New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: April, 2016

Skatalites Classics From a Fiery Horn Band at Barbes on the 26th

Pangari & the Socialites are probably at the top of the pool of New York bands most likely to change their name. They’re a bunch of up-and-coming jazz types playing ska…just like the Skatalites were doing fifty-plus years ago. While this roughly ten-piece ensemble isn’t mashing up calypso, jazz and early 60s American soul music and inventing a brand new style like Lloyd Knibb, Don Drummond and the rest of that iconic Jamaican crew, they do justice to the group’s classics and also some obscurities. And just like the Skatalites would do in concert, they really stretch the songs out. Their next gig is at Barbes on April 26 at 8 PM.

They played Barbes back in January. Bandleader/bassist Ari Folman-Cohen kicked off the uneasy, minor-key opening number in tandem with the pianist, trumpets punching in and out in tight harmony as the trombones loomed overhead. Since these songs are mostly instrumentals, most of them pretty famous – at least in the ska demimonde – the group didn’t bother with intros, just launched into one jaunty skank after another, usually with a tasty one-drop flurry on the turnaround..

The band tackled the songs more expansively as the set went on, keeping things short and sweet in the beginning. Solos were generously and evenly distributed among the band. One jaggedly edgy alto sax ended with a menacing chromatic run down the scale; another built achingly intense ambience with a series of long, sputtering blue notes. Elegantly resonant trombone backed away as frenetically shivery trumpet and then a spine-tingling, Balkan-tinged alto solo took centerstage.

The pianist added latin flair; the guitarist went for 60s-style psychedelic soul. The most ambitious soloist was baritone sax player Maria Eisen, whether grounding a lush, airy chart with smoky, rapidfire, bluesy lines, or spiraling to the top of her register with an irrepressibly hard-edged attack. Midway through the show, they brought up a singer and took a turn into balmy rocksteady – Turn Your Lamp Down Low, and Jackie Edwards’ Tears Like Rain – before picking up the pace again.

After the show, one of the band members took the singer aside. “You know, if you learn all of this stuff, somebody is going to offer you a gig someday, and that’ll be money,” he confided. Words of wisdom, As long as there are high school kids just getting a taste of punk rock and everything related to it, a ska gig will always be a good one.

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Pianist Sylvie Courvoisier Delivers Darkly Intense, Kinetic Individualism with Her Trio at Roulette

It’s hard to imagine a more darkly distinctive pianist than Sylvie Courvoisier. She’s a longtime member of John Zorn’s inner circle, which makes sense considering her blend of moodily resonant neoromanticism, jazz squall and fondness for extended technique….not to mention the often noirish sensibility and rich vein of sardonic, sometimes grim humor that runs through her work. She can sell out the Stone whenever she feels like playing there; it was good to see a much larger crowd than the Stone can hold watching her raptly last night at Roulette, in a vividly conversational set with her long-running trio, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Kenny Wollesen. The latter didn’t bring his gongs, but he often used his ride cymbal in tandem with mallets on the toms for the same lingering, otherworldly effect. Gress didn’t walk the changes as much as he danced them, when he wasn’t supplying ambered washes with his bow, or trading off jauntily with the bandleader.

When she wasn’t inside the piano, Courvoisier alternated between carnivalesque, dancing lines, grittily insistent minimalism, broodingly lyrical, resonantly chordal passages, and the occasional flight into frenetic hard bop. When she went under the lid, she muted the strings, then played them with her fingers, with the keys and with mallets, like a vibraphone. Other times she’d rub the strings for a resonance similar to what Wollesen did when he got a keening ring out of a cymbal or two, scraping them with his sticks. The best number of the night was a lengthy, suspenseful triptych incorporating all of those tropes.

Most of the humor involved good-natured jousting, although Gress’ “are we really going to take this to the very top of the fingerboard” jape was a lot of fun. Courvoisier threw elbows at her rhythm section and they threw back; the cleverest of these moments was when Gress hit a minimalist, pedal passage and Courvoisier doubled him….but with her strings muted, adding a ninth interval for extra creepiness. It would have been one thing just to play it on the keys, but the muted effect really drove the sinister effect home.

Qawwali-like, tensely circling low-register riffage expanded into austerely steady, coldly biting Louis Andriesssen-esque bell-tones, then stygian low lefthand pools, then a Lynchian ba-bump roadhouse theme. A sad minor-key waltz awash in cymbals decayed to a muted, mimimalist deep-space pulse that became a clenched-teeth Mission Impossible. Hushed, dusky, misterioso minimalism gave way to upper-register icicles. Phantasmagorical Frank Carlberg-like tumbles sandwiched a defiantly clustering Wollesen solo, followed by flitting, sepulchral piano motives rising to an agitated vortex. Name another pianist who does all of this in about an hour and fifteen minutes onstage.

Courvoisier’s next show is back at the Stone at 8 PM on April 22 in a duo performance with reedman Ned Rothenberg.

A Clinic in Purist Guitar Rock from Eric Ambel and Esquela

“Who needs pedals?” Eric “Roscoe” Ambel asked the party people in the house at a private event at Bowery Electric last week. His pedalboard was acting up, so he pulled the plug on it. Running straight through his amp, switching between a vintage black Les Paul and his signature Roscoe Deluxe Tele model by Stonetree Custom Guitars, Ambel put on a clinic in lead guitar, playing a mix of old favorites and material from his new gatefold vinyl album, Lakeside. Behind the guitar icon and head honcho of the late, great Lakeside Lounge were Brett Bass on bass, Phil Cimino on drums and Spanking Charlene‘s Mo Goldner taking on a Keith Richards role on second guitar. They kicked off hard with Song from the Walls, the angry, acidic riff-rock opening track on Ambel’s 1995 Loud and Lonesome album.

It’s amazing how few notes Ambel uses, considering what kind of chops the guy has. Everything counts for something: the lingering bends on the simmering, amped-up Jimmy Reed groove of Here Come My Love; the gritty, enveloping roar of the anti-trendoid broadside Hey Mr. DJ; the sunspotted, precise blues bite of Don’t Make Me Break You Down. Spanking Charlene frontwoman Charlene McPherson lent her powerful pipes to the vocal harmonies on Have Mercy, a soul-infused number that she wrote with Ambel. They sent a shout-out to the Ramones with Massive Confusion, then chilled out with Gillian Welch’s Miss Ohio. Ambel’s playing the album release show on April 29 at around 8:30 PM at Berlin (in the basement under 2A). He’s doing double duty that night: after his set, he’a adding “power assist guitar” with the ferociously funny Spanking Charlene.

The opening act, Esquela – whose album Canis Majoris Ambel recently produced – were excellent too. They work a country-oriented side of paisley underground twang and clang. The push-pull of the two guitarists, Brian Shafer’s snaky, sinuous leads against Matt Woodin’s punchy, uneasily propulsive drive had an intensity similar to great 80s bands like True West and Steve Wynn‘s Dream Syndicate. They also hit hard with their opener, Too Big to Fail (as in, “too rich for jail”), frontwoman Becca Frame’s big, wounded wail soaring over the twin-guitar attack and the four-on-the-floor drive from the band’s main songwriter, bassist John “Chico” Finn and drummer Todd Russell.

From there they hit a wry Del Shanon doo-wop rock groove with It Didn’t Take, went into stomping mid-70s Lou Reed territory and then rousing Celtic rock with Need Not Apply, a snarling look back at anti-Irish racisim across the ages. Their best song was a bittersweetly swaying dead ringer for mid-80s True West, but with better vocals and a careening, shoulder-dusting Shafer solo. Or it might have been an echoey psychedelic number that they suddenly took warpspeed at the end. They brought up harmony singer Allyson Wilson, whose soulful intensity was every bit the match for Frame’s – which made sense, considering that she usually can be found singing opera and classical repertoire at places like Carnegie Hall. Her most spine-tinging moment was when she tackled the Merry Clayton role on a slinky cover of Gimme Shelter.

The band closed with Freebird, a sardonically funny, Stonesy original that Finn wrote to satisfy all the yahoos who scream for it. Perennially popular indie powerpop road warriors the Figgs – who haven’t lost a step in twenty years – were next on the bill. Which was where the whiskey really started to kick in – this was a party, after all. Sorry, guys – for a look at what they sound like onstage, here’s a snarky piece from Colossal Musical Joke week, 2012.

Free Music Fridays at the American Folk Art Museum: Good Times and Good Tunesmithing

One of this city’s most consistently fun weekly events is Free Music Fridays at the American Folk Art Museum at Lincoln Square, just across the street from the uptown 1 train exit at 66th Street. Even if you can’t get out of work in time to catch the 5:30 PM opening act, the show typically goes til a little after 7. The crowd is a mix of local kids, retirees, tourists and friends of the bands, and wine is available for a donation to the museum.

Lara Ewen – a modest and unselfconsciously brilliant folk noir singer and a strong tunesmith as well – books a diverse mix of mostly acoustic songwriters as well as oldtime folk, blues and Americana performers. She draws on a deep pool of New York talent, including many acts from the Jalopy scene, plus the occasional national touring artist. The natural reverb in the museum’s high-ceilinged atrium adds a cathedral-like ambience: many acts like to play here unamplified. Lately there have been shows pretty much every week, a positive development considering that the series went on a lengthy hiatus last summer to accommodate one of the museum’s many, constantly changing exhibitions. This Friday’s show is a particularly good one, with Beatlesque popsinger Jeff Litman, Clifford Westfall and Girls on Grass‘ paisley underground guitarist/frontwoman Barbara Endes, and Americana guitar genius Tom Clark.

This year has been an especially good one at the museum so far. The highight of February’s shows was Jessi Robertson, who didn’t waste any time warning the crowd that most of her songs mine pretty disturbing territory. In one number which had to with stab wounds, she revealed that her hands have an inherited tendency to get a little shaky in pubilc: not part of the skillset that makes a good slasher. In a mix of artsy but terse post-PJ Harvey acoustic rock as well as older, more opaque material, Robertson aired out her signature, throaty, otherworldly wail, channeling sheer emotional destitution, alienation and abandonment – and some good jokes. The funniest number in her set had a title along the lines of “I hope I hurt you more than you hurt me.” Robertson plays at around 9 this Saturday, April 25 at Pine Box Rock Shop, opening for her lead guitarist Rony Corcos’ excellent power trio Rony’s Insomnia.

March was a good month. Eva Salina, one of the world’s great Balkan singers, joined forces with her longtime collaborator, whirlwind Romany accordionist Peter Stan for a dynamically intense run through songs from her latest album Lema Lema: The Songs of Saban Bajrmovic. A global Romany icon, Bajrmovic was sort of a Balkan mashup of Al Green, Hank Williams and Jim Morrison. That it took an American woman – Salina is a friendly Californian with an ethnomusicology degree from UC/Santa Cruz – to bring his songs to a larger audience is pretty radical. And while she expertly voiced the difficult clusters of the Romanes language in an often heartwrenchingly nuanced, otherworldly chromatic run through songs about unrequited love, gambling and Romany pride, she told the crowd that the star of the evening would be Stan. She wasn’t kidding. With a pedal to the metal, he shredded the reeds on his deluxe model with lightning cadenzas, cascades up and down the scale and enough minor keys to drown your sorrows in a thousand times over.

Along with lustrous tunesmith Sharon Goldman – whose often harrowing, deeply personal account of coming to grips with her roots as a secular Jewish artist has been chronicled here in detail – other March artists here included Heather Eatman, Joanna Sternberg and Chris Michael. The last time this blog caught a show by Eatman…well, this blog, or any other blog for that matter, didn’t exist back in the fall of 2003 when she played the old Living Room at the corner of Stanton and Allen. She hasn’t lost a step since then; if anything, she’s even more interesting as a singer and tunesmith. She hasn’t changed her formula much: uneasy, unresolved verses building from open chords into sudden, head-on, impactfully catchy choruses. Her voice still has both the coy chirp and the moody, monsoon resonance; her lyrics add an edge and bite. Interestingly, she used this show to run through a handful of songs she’d written as a teenager back in the early 90s, which, if a little simpler, stood up against her more recent material. Eatman is at the small room at the Rockwood next month sometime.

Sternberg is a cutup and an irrepressible bon vivant. She made herself laugh as much as the audience. She’s charming and funny and unlike most adults, hasn’t lost touch with how it feels to be a kid. Her funniest number was a kids’ song directed at a stubborn little girl who doesn’t want to get in the shower. But Sternberg doesn’t talk down to kids: this one eventually revealed that the little girl is actually a little spooked by the water, and that all it took was a little sympathy to get her to pull herself together and wash up. Sternberg’s material for a drinking-age demographic was more nuanced, including a bittersweetly meta breakup song, a couple of more romping, upbeat front-porch folk originals and a detour into pensive vintage Appalachian balladry. Sternberg’s next gig is at the Jalopy Tavern (adjacent to the big main space) on April 28 at 9.

And this past Friday, Michael transcended any cheap Tom Waits comparisons, impressing with his fluency in a whole slew of southern blues, soul and gospel-inflected material. He’s a good guitarist and doesn’t fake the drawl like so many of his yankee counterparts, entertaining the crowd with a mix of upbeat numbers that occasionally brought to mind a less cynical Dan Hicks.

A LMFAO New Album and a Union Square Show by Honkytonkers Trailer Radio

Right off the bat, the opening track of New York honkytonk band Trailer Radio‘s new album Country Girls Ain’t Cheap tells it like it is:

Out here in podunk
We aren’t very metro
Everybody’s drunk
Everybody’s hetero…
We don’t like it in the blue states
We can live without…
Sister bought a trailer
‘Cause she’s selling crystal meth
Brother aced his driver’s test
Bourbon on his breath…

And the story gets even more amusing from there. On one hand, Trailer Radio are a really funny cowpunk band whose lyrics are packed with jokes too good to give away here. On the other hand, they really nail a classic 60s honkytonk vibe, adding a corrosively cynical lyrical edge: urban country, 2016. The twin guitar attack of David Weiss and Mike Dvorkin combines for classics riff from the 60s on forward while frontwoman Shannon Brown channels a genuine West Virginia twang over the swinging rhythm section of bassist Joel Shelton and drummer Kenny Soule. The new album – streaming at the band’s music page – is characteristically sardonic, hilarious, and they’ve got a show on April 24 at 6 PM at Brother Jimmy’s Union Square, 116 E 16th St. (bet. Union Square East and Irving Place). Then on April 30 they’re at An Beal Bocht Cafe, 445 W 238th St. (near Graystone) in the Bronx at 9.

The album’s title track, an electrified bluegrass tune, skewers good ole boy machoness as much as it pillories the gold-digging women they chase. Set to a tasty, Rickenbacker guitar-fueled Sweetheart of the Rodeo shuffle, Dirt Queen offers a shout-out to an outdoorsy type who’e inseparable from her ATV. Then the band brings it down for the wry ballad Woe Is Me, where Brown explores the various ways women self-medicate.

One of the guy duets with Brown on Jimmy Jack’s Diner (located adjacent to a landfill), a sad reminder that not all mom-and-pop joints with “authentic country charm” are an improvement over Mickey D’s. Three Diamond Rings is one of the funniest numbers here, a shuffling honkytonk chronicle that revisits the gold-digger theme, but as a kiss-off anthem. Another electric bluegrass tune with some bristling banjo work, Jesus Loves You (But I’m on the Fence) is another really funny one: this dude can’t even keep his shit together on his wedding day.

The album’s hardest-rocking cut, The Bottom of Her Boots tells the tale of one vengeful ex who really goes on the warpath: not only does she throw her boyfriend’s stuff out, she paints his AK-47 pink and sells his twelve-point buck on Ebay. A spot-on Moe Bandy-style hard honkytonk hit, Tar Beach pays tribute to rooftop rednecks who“don’t fit in with those Jersey Shore Italians or the Hamptons and their snooty finery” and who are plenty content to hang out on the roof. The album winds up with a droll murder ballad, Big Day for Steffie, a Chuck Berry/Stones rocker with some ferocious, vintage Keith/Mick Taylor twin lead guitars. Shelton’s Eric Ambel-style purist production enhances the vintage sonics. Not only is this a great counyry and roots rock album, Brown’s sense of humor will have you in stitches whether or not y’all grew up surrounded by rednecks.

Transcendence in the Face of War and Conflict from Kinan Azmeh’s City Band

This week is Global Week for Syria. Over seventy artists around the world are performing to help raise awareness and help the citizens of war-torn Syria. Brilliantly individualistic Syrian-born clarinetist and composer Kinan Azmeh contributed to the cause with a matter-of-factly transcendent show last night with his City Band – acoustic guitarist Kyle Sanna, bassist Josh Myers and drummer John Hadfield – at National Sawdust.

Last week at Spectrum, Azmeh and guitarist Erdem Helvacioglu played a harrowing duo set of cinematically crescendoing, ominously enveloping themes meant to depict the trauma of life under repressive regimes. This performance was far more lively but had Azmeh’s signature, direct, purposeful melodicism, simple riffs with artfully elegant orchestration set to kinetically shapeshifting grooves. The most spare material had an Andalucian feel: imagine the Gipsy Kings but with trickier meters, depth and unpredictable dynamics in place of interminable cheer. The slowest numbers were the most traditionally Middle Eastern-flavored; the most upbeat featured purposeful solos from everyone in the band, drawing as deeply on psychedelic rock as they did jazz.

The opening song set Azmeh’s moody low-midrange shades over sparse guitar and bass, then picked up with an emphatic flamenco-tinged pulse, Sanna’s judiciously exploratory solo bringing to mind Jerry Garcia in “on” mode until Azmeh took over and sent it sailing through an insistent, crashing crescendo.

The second number, by Myers, had echoes of Eastern European klezmer music as well as Mohammed Abdel Wahab and spiraling flamencoisms. Sanna contributed an austere, catchy tune that built enigmatic variations on what could have been an Elizabethan British folk theme, his guitar rising from plaintive, Satie-esque spaciousness to tersely energetic single-note lines.

Little Red Riding Hood, inspired by a cruelly aphoristic, recent Syrian poem, evoked the lingering shock and angst of wartime displacement. November 22, inspired by Azmeh’s first experience of an American Thanksgiving weekend, looked back with a mix of nostalgia and longing to places and eras erased by bombs and combat. Sanna set up Azmeh for a wild upward swoop and then flurries of suspenseful microtonal melismas. on a shapeshifting anthem meant to evoke the wildness and unpredictability of Syrian village wedding music. They closed by debuting a somber, pensive new song that Azmeh said he’d only written a couple of days previously. dedicated to the small town in the green belt outside of Damascus where Azmeh had spent a lot of time as a kid and which until very recently had been under siege, with barely any access to food or supplies. Azmeh’s next performance is in San Antonio on May 15 to kick off his US/European tour.

Another Killer Show in Brooklyn on March 24

Funny how crowds at the same event vary from one night to the next, isn’t it? February’s installment of Murder Ballad Mondays at Branded Saloon in Fort Greene was a mobscene. Last month’s was basically limited to  artists who’d played previous editions of the monthly celebration of twisted desire in song from throughout the ages. In a stroke of counterintuitivity, most murder ballads have traditionally been sung by men, yet most of the performers at Murder Ballad Mondays have been women. A necessary antidote? Karmic payback? Food for thought.

Ironically, despite the light turnout, this particular night was the best yet. Peg Simone opened, minimalist and inscrutable on piano, her back to the crowd. In a coolly enigmatic alto. she delivered a long, rainswept , eerily chiming noir blues. From there she segued into a hypnotically enveloping, quietly vengeful number, like Nico tackling Long Black Veil. Neville Elder of folk noir favorites Thee Shambels followed with a long, ghoulishly detailed Donner Party-inspired tale: Great Plains gothic as the Strawbs might have done it

Miwa Gemini reinvented the Nancy Sinatra hit Bang Bang from the point of view of a real femme fatale  And after playing the surrealistically Gun Club-ish, slide guitar-fueled coda to her Grizzly Rose song cycle, she decided that her imaginary muse doesn’t die in the end: she ends up being the killer.

Cello rock duo the Whiskey Girls – Patricia Santos and Tara Hanish – made their first New York appearance since a sizzling set here late last year, opening with tensefly syspenseful, stark minor-key blues and then a luridly menacing ba-bump latin swing tune, Not Anymore: “The view from the stage ain’t like the view from the floor,” Santos intoned ominously. If memory serves right, they also did a stark chamber pop version of the jazz standard Wild Is the Wind. And creepy parlor pop duo Charming Disaster – who host the night – treated the crowd to a gorgeously harmony-driven number with intricate call-and-response vocals and also a deadpan cover of a Foster the People cheeseball pop ditty. Guitarist Jeff Morris was game, even though his conspirator Ellia Bisker had to twist his arm to get him to play it.

All this capsulizes something you might not expect from Murder Ballad Mondays: it’s not just about dark storytelling or the comfort of imagining someone dead, most likely an ex. It’s about the tunes! The music here is every bit as good as the stories. This month’s performance – rescheduled to SUNDAY, April 24 at 8 PM – includes cameos by the brilliant, historically-fixated Elisa Flynn, haunting folk noir bandleader Jessie Kilguss, shortwave radio operator/pianist Steve Espinola as well as the hosts, who’ve been on a serious creative roll lately.

Who Goes to the Middle of Nowhere for a Couple of Great Bands?

The last thing this blog wants to encourage anybody to do is to stay home. We should all be out, interacting, gathering, celebrating what’s left in this city to celebrate. That’s how societies are built and revolutions begin. Bernie Sanders wouldn’t be drawing thousands and thousand of people at rallies and picket lines if we were all spending what free time we have alone and atomized, substituting Facebook ‘friends’ for real ones. But that’s a story that’s too long to get into here.

How does this relate to the twinbill of Hannah vs. the Many and Haley Bowery & the Manimals at the Way Station on April 23 at 9 PM? On one hand, the option of watching the live webcast might be your best bet. The bar is hard to get to unless you’re in that other-side-of-the-park Bed-Stuy neighborhood, it’s a Saturday night and there’s going to be a loud crowd there – nobody goes there to listen – and the sound system is horrible. Then again, these bands can be so much fun that it could be worth the trip.

Hannah vs. the Many have been through several incarnations and have most recently reinvented themselves as the most lyrically brilliant punk band in the world. Frontwoman Hannah Fairchild got her start playing opaque, roughhewn acoustic guitar tunes with venomous, corrosive lyrics packed with double entendres, literary and historical references and savagely cynical humor. Then she learned how to play, went electric and put a band together, part punk, part noir cabaret and part janglerock – a little like Pulp but with a woman out front who can really wail.

The last time this blog caught them was out in Bushwick at Pine Box Rock Shop on a cold Saturday night in February. The way that bar is set up, you’d never know they have music in the back room if you just wandered in randomly. But there is, and a lot of is quite good: the Skull Practitioners, Pete Lanctot and Rony’s Insomnia have all had recent gigs there. Hannah vs. the Many blasted through a lickety-split set marred by a horrible sound mix, drums and bass way too high and vocals too low. Which was too bad, since lyrics and narratives are what this band’s all about. Even so, just getting to hear Fairchild’s jet-fueled valkyrie voice soaring, embittered, alienated and defiant over the roar of her Telecaster made the trek out to the ‘Shweck worthwhile.

Fairchild debuted a catchy new number; her bassist is excellent and plays a lot of slinky riffs, and the drummer is solid too. Two of the best songs were the rapidfire, surrealistic suicide plunge story All Eyes on Me, and The Party Faithful, one of the most spot-on descriptions of what constitutes nightlife in New York these days. Frida Kahlo said, “I tried to drown my sorrows in alcohol, but the bastards learned how to swim,” and that’s the gist of the song.

The last time this blog caught Haley Bowery & the Manimals was a few years back at Webster Hall. These bands like to play as a twinbill, Haley taking the good cop role, more or less. Her band plays meat-and-potatoes, glamrock-flavored anthems with lyrics that can be hilarious. That summer night, their frontwoman brought a giant water rifle fillled with good-quality whiskey and drenched the crowd with it. And she was generous! Whenever somebody thirsty – guess who – went up to the edge of the stage for a mouthful or two, she really let them have it, right in the face. It’s not every day you walk away from a show reeking of bourbon, with a buzz courtesy of the band’s lead singer. No guarantees that this would or could happen at the Way Station gig – you can watch the webcast and find out.

The OBNIIIs Bring Their Austin Garage Punk Menace to Bushwick

Searing Austin garage punk band the OBNIIIs are the best approximation of Radio Birdman on this side of the earth. Unless the Australian chromatic-rock legends extend their 2016 tour beyond Europe, the OBNIIIs’ menacing minor keys and whirlwinds of machinegunning, macabre riffage over a hotrod rhythm section are the closest thing that American audiences will see this year. They’re playing Shea Stadium in Bushwick on April 23 at around 10; cover is $12.

They’ve done a couple of New York gigs over the past several months; the last time this blog caught them was at one of those annoying rush-’em-on, rush-’em-off late-afternoon Colossal Musical Joke shows at Cake Shop in the fall of 2014. Frontman Orville Bateman Neeley III is a big, imposing guy, and he had a chip on his shoulder right from the git-go at this show. Everybody in the band looked hungover and mean, especially him. He sneered that he’d finally gotten some good press out of the NME (the New Musical Express, a formerly influential British rag whose writers took considerable pride in dissing iconic bands like Joy Division back in the day when those opinions actually mattered). Neeley, when his role in the band was limited to vocals, was infamous being confrontational with the audience. Was he going to get up in anybody’s face? Actually not. But there was no shame in his snarl as he mentioned how hard he’d worked on his guitar playing, and he’s got a right to be proud: the twin-guitar attack of this latest edition of the group, with lead guitarist Tom Triplett’s murderous cascades and coal-oven flurries of chords, is the best yet.

Too bad the sound was so bad – hardly typical for Cake Shop, but you know how CMJ is – and the set was so short. They could have gone on for twice as long and the packed house still would have wanted more.  Triplett, playing a gorgeous vintage Gibson Flying V, got plenty of chances to solo, but it was hard to figure out what he was going for without watching his fingers as they flew up the frets. Otherwise, Neeley led the band through a mix of recent as well as older material, from a twisted, Dead Boys-style stomp, to a couple of stampeding numbers in a Raw Power-era Stooges vein, to No Time for the Blues, the closing tune, the best and most darkly catchy, chromaticaly bristling track on the band’s Live in San Francisco album. Drummer Marley Jones swung with a pummeling finesse, in a Dennis Thompson vein; bassist Michael Goodwin, like Triplett, was way too low in the mix. At the end of the set, Neeley left his guitar up against his amp to let it feed, but only got a hum and a few sputters instead of the shriek he was no doubt hoping for.

Holly Miranda Brings Her Twin Peaks Pop to a Rare Small Club Residency at Hell Phone in Bushwick

Holly Miranda is one of the most distinctive and consistently interesting singers around. The former Jealous Girlfriends frontwoman’s nuanced vocals are sort of a cross between Marissa Nadler at her most energetic, and Karla Rose in a pensive moment. Tunewise, Miranda is just as much an individualist: she can sing gospel with anybody, is drawn to vintage soul music but also has a thing for the 80s (and probably current bands that look back to that decade). She doesn’t waste notes, but she also likes artsy arrangements. Her most recent, self-titled album is streaming at Spotify. While her most recent New York shows have been at Bowery Ballroom, she’s playing a rare, intimate residency on Thursdays beginning April 28 through May 26 at around 9 at Hell Phone, the swanky, charmingly retro boite at 247 Varet St. in Bushwick. Cover is $10, or $15 which includes a download of her upcoming album. The place is steps away from the Morgan Ave. L stop.

In the meantime, we have the self-titled album to enjoy. The opening track, Mark My Words follows a steady upward trajectory into syncopated new wave, built around a dreamy chiming guitar riff matched by  Miranda’s gentle, considered vocals. Drony baritone sax mingling with distorted guitar adds an ominous undercurrent to the slow oldschool soul ballad Everlasting, which rises to a mighty, searing, guitar-fueled peak.

Whatever You Want brings to mind Amanda Palmer‘s poppiest solo work, as well as 80s groups like the Joboxers, who mashed up Motown with new wave. Come On is even poppier, with hints of hip-hop amid the glistening, enveloping sonics and fluttery dreampop guitars. Pelican Rapids is the great missing Twin Peaks soundtrack ballad, right down to the oscillating, overcast, warptone analog synth having loopy fun with the tv show’s title theme.

A more oblique take on Twin Peaks pop, Desert Call has an appropriately surreal, spacious, nocturnal resonance, more of that smoky sax and an especially wounded angst in Miranda’s voice: for someone whose stock in trade is enigmatic restraint, she really cuts loose here. With its twinkling, blue-neon guitars, The Only One is the most Lynchian and best song on the album.

The hypnotically waltzing Heavy Heart rises from echoes of 80s goth to a big art-rock crescendo: “You see the lights are dancing as you swallow the poison pill.” Miranda intones inscrutably. Until Now comes across as a mashup of the Twin Peaks C&W of Detroit’s Whiskey Charmers and Australian spacerock legends the Church. The album winds up with Hymnal, a launching pad for some spine-tingling, stratospheric vocal flights.

Oh yeah – in case you think Miranda’s catalog is limited to sad songs, you haven’t heard All I Want Is to Be Your Girl. It went viral when it came out, probably because she drops the f-bomb a bunch of times. Text the video to al your middle-school friends.