Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Nightcrawling 5/24/11

What do you do when you’ve been locked out of your building…on the first nasty day of summer in New York? You go see a show, obviously. Several of them, if possible, where there’s air conditioning. That’s what we did. First stop was le Poisson Rouge, where Not Waving But Drowning were playing. Turns out that this show was also a book release event, the author frequently reading random passages at the beginning or end of songs while the band vamped behind her. For the most part, she was inaudible – the show wasn’t in the main room but in an auxiliary area where the club had thrown up a makeshift stage, and the sound was atrocious. But when she could be heard, the plainspoken, random dissociative images added an extra surreal edge to the band’s steampunk psychedelia. And the band didn’t let the sound phase them: they’ve got three strong singers and rely on a lot of harmonies, but they had their parts down pretty much cold. And even though they didn’t have drums this time out, they were tight, passing a bass around between the Gretsch player, the banjo player and powerhouse violinist/singer Pinky Weitzman, all of them able to hold down the low end with a sweet growl. The songs, from their new album Procession, were a lot of fun. The actress in our crew loved Thanks a Lot, Lancelot, its funny Renaissance Fair bounce and punny lyrics. The tricky intricacies of November 3rd reminded someone else of Peter Gabriel; our staff cynic liked the metaphorically-charged Tiger Hunting, calling it a teens update on the Talking Heads’ Life During Wartime. And despite being obviously unable to hear themselves, the band nailed the high lonesome three-part harmonies on the eerily shuffling, warped bluegrass opening tune, Sleep Before I Wake. All these songs are on the album, recently reviewed here.

Next stop, it turned out, was across the street at the Village Lantern. This isn’t the famous folk club from the 50s and 60s (naming it that is sort of like calling yourself Bob Dylan if you’re a singer-songwriter). But it’s a nice place: the crowd was surprisingly un-touristy and nondescript (it looks like the douches and douchettes have all gone east for good), the bartenders were nice and the drinks weren’t ridiculously overpriced. Over in the corner, a pretty good Gibson SG player named Jerry Cherry (whose real name, we decided, is Gennady Shevchenko) and a couple of other guys from New Jersey played easy-listening oldies radio songs: Three Dog Night, Creedence, Elvis, Bad Company and a segue into Chubby Checker. Maybe if they get really good at this they’ll do their own stuff, and it won’t sound anything like that.

Last stop of the night was Pete’s Candy Store, where Raquel Bell was playing solo on electric guitar. Seeing her for the first time without her old art-rock band Norden Bombsight roaring and careening behind her was like wandering into one of Patti Smith or Exene’s early shows before they had bands: she’s that interesting, and original. On one hand, it made perfect sense that her wounded wail would make such a good fit with Norden Bombsight, and some of the songs she played last night might work with extended psychedelic arrangements. But she’s more diverse than that. She’s a better electric mandolinist and pianist than she is on guitar, but she’ll get those chops one of these days. As a singer, wow. There’s no one who sounds remotely like her. Her voice would be like butterscotch one second, and like blood the next, sometimes in the same syllable. She’d start a phrase as a whisper and in a split second it would be a murder indictment. Or maybe just a chuckle. And all that emotional leapfrogging didn’t sound the least bit contrived, although it was kind of scary. It was impossible to know what to expect, and she knows that, and works it. If Joanna Newsom decided someday to grow up and project some real menace instead of singing wike a wittoo teeny baby, she might sound something like this.

Bell delivered one distantly menacing number over just a simple bassline. Another set a more optimistic, sultry vocal against eerie Syd Barrett-style major/minor changes. A short, very amusing one explained what the “most excellent, excellent thing” you can give a narcissist is (the joke is too good to spoil). She dedicated a casually deadpan cover of Waylon and Willie’s Gimme the Weed to someone who’s been ostensibly been struggling with addiction, and failing, and probably having a good time with it. From that cover, and the rest of the show, it was obvious how she’s moving in more of an Americana direction, but a dark and complex one. One of her last songs was a punkish country shuffle that sounded like X circa Under the Big Black Sun; her best song of the night was a Nashville noir ballad with a wary, doomed edge evoking the Walkabouts’ Carla Torgerson, Bell musing how “he won’t help you, but he’ll drive.” It’ll be fun to see where she takes all this.

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May 25, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cult with No Name: For Those Who Don’t Fit In

This one makes a good segue with today’s album by David J. London duo Cult with No Name’s fourth album, Adrenalin, came out on Halloween on Trakwerx. With its deadpan, brooding vocals and goth-tinged keyboard melodies, it’s the best one yet from the self-styled “post punk electronica balladeers.” Once the Williamsburg crowd hears the 80s new wave pop of Breathing – an blippy, ambient track that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Stranglers post-1985 catalog – every “celebrity dj” will want to remix it into unrecognizability. The rest of the album is a lot more substantial (legendary Clash associate and punk/reggae dj Don Letts is a fan). It opens with a long, pensive solo piano intro punctuated by the occasional echoey synth splash, similar to the Walkabouts’ recent work. The sardonic title track sets lo-fi 80s synth-goth to a trip-hop drum loop like early Dead Can Dance: “I’m not addicted to love, I’m addicted to pain…”

Macabre piano rivulets and vocals build to a majestic orchestral sweep on the next track, reminding of Blonde Redhead at their most goth, followed by the icy, accusatory piano ballad The Way You’re Looking at Me. The felicitously titled Youlogy blends watery acoustic guitar and eerily airy synth washes – it could be a more overtly goth Bobby Vacant, a vivid portrayal of the struggle to express grief with any degree of eloquence. It’s quite a contrast with the irresisibly funny, blippy goth spoof The All Dead Burlesque Show: “So teasing, but don’t tell me it’s art…don’t think it’s all about good taste, and I don’t care about your eight-inch waist.”

The rest of the album eclectically mines various 80s dark rock veins: the understated, noir cabaret bounce of Gone; the lush, echoey guitar ballad 7 and its mirror image, -7, a sad, cinematic piano soundscape, and the clip-clop downtempo pop of Make a List. The album ends with a wallop with Generation That’s, a majestic, bitterly poetic slap at the expectation that one should fit into one generation or another, the implication here being that for those of us who will never fit in, it’s a long, lonely road. Like every Trakwerx album, this one is elegantly packaged, in this case in a lustrous, metallic blue-grey cardboard sleeve that blends austere Factory Records minimalism with playful, retro 60-style, Doorsy embellishments.

December 28, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 6/12/10

Every day, our best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Then we’ll start with the 666 best albums of alltime). Saturday’s song is #47:

The Walkabouts – Firetrap

Pacific Northwest gothic at its finest: the narrator returns to avenge a dead family member. Centerpiece of the band’s best album, 1994’s Setting the Woods on Fire, one of the ten best albums ever made: “Not only you can burn!” Lots of torrents for this long out-of-print cd out there – can anybody find a stream? Do we have to finally get the necessary equipment and post this one ourselves?

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

Song of the Day 5/5/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Wednesday’s song is #85:

The Walkabouts – Night Drive

Bloodcurdling organ-fueled Pacific Northwest noir anthem from the classic 1994 Setting the Woods on Fire album by the legendary Seattle band that took their show on the road, discovered that they liked Europe a lot more, that Europe liked them a lot more too, so they made their home there. Frontman Chris Eckman and his longtime collaborator Carla Torgerson (check out those amazing creepy vocals) continue as the similarly dark duo Chris and Carla.

May 5, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 9/7/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Monday’s song is #324:

The Walkabouts – Life the Movie

A gorgeously brooding art-rock dirge that happens to be the most succinct, intelligent indictment of the entertainment-industrial complex ever written. “Why do we advertise that we have lost this race?” the great Pacific Northwest/Slovenian art-rockers’ frontman Chris Eckman wants to know. From the Ended up a Stranger cd, 2001.

September 7, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Steve Wynn and the Dragon Bridge Orchestra: Live in Brussels

For a lot of artists, a show like this would be the high point of a career. For Steve Wynn, it’s just another night on the road. This lush, richly beautiful live album is notable for the fact that the noir rock legend plays it not with his usual backing band the Miracle 3 but instead with much of the crew on his most recent studio cd Crossing Dragon Bridge: Chris Eckman from iconic art-rockers the Walkabouts on guitar (who makes a formidably terse sparring partner with Wynn on several noise jams), former Green on Red keyboardist Chris Cacavas, bassist Eric Van Loo, the irreplaceable, Keith Moon-inspired Linda Pitmon on drums and violinist Rodrigo D’Erasmo, who does a mighty job standing in for the full orchestra behind Wynn on much of the cd. After practically thirty years playing ferocious guitar-driven rock, he went deep into ornate art-rock, and this maintains that feel.

Ornate though it may be, it rocks almost as hard as his hardest stuff: the stark violin tones of the intro, Slovenian Rhapsody Pt. 1 something of a false start, though it sets an ominous tone very effectively. Then everything picks up with a particularly menacing version of the SoCal car cruising anthem Bring the Magic, the Beach Boys through a twisted minor-key funhouse mirror. He gets even more menacing with an almost tongue-in-cheek version of the come-on God Doesn’t Like It, then insistent and down-to-earth with the wise existentialist ballad Here on Earth As Well. With D’Erasmo’s violin leading the way, Tears Won’t Help (opening cut on Wynn’s first full-length album, Kerosene Man) takes on a gorgeously rustic country flavor. The best song on the cd is the one we rated as best song of 2008, the anguished, bitter I Don’t Deserve This. This time, the band does it as a whirling, psychedelic dirge including a screaming noise rock solo from Wynn into the bridge, where suddenly he has an epiphany and then it winds up with another swirling cauldron of noise.

From there, the album could be anticlimactic, but it’s not, testament to the depth of Wynn’s catalog. Punching Holes in the Sky is just Wynn on acoustic and the violin, riveting and intense. “Some things just get better and better/Some things don’t – whatever!” the stalker disingenuously grins to the clueless chick he’s trying to pick up on the ragtime-inflected Wait Until You Get to Know Me. Among the best of the other cuts here – there are too many to enumerate – are a suspenseful solo acoustic version of the classic Silence Is Your Only Friend, a rare version of the blistering anthem 405 with a brutal duel between Wynn and Eckman and the last of the encores, Amphetamine, reinvented as less of a noise jam than full-on orchestral maelstrom, something akin to the Doctors of Madness on…um…take a guess. What else is there to say – put this one in the pantheon and look for it on our Best Albums of 2009 list at the end of the year. Until Wynn decides to bring the equally extraordinary but completely different Live Tick cd from 2006 back into print, this one will do just fine.

June 19, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Mark Steiner – Fallen Birds

A gorgeous collection of dark, quietly impassioned piano and guitar-based songs. Mark Steiner made a name for himself in New York as the leader of the popular art-rock bands Piker Ryan’s Folly (the “Folly” eventually fell by the wayside) and Kundera. Best known for his voice – Steiner’s casually ominous baritone is instantly recognizable, and has earned him well-deserved acclaim – he’s quietly built himself a cult following in Europe after having relocated to Norway a few years ago. Our loss is their gain.

Nisj, the opening track, harkens back to Steiner’s earlier, Nick Cave-influenced period, all shadow and tortured romance with its recurrent theme of “All I want, all I need is you.” The album’s second cut Unbearable, with its torchy, eerie intro is a dead ringer for legendary Pacific Northwest expats the Walkabouts, right down to the faux Carla Torgerson vocals that come in on the second verse. It’s a fast, relentless number that crescendos out of a tense, rapid verse to one of the catchiest refrains of the year. Wallspotting, driven by percussive piano, returns to the sexy desperation of the album’s opening cut. One can only wonder what a noir chanteuse like Little Annie or Neko Case could do with this one.

(Now She’s) Gone is a big audience favorite. Absolutely no one writes a haunting 6/8 ballad better than Steiner, and this is one of his best. Here, we finally get to hear his trademark reverb-laden, David Lynch-esque, tremolo-bar guitar, complemented brilliantly by Susan Mitchell’s sepulchral viola work. Drunk is another popular concert staple and also one of Steiner’s best songs, something akin to what Shane MacGowan might sound like had he grown up on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall. Like most everything else on this album, the chorus is killer. The cd concludes with the “crooner version” of perhaps Steiner’s biggest hit to date, Cigarettes, another of his signature 6/8 ballads. As the title implies, this recording is more expansive and jazzier than the original, which makes it interesting, albeit not better than the absolutely riveting version Steiner plays live. To paraphrase B.B. King, sometimes a major or minor is all you need: this was probably a lot of fun to record, but it’s also kind of overkill. Still, as a whole this is an absolutely tremendous album, the finest work Steiner has done to date and based on his show here last month, his new material is just as good. A classic of its kind. Five bagels. Rye, which is probably pretty much all you can get in Norway. CDs are available in better European record stores and online. And like an increasing number of underground artists, Steiner has also released this on 180 gram vinyl. Given the cd’s tasteful production, one can only wonder how delectable the sonics on the record must be!

November 2, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments