Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Swell Season; The Low Anthem @ Prospect Park

The Swell Season; The Low Anthem
@ Prospect Park
Brooklyn, NY - July 30, 2010

When Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová starred in the miraculous 2007 movie Once, most who saw it said it was a great love story. A few, wiser, people saw it for what it really was: a great story about how an album gets made. These actors were musicians after all. So rather than become big movie stars after the stunning victory at the Oscars for Best Song, the duo went back to what they really know - crafting folk pop (slightly melo-)drama but this time playing to hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

In support of a new record, Strict Joy, the Swell Season came to Brooklyn to play to a hypnotized, but almost manic crowd. "Low Rising" from Strict Joy represented the best of where the Swell Season are going - soulful, deep seeded pop music. So no surprise when they later turned out Van the Man's "Into the Mystic", with a backing New York horn section. And they kept the orchestral machinations of the Once soundtrack to a minimum , focusing instead on electric and acoustic guitars, relying on one solid fiddle player for strings. And of course they shined strongest on the sparse acoustic torch songs, just the two of them on "Falling Slowly" (the way the song was meant to be played), and Glenn in particular on the almost over-the-top-it's-so-good "Say It To Me Now".

Meanwhile, The Low Anthem just about stole the damn show. The Low Anthem are a band, and Oh My God, Charlie Darwin is a record, that personifies American roots without immediately summoning a particular brand of it. What's evoked is a creeky, wooden empty room in a house, about sundown, and a few candles or incandescent bulbs alight in a chandelier. The guitars, the horns, the keys, the saw, that amazing upright bass (with a solo for the books) - the ghosts of America, thoughtful and contemplative, lost. Something where Moby Dick, Andrew Jackson, the Civil War, and Leadbelly have a get together.

The Swell Season and the Low Anthem had a get together themselves by the end of the night, with Josh Ritter to boot, in a fitting rendition of the ol' "You Ain't Going Nowhere".

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

George Thorogood & The Destroyers @ Asser Levy Park

George Thorogood & The Destroyers; Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes
@ Asser Levy Park
Brooklyn, NY - July 29, 2010

The meshegunah rebs at the schuls across the street huffed and puffed over the infernal racket coming from the Asser Levy Park bandshell, as that annoying Marty Markowitz put on yet another display of ungodly offense, this time in the form of that most bad of bad boys, that young whippersnapper named George Thorogood and his depraved, deafening Destroyers.

The only cultural export in the history of the state of Delaware, George Thorogood & the Destroyers put on a show that represented a full-circle reflection. When I was but a mere child, George Thorogood was the guy with the one 80's blues-rock hit "Bad to the Bone" and I knew so because Alvin & The Chipmunks redid the video. About 15 years later, the course of learning music revealed a new truth: George Thorogood was a meaty, snarling rock n roll machine, long honoring the greats like Bo Diddley and Hank Williams and then tearing it up in his own right. He was an underappreciated, unsung hero of what rock n roll meant, not just another stop on the nostalgia tour at the Westbury County Fair.

He showed it tonight. John Lee Hooker may still be the legend of choice via "One Bourbon...", but take "I Drink Alone" to see George himself steer an ode to whiskey abandon. And though he may never have been one for the "punks", "Gearjammer" is STILL as fast and whiplash-ready as anything can get. And to bring it home, the deep, jaunty "Madison Blues". The steady rolling man - the drama-less, almost story-less George Thorogood continues to remind people like yours truly that HOLY CRAP THIS GUY HAS MATTERED.

At the end of the opening set, Southside Johnny said "we're from New Jersey, don't hold it against us!" And we didn't. Because Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes made more like they were from New Orleans, as is their way to be after all these years. With horns strong and the boogie woogie piana a-fingered, this was a ripe way to kick it off.

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Siren Music Festival 2010: Matt & Kim, Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart; Surfer Blood, Screaming Females

Siren Music Festival 2010: Matt & Kim, Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart; Surfer Blood, Screaming Females
@ Coney Island
Brooklyn, NY - July 17, 2010

It was another brutally hot and obnoxiously crowded Siren fest, fitting for the 10th go-round. But unlike any of the few I've been to before, this one had an all-day worthy line-up on one of the stages and though this year was partially billed as a unique year in which previous performers were brought back, it was all essentially fresh and new to me and it made for the best damn Siren fest I've ever been to.

I have known of the Screaming Females for some time now but I have never give them the time of the day. I had it on good authority that I was missing something special. That the guitar chops and vocals of Marissa Paternoster were of another game entirely, that most musicians are just kicking the can around compared to her. I passed up every opportunity to find out whether this was true. The time to find out came at 2PM on July 17, 2010 in the shadow of the Cyclone. And all that was told before proved to be true. Almost like selling a religion but having the proof to actually make converts, this is the essence, the awesome power, of the Screaming Females. Paternoster's guitar is up there with the guitarists in the bands that I tend to never stop liking and never stop going on about. The fact that the bass and drums are excellent compliments only solidify the deal. The fact that this is how the day started, with this fairly rookie prospect, lent the day the makings of a narrative...

Surfer Blood had a catchy song last year with "Swim (to Reach the End)". They proved to have other songs that were just as catchy. Unfortunately, the one time I saw them was at a CMJ show at Brooklyn Bowl that took too long to set-up and then had tech problems. All that can be forgotten now as the nice Florida boys in Surfer Blood played a very fun, very deft set at Siren. Their excellent (and wild-haired) percussionist kept the whole thing moving along while riffs and melodies abounded. The lead singer (John Paul Pitts I believe?) has a sharp, distinct voice that has a bit of 80's Brit and even a bit of Elvis thrown in. Elvis plus tropical-inspired rock can riskily make one think of "Clambake" but thankfully the gang pulls it off.

After a brief stop home with the Sonic Parthenon crew for lunch, the second half of Siren 2010 began with the now established titans of the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Not content to have had just one album to be remembered by, the Pains are plotting to give us a second, led by the shattering single "Say No to Love". Creatively, the Pains seem to have zeroed in on a small set of themes, riffs, chords, and jangles but they are making the most of them. One of my cohorts at Siren this year was DJ Rez from Thor and his take on the Pains was that they while they could play it loud and fast, they are really a pop music act and by nature are very gentle no matter what else they may try to do. So I retorted "Camera Obscura turned to 11". I didn't think of a High Fidelity-style mentioning of the Jesus and Mary Chain to win the day but that was because the heat was getting to me.

The narrative of Siren 2010 came to catharsis with Ted Leo & The Pharmacists. Much like with the babes-in-the-woods Screaming Females, I have never taken the time to listen to the long-toiling, much-respected Ted Leo. In hindsight, now having seen him play, this makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. It was so illogical as to be shameful. But perhaps we can fix that now. What a show! A few songs merited a bit more defining, there was a hardcore sound here, a poppy sound there but by and large, Ted Leo is straight-up, no messing around, can't call it anything else, but ROCK AND ROLL. I haven't had that much fun watching and listening to a band that wasn't the same handful of my favorites in a looooong time. And by loooong time I mean the Screaming Females from four hours before. But before that, it's been a real long time. The narrative came to an end when Marissa from Screaming Females joined Ted and the band on stage for one wild number. There they were - the vet and the rook - bookends of a damned good Siren festival - each making rock n roll that I have neglected for too long and can't neglect anymore.

Oh yeah Matt & Kim. Uhhh...doesn't really fit into the story here...hmmm...ok....cutsie poo song "Daylight" is fun...cutsie poo look and antics has its appeal...nice live set (with the Biz Markie cover, that was nice)...don't quite get the rabid popularity but it's not insane or totally without merit...hey let's get more Nathans!

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Parliament-Funkedelic; The Ohio Players @ Wingate Field

Parliament-Funkedelic; The Ohio Players
@ Wingate Field
Brooklyn, NY - July 12, 2010

The session of Parliament-Funkedelic (heretofore known as "P-Funk") was called to order by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. It was called in honor of Martin Luther King. 2 motions were passed unanimously:

Resolved - The people desire the funk. It is to be surrendered upon demand. This was declared as such because of the funk's necessity. Once the funk was retrieved, it was determined that the funk would be displayed in a turning fashion befitting its matriarchal status.

Resolved - It is so decreed that the festive function as performed by P-Funk cannot be compared to any other festive function because a P-Funk festive function never ceases in its operation.

George Clinton may be a little wayward these days with his doo-rag and baggy clothes and the uncomfortable display of his granddaughter gangsta rapping about sex, but he is still THE George Clinton and he will forever BE THE George Clinton so he can get a pass. The rising tide of the funk, the cascading horns and incessant rhythm, the impenetrable bass lines, and the inherent gravitas of the old man cannot be denied. And to hell with that damned Cynero!

0712102227-00.jpg by you.
A breakout of the Funk claims a dozen souls in the crowd at this session of Parliament.

The Ohio Players take the rare distinction of being an opening act who played longer than the headliner. And they put on their orchestral soul for most of their act before finally bringing out the Love Rollercoaster. All good funk needs its soul. And in keeping with the openly spiritual calling of the night, the leader of the Ohio Players reminded us all in the audience that HE is always with us, HE will always guide us, HE will always be there in our hearts to show us the way, if only we let HIM in. Of course the HE in question is Marty Markowitz. Who else?

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Psychobilly Luau: Pyscho Charger, The Arkhams, The Othermen @ Bell House

Psychobilly Luau: Pyscho Charger, The Arkhams, The Othermen
@ Bell House
Brooklyn, NY - July 10, 2010

The field of psychobilly (a term for souped-up rockabilly, perfected by the incredible man and band known all the world over as the very good Reverend Horton Heat) gets an annual 2-day luau in New York City and reveals that like all rock n roll sub-genres, it can be a crackerjack bit of diversity. I caught 3 bands:

The Othermen are a wily bunch of cats with an affection and affliction for not just the rockabilly and later 60's garage roots but the perpetual punk revivals of these sounds going back 30 years. This was raw gut punching rock but with a smile and a burp. Your mama would probably run away scared from the ferociousness of the Othermen if she wasn't so busy fawning over their good looks and dorky charm.

The excellently named Arkhams are led by an upright bass-playing doppelganger of young Orson Welles. If that wasn't enough, one of their guitar players could pass for Elvis Costello. For no real reason they have a blondie who dances and strips to her pasties and does it for comedy in addition to sex. I'd have paid more attention to her if the band wasn't so good. But unfortunately for everyone they are. The Arkhams have a deep reserve of powerful songs and they can do mean covers, as they did this time with Fear. This band ought to be hounding the citizens of Gotham for a long time to come. Mwhahahaha - you don't know how happy I am that I can write that.

Psycho Charger do this oft-used method in underground rock: come out and perform in over-the-top scary makeup but turn out to be silly, goofy guys who make no bones about just having some fun. Caked in black make-up almost from head to toe, and decked out only in underwear, the kind of foppish Psycho Charger play the 50's b-movie horror and surf rock. In fact I am pretty sure this its own genre within a genre within a genre and if John Waters ever chooses to remake Ed Wood's "Plan 9", he could make do with this outfit.

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Monday, July 05, 2010

The Ramblers; Bryan Dunn @ Mercury Lounge; Patrick Thomas @ Rockwood Music Hall

The Ramblers; Bryan Dunn; Bucky Hayes
@ Mercury Lounge
New York, NY - July 3, 2010

Patrick Thomas
@ Rockwood Music Hall
New York, NY - July 2, 2010

It was a July 4th weekend for the singers and songwriters in New York City, particularly down on the Lower East Side which last I checked still managed to churn out a snifter of class or two in a sea of clubbers and Sex and the City types.

At Rockwood on Friday, Patrick Thomas played less than an hour but handed out a set to be remembered. He proved to be an adept bar rocker the first time I saw him but this time he displayed some very deliberative, very gut-punching ballads. It must be said folks: he's a keeper.

The Ramblers have that thing. You know the thing in which a band reminds of you this and that but you can't quite name this and that because they sound like a thing all their own. Yeah that thing. Name the greats in country and rock and these guys know it but they have their own graceful spin on what's come before and it makes for a smiley time variety hour.

Alright by now you know if you read this blog you know the work of Mr. Dunn. It was another inspiring set on a New York stage that while it is not the biggest, it is the best (some say the Bowery Ballroom stage is the best and you know what? Bryan's played there too, so there). There's a new record coming. Spread the word. It's gonna be gangbusters.

Bucky Hayes can be a reminder of all things good that must come to pass. But in addition to the roots that make rock what it is, there's also in the Bucky Hayes milieu a desire for the big guitar pop solo, the wailing kind, that has bettered power pop balladry for the last 20 years. I'm a sucker for that stuff.

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