New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: abby travis

Tasty Psychedelic Tropicalia and a Union Pool Album Release Show by Renata Zeiguer

Renata Zeiguer sings in a balmy, dreamy high soprano and writes tropical psychedelic rock songs that often slink their way toward the noir edges of soul music. Yet as Lynchian as the guitar textures can be, her music isn’t gloomy – if there’s such a thing as happy noir, it’s her sound. And her new album, Old Ghost – streaming at Bandcamp – sounds like she had a great time making it. She’s playing the release show this Feb 23 at 11 PM at Union Pool; cover is $12.

“You’ve got a grip on salvation, a heavenly whip, I know,” Zeiguer intones cajolingly in the album’s opening cut, Wayside, which rises from a simple, catchy bossa-tinged vamp to a catchy, anthemic backbeat sway. Once you get past the jarring out-of-tune guitars and lo-fi synth on the intro to Bug, it morphs into a starry, ELO-ish romp with a gritty undercurrent. That uneasy catchiness pervades Below, from its Ellingtonian intro, to its lemon-ice chorus-box guitar riffs and gently pulsing samba rhythm.

After All comes across as a noisier take on Abby Travis-style orchestral noir – or 90s cult favorites Echobelly at their noisiest and dirtiest. Zeiguer’s coy melismas over the altered retro 60s noir soul backdrop of Dreambone evoke Nicole Atkins at her most darkly surreal – Zeiguer’s fellow Brooklynite Ivy Meissner also comes to mind.

The swaying Follow Me Down, awash in uneasily starry reverb guitars, depicts a lizard “Steadily slithering, steadily, patiently swallowing me whole.” The song’s mix of guitar textures – burning and distorted, keening, and lushly tremoloing – is absolutely luscious.

Neck of the Moon contrasts insistent syncopation and offhandedly noisy, flaring guitar work with Zeiguer’s signature starlit sonics. The dichotomy is similar in They Are Growing, pulsar guitar twinkles and pulses lingering over a brisk new wave shuffle beat. The album winds up with its title track, Gravity (Old Ghost), a steady, bittersweet lament about something that’s “only dissipating over time,” set to a catchy, Motown-inflected groove.

This is a great playlist for hanging out with friends on a smoky evening, adrift in the bubbling, percolating textures of the guitars and keys, Zeiguer’s comfortingly calm yet irrepressibly soaring vocals percolating through the haze. It would make a good soundtrack to that Netflix show about the weed delivery guy – now what’s that called?

A Soaringly Original, Artsy Debut Album and a Rockwood Show by Individualistic Singer Jennifer Hall

Chicago singer/bandleader Jennifer Hall‘s absolutely brilliant ep is streaming at Spotify. Part art-rock, part oldschool soul, it’s like nothing that’s been released in recent months. Here and there, Abby Travis comes to mind, but Hall is more influenced by vintage soul music, and where Travis gets balmy and Lynchian, Hall goes for gale-force impact. She’s at the big room at the Rockwood tonight, July 30 at 7 PM.

The ep opens with the dynamically rich Would You Walk Away, veering between airy minimalism and a soaring soul ballad as Jeff Lynne might have orchestrated it, with elegant instrumentation from Noam Wallenberg on guitars, Ben Joseph on keys and bass and Mat Roberts on drums. When Hall wails “I will be fading below the lamplight,” it’ll give you chills. The glimmering, propulsive ELO anthemics continue on the gorgeously arranged Beverly Road – as Hall explains, it’s a locale of the mind rather than either the one in Brooklyn (with the extra E) or the one in her hometown.

Time of Death opens as an enigmatic, psychedelically-tinged trip-hop tune and turns into a launching pad for some of Hall’s most intense, emphatic vocal pyrotechnics here. When I Went Falling has the synth (or is that a guitar effect?) doing a pizzicato string arrangement, working a spiky/lush dichotomy as Hall’s voice dances overhead. Make It Out Alive has a dramatic post-new wave pulse in the same vein as the Motels: the title is the mantra. The final track is Waking Hour, a surreallistically crescendoing breakup tableau that sounds the alarm about “Buckets full of fickle warning, of fallen victims of that fire.” What a great discovery, and what a breath of fresh air Hall is. There are a gazillion women out there singing music influenced by oldschool soul sounds, some of them very good, but no one more original than Hall. Let’s hope she comes to town more often.

The Go-Go’s Play One of the Best NYC Shows of 2013 At Coney Island

Was it worth standing in the rain for three hours Thursday night at Coney Island to see the Go-Go’s? Hell yeah! That the most refreshingly original band of 1981 would still be together, and touring nationally, and arguably sounding better than they did thirty-two years ago might be more improbable than their success as one of the best-loved new wave bands. In the time that’s passed, they’ve regrouped and toured sporadically; this time out found them trading the guitar jangle for a raw roar. Watching them play a brief, barely 45-minute set to a patient and adoring crowd of probably fewer than five hundred diehards seemed akin to seeing them in a small club at the moment before their classic debut album, Beauty & the Beat, defied all odds and went platinum.

They were just as fresh and unselfconscious and unscriptedly fun here as they were then (plenty of live footage from that era has surfaced at youtube and elsewhere). Frontwoman Belinda Carlisle was just as snarkily funny as always and hits the notes closer to head-on than she used to. Guitarist Jane Wiedlin has traded her Fenders for Gibson SG’s, on this tour at least, for extra firepower, and the band is now wisely relying on her beautiful high soprano voice more than ever. Drummer Gina Schock served as emcee and is more down-to-earth and funny than you would imagine after having seen her photo on the first album’s sleeve. Bassist Kathy Valentine’s absence left enormous shoes to fill, but the band had the good sense to get the obvious choice to replace her, Abby Travis, whose wicked chops and spot-on vocals blended in lusciously. Along with their hits, the band played that one Carlisle hit that still gets airplay on easy-listening radio; it would have been nice if they’d done one of Travis’ brilliant, harmony-rich, artsy songs as well. But with the rain, there wasn’t time.

They opened with Vacation, which at this point in time might be their biggest hit. In concert, they used to do the trebly but irresistible pop hit as a lush, crescendoing art-rock anthem; this time out, it was fast, burning punk-pop. Travis propelled their cover of Cool Jerk with a slinky pulse as the audience clapped and swayed, lost in the groove. The best song of the night was a rich, resounding version of How Much More, done as they might have if that track had been on their 1983 powerpop masterpiece, Talk Show, instead of the first album. A pummelling punk/powerpop cover of Paint It Black drew on the Avengers’ version, followed by an unexpected, rare treat, the sardonic Cool Places, lead guitarist Charlotte Caffey switching from Fender Jazzmaster to woozy, bassy synth. She murdered her electric piano with a stiletto staccato on a rapidfire Head Over Heels; the band closed with Our Lips Are Sealed, then We Got the Beat with Kiss’ I Wanna Rock N Roll All Night in the middle and then encored with I Wanna Be Sedated, a shout-out to “the band that made us want to do this,” as Wiedlin told the crowd.

And as unselfconscious and unassuming as they are, the Go-Go’s didn’t bother to mention that they were the first successful all-female rock band. Hard to believe as it may seem, back in 1981, it was rare to see women on electric guitars, bass or drums. At the time, the Go-Go’s were considered a novelty act by an awful lot of people. Three decades later, the joke’s on them.

And apropros of nothing related to the performance, there was a bizarre incident straight out of a Stanley Milgram experiment. As the audience waited, and waited, and waited for the rain to end, there were persistent calls to “open up the seats, Marty!” But Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz – who thankfully was in slightly less bloviating mode than he usually is at these concerts, a pet project which he insists on emceeing even as his senility gets more and more obvious – did no such thing, nor did the security staff. See, these concerts are ostensibly free. But if you want a seat, admission is five bucks. Otherwise, you either have to bring your own chair or stand in the back. By eight PM, it was obvious that the rows and rows of empty seats in the front section were not going to be taken and could have easily accommodated the few dozen people who’d been waiting patiently in the rear section. As minutes turned to hours and the rain came down steadily, repeated entreaties to open up the seats continued to go ignored.

Finally, after the concert had begun, a member of the security crew slowly made his way to the back and quietly told a few people that the front seats would be opening soon. There was no formal announcement over the PA that everyone could hear, but this worked anyway. A ragged line of tired people formed – and then, instead of simply opening the gates and letting the maybe fifty spectators in the back into the seating area, security slowly began handing out wristbands. And what might have taken thirty seconds for this small crowd to choose from among hundreds of empty seats ended up taking at least a quarter of an hour as each person in the back was given a wristband, and were then checked to make sure they had a wristband before being let into the seats! And not a single one of the security staff acted as if they knew how ridiculous and absurd this was. Were they afraid that if they didn’t follow protocol, as idiotic as it was, they’d be fired? Why didn’t a single one of them choose to exercise ordinary common sense? Is there an overboss responsible for this idiocy? If so, he or she should be forced to stand in the rain on the hard pavement here for three hours – and then be given a wristband, and then made to wait another fifteen minutes before being allowed a seat.

It’s tempting to say that if this had been the pre-Giuliani era, the crowd would have thrown down the gates and taken the seats, regardless. But in reality, there wouldn’t have been any gates at all and everybody would have had a seat – and security wouldn’t have cared less. Folks, this is how the Nazis got their start. First by instituting seemingly meaningless but punitive restrictions, until those random measures became so commonplace that nobody questioned them. Then they went after the Jews.

The 30 Best New York Concerts of 2012

Of all the end-of-the-year lists here, this is the most fun to put together. It’s the most individual – everybody’s got a different one.  Last year’s list had 26 shows; this year’s was impossible to whittle down to less than 30. What was frustrating was looking back and realizing how many other great shows there were. Erica Smith, Rebecca Turner, Love Camp 7 and Pinataland all on the same bill at the Parkside? The club didn’t list it on their calendar. Neil Young in Central Park? Completely spaced out on that one. Pierre de Gaillande’s Georges Brassens translation project, Les Chauds Lapins and Raya Brass Band at that place in Tribeca in January? That night conflicted with Winter Jazzfest. The Brooklyn What at Littlefield, Rachelle Garniez at Barbes, Ward White and Abby Travis at Rock Shop, Spanglish Fly at SOB’s…all of those conflicted with having a life. But it was still a great year, arguably better than 2011.

Of all the multiple-act bills, the longest marathon, and arguably most exhilarating show of the year was Maqamfest on January 6 at Alwan for the Arts downtown with slinky Egyptian film music revivalists Zikrayat, haunting vintage Greek rembetiko oud band Maeandros, torchy Syrian chanteuse Gaida, rustic Iraqi classicists Safaafir, deviously intense Palestinian buzuq funk band Shusmo and then a crazy Middle Eastern jam with the brilliant Alwan All-Stars. Maqamfest 2013 promises to be just as good.

Rather than trying to rank the rest of these shows, they’re listed chronologically:

Walter Ego at Otto’s, 1/28/12 – the witty, brilliantly lyrical multi- instrumentalist/songwriter, minus his usual theatrical shtick, instead running through one clever, pun-infused, catchy song after another.

Eva Salina at the Ukrainian National Home, 3/31/12 – this was the debut performance of brilliant Balkan chanteuse Eva Salina Primack’s new band with Frank London on trumpet and Patrick Farrell on accordion. She swayed, lost in the music and sang her heart out in a bunch of different languages over the haunting pulse behind her.

Closing night at Lakeside Lounge, 4/30/12 with co-owner Eric Ambel’s Roscoe Trio, Lenny Kaye from Patti Smith’s band, Mary Lee Kortes, Boo Reiners from Demolition String Band, Charlene McPherson from Spanking Charlene and many others giving the legendary East Village rock venue a mighty sendoff.

Little Annie, Paul Wallfisch and David J at the Delancey, 5/7/12 – the smoky, sureallistically hilarious noir cabaret chanteuse, Botanica’s brilliant keyboardist playing three sets, and the legendary Bauhaus bassist/songwriter/playwright at the top of their brooding noir game.

Ben Von Wildenhaus at Zebulon, 5/14/12 – at one of his final shows before leaving town, the noir guitarist played solo through a loop pedal and turned the club into a set from Twin Peaks.

LJ Murphy & the Accomplices at Otto’s,  6/16/12 – backed by the ferocious piano of Patrick McLellan, Tommy Hochscheid’s classic Stax/Volt guitar attack and a swinging rhythm section, the NYC noir rock legend careened through a politically-charged set of songs from his reportedly phenomenal forthcoming 2013 album.

Black Sea Hotel in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, 6/17/12 – the trio of Willa Roberts, Corinna Snyder and Sarah Small sang their own otherworldly, hypnotic a-cappella arrangements of surreal Bulgarian folk songs from across the centuries, their voices hauntingly echoing in the cavernous space of an old synagogue.

Veveritse Brass Band at Barbes, 6/28/12 – over the absolutely psychedelic, bubbly pulse of the trubas, this ten-piece Balkan jam band burned and roared and turned the club’s back room into a cauldron of menacing chromatics and minor keys.

Kotorino at Joe’s Pub, 6/29/12 – transcending a series of snafus with the sound system, the lush, artsy chamber-steampunk band evoked other countries and other centuries throughout a set that was as jaunty and fun as it was haunting.

Aaron Blount of Knife in the Water with Jack Martin from Dimestore Dance Band at Zirzamin, 7/9/12  – although the two hadn’t rehearsed, Martin evoked the ghost of Django Reinhardt against the reverb cloud swirling from Blount’s guitar amp, through a mix of moody, gloomy southwestern gothic songs.

Magges at Athens Square Park in Astoria, 7/10/12 – the Greek psychedelic rockers played a long show of spiky, often haunting songs spiced with Susan Mitchell’s soaring electric violin and Kyriakos Metaxas’ sizzling electric bouzouki – it seemed that the whole neighborhood stuck around for most of it. Too bad there wasn’t any ouzo.

Neko Case out back of the World Financial Center, 7/12/12 – the stage monitors weren’t working, which messed up opening act Charles Bradley’s set, but Case, Kelly Hogan and the rest of the band didn’t let it phase them, switching up their set list and playing a raw, intense set of noir Americana.

Niyaz at Drom, 7/22/12 – a  long, mesmerizing cd release show by the artsy Canadian-Persian dance/trance ensemble, frontwoman Azam Ali slowly and elegantly raising the energy from suspenseful to ecstatic as it went on.

Dimestore Dance Band at Zirzamin, 7/23/12 – since reviving this group, guitarist Jack Martin has become even more powerful, more offhandedly savage and intense than he was when he was leading them back in the mid-zeros when this witty yet plaintive gypsy/ragtime/jazz band was one of the finest acts in the Tonic scene. This show was a welcome return.

The Secret Trio, Ilhan Ersahin and Selda Bagcan at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, 7/28/12 – the annual “Turkish Woodstock” began with short sets of haunting classical instrumentals, psychedelic jazz and then the American debut of the legendary psychedelic rock firebrand and freedom fighter whose pro-democracy activism landed her in jail at one point.

Bettye LaVette at Madison Square Park, 8/8/12 – the charismatic underground soul legend took songs from acts as diverse as George Jones, Paul McCartney and Sinead O’Connor and made them wrenchingly her own, a portrait of endless struggle followed finally by transcendence.

Bombay Rickey at Barbes, 8/11/12 – jaunty, jangly, surfy , psychedelic Bollywood rock fun, with guitar, accordion and frontwoman Kamala Sankaram’s amazing operatic vocals.

Daniel Kahn & the  Painted Bird at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, 8/12/12 – grim, politically spot-on, lyrically brilliant klezmer-rock songwriting from the Berlin-based bandleader backed by an inspired New York pickup group.

Ulrich Ziegler at Barbes, 8/17/12 – of all the single-band shows, this was the year’s most intense, over an hour of eerie. reverb-driven noir cinematic instrumentals from genius guitarist Stephen Ulrich and his inspired colleague Itamar Ziegler, celebrating the release of the album rated best of 2012 here.

The Byzan-Tones at Zebulon, 8/22/12 – the recently resurrected Greek psychedelic surf rockers traded in the electric oud for Steve Antonakos’ lead guitar, and the result sent the haunting, Middle Eastern-fueled energy through the roof.

J O’Brien and Beninghove’s Hangmen at Zirzamin, 9/10/12 – a fascinatingly lyrical, characteristically witty set, solo on twelve-string guitar, by the former Dog Show frontman followed by New York’s best noir soundtrack jazz band at their most intense and psychedelic.

The Strawbs at B.B. King’s, 9/11/12 – it’s amazing how almost 45 years after the psychedelic/Britfolk/art-rock band began, they still sound strong, their lyrical anthems still resonant even in a stripped-down acoustic trio setting.

Sam Llanas at Zirzamin, 9/11/12 – rushing downtown to catch a solo show by the former BoDeans frontman paid off with a riveting, haunting set of brooding, austerely nocturnal songs, especially when J O’Brien joined him on bass.

Sex Mob at the World Financial Center, 9/27/12 – the downtown jazz legends got the atrium echoing with a hypnotic, absolutely menacing set of classic Nino Rota film themes – and they didn’t even play the Godfather.

Julia Haltigan at 11th St. Bar, 10/2/12 – the eclectic southwestern gothic/Americana/soul siren and songwriter at the top of her torchy, sultry, intense game, backed by a brilliant, jazzy band.

M Shanghai String Band‘s cd release show at the Jalopy, 10/5/12 – an hour of cameos from too many New York Americana luminaries to name, followed by two long sets from the massive oldschool string band, moving energetically from bluegrass, to Appalachian, to sea chanteys, gypsy sounds and Britfolk, sometimes fiery and intense, sometimes hilarious.

Theo Bleckmann backed by ACME, crooning Phil Kline song cycles at BAM, 10/25/12 – this was the premiere of Kline’s lushly enveloping chamber-rock arrangements of his acerbically hilarious Rumsfeld Songs, his eclectic Vietnam-themed Zippo Songs and his brand-new, luridly haunting new Sinatra-inspired cycle, Out Cold.

The Arturo O’Farrill Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra at Symphony Space, 11/2/12 – in the wake of the hurricane, O’Farrill decided to put on a couple of free concerts to lift peoples’ spirits. This was the first and better of the two nights, the brilliant latin big band pianist joined by special guests including Anat Cohen, Sex Mob’s Steven Bernstein, Rafi Malkiel and Larry Harlow, playing long, broodingly intense, towering themes, many of them based on classic Jewish melodies.

Katie Elevitch at Zirzamin, 12/16/12  – goes to show that you can’t really count the year’s best concerts until the year’s almost over. Backed by her fantastic four-piece band, the haunting, intense rock siren improvised lyrics, roared, whispered and seduced the crowd in the plush space with her voice and her achingly soul-inspired songwriting.

Abby Travis’ Fourth Album Is a Lush Powerpop Classic

Imagine ELO with a better singer – this is the great album that Jeff Lynne should have made after Out of the Blue but didn’t. Abby Travis is one of this era’s great rock bassists, highly sought after by international touring acts since her teens. Yet the sound here is driven not by her bass – which is so deeply in the pocket it’s almost invisible unless you’re listening closely – but her layers and layers of lush, intricately orchestrated piano, string synthesizer and what seems like a million other richly sustained keyboard textures. Travis also happens to be one of this era’s great purist pop stylists, an eclectic songwriter whose signature sound has been a lush, angst-driven grandeur that often takes on a creepy goth tinge. She’s at Rock Shop on April 7 at 9 on a great doublebill with another brilliant purist tunesmith, Ward White, and then at the Mercury on April 8.

Her new album is simply titled IV, which could be read as “four” or “intravenous” – it’s a typical Travis touch. This is her Beatlesque record, a characteristically diverse homage to early 70s glam and art-rock. Vocally, she trades the pillowy angst that’s been her trademark for a seemingly effortless but powerfully soaring approach, reaching Kate Bush or Bjork-like highs in places. As she does with the keyboards, she builds layers and layers of gorgeous, Beatlesque harmonies to match the heft of the arrangements. Fans of this era’s artsy songwriting pantheon – the aforementioned Mr.White, Serena Jost, Patti Rothberg, and the Universal Thump – will love this stuff.

Pulsing Strawberry Fields atmospherics give way to crunchy guitars on the ornate, Beatlesque opening track, Lulu, a triumphant anthem for somebody who’s “everybody’s go-and-get-em gal.” “Now it all becomes so clear, the writing on the wall has disappeared,” Travis beams – and then a cheery ba-ba-ba choir kicks in. The second track, Rosetta has a similarly upbeat, ELO powerpop feel, Chris Bruce’s glammy twin guitars (a tongue-in-cheek trope that appears frequently here) set against the grandeur of the keyboard arrangement. The sarcastic Mr. Here Right Now, who “cannot be counted on at all,” is the most overtly McCartneyesque song here, followed by the nebulously sultry 6/8 soul ballad Don’t Walk Away, its waves of tinkling, swooshing and rushing orchestral textures and Rachelle Garniez-esque vocals.

With its second-generation Mick Ronson guitars, One Hit Wonder wouldn’t be out of place on a recent Patti Rothberg record. I Don’t Know What It’s Like turns the Bee Gees’ hit upside down, reaching toward Vera Beren-style grand guignol but with just a little less punk rock assaultiveness – although the creepy, screaming chromatic guitars that take the chorus out are the single most intense moment here. Like a ballsier Blondie, Pretender is a deliciously brisk, roaring new wave song: “There’s no time left to cry, there’s no time left to cry, you gotta get away,” Travis insists.

With its crushingly depressed, defeated imagery, the most plaintive song here is Heads, They Turn, a strikingly restrained 6/8 piano ballad. There’s also Lightning Squared, a Farfisa-driven Phil Spector-style girl-group soul tune, and the closing track, Last Hurrah, with its torchy piano melody and theatrical torrents of lyrics. This isn’t trendy music by a long shot: the stylistic references here end at about 1981. But for the Romantics among us, anyone who revels in rich, resounding melodies and unselfconscious angst, it’s a rare treat. Best of all, it’s also available as a limited-edition vinyl picture disc!