New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Great Storytelling and Tunesmithing on Wormburner’s New Third Album

Wormburner draw a lot of comparisons to Bruce Springsteen. Like the Boss, they play anthemic, four-on-the-floor meat-and-potatoes rock  narratives with great lyrics (we’re talking the Nebraska and before-era Springsteen, ok?). And they’ve got an infinitely better singer in charismatic frontman Steve “Hank” Henry. They play respectable midsize venues and get good gigs, often as a supporting act for artists from the Springsteen era. They’ve got an especially intimate one coming up on Sept 26 at 8:30 PM at the Mercury, which will be the release show for their long-awaited third album, Pleasant Living in Planned Communities. $12 advance tix are very highly recommended since it’s a good bet that this show will sell out.

The album title is characteristically sarcastic. It’s a collection of character sketches among the down-and-out – again, the peak-era Springsteen comparison. The A-side of the first vinyl single from the album, released last year, was Today Might Be Our Day. At the time, this blog called it “on the Celtic side of anthemic 80s rock, U2 without the strident vocals and empty slogans. And it’s got a story, in this case a smalltime hood on the run from the law. Is that a swoopy synth solo or a guitar running through a wah? The band has both. The B-side, Parliaments on Sundays, is a wry janglerock anthem like the Figgs at their most tuneful, told from the point of view of a guy who likes his liquor but only smokes or does the other stuff if it ‘helps to dull the edge, and anything to keep you off the ledge.’” Those two are a good start, and it gets better from there.

Over drummer Jim Spengler’s percussive, stomping Clash City Rockers beat, Hopscotch Gunner has Henry relating a tale of airborne combat gone horribly awry, with his usual intensity, against a backdrop of burning guitar from Paul McDaniel and Alex Senese, bassist Terry Solomone taking flight on the chorus. Somewhere Else To Be nicks a very,very familiar New Order riff and hitches it to a shiny Stiff Little Fingers-style punk-pop drive; it’s the first appearance of Daniel, a lapsed Catholic and gay prostitute who will appear later on.

Drinks at the Plaza Hotel opens with a morosely crescendoing, goth-tinged theme that brings to mind Ninth House, two would-be scam artists gloating about how clueless their marks are…or are they? Made-for-TV Movie (an original, not the Twin Turbine classic about the Columbine massacre) contemplates bridge-and-tunnel alienation and anomie, over blazingly anthemic, insistent powerpop. The band starts out with a strut and builds to a stomp on Dolores, If You Please, an angst-fueled 21st century depression scenario.

The band evokes the Jam circa Setting Sons with Catherine, the searing tale of an Iraq War vet: the chorus is a clinic in how to take an anthem as far up as it can possibly go. The Sleep That Never Comes offers the point of view of an even more shellshocked veteran, this guy from the Vietnam era: the sarcastic faux-martial brass is a neat, Phil Ochs-like touch. The final veterans’ tale is Doxology:

That’s the thing about sin
First the clouds roll in
Then it’s like the world’s about to end
And somebody’s guessed
What you won’t confess
Least of all not then,

Henry explains. It’s sort of the album’s Jungleland, but a whole lot less romantic. There’s also a brief instrumental titled Billy’s Topless, which may or may not be a shout-out to a Flower District space that once housed a notorious titty bar but which is now a deli and reputedly better off as one. Memorable stories, brilliant tunesmithing, what more could you want? The album’s not out yet, hence no Spotify or Bandcamp link, but should hit the interwebs shortly.

An Astonishingly Eclectic, Global Album and an Auspicious Laurie Anderson Collaboration at BAM from the Kronos Quartet

The original indie classical ensemble, the Kronos Quartet – violinists David Harrington and John Sherba, violist Hank Dutt and cellist Sunny Yang – are teaming up with Laurie Anderson for what promises to be one of the year’s best, and potentially one of the decade’s most auspicious runs at BAM next week. They’lll be performing their collaboration, Landfall, which explores Anderson’s experiences during Hurricane Sandy here in New York a couple of years ago. The concerts run from Sept 23 to Sept 27 at 7:30 PM. $20 balcony seats are still available as of today. You’ve been given the heads-up – this could be major.

The Kronos Quartet’s latest album, A Thousand Thoughts – streaming at Spotify – is also pretty major. It’s basically a survey of string music from around the globe, accent on intense and substantial. It’s also an unusually successful take on a format that’s often overrated and underwhelming: pairing a famous group with a bunch of equally famous special guests. But the Quartet has always been a mutable unit, as these fifteen tracks – recorded across the years, with every Kronos Quartet lineup – prove over and over again. They literally can play anything, yet always manage to put their own individualistic, out-of-the-box stamp on it. Celtic traditional music reinvented as ambient soundscape? Check. The Blind Willie Johnson delta blues tune Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground remade as Vietnamese art-song, with eerily quavering dan bao from Van-Anh Vanessa Vo? Doublecheck.

Maybe what’s most enjoyable here is that virtually all of these performance are acoustic. To be completely fair, when the Kronos Quartet have employed electronics, those effects aren’t usually gratuitous: the group tends to use them for extra atmospheric bulk and heft when a piece calls for it. But these performances are intimate, with an immediacy and vivid chemistry among the ensemble and with the guests. The Quartet teams up with Syrian star Omar Souleyman for a Bollywood-ish jam with biting accents and swirling microtones over a steady, hypnotic beat. Vo returns to join her countryman Kim Sinh for another alternately spiky and swooping Vietnamese number. A suspensefully crescendoing, rather epic Ethiopian theme by Ethiopiques sax legend Gétatchèw Mèkurya is one of the album’s highlights.

A far more stark, haunting highlight is Sim Sholom, by klezmer legend Alter Yechiel Karniol. A long, dynamically rich, slowly unwinding take of a Turkish classical theme by early 20th century composer Tanburi Cemil Bey might be the best track of them all. Or it could be the spare, haunting Greek gangster blues tune Smyrneiko Minore. Or for that matter, a rare. achingly beautiful excerpt from Astor Piazzolla’s Five Tango Sensations featuring the great bandoneonist/composer himself.

There’s also a shapeshiftingly lush Terry Riley piece featuring the vocals of Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares; a Homayun Sakhi Afghani rubab tune that straddles the line between Middle Eastern and Indian music; a scampering collaboration with Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man on a rousing traditional song; and a little gentle Bollywood and Irish folk at the end. It’s an apt summation of this group’s hall of fame career, one that simply refuses to stop.

A Wild, Psychedelic Manhattan Show and an Upcoming Brooklyn Gig from the Sometime Boys

The Sometime Boys make elegant, meticulously crafted albums that blend elements of bluegrass, delta blues, funk, soul and artsy chamber pop. Their most recent one, Riverbed, is one of 2014’s most compelling and eclectic releases. But onstage, they transform into a ferocious jamband: as improvisational rock crews go, there is no other New York band who are better at it, and that includes Steve Wynn‘s volcanic Miracle 3. The Sometime Boys are playing two long sets at the Way Station on the border of Bed-Stuy and Fort Greene on Sept 26 at 10 PM, and it’s free.

Their long show at the end of this past month at Bar 9 in Hell’s Kitchen – much of which has been immortalized on youtube - had everything the band is known for: expansive, explosive solos, mighty peaks, whispery lows, stop-on-a-dime changes, a sense of humor and a handful of covers that spanned the genres just as their originals do. The band’s brain trust, singer/guitarist Sarah Mucho and lead guitarist Kurt Leege were known for putting on the occasional and spectacularly good cover night in their previous band, the mighty System Noise: their series of sold-out David Bowie nights are legendary. So it was no surprise to see Mucho reinvent Aretha’s Chain of Fools with a surprisingly nuanced bitterness (and a long, dancingly delicious Leege guitar solo); to deliver a rousingly New Orleans-flavored take of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s Strange Things Happening Every Day with a menacingly gleeful grin; or to hear her actually enunciate the lyrics of the dadrock standard Burn Down the Mission, unlike the guy who set it to music and sang it. And midway through the show, they invited their similarly charismatic pal Mark Bailey (no relation to the Houston Astros backstop) up to deliver vigorous versions of tunes by Neil Young, Jack White and the Proclaimers.

But it was the originals that everybody had come out for, which took centerstage. The opening number, the bluegrass-tinged Buskin’, peaked out with a jaunty Rebecca Weiner Tompkins violin solo. Mucho got a droll, sarcastic audience singalong going on the bouncy, zydeco-inflected Pharaoh, the band taking it down to just vocals before Leege pulled the beast back on the rails. Bird House began with a menacing art-rock guitar intro before they took it into noir folk territory, to a long, relentless, Jerry Garcia-esque solo that Leege capped off with an ominous Pink Floyd quote.

Likewise, the funky A Life Worth Living – a song that brought to mind an even earlier Mucho/Leege project, Noxes Pond – echoed the Grateful Dead at their peak. They went into more straight-ahead funk for the defiantly lyrical Modern Age, a little later bringing down the lights for a broodingly waltzing version of the country-tinged lament Master Misery, from the band’s debut album Any Day Now.

The best of the covers was an extended, tranced-out jam on Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced: the way Leege, drummer Jay Cowit and keyboardist/mandolinist Gypsy George matched the album version’s kaleidoscopic, psychedelic fragments and rhythmic blips was as funny as it was impressively faithful to both the spirit and the essence of the original.

Cowit and Mucho matter-of-factly exchanged hostilities on a duet of the tongue-in-cheek newgrass romp Why Can’t We Just Be Enemies, Leege wrapping it up with yet another methodically intense solo. Much as Mucho worked all the magic in her vocal arsenal, from smoky, sultry lows to stratospheric highs, it was Leege who really got the crowd screaming. Counterintuitively, they wound up the set with The Great Escape, a quietly glimmering suicide ballad that wouldn’t be out of place on the Dead’s American Beauty (and is currently this blog’s pick for best song of 2014). That took the bar crowd by surprise, but by the second verse they were quiet and listening again. It was a gentle reminder that this band has the muscle to overpower the yakking crowds at the Way Station.

My Brightest Diamond Bring Their Lush, Kinetic Art-Rock to Bowery Ballroom

Is Shara Worden the female Peter Gabriel? Consider: her songs are serious and meticulously put together, but also quirky and fun. In concert, she loves costumes and wry theatrics. And she’s an accomplished composer of indie classical music. Then there’s the matter of that exquisite voice (Worden also gets props for teaching Elisa Flynn - one of the best folk noir songwriters of recent years – how to unleash a similarly luminous voice). Worden and her kinetic, woodwind-driven art-rock band My Brightest Diamond have a new album, This Is My Hand – streaming at NPR – and a monster world tour coming up, with a stop at Bowery Ballroom on Sept 25 at 9. Advance tix are $20 and very highly recommended.

.While the album traces the arc of a doomed romance, the music is usually anything but gloomy. Worden may be best known as a singer, but she’s an elite songwriter, the songs here veering between seamlessly polished, new wave-inflected pop and gusty art-rock. Flurries of marching band drum rudiments, punchy horn charts and bubbly woodwind flourishes punctuate Worden’s pensive yet kinetic tunesmithing.

She channels her inner soul sister on the album’s opening track, Pressure, an emphatically bouncy tune that contrasts tinkly keys with a bluesy synth bassline, rising to an unexpected ending. With a playfulness that brings to mind Nicole Atkins, Before the Words is sort of a triumph of the organic over the techy and cheesy, the orchestra mounting a sneak attack on the woozy keybs and eventually taking over.

Worden’s ripe, wounded vocals and imagistic lyrics bring to mind another great art-rocker, Serena Jost, on the title track: after a rousing orchestral coda, the way that Worden backs off just a hair when she gets to the song’s punchline will give you goosebumps. On the trickly rhythmic, new wave-ish Lover Killer, Worden hitches an ominous lyric to perky brass and a funky rhythm section that gets funkier as it goes along.

A mashup of Philly soul and indie classical, I Am Not the Bad Guy is the album’s most minimalist number: midway through, she runs her vocals through a watery Leslie speaker effect for extra menace. The contrasts continue throughout Looking At the Sun, knottily kinetic verse paired off with a soaring, lush chorus, the music perfectly matching the push-pull tension of Worden’s lyrics. The album’s longest song, Shape is a kaleidoscope of polyrhythms, keys and vocal overdubs: “You never know how I may appear, first time unlike the wind, next time like a storm,” warns Worden. “I know prismatic!” is the tag out of the chorus – and does she ever!

So Easy brings to mind glossy 80s pop bands like ABC, juxtaposing echoey electric piano, chilly string synths and a dancing pulse against Worden’s angst-fueled narrative. Resonance sounds like an artsy update on a well-worn Soft Cell theme, with more tricky rhythms, big orchestral swells and layers of vocal harmonies. The album ends with its darkest, most ethereal song, Apparition: “You were a spoiled child, your careless hand is dropping,” Worden accuses. “The leaves will smoke with perfumed stars.” It’s a powerful payoff, considering all the angst that’s been building up to it.

Sondorgo Bring a Boisterous Hungarian Counterpart to Bluegrass to NYC

Sondorgo play what might be termed Hungarian bluegrass. Their sound relies not on soaring violins or punchy brass – instead, the band’s main axe is the spiky, mandolin-like tambura, which varies in size and register. An amazing bunch of multi-instrumentalists, Sondorgo play all of them, along with clarinet, alto sax, trumpet and accordion. They’ve got a new album, Tamburocket, streaming at Spotify, and their debut New York show coming up on Sept 25 at 7 PM at Elebash Hall at CUNY, 365 5th Ave. just north of 34th St. Cover is $25.

The album opens with a tightly unwinding, characteristically upbeat dance number that veers from a swinging, rustically nostalgic theme to a more insistent, almost frantic bounce. The band then romps through Marice, a brisk Croatian folk tune about a girl all the guys have their eyes on, but can’t get. Then they bring down the lights with the brooding, unexpectedly lush, angst-fueled minor-key Serbian tune Evo Secu, which eventually morphs back into more upbeat territory.

Hulusination, a long, serpentine mashup of a moody Serbian cocek dance and Chinese flute music. opens suspiciously like a Balkan remake of a notoriously cheesy American tv theme from about 25 years ago (no spoilers here) before introducing achingly incisive solos from brass and clarinet. Then two of the band’s three-brother team, Áron and Salamon Eredics whip through a lickety-split flute-and-tambura duet.

They slow it down once again with a swaying, ominously trilling chromatic number for sax, hulusi, accordion and tamburas over a hypnotic, nocturnal clip-clop beat: this song had a rich and eventful past life as an Egyptian snakecharmer. They follow it with a couple of spikily romping, trickily syncopated tambura dances, then the blistering Landing Cocek, a long launching pad for Dávid Eredics’searing clarinet, his cousin Salomon’s similar but more droll accordion, and a funky Attila Buzás bass tambura solo. The album winds up with a lively south Serbian ring dance. People from this band’s part of the world may have fought like cats and dogs for centuries, but, wow, did they ever cross-pollinate! Fans of bluegrass, Algerian mandola music, Italian tarantellas and the more upbeat side of Balkan music have a lot to enjoy here.

Christopher Tignor Puts on a Tuneful, Enveloping Bill at the Silent Barn

Friday night’s enticingly tuneful show at the Silent Barn, assembled by violinist and Slow Six founder Christopher Tignor, could be characterized as an exploration of new voices in postminimalism…or simply as good music. Moving in waves, each act followed a distinct trajectory, both in terms of dynamics and melody. The trio Sontag Shogun opened: you wouldn’t necessarily think that an ensemble whose music is as stately and slow as theirs generally is would be in constant motion onstage. Pianist Ian Temple played artful variations on warmly neoromantic, downwardly cascading figures while his bandmates, Jeremy Young and Jesse Perlstein built a lushly enveloping backdrop with a whirling vortex of loops, terse percussion and icy washes of vocals processed with huge amounts of reverb and delay.

One of the percussion effects was an electrified paintbrush, delivering gentle wavelets, a miniature pond licking the shoreline. How’s that for dedication to a sonic mot juste? Through an elegant waltz, fragmentary vintage 4AD-style pastiches and long, cinematically shapeshifting preludes, the three moved, sometimes frantically, between turntables, a reel-to-reel player, mixers and that paintbrush, Temple’s matter-of-factly rippling lines lingering above. Sontag Shogun are at the Can Factory, 232 3rd St. in Gowanus on Sept 28.

Hubble, a.k.a. guitarist Ben Greenberg made his relentlessly assaultive, similarly reverb- and delay-drenched volleys of broken chords, played solo on what appeared to be a vintage clear plastic Danelectro model, seem effortless. But his split-second precise double-handed tapping was actually anything but that. Perhaps as a way of not only releasing the tension of the music but also the tension of holding a single position on the guitar, he’d pull away with an aching bend at the end of a phrase before returning to his sonic mandala’s spiraling, Bach-like patterns. Echoes of both Indian ragas and Scottish bagpipe music spun through the mix. He slowed down his first piece, reducing it to lowest terms to end on an gently elegant note. He did just the opposite with his second, throwing dynamite on the fire with a sudden menacing pounce on a volume pedal, leaving a long, pealing roar going at the end as he stood his guitar upside down, bending the neck for every keening overtone he could coax out of it, finally detuning the strings for extra rasp and bite. It’s a trick that goes back as far as Les Paul, and it was irresistibly fun.

Tignor headlined, a one-man string orchestra playing slow, plaintive, methodically shifting compositions with echoes of Brian Eno, the baroque and indie rock, some of them deceptively and hypnotically working variations around a root note. Tignor’s lyrical songs without words were rich with irony, frequent sardonic, self-effacing self-awareness and plenty of raw angst. He ran his violin through a laptop and Moog pedals that added low bass and cello-like textures, and kept time with a steady, emphatic thump on a kick drum. His themes unwound slowly like shifting banks of clouds, hints of a storm and then the real thing floating through the ether and then offering a clearing amid the mist. One of the pieces had distant echoes of plainchant, another a somber canon. It was almost unsettling watching him casually pick out a melody on the strings with a tuning fork: with all the processing, there was hardly less resonance than when he played with a bow. Tignor’s next show is an especially enticing one, an indie classical/postrock string composer summit on November 21 at around 8:30 at Littlefield with cellist Julia Kent and cinematic guitarist Sarah Lipstate a.k.a. Noveller.

A Catchy, Pensive, Compelling New Album and a Cake Shop Show from the Aquanettas’ Debby Schwartz

Debby Schwartz is one of the most distinctive, compelling singers in rock, with a coolly expressive alto voice that can be sultry one moment and then quirky and funny the next: Dawn Oberg comes to mind. Back in the 90s, Schwartz fronted cult favorite powerpop band the Aquanettas. Since then, she’s pursued a solo career. She’s got an excellent new album, Garden of My Own (streaming at Bandcamp), with an all-star cast of players and an album release show coming up on Sept 24 at 10 PM at Cake Shop. Cover is a reasonable $8.

The album’s dostamtly George Harrrison-tinged opening track, Hummingbird, comtemplates bitterness and regret, Kate Gentile and Claudia Chopek’s stark violins paired agianst Schwartz’ own elegant fingerpicking. “You’ve learned to play on the tolerance of those too kind to call you on the fact you’ve overturned, go if you want to you, know you’ve beeen found out if you get burned,” Schwartz warns.

The second track, Ambivalent, is much the same, elegant electric guitar accents intermingled with the acoustic – Bob Bannister. Pat Gubler and James Mastro play the electrics here, with Peter Stewart on bass. Dreaming New York City in the Middle of LA is a classic example of East Coast angst coming unraveled on the other side of the continent, set to a gorgeous paisley underground backdrop, twang and jangle and resonant washes from the electrics contrasting with Schwartz’s spiky acoustic. “The roaches on my kitchen wall hang flaccid and serene while my neighbors ram their door through with a car,” Schwartz bemoans, “Please get me out of here.”

London brings back a lingering rainy-day atmosphere: “Something vile has been haunting me for days now…flashing eyes and words that burned into your ears, did you cry?” Schwartz broods. Arise has a moody gravitas not unlike the Church, a band the Aquanettas once toured with, in folk-rock mode: on the last verse, we get funereal drums from Robert Dennis.

The album’s drollest track is the ambling Satan You Brought Me Down. The album’s longest track, Bulldozer, is also its most hypnotic: Schwartz might be addressing the evils of gentrification here. To Become Somebody keeps the hypnotic atmosphere going, Gabler’s hurdy-gurdy adding a distinct Scottish folk flavor. The next track, My Hope comes across a more soaring second part of that song.

That’s What Johnny Told Me on the Train balances a bouncy pop melody against more of that 4AD, rainswept open-tuned guitar ambience. The album ends with the bittersweetly anthemic Sitting in a Garden of My Own. Schwartz also has an ep out recently comprising several of these tracks along with the lushly luscious folk noir anthem Hills of Violent Green, a showcase for some literally breathtaking, swooping upper-register vocals.

Gorgeously Tuneful Janglerock and Psychedelic Pop from the Immigrant Union

Most New York fans of 90s rock probably have the Dandy Warhols‘ two upcoming Music Hall of Williamsburg shows somewhere on the radar. They’ll be there on Sept 19 and 20 at 9; general admission is $25, and considering that they sold out the Bell House, a larger space, last time they were there, you might want to get there early. But the Dandy Warhols’ Brent DeBoer also has an intriguing, gorgeously tuneful janglerock side project, the Immigrant Union, with Melbourne, Australia singer Bob Harrow. That unit will be in town about a month afterward from Oct 21 to 25 at venues still to be determined. Their excellent second album, Anyway, is due out shortly: there are already a couple of singles up at Bandcamp.

As you might expect from a jangly Australian band, there’s a definite resemblance to the Church. The opening track, Shameless, pairs two deliciously clangy electric guitars with a steady acoustic track in the background: when the piano comes in, the Jayhawks come to mind. Harrow’s unpretentious, clear vocals, pensive lyrics and a lusciously intermingled web of guitars on the way out completes the picture and sets the stage for the rest of the album.

Alison isn’t the Elvis Costello song but a bitter, Byrdsy backbeat psych-pop anthem about getting out of smalltown hell: Don’t Go Back to Rockville, Oz style. I Can’t Return slips swirly organ in between sitarlike slide guitar and glistening Rickenbacker jangle. Wake Up and Cry could be a folk-rock flavored Church cut from the mid/late 80s albeit without that band’s enveloping lushness. The album’s epic title track has plaintive harmonies and a slow psych-pop sway much in the same vein as the Allah-Las - who have a killer new album of their own. Another artist they bring to mind here is George Reisch, the multi-instrumentalist who’s done such elegantly melancholy work with Bobby Vacant and Robin O’Brien.

From there the group segues into In Time, adding light southwestern gothic touches a la Saint Maybe, then go completely into spaghetti western with the nonchalantly menacing desert rock shuffle Lake Mokoan. The Trip Ain’t Over has a wryly tiptoeing acoustic-electric Rubber Soul-era Beatlesque pulse. War Is Peace takes a snidely faux-gospel Country Joe & the Fish-style swipe at clueless conformists, and the US as well. The final cut, The End Has Come has a flickering, nocturnal C&W vibe not unlike the Church’s Don’t Open the Door to Strangers. You want the cutting edge of 2014 psychedelic pop, this is it. Is this album the catchiest, most melodically attractive release of the year? Very possibly. Hopefully it’s not the last one these guys put out. Watch this space for further info on those October shows.

La Santa Cecilia Bring Their Individualistic, Eclectic Latin Rock to Highline Ballroom

Marisol Hernandez, frontwoman of La Santa Cecilia, figured out that the crowd at their Summerstage show a couple of months ago might not have them figured out. She shrugged and grinned. “We like a lot of stuff, we can’t figure out what this band’s about.” Which is probably just as well, considering how intuitively well they played every style they tackled. The group didn’t waste any time getting the party started with a slinky, minor key psychedelic cumbia and followed that with a reggae-tinged number. The next tune rocked harder, guitarist Marco Sandoval firing off a frenetically noisy solo that built to a wickedly sarcastic, dismissive peak. Then they tackled the old Mexican folk standard La Morena and did it as pretty straight up son jarocho folk.

That diversity is what sets so many of this era’s latin rock bands apart from their counterparts in the indie rock twee-topia. Where the pretty boys of Bushwick and Lake Wayzata all try to sound the same, the crews from Corona and East LA and south of the border all want an individual style and will play anything that makes them stand out. La Santa Cecilia are no exception. The rest of their energetic set featured a couple of bouncy minor-key Mexican border rock tunes, and a Freddy Fender-ish Tex-Mex reflection on taking one’s time with a relationshiop in the Facebook era. On that one, Marisol went off mic and wowed the crowd with her powerful alto voice. Then Sandoval dedicated a droll, Beatlesque psych-rock anthem titled Campos de Fresas (whose original English version you might know) to the world’s undocumented farm workers, capping it off with a rich, rain-drenched solo played through a vintage chorus pedal just as George Harrison did on the original. La Santa Cecilia return to New York with a show at Highline Ballroom on Sept 18 at 8 PM: $15 adv tix are highly recommended.

Brown Sabbath Play One of the Year’s Best Shows at Brooklyn Bowl

How did Austin Black Sabbath cover band Brown Sabbath‘s show Friday night at Brooklyn Bowl compare with the real thing on their first and supposedly only reunion tour at the end of the past century? Spectacularly well, which is the highest possible praise, considering how undiminished the world’s greatest metal band were when they reached Jones Beach, Long Island in the late summer of 1999. While there were moments at Friday’s show where it was as if Iommi, Butler, Ward and Osbourne had been teleported onstage, there were many more where Brown Sabbath’s reinterpretations were just as much relentlessly assaultive, creepy fun as the originals. Cover bands are known for being cheesy, and if there’s one band in the world whose catalog you can’t be cheesy with, it’s Sabbath’s. That would be perverted, like biting the head off a bat – who would want to do something like that?

Brown Sabbath are really Brownout with a change of clothes and a different lead singer who outdoes Ozzy in the power department. The band’s smartest move was not to start out with the Sabbath covers but with their own material. Their roughly 45-minute set of heavy latin stoner funk included a couple of straight-up deep psychedelic salsa vamps, a couple of long psych-funk tangents fueled by machinegun bursts from the three-piece horn section and tightly choreographed Santana-esque twin guitars that foreshadowed what the two players – Adrian Quesada and Beto Martinez – would do with the Sabbath. Each guy has vicious chops, Quesada favoring wild flurries of chord-chopping over grotesquely bent blue notes, an attack he kept up through the Sabbath set. It’s hard to imagine a guitarist getting as much of a workout as these guys did through almost three hours of music. Their take on an obscure cover, ostensibly introduced to the band by drummer John Speice, made ominous cinematics out of a biting minor-key blues-funk riff. It was too bad that most of the crowd didn’t get to the venue until their first set was over.

And Brown Sabbath didn’t disappoint. Their secret is in the rhythm. Making a slinky groove out of Black Sabbath is a lot more natural than it might seem: Bill Ward and Geezer Butler are one of the most fluid rhythm sections in rock, the secret ingredient in Sabbath’s haphazardly pollinated sonic bud. Five-string bassist Greg Gonzalez stuck mostly to Butler’s original basslines: all the slides, chords, hypnotic riffage and tunefulness that made him a second lead guitarist, essentially. Since Tony Iommi relied so heavily on multitracks, having Martinez as a second lead player added a layer of savagery missing even from the original band’s live show. Singer Alex Marrero belted with a sneering, defiant power, disappearing from the stage during instrumental breaks to change costume, finally reentering toward the end in a wrestler’s outfit for the high point of the set, a searing tyrannosaurus take of Electric Funeral.

The one song they completely reinvented was Iron Man, making a undulatingly unrecognizable, wry lowrider instrumental groove out of it and giving some actual dignity to that cartoonish riff. The Wizard and Black Sabbath were pretty close to the originals, right down to the stormy-night samples and Quesada’s fang-baring hammer-ons. They did the druggiest songs, Sweet Leaf and Snowblind a little faster and if anything, heavier than the originals: “Do you like cocaine in Brooklyn?” Marrero snidely asked the crowd. Through the twisted twists and turns of N.I.B. and Fairies Wear Boots, the guitars burned in tandem with Gonzalez’ growling, biting bass, Speice teaming with the two-man percussion section for a lunar-landscape beat, an undertow that drew the crowd inescapably into the sonic murk. And their take of Planet Caravan was a potent reminder of how Sabbath could be equally psychedelic in a rare delicate moment. Marrero seemed to remember that Brown Sabbath made their debut on this very same stage; let’s hope they come back. But next time, where they really ought to be is Madison Square Garden.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 147 other followers