Small Beast Lives!
As recently as a couple of years ago, Small Beast was the weekly New York rock event. Then founder/impresario and Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch absconded to Germany, leaving the series in the hands of a rotating cast of characters and the Beast began to get even smaller. The 88-key spinet piano which spawned the series’ name is now gone from the upstairs stage at the Delancey, but the shows continue just about every week, and once in a while the glory days of 2009 rear their head as a pleasant reminder that the gentrifiers have not completely taken over this town and edgy rock music in New York isn’t quite dead yet. Monday was one of those nights. Thomas Simon was one of the earlier acts, playing solo on electric guitar with his usual labyrinth of effects pedals spanning the stage. This guy has more pedals than most orchestras have people, the result being that he often sounds like an orchestra, endless loops, waves and washes of sound reverberating through the mix. Kinetic and sometimes frenetic as he lunged and stabbed at his effects, firing off shuddering blasts of noise, eerily reverberating Syd Barrett-esque chords or gleefully macabre lead runs, he was a little more rock and a little less ambient this time than usual (he’s got a new album out with a full band behind him, which may explain a lot). In just under an hour onstage he managed to evoke Bauhaus, Pink Floyd, the Church, My Bloody Valentine and Philip Glass, sometimes within seconds of each other. It’s rare that a solo performer can be this interesting to watch.
Bee and Flower were next, playing a mix of crowd favorites and songs from their long-awaited third album, Suspension, due out next month. They’ve been one of New York’s (and sometimes Berlin’s) best bands for a dozen years, beginning with their long-running residency at Pete’s Candy Store back in the days when Interpol would open for them. Frontwoman/bassist Dana Schechter gets all kinds of props for her sizzling four-string chops and her work as a film composer, but she’s also a hell of a singer, and she never sang better than she did Monday night (through the haphazard Small Beast PA system, at that). She crooned, pondered, held out hope and then slowly let it down, going up the scale to a wide-open, wounded wail once, but she made it count. They opened with I Know Your Name, the first track on their 2004 debut album, its stately, steady pensiveness giving way to outright menace as the chorus kicked in. And they paid no mind to the chatty crowd, taking their time with the gently hypnotic, pastoral guitar/violin interplay on the outro. A couple of the newer songs were more upbeat with a dark new wave rock vibe; guitarist Lynn Wright got some delicious opportunities to clang and twang and even tremolo-pick his way through a particularly dark, ominous 6/8 anthem and made the most of them. A slow, pained, elegaic ballad (also in 6/8, a tempo Schechter loves) began with surgically precise, pizzicato violin, rose with reverberating tremolo guitar and ended with a swell of swooshy funeral organ; another new one kicked off as a tango and turned into a ridiculously catchy new wave anthem when they got to the chorus.
Earlier in the show, there was endless comedy in the form of spraytanned, overstuffed girls stuffed into tacky dollar-store dresses, tottering drunkenly down from the roof to the bathrooms in what must have been excruciating high heels. Apparently there was a launch party up there for some reality tv show. Goes to show how far that side of the “entertainment” business has fallen: where were they having their big launch shindig? At some swanky velvet-roped joint in the meatpacking district? Nope, at the grungy ole Delancey. Schechter found the parade of heels and saggy cleavage very amusing: “Where I come from, they’re called drag queens.”