New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: punk music

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.

The Puff Pieces Revisit a Classic Postpunk Sound

Washington, DC postpunk project the Puff Pieces’ debut 7″ ep New Nazis (streaming at Bandcamp) is a trip back in time to a 1981 of the mind, when kids flocked to college-town record stores to blow their Reagan Recession paychecks on expensive Gang of Four import lp’s they’d never heard…or crammed themselves into tiny basement studios to record simple, snarling, tinny, politically-fueled cassettes, using just a single guitar, bass and drumkit. But this one was recorded last year – presumably on digital equipment, although it has a lo-fi analog sound – by frontman Mike Andre with E.D. Sedgwick’s Justin Moyer and Weed Tree’s Amanda Huron.

These skronky, propulsive, sketchily funky songs are short, evoking the Gang of Four as well as legendary/obscure DC band the Urban Verbs. The briskly marching first track, with its jagged upper-register guitar shrieks, trebly bassline and uneasy, off-key vocals, makes deadpan mockery of taking tests for this and that. The title track has a similarly sarcastic, vamping pulse, the bass carrying the melody: “What are you gonna think when the new Nazis spill your drink?” Andre asks, and it gets more disturbing from there. The third tune strips the idea of capitalism down to the caveman competition that it essentially is: it’s the most straight-up punk of all the songs here. The scampering, bass-driven final cut makes fun of the spend-and-consume economy: the credit card joke at the end might be a little obvious, but it’s too good to spoil. Big picture ideas, catchy simple riffs, and you can dance to all of them.

Tantalizingly Short Songs From Punk Band Girl Tears

LA punk band Girl Tears‘ album Tension – streaming at Bandcamp - has the same spirit as Guided by Voices’ latest one, Cool Planet. The band teases you with songs that flash by in two minutes or considerably less, which could easily go on three or four times as long as they do without being boring. But just like the Dead Kennedys – a group they don’t resemble, for what it’s worth – they like short songs. They also like minor keys and uneasy, unpredictable postpunk chord changes, in the same vein as early Wire. Some of these fragmentary tunes – a lot of them with just a single verse and a blip of a chorus – sound like the Hussy without the weed. Others bring to mind Thee Oh Sees without all the noise and the lengthy intros and outros: you could pack most of this album into a long Oh Sees jam.

The opening track, Kill For Love, isn’t particularly murderous, a fuzzy downstroke punk guitar tune that’s over in barely two minutes. The barely minute-long Jinx sets the tone for wickedly catchy major-minor guitar changes: “I’m just shit” is the reverb-drenched vocal mantra. With its tumbling drumrolls, Lobotomy is the first Oh Sees soundalikes, albeit a lot more succinct. The band follows that with the steady, sarcastic Dream Baby, which wraps up in about a minute, followed by Candy Darling, which takes a classic, Lynchian noir pop tune and punks it out.

Alone packs an awful lot of cool, unexpected chord changes and hints of glamrock into just a verse and a chorus. Because brings back the noir punk vibe, followed by Suffocate (as in “I’ll hold you til you suffocate.”) There’s also a small handful of lickety-split hardcore numbers: Never Again, the kiss-off dis You’re Nothing, and the viciously chromatic title track, where the bass finally gets to emerge from the sonic morass for a second with the drums before disappearing again into the maelstrom. Because the album’s so short, it’s best appreciated as a whole. Blast it after a bad day at work or school and you’ll be better off. Oh yeah – it’s available on cassette!!!

A Grim Look into the Future from HUMANWINE

Boston’s best band, HUMANWINE have been making important, politically insightful, exhilarating Romany-flavored punk rock and noir cabaret for over a decade. They’re the closest thing to the Clash or the Dead Kennedys that we have right now. Those comparisons are especially appropriate considering that HUMANWINE (a cryptic acronym for Humans Underground Making Anagrams Nightly While Imperialistic Not-Mes Enslave) don’t just write songs about doom and despair under an all-seeing Orwellian eye. The band’s core, frontwoman Holly Brewer and guitarist/keyboardist Matthew McNiss envision an alternate future that’s NOT a corporate fascist surveillance state. Since the band came up right after the Bush/Cheney coup d’etat in 2000, their response has been venomous, and sarcastic, and articulate right from the start. They see this happening in their own country, and they take it personally. More of us should.

Right now they have a characteristically creepy, carnivalesque new album, Fighting Naked, and an ep, Mass Exodus, up at their Bandcamp page as name-your-price downloads, as ominously entertaining as they are prophetic. The music on the album is intense, and feral, and anthemic, and the message is spot-on. Are we going to be hypnotized by the “hypocritical fascist porno priests on the tv selling you shit you don’t need, ” while we let the billionaires and their multinational cartels inch us closer and closer to fullscale slavery – or are we going to join forces, all of us, delete our Facebook accounts and then give Big Brother the boot? It’s our call.

Many of the corrosively propulsive narratives here are told from the point of view of exiles and freedom fighters battling a murderous occupation. Some are set in the imaginary fascist state of Vinland, which is basically the world taken forward a few years to where every move a person makes is recorded and watched. But as Brewer reminds on the live acoustic version of the catchy, defiant protest anthem 1st Amendment, surveillance can work both ways. Who’s watching the watchers?

The first track on the album is a macabre punkmetal waltz, UnEntitled States of Hysteria, Brewer’s machinegun vocals splattering a grim tableau of life under the occupation, with a snide outro that makes the connection between medieval witch trials and this era’s demonization of so-called terrorists. The next cut, Big Brother, a Middle Eastern-tinged punk tune, is more defiant and optimistic: when the “Eye of the pyramid is keeping track of your every move, every day your thoughts are all you got – so go and do what you gotta do.”

Tumbling drums – is that Brian Viglione or Nate Greenslit? – and McNiss’ murderously growing low-register guitar fuel the title track, another creepy waltz. Wake Up is next, a sarcastic, surreal lullaby that morphs into a viciously sarcastic faux military march, followed by a punk sea chantey that offers a hint of comic relief.

“Sometimes families change…create your own,” Brewer sings coldly on the chorus of Epoch, which opens as a deliciously ominous, Britfolk-tinged number and then bounces toward Balkan musical territory in 5/4 time. Likewise, the album’s most macabre song, Worthless Ode, shifting from a morbid march to a Transylvanian dance: it’s about love during wartime, and it doesn’t end well. Another menacing waltz, Script Language sounds like Vera Beren covering Trans-Siberian Orchestra, with some brooding trumpet from the Ghost Train Orchestra‘s Brian Carpenter.

The banjo-driven Rivolta Silenziosa has a World Inferno-style noir cabaret feel, shifting uneasily between low-key and anguished. The most vivid of the Bush-era parables is the pensive, defeated, Pink Floyd-ish art-rock anthem When in Rome: “You can’t see the dead as they’re arriving – many more in the back are under flags and hiding,” Brewer intones. The album ends with a radio transmission from Vinland, the hardy few remaining trying to enjoy themselves with “an apocalyptic night on the town,” or what remains of it, Brewer taking it up and out with an operatic intensity.

The ep also includes Our Devolution Is Televised, whose recurrent mantra is “Can’t you feel the lockdown?”, and the raging, surreal Death Wish for the Impostor. These are great albums, and they’re important ones. The whole point of this music is that in times like these, you become either a hero or a zero: it falls to ordinary people like us to do heroic things. And history is on our side: there’s plenty of precedent. The Nazis weren’t defeated by a race of giants. It was people just like you and everybody else who risked their lives – and lost them, sometimes – to put an end to that particular strain of fascism. We really don’t have any other choice. Imagine what the guards at Auschwitz would have done with GPS technology.

HUMANWINE are playing the album release show for these two on June 10 at the Lizard Lounge, 1667 Mass Ave. in Cambridge, Massachusetts with their acoustic side project the Folks Below opening.

Karikatura Plays Dance Music for the New York That the Corporate Media Doesn’t Want You to Know About

Karikatura‘s music is what happens when smart kids get together in a multicultural city. Their catchy, danceable blend of salsa, ska, reggae, funk, latin rock and soul, Romany and Russian music, is an indelible New York sound. It’s a stretch to imagine a band from Alaska having as diverse influences as this crew. And as much as you probably wouldn’t typically expect dance music to have excellent lyrics, Karikatura’s does, reflecting the unease of life in a city ravaged by gentrification and its consequences. Pretty much any oldschool New Yorker will find themselves at home in this band’s songs, notwithstanding how much originality and cross-pollination is going on. Karikatura are playing the album release show for their new full-length debut, Eyes Wide (some of which is up at their Bandcamp page) on June 1 at around 9 at Bowery Electric; cover is $10.

The band’s arrangements are deceptively spare. There’s always something interesting going on: Eric Legaspi’s dancing basslines, biting riffs from the alto sax and trombone, a ringing Dima Kay guitar lick, or a suspenseful percussion break. And nobody wastes notes. The album’s title track, a bracing latin reggae tune, sets the stage, frontman Ryan Acquaotta chronicling what happens when the real estate mob decides to take over a sketchy part of town: “With the luxury developments they’re packing in, propaganda that the neighborhood is back again, watch whoever is moving in after, blowing their cover.” And then the displacement of the people who call it home begins.

Likewise, Viennese Doors makes an intense, guitar-fueled anthem out of a dispirited urban picture: “Walkup, kitchen shower, dishes piled up, count the hours, killing time on dirty sofa, losing mind games over and over.” Get Together makes moodily tense, slow latin soul out of Walk on Wild Side changes, with multi-reedman Joe Wilson’s jazzy horn chart and a barrage of global warming-era disaster images. The band picks up the pace with the cynical, spot-on Coney Island Romany ska-punk anthem Brighton Beach, alto sax and trombone trading animated bars in a shady part of town run by an “immigrant citizen mafia government,” its buildings with both a “balcony oceanview” and a “basement workers’ room,” where the beach is “an undressed democracy.”

Someone gets an up-to-the-moment spin on the kind of tropical sounds the Clash were nicking on Sandinista: “Don’t want you wrapped up in ribbons, better naked in my honest opinion,” Acquaotta tells a girlfriend. On Bailarina, the band quotes the classic Moroccan freedom fighter anthem Ya Rayyeh in between verses about a guy halfheartedly trying to pick up a girl in a club. Stubborn works a spare, calypso-flavored groove, while NYC Hustle mixes elements of dancehall reggae and dub into a high-energy, psychedelic shout-out to immigrant dreams in the big city. Likewise, Acquaotta sings the gritty around-the-way anthem Soy Quien Soy in sardonic Spanglish, a latin funk tune with tinges of psychedelic cumbia, soulfully resonant trombone mingling with jangly guitar.

Ashes, with its loopy rhythms and unexpectedly fiery guitar interlude, looks at interior, interpersonal unease. Honey Bee sets a shuffling, syncopated clave tune over an altered Motown bassline. The vamping latin soul song Death or a Hurricane blends in hints of merengue, plus a sax solo played through a wah pedal like a muted trumpet. The album winds up with the lilting English-language samba Ocean Blue and its lively seaside ambience. This is a soundtrack for the future of New York, and for that matter, the world: multicultural, politically aware, defiantly fun, and danceable as hell. What a great time for music and a rough time for just about everyone.

Golem Creates a Monster New Album

Golem are sort of the klezmer counterpart to both Gogol Bordello and World Inferno: all three bands came out of New York around the same time. Golem’s shtick is that they use biting old Jewish melodies as a springboard for edgy punk rock, crazy circus rock and straight-up hotshot klezmer. They’re playing the album release show for their new one, Tanz, at Joe’s Pub on May 29 at 9:30; cover is $14. The sedate, shi-shi venue has no idea what kind of madness they’ve gotten themselves into.

The current version of this band is probably the best ever. Sardonic, charismatic frontman Aaron Diskin and whirlwind accordionist Annette Ezekiel Kogan trade verses over the explosive rhythm section of Taylor Bergren-Chrisman on bass and Tim Monaghan on drums. The two lead instruments are Jeremy Brown’s searing violin and Curtis Hasselbring’s trombone, which typically takes a more brooding, ominous role.

The new album opens with 740, a hardcore tune that sounds like the Dead Kennedys gone to some ancient Ukrainian shtetl. Freydele brings to mind early-zeros Gogol Bordello doing a briskly swaying klezmer theme with funky chord-chopping guitar, a purposeful spacious trombone solo, and droll, surreal rhymes from Diskin. I’m a Snake has snarling, agitated harmonies from the violin and trombone, wailing against each other as Diskin and Kogan pair off. Love You All the Time is a very funny, rapidfire litany of things your mom doesn’t want you to do, from skiing in a blizzard to smoking menthols and drunk texting.

The brooding, reggae-tinged Mikveh Bath is literally drenched in history: Kogan’s understatedly plaintive vocals leave no doubt how much the song’s soon-to-be bride is dreading her wedding night, wondering if the guy she’s been married off to will be a good guy or a creep. By contrast, Miskayt is a hilariously strutting tango about a twisted couple who (spoiler alert) turn out to be perfect for each other despite their, um, imperfections.

With My Horse, the band makes galloping spaghetti western rock out of an old Russian tune: as usual with this band, there’s a biting irony and sarcasm underneath all the jokes. Here, Diskin’s narrator speaks German with the guards, Ukrainian with the other guys he’s locked up with, but it’s his horse – a mensch unlike all the people around him – that he can address in his mother tongue.

After Kogan sings a lickety-split, punk take of the klezmer standard Odessa, Diskin brings back the jokes with Poletim, a breakneck, snidely vaudevillian account of a team of inept would-be hijackers trying to get a plane from Vladivostok to Israel. The album’s title track turns out to be a deviously artful remake of David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, followed by Tum Balalaika, a springboard for some seriously feral Dick Dale style guitar tremolo-picking. That’s the album’s high point, musically; songwise, it’s the last track, Vodka Is Poison. Kogan and Diskin trade verses about why it either “Makes you round, makes you soft, makes it hard to get aloft,” or “Makes you happy, makes you free, makes you wish that you were me!” Is this the best album of the year? It’s one of them.

Iconic Dead Boys Guitarist Cheetah Chrome Returns to His Old Stomping Ground with a Brilliant New Album

Cheetah Chrome‘s career as an iconic lead guitarist hardly stopped when the Dead Boys called it quits the first time around. He went on to lead the Cheetah Chrome Motherfuckers, returning sporadically to his old CBGB band when they’d pull themselves together again for awhile back in the 80s and later, reunited Cleveland legends Rocket from the Tombs. Now based in Nashville, Chrome has made a name for himself as a producer, but he’s also a first-class if not overwhelmingly prolific songwriter. He’s coming back to town for a Dives of New York tour in the middle of the month on an excellent doublebill with edgy Nashville honkytonk singer Paul Burch. On May 15 they’re at Manitoba’s at 9ish, at the Delancey on May 17 and then upstairs at 2A on May 18 at around 9.

Chrome also has an absolutely brilliant solo album (Spotify link) out recently. Some of the tracks date from a Genya Ravan-produced 1996 session, the rest recorded in 2010 with a killer band including former New York Doll Sylvain Sylvain plus Sean Koos from Joan Jett’s band and Lez Warner of the Cult. Although originally from Cleveland, Chrome will always be associated with New York since he was such an important part of the CB’s scene in its heyday, and this album is pure oldschool seedy Lower East Side, part wickedly tuneful, expertly constructed punk, part powerpop with psychedelic touches. The first track, Sharky, rumbles along on a brisk surf beat with lively roller-rink organ paired against tersely jangly guitar. It sounds like the backing track for a rock anthem, but it works as an instrumental, especially when the bridge kicks in. Finally there’s a lingering, distorted guitar solo that eventually takes off and just when it really gets snarling, the song fades out. It’s the last thing you’d ever expect from a member of the Dead Boys.

Good as that one is, the stuff with lyrics is even better. The best song, and the closest thing to the Dead Boys (right around the time of their mid-80s comeback), is Stare Into the Night. No Credit is similar and a little faster, like an outtake from We Have Come for Your Children. Both songs take a cynical, understatedly desperate look around a Lower East Side underworld that’s been pretty much gentrified (and overdosed) out of existence. Nuthin is the most cynical of all the tracks but also the most dynamically rich: the way Chrome moves the opening hook from acoustic to electric, raising the menace casually all the way to redline, is pure genius.

East Side Story is a burning powerpop anthem with lush, rich layers of jangly, clanging, ringing, chiming guitars, Chrome’s vocals echoing the snotty desperation of his bandmate Stiv Bators on the second verse. Rollin Voodoo works the dynamics between a punchy, fuzz bass-driven hotrod theme and syncopated roadhouse rock, with a long psychedelic interlude. The album winds up with Love Song to Death, a viciously catchy kiss-off anthem, layers and layers of guitar textures and finally a solo where Chrome starts out taking his time and then going out in a smoldering, shivering shower of sparks. Chrome is the rare guitarist who never got slick and lazy, maintaining the unhinged intensity of his early years even after his technique got really, really good. Reputedly he’s at the peak of his powers as a player. If you go out to see any of these shows, you should get there early.

The Mahones Bring Their Irish Drinking Madness to the Knitting Factory

The Pogues may be done but the Mahones are going strong. One of the world’s best-loved Irish punk bands has a pretty self-explanatory new double live album, A Great Night on the Lash, recorded at the twentieth anniversary of the Rock Im Ring festival in Italy last year. They’re playing the Knitting Factory on May 8 at around 10; advance tix are $12. And this is where it gets interesting, for both the band and the person writing about the album: how do you take a basic formula and vary it enough to keep everybody’s attention over sixteen originals and the three covers that serve as the bonus tracks here? After awhile, as the band suggests with one of the alltime most brillliant song titles, doesn’t this go on Past the Pint of No Return?

That song hits right in the middle of the set. “Are you fucking drunk yet? accordionist Katie Kaboom asks the crowd. “This song is about the last time we were here last year and Finny went out for drinks on his birthday and he doesn’t remember.” For a band that endorses extreme alcohol abuse, the Mahones are incredibly tight. The song has a long buildup and then some whirling, spiraling accordion over the roaring guitars. The singalong riff is “we all fall down.” If the band is telling the truth, those pints weren’t beer – they were hard liquor.

They segue from there into King of Copenhagen – is this about a guy who “discovers beer?” Denmark, after all, is the home of the Green Death a.k.a. Carlsberg Elephant malt liquor. Then they segue into Ghost of a Whiskey Devil, which the pennywhistle and accordion elevate above the level of a generic punk anthem. There’s barely any room between songs, the band hell-bent on keeping the party going.

“I turned to Shane MacGowan, I said, what the fuck,” frontman Finny McConnell tells the crowd as the defiantly hardcore title track gets the party started. From there they reel through Paint the Town Red, blast their way down Shakespeare Road, go back to shoutalong electrified folk on A Pain From Yesterday, fire off an Irish take on Social Distortion on Angels & Devils and then rip into the punked-out Wild Rover. A waltz through the wee-hours ambience of London, Katie switching to string synth, makes a bit of a lull before they take it up again with Down the Boozer, then dedicate Give It All You Got to Joe Strummer.

They end the set with a surprising choice, the slow, downcast, Beatlesque Whiskey Under the Bridge and then hit the encores hard: the hardcore-infused Queen and Tequila; the best song of the night, the grimly snarling antiwar anthem Blood Is On Your Hands; and a triumphant mashup of Celtic Pride, Drunken Lazy Bastard, the Undertones’ Teenage Kicks, with a volcanic noise jam. The album’s bonus tracks include the Sham 69 ripoff Going Down the Bar along with boisterous Ramones and Undertones covers. Is anyone who isn’t a serious drinker going to like this album, or this band? Probably not. But for fans of the Celtic rock pantheon – Black 47, the Pogues and Flogging Molly among them – it doesn’t get much better than this

Mustard Plug Can’t Contain It

The band on this page yesterday was for the stoners. Today’s is for the drinkers. The operative question about well-loved ska-punk veterans Mustard Plug‘s latest album Can’t Contain It is whether a bunch of guys in their forties can still pull off playing lickety-split party anthems. Answer: no question. As you would expect from a band that’s been living on the road for twenty years, they’re tight beyond belief, but they’re not phoning this stuff in. And the sonics of the new album are fantastic: this could easily be the best-produced album the band’s ever made. Colin Clive’s multitracked guitars roar and burn, Brandon Jenison’s trumpet punches and soars in tandem with Jim Hofer’s trombone over the pummeling rhythm section of Rick Johnson’s bass and Nathan Cohn’s drums. Frontman Dave Kirchgessner’s goodnaturedly sardonic vocals rise over hard-hitting verses that build to catchy singalong choruses – this is party music for people who aren’t stupid. The whole thing is streaming at Dying Scene.

The opening track We Came to Party sets the stage. You know the drill, but it’s still fun – what the band is going for here is a college radio hit. They raise the catchiness factor with The All-Nighter and then add a little latin flavor to a briskly walking two-tone skank on Aye Aye Aye (which the band sings as “AAAAH, ya, ya”). White Noise starts out with more of a straight-up rock feel before they get the ska beat going after the first chorus.

Bang! takes a sarcastic, exasperated poke at the amateurs who always find a way to turn a party into a brawl. Burn It Down brings back the stutterstep two-tone organ-and-horn vibe, while Shakin’ It Up works the horns into a blazing vintage Sham 69-style punk rock hit.

Clive keeps the guitar firepower going in tandem with the horns (and an Elvis Costello quote) on Blame Yourself. Gone and Faded takes what could be a cheesy NOFX hook and makes a big angst-fueled anthem out of it instead. What Does She Know? is catchy, and weird, and kind of a tongue-twister, followed by the album’s best song, the vengeful, searing Twist the Knife.

 With its punchy punk riffage, It’s You starts out like it might be a make-up song but quickly goes in the other direction. Perfect Plan sets a tasty horn chart over alternately pogoing and stomping guitars. The album ends with Running Out of Time, a snide punk rock blast at a nameless and undeservedly successful corporate music act.

Apropos of nothing – is this just a trick of the imagination, or does Kirchgessner’s voice have more than a little Boston in it? Does Red Sox Nation go as far as Michigan?

Globalfest 2014: Esoterica Rules

Globalfest, the annual celebration of high-energy, danceable music from around the world, grew out of the yearly booking agents’ convention. Youtube may have made live auditions obsolete, but every year the talent buyers for cultural centers across the country, along with the agents for a seemingly nonstop onslaught of global acts, still get together for an all-expenses-paid Manhattan party on the company tab. What’s most auspicious about this past Sunday’s edition of the festival at Webster Hall was the number of kids and random New Yorkers of all ages in the crowd. The booking agents drank hard and schmoozed: none of them seemed to be the least bit interested in the music. The kids, on the other hand, packed the main room for dramatic Bollywood pop revivalist orchestra the Bombay Royale, explosive Kiev folk-punk ensemble DakhaBrakha and even more explosive Romany brass band legends Fanfare Ciocarlia before cramming the downstairs space for darkly fiery Arizona desert rockers Sergio Mendoza y la Orkesta.

What’s happened is that there’s been a sea change among audiences, and among young people. Hard to believe as this may seem, thirty years ago it was considered weird for an American to like reggae – unless you were of Jamaican heritage. Forget about the kind of ridicule you might have faced if, perish the thought, a classmate discovered that you’d been sending oodles of money through the mail for limited-edition, low-budget vinyl pressings of Ukrainian folk or Romany brass music – or, if you were really lucky, you’d found a fellow weirdo who’d let you make cassette copies from his or her secret stash. People were troglodytes back then, weren’t they?

The Bombay Royale’s 2012 album You Me Bullets Love is a psychedelic blend of classic 60s-style Bollywood dance numbers spiced with surf and garage rock. This show  – the dramatic eleven-piece Melbourne, Australia band’s New York debut – found them taking their sound forward another ten years into the disco era with a lot of new material. Period-perfect as they sound, all their songs are originals. Singers Shourav Bhattacharya and Parvyn Kaur Singh – decked out in snakeskin suit and sari, respectively – slunk and spun, traded coy glances and wry pouts while the four-piece horn section, led by alto saxophonist Andy Williamson, blasted behind them.

They opened with a cinematically marching blend of Bollywood and spaghetti western, with the first of pyrotechnic keyboardist Matt Vehl’s many surreal, woozy synthesizer solos. Bhattacharya and Singh duetted on a surfy minor-key number, showed off some dance moves to a swaying bhangra beat and then went deep into anthemic funk. They followed that with Bobbywood, a number that sounded a bit like an Indian disco version of the Rocky theme mingled with brooding cinematics. Trumpeter Ros Jones ended up taking the first of many of the night’s chilling, chromatic solos; a little later, Williamson animatedly traded licks with Singh’s vocals on a creepy downtempo ballad.

It’s hard to think of another band writing songs that mix chromatic Dick Dale surf with Indian-spiced go-go vamps. Their sitar player wasn’t audible for much of the show, but ended up adding a surreal, bluesy solo on one of the later songs. Bass player Bob Knob’s chords loomed ominously underneath a couple of the harder-edged, surf-oriented tunes,  guitarist Tom Martin switching in a split-second from a twangy, reverb-toned attack to scratchy funk lines. The crowd roared for an encore; they didn’t get one.

Word was that it had taken the intervention of a U.S. Senator to assure visas for all four members of DakhaBrakha (Ukraininan for “give-and-take”), but the effort was worth it. They drew the most applause of all the bands on the bill. Their percussion-heavy sound is balanced by the eerie, high, close-harmony vocals of drummer/singer Olena Tsibulska, keyboardist/percussionist Iryna Kovalenko and cellist Nina Garenetska. The band’s lone male member, Marko Halanevych, also sang and contributed on both percussion and garmoshka (a small Ukrainian accordion). Garenetska started by plucking out funky pizzicato bass but before long she was firing off long, growling, raspy, sustained lines punctuated by macabre swoops and dives. Likewise, their set followed an up-and down trajectory, beginning with a wary marching feel with apprehensively insistent vocals, then a trio of creepy dirges before growing louder and more assaultive. Their funniest moments had a tongue-in-cheek hip-hop flavor. The most intense song in their set built explosive give-and-take interludes between ominous drums, ghostly vocals and snarling cello, sinking to a rapt, sepulchral interlude before rising to a pummeling outro. They wound up with a silly but very well-received spoof of cheesy electronic dancefloor beats.

The pride of Romania, eleven-piece Fanfare Ciocarlia were tight and fast beyond belief. The world’s most exhilarating Romany brass band has a precision to match their outrageous tempos, and chops that most American jazz players can only dream of. The four-man backline of a tuba and three slightly higher-pitched trubas played a looming, ominous introduction for their clarinetist, who then launched into wild volleys of shivery chromatics before the rest of the band came on to join in the hailstorms of rat-a-tat riffage.

They’d stop and start, sometimes taking a song doublespeed and then doublespeed after that, other times switching between soloists in a split second. One of the truba players came to the front about midway through the show and added a rapidfire solo of his own. They began with a single standup drummer, then added another for extra firepower. One of the more senior of the four trumpeters sang a couple of ballads, or at least parts of them, before the rest of the orchestra blasted them into the ozone. Hurichestra, true to its name, became a launching pad for a series of abrupt accelerations that were almost exponential: that any horn player can play so fast yet so fluidly defies the laws of physics. They traded birdcalls on a relatively brief take of their signature anthem, Ciocarlia, then teased the audience with droll Balkanized versions of Duke Ellington’s Caravan (which they probably learned from the Ventures) and St. James Infirmary.

Downstairs, Lebanese singer Yasmine Hamdan, backed by bass, drums, keyboards and a lot of pre-recorded stuff, played simple, low-key darkwave that, she said, was influenced by Siouxsie & the Banshees as well as Egyptian pop. The night ended with the feral southwestern gothic energy of Sergio Mendoza y la Orkesta, who put pretty much every other desert rock band to shame. The brass-fueled Tucson group pounced on a couple of noir-tinged, ska-punk flavored songs to open the show, then Mendoza put down his acoustic guitar and played surreal, macabre organ over a funereal bolero sway. From there they hit a lively, upbeat Tex-Mex groove that took a turn in a much more menacing spaghetti western direction when least expected, followed by an early Santana-esque psychedelic rock epic with long, space-reverb interludes for both organ and slide guitar.

The lead guitarist took an even longer, more murky, echo-drenched solo later on, then lit up a couple of more familiar southwestern gothic themes with some chilling slide work as memorable as anything Friends of Dean Martinez ever recorded. A long, slinky, pitchblende cumbia groove might have been the highlight of the night, although a similarly brooding, low-key bolero that might have been Mendoza‘s version of Besame Mucho was right behind. Addressing the audience in Spanish, singer/percussionist Salvador Duran explained that out in Tucson, or Nogales, where Mendoza comes from, everything is up for grabs: banda music, rancheras, cumbia, rock, you name it. They closed the set with a rapidfire return to a darkly shuffling border rock theme. This was Mendoza’s first New York show as a bandleader, hopefully the first of many.

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