Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Rev. Vince Anderson’s Last Show at Black Betty, Brooklyn NY 6/15/09

There’s a downside to running a live music blog: if the concept is to cover as much ground as as possible, to spread the word about as many scenes as there are in New York, there isn’t much time left to see old favorites. After all, nobody wants to read about the same old people over and over again. But this show was special. Rev. Vince Anderson has gotten a lot of space here by virtue of the ecstatic quality of his live shows, and this one was especially high-voltage since Black Betty, the Middle Eastern restaurant/bar where he and his band the Love Choir have played a Monday night residency since 2004 (and for awhile back in the early zeros too) is closing. Tonight was supposedly the closing party and the vibe was electric, a lot of love in the room. Anderson has always drawn a remarkably diverse crowd, a lot of segments that usually don’t mix (the trendoid exiting in a huff because the bar wouldn’t take his parents’ credit card, a bunch of blue-collar neighborhood folks, Europeans, Middle Easterners and college kids). It was impossible to get into the inner room. When Anderson moves to Union Pool next Monday, it’ll be a step up because that space is considerably larger and the PA is a lot more powerful, more headroom for him to literally take his already energetic show to another level.

It was hard to imagine him working any harder or more exaltedly than he did tonight, opening with a swinging version of the Tom Waits-inflected free beer bar tale Sweet Redemption – from his second album The 13th Apostle – a heartfelt dedication to Black Betty. Playing every week, sometimes more than that has made this band incredibly tight, with a rare chemistry between band members. The rhythm section does double duty in slinky, sly groove/funk/soul band Chin Chin; trombonist Dave Smith is a blues purist in this band but also an innovative composer in his own jazz project, The Perfect Man; likewise, baritone sax player Paula Henderson leads the uniquely devious low-register band Moisturizer and does her own cinematic solo project Secretary. You’d never know from Jaleel Bunton’s energetically psychedelic guitar that he’s also the drummer in TV on the Radio. Anderson himself has evolved from eerily Balkan-inflected barrelhouse pianist to one of this era’s most successfully groove-oriented funk/soul keyboardists.

Deep in the Water, from Anderson’s most recent album 100% Jesus was especially moist and fluid, as was a cover of Amazing Grace, reinvented as a minor-key, House of the Rising Sun-style blues featuring what could have been Bunton’s best-ever solo in this band, a wrenchingly beautiful excursion that started out somberly emphatic with his wah pedal, finally blowing wide open with some searing upper-register work. The version of Anderson’s Get Out of My Way was especially amped, but the best song of the first set was a surprise cover of Springsteen’s Atlantic City, Anderson reinventing the hitman’s coldly disingenuous narrative as redemption song. “Everybody dies, that’s a fact, but maybe someday, everything comes back” – in Anderson’s world, this is a possibility. By the time he led the band through the stomping funk of Come to the River, the cops had arrived, the club finally closed the back door – which had been open for the first hour of the show since there was no room inside – and for anyone who wasn’t already in there, it was impossible to hear. No doubt the festivities after that were equally or more intense. Anderson’s next show is June 22 at 11 PM at Union Pool.

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June 16, 2009 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Rev. Vince Anderson Live at Black Betty, Brooklyn NY 2/19/08

Rev. Vince Anderson had a rough week. While training in the park for an upcoming road race, the newly svelte Rev. was socked in the jaw by an old codger who told him, “This is for Jimmy.” It didn’t hurt, said the Rev., but it was a New York moment. Recently single, he’d spent Valentine’s Day alone with half a bottle of Trader Joe’s wine and a pizza and garlic sauce that tasted like butter (from a national chain: figures, right?). And his friend was in ICU after the Lincoln Town Car he was riding in pulled up at the curb just outside the club a couple of days before and within seconds was t-boned by a couple of drunk kids who then ran from the scene. These are just some of the things Brooklyn’s best-loved keyboard-pounding minister has to deal with, and he delivered a prayer onstage for his banged-up pal. Unsurprisingly, it took Anderson about half his first set to really get going. But the band took over and got things moving right along.

This is the best unit he’s played with, which is pretty impressive, considering that right around the turn of the century the stuff he was doing had a wildly intense, deliriously fun gypsy rock feel. But since then he’s apparently decided to become king of all keyboard instruments. Tonight in the first forty-five minutes he played blues piano, gospel organ, Billy Preston-influenced funk, and psychedelic Fender Rhodes-ish electric piano while the band wailed behind him. This time around he had a full three-piece horn section including Dave Smith from Who Put the Bad Mouth on Me taking center stage on trombone, plus not-so-secret weapon Paula Henderson from Moisturizer and Secretary on baritone sax, playing clever, devious harmonies off Smith’s straight-ahead blues while a new addition on tenor sax contributed as well.

At first thought, guitarist Jaleel Bunton (who’s also the drummer in TV on the Radio) would be the last musician you’d think would work in this unit, but he does. The guy has monster chops, a lightning-fast attack and the kind of silvery vibrato that a lot of metal players have. But notwithstanding its ecstatic crescendos, Anderson’s music is really all about groove, swing and subtlety. Bunton likes playing up in the mix and was there tonight with some nice natural distortion screaming from his amp, showing off a very impressively thoughtful side with a seemingly endless supply of juicy 60s soul and blues licks. Meanwhile, drummer Torbitt Schwartz (also of Chin Chin) swung like crazy, building up a big woooosh on his crash cymbal during an absolutely rapturous version of Anderson’s psychedelic gospel number Deep in the Water.

They’d opened the set quietly but quickly rose to ecstatic heights with a cover of Precious Lord, Take My Hand and another hymn, along with the propulsively hypnotic Come to the River, which Anderson used as a showcase for the many echo effects on his Nord Electro keyboard when they brought the song down gently at the end after a deliriously good ten-minute jam. They also debuted Anderson’s first-ever breakup song, titled A Ring in My Pocket and Leaving on Her Heart. It built slowly like a long Tom Waits epic: eventually, Anderson finds himself on the train out to Brooklyn, the borough of churches, looking for any redemption he may find. And the song isn’t bitter: when it finally hit a peak, about five minutes in, Anderson sang of how he was thinking about what it would be like to grow old with that woman, and how much he loved her. It was impossible not to be moved. The band brought it down after that with a warm, reflective take of Peace in the Valley, but the crowd, which had packed the little place and had been dancing all night, kept swaying. Shows like these make all the daily hassles seem like a small price to pay for living in a city that may be on its last legs but isn’t dead yet. Rev. Vince Anderson plays Black Betty every Monday at around 10:45, when he isn’t touring.

February 20, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Rev. Vince Anderson at Black Betty, Brooklyn NY 7/16/07

People were dancing. Hardly worth mentioning, except for the fact that the venue is in the heart of Trendoid Central, where it is strictly verboten to crack a smile or, heaven help us, move your ass. A few weeks ago it was a mostly Israeli crowd here, testament to Rev. Vince Anderson’s ecumenical appeal (he’s a real ordained minister, with credentials from the Universal Life Church if memory serves right).

The Rev., as he’s best known, is something of a New York institution, a charismatic, frequently mesmerizing performer and keyboardist who surrounds himself with like-minded players. Tonight, in addition to the rhythm section from groovemeisters Chin Chin (including the redoubtable Torbitt Schwartz on drums), he had his usual main weapon Moist Paula Henderson (frontwoman of the excellent instrumental trio Moisturizer) on baritone sax, as well as trombonist Dave Smith and TV on the Radio guitarist Jaleel Bunton. With his gravelly voice, jumping around and wailing on his Nord Electro keyboard, the Rev. was in a particularly boisterous mood tonight. His newly svelte physique may come as something of a shock to those who haven’t seen him lately, but he hasn’t lost any of his usual energy.

One A-list New York rocker recently remarked that the Rev. and his band are something akin to Phish playing gospel, and that’s could be true in the sense that they jam the hell out of pretty much everything they play (although there’s absolutely nothing cutesy about them). They opened with a cover of Ben Harper’s Power of the Gospel, rearranged with percussive verses building to a slinky, jazzy chorus. They followed with a rousing, authentically vintage, 60s-sounding Come to the River, from his latest album 100% Jesus. The Rev. had just returned from his native California, where he’d baptized his new nephew and was clearly amped from the experience.

Since the Rev.’s shows are about more than just the music – he’s a preacher with an uncommonly strong social conscience – he took time to address the crowd as the band launched into the chords to a long, hypnotically psychedelic version of his song Deep in the Water. “We can talk about baptism and the healing power of water…and you know how hot it is in Fresno, when you get off the plane? It was 122 degrees when I got off the plane. I’m not exaggerating…not the misery index, it was fucking 122 degrees! Fresno used to be the agricultural capital of the world. This is where you got your fruits: you get that nectarine from the deli, and it says from California? It comes from Fresno. Raisins, Sunmaid raisins? Fresno. Asparagus, Fresno. Anything you want green or fruity comes from Fresno.”

Sensing the Rev. winding up a tribute to his hometown, the band picked it up for a second, but he brought them back down. He wasn’t finished. “Every time that I come back to Fresno, I see all this beautiful land of my childhood, these beautiful fig groves and orange groves, and I see an apricot field and a vineyard, and lately they’ve all been torn down to put up these cheap, cheap tract houses, and they name the tract of the house after the crop that used to be there. So there’s a tract of homes called Fig Garden, and a tract of homes called Orange Grove, and another tract of homes called Raisinville. And this year, I don’t like to be apocalyptic – I’m not an apocalyptic preacher – but I have to figure that pretty soon people are not gonna want to give water to Fresno anymore. And all these Raisinvilles are just gonna be ghost towns and then they’ll miss their water.”

From there, the song built to a hypnotic, warm vibe, something akin to the Stones’ Moonlight Mile with lots of Rhodes-y electric piano from the Rev. Using his tone controls, he gradually worked his way up to an eerie, distorted setting as the band went quiet and ended on a somber note. The next tune was a country gospel number with a swing beat, featuring solos around the horn: first trombone, then baritone sax, then piano, and predictably, the Rev. stole the show with some delicious honkytonk playing. Then they brought it down to just the bass.

Their deliberate, crescendoing take of the blues classic John the Revelator began with same minor key groove that the Rev. uses for his big audience hit Get Out of My Way, and became an audience singalong directed from the Rev.’s pulpit behind the keys. “When you say ‘John the Revelator,’ you can’t do it like this,” the Rev. instructed his parishioners, struggling to fasten the top button of his shirt and making a poindexter face. In a second, he’d undone the button and a couple below and roared the line at the audience. This time they got it and roared back. The first set of the evening came to an end with a jam into a fast, shambling version of Ease on Down the Road, from the Wiz soundtrack, the Rev. pounding out some nice Billy Preston-style funk fills. This guy raises the bar for live performers: when he’s on, it’s hard to imagine anything much more exhilarating. Tonight was a prime example.

July 18, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments