New York Music Daily

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2014’s Best Reinvention of a Classic Album: Wounded Buffalo Theory and Others Play Genesis at Rock Shop

It’s been a good past few weeks for intriguing cover band projects. Austin psych-funk rockers Brownout reinvented Black Sabbath, when they weren’t channeling that band at their mid-70s peak, at Brooklyn Bowl last month. William Maselli‘s clever orchestral mashup of Sabbath themes got a workout at Merkin Concert Hall about a week after that. Then there was Grey McMurray and band recasting Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells as lush, string-driven art-rock, a performance that will air on Q2 shortly. But the best of all of these shows was masterminded by Sometimes Boys and Wounded Buffalo Theory drummer Jay Cowit, who brought members of those two bands plus Afroskull, 29 Hour Music People, and the Trouble Dolls together to perform Genesis’ classic 1974 double album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Other bands have done it over the years, and there’s a Genesis cover band, the Musical Box, who regularly perform it along with an elaborate set and projections for astronomical prices . But it’s hard to imagine anybody other than the original band doing it as energetically yet surrealistically hauntingly as this one-off pickup band. Best of all, the entire concert was recorded and has been immortalized on youtube, disc one streaming here and disc two here.

Keyboardist Eric Lipper did a spectacular approximation of Tony Banks at the top of his Terry Reid-like, rippling game while Vince Fairchild added more ambient textures, using a studio’s worth of vintage and near-vintage synth and organ patches. As the set went on, the keyboardists moved around and exchanged roles, notably when Matt Iselin joined the festivities as both third keyboardist and singer. Considering how long ago the album was recorded, with instruments – especially keys – that are now museum pieces, it was amazing how closely the timbres and overall sonics matched up with Genesis’ original. What was even more astonishing was how closely Cowit channeled the young Peter Gabriel’s antagonized bark. But the inclusion of other singers – Iselin doing Anyway with a nonchalant menace, the Trouble Dolls’ Cheri Leone delivering The Lamia with a wounded Marianne Faithfull restraint, and the Sometime Boys’ Sarah Mucho holding Counting Out Time together as the guitars roared and squeaked – added all kinds of unexpected dynamics.

Another playful deviation from the script was the inclusion of John Hockenberry of WNYC’s The Takeaway reading Gabriel’s drolly surreal album liner notes in between several of the songs. But otherwise, the attention to detail was meticulous: with its endlessly shapeshifting, kaleidoscopic, trippy pastiche of themes, this album is awfully hard to play. Bassist Rob Christiansen cycled through Mike Rutherford’s dizzying lines with a Bach-like precision and a biting, trebly attack amid the bluster, in tandem with nimble drummer Jason Isaac.

Just as the keyboard lines were divided up among a trio of players, Sometime Boys lead guitarist Kurt Leege and his fellow axemen Joe Scatassa and Alan Black shared duties and exchanged roles. Leege played with his signature, instantly recognizable, icily resonant blend of delay and reverb, handling the more resonant parts while Scatassa and Black took turns and occasionally traded off when Steve Hackett’s original lines would hit a snarling, bluesy peak. Meanwhile, Cowit’s vocals were amped well up in the mix so that his take of Gabriel’s frequent lyrical jabs and slashes could resonate. And ultimately, this band literally brought the album to life, revealing it not only as a trip through the underworld and finally out, but one with a vital, rather snide antiwar and antiauthoritarian message. They careened to a close through the incessant flood and drowning metaphors of side four, then kept the triumphant vibe going with a coy encore of I Know What It’s Like (In Your Wardrobe), from the Selling England by the Pound album.

The other bands don’t seem to have any upcoming NYC shows at the moment, but the Sometime Boys are at the Way Station this Friday, Oct 24 at 10, playing two sets. It’s not likely that they’ll cover any of this stuff, but they’re a killer jamband in their own right.

A Wild, Psychedelic Manhattan Show and an Upcoming Brooklyn Gig from the Sometime Boys

The Sometime Boys make elegant, meticulously crafted albums that blend elements of bluegrass, delta blues, funk, soul and artsy chamber pop. Their most recent one, Riverbed, is one of 2014’s most compelling and eclectic releases. But onstage, they transform into a ferocious jamband: as improvisational rock crews go, there is no other New York band who are better at it, and that includes Steve Wynn‘s volcanic Miracle 3. The Sometime Boys are playing two long sets at the Way Station on the border of Bed-Stuy and Fort Greene on Sept 26 at 10 PM, and it’s free.

Their long show at the end of this past month at Bar 9 in Hell’s Kitchen – much of which has been immortalized on youtube - had everything the band is known for: expansive, explosive solos, mighty peaks, whispery lows, stop-on-a-dime changes, a sense of humor and a handful of covers that spanned the genres just as their originals do. The band’s brain trust, singer/guitarist Sarah Mucho and lead guitarist Kurt Leege were known for putting on the occasional and spectacularly good cover night in their previous band, the mighty System Noise: their series of sold-out David Bowie nights are legendary. So it was no surprise to see Mucho reinvent Aretha’s Chain of Fools with a surprisingly nuanced bitterness (and a long, dancingly delicious Leege guitar solo); to deliver a rousingly New Orleans-flavored take of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s Strange Things Happening Every Day with a menacingly gleeful grin; or to hear her actually enunciate the lyrics of the dadrock standard Burn Down the Mission, unlike the guy who set it to music and sang it. And midway through the show, they invited their similarly charismatic pal Mark Bailey (no relation to the Houston Astros backstop) up to deliver vigorous versions of tunes by Neil Young, Jack White and the Proclaimers.

But it was the originals that everybody had come out for, which took centerstage. The opening number, the bluegrass-tinged Buskin’, peaked out with a jaunty Rebecca Weiner Tompkins violin solo. Mucho got a droll, sarcastic audience singalong going on the bouncy, zydeco-inflected Pharaoh, the band taking it down to just vocals before Leege pulled the beast back on the rails. Bird House began with a menacing art-rock guitar intro before they took it into noir folk territory, to a long, relentless, Jerry Garcia-esque solo that Leege capped off with an ominous Pink Floyd quote.

Likewise, the funky A Life Worth Living – a song that brought to mind an even earlier Mucho/Leege project, Noxes Pond – echoed the Grateful Dead at their peak. They went into more straight-ahead funk for the defiantly lyrical Modern Age, a little later bringing down the lights for a broodingly waltzing version of the country-tinged lament Master Misery, from the band’s debut album Any Day Now.

The best of the covers was an extended, tranced-out jam on Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced: the way Leege, drummer Jay Cowit and keyboardist/mandolinist Gypsy George matched the album version’s kaleidoscopic, psychedelic fragments and rhythmic blips was as funny as it was impressively faithful to both the spirit and the essence of the original.

Cowit and Mucho matter-of-factly exchanged hostilities on a duet of the tongue-in-cheek newgrass romp Why Can’t We Just Be Enemies, Leege wrapping it up with yet another methodically intense solo. Much as Mucho worked all the magic in her vocal arsenal, from smoky, sultry lows to stratospheric highs, it was Leege who really got the crowd screaming. Counterintuitively, they wound up the set with The Great Escape, a quietly glimmering suicide ballad that wouldn’t be out of place on the Dead’s American Beauty (and is currently this blog’s pick for best song of 2014). That took the bar crowd by surprise, but by the second verse they were quiet and listening again. It was a gentle reminder that this band has the muscle to overpower the yakking crowds at the Way Station.

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.

Brown Sabbath Reinvents Some Iconic Metal Tracks

What could be more crazy than funky latin soul versions of Black Sabbath songs, right? Much as Sabbath are the prototypical stoner metal group, they could easily be the world’s least funky band. That’s where Brown Sabbath come in. The latest project from Texas band Brownout – a spinoff of latin rockers Grupo Fantasma – Brown Sabbath’s new album of reimagined Sabbath classics (streaming at youtube) is eye-opening, not a little iconoclastic, and fun as hell. They’ve got a Brooklyn Bowl show on Sept 5 at 9 PM. Cover is $15; you might want to get there a little early since this one might actually sell out.

The opening track, The Wizard, is the B-side of the album’s debut multicolor vinyl single. Kinda cool to open an album with a B-side rather than the A-side, isn’t it? At first, it’s surprisingly close to the original other than the clattering, machinegunning rhythm – that’s John Speice on drums and Sweet Lou on congas. Almost imperceptibly, they push it toward a lowrider groove with punchy horns – Gilbert Elorreaga on trumpet, Josh Levy on baritone sax and Mark Gonzales on trombone – the latter taking a surprisingly low-key solo.

The A-side, Hand of Doom features an ominously brittle lead vocal from the Black Angels‘ Alex Maas, and is the album’s longest song. Guitarists Adrian Quesada and Beto Martinez pair off crunch and wah – and some offhandedly delicious tremolopicking – over bassist Greg Gonzalez’s impressively purist, slightly trebly lines. Once again, the blasts from the horns and the clatter of the percussion are where the song strays from the original.

Iron Man gets reinvented as a whirling vortex of blaxploitation instrumental funk, a strong, anthemic groove that’s barely recognizable as Sabbath. N.I.B. gets a slinkier treatment, with fuzz bass and droll wah guitar, singer Alex Marrero channeling Lucifer as would-be loverman rather than doing an over-the-top Ozzy impression, Quesada employing some wry stoner effects rather than trying to out-multitrack Tony Iommi.

Believe it or not, the song that opens Sabbath’s debut album is actually creepier than the original: it’s all about dynamics and suspense, and leaving out the vocals doesn’t hurt. The outro is a hoot.

Into the Void starts out pretty straight-up, then also gets a blustery horn chart and that clip-clop sway – and an interlude straight out of Jethro Tull. The vocals aren’t missed here either. The album ends with a dreamy take of Planet Caravan, Marrero singing into the fan (or through a chorus pedal) just like Ozzy. The point of playing covers is not to reinvent the wheel but to put an individual spin on them, and that’s exactly what Brown Sabbath’s point seems to be. That, and to lift the psychedelic factor a few notches. Raise your forefinger and pinky to that.

Big Plastic Finger’s Swirling, Trippy Assault Hits Williamsburg

Big Plastic Finger call themselves “a super psychedelic space noise core rock improv quartet starting over the edge and going further.” Their latest album, streaming at Bandcamp, is titled Launching the Tone Arm, which makes sense since it’s available on delicious vinyl as well as digitally. They’re playing Legion Bar (790 Metropolitan Ave. in Williamsburg, L to Graham Ave), tonight at 9 on a doublebill with saxophonist David Tamura’s similarly sardonic, improvisational Jazzfakers. A cynic might say, yeah, Sunday night is where bars always hide the free jazz because if they put it on the bill on a Saturday, it would clear the club. But for those who remember yesterday’s piece here, Sunday is starting to look like the new Saturday: an awful lot of good bands have been turning up on Sunday bills lately, all over town. You figure it out.

The album’s opening track, Winnebago Man sets the stage, guitarist Scott Prato and saxophonist Bonnie Kane spreading sheets of effects-infested wildfire over Mark McClemens’ steadily tumbling drums, bassist Brian McCorkle holding a single hypnotic note. Kane squalls relentlessly as Prato spaces out his chords while an outer-space fog moves in; from there they take it down to a quiet, steady hardcore beat and add increasingly abrasive layers over it. Pretty interesting for a one-chord jam.

Things We Don’t Want to Admit Are True mingles desolate sax within trippy, shifting layers of distortion, wah guitar and echoey Black Angels vocals, building to a tight, uneasy push-pull between the guitar and sax. As with the first track, it’s a basically a series of washes, long crescendos and dips in lieu of actual melody. They follow that with an even more echoey miniature that pairs Prato’s eerily rippling tremolo-picking against Kane’s shifting atmospheric sheets.

Finding a Good Use for the Growing Pile has a steady, growling rhythm in the same vein as Jamie Saft’s recent adventures in longscale noisy improv, Kane shifting between acidic rifage and dare we say catchy hooks as Prato blips and pings and judiciously moves his textures toward sandpapery and shrill, then goes in a spacier direction. The album’s longest song, Assembly of Presence works layers of feedback, distortion, echo, relentlessly apprehensive and then squalling sax over a tense, brisk pulse, through innumerable dynamic shifts and a surprisingly catchy guitar crescendo: it’s a trippy roller-coaster ride and the most menacing cut here.

Low Together (Worm Forward) starts with the group hinting wryly at lowrider wah funk, Kane and Prato again engaging in a tug-of-war with echoes of late 80s noiserock in a Live Skull vein, through an echoey MRI tube interlude and then back. Moving Through Walls messes with Metal Machine Music feedback; the final cut is the most frenetic and free jazz-oriented. Throughout the album, the group – all veterans of various paint-peeling noise projects – play with a clenched-teeth camaraderie and commitment to the jagged, intense edges of the spectrum. Not exactly easy listening, but you can get absolutely lost in this. Stephen Bilensky replaces McCorkle on bass for this gig; the Legion Bar backroom could turn into a sonic cyclotron.

A Killer Show by Israel’s Zvuloon Dub System

Israeli group Zvuloon Dub System wound up their first American tour with a deliriously fun and deliriously received New York show at Meridian 23 Friday night. The band’s inimitable sound takes otherworldly, thousand-year-old Ethiopian riffs and makes reggae out of them – sort of. Ilan and Asaf Smilan, the bass-and-drum brother team who lead the band, give the songs a fat groove that’s heavier than you typically find in Ethiopian funk, and sometimes a lot closer to an anthemic rock sway than what the Barrett brothers did with Bob Marley, for example. This time out, there wasn’t a lot of dub – just a few bars of bass and drums, or echoey keys in tandem with the bass, maybe – but there was a lot of jamming and all of it was purposeful and spot-on. Everyone expects reggae bands to take their time and stretch out and get lost sometimes, but this group stayed on task and didn’t waste notes even as they took the dynamics up and down, with lots of solos and imaginative pairing off or harmonies between instruments.

There were a couple of ringers in the band. On their latest album Anbesa Dub, keyboardist Lior Romano relies heavily on creepy funeral organ. Onstage, their sub player chose his spots with precise electric piano, varying his textures for an extra psychedelic edge. Every once in awhile, the drums would hit one of those classic around-the-kit turnarounds, but most of the time Asaf Smilan hung in the pocket as the waves of dancers undulated back and forth at the edge of the stage. His brother ran catchy, hypnotic, sometimes almost macabre chromatic riffs over and over again, summoning the spirits from the lowest registers with nothing more fancy than a standard-issue Fender Jazz bass running straight through the amp without any effects. There were two guitarists, one playing mostly rhythm and adding woozy textures through a wah from time to time. The other delivered lingering, ominous chords and snaky fills on a vintage hollow-body Gretsch. Although the new album is mostly instrumental, many of the songs had vocals, delivered passionately in Amharic by Ethiopian-born singer Gili Yalo.

The songs took those ancient “bati” riffs and gave them body, the tight two-piece horn section typically leading off with them and then taking their variations further and further out into the stratosphere. The tenor sax player delivered a spine-tingling series of glissandos down the scale early in the set; the trumpeter took his time, finally hitting a menacingly incisive crescendo toward the end of the show. Most of the material was either older or brand-new. Of the songs from the new album, Endermenesh comes across on record as sort of an Ethiopian take of Marley’s Could You Be Loved: here, they expanded it and took it deeper into Jamaican territory. They did the opposite with the album’s opening instrumental, Alemitu, which was their next-to-last song. Energywise, the highlight was a darkly skanking Ethiopian ska tune. The most poignant moment was when Yalo led the group through an anthemic number dedicated to peace in the Middle East: he explained that it went without saying that everybody in the band couldn’t wait to see an end to the current hostilities in Israel. And the crowd agreed.

And the guy/girl team behind the sound board earned their pay and a lot more by doing something that more sound crews should do: they turned up the band. This was a chatty crowd, hell-bent on getting their drink and their smoke on, in a cozy venue on a Friday night, and it was good for once to not have to move closer and closer to the PA to get away from the crowd noise and go deep into the vibe of the music.

Stonesy Stoner Songs and a Bowery Electric Show from 7horse

7horse are a surreal stoner bar band – imagine a more trad version of the Black Keys after a couple bong hits of good hash. This band’s music is less stoned than it is high. They’re at Bowery Electric on July 9 at 7:30ish for $12.

Their new album Songs for a Voodoo Wedding is streaming at the band’s site. The opening track, Carousel Bar works an open-tuned Stonesy riff for all it’s worth – the bass doesn’t even come in until after the first chorus. “Had a ringside seat, was all you could eat, but you never got out of the car,” lead singer Phil Leavitt reminds, “I could sit right here for a hundred years rolling in the Carousel Bar.” That pretty much explains what this band is all about.

Meth Lab Zoso Sticker is another open-tuned, Stonesy, more or less one-chord jam, this one a slide-driven blues with an even stranger lyric. Flying High (With No ID) reaches for a Sticky Fingers-era take on oldschool soul, an uneasily amusing scenario about a guy who seems to be tripping in the airport and then on the flight. Imagine being on acid and having to deal with Homeland Security – it would be impossible not to have a laughing fit.

Headhunter Blues centers around a funny lyrical riff from baseball slang, and a romping post Chuck Berry tune that could be the Bottle Rockets (or the Stones, for that matter) with no bass. Long Way has a restless, minor-key, vintage Stooges menace, both musically and lyrically. Please Come On Home has a darkly shuffling hillbilly boogie vibe that recalls bands like the Gun Club and the Sideshow Tragedy. The funniest and also the most punk song here is I Know the Meaning of Rock N Roll: it’s totally mid-70s Detroit.

On the 4th of July brings back a Stonesy pulse: it seems to be a sly, surreal swipe at patriotism. So Old Fashioned blends LES punk blues with catchy Dolls glam, a shout-out to an “ancient recipe” that never fails to hit the spot. Some MF seems to be a spoof of hip-hop; the album’s longest track, Before the Flood strings together a bunch of old blues aphorisms over a skeletal Smokestack Lightning-style vamp. The final cut is the oldtimey A Friend in Weed, which is kind of obvious, but also unquestionably true. Most of these songs don’t reference anything after about 1973: aside from the strange absence of bass in places, this album could have been made then and would have earned the band plenty of road gigs or a maybe even a spot opening for somebody like Bob Seger or REO Speedwagon back when both of those acts were actually pretty decent.

Coppins Plays Smart, Socially Aware Bagpipe Rock and Eclectic Grooves

Coppins’ new album The Prince That Nobody Knows literally has something for everybody. It’s got a creepy southwestern gothic song, a reggae tune, lots of socially conscious, wryly lyrical, soul-tinged hippie rock and some funk. But what Grier Coppins really does best is play bagpipes. He got his start busking with his pipes at the corner of Yonge and Bloor Streets in Toronto back in the 70s, went on to lead bagpipe funk band Rare Air in the 80s and a decade later, the R&B-inspired Taxi Chain. The songs on this album – streaming at Bandcamp – reflect pretty much every stop along the way. But the bagpipe stuff is the most original, and it’s fantastic.

The album opens with one of those tunes, Spaceman from Weslemkoon, a catchy funk number with doubletracked guitars set against Coppins’ otherworldly drone. They follow that with the ominous, bluesy Don’t Know Where I’m Going, with its eerily clangin guitar menace. Throughout the album – which is magnificently produced, with all kinds of multitracking and elaborate, imaginative arrangements – Coppins alternates between tenor guitar and bagpipes.Chris Staig plays the heavier, more blues-infused guitar parts while Ayron Mortley handles the more soul, jazz or African-inspired ones. Terry Wilkins plays bass on most of the tracks along with Paul Brennan on drums and many special guests.

The first of the socially conscious numbers, Big Boy contemplates growing up in world poisoned by pollution and a mad dash to spend and consume, set to a vamping roadhouse blues theme. The soul-tinged Happy on Earth considers how “this earth is Hell – to the Devil, Hell is Heaven.” The reggae tune Great Day for Living is even more sarcastic:

The sun is coming up like a cruise missile head
I’m looking for the blue sky, there’s a yellow film instead
The glaciers are melting and the earth is heating fast 
But to stop production would be too much to ask

Wanna Be Happy sets a darkly amusing whorehouse narrative to a slow Mississippi hill country blues-tinged groove. Coppins follows that with Before They Call Me Home, a reggae-inflected hippie rock tune and then the album’s funniest song, Sauce in a Can. Over a roaring, Stonesy stomp lit up by saxophonist Jim Bish’s one-man horn section, Coppins discovers that the stuff on the shelf that saves him when he’s too high to cook might not be as wonderful an invention as it first seems – the joke ending is too good to spoil.

The nebulously political anthem Push has a slower, similarly Stonesy groove, like an outtake from Sticky Fingers. Blue Banjo Breakdown, which follows it, doesn’t have a banjo – instead, it contrasts a soaring bagpipe hook with fiddle accents and roaring Keith Richards-style guitar. Fueled by Jesse Whiteley’s ragtime piano, Can’t Leave the Ladies Alone tells the wryly funny tale of a guy who just can’t get enough of a good thing, over Dan Hicks-ish oldtimey swing. A country tune, Live Forever sounds like an improved and more soulful version of Bob Dylan’s You Ain’t Going Nowhere. After that, the band makes a bagpipe theme out of Malian-style desert blues and ends with the almost nine-minute title track, a metaphorically-fueled medieval narrative set to a backdrop that’s one part Grateful Dead, one part desert rock. Like so many of the songs here, the ending is the last thing you would expect.

Two Intense Guitarists Steal the Show at the Mercury

Wednesday’s show at the Mercury ultimately boiled down to great lead guitar. Expat Australian five-piece band Reserved For Rondee are tight and talented, lead player Billy Magnussen proving to be the star of that particular show. You might assume that a band opening for the Last Internationale would think segue, backloading their set with the heavy stuff. Reserved for Rondee did the opposite. Then again, like so many bands from down under, they have zero regard for convention, mixing up genres that make no sense at all together. And most of the time it worked. Early 70s stoner rock with disco bass and drums? Check. Classic Motown mashed up with new wave, but heavier? Doublecheck. But the their best stuff came early in the set, Magnussen firing off searing, lickety-split blues riffage over beats that drummer Warren Hemenway switched up effortlessly from funky to dinosaurian, in an In Through the Out Door way. Rhythm guitarist Nick Focas and bassist Tom Degnan supplied the catchy changes as Magnussen spun through volleys of icy bluesmetal, hitting his volume pedal, mixing up the reverb and delay and a little later, wailing through a vintage analog chorus effect for a deliciously shivery, watery tone.

The only song that didn’t work, at least musically, was a shout-out to the band’s new home, Bushwick. First there was some shameless borough-centric namechecking in the same vein as what bands like the Easybeats were doing 45 years ago, tossing around gratuitous American references in hopes of scoring a hit here. But then there was a surprise: the gentrifiers at the center of the song see their “boutique everything” world disintegrate and end up on the street with their less fortunate neighbors!

By the time the Last Internationale hit the stage, the place was packed. Guitarist Edgey Pires comes from the same place as Magnussen, although his brand of blues is more unhinged and raw, part Fred “Sonic” Smith, part Jon Spencer. Where Magnussen varied his textures,  trebly Fender Twin natural distortion was enough for Pires to work with, delivering highs that shrieked and whined when he wasn’t flailing his way through terse, hypnotic vamps, wielding his reverb-fueled chords and savage, bluesy swipes like a machete. Frontwoman Delila Paz began the show playing a gorgeous vintage Vox Teardrop bass, switched to acoustic guitar a little later and then put it down for the rest of the show, swaying and belting with an impassioned, throaty intensity and a wide-angle vibrato. Most of the set was new songs from a forthcoming album due out later this summer, the best of which, We Will Reign, sounded like Patti Smith fronting the MC5. Both comparisons extend beyond the music to Paz’s defiant, confrontational lyrics. Her most memorable line reflected how quickly a hippie peace-and-love vibe collapses when the cops show up and send in the stormtroopers. Strangely, Paz’s most intense moment behind the mic – an anguished a-cappella gospel interlude – was the one place where she lost the crowd. Then drummer Brad Wilk (formerly of Rage Against the Machine) kicked in and everybody shut up and listened.

Green Party Lieutenant Governor candidate Brian Jones introduced the set and explained his platform. Universal single-payer healthcare met with barely any response, but when Jones mentioned returning to this state’s previous, decades-long policy of free college tuition at New York State schools, the crowd roared. And They responded even more energetically to raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Jones backloaded his own little set by promising to legalize marijuana if elected and received the kind of cheers you would expect from a crowd in a city whose new mayor hasn’t delivered on his own vow to back off on pot busts.

A Rare NYC Show and a Killer Roots Reggae Album by Israel’s Zvuloon Dub System

Israeli band Zvuloon Dub System play Ethiopian music, roots reggae style. A bright brass section carries the haunting modal riffs that make music from Ethiopia so instantly distinguishable from every other style on the planet. Add lustrous, ominous organ and spare, jangly guitar, occasionally played through a wah. Set that to a deep one-drop groove from the bass and drums, with a clavinova doubling the bassline a lot of the time, and you have a good idea what they sound like. They’ve got a new album, Anbessa Dub (Spotify link) and a gig at SOB’s on June 15 at 9 PM; $10 adv tix are highly recommended

The album opens strongly with the ominously organ-fueled minor-key instrumental Alemitu, followed by the slinky Tenesh Kelbe Lay, which is basically a blues. Like a lot of the songs here, this one alludes to but never hits the undulating triplet groove that so much of Ethiopian music has. And it fades out rather than hitting a decisive ending. Likewise, Sab Sam would be Afrobeat if the beat was faster; the organ solo midway through, sliding down with an icily watery tone, is arguably the high point of the album.

Man Begelgelni mashes up jazz-tinged 70s soul guitar, a bouncy, Bob Marleyesque vamp and droll video game effects from the synth, an overview of thirty years of roots reggae through a sun-warped Ethiopian prism. Strong baritone singer Mahmoud Ahmed guests on Ney Denun Tieshe, which with its incisively wary alto sax solo and bubbly guitar sounds like Debo Band at halfspeed. Creepy, carnivalesque organ gives Yehoden Awetech Lengeresh a psychedelic 70s edge, while Tsbukti Fektret, with guest singer Yaakov Lilay, gives the guitar a chance to get especially weird and trippy, its trebly tone almost a dead ringer for an electric harpsichord against the incisive horn riffage.

The warm, soul-inspired Endermenesh, sung by Zemene Melesse, sounds like a stripped-down Ethiopian take of Marley’s Could You Be Loved, lit up by oldschool soul guitar and purposeful trombone. Zelel Zelel returns to the blend of peak-era Marley, Ethiopiques and early 80s dub, with yet more of that deliciously macabre funeral organ. The album ends with Yene Almaz, a hypnotic, slowly swaying folk tune with screechy riti fiddle as the lead instrument. If classic reggae grooves, or Ethiopian music, or stoner sounds in general are your thing, don’t miss a rare chance to see this mysterious and excellent band live.

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