New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: stoner music

Que Vlo-Ve Bring Haunting, Edgy Greek Crime Rhymes and Revolutionary Anthems to Barbes

Que Vlo-Ve aren’t the only band in town who play haunting, Turkish-influenced Greek revolutionary songs and hash-smoking anthems from the 20s and 30s, but they’re one of the best. Right now they’ve got three singles up at Bandcamp as free downloads, which offer an intriguing glimpse of the kind of material they’re likely to air out at their upcoming show at Barbes on Nov 26 at 8 PM. The first song, O Psilos, shows off the lively, upbeat side of their music. The second, Ferte Preza Na Prezaro, dances along with forceful Greek vocals from frontman/percussionist Quince Marcum and biting chromatics from violinist Maya Shanker and guitarists Wade Ripka and Izaak Mills. The most recent one, To Baglamadaki Spase is slower and more brooding.

At their previous Barbes show, Marcum told the audience that although it would be overly reductionistic to explain this music as something created by a clash between stoners and drunks, there’s some truth to that. The backstory is that when the Turkish dictatorship kicked its indigenous Greek population out of Smyrna right before World War I, those people once again found themselves outcasts once they’d made it to Greece since their expatriate culture differed in many ways from what was the rule on the mainland. As a soundtrack to their demimonde, which helped fuel the Greek underground resistance to their own repressive dictatorship, they invented rembetiko, the so-called “Greek gangster blues” that draws heavily on ominous, Middle Eastern sounds from Turkey and points further east.

Marcum intoned in an expressive baritone as Shanker and Ripka passed a spiky baglama lute back and forth. One airy song concerned a guy trying to impress a hot girl with how cunning a linguist he is – he speaks both Greek and Turkish, plus, since she’s Jewish, a little Ladino. Another, The Knife Fight offered a tale of death and retribution in the criminal underworld: hip-hop themes go back a lot further than Biggie Smalls. The chorus of one murky, hypnotic tune reminded how it takes a stoner to know a stoner: a Greek take on When You’re a Viper, more or less. A little later they played an even more hypnotic tune, a drug smuggler’s sea chantey of sorts.

Ripka opened a couple of numbers with slowly unfolding, mysterious guitar improvisations, one on baglama. Shanker’s soaring violin carried most of the big crescendos and the occasional departure into otherworldly Arabic microtones. The funniest number was The Flea, a deviously dancing tune: Marcum explained that its gist is, “I will penetrate you and keep you awake, just like you keep me awake all night.” For the sake of the non-Greek speakers in the crowd, that context added a dimension too often missing at performances of this kind of esoterica.

What does Que Vlo-Ve mean? That’s not clear. However, there once was a scholarly journal of Apollinaire studies with that same name.

Psychedelic Art-Rock Band Wounded Buffalo Theory Headline a Great Friday Night Twinbill at Freddy’s

Wounded Buffalo Theory made a name for themselves back in the zeros as a jamband playing around New York and at the upstate summer festivals. But as much as they can get crazy live, they’re also a first-class, intense, psychedelic art-rock band with strong, ferociously anthemic songwriting. At this point in their history, it’s good to see them at their creative peak. Their latest album, A Painting of Plans is streaming online; they’re headlining at Freddy’s this Friday, Nov 21 at midnight, preceded at around 10 by the similarly excellent, more Americana and blues-influenced Sometime Boys, with whom they share a guitarist and drummer (Kurt Leege and Jay Cowit, respectively).

Cowit and bassist Rob Malko give the band a hard-hitting, metrically shapeshifting platform for the lithe, biting, intertwining guitars of Leege and John Blanton (who’s also the band’s keyboardist). One album that’s an obvious influence is Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (which this group just happened to help recreate in all its trippy grandeur this past fall at Rock Shop). And this is a really long one: back in the all-vinyl days, it would have been a double-disc set. It opens with The Brain Is Half Full, cynically contemplating mortality over echoes of 80s Peter Gabriel and 90s stadium acts like Ride. The first real gem here is the ominous minor-key anthem Fistful, with its eerily, methodically dancing Leege lead, a tinge of dreampop and an ominous multitracked quasar pulse as it winds up. It brings to mind something Leege might have written in his days with paint-peeling art-noise band System Noise back in the mid-zeros.

Shores of Japan is even catchier and just as angst-fueled (though it doesn’t seem to reference 3/11), building to an anguished chorus of intertwining lead guitar lines. For whatever reason, the following cut, Sombrero, brings to mind the Yellow Magic Orchestra at its moodiest. With its chiming acoustic/electric textures, A Planning of Saints works a broodingly artsy-folk rock vibe. The album’s most epic track, Leslie Got a Rabbit builds its way out of hypnotic Frippertronic-style guitar through steadier, trip-hop inflected interludes that almost imperceptibly rise to a visceral, orchestral menace. They follow that with the equally brooding yet kinetically crescendoing Gold (Everybody Needs Some Bodies) with its surrealistically nimble guitar leads and Cowit’s knifes-edge vocals.

The Power of Nothing takes a pensive folk-pop tune and fleshes it out with an ornately layered arrangement. After the trippy, loopy instrumental Here Be Dragons, Why Now evokes the pop side of Radiohead: “I ate his head,” Malko announces nonchalantly. The band follows the trippy, circling instrumental Dirty Walls with Turtles, a more menacing variation on the theme. The Storm Celler continues to raise the menace, driven by the rhythm section’s cumulo-nimbus sonics.

They bring it down for a bit with the gorgeously angst-fueled You Have Left Me, building a thicket of chiming guitars behind Cowit’s pensive vocals. The album winds up with a boomy, gamelansque instrumental and then the title track, reverting to a Trail of the Dead anthemic pulse. What’s best is that the album is available as a name-your-price download!

2014’s Best Reinvention of a Classic Album: Wounded Buffalo Theory and Others Play Genesis at Rock Shop

It’s been a good past few weeks for intriguing cover band projects. Austin psych-funk rockers Brownout reinvented Black Sabbath, when they weren’t channeling that band at their mid-70s peak, at Brooklyn Bowl last month. William Maselli‘s clever orchestral mashup of Sabbath themes got a workout at Merkin Concert Hall about a week after that. Then there was Grey McMurray and band recasting Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells as lush, string-driven art-rock, a performance that will air on Q2 shortly. But the best of all of these shows was masterminded by Sometimes Boys and Wounded Buffalo Theory drummer Jay Cowit, who brought members of those two bands plus Afroskull, 29 Hour Music People, and the Trouble Dolls together to perform Genesis’ classic 1974 double album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Other bands have done it over the years, and there’s a Genesis cover band, the Musical Box, who regularly perform it along with an elaborate set and projections for astronomical prices . But it’s hard to imagine anybody other than the original band doing it as energetically yet surrealistically hauntingly as this one-off pickup band. Best of all, the entire concert was recorded and has been immortalized on youtube, disc one streaming here and disc two here.

Keyboardist Eric Lipper did a spectacular approximation of Tony Banks at the top of his Terry Reid-like, rippling game while Vince Fairchild added more ambient textures, using a studio’s worth of vintage and near-vintage synth and organ patches. As the set went on, the keyboardists moved around and exchanged roles, notably when Matt Iselin joined the festivities as both third keyboardist and singer. Considering how long ago the album was recorded, with instruments – especially keys – that are now museum pieces, it was amazing how closely the timbres and overall sonics matched up with Genesis’ original. What was even more astonishing was how closely Cowit channeled the young Peter Gabriel’s antagonized bark. But the inclusion of other singers – Iselin doing Anyway with a nonchalant menace, the Trouble Dolls’ Cheri Leone delivering The Lamia with a wounded Marianne Faithfull restraint, and the Sometime Boys’ Sarah Mucho holding Counting Out Time together as the guitars roared and squeaked – added all kinds of unexpected dynamics.

Another playful deviation from the script was the inclusion of John Hockenberry of WNYC’s The Takeaway reading Gabriel’s drolly surreal album liner notes in between several of the songs. But otherwise, the attention to detail was meticulous: with its endlessly shapeshifting, kaleidoscopic, trippy pastiche of themes, this album is awfully hard to play. Bassist Rob Christiansen cycled through Mike Rutherford’s dizzying lines with a Bach-like precision and a biting, trebly attack amid the bluster, in tandem with nimble drummer Jason Isaac.

Just as the keyboard lines were divided up among a trio of players, Sometime Boys lead guitarist Kurt Leege and his fellow axemen Joe Scatassa and Alan Black shared duties and exchanged roles. Leege played with his signature, instantly recognizable, icily resonant blend of delay and reverb, handling the more resonant parts while Scatassa and Black took turns and occasionally traded off when Steve Hackett’s original lines would hit a snarling, bluesy peak. Meanwhile, Cowit’s vocals were amped well up in the mix so that his take of Gabriel’s frequent lyrical jabs and slashes could resonate. And ultimately, this band literally brought the album to life, revealing it not only as a trip through the underworld and finally out, but one with a vital, rather snide antiwar and antiauthoritarian message. They careened to a close through the incessant flood and drowning metaphors of side four, then kept the triumphant vibe going with a coy encore of I Know What It’s Like (In Your Wardrobe), from the Selling England by the Pound album.

The other bands don’t seem to have any upcoming NYC shows at the moment, but the Sometime Boys are at the Way Station this Friday, Oct 24 at 10, playing two sets. It’s not likely that they’ll cover any of this stuff, but they’re a killer jamband in their own right.

New York Bands We Take For Granted: The Perennially Fun Chicha Libre

Musicians call it the curse of the residency. In New York, after all, bands typically don’t build a following: you play to your friends. Book yourself into a weekly residency for a month and see everybody come out for the first and last shows…if you’re lucky. Chicha Libre have managed to beat the odds, on a Monday night, of all nights. By all rights, the Brooklyn chicha revivalists would be entitled to weekends at Barbes, considering that the frontman/cuatro player and lead guitarist own the joint. But they graciously let other bands play Fridays and Saturdays and do their weekly residency/live rehearsal on a Monday…which is genius in a way, since it turns a dead night into a crazy party that probably earns the bar just as much as a Saturday.

Chicha Libre get extra props for singlehandedly spearheading the psychedelic cumbia revival: without them, it’s probably safe to say that the wild, trippy sounds of legendary Peruvian bands like Los Destellos, Los Mirlos and Juaneco y Su Combo would never have made it out of Peru. What Chicha Libre does is exactly what those cult acts were doing forty years ago, mashing up Colombian cumbia, British psychedelia and American surf rock into a trebly, trippy, intoxicating, indelibly Peruvian stoner blend. It works just as well as dance music as it does stoner music; that Chicha Libre are recognized as giants of the genre in Peru speaks to how well they’ve assimilated it. “Sorry we’re late,” cuatro player Olivier Conan told the crowd packed into the back room there a couple of Mondays ago, “It’s our only claim to authenticity.” He was being modest.

They opened and closed their first set with the silly stuff: first Flight of the Valkyries reinvented as a droll cumbia, complete with a long, echoey, dubwise intro from Josh Camp’s wah-wah electric accordion. He would go on to reference 70s arenarock schlockmeisters Styx not once but twice – this band can do funny as well as they do trippy and creepy. The last song was a cumbia version of the mid-70s instrumental novelty hit Popcorn, which they ended with a good-natured shout-out to good weed and the corn liquor (sort of the Peruvian equivalent of Olde English) from which the band takes their name. In between they did the surreal, creepy stuff, lots of it, one of the best sets they’ve ever played on their home turf.

The apprehensively Satie-esque 11 Tejones (a tejon is a badger) had echoey, resonant, tersely spaced Vincent Douglas Telecaster licks mingling with Camp’s swirly, funereal organ lines. The trickly shapeshifting Depresion Tropical – third world economics as oncoming storm – kept the uneasy slink going, followed by Papageno Electrico with its irresistible, bittersweetly ominous chorus. For diehard chicha fans, it takes a slinky early 80s style synth tune ten years back in time, when Los Destellos and their compadres were doing it much more organically and psychedelically.

After that the band treated the crowd to a long, trippy take of the Los Mirlos classic Sonido Amazonico, the title track of Chicha Libre’s brilliant 2008 debut album, Camp’s lighthearted salsa organ solo handing off to a long, hallucinatory, sunbaked one from Douglas. From there, they segued into a couple of covers, the second being another Los Mirlos tune, the scampering Muchachita Del Oriente, Douglas’ spaghetti western guitar set against a long, hypnotically crescendoing twin solo from timbalera Karina Colis and an invigorated sub conga player. They wound up the set with a raw, rugged cumbia take of the Clash’s Guns of Brixton and then a similarly edgy, sarcastic original, La Danza Del Millionario.

And a show back in August where Conan was AWOL featured a second lead guitarist firing off lightning-fast flurries of tapping and seriously metal cumbia in his place. Maybe because the guest guitarist was more familiar with iconic chicha material than Chicha Libre’s songs, that set featured a lot more stuff by Los Destellos and Juaneco. You never know what you’r going to get with this crew. And everybody was dancing. Are Chicha Libre the funnest band in New York or what? They’re back at Barbes next Monday, Sept 29 at 9:30 or so and pretty much every other Monday this year: check the Barbes calendar.

A Wild, Psychedelic Manhattan Show and an Upcoming Brooklyn Gig from the Sometime Boys

The Sometime Boys make elegant, meticulously crafted albums that blend elements of bluegrass, delta blues, funk, soul and artsy chamber pop. Their most recent one, Riverbed, is one of 2014’s most compelling and eclectic releases. But onstage, they transform into a ferocious jamband: as improvisational rock crews go, there is no other New York band who are better at it, and that includes Steve Wynn‘s volcanic Miracle 3. The Sometime Boys are playing two long sets at the Way Station on the border of Bed-Stuy and Fort Greene on Sept 26 at 10 PM, and it’s free.

Their long show at the end of this past month at Bar 9 in Hell’s Kitchen – much of which has been immortalized on youtube – had everything the band is known for: expansive, explosive solos, mighty peaks, whispery lows, stop-on-a-dime changes, a sense of humor and a handful of covers that spanned the genres just as their originals do. The band’s brain trust, singer/guitarist Sarah Mucho and lead guitarist Kurt Leege were known for putting on the occasional and spectacularly good cover night in their previous band, the mighty System Noise: their series of sold-out David Bowie nights are legendary. So it was no surprise to see Mucho reinvent Aretha’s Chain of Fools with a surprisingly nuanced bitterness (and a long, dancingly delicious Leege guitar solo); to deliver a rousingly New Orleans-flavored take of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s Strange Things Happening Every Day with a menacingly gleeful grin; or to hear her actually enunciate the lyrics of the dadrock standard Burn Down the Mission, unlike the guy who set it to music and sang it. And midway through the show, they invited their similarly charismatic pal Mark Bailey (no relation to the Houston Astros backstop) up to deliver vigorous versions of tunes by Neil Young, Jack White and the Proclaimers.

But it was the originals that everybody had come out for, which took centerstage. The opening number, the bluegrass-tinged Buskin’, peaked out with a jaunty Rebecca Weiner Tompkins violin solo. Mucho got a droll, sarcastic audience singalong going on the bouncy, zydeco-inflected Pharaoh, the band taking it down to just vocals before Leege pulled the beast back on the rails. Bird House began with a menacing art-rock guitar intro before they took it into noir folk territory, to a long, relentless, Jerry Garcia-esque solo that Leege capped off with an ominous Pink Floyd quote.

Likewise, the funky A Life Worth Living – a song that brought to mind an even earlier Mucho/Leege project, Noxes Pond – echoed the Grateful Dead at their peak. They went into more straight-ahead funk for the defiantly lyrical Modern Age, a little later bringing down the lights for a broodingly waltzing version of the country-tinged lament Master Misery, from the band’s debut album Any Day Now.

The best of the covers was an extended, tranced-out jam on Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced: the way Leege, drummer Jay Cowit and keyboardist/mandolinist Gypsy George matched the album version’s kaleidoscopic, psychedelic fragments and rhythmic blips was as funny as it was impressively faithful to both the spirit and the essence of the original.

Cowit and Mucho matter-of-factly exchanged hostilities on a duet of the tongue-in-cheek newgrass romp Why Can’t We Just Be Enemies, Leege wrapping it up with yet another methodically intense solo. Much as Mucho worked all the magic in her vocal arsenal, from smoky, sultry lows to stratospheric highs, it was Leege who really got the crowd screaming. Counterintuitively, they wound up the set with The Great Escape, a quietly glimmering suicide ballad that wouldn’t be out of place on the Dead’s American Beauty (and is currently this blog’s pick for best song of 2014). That took the bar crowd by surprise, but by the second verse they were quiet and listening again. It was a gentle reminder that this band has the muscle to overpower the yakking crowds at the Way Station.

Brown Sabbath Play One of the Year’s Best Shows at Brooklyn Bowl

How did Austin Black Sabbath cover band Brown Sabbath‘s show Friday night at Brooklyn Bowl compare with the real thing on their first and supposedly only reunion tour at the end of the past century? Spectacularly well, which is the highest possible praise, considering how undiminished the world’s greatest metal band were when they reached Jones Beach, Long Island in the late summer of 1999. While there were moments at Friday’s show where it was as if Iommi, Butler, Ward and Osbourne had been teleported onstage, there were many more where Brown Sabbath’s reinterpretations were just as much relentlessly assaultive, creepy fun as the originals. Cover bands are known for being cheesy, and if there’s one band in the world whose catalog you can’t be cheesy with, it’s Sabbath’s. That would be perverted, like biting the head off a bat – who would want to do something like that?

Brown Sabbath are really Brownout with a change of clothes and a different lead singer who outdoes Ozzy in the power department. The band’s smartest move was not to start out with the Sabbath covers but with their own material. Their roughly 45-minute set of heavy latin stoner funk included a couple of straight-up deep psychedelic salsa vamps, a couple of long psych-funk tangents fueled by machinegun bursts from the three-piece horn section and tightly choreographed Santana-esque twin guitars that foreshadowed what the two players – Adrian Quesada and Beto Martinez – would do with the Sabbath. Each guy has vicious chops, Quesada favoring wild flurries of chord-chopping over grotesquely bent blue notes, an attack he kept up through the Sabbath set. It’s hard to imagine a guitarist getting as much of a workout as these guys did through almost three hours of music. Their take on an obscure cover, ostensibly introduced to the band by drummer John Speice, made ominous cinematics out of a biting minor-key blues-funk riff. It was too bad that most of the crowd didn’t get to the venue until their first set was over.

And Brown Sabbath didn’t disappoint. Their secret is in the rhythm. Making a slinky groove out of Black Sabbath is a lot more natural than it might seem: Bill Ward and Geezer Butler are one of the most fluid rhythm sections in rock, the secret ingredient in Sabbath’s haphazardly pollinated sonic bud. Five-string bassist Greg Gonzalez stuck mostly to Butler’s original basslines: all the slides, chords, hypnotic riffage and tunefulness that made him a second lead guitarist, essentially. Since Tony Iommi relied so heavily on multitracks, having Martinez as a second lead player added a layer of savagery missing even from the original band’s live show. Singer Alex Marrero belted with a sneering, defiant power, disappearing from the stage during instrumental breaks to change costume, finally reentering toward the end in a wrestler’s outfit for the high point of the set, a searing tyrannosaurus take of Electric Funeral.

The one song they completely reinvented was Iron Man, making a undulatingly unrecognizable, wry lowrider instrumental groove out of it and giving some actual dignity to that cartoonish riff. The Wizard and Black Sabbath were pretty close to the originals, right down to the stormy-night samples and Quesada’s fang-baring hammer-ons. They did the druggiest songs, Sweet Leaf and Snowblind a little faster and if anything, heavier than the originals: “Do you like cocaine in Brooklyn?” Marrero snidely asked the crowd. Through the twisted twists and turns of N.I.B. and Fairies Wear Boots, the guitars burned in tandem with Gonzalez’ growling, biting bass, Speice teaming with the two-man percussion section for a lunar-landscape beat, an undertow that drew the crowd inescapably into the sonic murk. And their take of Planet Caravan was a potent reminder of how Sabbath could be equally psychedelic in a rare delicate moment. Marrero seemed to remember that Brown Sabbath made their debut on this very same stage; let’s hope they come back. But next time, where they really ought to be is Madison Square Garden.

A Great New Album and a Free Summer Concert by the Wiyos

The Wiyos were one of the best of the first wave of oldtimey Americana bands. Then they took an unexpected turn into psychedelic rock: their previous album, Twist, followed the plotline from the Wizard of Oz to places even trippier than the original. They’re back with a new album, One More for the Road (at Spotify – didn’t Lynyrd Skynyrd use that title at some point?) which reverts to the sound the Wiyos had mined so energetically in the beginning, but spiced with a harder-rocking edge. You could call it oldtimey stoner swing: some jump blues, some hillbilly boogie, some oldtime C&W as well as proto-rock sounds from around 1953, with funny and often very clever lyrics. Teddy Weber’s jaunty jazz-tinged guitar is the main instrument, although frontman/harmonica player Michael Farkas and bassist “Sauerkraut” Seth Travins (who has a side gig making that stuff) get plenty of space to contribute too. They’ve got a free concert coming up on July 17 at 7 PM at Wagner Park, just north and west of Battery Park: take the train to the Battery and just walk up the west side along the water and you can’t miss it.

The album’s opening track, Ride the Rails sets the tone with an upbeat, summery sway, purposeful trumpet mingling with laid-back accordion. Milwaukee Blues is another hobo song. “One wonderful day, MTA said you have to pay…I’m heading west,” Farkas asserts. “Way up in Jersey they’re talking smack, don’t look at your brother pissing on your back.” Milwaukee, here we come!

They follow that with a fingerpicked tribute to John Hartford that starts out serious but gets really, really funny with some droll muted trumpet and harmonica as the song hits a stomping peak. Seventeen Cars, with its torrential, tongue-in-cheek lyrics and elegant, jazzy guitar, goes for a pre-rockabilly vibe. The album’s most acerbic song, 1982, takes a spot-on swipe at the first wave of trendoids whose obsession with kitsch came to a limp climax with Portlandia and gentrifier twee-topias like Bushwick and Williamsburg, ad nauseum.

Radio Flyer could be an outtake from the psychedelic record: with its neat series of tradeoffs at the end and biting low-register guitar, it’s the album’s most musically edgy and interesting number. They wind up with Sauerkraut, another gut-bustingly funny tune about a girl who just can’t get enough of that salty stuff: the jokes fly fast and furious and they’re too good to spoil. And is that a muted trumpet, or a kazoo? Little instrumental touches like that make the songs even funnier. You can expect some smoke on the water just north of the Battery on the 17th.

Good Cop and Bad Cop Try to Remember Make Music NY 2014

Good Cop: Before we get sidetracked, which is what we usually end up doing, let’s run down the artists we got to see at this year’s Saturday edition of the annual buskers’ celebration, Make Music NY. We both agreed that four-piece percussion group Ensemble Et Al were a lot of fun. I had never seen a gamelan orchestra other than on PBS, so I really liked Gamelan Kusuma Laras, who hit the spot especially for me considering that Bad Cop had insisted I drag myself out of bed early on a Saturday just to get up to the Upper West Side for an act so bad that I’m not going to even mention who he was.

Bad Cop: My bad.

Good Cop: Ain’t that the truth. I was really out of it, and I was really in a bad mood after you subjected me to a wanky bass player singing Christian rock. Now your logic was that somebody who’s willing to play a show at ten in the morning has to be totally punk rock, he probably stayed up all night the night before, right? Well, you didn’t do your due diligence. And besides, there are other people who would be willing to play at ten AM on a Saturday. They’re called morning people and they are evil.

Bad Cop: At least the gamelan put you in a good mood.

Good Cop: Why didn’t you at least google the guy? I sure could have used another hour of sleep.

Bad Cop: I did. Couldn’t find anything.

Good Cop: My point exactly. I think you did it to be sadistic. Anyway, we agreed that the other two acts we saw, Killer Killy Dwyer, who’s sort of a combination performance artist and comedy-rock songwriter, and then instrumental rock band No Grave Like the Sea were also worth running around Brooklyn to see.

Bad Cop: We would have seen more bands but there were a lot of no-shows.

Good Cop: I don’t want to get into that.

Bad Cop: It’s germane to the conversation.

Good Cop: OK. The boss at this blog had mapped out a plan that sent us all over town, with plenty of choices depending on how much time we needed to get from Point A to Point B and so on. I’m sure we were the only people in town who were doing anything that crazy!

Bad Cop: As expected, lots of people who were on the Make Music NY master calendar either didn’t get to where they were supposed to be on time, or completely blew off their sets.

Good Cop: The program made a point of saying that set times were approximate…

Bad Cop: Approximate doesn’t mean nonexistent. This happens every year. I blew this off last year but I went to the one the year before, at least tried to, and saw a grand total of two bands in about six or seven hours and most of that was on the subway since everywhere I went, there was nothing to indicate that anyone was going to play there. I might do this next year if Blog Boss asks, when it’s on a Sunday, but after next year, there’s no way in hell I’m blowing off work just so I can run all over town on the hottest day of the year.

Good Cop: This year the weather couldn’t have been better, and it cooled off even more at night.

Bad Cop: Temporary reprieve. Don’t count your chickens.

Good Cop: Good point. Anyway, let’s tell the people about who we saw, starting with Ensemble Et Al. How would you describe this band?

Bad Cop: I’d call them downtempo, trip-hop, chillout music, but with an indie classical thing on the side. They know who Philip Glass and Steve Reich are, that sort of thing.

Good Cop: I really liked them. They looked like they’re all good friends, they interacted a lot with each other. And then they played frisbee in the street afterward. Everybody in this band smiles a lot. Which makes sense because their music is hypnotic and intricate, and requires a lot of teamwork, and a lot of tradeoffs, and the four people in the band clearly like working with each other.

Bad Cop: Ron Tucker is the group leader. I didn’t catch the names of the other three. Everybody in the group switched off between instruments – marimba, vibes, glockenspiel, a little synth, a drum kit. They like loopy phrases that they run over and over again, then they shift tempos. Some of those were weird but others were more straight ahead. I thought it was cool that since the gamelan wasn’t set up yet, they started their set all over again. Even though we’d just seen them play those first two songs, I didn’t mind hearing them a second time.

Good Cop: Whoah, that’s high praise from this dude. Ensemble Et Al’s music is gentle and rippling but also dancing and energetic. It was on the quiet side, which I liked since I was short on sleep and in a bad mood. I wish I’d brought a mat.

Bad Cop: You would have passed out.

Good Cop: You’re probably right. Gamelan Kusuma Laras‘ music, at least at this show, was very dreamy and ethereal. As you’d say, it vamped along. They made a good segue with Ensemble Et Al. Some of their tempos were strange but others were more straightforward. Their performance was very tightly choreographed – various band members took turns leading the group – and they came across as being very well rehearsed. I guess you have to be if you have, what, 35 or so people in the group?

Bad Cop: Something like that. I agree, this really hit the spot.

Good Cop: The gamelan bells are tuned in some kind of approximation of the Asian scale. Lots of songs would start fast and then slow down, then really slow to a crawl at the end. I wasn’t expecting to hear as much singing as there was, and I don’t speak anything that would be spoken in Indonesia so I have no idea of what the lyrics were. But the contrast between the very sober, even somber, almost chanted vocals, and the high, airy, tinkling bell tones, struck a very beautiful balance.

Bad Cop: I wish they’d used that big gong more. It only got into one song, at least for as long as we stuck around, which was for the better part of an hour.

Good Cop: Then we went off looking for more gongs but couldn’t find them.

Bad Cop: Just the idea that more than one crazy person would lug a bunch of big heavy gongs into the middle of Central Park in the midday sun, in the age of global warming, on the longest day of the year, makes me laugh. This was ostensibly the New York Gong Ensemble – which according to Google, doesn’t exist, but somehow made it onto the Make Music NY calendar – and Blog Boss wanted us to check it out.

Good Cop: But it was on the way to the west side train and we had to get down to Chelsea anyway…

Bad Cop: Where there was another no-show…

Good Cop: And it looked like somebody was squatting in that band’s space…

Bad Cop: Which seemed to be happening a lot. And it wasn’t like bands were fighting over space, either.

Good Cop: As you might already know, what Make Music NY does is help secure permits for outdoor performances, all over town, all day long, every June 21. A great idea…

Bad Cop: Some backstory. The reason why Blog Boss didn’t cover this show personally is that Blog Boss is officially retired from covering Make Music NY, having written a scathing review a couple of years ago which among other things challenged the promoters to move it to a more realistic date, like in the fall when the heat isn’t so oppressive. Personally, I think the whole summer solstice connection is bullshit – remember, this whole thing got started by a bunch of French hippies.

Good Cop: So this is where the B team, a.k.a. us, goes into action. Our next stop was Grand Army Plaza where we expected to see a really good Balkan brass band, another no-show. Instead, there were a bunch of drum corps…

Bad Cop: …whose big extravaganza with banghra funk band Red Baraat we missed because by the time that got underway we had to get over to Branded Saloon a few blocks west to see Killy Dwyer. Now she was hot!

Good Cop: What she was wearing didn’t leave much to the imagination.

Bad Cop: Actually, when you think about it, it did.

Good Cop: I know where you’re going with that and you’re not going any further. Killy Dwyer used to front a parody band called Kill the Band. They put out a couple of albums and then broke up. This was recent. She was playing solo, with lots of digital loops: choir and orchestration and all kinds of stuff. What she does is funny songs interspersed with lots of improv, shock theatre set to music. And all the jokes have a political edge: she riffed on racism and gentrification and musicians getting priced out of the city and pretty much everything she did was funny. A lot of people who try to do political humor end up sounding really strident and she had both of us laughing out loud, which wasn’t easy to do considering that I was running on fumes and Bad Cop was really stoned.

Bad Cop: Let’s tell some of her jokes.

Good Cop: No, that would be a spoiler.

Bad Cop: But I wanna tell the one about the clitoris….

Good Cop: OK. She’s obviously got a theatrical background, knows how to work a crowd. So she asked everybody, does anyone here know what a clitoris is? And one guy sheepishly raised his hand. See, she said, that proves my point. There’s definitely a need for a song that explains what the clit is all about.

Bad Cop: And for awhile it looked like she was going to lie down in the street, right there in broad daylight for everyone to see, and rub one out.

Good Cop: And then she stopped because a bunch of kids on bikes went by and she blamed them for ruining her orgasm. Which was a setup for another joke which I’m not going to tell.

Bad Cop: It was kind of a throwback to the kind of edgy performance art you’d see during the punk era, except with up-to-date references, you know, idiots on Facebook and that sort of thing. Along with the jokes, she did a fake gospel song, some hip-hop and a creepy garage rock song that she played on guitar. I recommend that you see her sometime: she’s funny to listen to on the web but that’s no substitute for what she’s like in person. She’s at Sidewalk on July 31 at 11.

Good Cop: From there we actually were able to catch a G train to Bushwick for No Grave Like the Sea

Bad Cop: Who were epic. An amazing band, one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. Cinematic without being cheesy. Postrock instrumentals with big swells and dips and genuine menace. And fronted by the bass player. Usually a bass solo is the last thing I want to hear, but when it’s Tony Maimone playing them, I want to hear one in every song. And the reality is that he really didn’t play any solos at all, just variations on riffs. Big, fat ones. Damn, this guy is inspiring to watch.

Good Cop: I was surprised there weren’t more people in the park to see them. They really have presence. It was like being at Madison Square Garden – their themes really envelope you. [to Bad Cop] I think you liked them more than I did – I think it’s a guy thing. Swaying, thunderous rhythms and anguished screams from the guitar and that ominous, booming bass. It wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of their songs were used as video game themes. Navy Seals Kuwait Inferno Challenge! That sort of thing…

Bad Cop: But with the anthemic drive of a rock band, like Pink Floyd or the Church playing instrumentals, or Mogwai. Maimone played with a slide on the first song – when’s the last time you saw a bassist do that? He owns Studio G in Williamsburg so he brought a super state-of-the-art rig and a pedalboard. They did a song with a reggae beat, then one that was more trip-hop…

Good Cop: …but loud!

Bad Cop: Yeah, there was a truck depot across the street from the park but you couldn’t hear the trucks backing in. That’s how loud, and how good this band was. It made my night. The guitarist stayed within himself even though he was playing all these screaming, wailing lines, the keyboardist played all these weird washes of sound, and used lots of pedals, one with a backward masking effect. Some of it was like watching Savage Republic with a keyboard, but without the Middle Eastern influences, I guess you could say.

Good Cop: I wanted to try to catch some of the Dum Dum Girls show at Prospect Park afterward, but there were problems on the L train so I went home.

Bad Cop: You should have taken the G instead…

Good Cop: I wasn’t going to push my luck. We already got lucky with the G once on the way over and I didn’t want to risk it a second time. Getting stuck in the middle of Bed-Stuy after dark with no other trains, no bus, no choice but to walk, no fun.

Bad Cop: You probably wonder why this blog has waited til now to publish this…

Good Cop: If you’re new to this blog, or new to us, we appear here about once a month, to offer a fresh perspective…

Bad Cop: We’re the B team. When Blog Boss doesn’t want to go out in the heat, or run around in the rain, or runs out of things to say about a particular artist, we get the call. Up and down like a yo-yo between here and the minor leagues, just to entertain you…

Good Cop: Anyway, the reason why this hasn’t appeared til now is that Blog Boss wanted to publish a bunch of stuff about upcoming shows first. As I understand it, that’s what people who follow this blog have asked for. We aim to please!

Bad Cop: And ostensibly there’s a historical aspect to what we do, which I think is debatable. But I agree with Blog Boss that on the web, the idea of getting the scoop on a particular event – a concept that goes back to the print-and-paper era – is dead. The first people on any scene will be tittering away on Twitter and Instagram and 99% of that turns out to be bullshit anyhow. It always takes awhile for the facts to shake out, whether you’re dealing with a newspaper, a blog, some loser’s Facebook page, the works. The more things change, you know the drill. Look for more snarky stuff from us here in a few days

Stonesy Stoner Songs and a Bowery Electric Show from 7horse

7horse are a surreal stoner bar band – imagine a more trad version of the Black Keys after a couple bong hits of good hash. This band’s music is less stoned than it is high. They’re at Bowery Electric on July 9 at 7:30ish for $12.

Their new album Songs for a Voodoo Wedding is streaming at the band’s site. The opening track, Carousel Bar works an open-tuned Stonesy riff for all it’s worth – the bass doesn’t even come in until after the first chorus. “Had a ringside seat, was all you could eat, but you never got out of the car,” lead singer Phil Leavitt reminds, “I could sit right here for a hundred years rolling in the Carousel Bar.” That pretty much explains what this band is all about.

Meth Lab Zoso Sticker is another open-tuned, Stonesy, more or less one-chord jam, this one a slide-driven blues with an even stranger lyric. Flying High (With No ID) reaches for a Sticky Fingers-era take on oldschool soul, an uneasily amusing scenario about a guy who seems to be tripping in the airport and then on the flight. Imagine being on acid and having to deal with Homeland Security – it would be impossible not to have a laughing fit.

Headhunter Blues centers around a funny lyrical riff from baseball slang, and a romping post Chuck Berry tune that could be the Bottle Rockets (or the Stones, for that matter) with no bass. Long Way has a restless, minor-key, vintage Stooges menace, both musically and lyrically. Please Come On Home has a darkly shuffling hillbilly boogie vibe that recalls bands like the Gun Club and the Sideshow Tragedy. The funniest and also the most punk song here is I Know the Meaning of Rock N Roll: it’s totally mid-70s Detroit.

On the 4th of July brings back a Stonesy pulse: it seems to be a sly, surreal swipe at patriotism. So Old Fashioned blends LES punk blues with catchy Dolls glam, a shout-out to an “ancient recipe” that never fails to hit the spot. Some MF seems to be a spoof of hip-hop; the album’s longest track, Before the Flood strings together a bunch of old blues aphorisms over a skeletal Smokestack Lightning-style vamp. The final cut is the oldtimey A Friend in Weed, which is kind of obvious, but also unquestionably true. Most of these songs don’t reference anything after about 1973: aside from the strange absence of bass in places, this album could have been made then and would have earned the band plenty of road gigs or a maybe even a spot opening for somebody like Bob Seger or REO Speedwagon back when both of those acts were actually pretty decent.

Coppins Plays Smart, Socially Aware Bagpipe Rock and Eclectic Grooves

Coppins’ new album The Prince That Nobody Knows literally has something for everybody. It’s got a creepy southwestern gothic song, a reggae tune, lots of socially conscious, wryly lyrical, soul-tinged hippie rock and some funk. But what Grier Coppins really does best is play bagpipes. He got his start busking with his pipes at the corner of Yonge and Bloor Streets in Toronto back in the 70s, went on to lead bagpipe funk band Rare Air in the 80s and a decade later, the R&B-inspired Taxi Chain. The songs on this album – streaming at Bandcamp – reflect pretty much every stop along the way. But the bagpipe stuff is the most original, and it’s fantastic.

The album opens with one of those tunes, Spaceman from Weslemkoon, a catchy funk number with doubletracked guitars set against Coppins’ otherworldly drone. They follow that with the ominous, bluesy Don’t Know Where I’m Going, with its eerily clangin guitar menace. Throughout the album – which is magnificently produced, with all kinds of multitracking and elaborate, imaginative arrangements – Coppins alternates between tenor guitar and bagpipes.Chris Staig plays the heavier, more blues-infused guitar parts while Ayron Mortley handles the more soul, jazz or African-inspired ones. Terry Wilkins plays bass on most of the tracks along with Paul Brennan on drums and many special guests.

The first of the socially conscious numbers, Big Boy contemplates growing up in world poisoned by pollution and a mad dash to spend and consume, set to a vamping roadhouse blues theme. The soul-tinged Happy on Earth considers how “this earth is Hell – to the Devil, Hell is Heaven.” The reggae tune Great Day for Living is even more sarcastic:

The sun is coming up like a cruise missile head
I’m looking for the blue sky, there’s a yellow film instead
The glaciers are melting and the earth is heating fast 
But to stop production would be too much to ask

Wanna Be Happy sets a darkly amusing whorehouse narrative to a slow Mississippi hill country blues-tinged groove. Coppins follows that with Before They Call Me Home, a reggae-inflected hippie rock tune and then the album’s funniest song, Sauce in a Can. Over a roaring, Stonesy stomp lit up by saxophonist Jim Bish’s one-man horn section, Coppins discovers that the stuff on the shelf that saves him when he’s too high to cook might not be as wonderful an invention as it first seems – the joke ending is too good to spoil.

The nebulously political anthem Push has a slower, similarly Stonesy groove, like an outtake from Sticky Fingers. Blue Banjo Breakdown, which follows it, doesn’t have a banjo – instead, it contrasts a soaring bagpipe hook with fiddle accents and roaring Keith Richards-style guitar. Fueled by Jesse Whiteley’s ragtime piano, Can’t Leave the Ladies Alone tells the wryly funny tale of a guy who just can’t get enough of a good thing, over Dan Hicks-ish oldtimey swing. A country tune, Live Forever sounds like an improved and more soulful version of Bob Dylan’s You Ain’t Going Nowhere. After that, the band makes a bagpipe theme out of Malian-style desert blues and ends with the almost nine-minute title track, a metaphorically-fueled medieval narrative set to a backdrop that’s one part Grateful Dead, one part desert rock. Like so many of the songs here, the ending is the last thing you would expect.

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