It’s usually too much to ask someone to stick around through four bands in a row. But the quadruplebill last night at Berlin was worth it, four short sets and good segues between them.
Lily Virginia opened, solo. Her moody, mostly minor-key songs came across as a more organic take on corporate urban pop. It was cool that she played electric guitar rather than acoustic, with a dirty tone that gave her songs extra bite. She’s a solid player with a good sense of melody, even venturing into jazz chords in places. Her signature sound is that she runs her vocals through a pitch pedal for harmonies, and octaves, and all kinds of effects that ran the gamut from surreal to comedic. She’s playing the album release show for her new one at SoHo House, 29 9th Ave. in the meatpacking district on Nov 16, time TBA. Let’s hope that the songs on it are as richly textured and soulful as her set was: it’s easy to imagine a producer taking them and running hogwild with cheesy effects like drum machines and autotune.
Is there a style of music that Maya Lazaro can’t write in? Apparently not. The former Mariachi Flor de Toloache guitarist and singer led her tight, inspired band through a consistently catchy, dazzlingly eclectic mix of songs. When she wasn’t weilding her Telecaster, she was dancing, showing off some serious moves. Decked out in what looked like a pashmina over a casual studio outfit, she crouched and pounced and spun like a young Annabella Lwin (if you have a soft spot for the kind of new wave sounds that Lazaro has so much fun with, you get the reference). Matching power with dynamics and some misty mystery, she opened with Premonition, which sounded like it could have been from Madonna’s first album but with a biting reggae guitar edge. The second number, Cave Diving, was straight-up roots reggae in a John Brown’s Body vein, with a wry wah-wah organ solo at the end
From there the band – guitarist JR Atkins, keyboardist Michael Hesselin, bassist Nate Allen and drummer Kyle Olson – wound through Fever in My Mind, a tightly scampering Elvis Costello-esque new wave tune complete with a swirly Steve Nieve-style organ solo out as the bandleader swayed and twirled. Her latest single, No. 89 opened with watery chorus-box guitar over a laid-back clave beat – oldschool soul drifting gently through the prism of new wave – slide guitar contrasting with uneasily twinkly keys.
Love on the Street could have been the great hit single that Cindy Lauper never wrote. Next, the group launched into August Night, a straight-up backbeat highway rock tune that could have been vintage Springsteen, or the BoDeans with an alluring voice out front. The slide guitar solo out completed the picture. They saved the catchiest and most unexpected number, Stranger- a song that could be the great lost anthem on side 2 of Purple Rain – for last, Lazaro wailing, “Don’t wanna be a stranger anymore” on the way to a cold ending. She and the band play next on Nov 13 at around 10 at Footlight Bar, 465 Seneca Ave. (at Hamman) in Ridgewood; the excellent, more inscrutable and mistier Ivy Meissner precedes her at around 9. Take the L to DeKalb Ave.
The City and Horses played the night’s longest set, lots of funky, swinging mashups of new wave and 70s soul music as Elvis Costello or the Style Council used to do it – or as Lazy Lions do it now. They’re fantastic musicians. The two guitarists – frontman Marc Cantone and Shane Connerty – exchanged neat exchanges of furious tremolo-picking, when the latter wasn’t adding judicious resonance or biting funk-tinged riffs. They opened with a neo-mod romp and then a swaying soul-tinged anthem, Cantone looking back fondly on a teenage stoner girlfriend – or would-be girlfriend. This band’s songs are packed with funny lyrics, wry metaphors and self-effacing humor. The rhythm section – bassist Matt Manhire and drumme Chris Mirtalla – distinguished themselves with a couple of spot-on 70s disco interludes.
Most of their songs had one-word titles, the funniest of these being Space (as in, “I’ll give you space,” along with every planet in the solar system), winding up with a long, nebulous outro from keyboardist/alto saxophonist Nikki D’Agostino. Another number had a really funny verse where Cantone considered every member of the Rolling Stones’ lineup before he finally tells the girl, “I’ll be your Charlie Watts.” They wound up the set with the bitterly but bouncy We’ll Never Be Discovered and its rapidfire, noir-jazz spoken-word verses – on the surface, it’s about a tryst, but there’s a whole other level of meaning. Discovering a random band this good, late on a work night, makes all this running around town worthwhile.
And the Cabana Kids – guitarist/singer Joseph Lee and singer/percussionist Kiki Karamintzas – sent the crowd home on a rapturous note with their gorgeously bittersweet 60s flavored pop tunes. Lee played a Rickenbacker for extra jangle and clang, opening with the heartbreakingly beautiful ballad I Don’t Know Where You Are Now . It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to put the duo’s woundedly soaring harmonies in the same class with the Everly Brothers. From there the two moved back and forth between romping, vampy, upbeat janglepop and austere, lowlit laments, closing with a lascivious pop number. The night was over around half past midnight but could have gone on for another hour or more and nobody would have complained. Further proof that in the East Village these days, Sunday and Monday really are the new Friday and Saturday night.