Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Thomas Simon Brings His Kaleidoscopic, Psychedelic Sounds to the Gershwin Hotel

 Thursday night Thomas Simon brought his swirling, psychedelic, cinematic sounds to the lowlit stage at the Gershwin Hotel. What he really needs for his live show is a big stadium and a bank of smoke machines. Although most of his compositions segued from one into the other, this was as close to a set of separate, clearly defined songs as Simon has done lately. Typically, he’ll lay down a series of simple, catchy guitar loops, or a hypnotic drone and then add layers on top of it, sometimes going on for half an hour or more. It’s virtually impossible to tell how much of this is actually composed, and how much he’s making up on the spot, but either way, it’s hypnotic and often mesmerizing. Backed only by a terrific percussionist who ran his djembe through a series of trance-inducing echo effects, Simon opened with Up Against the Wall, the centerpiece from most recent album Moncao (ranked in the top twenty on our Best Albums of 2010 list). Building with stately, ominous guitar fragments that evoked peak-era Syd Barrett, it grew to a percussive gallop. “Stop this bloody war,” Simon whispered at one point: his lyrics have an improvisatory feel that seems to follow the mood of the music, or vice versa. Toward the end, they took the song down to an echoey thicket of fingertapping on the djembe before picking it up again: “There’s no more time,” Simon intoned against the distant, desolate grandeur of the atmospherics behind him. Although there were only two musicians onstage, they sounded like an entire guitar orchestra.

Much of the rest of the set evoked Bauhaus at their peak in the mid-80s, simple ascending progressions on the guitar, or brief series of chords that finally took on the shape of a distinct verse/chorus pattern on the evening’s last song. At one point, the djembe player – who was using a wireless mic – took an extended walk through the audience, one of the concertgoers responding with some wildly ecstatic dance moves, adding some unexpected but welcome drama. Occasionally, Thomas would augment the ringing, reverb-drenched overtones with some rapidfire lead guitar flourishes that moved rapidly through the mix. A trip-hop beat slowly made its way into a couple of later songs before oscillating out with a rapidfire “whoosh;” on one occasion, the djembe was processed to the point of sounding almost like a wood flute. Ringing tritones dominated torward the end. “It’s dark down here,” Thomas announced at one point with a half-snarled, half-spoken murmur, which pretty much summed up the night.

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January 15, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Typical Beastly Monday

So good to be back at Small Beast after a few weeks’ absence. Nothing has changed – New York’s most unpredictably fun weekly musical event was as edgy as always. This time around, Pete Galub opened the night while Botanica keyboardist and Small Beast impresario Paul Wallfisch furiously wrote out charts for his show later in the evening with Sally Norvell. Most solo shows are boring to the extreme, but Galub had brought along a gorgeous hollowbody electric guitar and gave a clinic in powerpop songwriting – and when the time came, guitar solos, playing along methodically as if he had his usual band behind him. Galub gets props for his playing, and deservedly so, but his songs are every bit as clever as his work as a lead guitarist for a cavalcade of A-list writers: Amy Allison, Serena Jost and others. He opened with a sardonic, Big Star inflected number possibly titled Exclusive Guest, following that with a gorgeously poignant, minor-key, somewhat Neil Finn-esque tune, Crying Time. A cover of the late former LA Trash frontman Alan Andrews‘ big 6/8 ballad Undiscovered Life maintained the poignant tone while adding a tongue-in-cheek vibe, segueing into a nasty, noisy riff-rocker that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Kevin Salem catalog – complete with an offhandedly savage solo. And then a real surprise, a pensive and heartfelt version of Any Major Dude by Steely Dan. When Galub opened his set, he’d hinted that he might take a detour into the Dan catalog, and this was a typically counterintuitive choice. Most solo shows are a clinic in how to bore an audience: Galub reaffirmed that if you have the chops, the material and a sense of humor, you don’t necessarily need a band.

Guitarist Thomas Simon and his drummer cohort were next on the bill, with a long set of swirling, atmospheric, effects-laden numbers that took the shape of a suite as they segued into one another. “A Spacemen 3 kind of thing,” one of the cognoscenti in the crowd murmured – this set had remarkably more aggression than Simon’s previous appearance at the Beast in July (very favorably reviewed here).

For one reason or another the women who play Small Beast turn out to be the night’s biggest stars, and an Austin punk legend, former Gator Family and Norvells frontwoman Sally Norvell maintained the tradition, backed by Wallfisch and erstwhile Big Lazy bassist Paul Dugan on a few numbers. Norvell is best known as a menacing noir cabaret femme fatale, but this set was a showcase in stylistic diversity, masterful subtlety matched by wrenching, raw intensity. Norvell can belt with anyone, but it’s how she holds back, how she works whatever emotion the lyrics call for that makes her such a captivating presence – and one sorely missed, at least around these parts. A few years back, right around the time that her duo with Kid Congo Powers, Congo Norvell was pretty much finished, she put out an amazing, sparsely beautiful album, Choking Victim, backed just by Wallfisch and occasional minimalist percussion or guitar. They opened with one of the songs from that one, One Gentle Thing, replete with longing and regret, Wallfisch obviously in his element and relishing the moment from its first few stately chords. A creepy, swaying Congo Norvell song pulsed along with a steady, ominous eight-note pulse from the bass. And then noir cabaret personality Little Annie joined them for an understatedly anguished version of her big audience hit Because You’re Gone – the contrast of Annie’s bitter contralto and Norvell’s breathy soprano, and the counterpoint between the two, was absolutely transcendent and the two women made it seem effortless. And unaffectly intense – it brought Norvell to tears. The rest of the set could have been anticlimactic but it wasn’t – a brief, menacing Paul Bowles song (Wallfisch worked with him for a time), a sad minor ballad in 6/8, a gorgeously dark lament, and then Norvell finally cut loose with a soaring version of the old spiritual Trouble in the World, imbuing it with a nihilistic fury. “You can’t have an apocalypse without Jesus,” she grinned gleefully.

Keyboardist and Americana soul stylist Matt Kanelos and then another keyb guy, frequent Thalia Zedek collaborator M.G. Lederman were scheduled to follow, but there were places to go and things to do. Next week’s Beast is a beauty, with Julia Kent, Carol Lipnik and Rebecca Cherry in addition to Wallfisch doing his usual set solo at the piano – if you’re in New York this coming Monday you’d be crazy to miss it.

October 7, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment