New York Music Daily

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Category: stoner music

Desert Flower Bring Their Smoldering, Intense Heavy Psychedelia to the East Village Saturday Night

On Sundays starting at around 11 in the morning, there’s a flea market at Paperbox in Bushwick. Along with the antiques and tchotchkes and book stalls and used vinyl, there’s street fair food out back, and if you’re of age there are drinks at the bar. A lot of people go here for daydrinking ($3 drafts until 2 PM, yikes!), or to bring the kids and see some live music, because they have bands here. And some of them are fantastic: psychedelic cumbia group Consumata Sonidera treated the crowd to a sizzling show here a couple of weeks ago. The highlight of this past week was a tightly ferocious set by heavy psychedelic band Desert Flower. Although they mash up some very famliiar styles, most of them from the 70s, they’re one of the most individualistic bands in town: there is no other group in New York who sound remotely like them.

One of the keys to their sound is the contrast between the two guitarists. Migue Mendez plays a Gibson SG through a Fender amp with the reverb turned up most of the time, delivering creepily echoing, deep-space quasar leads, menacingly shivery flurries of reverb riffage and sunbaked stoner blues lines. Paola Luna plays a Telecaster, varying her attack from gritty, terse, blues-based riff-rock, to a menacing, sustained minor-key clang. Bassist Seba Fernandez and drummer Alfio Casale cluster and churn as they propel the songs’ generally slow-to-midtempo grooves. Out in front of the band, singer Bela Zap Art sways slowly, eyes closed, completely lost in the music as the waves slowly rise and then break behind her. Much as she has a bluesy wail to match Heart’s Ann Wilson, there’s an elegance and nuance in that powerfullly modulated alto of hers, with touches of cabaret and nuevo tango. Considering that musicians tend to be night creatures, Desert Flower ought to be even more careeningly powerful when they play Sidewalk this Saturday night, November 14 at midnight

The Paperbox show opened with a flurry of drums and growling, trebly bass, Fernandez playing off to the side of the stage as the briskly ominous stomp built steam, part early Siouxsie, part early 90s NYC gutter blues, part punk, Mendez building to an all-too-brief, searing solo toward the end. And a listen back to the recording reveals something that was anything but obvious at the moment: the song doesn’t have any chord changes!

The band likes to segue between songs, and they did that right off the bat, Mendez and Luna flinging dark fragments of melody against each other before the rhythm section came back in, Luna’s sepulchral upper-register shrieks capping off Mendez’s heavy blues lines and mighty, majestic slide playing.  Zap Art bent her notes with a surreal, lysergic ominousness as the song built slowly to a peak.

The most epic song of the set was Traveler, a slow, haunting 6/8 noir blues dirge written by a composer friend from Buenos Aires. After that, they went back to the riff-rock with a moodily shuffling new number, Zap Art bringing to mind blue-eyed soul belters like Genya Ravan when she hit the impassioned, blues-drenched chorus. The band’s most intense original was another marauding 6/8 minor-key anthem: “Falling down from the grey skies,” Zap Art wailed again and again over the twin guitars’ sharkteeth attack.  The sarcastic march that followed, like the Dead Kennedys taking a detour into circus rock, was every bit as potent. They wound up the show with a tight, furious cover of Moonage Daydream that looked back to the live pyrotechnics of the Mick Ronson-era version of Bowie’s band.

And the opening act was good too. It would have been fun to have seen more than the last handful of songs by noisy, intense power trio Slow Suck. Frontwoman/guitarist Kiki Sabater has an individualistically dirty but melodic sound that brings to mind early Bauhaus as well as what Courtney Love was doing on the first Hole album, i.e. before she went completely off the rails. Sabater’s songs don’t follow any kind of predictable verse/chorus pattern, and the rhythm section behind her negotiated those tricky transitions between slow and sinister and screaming punk rock with an impressive elegance, particularly the bassist, whose thoughtful hammer-ons and slinky melodies darkened an already vivid, gloomy ambience. Sabater’s unselfconsciously anguished wail drove it all home.

Fever the Ghost Bring Their Droll Blend of Glam, Psychedelia and Art-Rock to Bushwick

The title of Fever the Ghost’s new album Zirconium Meconium – streaming at Bandcamp – basically means “fake shit.” Is that because their style springboards off a sparkly psychedelic sound that crystallized about a half-century ago? Whatever the case, the quality of the music is no joke, even if the album is full of them. Fever the Ghost have a gig tonight, November 7 at around 9 at Alphaville,140 Wilson Ave (Stuydam/Willoughby) in Bushwick, cover TBA, guessing around $10. Take the M to Central Ave.

Bobby Victor’s ornate, baroque-tnged piano kicks off the instrumental overture Metempsychosis, which segues into Rounder II, frontman Casper Indrizzo’s strobe guitar mingling with the organ for a high, High Romantic vibe with a touch of glam. If Spacehog was a keyboard band, they’d sound like this. From there the group segues into Hinterland, Indrizzo’s playful faux-Bowie vocals rising over pulsing waves of ELO keyb arpeggios, bassist Mason Rothschild and drummer Nick Overhauser providing an unexpectedly balletesque beat.

Peace Crimes has a mystifyingly out-of-tune synth underneath the balmy vocals, lingering guitar and Tschaikovskian tune. Surf’s Up!…Nevermind puts a droll prog-pop spin on Astronomy Domine-era Pink Floyd. Long Tall Stranger – a trippily twisted tale of a child kidnapping – reverts to a blend of blue-eyed Bowie soul and vintage symphonic rock.

Fathoms puts a third-wave glam spin on an old Status Quo garage rock classic. From there the band takes a techy-tacky, Pulp-ish detour into synthy disco with 1518, then bookends a nebulous interlude with new wave Motown in Sun Moth. Vervain (Dreams of an Old Wooden Cage) leavens the gravitas of mid-90s Blur with a wry Gringo Star sensibility. The album winds up with Equal Pedestrian – a not-so-successful parody of Disney autotune pop – and the George Harrison-esque piano ballad A Friend in Lonely Jesus. Like a lot of the best psychedelia, this music doesn’t take itself the least bit seriously, especially as far as the faux-operatic octave effects on the vocals are concerned. If the band can replicate any reasonable proportion of this studio grandeur, they should be a lot of fun live.

Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats – The Ultimate 2015 Halloween Soundtrack?

The opening track of Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats’ latest album The Night Creeper- streaming at Spotify – is Waiting for Blood. What makes this band so macabre? The slow, creeping tempos? The burning, distorted minor-key guitar progressions? What might set this group apart from all the post-Sleep, third-generation Sabbath-influenced stoner metal acts is the vocal harmonies. And when lead guitarist Kevin Starrs finally sends his hammer-ons spinning through the channels, right to left and back in a second, that’s just the icing on the cake. Track two, Murder Nights, opens with a noxious swirl of distorted roto organ and three-part vocal harmonies that evoke the Move circa 1970 as much as they put Sabbath to shame: “People creep like poison in the mind.”

Downtown takes a lurid ba-bump stripper riff and makes stalker metal out of it: the Wytches come to mind. Pusher Man springboards off of Iron Maiden off their most scorching, wide-angle minor-key mid-80s intensity and strips it down for a searing, unrelenting sway that’s impossible to turn away from, Starrs adding one of the many tantalizingly brief acid-metal guitar solos that permeate this album. He’s the rare lead guitarist you want to hear more of.

Yellow Moon makes for an unexpected respite from the horror with its slowly unwinding early King Crimson-style psychedelia…until the reverb guitars of Starrs and Yotam Rubinger build to a terrified starscape and then fade out. Starrs gets the twisted Melody Lane going with his macabre organ over the stomp of bassist Vaughn Stokes and drummer Itamar Rubinger, a twisted tale of desire whose object “pulls a knife when she loves in the dark” and leaves a “bloody remark.”

The album’s swaying, menacingly crescendoing title track is the most retro – if you can imagine a collaboration between the late Carl Wayne and Tony Iommi. But then it picks up with an even more enveloping Iron Maiden sweep peaking with a searing rise to the rafters.

Stokes’ growling, pouncing, propulsive bass propels Inside, a mashup of Arthur Lee, the Kinks and maybe ELO at their most disturbing. The album’s most original track is Slow Death, which opens as a Move-like anthem but slowly builds to a volcanic, lingering peak that cruelly fades out. The album winds out with the unexpetedly subdued Black Motorcade, a Doors-influenced dirge that wouldn’t be out of place in the Frank Flight Band catatog. Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats’ current European tour continues with a gig at the University of Stuttgart on October 24.

Kalascima Bring Their Intoxicating, Psychedelic Italian Folk Dancefloor Grooves to Drom

Puglia, Italy’s psychedelically shapeshifting Kalascima make their New York debut on October 14 at 6:30 at Drom; cover is $15. Their latest album, Psychedelic Trance Tarantella is streaming at soundcloud. And it’s like nothing else you’ll hear coming out of the US, that’s for sure. Italy has been a hotbed of hot musical cross-pollination for literally millennia, and this group is no exception, part dancefloor trance band, part lively folk-rock outfit, part wild circus rock unit. The flurrying twin-percussion team of Riccardo Lagana and Federico Lagana propel the group in tandem with low-key bassist Riccardo Basile. Massimiliano De Marco plays an arsenal of acoustic stringed instruments, with Luca Buccarella on accordion and Aldo Iezza playing all sorts of reeds, from sax to the zampogna (sort of the Italian counterpart to the Irish uilleann pipes)

The album’s title track has uneasy vocal loops mingling with Celtic-tinged accordion and zampogna. With its droll, ever-present jawharp, This Way is a woozy, hypnotic, somewhat goofy mashup of qawwali and Italian folk. The catchy, slowly swaying Lu Sule adds wry hints of hip-hop and dub to a spiky, spiraling folk-rock anthem.

Moi! returns to a surreal mashup of tarantella catchiness and trancey qawwali dnacefloor groove, heavier on the former than the latter with some unexpectedly menacing vocal harmonies midway through. Mary Di Salem sends disembodied vocals and dubwise washes of keys floating through the mix over a muted dancefloor thud. Due Mari, featuring cinematic art-rocker Ludovico Einaudi on scampering, staccato piano, follows a slowly swaying, anthemic triplet rhythm spiced with De Marco’s rippling Irish bouzouki.

Kore, one of the deeper trance numbers here, anchors the brightly dancing accordion and Irish-flavored bouzouki in shifting, rhythmic grey-noise patches. The trippy grooves continue with Il Giardino, part qawwali, part spinning spider dance. Canto Degli Emigranti has a purposeful, briskly strolling bounce, dancing phrases from the zampogna, accordion and bouzouki echoing off each other as they spin through the mix.

La Rivolta Dell’Arneo is the techiest number here with its new wave synth loops and ever-present dancefloor thump anchoring briskly pulsing accordion and mandolin. The album winds up with the lush, windswept Musa – Musa Reprise, a sort of sea chantey without words, getting stranger and stranger as it goes along. English translations of the lyrics are hard to find, but the group seems to have a sense of humor, echoed in the interplay between the instruments. You can get seriously lost in this.

A Surreal, Catchy New Stoner Americana Album from Odetta Hartman

You might expect to see someone named Odetta Hartman in a band with people calling themselves Howlin’ Wolf Matsuzaka and Nina Simone Bjornquist. But that’s this singer/multi-instrumentalist’s real name. Her Bandcamp page – where her new album 222 is streaming – is tagged “experimental country club cowboy soul experimental pop future folk new york city.” Auspiciously, it’s available on cassette for seven bucks – cheaper than a download, semi-permanently archivable, safe from phone glitches and hard drive crashes. She’s playing the album release show on October 8 at 8 PM at the big room at the Rockwood; cover is $10.

The opening track is Creektime, a brain-warping mashup of hip-hop and torchy oldtimey blues, with a flurry of shivery strings and a plaintive violin solo when you least expect them. Tap Tap deals with “making deals with the devil,” sparely and nebulously – flitting strings and electronic touches add to the sepulchrally rustic ambience. Hartman runs her banjo through an amp for some tasty distortion on Dreamcatchers, a pretty irresistible and funny return to the oldtimey/newschool dynamic.

Lazy LA – an oxymoron, right? – has a delicate, distantly Brazilian lullaby feel – is that a tenor guitar, maybe? By contrast, Batonebo is a stark, minor-key noir guitar blues. Limoncello is a heavy-lidded, torchy come-on, Hartman’s voice doing that tenth-wave Billie Holiday thing that never seems not to be all the rage among girls with acoustic guitars. The most unselfconsciously attractive and anthemic number – i.e. the big hit – is the oldschool soul-inspired Hard Wired. The album winds up with the surreal Lucky Dog, which may be fueled by the “suspicious contraband” that Hartman alludes to. Throughout the album, she impresses with her dexterity and insightful familiarity with a vast expanse of instruments and styles usually far beyond the reach of most bedroom popsters. Not bad for the scion of an independent New York pizza parlor mini-empire.

Roots Reggae At Its Deep, Psychedelic Best at Maxwell’s Thursday Night

Thursday night at Maxwell’s, the buzz was that Kiwi – the tri-state area’s most consistently entertaining and original roots reggae band – was going to school the two out-of-town acts on the bill. To their immense credit, both Myrtle Beach’s Treehouse and Boston’s High Hopes Band rose to the occasion, resulting in a wickedly good late-summer festival of deep psychedelic grooves.

One of the measures of a band is how well they play to an empty room. Seriously – any band can feed off the energy of a good audience, and the crowd was slow to arrive when Treehouse hit the stage at nine sharp. But they played as if they were headlining Coachella. They were by far the loudest and hardest-rocking of the three groups. Guitarist Jeremy Anderson had a blast with the dozens of settings on his huge pedalboard: he likes an icy tone and plays leads with furious flurries of tremolo-picking, building to several unexpected cumulo-nimbus peaks. Bassist Matt Link plays his five-string with a pick, but he doesn’t let it slow him down, with a serpentine, melodic attack that featured several slinky solos this time out. Drummer Trey Moody has an individualistic style, building a deep pocket with his classic roots beats but then picking up to a steady four-on-the-floor rock drive on the band’s louder material. Anderson doubled (tripled?) on melodica and trumpet, used his loop pedal to lay down a couple of psychedelic, cumbia-influenced riffs to underpin a couple of songs, and finally ended the band’s set on a blistering, explosive note with a dynamically shapeshifting number that veered back and forth between dancehall, ska and edgy rock.

Kiwi were their usual slinky selves, and High Hopes followed a similar deep-roots groove afterward. Kiwi has six members, High Hopes seven, so the music wasn’t as focused on guitar as Treehouse’s was. Both bands have sensationally good, trippy keyboardists. Kiwi’s Dave Stolarz brought a dramatic, cinematic edge with his synth work, when he wasn’t playing swirly organ or tersely bluesy piano. High Hopes’ Paddy McDonnell went further into artsy Pink Floyd territory, with just as atmospheric a dub style as Stolarz. Likewise, both bands have deep rhythm sections grounded in a classic late 70s Jamaican sound. Both bassists, Kiwi’s Steve Capecci and High Hopes’ Julie Feola, anchored the music with their purist, effortlessly boomy lines. Kiwi’s drummer, Ramsey Norman, was both the night’s hardest hitter and also its most oldschool one-drop expert; behind the kit for High Hopes, AJ Maynard worked a nimble, acrobatic approach.

The crowd had come to party, and they got louder as the show went on. So Kiwi frontman Alex Tea brought the music down to just Norman’s woodblock and percussionist Mike Torres’ scraper – and in a second the room was silent. Using a wide palette of sounds that brought to mind peak-era Steel Pulse as well as late 60s rocksteady, Tea led the group through an eclectic mix of songs that shifted from deep dub, to Beatlesque jangle and echoes of late 70s Burning Spear. Jazz chords, unexpected major/minor and loud/soft shifts kept things interesting, everybody in the band contributing something into the mix.

High Hopes have two distinctive guitarists: Jason Dick likes surrealistically atmospheric wah-wah lines; Sebastian Franks plays precise, catchy, soaring single-note leads. Like Kiwi, they varied their tempos and energy levels, opening with an instrumental medley, shifting on a dime between one mini-segment to another: an old Jamaican custom. Also like Kiwi, they had an awful lot going on, lots of it unexpected, shifting from dub to doublespeed to a goodnatured bounce, then bringing things down to a simmering ballad or two. The funniest moment of the night was when McDonnell hit a rapidfire echo riff during one of their deepest dub segments and then slowly, slowly turned his reverb knob, putting the brakes on the echo until it was finally in sync with the rest of the band.

At this point in history, roots reggae is a legacy style like swing jazz and bluegrass: beyond the festival circuit, it’s next to impossible to find three reggae acts on a single bill, let alone three this good and this original. Treeehouse and High Hopes are on tour; their next show is Sept 24 at 8 PM at one of Atlanta’s funnest venues, Smith’s Olde Bar.

A Rare NYC Appearance and a Driving, Resolute New Album by Malian Desert Rockers Terakaft

There’s cruel irony in the title of Malian desert rockers Terakaft‘s new, fifth album, Alone (streaming at Spotify). For two decades, the group’s message has been one of resistance and solidarity. A sort of shadow project to iconic duskcore band Tinariwen, with whom they share several members, they’ve typically served as a harder-rocking version of that group. But the energy of their new album, unlike their previous two releases, is driven not by optimism but disillusion and sometimes crushing despair in the wake of the ongoing war in their native land. Nonetheless, their music is steady, resolute and indomitable, its mantra-like grooves and rhythms testament to their commitment to the struggle that’s taken untold lives in their conflict-stricken home country. They’re at Joe’s Pub on September 7 at 9:30 PM as part of their current North American tour. Cover is $22 and since this band so seldom plays here, advance tix are highly recommended.

Growling, lingering, distorted chords anchor the loping pulse of the opening track, Anabayou (Awkward), further beefed up by heavier percussion than one would typically hear if the group were playing around the fire at sundown in the Sahara. Credit their longtime producer Justin Adams with adding stadium rock muscle without subsuming the music’s otherworldly, hypnotic quality.

Tafouk Tele (The Sun Is There) shifts the shuffling groove to the offbeat, the call-and-response of the vocals – an ancient trait in the region’s folk music – mirrored by the deft exchange of guitar riffage. When the song suddenly falls apart at the end, the effect is viscerally chilling. The album’s most stark and intense track – possibly the band’s best song ever – is Karambani (Nastiness), a rather savage minor-key shuffle fueled by a menacing baritone guitar riff that speeds up to a horrified sprint.

Itilla Ehene Dagh Aitma (To My Brothers) sets a low-key verse and a singalong chorus to trickily rhythmic, undulating waves of ringing, keening guitars. Oulhin Asnin (My Heart Hurts) subtly shifts the rhythm into a more straightforward groove, creating a feeling of forward motion slowly breaking free of restraint. Track six, Kal Hoggar works a more straight-up triplet beat, carefully textured layers of guitars buildilng a serpentine interweave.

Amidinin Senta Neflas (My Trusted Friend) is the closest thing here to straight-up western rock, enhanced by a spare harmonica track, a touch that probably originated in the studio. With its surreal, deep-space lead guitar lines, Wahouche Natareh (Lions) is the album’s most psychedelic number. Its most spare and woundedly pensive tune is the concluding title cut. You may be wondering about the lyrical content here: as with the group’s previous output, themes of exile, longing, anguish and struggle, sung in the group’s native Tamashek, dominate these resonant, memorably lingering songs.

Greek Judas: New York’s Best New Psychedelic Band

Greek Judas made their debut last night at Barbes. They’re amazing. Comprising most of the members of Greek rembetiko revivalists Que Vlo-Ve, they’ve reached the inevitable point where it made sense to completely and explosively electrify the colorful, gritty repertoire from the 1920s and 30s underground that they’ve mined up to this point. Wade Ripka alternated between roaring, poinpoint-precise, menacingly chromatic electric guitar leads and and searing lapsteel lines, joined by a masked rhythm guitarist who doubled on tenor sax on one of the later numbers. Slavic Soul Party drummer Chris Stromquist nimbly led the group through the songs’ relentlessly tricky changes with stomp and aplomb while bassist Nick Cudahy was the picture of cool, chilling in the back, delivering the same kind of effortless psychedelic groove that he did for so long in the late, great Chicha Libre. Toward the end of the set, frontman Quince Marcum picked up his horn and joined with the sax player for some intricate twin leads on what sounded like a brass band mashup of Macedonian folk and Led Zep.

Was Marcum running his resonant baritone vocals through a phaser? Yesssssss! And a whole bunch of other trippy, creepy patches too! When not singing in Greek, he had a lot of fun explaining the gist of the songs. This stuff is wild. A seafaring anthem celebrated smuggling untaxed cigarettes and Iranian hash. In their jail cell, couple of magges conspire about what they’re going to do once they get out: “Restring my bouzouki for me, babe, I’m coming home,” one announces, more or less. A couple of rude guys drool over a Romany girl, while another complains that his icy girlfriend has driven him into the monastery, metaphorically at least. And one of the later numbers reminded that crack whores existed in Greece in 1927 – and that crack was just as wack then as it is now. The band wound up their roughly 45-minute set with a pounding one-chord stomp that sounded like the Bad Brains playing Greek music. A screaming guitar band playing hardcore punk rock at Barbes? Damn straight. If you’re in the neighborhood and you like artsy metal or psychedelia, you’d be crazy to miss the band’s second-ever show when they play here on August 27 at 8 PM.

Ripka’s chromatically bristling spirals and leaps over Stromquist’s stately beat on the night’s opening number brought to mind killer Greek surf band the Byzan-tones. The band went for careening metal majesty on the night’s sescond number, resonant guitar snarl over an unexpectedly straight-up, hypnotic, boomy beat on the one after that. On the following tune, Ripka’s aching twang rang out over Stomquist’s tense, tight 7/8 beat as Marcum’s vocals swirled and echoed. The best song of the night was also the most Middle Eastern-influenced, a titanic blast of sabertoothed leads from Ripka’s guitar over the swaying roar of the rest of the band. This group’s ceiling is practically unlimited. First gig ever, there was a good crowd at Barbes, and that following will grow. St. Vitus seems inevitable; after that, Donington here we come!. Wait til the metal crowd discovers these guys: they’ll be able to make a living on their road til they’re in their eighties if they feeling like cranking it up like they did last night.

Intense, Haunting Frank Flight Band Recordings Rescued from the Archives

For their consistently dark post-Doors vision, brilliant guitar work, epic songcraft and wry humor, it’s tempting to call the Frank Flight Band the British Blue Oyster Cult. Except that the Frank Flight Band’s output has been much more consistent and genuinely brilliant. That’s not meant as a dis to BOC, although that band’s studio output since Fire of Unknown Origin – which was a long, long, long time ago – has basically been a wash. Over the past two decades, the Frank Flight Band’s output has been much less prolific – just four albums – but with the persistent hint that vastly more material is hidden away in a vault somewhere. That myth gets some validation on the band’s latest release, The Usual Curse, streaming in full at cdbaby.

There’s been some turnover in the band across the years. Although former frontman Andy Wrigley’s distinctive rasp is missed, Maurice Watson’s croon is one of the album’s strengths; he’s sort of the missing link between Bryan Ferry and Mark Sinnis. Flight is the rare bandleader who typically limits himself to rhythm guitar and songwriting, while lead player Dave Thornley gets to flex his chops. There isn’t a lot of lead playing here, but it’s choice. Flight draws on influences as diverse as David Gilmour, Robbie Krieger and classic C&W, and Thornley’s terse, spacious, jangly, chiming style is a good fit. For whatever reason, this is the first Flight album where he doesn’t contribute lyrically.

The opening cut, Empty has a doomed sway, Flight’s elegant multitracks and Thornley’s hauntingly bluesy solo over studio drummer Terry Shaughnessy’s shuffle groove. “It won’t be only bricks that fall on the grass that lovers bear…death is in the opening sighs of every interaction,” Watson intones.

The title track begins as a real departure for this band, Watson’s angry, death-obsessed lyrics over Thornley’s web of Beatlesque folk-pop guitar; then it goes electric with an unexpected Booker T-inflected soul groove. Thornley and Flight share writing credits on The Last Train West, a dusky, jangly kiss-off anthem akin to the Doors doing highway rock.

Thornley sings his sardonic, jazz-inflected mid-period Pink Floyd-influenced ballad, Ballet Dancer. Watson returns to the mic for the album’s riveting, anguished, Middle Eastern-tinged, closing clave groove, Unrequited, one of Flight’s half-dozen best compositions. While most of the tracks here date from almost ten years ago, there are also two new tunes. As Flight explains in the album’s liner notes, “In typical FFB cyclical fashion this is the first time all four original members have recorded together since the proto basement tape ‘Leyland Road’ sessions of the mid 1990’s.” The first of the new tunes, the epic Home from the Sea mashes up southern boogie, north Atlantic folk and pensive late 60s Laurel Canyon psychedelia. The second, the surf/spacerock instrumental As Far As The Eye Can See is a dead ringer for the Church circa the early 90s. While the Frank Flight Band’s definitive recording is their 2013 masterpiece Remains, this collection further cements their reputation as psychedelic cult heroes. And raises the intrigue: what else do they have in the can that we haven’t heard?

Big Lazy Bring Their Lurid, Creepy, State-of-the-Art Noir Back to Barbes

How many bands have there ever been who were at their peak twenty years after they started? On one hand, just getting to the twenty-year mark as a band is quite the achievement. But composer/guitarist Stephen Ulrich just keeps getting creepier and more eclectic. And it’s safe to say that this edition of Big Lazy, the world’s most consistently haunting, reverb guitar-fueled instrumental band is the best ever. Which is not to be dismissive of original drummer Willie Martinez, who only left the group due to the demands on his schedule as a star of latin jazz and salsa. Nor is this a dis at original bassist Paul Dugan, whose darkly frenetic pulse was such an important part of the band’s first incarnation from about 1996 through 2007.

But the new rhythm section of Andrew Hall and Yuval Lion is the best ever, and the most consistent with Ulrich’s bleak, rain-drenched vision. Back in the day, the band made their home at Tonic, the late, lamented Norfolk Street hotspot for adventurous, jazz-influenced music. Since last year, maybe predictably, the band has made Barbes their home base. They’re playing there again on August 7 at 10 PM.

Between them, Hall and Lion give Ulrich a more minimalist groove than this band has ever had. And yet, they also get featured more prominently on solos, Hall using his bow for extra stygian resonance, Lion rattling the traps like a poltergeist left over from when Manhattan’s Record District (where you bought turntables and vinyl) was bulldozed to make way for the World Trade Center. It may not be safe to say that any one band in town is the very best, but it is safe to say that Big Lazy never play anything remotely the same way twice.

Ulrich saves his bloodthirsty volleys of tremolo-picking and savage chord-chopping when he really needs to take the energy to redline or bring a sonic narrative to a murderous peak (film soundtracks are his regular gig – Big Lazy is his fun project). He’ll often intersperse a loping highway theme or great plains noir atmospherics amidst all the crime-jazz chromatics and wall-bending noir surf riffs. Although on record, menace is the band’s stock in trade, onstage Ulrich can be very funny, quoting from all sorts of jazz songs and movie themes. Once or twice a set, he’ll put down the guitar and break out his lapsteel for high lonesome wails or lingering, floating body-in-the-pool sonics. And much as most of the songs are instrumentals, occasionally they’ll have a guest take a turn out front: one of the coolest moments in the trio’s recent shows has been where oldtime music maven Mamie Minch joined them for a nonchalantly Lynchian, plaintive version of Crazy.

When Ulrich regrouped Big Lazy in 2013 after a six-year hiatus, that was big news, and this blog covered them not once but five times that year and in 2014. Which explains why the band has been absent from the front page here since this past January. But this blog hasn’t been absent from Big Lazy’s Barbes shows this year, beginning in January and then in each of the last three months. In case you haven’t already figured it out, one more thing that’s safe to say about this decidedly unsafe band is that they’re worth seeing more than once. At the end of the year, along with the best albums and best songs lists, there’s also a list of the best concerts in New York and at least one of these gigs will be on it – the May show in particular was pretty amazing.

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