Some Shows That Worked and Some That Didn’t
To follow up the piece here a few days ago about catching up on concerts from the past few months, there’ve been some shows this year that were slated for coverage here but fell off the agenda for various reasons. Pensive Norwegian cellist/chanteuse Linnea Olsson got so little time onstage at her most recent solo show at Highline Ballroom that there wasn’t a lot to say about her. “Anna Paquin does Edgar Allan Poe,” was the reaction from one of New York’s best songwriters, referring to Paquin’s film debut in The Piano. Olsson did one thing and did it well: simple, catchy vocal melodies over long, moody, minimalist washes of cello punctuated by rhythmic accents amplified with tons of slapback reverb. She began with a long, swaying instrumental, brought the energy up with a lilting, dancing number and went in a more anthemic direction from there.
Likewise, it was good to catch some of Isle of Klezbos‘ afterwork show at Bryant Park right after Memorial Day. Deborah Kreisberg’s alternatingly haunting and wildly robust clarinet (and alto sax) fueled the mostly-female klezmer jamband’s dynamic set alongside accordionist Shoko Nagai, who added austere, otherworldly washes that alluded to her background at the far frontiers of jazz and the avant garde. Bassist Dave Hofstra was the ringer, anchoring the music in tandem with drummer Eve Sicular, who is a lot of fun to watch and was having a great, vaudeville-tinged time behind the kit when she wasn’t bursting out from behind it to breathlessly explain the music and its origins from across the decades and the global Jewish diaspora. Singer Melissa Fogarty shares Sicular’s taste for subtle irony, and brought that to the forefront through a couple of numbers including a winking take of the old Molly Picon film tune Abi Gezunt.
A couple weeks after that, energetic Moscow-based Russian folk quartet Russkaya Krasa made a New York stop at the American Folk Art Museum. Like Olsson, they played a very short set (actually two of them, one for early arrivals and one for latecomers). With three and sometimes four female singers, they were joined by a guitarist/singer named Ilya who added his resonant baritone to the mix of eerie close harmonies that some Russian folk music shares with its Balkan neighbors. They began with a couple of hypnotic numbers dating from the 14th and 15th century, the first supposedly a call used by women who in the spring would strip naked, run off into the woods and then entice the village men in to share the fun. Then they worked their way from the 19th to the 20th century with a handful of dancing minor-key tunes (and one that sounded Mexican – the La Bamba chord progression is a pretty universal thing). Tatiana, their alto singer, raised the roof with a wailing, intense a-cappella song, magnified by the natural reverb of the museum atrium.
Cheetah Chrome and Paul Burch made a swing through town in May for what were supposed to be three shows. Given the choice of seeing the punk guitar icon and his Nashville gothic pal at Manitoba’s – which with its punk roots was probably packed (Richie from the Dictators owns the place) – or, upstairs at 2A on a Sunday night, which one would you choose? Picking Sunday turned out to be a mistake since Cheetah and pal didn’t play til much later than advertised – and the Irish Americana girl who opened didn’t do anything that rose above the level of generic. Sorry to miss this show, guys – hopefully next time!
The noir-inclined downtown guitarslinger from a postpunk cult band that also dates from the CB’s era has been doing gigs at a bunch of midtown bars. On one level, this is punk to the core: it’s a free rehearsal. But inviting the public to gigs like that can be a mistake, which this turned out to be. Playing through a facsimile of a PA to a handful of homeless guys can’t really be much fun, can it? In this guy’s case it didn’t sound like it.
There was also a drummer-led group whose recent shot at reviving the sound of early Can onstage missed the mark – it wasn’t that the musicians were bad, but they were definitely underrehearsed. And if you’ve read this far, you deserve some comic relief. You’d go see this singer, right? She sounds like she’d be really good live. Well, she was supposedly playing a restaurant in the garment district. The band that showed up to back her was decent, in a generically bluesy way – but as it turned out, the singer wasn’t her. It was somebody with a similar name, and this particular vocalist (to call her a singer wouldn’t be accurate) turned out to have missed her exit at Bleecker Street, rasping and braying her way through a Janis Joplin cover or two and a couple of even more floridly campy originals. After wasting half an hour and being harrassed by the bartendress to buy expensive drinks (this is after being invited to review the show by the venue’s publicist, mind you), it was obvious that this was a big mistake. No mistake about this – you’ll never have to read about any more restaurant gigs here. And as the summer goes on, there’ll be a lot more on the live front, starting here. Guess which ones!