A Dark and Stormy Night at Berlin with Diane Gentile and Karla Rose & the Thorns
Get out often enough and once awhile you’re rewarded with magic synchronicity. Last night’s show at Berlin turned out to be a long launching pad for two intense, charismatic frontwomen airing out their defiantly wounded low registers. Diane Gentile is sort of a younger New York counterpart to the Motels’ Martha Davis. She puts her own individualistic spin on the dark side of propulsive 80s new wave sounds, and her band is killer. Karla Rose & the Thorns have noir intensity, a more psychedelic sound, and while their bandleader has a chillingly vast range, she can also belt way down in the lows. It was a seriously dark and stormy night without the cliches.
Gentile was playing her birthday show, and the place was packed. The way Berlin – the lowlit basement space under 2A – is set up, you have to position yourself right where the bar, the stage and the tables past the sound booth intersect if you want a good view of the stage. But Gentile made all the jostling worthwhile. Playing a shortscale Gibson hollowbody model, she and her tight quartet opened with an indelibly shadowy downtown New York tableau held in check by drummer Colin Brooks’ backbeat and stormclouds of cymbals. The most sardonically funny song of the night was Boyfriend, a stomping, bitttersweetly Bowie-esque anthem. The most propulsive was Motorcycle, a brisk, understatedly desperate escape number. The most crushingly sad was Wasted Word, a requiem for the departed in every sense. Lead guitarist Jason Victor (of Steve Wynn’s band, the newly reformed Dream Syndicate and wildly fun noiserockers the Skull Practitioners), whose massive, menacingly reverberating clusters of chords ramped up the menace, smoldered and then eventually careened into brushfire terrain on Gentile’s anguished, closing cover of Bowie’s apocalyptic epic Five Years. She’s at Bowery Electric on June 12 at around 9 on a great triplebill with Americana rock songwriter Ana Egge and this era’s most spellbinding voice in newschool retro C&W, Laura Cantrell.
Rose and her band built a shadowy black-and-white Twilight Zone ambience right off the bat and set the bar impossibly high for the rest of the evening. The former Morricone Youth frontwoman opened with Silver Bucket, a surrealistic mashup of Smokestack Lightning sway and Gun Club gutter blues. Rose sang her misty, slinky film noir narrative Time Well Spent – a metaphorical time bomb of a song for any overworked New York artist on the brink of losing their grip – with a smolderingly low, ruthless edge. Then she foreshadowed where Gentile would go with Drive, an alluring new wave number. The best song of the night was Battery Park, a marauding desert rock anthem with a long, chainsaw Dylan Charles guitar solo to wind it up. A close listen revealed Rose making the connection between the pathology of Easton Ellis serial killers and the narcissism of high finance. Even with her gentlest number, the hypnotically Velvets-inspired Living End, she wouldn’t let up on the menace. It was absurd that this band, who capture both the angst and the guarded triumph of artists in a city under siege better than any other current New York act, didn’t get more time onstage.