New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: stoner music

Singles for 12/18

These things accumulate like dust bunnies around here. Imagine if dust bunnies could talk. What would they say?

Birmingham, Alabama trio Wray’s Bad Heart is Jesus & Mary Chain x Lost Patrol with a little dreampop swirl mixed in with the postpunk growl and the reverb-iced surf catchiness (via youtube).

Black Light White Light’s Running sounds like peak-era 90s Wilco doing paisley underground, with an echoey Rickenbacker jangle, a little glam and a LONG stoner outro (via last.fm - don’t worry, this is their free page, you don’t have to pay to hear it).

Tori Vasquez will bring you back into focus with the uneasy southwestern gothic folk of Wear You Thin (youtube). And here’s Pale Green Stars doing Lesson 27 (via Reverbnation): slide guitar swamp rock straight out of the Gun Club songbook circa 1985, an unrepentant reflection on a stoner past complete with a sweetly sarcastic verse from a famous hymn.

Garage Punk Madness at Don Pedro’s in Bushwick This Saturday

Marauding garage-punk trio Sun Voyager have a split ep out with Greasy Hearts (streaming at Bandcamp, and also available on cassette, yay). The opening track, Desert Dweller, is the best one, a truly gorgeous feast of multitracked, distorted Fender Twin guitar amp sonics. It’s like a slightly less noisy version of what the Skull Practitioners do. Mind Maze, Sun Voyager’s second track, sounds like something from the Boomtown Rats’ first album if that band had switched out the punk for stoner garage production values. The last one, Let It Ride has trickier rhythms and a searing, tone-bending guitar solo out. Greasy Hearts’ three contributions to the ep include one with a Coney Island High-style late 80s/early 90s punk-metal swagger, a more trad garage tune and then a surprisingly eclectic number with echoes of both oldschool soul and vintage Sabbath.

Another heavily Sabbath-influenced track is Sun Voyager’s latest single, God Is Dead (also up at Bandcamp). Both bands are playing the King Pizza Records mini-festival which starts at 4 PM this Saturday, Dec 13 at Don Pedro’s. Sorry for the short notice, but the show never made it onto the radar here: the venue’s calendar hasn’t been updated in a couple of months.

Needle Points Bring Their Danceable Psychedelic Grooves to Bushwick

Wow, are Needle Points fun or what! And it’s all because of the basslines. Their opening set at Palisades in Bushwick last night on a bill staged by Christiana of Indie Shuffle would have had a crowd anywhere but in this neighborhood dancing up a storm. OK, maybe not in Williamsburg either, but that’s another story. Within seconds of taking the stage, their guitarist broke a string as he launched into the opening instrumental. But no worries – he’d brought a gorgeous Les Paul as a backup, and blended bits and pieces of echoey surf, sunshiney Memphis soul, lowdown garage rock and hints of southern boogie into the band’s expansive groove. Their burly, bearded bassist rocked a Hofner, a surefire sign that he meant business. “I’m gonna play the fuck out of this bass,” he told the audience and he did. He’s a friendly guy, chatting up the crowd betweeen songs as the band tuned, which was actually a good idea as their frontman – who with the band behind him veered between blue-eyed soul and a garage rock shout – kept quiet. Bass is also the band’s not-so-secret weapon, anchoring the songs with wickedly catchy, vamping grooves that went on for minutes at a clip, punctuated by some neat slides and bends when least expected.

Their first number had the kind of infectuously funky sway that the MC5 were shooting for in their more soul-oriented moments but could never nail. Their second number motored along with a guitar-fueled shuffle that drew a line back to Chuck Berry, via the Stones or the Dead. Their even catchier next one had some heavy ba-BUMP-ba-BUMP low end courtesy of their percussionist, a petite brunette with an ear-to-ear grin who jumped around as she hammered out nimble leapfrog beats with her mallets on a single snare and a kickdrum. From there they made their way through an eerily reverberating Tobacco Road bounce, to a rousingly successful detour into Motown and then back to more side-to-side, swaying grooves. Bands like this make a trek on the J train on a nasty, raw night worth the hassle.

Mr. Kid & the Suicide Policemen are pretty new and have a brand-new name that’s better than their old one. It’s a good guess that they’ll probably have another by next month, which might explain why they don’t have a web presence – although they’ve got a little stuff at soundcloud. Their frontguy doesn’t sing as much as he rasps or does the soul-shout thing – but that’s cool because it fits the music. Right now their twin-guitar attack – roaring, reverb-drenched Fender Jazzmaster and riff-rocking Danelectro Rick copy – is more sonically interesting than their songs, but that will probably change. Like Needle Points, they have a thing for simple, catchy, incisive basslines. They kept things hard and direct, from their best song, a slowly unwinding paisley underground number with echoes of the Dream Syndicate, through louder, more garage-riff oriented material punctuated by the Fender player’s ferociously noisy attack.

As for the third group, Washington, DC’s Paperhaus…they’re the kind of band you really want to try to like. One of their guitarists linechecked with a verse of the Beatles’ Rain, always a good sign. But what they do just doesn’t gel. There were some tasty dreampop swells, some catchy basslines, and everyone in the band is a competent musician. They all probably have a future, just not together. It was too bad that the dreampop swirl so soon gave way to so many grandiosely empty Coldplay/Phoenix stadium gestures. And there were some distractingly dorky, mathrocky moments, and halfhearted attempts at something approximating humor.

A word about the venue: NICE PLACE. Asshole-free, laid-back, the sound isn’t Carnegie Hall but it isn’t ass either and the soundguy was very attentive to all the bands throughout their sets. In case you think that’s de rigeur at every venue, you haven’t been to Arlene’s lately. Now all they need is a website.

Psychedelic Art-Rock Band Wounded Buffalo Theory Headline a Great Friday Night Twinbill at Freddy’s

Wounded Buffalo Theory made a name for themselves back in the zeros as a jamband playing around New York and at the upstate summer festivals. But as much as they can get crazy live, they’re also a first-class, intense, psychedelic art-rock band with strong, ferociously anthemic songwriting. At this point in their history, it’s good to see them at their creative peak. Their latest album, A Painting of Plans is streaming online; they’re headlining at Freddy’s this Friday, Nov 21 at midnight, preceded at around 10 by the similarly excellent, more Americana and blues-influenced Sometime Boys, with whom they share a guitarist and drummer (Kurt Leege and Jay Cowit, respectively).

Cowit and bassist Rob Malko give the band a hard-hitting, metrically shapeshifting platform for the lithe, biting, intertwining guitars of Leege and John Blanton (who’s also the band’s keyboardist). One album that’s an obvious influence is Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (which this group just happened to help recreate in all its trippy grandeur this past fall at Rock Shop). And this is a really long one: back in the all-vinyl days, it would have been a double-disc set. It opens with The Brain Is Half Full, cynically contemplating mortality over echoes of 80s Peter Gabriel and 90s stadium acts like Ride. The first real gem here is the ominous minor-key anthem Fistful, with its eerily, methodically dancing Leege lead, a tinge of dreampop and an ominous multitracked quasar pulse as it winds up. It brings to mind something Leege might have written in his days with paint-peeling art-noise band System Noise back in the mid-zeros.

Shores of Japan is even catchier and just as angst-fueled (though it doesn’t seem to reference 3/11), building to an anguished chorus of intertwining lead guitar lines. For whatever reason, the following cut, Sombrero, brings to mind the Yellow Magic Orchestra at its moodiest. With its chiming acoustic/electric textures, A Planning of Saints works a broodingly artsy-folk rock vibe. The album’s most epic track, Leslie Got a Rabbit builds its way out of hypnotic Frippertronic-style guitar through steadier, trip-hop inflected interludes that almost imperceptibly rise to a visceral, orchestral menace. They follow that with the equally brooding yet kinetically crescendoing Gold (Everybody Needs Some Bodies) with its surrealistically nimble guitar leads and Cowit’s knifes-edge vocals.

The Power of Nothing takes a pensive folk-pop tune and fleshes it out with an ornately layered arrangement. After the trippy, loopy instrumental Here Be Dragons, Why Now evokes the pop side of Radiohead: “I ate his head,” Malko announces nonchalantly. The band follows the trippy, circling instrumental Dirty Walls with Turtles, a more menacing variation on the theme. The Storm Celler continues to raise the menace, driven by the rhythm section’s cumulo-nimbus sonics.

They bring it down for a bit with the gorgeously angst-fueled You Have Left Me, building a thicket of chiming guitars behind Cowit’s pensive vocals. The album winds up with a boomy, gamelansque instrumental and then the title track, reverting to a Trail of the Dead anthemic pulse. What’s best is that the album is available as a name-your-price download!

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.

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