Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A String-Driven Treat and a Park Slope Gig by Irrepressible, Fearlessly Eclectic Violinist Tom Swafford

Violinist Tom Swafford’s String Power were one of the most lavishly entertaining, surrealistically psychedelic bands to emerge in New York in this decade. Blending classical focus, swirling mass improvisation, latin and Middle Eastern grooves and jazz flair, they played both originals as well as playful new arrangements of songs from across the years and around the world. With a semi-rotating cast of characters, this large ensemble usually included all of the brilliant Trio Tritticali – violinist Helen Yee, violist Leann Darling and cellist Loren Dempster – another of this city’s most energetically original string bands of recent years. Swafford put out one fantastic album, streaming at Bandcamp, with the full band in 2015 and has kept going full steam since with his own material, notably his Songs from the Inn, inspired by his time playing in Yellowstone State Park. 

Over the last couple of years, String Power have been more or less dormant, although Swafford has a characteristically eclectic show of his own coming up on Feb 2 at 7 PM the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, where he’s a faculty member. To start the show, he’ll be playing Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Piano with pianist Emile Blondel. After that, he’ll be leading a trio with guitarist/banjoist Benjamin “Baby Copperhead” Lee and bassist Zach Swanson for a set of oldtime country blues and then some bluesy originals of his own. Cover is $15/$10 stud/srs.

The String Power album has a formidable lineup of adventurous New York classical and indie classical talent. On violins, alongside Swafford and Yee, there’s a slightly shifting cast of Mark Chung, Patti Kilroy, Frederika Krier, Suzanne Davenport and Tonya Benham; Darling and Joanna Mattrey play viola; Dempster and Brian Sanders play cello, with Dan Loomis on bass. The album opens with Tango Izquierda, Swafford’s shout-out to the Democrats regaining control of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections. Maybe we’ll get lucky again, right? This elegantly lilting number rises and falls with intricate counterpoint and a handful of frenetic Mik Kaminski-ish cadenzas.

The group reinvents new wave band the Stranglers’ synth-pop Dave Brubeck ripoff Golden Brown – an ode to the joys of heroin – with a stately neo-baroque arrangement. The Velvets’ Venus in Furs is every bit as menacing, maybe more so than the original, with a big tip of the hat to John Cale, and a Swafford solo that’s just this side of savage.

Swafford’s version of Wildwood Flower draws more on its origins in 19th century shape-note singing than the song’s eventual transformation into a bluegrass standard, with a folksy bounce fueled by spiky  massed pizzicato. Darling’s arrangement of the Mohammed Abdel Wahab classic Azizah opens with her plaintive taqsim (improvisation) over a drone, pounces along with all sorts of delicious microtones up to a whiplash coda and an outro that’s way too funny to give away.

Likewise, the otherwise cloying theme from the gently satirical 70s soap opera parody Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman gets a trick ending. Charles Mingus’ anti-segregation jazz epic Fables of Faubus gets a fullscale nine-minute workout, heavy on the composer’s relentless sarcasm. In the age of Trump, this really hits the spot with its phony martial heroics and sardonially swiping swells, Chung, Krier, Swafford and finally Loomis getting a chance to chew the scenery.

The album winds up with Swafford’s own Violin Concerto. The triptych opens with Brutal Fanfare, a stark, dynamically rising and falling string metal stomp spiced with twisted Asian motive – it makes a good segue out of Mingus. The second part, High Lonesome explores the often fearsome blues roots of bluegrass, with some wickedly spiraling Swafford violin. The conclusion, simply titled Ballad, is the most atmospheric passage here: it sounds like an Anna Thorvaldsdottir vista raised an octave or two. 

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January 28, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 7/17/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #562:

The Modern Lovers’ first album

We’re trying hard not to duplicate the two best-known “best albums” lists on the web, but this one pretty much everybody agrees on. Recorded in 1972 (back when Jonathan Richman still had an edge, before he turned into a parody of himself), not released until 1976, enormously influential and still a great party album after all these years, it’s a mix of scurrying second-generation Velvets vamps and poppier janglerock. The iconic one here is Roadrunner (memorably butchered by the Sex Pistols). Richman may have held hippies in contempt (the hilarious bonus track I’m Straight), but he goes in that direction on Astral Plane. Otherwise, he’s cranky and defiantly retro on Old World and Modern World, hauntingly poignant on She Cracked and Hospital, LOL funny on their cover of John Cale’s Pablo Picasso (who really was an asshole), and only gets sappy on Someone I Care About. The early zeros reissue comes with a bunch of bonus tracks which include the Boston classic Government Center but otherwise aren’t up to the level of the John Cale-produced originals. Extra props to the band for contributing members to both the Talking Heads and Robin Lane & the Chartbusters. Here’s a random torrent.

July 16, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Oxygen Ponies’ Exit Wounds Leaves a Mark

The Oxygen Ponies’ 2009 album Harmony Handgrenade was a ferocious, lyrical art-rock masterpiece, one of the best releases of recent years: you can find it on our Best Albums of All Time list. Written during the waning days of the Bush regime, it’s a chronicle of love under an occupation. On the band’s new album Exit Wounds, frontman Paul Megna revisits similarly tortured terrain, this time more personal than political. For the most part, this is an album of snarling kiss-off songs, with psychedelic, anguished epic grandeur juxtaposed against stark Leonard Cohen-esque passages. The band this most closely resembles is Australian art-rock legends the Church, both in terms of the stunningly catchy simplicity of Megna’s melodies, the hypnotic sweep of the production and the clever, literate savagery of his lyrics.

“The velvet rope around your neck pulled you away,” he intones in his signature rasp in the opening track, Hollywood, as the band pulses with a trancey post-Velvets sway behind him. “Did you sell your face so you could buy the farm out at Maggie’s place?” he asks. But this isn’t merely an indictment of a starstruck, clueless girl: it indicts an entire generation. As Megna reaffirms later on with the amusing I Don’t Want Yr Love: after a pretty hilarious Lou Reed quote, he makes it clear that he doesn’t “want to be anywhere you are ’cause all the people there are blinded by the stars.” The outgoing mantra of “nobody loves you anymore” is just plain brutal: it makes a great outgoing message for anyone in need of some post-breakup vengeance. And the cello-driven This Disaster offers a more expansive view of the wreckage leading up to the big dramatic rift, Megna musing that “If all we have left is one technicolor kiss, I’d rather be the standin than the star.”

Hope and Pray is pure schadenfreude – it could be the great missing track from the Jesus & Mary Chain’s Darklands, but with better production values. “Hope the further down you go, the higher is the climb,” Megna snarls. He follows that with the bitter lament Good Thing, crescendoing out of spare, plaintive folk-pop with a cynical fury:

This is a call to everyone
Wake your daughters, rouse your sons
Take your aim and shoot to kill
So your friends don’t hurt you
‘Cause others will

Hornet, a dead ringer for a Steve Kilbey song, offers a backhanded compliment to a femme fatale, “Dancing around like a flame in the fire/As hot as it gets you don’t have to perspire.” They revert to Jesus & Mary Chain mode for Wild Animals, a more subtle putdown: “You think you’re smart, that each work of art ended up a failure,” Megna taunts. The indomitable Drink Myself Alive packs a punch, its undeterred narrator only willing to change his wicked ways if the girl who’s bedeviled him will do the same. With a distantly Beatlesque swing, Land That Time Forgot wouldn’t be out of place in the Spottiswoode catalog: it works both as a tribute to an individualist and a nasty slap at trendy conformists: “You’re walking around ahead of the crowd, such happiness is never allowed,” Megna sneers. He reprises that theme on the sparse, more gentle Jellybean with its torrents of lyrics:

Everyone around me is just sharing the same brain…
I guess they find it’s easier to be part of the whole
Searching for a reason why they buy the shit they’re sold.

The album ends on a completely unexpected note with the pretty, backbeat pop hit Christmas Every Morning. The album is out now on insurgent Brooklyn label Hidden Target Records, the same folks who put out Randi Russo’s brilliant new Fragile Animal a couple months ago. This one’s in the same league: it’s hard to imagine a better album than this coming out any time this year. Watch this space for upcoming NYC dates.

May 17, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 5/4/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #636:

The Jesus & Mary Chain – Darklands

Angst-ridden atheist post-Velvets powerpop from 1986. It’s the only really solid album the band ever did, a template they tried to fit into many times afterward without nearly as much success. Much as the idea of putting an album by a rock band propelled by a drum machine on this list is pretty abhorrent, it’s hard to argue with the catchy death-obsessed title track, or the stark, gorgeously bitter defiance of Deep One Perfect Morning, the strongest song here. There’s also the hook-driven, overcast goth-pop of Happy When It Rains and April Skies; the brisk, stomping Down on Me; the Stoogoid garage-punk of Fall; the poppiest number here, Cherry Came Too and a couple of impressively successful attempts at ethereal grandeur, Nine Million Rainy Days and About You. Here’s a random torrent.

May 4, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/13/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #869:

Can – Monster Movie

The cult favorite is the German band’s 1971 Tago Mago album, with its hypnotic grooves and assaultive avant freakouts. This is Can’s rock record, a memorably twisted piece of post-Beatles psychedelia from 1969. As with the rest of the band’s output, drummer Jaki Liebezeit absolutely owns this. With his inimitable, hypnotic rattle and pulse, it’s already obvious where he’s going to take this band’s music for most of the next decade. Side one begins with Father Cannot Yell, its weird lyrics, melodic bass, proto-Robert Fripp guitar and motorik rhythm evoking a bizarre cross between the Velvets and Terry Riley (who was a big influence, along with Karlheinz Stockhausen, who served as teacher to both bassist Holger Czukay and organist Irmin Schmidt). Mary, Mary So Contrary is a fractured folk-rock dirge, followed by Outside My Door, an Astronomy Domine ripoff but a good one. The second side is a twenty-minute stoner jam (streaming in three parts, here, here and here), sort of a teutonic In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida edited down from what was reputedly a marathon six-hour studio session. With minimal reverb guitar, trebly bass, creepy Farfisa and Liebezeit’s epic funeral drums, they establish their signature trancey sound after it gets going, particularly when they bring it down to just the bass and the drums and leave it there for what seems forever (you can practically smell the pot smoke drifting in from the other room). Joy Division’s Dead Souls owes its drum riff to this one. Here’s a random torrent.

September 12, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/12/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #870:

Lou Reed – The Blue Mask

Today we salute Lou for refusing to allow Susan Boyle to butcher A Perfect Day on some stupid reality tv show. This is his big comeback, from 1982, after a couple of real duds in the late 70s. Here he teams up with the late Robert Quine for an unhinged, double-barreled assault on the fretboard, a stripped-down, blistering return to something of a Velvets feel. Part of this is the most intense janglerock ever made; the rest is like a more tuneful, musically proficient White Light/White Heat. Or a more proficient Voidoids with better lyrics (remember, Quine was their guitarist). What’s coolest is that both guitarists run straight through their amps without any effects: it’s amazing how good you can get a Strat and a Fender Twin to sound just by adding a little (or a lot) of distortion. The high points are the viscerally intense Waves of Fear and the blistering noiserock of the title cut. There’s also the death-obsessed My House, a Delmore Schwartz tribute; the evocative, DT-inspired Underneath the Bottle; the ominous plaintiveness of The Gun; the understated requiem The Day John Kennedy Died and the surprisingly funny, tongue-in-cheek Average Guy. After all this, we can forgive him for the mawkish, maudlin love song at the end. Also worth hearing is the Live in Italy double album from 1983 with this same crew, who turn in phenomenally good, revitalized versions of Kill Your Sons, Satellite of Love and Walk on the Wild Side among others. Here’s a random torrent.

September 12, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/22/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #891:

Nico – Chelsea Girl

Bet you thought you’d see the Marble Index here instead, huh? Nope. That one’s the definitive teutonic druggie dirge album, something you should definitely check out if you haven’t already, if that’s your thing. This one’s maybe the ultimate prototypical chamber pop album, ahead of the Pretty Things’ Emotions. Which is ironic to the extreme because Nico hated the string arrangements that were overdubbed onto this afterward. You could even call this the best Jackson Browne album ever: did he ever do another album with three good songs on it? Probably not. Nico could never sing worth a damn, we all know that – but what an atmosphere she and everybody else created here despite themselves. Browne’s The Fairest of the Seasons sets the stage for the understated high drama of the rest of the album. Despite all the flat notes, she gives a genuine angst to another Browne ballad These Days, and the brooding, languid strings help; and she takes Somewhere There’s a Feather from folkie naivete to Marlene Dietrich world-weariness. The best song here is the poignant, organ-infused ballad Little Sister (an obvious Velvets outtake). The stark Weimar blues echoes in John Cale’s Winter Song still resonate today in a million noir cabaret bands from the Dresden Dolls to World Inferno. There’s also the iconic title track, a version of Dylan’s I’ll Keep It With Mine that in its own fractured way rivals Sandy Denny’s version with Fairport Convention, and the gently epic, 9/4 Velvets outtake Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams. Here’s a random torrent.

August 22, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Bryan and the Haggards – Pretend It’s the End of the World

Bryan and the Haggards play twisted, jazz-tinged instrumental covers of Merle Haggard songs. Which if you know something about either style of music shouldn’t exactly come as a shock (Willie Nelson, anybody?). But this being New York, the indie stench wafts across the river from Williamsburg when there isn’t much of a breeze. Is this album yet another case of a bunch of spoiled brats thumbing their snotty noses at music they associate with the working classes? Happily, no. Bryan and the Haggards are actually a jazz group, Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord, a take-no-prisoners combo equally adept at melody and squall. This album might have been jumpstarted when Big Five Chord recorded a satirical cover of the Louvin Bros.’ The Christian Life for their previous album Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord Accomplish Jazz (very favorably reviewed here last year). Considering the name of this project, it would seem that tenor sax player Bryan Murray is the ringleader this time around, his accomplices being guitarist Lundbom, high-profile alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon, bassist Matthew “Moppa” Elliott and drummer Danny Fischer. What does it sound like? At its most coherent, like Uncle Tupelo on mushrooms. Occasionally, it takes on an exuberant New Orleans second line vibe. Beyond that, coherence ceases to be an issue. This may be jazz, but the underlying esthetic is pure punk rock. Which is nothing new for these players – this crew will basically rip anything to shreds, especially their own compositions, so the question of whether or not they have any affinity, or distaste, for Haggard, or for country music in general, is really beside the point. For their shenanigans, any source is sufficient. It’s how they do it that makes it so much fun.

Silver Wings sways stiff and heavyhanded, Fischer pulling away from anything approximating a groove. Eventually, the saxes fall apart and for literally a second so does the rhythm section, and everything is chaos but then they’re back together again like nothing ever happened. A spitball? Me? What spitball? So when they follow that with an actually quite pretty instrumental of Swinging Doors, it’s strictly a diversion: a minute into Workingman’s Blues and Murray is quoting liberally from his fakebook while Elliott runs scales and eventually settles into one of his typical confrontational low-register rumbles, Lundbom eventually lumberjacking his way through some spot-on Sister Ray-style chord-chopping.

The original version of Miss the Mississippi and You has a countrypolitan vibe, so it makes sense that this crew would be able to turn it into as lovely a ballad as they do until the saxes start making little faces at each other, followed by a very, very good joke about intra-band communication. Lonesome Fugitive is a launching pad for some loud, lazy and eventually very funny commentary from Lundbom; All of Me Belongs to You is just plain sick, in a Ween kind of way. The last cut, Trouble in Mind is ironically the most traditional of all the cuts here, a New Orleans style raveup anchored by distorted guitar, sax overtones whistling overhead with the glee of a mosquito who’s figured out how to evade the swatter.

Who is the audience for this album? Stoners, most definitely; also fans of the Ween country album, Uncle Leon & the Alibis, David Allan Coe and the like. Jazz fans ought to like this although most of them won’t. Country fans probably won’t like this much either on account of it being iconoclastic. So, could this maybe be a bunch of working-class musicians making fun of alt-country, a style they associate with the ruling classes? Hmmm…peep the cheesy-beyond-belief, perfectly retro 70s cd cover design and decide for yourself.

June 19, 2010 Posted by | country music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Free Beer and the Best New York Rock Show of 2010 – the Big Small Beast, Friday, May 21

The Big Small Beast happens at the Angel Orensanz Foundation, 172 Norfolk St. on the Lower East Side on Friday, May 21. It might be the best New York concert of 2010- and it starts with free good-quality Magic Hat beer for an hour if you have a ticket. Which alone might or might not make it the year’s best rock and rock-oriented show. Performing (in order) are Lapis Lazuli, Spottiswoode, Services, Barbez, Little Annie and Paul Wallfisch, Black Sea Hotel, Bee and Flower, Botanica, Savoir Adore and Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson. We spoke with Wallfisch, who’s doing quadruple duty, playing with Bee and Flower (whose keyboardist Rod Miller stayed in Berlin after the band’s sojourn there), Little Annie and Botanica (whose new album Who You Are is enjoying its official release) as well as curating the whole thing.

Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: Are tickets still available?

Paul Wallfisch: Yes – you never know how long they’re gonna last. You can get them at the bar at the Delancey after 5 PM on any day, or at Other Music [15 E 4th St. just west of Lafayette]-, or ticketweb, (866) 468-7619. Seven bands, plus free beer from 7 to 8, plus an extra show, for $20. Music starts right away at 6:30, and after the show with a ticket you get free admission to the afterparty at the Delancey at midnight with the debut performance of Hallelujah, who are a 50/50 mixture of the Fever and the Flesh. Other Music – let’s hear it for Other Music! – is giving $3 off cds by all the Big Small Beast artists through May 21, plus the first two people who buy a pair of Big Small Beast tickets at other music get a free copy of the new Botanica cd Who You Are.

LCC: Is there a theme to the night or is this basically just an unusually good multiple-band bill?

PW: The theme is the eclecticism of what makes New York great. The artists range in age from twenties to fifties, but all produce unique music – dance, electronica, rock, instrumental, art-song. Most bills try to be as homogenous as possible. And many bands seeems to be more concerned with finding a retro musical niche to conveniently pilfer. That’s not the case here. And despite the incredible diversity of sounds, there’s at least a tenuous personal connection running through the entire lineup. Besides that, in curating the Small Beast at the Delancey on Monday nights and this Big Beast, I always try to get away from a focus on the singer-songwriter strumming the guitar. So that’s a theme – as little of that shit as possible. And the irony would be embedded in the intelligent lyrics and not the posturing of the performers. We’ve got that here too.

LCC: As someone who, other than putting together the weekly Small Beast show, is a working musician rather than a promoter, give us your perspective of the acts on the bill.

PW: In lieu of a dj, Lapis Lazuli will serenade the crowd as they enter. That’s Kurt Wolf – Pussy Galore, Boss Hog and Foetus are his pedigree. Go to lapislazulimusic.com to see one of the kick-ass best music websites ever!  He’ll offer us between-act soundscapes as well. Spottiswoode is next, then Services.

LCC: Services used to be Flux Information Sciences, right?

PW: That’s correct. Trztn, from Services co-wrote and produced two songs that Karen O sang in Where the Wild Things Are. Then Barbez are going to play, then I’ll be playing with Little Annie…

LCC: The two of you have a new album, Genderful, just out, is that right?

PW: Yes, in fact this is the cd release for Genderful, the first day it will be available. It came out in the UK about a week ago. Andrew W.K. appears on it; Martin Wenk from Calexico also plays trumpet on one song as well as doing the same on Botanica’s new album. It’s also the cd release show for Botanica’s new album Who You Are, which will be available on limited edition white vinyl – it’s available at all the usual places like itunes and amazon.com but this will be Botanica’s first US release, stateside, in ten years, believe it or not. The official release date is May 25; you can pre-order it now.

LCC: Bee and Flower are playing after Little Annie, they haven’t played a US show in ages.

PW: This will be the only US show by Bee and Flower this year – their only 2009 show was at the Small Beast. In fact, this is the original B&F lineup, plus I’ll be playing keyboards, plus Danny Tunick from Barbez on drums. Black Sea Hotel will serenade the audience from the balcony before and after.

LCC: I really enjoy Black Sea Hotel’s otherworldly Balkan vocal music, but I don’t know the headliners, what can you tell us about them?

PW: Savoir Adore are a couple from Brooklyn, signed to the same label as MGMT. They sold out the Mercury last time they played there. They have a certain Stereolab quality, a pleasant chamberpoppy thing – but not like Vampire Weekend at all. Miles just made two really good records, he’s the youngest guy on the bill and the most oldfashioned fella of all of them. He has something of that plaintive yet thick sound that Black Heart Procession can muster at their finest, and also a Velvets thing, but more like their soul-informed moments. But really doesn’t sound like any of that – primarily due to his unique voice.

LCC: I’m amazed by the sheer number of good bands on the bill. Is everybody going to play a short set a la the Rollling Stones Revue, 1964?

PW: We have a soundscape by Lapis Lazuli, 45 minutes apiece from two headliners, about a half hour for everybody else, short sets from Services and Spottiswoode. The music and bar stops at 11:30: the Delancey is just around the corner, everybody’s invited to the afterparty there.

LCC: Why the Angel Orensanz Foundation? Do you really think that a crowd who’re used to old warehouse spaces and dingy former bodega basements will appreciate the old-world haunted-mansion beauty of this converted synagogue?

PW: No disrespect to, say, Cake Shop or Lit Lounge, but there’s such an element of struggle for bands, with little reward, that I thought it would be great to put on a “local” show in the best local venue possible, a venue we can all be excited about inhabiting for a few hours. Visually and sonically, the Angel Orensanz Foundation is such a spectacular place. We all settle for less so often that I think the beauty of the venue alone will inspire audience and artists to come together for a particularly special night. The venue, being one of the last examples standing of the hundreds of Lower East Side synagogues, is a great place to celebrate a night of timeless New York music. I’m an atheist, but the institution of religion has given us a lot of beauty over the ages.

LCC: Is this show, the Big Beast, the logical extreme to which the Small Beast can be taken? Or do you envision a Beaststock or Beastaroo at some point? Beast on the River? Beastsplash?

PW: Lollapabeasta! I can’t believe I’ve become an impresario. There will be a monthly Small Beast Germany for nine months while I’m over there – and maybe a one-off Small Beast in select cities – Paris, Berlin, London, Istanbul, possibly. Attractive as it is, it’s killing me. I’m being devoured by my own beast, I feel like Dr. Frankenstein, I’m being swallowed whole by my own Beast! Although I do derive a lot of pleasure from the evenings.

LCC: What reality tv stars will be there? What do we tell all the Lindsay Lohan wannabes out there who’re debating whether or not to get a ticket to the show because they don’t know if they’ll be able to tweet about all the celebrities they brushed elbows with on the way out of the bathroom?

PW: I like Lindsay Lohan! People have told me that celebrities come to the Small Beast. I wouldn’t know. I never recognize anybody.

May 9, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Liz Tormes at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 5/3/10

Gently and methodically, Liz Tormes brought the lights down. She didn’t actually reach over to the wall and kill the switch, but she might as well have. Strumming her acoustic guitar with one hypnotic downstroke after another, she played a set that was as unaffectedly catchy and tuneful as it was disquieting. Keyboardist Glenn Patscha (of Ollabelle) provided a rich variety of textures, from echoey, spacy, upper-register synthesizer, to stark Supertramp-style electric art-rock piano, to matter-of-factly chordal acoustic piano work. The drummer mixed crafty jazz flourishes into his artful shuffles, at one point dampening the snare and one of the toms with towels to enhance a distantly ominous, boomy effect which worked perfectly with the songs’ frequent neo-Velvets vibe. The most affecting thing about Tormes’ voice is how casual it is: this show was as if she was humming to herself at your funeral – or somebody’s funeral, anyway. It’s a strikingly warm, atmospheric instrument, and while she’s capable of cutting loose if she feels like it, for her less is more and she works that like a charm, letting the songs and the lyrics go and find their mark, which they inevitably do. Like a lot of inevitable things.

Tormes hardly shies away from the darkness; on the contrary, she seems to embody it, whether in the back-to-back songs about death in the middle of the set – the second one dedicated to Kurt Vonnegut, a writer whose identity she’d encouraged the crowd to guess, but nobody could – or in the creepy little waltz based on a sinister tritone melody that she fingerpicked with grace and understatement. Most of the songs were unfamiliar. Tormes’ latest album Limelight is as good a contender for best-of-recent-months as any that’s come over the transom here, but she’s about to embark on a new one and if the concert was any indication it’ll be just as compelling. One featured a duet with Patscha; on several others, Tormes was joined by Fiona McBain (also of Ollabelle), who provided characteristically soaring high harmonies – the two have a sometime project called Fizz that specializes in murder ballads, “Because they’re beautiful,” Tormes deadpanned. The night’s most memorable number coldly immortalized Tormes’ old place on Second Ave. and Fourth St., a quietly caustic depiction of the parade of freaks who turn the neighborhood into fratboy hell after dark. She may have come here from Nashville, but Tormes spoke for an entire zip code with that one.

Afterward it was time to head over to Small Beast, Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch’s weekly salon/show/hangout, which we’ve been AWOL from for the last few weeks. Russian expat pianist/singer Mila Levine, backed by the extraordinary, ubiquitous and extraordinarily ubiquitous Susan Mitchell on viola, ran through a mix of noir-ish pop and rock tunes in both English and her native tongue. One had once appeared (radically rearranged, she took care to explain) in the Eurovision music contest and was actually not an embarrassment. Afterward, the reliably haunting and hypnotic Appalachian/Balkan vocal duo Æ (Eva Salina Primack and Aurelia Shrenker) delivered a set of otherworldly old songs from Georgia, Greece, the Carolinas and the Jewish diaspora, an alternately ecstatic and wrenchingly sad end to a night full of affecting voices.

And while we’re on the subject of Small Beast, don’t forget what might be the year’s best rock or-rock-oriented concert, the Big Beast at the Angel Orensanz Center on May 21 with Botanica, Bee and Flower, Barbez, Little AnnieBlack Sea Hotel, and free microbrew beer for an hour before the show.

May 4, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rap music, review, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment