Two Dark New York Crooners at the Top of Their Game
It may have been a Xmas party, but Tom Shaner wanted no part of the holiday. As he took the stage at Bowery Electric last Tuesday, he made a point to ridicule how a celebration that espouses spirituality has become the epitome of crass commercialism run amok. “If Jesus was here, he’d have to make a sex video for anyone to recognize him,” Shaner snarled. He and his five-piece band – lead guitar, melodica and rhythm section – followed with a powerful, all-too-brief set taken mostly from his brilliant new album Ghost Songs, Waltzes and Rock n Roll (which you will see high on the 50 Best Albums of 2012 list here in a couple of days).
For anyone who was around during Shaner’s tenure fronting southwestern gothic band Industrial Tepee ten years ago, the show was a fond look back. Shaner was good then; he’s even better now, after an on-and-off monthly residency at the late, lamented Lakeside Lounge that went on for years. His baritone is deeper than it was then, his guitar just as biting, and the band behind him was excellent. They opened on a pensive note with a brooding, minor-key Jeff Buckley dedication, Unprotected Heart and followed that with the seductively shuffling Lou Reed inflections of Sister Satellite. The lead guitarist took a careening ride up the scale and then back down again on a surreal, vertigo-inducing take of the brooding desert-rock bolero Viva Las Nowhere; then they picked up the pace with the Irish folk anthem Streets of Galway. They rode a dusky desert rock ambience the rest of the way, from Everything Is Silver -a sort of Ray Bradbury/Springsteen hybrid, as Shaner told the crowd – followed by a surprisingly funky version of the caustic southwestern gothic anthem Sinner’s Highway, a soulfully pulsing take of the country-flavored Rosa Lee and then Forbidden Drug, a familiar crowd-pleaser from the Industrial Tepee days that the band would serenade crowds with at places like Manitoba’s or the C-Note. In the time that’s passed since then, Shaner has only gotten more intense and interesting, both as a songwriter and as a frontman: this show was typical in that respect.
Jon DeRosa also has a brilliant album out, A Wolf in Preacher’s Clothes, recorded at the same studio where Shaner did his. Backed by a chamber pop band with upright bass, cello, violin, glockenspiel and piano, DeRosa was improvising harmonies before he’d reached the end of the first verse of his opening number, Birds of Brooklyn. It’s an art-rock classic, an understatedly bitter, electrically metaphorical look at a borough changing for the worse, from an oldschool point of view, and DeRosa sang the hell out of it, coolly and cruelly. He kept the intensity at redline for the brooding after-hours anthem True Men and its boxing metaphors – “He who bleeds earns, this is true” – and then the Nashville gothic pop of Who Decides, which as it turns out is an LD Beghtol song – who knew?
DeRosa went further toward the gothic with a couple of older songs from his long-running Aarktika project, then hit a high note with an absolutely evil version of the creepy, pulsing, Cure/Pulp style murder ballad Snow Coffin before closing with another Jarvis Cocker-esque number, the wryly sarcastic Teenage Goths. Although DeRosa gets rave reviews across the web, it’s stunning that he isn’t better known. He’d be the perfect opening act for that Leonard Cohen show at that evil venue built on land stolen from private owners at that already rusting, cheap new Brooklyn arena.