Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: James Apollo at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 12/20/07

“They should do at least one song in Spanish,” remarked one of our crew. What a great discovery. James Apollo and his terrific band sound exactly like the late, great NY band Industrial Tepee in their more subtle moments. They do one thing and one thing only, and they absolutely nail it. They’re Southwestern gothic, with haunting, mariachi-inflected melodies, the occasional tango beat and a quietly dusky, otherworldly feel. We’d stopped in for a drink, still flying from another concert we’d just seen, feeling cynical to the point that we were all dreading whoever might be playing here tonight. Although Banjo Jim’s has had a good run lately – they’re picking up a lot of the spillover from the songwriters who are leaving the Living Room in droves – their stock in trade is still generally the kind of generic lite FM songwriters you hear piped over the PA in shopping malls.

Apollo sang and played acoustic, backed by an excellent lead player who played lush washes of sound on lapsteel, and occasionally on a Telecaster, using an ebow for sustain. From time to time, he’d flick on a percussion device that looked like a kick pedal but sounded like a rattle. Apollo’s rhythm section didn’t waste a single beat all night. His upright bassist delivered a pulsing, propulsive groove and his drummer, playing with metal brushes, set the haunting, hushed tone from which they never strayed. Every now and then he’d throw in a couple of judiciously placed thumps on the kick and the snare, or a rimshot or two, to keep things interesting, and he made them all count. Tonight was a great example of the best that can happen when guys with jazz chops decide to play rock: it was a clinic in subtlety and counterintuitive, smart musicianship.

With admirable restraint, they resisted the urge to turn one of the songs they played mid-set into straight-up rockabilly. The following cut, I’ve Got It Easy, from Apollo’s latest album Hide Your Heart in a Hive could have been early Calexico, or Friends of Dean Martinez with a vocal track, all sunburnt and slightly hallucinatory. They wrapped up the set – ten songs, all of them good – with a couple of numbers with a somewhat Tom Waits-ish, bluesy feel. Check out this band and share our delight in running into them, completely by accident.

[postscript: Banjo Jim’s happily grew edgier in the time since this review appeared, the Lite FM singer-songwriter types apparently staying home in Long Island or going back to the Living Room. We rated Banjo Jim’s Best Manhattan Venue in 2010]

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December 22, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review from the Archives: Revlover, Noxes Pond, Florence Dore, Patricia Vonne and Paul Foglino at the C-Note, NYC 9/28/01

The sky looking particularly ominous, I caught a cab up from my company’s satellite office at Union Square to a friend’s gallery for her very first curated opening. She did about seven grand worth of business, not bad considering what she was selling: the artist was sort of Edward Hopper lite, familiar outdoor and storefront NYC scenes including the H&H Bagel sign. Shadows falling everywhere: the guy’s in love with shadow, and when he isn’t doing shadows he’s doing the reverse with lights tracing a path in the dark. Then caught a cab down to the club where a wretched acoustic grungeboy tortured us for the better part of 40 minutes. Fake moveable chords, lame vocals and awful fashion sense. As Luke Haines said, junk shop clothes will get you nowhere, and this guy is living proof, playing to just about nobody at 7 PM at a little Lower East Side club that rightfully shouldn’t even be a club at all. It looked like he was trying to pester the promoter for another gig afterward and the promoter was having none of it. Hopefully he won’t be back.

Revlover were next. They didn’t have Ed Sargent on guitar like they did last time: it was just the three of them doing an exceptionally tight, catchy mix of indie janglerock and somewhat crunchier, tuneful, Guided by Voices-inflected material. They did the always amusing faux Irish ballad Emily, their song about a hermaphrodite, along with the very memorable On Ordinary Days (the title track to their album), sung by their excellent, melodic bass player. He also sang their closing number, a fiery, riff-driven, minor-key garage number called Men in Plastic featuring a fast, searing blues guitar solo at the end. Particularly appropriate, considering what’s going on downtown (body bags – as it turns out the bassist’s office was at 1 Liberty Plaza. He escaped into the Path station).

In the case of the recently regrouped Noxes Pond, word on the street is to be believed: their new lead singer is amazing. Sarah Mucho, all five feet one and maybe a hundred pounds of her, belts like a 300 pound black blueswoman from the 1940s. The songs they played tonight generally fell into a slinky, often funky, generally minor key groove; the steady, sinuous swing of the bass contrasted nicely with the rattle and clatter of the drums, with the vocals sailing spectacularly over it all. The guitarist seems to be the band’s rhythm center which is a very smart move because his timing is spot-on. This version of the band likes dynamics a lot more than their previous incarnation: if this gig is any indication, they’re on track to something really good.

Florence Dore is a star in the making. She didn’t bring a big crowd, but that was probably a good thing since Noxes Pond did and this is a small place. The NYU English professor is a real find, an excellent lyricist with a very strong sense of melody, a honey-sweet, soaring voice and an excellent, driving Americana rock band behind her featuring bassist-about-town Scott Yoder and former Smithereens drummer Dennis Diken pushing it along. She blends country songs with more rocking, upbeat tunes including a lot of material from her new album, including the fiery, early Who-inflected Framed, on which Diken did an impressive Keith Moon seance. But the quieter songs were the best. The highlight was the poignant, rueful Early World, the opening track on the new album, about what it feels like to know that you’ve probably missed the boat. Dore delivered it with a nonchalance that was downright scary.

Patricia Vonne took the stage late, but by the time her hourlong set was over – at almost a quarter to one – she had the crowd mesmerized. Playing without a drummer, backed by just her lead guitarist and bassist, the tall Texas ex-model played a masterfully nuanced set of very compelling material. Like Dore, she falls into the Americana category, but there’s a lot of Tex-Mex and mariachi influence in her songs (she’s Mexican-American and defiantly proud of her heritage). Her vocals are absolutely unique: though she didn’t have to sing over the noise of an electric band, she maintained her trademark passionate, throaty wail throughout the show. All her best songs tonight had an impressive political awareness; the usually stomping El Cruzado was given the tiptoe treatment, without the drums, but it still hit the spot. Dance in a Circle, written in support of wrongfully imprisoned Indian activist Leonard Peltier was as harrowing as the album version, even if it was quieter tonight. She and the band closed with her best song, the riveting escape anthem Blood on the Tracks. Obviously it took a lot of nerve to appropriate that title, but the song lives up to it: there’s absolutely no hubris here. “We ain’t never coming back,” she railed, with a barely restrained rage: “Our hearts have been scarred, there’s blood on the tracks.” It’s amazing that in this city you can see someone this popular – she’s something of a household word in Texas – on a stage this small.

Former Five Chinese Brothers bassist Paul Foglino was pulling mop-up relief duty, playing a solo acoustic set as the crowd slowly dispersed, but he held up his end. He’s very funny, and he knows what he’s doing. “Too old to rock and roll, too stupid to quit,” said the poster for his show taped to the inside of the club window, which is far too self-effacing. Some of the slightly bluesy, upbeat, major-key songs he played tonight were pretty amusing, including a number perhaps titled You Can’t Be too Drunk to Get Drunk. Given the crowd, the hour and the venue, he couldn’t have come up with a more apt choice. Spending this amount of time in a bar is usually a big mistake, but tonight’s bands made it all worthwhile. We ended up closing the club and then going over to Mona’s where a drunken college friend of one of the performers was trying to pick up somebody in my posse, so I went over to the deli on 6th and Ave. B for one of their trademark cheese heros (with jalapenos and avocado), then caught a cab home at around 4:30, waking up in the early afternoon to find that I’d been sharing the bed with what was left of the sandwich.

[Postscript: as Lucid Culture regulars know by now, the once-vibrant C-Note is now defunct, as are Revlover and Noxes Pond (the latter went through some lineup changes and morphed into spectacularly good art-rockers System Noise, who happen to be playing Arlene’s this Sunday, Sept. 30 at 9). Florence Dore’s academic career continues, though it’s been ages since she’s played a New York show. Patricia Vonne expanded her fan base to include Europe, where she became a star and tours regularly. Paul Foglino is still active in music and plays guitar in Ellen Foley’s band].

September 29, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: The Flatlanders at Castle Clinton, NYC 8/2/07

Their time finally came almost thirty years after they started, as twangy rock posing as country finally pushed traditional country (or what was left of it) over the edge, into the chasm where dead musical genres go, down there with roots reggae and dixieland and punk. But for these guys it was never a pose: they always were and still remain a country-rock band. That term has become almost an insult, and perhaps rightfully so, but these Lubbock, Texas vets, darlings of the NPR set, actually make it work. Although the show wasn’t quite the ruckus they typically raise indoors, late at night, there were many absolutely delightful moments.

The three frontmen, all of who played acoustic guitar and sang spot-on harmonies, brought their distinctive personalities to the set. Joe Ely is the Tex-Mex guy with a thing for mariachi melodies; Jimmie Dale Gilmore is the Willie Nelson-style crooner, and Butch Hancock brings the corn. This unit brings out the very best in each of them: Ely manages to stay pretty much on this side of the border, Gilmore’s hippie streak is held firmly in check, and Hancock’s buffoonery is kept pretty much to a minimum. Bolstered by an effortlessly tight rhythm section and a fine lead guitarist, the trio mixed newer material into the set along with familiar crowd-pleasers such as Dallas, swinging along on a boogie beat.

It’s too bad the Flatlanders haven’t had more hits, because their best songs are very, very catchy. The highlight of the night was Julia, a gorgeously rueful midtempo ballad sung by Ely: When the first chorus ended, all three acoustic guitars chiming in unison as the lead player sprinkled some magically clanging notes around them, the crescendo was literally breathtaking. They didn’t hit that kind of high again, but they didn’t really shoot for it: these vets know how to size up a crowd – this one was definitely older, mostly tourists from the looks of them, with a small but vocal Texas contingent – so they played it pretty safe.

With one exception. Midway through the set, Gilmore assured the crowd that “not all Texans agree with other Texans,” and received a very warm response. “He’s not from Texas!” yelled someone in the crowd. “Who’s he?” joked Hancock. This band may not write political songs, but like the best country musicians, they’re populist through and through. After about an hour worth of consistently tasty twang, they wrapped up their first encore with a fiery number told from the point of view of a driver who picks up a hitchhiker who turns out to be Jesus. Mr. Christ lets him drink a beer with impunity but eventually puts a gun to the guy’s head and then steals the car. No doubt the band would have done more like this had this been later in the evening, with alcohol flowing in abundance.

Afterward we went up to Banjo Jim’s to continue the festivities. After a lengthy setup, Ray Suarez lookalike Joe Whyte and his band took the stage, Whyte telling the audience how he’d had a dream in which he’d punched George Bush in the face. This met with a very enthusiastic reception. Too bad the music that followed was so sterile, generic suburban janglepop with a few country licks thrown in here and there: a New Jersey version of Counting Crows, maybe. One of our entourage noted that the following band, a trio from Philadelphia, sounded like the Black Crowes (this show was for the birds, hardy har har). I saw the Black Crowes open for someone once but they were so forgettable, I can’t remember what they sounded like: a tuneless version of Lynyrd Skynyrd, maybe? At this point, we’d finally had our fill and the evening had cooled off a little bit, so we hit the pavement and called it a night.

August 3, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment