New York Music Daily

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Category: surf music

The Nifty’s Make Exhilarating Surf Rock and More Out of Iconic Jewish Themes

It’s been more than half a century since the Ventures recorded the first klezmer surf rock hit: Hava Nagila. Wrapping up their first US tour with a deliriously fun show at the Austrian Cultural Center earlier this week, Vienna instrumentalists the Nifty’s took the idea of making electric rock out of Jewish folk and jazz themes to new levels of noir menace, surfy fun and punk rock intensity.

Their opening number, an original, sounded like Big Lazy with two guitars – that good. Lead guitarist Fabian Pollack played lingeringly Lynchian reverbtoned lines on his Fender Jazzmaster, mingling with the similarly reverberating, spacious clang and twang of Michael Bruckner, who played a mysterious hollowbody model. Bassist Dominik Grunbuhel strolled tersely behind them with a dry, crisp tone, but by the end of the show he was swooping and diving all over the place. At one point, he was playing furious tremolo chords with his knuckles while the guitarists did the same, but with their picks: it’s a miracle he didn’t leave the stage a bloody mess.

Like Big Lazy’s Yuval Lion, drummer Gottfried Schneurl loves counterintuitive accents, odd syncopation and uses every piece of his kit, but with more of a punk edge. At one point, he emerged from behind it to bang on hardware and mic stands and eventually the strings of the bass, an old Dick Dale trope that surf musicians have never been able to resist.

But the Nifty’s aren’t a straight-up surf band. Niffty was the nickname that Naftule Brandwein, who was sort of the Sidney Bechet of klezmer clarinet, gave himself. One of the great paradigm-shifters in the history of Jewish jazz, he would no doubt approve of where the Nifty’s take the tradition. That’s what Brandwein’s great-nephew, who was in the crowd, said after the show, and he ought to know.

The band opened with a couple of moodily surfed-up horas – two-part dance numbers that began slowly and uneasily and picked up steam in the second half – and closed with a reggae tune, encoring with a rapidfire bulgar from Odessa with a stunning cold ending. In between, they mixed up originals, new arrangements of brooding minor-key traditional melodies as well as reinvented versions of tunes from Brandwein’s catalog.

Drei, a serpentine Pollack original and the title track of the band’s latest album Nifty’s No. 3, was more of a diptych. Nifty’s Texas Massacre, from the band’s second album Takeshi Express, was a cinematic, punk-influenced four-part psychedelic punk mini-suite that set the stage for much of the rest of the night, as the band sped up again and again, past the point where the rhythm had come full circle. There was a persistent, slinky noir bolero quality to much of the rest of the material, reminding how much of a confluence of latin and Jewish music the noir esthetic is. Let’s hope these guys make it back here soon.

The next show at the Austrian Cultural Center is on Nov 7 at 7:30 PM with cellist Friedrich Kleinhapl and pianist Andreas Woyke playing Beethoven sonatas plus works by Schnittke, Friedrich Gulda and Shostakovich. Admission is free; there’s a reception to follow; a RSVP is required.

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Yet Another Haunting, Psychedelic Silent Film Score From Morricone Youth

Today’s Halloween album is Morricone Youth’s original score to F. W. Murnau’s 1927 silent film Sunrise: A Tale of Two Humans. For the past almost twenty years, Morricone Youth have built what might be the vastest, most consistently dark repertoire in the history of art-rock. Aas film music, bandleader/guitarist Devon E. Levins’ body of work rivals the greatest of the greats: Bernard Herrmann, Angelo Badalementi, Steve Ulrich and the maestro Morricone himself. Over the past eighteen months or so, the group have been on a marathon recording binge, with a game plan of immortalizing every single one of the band’s roughly fifty original scores. This latest edition is one of the very best of the bunch, streaming at Soundcloud. The band are playing the release show on Oct 15 at WFMU’s Monty Hall, 43 Montgomery St (between Greene and Washington) in Jersey City. Cover is $12; take the Path train to Exchange Place.

The title theme is a slowly stalking, creepily carnivalesque, distantly bolero-tinged art-rock instrumental with a big Pauline Kim Harris violin crescendo midway through, keyboardist Dan Kessler shifting cleverly between woozy, keening synth and funereal organ. Levins becomes a one -man Ventures with his guitar overdubs on the crime-surf romp Barber Twist, beefed up with low brass underneath Kessler’s swooping synth and a couple of momentary unexpected Pink Floyd-ish interludes.

Dreiky Caprice and Tredici Bacci‘s Sami Stevens duet on Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, a suspiciously blithe Os Mutantes-style exercise in psychedelic bossa nova; Levins’ flitting Led Zep quote trailing out of a fluttery flute solo is priceless. From there the band follows a fragment of a boogie-woogie chase scene with Trolley Song, Fraser Campbell’s uneasy sax over Brian Kantor’s galloping drums. Stevens’ coy vocal bombast sounds like Bombay Rickey’s Kamala Samkaram singing the Ventures’ Apache.

Spare motorik synth textures twinkle grimly alongside the occasional menacing reverb-guitar accent in the soundscape Bundle of Reeds. Then they make gloomy 7/8 art-rock out of the title theme with Another Honeymoon, Kessler’s melancholy rivulets glistening alongside Levins’ jangly lines.

They follow a momentary starlit interlude with a gloomy, Romany-tinged “peasant dance” straight out of the Beninghove’s Hangmen playbook. The same could be said about the far darker instrumental reprise of that snappy bossa. The album ends with an epic return to the title theme, opening with Levins’ mournfully chiming solo intro to another guy/girl duet, like a minor-league take on Karla Rose at her most distantly menacing. If Trump hasn’t started a nuclear war by the time December rolls around, you’ll see this on the best albums of 2017 page here. 

Psychedelic Peruvian Legends Los Wemblers Make a Historic Appearance in Red Hook on the 16th

A landmark event in New York music history is happening this Oct 16 at 9 PM at the Pioneer Arts Center in Red Hook, where the brain trust of Brooklyn hotspot Barbes have booked an extremely rare US show by Peruvian psychedelic cumbia legends Los Wemblers de Iquitos. Powerhouse singer Carolina Oliveros’ trippy tropicalia band Combo Chimbita – who mash up cumbia, salsa, chamame and a whole bunch of other south of the border styles – open the night. Cover is $25.

Even on their home turf, Los Wemblers had pretty much dropped out of sight until the past few years. It’s probably safe to say that if Olivier Conan and Vincent Douglas hadn’t started Chicha Libre, who brought the wild, surreal psychedelic cumbias of the 1960s and 70s out of the Amazonian jungle for the first time, staging this concert anywhere outside of a Peruvian expat community would have been absurd. But thanks in large part to their band – and Barbes Records’ two Roots of Chicha historical compilations – this trippy, intoxicatingly danceable music isn’t an obscure niche genre anymore. Maybe, as Conan once boasted, cumbia really is going to take over the world.

This family band of six guys from an isolated Amazonian oil boomtown, most of them in their sixties and seventies, played a wildly vigorous recent show that kept a mix of sweaty kids and curious oldsters on their feet for the better part of three hours. As one of the night’s emcees emphasized, Los Wemblers distinguish themselves from their innumerable countrymen who from the late 60s into the 80s mashed up American surf music, psychedelic rock, indigenous folk themes, sounds from Cuba to Argentina and pretty much all points in between.  But where so many of those bands went soft when synthesizers got popular, Los Wemblers sound exactly like they did in their hometown of Iquitos in 1969 – except louder.

The band’s patriarch, guitarist Salomon Sanchez sadly didn’t live to see the band’s resurgence, but his five sons did and now comprise most of the group. The star of the night was guitarist Alberto Sanchez, who played most of two long sets with his eyes closed, the trace of a smile on his face as his fast fingers fueled a magically clanging, twangy, undulating tropical time machine.

Behind him, the band’s two percussionists laid down a slinky, irresistible groove that boomed and rattled off the space’s bare walls to the point that there was an oscillation between the clave click of the woodblock and the thump of the congas, which raised the psychedelic factor several notches. Together they ran through a surreal mashup of snaky cumbia, sprightly Pervuian folk themes, twangy surf tunes, a couple of strikingly stark, minor-key, Cuban-tinged numbers, and many of their hits, segueing into one after another with hardly a single break.

The best one of the night was Sonido Amazonico, which they played twice. The first time around, they did the haunting, phantasmagorical “national anthem of chicha” as a sprawling ten-minute jam, a creepy cocktail of Satie-esque passing tones, like a warped tarantella to counter the effects of a lysergic spider bite. The second time around they hit it harder and more directly, like the original vinyl single, the guitarist capping off his solo with a sizzling, spiraling flight upward, then hitting his wah pedal and leaving it wide open, a murky pool of sound mingling with the echoey, cantering beats. What frontman/percussionist Jair Sanchez left no doubt about was that it was their song to mess with, notwithstanding that Lima band Los Mirlos‘ version was the bigger hit, and that Chicha Libre’s cover is what pretty much jumpstarted the Brooklyn cumbia cult.

Another hit the crowd got to twice was the careening, aptly gritty La Danza Del Petrolero – and happily, unlike the popular Los Mirlos cover, the guitar was in tune this time. The rest of the set was a fascinating look at how psychedelic cumbias are just as diverse as American psychedelic rock. Without blinking an eye, the band made their way expertly through a couple of bright, cheery vamps that more than hinted at Veracruz folk tunes, eventually hit a brooding, Cuban-flavored number, made cumbia out of a stately, dramatic tango anthem, sped up, slowed down and took a couple of frantically pulsing detours toward merengue.

One of the night’s best numbers was also the most ornate and ominously elegant – but no less danceable. Devious references to the Ventures, Duke Ellington and the Richard Strauss theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey bubbled to the surface. By the time the old guys finally called it quits, it was almost midnight. Fresh off their first ever European tour, they’re reputedly every bit as incendiary as they were this time out. The Pioneer Works show ought to be at the top of the bucket list of every New Yorker who’s into psychedelic sounds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Improbable, Magic Comeback Album From Psychedelic Cumbia Legends Los Wembler’s

The best short album of 2017 is by a band from the 1960s who until now have never released a record outside Peru. Los Wembler’s de Iquitos play chicha, the surfy, reverb-drenched psychedelic cumbias that were all the rage from Lima to the Amazon from the late 60s til the early 80s, and thanks to Chicha Libre have become arguably the world’s default party music. But unlike so many of their more urban colleagues, Los Wembler’s (the apostrophe is probably just bad English) never got soft with synthesizers or drum machines. Their new ep Ikaro Del Amor – streaming at Spotify  – captures the band pretty much as feral and surreal as they were almost fifty years ago, except with good production values. And producer/Chicha Lilbre bandleader Olivier Conan gives the band a chance to tune their guitars, something they didn’t get to do when recording their big Amazonian hit La Danza Del Petrolero, which first reached a global audience via the first of Barbes’ Records’ two indispensable Roots of Chicha compilations.

The only band member who didn’t live to see this is family patriarch and bounder Salomon Sanchez Casanova. Otherwise, this is most of the original members, on guitars, bass and multi-percussion. The opening title track, a chicha standard, comes across as a bizarrely catchy mashup of ska rhythm, tropical mosquito guitar, Ventures surf twang and a little C&W. There’s a mysterious shout-out to Brooklyn in there too.

The centerpiece is a sprawling, phantasmagorical take of Sonido Amazonico, later simplified into a one-chord jam (and a big hit) by Lima band Los Mirlos, then recorded almost forty years later by Chicha Libre as the title track to their first album. Over time, the song has become as iconic as Pipeline is to surf rock fans, or Anarchy in the UK is to punks. Awash in resonant jangle, wah-wah riffs and endless permutations on an ominous chromatic melody, it’s the creepiest, slinkiest, trippiest jam of the year.

There are two other tracks. The epic La Mentecata has a wryly expanding, Twelve Days of Xmas style series of verses, a bubbly, almost Cuban guitar hook and a steady clave on the woodblock. The final cut is Dos Amores, lead guitarist Alberto Sanchez Casanova airing out every sound in his effects boxes, from a fair approximation of an electric accordion to the kind of low-budget electric piano one might have found in a ramshackle recording studio in the band’s halcyon days.

That this album exists at all boggles the mind; until being rediscovered in the early part of this decade the band would regroup for the occasional block party, but that’s about it. And now they’re wrapping up their first European tour. Big up to Conan and Barbes Records for having the foresight to bring them to the mass audience they deserve.

The World’s Most Popular Surf Band Cover a New Wave Cult Hero

Los Straitjackets are hardly known as a cover band  Sure, every surf group does a version of Duke Ellington’s Caravan, just like the Ventures. But what’s made Los Straitjackets one of the best-loved (and by now, best-covered) surf bands ever is their originals. That’s why their new album What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Los Straitjackets – streaming at Spotify   is such a radical departure for them. Still, in keeping with the band’s signature originality, they chose an odd source: the Nick Lowe catalog. Then they redo the songs like probably no one ever imagined.

Lowe is well-loved by an aging new wave era crowd (a New Yorker might cynically say that he’s a WFMU guy). But a lot of people, especially those who haven’t seen him live, might not realize what a good guitarist the self-described Jesus of Cool is. So his first-wave retro rock is a lot better suited to a fast 2/4 beat, and twang and clang and lots of reverb than might first seem apparent. The band are making a quick New York stop tomorrow night, June 25 at 9 PM at City Winery; cover is $30 for standing room. Be aware that there is a headlining act and that he is not worth seeing – unless you go for dorky guys who steal their fashion sense from early Elvis Costello, but forget to rip off Costello’s catchy tunes and edgy lyrics.

Another cool thing about the new album is that it isn’t all just the popular or the uptempo stuff: these guys really went through Lowe’s repertoire to find material that makes the most waves, whether whitecaps or gentle ripples across the pond. The A-side opens with Shake and Pop, bassist Pete Curry anchoring it with a little grit in his tone over Chris Sprague’s drums. Is that Eddie Angel or Danny Amis taking that nasty tremolo-picked solo? Everybody’s wearing masks, so it’s impossible to tell.

By contrast, they give All Men Are Liars a cheery, conversational early 60s Joe Meek bounce. Then they turn a relatively more recent tune, Lately I’ve Let Things Slide into resonant midtempo Ventures with a little Tex-Mex and Hank Williams thrown in. After that, a balmy take of You Inspire Me throws a fond nod back to Theme From a Summer Place

Rollers Show – Lowe’s snarky swipe at wildly popular 70s British teenybopper rock band the Bay City Rollers – gets an aptly swaying sock-hop beat and a deviously cruel quote or two from other songs. The first side closes with (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding, which a million bands have covered, none of them remotely as well as Costello did. Los Straitjackets opt for reinventing it as a loping Lee Hazlewood desert-rock theme.

The B-side begins with I Read a Lot, slow and shadowy, drums drenched in reverb for extra noir, along with some wry siren effects. Half a Boy and Half a Man is the first number that isn’t really surf: it’s pretty close to the British pub rock that Lowe got his start in. Likewise, Checkout Time is a mashup of early Shadows skiffle and the Mexican side of the Ventures: the tongue-in-cheek medley of riffs from classic surf tracks at the end is LOL funny.

The Lowe tune that turns out to make the best surf song of all of these is I Live on a Battlefield, yet even with all the wry historical references – DAMN, these guys know their surf – they don’t add a chord change in the verse that would totally Venturize it.

Sprague’s Wipeout drums add a droll touch to the cover of Raging Eyes. The band saves the most obvious stuff for last, Cruel to Be Kind recast as a melancholy, swaying ballad and Heart of the City as a mashup of Buck Owens and the Modern Lovers (you know the song – the Sex Pistols covered it). If you always wanted to be in a surf band, get this album and learn it cover to cover. Someday somebody will pay you good money to play this stuff.

An Unpredictably Fun Album Release Show by Changing Modes

It’s hard to imagine a New York band that has as much fun onstage as Changing Modes. Or a band anywhere who can negotiate the endlessly tricky metrics and serpentine twists and turns of their artsy, often new wave-tinged songs as tightly as they do. At their album release show for their new one, Goodbye Theodora at Webster Hall this past weekend, everybody in the band except for drummer Timur Yusef switched instruments.

Singer Wendy Griffiths is the best keyboardist in the band, but she played the better part of the set on bass – as it turns out, she’s also their most nimble bass player. Co-frontwoman Grace Pulliam is a guitarist, but she played keys and bass synth. Guitarist Yuzuru Sadashige took over bass duties early on and ended the show on keys. As usual, Griffiths and Pulliam took turns on lead vocals, often in the same song, Pulliam’s soul-infused lower register blending with Griffiths’ crisp, crystalline soprano for some unselfconsciously spine-tingling moments and some that were a lot more devious. Griffiths worked the mystery angle; everybody else in the band was pretty much grinning from ear to ear for the duration of the show. They’re bringing their multi-instrumental prowess, good cheer and darkly lyrical songs to the one-year anniversary celebration at the Muse Brooklyn at 350 Moffatt St. in Bushwick tonight, April 2 at 7:30 PM. Cover is $15; take the L to Wilson Ave.

It takes nerve to open with an instrumental, but that’s what Changing Modes did, tackling the creepy, futuristic tumbles and swells of 2-1/2 Minutes to Midnight without breaking a sweat. They kept the enigmatic, surreal atmosphere going with a swaying take of Mind Palace, the first of the tracks from the new album and followed with the sly noir swing romp Amanda’s House, which sounds suspiciously like a song somebody with that name might write.

Sadashige fired off some evil noiserock in between Pulliam and Griffiths’ vocal handoffs in Red, followed by the macabre, lingering anthem Arizona, the night’s best song. Fueled by Sadashige’s searing solo, they growled through the postapocalyptic allusions of Door, then had fun with Sharkbird, the night’s monster surf-tinged second instrumental.

After the uneasy dynamic shifts of Firestorm, they lightened the mood with Pulliam singing an Amy Winehouse-esque cover of Elle King’s Ex’s & Oh’s, and later elevated Radiohead’s Karma Police toward late Beatles grandeur. Too Far Gone – a co-write with their indie classical composer pal Denise Mei Yan Hofmann – made a detour back to grimly anthemic territory. They wound up the set with the poppy, bouncy Vital Signs and the woozy, fuzzy, older new wave song Pretty Vacant, which is nothing like the Sex Pistols. Changing Modes have a deep back catalog, seven albums worth of songs just as eclectic and unpredictably fun as these.

The Allah-Las Bring Their Ominous, Wickedly Catchy Psychedelia to NYC This Friday Night

The icy river of guitar reverb that echoed off the walls of Baby’s All Right in South Williamsburg turned out to be the perfect antidote to the hostility of the indian summer heat outside the sold-out first night of California psychedelic band the Allah-Las’ weekend stand late last September, the band’s most recent appearance here. The industrial-quality air conditioning blasting from the ceiling didn’t hurt either. And the decision to leave the room lights off, allowing illumination to filter in from the stage and from the back bar, only added to the hallucinatory ambience.

That the best song of the night – a dusky Steve Wynn/Karla Rose desert rock theme – didn’t have any words at all speaks to how catchy the Allah-Las songs are. That one appeared about an hour into the set. They’d also opened with an instrumental, a crepuscular, propulsive Doors/Frank Flight Band style vamp flickering with lead player Pedrum Siadatian’s twelve-string guitar, dancing, Indian-flavored flute lines and bubbling percussion in tandem with drummer Matthew Correia’s steady, cymbal-splashing groove. It set the stage for the rest of a shadowy, wall-warping evening

Th swaying, clanging, 13th Floor Elevators-ish Had It All kept the dusky ambience going. They opened the Del Shannon-noir number after that with a little Cape Canaveral launching pad noise, awash in reverb and distantly swirly organ. Bassist Spencer Dunham’s tersely cutting lines propelled the brooding sonics of the song after that up to a bittersweet major/minor turnaround on the chorus.

From there they went into steady, twilit Velvets clang-rock territory, Siadatian hitting his fuzztone pedal at the song’s end. Brief two-chord Elevators vamps interchanged with catchy, chugging, riff-driven Lou Reed tunesmithing, then a detour into ominous chromatic Laurel Canyon psych-folk, bristling with the occasional fuzztone lead. A misty, bittersweet ballad, a midtempo mashup of the Elevators and Arthur Lee punctuated by Siadatian’s surgically precise, lingering, tersely bluesy lead lines led to aurrealistically motoring Doorsy interludes mingling uneasily echoing electric piano into the echoey sonics. A dead-monk Yardbirds b-vox chorale made a brief appearance.

A later number blended Byrds chime with Plan 9’s distant sense of the macabre, then they played a dead ringer for LJ Murphy’s savagely classic Happy Hour. As incredibly catchy as this band’s music is, there’s always trouble on the horizon – just like our lives. The Allah-Las play this long strange trip back to you this Friday night, March 24 at Webster Hall at around 10; $20 advance tix are still available as of today.

Unmasking Steve Ulrich’s Mysterious, Murderously Fun Barbes Residency This Month

An icy, lingering tritone reverberated from Steve Ulrich’s 1955 Gretsch. “We end everything with this chord,” this era’s most esteemed noir guitarist joked. His long-running trio Big Lazy have been his main vehicle for suspense film themes, uneasy big-sky pastorales and menacing crime jazz narratives, but this month he’s playing a weekly 6 PM Saturday evening residency at Barbes to air out some of his more recent and also more obscure film work from over the years. This past Saturday he was joined by Peter Hess of Balkan Beat Box (who have a characteristically fun new album due out soon) on baritone sax and flute as well as a rhythm section. The final installment of this month’s residency is at 6 on March 25 and will feature Ulrich’s frequent collaborator, guitarist Mamie Minch, who will be playing her own scores to accompany a screening of Russell Scholl’s edgy experimental films.

At this past Saturday’s show, the quartet opened with Dusk, by Sandcatchers, “One of those tunes I’d wished I’d written the moment I heard it,” Ulrich revealed. Lonesome trainwhistle lapsteel bookended a melancholy, aptly saturnine waltz with exchanges of steel and baritone sax. They followed with an enigmatically chromatic, reggaeish new Ulrich original, just guitar, bass and drums. Echoes of 70s Peruvian psychedelic cumbia filtered through the mix, leading to a wry, descending solo by bassist Michael Bates. It was sort of the reverse image of the popular early zeros Big Lazy single Mysteries of the Deep.

From there the rhythm section launched into an altered bolero sway, Ulrich making his way through spikily strolling phrases and elegant descending clusters of jazz chords, down to an exploratory sax solo. Then Hess raised the energy to just short of redline: the dynamic wallop was visceral.

The one Big Lazy tune in the set turned out to have been inspired by Raymond Scott’s madcap Loony Tunes cartoon scores: “It’s pretty crazy,” Ulrich admitted. At its innermost core, it was a creepy bolero, but with a practically hardcore beat and a relentlessly tense interweave of sax and guitar, Ulrich and Hess a pair of snipers dueling at a distance.

Another new number, In the Bones was originally titled Lost Luggage, Ulrich revealed. A slowly unwinding, shapeshifting theme, it followed an emotional trajectory that slowly shifted from stunned shock to mournful acceptance. From there, the four made their way through a creepy cover of the Beatles’ Girl, packed with tongue-in-cheek Ellington quotes, then a murderously slinky instrumental take of Lesley Gore’s You Don’t Own Me

Awash in a long series of bittersweet Americana riffs, a new ballad, Sister, was dedicated to Minch. Her music is more overtly blues based, but it’s as dark and deep as Ulrich’s: this was an insightful portrait. Ulrich sent the band offstage and then played a solo take of Latin Quarter, from Big Lazy’s 1996 debut ep. He explained that it was originally conceived as a mashup of salsa jazz and ghoulabilly – and that the gorgeous gold Gretsch he was playing it on had been a gift many years ago from a fellow swimmer at the Greenpoint YMCA. The guitarist’s shock at his poolmate’s generosity was mitigated somewhat when he discovered that its serial number had been sanded off.

Hess switched to flute for the title theme from Ulrich’s latest film score, a slyly surreal Asian-flavored 60s psychedelic rock tune, part Morricone, part Dengue Fever and part Ventures spacerock. He wound up the set with a single, droll verse of Sizzle and Pops, the name of the imaginary lounge duo with his wife. “You can guess who’s who,” Ulrich told the crowd. Charming 1930s/40s French chanson revivalists Les Chauds Lapins played after – more about that one a little later. Good news for film music fans from outside the neighborhood who want to catch the final night of Ulrich’s residency: both the F and G trains are running to Park Slope this coming weekend

Steel Player Mike Neer Darkly Reinvents Thelonious Monk Classics

Any fan of western swing knows how cool a steel guitar can sound playing jazz. The great C&W pedal steel player Buddy Emmons knew something about that: back in the 70s, he recorded steel versions of famous Charlie Parker tunes. In that same vein, steel guitarist Mike Neer has just put out an even more deliciously warped, downright creepy, dare we say paradigm-shifting album of Thelonious Monk covers for lapsteel, wryly titled Steelonious and streaming at the band’s webpage. Neer’s playing the album release show on Jan 25 at 8 PM at Barbes. If you like Monk, steel, and/or darkly cinematic sounds in general, you’d be crazy to miss this.

The album opens with a tongue-in-cheek slide down the frets into a surf stomp, and the band is off into their tight version of Epistrophy, a devious mix of western swing, honkytonk and the Ventures. Neer is amped up with plenty of reverb and just a tad of natural distortion for extra bite. By contrast, he plays Bemsha Swing through a watery chorus effect against the low-key pulse of bassist Andrew Hall and drummer Diego Voglino as pianist Matt King stays in the background.

The rest of the album is a mix of iconic material and deeper cuts. In deference to the composer’s purist taste, King’s piano keeps things purposeful and bluesy, with the occasional hint of New Orleans. Neer’s take of Round Midnight echoes the Hawaiian sounds he played for so long, first with the Haoles and then the Moonlighters. In its own twisted way, this simmering quasi-bolero is closer to the spirit of the original than most straight-up jazz versions. It’s easy to imagine Beninghove’s Hangmen doing something as noir as this with it.

Likewise, In Walked Bud gets reinvented with all sorts of slinky bossa nova tinges, Tom Beckham’s echoey, bluesy vibraphone over lingering organ. If Neer’s version is historically accurate, Bud Powell wasn’t just crazy – this cat was scary!

Bye-Ya has more of a western swing feel, partially due to Neer’s droll, warpy tones. I Mean You positions Neer as bad cop against purist, good cop King. Putting organ on Off Minor was a genius move – what a creepy song! Voglino’s surf drums provide an almost gleeful contrast. In the same vein, the band does Ugly Beauty as a waltzing, noir organ theme, Neer’s menacing solo echoing Charlie Rouse’s sax on the original before veering back toward Bill Monroe territory.

It’s amazing how good a country ballad Ask Me Now makes; same deal with how well Blue Monk translates to proto-honkytonk. Straight No Chaser is so distinctive that there’s not a lot that can be done with it other than playing it pretty much as written, and the band keep their cards pretty close to the vest. But their starlit waltz version of Reflections is anything but trad: it’s sort of their Theme From a Summer Place. It’s awfully early in the year, and much as it might be cheating to pick a cover album, this is the frontrunner for best release of 2017 so far.