be called Peruvian surf music: it also spearheaded a revival of chicha music in the land where it was born. Not bad for an album on a small label (Barbes Records) run out of a Brooklyn bar. And where the Roots of Chicha was a good anthology, this follow-up is a great one. More than its predecessor, this is a rock record: the Roots of Chicha focused on the woozy psychedelic cumbias coming out of the Peruvian Amazon in the late 60s and early 70s, many of them with more of a latin sound than the songs here. This focuses more closely on the rock side of the phenomenon, a mix of songs from 1969 through 1981. Some of them vamp out on a chord, hypnotically, all the way through to the chorus. Most of them have a vintage, 1960s timbre, the guitars playing through trebly amps with lot of reverb backed by tinny Farfisa organ and tons of clattering percussion. Many of these have a swaying cumbia beat, but a lot of them don’t. Likewise, a lot of the songs use the pentatonic scales common to Asian music – some wouldn’t be out of place in the Dengue Fever songbook.

The best song here is an absolutely gorgeous version of Siboney, by Los Walkers. It’s sort of the chicha equivalent of the Ventures’ cover of Caravan, a reverb-drenched rock version of a familiar, distantly ominous melody made even more so. Another knockout is Los Ribereños’ Silbando, a vividly brooding minor-key shuffle that foreshadows Brooklyn chicha revisionists Chicha Libre. The best of the chicha bands of the 70s, Los Destellos (see #903 on this list) are represented by a simple, one-chord fuzztone stinger and the Asian-tinged, warped bucolic jam La Pastorcita. Likewise, Los Wremblers contribute two, one more of a celebration than the title would make you think, the other the original version of La Danza de los Petroleros that became a big hit for Los Mirlos. 80s stars Chacalon y la Nueva Crema contribute a catchy workingman’s lament; Manzanita y Su Conjunto have three songs here that showcase their artful ability to switch from Cuban son montuno, to hypnotic acid rock, to catchy cumbia-pop. There’s also a one-chord wonder (well, almost) by Compay Quinto; Grupo Celeste’s scurrying, bass-driven Como un Ave; Ranil y Su Conjunto’s savage, Asian-flavored Mala Mujer; Colegiala, by Los Ilusionistas, an iconic number that was used – albeit in bastardized, almost unrecognizable form – in a well-known television commercial in the 80s; and Los Shapis’ El Aguajal, another famous one. Very little of this has been available before now outside of Peru; much of it was out of print for years in its native land. All of this you can dance to, and like surf music, it’s easy to get completely addicted to it: youtube is a goldmine of chicha. The extensive liner notes to this album are a great place to start. It’s out now on Barbes Records.

October 13, 2010 Posted by | latin music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 8/31/10

This is sort of our weekly, Kasey Kasem-inspired luddite DIY version of a podcast. Every week, we try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone: sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. We’ve designed this as something you can do on your lunch break if you work at a computer (and you have headphones – your boss won’t approve of a lot of this stuff). If you don’t like one of these songs, you can always go on to the next one: every link here will take you to each individual song. As always, the #1 song here will appear on our Best Songs of 2010 list at the end of the year.

1. Paula Carino – The Great Depression

One of the sharp literate janglerocker’s catchiest songs, from her new cd Open on Sunday, strong contender for best album of 2010.

2. Bern & the Brights – Sleepless Aristotle

Propulsive, fun, artsy guitar-and-violin rock from this unique band – it’s a live showstopper.

3. Tin Pan – Brooklyn of Old

Oldtimey anti-gentrification rant – absolutely brilliant.

4. Kuan – J

Groove-driven noiserock from Austin. Cool stuff.

5. The Spytones – Vendetta

Surf/spy instrumental menace from Finland. They’re at Otto’s on 9/4 at 10.

6. Darker My Love – She Lives in a Time of Her Own

Garage rock – as the title would imply, not the lite stuff.

7. The Devil Makes Three – For Good Again

Original bluegrass – funny as hell, recorded live on Daytrotter.

8. The Romany Rye – Brother

Genuinely pretty Neil Young-style Americana rock with a killer guitar solo – another Daytrotter session.

9. The Blaggards – Theme from a Summer Rental

Twisted surf cover of another theme you might know.

10. Alice J Austin – Everybody Loves a Narcissist Especially You

Like the first New Pornographers album – funny and cool.

September 1, 2010 Posted by | country music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Coney Island Today and Tomorrow

Last night we went to see Taylor Swift at the Viagra Arena at Coney Island. Since they’ve shut down the subway and replaced it with the VIP shuttle from the Brooklyn, Brooklyn casino in the middle of Prospect Park, we all crammed into a friend’s battered Greatwall Gwperi, dodging sinkholes and potholes, finally finding a spot in the Russian mob parking lot by the water at the edge of the former Floyd Bennett Field. In the old days there would have been a city bus, or we could have walked, but it’s too dangerous now, so we had to wait in line for a cab. Because there wasn’t enough room in the rickshaw for all of us, a couple of us had to ride on top of the rickety canopy, clinging to the torn canvas as the contraption bounced along through the mudpuddles in what’s left of the tarmac from the days when there was a public infrastructure budget.

Outside the arena, Halliburton security were selling meth and ecstasy when they weren’t zealously feeling up tired ticketholders. After six additional security checkpoints, retina scan, DNA analysis, fingerprinting and a full-body search, we finally made it through to our seats, which had already been taken by a sinister-looking crew of crudely tattooed bodybuilders. So despite having paid three trillion renminbi per person, plus inconvenience charges, for our tickets, we had to head up to the nosebleed seats, hoping that another crew of bulked-up ex-cons wouldn’t show up and take those from us as well. After an hour of earsplitting, nonstop big-screen commercials for Lucky Oncology Centers, Finest Face Masks, Bedbug Busters, and of course Viagra, Swift finally was ushered onstage by a doddering, mumbling, ninety-year-old Marty Markowitz. Fully nude, for about ten minutes she gyrated and lipsynched to a medley of old Journey songs with a new, fully computerized arrangement. From the view on the big screen, it’s obvious that all the plastic surgery, and the already sagging boob job, make her look twenty years older than she is – and she’s not even thirty yet.

Oh yeah, all that was just a dream. Must have been reading too much Gary Shteyngart. Yesterday at Coney Island perfectly captured what this city stands to lose if or when the carnival atmosphere is replaced with a corporate one. It’s not a done deal: notorious landgrabber Joseph Shitt’s Thor Equities are demolishing buildings that in the pre-Guiliani era were on the fast track to landmark status, but when they’re reduced to rubble there’s no guarantee that anyone’s going to pay top dollar for the vacant lots where the Bank of Coney Island and similarly faded, once glorious buildings used to stand. In the meantime, there are fewer rides at the amusement park, but it’s still there, as are the grimy boardwalk bars, dodgy hamburger stands, Shoot the Freak, the Coney Island Museum and the ever-shrinking vestiges of the individuality that has made this neighborhood world-famous.

And appropriately, there was surf music on the boardwalk out behind the Wonder Wheel: Deb Noble of Blue Stingraye Productions emceed a whole afternoon worth of first-class bands assembled by Bill and Julie Rozar, creators of the Alien Surfer Babes (who headlined). The game plan was to get there in time to catch surf rockers Reverb Galaxy, but a two-hour subway ride from Manhattan nixed that. The second act, Sean Kershaw’s baritone voice still resonated all the way to the tables outside Ruby’s Bar and Grill: the Coney Island Cowboy was in his element and loving every minute of it. From a distance, he and the band sounded a lot like Ninth House, particularly on the darker numbers among Kershaw’s signature, surreal, carnivalesquely witty Americana songs.

Strange But Surf were next and were a breath of fresh air, just like the breeze that began whipping in from the water. The two-guitar instrumental band bring a tongue-in-cheek punk edge to surf music, and they mixed it up. A number possibly titled Beached Fish sounded like their version of California Sun; they turned Pipeline into a long, shuffling jam with fiery guitar solos and a Paint It Black quote at the end that got everybody smiling, even the band. Hey-Ho, a Ramones-ish stomp was “about my girlfriend,” grinned one of the guitarists. He and the drummer switched on a couple of tunes, including an amusing Link Wray-inspired number, The Martians Are Pissed. They wound up their long set with inspired, punk-flavored versions of the Bar-Kays’ Soul Seeker, the Addams Family theme, the Ventures’ Out of Limits and a really splendid, extended version of the Byrds’ Eight Miles High.

The Octomen appeared to be missing five of the guys, if there are in fact eight of them. If not, they still sounded good even though they could have used a rhythm guitarist to fill out the sound when the one guitar player they’d brought along was soloing. Because he was good, and left a lot of space rather than playing loud and mindlessly. A lot of their originals add eerie chromatic passages amidst all the twangy, upbeat good cheer. He used a flange on a couple of tunes, Link Wray’s The Rumble included, for a sort of 80s chorus-box feel. By halfway through the set, he was taking longer solos and really getting the pyrotechnics going with some long, blazing, sometimes bluesy, sometimes country-tinged excursions, particularly on a ghoulabilly-flavored song and then a 60s go-go instrumental with some ferocious blues playing.

In hindsight, it would have made sense to stick around for the rest of the surf bands continuing into the night. Randi Russo’s solo performance at a private party later in the evening was terrifically gripping and intense. But trading beautifully polyglot Coney Island – where latino and Asian kids swayed side by side with the older, mostly blue-collar white crowd who’d come out for the bands – for the uptight, privileged whites-only section of ever-more-hideously segregated Williamsburg, was a disaster waiting to happen, a sad reminder of where this city’s going if we don’t put a stop to it.

August 22, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 8/16/10

Here’s this week’s version of our hit parade, stuff that’s too cool for the Billboard charts and the corporations who rule them. We try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone: sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. It’s something you can do on your lunch break if you work at a computer (and you have headphones -your boss won’t approve of a lot of this stuff). If you don’t like one of these, you can always go on to the next one: every link here except #2 (youtube link coming soon) will take you to each individual song. As always, the #1 song here will appear on our Best Songs of 2010 list at the end of the year.

1. Kasey Anderson – Bellingham Blues

Smalltown anomie as Springsteen only wishes he still understood it. Great track from the literate Americana rocker’s new album Nowhere Nights

2. The Brooklyn What – Hot Wine

Newly unveiled surreal punk rock Coney Island battle scenario by the late great Billy Cohen: coming soon to youtube and then album, we hope.

3. Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble – Delirium

Slightly restrained, anguished noir cabaret rock, a lament: “I should have held you, not repelled you.”

4. Khaled – Block

Not the Algerian rai star but a typically smart, bracing cut by the electic American Middle Eastern-tinged acoustic guitarist/songwriter.

5. Isle of Klezbos – Abrah

All-female klezmer intensity. Watch closely at 4:10 into this youtube clip.

6. My Education – Concentration Waltz

A punk Friends of Dean Martinez – drone menace with organ, guitars and viola.

7. The Vivisectors – Tsunamy Light in Stonewall Tavern

Russian noir surf rock – gotta love that title.

8. Bobby Vacant – Wild Wind Blows

Characteristically understated haunting, tuneful acoustic songwriting from the guy who gave us the song we picked for best of 2009.

9. Pintura Roja – Te Olvidaste De Mi

Classic, obscure, surprisingly Asian-flavored Peruvian pop from the early 70s: the roots of metal cumbia.

10. Courtney Yasmineh – Daydrunk

Joke song of the week to leave you with a smile on your face.

August 18, 2010 Posted by | lists, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/13/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #900:

Laika & the Cosmonauts – Laika Sex Machine Live

Incredibly eclectic surf and instrumental rock from Finland, 1999. These guys did it all: pounding Dick Dale chromatic stomps, spacy sci-fi themes, rapidfire chase scenes, twangy bucolic vignettes and dozens of catchy, two-and-a-half minute hits that are every bit as iconic in Europe as the Ventures are here. Laika & the Cosmonauts’ sound frequently uses keyboards as well as guitars, often in the same song, further diversifying their textures. This is a greatest-hits album of sorts recorded before ecstatic crowds in Germany and Finland: happily, we don’t have to suffer through any of their applause until the very end. As with so many of the great surf bands to come out of the Nordic regions, the band uses a lot of moody minor-key and chromatic passages, sometimes bordering on the macabre. Several others are satirical and quite funny. This collection includes the late 60s psychedelia of The Hypno-Wheel; the utterly gorgeous Turquoise; Disconnected, a surfy spoof of disco music, the bitter chromatics of Sycophant and Boris the Conductor (a bombastic sendup of Boris Yeltsin) as well as the themes from the Avengers, Get Carter and a pastiche of the Psycho and Vertigo themes. 26 songs in all, a terrific representation of one of the world’s great instrumental bands, one that literally never made a bad album. Their surprisingly traditional sounding first album, C’Mon Do the Laika and the psychedelically-tinged tour de force Absurdistan are especially worth seeking out. Be careful looking for torrents for this one: because of the title, attack sites disguised as porn have it listed, as do several dubious-looking sites located in Russia (where surf music is as huge as it is in the US).

August 13, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sunday at Lincoln Center Out of Doors: Bad Segues, Amazing Show

By any standard, this year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival is one of the best ever: of all of New York’s summer festivals, this is one you really should investigate if you’re in town – especially because it’s free. Sunday’s lineup outdoors on the plaza under the trees was an improbable but smartly assembled “roots of American music” bill.

“Are you awake?” Etran Finatawa’s electric guitarist asked the crowd, in French: from the response, the answer was barely. With their swaying triplet rhythms and expansively hypnotic, gently crescendoing one-chord jams, the Niger-based duskcore band were a perfect choice to get the afternoon started. They’re as captivating as Tinariwen, starting methodically and getting more diverse and interesting as the set went on. One of the earlier numbers started with a meandering solo guitar intro, like a Middle Eastern taqsim, and grew surprisingly into a boisterously shuffling anthem. One of the band’s percussionists – dressed in what looked like warrior regalia – opened a percussive, stop-and-start number solo on screechy ritti fiddle. Desert blues bands change modes more than they change actual chords, but Etran Finatawa’s most memorable song, an especially epic one, worked a dramatic shift from minor to major and then back again for all it was worth. And then like many of their other songs, they shut it down cold.

Los Straitjackets, arguably the world’s most popular surf band after the Ventures and Dick Dale, made about the most incongruous segue imaginable. But counting them as a roots band isn’t an overstatement: there isn’t a band alive in the small yet thriving surf rock subculture that hasn’t felt their influence, especially because they write original songs, in a whole slew of styles. Happily keeping the choreography and the cheesy stage antics to a minimum, they aired out their repertoire instead with a mix of cheery Buck Owens-flavored country stomps, Gene Vincent twang, three-chord Chuck Berry-style shuffles, and a couple of attempts at a happier spaghetti western style (along with one that was not happy at all – it was the highlight of the show). Drummer Jason Smay’s playful Gene Krupa-isms got the crowd roaring on an extended surf version of Sing Sing Sing; guitarist Danny Amis (who played bass on one song) led the band in a rousing version of a Jimi Hendrix song (ok, it wasn’t a Hendrix song, but that was Jimi on lead guitar on Joey Dee and the Starliters’ Peppermint Twist). Guitarist Eddie Angel showed off expert and boisterous command of every twangy guitar style ever invented, from Dick Dale tremolo-picking to sinuous, fluid Bill Kirchen country licks. The crowd screamed for an encore but didn’t get one.

The Asylum Street Spankers were their usual adrenalized selves, but a sadness lingered: the band is breaking up. Other than the show they played right afterward at Joe’s Pub (one hopes they got there in time), this was their last one in New York. It’s hard to imagine another band who were as funny as they were virtuosic. Banjo player Christina Marrs, multi-instrumentalist Charlie King, resonator guitarist Nevada Newman and the rest of the crew (Wammo was AWOL) all showed off their prodigious chops in turn, tersely and intensely. Their big college radio hit, Scrotum, was “a mixed-blessing song,” as Marrs put it, but she traded off vocals with Newman and King with a freshness and salaciousness that made it hard to believe they’ve sung it a thousand times before. The high points of the show were the political ones: the hillbilly sway of Lee Harvey Was A Friend of Mine, which cites Jack Ruby as “the biggest sleaze in town,” and My Baby in the CIA, a hilariously understated chronology of CIA-sponsored anti-democracy coups over the decades – and a lot of other things, some relevant, some less so but still fun, like King’s throat-singing. Marrs cranked up the volume with her amazing pipes on fierily sultry covers of the Violent Femmes’ Jesus Walking on the Water and Muddy Waters’ Got My Mojo Working; they closed with a swinging version of Don’t Let the Music Die, but it was about to and that was too bad. At least it’ll be fun to find out where all the individual Spankers end up once this year’s ongoing farewell tour has run its course.

August 3, 2010 Posted by | blues music, concert, country music, folk music, gospel music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unsteady Surfing 10/6/07

The night began at the Bohemian Hall out in Astoria. This is the big, outdoor, authentically Bavarian-style beer garden that you probably already know about, perhaps because there was a big article about them in this past Sunday’s Times. The beer is pricier than it ought to be, but it’s good. The music was not. A bunch of geezers on the big stage amid the picnic tables wheezed their way through rote covers of Dylan, Tom Petty and Bob Marley songs, the kind of stuff you learn in the first two months of taking guitar lessons. Then they took a break, probably smoked up some more and then came back and played Grateful Dead covers. The crowd got more into the music as the night wore on and the booze kicked in, even though the band was pretty out of it. And the no-see-ums were out in full effect: don’t anyone dare criticize Joba Chamberlain for throwing that wild pitch.

The game plan was to get back to town and head down to the Parkside where Love Camp 7 and Liza and the WonderWheels were playing. Each band played a fantastic set the last time we saw them, and odds are they did as well Saturday night. But the best laid plans, etc., etc., ad infinitum. We ended up at Otto’s where Unsteady Freddie’s monthly surf night was in full swing. This is reliably a good time, sometimes an absolutely transcendent one. Unsteady Freddie is a longtime Dick Dale fan who has done more to promote surf music on the east coast than anyone except NESMA founder and 9th Wave bandleader Mike “Staccato” Rosado. Rosado’s band was unfortunately absent from tonight’s bill, but there were other good ones. The big surprise was the Clams. They’re from Connecticut and have really pulled themselves together recently, with the addition of a new bass player. They did all covers, mostly standards, Out of Limits and Baja and Pipeline and the requisite Misirlou to close the set, but that stuff is not easy to play and they pulled it off. And they had a horn section, two women sax players, one of them being multi-instrumentalist Sandy from 9th Wave, and they were spot-on. Which you pretty much have to be if you’re the Clams’ horn section (that’s a joke: a flat note played on a horn is called a clam). The high point of their set was a surprisingly careening version of Mr. Moto, reminding a bit of the out-of-control version that the Coffin Daggers used to do. A lot of people think surf music is cheesy, including some of the people who play it, but not these guys. Surf music at its best is as haunting and gorgeous as it is danceable. Tonight the Clams grew legs, pulled themselves out of the muck and had the crowd hollering for more when they left the stage.

The Twangtones were next. This trio appears to be a pickup band with NY rockabilly/surf legend Simon Chardiet (of Simon & the Bar Sinisters) on bass and a guy who looks like Gaylord Perry (the way Perry looks now….which I guess is the way he’s pretty much always looked) playing guitar. Chardiet played with his eyes closed, lost in the music, the way he always does. He’s a virtuoso. He swings, he has impeccable touch and unimpeachable taste. Other bass players should watch him closely. The guitarist clearly knows his stuff as well. Like the Clams, they played Ventures covers and other classics, impressing with their ability to avoid replicating the previous band’s set. It would have been nice if I could have stuck around for the night’s final act instead of being pressed into emergency crisis mediation duty just when the night was starting to take off.

October 11, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Nightcrawling 8/17/07

The evening started at Barbes. If you’re thinking of hitting this cozy little Park Slope, Brooklyn backroom, take heed of the warning that reliably pops up on the weekly music calendar page here wherever there’s a Barbes listing: you simply have to get here way early. This Francophilic little joint is far too small for the acts they book, a sad testament to the state of the New York music scene: so many excellent acts pack this place week after week because they have enough of a following to sell out little Barbes but not enough to take it to the next level. A violinist was onstage when we arrived, and what was quietly wafting from behind the curtain sounded intriguing. But it was literally impossible to get inside.

Afterward, some of the crowd cleared out and former Rasputina multi-instrumentalist Serena Jost took the stage. Alternating between acoustic guitar, cello and piano, she and her inspired backing trio played a delightfully captivating set of hook-driven art-rock. The fun these players have onstage is contagious: drummer Rob DiPietro got his ride cymbal to make a big WHOOOSH with his brushes while guitarist Julian Maile punctuated the melodies with incisive, punchy, reverby fills from his Gibson SG. Upright bassist Rob Jost came close to stealing the show with his melodic, fluid playing, using a bow for some haunting cello-like tones when he wasn’t pushing the songs along with sinuous riffs and climbs. Although he and the frontwoman share the same last name – what’s the likelihood? – they pronounce it differently, she like the Milwaukee Brewers manager, he with a hard “j” as in journey.

Serena Jost writes cerebral, counterintuitive, incredibly catchy songs. Her vocals have a melancholy, sometimes dreamy feel, but the music is pure fun. She likes syncopation, bridges that appear seemingly out of nowhere and the occasional odd time signature. She’s been compared to Jeff Lynne here, and that’s accurate in the sense that she seamlessly merges classical and pop melodies. One of tonight’s best songs, Vertical World began with a slow, gospel crescendo at the beginning, just this side of sarcastic, morphing into a ridiculously catchy, bouncy piano-driven hit. I Wait, which came toward the end of the set also built slowly on the intro to a slinky snakecharmer melody, Maile taking a long, thoughtful solo, part surf and part skronk, like what Marc Ribot might sound like if he didn’t overintellectualize everything. Throughout the night, subtle interplay between the musicians abounded.

Serena Jost joked about people seeing her on the street with her cello case and calling her Yo-Yo Ma, or, “Pablo Casals for all you old school people.” It was that kind of crowd: most of her audience seems to be her peers, A-list New York rockers, by nature a pretty tough and critical bunch, and tonight she held them in the palm of her hand.

“You know what Pablo Casals said when he broke his hand mountain climbing?” Rob Jost asked the crowd. “Good. That means I don’t have to practice anymore.”

The East Village was our next stop, so it made sense to kill some time at Lakeside. Nice to be able to get a seat there on a Friday night (imagine doing that five years ago: impossible), but it was disheartening to see such a sparse crowd, even if it was mostly suburban tourists from the adjoining states. Goes to show that most real New Yorkers have given up on going out on the weekends anymore. The surf band Mr. Action and the Boss Guitars were playing, a whole lot tighter than they were last time we caught them here. According to the Northeast Surf Music Alliance, there are about sixty surf bands just in the Northeast alone: add the Eastern Seaboard, Florida and California and suddenly it becomes clear that twangy, mariachi- and Middle Eastern-inflected instrumental rock is probably bigger now than it was in the 60s. This band is the former Supertones rhythm section (Mr. Action is the drummer, “Long Island’s answer to Mel Taylor,” as the bassist called him) plus those two boss guitars. They all wear matching uniforms and if they have their act together, they probably make a fortune playing weddings and corporate year-end functions. But they’re also self-aware: “Continuing in the 1967 bar mitzvah vein,” the bassist joked as they launched into yet another instro version of a 60s pop hit. They did that for the first half of the show, and just as the early Beach Boys and Beatles tunes and stuff like It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To were starting to get old, they did a spot-on version of the obscure Ventures classic Ginza Lights, which was at one time the alltime bestselling single in Japan. Surf music fans are a notoriously obsessive bunch, and the crowd was clearly gassed: the Ventures virtually never play that song live, and until the days of file sharing it was extremely hard to find.

Then the band played Pipeline, and even if their version didn’t have the beautiful electric piano of the Chantays’ original, or the menace of the Agent Orange version or the evil cocaine intensity of the Heartbreakers’ cover (did I say something about how people become completely obsessed with this stuff?), it’s such a great song that pretty much anybody can play it and it still sounds good. They also did the requisite Wipeout, and I found myself wishing I’d picked up that live Surfaris album I saw in my favorite used record store a couple of months ago.

Then it was over to Banjo Jim’s to see Susan Mitchell play violin with Mark Sinnis’ trio. Sinnis is the frontman in Ninth House, who’ve received a lot of ink here lately. Although that band has gone further in the Nashville gothic direction that characterizes Sinnis’ solo work, they still have a 80s Joy Division/Cure/Psychedelic Furs feel. This unit, by contrast, plays what are basically country songs with a darkly bluesy feel. Mitchell, formerly with Kundera and currently playing in a number of good projects, is one of the most gripping soloists in New York: when she gets her swooping, sliding gypsy sound going, she is incredible. Tonight’s show, by contrast, was about interplay between her smooth legato lines and the biting, bluesy ferocity of Sinnis’ new guitarist the Anti-Dave (who also plays in Vulgaras). Sinnis gave the songs a heavy chassis with his ominous baritone voice and acoustic guitar, and his two soloists fleshed out the body, like an old black Cadillac filled with moonshine barreling down a back road somewhere near the Canadian border, its running boards whipping against the weeds and grass alongside the road. The best songs of the night were Sinnis’ original Mistaken for Love, with its brutal lyric and surprise cold ending; a new, slow shuffle with a 50s rockabilly feel, the drunk driving anthem Follow the Line with its fiery electric guitar, and the closer, a stark, surprisingly effective cover of the Sisters of Mercy song Nine While Nine that ended on an incredibly intense, haunting note as the electric guitar played half of the song’s eerie, reverberating central hook. After that, we closed down a couple of bars, watching crowds of tourists slowly stumble back to their stretch limos while we made sure the most inebriated among us didn’t lose their stuff. The sun came up as I made my way down Avenue A, the surprising chill of the early-morning air a final treat to cap off the kind of great night that only a few years ago could happen pretty much randomly at any time, but these days, all too seldom.

Maybe once oil really starts to run out and the peasants start to swarm back to the cities, just like in China, there’ll be a real urban contingent in the East Village again. A dangerous one, quite likely. Maybe then the tourists will stay in their parents’ McMansions – if they haven’t collapsed around them by then – instead of turning this city into a facsimile of New Jersey/Long Island/Los Angeles stripmall hell.

August 18, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments