New York Music Daily

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Tag: noir music

Melanie DeBiasio Brings Her Haunting Jazz-Influenced Sonics to the Rockwood

Belgian chanteuse Melanie DeBiasio explains her music not as jazz but as influenced by it. Whatever genre she may fall into – torch song, soul, blues, indie classical or rock – it’s unquestionably noir. Go to DeBiasio’s bio at her webpage and see how gratuitously one writer managed to wrap up his review with a bit of dialogue from the classic film noir Ascenseur Pour L’Echaufaud…and the irony is that the reference actually isn’t gratuitous at all! DeBiasio has a second album, No Deal, streaming at Spotify and an album release show on Oct 1 at 8 PM at the big room at the Rockwood. The show is free but you have to rsvp to burexny@gmail.com.

DeBiasio straddles the line between brassy and brittle on the album’s achingly brief opening track, I Feel You against minimalist piano and swooshy cymbals, capping it off herself with a lingering bass flute solo. Singing in English with a bit of a Wallonian accent, she slinks into noir blues (in 11/4 time), dancing drums contrasting with ominously echoing Rhodes piano, on the album’s second track, The Flow.

DeBiasio’s stoic but wounded vocals on the album’s rainswept title track draw a straight line back to one of her big influences, Nina Simone, while the terse, pensive piano and outro atmospherics look back to Pink Floyd’s Richard Wright. Resonant piano and brushy drums build a Lynchian suspense on the instrumental With Love, followed by the swaying, syncopated noir blues Sweet Darling Pain, another vividly Nina Simone-influenced, hypnotic one-chord jam of sorts. Then DeBiasio does the same thing with I’m Gonna Leave You, a woozy electronic loop oscillating in the background. The album’s final, longest and most minimalist cut is With All My Love, eight-plus minutes of resignation and apprehension from DiBiasio against a brooding backdrop of spacious, distantly eerie drum rolls, piano and electronic atmospherics. Monochromatic? Absolutely: black and white and every shade of grey, like a good film noir.

JD Wilkes Brings One of His Great Bands to the Knitting Factory

Isn’t it cool when a band lives up to the name they have the balls to call themselves? From the early zeros through about the turn of the past decade, high-voltage Nashville gothic band the Legendary Shack Shakers became a cult favorite and a popular draw on the midsize club circuit. Lately frontman JD Wilkes, one of the real mavens of punk blues and Americana, has concentrated on his other, more blues-oriented project the Dirt Daubers. Wilkes’ latest Cheetah Chrome-produced recording, Wild Moon, features that appropriately named band (a dirt dauber is a particularly vicious wasp native to the Bible Belt), but most recently he’s been back with the Legendary Shack Shakers for a couple of tours, with an upcoming show on 9/11 at around 10 at the Knitting Factory. Tix are $14.

The new Dirt Daubers album – which other than a single Youtube clip of the title track, isn’t due out til Sept 24 – opens with a brief, brisk instrumental, Rod Hamdallah’s frenetic guitar intertwining with Wilkes’ Little Walter-style chromatic harp. Wilkes’ wife Jessica sings the swinging, snarling, noir gutter blues Apples & Oranges, with its Iggy Pop references and vernacular lyrics:

You can follow me down, hold my feet to the fire
Turn my pockets inside out
You know I’m in for a penny, down for a pound …
I’m taking my debts to the afterlife

With its screaming, bent-note Hamdallah guitar and twisted fire-and-brimstone imagery, the album’s title track continues in a careening noir blues vein. Drive brings to mind New York gutter blues band Knoxville Girls, but with better production values, another droll Iggy quote and a brief, gritty Wurlitzer solo from the frontman. His wife sings the shuffling No Rest for the Wicked, her seductive lyric contrasting with all the creepy guitar chromatics.

Wilkes’ low, haphazard minor-key piano adds to the doomed ambience on the suicide ballad No More My Love. Angel Crown brings to mind early Jon Spencer in simmering, low-key mode, with a creepy lyric about a dead baby underscored by echoey chromatic harp and Hamdallah’s broodingly rustic series of chords. Let It Fly is much the same but faster, followed by the torchy, lurid Clairy Browne-ish shuffle You Know I Love You, with more of that red-neon piano and smoky baritone sax from Tom Waits sideman Ralph Carney.

The macabre stomp Hidey Hole is the album’s creepiest track – what’s down in that hidey hole, anyway? – an appropriate place for Hamdallah to fire off his most memorable, menacing guitar solo. Throughout the album, there’s more than a hint of hypnotically unwinding Mississippi hill country blues, especially on Don’t Thrill Me No More, which is basically a long, moody one-chord jam.

River Song brings back a punk blues bounce, like a more lo-fi take on what Dylan did on Love & Theft. The album winds up with God Fearing People, which sounds like Smokestack Lightning at triplespeed. Dark, offhandedly savage, lo-fi electric blues doesn’t get any better than this. It wouldn’t be out of the question to hope for some of this stuff at Wilkes’ show at the Knit with his old band.

Alice Boman Brings Her Creepy Music to a Creepy Neighborhood

Alice Boman comes across as sort of a Nordic Julee Cruise, the Lynch girl at the bottom of the well. She’s got a new ep, her second, streaming at her Tumblr and a New York show coming up on Sept 14 at Baby’s All Right in Bed-Stuy sometime after 10, where catchy Seattle retro 60s psychedelic sunshine-pop band Tomten are opening the night at 8.

The new record’s first cut, simply titled What, sets the stage. There’s reverb on literally everything, lots of it – the piano, the ghostly vocals and the low-string guitar that hits on the beat, Angelo Badalamenti soundtrack style. All that reverb gives an orchestral lushness to what’s an otherwise very crystallized, simple tune.

“You know I need the darkness just as much as I need the light,” Boman intones as Over gets underway, funeral parlor organ swirling eerily over a simple, scratchy percussion track that sounds like an early 1970s drum machine. Burns is an airy, hypnotically minimalist piano-based lament, while Be Mine sets more of that funeral organ and electric piano over white-noise drum brushing and a similarly atmospheric, red-neon horn arrangement.

“Don’t know where I’m going, but I’m not alone,” Boman half-whispers on Lead Me, a diversion into folk noir. The last song on the ep is All Eyes on You, a portrait of longing and the most Julee Cruise-influenced song here. Boman also has a previous ep that’s even more lo-fi and minimalist. It’ll be interesting to see how much of this ambience Boman can replicate in a lo-fi ghetto space – this may take on the even more skeletal, minimalist feel of Boman’s debut ep.

Drina Seay Sings Haunting and Happy Americana at 2A

Drina Seay is one of the best-kept secrets in the New York Americana scene. Revered by her peers, she earned a reputation as a go-to harmony singer and then all of a sudden was fronting a killer band with a more-or-less regular residency at Lakeside Lounge. With Lakeside gone and Rodeo Bar out of the music business, she’s been without a home base, but she’s kept at it. She and the band – Homeboy Steve Antonakos on lead guitar, Monica “L’il Mo” Passin on bass and Eric Seftel on drums – were at the top of their game upstairs at 2A this past weekend, playing a characteristically rich mix of noir 60s rock, luridly torchy ballads, some janglerock and a little oldschool C&W.

The high point of the show was the slowest song, Chase My Blues Away. It’s a real showstopper, and Seay pulled out all the stops, beginning with just her own solo vocal-and-guitar intro before the drums came in, slow and dirgey. This time the song was more about the blues than chasing them away, at least until Antonakos did that midway through with a thrashing,  jaggedly menacing solo.

Seay kept the darkly twangy songcraft going, through a relatively new, enigmatic breakup song, part southwestern gothic, party noir Vegas shuffle, lit up by Antonakos’ eerie tarantella leads. His steely minimalist fills paired off against Seay’s crystalline, wounded vocals on Waking Up Crying. Then he played blazing slide guitar on the menacingly bouncy kiss-off anthem All For You over Passin’s torchy Pink Panther-style walking bassline.

Seay told the crowd that she’d written the unselfconsciously gorgeous, lushly nocturnal, oldtimey-flavored I Couldn’t Have Dreamed You on her ukulele, so she capoed her guitar way up in order to play the sweetly coy central hook. The rest of the set was more upbeat: the Sugar Magnolia-tinged Watcha Gonna Do; a slinky, nocturnal, Creedence-ish swamp rock tune; and a couple of animated, garage rock-flavored Antonakos tunes. They closed by taking Delaney & Bonnie’s early 70s top 40 hit Never Ending Song of Love full circle, back to the country that those Brits only wish they knew well enough to really get it right the first time around. Seay’s next show is Sept 19 at 9 PM at the Way Station in Ft. Greene; Antonakos is at Espresso 77, 35-57 77th St. in Jackson Heights tonight with his 1920s style Greek gangsta blues band Dervisi.

Changing Modes Bring Their Kinetic, Intense, Wickedly Tuneful Art-Rock to Spectrum

Art-rock band Changing Modes play some of the catchiest songs of any current New York band, plus they’re a lot of fun to watch. Part of that is because their musicianship is on such a high level, on par with a jazz or classical group. In the past, they’ve had as many as three keyboardists. The latest edition of the band has bandleader Wendy Griffiths sharing lead vocals with co-keyboardist Grace Pulliam while Yuzuru Sadashige switches between guitar and bass over drummer Timur Yusef’s undulating, shapeshifting groove. The album release for their new one, Traveling Light, at Bowery Electric last month was one of the best shows of the year. They’ve got another gig coming up at Spectrum, the sonically delicious, comfortable Ludlow Street space on August 23 at 9 PM for $15.

At the Bowery Electric gig, just when it seemed that Griffiths was going to be playing all the elegant, plaintive, classically-tinged piano lines and Pulliam was in charge of supplying an endlessly kaleidoscopic series of synth and organ textures (and synth bass when Sadashige played guitar) , the two would switch roles. On several songs, Griffiths emerged from behind her keys to play bass, bopping animatedly along with Yusef’s irrepressible drive. He and Pulliam were all smiles; Sadashige seemed to be the calm center of the storm while Griffiths played the role of mystery girl, deadpan and serious in contrast to her animated vocals and harmonies with Pulliam.

Guest Vincent Corrigan took a handful of cameos on vocals, on a duet of the briskly pulsing, sardonic breakup narrative Red and then Ship, a swaying disaster tale, which he brought to a climax with a long bellow worthy of Bruce Dickinson, or David Lee Roth for that matter. That contrasted with his stately, expressive crooning on the chamber pop piano ballad Sycamore Landing.

What was most striking about the show was that some of the strongest songs in the set weren’t from the new album. Too Far Gone, with its clave beat and Police-like hooks, turned into a springboard for savage tremolo-picking, eerily dancing postpunk riffs and bluesmetal spirals from Sadashige. And Shangri-La juxtaposed chromatically-charged X guitar riffage and a menacingly cinematic guitar/keys interlude with a telling Leonard Cohen reference. The songs from the album were just as memorable: the apocalyptic, Rasputina-esque piano-pop opening track, Dinosaur; the slyly feline narrative Jeanine; an understatedly creepy take of the darkly enigmatic, rhythmically shifting In June and Fly, a bitter, even creepier escape anthem.

Tift Merritt and Eric Heywood Play Intimate, Gorgeous Existentialist Americana at Lincoln Center

The last time Tift Merritt played a hometown show, she sold out Rough Trade in Williamsburg. Thursday night at the Lincoln Center Atrium, the seats were full, and there were plenty of people lined along the wall toward Columbus Avenue watching her take a break from the ongoing Andrew Bird tour for a rare duo show with guitar genius Eric Heywood. Where was everybody else? For most people in this city, Lincoln Center is a lot easier to get to than Williamsburg.

Whatever the case, the show was in a lot of ways a reprise of Emmylou Harris’ concert across the street the previous night. Where that one was a launching pad for innumerable, soulful, intense solos from guitarist Jedd Hughes and pedal steel player Steve Fishell, this one gave Heywood a platform for his purist, incisive, similarly lyrical chops, on both pedal steel and acoustic guitar. It helped that he had Merritt’s equally intense, tuneful songs to play those solos on.

Merritt has never sung better, varying her delivery from the angst-ridden, throaty chirp she’s been relying on over the last few years, to every possible shade of crystalline and clear. Midway through the show, she and Heywood moved to a central mic, then backed away from it and the volume actually rose as Merritt leaned back and belted. Admitting to being especially wired on caffeine, she made good on a promise to chat up the crowd. Some of her banter coyly hinted at background on her vivid yet enigmatic storytelling. She explained how the friend whose North Carolina beach house Merritt had rented had misidentified herself in one particular balmy, summery number. And Spring, Merritt’s hauntingly insistent anthem about living at peak intensity (this one lit up by Heywood’s creepy, smoky pedal steel) turned out to be inspired by the tree outside Merritt’s apartment window. But her most revealing comment was that “no song is about any one thing,” which capsulizes her m.o. as a writer.

Sweet Spot revealed itself not as a love song but as an individualist’s forlorn lament, longing for an escape to where she can be finally be herself. Moving to the piano, Merritt described Small Town Relations as “vicious,” and sang that portrait of smalltown nosiness with a dismissive vengefulness that hit a cruel, whispery sneer on the final verse while Heywood matched her simmering rage line for line. Later on, he colored the all-acoustic songs with elegant flatpicking, tersely bending leads that mirrored his work on the steel, and even flickering Pat Metheny-esque pastoral colors on a hypnotic, vamping number toward the end of the set. Merritt sent a graceful, Aimee Mann-tinged shout-out to buskers with one anthem, weighed existential angst versus contentment on Traveling Alone and Still Not Home, hit a plaintive, wistful peak early on in a raptly gorgeous take of Feel of the World and encored with a quietly triumphant version of Feeling of Beauty. Merritt and Heywood have since returned to the Andrew Bird tour (which, judging from their Central Park Summerstage show in late June, is amazing); the remaining dates are here.

Individualistic Pianist Yelena Eckemoff Brings the Lights Up from Noir to Grey

Pianist Yelena Eckemoff inhabits the eerie netherworld somewhere between jazz, classical and film music. Russian-born, classically trained, jazz-inclined, she’s one of this era’s most individualistic and instantly recognizable artists. Her back catalog is full of icily intense, glacial themes that are the essence of noir. She’s got a new album, A Touch of Radiance, which raises the luminosity factor to the level of the aurora borealis…maybe. She and the band on the album are playing the release show at the Jazz Standard at 7:30 and 9:30 PM on August 12; cover is $20 and well worth it (and the venue has delicious food).

Eckemoff has assembled a brave choice of supporting cast. Vibraphonist Joe Locke is one of the most gripping, intense players in all of jazz and one of the standout soloists in Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans rarities band. Drummer Billy Hart is the motive force behind the Cookers, arguably the best postbop jazz group alive. Tenor sax player Mark Turner can play anything but is inclined toward the avant garde: he’s got a Jazz Standard gig coming up in September and an album out on ECM. Bassist George Mraz has a checkered past and does a lot to redeem himself here. There’s ostensibly an autobiographical tangent to the album, although the songs and the moods drift from it – which makes it all the more interesting.

The opening track starts with a morosely twinkling intro that quickly morphs into a strolling swing groove that still has Eckemoff looking over her shoulder: the trouble is not over yet, and the pairing with Locke’s vibraphone magnifies the eerie glimmer a thousand times over. It’s a brilliant touch that fits Eckemoff to a T (anybody remember that Twin Peaks movie theme that Locke did with Bill Mays?). They go back to creepy at the end.

The album’s second cut blends blues into Eckemoff’s wounded, shattered motives, Turner taking a pensively hazy solo early on, Mraz driving a dubwise pulse until Eckemoff decides to go for a bit of a bluesy swing before turning it over to Locke, who teams with Hart and says the hell with sadness. But then Hart brings back the sepulchral gloom, all by himself! Who would have thought he had it in him?

Track three is a very effective small-group take on Gil Evans bossa noir. Any exuberance here is credit to Turner, Locke seizing the chance to take it back into the shadows even while the band is quietly swinging. The fourth cut evokes Frank Carlberg at his most evilly phantasmagorical (like on his amazing Tivoli Trio album): this time, everybody is in it, Turner leading the way, Locke close behind. If this is love, then we’re all doomed.

The next cut bounces along heavily. As a cr0ss-genre mashup, it’s sort of the jazz equivalent of a Finnish surf rock song, Eckemoff and Turner jumping at the chance to leap through a series of minor changes and an absolutely creepy, jungly rhythmic thicket. After that, the band sways and swooshes with a Baltic chill through a shapeshifting waltz. The following track is hilarious: ponderous funk and then disco, on this otherwise brutally serious album? The band keeps a poker face all the way through.

Track eight, Tranquility (song titles are an afterthought in the Eckemoff book) has Turner and Locke hinting at balminess before Eckemoff brings it down to earth. It’s a cool (well, chilly) contrast between African-American jazz and Russian classical idioms. Hart’s chill clave drive gives the next track, a low-key, first-gear Mack truck diesel groove. It’s like a portrait of this year’s New York summer: hot days, mercifully cool nights. After all the gravitas, Eckemoff finally achieves the synthesis she’s been shooting for with the title track, a cinematic, crescendoing theme that would have worked for a late-night 70s sitcom (maybe one with a vampire).

Throughout the album, Eckemoff plays with sepulchrally confident chops and an unassailable upper-register glimmer: she’s never met a spiraling icicle phrase she couldn’t nail. For people who like nine-minute songs, and dark music in general, this is one of those rare albums that’s an absolute must-own – and one of the best of 2014. Stream it at Eckemoff’s webpage and decide for yourself.

Briana Layon & the Boys Bring Their Menacing, Heavy Intensity to Arlene’s

Briana Layon’s bio at her web page compares her to both the Runaways’ Cherie Currie and Jinx Dawson of Coven, which is ok for starters, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The trouble with the current crop of women with big voices – and Layon has an epic one – is that so many of them are American Idol-ing it, all show, no substance, one watered-down gospel riff after another. Or even worse, they do the dorky SING-song-EY her-KY-jer-KY up-AND-down Tourette’s thing that spewed out from emo into the dogshit pile of Disney autotune pop. Briana Layon doesn’t go for that – it seems she’d rather be her own person. Which is why she’s not on American Idol. Briana Layon & the Boys, her smart, ferocious, blues and metal-infused heavy rock band, have a killer album, Touch and Go streaming at Bandcamp and a show at 7 PM on August 20 at Arlene’s for $5.

What’s coolest about the album is that a lot of these songs are long, with plenty of room for Layon to hit a bitter, gale-force wail and hang there, or for brilliant lead guitarist Chris DiBerardino to scorch the earth with a deep arsenal of stylistic assaults. The opening track is All Yours, a catchy three-minute bluesmetal tune, Layon bringing to mind two other distinctive, charismatic frontwomen, Spanking Charlene‘s Charlene McPherson and then Ann Wilson of Heart, rising to a searing wail at the end. The title track has DiBerardino delivering vamping, clustering early 70s riffage with a hint of funk and some cool, evilly chromatic Buck Dharma glissandos.

Pistolero could be a standout track from the first couple of AC/DC records, bassist Josh Castellano’s chords lurking at the bottom with solid drummer Vlad Hancu, who trades off with DiBerardino on the chorus. Teach Me is unexpectedly subtle, DiBerardino channeling Keith Richards with his catchy chords on the verse and then going to an Angus Young growl on the chorus, Castellano delivering a rare snappy bass solo that doesn’t suck.

Cut My Man opens with an icy, watery lead over a sketchy, muted riff, Layon joining in the ominous ambience and then rising toward murderous rage, airing out her wounded low range and in the process channeling the Sometime Boys‘ Sarah Mucho. They take it out as a waltzing danse macabre – this is just plain awesome, one of the best songs of the year.

Playing Dead is a menacingly elegant noir soul ballad in the Clairy Browne vein, Layon rising from an aptly ghostly purr to a roaring peak. Rope blends sludgy Spanking Charlene-style punk and fuzzy early 70s style metal riffage – ironically, it’s as close to “R&B” as Layon gets here. Sticky Wicket (meaning tight spot, a term taken from cricket, the British empire’s ancestor to baseball) is the closest thing to funkmetal here, DiBerardino capping it off with a gritty wah solo.

Castellano’s pitchblende Geezer Butler lines anchor a sweet, vintage Iron Maiden-style hook on Vanagloria – it would make a good three-minute-thirty track from Number of the Beast. Tell Me I’m Good blends jaunty flamencoesque flourishes from DiBerardino, a dancing pulse from the bass and Layon channeling her usual luridness.

Dear Friend starts out as a 6/8 soul ballad with organ lurking in the background, Layon putting a teens update on pensive Vera Beren-style theatrics – her shivery, low-key outro is just as chilling as her fullscale wail. The album peaks out with Looks Like Rain, which is not the Grateful Dead song but an eerily atmospheric art-metal piece that if you listen very closely sounds suspiciously like it might have had another life as a trip-hop pop song. It’s amazing what a tricky time signature and a great band can do for a tune.

Changing Modes Add to Their Legacy As One of the Great New York Bands

Quick: who’s the best rock songwriter in New York? Wendy Griffiths of Changing Modes is on the shortlist, no question. Quietly and efficiently, the keyboardist/bassist and her artsy, new wave-flavored band have put out a series of bitingly lyrical, wickedly catchy albums, all of which are streaming at Spotify. They’ve got a new one, The Paradox of Traveling Light, their sixth full-length album, due out momentarily and a release show at 9 PM on July 19 at Bowery Electric. Much as Changing Modes have made a name for themselves for elegant arrangements and shapeshifting tunes, they’re great fun live. Griffiths may be unsurpassed at creating a nonchalantly menacing ambience, but onstage she’s full of surprises, and the band feeds off her energy.

She also has a devious sense of humor, and that’s in full effect from the first few beats of Timur Yusef’s garage-rock drum intro on the album’s opening track, Dinosaur. A trickily rhythmic piano-pop song, it could be a snarky commentary on trendoids, or the human race in general on the fast track to the apocalypse. Griffiths’ scream on the way out is classic, Jello Biafra-class evil.

She works a neon luridness on the second track, Red, one of a handful of guy/girl duets here with the stagy-voiced Vincent Corrigan. The two spar and threaten each other over a punkish guitar-driven backdrop that brings to mind vintage X. The band follows that with the moody, Siouxsie-esque new wave anthem Give Up the Ghost, Griffiths and co-keyboardist Grace Pulliam shifting shades up to an expansive but purposeful Yuzuru Sadashige guitar solo.

The guy sings Sycamore Landing, an elegantly troubled 6/8 piano ballad that would fit perfectly in the Neil Finn catalog. In June alternates between a bouncy but creepy pulse and lingering atmospherics, a rich study in contrasts that might be a breakup song…or it might be about a suicide. That’s what makes Griffiths’ songwriting so interesting: she never hits anything head on, always drawing the listener into the mystery.

The one cover here is Black & Grey, a surprisingly solid, pensive song by otherwise lightweight quirk-pop band the Dream Bitches. Jeanine is the most lighthearted song here, and it’s not the first one the band has done about a cat. Fly morphs from macabre to wryly hilarious (Yusef gets the punchline), a bitter suburban escape anthem. Ride keeps the menacing chromatics going over a brisk new wave pulse, Griffiths’ venomous lyric driven to a crescendo by a snarling Sadashige guitar solo.

Lately takes an unlikely blend of spacerock lyrics and a brisk, surfy, organ-fueled groove and makes it all work: it seems to be a death-in-space scenario. The album ends with Sadashige’s pensive Triangle Heart, an understatedly dark ballad that shifts tempos all the way through to a funereal, tremoloing Griffiths organ solo that perfectly caps off this troubled and sometimes wrenchingly beautiful album, a strong contender for best of 2014.

Intensely Fun Summer Concerts by Nicole Atkins and the Universal Thump

Nicole Atkins and her “band of Daves,’ as she put it – on lead guitar, electric piano and organ, bass and drums – played a soaringly eclectic, richly tuneful set to kick off this year’s outdoor concert series at Madison Square Park. What was most striking about the concert was the welcome absence of the cheesy keyboard textures that gunk up some otherwise excellent songs on Atkins’ latest album, Slow Phaser. Aside from a diversion into that on a swaying, funky tune early in the set, her keyboardist stuck to fluid organ fills and elegantly glimmering electric piano.

They opened with the new album’s first song, Who Killed the Moonlight, putting more emphasis on lingering, uneasy atmospherics than the disco bounce of the studio version. The bassist gave it a slinky groove as the lead player added terse, red-neon, noirish fills and bends. Atkins’ wounded outsider presence on the sardonic Cool People provided an edge that transcended all the purloined Beatles and Lou Reed licks. Atkins reaffirmed why she has such a devoted fan base, showing off a spectacular vocal range that she varied from low and apprehensive to some spine-tingling flights to the upper registers, adding subtle blues and soul tinges and then some grit at the end as her voice began to go ragged after all that exertion.

She and the band maintained the intensity with the organ-fueled ba-bump noir cabaret tune Gasoline Bride and its creepy slowdown at the end, then the slow, angst-fueled Vera Beren-esque 6/8 ballad The Way It Is, part darkly Orbisonesque Americana, part gothic art-rock. Atkins took that to a peak with the wickedly catchy Maybe Tonight, an anguished blue-eyed Motown hit as towering as anything Gary Usher wrote for Gary Puckett back in the 60s.

Girl You Look Amazing, another tune that’s pretty straight-up disco on the new album, took on extra bite with a more straight-ahead beat underneath Atkins’ sarcastic dig at a would-be pickup artist. Interestingly, they gave We Wait Too Long a swooshy, misterioso groove, in contrast to the album’s more direct, regret-laden version.

After the hypnotically loping, darkly bluesy Vultures, with its creepily twinkling electric piano, they tiptoed and swayed through the longing and bitterness of Red Ropes, the most luridly noir song on the new album.

Atkins’ cynical sense of humor came front and center on It’s Only Chemistry, a sardonic battle-of-the-sexes narrative, and then an aching take of The Worst Hangover, whose narrator is so miserable (and possibly still so drunk) that she ends up calling an ambulance. It was too bad that the lead player missed his chance to take The Tower – the crushing, potentially explosive anthem that’s sort of Atkins’ signature song – to a logically pyrotechnic peak, instead drifting unexpectedly into nebulously metal territory. After everything that had come before, it would have been the perfect way to end the show. It took a siren echoing across the park from further north to add just the right touch of horror as the song wound out. The Madison Square Park series of free concerts continues on July 16 at 7 PM with French jazz pianist Jacky Terrasson and his group.

And it was good to be able to catch about half an hour of a show that promised to be even better beforehand several blocks north at Bryant Park, where keyboardist/songwriter Greta Gertler’s lush art-rock band the Universal Thump aired out some of the soaring, often epic songs from their massive triple-cd debut album along with some tantalizing new tunes. Gertler’s elegantly intricate electric piano mingled with the otherworldly vocal harmonies of Las Rubias Del Norte‘s Emily Hurst and Allyssa Lamb over the terse pulse of drummer Adam D. Gold and bassist Byron Isaacs. Guitarist Oren Bloedow – the noir mastermind behind art-rockers Elysian Fields, and a longtime Jenifer Jackson collaborator – kept a low-key, blue-flame intensity going, finally rising to a savagely insistent attack as the show hit a peak right about at the midway point. And then it was time to head south.

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