Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Nightcrawling 2/21/11

Monday night in New York might not be professional night anymore – every night is Saturday for the pampered sons and daughters of the ruling classes – but vestiges of it remain. If only out of habit, crowds are still smaller on Mondays. A crawl around town last night started out disappointing and ended every bit as ecstatically as hoped. This week’s installment of Chicha Libre’s weekly Monday residency at Barbes was cancelled, and the early act playing in the back room wasn’t exactly setting the place on fire, so it was time to go to plan B: Small Beast.

Small Beast is now a global event. Founder and Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch has taken it on the road with him to the Stadt Theater in Dortmund, Germany, but the original weekly Monday night series at the Delancey has continued on, virtually nonstop since he moved. Last night’s was Beast #103, if memory serves right, and it’s safe to say that at this point, at least stateside, this Beast is cooked. The night doesn’t even have a web presence anymore – none of the rotating cast of musicians who book it have bothered to update the Small Beast myspace page, or create a new calendar somewhere else – and without Wallfisch and his bottomless rolodex of amazing dark rock and rock-related acts, it’s been on life support other than on the few nights where Vera Beren or Carol Lipnik have taken charge. Which is a shame: its first couple of years will go down in New York rock history for being every bit as exciting and cutting-edge as the early days of CBGB were. To make a long story short, last night the room was practically empty and there was good reason for that. At least the drinks were cheap.

But the night wasn’t over. Next stop was across the river at Union Pool where Rev. Vince Anderson made all the shlepping around in the cold worthwhile. The place was mobbed, as usual. Like Bowie or Madonna, he never ceases to amaze as he reinvents himself or his band. This time they opened with a long, hypnotically circling Afrobeat instrumental – maybe the presence of star trombonist Dave Smith, from the Fela pit band, had something to do with it. Later they did a fiery, minor-key reggae song with a Peter Tosh feel: “You have to know the law to break the law,” Anderson insisted again and again, pumping juicy organ chords out of his Nord Electro keyboard.

The first set peaked with a long dance contest. The Rev. works a crowd like nobody else in this town, and he got everybody screaming as a handful of brave contestants showed off their Big Man Dance moves. “This is for the oldschool people here tonight,” Anderson explained. “I wrote this when I was fifty pounds heavier.” This particular dance is a soul shuffle where you stick out your gut, hold your lower back and walk with your legs apart as if it’s midsummer and you’ve run out of Gold Bond Powder. After a couple of elimination rounds and endless tongue-in-cheek vamping by the band, the winner got to enjoy a few seconds of triumph, a free glass of whiskey and a big shout-out from Anderson. After that, the woman who serves as Anderson’s excellent backup singer led the band in a volcanic, psychedelic blowout of Amazing Grace that actually managed to transcend the song’s dubious origins (the guy who wrote it was the captain of a slave ship). Baritone saxophonist Paula Henderson showed her usual wry virtuosity and spectacular range, but it was guitarist Jaleel Bunton who sent it off into orbit and wouldn’t let up, through a warped, reverb-drenched bluesmetal solo that must have gone on for five minutes and was impossible to turn away from. Even when the rest of the band had all come back in, he wouldn’t stop, alternating between sizzling hammer-ons and eerie off-center atmospheric washes. After all that, Anderson’s usual singalong of This Little Light of Mine couldn’t help but be anticlimactic. That was it for the first set: by now, it was one in the morning, the temperature outside had dipped into the teens and it was time to get lucky and catch a shockingly fast L train home.

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February 22, 2011 Posted by | concert, gospel music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Bowls Project Summons the Spirits

It’s hard to resist a group who feature a bass clarinet as prominently as Charming Hostess do. Their album The Bowls Project is the brainchild of frontwoman Jewlia Eisenberg. Stagy, intense and eclectic, it’s part performance art and part what you might call Middle Eastern gothic, with noir cabaret, punk and metal edges. It’s best appreciated as a whole and may be a lot more interesting with a visual element (these related videos offer evidence that it is). In the meantime, the album is out on Tzadik. Eisenberg is not a natural singer, but she rises to the challenge of these unpredictable, narrative songs with a relentless brassiness and punk energy. The themes explore the ceremonial and ritual use of household bowls in ancient Jewish culture in the Holy Land, for fertility, protection from evil spirits, health and good luck. The band is sensational: Jenny Scheinman and Megan Weeder on violins; Jessica Troy on viola; Marika Hughes on cello; Shahzad Ismaily on guitar, Jason Ditzian on that bass clarinet in place of a bass and Ches Smith on drums.

The first couple of numbers are dramatic, exploding into grand guignol, much in the vein of Vera Beren’s recent work; with its screechy strings, the second seems to be an exorcism of some sorts. Ismaily interpolates skronk with rockabilly on the third cut; Malakha, which follows, begins as an uneasy lullaby before the fireworks begin. They take a cue from Led Zep on their version of the old English folksong Gallows Pole, move after that to a proggy dance, a slowly crescendoing funeral march that evokes Persian-American art-rocker Haale, and then the gothic partita O Barren One: “For once the angel of death must flee,” Eisenberg announces at the end. The rest of the album includes a really gorgeous, 1960s soul song, Ismaily doing a sweet Steve Cropper imitation; a couple of minimalist, Siouxsie-esque numbers with a lot of chanting; a darkly Bollywood-flavored anthem and a noirish Tom Waitsy blues with surfy baritone guitar. You want something that covers the stylistic map? It’s hard to imagine anyone doing that more than this group does here.

September 15, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 8/16/10

Here’s this week’s version of our hit parade, stuff that’s too cool for the Billboard charts and the corporations who rule them. We try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone: sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. It’s something you can do on your lunch break if you work at a computer (and you have headphones -your boss won’t approve of a lot of this stuff). If you don’t like one of these, you can always go on to the next one: every link here except #2 (youtube link coming soon) will take you to each individual song. As always, the #1 song here will appear on our Best Songs of 2010 list at the end of the year.

1. Kasey Anderson – Bellingham Blues

Smalltown anomie as Springsteen only wishes he still understood it. Great track from the literate Americana rocker’s new album Nowhere Nights

2. The Brooklyn What – Hot Wine

Newly unveiled surreal punk rock Coney Island battle scenario by the late great Billy Cohen: coming soon to youtube and then album, we hope.

3. Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble – Delirium

Slightly restrained, anguished noir cabaret rock, a lament: “I should have held you, not repelled you.”

4. Khaled – Block

Not the Algerian rai star but a typically smart, bracing cut by the electic American Middle Eastern-tinged acoustic guitarist/songwriter.

5. Isle of Klezbos – Abrah

All-female klezmer intensity. Watch closely at 4:10 into this youtube clip.

6. My Education – Concentration Waltz

A punk Friends of Dean Martinez – drone menace with organ, guitars and viola.

7. The Vivisectors – Tsunamy Light in Stonewall Tavern

Russian noir surf rock – gotta love that title.

8. Bobby Vacant – Wild Wind Blows

Characteristically understated haunting, tuneful acoustic songwriting from the guy who gave us the song we picked for best of 2009.

9. Pintura Roja – Te Olvidaste De Mi

Classic, obscure, surprisingly Asian-flavored Peruvian pop from the early 70s: the roots of metal cumbia.

10. Courtney Yasmineh – Daydrunk

Joke song of the week to leave you with a smile on your face.

August 18, 2010 Posted by | lists, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chrissie Hynde Plays Rockwood Music Hall

Chrissie Hynde’s new band made their US debut, playing their first-ever full-length concert at Rockwood Music Hall last night. To say that JP, Chrissie and the Fairground Boys are the best project she’s taken on in over twenty years is not the compliment it could be, but she proved that she’s still got a way with a catchy hook and a spine-tingling vocal style that just keeps getting more and more exquisite. Hynde has never sung better: what a voice, what subtlety and nuance. She said more in just the minute inflection of a blue note, or those little melismas that she lets fall away, wounded but graceful, than most singers can relate over the course of a whole album. Yet what was most inspiring about the show – which went on for over an hour – was that much of the material was up to the level of that voice. Alongside Hynde, her boyfriend JP Jones (formerly of tuneful, anthemic British rockers Grace) and lead guitarist Patrick Murdoch switched back and forth between acoustic and electric guitar: when all three were playing, they frequently evoked the swampy Americana of Moby Grape, the 1960s Bay Area band they credit as a primary inspiration.

The best song of the night was Hynde’s, a slow, jangly lament possibly titled Misty Valley, blending the counterintuitive chordal structure of the Pretenders with a more traditional Americana vibe. Another even more vividly evoked her main band circa 1980 with its deluge of rapidfire, angst-tinged but disdainful lyrics. Other songs tinted the ramshackle jangle and clang with shades of powerpop, blues or, on one number where Jones hung on his open strings, indie rock. As much as this is clearly Hynde’s project, Jones impressed with a big, swaying, unhinged anti-trendoid anthem possibly titled Portobello, about the spoiled, aimless milieu of the former slum that’s now the London equivalent of Williamsburg: “You burn up money, you think it’s funny, you can laugh til you die,” he railed, after which Murdoch launched into a fiercely flailing minor-key solo.

But some of the songs were simply too much information. Beyond the obvious: he likes a drink, she likes a smoke (and has her California medical marijuana card – or did, anyway, before she lost it), two or three songs were simply uncomfortable to hear. Chrissie Hynde can do what she feels like at this point in her career, but hardly anyone in the demographic she most appeals to knows what couplecore is (or should, really, other than it’s a genre to avoid). This was most obvious when the duo tried to wring some humor out of all the gratuitous references to their May-December romance: several times throughout the set, the otherwise very friendly crowd couldn’t help roaring with laughter at some of their couplets. And watching Jones play straight man to Hynde on a song about a couple of misfits in love was nothing short of cringe-inducing, evoking Tina Turner turning to Ike onstage and trying to channel some semblance of devotion: “Yes, love.”

To the Rockwood’s considerable credit, the room was sold out, but not oversold: the club could have squeezed a few dozen others in on top of the standing-room crowd and would have gotten away with it, but they didn’t succumb to that kind of greed. And the sound was superb as always: they even sent one of the crew into the thicket of bodies to make sure that the vocal levels were up to snuff.

Afterward, a trip down the block and around the corner to Small Beast at the Delancey (our usual Monday night haunt) offered an intriguing reminder that different versions of the edgy female-fronted rock that Hynde made her mark in are still very much alive, in vividly intense sets by guitar/cello noir rock duo Nihla and the fearless grand guignol sway of Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble.

August 10, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Last True Small Beast?

Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch, creator of the Small Beast concert series at the Delancey – New York’s most cutting-edge, exciting and important rock event – played his final set at the club Monday night, since he’s moving to host another Small Beast in Dortmund, Germany. Sharing a characteristically rich bill with Wallfisch were ”cemetery and western” crooner Mark Sinnis, cello rockers Blues in Space and Wallfisch’s longtime co-conspirator Little Annie Bandez.

All of these acts get a lot of ink here. Sinnis played a terse duo show on acoustic guitar, backed by the reliably extraordinary Susan Mitchell on gypsy-tinged violin. His trademark Nashville gothic material went over as well with the crowd gathered at the bar as the blast of air conditioning flowing from the back of the upstairs space did. The two mixed up creepily quiet and more upbeat songs from Sinnis’ new album The Night’s Last Tomorrow along with older ones like the hypnotic, vintage Carl Perkins-flavored That’s Why I Won’t Love You.

Blues in Space featured composer/frontman Rubin Kodheli playing electric cello, accompanied by eight-string guitar and drums. Hearing their swirling, chromatically charged, metal-spiced instrumentals up close (the band set up on the floor in front of the stage) was like being inside a cyclotron, witnessing the dawn and decay of one new element after another. And yet the compositions were lushly melodic, especially an unselfconsciously catchy new one which was basically just a good pop song arranged for dark chamber-rock trio. Kodheli fretted afterward that he wanted to take special care not to sound “bombastic,” something he shouldn’t worry about. A little bombast actually wouldn’t have hurt.

After Blues in Space, Wallfisch made the long wait for his set worthwhile. Small Beast is his baby, and as much passion as he put into it, it obviously wasn’t easy to let it go. As much as he didn’t hold back – the guy is one of the most charismatic frontmen in any style of music – he also didn’t go over the top, letting his songs speak for themselves. And they spoke volumes: his glimmering solo piano arrangement of the Paul Bowles poem Etiquette, and his closing number, Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man, equal parts seduction and anguish. “One and a half years, it seems like a lifetime ago,” he mused, which makes sense: in that short span of time, Small Beast in its own way took its place in the history of music in New York alongside CBGB, Minton’s and Carnegie Hall.

In between, Little Annie joined him for flickering, torchy, regret-steeped versions of Jacques Brel’s If You Go Away (interrupted by a posse of drunken tourists barreling down the stairs and past the stage, oblivious to the moment), the reliably amusing anti-trendoid anthem Cutesy Bootsies, a genuinely wrenching requiem for a suicide titled Dear John, and an apt encore of It Was a Very Good Year. Annie is reliably hilarious; tonight she was just as preoccupied. And who can blame her (she goes on tour with Baby Dee in late summer/early fall).

As for the future of Small Beast, the Delancey’s Dana McDonald has committed her ongoing support (she’s no dummy – being known for running a club that books smart music is always a plus, no matter how much more moronic the world of corporate and indie rock gets). Vera Beren – a rare bandleader who can match Wallfisch pound for pound in terms of charisma – hosts next week’s Beast on July 12, featuring her band along with ambient, minimalist synth goths Sullen Serenade and ornate, artsy Italian/New York 80s-style goth band the Spiritual Bat.

July 7, 2010 Posted by | concert, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Martin Bisi, Humanwine and Marissa Nadler at Union Pool, Brooklyn NY 7/2/10

It’s hard to think of a better dark rock triplebill anywhere else in New York this year. Martin Bisi came in with a blast of psychedelic guitar fury and ended quiet and creepy: in the middle, he and his band energized the crowd, leading them into a couple of bars of pure pandemonium during the break on the clever, satirical Goth Chick ’98 and getting them dancing to the pounding riff-rock of Mile High – Formaldehyde. Likewise, a new song, Fine Line (soon to be released as a split 7″ from Post Consumer Records with a Bisi remix of a Serena Maneesh track) mixed slinky Steve Wynn style noir rock with gypsy tinges, and a screaming crescendo at the end. Bisi’s bullshit detector is set to stun: introducing a pretty unhinged version of the trippy gothic anthem Rise Up Cowboy, he remarked how its cynical use-and-be-used ethos could be playing itself out anywhere in Williamsburg at that particular moment. He explained how the metaphorically charged sprawl of Sirens of the Apocalypse (title track from his excellent 2008 album) plays off gender-based stereotypes – bad men, like Hades, who abducts Persephone from a playground, and on the other side  the familiar Sirens: “It feels like home,” he commented dryly, adding that since he’d just invited Flaming Fire’s Justina Heckard onstage, the band now had a siren up there with them. She contributed vocals along with all kinds of acrobatics using an illuminated hula hoop.

Boston-area rockers Humanwine absolutely and colossally kicked ass. The noir cabaret crew’s frontwoman Holly Brewer is a dramatic, compelling presence – she was impossible to turn away from. With a sinister grace, she kept time by signalling along with the lyrics on many of the songs – sign language, maybe? Many of them seem to be set in an imaginary, pre-apocalyptic fascist state called Vinland, which is essentially America under the Bush regime. “Support your right to report…get it on tape!” she intoned sarcastically on their opening number – although that might have been an encouragement to watch the watchers. It built to a magnificent stomp out of a stately waltz rhythm. She and the band drove the point home, song after song, throughout a dusky southwestern gothic-tinged anthem and a tricky gypsy-ish number: they do not like living under a police state. “Cameras watching!” Brewer reminded yet again, following with a pregnant pause for anyone who might not have been paying attention. “It takes every one of us to bring them to their knees,” she insisted on a warmly wistful folk-tinged number. A Nashville gothic song emphasized the “paranoia rushing through your hands…can’t you feel the lockdown?” They wound up the set on with the deliriously triumphant bounce of a gypsy-rock anthem, sort of like the Dresden Dolls but done with Vera Beren-class menace. The audience reaction was explosive – now if only they’ll take those ideas home with them.

Confidently fingerpicking her acoustic guitar and laying down the occasional loop for an extra layer of melody, Marissa Nadler made as compelling a figure as Brewer did, but went at it the opposite way – she drew the audience in, warmly casual and conversational, sometimes in understatedly stark contrast to the anguished intensity of her songs. Many of her songs were new, and all of them were excellent – she’s on a roll. She’s also a lot more diverse than she used to be: there’s green and grey alongside the pitch black in her sonic palette now. Linda Draper is the obvious comparison: fast fingers, striking imagery and trouble around every corner. “Inside a room a cold wind blows; there are two of us in there.” The nonchalance was chilling. “The ghost has dreams, wants to leave – wind her up to speak,” Nadler sang gently on the next number. She switched guitars frequently, playing a twelve-string on a stately, brooding lament. A cover of Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat was as casually intense as the original; she closed the set on an insistent note. “Someone once called us a dying breed,” she mused, quietly but formidably unwilling to accept it.

July 6, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Killer Triple Bill on the Lower East 5/14/10

Three bands, a lot of fun, in fact one of the funnest nights of music so far this year in New York – at just about the last place you would expect it to happen. Toronto rock trio People You Know opened. They’re growing into their good ideas, and they seem to have an unlimited supply. It’ll be interesting to see what they do once they have a more polished sound because their rough edges are what make them so appealing. It’s not easy to find their influences because their sound is so original – biting electric guitar, skittish rhythms and insistent, trebly bass, on one level totally retro 80s but also in the here and now because guitarist Aimee Bessada jumps from style to style with zero regard for tradition, fearlessly, punk rock style. And it always works. Bass player Devon Clarke is a newcomer to the instrument, already writing catchy riffs that promise to get even more interesting as she grows more comfortable with them. Drummer Iman Kassam held it simple and spot-on for Bessada’s explorations through acidic Sonic Youth noise, screechy Slits quasi-funk and plaintive Wire-esque major/minor changes. She may not be listening to any of those bands, just writing her own hooks in her bedroom by herself – if so, good for her. She dealt with adversity well, tuning and singing at the same time, Tom Rush style, and when her Gibson SG finally became untunable, she borrowed one of the next band’s guitars and scorched her way with a terse bluesiness through the next catchy postpunk number, sounding like a more down-to-earth Interpol.

AwShockKiss were a thrill ride. They really know how to write a song, slamming into one fiery, insanely memorable chorus after another. Hits have to be simple enough to stick in your mind and this band knows that. Tightly and intensely, they jumped from one to another, barely leaving any time between them. Almost everything they did was in a bracing minor key. Frontwoman Kiri Jewell took over center stage with a throaty wail similar to Bessada’s. Considering that this was Crash Mansion, it was no surprise that her lyrics didn’t often cut through the sound mix – when they did, they carried a cynical, sarcastic bite. Like People You Know, they have an 80s sound, but a good one: they would have ruled the Billboard Hot 100 in 1985. Their new bass player Charlie Cervone may have a Berklee degree but he doesn’t waste notes (a John Lockwood student, maybe?), adding an extra level of catchiness with a climb or a fill on a turnaround; their Telecaster player usually had the good sense to stick with roaring chords, mingling with Stefanie Bassett’s perfectly paced piano for some really gorgeous textures. They switched up the rhythm with a devious 7/8 verse on one number; their big 6/8 ballad was lit up with some spine-tingling tremolo-picking and then an otherworldly, reverb-drenched solo from the Tele player. The crowd screamed for an encore but the club wouldn’t give them one.

Another Toronto band, Hunter Valentine do one thing – fast, roaring new wave/punk pop – and do it tightly and passionately. Swinging her gorgeous hollow-body Gibson all over the stage, charismatic singer/guitarist Kiyomi McCloskey belted out her songs with a ferocious contralto wail in the same vein as Vera Beren – or, a generation before, Carole Pope of Rough Trade. Bassist Adrienne Lloyd and drummer Laura Petracca joined forces to provide a pummeling beat and sassy vocals when needed. Their biggest hit with the crowd was the savage powerpop song Stalker, McCloskey cutting loose with an unearthly shriek at the end of the second verse that practically drew blood – she hinted that she might do it again, but she didn’t. They wrapped up their fairly short set with Test Collision (a Toronto reference), quiet verse exploding into a roaring chorus, and then a bouncy number that they started with a wall of nails-down-the-blackboard guitar feedback.

May 15, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 20 Best Concerts in New York in 2009

Of all our year-end best-of lists (the 100 Best Songs of 2009 and 50 Best Albums of 2009 included), this is our favorite, because it’s the most individual (everybody has a different list) and it’s closest to our raison d’etre, live music in New York. Last year’s was difficult enough to narrow down to twenty; this year’s is criminally short. We could have put up a top 100 concerts list and it would be five times as good. 

This was the year of the Beast – Small Beast at the Delancey, New York’s most exciting weekly rock event. We caught onto this slowly – the concert series ran for about a month before we discovered it – but when we did we were there almost every week. Occasionally someone will ask, since you have a music blog, why don’t you start booking shows? With Small Beast, there’s no need: it’s your weekly chance to discover the edgiest, smartest rock-ish talent from Gotham and across the globe. You’ll see a lot of those shows on this list.

Yet 2009 was a weird year for us – running a New York live music blog and not being in town much of the time made it problematic, to say the least. Week after week, we watched from a distance, enviously as half the city got to see stuff we never did. In August, the Brooklyn What did a killer triple bill with Palmyra Delran’s garage band and amazing latin ska-punk-gypsy rockers Escarioka at Trash Bar, but we weren’t there. The second night of the Gypsy Tabor Festival just a few weeks later looked like a great time, but we missed that one too. As the year winds down and we finally (hopefully!) start to reap the rewards of a whole lot of hard work, it appears, pending some absolutely transcendent show exploding onto the radar, that this is it for our Best Shows of 09 list. Needless to say, we can’t wait for 2010.

Since any attempt to rank these shows in any kind of order would be an exercise in futility, we just listed them as they happened:

The Brooklyn What at Fat Baby, 1/15/09 – since we’d just reviewed a couple of their shows in the fall of 08, we didn’t even review this one, fearing overkill. But on what was the coldest night of the winter up to that point, they packed the club and burned through a characteristically fun, ferocious set, maybe fueled by the knowledge that one of their idols, Ron Asheton, had left us.

Kerry Kennedy at Rose Bar, 1/21/09 – the noir chanteuse was at the absolute top of her game as quietly resilient siren and southwestern gothic bandleader.

Paul Wallfisch and Larkin Grimm at Small Beast at the Delancey, 4/9/09 – the Botanica frontman (who books Small Beast) turned in a typically fiery set, followed by the avant-chanteuse who battled and finally lashed out at a crowd of clueless yuppie puppies who just didn’t get what the show was all about.

Kotorino at Pete’s Candy Store, 4/13/09 – the quietly multistylistic, gypsyish band filled the place on a Monday night and kept the crowd riveted as they all switched instruments, beats and genres over and over.

The New Collisions at Arlene’s, 4/23/09 – Boston’s best new band blazed through an early 80s inflected set of edgy powerpop.

Paul Wallfisch, the Ulrich-Ziegler Duo and McGinty and White at Small Beast at the Delancey, 4/23/09 – after Wallfisch had set the tone for the night, Big Lazy’s Steve Ulrich and Pink Noise’s Itamar Ziegler played hypnotic, macabre guitar soundscapes followed by the ferociously lyrical retro 60s chamber pop of Joe McGinty and Ward White.

The American String Quartet playing Irving Fine and Robert Sirota’s Triptych at Bargemusic, 4/26/09 – a sinister ride through works by one of the leading lights of the 1950s avant garde followed by a haunting, intense performance of contemporary composer Sirota’s 9/11 suite.

Paul Wallfisch, Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble, Spottiswoode and Steve Wynn at Small Beast at the Delancey, 4/30/09 – after Wallfisch got the night started, Beren roared and scorched her way through a pummeling, macabre set. Then Spottiswoode impressed with a subtle set of nocturnes, setting the stage for Wynn, playing together with his friend and ex-lead guitarist Chris Brokaw for the first time in several years, a feast of swirling, otherworldly guitar overtones.

The Friggs and the Chrome Cranks at Santos Party House, 5/8/09 – a triumphant return for the popular 90s garage girl rockers followed by the equally triumphant, reinvigorated, snarling sonic attack of another one of NYC’s best bands of the 90s.

The French Exit at Local 269, 5/13/09 – NYC’s best new dark rockers playing one of their first shows as a four-piece, rich with reverb, tersely incisive piano, haunting vocals and defiant lyricism.

Chicha Libre on the Rocks Off Concert Cruise Boat, 5/15/09 – definitely the best party of the year that we were party to, a swaying excursion through psychedelic, surfy cumbia music, past and present.

Paul Wallfisch, Darren Gaines & the Key Party and Alice Texas at Small Beast at the Delancey, 6/4/09 – Wallfisch kicked it off, Gaines and a stripped-down trio impressed with gutter-poet, Lou Reed/Tom Waits style rock and then Alice Texas turned in a swirling, incandescent, gently assaultive show that reminded how much we miss Tonic, the club where she used to play before it was torn down t0 put up plastic luxury condos.

Paul Wallfisch, Marni Rice and the Snow at Small Beast at the Delancey, 6/22/09 – another Wallfisch night, this one featuring the great LES accordionist/chanteuse/cabaret scholar and then Pierre de Gaillande’s clever, haunting art-r0ck crew.

Ian Hunter at Rockefeller Park, 6/24/09 – the former Mott the Hoople frontman, at age 70, has simply never written, played, or sung better. This show was a real revelation.

Daniel Bernstein at Sidewalk, 7/9/09 – the underground songwriter/lyricist/tunesmith casually burned through one haunting, haunted, ridiculously catchy tune after another.

Randi Russo and the Oxygen Ponies at the Saltmines, 7/10/09 – another haunting show opened with the absolute master of the outsider anthem, who did double duty playing in Paul Megna’s equally dark, intense, lyrical indie band.

The Main Squeeze Accordion Festival: Musette Explosion, Suspenso del Norte, Hector Del Curto’s Eternal Tango Quintet, the Main Squeeze Orchestra, Roberto Cassan and John Munatore, Liony Parra y la Mega Mafia Tipica and Peter Stan at Pier One, 7/11/09 – squeezebox heaven.

Amir ElSaffar’s Two Rivers Ensemble and the Dave Brubeck Quartet at Damrosch Park, 8/5/09 – cutting-edge Middle Eastern-inflected jazz followed by one of the great ones, undiminished and still inventive at 89.

Jenifer Jackson at Rockwood Music Hall, 11/19/09 – the panstylistic rock goddess played several good New York shows this past year, but this one with Matt Kanelos on piano and glockenspiel and Billy Doughty on drums and melodica was pure transcendence.

Carol Lipnik, Bonfire Madigan, Rachelle Garniez, Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble and McGinty and White at Small Beast at the Delancey, 11/23/09 – what seems at this point to be the single best show of the year (if only because it’s the most recent one on the list) matched Lipnik’s phantasmagoria to Madigan’s equally artful chamber pop, Garniez’ irresistible charisma and ferocity, Beren’s contralto classical punk assault and then Ward White took over where the sirens had been and sang what could have been his best show ever.

December 3, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Best New York Concert of 2009

It was at Small Beast, of course, the weekly Monday series at the Delancey booked by Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch, who usually hosts. This past Monday he was in Germany with Little Annie, so fellow dark rocker Carol Lipnik ran the show and opened it with characteristic noir panache. Small Beast being simply New York’s most exciting weekly rock event, it gets so much press here that we’ve tagged all the shows we’ve seen there (if you go to Categories, to your right and scroll down to Small Beast, you’ll find an embarrassment of riches). So it was no surprise that the best New York concert of 2009, barring something even more off-the-chart intense happening in the next month, would take place here.

Lipnik has a franchise on dark carnivalesque rock, more so than Tom Waits or anyone. This time out it was just as much about her four-octave voice – which she ran through two separate mics, one with a bullhorn effect – as it was about the songwriting. Climbing to the top of her stratospheric range, she whispered, purred and wailed, through a bunch of originals from her most recent cd Cloud Girl as well as an original setting of a Rumi poem, the hypnotic, raptly tense Your Pure Sadness. She also brought out every bit of surreal macabre in the Michael Hurley cult classic Werewolf (which you may know from the cover versions by Cat Power or Sarah Mucho). This was just the start of the night.

Next up was the self-described “baroque folk-punk” cellist/songwriter Bonfire Madigan, playing solo with the help of a loop pedal that she’d use to lay down a nimble pizzicato bassline over which she’d layer stark sheets of ambience along with some absurdly catchy pop melodies.She opened with a number based on a seditious seventeenth-century British play and followed that with a savage, two-chord Rasputina-esque chamber rock number. Several of the later numbers hitched Siouxsie-style menace to a clever pop sensibility. She closed with the dramatic, tongue-in-cheek grand guignol of a song titled The Lady Saved the Dragon from the Evil Prince and encored – the crowd wouldn’t let her go – with a somewhat pensive number that evoked Cat Power without the affectations.

Sporting a new Pat Benatar bob, Rachelle Garniez took the intensity to redline in seconds flat, playing solo and switching between accordion and piano. Even in the quietest moments she’s a charismatic performer, but this time out there was no doubt that she had come to conquer – the evening’s lineup had quickly turned into a Murderesses’ Row and Garniez was swinging for the fences. Just as Lipnik had done, she had the the vocal pyrotechnics going even before her first song, the wistful country ballad January Wind, had begun. She likes to jam out her intros and this was a prime example: “So happy to be here as the winter descends upon our town…your heart is cold and I wish mine was too, but instead the snow falls on my heart and creates a hissing sound.” After a long and very funny digression on frogs and their psychedelic properties, she sweated and sighed her way through the orgasmic vocalese of the noir cabaret Medicine Man with a passion that would do Millie Jackson proud. “I wish I’d written this and it was me performing,” one luminary in the crowd whispered to another.

The metaphor-laden 6/8 outsider anthem Tourmaline got the benefit of a gorgeously chordal accordion solo, then Garniez launched into a quizzically fierce new one inspired by someone from her past who’d recently found her online and was no less enamored for all the days between. As angry and dismissive as the song was – “you could have been anyone,” she raged – it also radiated poignancy. Garniez clearly left a mark during her early punk rock years and she makes no secret that she misses at least the fun parts of the pre-Rudy Mussolini era. She wrapped up the too-brief set with a defiantly jaunty version of My House of Peace, the new single she just did with Jack White: “Nobody gets away with murder in the House of Peace.” She’s at Barbes on Dec 3 at 10 if you’re cursing yourself that you missed her here.

Vera Beren also swung for the fences, but with an icy, unforgiving cool. Backed by a one-guitar version of her aptly titled Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble, she played more piano than she usually does, filling out the sound with a characteristically slashing, gypsyish chordal attack while bassist Greg Garing swooped, dove and pummeled the crowd with chords when Beren’s crushing, goth-inflected anthems would rise to a fiery crescendo. She showed off her punk roots with a noir blues in 6/8 (it’s hard to think of another songwriter who writes so many great songs in that time signature), a “careless evil lullaby,” as she put it. Her big crowd-pleaser The Nod was a typically roaring, furious, hypnotic gypsy stomp, Beren’s contralto a black river of venom. Another number paired off fast Siousxie-esque rock against a stately, Blue Oyster Cult-inflected 6/8 art-rock sway. “I should have held you, not repelled you,” she lamented. She wrapped up her too-brief set with an old song from the 90s, Baby, an indelibly New York, Jim Carroll-style tale of the cab ride from and maybe also to hell, pelting the crowd with white roses as she roared to the finish.

After all the sirens, it might seem that McGinty and White would be anticlimactic, but they weren’t, which speaks volumes. Ward White has always been a good singer – that he could hold his own alongside the women before him, let alone continue the vocal intensity, testifies to how good he’s become (his version of Life on Mars was the high point of a recent Loser’s Lounge evening). Playing acoustic guitar and accompanied by ex-Psychedelic Fur Joe McGinty on piano and Claudia Chopek on violin, he might have sung his best show ever. McGinty, by contrast, has all the vocal range of Lou Reed, but he’s all nuance anyway, on the keys and on the mic as well, contributing both his bubblegum pop satire Get a Guy and keeping the innumerable levels of the rest of the songs from ever going too far over the edge. Their playfully titled new album, McGinty and White Sing Selections from the McGinty and White Songbook is high on the Lucid Culture list of best albums of 2009. Unsurprisingly, the set list was full of those selections: the doomed romance of Everything is Fine; the sultry Big Baby, Chopek’s gently beautiful violin a study in contrast with McGinty’s jaunty piano; the ruthless kiss-off anthem Knees; the casual El Lay nightmare roadtrip ballad Stay In Love and the night’s closing number, Wichita Lineman, just White crooning over McGinty’s plaintive keys. By this point, it was almost two in the morning, most of the crowd had dissipated into the drizzle, but it was pure exhilaration for those who were sufficiently energized or unemployed to stick around. The next Small Beast will be December 7 featuring Wallfisch – back from Deutschland – along with the reliably charismatic Reid Paley and others.

November 27, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: System Noise and Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble at Fontana’s, NYC 10/27/09

A pre-Halloween summit meeting of two of the most charismatic women in rock – or for that matter, any kind of music – went largely undiscovered due to an incessant drizzle. What is up with you, New Yorkers? You used to be so tough. Have all the cool people been priced out of town by the yuppies and trendoids, or is it the depression and the harsh reality that nobody except the yuppies and trendoids have any money to go out anymore? Likely so, since System Noise and Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble don’t exactly project the bland, corporate vibe preferred by the Malibu leisure class and the hedge fund nebbishes from New Jersey. Despite the light turnout, platinum blonde System Noise frontwoman Sarah Mucho and her raven-haired counterpart Beren seized the stage to represent two vastly different eras of cutting edge vocals. Both got their start in their teens – Beren’s legendary avant-punk first band Die Hausfrauen had already been signed, toured, put out an album and had broken up long before she reached her twenties – while Mucho honed her unearthly wail as an underage kid belting over crowds of drunks in piano bars. Both women also have a category-defying, intensely dramatic sensibility that draws considerably on underground theatre. System Noise kicked things off with their most ferocious set in a long time, and they’re ferocious most of the time anyway. Mucho, raccoon-eyed and dressed head-to-toe as a skeleton, cut loose with the single most bloodcurdling scream of the night on the band’s towering, macabre Carrie tribute, Prom Night. Otherwise, the band’s new material, particularly the opening number, Hair and Nails (the two parts of the body that continue to grow after death) showed off more catchy hooks than ever, even as they’d intersperse innumerable wild, screaming noise-rock interludes, off-the-cliff tempo shifts and rollercoaster dynamic shifts orchestrated with gleeful abandon by Pouth their drummer.

Beren had also done her best to make herself look dead – or undead – but that didn’t really work, from the moment she sat down at her keyboard and unleashed the contralto roar that has been her trademark since the 80s. Ecstatically alive as she comes across, this was a particularly forceful, intense set, maybe due to the fact that she did more straight-up rock songs instead of the titanic epics in 6/8 that she and her band – this time with two guitarists, trombonist and rhythm section – do so inimitably well. A couple of them evoked Patti Smith, another the Damned; others brought to mind Blue Oyster Cult with a gypsy-inflected downtown sensibility. The most gripping one of the night began stately and anguished in 6/8 before leaping into 4/4 on the wings of bassist Greg Garing’s booming, percussive chords.

October 28, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment