Eve Lesov looks kind of punk; her music has a classical tinge to it (it seems that every Russian has classical training). She plays an original, tuneful, moody mix of noir cabaret, chamber pop and gothic rock. Her songwriting also has a Spanish side. She’s a strong pianist, a fantastic singer with a dramatic, sometimes stagy flair and the kind of sardonic humor that so many Slavs have. She also has a shtick, “Russian devotchka in New York and things are crazy, man, but everything’s gonna be ok.” And she’s got an excellent, eclectic band. Saturday night at the Rockwood, Lesov led them through a set that was occasionally haunting, sometimes pensive, sometimes kinetic and often amusing.
Lesov’s drummer kept a terse, muted thump going through her mostly slow-to-midtempo songs using just a cymbal and a conga, which he played with mallets. Her excellent bassist added the occasional guitarlike flourish into his fluid grooves. Acoustic guitar mingled with Lesov’s stately piano chords and icy arpeggios; on a handful of songs, the band added balmy jazz flute on top of the mix for an unexpectedly tasty blend of textures.
They opened with a slow minor-key instrumental, Lesov wordlessly reaching for the top of her crystalline vocal range over a brooding chromatic bassline. Then they segued into a pensive bolero. A couple of big, crescendoing anthems bookended a slinky trip-hop groove that was the poppiest number of the set, yet it had the same kind of distant menace as most of the other songs. In a typically uneasy-funny moment, Lesov alluded to being kidnapped on her way over to the US – if that’s true, good thing she got away!
A little later, Lesov switched to guitar, the guitarist taking a turn on the drums while the drummer went to the piano and turned out to have impressively nimble, jazz-influenced chops. After Lesov sang her latest single, in Russian (with more of a clenched-teeth intensity than she had on any of the English-language material), the band closed with a slowly swaying, anthemic number that was part Britfolk, part stadium rock and part early 70s Bowie. Lesov seems to be making the Rockwood her home lately; she and the band will go slumming at Sidewalk on May 2 at 9 PM.
Afterward, it was great fun to go a few blocks north to catch LJ Murphy, who was also slumming at Sidewalk in a rare duo show with his phenomenal pianist Patrick McLellan. With Botanica‘s Paul Wallfisch making Germany his home base these days, McLellan has taken over as New York’s best rock keyboardist. He was on fire throughout the set, his Bernard Herrmann-esque horror cinematics on Mad Within Reason taking that song – the title track from Murphy’s album – to new levels of creepy surrealism. Likewise, he turned the snarling East Village Hell Night scenario This Fearful Town even more nightmarish with frantic, crazed midrange clusters. And then he backed away into graceful oldschool soul and gospel on the melancholy Waiting by the Lamppost. The rest of the show was a flurry of blues and jazz licks, Murphy growling and barking in his vintage voice through a mix of upbeat, anthemic numbers like the nonchalantly menacing Long Island murder anthem Pretty for the Parlor, the sardonic Imperfect Strangers and then the singalongs Blue Silence and Barbed Wire Playpen. Murphy has made a name for himself as a charismatic showman, bandleader and lyricist but now he’s got a guy on the keys who can match his intensity.