New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: pop music

A Wickedly Catchy Weekend Show by the Mysterious Melissa & the Mannequins

Melissa & the Mannequins are New York’s most exciting new band. There’s very little about them on the web. The only one of their songs that’s made it online so far is Slip Away, the gorgeously bittersweet, propulsively jangly number they closed their deliciously catchy set with at Long Island City Bar over the Labor Day weekend. They’ve been around for about  a year, tops. Quietly and steadily, they’ve put what’s obviously been an enormous amount of work into this band, equal to their formidable chops. Up-and-coming rock acts seldom have as much command of their instruments, let alone as many styles as this group winds their way through.

In roughly an hour onstage, frontwoman/guitarist Melissa Gordon sang with a cool, collected delivery over a tight rhythm section. Lyrically, most of the songs dealt with brooding breakup scenarios, often in contrast to the tunes’ bright,upbeat quality, Stylistically, they really ran the gamut. Several numbers worked a psychedelic soul vein, bringing to mind Chicano Batman with a woman out front and a more subdued, atmospheric keyboardist: throughout the set, the Mannequin on keys kept a tight focus and added all kinds of subtle textures and washes of sound.

Midway through the set, the band switched it up with an unexpectedly funky song, like Turkuaz in a rare low-key, trippy moment. There were also a couple of detours in the direction of Jacco Gardner-ish retro 60s sunshine pop and a distant Beatles influence. The most riveting song of the set might be called I Wasn’t Listening, an uncharacteristically haunting, epic, wounded noir soul ballad in 6/8 tiime, lead guitarist Steve Flakus capping it off with a long, biting, purist blues solo.

Gordon is also an excellent guitarist (which you wouldn’t know from her Soundcloud page, something she obviously put up as she was learning the fretboard). She and Flakus took a grand total of three perfectly synchronized twin solos: it wasn’t Iron Maiden, but it was just as tight. Gordon also engaged the crowd with her deadpan sense of humor: she seems to come out of a theatre background. LIC Bar also seems to be the group’s home base these days as they build a following, an aptly cool joint for this band. They’re also at Bowery Electric at 9 on Oct 1; cover is $10.

Advertisements

Nicole Atkins Brings Her Noir Soul to an Intimate Mercury Lounge Gig This Saturday Night

Here’s how to survive at the top level of what’s left of the music business. You tour constantly – summer festivals, rock venues, jazz clubs, house concerts, whatever’s available for the cash. You crowdfund your album, then record it live to two-inch analog tape with people who get what you do and can wrap it up in less than a week. Meanwhile, you bombard your fan base with everything from Spotify playlists of your influences to limited-edition concert recordings.  And the social media treadmill – one goofy pic after another, oy. That’ll drive you to drinking.

So maybe you quit for a bit. Nicole Atklns did that since booze has been her muse long before she wrote The Worst Hangover in the World. But while her latest album Goodnight Rhonda Lee – streaming at Bandcamp – has a requisite boozy song, the central theme is musical rather than lyrical, a spectacularly successful attempt to bring Dusty Springfield-style late 60s Memphis soul into the here and now. Atkins is bringing that to the Mercury on Sept 9 at 8 PM. General admission is $15, and since it’s a small venue for her, it couldn’t hurt to get there early.

The album opens with A Little Crazy, a co-write with Chris Isaak, a female take on classic early 60s Orbison noir. That crowdfunding campaign must have brought in a ton of dough because the production is lush: pedal steel, piano, shivery strings and Chris Vivion’s snappy hollowbody bass behind Atkins’ impassioned, soaring vocals.

Drummer Josh Block’s whipcrack soul/funk drums push Atkins’ Springfield evocation in the Darkness Falls So Quiet – it’s almost cute that the string section is more country than symphonic, maybe because the album was recorded in Austin.

Listen Up, inspired by a near-disastrous fall into a sinkhole after a gig in Knoxville, has a similarly funky snap. The way the organ voices a popular soul-gospel riff is awfully cool, as is how guitarist Austin Jenkins plays the In the Midnight Hour hook on the chorus at halfspeed. Lots of old ideas here, but they’re twisted into all sorts of imaginative new shapes.

The album’s title track opens as a dead ringer for an early Laura Cantrell favorite and then turns into a mashup of Tex-Mex and Everlys, with some neat staccato surf guitar for extra carbonation. Masking a recycled Brill Building riff behind sheets of sustained reverb guitar doesn’t work so well in I Could, but Colors, with its wary, surreal lyric and rich, string-heavy parlor pop ambience, is Atkins at the top of her moody game.

Brokedown Luck slowly coalesces with trippy quasi-barrelhouse piano and then a stark funk groove, peppy horns spicing Atkins’ narrative of frustration in a dead-end scene. The album’s best song is the slow-simmering, crushingly sarcastic, angst-driven piano-and-horns anthem I Love Living Here: “Nobody knows the real you, just the character you play…burn it to the ground,” she intones

Sleepwalking nicks a famous Marvin Gaye vamp and a slightly less famous new wave hook, but this elegant period-perfect early 70s-style soul anthem is irresistible. With A Night of Serious Drinking, Atkins puts her angst-fueled noir spin on what the Three Degrees would have done as a charmingly twinkling nocturnal vamp, complete with low-key brass and steel guitar lingering in the distance: “You and I are not like that legendary  bird that rises from the ash/ We burn and crash.”

The album ends with a slightly more optimistic one of Atkins’ towering, doomed signature anthems, A Dream Without Pain. “May the path be lit up by the bridges that I’ve burned,” she wails: things may be good at the moment, but how long will they last? Good to see Atkins still battling demons and making expertly catchy, smart music out of them.

The Jazzrausch Bigband Rock Lincoln Center in Their US Debut

“Who here has heard German techno big band jazz before? This is a first for me!” Lincoln Center impresario Meera Dugal grinned. “The second you hear this music, you’re going to want to get up and dance.”

Watching Munich’s Jazzrausch Bigband in their US debut last evening at Lincoln Center had the effect composer Leonhard Kuhn was shooting for: “rausch” means “drunk.” Standing behind his Macbook and bass synth, head bobbing like a turtle crossing the autobahn, he and his seventeen-piece outfit validated their reputation as one of the world’s most  distinctive and adrenalizing dance outfits.

What was shocking, and gloriously refreshing right from the first hammerhead beats of Marco Dufner’s kickdrum, was that this band swings. Which completely sets them apart from the machines and the would-be cyborgs who man them. At first the crowd didn’t know what to make of the band. “Why don’t you get up and party with us?” trombonist/bandleader Roman Sladek encouraged. Watching this massive outfit, the brass and reeds running the same motorik loop and then clever variations on it throughout their opening number, Moebius Strip was genuinely breathtaking: imagine the amount of practice that requires. Singers Patricia Roemer and guest Sara McDonald harmonized about being taken to the other side, Kuhn having fun mixing their vocals dubwise at the end.

Sladek also had the turtlehead thing going even when he was playing, through the relentlessly pulsing second number in lockstep with Kevin Welch’s piano and Maximilian Hirning’s bass. The Euclidean Trip Through Paintings by Escher (that’s the title) was a clinic in how to make odd meters not only look easy, but to get America kids to dance to them, propelled by an endless bass loop and peaking midway through with guitarist Heinrich Wulff’s steady, echoey pace down the runway to a final liftoff.

Welch took over the mic as the brass swelled and faded behind him, the band’s two tenor saxophonists taking kinetic tag-team solos, followed eventually by a gruff, wildly applauded baritone sax solo from Florian Leuschner that elevated the song above the level of generic 70s disco. By now the crowd had gotten over their shyness and were out on the floor.

Kuhn’s blippy electro beats, Sladek’s tight blasts and Jutta Keess’ similarly forceful low-register tuba propelled Jesus Christ Version 2.0: trumpeter Angela Avetisyan’s purist bluesy phrasing and blazing postbop trills in this context were a trip, to say the least. As the song unwound, alto saxophonist Daniel Klingl took an animated turn centerstage, Roemer’s disembodied vocals hovering as the rhythm section pedaled themselves to a big crescendo…and then shifted gears when the two singers pulled the harmonies together again.

Uneasy echo effects between the two singers, big brass swells, an elephantine bass solo and finally a welcome detour into Afrobeat were next on the bill. If the epic, surprisingly subtly shapeshifting Dancing Wittgenstein –  not as bizarre a concept as some might think – is to be believed, the philosopher liked polyrhythms and minor-key vamps. McDonald bookended it with deadpan readings about – this is a paraphrase – how to achieve genuine lucidity. The group closed with the gargantuan Punkt und Linie zur Flaeche (Point and Line to the Area), Avetisyan channeling a high-voltage ghost with her airy phrases over the endless thump-thump, flitting voices from throughout the group filtering into the mix to max out the psychedelic impact.

If this is the future of EDM, it’s this band’s ODM that’s going to replace it – that’s a big O for Organic. The Jazzrausch Bigband make their Brooklyn debut at the Good Room in Greenpoint with McDonald’s similarly epic, more eclectic NYChillharmonic. on Sept 6 at 8PMish; cover is $10. The two groups are also at the Sheen Center on Bleecker just off Bowery at 7:30 on Sept 8 with a dadrock band for twice that. 

Joshua Garcia Brings His Harrowing, Relevant Tunesmithing to a Cozy West Village Spot

When describing a singer-songwriter, the term “troubadour” is typically misused to the most ridiculous extent possible. Most of the culprits are part of the corporate publicity  machine, or those who still kiss up to it, probably because they’ve been kissing up to it for so long that they’ve forgotten that it has nothing left for them. But that’s another story.

In the Middle Ages, the troubadours – a French word – were the CNN of Europe. Making their way precariously from town to town, through thickets of bandits – with whom they undoubtedly shared more than we’ll ever know – they carried news, and rumors, and often outright falsehoods about what was going on in the wider world. For some mead and a meal and a bed, they’d keep the night going with drinking songs and sex songs, and maybe there’d be a jam session at the end. Relics of this ancient ritual persist in bars around the world.

The obvious conclusion is that in the age of CNN, there’s hardly a need for troubadours. But in an era when so much news is no more reliable than the apocryphal tales spread by well-traveled, hardworking guys picking up bits and pieces of information here and there and weaving them into a semi-plausible whole, maybe we need to rethink that conclusion. That’s where somebody like Joshua Garcia comes in.

Garcia sings in a strong, confident baritone that harks back to the more purposeful folk voices of the 1950s folk revival: in other words, he isn’t trying to be Dylan or, for that matter, John Mayer. Likewise, his guitar picking is steady, and fluid, and fluent in several bluesy styles. He writes in images: rather than telling you what’s going on, he gives you an audio movie to figure out. He’s got a deadpan sense of humor that can be very grim, which makes sense considering who’s in the Oval Office right now.

At his show at the American Folk Art Museum a couple of weeks ago, you could have heard a pin drop. “I’m not used to playing for so many of you,” he grinned, but that will change. His songs are topical, but in the style of a Spike Lee movie rather than a news program. The best one was That’s the Way You Drop a Bomb, a matter-of-fact, picturesque account of what the crew of the Enola Gay were told to expect on their way to and back from killing hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese civilians. An old story, no question, but one with immense relevance when fire and fury drip from greedy lips at White House news conferences.

Garcia opened his set with an aphoristic catalog of things that he was going to buy. Some were concrete, many of them were grandiose, and eventually he came to the point where he’d mention a few of the things he wasn’t going to buy. Those, he’d leave to you. Guess what they were.

He also played a couple of brooding narratives about immigrant life. The first and more allusive one looked at the dismal daily routine of his Mexican-American immigrant grandmother, a California factory worker in the 1950s. The more harrowing one, a chronicle of spousal abuse was unselfconsciously tender and dedicated to his mom. Obviously, domestic violence is hardly the exclusive domain of immigrants or working people, but there’s no question that societies where prosperity is not monopolized by a robber baron class have lower rates of violent crime. Garcia didn’t say any of that outright: he let his song speak for itself. He closed the set a-cappella, a brave move that worked like a charm on the crowd.

His next gig is a short set at 7 PM on Sept 2 at Caffe Vivaldi followed eventually at 8 by Jeremy Aaron, a good acoustic guitarist who writes socially aware topical songs, and then clever, playful swing/oldtimey Americana accordionist-singer Erica Mancini at 8:30. 

And the weekly Free Music Fridays series at the American Folk Art Museum – Manhattan’s best and arguably most popular listening room for pretty much all styles of acoustic music – resumes on September 22 at 6 PM with acoustic Americana tunesmith Rodrigo Aranjuelo. and gothic Americana duo Thoughtdream 

A Sneak Peek at One of the Year’s Most Enticing Big Band Shows

It used to be that an artist never got a Lincoln Center gig until they were well established. That’s changed. These days, if you want to catch some of the world’s most exciting up-and-coming acts, Lincoln Center is the place to be. This August 31 at 7:30 PM the mighty, cinematic and wildly danceable Jazzrausch Bigband make their Lincoln Center debut at the atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd Street. The show is free, so whether you want a seat or a spot on the dancefloor, getting there on time is always a good idea.

Some mystery surrounds this largescale German ensemble. There isn’t much about them on the web other than a Soundcloud page and a youtube channel, which is surprising, considering how individualistic, cutting-edge and irrepressibly fun they are. Like the NYChillharmonic – whose leader, Sara McDonald, has also sung with them – their instrumentation follows the standard big band jazz model. Stylistically, they’re all over the map.

A listen to four tracks from their forthcoming album reveals influences that range from current-day big band jazz to EDM, autobahn krautrock, indie classical and disco. The result is an organic dancefloor thud like a much more ornate Dawn of Midi or Moon Hooch. Much as these recordings are extremely tight, the band have a reputation for explosive live shows, with roots that trace all the way back to the raucous European anarchist street bands of the late 1800s.

The first album track that mysteriously made its way into the inbox here is the aptly titled Moebius Strip. Loopy, pinpoint syncopation from the reeds -Daniel Klingl, Raphael Huber, Moritz Stahl and Florian Leuschner – leads to a suspenseful pulse fueled by the low brass, and then they’re off onto a whoomp-whoomp groove. “It’s a weird strip,” intones soul-infused chanteuse Patricia Roemer; at the center, before the strutting crescendo peaks out, there’s a jaunty alto sax solo.

The ten-minute epic Punkt und Linie zur Flaeche (Point and Line to the Area) has a relentless motorik drive, cinematic flashes and flickers from throughout the orchestra and a deadpan hip-hop lyric. Moody muted trumpet and dancing saxes punctuate the mist as the band build a towering disco inferno: is that white noise from Kevin Welch’s synth, or the whole group breathing through their horns?

The Euclidean Trip Through Paintings by Escher brings back the loopy syncopation, with a playfully bouncy melody that could be a fully grown Snarky Puppy, trumpet shifting the theme into uneasier territory until they turn on a dime with a little New Orleans flair. The last of the tracks, Trust in Me, is another epic and the most traditionally jazz-oriented number. When’s the last time you heard a disco song that combined flavors like Henrich Wulff’s lingering Pink Floyd guitar,Marco Dufner’s sparkling chicha-flavored drums and stern faux hi-de-ho brass from trumpeters Angela Avetisyan and Julius Braun, trombonists Roman Sladek, and Carsten Fuss and tuba player Jutta Keess?

The Colorful Dalton Deschain & the Traveling Show Make a Lower East Side Stop

Dalton Deschain & the Traveling Show are one of the most individualistic and artistically ambitious bands in New York. They’re very high-concept: their catchy, anthemic songs mirror and elaborate on characters and events in an ongoing retro-futurist serial novel that could go in plenty of directions, from graphic series to feature film. Over the past couple of years, Deschain (not his real name) and the band have been beating a path with their catchy, anthemic songs between Bed-Stuy and the Lower East Side when they’re not on tour. They’ve got a new ep, Catherine, streaming at Bandcamp and an accompanying novelette. They’re playing at Sidewalk on August 18 at 10:40 PM (tnat’s 10:40, not 10:30, folks), opening for perennially popular folk noir denizen Lorrane Leckie, who’s playing a rare, intimate solo show.

Deschain weaves a hell of a yarn. Set in 1945, the plotline traces a postwar America reeling from a biological attack and an Axis victory. Deschain builds suspense to the breaking point, doesn’t telegraph the action and keeps you on the page. As with all steampunk scenarios, verisimilitude sometimes takes a backseat to action, and when that gets all wiz-bang, a suspension of disbelief can be required. Loaded down and encumbered as she was, the heroine somehow gets away from the bad guys with guns? Really??? That’s where the story unravels away from Philip K. Dick toward Quentin Tarantino.

The songs on the ep are artsy and eclectic, and the band is first-rate, with Deschain handling all the guitars, David Warpaint on bass and Phil Harris on drums. Deschain sings through a tidal, uneasy vintage chorus-box effect as Tin Laurels gets underway, an enigmatic ingenue-in-the-big-city anthem. Interstitial (Approximate Man) alludes icily and mechanically to one of many stories nested within the narrative, in this case a mysterious, gnomic avant-garde poet who may hold the key to something not yet revealed. Approximate Girl concludes the ep: “if you think I’m beautiful then you never watched a star die,” the narrator asserts early on. Deschain’s long, tremolo-icepicked guitar solo at the end is irresistibly delicious. There’s a watery 80s feel to much of this music and this is a prime example: Peter Gabriel from late in the decade comes to mind, as well as late-period Bowie. It’ll be fun to see where the next episode picks up.

Nina Diaz Brings Her Relentless Angst and Catchy 80s-Influenced Tunesmithing to Wlliamsburg

Nina Diaz is best known as the frontwoman and guitarist of Girl in a Coma. Without knowing her background, you might swear that many of the songs on  her debut solo album The Beat Is Dead – streaming at Spotify – were relics from the 80s. Synthesizers pulse and swirl; the guitars and basslines are as dry as they are precise and catchy. Otherwise, the record sounds like a sleeker take on her main band, a series of angry anthems that would make a great soundtrack for a sequel to or remake of Fatal Attraction. You know – rain-slick streets, Soho lofts that you take the freight elevator up to since the real estate bubble hasn’t started to blow yet, and everybody’s wearing black eyeliner. 

Some of the songs here also recall Nicole Atkins, right down to the the brooding minor keys, slightly throaty vocals and noir tinges. Diaz’s next New York gig is at Rough Trade on August 17 at 9 for ten bucks in advance.

The album opens with Trick Candle, propelled by a dancing octave bass riff and spiraling synth, like Missing Persons without the metal buffoonery. With its darkly irresistible chorus, the album’s title track, more or less, is Queen Beats King.”All he seems to care about is fame… in the silence you create your own violence to turn and kill,” Diaz accuses.

Rebirth begins as syncopated cabaret-punk and then follows a trip-hop slink that eventually straightens out: “I will not love you until you are my enemy,” Diaz says perversely. With its doomed, angst-fueled major/minor changes, January 9th is a dead ringer for Atkins: “I don’t wanna be the bad one, I don;t wanna be the sad one that you find,” Diaz insists, althogh her voice can’t disguise that she knows what’s coming.

Fall in Love keeps that same wounded atmosphere going, awash in starry omnichord synth over a trip-hop groove: “Sometimes I speak too quickly, end up inside another shell…how would you know yourself, if you were never to fall in love…”

With Young Man, Diaz goes back to icy, stainless-countertopped new wave that explodes into Billy Idol bombast. She opens It with a tricky intro that artfully morphs into strutting, defiant ba-BUMP new wave noir cabaret. Then she hits a vengeful, sequencer-fueled motorik punk drive with Screaming Without a Sound. 

Its wryly blippy synth contrasting with big stadium rock guitars, Down continues the 80s vibe, this time going up into the attic for a Siouxsie-esque menace:: “I know all your secrets, I will push you to the ground, and you say, oh, why’d you kick me while I’m down?”, Diaz recounts.

She hits a creepy peak with Dig, its guitar chromatics fueling a lurid tale of abandonment and lust, and follows that with Star, a titanic, blue-flame 6/8 anthem, a counterpart to Atkins’ signature song The Tower.

Stark, starlit guitar builds a moody noir ranchera backdrop behind Diaz’s melancholy vocals in For You, a sad waltz. The album winds up with Mortician Musician, a bitter soul anthem recast as Orbison noir: “I’m not a fool for writing melodies, I’m just a fool for trying to make you see what I see,, ask me what kind of coffin I’d like, it’s the one you picked out for me,” Diaz rails..Dudes, get your skinny tie on; girls, feather your hair and take the subway to Bedford Avenue on the 17th because there was no Uber back when it sounds like this unselfconsciously brilliant album was made.

A Brooding Live Film Score and New York’s Most Relevant Gospel Choir at Prospect Park

It wouldn’t be fair to let the month go by without mentioning the wickedly amusing, entertaining score that Sexmob played to the 1925 Italian silent film Maciste All’Inferno at Prospect Park Bandshell a couple of weeks ago. Another A-list jazz talent, pianist Jason Moran, teams up with the Wordless Music Orchestra there tonight, August 10 to play a live score to another more famous film. Selma. The Brooklyn United Marching Band opens the night at 7:30 PM, and if you’re going, you should get there on time.

It’s amazing what an epic sound trumpeter/bandleader Steven Bernstein manages to evince from the four voices in his long-running quartet, which also includes alto sax player Briggan Krauss, bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen. Part of the equation is long, desolate sustained tones; part is echo effects and the rest of it is the reverb on Wollesen’s drums, gongs and assorted percussive implements. On one hand, much of this score seemed like a remake of the band’s 2015 cult classic album Cinema, Circus & Spaghetti: Sexmob Plays Nino Rota, especially the brooding opening sequence. With a very close resemblance to Bernstein’s reinvention of the Amarcord main title theme, the band went slinking along on the moody but trebly pulse of Scherr’s incisive bass and Wollesen’s ominously muted and-four-and tom-tom hits.

Yet as much as the rest of this new score followed the same sonic formula (or tried to – as usual this year, the sound mix here was atrocious, bass and drums way too high in the mix), the themes were more playful than that album’s relentless noir ambience. At the same time, Bernstein’s uneasy but earthily rooted dynamics added a welcome gravitas to the movie’s vaudevillian charm. In brief (you can get the whole thing at IMDB): strongman Maciste, stalked by the devil, ends up in hell, fends off all sorts of cartoonish human/orc types and ends up having a potentially deadly flirtation. All the while, he’s missing his true love and family topside. Will he finally vanquish the hordes of tortured souls hell-bent into making him one of their own?

Wollesen built one of his typical, mystical temple-garden-in-the-mist tableaux with his gongs, and cymbals, and finally his toms, to open the score. It’s a catchy one, and the hooks were as hummable as the two main themes were expansive. In addition to the many variations on the title one, there was also a funky bass octave riff that subtly pushed the music into a similarly hummable uh-oh interlude and then back, spiced here and there with screaming unison riffs from the horns and one achingly menacing spot where Krauss mimicked guitar feedback. But the scrambling and scampering ultimately took a backseat to gloom. For this band, hell is more of a lake of ice than fire.

“Is this forest a Walmart now?” fearless ecological crusader Rev. Billy Talen asked midway through his incendiary opening set with his titanic, practically fifty-piece group the Stop Shopping Choir. That was his response to a security guard who’d told him the other night that the park was closed. For this Park Slope resident, not being able to connect with the nature he loves so much and has dedicated his life to protecting is an issue.

When he isn’t getting arrested for protesting against fracking, or clearcutting, or the use of the lethal herbicide Roundup in New York City parks, Rev. Billy makes albums of insightful, grimly funny faux-gospel music…and then goes up to the public park on the tenth floor of the Trump Tower to write more. And tells funny stories about all of that. He was in typically sardonic form, playing emcee as a rotating cast of impassioned singers from the choir took turns out front, through a lot of new material.

Pending apocalypse was a recurrent theme right from the pouncing, minor-key anthem that opened the set: “How can we tell the creatures it’s the end of the world?” was the recurrent question. Relax: they saw this coming a lot sooner than we did and they’ve all come south from the pole for one last feast on our polluted corpses. In between towering, angst-fueled contemplations of that eventuality, Rev. Billy and his crew took Devil Monsanto to task for its frankenseed assault on farmers, the environment, and ultimately the food chain. In the night’s most harrowing moment, they interrupted a towering, rising-and-falling anti-police brutality broadside with a long reading of names of young black and latino men murdered by police: Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Amadou Diallo and many, many more.

Miking a choir is a tough job, no doubt, but the inept sound crew here didn’t help much making Talen and his singers audible over the sinewy piano/bass/drums trio behind them. And it wasn’t possible to get close to the stage to listen since all the front seats, almost all of them left empty, are all reserved for paying customers here now. Ever feel like you’re being pushed out of your own city?

Purist Retro Rock Fun with Nick Lowe and Los Straitjackets at Lincoln Center Out of Doors

One of the differences between Lincoln Center Out of Doors and many of the other free summer concert series around town is that it caters to communities rather than demographics. Perhaps more importantly, Lincoln Center isn’t turning a genuinely free public event into a partially-free one by reserving the seats for paying customers.

Thursday night out back in Damrosch Park was Bollywood night, and the diversity of the crowd went far beyond a well-represented Indian contingent. Friday was hip-hop nerd night. Last night was for the old beerbellied guys in baseball hats.

Surveying the audience, the question was how many of the gang who hung out at the old Lakeside Lounge a decade ago – or two decades ago – would be here. New York powerpop cult heroes Matt Keating and Pete Galub – neither of whom is particularly old, beerbellied or known for wearing hats – were in the house, along with a smattering of more mainstream but less talented names that would resonate with the retirees who still listen to radio stations like WFMU on the drive back to Jersey.

Three years ago, Nick Lowe played here, solo on acoustic guitar, and ended up mopping the floor with opening act Jason Isbell. Lowe is a band guy and has been for a long time, so what was most impressive about that show was his expansive, eclectically tasteful rhythm guitar chops. This time out he had the world’s best backing band, Los Straitjackets.

Obviously, Los Straitjackets aren’t usually a backing band. They’re the world’s third-greatest surf rock group, which might sound like a dis until you consider that the only acts in front of them are hall of famers Dick Dale and the Ventures, who invented the style. The last time Los Straitjackets played Lincoln Center, they had to follow slinky Niger duskcore favorites Etran Finatawa, but that didn’t phase them. This time their tantalizingly short mini-set midway through turned out to be the highlight of the night, in fact the highlight of this year’s festival so far.

It’s amazing that a band who’ve been around for more than twenty years sound every bit as fresh as they were when they started…and their chops are even better now. Few bands, let alone veteran acts like this, have more fun onstage. Guitarists Eddie Angel and Danny Amis finished each others’ phrases without missing a beat, traded snazzy riffs and lead lines over the swinging 2/4 pulse of bassist Pete Curry and drummer Chris Sprague. The former brings a surprising subtlety and touch to the music,  fingerpicking instead of playing with a pick. Sprague took centerstage in a vaudevillian get-the-mosquito bit that had the audience howling.

But Angel is more of a cutup than anyone else in the band: his litany of quotes, from Brian Jones to Chuck Berry, drew plenty of laughs as well. Meanwhile, Amis fired off splashes of elegant jazz chords and some tremolo-picking that was so seamless that for a second it seemed like there was an organ in the mix somewhere. Lines formed in the lanes between the sets, everybody capturing the moment on video as the band shifted through darkly Spanish-flavored mock-Ninja Turtles strut, lots of bittersweet twang and finally a droll mashup of the Batman theme and Wipeout as their encore.

With these guys behind him, Lowe didn’t have to work too hard guitarwise. In strong voice and good spirits, he led them through what he accurately termed a “Perky, family-friendly” set of hits and deeper album cuts, from wry pub-rockers like Heart of the City and Half a Boy and Half a Man, to the cynical Everybody Changes and Sensitive Man, to the expansive, soul-infused ballads You Inspire Me and Til the Real Thing Comes Along.

The most resonant number of the night turned out to be I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock n Roll). In a city under siege by young wannabe Trumps from out of state whose disinterest in the arts and slavish obedience to social media makes their stodgy parents seem absolutely radical by comparison, that slight, vaudevillian pop tune found new meaning. We all knew the bride – for about ten seconds, before she became a Park Slope monster stroller mom.

Finally, Angel, who’d been keeping  his jangly leads and fills on a short leash, couldn’t resist a little tongue-in-cheek sparkle, and Sprague was on top of it in a second with a droll, rumbling turnaround. This is a good match: catchy retro pop tunesmith and a band who can take those tunes to places most bands would never dream of, or dare to.

Opening act the Cut Worms were about as original as a Chinatown Rolex, but delivered a pleasantly low-key, extremely Everly Brothers-influenced set, like a less Lynchian version of another Lincoln Center favorite, the Cactus Blossoms. Festival impresario Jill Sternheimer obviously has a thing for melancholy retro Americana; she could do a lot worse. The Brooklyn quartet’s best songs were a surprisingly shambling, brooding ballad delivered solo acoustic by frontman/guitarist Max Clarke, and a honkytonk-flavored number about printing photos in a darkroom. That might have been the night’s most retro moment of all.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors continues today, and this afternoon’s show is a doozy: the lush, hauntingly plaintive bounce of the Cheres Ukrainian Folk Ensemble along with Albanian superstar vocal/accordion duo Merita Halili & Raif Hyseni and their orchestra on the plaza starting at 1 PM. See you under the trees!

A History of Bollywood Music and Dance In Colorful 3-D Gets an Epic World Premiere at Lincoln Center

If you think it might be daunting to pull together a band who can competently reinvent seventy years worth of film themes by dozens of different composers, try choreographing every one of those songs for an ensemble comprising eighteen dancers. Heena Patel and Rushi Vakil pulled off that epic feat last night at Lincoln Center Out of Doors with the world premiere of their multimedia extravaganza Bollywood Boulevard. A lively and insightful capsule history of Indian cinema as well as a revealing immersion in cinematic cross-pollination and playful mass movement, the performance drew a similarly vast audience of New Yorkers, many of whom knew the songs and sang along lustily.

For those who didn’t know the words, or the source material, or the vernacular, it was still a lot of fun. The band was fantastic, bringing a dynamically shifting rock edge to a wildly eclectic mix of themes, from a couple of baroque-tinged songs from the 1940s, to the mighty, angst-fueled ballads of the golden age of Bollywood in the 50s and 60s, to the funk and disco of the 70s and 80s and finally the surreal mashups of the last three decades.

Raj Kapoor’s 1950s epics and adventure star Amitabh Bachchan’s 70s vehicles featured heavily in the mix as the band kept a steady beat, from ancient carnatic themes interspersed within Gabriel Faure-esque Romanticism, to even more towering Romantic heights, gritty funk, irresistibly cantering bhangra and finally hints of the Middle East, sung with raw gusto by one the guys. The crowd was also finally treated to a couple of verses of Dum Maro Dum, the iconic pot-smoking anthem: remember, marijuana is an Indian herb.

It was particularly fascinating to see singer Rini Raghavan – whose own music with her band Rini is as picturesque as anything on this bill, and rocks a lot harder – bring a gentle melismatic nuance and a striking upper register to much of the quieter material. Playing violin with similar subtlety and plaintiveness, she was as much of a lead soloist as anyone in the group.

It was just as much fun to watch Harshitha Krishnan tackle many of the more kinetic numbers in her majestic, wounded wail. Keyboardist Rohan Prebhudesai spun volleys of microtones, stately orchestral washes and spare piano lines with equal aplomb over the nimble acoustic and electric fretwork of guitarist Niranjan Nayar and bassist Achal Murthy, backed by drummer Varun Das and percussionist Sanjoy Karmakar. Baritone singers Krishna Sridharan and Neel Nadkarni took alternately droll and intense turns in the spotlight as well.

All the while, a pantheon of South Asian deities or facsimiles thereof twirled and pranced and lept and glided across the stage. It wa a nonstop procession of fire maidens, and archers, and warriors…and starcrossed lovers, as the narrative continued into the 90s and beyond. Historical sagas, mythological epics, crime dramas, buddy movies and an endless succession of chick flicks were represented among dozens of Bollywood historical landmarks flashing on the screen above the stage. Personalities and characters from over the decades were gamely represented in a constantly changing series of costumes, with goodnaturedly split-seoond timing, by a cast including but not limited to Aaliya Islam, Aria Dandawate, Avinaash Gabbeta, Geatali Tampy, Manav Gulati, Minal Mehta, Panav Kadakia, Poonam Desai, Proma Khosla, Rhea Gosh, Rohit Gajare, Rohit Thakre, Sean Kulsum, Barkha, Bhumit, Bindi and Pranav Patel.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors ocntinues tonight, August 4 at 7:30 PM with violinist Miguel Atwood-Ferguson leading a chamber orchestra through lavish new arrangements of J Dilla hip-hop tunes out back in Damrosch Park.