New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: southwestern gothic

Halloween Gets to Greenpoint a Little Early This Year

If your ideal Halloween would be coming face to face with something genuinely disturbing rather than filling up on a bucketful of free candy, going out into icy, torrential rain would be a good way to start the evening. The spy satellites can’t see through the clouds, and the spycams get all streaked up. Watch your back, and you could literally get away with murder.

The walk from the L train past McCarren Park to Manhattan Inn on Greenpoint Avenue, and then back, was enough to soak through a heavy winter coat the night that Big Lazy and Beninghove’s Hangmen played what could have been a notorious show there. The prospect of seeing two, maybe even three hours of macabre, marauding, stampeding noir cinematic instrumentals – and the cred of having been witness to it – justified the trip, theoretically at least.

The show that this blog trumpeted last spring as being the year’s most auspicious twinbill didn’t exactly turn out that way. Not a fault of the bands, or the musicians, but the space.

If you’ve seen a band rip the roof off your local every month for almost two years, you hold them to a high standard (another way of looking at it is that you take them for granted). If you’ve followed this blog at all, you’re undoubtedly familiar with Big Lazy. For those who’ve stumbled onto this page for the first time, the guitar/bass/drums trio play reverbtoned, cinematic instrumentals that blend David Lynch film score sounds with those of an earlier era, from Nino Rota’s Fellini themes, through surf rock and Ennio Morricone spaghetti western. Live, about half of what they play is improvisational: they are the consummate dark jamband. They also rely very heavily on audience interaction: people typically dance at their shows.

But there was nowhere to dance here. What was weirdest was how the band was set up: guitarist Steve Ulrich and bassist Andrew Hall found themselves facing drummer Yuval Lion, in the center of the room, surrounded by tables of diners and neighborhood newcomers who’d probably ducked in to get out of the rain. This completely discombubulated the trio: not being able to see half the crowd was obviously a drag, and the group never got unglued. Songs were shorter, solos far more brief, and from the perspective of sitting behind the drums –  the only place left in the room by the time the show started – it was hard to hear what was going on. For any musician who’s ever struggled through a tough set, don’t get down on yourself: even the world’s best bands sometimes have an off night. Usually it’s not their fault.

By the time Beninghove’s Hangmen hit, they were half in the bag and didn’t let the weirdness of the configuration – amps facing the drums – stop them from turning in a ferocious, careeningly intense set. They opened with an epic take of Surf N’ Turk. The version on their amazing Rattlesnake Chopper album is a blistering, Middle Eastern-flavored horror surf number; this time around, they started with a volcanic metal intro and then slowed down to a midtempo swing, through a long, forlorn Rick Parker trombone solo, saturnine microtonal jangle from guitarist Dane Johnson and some savage, insistent, hammering passing tones from bandleader/tenor saxophonist Bryan Beninghove that he’d reprise several times over as the night went on.

By contrast, Surfin’ Satie – a gleefully evil go-go surf take on a classic Erik Satie tune – was just as amped-up as the album version, the group clearly gasssed to have drummer Sean Baltazor back behind the kit. Then they slowed things down with a haphazardly psychedelic take of Pineapples and Ashtrays, the centerpiece of their new album. The studio version pairs a subtly sunny, wryly sarcastic cornpone theme with an increasingly horror-stricken chase narrative. This time out, they ramped up the psychedelics, guest guitarist Jon Lipscomb playing axe murderer against Johnson’s heavy-lidded bemusement. From there the band skanked slowly through the Lynchian dub reggae of Lola’s Got a Gun, brought the red-light roadhouse theme Roebuck down to a slow swamp-rock groove, and eventually ended with droll, explosively elephantine takes of familiar Neil Diamond and Led Zep tunes.

Big Lazy return to their someday-legendary monthly Barbes residency this Friday, Oct 7 at 10 PM; Beninghove’s Hangmen don’t seem to have anything coming up at the moment. But this is Halloween month – watch this space!

Big Lazy: 2016’s Ultimate Halloween Band

What better way to kick off Halloween month, 2016 than with the world’s slinkiest, most shadowy instrumental trio, Big Lazy? They play both kinds of Halloween music, the trick-or-treat stuff as well as the sinister. In all seriousness, they’re a lot closer to the latter than the former. Guitarist/founder Steve Ulrich, bassist Andrew Hall and drummer Yuval Lion return to their monthly first-Friday-of-the-month, 10 PM residency this coming Friday, Oct 7 at Barbes.

It’s a fair guess that the people who were running Punk Magazine back in 1976 caught the Ramones at CB’s more than a few times that summer. And at least some of the hippies at the Village Voice back in the 60s might well have seen Phil Ochs at Folk City more than once. If you buy the premise that this blog is to New York what, say, Punk Magazine was to this city forty years ago – or what the Voice was a decade before then – it makes sense that New York Music Daily would be in the house for several Big Lazy Barbes shows in 2016. The funnest one might have been the most recent and cleverly improvisational, where Lion was just plain having a ball with all sorts of counterintuitive rhythms and syncopation, and Michael Bates – who shares a jazz pedigree with Hall – took over on the four-string. Another fun set was a couple of months back when Kill Henry Sugar‘s Dean Sharenow, a frequent Ulrich film score collaborator, sat in on drums, bringing his signature snare sound along with a dry wit to match the bandleader’s unparalleled, bleak sense of humor.

But the year’s best Big Lazy show – this blog has caught pretty much all of them – wasn’t at Barbes. It was at the Lively, a refreshingly laid-back basement bar located in the Meatpacking District, of all places. That joint had nice people working there, cheap drinks (at least by the standards of that neighborhood), a real stage in the back and a fantastic PA system. Sadly, this year’s strongest contender for “best Manhattan venue” barely lasted a couple of months.

But what a show Big Lazy played there. They ripped through Princess Nicotine, a machinegunning, barely three-minute minor-key ghoulabilly sprint that Ulrich wrote as a soundtrack piece to an obscure early 20s short film of the same name. The creepiest number of the night was Skinless Boneless, a slowly swaying, macabre tableau adrift in oceans of guitar reverb and tremoloing tritones. They didn’t do their serial killer strut version of Piazzolla’s Pulsacion No. 5, or their uber-noir cover of Thelonious Monk’s Epistrophy, both of which they aired out at Barbes this past summer, but they did do the early Beatles hit Girl, reinventing it as a dirge in the same vein as their deadpan take of Lesley Gore’s You Don’t Own Me. And they did some new stuff, including one serpentine mini-epic that swung from neo-Nino Rota Fellini score, to more rocking and psychedelic, to sheer terror in places. As at Barbes, there were couples up front, dancing. Which is what noir is all about, anyway: grabbing what you can while the shadows close in.

Another Creepy Classic Album and a Couple of New York Shows from the Handsome Family

Andrew Bird says that Brett and Rennie Sparks of the Handsome Family are this era’s greatest songwriters. He ought to know: he did a whole album of Handsome Family covers. Whether or not you agree with Bird – another one of this era’s best tunesmiths and wordsmiths –  you can’t argue with the Handsome Family’s iconic status in folk noir circles. They’ve got a new album, Unseen – streaming at Spotify – and a couple of shows this weekend. On Friday, Sept 30 they’re at the Mercury at 8:30 PM for $17 in advance; the following night, Oct 1 they’re at the Knitting Factory for the same price, a half-hour later.

It’s interesting how the new album is a throwback to their earliest days, when they were more of a straight-up Americana band. However, this is a harder-rocking effort. The opening track, Gold takes the hallowed tradition of the outlaw ballad into the Oxycontin era: “Got a tattoo of a snake and a ski mask on my face, but I woke up in the ditch behind the Stop-and-Go,” Brett intones. “Lying the weeds with a bullet in my gut, watching dollar bills fly away in the dust.” The interweave of his own tremolo guitars, Alex McMahon’s baritone guitar and pedal steel is as luscious as the cruel irony of the narrative. It’s classic Handsome Family.

The Silver Light shambles along with an acoustic honkytonk feel, a crushingly cynical Vegas casino scenario. “Neon glowstick in your drink.” For fans of classic 60s and early 70s country, the backing vocals are priceless. The broodingly cello-infused Back in My Day offers a typical Rennie Sparks narrative:

We had maps that unfolded
You could drink from the river
We had gods made of clay
There were mile-high glaciers
No locks on the doors
The stars burned brighter
We never counted past four

And at that point it becomes more and more clear that the good old days, while a lot more temperate than these cruel final global warming years, weren’t all they might be cracked up to be.

The bittersweet passing tones of the pump organ solo in the carnivalesque waltz Tiny Tina might be the album’s most understatedly heartbreaking touch. Underneath the Falls brings a distantly ominous, majestic, jangly Byrds-style grandeur to that waltz tempo, another global warming-era requiem.

Rennie makes her first appearance on vocals on The Sea Rose, a catchy, jangly, twist on a classic siren song with a gorgeously spare acoustic guitar solo midway through. The album’s most epically allusive cut, The Red Door is a Lynchian doo-wop update on a Brothers Grimm theme. The stately swaying Gentlemen, with its quaint electric harpsichord and cello, offers a shout-out to William Crookes, who invented the vacuum tube in 1875 as an ostensible means to access the great beyond.

King of Dust, a desolate wreck-on-the-highway scenario, revisits the cruel irony of the album’s opening cut. On the surface, the final cut, Green Willow Valley is a comfortable pastoral nocturne, but if you listen closely, the subtext is crushing. If this is the last album the Handsome Family makes before global warming, or the plutonium leaking into the Pacific from Fukushima reactor number three, kills us all, it further cements their status as arguably this century’s best band. Look for this on the best albums list of 2016 here if we make it that far.

The Irrepressibly Fun Bombay Rickey Return to Barbes This Saturday Night

Bombay Rickey are one of the funnest and most individualistic bands in New York. They mash up surf rock, psychedelic cumbias and Bollywood into a constantly shapeshifting, danceable sound. They’re playing this Saturday night, Sept 24 at 8 PM at Barbes. Then they’re at Brooklyn Conservatory of Music the following night, Sept 25 at 7.

They played a couple of Barbes shows over the past couple of months At the first one, frontwoman/accordionist Kamala Sankaram was battling a cold, although she still hit every note in her four-and-a-half octave range, useful since she and the band did a whole bunch of Yma Sumac covers. It was a dress rehearsal, more or less, for an upcoming London show, and since Barbes doesn’t have a dressing room, she word several outfits on top of another. One by one, they came off, but by the time she was down to the final shiny dress – you know how hot it gets onstage at Barbes in the summer – she was drenched.

At the second show, last month, she’d won the battle and was back to her usual exuberant, charismatic self. The group opened with a brisk, ominously bouncing surf tune, Sankaram hitting an arioso high note and squeezing every ounce of drama out of it, saxophonist Jeff Hudgins adding a moody, modally-charged solo that disintegrated into hardbop. Sankaram scatted takadimi drum language as the song shifted shape behind her, hit another operatic surf interlude with a Drew Fleming guitar solo that could have charmed a snake, Hudgins taking it further up and outside over Gil Smuskowitz’s blippy bassline.

A coy mambo gave Sankaram a rare chance to show off her low register – as it turns out, she’s just as strong there as she is way up in the stratosphere. She might just well be the best singer in all of New York in any style of music (unsurprisingly, she also sings opera and jazz). Then the band took a turn into spaghetti western territory,Fleming spiraling while drummer Sam Merrick supplied a boomy drive on his toms in unexpected 6/8 time

Sankaram chose her spots for goosebump-inducing vocalese on the next number, a wickedly catchy blend of Bollywood dramatics and surfy bounce. They followed with a slinky, ominously Ethiopian-flavored tune over a clave groove, sax prowling uneasily over the guitar’s reverb-drenched resonance. Then they took a long, even more unexpected detour into vintage JB’s style funk.

Sankaram then broke out her sitar for what sounded like a 60s Vegas psychedelic pop number on Vicodin, until a purposeful, stately sax solo that echoed Coltrane’s Giant Steps. After a similar one from Fleming, the band took a long climb upward. They brought some funk to a version of Dum Maro Dum, the famous Bollywood weedhead anthem, and finally broke out the chicha for an undulating Yma Sumac hit, Fleming’s spiky solo skirting skronk and postbop. Then they went back to surfy Bollywood. Couples were dancing; so can you, this Saturday night at Barbes.

More Delicious Retro 60s Psychedelia From the Allah-Las

The Allah-Las  – frontman/guitarist Miles Michaud, lead guitarist Pedrum Siadatian, bassist Spencer Dunham and drummer Matthew Correia – are one of the most tuneful and best-appreciated bands in a crowded field of psychedelic retroists including the Mystic Braves, Mystery Lights, Night Beats and a whole lot of other reverbtoned janglers and clangers. The California quartet’s latest album Calico Review is due out momentarily, meaning that it ought to be streaming at Bandcamp in a week or so. Testament to their popularity, their two-night stand this weekend at Baby’s All Right is sold out; fans in other cities on their current tour should take that into consideration in the case where advance tickets are available.

As usual, most of the songs on the new record clock in at around the three-minute mark. The lyrics channel a persistent unease, but ultimately this band is more about wicked hooks than words. This is their most overtly retro, Beatlesque release to date. It opens with the enigmatically sunny Strange Heat, driven by Siadatian’s spare, flickering mosquito leads over a muted backdrop: it’s the most Odessey and Oracle the band’s done so far in their career. They follow that with Satisfied, a very clever, rhythmically dizzying update on Taxman-era Beatles with a deliciously icy vintage chorus-box solo midway through. Then the band takes the energy up a notch with the late Velvets ringer Could Be You.

The band keeps the Velvets vibe going, but in a more delicate folk-rock vein, with High and Dry: the blend of acoustic and electric six- and twelve-string textures beats anything Lou Reed came up with in 1969. Tricky tempos and lingering twelve-string lines return in Mausoleum, which wouldn’t be out of place on a Church album from the mid-80s. Then Roadside Memorial mashes up early Yardbirds/Blues Magoos riff-rock with hints of vintage funk

The shapeshifting Autumn Dawn kicks off with a wry allusions to the most famous acid-pop riff ever, then struts along with echoes of mid-60s Pretty Things. Plaintive strings and misty mellotron add gravitas to the wryly acerbic, Magical Mystery Tour-tinged Famous Phone Figure: “What’s she got but a pretty face in real estate?” Michaud wants to know.

200 South La Brea – site of a casting agency – has a similarly sardonic feel, a return to What Goes On Velvets. The intro to Warmed Kippers hints that the song will go in a warped, noisy indie direction, then straightens out, straight back to the Fab Four. The group springboards off an iconic Dave Brubeck riff for the southwestern gothic of Terra Ignota; the album winds up with the sunny, summery, swinging Place in the Sun. The only thing about this album that’s not retro is the mention of a cellphone, a touch of funny surrealism amidst the period-perfect Vox-amped 1967 sonics.

Forro In the Dark Return to a Cozy, Familiar Haunt

As thorny and almost perversely challenging as John Zorn’s compositions can be, sometimes people forget what a hookmeister the guy is. He can write a catchy tune with anybody, referencing the better part of a century worth of jazz, classical, rock and film noir soundtracks. And somewhere inside, there still beats the irrepressibly tuneful heart of the surf rock bassist that he once was. Forro in the Dark, who add surfy touches to their often sepulchral Brazilian rainforest nocturnes, had the good sense a couple of years ago to put out an album of John Zorn covers, which makes more sense than it might seem considering the composer’s fondness for Brazilian sounds. And for those who might have missed Forro in the Darks long series of Barbes gigs around that time – or their fantastically tight, fun, sadly abbreviated set a couple of years ago at Lincoln Center Out of Doors – they’re playing tomorrow night, September 4 at 8 at Manhattan Inn in Greenpoint. It’s a pass-the-tip-jar situation, a good thing because this bar is expensive.

Uluwati, a coyly modulating rainforest take on Lee Hazlewood spaghetti western surf, opens the album. The band’s swirling arrangement, with Jorge Continentino’s flutes multitracked over Guilherme Monteiro’s guitar and Mauro Refosco’s percussion, gives the song an epic feel far greater than the sum of its its relatively limited parts.

Novato artfully blends Vitor Gonçalvez’s dancing accordion with similarly gentle, kinetic guitar and flute. The group does most of Forro Zinho as a droll, slinky LA lowrider theme of sorts, bassist Rea Mochiach bubbling just beneath the surface – and then they take it abruptly toward Jethro Tull territory before Monteiro reins it in.

The band scampers and struts through Life Is Only Real Then When I Am with Monteiro and Continentino each channeling classic Spy vs. Spy furtiveness. Guest pianist Marcos Valle’s reverberating Wurlitzer and Sofia Rei’s deadpan, blithe vocalese help take the the trippy surrealism of Shaolin Bossa to redline. Sunset Surfer, with its playfully nicked riffage and mashup of grittily hypnotic postpunk rhythm and twinkling tropical lounge sonics, is even trippier.

The percussive, high-voltage Zavebe makes psychedelic rock out of what sounds like a centuries-old cantorial theme, in the same vein as the Sway Machinery, Continentino growling away on baritone sax while Monteiro blasts and burns and pans the speakers. While Ode to Delphi also has a percussive, hypnotic groove, it’s basically a glimmering one-chord jam with more than a little Grateful Dead in it, Rei’s dynamic vocalese rising and falling overhead.

With its hobbity rhythms, distorted guitar and dancing flute, Number 2 raises the question as to whether Zorn was a big Tull fan as a kid (likely answer: not really, and that any resemblance before the big free jazz freakout in the middle is probably a coincidence). The group makes an unexpected mashup out of forro and the Ramones with Annabel and then segues into The Quiet Surf. a return to balmy, surrealistic tropicalia. You can’t find this anywhere on the internet, but you can presumably pick up a copy from the band at shows.

A Rare Midtown Show by Americana Songwriting Icon Joe Ely

Joe Ely may be iconic in Americana music circles, but he’s hardly resting on his laurels these days. Joe Strummer’s favorite country singer has seen the cult favorite debut album by his early 70s supergroup the Flatlanders reissued, along with his hard-to-find 1983 solo record B484, one of the first releases to utilize what was then state-of-the-art computer technology. Earlier this year, a previously unreleased duet by Ely and Linda Ronstadt was rescued from the vaults. His thinly veiled autobiographical novel Reverb: An Odyssey is out, and is as brilliant and understatedly surreal as you would expect from an eloquent pioneer of what would become known as alt-country back in the late 80s and throughout the 90s. If that isn’t enough, Ely is the Texas State Musician of 2016. And his latest darkly relevant, immigrant-themed album, Panhandle Rambler – streaming at Spotify – employs a wide and distinguished group of talent from his Austin circle. It might be the best solo album he’s ever done. His most recent gig here was with the Flatlanders at Carnegie Hall several months back, but he’s making a rare return to NYC with a gig on July 27 at 8 PM at B.B. King’s. Advance tix are $27.50.

The album’s first cut, Wounded Creek builds from an ominous thicket of acoustic guitars and bass into a darkly bluesy southwestern gothic ballad, Ely at the top of his game as purposefully imagistic storyteller. The similarly uneasy, tiptoeing Magdalene also works an allusive, haunted storyline, an outlaw couple on the run. “I don’t know what comes next,” Ely confides, “Your guess is as good as mine,” Joel Guzman’s accordion wafting in the distance. Coyotes Are Howling keeps the border-rock suspense going, a gloomy American narcocorrida of sorts:

Bright lights are flashing
Both red and blue
It’s nowhere near Christmas
But it’s long overdue

When the Nights Are Cold sardonically nicks a famous Pink Floyd riff for a somber portrait of illegal immigrant angst. Early in the Mornin’ follows a similar, more enigmatic tangent, blending elegant Mexican folk touches into late 70s outlaw honkytonk. Southern Eyes works a sarcastically shuffling western swing groove, followed by the folk noir hobo tale Four Ol’ Brokes.

Wonderin’ Where is a bittersweetly nostalgic William Carlos Williams-ish tale with Memphis soul tinges. Ely goes back to outlaw balladry with the brooding, ghostly Burden of Your Load, arguably the album’s best song:

State prison? Don’t get distracted
Keep your eyes on the road
The weight will be subtracted
From the burden of your load

Then the band picks up the pace with Here’s to the Weary, a populist anthem referencing Woody Guthrie, Bob Wills and George Jones. Jim Hoke’s ghostly steel keens icily in Cold Black Hammer, a darkly wry, Tom Waits-style story of a real femme fatale. The final cut is the unexpectedly hard-rocking You Saved Me, drawing a straight line back to Buddy Holly. Throughout the album, there’s all kinds of tasteful, often Spanish-tinged picking, contrasting with Guzman’s echoey, 80s-style synth lines, in the same vein as the Highwaymen records. Ely’s voice is a little more flinty now, which suits him fine since subtlety and stories have always been his thing. It’s another release that really should have been on last year’s list of best albums here.

Relentlessly Haunting 60s-Influenced French Noir from Juniore

If the French didn’t invent noir, they deserve at least half credit since it’s their word. And much as the concept of existential angst may not be a French construct (for those of you who weren’t phil majors, meaning probably all of you, its roots are German), it’s safe to say that it wouldn’t have become so much a part of our collective consciousness if not for Jean-Paul Sartre. French singer Anna Jean’s band Juniore’s debut full-length album – streaming at Bandcamp – channels that restless, relentless solitude, putting a shadowy spin on bouncy Françoise Hardy-style 60s ye-ye pop. It’s one of the darkest and best albums of the year and it might well be the very best of all of them: hard to say, as we’re only in the beginning stages of another été meurtrier.

The opening track, Christine  sets the stage: the guitars building a mix of 60s fuzztone and icy 80s wash over trebly, snappy bass and skittish drums. The song is a period-perfect take on the peppy garage-pop that was all the rage in France in the late 60s, but with a brooding, noir edge. Jean sings with a snippy impatience on this one. Dans le Noir is 180 degrees from that, vocally, a warmly swirling, bittersweetly nocturnal tableau – but by the end, Jean hardly sounds like she’s looking forward to dancing in the dark, like she says. Similarly, La Fin Du Monde, with its blend of psychedelic grit, swooshy cinematics and Jean’s cleverly intricate rhyme scheme, isn’t as quite apocalyptic as its title would imply.

Jean follows a vivid, doomed narrative over a Ghost Riders in the Sky gallop in Marche, lit up with some creepy chorus-box guitar cadenzas midway through. She works the road metaphor implicit in the pouncing, persistent horror-garage hit La Route for all it’s worth – thematically if not musically, it’s her take on Iggy Pop’s The Passenger. Then she opens the skeletally dancing Mon Autre with a scream – finally, six tracks in, she can’t avoid a comparison to French obsessions the Cure, but with surreal deep-space keyb tinges.

The band goes back toward creepy new wave-ish border rock with Cavalier Solitaire (Lone Rider), bringing to mind the similarly brisk but persistent unease of Jean’s colleague Marianne Dissard‘s early work. The best song on the album, Je Fais Le Mort (I Play Dead) might also be the best song of the year, comparable to this year’s early frontrunner, Karla Rose & the ThornsBattery Park. That one’s a bolero of sorts; this is a toweringly sad, phantasmagorical lament in in 6/8 time. Over and over again, Jean underscores how this metaphorical killing wasn’t worth the time it took – along with plenty of other implications.

Even the bounciest and most retro number here, Marabout, a single from last year, has a dark undercurrent: this ladykiller will get you on your knees. And A La Plage might be the most melancholy beach song released in recent years, part Stranglers, part dark 60s Phil Spector, with hints of dub reggae. The album winds up with Animal, a coyly menacing number that reminds of Fabienne Delsol. While there’s no need to speak French to appreciate this on a musical level, Jean’s lyrics are superb, packed with double entendres and clever, sometimes Rachelle Garniez-class wordplay. You’ll see this high on the list of best albums of 2016 if the screen you’re watching doesn’t go completely noir by then.

Vox Urbana at Barbes: One of NYC’s Best Shows of the Year

Saturday night at Barbes, Tucson psychedelic cumbia band Vox Urbana played one of the most deliriously fun shows anywhere in New York this year. They sound like Chicha Libre with horns – yeah, that good.

They opened with a slinky, eerily vampy number, the musical equivalent of a red-on-black Sequeiros tableau. The tremoloing funeral parlor organ in tandem with frontman Kiki Castellanos’ watery, vintage chorus-box guitar gave the music both a menace and a retro allure with tight, bright brass overhead. The number after that sounded like a Burning Spear reggae hit from the 70s reinvented as cumbia, morphing cleverly and almost imperceptibly into a bouncy tropical rock groove. Then they went back to a swaying, hip-tugging slink with an enigmatically anthemic number that hit a big peak as the organ grew smokier while the horns traded riffs with Castellanos, the dancers gathered at the front of the room taking his advice to get down and have some fun.

By now the place was packed, and it was hot: “It’s like Tucson up here!” Castellanos said drily. The band responded with another number that paired purposeful, punchy horns against a lurid, organ-fueled backdrop. Considering how psychedelic the band’s music is, it’s amazing how tight they are: throughout the show, solos were short and concise, and the band kept the unstoppable sway going throughout a big percussion break – Saul Perez on congas and Casey Hadland on drums – into the next tune. Their Spanish lyrics turned out to be much the same, entreating the dancers to do their thing, encouraging global unity and late in the set, sending a shout-out to a popular Tucson community activist. The organist switched to accordion for that one.

The night’s best number was an instrumental that mingled hi-de-ho blues and dark dub reggae into a cumbia….or it might have been a minor-key party anthem a little later on, where Castellanos shifted through his pedalboard and switched out the ice for various degrees of heat, finally taking it out with a wild volley of tremolo-picking. Then the band moved toward ska and then back to the tropical rock – and then an eerily bouncing, modal Ethiopian tune!.

And for what it’s worth, this group draws a really goodlooking crowd. As sadly as this neighborhood has been whitewashed over the years, it was encouraging to see pretty much every New York demographic dancing and reveling in the fact that this is still a multicultural city.

A Fun Early Evening Central Park Show By Dark French Rockers La Femme

On one hand, you see a band as good as dark French new wave/surf rockers La Femme open a show in broad daylight, to a relatively small crowd, and you think to yourself, damn, these guys should be headlining. Then self-interest takes over and you remember that the last time you were at Central Park Summerstage, the crowd was even smaller because of the monsoon that night. Yesterday evening, there was a similarly ominous cumulo-nimbus sky looming overhead, but as it turned out, no big cloudburst. Still, it was reassuring to be able to catch this interesting, individualistic, kinetic six-piece group – guitar, bass, drums, and as many as four keyboards – before any deluge could have developed.

The band romped through the opening number over a catchy four-chord hook, frontman Marlon Magnée’s sepulchrally tremoloing funeral organ – the group’s signature sound – front and center. Clémence Quélenneche, the lone femme in the band, sang on that one with an airy Jane Birkin delivery. Magnée took over the mic on the next number, a mashup of motorik krautrock, new wave and French hip-hop. After that they could have sung “Tu as les yeux verts, tu as les yeux verts,” over and over as they nicked a very popular New Order hit, but weren’t quite that obvious.

Then they brought the lights down low to a Lynchian glimmer over a hauntingly catchy Karla Rose-style desert rock hook, swooshy and sweeping keyboard textures mingling behind the steady minor-key strums of Strat player Sacha Got as Magnée traced the grim decline of some kind of relationship in rapidfire rap cadences. It was surreal to watch bassist Sam Lefevre put down his four-string and switch to keys even though an oldschool disco bassline was the central hook of the echoey new wave surf tune, Sur La Planche, the band hitting a trick ending with a splash of cymbals and then diving right back into it. They closed with a long, hypnotic, drony organ number that was a dead ringer for an early track from the Black Angels‘ catalog – and just as catchy. The crowd screamed for an encore but didn’t get one.

There were a couple of other French acts on the bill, psychedelic funk dude General Elektriks and southwestern gothic-tinged guitarist Yael Naimwho’s won all sorts of awards lately, but the safe call, at least with a laptop slung over the shoulder, was to head straight for the train. La Femme are staying in town a little longer to make a video or two, and promise to be back in the fall.