Rare Unreleased Psychedelic Funk and Jamband Sounds From a New York Gone Forever
It’s a sweltering night on New York’s Lower East Side in June of 1987: summer has gotten off to a scorching start. Inside CBGB, there’s a good crowd, and they’re in a dancing mood. High on the stage, drummer Bobby Previte lays down a colorful clave. Elliott Sharp and Dave Tronzo play skronky, smoky guitar funk. Bassist Dave Hofstra is too low in the mix, and bandleader Wayne Horvitz adds layers of woozy keyboard textures. It’s the missing link between Defunkt’s jagged dancefloor attack and sprawling mid-70s Can. About four and a half minutes in, the song ends cold.
That’s the opening number, This New Generation, on Horvitz’s fifteen-track initial release in a series of archival recordings, Live Forever Volume 1, The President NY Live in the 80s, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a party in a box. From the perspective of the Orwellian nightmare that 2022 has been so far in this city, what an incredible time and place that was. The door guy at CB’s never bothered to ask customers to show ID, never mind a vaxxport or a muzzle. And if vaxxports had existed in 1987, the crowd would have laughed him off and bumrushed the stage. For the young people of the Reagan era, everybody’s bullshit detector for authoritarianism was set to stun. How far we’ve fallen since then.
The rest of the album is a period piece. In his extensive liner notes, Horvitz avers to how messy and uneven some of it is, but there’s no question this band could jam their asses off. There are also a handful of rare studio recordings as well as a quartet of songs from the earliest incarnation of this snarkily named ensemble, The President of the United States of America, from a CB’s show five years earlier.
The next song is Bring Yr Camera. Tronzo slips and dives and tenor saxoponist Doug Wieselman soars over a gritty groove that could be a 1960s incarnation of the Crusaders. After that, These Hard Times foreshadows what Susie Ibarra would do with Filipino kulintang music, albeit with a harder edge.
There are two versions of Andre’s Mood here. The first is from that 1987 set, a tumbling, blippy, downtown New York take on what the Talking Heads were doing with Burning Down the House. The second is a more skittish, Afrobeat-flavored studio recording with Horvitz’s organ further to the front.
Likewise, there are two takes of Three Crows, a swaying, midtempo funk tune. The live version has a reggae bassline from Hofstra and a snazzy handoff from Wieselman to a jagged Sharp solo; the studio take is a little faster. The final song from the live set is Ride the Wide Streets, which veers further toward frantic punk-funk.
The rest of the studio material here is on the techy side, focusing on Horvitz’s incisively layered, punchy keyboard riffs. There’s Serious, which prefigures that expansive Afrobeat jams of bands like the Brighton Beat, and Science Diet (a reference to cat food), which is short and snarling.
The 1982 CBGB tracks are the most expansive and jam-oriented here. Despite a completely different lineup – Stew Cutler on guitar, Joe Gallant on bass and Dave Sewelson on alto sax – they’re testament to the consistency of Horvitz’s vision. The appropriately titled On and On is basically a reggae tune with a couple of big screaming peaks. Horvitz dedicates the more Booker T-flavored Flat on Yr Back to the sound guy – hmmmm!
Kevin Cosgrove is the guitarist on the two earliest live numbers. Of Thee I Sing is the most haphazard one here – hearing Sewelson’s sax through the board with all that reverb on it is a trip, as are Horvitz’s synth settings. The final number, Boy, is a surreal mashup of New Orleans second-line groove and abrasive no wave. All this is reason to look forward to what else Horvitz has lying around for the next installment.