New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: June, 2014

Avishai Cohen Brings His Pensive, Mysterious Middle Eastern Jazz to Highline Ballroom

[republished from Lucid Culture, New York Music Daily’s jazz and classical annex]

Avishai Cohen is on a roll. The Israeli jazz bassist specializes in moody, often haunting compositions which draw equally on Middle Eastern and western classical music as well as jazz. Like another brilliant Israeli jazz bassist, Omer Avital, Cohen has gone deeper into the Middle East lately, although Cohen takes less of the spotlight than Avital typically does, and tends to be more compositionally than improvisationally-inclined. His most recent album, Almah is a blend of Middle Eastern and contemporary classical music and features both oboe and a string quartet. Like Cohen’s two previous efforts, Duende and Aurora, the lineup also includes brilliant third-stream pianist Nitai Hershkovits, who’s joining Cohen along with drummer Daniel Dor for a trio show at Highline Ballroom on June 22 at 8 PM; tix are $30.

Over Cohen’s past three albums, you can see a trajectory unfold and a distinctive, individualistic style continue to evolve. Cohen’s intimate, straightforward, emotionally direct songs without words often take on a Spanish tinge throughout Aurora, which is basically a trio album featuring Shai Maestro on piano with occasional oud from Amos Hoffman and vocalese from Karen Malka. There are plenty of tricky time signatures, generous amounts of rubato, and dynamics galore. Duende, a duo album with Hershkovits, is more rhythmic, swings more and relies more on blues-based tradition rather than the apprehensive chromatics of Aurora – other than the gorgeous theme-and-variations that comprise the former’s opening tracks. Almah has a starkly orchestrated overture, a little minimalist indie classical, austerely rhythmic Arabic melodies, an uneasy lullaby, a couple of bracingly acerbic, chromatically-fueled waltzes, and a bitingly rhythmic, rather ferocious piano feature for Hershkovits that might be its strongest track.

Since Cohen is playing this show with the trio, you can most likely expect lots of stuff from the two older albums and maybe material from even earlier. Settle in, wait for the lights to go down and let the suspense begin.

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Norah Jones’ Puss N Boots – Her Best Project Ever?

Is Puss & Boots the best project Norah Jones has ever been involved with? It’s definitely the most fun. Jones, guitarist/singer Sasha Dobson and bassist Catherine Popper are obviously having a blast playing their devious mix of oldschool C&W, honkytonk and a little retro rock, and all of it is contagious. Which it ought to be. Who would have thought that a group that began as a way for Jones to mess around under the radar would evolve this far? The trio are playing Sunny’s bar in Red Hook tonight, June 20 at 9ish, presumably as a warmup for their big gig at the Bell House (which has been their more-of-less official home lately) on July 15 at 8:30. Advance tix for that one are $25 and highly recommended.

And who would have thought that the three would eventually make an album? They assuredly didn’t record No Fools, No Fun for the money (which might have a lot to do with why it’s so fresh and entertaining). Popper has a money gig with a big-ticket arena rock band. Dobson has her choice of gigs on the jazz or folkie circuit, which Jones will be able to play for the rest of her life. So why do this? Maybe just for the love of it.

You could call this a younger, more irreverent counterpart to the Dolly Parton/Loretta Lynn/Linda Ronstadt albums. Much as Jones gets all the props for her voice, Dobson is no slouch at country and neither is Popper. What jumps out is how good, and how purist, a country guitarist Jones is – and Dobson, who’s just as eclectic and jazz-inclined as Jones, makes a good foil. Most of the songs feature three-part harmonies and they are as energetic and sassy as you would expect. The opening track, Leaving London has the three singing in unison; then they trade verses and max out the rodeo innuendos on Bull Rider, a Freudian shuffle. Dobson gives the ballad Twilight an especially forlorn edge; the group follows with the good-natured waltz Sex Degrees of Separation, which as it turns out isn’t remotely x-rated.

Jones’ garage rock guitar pairs off with Popper’s slinky, soaring bass on the Texas shuffle Don’t Know What It Means. Their live take of Neil Young’s Down by the River sstarts as if they’re going to do Pink Floyd’s Breathe instead (both songs have the same chords on the verse), Popper slinking around during an amusingly primitive guitar solo that the crowd loves anyway. The blend of voices on the slow honkytonk ballad Tarnished Angel are especially fetching until they hit an unexpected joke – no spoiler here.

They do Jesus Etc. as laid-back but purposeful stoner alt-country (sounds like an oxymoron, but you have to hear it). Likewise, they fake their way through the changes on the briskly shuffling, clanging and twanging Always. GTO, a detour toward Eilen Jewell-tinged ghoulabilly, is the album’s darkest and arguably best song. After Pines, a sketchy indie-folk number, the album winds up with the slow honkytonk tune You’ll Forget Me, the only place on the album where Popper actually gets to take a solo, keeping it terse and lowdown. Chemistry and cameraderie is all over the place here – who says supergroups can’t get along? The album’s not out yet so no Spotify link yet – watch this space.

Deep Sounds from the Middle East at the World Financial Center

What’s the likelihood of seeing two octogenarian Armenian music legends in a single week, outside of Armenia, anyway? Thursday night was Souren Baronian at Barbes, Saturday night was Jivan Gasparyan at the World Financial Center, on a transcendent doublebill with Iranian spike fiddle virtuoso and composer Kayhan Kalhor. Only in New York, right?

Though Gasparyan’s show was billed as his farewell American concert – he’s 86 and about to quit touring after more than six decades of it – this was unmistakably a victory lap. Gasparyan was a renowned symphony player and soloist on the duduk – the small but lower-pitched, moody wind instrument, sort of a Middle Eastern counterpart to the bassoon – for decades in his native land, finally finding a global audience with his suite I Will Not Be Sad in This World, from a Brian Eno-produced album in the late 80s. That was the set’s last number, a new arrangement by Kalhor played by the two headliners plus Gasparyan’s grandson (also named Jivan) on clarinet and Behrouz Jamali on dumbek. It made a suitably eclectic, majestic coda to what had been a riveting concert, beginning as a lullaby before growing more bracing, through a brief canon of sorts and then a series of graceful exchanges between the musicians.

Gasparyan and his grandson had taken their time getting to that point. The elder player began with a saturnine, distantly majestic theme, his younger counterpart choosing his spots to add harmonies while a low E drone lingered in the sound system. Was it a harmonium stashed away offstage? An electroacoustic element? A fluke of the ventilation system that the two had decided to incorporate? There was no explanation. From there, the two slowly, methodically and unselfconsciously magically made their way through an unexpectedly lighthearted, gracefully dancing number, a brief prelude of sorts with echoes of the baroque, and a couple of nonchalantly chilling nocturnes, first by Gasparyan senior, then his younger counterpart.

Kalhor’s compositions and improvisations vividly reflect contemporary Iranian experience. Themes of exile and alienation figure heavily in his work, as they did his single, long piece this particular night, which he played in a duo set with Jamali. Kalhor began it solo with plaintive, anguished, sustained lines, then picked up with sudden, seemingly horror-stricken cadenza that signaled a long crescendo. Kalhor – playing his signature custom-made “shah kaman,” a genuinely regal instrument whose range is similar to a cello’s, but with a more biting tone – wove slithery, crystalline glissandos into his alternatively austere and frenetic melodies. The duo took them up and down, galloping and then relenting, never letting go of a pervasive unease, ending sudden and unresolved.

But there was also a very funny interlude when some unexpected harmonies joined Kalhor midway through his set, wafting from behind a curtain to the right of the stage. On the spur of the moment, one of the Gasparyans decided to flex his chops and play along – and much as this drew a lot of quizzical looks from the crowd, whichever guy had his duduk out blended in as seamlessly as anyone could have under the circumstances. For all we know, Kalhor might have planned it as a joke, considering that he didn’t seem the least bit perturbed when the playing started or when it suddenly stopped.

 

Where Did All the Live Coverage Go, or, A La Recherche De Concerts Perdus

New York Music Daily was originally conceived as a live music blog. In the very first month or so here, there was more concert coverage than there’s been in all of 2014 up to now.

What’s up with that? Has New York Music Daily morphed into just another generic “look who’s on tour” blog? Not necessarily.

OK – a cold winter, followed by a temporary lack of general mobility, made it awfully easy to focus on whittling down an enormous stack of albums instead of stumbling through pools of salty sludge night after night. And the abrupt closure of Zirzamin last summer – where this blog ran a music salon for the better part of a year – put an end to one of the few remaining genuine scenes in a town further and further balkanized by the proliferation (some would say overproliferation) of outer-borough neighorhood bars with live music. Zirzamin made a blogger’s job obscenely easy – it was one-stop shopping, sometimes three or four good acts on a given night. Since then, keeping track of the best acts who passed through there has become a lot more time-consuming. In the spirit of keeping a scene alive, this is a long-overdue look at some usual suspects who haven’t let the loss of that venue phase them.

Full disclosure: Lorraine Leckie was a partner in booking the Zirzamin salon. And why not: she has impeccable taste and likes residencies (beats having to pay for rehearsal space, right?). She’s been doing a monthly Friday or Saturday night show going way back to her days in the Banjo Jim’s scene. When Banjo Jim’s closed, she moved to Otto’s, but that place isn’t really set up to handle to loud bands with vocals (and her band the Demons can be LOUD). So Zirzamin, with its pristine sonics, was a logical move. Lately she’s had a monthly Friday night gig at Sidewalk – her next one is June 20 at 11. Sometimes she plays a rock set with the Demons, sometimes she does her quietly menacing chamber pop stuff. Her January show there (yeah, this is going back a ways) was a showcase for her Lou Reed-influenced glamrock and lots of Hendrix-inspired pyrotechnics from lead guitarist Hugh Pool, capped off with a long, volcanic take of one of her signature Canadian gothic anthems, Ontario. The show before that was a solo set where Leckie alternated between Stratocaster and piano, featuring a lot of sardonic, brooding chamber pop songs, many of them from Leckie’s collaboration with Anthony Haden-Guest, Rudely Interrupted.

Baritone crooner/powerpop tunesmith/sharp lyricist Walter Ego is another Zirzamin regular who’s more or less migrated to Sidewalk. Like Leckie, he’s been doing about a show a month there lately – the next one is on June 19 at 9 – as well as playing bass in Mac McCarty‘s gothic Americana band. Walter Ego was most recently witnessed doing double duty, playing both a solo set – including a rare cover, an impassioned version of Peter Gabriel’s Biko, dedicated to the late Nelson Mandela – followed by a careening show with McCarty’s band at the Path Cafe back when there was still snow on the ground. As much fun as that bill was – McCarty’s lickety-split take of Henry, Oh Henry, an absolutely creepy cemetery-folk tune, being just one of many highlights – that venue proved itself completely unsuitable, sonically and spacewise, for full-band rock shows. Walter Ego’s previous solo show at Sidewalk was a lot more sonically accomodating (if you can imagine that), emphasis on similarly creepy material like the subway suicide narrative 12-9, the gorgeous noir cabaret waltz Half Past Late and the even more darkly gorgeous, metaphorically-charged chamber pop song I Am the Glass.

J O’Brien is the latest A-list songwriter to turn up at Sidewalk, coming off a monthly Zirzamin residency. His solo set on twelve-string guitar there last month followed a pretty wild, high-voltage show by wryly howling punkgrass/oldtimey band the Grand. Most of their songs are about drinking. They’ve got fiddle and cajon and resonator guitar and standup bass and a girl on harmony vocals who also plays the saw. They sound like a stripped-down, more punk New Brooklyn take on the Old Crow Medicine Show and they drew a big crowd who loved them. O’Brien fed off that energy, mixing animated acoustic versions of surreal, hyperliterate mod-punk flavored songs from his days with cult favorites the Dog Show, as well as some newer material with a biting political edge. Like Ray Davies, somebody he often resembles, O’Brien remains populist to the core.

Resonator guitarist/bluesmama Mamie Minch most likely never played Zirzamin, probably since she’s such a staple of the Barbes scene. She’s also opened her own guitar repair shop, Brooklyn Lutherie, in the old American Can Company building in Gowanus where Issue Project Room was for several years. They’re New York’s only woman-owned guitar and stringed instrument repair shop – how cool is that? Being an experienced luthier, Minch has a deep address book, and has staged a couple of excellent acoustic shows in the space since she opened. The first featured New Orleans Balkan/Romany band the G String Orchestra doing a hauntingly exhilarating trio show with violin, accordion and bass. No doubt there will be more.

A Dark Night of Soul at the Brooklyn Night Bazaar

Friday night at the Brookyn Night Bazaar, singer/guitarist Nick Waterhouse didn’t start a song in a major key until his long, menacingly pulsing set was almost over. And at that point, with a laid-back, warmly sunny retro soul groove, he lost the crowd. Apparently they liked his dark, minor-key stuff better, which makes sense considering how much there was of it and well he did it. It was almost funny watching guest Paula Henderson – ordinarily one of the world’s most colorful baritone saxophonists – hanging out way down in the smoky lows, inscrutable behind her red shades, decked out in a matching red dress, channeling luridness even when she wasn’t playing it. Waterhouse brought the regular drummer from his LA band, who has every snazzy retro soul thump and flourish in his fingers and used all of them judiciously, while the guest bassist and keyboardist evoked a shady, 1966-era Detroit soul lounge.

Waterhouse is also a hell of a guitarist, but he’s more about building a mood than he is about flash, firing off a handful of barely chorus-length solos, letting his menacing, reverb-drenched flourishes linger. His vocals have a drawl that draws more on 60s psychedelia than it does the retro soul that springboards his songs. Even when a verse would vamp along on a single chord until the chorus kicked in, there was always something interesting going on: an echoey Rod Argent-style electric piano solo; the organ and sax punching in together; oohs and aahs from the woman singing harmonies. The noir ambience never lifted until late in the show.

The first number sounded like a dark retro psych band like the Allah-Las doing oldschool soul. The second one was like Clairy Browne‘s band covering the 13th Floor Elevators. Another took the riff from Tom Petty’s Breakdown and made purist retro soul out of it. Waterhouse went into ghoulabilly and then a Lynchian bolero later on, followed by the night’s most lurid number, Sleeping Pills, which is probably about suicide but might not be. He also tossed in a couple of covers including an expansively furtive version of the Young-Holt Trio’s Ain’t There Something That Money Can’t Buy, one of several tracks from his new album, Holly. After well over an hour onstage, he and the band encored with a long jam on the Seeds’ Pushin’ Too Hard. That’s a funny song, and that’s how it started out, the drummer hitting on the “one” until he realized after about four minutes that it was just plain overkill. By then the song was going in a darker direction, Waterhouse and the organist pushing it through Stranglers territory on through to the Doors

On one hand, that Waterhouse got the people in the house to respond as energetically as they did was impressive, considering that this was Williamsburg, and that the show was part of a pathetic L Magazine-sponsored imitation of the CMJ indie clusterfuck. On the other, it’s probably safe to say that the crowd who came out for Waterhouse and the clique that goes to see bands like The Pains of Being Bear in Heaven probably don’t talk to each other much.

 

A Rare Brooklyn Show by Middle Eastern Jazz Legend Souren Baronian

What’s the likelihood of a legend like Souren Baronian bringing his long-running Middle Eastern jazz ensemble Taksim to a small bar in Park Slope? Thursday night at Barbes, the back room was packed for a transcendent, hypnotically groove-driven set by the multi-reedman’s paradim-shifting quintet. Baronian is 84,  looks and sounds at least a quarter century younger. He bantered self-effacingly with the crowd: “We play music from the Middle East, and anything else we can steal.” But when he picked up his reed, or the riq he tapped out beats on when someone else was soloing, he was all business.

Although born here, Baronian personifies everything that’s good about Middle Eastern reed players, delivering his genre-defying material with a directness and clarity that was nothing short of scary. So many jazz players squeal and squawk; Baronian goes straight for the tune. His embellishments tend to be more Middle Eastern and microtonal than they are blue notes in the conventional jazz sense. Bassist Sprocket Royer played slinky, undulating microtonal vamps that mingled with the mesmerizing clip-clop of the percussionist – on a couple of darboukas – in tandem with the drums. Oud player Adam Good gets a ton of gigs because he has such a distinctive, individual style, and he managed to sneak plenty of unexpected chords and raga riffage into his bracing, serpentine lines, often doubling the melody in tandem with Baronian.

Baronian opened on soprano sax and then played clarinet for most of the show save for a couple of especially haunting, low-key numbers where he switched to the small, moody, low-midrange duduk. One of the set’s early numbers worked a Macedonian-style trope, happy-go-lucky verse into bitingly apprehensive chorus. Another featured wry variations on a couple of familiar Charlie Parker themes – and then went doublespeed. Desert Wind, a diptych of sorts, began with a brooding duduk improvisation and hit a peak with a matter-of-factly intense oud solo. When the waitress signaled that it was time to wrap up the set, Baronian laughed and told her that most of his songs were about 25 minutes long – and then picked up his sax and led the band through a scampering number that went on for about half that. What a treat to see such an ageless, soulful master of so many styles, still at the top of his game,  in such an intimate space.

Amanda Thorpe Goes Deep Into the Noir in Yip Harburg’s Torch Songs

Nobody sings a moody grey-sky melody with as much moving, wounded poignancy as Amanda Thorpe. Although she’s best known as a purveyor of uneasy, rustic Britfolk-influenced rock and chamber pop – she’s the closest thing to Linda Thompson this generation has produced – Thorpe has also been singing jazz since the 90s. And she’s just as hauntingly adept at it, shifting meticulously and sometimes wrenchingly from one emotion to another in a pensive alto. She’ll caress the lyrics on a verse and then hit a wailing, anguished peak on a chorus. But where she works her magic best is in between those extremes.

Thorpe’s new album Bewitching Me: The Lyrics of Yip Harburg was springboarded by a chance introduction to Ben Harburg, grandson of the ubiquitous swing era lyricist. Thorpe reinvents a bunch of old chestnuts as well as several  rarities from throughout Harburg’s career, backed by a tight band recorded mostly live in the studio. Sexmob‘s Tony Scherr plays tersely eclectic guitar, ranging from wee-hours, tremolo-tuned saloon jazz to vintage soul to the downtown grit he’s best known for. Rob Jost plays bass with an edgily incisive, woody tone; Robert di Pietro on drums with his typical, minutely focused nuance; plus Matt Trowbridge on keyboards, Serena Jost on cello and Ray Sapirstein on trumpet. Joe McGinty guests memorably on organ on a shatteringly wounded, nocturnal, oldschool soul-infused take of I’m Yours. Scherr switches to bass on a wryly jaunty, Anita O’Day-style take of Buds Won’t Bud alongside guests Michael Fagan on guitar and Nancy Polstein (Thorpe’s bandmate in the late, great Wirebirds) on drums. And Ben Harburg duets with Thorpe on a droll, tonguetwisting bonus track, I Like the Likes of You, over a bouncy pop backdrop.

Her stab at turning Over the Rainbow into a janglerock anthem, Scherr channeling Bill Frisell, is about as good as anything anyone’s been able to do with it. But her take of the other standard Harburg’s best known for, Brother Can You Spare a Dime, is a quiet knockout, rising out of a creepy, ambient intro with a thinly restrained anger, bringing it into the post-Bush era with a muted vengeance and vivid sense of abandonment. With its haunting, subdued anguish, Thorpe’s noir tropicalia version of Willow in the Wind is even better, fueled by di Pietro’s ominous tom-toms and misterioso cymbal work. Thorpe and the band work their way into It’s Only a Paper Moon as subdued Lynchian noir, then wind it up with an unexpected snarl fueled by Scherr’s bristling chords. And her misty, lushly waltzing, Adrift on a Star raises the doomed deep-sky intensity to a hushed peak.

Jost’s stark cello mingles with Scherr’s sparkly guitar as Paris Is a Lonely Town unwinds into Beatlesque psychedelia. Likewise, the jazziest tune here, April in Paris gives Thorpe plenty of room to remind how much a notoriously romantic city can amplify absence and regret. Old Devil Moon gets a lingering Nashville gothic treatment that grows more sultry the deeper Thorpe goes into the song: the old devil’s definitely up to no good here. Thorpe reinvents I’m Yours as slow swaying, jangly, organ-fueled oldschool soul and follows it with the album’s most sensual number, Last Night When We Were Young, Thorpe airing out her upper register with a lushly breathy, spine-tingling presence.

There are also a couple of considerably more lighthearted songs here. Thorpe has devilishly deadpan fun with all the tricky rhymes and innuendo in When I’m Not Near the Man I Love over the band’s tiptoeing red-neon ambience. And she gives Then I’ll Be Tired of You a swinging vintage soul-infused interpretation. The album’s liner notes compare the chemistry between Thorpe and Scherr to Julie London with Barney Kessel, or Mary Ford with Les Paul, and while this rocks harder than either of those duos ever did, the comparison holds true. As noir music and torch songs go, it doesn’t get any better than this. It this album the best of 2014 so far? It’s one of them.

Another Moody Violin Masterpiece from Hannah Thiem

Hannah Thiem‘s new album Brym – streaming at Soundcloud – finds the intense, haunting Copal violinist in typically eclectic mode. This time out, she’s traded her usual Middle Eastern-tinged sound for a more Nordic and classically-influenced one. As with Copal, her songs here manage to be terse yet soaringly majestic at the same time. Otherwise, the main difference between this and Copal is that the rhythm here is mechanical, and there are light electronic flourishes to flesh out the string melodies. But Thiem keeps those to a minimum, mostly just a simple synth bassline and some delicate atmospherics. Otherwise, it’s her violin, soaring and wailing and dancing with a lithe, wary majesty, dark and pensive and absolutely gorgeous.

The opening track, Skaldic Roulette sets the stage, washes of sound against murky distant lows introducing a trip-hop groove with Thiem’s signature windswept, plaintive melody. It reminds of Kristin Hoffmann at her most intense. Phavet is an example of how interesting you can make what’s essentially a one-chord jam if you vary your dynamics enough, in this case from an echoing, dancing, hypnotically bracing theme to a thicket of overdubs where Thiem becomes a one-woman string sextet.

The title track works variations on a traditional Norwegian theme. like an Alan Parsons Project instrumental from the 80s but more techy. This particular tune is more rustic, with a vivid sense of longing and absence in the midst of all its lush layers. The Finding mingles hints of dub, the Mediterranean, swooping vocalese and goth-tinged piano along with Thiem’s dynamically rich string multitracks. The album ends with Sweetest Invitation, which is bittersweet at best, a terse, goth-tinged ballad that’s the most classically-oriented piece here. Copal’s album Into the Shadow Garden is one of the best of the past decade: as far as short albums go, there hasn’t been anything released in 2014 that can touch this. If art-rock is your thing, grab this before it disappears.

Two Intense Guitarists Steal the Show at the Mercury

Wednesday’s show at the Mercury ultimately boiled down to great lead guitar. Expat Australian five-piece band Reserved For Rondee are tight and talented, lead player Billy Magnussen proving to be the star of that particular show. You might assume that a band opening for the Last Internationale would think segue, backloading their set with the heavy stuff. Reserved for Rondee did the opposite. Then again, like so many bands from down under, they have zero regard for convention, mixing up genres that make no sense at all together. And most of the time it worked. Early 70s stoner rock with disco bass and drums? Check. Classic Motown mashed up with new wave, but heavier? Doublecheck. But the their best stuff came early in the set, Magnussen firing off searing, lickety-split blues riffage over beats that drummer Warren Hemenway switched up effortlessly from funky to dinosaurian, in an In Through the Out Door way. Rhythm guitarist Nick Focas and bassist Tom Degnan supplied the catchy changes as Magnussen spun through volleys of icy bluesmetal, hitting his volume pedal, mixing up the reverb and delay and a little later, wailing through a vintage analog chorus effect for a deliciously shivery, watery tone.

The only song that didn’t work, at least musically, was a shout-out to the band’s new home, Bushwick. First there was some shameless borough-centric namechecking in the same vein as what bands like the Easybeats were doing 45 years ago, tossing around gratuitous American references in hopes of scoring a hit here. But then there was a surprise: the gentrifiers at the center of the song see their “boutique everything” world disintegrate and end up on the street with their less fortunate neighbors!

By the time the Last Internationale hit the stage, the place was packed. Guitarist Edgey Pires comes from the same place as Magnussen, although his brand of blues is more unhinged and raw, part Fred “Sonic” Smith, part Jon Spencer. Where Magnussen varied his textures,  trebly Fender Twin natural distortion was enough for Pires to work with, delivering highs that shrieked and whined when he wasn’t flailing his way through terse, hypnotic vamps, wielding his reverb-fueled chords and savage, bluesy swipes like a machete. Frontwoman Delila Paz began the show playing a gorgeous vintage Vox Teardrop bass, switched to acoustic guitar a little later and then put it down for the rest of the show, swaying and belting with an impassioned, throaty intensity and a wide-angle vibrato. Most of the set was new songs from a forthcoming album due out later this summer, the best of which, We Will Reign, sounded like Patti Smith fronting the MC5. Both comparisons extend beyond the music to Paz’s defiant, confrontational lyrics. Her most memorable line reflected how quickly a hippie peace-and-love vibe collapses when the cops show up and send in the stormtroopers. Strangely, Paz’s most intense moment behind the mic – an anguished a-cappella gospel interlude – was the one place where she lost the crowd. Then drummer Brad Wilk (formerly of Rage Against the Machine) kicked in and everybody shut up and listened.

Green Party Lieutenant Governor candidate Brian Jones introduced the set and explained his platform. Universal single-payer healthcare met with barely any response, but when Jones mentioned returning to this state’s previous, decades-long policy of free college tuition at New York State schools, the crowd roared. And They responded even more energetically to raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Jones backloaded his own little set by promising to legalize marijuana if elected and received the kind of cheers you would expect from a crowd in a city whose new mayor hasn’t delivered on his own vow to back off on pot busts.

The Puff Pieces Revisit a Classic Postpunk Sound

Washington, DC postpunk project the Puff Pieces’ debut 7″ ep New Nazis (streaming at Bandcamp) is a trip back in time to a 1981 of the mind, when kids flocked to college-town record stores to blow their Reagan Recession paychecks on expensive Gang of Four import lp’s they’d never heard…or crammed themselves into tiny basement studios to record simple, snarling, tinny, politically-fueled cassettes, using just a single guitar, bass and drumkit. But this one was recorded last year – presumably on digital equipment, although it has a lo-fi analog sound – by frontman Mike Andre with E.D. Sedgwick’s Justin Moyer and Weed Tree’s Amanda Huron.

These skronky, propulsive, sketchily funky songs are short, evoking the Gang of Four as well as legendary/obscure DC band the Urban Verbs. The briskly marching first track, with its jagged upper-register guitar shrieks, trebly bassline and uneasy, off-key vocals, makes deadpan mockery of taking tests for this and that. The title track has a similarly sarcastic, vamping pulse, the bass carrying the melody: “What are you gonna think when the new Nazis spill your drink?” Andre asks, and it gets more disturbing from there. The third tune strips the idea of capitalism down to the caveman competition that it essentially is: it’s the most straight-up punk of all the songs here. The scampering, bass-driven final cut makes fun of the spend-and-consume economy: the credit card joke at the end might be a little obvious, but it’s too good to spoil. Big picture ideas, catchy simple riffs, and you can dance to all of them.