Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: The Snow’s CD Release Show at Joe’s Pub, NYC 1/16/10

Lucinda Black Bear open the night. They’re not bad. It’s always good to see a band start to realize their potential. They start with a couple of quiet 6/8 ballads that could have been ELO outtakes. The songwriting is getting closer to the level of the musicianship, which with all the strings and a killer rhythm section, is pretty stupendous. The bass player is doing all kinds of interesting things but he’s so low in the mix that you have to watch his fingers, which is a crime in a space like this. Quentin Jennings, late of Melomane, contributes some incisively memorable piano. The crowd seems have a collective case of cabin fever, just glad to be out of the house for a few hours. They love the band.

The Snow take the stage for the cd release show for their new one I Die Every Night with a three-piece reed section including Tony Jarvis, from main songwriter Pierre de Gaillande’s other project, Bad Reputation, playing bass clarinet. Hilary Downes, who will prove to have pretty much taken over fronting the band, is on piano. The first number is lush, artsy, with a funky rhythm and a bluesy horn break after the chorus. The lyrics are characteristically smart:

There’s a hole in the ice

There’s a hole in your heart

But the hole is greater

Than the sum of the parts

They play their signature song The Silent Parade, the band’s big 6/8 epic about the snowstorm to end all snowstorms. It’s more restrained than usual: that they resist turning this into gleeful grand guignol is impressive. There are sarcastic la-la-la’s and then some faux-blithe off-key whistling by Gaillande at the end.

Downes sings Undertow with her usual inscrutably sultry precision. It’s a clever, sarcastic narrative about a drowning. They follow that with Fool’s Gold, which welds an oldschool soul verse to a darker, more European chorus. And then a rather haunting, low-key number on which Gaillande switches to accordion, which as it blends with the horns enhances its noir cabaret plaintiveness.

Handle Your Weapon is pulsing and insistent – encouragement, maybe, for a would-be suicide to keep going. It’s hard to keep track of all the metaphors. “Soon it will be daylight.” Then they do Shadows and Ghost, by Downes and bring out every bit of its understated phantasmagoria, Gaillande tossing off a casual southwestern gothic guitar solo.

Moral Debtor, by tenor sax player Dave Spinley, is a tango. Long and Strange pulses along on a rumbling latin drumbeat. The guy/girl harmonies are gorgeous; Gaillande adds another twangy noir guitar solo that ends all too soon. They close with a darkly swinging Serge Gainsbourg-inflected pop song. The sold-out crowd wants more but the room has to be cleared for the next act, Bassam Saba of the NY Arabic Orchestra and his ensemble. The line outside grows longer and longer – no surprise, they’re really good.

After a show like this you need a drink to reflect and take it all in and remember the finer points.The party starts at Lakeside where Tie Me Up, the world’s only Spanking Charlene cover band are about to play all the hits: When I’m Skinny, Where Are the Freaks, Stupid Stupid Me (actually it’s really just Spanking Charlene playing their own stuff). And then vodka catches up with one of us and we end up missing the band – too bad, they sounded good from outside the bar.

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January 17, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Mark Steiner, the Crass Brass and Ingrid Olava at Small Beast at the Delancey, NYC 3/19/09

You’ve heard it before, you’ll hear it again, get used to it: Small Beast is the best weekly music event in New York, as much in the spirit of an Enlightenment-era salon as it is a concert. Thursday nights, the Delancey is where the cognoscenti hang out, and host Paul Wallfisch (of Botanica, who are playing Joe’s Pub tonight at 7 with a string section!) always brings a fascinating and eclectic group of edgy acts to fill a bill that runs from about nine to midnight.

 

Thursday’s Small Beast was one of the best. Former Piker Ryan and Kundera frontman Mark Steiner now makes his home in Norway; his debut solo cd made Lucid Culture’s Top Ten Albums of 2007 list. Casually blasting away on a Strat through a fiery wall of distortion and reverb and accompanied only by the incomparable Susan Mitchell (who plays with everybody: Magges and Mark Sinnis, to name a couple) on viola, he ran through a set auspiciously loaded with new material, dark, haunting, dramatic but sometimes unexpectedly funny. From the tempo of the new ones, it was clear that he’s still a big fan of 6/8 time.  One was a hypnotic two-chord minor-key vamp with some characteristically eerie pizzicato work from Mitchell (who’s been working with Steiner for fifteen years, she said); another built slowly and ominously with an anthemic Nick Cave feel to a repetitive, ringing chorus that saw Mitchell slashing against it with some fiercely staccato runs. Steiner was in his usual wiseass mood, eventually revealing that the Icelandic word for toast (as in prost, nasdarovye, l’chaim, cheers) is pronounced “scowl.”

 

Wallfisch joined the duo for a cover written by a mutual friend, now deceased, providing the most compelling solo of the night, a moment that was nothing short of heartwrenching. It was clear that both he and Steiner had lost a good friend. Starting with a little honkytonk (didn’t know he had that in him!), he took it down the scale with a restrained anguish. They closed with an old Piker Ryan song, the tongue-in-cheek Weimar blues Devil in the Bottle.

 

The Crass Brass were next. This is saxist/guitarist Tony Jarvis and trumpeter Jeff Pierce’s jazzy project. They were making their live debut, at least in this particular configuration with an excellent pianist and tight rhythm section featuring ex-Botanica bassist Christian Bongers. Most of the set was occasionally sloppy but playfully fun trip-hop instrumentals with inspired playing from all members: once they get the songs in their fingers, or get the solos worked out, they’ll be fine. The only drawback was a guest singer who surprisingly nailed Crying (the Orbison tune) with some spot-on falsetto but couldn’t rise above a generically showy 70s Bad Company style on the bluesier songs.

 

Norwegian chanteuse Ingrid Olava closed the night, having wrapped up the last of her three-day stand headlining at Cake Shop just minutes earlier. Although she confessed to being a little buzzed from the booze (and promptly took up Wallfisch on his offer of more wine), it didn’t show. She explained that she wanted to do something different, a wee-hours show. Instead of playing her standard set of originals, she treated the crowd to an intriguing and intensely passionate mix of covers along with a couple of her own. No matter that the piano, having been used by all four of the acts on the bill (Wallfisch had opened the night solo, as usual), was going further and further out of tune. Opening with the old blues Nobody’s Fault but Mine, she wowed the crowd with her powerful vocals, proving as much a bonafide oldschool soul belter as sultry noir cabaret stylist. An original set to a staggered tango beat began as a caution to stay away but quickly took on a compelling, longing tone: “We’ve just begun,” she intoned, equal parts hopefulness and dread.

 

After a couple of heartfelt diversions into the Tom Waits and Gillian Welch songbooks, she told the crowd that she was going to do something “unbelievably pretentious,” but it was the furthest thing from that. With perfect recall of the song’s epic lyrics, she dove into It’s All Right Ma, I’m Only Bleeding and played it all the way through, her piano giving it a gorgeously noir edge, bringing out every bit of anguish and intensity in Dylan’s classic lyric. By the time she got to “It’s all right, ma, it’s life and life only!” and then an ominously perfect little outro, the once-chatty crowd was rapt. No doubt Olava will be playing a considerably larger space the next time she’s in town. Shows like this make a walk across the Williamsburg Bridge in chilly 2 AM drizzle worth every step.  

March 21, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment