A Month’s Worth of Nightcrawling, Part Three
Those of us who run music blogs are discouraged from every side from publishing concert coverage. The publicists all want us to “preview” live shows, which is understandable: let’s get the crowd out to the gig!!! The reality is that we are in a deep, deep economic depression. The corporate media pretend it doesn’t exist because to acknowledge it would anger advertisers. The Bushwick blogs are oblivious to it because indie rock is by and large made by and for trust-funded children whose only connection with the daily reality experienced by most New Yorkers is their late-night slobbberfest at whatever trendy taco truck stays open the latest. But in spite of it all, incredible live music that has no connection whatsoever to the indie trust fund machine persists. So this final segment in three parts is dedicated to the working poor who make up an unpublicized majority of the audience at most New York concerts.
Walter Ego headlined Sunday Salon 25 at Zirzamin. The Sunday Salon began right after the hurricane last fall: it continues, unabated, a gathering of some of New York’s edgiest songwriters and musicians trading licks and songs. In an hour onstage, Walter Ego played every instrument within reach. Backed by brilliant drummer Josh Fleischmann, he began on guitar, switched to piano, eventually took over on bass for a slinky version of the Beatles’ Baby You’re a Rich Man and ended up behind the drum kit. In between, he acknowledged the horror of being behind the wheel of a subway train that runs over a passenger, went deep into Lennonesque piano mysticism, fired off jaunty, wryly amusing songs making fun of new agers and killjoys, evoking the Zombies, Beatles, Elvis Costello and ELO along the way.
Balkan chanteuse Eva Salina played a gorgeously eclectic solo show the following Friday night at the American Folk Art Museum. She’s a musician’s musician, taking the time to explain her background and how she survives in a world of magical musical niches, an American girl determined by the time she was in grade school to master styles she had little background in. Playing and singing solo with just her accordion, she held a standing-room-only crowd rapt with haunting songs from Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece and the Jewish diaspora. Rising from a hushed, sultry alto to an anguished, microtonal wail, she held the crowd breathless as she brought to life ancient stories of mismatched marriages gone drastically awry, love lost to wartime casualties fighting the Ottoman empire, and an unexpected detour into American Appalachian folk music, another one of her specialities. A rugged individualist from day one, she now teaches music all over the world and collaborates with a similarly diverse cast of the world’s most sought-after players, from trumpeter Fank London (with whom she has a new album coming out) and modern accordionist Merima Kljuco. Her new solo album is a subtly beautiful hint of the careening chromatic intensity she pursues with London and an all-star cast of Eastern European players.
What is the likelihood that on a Monday night, an 11:30 PM Brooklyn show would be sold out? If it’s Rev. Vince Anderson, that’s always a possibility. He’s reached the point where he’s just about outgrown his weekly Monday residency at Union Pool, which is not a small venue. With a raw roar, he crashed into his signature song, Get Out of My Way and kept a packed house dancing throughout a somewhat abbreviated first set this past Monday night. Is there any jam band in New York who can match Anderson and his Love Choir? Doubtful. Firing off funk riffage on his trusty Nord Electro keyboard and backed by brilliant downtown baritone saxophonist Paula Henderson and Dave Smith on trombone plus guitar, bass and drums, he kept a resonant, murky minor-key mix going, then quoted both Hendrix and Jesus Christ Superstar in a slinky version of his own song Down to the River. A new number, Fallen from the Pray explored an existential crisis for the “dirty gospel” bandleader and minister (click here for his most recent sermon). “People are curious. They see me on the train and they come up to me and ask me, am I the Rev. Vince Anderson, and I say yes. Then they ask me why I’m depressed. and I say, do I look depressed? Am I acting for you? You mean I’m not animated like I am onstage? Then they ask me if I’m a believer. Today? Stone cold atheist, tomorrow who knows?”
The Rev., as he is lovingly known, is not an atheist. He followed that angst-ridden romp with a solo piano version of Precious Lord, Take My Hand. then a deep-fried soul vamp titled I Like My Lettuce Fried (you can actually do it if you use the heart of the vegetable) and then his hot sauce theme, Tangalicious. And that was just the first set. By the time that was over, there was no possible way to get into the room at Union Pool: you have been warned.
Alison Tartalia has an impossible 11 PM Tuesday residency this month at Spike Hill. It’s a great venue to not have to worry about drawing a crowd: it’s right by the train, the bartenders are super friendly and it’s the antithesis of the fussy trendoid bars immediately to the south. And the sound is great. Her first night here saw her working creepy noir cabaret, stagy theatrical piano songs, a ferocious blast of guitar rock and more delicate, pensive sounds. If you’re in the neighborhood, check her out – you’ve got a month to do it.
From an audience perspective, there were also a couple of shows last month that should not have happened That ferocious Balkan brass band that plays that beer garden in Williamsburg shouldn’t advertise their shows there: dudes; just take the money and run. When the bartenders blast cheesy eastern European jazz while you’re playing, it’s time to quit while you’re ahead – and you are not easy to drown out wth the PA system. And that blues guitarist who’s gotten so much ink here on the live calendar needs to play some solo shows instead of with that hack who’s been kicking around the hippie scene here since the 70s.