Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Lucid Culture Interview: Patti Rothberg

Irrepressible, cleverly lyrical tunesmith Patti Rothberg has toured worldwide with Midnight Oil, the Wallflowers and Chris Isaak. She’s responsible for the albums Between the 1 and the 9, Candelabra Cadabra and Double Standards. She can play guitar behind her back if you ask her. And if you see a Patti Rothberg sticker at the Beacon Theatre, row P, seat 9, she’s the one who put it there, to commemorate her first show at the venue. Now she’s back with a new album, Overnite Sensation. As much as it’s a return to her roots, it also comes as something of a shock. We’ll let her explain:

Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: You were one of the last quality songwriters to catch a ride on the major label gravy train: you had a hit album, Between the 1 and the 9, a Top 30 single, and you toured with a whole bunch of quality acts. I remember the first time I saw you play – you were sharing a bill with Aimee Mann at the Beacon Theatre. When your label EMI America sank without a trace, you went to an indie label, Cropduster, and then another one with your Double Standards album which came out a couple of years ago. Are you completely independent now? To what degree are you open to suggestion if a label should come knocking again?

Patti Rothberg: I am completely open to suggestions. After all, it’s only a suggestion, and these things are by nature negotiable. My friend Lou Christie – lightning’s striking again – puts it this way: the internet was the Pandora’s Box. It leveled the playing field for most artists. It comes down to dollars, but not necessarily who gets the boost and gets noticed. You could be the indiest of nubies or a dues paid old school road dog: someone is paying for manufacture, promotion, distribution. Some people use the words quote unquore Rock Star like a curse word. But that was certainly the model I grew up with, and gave me more to dream about and aspire to than say, a smelly van and Days Inns as far as the eye can see.

LCC: Do you miss those days at all?

PR: I miss it all! Even the Days Inns! The other talented musicians we encountered, the characters you couldn’t invent if you were the best scriptwriter in the world. The experience of playing in front of 70,000 screaming fans and making them do the wave, and them actually going for it! I’ve always wanted every day of my life to be different since I was very little. I wanted to be a bus driver, or astronomer, which is funny since either of those fantasies have a reality that’s quite repetitive…even being a “rock star” on the road is INSANELY repetitive – wake, interview, soundcheck, show, sleep, repeat… but it’s the inbetween that has magic.

LCC: Through all the ups and downs, you’ve maintained a consistent vision, both lyrically and musically. To what degree have you had to resist being twisted into a different shape? To avoid selling out?

PR: Let me tell you how lucky I am! My debut album was produced by my friend, basically a first timer, Dave Greenberg…because we had such a strong rapport – this was UNHEARD OF! I got to illustrate my entire cd artwork, experiment in the coolest studio around – Electric Ladyland – and experience life as a total rock and roll superstar! Because that was my first and only time doing this til then, I just thought it was ALWAYS like this, and, tougher to take…I thought it WOULD always be like that for me [sigh]…if you look at the nine portraits on the album Between the 1 and the 9, they have really foreshadowed my reluctance to be stuck to any KIND of music or physical appearance! I still write songs very much the way I did before I ever dreamed of having a giant record deal. The songs are like fireflies, and the albums capture them in a jar to be understood in context, later.

LCC: Do you ever feel that you were pigeonholed? Maybe as a singer-songwriter, when you’re really more of a rocker?

PR: Yes, at first I HATED being called quote unquote folk rocker or acoustic rocker because the combinations of those words created an image of myself which didn’t match my superego…in other words, here I am playing Rod Stewart, the Pretenders, Led Zeppelin, Jane’s Addiction, the Runaways, Black Sabbath, etcetera, and I felt I was being chalked up as some chick with a guitar. I thought this advent was insulting to the other chicks as well! Now, I don’t mind it so much. One reason is because there are plenty of other so-called folk rockers who I respect and think are beautiful – such as Joni Mitchell or even Lou Reed. Even if the bare bones of your song were written using an acoustic, this shouldn’t necessarily mean you’re a folkie. Some of it is instrumentation, some of it is simply image. How many copies of Dark Side of the Moon sell and continue to sell? The cover is black with the image of a prism. The music is fully orchestrated with lots of sound effects and genres I can’t even name – ok, Money is a blues riff…but it’s about the journey the music takes you on and people across the board can identify with it. By the way, which one’s pink? [laughs].

LCC: I think ultimately that we can attribute the death of the major labels to one crucial mistake, which is the failure to be willing to work with quality artists. Do you agree?

PR: Yes, quantity and the desire for more and more kills quality! When A&R folk became afraid to lose their jobs for choosing the “wrong” bands to stick their necks out for, for fear of having their heads chopped off, lots of amazing bands ended up on the chopping block too. At the end of the day it’s about the numbers…the mind numbing numbers. A&R used to stand for “Artist and Repetoire”..when talented artists were given the space to develop into geniuses and not this year’s models! It was a privilege to have a record deal, not just anyone could get one! Later I think A&R started to stand for “already” and “repeating,” Music Biz fat cat chomping on cigar: “Say, I hear Electra’s got Lady DaDa and she’s movin’ units! Go find us OUR DaDa!!!”

LCC: You have a unique vocal style: you sound like the cat who ate the canary, there’s something up your sleeve, but at the same time it doesn’t sound fake or contrived. How did you arrive at that style or did it just happen?

PR: I think sometimes mid vocal take I am amused at my own lyrics which makes for a smile in my voice [grins]. It’s nice to agree with or relate to oneself, even if it’s about something embarrasing, and that makes it inviting for others to sing along [smile].

LCC: You love puns and double entendres. I can’t help but think of Elvis Costello when I hear you sometimes, he has the same kind of classic pop sensibility matched to a lyrical wit. Did he influence you at all?

PR: Woah, that’s the magic! Go back to where I said “this year’s model” in this very interview! Yes, I adore Elvis Costello…when he says on Blood and Chocolate, “I hope you’re happy now,” he takes an idiomatic expression and makes it a delicious chocolate layer cake of double meaning. I love that he writes in all different tempos and sentiments, making him in my eyes a true artist with a full pallette! The song “I Want You” is one of the most exquisite demonstrations of obsessively wanting someone, through music and arrangement AND lyrics that I have ever heard!

LCC: Every time I see a good, lyrical live band, I’m impressed how many people I see in the crowd: there’s definitely an audience for accessible music that’s not stupid, even if the corporate media won’t acknowledge that it exists. How does a smart rocker get the word out these days?

PR: You know, it’s amazing…this buttery ladder we all climb in the music biz. When I was growing up, I looked up to rock bands, some who are guys now in their 60s. They are looking to open for younger, hotter bands who are really just trying to make it themselves…I think the best thing to do WHATEVER level you may be at is to stand still, let the universe scramble by, and seek for something true. All the best stuff in my career I can recall has been serendipitous.

LCC: I understand you have a great new band now. Who’s in it and where’d you find them?

PR: I am back with the bass player I’d played with live and on Double Standards for ten plus years, David Leatherwood. We met on the 1 train around 1997 when my cd 1&9 was still happening – serendipity!? We’ve always had a great vibe and I’m so happy to have him back! On drums is the lovely Mark Greenberg. We have a similar sense of mischief, and I met him singing back up vocals for [former Utopia keyboardist] Moogy Klingman’s band the Peacenicks. David and Mark were in the successful band Apache Stone together already as their rhythm section, and Mark and I had Peacenicks, David and I together are magic, so even the first and only time we rehearsed, it was like it was meant to be! So far we only played one gig, at Don Hill’s and it was beautiful. Electric! More to come!

LCC: On Between the 1 and the 9, you played all the guitars and bass, correct? Are you also doing that on the new one?

PR: Overnite Sensation’s first five tracks were prewritten with drum loops, synths and such on protools. I wrote and sang lyrics and melodies over them. As for the rock tracks – the rest of the album – the drums are played by Adrian Harpham, with the exception of the song “Interest” which was played by Mike Demetrius. Because I am always filled with so many ideas, I just instinctively grabbed the guitar and bass and played everything myself.

LCC: Where does a song start for you? What comes first, the hook, the tune, the lyrics? What’s your process?

PR: Believe it or not, my process often starts with a situation! The impossibly complex universe can sometimes seem like an unfriendly ocean, but then suddenly I’m thrown a life raft in the form of a song title which expresses the exact situation I’d been drowning to describe [smile]. Then it’s easy, I just transcribe that into lyrics which have their own meter…and meter implies melody in my mind. Then I just color inside, or even outside the lines. Other times a melodic hook or riff gets stuck in my head and I need to grab a pen and a napkin [grin].

LCC: Can we talk about the new album? It’s a mix of both the richly lyrical, catchy rock that we know and love…and also some Britney Spears-style dance-pop – is this all brand-new material or stuff that’s been percolating for awhile?

PR: The quote unquote fireflies that I described before became Overnite Sensation over many years! That’s why the the title is funny. Dave and my first record really WAS more of an Overnite Sensation for us…over the ten years I’d been recording with Freddie Katz – ’98 to ’08 – Dave and I made these dance demos and completely intended for them to go to Kylie Minogue, but I came to him with my new collection of rock tracks, which naturally sounded a lot like 1&9 due to our combo…but also Harphamed [referring to Adrian Harpham] back ’cause he was the drummer on both albums. When we were taking inventory of all the stuff we had done, we listened to the dance tracks with my vocals on them..and the concept of Overnite Sensation was born.

LCC: On the dance-pop songs – but not the rock songs – there’s autotune on your voice. With Taylor Swift, for example, that makes some sense, since she can’t hold a note. But you’re a strong singer, you don’t have a pitch problem. Why?

PR: Believe it or not, there is a technique to singing along with autotune! Theoretically if you sing a note flat or sharp and you set the parameters right it FIXES you. But…I can tell you as a blues style singer with lots of dips, wiggles and other stylistic goodies the folks today might call imperfections, you really have to vanillafy your voice…think it straight, focus into the mic to make that autotune work as an effect. I know you won’t believe this, but the theory behind my using autotune is that ears today can only hear autotuned vocals. I actually heard the executive producer of Double Standards say to me years ago, “I can’t even LISTEN to a vocal that hasn’t been pitch corrected.” So my autotune use is like ritalin in a riddled world. How can you reach the masses if you don’t speak their language!?

LCC: You’ve always had an individual voice – you’ve always come across as someone who doesn’t take shit from anyone. How would you respond if I said that all these lovey-dovey dance-pop songs send the message that a girl should put a guy’s needs before hers? Doesn’t that go against everything you’ve ever stood for? Or am I taking things way too seriously here?

PR: I could write a novel on this one. Do you remember the song “Treat Me Like Dirt” from 1&9? It was #1 in Kosovo! That’s a lotta masochists! I wrote it in the spirit of “here I go again falling for the bad boy,” kind of making fun of myself. But it could be argued that it means I would take A LOT of shit for love. I’m not sure which lovey dovey pop songs you are referring to, but lets start with the dance tracks.

LCC: Yeah, them.

PR: Remember when everyone danced in their black trenchcoats and asymetrical haircuts to “Tainted Love”? Have you listened to those lyrics recently!? This is a dysfunctional relationship, a very painful one that we have been boogieing to all these years. “Touch me baby, tainted love.” He might as well be saying “Treat Me Like Dirt.” I also think that it’s okay to sometimes put a guy’s needs before your own. It can be romantic! If you really want to know what I stand for, it’s being able to express every aspect of your being! To admit being hurt and fragile, while also sometimes screaming you want to beat somebody’s balls with your rolling pin.

LCC: One of the new rock tunes reminds me a lot of Ashes to Ashes by Bowie. You covered Moonage Daydream on Candelabra Cadabra. I’d love to hear what you could do with something a little more sinister…All the Madmen, maybe?

PR: Ooh, that’s a good one! I haven’t heard that whole album in a Diamond Dog’s age!

LCC: I’m hearing more of an artsy 70s powerpop style on some of the new stuff: that new piano ballad that sounds a little like ELO; that backbeat glamrock number, is that a deliberate move on your part?

PR: 70s powerpop is a natural direction I go in because I’ve listened to so much of it! I grew up listening to ELO A LOT – and then the Beatles – the fact that you picked up on Interest sounding like John Lennon’s Woman is quite astute. Track number 8 has lots of harmonies which always make things sound ELO-like which is fine with me!

LCC: The new rock stuff is more direct, more stripped-down, compared to the work you did with Freddie Katz which is a lot more ornate, sometimes psychedelic. Let It Slide, for example, very direct yet very allusive at the same time. A lot more like 1 and the 9. A return to your roots?

PR: YES!! Believe it or not, while Double Standards made some deliberate attempts to sound like 1&9 in places, Overnite does it effortlessly because of who done it! You can identify John Bonham’s drumming in one bar…Jerry Garcia’s slinky guitar in a few notes. This is signature, and though it can be developed a lot of times, it is the simple equation of artist plus instrument!

LCC: How about that torchy trip-hop song, you give it a really sultry jazz feel. I’ve never known you to have any interest in jazz, am I missing something?

PR: Would you call The Velvet Underground’s “After Hours” jazz? If so I ADORE jazz. You aren’t missing a thing though, I’m not much of a jazz freak, but I LOVE some of the lighter 60s pop jazz stuff. I can get into anything if I like it, I try not to write off whole genres if I don’t yet know enough about them!

Q: I’ve noticed you’ve been doing a lot of live shows lately around town. Any plans to take the show on the road sometime in the near future?

PR: In between intentions and actions lies a lifetime. In other words, I’ve been performing the Overnite dance tracks as an alter ego character called “Precious Metals!”

LCC: I saw the flyer, you dressed up in this metallic outfit like Madonna. You should do Vegas…

PR: I’d love to do the act in Vegas, but as of now it’s so far from ideal, and my rock trio is KILLER!!! With just a few rehearsals we could play anywhere in the world and be astounding. Ah, but where to find the clubs that pay guarantees?

LCC: Out of town, Patti! People out in Middle America are starving for good music! One last question: You were famously discovered while busking in the subway. When’s the last time you played there? Any plans to go back?

PR: I had a wonderful thing happen! I met a fellow busker, Randy Stern, on the R train a few years ago. We have since become friends, and we learned the Tom Petty/Stevie Nicks duet “Stop Draggin My Heart Around”. One night after hanging out at a Peacenicks show, Randy was going downtown on the subway platform as I was going up. He took out his guitar and we just started playing our duet across the tracks. People were amazed and the whole station applauded when we finished. That is the last time I played in the subway…but it won’t be the last time ever I’m certain!!!

Patti Rothberg plays Caffe Vivaldi on November 26 at 9:30 PM; watch this space for upcoming live dates.

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November 16, 2010 Posted by | interview, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 10/21/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #831:

The Wallflowers’ first album

While this list is devoted to brilliant obscurities, we also aim to include albums that are underrated, and this is a classic case. Jakob Dylan has always been a magnet for haters, not only because he writes so much like his famous dad, but because of the perception that his dad got him the record deal along with everything that came before and after. But his dad didn’t call up and ask us to put this album on this list: it earned this spot on its own merits. Fact of the matter is that the kid is a chip off the old block, in the best possible way: and not only is he a way better singer, he’s actually a very soulful one. And a sharp, sardonic lyricist, and a first-rate tunesmith…just like his dad. This one dates from 1992, when Jakob refused to answer interview questions about the old man, and seemed especially determined to avoid the inevitable comparisons: the weight of the family legacy seems to have spurred him to take his game to the highest level. The radio hit (the one thing that money bought here, in this case major label payola) was Shy of the Moon, which was sleepy on the album but really rocked out live. There’s also the seductively catchy, sly Sugarfoot; the vintage Springsteen-ish Sidewalk Annie; the individualist anthem Be Your Own Girl; the lyrical folk-rocker Asleep at the Wheel; the brooding, intense Another One in the Dark; the snide, scathingly epic Hollywood (a repudiation of any past that might come back to haunt him, it seems) and the absolutely vicious, towering Somebody Else’s Money. Behind him, the band play smart, edgy, blues and Americana-flavored rock, anchored by Ramee Jaffee’s fluid Hammond organ and Tobi Miller’s incisive lead guitar. Although the Wallflowers would do other good songs (the classic Sixth Avenue Heartache) and good albums (the vastly underrated Breach and Red Letter Days), they’d never string as many good ones together as they did here. Here’s a random torrent.

October 20, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Fred Gillen Jr. – Match Against a New Moon

Arguably his best album. As the title suggests, this is something of a calm after the storm for Fred Gillen Jr. Most musicians waited out the Bush regime uneasily; many, like Gillen, railed against the occupation, notably on his landmark 2008 collaboration with Matt Turk, Backs Against the Wall. Battered but optimistic, Gillen’s latest, Match Against a New Moon is his most memorably tuneful album. Ironically, the spot-on social commentary he’s best known for (this is a guy who appropriated Woody Guthrie’s “This guitar kills fascists” for his own six-string) is largely absent here. This cd goes more for a universal, philosophical outlook. At this point in his career, the songwriter Gillen most closely resembles is the WallflowersJakob Dylan: he’s got a laserlike feel for a catchy janglerock hook, a killer chorus, a striking image and a clever double entendre.

The expansive, smartly assembled janglerock anthem that opens the album, Come and See Me, wouldn’t be out of place in the Marty Willson-Piper catalog. It sets the tone for the rest of the cd:

When all your relations are in prison or the grave
And you can’t remember what they took, only what you gave
And you are grateful that they’re gone ’cause they can’t hurt you anymore
Come and see me

With its big, anthemic chorus, The Devil’s Last Word takes the point of view of a guy whose favorite hangout spot is the train tracks: he likes living on the edge. The catchiest track here, a monster hit in an alternate universe where commercial radio plays good songs, is the Wallflowers-ish Don’t Give up the Ghost. It ponders a way out of the shadows of a difficult past, a quest for “some kind of answers or at least some questions finally worth asking.” An image-drenched carpe diem anthem for a troubled girl, Flicker gently points a way out: “We only get a moment to flicker in the night, a match against a new moon.”

The metaphorically-charged Americana rock shuffle Land of Hope could a Matt Keating song. Lay Me Down has the raw feel of a lo-fi acoustic demo that probably wasn’t meant to be on the album, but it made the cut because of the magic it captures, exhausted yet immutably optimistic. Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah has been done to death by scores of inferior singers, but Gillen’s strikingly understated, conversational version is nothing short of souful. He follows it with a couple of dark rock narratives: the crescendoing junkie anthem Light of Nothing, which sounds like a sober mid-70s Lou Reed – if that makes any sense – and the vivid slum narrative Primitive Angels, which could be vintage, i.e. Darkness on the Edge of Town-era Springsteen. The album closes on an upbeat note with the hopeful You May Be Down. Gillen, who plays most of the instruments here, doesn’t waste a note, whether on guitars, bass, harmonica or even drums; Paul Silverman’s organ and Eric Puente’s drums contribute with similar terseness and intelligence, along with vocals from Catherine Miles and Laurie MacAllister, and Abbie Gardner contributing lapsteel and harmonies on Hallelujah. Gillen still plays frequent NYC area shows; watch this space.

June 30, 2010 Posted by | folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 666 Best Songs of Alltime Continues All The Way Through the End of the Zeros

As regular readers remember, for over a year we counted down the 666 best songs of all time, one a day, until the end of this past September when Lucid Culture went halfspeed. As we get into December, we’re still at halfspeed but we’ll be back with new stuff on a daily basis here in just a couple of weeks. Which gives us plenty of time to say good riddance to the decade of the Zeros and welcome in the Teens – til then, here are the songs on the list which will take us up to the first of the new year. Enjoy!

237. Randi Russo – So It Must Be True

Careening, otherworldly, somewhat flamenco-inflected epic from this era’s greatest writer of outsider anthems. The studio version on the classic 2001 Solar Bipolar album is great, but it can’t quite match the out-of-control intensity of the live version from Russo’s 2000 Live at CB’s Gallery cd.

236. Erica Smith – Pine Box

The multistylistic New York rock goddess has been off on a sultry jazz tangent lately, but five years ago she was writing lusciously jangly Americana rock and this is a prime example, ecstatically crescedoing yet dark and brooding as the title would imply. Recorded and leaked on a few bootlegs, but officially unreleased as of now.

235. The Electric Light Orchestra – From the Sun to the World

You can hear echoes of this clattering, frenetic suite in a lot of obscure art-rock and indie rock from the last thirty years. Jeff Lynne’s scary, out-of-focus apocalypse anthem kicks off with a Grieg-like morning theme, followed by a warped boogie and then an unhinged noise-rock outro that falls apart once it’s clear that it’s unsalvageable. From ELO II, 1972; mp3s are everywhere.

234. X – Nausea

The combination of Ray Manzarek’s organ swirling dizzyingly under Billy Zoom’s growling guitar and Exene’s thisclose-to-passing-out vocals is nothing if not evocative. From Los Angeles, 1980; mp3s are everywhere.

233. Stiff Little Fingers – Piccadilly Circus

Big punk rock epic about an Irish guy who gets the stuffing knocked out of him by a bunch of knuckleheads on his first night in London. From Go For It, 1981; there are also a million live versions out there, official releases and bootlegs and most of them are pretty awesome too.

232. The Wallflowers – Sixth Avenue Heartache

Elegiac slide guitar and organ carry this surprise 1996 top 40 hit’s magnificent eight-bar hook, the best song the band ever did and the only standout track on their disappointing sophomore effort Bringing Down the Horse. Mp3s are everywhere.

231. Bruce Springsteen – The Promised Land

This backbeat anthem makes a killer (literally) opening track on the Boss’ 1977 Darkness on the Edge of Town lp, perfectly capturing the anomie and despair of smalltown American life. In the end, the song’s protagonist speeds away into the path of a tornado. A million versions out there, most of them live, but it’s actually the album track that’s the best.

230. The Moody Blues – Driftwood

Towering powerpop anthem from the band’s 1977 “comeback” lp Octave, opening with a big whooosh of cymbals and lush layers of acoustic guitar. And Justin Hayward’s long electric guitar solo out, over the atmospheric wash of the strings, is a delicious study in contrasts. Many different versions out there, some of them live, and they’re all good (the link above is the studio track).

229. David Bowie – Diamond Dogs

Surreal, Stonesy apocalyptic anthem from the Thin White Duke’s vastly underrated 1974 lp. Did you know that’s Bowie on all the guitars – and the saxes too?

228. Mary Lee’s Corvette – 1000 Promises Later

Centerpiece of the NYC Americana rockers’ classic True Lovers of Adventure album, 1999-ish, this was a live showstopper for frontwoman Mary Lee Kortes and her steely, soaring, multiple-octave voice for several years afterward. It’s a rueful breakup anthem sung with typical counterintuitive verve from the villain’s point of view.

227. New Model Army – Luhrstaap

Written right as the Berlin Wall came down, this ominous, bass-driven, Middle Eastern-inflected art-rock anthem accurately foretold what would happen once East Germany tasted western capitalism: “You can buy a crown, it doesn’t make you king/Beware the trinkets that we bring.” From Impurity, 1989; the live version on 1992’s double live Raw Melody Men cd is even better (the link above is the studio version).

226. David Bowie – Life on Mars

Soaring epic grandeur for anyone who’s ever felt like an alien, from Hunky Dory, 1971. Ward  White’s live Losers Lounge version (click on the link and scroll down) is equally intense.

225. Telephone – Ce Soir Est Ce Soir

Absolutely creepy, methodical epic nocturne that wraps up the legendary French rockers’ 1982 Dure Limite lp on a particularly angst-ridden note. “Ce soir est ce soir/J’ai besoin d’espoir [Tonight’s the night/I need some hope].”

224. Al Stewart – Bedsitter Images

The live acoustic track in the link above only hints at the lush, orchestrated original, a big radio hit for the British songwriter in 1969, Rick Wakeman doing his best Scarlatti impression on piano. It’s a masterpiece of angsted existentialist songwriting, the song’s narrator slowly and surreally losing it, all by himself in his little flat.

223. LJ Murphy – Pretty for the Parlor

Our precedessor e-zine’s pick for best song of 2005, this blithely jangly yet absolutely sinister murder anthem perfectly captures the twistedness lurking beneath suburban complacency. Unreleased, but still a staple of the New York noir rock legend’s live show.

222. Wall of Voodoo – Lost Weekend

Creepy, hauntingly ambient new wave string synthesizer ballad from the band’s best album, 1982’s Call of the West, a couple gone completely off the wheels yet still on the road to somewhere. In the years afterward, frontman Stan Ridgway has soldiered on as an occasionally compelling if sometimes annoyingly dorky LA noir songwriter.

221. Randi Russo – House on the Hill

One of the New York noir rocker’s most hauntingly opaque lyrics – is she alive or dead? In the house or homeless? – set to an absolutely gorgeous, uncharacteristically bright janglerock melody. Frequently bootlegged, but the version on her 2005 Live at Sin-e cd remains the best out there.

220. The Wirebirds – This Green Hell

Our predecessor e-zine’s pick for best song of 2003 is this towering janglerock anthem, sort of a global warming nightmare epic as the Church might have done it but with amazing harmonies by songwriter Will Dial and the band’s frontwoman, Amanda Thorpe.

219. The Psychedelic Furs – House

“This day is not my life,” Richard Butler insists on this pounding, insistent, anguished anthem from the band’s best album, 2000’s Book of Days, the only post Joy Division album to effectively replicate that band’s unleashed, horrified existentialist angst. Mp3s are out there, as are copies of the vinyl album; check the bargain bins for a cheap treat.

218. X – See How We Are

The link above is the mediocre original album version; the best version of this offhandedly savage anti-yuppie, anti-complacency diatribe is the semi-acoustic take on the live Unclogged cd from 1995.

217. The Sex Pistols – EMI

Gleefully defiant anti-record label diatribe from back in the day when all the majors lined up at Malcolm McLaren’s knee. How times have changed. “Unlimited supply,” ha!

216. Amy Allison – No Frills Friend

As chilling as this casually swaying midtempo country ballad might seem, it’s actually not about a woman who’s so alienated that she’s willing to put up with someone who won’t even talk to her. It just seems that way – Allison is actually being optimistic here. Which is just part of the beauty of her songwriting – you never know exactly where she’s coming from. Title track from the excellent 2002 cd.

215. X – Johny Hit & Run Paulene

One of the greatest punkabilly songs ever, nightmare sex criminal out on a drug-fueled, Burroughs-esque bender that won’t stop. From Los Angeles, 1980; mp3s, both live and studio, are out there.

214. The Sex Pistols – Belsen Was a Gas

Arguably the most tasteless song ever written – it’s absolutely fearless. The lp version from the 1978 Great Rock N Roll Swindle soundtrack lp features its writer, Sid Vicious along with British train robber Ronnie Biggs. There are also numerous live versions out there and most of them are choice. Here’s one from Texas and one from San Francisco.

213. Randi Russo – Battle on the Periphery

Russo is the absolute master of the outsider anthem, and this might be her best, defiant and ominous over a slinky minor-key funk melody anchored by Lenny Molotov’s macabre, Middle Eastern guitar. From Shout Like a Lady, 2006.  

212. The Dead Kennedys – Holiday in Cambodia

True story: Pepsi wanted to license this song for a commercial despite its savage anti-imperialist message. Jello Biafra said no way – which might have planted the seed that spawned his bandmates’ ultimately successful if dubiously lawful suit against him. So sad – when these guys were on top of their game they were the best American band ever. From Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, 1980.

211. X – Los Angeles

One of the great punk rock hooks of all time, title track to the 1980 album, a perfect backdrop for Exene’s snide anti-El Lay diatribe. Ice-T and Body Count would sneak it into their notorious Cop Killer twelve years later.

210. The Sex Pistols – Anarchy in the UK

Yeah, you know this one, but our list wouldn’t be complete without it. As lame as the rhyme in the song’s first two lines is (Johnny Rotten has pretty much disowned them), this might be the most influential song of all time. If not, it definitely had the most beneficial effect. Go download Never Mind the Bollocks if you haven’t already: the band isn’t getting any royalties.

December 2, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tom Shaner Live at Lakeside, NYC 1/18/08

Tom Shaner has been playing weekends at Lakeside a lot lately, which is a great place for him. He writes subtle, catchy, generally upbeat and very smart Americana-inflected janglerock, sounding something like the Jayhawks without the melancholy or Steve Wynn in a breezy moment. With his old band Industrial Tepee he ventured into a lot of Southerwestern gothic, and there’s still plenty of that in his writing. His more upbeat songs generally have more focus than his slower, meandering stuff. He sings in a casual, conversational voice and gets great press: he needs this review like a hole in the head. But you should get to know him. Shaner was one of the many great mysteries in this city this evening, when hordes of people were willing to drop thirty bucks to see the latest poser du jour at the Gramercy or Webster Hall, while Shaner played to a midsize crowd, for free, in the back room at Lakeside. Some things just don’t make sense.

He and his backing trio opened with the bouncy Sister Satellite, dating from his Industrial Tepee days, lead guitarist Tom Clark taking a gorgeously clanging, tremolo-filled solo that was an omen of even better things to come. Shaner then did a couple of newer numbers set to a reggae beat. The drummer seemed unrehearsed, and obviously the one-drop is not his thing, but he was game, building to a tasty Jim White-style eighth-note crescendo, running all the way around the kit on the first of the two songs.

Gathered away from the stage were a gaggle of ex-sorority types, their lacrosse muscles gone to fat, eyeing Shaner like cats in a butcher shop. “You can’t be louder than the band, that’s rule number one,” Shaner gently admonished the crowd, but the posse of trendoids around the Ms. Pacman machine were oblivious as the band launched into the quietly swaying, countryish Industrial Tepee lament Rosalie. A lot of New York artists lately have been writing some pretty excoriating anti-trendoid songs, and the new one Shaner and band played tonight – perhaps titled She’s an Everyday Hipster – was subtler than most, quietly railing against the “parade of drama queens” surrounding some nameless indie rock diva.

On the fast, driving Waiting for You, Clark took the first of two blistering, spectacularly fast solos, the most potently adrenalizing display of musicianship we’ve seen all year. The band closed with Industrial Tepee’s big crowd-pleaser, Groove Queen, a ridiculously catchy, bluesy number that wouldn’t have been out of place on the Wallflowers’ first album (i.e. their really good one). That this guy isn’t a household name testifies to the sad state of the music business, not to mention what’s happened to the music scene here in recent years. At least the guys at Lakeside get it.

January 19, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: The Sloe Guns – The Sun Sessions

Absolute hubris, right down to the cd packaging. Luckily the songs on this potently twangy NYC band’s third release have the muscle to stake a claim to a place in the Americana rock pantheon. The Sloe Guns’ new cd opens auspiciously with the slowly unwinding anthem Wild Sun, a majestically climactic number that bears some resemblance to the Wallflowers’ classic Sixth Avenue Heartache. Driven by lead player Mick Izzo’s searing slide guitar and anchored by Hammond organ, it’s a beautifully troubled song. The band has thoroughly thrashed the cd’s next tune, Try, in live shows for over a year and it’s evolved into a catchy number that evokes early Wilco, with an unexpected modulation toward the end. Nice barrelhouse piano from studio keyboardist Patience Clements. The ep concludes with Into the Sun (Sun Sessions – now you get it, right?), a stomping R&B-inflected number that sounds like something off of Aftermath by the Stones, but produced with care on fat-sounding two-inch tape. The Sloe Guns are a dynamite live band: when frontman Eric Alter trades off licks on his Telecaster against Izzo’s Les Paul riffage, it’s nothing short of exhilarating. See them if you’re into this kind of stuff. CD’s are extremely inexpensive, available online and at shows. The Sloe Guns play the Mean Fiddler at 10 PM on Sat May 5.

May 3, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment