Who in New York would want to relive October, 2012? Actually, if you can make the big, stormy elephant in the room disappear, it wasn’t such a bad month – and there were plenty of good shows happening, right up until a couple of days before the hurricane. This month’s account is part of an ongoing feature on concerts that for various reasons escaped front-page coverage here. Although most of the artists involved have already gotten plenty of space here before, it wouldn’t make sense to neglect what they’re doing because in one way or another, it’s important.
Early in the month on a deliciously cool Saturday, Tom Warnick & the World’s Fair played their usual careening mix of haunted, noir rock and contrastingly sunny oldschool soul songs at a gig at Freddy’s in Brooklyn’s south slope. Warnick is a keyboardist; he stands deadpan, sometimes with just the hint of a smirk and intones surreal, historically-inspired lyrics while the band motors behind him. This particular version had the blazing guitars of both Ross Bonadonna and John Sharples plus tenor sax and a rhythm section. Other than the utterly blissful soul sway of My Troubles All Fall Apart, the songs had a persistent unease. Catchy as the pulsing new wave of I’m a Stranger Here and the slower but equally catchy Lost in Place were, they both spoke to youthful alienation. Likewise, The Great Calamity didn’t shy away from potential disaster – Warnick has walked away from several in his life – and delivered a persistent defiance.
Other songs were considerably darker and ran the gamut from reggae, to bluegrass, to an a-cappella cover of an old chain gang song from the 30s. Cop Car, a stomping blues tune about a stoner being tailed by the po-po, had the guitars gleefully sirening in unison on the bridge – yikes! A Little Space worked a leering Tom Waits vibe, while Keep Me Movin’ rose and fell with a moody, Doorsy-y ambience. This time out, the big hit was The Impostor, with its chromatically-fueled menace and macabre crescendo on the chorus. As strange a segue as these guys made with the opening act, Beefheart cover band Admiral Porkbrain, they kept the surreal energy going.
Onetime Dog Show frontman J. O’Brien has hardly been idle since the breakup of the band late in the zeros. His Vibedeck page has tons of name-your-price goodies, including both new songs and newly stripped down, mostly acoustic versions of Dog Show classics. He also has a monthly gig at Zirzamin, Manhattan’s newest and most exclusive venue for A-list songwriters. His October show featured a lot of his more pensive, darker material, including a welcome return of the offhandedly savage, bitter kiss-off ballad All About Wrong, as well as fueling pre-election unease with the politically-charged Black Eye and Hold Me Down. His November show was more upbeat and drew more heavily on his more recent songs, notably Cottonmouth, a hilariously snide litany of characters on the train between Manhattan and south Brooklyn. He’ll be back at Zirzamin, solo on twelve-string guitar, on Dec 10 at 7.
Spanking Charlene, leaders of the scene at the late, lamented Lakeside Lounge, made a rare trip uptown to the Ding Dong Lounge for frontwoman Charlene McPherson’s birthday. The band’s new rhythm section – Patti Rothberg’s bass player and Drina Seay’s drummer – gave them extra punch and kick, and semi-permanent lead guitarist Eric Ambel got plenty of opportunities to sear and burn with a noisy, bluesy menace. Their long set mixed in a few covers along with many of the roaring Americana-punk songs on their latest album Where Are the Freaks – notably the stomping, sludgy title track, inspired by a drunken walk through increasingly yuppified Stuyvestant Town. McPherson wailed with her usual high voltage against the squall of a huge tenor saxophonist who looked like he’d just come in from Giants practice, as the band made their way through the sarcastic crash and roar of You Suck, Secrets, Tie Me Up and Stupid Me. As the show wound up, they made the connection between Black Sabbath and the Sonics and then a version of Heat Wave that owed more to the Martha Reeves original than the Jam. Spanking Charlene’s next show is on the road, on Dec 8 at the Record Collector in Bordentown, NJ.
A day before that, Niall Connolly played the weekly acoustic series at the American Folk Art Museum a few blocks north of Lincoln Center. He’s a band guy at heart and writes like it, buildling to anthemic choruses and leaving plenty of space for guitar breaks and other interesting stuff. In an all-too-brief set, he alternated between gloomily sardonic, spare, fingerpicked reflections on relationship dysfunction, and more upbeat, politically-fueled acoustic rock. Connolly is Irish by birth and not a fan of the post-9/11 American police state, and has plenty to say about it that’s both amusing and insightful. Connolly plays a LOT of shows; he’s at Caffe Vivaldi tomorrow night at midnight and then on Tuesday (officially, early Wednesday) at one in the morning at the Red Lion on Bleecker Street, where the tourists might have actually cleared out by then.