Usual and Unusual Suspects
Jazz writers do this all the time: the dreaded “roundup.” These roundups of albums or concerts usually have one kind of screaming subtext or another. Laziness and plain old stupidity often factor into the picture; resentment at being underpaid, the writer phoning in what would be otherwise be a plum assignment, could also be part of the equation. More disingenuous is the writer who saves up all the B-list and C-list albums for one of these, hoping to dispense with all of them in a single flush so as to clear the desk for the next batch…and pay lip service to the pesky publicists responsible for sending all this shit over the transom, whom one mustn’t piss off to the point where they shut off the endless supply of content, since once in awhile they actually send something really good.
On the music blog side, there’s a fine line between advocacy and fandom. On one hand, there are artists whose work demands coverage because it’s important: to ignore them would be…well, ignorant. On the other hand, there’s only so much that can be said about them, and besides, who wants to hear about the same acts over and over again? With that in mind, here’s a look at some events from the past month that haven’t been covered here for various reasons (quite possibly because they’re received a lot of ink here), or weren’t good enough to make the cut.
It was good to catch the tail end of Los Autenticos Decadentes’ set at Central Park Summerstage last month. It would have been even more fun to have caught the whole thing, but at this venue, it’s sometimes hard to gauge when a band is going to hit the stage, especially if there are a lot of inferior acts on the bill as there were this time around (the latin Beck wannabe who followed them was godawfully bad). But the big, sprawling, horn-driven band was as funny and sarcastic and edgy as ever, considering that this Argentinian group beat Gogol Bordello to the gypsy-punk thing by about ten years.
A couple of days later Lorraine Leckie and Anthony Haden-Guest offered a sneak peak of their forthcoming album Rudely Interrupted to a packed house at the Gershwin Hotel. Leckie has made a name for herself playing Nashville gothic rock for the better part of a decade; this is her first collaboration, and her first venture into chamber pop, and judging from how she and her usually high-voltage band the Demons played it, it’s a smash success. Watching guitarist Hugh Pool play eerie washes of sound over Matt Kanelos’ glimmering Debussy-on-opium piano while Leckie delivered Haden-Guest’s sardonic, creepy narratives with a gentle menace was a treat. The show was over too soon, in under an hour, Haden-Guest practically having to be persuaded to return to the stage at the end of the show to read an offhandedly savage dismissal of celebrity culture as Kanelos played jagged jazz behind him.
Another July highlight that slipped under the radar was a rare stripped-down acoustic show by LJ Murphy at the National Underground. Backed by lead guitarist Tommy Hoscheid and charismatic, eclectic percussionist Professor Jim Porter, Murphy silenced a chatty bar crowd with his lyrically intense, blues-infused tales of financial district happy hour hell, strippers and their fan base in upstate rust belt decay, and oversexed hedge fund types who make the mistake of wishing for a little too much. The Professor took centerstage with the homemade contraption slung around his neck, part washboard and part multi-tambourine, on which he tapped out a series of hypnotic, rattling, clip-clop rhythms with a menacing pair of metal claws. All this metal added both an extra jolt of adrenaline and a slinky groove to Murphy’s metaphorically-fueled intensity.
One of the few benefits of being in New York during the summer is the variety of unexpectedly good daytime shows, whether by solo buskers or full bands. Of all the live music series that take place in city parks during the sweltering months, one of the most eclectic and intriguing ones happens in July and August (this year, anyway) on Wednesdays at around half past noon at Lincoln Square just south of 72nd St. on the upper west side. Stumbling upon the Underground Horns’ show there was a lot of fun. They opened with a blend of New Orleans funk and hip-hop much in the style of the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, then slunk their way through unexpectedly eerie Ethiopian and Balkan grooves before bringing back the funk. The drums and percussion were so tight that it almost seemed that they were playing with a drum machine…except that this machine swung like crazy, in tandem with the tuba’s fat basslines as the alto sax, trumpet and trombone soared, bobbed and weaved overhead.
To wind up the month of July on a low-key but very high note, Jerome O’Brien made a welcome return to the stage at Zirzamin with a rare solo show. Throughout most of the decade of the zeros, O’Brien fronted the Dog Show, a ferociously literate, tuneful band who veered from mod punk to vintage R&B-fueled, Stonesy or Elvis Costello-ish rock. This time out, playing solo on twelve-string guitar, he somehow managed to stay in tune, running through old favorites like Halcyon Days – a snapshot of an East Village now gone that’s taken on a special poignancy in these gentrification days – and Saturday Nights Are For Amateurs, which rings even more true now than when O’Brien and his rotating cast of characters used to sway their way through it at places like Tonic or the C-Note. The newer songs, like the scathing election-year broadside Black Eye, and a country murder ballad, packed just as much of a punch. Rumor has it that O’Brien will be back here on a semi-frequent basis; watch this space.
There were also a couple of concerts on the calendar here that didn’t make the grade. It was heartwarming to see that the octogenarian British blues legend on one of those festival bills downtown still has his harmonica and piano chops, but the Gary Moore wannabe playing garish lead guitar behind him was an embarrassment. And that popular country-flavored jamband who braved the clouds gathering over an installment of a popular outdoor concert series in SoHo should have stuck to their originals: all those covers, even the Willie Nelson one, made them sound like a Dead cover band. And putting that folkie banjo player on the bill was a big mistake: that brought everybody down.