New York Music Daily

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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 Gabler 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.

Black Sea Hotel Top the Bill at One of 2014’s Most Spellbinding Shows

“This song’s about waiting for your neighbor to die so you can marry his wife,” one of Black Sea Hotel‘s three singers, Shelley Thomas, cheerily explained to the crowd at Joe’s Pub Wednesday night.

“Perky!” her bandmate Willa Roberts grinned. She was being sarcastic, of course. The ancient Bulgarian and Macedonian folk songs that the Brooklyn vocal trio sing date from an era when life was shorter and possibly more brutal than today, an atmosphere underscored by the music’s biting minor keys, edgy chromatics, eerie close harmonies and otherworldly microtones. The group treated the crowd to what was essentially a live recreation of their latest album The Forest Is Shaking and Swaying, along with a haunting, encore from the band’s debut cd. The three women held the crowd rapt with their original arrangements of both obscure and iconic themes, with intricate, intoxicating counterpoint, tightly dancing tempos, unexpected stops and starts and split-second choreography. There’s some irony in the fact that Black Sea Hotel’s often centuries-old repertoire is built on harmony as sophisticated and avant garde as anything being played or sung today.

Their camaraderie onstage was unselfconsciously warm, linking hands loosely as they sang, hugging each other here and there, high on the music. The three women’s voices are so similar that it’s hard to tell who’s singing what unless you’re watching. In terms of raw power, it’s a toss-up between Roberts and Thomas. but it seems that Small has the most astonishing range of the three: for a natural soprano, it’s stunning to witness how she can get so much power and resonance out of her low register And the three switch roles: Roberts got to handle the most highly ornamented, toughest leaps and bounds early on, then passed the baton to Small. Thomas is the latest addition to the group, reaffirming her status as one of the most eclectic of New York’s elite singers. That she managed to learn the entire set from memory on short notice wasn’t only impressive: without that feat, the concert probably wouldn’t have happened at all. And as spectacular as the three women’s vocal acrobatics were, it was the final number, with its long, slow fade down, building the suspense to breaking point, that might have been the high point of their set.

The opening acts, assembled by Small, were every bit as good. Her trio Hydra, with Rima Fand and Yula Beeri, a vehicle for original composition in antique Balkan and occasionally Middle Eastern styles, were first. The second song of their too-brief set, a soaring Balkan art-rock anthem of sorts, had a bulk and gravitas that that sounded infinitely more mighty than just three voices and a mandolin could deliver. Alternatingly sweeping and austere, they blended the Balkan and the Beatlesque.

A subset of the even mightier all-female accordion group the Main Squeeze Orchestra were next. Melissa Elledge, Josephine Decker, Rene Fan, Denise Koncelik, Rachel Swaner and Elaine Yau reminded that pretty much everything sounds good if played on an accordion, multiplied by six. A classically-tinged march, a couple of ominously cinematic themes, a coyly disguised generic new wave hit from the 80s, a campy anthem that sounded like it could be Queen but might have been something like Lady Gag. and a deliciously unexpected romp through a boisterous klezmer dance all got a seamlessly tight, winkingly virtuosic treatment.

And a trio version of one of New York’s original Romany-inspired bands, Luminescent Orchestrii (Fand and Sarah Alden on violins, with ringer Kyle Sanna on acoustic guitar) ran through a jaunty dance in medieval French; a bracing, hypnotically insistent Middle Eastern-spiced number; a similarly trance-inducing, circular Macedonian theme and a darkly blues-inflected art-rock violin number, all of which more than hinted at the kind of electricity this band can generate with all their members.

Trampled by Turtles Bring Their Catchy, State-of-the-Art Americana to Terminal 5

Duluth, Minnesota’s well-regarded Trampled by Turtles personify the drift many of this era’s top tunesmiths have taken away from rock into Americana perhaps better than any band around. Imagine Andrew Bird plus Low, divided by O’Death in somber, lush mode, and you get a good picture of what their new album Wild Animals (streaming at Spotify and produced, appropriately enough, by Alan Sparkhawk of Low) sounds like. They’re at Terminal 5 at around 10 this Friday, Sept 12, with Hurray for the Riff Raff, a.k.a. torchy oldtimey Americana songwriter Alynda Lee Segarra opening the show at 9. Cover is $25, and with Trampled by Turtles as popular as they are, advance tix (available at the Mercury Lounge 5-7 PM Mon-Fri) are always a good idea.

The new album – their seventh, if you can believe – opens with the title track, a waltz, managing to be rustically bittersweet yet rousingly anthemic at once. It’s a good tablesetter for everything that follows, frontman/guitarist Dave Simonett’s gentle, unassuming vocals always just a hair below pitch – he’s sort of a male indie-era counterpart to the B-52’s Kate Pierson. White noise – ebow guitar, maybe – whooshes in and raises the lushness factor behind him.

The second track, Hollow, motors along on the graceful midtempo bluegrass groove of Dave Carroll’s banjo and Erik Berry’s mandolin as Ryan Young’s fiddle soars tersely and somewhat warily overhead. Repetition, another waltz, is where the stadium-rock-disguised-as-country really starts to take off, Berry’s mando cutting a Milky Way through a deep-blue nocturnal backdrop. Then they pick up the pace Are You Behind the Shining Star, which comes across as something akin to a vintage ELO hit with newgrass production values…or ELO doing newgrass. You might not think it would work, but it does.

One of the album’s most memorable tracks, the harmony-fueled Silver Light brings to mind another first-class Minnesota band, the Jayhawks circa 1997 or so. Come Back Home is another cross-genre mindfuck: Mexican son jarocho, chamber pop (those multi-tracked strings by Young are killer) and a brisk bluegrass romp. Ghosts aptly looks back to Orbison Nashville noir, but through the prisms of newgrass and post-Coldplay stadium rock.

“I think it’s time to go/The bartender is mean and slow,” Simonett warbles morosely midway through Lucy, an ethereal wee-hours lament. Then they blast through the lickety-split yet brooding Western World, a showcase for some searing banjo and fiddle that would fit in perfeclty on an album by The Devil Makes Three, Tim Saxhaug’s bass driving the beast forward. The most oldtimey track here is the country gospel-tinged Nobody Knows, followed closely by the closing cut, Winners, a warmly catchy Appalachian theme reinvented as a late 90s Wilco-style sway. Pretty much everything here is the kind of stuff that you find running through your mind long after the concert’s over.

Lost Syrian Musical Treasures Rescued from a War Zone

War destroys everything including the arts. One recent casualty of the civil war in Syria is nine-member choral group Nawa, a haunting ensemble dedicated to reviving hypnotic, otherworldly thousand-year-old Muslim and Sufi chants and songs. What the group sang could be characterized as Middle Eastern gospel music: it has the same rustic, ominous quality as early African-American spirituals. Sadly, the group disbanded shortly after recording their only album. According to the liner notes for the cd Nawa: Ancient Sufi Invocations and Forgotten Songs from Aleppo, the members – Mouhammed Ammo, Fawaz Baker, Khaled Al Hafez, Mouhammed Hlouhi, Ibrahim Jaber, Ibrahim and Mouhammed Muslimani, Bashar Al Sayed and Tarek Al Sayed Yehya – have been dispersed across the Middle East and Europe.

The album – streaming at Spotify – has an unusual backstory. Musicologist Jason Hamacher wanted to record centuries-old Jewish devotional songs for a planned anthology, Sacred Voices of Syria, to be captured live in the few remaining Jewish historical sites in Aleppo. Returning to the country four years ago, Hamacher was hounded by government authorities, who barred him from continuing with any further research or recording for the project. Undeterred, he discovered Nawa through a friend and seized the opportunity to record them on the fly. It would be the group’s only release.

One of the its many striking features is how diverse it is, with influences from Iranian, Egyptian and Lebanese folk, classical and religious music. It’s best enjoyed as a suite rather than a series of songs, considering that it’s hard to tell where one ends and another begins. One singer will often sing a verse or two, in classical Arabic, and then hand off to another ensemble member. The mens’ voices are steady and stern much of the time, but cut loose on the more lively tunes with dancing, microtonal inflections. Often the choir will build a dusky ambience behind a single, repeating, bitingly chromatic riff. Other times they anchor the music with a practically feral, shamanic, low bass pulse: it’s amazing to hear a human voice go down that low.

The slow, funereal diptych that ends this brief, barely half-hour album has an instantly identifiable Egyptian trance music groove, boomy drums paired off against agile, lithely intertwining oud. It’s music to get lost in. Stream this and consider the casualties.

Summer Memories: Two Darkly Funny Solo Shows by Tunesmith Walter Ego

Good Cop: We’re baaaack!

Bad Cop: We refuse to be farmed out.

Good Cop: We’re back by popular demand! People like us! They request us!

Bad Cop: Au contraire. People hate us. Especially artists. Artists specifically request not to be reviewed by us. We scare them. [under his breath] Because we tell the truth.

Good Cop: But that’s not so scary! Maybe that’s why Blog Boss sent us to out to see not one but two Walter Ego shows this past summer. You notice we’ve gotten the call to cover all this summer’s primo shows?

Bad Cop: Hmm, maybe. But you know the real the reason we got the call to cover these two is because Blog Boss is a sadist. You think Blog Boss would have hesitated to go see Walter Ego if those two shows had been anywhere other than Sidewalk? This is Blog Boss’s way of saying to you and me, “You’re really nothing, the B team, you don’t really rate [waves his hand dismissively], you go to Sidewalk and suffer while I hang out in the VIP tent at Lincoln Center.”

Good Cop: Blog Boss’s loss. The sound at Sidewalk was actually pretty good both times Walter Ego played there, in mid-June and then last month. He’s playing there again this month on Sept 13 at 8 PM.

Bad Cop: Oh jesus, does this mean we have to go to Sidewalk again? Why can’t this guy play somewhere else?

Good Cop: C’mon, don’t tell me you haven’t noticed, the music at Sidewalk has improved a lot lately! You wanna know why that is? It’s because Somer is booking the place now…

Bad Cop [surprised, taken off guard]: Wow. That would explain a lot. I know her as a good singer and an excellent sound person so I guess this means she also has good taste. Although there’s still too much of the annoying Beck wannabes and dork-punk crowd there for my taste…

Good Cop: You’re so conditioned to everything in this city going to hell that you’re oblivious when anything good happens.

Bad Cop: I will say that I had fun both times we went to see Walter Ego. If I’m remembering correctly, the first one was quite the party…

Good Cop: No, that was the LJ Murphy show.

Bad Cop [rolls his eyes]: Omigod, you’re right. I don’t remember anything about that…

Good Cop: You’d better because we may be called on to report on it…

Bad Cop: You’re on your own with that one. But I do remember Walter Ego. The June show was longer and featured a lot more of his piano songs – in fact I think the August show didn’t have any piano songs. Which was too bad because I like the songs he plays on piano better than the ones he plays on guitar.

Good Cop: But the guitar songs were great too. The one that the audience really got into, which he played at both shows, was Dan Smith Will Teach You Guitar. A lot of Walter Ego’s songs are devastatingly funny and this is one of them.

Bad Cop: There’s a line in the song that goes, “He taught Berry to duckwalk and Frampton to boxtalk.” That kills me.

Good Cop: Yeah, I’m with you. In case you’re reading this and you’re not from New York, Dan Smith is sort of an urban legend: he’s a guitar teacher who festoons the city with flyers with his face on them…

Bad Cop: And has for 25 years and if the photo is to be believed, he hasn’t aged in 25 years. Needless to say, this is a sarcastic song and the crowd loved it. Another big hit was Mitterrand’s Last Meal. See, François Mitterrand was the President of France back in the 80s, he was ostensibly a socialist but, uh, you could say he kind of straddled the fence. And after a long battle with prostate cancer….

Good Cop: …which he may or may not have gotten from eating oysters from the English Channel that were contaminated by that awful French nuclear waste pipeline…

Bad Cop: …Mitterrand had one last meal before he literally pulled the plug on himself, more or less, and the meal began with an endangered bird that is actually a protected species and is illegal to eat in France. So right there you have a scenario that’s ripe for satire and Walter Ego made the most of it.

Good Cop: There were also a lot of other funny songs, more of those at the August show than the one in June. I really liked the one about simplifying your life, starting out with cutting back on clutter and ending up back in ocean as an amoeba…very Handsome Family, don’t you think?

Bad Cop: I liked the June show better. He did that creepy art-rock anthem I Am the Glass and really aired out his low register. Really Nick Cave-class, that good. And I think, I’m not clear on this, this was awhile ago, there was another morbid one, more of a straight-up noir cabaret tune, Half Past Late. If he didn’t do that one he did A Big Life, which is kind of a bittersweet waltz, a carpe diem message song that didn’t turn out to be trite or maudlin.

Good Cop: I liked the country song about the magician who makes magic disappear, in other words, what a killjoy. And that catchy, bouncy one that sounds like the Kinks, about getting knocked down, starting at the bottom of a new career, etcetera.

Bad Cop: Reputedly – I can’t personally vouch for this, but I’ll pass along the rumor – the September 13 gig will be the one where Walter Ego actually plays his original instrument, the bass, with a band behind him. It’s been awhile since he’s done that.

Good Cop: I can’t wait! Sidewalk, here we come!

Lake Street Dive Returns to Brooklyn After a Killer Doublebill with Sharon Jones

Good Cop: We’re taking over this blog, I tell you. We got to see the best concert of the entire summer, Lake Street Dive and Sharon Jones, out behind the World Financial Center. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Bad Cop: Don’t get all excited now. It’s the first concert we’ve covered here in two months. And this one was back in July.

Good Cop: For awhile I thought we’d always be the scrubs here, but now we’re getting to see the best shows in town. LJ Murphy, Jenifer Jackson, Serena Jost, and now Sharon Jones. So get ready to kick some ass!

Bad Cop: I’m not holding my breath. Lake Street Dive are basically an oldschool soul band with distorted guitar, would you say that pretty much sums them up?

Good Cop: That’s true, but let’s not confuse the audience, the loud guitar doesn’t make the music punk: it’s still soul music with roots in the 1960s. Think Smokey Robinson & the Miracles but with a woman out front, and a lot louder. And Rachael Price, their singer, just gets better and better. It’s like she was good last year but she’s great this year – and she just keeps finding ways to bend her notes more subtly, and belt more powerfully, and cajole and wail and do everything that makes a soul singer worth seeing. There are a million white girls with big voices out there trying to do the American Idol thing, but she’s something special. And the band was amazing. If you missed this show, Lake Street Dive are at the Bell House on Sept 15 at around 9.

Bad Cop: What really shocked me was that Lake Street Dive upstaged Sharon Jones. Which isn’t to say that Sharon Jones was bad – she was as amazing as she always is, which is even more impressive since the poor woman was coming off of chemotherapy and was probably fried just coming back from European tour. But Lake Street Dive drew the bigger crowd. Looking back, they should have headlined. That’s major.

Good Cop: I wouldn’t say that Lake Street Dive upstaged Sharon Jones. They outdrew her. Sharon Jones jumped, and stalked, and slunk across the stage and sweated up a storm. She’s cancer-free and was celebrating that and just glad to be alive, and the band and the audience fed off that energy. It was so heartwarming, I almost cried. But there’s no question that Lake Street Dive were the big draw.

Bad Cop: Interesting to compare the two crowds. Lake Street Dive: almost all-white, mostly female, monied, Upper West Side. [to Good Cop] Hmmm…could you pass for Upper West Side? Do you iron your hair?

Good Cop: [laughs] Naturally straight. [motions to her forehead] See, bangs!

Bad Cop: OK, I learn something new every day. Sharon Jones’ crowd: as you might expect, more ethnically diverse, more diverse incomewise too, several gaggles of gay Bushwick dudes.

Good Cop: She would have outdrawn Lake Street Dive pretty much anywhere in Notbrooklyn, and definitely in real Brooklyn. But the Bushwick dudes can’t leave Bushwick. Taking selfies in an untrendy neighborhood, no can do. Geotagging is a bitch…

Bad Cop: So let’s count our blessings we weren’t downwind of a bunch of stinky trendoids – and let’s tell the people about what we saw. There was a brass band who opened, who were insufferably boring…

Good Cop: …which might seem like an oxymoron because brass bands are exciting, almost by definition. I mean, why would you be in a brass band if you weren’t an extrovert, right? But this brass band somehow managed to find a way to be really tepid. I basically texted through their whole set. And that went on forever. I kept hoping they’d be done.

Bad Cop: Lack of tunes, that was the issue. But then Lake Street Dive came on and you were happy again.

Good Cop; Very. Cool contrast: intense guitar and vocals, Mike Olson and Rachael Price; slinky groove, Bridget Kearney on bass and Mike Calabrese on drums. Bridget didn’t take any solos like she usually does and that was too bad – but that was ok. A couple of songs had Olson playing trumpet and you’d think that with just trumpet, bass and drums, the sound would be really sketchy and skeletal, but it wasn’t.

Bad Cop: That’s the vocal harmonies. Everybody in the band sings. Did you notice that?

Good Cop: And they were good…

Bad Cop: Part of me wants to say that they have a totally contrived sound: they’ve completely internalized a whole lot of 1960s soul styles. And they’re on a label. Do you think they’re a creation of the marketing department? You know, a very clever imitation of the real thing? You’ve got Lady Gag for the pre-K crowd, Katy Perry for the gradeschoolers and Lake Street Dive for the smart kids?

Good Cop: No label would ever create a band for smart kids because that audience is way too small. And Lake Street Dive have been doing this since way back, before the label.

Bad Cop: OK. I discovered from watching the band this time that Bad Self Portraits, which is a satire of selfie narcissism and the title track from the band’s latest album, was written by Kearney. And I dug her evil chords on Johnny Tanqueray…

Good Cop: …which I love because it’s about this bad dude that no girl can resist, and every girl can relate to. Which might explain the crowd…

Bad Cop: For me the high point was where Rachael would hold the notes for, like, forever. And Rabid Animal, the pissed-off one about moving back to her parents’ basement.

Good Cop: We don’t know if that’s about her or not. I liked the two new songs they played: the slow one with the Beatlesque verse and the rocking Stonesy chorus, then Rachael’s big wounded ballad. The band really took the angst factor all the way up for that one.

Bad Cop: They’re a touring machine. I’m not a fan of pop music in general, as you know, but this band slays me: their songs are so catchy and they do everything right. They don’t waste notes. The songs don’t follow a predictable verse/chorus pattern. The singer is a monster and so is the bass player. And they don’t fall into the phony-gospel American Idol vocal trap.

Good Cop: Ha, they don’t use autotune either. Not that they need it.

Bad Cop: I was wondering when Sharon Jones’ band the Dap-King opened, whether they’d be babying her – especially since they started with that James Brown style intro, you know, the instrumental medley with all the hooks from the hits, and then the two backup singers doing their single and the B-side…

Good Cop: They were awesome! Bouncy wistful tonguetwisting stuff, straight from the bargain bins around 1973 – I mean that in a complimentary way…

Bad Cop: How ironic that stuff that sounds like it would have been a little too obscure to have been a hit back then would be the material a band would want to be playing 40 years later…

Good Cop: Audiences are pickier and more sophisticated now.

Bad Cop: I liked the boomy noir Clairy Browne style ones they did afterward. With a different beat the first one would have been a reggae song.

Good Cop: Wow, I hadn’t thought of that.

Bad Cop: Then Sharon came on and she was on top of her game. Purring and cajoling and strutting and shouting over catchy vamps with tantalizing little breaks for guitar, or baritone sax, or organ.

Good Cop: You’re right, this was kind of a dark set, which surprised me since this was a New York homecoming after the tour, and she’s healthy now, and she took a lot of time to celebrate that. But otherwise the songs were closer to the ones this band made backing Amy Winehouse: lurid and slinky and brooding.

Bad Cop: They’d pick up the pace and bring it down again: a couple of summery ballads, then a rainy-day number. The cover of I Heard It Through the Grapevine was a lot closer to the Tina Turner version. Then there was a catchy original right afterward that was a lot more cheery and bouncy, straight out of a John Waters 1965 scene. The backup singers joined in a lush, early 70s, jazzy number that sounded like the Three Degrees, then the set got gritty again, then there was a funky James Brown medley, Sharon’s long digression about how she’s healthy again, and then they closed with Retreat. Which is not exactly a happy song, and reinforces what you were talking about earlier.

Good Cop: Didn’t they do The Horse?

Bad Cop: Yeah, bits and pieces of that kept bubbling up in more than one song. This band does that a lot. They know every classic soul riff ever written and they can’t resist playing them. Which sometimes leaves you wondering whether they’re playing originals or obscure covers. That by itself proves how closely they nail those oldschool sounds, and of course that extends to the vocals as well.

Good Cop: Which did you end up liking better, Sharon Jones or Lake Street Dive?

Bad Cop: I never thought I’d ever say this, but I thought they were equally good. Although the crowd was annoying.

Good Cop: Yeah, but that’s always the risk you run with these outdoor shows.

Bad Cop: There was that yuppie brutalizing his wife, you remember, that fat girl with the frizzy hair next to us. That douchebag’s annoying nasal voice is all over my recording of the show. Remember, we had to move? I hope she shoots him.

Good Cop: I hope she gets away with it. I’ll give her an alibi!

Bad Cop: Yeah, and then we ended up behind that smelly guy and we had to move again.

Good Cop: Well, at least we had someplace to move to. You have to admit, it has been the best summer ever in this city, hasn’t it? You go back further than me. Can you remember such a great summer here, ever?

Bad Cop [pauses, thinks about it. Guardedly]: There have been excruciating summers where I’ve had more fun. But as far as your basic creature comfort, this summer is as good as I’ve ever seen it and that’s including the last few days which have been nasty. And we’ve got another summer show to relate here, but that’s going to wait til another day.

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