Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Amy X Neuburg & the Cello ChiXtet – The Secret Life of Subways

Bay area avant chanteuse Amy X Neuburg’s new album the Secret Life of Subways (picked up by the boundary-busting Starkland label for distribution) is disjointed, it’s rhythmically pretty much impossible to follow and for that matter pretty much impossible to follow at all unless you have headphones on. It’s also funny, and it tells a story. It’s a very ambitious, dizzying ride with a distinctly 80s feel, evocative of the first years when the avant garde was trying on a punk ethos and the line between new wave and experimental got fuzzier and fuzzier. “I’m a Vaseline lens girl,” Neuburg announces, and she’s not kidding. She may sing with a dramatic, operatic delivery but it’s never clear where she’s going – which is part of the fun.  Backed by the Cello ChiXtet – Jessica Ivry, Elaine Kreston and Elizabeth Vandervennet – she creates a loosely thematic series of surreal, theatrical, Bowie-esque vignettes and epics, some harsh and aggressive, others ambient and atmospheric to the point of wooziness.The music matches the lyrics, often in an extreme fashion, accentuating the weirdness or unease of the storyline – although just as frequently it can be comedic.

“I can’t spill this one because everybody would drown,” Neuburg states emphatically as the story begins, alternately ambient and insistently staccato. “Do not lean on the doors or you might lose your focus,” which more than telegraphs the plot, if you’re paying attention. “Too many brokers in here, too many deals on the line.” The cellos grow menacing, and Neuburg hits her octave pedal for a horror movie effect.

“Everyone knows that beautiful is the opposite of smart,” she rails cynically as the strings rise to meet her on the third track, the understatedly titled, Kate Bush-inflected Difficult. The story continues with the apprehensively scurrying, disassociative Someone Else’s Sleep and then follows a crescendo to a catchy, somewhat haunting circular theme on The Gooseneck, a series of cynical stream-of-consciousness observations on conspicuous consumption. She hits a stunning faux-Broadway vocal coda on This Loud, brings things down for the baroque-themed Be Careful and then carefully enunciates the menace and exasperation of Body Parts, a requiem that works on several levels. The somewhat self-explanatory Dada Exhibit is actually more coherent than it would seem, a study in sudden rhythmic shifts with a vividly cinematic string interlude and a funny pun at the end. The cd closes with its centerpiece, Shrapnel, a deliberately out-of-focus eulogy for a dead relationship floating on layers of vocals and an eerie choir of processed, disembodied voices at the end. There’s a sort of bonus track here, an imaginative, absolutely spot-on cover of Back in NYC by Genesis which while it resembles Rasputina far more than Peter Gabriel, maintains and even heightens the nonplussed, confrontational vibe of the original. It’s an apt choice, because fans of prime-era art-rock like The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway ought to go for this album as much as the Bang on a Can crowd will. Watch this space for NYC dates.

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December 22, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Asylum Street Spankers – What? And Give Up Show Business?

In case you don’t get the reference, the album title is the punchline of an old vaudeville joke: the guy shovels shit, gets the short end of the stick every time, really has nothing to do with what’s happening onstage, but he just can’t quit the job. This sequence of tracks taken from their stagy, vaudevillian series of shows last year at the Barrow Street Theatre captures the band at the absolute peak of their consistently hilarious, raucous, virtuosic powers. In a lot of ways the Asylum Street Spankers are sort of the Dead Kennedys of oldtimey music, fearlessly aware, politically spot-on and funny as hell, especially in a live setting. This sprawling two-cd set intersperses several skits among a grand total of 25 songs. Smoking pot figures heavily in a number of them; sex is abundant, and there’s also one about beer. In other words, this is a party album guaranteed to clear the room of tight-assed yuppies and young Republicans in seconds flat.

Trying to choose which song is funniest is not easy. Everybody will get a kick out of their acoustic cover of the Black Flag hardcore classic TV Party, updated with contemporary references to emphasize the fact that the trendoids vegging out to Adult Swim or the Daily Show are no cooler than the bozos in the original, glued to Hill Street Blues. My Baby in the CIA is blackly funny, offhandedly managing to mention every CIA-sponsored coup against a democratically elected government around the world over the past half-century. The Medley of Burned-Out Songs, designed to placate rabid fans who can’t wait til the band plays their favorite, overplayed number is something that more bands should do. There’s also Christina Marrs’ deadpan Hawaiian swing number Pakalolo Baby, sounding something like the Moonlighters on good weed (or Pakalolo, for all the Hawaiian speakers out there). Winning the War on Drugs takes a quizzical, red-eyed view of prohibition, posing the logical question of why, if there’s a war on, are drugs so easy to find (My Baby in the CIA has the answer). The most technically dazzling number of them all is the medley My Favorite Records, kicking off with an absolutely perfect acoustic evocation of Black Sabbath, moving to Zep, Marrs eventually bringing down the house with her choice. And then they work a complicated contrapuntal vocal vamp to a crescendo where they replicate the sound of a stuck record without missing a beat.

Most of the skits are also funny, especially the Gig from Hell which any musician who’s spent any time on the road can relate to: not enough inputs for all the vocals, a stage that smells like vomit, the house manager trying to rip off the band like he did the one before…the list goes on and on. There’s also some remarkably straight-up and soulful blues and ragtime here too. The show finally ends with a full-length version of one of the heretofore Burned-Out Songs, the well-loved Stick Magnetic Ribbons on Your SUV (this having been recorded during the waning days of the Bush regime, there’s an undercurrent of righteous wrath just fractions of an inch below many of the jokes). The Asylum Street Spankers play the Bell House on May 19 with oldtimey/delta blues siren Mamie Minch opening the night auspiciously at 8:30 or so.

May 18, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: The Inbreeds at Freddy’s, Brooklyn NY 10/24/08

One of the funniest shows of the year by one of New York’s funniest bands. The Inbreeds’ raison d’etre is poking fun at the right wing, usually (but not always) with parodies of country songs. This show saw the quartet broadening their comedic spectrum considerably, although the jokes were as good as always. Characteristically, there was a lot of tongue-in-cheek homoerotic banter between the two singers, Neil the drummer and Chris the guitarist (who also doubled ably on banjo on a couple of numbers), playing the part of macho hicks with a thing for double entendre…and each other. One of the reasons why this band is so funny is that they know their source material so well: the humor is pretty savage, but it’s obvious they have an affinity for the music. After a bizarre opening tune called Party Box (a New Jersey thing, maybe? Hard to figure out what that was all about), Chris went deep into his low baritone for Becky, a parody of a cheating song. “Every night I whisper words of love into your ear,” the philandering husband tells his wife, “Becky only gets to hear me grunt.”

 

The high point of the night was Unfurled. It’s a howl, a dead-on spoof of a patriotic song. In this one, the singer looks forward to the day when “there’s a Fourth of July parade all over the world,” that all the children “with their blue eyes and golden curls” can look forward to. And they’ll be doing their patriotic duty, working for less than the Chinese in a new golden era where a 40-hour work week gets you part-time pay, where people get picked up by the cops if they look anything like “the enemy in the war.”

 

Neil was all excited about an important event coming up in the near future, specifically, Halloween. So the band launched into a strange epic called Pumpkin Man, accordionist Annette Kudrak’s tongue-in-cheek gypsy melody eerily swirling behind the stentorian vocals. A hooded figure came out of the audience and handed a scroll to Chris, who slowly unwound it, blowing what seemed a whole bottle’s worth of baby powder from inside it. “May I?” he asked sarcastically.

 

“Just don’t blow any more shit off of it,” implored an audience member as the smell of Johnson & Johnson permeated the room. Chris then recited something arcane that made no sense at all and then the band wrapped it up.

 

Finally, Kudrak put down her accordion and came out front with a keytar slung over her shoulder like a guitar, in a wooden case with a handle fashioned to look like a horse’s head. As she swayed and launched into a warm, pretty series of chords, power-ballad style, she couldn’t help cracking a smile as Chris sang another romantic song, Clydesdale Lady, about the big filly with whom he’d like to create a race of centaurs. Another of the evening’s high points was Homeland, a simple recitation of the names of cities and towns from around the country (nice to see King of Prussia followed by Kennebunkport) that goes on and on, hypnotically, until all of a sudden you realize that the names they’re using have suddenly become pretty crazy (yes, they did namecheck Intercourse, PA). The phony outlaw epic Peckerwood County Justice, a staple of their live show, was as boisterously amusing as always. The night’s only drawback was when their closer Puppydog Amen (which has only two words, “puppydog amen”) went on and on for what seemed five minutes while some annoying drunk yahoo in the back wouldn’t stop whistling: a minute and maybe just one false ending is all that one needs, max.

 

As well-loved as the Inbreeds are as a live band, where they really ought to be is in a Broadway theatre. With the way the political climate has changed, the Inbreeds’ satire could be the next Urinetown. Any ambitious producers out there?

October 27, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment