Sunday Salons and Unusual Suspects
Today is time to finish catching up on shows by the acts who’ve made the weekly Sunday Salon at Zirzamin so much fun, week after week. If you run a music blog the right way, you walk a fine line. On one hand, it’s important to keep up with the important artists in your scene, or from your era. On the other hand, nobody wants to hear about them over and over again. By the same token, this is a new mix of old favorites: because this blog casts such a wide net, it’s never safe to assume that you’ll be running into the same old faces.
Pete Galub headlined Salon #28. He’s one of the great lead guitarists of our time. In the era of indie rock, that may be a lost art, but it’s not lost on him. As a songwriter, powerpop is his thing. Humor is very important, and always present, in his writing, but at this gig, solo on electric guitar, there wasn’t any. He was pissed. He’d played the album release show for his long-awaited, absolutely brilliant new album, Candy Tears, to a packed house at Littlefield a couple of weeks previously. This time out was a wash as far as turnout was concerned. If that was the issue, Galub took it out on his Telecaster, squalling and wailing, sheets of paint-peeling noise juxtaposed against the richly tuneful jangle that defines many of his songs. At Littlefield, Jason Victor from Steve Wynn’s band squared off against Galub for a memorable duel; by himself, Galub didn’t need a sparring partner to rid himself of his demons, or at least to battle them. The 9/11 reflection I Plead the Fifth Dimension echoed the angst and uncertainty of the weeks following that horrible day; 300 Days in July made a slow, sun-drenched, less angst-fueled but sardonically bittersweet seaside tableau. It was a clinic in technique: thoughtful, judicious fingerpicking, searing blues lines, resonant jangle and clang and scorching noise that throws a vicious lateral pass over to Steve Wynn.
Phil Shoenfelt and Pavel Cingl, the brain trust of anthemic Czech rockers Phil Shoenfelt & Southern Cross headlined Salon #29. Southern Cross is huge in Europe: where was this festival favorite playing in New York? Zirzamin. Although there were just the two musicians onstage, they had the lush, majestic sweep of a full band, in the same vein as their recent Live at the House of Sin album but even more epic. Shoenfelt’s rhythm guitar playing is tremendous: they didn’t have drums, but they didn’t need them. Running his acoustic guitar through an obscure effects pedal for a deliciously reverberating, practically orchestral sound, Shoenfelt unleashed a river of jangle and clang underneath Cingl’s terse, gorgeously incisive violin and electric mandolin leads. It was like watching the Church, or Nick Cave, from the first row. In his resonant baritone, Shoenfelt painted gloomy, sometimes portraits of life among the down-and-out in Berlin, New York and elsewhere, gambling with one’s own life and paying the price, as Cingl colored the music with elegant violin lines and ringing, soaring mandolin that sounded more like a twelve-string guitar.
SLV – Pistolera frontwoman Sandra Lilia Velasquez’s sultry new trip-hop/downtempo project – headlined Salon #31. She was a good singer in that band and she’s a great one in this project. She joked about being liberated from behind her guitar, and there might be some truth to that: she’s the closest thing to Sade that we have in New York right now. Bassist Mark Marshall played slinky, serpentine grooves as drummer Sean Dixon colored the music with counterintuitive jazz flair, using his rims and hardware as well as the cymbals to create a backdrop that was as energetic as it was misty. And he managed to stay on top of the atmospherics and synth orchestration on the laptop without missing a beat. While the strongest songs were Velasquez’s own, the biggest surprise of the night was a politically-fueled, obscure early 80s Genesis song reinvented as stripped-down, funky art-rock. In front of the mic, swaying, eyes closed, she channeled minute fractions of the spectrum between boudoir seduction and full-blown angst and every emotion in between. It was a clinic in subtlety and nuance, a side that Velasquez has always had even while it often got lost in the jangle and clang of the guitars.
At Salon #33, the headliner was the sound guy. As a bass player, he’s familiar with several different styles, as most bassists are. As a pianist and singer, he’s a work in progress, right now a stronger sideman than frontman. His lyrics are narrative, stringing images together and employing a lot of double entendres and the occasional pun, although his music is fueled more by anger than by humor. Apocalyptic imagery, references to global warming and the Iraq war recurred frequently throughout the songs. His melodies gave away a fondness for chromatics, frequently referencing the Balkans and the Middle East along with some classical flourishes. The piano was in pretty bad condition, tuningwise and otherwise: for someone who’s spent as much time onstage as this guy has, he should have been prepared for the challenge of having to maul that damaged beast and he wasn’t. It would have been interesting to see how this performance might have gone had the instrument been in something approximating working condition.