Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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.

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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

Song of the Day 8/22/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Saturday’s song is #340:

The Walkabouts – Up in the Graveyard

Pacific Northwest gothic from the genre’s finest practitioners. Gulf War vet comes home to avenge his dead father in a perverse but beautifully logical way. One of frontman Chris Eckman‘s finest lyrical moments: “You can change the darkness into something proud.” From Setting the Woods on Fire, 1994, arguably one of the ten best albums ever made.

August 22, 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

Song of the Day 12/22/08

If you’re wondering if there are any good shows before xmas, or on New Years Eve, and wonder where our constantly updated NYC live music calendar went, it’s here. In the meantime our top 666 songs of alltime countdown continues, one day at a time all the way to #1. Monday’s is #583:

The Walkabouts – On the Beach

Neil Young cover, even better than the original. Frontwoman Karla Torgerson relates old Neil’s random, threatening images with a casual menace as organ hovers hauntingly in the background: “Get outta town, you know you gotta get outta town…” From the band’s relatively obscure 1990 Sub Pop ep Where the Deep Water Flows.

December 21, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Steve Wynn – Crossing Dragon Bridge

Like his colleagues Richard Thompson and Elvis Costello, Steve Wynn has a richly prolific body of work, dating to the early 80s and the pioneering noise-rock band the Dream Syndicate. Although Wynn rocks harder than those other two artists, he’s equally competent at darkly gentle acoustic stylings and slashingly lyrical songwriting. Whenever he puts out a new cd (almost every year, it seems), it’s always amusing to read the reviews: everything seems to be Wynn’s best in a long, long time. Well, his most recent solo studio cd before this one was …tick…tick…tick (reviewed here in our earliest days last year) and that one was killer. So is this. While not everything Wynn touches – from Danny and Dusty, his wildly carousing duo project with Green on Red founder Dan Stuart, or the Baseball Project band he has with Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey – is visionary, this cd is. It seems that every great songwriter eventually ends up playing orchestrated rock, and Wynn’s first venture into this kind of uncharted territory ranks with his finest work. Time may judge this a classic.

 

In a drastic departure from Wynn’s usual MO in the studio, producer Chris Eckman (leader of another extraordinary, long-running band, the Walkabouts) was insistent on getting Wynn to play as many instruments as he could by himself, rather than utilizing the skills of his snarling backup band the Miracle 3). The result here blends lot of acoustic guitar and some electric piano with lush, epic string arrangements that take Wynn’s dark, frequently ominous songs to new levels of majestic grandeur. Perhaps in keeping with the time-honored tradition of 70s art-rock, the cd begins and ends with a “Slovenian Rhapsody.” “On my own again, haunted by the rain,” is the opening line of its second part, encapsulating Wynn’s signature style with characteristically terse understatement.

 

The first full-length song on the cd is Manhattan Fault Line, a false start of sorts: it’s an attempt to transpose the ever-present LA earthquake threat to the opposite coast, and ultimately it sinks under its own gravitas. The rest of the cd, however, is another story. Driven by a relentless minor-key groove, Love Me Anyway gets thisclose to desperation without falling over the edge. Then there’s a subdued cover by a Slovenian folksinger that sounds like something Wynn could have written in his early post Dream Syndicate days, and the strikingly optimistic When We Talk About Forever, a big acoustic ballad in 6/8 with those gorgeous strings. Wynn’s vocals have never been stronger than they are on this cd, and this song resonates confidence, yet with apprehension lurking in the background.

 

The next track, Annie & Me is just acoustic guitar and drum machine, sort of Kooks by Bowie updated for an older couple a decade or three later. The noir cabaret number Wait Until You Get to Know Me is Wynn at his menacing best, the leering tale of a sinister would-be ladykiller who won’t take no for an answer. The levels come down a bit after that but the darkness remains with Punching Holes in the Sky, sparse minor-key acoustic guitar playing against the orchestra:

 

Strip away the mystery

Lash out at the night

Strip away the storyline

But can I make it right?

 

Wynn picks up the pace after that with the equally menacing, somewhat hallucinatory Bring the Magic and the strange God Doesn’t Like It (is the song’s bullying narrator to be taken at face value, or is this satire?), then brings it down again with the somewhat breathless, plainspoken nonconformist anthem Believe in Yourself. As Wynn frequently does, he saves the best for last here with I Don’t Deserve This, a big, brooding, absolutely sinister epic building from eerie tremolo guitar and electric piano to mammoth proportions. It’s a bitter, anguished tale of being unable to get away from the enemy, whoever that may be, literal or figurative, and it’s simply one of the three or four most exhilarating, resonant songs released this year. “Violence tricks my ears,” Wynn notes matter-of-factly as the second Slovenian Rhapsody brings the cd to a close.

 

Like most New York-based artists, Wynn’s shows here in town have become infrequent: like everybody else, he makes his money on the road. For those in LA this weekend, Steve Wynn plays the Cinema Bar, 3967 Sepulveda Blvd. in Culver City, 310-390-1328 on Nov 29. 

November 26, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 11/7/08

OK, OK, enough politics. Continuing the countdown of the top 666 songs of alltime one day at a time all the way to #1. Today’s is #627:

The Walkabouts – Promised

Long, heartbreaking, exhausted steel guitar-driven country dirge by this extraordinary Seattle band from the late 80s/early 90s who started out sort of punkabilly like X, then went way, way dark and these days, since relocating to Germany about ten years ago, have been mining a beautifully brooding orchestrated rock vein. One of frontman Chris Eckman’s best lyrics: “Never played the main event/always played the sideshow tent.” From the cd Setting the Woods on Fire. Download it free here.

November 7, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , | 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