New York Music Daily

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Tag: badfinger

Twisted Valentine Fun with Genghis Barbie

Is there any logic at all to be willing to take a bullet for Dolly Parton, or to at least give Madonna a push out of harm’s way…or to offer that level of allegiance to Lady Gag, or Mariah Carey instead?  Is that just a matter of personal taste? Or a matter of growing up while Ed Meese was assembling the world’s largest porn collection at taxpayer expense…or in an era remembered best for the radiation poisoning known as Gulf War Syndrome …or during the Obama years, when drones were blowing up Islamic wedding parties in the desert?

Or is this just scraping the bottom of the barrel, any way you look at it?

Obviously, you can tell whose side this blog is on. Early Tuesday evening, before any of us were called home for Valentine duty, all-female french horn quartet Genghis Barbie packed the Miller Theatre uptown for a goodnaturedly amusing display of fierce chops and wicked new reinventions of otherwise pretty cheesy material.

Back when your parents or grandparents were kids, they used to call shows like this “pops concerts.” Orchestral musicians would catch a break playing easy charts for instrumental versions of the radio hits of the day. This usually happened at places like the Brooklyn Prom or Coney Island. What differentiated this concert from that kind of schlock wasn’t so much the material as the arrangements and the musicianship.

Genghis Barbie played with an intuitive chemistry and a boisterously contagious camaraderie. Somebody to Love, by Queen – Freddie Mercury’s mashup of doo-wop and opera buffo – got a neat baroque arrangement and an even funnier singalong round at the end led by Leelanee Sterrett, a.k.a. Cosmic Barbie, and then Rachel Drehmann, a.k.a. Attila the Horn. Likewise, the deadpan, steady exchange of voices in Without You – written by Badfinger’s Peter Ham, turned into a hit by another doomed Brit, Harry Nilsson and then tepidly reprised by Carey about a quarter century ago. The quartet – who also include the similarly sardonic, talented Danielle Kuhlmann, a.k.a. Velvet Barbie, and Alana Vegter, a.k.a. Freedom Barbie, went deep into Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach to reveal its inner oldschool disco goddess. A little later, the group took a Lady Gag number to the Balkans and made a quasi-cocek out of it. They took a detour into the opera world, then jumped forward a century and a half to the Disney autotune era once again. Colorfully yet effortlessly, they switched between bubbly Balkan phrasing and orchestral lustre.

The highlight of the show, at least from this perspective, was a vivid Spanish-tinged instrumental take of the Dolly Parton classic Jolene. The low point was a cover from the catalog of a saccharine California pop group from the 60s who got their start ripping off Chuck Berry and then did the same to the Beatles. For much of that time, one of that extended family band was hanging out with another family – the Mansons. You can read about it in the Vince Bugliosi classic Helter Skelter.

The next concert at the Miller Theatre features the work of hauntingly atmospheric, sometimes shamanic Japanese composer Misato Mochizuki played by amazingly eclectic indie classical ensemble Yarn/Wire on March 2 at 8 PM; $25 tix are available. 

A Soaring Blend of Psychedelic and Powerpop Rarities from the Jigsaw Seen

Since the late 80s, Los Angeles band the Jigsaw Seen have maintained a devoted following as one of the world’s most lyrically clever, playful retro psychedelic and powerpop acts. Frontman Dennis Davison’s songcraft draws on a half-century worth of catchy hooks, singalong choruses, devious and often ferociously literate wordplay and every glistening, sparkly texture ever used in 1960s British rock. Their latest album, streaming at Spotify, is titled For the Discriminating Completist. It’s a B-sides and rarities collection, akin to those great Oasis eps from the 90s. The difference is that the Jigsaw Seen’s full-length albums are as consistently excellent as their obscurities.

This album is also unusual in that it contains not one but four covers. The opening track, The Best Is Yet to Come is reinvented as Cheap Trick stripping It’s All Over Baby Blue to its inner powerpop gem. Like most of the tracks here, the snide 1999 single Celebrity Interview features the current edition of the band, founding member Jonathan Lea’s big, Badfinger-esque guitars on the chorus over the taut rhythm section of bassist Tom Currier and drummer Teddy Freese.

One of the best tracks here is We Women, a a punk anthem in Bollywood disguise that might not be quite as feminist as it seems:

We are your mothers and if you behave
We’ll give you every little thing you crave…
We’ll bend your gender left and right…
We wallow in your misery….
We’re very much like you
Although we can show all that you feel

The BeeGees’ priceless Melody Fair comes across as a Dukes of Stratosphear-style parody, maybe the only song written about stealing riffs – in this case an endless sequence from the Beatles. The version of Baby Elephant Walk is also pretty hilarious, recast as a mashup of Badfinger and Booker T. The version of Arthur Lee’s Luci Baines is a 60s soul ballad via Lou Reed in the same vein as Karla Rose‘s The Living End. Then there’s the wry faux Merseybeat of Jim Is the Devil – a broadside directed at 80s televangelist Jim Bakker – lit up with a tongue-in-cheek neo-baroque exchange of Rickenbacker licks.

The lone new track here, Have a Wonderful Day – an aphoristic apocalypse anthem –  might be the best of the bunch, with a coy piano/mellotron interlude  and a big guitar break straight out of the Tobin Sprout playbook.

When You’re Pretty is the album’s most opaque and subtly biting number, followed by the big, Beatlesque backbeat anthem Whore Kiss. With its pummeling volleys of drums, incendiary chromatics, Indian influences and dynamic shifts, My Name Is Tom is the album’s most psychedelic track. The final cut is the majestically swaying powerpop tune Another Predictable Song,  full of subtle playful guitar and bass japes.

The Jigsaw Seen will be coming back to New York in March; in the meantime, Davison is currently on tour with his brand-new duo project Witchfinder Witch with folk noir songwriter Lorraine Leckie. The final stop is tomorrow night, Jan 25 at 9 PM at Maxwell’s in Hoboken on a killer triplebill. Former Aquanettas frontwoman Debby Schwartz, with her soaring, rapturous voice, blends enigmatic dreampop and psychedelic Britfolk sounds and opens the show at 8. Twisted Blondie cover band the Pretty Babies, fronted by the fearless, funniest woman in rock, Tammy Faye Starlite, headline at 10. Cover is $10.

The Anderson Council Bring Their Hard-Hitting Psychedelia and Powerpop to the Delancey Tomorrow Night

Let’s get any possible confusion out of the way: the Anderson Council are not a Pink Floyd cover band. Nor should they be confused with the Canadian prog-metal band of the same name. The Anderson Council who’re playing the Delancey tomorrow night, Feb 6 at 9 PM are a killer psychedelic/powerpop band whose sonic roots are in the 60s, but their sound is in the here and now. At their most succinct, they bring to mind Guided by Voices at their most Cheap Trick, using old tube amps. When they go further outside, they look further back to a more eclectic mix of 60s psych sounds. Their latest album Hole in the Sky is streaming at Reverbnation; the bill at the Delancey also includes excellent Chicago blues cover band Boxing the Needle opening the night at 8, and Stones/Social D-influenced guitar band Anchor Lot headlining at 10. Cover is a measly $5.

The title track is not the Sabbath song but a jangly skiffle-rock tune with bagpiping guitars, a swirly, flangy halfspeed interlude and a trick ending straight out of the Move, 1972. They follow that with a bizarre Coke commercial and then Don’t You Think, a big Badfingeresque powerpop anthem over a swaying bump-ba-bump rhythm. Pinkerton’s Assorted Colors throws a Farfisa and la-la bvox over a tumbling Quadrophenia-style drive, singer Peter Horvath maintaining a perfectly clipped British accent that might well be the real thing.

Then they switch things up with Love Bomb, a stomping, amped-up, broodingly minor-key Laurel Canyon psych-folk number seemingly straight out of 1968, the Peanut Butter Conspiracy on good coke, David Whitehead’s richly layered multitracks roaring and clanging over drummer Christopher Ryan’s Keith Moon-inspired attack. Feet of the Guru offers more of an elegant take on the late 60s Who channeled through the warped prism of GBV, while Poppies Pansies & Tea evokes the Move putting a more guitarish spin on bouncy Penny Lane pop over Christopher Rousseau’s blithely walking bass.

Never Stop Being ’67 is a droll Beatles homage in the same vein as Love Camp 7 at their most satirical and spot-on. Pretty People also looks to the Fab Four, but in a late 70s powerpop vein. The Next One is arguably the album’s best track, a snarling, wickedly catchy smash: imagine Robert Pollard amping up classic 60s Lynchian Orbison pop. Strawberry Smell also has plenty of GBV wafting in, but with the 60s tropes that band doesn’t take the time to add, for some extra spit and polish. The last track is Fake Lane, a trippy Paint It Black ripoff.

Lush, Gorgeous Psychedelic Pop and Vintage Folk-Rock from the New Mendicants

The New Mendicants – the Pernice Brothers’ Joe Pernice, Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake and the Sadies’ Mike Belistky – blend classic psychedelic and powerpop sounds from the 60s and 70s while adding their own wickedly tuneful edge. This supergroup of sorts absolutely nails a whole bunch of styles from the UK from around 1965 to 1975. Their new album Into the Lime is streaming at Spotify…and it’s also available on vinyl!

The trio open it very auspiciously with A Very Sorry Christmas, its growling, Badfinger guitars, a little bit of of a shuffling Ringo feel from Belitsky and some Big Star blending in as well. “I’ve hurt so many people on the way, on a very sorry Christmas Eve, I wonder if the ghosts will ever let me be,” Blake laments. The second track, By the Time It Gets Dark is an optimistically catchy, gorgeous folk- rock ballad spiced with glockenspiel (although the litany of cliches that serves as the first verse needs to go). The bouncy Cruel Annette blends the mod pulse of late 60s The Who with jaunty, slightly vaudevillian early 60s Beatles. After that, the delicate, McCartneyesque acoustic waltz Follow You Down is quite likely the prettiest song ever written about a suicide pact.

The genuine classic here is High on the Skyline, an enigmatically alienated folk-rock anthem that’s equal parts Strawbs Britfolk and lushly clangy, twanging Byrds. “I’ll show you how deadly close faraway can be,” Blake intones in his stately  delivery. If You Only Knew Her is similar musically, but more Beatlesque, sort of like a more fleshed-out take on Here, There and Everywhere. The trio follow that with the most modern-sounding track here, Lifelike Hair, a third-generation garage-psych rock tune with a hypnotic Brian Jonestown Massacre vibe.

It’s not clear at all what the title track is about, other than a lament for a vanished girlfriend: “The killing joke, the killing moon, the killing of me softly with this song,” Blake croons over a lushly orchestrated, sunnily attractive chamber folk melody. Sarasota blends elements of Motown and chamber pop into an absolutely surreal Florida scenario that might or might not be a murder mystery. The album winds up on a high note with the blistering neo-mod rock hit Shouting Match, a dead ringer for Connecticut pub rock legends the Reducers. The whole thing is one of the most tuneful collections to come over the transom here this year and a strong contender for one of 2014’s best albums.

John Amadon’s Seven Stars Shines Eerily

The cover art of Portland, Oregon songwriter John Amadon’s album Seven Stars (streaming in its entirety at his Bandcamp site) reaches back for an early 70s psychedelic pop look – which makes a perfect match with the music, if not exactly the plotline. This is a quietly beautiful but disconcerting concept record about unrequited love – and you mustn’t let that scare you off. Far from being maudlin or wimpy, it’s creepy. Amadon’s elegant three-minute purist pop craftsmanship is a match for his casual, unaffected vocals and terse, sometimes chilling, sometimes nebulous lyrics. As heartbreak albums go, it’s in the same ballpark as the Jayhawks’ Sound of Lies…most of the time. Amadon really has a handle on classic pop songwriting: the Beatles and Big Star, through the prism of Elliott Smith, with echoes of the Jayhawks at their late 90s powerpop peak as well as Badfinger. The songs here are typically slow-to-midtempo, with tasteful, melodic electric guitar rising over a lush bed of acoustic rhythm guitar and sometimes keyboards, the bass and drums in the back of the mix where they belong.

The lyrics trace the arc of an affair that either went horribly wrong or never happened – which is never exactly clear. The story is told from the perspective of someone who went in with good intentions, then got them twisted. “I won’t be the keeper of a wayfarer’s house that’s never home,” Amadon asserts on the opening track, Empty Fiction. The way he reprises the simple, catchy vocal line on an acoustic guitar at the end of the song is a typical, unselfconsciously beautiful touch here. By the second track, Amadon is already foreshadowing a desperation that doesn’t bode well:

There’s an accelerator, there’s a chain
And there’s a part I play myself
But there’s a segregator, and there’s a flame
And there’s a price I know too well

Warmly melodic piano hands the song over to a terse lead guitar break in a thoughtful Neil Finn kind of way. Let’s Walk Without Talking – a free download – sets Amadon’s anxiety-fueled hope to a pretty organ melody straight out of the Jayhawks playbook, 1997, the backing vocals adding a tinge of glamrock. He follows with All Patched Up, a crunchier, Badfingeresque number, and then Ahead at the Turn, which moves from a pensive, jazzy intro and shifts artfully into a brighter powerpop vein. The clouds roll in with Bitter Prayers, a tense piano ballad: but, Amadon insists, “I’m not a cloud waiting to drown you darlin, I’m not gonna surround you darlin, I’m not gonna intrude.”

Right.

After a moment of tentative peace with an instrumental amusingly titled Xanax – with what could be a djeridoo and a melodica, but maybe just a synth – Amadon goes back to plying his object of desire in Tired Man Spinning, another powerpop number with a gentle insistence. By now, the protagonist is talking about “unlimited possibility and “infinite continuity” even though he’s “not used to being in somebody’s corner, I’m used to being somebody’s road.” This is where the woman who either didn’t want to get involved, or wouldn’t go any further – we’ll never know the answer, nor her side of the story – probably pulled the plug. The next song, a gorgeously sad piano-and-guitar ballad titled Lost Land, leaves no doubt:

Living in a lost land
But I know where you are
All the flowers you plant
They only glow in the dark

And by now she’s being cast as a possible “last pleasure in the hour of doom” – her pursuer makes it clear that he’s planning on dying with her.

Musically, the rest of the album is quite beautiful, but not lyrically convincing – stalkers don’t typically go away so easily. Palace of Ruin – which cleverly references the Buzzcocks’ Ever Fallen in Love – paints a picture in a “squalid room, looking at a broken old man, buried in a puddle of blood” – it’s not clear who, or for that matter how many people are either killing or being killed here, and it’s genuinely chilling. The title track hides the bitterness beneath warm Memphis soul guitar, but then it escapes with a roar in Torn by Livid Ocean (which seems to be a Stephen Crane quote), the album’s loudest song, ending with a long, lingering guitar solo screaming away – but in the distance, buried in the mix. The album ends on an ambiguous note with Knocking Down Doors, a slow, swaying, somewhat hypnotic anthem that could be a kiss-off note, or a self-critique. Once again, Amadon draws the listener in and keeps the suspense at a peak. If this is autobiography, it’s worrisome (and makes a good companion piece to Jay Bennett’s classic Whatever Happened, I Apologize); if it’s fiction, it’s one hell of a quiet ride. Count this among the most intriguing rock records of the past several months.