New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Wild, Diverse Global Energy Overflows at Lincoln Center

Last night at Lincoln Center Out of Doors was an exhilarating if somewhat underappreciated mix of global sounds. Opening night of this year’s festival on the 20th of the month, a Pete Seeger tribute kicked off by none other than Judy Collins, was a mobscene rivaled in recent years only by the overflow crowd at the 2010 staging of pianist Larry Harlow’s iconic salsa jazz suite, La Raza Latina.

A performance of some rather arch indie classical and contemporary ballet pieces this past Friday drew a smaller and less diverse crowd, but the diversity was back last night in epic force, at least musically speaking. Assembled by the prime movers of Globalfest, the evening had every bit of eclecticism and often delirious energy as their annual January Webster Hall celebration of mostly dance-oriented sounds from around the world, a spinoff of the APAP booking agents’ convention. Originating before the youtube era, the concert gives venue bookers and the public alike a chance to sample party music of pretty much every stripe throughout a series of what are essentially longform auditions. There’s literally something for everyone, as there was all over the Lincoln Center complex last night. Don’t like canned beats? Leave the underground parking garage (where the promoters had cleverly stashed that stuff away) and go to the park out back for a funky Indian jamband, or to the plaza for some Mexican brass music.

Around the corner from the opera hall, Colombian-American psychedelic cumbia band M.A.K.U. Soundsystem stole the show, and the crowd from Red Baraat – who were out back in Damrosch Park – with their slinky, moodily triumphant grooves, reaffirming their status as one of New York’s best bands. And they left no doubt that at this point, cumbia has superseded reggae as this era’s default global party music. What’s coolest about cumbia is that a lot of it is pretty creepy, a quality underscored by keyboardist Felipe Quiroz’s sepulchrally tremoloing organ. Bassist/frontman Juan Ospina played bitingly catchy, hypnotically bouncy riffs and sang in tandem with multi-percussionist Liliana Conde, alongside guitar, conga, drums and a punchy two-trombone horn section (joined at the end by an esteemed Colombian tenor saxophonist whose introduction got lost in a flurry of applause). The band’s lyrics, mostly in Spanish, celebrate diversity and global unity in a surprisingly poetic way, without being either trite or saccharine, over loping, undulating minor-key vamps punctuated by animated percussion breaks and menacingly swirly keyboard riffs. One of the casually defiant tracks from the band’s latest vinyl ep, Musica Nunca Muere (The Music Never Dies) pretty much said it all. If the IWW had embraced cumbia instead of marching band music, maybe the Wobblies really would have taken over the world.

The evening’s single best performance – and funniest moment onstage – might have been from New Orleans “Russian mafia band” Debauche. Toward the end of their bristling, boisterous, hourlong set, given the “ten more minutes” sign from the sound booth, they suddenly sped up the song until they were going doublespeed and then even faster. More bands should do that! Frontman/acoustic guitarist Yegor Romantsov evoked another charismatic Slavic rock bandleader, Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hutz, as he made his way through edgy minor-key Russian-language romps about duplicitous women, deals gone bad, a love song reinvented from a lesbian perspective, and a mashup of a Jewish wedding song and a happy-go-lucky Mexican folk tune. Their was a distinct klezmer influence in many of the songs, from a sarcastically swaying hi-de-ho anthem, to a series of bouncily brooding shuffles. An attempt to get the heavily Russian crowd to sing along on Bublichki, the opening track on the band’s album Cossacks on Prozac – which would be better titled Cossacks on Coke – met with mixed results. But there was a big crowd down front dancing. And somehow the bull fiddle survived being climbed on by both the the burly guy who was playing it, as well as the coyly energetic woman playing standup bass drum and tambourine.

Sandwiched in between the cumbia and the klezmer rock were an eight-piece edition of Brooklyn’s Banda de los Muertos, who do both original and traditional Sinaloa-style brass music with trombones, horns, trumpets, woodwinds and drums. Most of their set had a breezy, good-natured sway, through a mix of ranchera waltzes, a Los Tigres del Norte cover and Marty Robbins’ El Paso reinvented as a mariachi brass theme. Trumpets and trombones got most of the solos and made the most of them, Ben Holmes and Brian Drye getting the choicest parts. Mariachi Flor de Toloache frontwoman Mireya Ramos took the music in a strikingly intense, imploring direction with her powerful, angst-fueled, melismatic vocals on a bolero, Te Quiero Tanto, written by the band’s frontman/clarinetist. And then she led them back onto more upbeat turf.

Opening the night in Damrosch Park, Moroccan/Israeli crooner Emil Zrihan delivered an often riveting, impassioned performance worthy of a headliner, backed by his regular accordionist and an inspired pickup band who played seamlessly despite having been assembled at the last minute (the rest of the singer’s band were back in Israel, having been unable to get visas). Zrihan blends sounds from a millenium worth of Andalucian music as well as Sephardic cantorial themes, with an occasional detour toward klezmer or rai. His smartly dynamic, nonchalantly crescendoing take of the classic protest song Ya Rayyeh was well-received by the small but electrified crowd gathered in the shade toward the front of the stage. Zrihan and the accordion slowly jammed their way into many of the numbers, climbing to melismatic peaks that sometimes took on operatic exuberance or angst against a tightly swaying, rhythmically tricky backdrop of acoustic guitar, violin and twin hand drums.

And it was too bad that there weren’t more people in the park to catch Brazilian dub band BaianaSystem. Although a lot of what they had was on tape (or in the mixing board, or coming from somebody’s phone), their slow, slinky pulse made for an aptly nocturnal sendoff to the few who remained, sending them out into the night with fat, tersely emphatic bass, long, ominously chromatic solos from electric guitarra baiana player Robertinho Barreto and rapidfire, reggaeton-style Portuguese lyrics from frontman Russo Passapusso.

Yet Another Great Album from the Old Crow Medicine Show

Is there a band anywhere in the world who are more fun than the Old Crow Medicine Show? In an age of overproduced, digitized-ad-nauseum albums, it’s amazing how the OCMS manages to capture the unhinged energy of their live shows in the studio. No wonder that they’re one of those bands that pretty much everybody loves. Giving them the front page here probably doesn’t mean anything in terms of ramping up their fan base – it just means that this blog isn’t asleep on the job! Their latest album is titled Remedy, streaming at Spotify; as usual, they’re on summer tour.

The new album’s first track is Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer: it’s a slinky, banjo-fueled, twisted killler’s tale, and it wouldn’t be fair to spoil the ending. That capsulizes OCMS’s appeal: killer oldtime Americana chops, funny lyrics, unstoppable energy. The lickety-split fiddle tune 8 Dogs 8 Banjos celebrates all the good things in life, from hot coffee and sweet tea to corn liquor and dirtweed. Although it’s one of the album’s quieter songs, the bittersweetly swaying, accordion-driven, Celtic-tinged Sweet Amarillo is also one of its best.

The band – Kevin Hayes on “guitjo;” Cory Younts on mandolin, keyboards and drums; Critter Fuqua on slide guitar, banjo and guitar; Chance McCoy on guitar, fiddle and banjo; Ketch Secor on fiddle, harmonica and banjo; Gill Landry on slide guitar and banjo; and Morgan Jahnig on bass – pick up the pace with the scampering kiss-off anthem Mean Enough World, an acoustic take on Blonde on Blonde-era Dylan. The somber graveside scenario Dearly Departed Friend has a creepy, spot-on redneck surrealism: it’s a good companion piece to Lorraine Leckie’s Don’t Giggle at the Corpse. Firewater is a midtempo drinking song with soaring pedal steel, while Brave Boys takes a rapidfire detour into Irish territory.

Doc’s Day is a good-natured, harmonica-fueled country blues tune, setting the stage for the darkly rustic Cumberland River, spiced by some fiery fiddle from McCoy. The band goes back to a brisk Appalachian bounce for Tennessee Bound and then hits a peak on Shit Creek, a punkgrass take on an oldtimey high-water-rising theme. The hobo swing tune Sweet Home could be the Wiyos or for that matter, the Squirrel Nut Zippers. The album ends on an unexpectedly brooding note with The Warden, which challenges the guy running the prison to look in the mirror and see if he’s really human after all. Brilliant musicianship and tunesmithing, clever wordsmithing, traditionalist chops, and everybody sings. What more could you possibly want on a hot summer night?


Contemplating the Closure of Beloved New York Music Venues

Bad Cop: RIP Rodeo Bar.

Good Cop: Rodeo Bar didn’t close. They just stopped having music.

Bad Cop: That’s a tragedy. Rodeo Bar was Americana Central in New York for decades. Bands relied on that place for a living. It was one of the few remaining scenes here. It’ll be missed, badly.

Good Cop: I hate to burst your bubble, but you’re romanticizing. And you can still go there for the food. Which is pretty good, believe it or not.

Bad Cop: It won’t be the same. The Rodeo was my local back in the day when I was rolling in the dough and living in Gramercy Park. Drinks weren’t all that expensive and the bands were great. Big names would come through on a regular basis: the Hot Club of Cowtown, Wayne Hancock, Rosie Flores. Big Lazy actually played there a couple of times. Might have been the best show I ever saw there. And so many New York bands made the place their home: the Hangdogs, Buddy Woodward’s band, Simon & the Bar Sinisters. A slice of prime Manhattan real estate like the Rodeo can’t be replaced.

Good Cop: But it’s not prime real estate. Prime real estate for a music venue now is Bushwick. Manhattan isn’t a destination anymore. And crowds just weren’t coming out to the Rodeo for the music, and hadn’t for a long time. And that’s not to say that they ever really did anyway. OK, I did get to see a bunch of good shows here, but there was always some issue, having to dodge crowds of drunk Baruch college kids, screaming and hollering and not paying any attention to the band. And as a business model, it just didn’t make sense for the Rodeo to keep paying bands when they weren’t bringing a crowd.

Bad Cop: But the Rodeo could have made a go of it if they’d really wanted to. You know what they did that was really dumb? Rockabilly on Saturday nights. That’s just pandering to a Long Island and Jersey crowd. Why not put New York bands on Saturday nights and create a scene?

Good Cop: Because the Saturday night crowds there are so loud that it made no sense to book a good band because nobody would have listened.

Bad Cop: Not true. I remember going to see the Hangdogs there on more than one Saturday and the place was packed, and, sure, it was loud, but people were there for the music.

Good Cop: Another reason that wouldn’t work these days is that the New York bands are all playing Brooklyn on Saturday nights. You yourself can vouch for this: if there’s something happening in your neighborhood, or at your local, aren’t you going to stay put rather than going into Manhattan, especially on the weekend when the trains are all fucked up?

Bad Cop: It’s not like the Rodeo was Roseland. You brought fifty people, you packed the place, at least on the side with the stage. That’s not unrealistic, even now.

Good Cop: I think that’s wishful thinking. And another thing, the Rodeo was never able to keep up with how the music scene here changed. Maybe back in the 90s, when you were going there, there was an audience for honkytonk, and alt-country, and heartland rock. But that was then. Now if you’re playing Americana, you’re probably playing more or less acoustic – country blues, or bluegrass. And if you tried to do that at the Rodeo, the crowd would drown you out. So you’ve got a situation where the new crop of Americana players wouldn’t play there anyway – and those people are the ones with a following – and the older bands draw an older crowd that doesn’t drink much and just keeps getting smaller and smaller. And to be honest, I thought that the quality of the bands at the Rodeo in the last couple of years wasn’t all that good anyway.

Bad Cop: That place actually had to fight to stay in business more than a lot of people realize. Remember a few years ago when they got shut down by the health department and had to spend a fortune on new ductwork? There was something fishy about that, like maybe somebody didn’t get paid off enough. Or maybe it was just another Bloomberg anti-nightlife crusade. I still think it’s a horrible shame that we’ve lost another good venue.

Good Cop: You can always go to Hill Country…

Bad Cop: No way! Completely different crowd. If you think the crowd at the Rodeo didn’t listen, you haven’t heard the din at Hill Country. The one in Manhattan’s a tourist trap, the one in Brooklyn’s totally ghetto. Nobody pays any attention to the music. Talk about a lousy business model! The only reason I can imagine why Hill Country would continue to hire bands is that they’re making such a killing on the food that they don’t feel the pinch.

Good Cop: But the restaurant at the Rodeo always seems to be pretty full…

Bad Cop: They don’t have anywhere near the markup that Hill Country does. The markup for barbecue is four or five times higher than what it is at most every other kind of restaurant, sometimes more. Paying the band three hundred bucks when that’s how much one party of four is going to spend there is a drop in the bucket, profitwise.

Good Cop: I never realized that. I guess that makes sense, considering the prices…

Bad Cop: Now that we’ve lamented the loss of the Rodeo, at least as a venue, let’s move on to Roseland. [to Good Cop]: When was the last time you went to Roseland?

Good Cop: I never went to Roseland.

Bad Cop: And why not?

Good Cop: Um, they really didn’t have a lot of music there anyway. Once a month? Once every couple of months? And when they did, tickets were insanely expensive.

Bad Cop: My point exactly. As far as the loss of a venue is concerned, Roseland barely qualified as one, at least since around 2000. I personally hated the place. [to Good Cop]: You would have really loved this place. The bouncers would grope you as you went in.

Good Cop: Really?

Bad Cop: They’d feel you up, all right. Your tits, your ass. I had a guy grab my balls there once.

Good Cop: What did you do?

Bad Cop: Ordinarily I would have decked the guy but I was with a bunch of people. A Wallflowers show, I think. And I didn’t want to get separated from them, plus, I’d dropped twenty-five bucks or so on the ticket.

Good Cop: Do you have any good memories of Roseland?

Bad Cop: Actually I do. I saw the Sex Pistols play their first ever New York show there. That was pretty amazing, even though the sound was ass, like it always was there. And I have a recording of their show there the following night, which I actually didn’t go to. But those shows were the exception rather than the rule, and as the years went by, the place was empty most nights of the week. You wanna know what the deal with that place was? It’s the one commercial property in a large residential portfolio. The scion of this particular real estate fortune would use it as his living room: he’d book the Eagles or the Rolling Stones for a private show, that sort of thing. Strictly a vanity operation, at least at the end.

Good Cop: I think it’s a shame to lose such a big space, one that’s so easy to get to.

Bad Cop: But remember what you just said about the Rodeo not being prime real estate! And also remember that Roseland really wasn’t functioning as a music venue, and hadn’t, for a long, long time.

Good Cop: Since I never went there and don’t really have anything to contribute to that discussion, let’s move on to Maxwell’s, who closed last year. Now I think that’s a great loss…

Bad Cop: It was. Maxwell’s was to Hoboken what CBGB was to Manhattan, except better. It’s unbelievable how many great bands played that little space. I loved that place. The sound was fantastic, the people who ran it were nice, drinks were cheap and the food was good. And where CBGB phoned it in, lived off its reputation, past its prime, for a long, long time, Maxwell’s booked a ton of good bands. And different kinds – Americana, garage rock, punk, songwriters, you name it.

Good Cop: Again, I hate to burst your bubble, but in the last couple of years at Maxwell’s, there weren’t more than a half a dozen bands I would have wanted to see.

Bad Cop: I think that’s more a function of a sea change than a reflection on the venue. I know, it did get really indie towards the end, which is why it pretty much fell off my radar. But back in the day I went there a lot, considering that I was coming from here. I remember walking those long twelve blocks from the Path train, and then back, in the middle of the winter and freezing my ass off. But it was worth it. Did you know, I saw Richard Thompson there?

Good Cop: Whoah! That doesn’t surprise me. I saw the Saints there. And Madrugada, I think it was their first American show.

Bad Cop: Notice how nobody’s tried to replace Maxwell’s? That’s because it can’t be replaced.

Good Cop: Now that’s a function of gentrification. I don’t think that had anything to do with Roseland or the Rodeo though…

Bad Cop: Oh yes it does. Without gentrification, there’d be no explosion of uber-pricy Brooklyn barbecue joints, for that matter, no proliferation of Brooklyn venues and the Rodeo would still be a viable spot.

Good Cop: Well, ok, I see your point. Next on your list is Max Fish, which I didn’t even know had live music.

Bad Cop: Max Fish hadn’t had live music in a long time. I think they stopped having it in around 2001, 2002 or so. But before then, a lot of great bands played there. Douce Gimlet, who I know you never saw, had a monthly residency there….

Good Cop: I know, I’ve heard you talk about them. But Max Fish was a tourist trap, wasn’t it?

Bad Cop: Not in the beginning. Back in the 90s there were two bars on the block, Max Fish and the Ludlow Street Cafe, which also had live music. The Fish was basically a local bar, and a music bar because, hard as this is to believe, a lot of musicians lived on the Lower East Side because – I know this is almost comical to say – rents were cheap. At least relatively cheap.

Good Cop: That’s hard to figure. To be honest, I didn’t like the place. It was the kind of bar you’d go to on a Monday, maybe..

Bad Cop: Every bar is a good bar on a Monday. Monday is professional night…

Good Cop: It was too crowded and too shi-shi for me. The crowd, at least. And a meat market, from the looks of it…

Bad Cop: Yeah, there was plenty of that too. But back in the day, it was the kind of place where on any random night, Elliott Smith could be chatting with Chan Marshall, and so many other good players would be hanging out. You’d meet all your friends there because there weren’t a lot of other places to go down there, and the Fish was probably the first place you went to the first time you went out in that neighborhood. Back in the day, they had the best jukebox in town, all these great obscure New York bands. The Tom Otterness sculptures on the bar, the trippy polka dots on the walls. Yeah, I know it got crowded, and as the neighborhood went to hell, so did the Fish, but I still have a lot of good memories of the place. I miss it.

Good Cop: It’s too bad I missed out. Are you going to the new one when it opens on Orchard Street?

Bad Cop: Hell no. That was a time and a place and it’s over now. Next on our list here is Kenny’s Castaways…you have got to be kidding. Kenny’s Castaways?!?

Good Cop: Hey, they had a good sound system…

Bad Cop: But the bands sucked! And it’s on the Bleecker Street strip! C’mon, when’s the last time you went to Kenny’s Castaways?

Good Cop: I went to see my friends’ band play there once.

Bad Cop: Did you have a good time?

Good Cop: Actually, yeah. Although I remember there was a big posse of Jersey girls with ironed hair that came in at the end and started yelling.

Bad Cop: We needed Kenny’s Castaways like we needed a hole in the head. If that whole strip turned into a mini-mall tomorrow, that would be an improvement.

Good Cop: Still, it’s too bad to lose another Manhattan space…one with a good sound system, too…

Bad Cop: Give ya a little history. For a blip back in the late zeros, or maybe the mid-zeros, this would have been around 2006 if I remember correctly, Kenny’s Castaways suddenly because a really good venue. Dave Foster from Bubble booked the place for a few months and all of a sudden there were a whole bunch of good bands playing there. And then they fired him. Must not have been what the Jersey tourists wanted.

Good Cop: Wow, I never knew that. Working backwards, roughly speaking, next on our list is the National Underground. Now this place never made any sense to me…

Bad Cop: Me neither. Remember when they first started, they were trying to be a country bar?

Good Cop: Yeah. Lots of Jalopy people, as I remember. But that space is cursed. It’s a tourist bar now.

Bad Cop: Again. Do you remember when it was that airplane theme bar?

Good Cop: Before my time.

Bad Cop: You didn’t miss anything. And I get the impression that the owners never gave a damn about the place, they were just using it for seed money to start a branch in Nashville. You know who owned it, right?

Good Cop: No, who?

Bad Cop: This guy Gavin DeGraw. A sappy corporate singer-songwriter prettyboy.

Good Cop: Never heard of him. Must have been busy with his sappy corporate gig because the bar was a trainwreck. The last time I was there, there was a huge rat in the corner. Didn’t the health department close it down?

Bad Cop: Come to think of it, yes! And the sound was frightful. Drink prices were absurd especially for such a scuzzy space. And there was this one time I was there when there was somebody playing onstage but the bartender left an album, or his phone or the radio or something, playing over the PA during the show. As you can tell from how this conversation has evolved, I’m usually the first to lament the passing of a viable space for music, but the National Underground wasn’t one of them.

Good Cop: Next on the list is Zirzamin. Which I don’t understand. That place had so much going for it, and it closed so soon…

Bad Cop: I don’t want to betray any confidences – let’s say that there are structural issues with the building which preclude the use of the space for any purpose, really. Things may have gotten worse in recent years, but it’s still pretty amazing how long Zinc Bar, and then the frat bar that followed it, managed to last in that space.

Good Cop: They were so dedicated to good music. Where else could you see a weekly residency by Gato Loco, or Beninghove’s Hangmen?

Bad Cop: Barbes, for one. It was sort of Barbes Manhattan. But there were legal issues, related to the building, that nobody knew about, basically from day one. And that pretty much put a damper on any kind of long-term strategy for the place – other than the weekly salon that this blog hosted there, of course.

Good Cop: The sound was incredible. It was so intimate and so Twin Peaks back there in that room…

Bad Cop: And you remember how the air conditioning would suddenly cut out, and how some days the kitchen would be open and then it wouldn’t be, and the bar would be out of this and that…it was a great scene while it lasted, and considering what they were up against, it’s a miracle it lasted that long. A year and two months. I was just walking past the corner of Houston and LaGuardia the other day and they were finally clearing out the basement. All the fixtures and furniture were still there. Sad.

Good Cop: Did you take a souvenir?

Bad Cop: I did, right before they closed. I took some silverware. One of the knives fell down behind my stove and it’s still in there somewhere.

Good Cop: Next on the list is Bar Four. Which as I see was in Park Slope. I never went there so you have the floor for this one…

Bad Cop: Thank you for that introduction. And this is where I get to vent about everything that’s wrong with the live music scene in New York. Bar Four was a nice enough neighborhood bar. Kind of a small place, little stage in the back, pretty friendly, not very expensive. And as it turned out, they had a surprisingly good songwriters’ night there. Too bad I never heard about it til after they closed.

Good Cop: Did you ever go there?

Bad Cop: Once, to hear a jazz group. Who were great. I would have gone back if the bar had made the slightest attempt to publicize what was happening there. But they didn’t.

Good Cop: It was pretty small, right? Maybe they figured they didn’t need to, that the bands themselves would bring a crowd…

Bad Cop: My point exactly. Or rather, sort of. None of these venues seem to want to grow, to create something that’s going to expand beyond where they are. They’re just content to have enough of a crowd in the house so they can pay the rent. Nobody has any ambition. In the case of Bar 4, part of it is the fault of the musicians. You want to know what that songwriters’ night was called? Local Correspondents…

Good Cop: Sounds like a news organization. Bad branding, if you ask me…

Bad Cop: That’s part of it. But as you know, I have from time to time been known to pitch in and help with putting together the monthly live music calendar at this blog. So when I’d go to the Bar 4 website and I saw “Local Correspondents,” I assumed it was something like what you just described. Did the bar even bother to mention who was playing? Or that it was a music event at all, instead of the guys from the tv trucks on their night off? No. And that I blame on the venue. I don’t know if it was a lack of bodies, or the end of a lease, or what it was, that put the bar out of business, but they didn’t do themselves any favors by not telling the world what was happening there.

Good Cop: But do you really think that people went to their website to see what was happening? Maybe they just figured, you know, we’ll do a twitter feed and leave it at that…

Bad Cop: Maybe so, and that speaks for so many other venues that still are in business. They take and they take from musicians and give back nothing. Max Fish was front and center in the rock scene ten, fifteen years ago. Kenny’s Castaways was part of the West Village folk scene back in the 60s. Maxwell’s was Ground Zero for New Jersey bands, Yo La Tengo and the Feelies and the Bongos and a whole lot of other bands got their start there. Roseland was a hotspot for latin dancing in the 50s and 60s and for big band jazz before then. And the Rodeo we already talked about. Will any of the latest crop of Brooklyn bars be remembered after they’re gone? I doubt it.

Good Cop: Neither will most Manhattan bars. I think you’re romanticizing. Again. Max Fish just happened to be the one bar on the block where all the musicians went. For the longest time, Maxwell’s was the only club in Hoboken. Kenny’s Castaways just happened to be there when Bob Dylan was coming up. And there were a lot of dance halls for big band jazz, Roseland wasn’t the only one. I think that people with ambition and the desire to build a scene are the exception rather than the rule and have always been. Most bar owners just want to make money, they don’t care how and there are plenty of ways to do it other than having bands on the weekend.

Bad Cop: We forgot the Living Room.

Good Cop: Ha, you can have that one too…

Bad Cop: Did you ever go to the Living Room?

Good Cop: Yeah, once or twice. And I can honestly say that I hated the place. I remember the waitress swooping down on me, like a vulture, the minute I walked in. And security was really tight, just getting inside was like going to the airport. Which was weird, and off-putting. And the sound was bad, and drinks were expensive. Which is why I didn’t go back..

Bad Cop: Let’s be completely fair about this. The Living Room, in its original space at the corner of Stanton and Allen Streets, was a perfectly OK place. Back in the day, if you were a singer-songwriter, there were two main places to play on the Lower East Side, CB’s Gallery and the Living Room. There were other places: the original Sin-e, which was a tiny little joint, but then they closed. And there were Fez and the Bottom Line, but both of those places had a cover charge and expensive drinks, and bad reputations for not paying bands. So if your music was on the quiet side, or if you were doing what the Jalopy bands are now, you’d probably end up at the Living Room sooner or later. And it wasn’t a bad little spot: drinks were on the pricy side, but there usually wasn’t a cover and a lot of good people passed through there. I went there a lot. Then when they moved to Ludlow Street, the place went completely to hell.

Good Cop: What was better about the Allen Street location?

Bad Cop: Everything. The sound was ok – it isn’t a huge space, anyway. And there wasn’t the security gauntlet that they suddenly had at the location on Ludlow. What I always found so ironic is that Cake Shop, next door, had such a relaxed atmosphere and such nice people working there, while the Living Room was like a Nazi death camp. Let’s wrap this up with a true story, this would have been around 2006 or so: guy with his guitar onstage at the Living Room, and he’s not young, probably in his 40s. His dad is sitting in the audience, trying to figure out how to work a digital camera. He’s got to be at least 70, maybe 80. Finally, the old guy figures out how to work the camera. From out of nowhere, the sound guy leaps out of the sound booth, sprints down the aisle and snatches the camera out of the old man’s hand. The old guy is mortified: he thinks he’s being mugged. Sound guy snootily confiscates the camera and tells the old man that there’s no unauthorized photography at the Living Room. Which speaks for everything that was wrong with that place.

Good Cop: I recorded a show there and never had any problem…

Bad Cop: Yeah, I did too, but after I heard that story I was more discreet about it. And then it just hit me, why even bother with this shithole. All the good acts who played there would also play Pete’s, or the Rockwood, where the sound would be good and you wouldn’t be treated like shit. I’m cynical about venues in general, but the Living Room was my least favorite club in the world. I’d rather get my balls fondled at Roseland than spend another minute at the Living Room.

Good Cop: Blog Boss had a funny quote about that place. Remember Mike Dukakis? Ran for President against Bush I? Dukakis said that a fish rots from the head down, and that’s why the Living Room was what it was. Supposedly the owner there was a nightmare, and everybody who worked there was miserable, and that’s why they treated the customers like shit.

Bad Cop: Clubs in general have a lot of turnover, but I knew a lot of former Living Room employees and not a single one had anything good to say about that place. Good riddance.

Good Cop: I hope this is our last requiem for dead venues…

Bad Cop: I’ve been bugging Blog Boss to do a dead venues page. For history’s sake. Are you down?

Good Cop: No thanks. You can have all the nostalgia. I’m in this for the here and now. Wait – we didn’t even mention Lakeside!

Bad Cop: I don’t have it in me to talk about that. That was really sad, even though you could see the end coming a mile away. And anyway, there were a couple of things about Lakeside closing here, back around the time it happened. They’re here and here.

Serena Jost Brings Her Elegantly Gorgeous Cello Rock to Barbes

Good Cop: Serena Jost and her band play elegant, old-world, allusively beautiful songs. Listening to her, I’d want a glass of wine, maybe a single malt. Like something they’d have at Barbes. But malt liquor? No way!

Bad Cop: Way. Nothing goes with a Serena Jost show like a few Crazy Horse tallboys.

Good Cop: So that’s what you were up to on June 29th. Daydrunk on a Saturday afternoon. What bar serves that crap, anyway?

Bad Cop: Bar? I went to the deli. Then I went to to the community garden on 8th Street.

Good Cop: I thought you weren’t supposed to drink there…

Bad Cop: Who do you think created New York community gardens? People who drink bespoke locavore artisanal tea?

Good Cop: OK, you have a point. And I know your old hangout, Lakeside Lounge, is gone now. But Crazy Horse, damn, that stuff is foul…

Bad Cop: The true taste of cardboard! But anyway, what was coolest about that Saturday was that aside from having a nice place in the shade to kick back with a beer, there was a great band. Fender Rhodes, bass and drums. Slow, slinky, minor-key funk grooves: the ultimate soundtrack for a beautiful summer day in New York. According to the sign on the garden gate, as far as I can remember, the band was called Vic & the People, but I googled them and didn’t get any results.

Good Cop: What were they playing? Originals?

Bad Cop: I guess. Long bluesy instrumental jams, basically. Kind of funky, a little jazz, a little latin influence. The whole band was good. Pretty psychedelic too. No wanky bass solos, no coked-out drum solos, just good summery New York music.

Good Cop: I would have enjoyed that. You should have texted me!

Bad Cop: I thought you’d be on the train so I didn’t. But that put me in a perfect mood for Serena Jost’s show at the Rockwood afterward. It was great to get sort of lost in one band and then get completely lost in another. My favorite part of her show was that big swell out of the verse into the chorus of Sweet Mystery. That’s such a catchy song. On one hand, you start nodding your head to that Motown beat, you know the crescendo is coming a mile away, but you want it so bad, and then you get it…oh baby. That was heaven.

Good Cop: And you can hear it for yourself when Serena Jost and her band play Barbes at 8 PM on July 31. They make a great segue with the headliners, Kotorino, who are playing at 10 and are one of the best bands in New York. They mix latin sounds with noir cabaret and circus rock and like Serena’s band, they have a very lush sound. Although Kotorino have more of a brass band and jazz influence, where Serena’s sound is more classically oriented.

Bad Cop: She’s a cellist. All cellists have that classical thing. She’s a symphony orchestra player. And she was in Rasputina for probably longer than anybody except Melora Creager.

Good Cop: Yeah, that in itself is an accomplishment. Let’s tell the people about the Rockwood show, which should give everybody a good idea of what we can look forward to at Barbes…

Bad Cop: OK. They opened with A Bird Will Sing, which is the title track on her most recent album. A swinging art-pop song that the crowd of douchebags who were at the bar, after the band before, hollered and blabbered through. They didn’t give a shit. Amateur hour: Jersey assholes completely blitzed on one beer. But then they started to clear out and you could hear the band. Amazing band, too: Julian Maile on guitar, Rob Jost – no relation – on bass, Robert DiPietro on drums.

Good Cop: My favorite song in the set was Great Conclusions, which has this lithely dancing, ballet-like verse and then this heavy, bada-BUMP, bada-BUMP heavy metal groove on the chorus. Who would have thought, you know?

Bad Cop: The Move would have done something like that. But that’s oldschool. Early 70s. Nice to see somebody doing that kind of thing these days. Not that there aren’t other good art-rock bands out there.

Good Cop: You think anybody knows what we mean by art-rock?

Bad Cop: That’s a good question. The term goes back to the 70s. Pink Floyd, ELO, Procol Harum, you know…

Good Cop: …the Universal Thump, Botanica, Kotorino.

Bad Cop: Exactly. Second song of the set: douchebags haven’t completely cleared out of the bar yet. Luscious bittersweet major-minor changes. Serena’s playing guitar which isn’t her main instrument but she’s good at it anyway. And that bruised, haunted voice: I love her songs but I can’t figure out what any of them are about.

Good Cop: Maybe she’s trying to draw you in. Maybe you should listen more closely..

Bad Cop: Hmmm…no objection there! Next song: sort of slow Highway 61 Dylan doing Fairport Convention. Wow, it’s an instrumental! With wordless vocals! I had forgotten about that!

Good Cop: I tell you, we’re taking over this blog. We get to see all the best shows.

Bad Cop: Let’s do play-by-play for the rest of the Rockwood gig and then wrap this up. An absolutely gorgeously soaring, swaying, hypnotic Britfolk-flavored waltz with some out-of-this-world vocals. A couple of BUMP-badda-BUMP cello-rock anthems, including your favorite.

Good Cop; You sure you want to wrap this up so quickly?

Bad Cop: Blog Boss says to remember that nobody has time to spend a lot of time at a music blog. People work for a living. Everybody’s exhausted.

Good Cop: OK, I’m listening back to your recording, who’s that playing accordion?

Bad Cop: Accordion? Serena Jost doesn’t have an accordion player. Oh wait, that’s Isle of Klezbos. Another East Village garden show. More on that later…

Good Cop: So are we going to Serena’s show on the 31st at Barbes?

Bad Cop: Sure, why not. It’s free, anyway. If Blog Boss doesn’t approve, tough. We just might write about it anyway. You know where I can get a can of Crazy Horse in Park Slope?

Good Cop: I think the further downhill you go, the more likely you are to find it. That’s a double entendre, by the way…

The Jones Family Singers Bring Their Texas Gospel Soul to Lincoln Center

Ever notice how so many storefront churches have great bands? The Jones Family Singers, who make their New York debut at Lincoln Center Out of Doors on July 30 at 6:30 PM, have been raising the roof at their home base, Mount Zion Church of God in Christ in Markham, Texas, since the 80s. They’ve got a new album out, The Spirit Speaks, streaming at Spotfy. Musically speaking, they blend oldschool soul and funk in much the same vein as Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, or a more rousing take on what that band’s labelmates, Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens, have been doing around New York over the last few years.

The band’s not-so-secret weapon is multi-instrumentalist Fred Allen Jones Jr., who distinguishes himself on lead guitar, bass, keys and sometimes even drums. Patriarch Bishop Fred Jones, his dad, fronts the band, alongside Kenneth Jones on bass, Matthew Hudlin and Ian Wade sharing the drum chair, with torrential lead and harmony vocals from Sarah M. Jones, Alexis Jones, Ernestine Ray, Sabrina Freeman, Velma “Mice” Davis, Theresa Patrelle and Duane Edward Herbert. It’s an interesting mix: a mighty wash of vocals alongside a terse, no-wasted-notes, mostly mid-60s style groove, recorded with tasteful, uncluttered arrangements, probably to analog tape.

The women in the band carry Down on Me over a scampering early 70s Motown vamp until the bandleader takes over – it makes a good clapalong kickoff for a show, or for a Sunday service. Going Home takes the ambience forward in time about fifteen years or so forward in time: imagine a strolling midtempo Al Jarreau ballad without the cheesy synthesizers. With its combination of eerie imagery and a message that’s ultimately hopeful, Bones in the Valley serves as a funky launching pad for some impassioned call-and response, Jones senior leading the way with his gritty baritone.

Made Up My Mind has the band working a suspenseful motorway pulse with tinges of latin and salsa music beneath the women’s mighty voices. Leaning on You takes an easygoing early 80s Grover Washington Jr.-style sway with elegant, jazzy guitar and fortifies it with the Bishop’s insistent vocals – it’s a love song to a higher power.

I Am has a darkly bluesy, bouncy mid 60s Little Milton-ish drive – is that Sarah M. Jones singing “I am your waymaker?” By contrast, You Woke Me Up This Morning has an irrepressible, cheery stomp, Bishop Jones jamming out over the womens’ tight harmonies. Then they take it down just a little with Preacher Man – and bring up again on the wings of some Rainy Night in Georgia guitar.

The album winds up with the tightly rising, upbeat 60s soul tune Through It All and then Try Jesus, a showcase for the band’s many individualistic voices. Even if you don’t share the group’s faith in Jesus to get through the hard times, this is great dance music. Fans of another gospel paradigm-shifter, Brooklyn’s Rev. Vince Anderson won’t be disappointed.

The Duhks Bring Their Energetic Folk-Rock and Americana Roots to Subculture

Canadian band the Duhks were one of the best of the first wave of newgrass groups from the late 90s and early zeros. They’ve got a characteristically fun, stylistically cross-pollinating new album, Beyond the Blue (streaming at Spotify) and a show coming up at Subculture on July 30 at 8; $17 advance tix are highly recommended.

What’s the chance that an acoustic, Appalachian-tinged cover of a song by psychedelic Malian desert rock duo Amadou & Mariam would actually work? Pretty unlikely, maybe, but the Duhks make the connection more than once. The album has two versions, one in the middle and a reprise at the end of the album. The first brings to mind the kind of African adventures that banjo player Jayme Stone was going deep into about seven years ago; the second works a somber, accordion-fueled Acadian folk ambience. By contrast, the album’s title track bounces along with dancing, banjo-like bouzouki from Colin Savoie-Levac alongside guest Charlie Rose’s pedal steel and Rosie Newton’s pensive fiddle.

The band puts a fiery electric spin on the ominously rustic, minor-key Banjo Roustabout. Jessee Havey and Tania Elizabeth join voices with a gentle persuasiveness for the waltz Suffer No Fools: it’s a hopeful anthem about leaving users and losers behind. The band goes back to minor-key, electric ferocity for the steady, swaying Fairport Convention-esque Burn. Then they take an unexpected but wildly successful detour into vintage 60s soul music with These Dreams, which with its jaunty trumpet and swirly organ wouldn’t be out of place on a Lake Street Dive album.

The album’s longest song, Black Mountain Lullaby slinks along with a hypnotic, bittersweet, nocturnal feel, the fiddle soaring over steady banjo and resonant electric guitar, which the band keeps going throughout the instrumental Tenderhoning. They raise the roof with Lazy John, which is anything but lazy; it’s sort of a mashup of Acadian folk and Brooklyn-grass. The mostly-instrumental You Go East I’ll Go West starts out with a stately tiptoe pulse, then picks up with a long, intense, twisting and turning fiddle solo. Then the band goes into piano-fueled gospel with Just One Step Away. Lots of rootsy flavors here, all of them good: it’s amazing how effortlessly they channel two hundred years of history while adding their own unique energy.

A Killer New Twang and Surf Rock Album from the Bakersfield Breakers

The Bakersfield Breakers are one of New York’s funnest and most intriguing bands. They play twangy surf and country-flavored instrumentals inspired by Buck Owens’ wickedly catchy, Telecaster-fueled early 60s sound. There are times when you can’t tell this band apart from their influences, whether they’re doing reverbtoned Ventures themes, rugged Merle Haggard-style C&W, elegantly moody countrypolitan, even a rampaging cover of the Dick Dale classic The Wedge. They’ve got an amazing new album out, In the Studio with the Bakersfield Breakers, streaming at Bandcamp and a whole slew of shows coming up. They’re at South St. Seaport today, July 22 at noon for all you folks in the Financial District, then at Otto’s at 9 tomorrow night, July 23, then a gig at Sidewalk on July 27 at 6 and on the Coney Island Boardwalk on August 16 at 2 PM with a bunch of other instrumental and surf bands.

This band is all about tunes and textures: a clang, a crash, biting staccato, lingering jangle and everything in between from Keith Yaun’s multitracked guitars, he does it all. Bassist John Hamilton and drummer John DiGiulio team up through shuffles, surfy stomp and more subtle, gentler grooves. All of Yaun’s wild spiraling on the opening track, BB Breakdown, makes you forget that the band is just playing simple blues changes. The aptly titled Longing blends a sad, spiky mix of honkytonk, incisive blues and Britfolk licks and moody ranchera rock.

Hawaiian War Chant is basically a mashup of Buck Owens’ Buckaroo and the Charles Mingus classic Haitian Fight Song. Gored by a Board has a sarcastic edge: Weird Al couldn’t have done a Dick Dale sendup any better than this. They follow that with a precise, twangy reinvention of the Tennessee Waltz and then the Owens-ish boogie Honcho.

Stingray has more of the Buckaroo allusions – and some cool fuzz bass leads from Hamilton. Summer Sunset builds a wistful, regretful mood: it’s the most Lynchian of all the tracks here. Yaun builds to a series of sizzling electrified bluegrass licks on STP, then alludes to George Harrison on Whispering Guitar, right down to the watery Abbey Road-era chorus-box sonics. And speaking of the Beatles, the trio very cleverly interpolate a Fab Four classic into their cover of the Monkees’ Pleasant Valley Sunday.

New Paltz starts out sounding as if it’s going to be another series of variations on the Tennessee Waltz, but then goes a lot further afield. There are also two strolling takes of Just Holding Your Hand here, one instrumental and the other with a nuanced countrypolitan vocal by a mystery guest chanteuse. Is this the best rock instrumental album of 2014? The upcoming album by Big Lazy is the only foreseeable competition.

Roots Reggae Survivors Third World: Revitalized in Downtown Brooklyn

What’s the likelihood that any band from the 70s would still be any good, especially with just a few of their original members left? In the case of roots reggae band Third World, they’ve survived not only forty years in business, but also the tragic death of well-liked frontman Bunny Rugs (who was witnessed just last year by this blog taking an animated turn on vocals out in front of Sly and Robbie). But the band has soldiered on with a new singer, AJ Brown, who might have given them a shot in the arm. Their outdoor show Thursday, staged by BAM in a scruffy downtown Brooklyn park, was surprisingly energetic, unexpectedly eclectic and a lot of fun.

What amazed the crowd the most was when guitarist and founding member Stephen Coore took a turn on cello, making his way methodically through parts of a Bach invention, a handful of classic reggae themes, a verse of the Marley classic Redemption Song and a little Beethoven to cap it off. By the time he and the band – who played along perfectly – reached that point, everybody’s phone was in the air. Otherwise, intentionally or not, the rest of the set was a sort of capsule history of roots reggae. The seven-piece group went down into a handful of brief dub interludes, did a bit of Nyabinghi drumming (kicked off by a blaring prerecorded sample of a women’s chorus), played an unlikely portion of vamping classic roots grooves as well as the jazz-inflected 70s reggae-pop they’re best remembered for. The bass and drum’s one-drop grooves were solid and uncluttered, the two keyboardists – one on synthesized brass and occasional electric piano, the other on organ and string synth – stayed away from cheesy voicings for the most part, and Coore stuck mostly to rhythm as well, adding a couple of gritty, blues-infused guitar solos.

It was good to hear the band’s most politically-charged hit, 96 Degrees in the Shade, a moody look back at simmering, late 70s Kingston violence. It was even better to hear it in the shade at about twenty degrees cooler than that, along with a handful of similar, straight-up, vamping rootsy numbers. But Third World’s signature sound was always more complex than your typical two-chord roots jam, from their early days as a cover band playing American urban top 40 songs in Jamaica in the early 70s. Drawing on the jazz harmonies and ornate vocals of American acts like the Stylistics, Third World’s 70s hits and albums had a glossy sheen that stood apart from their more rustic, African-inspired brethren (and some would say, made them a lot more lightweight). But Coore and bassist Richard Daley still have their voices, joining in the harmonies of reggae-pop hits like Committed and an extended, practically straight-up disco version of their closing hit, Now That We’ve Found Love, amusingly missing a couple of cues to jump back onto a long outro – but that’s one of the reasons why reggae shows are fun.

At this point in history,  roots reggae is a legacy genre, like bluegrass or Chicago blues. The people who play it either tend to be either hippies, who jam it out with mixed results, or purer-than-thou purists who play it like it’s something from a museum. It’s good to see some of the guys who were there in the beginning still playing it like their lives depended on it. Which in the case of this band is probably true. People who see them on their upcoming west coast tour might be in for a pleasant surprise.

Catchy, Hard-Edged, Surrealistic Metal Cumbia and Skaragga from the Butcher Knives

It would be easy to write the Butcher Knives off as Gogol Bordello wannabes. But they’re not. Their debut album, Misery – streaming here – puts them on the same carnivalesque, ska and punk-influenced latin rock turf as Outernational, with more digital production values but also more minor-key Balkan menace. They’re playing the Mercury at around midnight on July 26; cover is $10.

15 Minutes sets disco bass over a muted hardcore beat, with a catchy minor-key hook, a surreal lyric about driving through burning neighborhoods and a brief but tasty tremolo-picked Nikko Matiz guitar solo. “You have to run, you have to hide, can you imagine what that feels like?” frontman Nacho Segura demands on American Dream, a galloping highway rock theme juxtaposed with ska-punk. Butcher Knives Unite is the band’s signature song, a briskly bouncy cumbia shout-out to immigrants feeling the pinch.

Could Be the End starts out by nicking the intro from Elvis Costello’s Watching the Detectives and morphs into steady brisk spaghetti western rock, with a cool, offcenter Ethan Cohen banjo solo out. Drunken Down mixes eerie southwestern gothic tinges into scampering circus rock: the blend of Matiz’s guitar and Tal Galfsky’s organ textures is just plain gorgeous. The album’s title track is a rapidfire metal cumbia tune with a sarcastically marching edge and another brief, bizarre banjo outro.

Nobody Knows Me, one of two tracks featuring rapper Ephniko, also gets a lot of mileage out of that out-of-tune banjo, hitting a slow, slinky cumbia groove. Pigs is the closest thing to Gogol Bordello here, a banjo-fueled punk stomp with a chorus of “drop the gun, drop the gun.” Step on the Line mixes GB surrealism with gothic border rock fueled by a spicy blend of Melissa Elledge’s accordion, Galfsky’s swirly organ and Cohen’s frailing banjo over a pulse that’s just short of frantic. And Tell Me Why has a similar mix of southwestern gothic and punk propulsion. The band’s politics are solid: they’re not afraid to be pro-immigrant, their Spanish/English lyrics take an aptly cynical view of American “freedom,” and you can dance to everything here.

Glen David Andrews Delivers Redemption for Your Soul

Trombonist/bandleader/singer/shouter Glen David Andrews proudly represents the New Orleans gospel tradition. His songs draw on two hundred years of African-American music, but also find new places to take his signature blend of gospel, soul and funk. He’s got a new album, Redemption – streaming at Bandcamp – and an upcoming show at Brooklyn Bowl on July 23 at 8 PM; tix are $15.

The hard-rocking opening track, NY to Nola opens with a blast of electric guitar noise, then connects the dots between NYC hip-hop lyrical brilliance and the equally ghoulish Crescent City literary tradition that predated it. Andrews finds room to comment sardonically on other similarities between the cities: we’ve got Rikers, they’ve got Angola.

Chariot, the first of three tracks feautring Ivan Neville, updates a classic spiritual theme over graceful, churchy organ and gently echoey electric piano. Bad By Myself – as in “I can do bad by myself, I don’t need nobody’s help” – struts along on a mid-70s funk groove, Andrews hitting a peak with a growling trombone solo over a river of organ. A vamping take of the gospel clapalong Didn’t It Rain “features” Mahalia Jackson by way of brief samples at the beginning and end.

The album’s title track builds to a triumphant, organ-fueled Muscle Shoals sway pushed along by guest Jamison Ross behind the kit. The instrumental Kool Breeze goes back to a biting 70s funk vibe, with wryly conversational horns, snapping bass and trebly guitar building to a catchy, anthemic chorus that brings to mind mid-70s Stevie Wonder. Speaking of that guy, that’s who Andrews nicks on the next track, Movin’ Up, delivering a grittily impassioned song of praise over some familiar AM radio changes.

The down-and-dirty, funky Lower Power ponders the lure of various temptations and features some wailing guitar work from guest Anders Osborne. With its tumbling beat, burning guitars, suspenseful pauses and Andrews’ hoarsely insistent delivery, You Don’t Know blends a classic Rolling Stones edge with an oldschool call-and-response theme. Something to Believe In has just bass, vocals and percussion, winding up the album with an aptly rustic storefront church ambience. All this more than hints that Andrews is a real powerhouse when he has an audience to testify to.


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