Incendiary Guitar in Brooklyn and Queens
Tuesday was a good day for hotshot guitarists in New York. The first played acoustic, the second fronted a sizzling electric band. Each put an individualistic, high-voltage spin on an old tradition.
At one of the ongoing outdoor lunchtime concerts at the little plaza where Willoughby meets Pearl Street in downtown Brooklyn, Noe Socha proved he’d been polishing his chops during the lockdown, both on guitar and blues harp. His second set of the afternoon was a mix of expertly fingerpicked traditional blues from across many styles, many of them instrumentals, along with a handful of more outside-the-box, jamband-oriented material.
Playing a duo set with a bassist who provided a slinky backdrop when he wasn’t doubling the melody line, Socha shifted effortlessly from one open tuning to another. The most rustic tunes began in the Mississippi delta, Socha sometimes playing with a slide. His brisk fingerpicking on some of the other songs seemed rooted in both Piedmont and Texas styles. Occasionally, the two musicians would play over a backing track of simple chords. The most adventurous number was a leaping, bounding mashup of Thelonious Monk phantasmagoria and what could have been a darkly simmering Albert King ballad, in a past life. What’s coolest about Socha is that pretty much everything in the set could have been an original: he doesn’t just play the same old standards everybody else does. The sun isn’t just gonna shine on his back door someday. It’s there right now.
Later in the evening, the fireworks were at Gantry Plaza State Park on the water in Long Island City, where Santo Domingo-born Yasser Tejeda & Pelotre roared and slithered through a head-bobbing set of mostly original material centered around several beats from his Dominican home turf. Joined by a bassist who played fat, puffy downtuned lines, Tejeda’s drummer and percussionist – the latter on a big kit with congas and bongos – further energized the big crowd of dancers gathered down front. It’s impossible to remember seeing so many people – at least three hundred, probably twice that including everybody passing through – at this space for a concert. Tejeda may be a popular guy anyway, but New Yorkers are clearly starved for live music right now!
Tejeda brings a fiery psychedelic rock intensity to merengue. If you love the ramshackle improvisation of oldschool merengue tipica but wish it was louder, Tejeda is your man. He loves reverb, an effect that really resonated across the boomy stone plaza. Other times he played through a chorus pedal, using various levels of iciness.
He started the set with a catchy minor-modal bounce that was almost a cumbia. The second number was where he first brought in an achingly majestic David Gilmour-style wail that ultimately looked back to Jimi Hendrix, but without being imitative. Meanwhile, the rhythm section churned out a galloping triplet groove that reminded of qawwali in places: these guys obviously have their ears wide open.
The quietest numbers of the set were a quasi-cumbia take of the Beatles’ Do You Want to Know a Secret, which Tejeda sang in Spanish, and later a spare minor-key original where Tejeda brought to mind the Police’s Andy Summers at his most mutedly somber. The best song of the night was an original instrumental that sounded like Juju-era Siouxsie & the Banshees doing a creepy merengue, Tejeda setting his chorus box to deep freeze. With the rest of the merengues, Tejeda sped up, slowed down, then finally played a cheery old carnival tune from the 1950s that turned out to be the biggest hit with the dancers. In the careening final number, Tejeda quoted liberally from Bob Marley’s I Shot the Sherriff on the the turnarounds when he wasn’t firing off icepick volleys of tremolo-picking. What a party!
Tejeda’s next gig is at the downtown plaza at Willoughby and Pearl on Aug 24 at noon for two sets. Socha’s next non-apartheid gig is Aug 22 at around 8 outdoors at the Flying Lobster, 144 Union St off Hicks, just over the BQE. Take the F to Smith/9th.