LJ Murphy Brings His Fearlessly Relevant New York Noir Narratives to the East Village Saturday Night
The big news about LJ Murphy is that he went electric last year. Which is to say that although he’s been the leader of a careening electric band since the zeros, he typically played acoustic guitar to balance out the textures. But not lately. And surprisingly, the change has added as much subtlety as it has energy to Murphy’s blues-infused, suspensefully dynamic noir rock narratives. He’s going slumming this weekend at 8 PM Saturday night at Sidewalk on a good twinbill, followed by the similarly energetic, even more haphazardly careening, Pogues-ish folk noir of Mac McCarty & the Kidd Twist Band.
Murphy’s most recent show was also a doubleheader with McCarty. Rocking his usual black suit and porkpie hat, shiny black tie against a violet shirt, Murphy was all business as he swung his backing unit the Accomplices into the surreal Weimar cabaret strut of the title track to his cult classic album Mad Within Reason. Lead guitarist Tommy Hoscheid’s eerily reverberating eight-note runs offered a chilly nod to Otis Rush as Murphy barked a sinister portrait of our times:
….Crosses and pistols are slung ar our hips
I cried for my supper and then spat on the plate
While everyone tried to become what they hate
The industry captain, a smile on his face
So proud of the changes he’s made to this place
Although the song dates as far back as the 90s, if anything it’s more relevant now, with the spectre of a Trump Presidency looming on the horizon.
“I write songs about two things. Gentrification and sex,” Murphy smirked. And there’s plenty of truth to that, in that it’s hard to imagine a more withering critique of the mentality fueling the wholesale destruction of working-class and artistic communities in this city. And as a psychopathologist, Murphy rates with Elvis Costello.
The high-voltage Stax/Volt style shuffle Happy Hour painted an ugly picture of how those employed in the “wicked industries that are so celebrated now” blow off steam after work. Drummer Jacob Cavell gave the songs a caffeinated drive, sometimes riding a cymbal bell to ramp up the suspense. Bassist Nils Sorensen – also of well-liked Danish Americana rockers Brothers Moving – served essentially as a third lead guitarist with his sinewy, sometimes sardonically percolating lines. Otherwise, the two electric guitars out in front of the rhythm section really transformed the songs. The wickedly catchy, shuffling Imperfect Strangers and the similarly pulsing cautionary anthem Sleeping Mind took on extra growl and clang. The best song of the night was Panic City, another shuffle, eerily referencing both 9/11 and 3/11:
Can you hide in the darkness
Til the enemy’s gone
Can you remember the password
When the pressure is on?
When your hair is onfire
And your eyes are insane
Can you cover up the damage
From the poisonous rain?
From Panic City to your hometown…
Murphy’s likely to bust these out, and a whole lot more, this Saturday night.