Recent NYC Concerts: Clearing the Decks

by delarue

A cynic might ask why a music blog should cover concerts at all. After all, who cares, other than the band, and the people who were there?

Consider that whether we admit it or not, everyone who runs a music blog is an advocate: for themselves, maybe, or for a particular style of music, or for certain artists. The point of this blog is to keep an eye on the most intelligent things happening under the radar in what’s left of the New York rock world, without losing sight of what’s happening outside. Obviously, if Radiohead comes to town, that’s news – but everybody else is going to cover it, so New York Music Daily probably wouldn’t. Good acts with a global fan base have thousands of advocates; good acts with a smaller following deserve one. That’s where this blog comes in. And while it may be true that the death of the album turned out to be an old wives’ tale, it’s still true that there are many more great artists who aren’t making albums, or at least as many of them, as those who are. And you can go see them! That’s the point of all this.

Jerome O’Brien may not be making albums, but he’s making singles: elegant acoustic remakes of songs originally done by his well-loved band the Dog Show, as well as new material, all up at his Vibedeck page. Beginning in July of last year, he had a monthly residency at Zirzamin. His next-to-last show, played solo on acoustic twelve-string guitar,  was characteristically intriguing. He began with a spiky, puckish, fingerpicked instrumental inspired by the late, great Joe Ben Plummer, for whom O’Brien played bass in Douce Gimlet. Plummer was a hell of a guitarist (and no slouch on keyboards and saxophone either), and a diehard believer in the theory that the ability to fingerpick a guitar separates the men from the boys.

From there, O’Brien moved through a mix of old Dog Show favorites. The venomous, bluesy 6/8 kiss-off anthem Diamonds and Broken Glass, the caffeinated, politicallly-fueled mod rock broadside Hold Me Down, the apprehensive pre-election reflection Black Eye and a similarly wary, similarly catchy new song were highlights of the set. With Zirzamin shuttered as of last night, a small army of good veteran New York rockers have been left without a musical home. Where they’ll end up, and where O’Brien’s residency might pick up, remains to be seen.

A couple of weeks after that, one of several versions of Maynard & the Musties played Hank’s. Joe Maynard has played with a lot of people over the years, both here and elsewhere and consequently has a big address book. This particular version of the band, one part outlaw country and one part darkly twangy rock band, featured excellent lead guitarist Mac Randall and a new rhythm section. Much as Maynard’s most recent material can be very dark, he’s an awfully funny guy and this show featured more of that kind of material, including a song told from the point of view of a guy who’s psyched that his ladyfriend has hit menopause, since he no longer has to use protection. Maynard’s most recent album was recorded with the west coast version of the band; his next one will be with the New York crew, produced by Eric “Roscoe” Ambel.

A couple of weeks after that, the Howl Festival took over Tompkins Square Park for a couple of days. Day one featured a lot of solo sets at the bandshell. As usual, it was disorganized, with not much regard for holding to the schedule of which acts were supposed to perform when. Hoping to be able to catch a performance by Ward White turned out to be a debacle, but it was still good to see a solo set by Marni Rice. The accordionist/chanteuse did her usual mix of dark, original, punkish cabaret as well as a Piaf classic or two. Another even more punk cabaret personality, singer/bandleader Anna Copacabanna followed. Early on in her brief set, she did a snarling number about gentrifiers taking over her beloved adopted East Village turf, expected to hear roars of applause from the crowd and was nonplussed when she didn’t. How quickly times change. The rest of the set alternated between screaming punk rock and coy, innuendo-fueled, new wave-ish stuff, Copacabanna adding a nimble, tongue-in-cheek edge with her glockenspiel work.

The following week, Carolyn Mark played Rodeo Bar, vigorously strumming her acoustic guitar and backed by the Jack Grace Band, which was as fun and entertaining as you would expect. “Get it up, stick it in, pull it out,” went the chorus on the night’s big singalong number. A posse of Mark’s drunken fellow Canadians filled the floor in front by the tables as the band careened through a haphazard take of These Boots Are Made for Walking, Jack Grace quoting liberally from Led Zep. His wife and bass player Daria teamed up with the frontwoman for some soaring harmonies as the band made their way through Memphis soul and a couple of Texas shuffles. But the show wasn’t all oldschool party music. “Everybody’s so young,” Mark sang pensively on the night’s opening number. A little later, she led the band through a darkly skeletal number possibly called Scarecrows, then a soul-tinged kiss-off anthem. Mark plays the Rodeo every few months; let’s hope that Grace is in town next time around to back her.