Karla Rose & the Thorns: Centerpiece of a Fearsome Halloween Triplebill in Williamsburg
Amidst the usual parade of wannabes, there are always a handful of good original bands playing the CMJ festival. This year’s included Palehound a.k.a. guitarist Ellen Kempner doing her catchy postpunk at Cake Shop; the Union Pool triplebill of angst-fueled, lyrically-driven songsmiths Amy Bezunartea, Jennifer O’Connor and the creepy, psychedelic Tim Foljahn; and electric folk noir band Leland Sundries at Leftfield. But the highlight of the festival was the set by dark cinematic rockers Karla Rose & the Thorns in the big room at the Rockwood on Friday. The allusively torchy, Telecaster-wielding singer and her band are on the best Halloween bill of 2015 on the 31st at Warsaw at around 10 PM, following the Bogmen’s Vic Thrill, then followed by the original dark carnival band, World Inferno; general admission is $25. And she’s also at Berlin on October 26 at 8 PM, opening for the “king of powerpop,” Paul Collins for a ridiculously cheap $5. The entrance to the venue is inside the bar at 2A, 2nd St. and Ave. A; take the door on your right about ten feet past the entrance and go downstairs.
Karla Rose’s songs have Dorothy Parker wit, allusively lurid Twin Peaks ambience and the brooding noir intensity of Bernard Herrmann’s film scores – all packed into briskly-paced four-minute narratives. This was a very dynamic show, the music rising and falling as you would expect from a good thriller. While there’s a lot of retro influence, from femme fatale saloon blues, to crime jazz, to jaunty new wave, Karla Rose’s songwriting is unmistakably in the here and now. The band was fun to watch:, the frontwoman pondered the psychedelic qualities of lead guitarist Dylan Charles’ embroidered Grand Old Opry-style shirt. Long black hair swaying behind her, a lithe and spring-loaded presence in front of the band, she rocked a shimmery, vintage checkerboard opal-and-onyx pencil dress and black pumps. Bassist David Limzi had a similarly shiny, gold glam suit thing going on; drummer Kevin Garcia, obscured behind the kit, pushed the music with an expertly easy swing and hints of both rockabilly and vaudeville.
Karla Rose explained that she’d planned on making silver dollar pancakes and bringing them to the show…but then she overslept. Asked what those were, she described them as early 60s daydrunk food. Throughout the set, she stung the crowd with one-liners, admitting to a passion for reading about serial killlers and high-functionoing sociopaths, then bringing all that into deadly focus with a brand-new, ominously crescendoing new song, as yet untitled.
Her lingering chords and judicious fingerpicking anchored some spectacularly expert playing from the rest of the group, Limzi’s dancing octaves being a highlight of one of the new wave numbers. Charles, with his axe-murderer chord-chopping, blood-drenched chromatics and reverb turned up all the way, is a Marc Ribot/Steve Ulrich class player. And Karla Rose’s vocals, informed by jazz but uncluttered by it, were as woundedly and distantly haunting as usual, slinking up to a phrase or giving a line a kinfes-edge caresss.
When the best songs in a set are the slow ones, that speaks volumes. “Carry me up the stairs/I’ll make believe someone cares,” she intoned with just the faintest glimmer of sarcasm early in Mexico, a chillingly surreal tableau set in a seedy seaside tourist town, its doomed narrator (and possible murderess) waiting blithely for her Mr. Elvis to reappear. And in Time Well Spent, the singer traced a couple of accomplices whose plans have gone horribly wrong:
There are clouds ahead
And there are clouds behind
What’s the use
Of trying to rewind
A blue, blue heart’s superstition
A fiction I have read
I’ll find you out on the highway
I like my time well spent
Miss out on the Halloween show at Warsaw and miss out on one of New York’s most magnetic bands.