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Tag: cabaret music

Villa Delirium Play Creepy Music on a Creepy Night

Villa Delirium hit the stage with a little Appalachian gothic and a lot of noir cabaret early on Valentine’s evening. It was an aptly creepy show on a day that always threatens to get creepy the later you stay out, if you end up secondguessing your better judgment. Valentine’s Day falling on a Sunday this year was probably a plus. And the show was at Barbes, as good a choice as any when it comes to getting away from creeps in Brooklyn these days.

Villa Delirium don’t play live very much, maybe because bandleader/multi-instrumentalist John Kruth is busy with kitchen-sink Middle Eastern/Central Asian jamband Tribecastan. Or because he’s also a writer: his next project chronicles the recording of the Beatles’ Rubber Soul. So this was a rare opportunity to catch the group’s sardonically sinister sound. Singing saw player Tine Kindermann channeled shivery, sepulchraly keeningl textures and sang with a nonchalantly crystalline intensity.

One of her most interesting numbers was Marie, a dramatically waltzing cabaret number chronicling the colorful, globe-trotting life of Mme. Marie Tussaud, whose adventures ran far afield of the wax kind. A grisly tribute to the original Paris Grand Guignol (which Kindermann mispronounced) was even more dramatic. She teamed with Kruth for a Berthold Brecht uumber set to the tune of old English ballad. Later they did a song based on the first half of a Grimms’ fairy tale – “Class warfare between the sexes,” as Kruth put it, in this case a woodsman who draws the line when the mistress of the house demands special favors.

Percussionist Steve Bear – whose kit was built from pots and pans – got up and sang a sarcastic faux doo-wop number based on the Sisyphus myth. Asked by someone in the crowd if it would be a happy song, the drummer replied, “This song’s about life in hell.” Nobody questioned if The Simpsons’ mainman Matt Groening was an inspiration. Bass clarinetist Doug Wieselman played slinky basslines for the most part while keyboardist Kenny Margolis switched with split-second precision between accordion, luridly tremoloing funeral organ and piano. Meanwhile, Kruth alternahed between banjo, mandolin and acoustic guitar.

The funniest song of the night was an older one he’d written about Donald Trump, reminding that the old blowhard hasn’t changed much since his developer dad hooked him up with tax breaks for his architectural ego-stroking. Another funny one was Kindermanns’s Nyet Is All You’ll Ever Get, a Russian folksong parody with plenty of political resonance. Eventually, they went completely over the top with a boisterous barrelhouse piano number, Turning up the Burners in Satan’s Steakhouse. Villa Delirium don’t seem to have any upcoming gigs at the moment; when they play, they’re usually either here or at Joe’s Pub.

Rachelle Garniez Releases 2015’s Best Album, a Harrowing, Richly Detailed Portrait of the Here and Now

Dichotomies run deep throughout Rachelle Garniez’s latest album, Who’s Counting, streaming at Spotify. Optimism and despondency, irresistible laughs and corrosive anger sit side by side. The music is spare, uncluttered and for the most part unhurried. Everything counts for something, even the subtlest touches. Funny/creepy hospital room sonics channeled via the highest stops on her accordion; faux sleigh bells that could be cruelly faux-Christmasy, or maybe just guardedly festive. Even the jauntiest tracks have a dark undercurrent, while the darkest ones are understated, even gentle. While the music draws on many retro styles – saloon blues, Louis Armstrong torch song, Brecht/Weill cabaret, 19th century Celtic New York balladry – it’s irrefutably in the here and now, an artifact of a year of refugee death marches, tribal bride murders and the devastation of Garniez’s beloved Manhattan as the stampede to cash in on what’s left of the real estate bubble leaves entire neighborhoods trampled and crippled. Garniez relates all those narratives in many voices: an innocent, a bawdy belter or a shellshocked witness, sometimes a parade of personalities in the same song. As a bittersweetly accurate portrait of the here and now, it is unrivalled in 2015 and for that reason is the best album of the year, maybe the best album in a career that includes more than one brilliant one.

Garniez’s work over the past fifteen years or so is not an easy read. Very often, the window of interpretation hangs open, as far as the degree of subtext or sarcasm lurking in the shadows underneath. On the surface, Medicine Man – a remake of a sultry hokum blues strut originally released on her 2003 Luckyday album – builds a steamy atmosphere fueled by the gusty brass of Hazmat Modine, of which Garniez is also a member. A closer listen reveals a thinly veiled plea for some relief from a lingering angst. Little Fish – a Cajun-flavored duet featuring the Hazmats’ banjo player Erik Della Penna, originally released on Garniez’s eclectic 2000 album Crazy Blood – is addressed to a missing person who might be missing for keeps. And the album’s most irrepressibly dancing number, Flat Black – a simple bass-and-vocal duet that looks back fifty years to Sarah Vaughan’s work with Joe Comfort – is a blackly droll look forward to the singer’s funeral, where everybody’s going to “sit shiva by the river, have a little chopped liver.”

That’s the bright side of the album. The dark side is harrowing, even devastating. Garniez plays spare gospel-tinged piano against an ambered horn chart on the title track, in the moment in every conceivable sense of that phrase. She maintains that mood, taking it up a notch for awhile, on the vivid, photorealistic New York Minute, on one hand a fond reminiscence of a Manhattan childhood in the days before helicopter parenting, on another a very uneasy portrait of a budding eight-year-old existentialist. And Manhattan Island – one of several miniatures interspersed enigmatically between songs – grounds the current speculative crisis in centuries of history.

The album’s highest points are also its most brooding. The Elizabethan Britfolk-flavored Vanity’s Curse opens as a suspensefully crepuscular portrait of a dotty old lady’s well-appointed lair but quickly moves to illuminate the sinister source of all that luxe: it’s impossible to imagine a more relevant song released this year. The haunting, starkly quiet A Long Way to Jerusalem follows an ages-old Talmudic tale, recast as a shattering chronicle of women abused and tortured over the centuries. And It’s a Christmas Song (watch the cool video) offers a contrarian view that will resonate with anyone whose tolerance for corporate holiday cheer has maxed out. As the song swings and bounces along, Garniez has no problem with revelry. “If you gotta shop, please support the mom & pop,” but:

Let’s celebrate the birth
Of redefining worth
Start a full-scale reconstruction
Of a flawed global economy
Take down corporate tyranny
Promote local autonomy

It figures that Garniez would wait til the album’s last song to finally drop her guard and let her message resonate, pure and simple. That’s a Christmas present worth sticking around for. Garniez plays Barbes on January 7 at 8 PM, then she’s back there on January 17 at 7:30 PM.

Rachelle Garniez Brings Her Harrowing Bon Vivant Existentialist Songcraft Back to Pangea Next Week

“The Ant and the Grasshopper fable made me cry, as a kid…it’s good I lived long enough to rewrite it,” Rachelle Garniez told the rapt, date-night crowd in the warmly lowlit, intimate piano room at Pangea last night. Her version of Aesop’s tale flips the script: the bon vivant grasshopper gets a second chance because the diligent, hardworking ant relents and realizes that her happy-go-lucky compatriot deserves it. Plus, she knows she’s been busted, since the grasshopper caught her dancing at the end of of a hard-earned day…just like a grasshopper would. Garniez played that song on accordion, as a tango, starting out darkly ambiguous and then brightening as the narrative went on. It dates from early part of her career and traces a familiar theme, optimism in the face of harrowing odds against it. She revisited that theme, playing both piano and guitar, throughout the show. She’s back at Pangea (Second Ave. between 11th and 12th Sts). at 7:30 PM on December 14; cover is $15.

Garniez’s raptly eclectic new album Who’s Counting is just out, so she played several cuts from it, backed by bassist Derek Nievergelt’s terse pulse. Much as there were a lot of jokes and a lot of laughter from the crowd, there was a persistent, dark undercurrent throughout this performance, consistent with the songs on the album. As she told it, Garniez was an existentialist by age eight, when she was riding her banana seat bike all over her old Upper West Side stomping ground. That song was a mix of barrelhouse piano blues and post Laura Nyro blue-eyed soul.

Garniez eaplained that she’d written the jaunty cabaret-blues Just Because You Can for jazz chanteuse Catherine Russsell, but then had second thoughts and decided to steal it back. “I asked for it first,” Garniez revealed. She reinvented the honkytonk waltz January Wind as a countrypolitan piano ballad and used a slinky, fingersnapping version of the stripped-down, blackly amusing bass-and-vocal number Flat Black as a platform for a snidely funny sendup of beauty products that promise immortality. The evening’s funniest tune was A Christmas Song, the new album’s coda. “People out here are dying of consumption, I mean the conspicuous kind,” Garniez deadpanned. “But if you got to shop, support the mom and pop!” Words of wisdom from a Manhattan-born and raised artist.

All that fun was anchored by just as much depth amidst the hostility of the world around us. Solo on acoustic guitar, Garniez took her time through the Elizabethan gothic ambience of Vanity’s Curse, arguably the album’s strongest track. On the surface, it’s a peek around a dotty old rich lady’s home. The subtext, which Garniez takes out of the shadows into the spotlight as the song goes on, reveals the sinister source of the wealth that bought all the tchotchkes and comfortable eccentricity.

The high point of the night, at least intensity-wise, was a hauntingly minimalistic take of A Long Way to Jerusalem, another song from the new album. It was the one point where Garniez let outright wrath into her voice, low and menacing as she put out an indictment for slavers and sex traffickers and clueless users who’ve bought into centuries’ worth of misogyny. And there’s a livewire political subtext: when Elijah arrives to show the daughters of Jerusalem the way out, he’s too hammered to find the door.

After the brooding existentialist art-rock soul of the album’s title track and the droll operatics of Jean-Claude Van Damme – a hilariously skewed look at this generation’s version of Mother’s Little Helpers – Garniez encored with a swinging, relaxed take of Silly Me, the warmly and guardedly optimistic opening track of her 2000 cult classic album Crazy Blood. “I never thought I’d live to see this century,” she intoned, gentle and balmy over guest guitarist Beledo’s elegantly picked flamenco lines. She was probably speaking for probably half the room, especially the black-clad oldschool neighborhood types who’ve been a mainstay of her downtown fan base for the better part of the past two decades. It’s hard to think of anyone who embodies the irrepressible spirit of those days in the here and now like Garniez does: you can find that in the welcoming back room at Pangea next Monday night.

Rachelle Garniez Brings Her Irrepressible New York Wit, Charisma and Songcraft to the East Village for Two Shows

Accordionist/multi-instrumentalist Rachelle Garniez was the first artist ever covered at this blog. Considering how the music blog demimonde is as crowded, and generally anonymous, as a Chinatown mall, if you’re going to hang your shingle out there, you want to go into business with a bang, really make it count, right? Four and a half years after that hot August night on the Lower East Side, Garniez – widely considered to be the gold standard for New York songwriters – has seen her career skyrocket, touring worldwide with her own group as well as playing in edgily shanbling blues/swing/Carribean/klezmer kitchen-sink band Hazmat Modine. Garniez also has a killer new album, Who’s Counting, just out and a couple of shows coming up on December 7 and 14 in the intimate, sonically exquisite piano room at Pangea on Second Ave. between 11th and 12th Sts. Cover is $15

For Garniez, ecstasy and despair are two sides of the same coin. She sings in character, and she’s got a million of them. deadpan ingenue, wide-eyed schoolgirl, hazily smiling hippie chick, opera diva, slinky silent film-era flapper. And also venomous oldschool punk rocker, outraged 99-percenter, wounded veteran of the psychic wars. irrepressible bon vivant, born-and-raised streetwise New Yorker with a sentimental streak as wide as Broadway at Park Place. Many of those characters inhabit the same song. Garniez loves to work that live, just as much as she likes to mess with the audience. One of her favorite shticks is to open a number, or write a first verse, that leads you to believe that the song’s going to be blithe and contented all the way through – and then she flips the script.

The last time this blog caught her live – at Barbes back around Labor Day – she actually didn’t mess with the crowd much. Instead, she was all about the songs. This was an intimate duo show with her regular bassist/sparring partner Tim Luntzel, who took centerstage on the macabrely funny Flat Black, a jaunty bass-and-vocal blues. Otherwise, he hung in the shadows and supplied a slinky backdrop, Garniez opening on accordion with the uneasily summery Manhattan Island, segueing from there into Tourmaline, a big crowd favorite with its bitter metaphors of semi-precious stones who go unappreciated. The high point of this particular show was Vanity’s Curse. She played that one on acoustic guitar, an Elizabethan-tinged Britfolk guitar waltz that goes on for awhile as a cozily nocturnal portrait of domestic contentment (and decor) before Garniez rips off the mask and reveals the source of where all that luxe came from.

Then she went to the piano for New York Minute, saloon jazz in the same vein as Mose Allison – if he’d been a girl from the Upper West in the days before yuppification, instead of a guy from Mississippi. The rest of the show ran the gamut of styles and her rich back catalog. There was the strutting, aphoristic Weimar blues Just Because You Can; God’s Little Acre, a defiantly hilarious kiss-off to a fling from the past turned Facebook stalker; and the understatedly grim existentialist gospel of the new album’s title track, all spiced with stinging, extemporaneous between-song banter. If this sounds like fun, it ought to be even more so next week in Garniez’s old East Village stomping ground.

Imaginative, Lynchian Chanteuse Karina Deniké Slinks Into Brooklyn and Manhattan This Weekend

Darkly eclectic San Francisco singer/organist Karina Deniké plays with her band at Union Hall tonight, October 30 at 9:30 PM for $12. Then she’s at Cake Shop on Nov 2 at the same time. Her excellent latest album, Under Glass, is streaming at Bandcamp – it’s a ride packed with both thrills and subtlety, the rare collection of songs that’s so good that you don’t notice that there’s no bass on any of them.

“First you rev it, then you move it, but you never park it here for good,” Deniké sings on the bouncy, oldschool 60s style number, Park It, that opens the album. Anchors Away opens with ethereal, creepy vocal harmonies that bring to mind late, great New York rockers DollHouse, then shifts back and forth: “What shall we do with a drunken sailor?” ponders Denike with a tender menace that brings to mind Karla Rose in a rare semi-vulnerable moment.

Aviatrix, a starkly strutting Weimar cabaret waltz, is over way too soon. Musee Mecanique, the album’s title track more or less, blends layers of funereal vintage organ over a simple lo-fi 70s drum machine beat: imagine a more soul-oriented Siouxsie. Then the lurid ambience really sets in with Sideshow, Aaron Novik’s bass clarinet lingering under blippy organ and Meric Long’s staccato reverb guitar: “Do we get whatever we want at the Sideshow?” Deniké asks, completely deadpan. The song wouldn’t be out of place in the Carol Lipnik catalog.

Boxing Glove brings back the cabaret strut, fueled by pianist Michael McIntosh’s blend of ragtime and grand guignol. The best track is the menacing, plaintive bolero-soul ballad Stop the Horses, reverb-drenched guitar and Eric Garland’s vibraphone echoing in from the shadows: it draws a comparison to Marianne Dissard’s brooding desert rock. Then the band picks up the pace with Havin’ a Go, a deliciously upbeat mashup of early 60s soul, doo-wop and macabre garage rock with a decidedly ambiguous Novik solo.

Golden Kimonos opens with what’s either the vibes or an ominously twinkling glockenspiel setting on the organ, then picks up with a moody 80s sway. Balmy backing vocals bolster the album’s sparest track, the distantly gospel-tinged soul ballad You’re So Quiet. Deniké offers sympathy for the doomed on the metaphorically-loaded Persephone, Bay Area tenor sax great Ralph Carney (who just played an AWESOME show at Barbes a few weeks back) adding his signature, darkly soulful touch. The album winds up with the stately, elegantly poignant piano ballad Až Budeš Velký, Deniké drawing on her heritage as the child of expat Czech dissidents. Albums like this make every night Halloween – or Blue Velvet – if you’re in the mood.

A Deliciously Grim, Old-Fashioned Multimedia Creation from Curtis Eller and the New Town Drunks

This year’s most memorable and individualistic Halloween artifact is Baudelaire in a Box: Songs of Anguish. It’s an ep by charismatic noir Americana songwriter/banjoist Curtis Eller in collaboration with Chapel Hill folk noir/circus rock band the New Town Drunks. And it’s a whole lot more than just a playlist or a cd. It’s a digital release – streaming at Bandcamp – that comes with a handcrafted volvelle that allows you to follow along with the songs’ grim imagery through a window above the wheel of Jamie B. Wolcott‘s colorful, matching illustrations underneath. Such “spinnies,” as they were called in the 19th century, are cousins of the flipbook and predecessors of the crankie. The text of the four tracks comprises imaginative English translations of four poems from Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal. The songs were written for performances of the “serialized recasting” of Les Fleurs Du Mal by Chicago’s Theater Oobleck.

Eller sings the first cut, The Joyful Dead (Le Mort Joyeux: for purposes of consistency between languages, we’re gonna stick with title case here, ok?). An alternate translation could be “The Contented Corpse.” Louis Landry’s macabrely twinkling glockenspiel fuels the simmering intro before the track gets going with a haphazardly jaunty bounce.

Eller also contributes The Albatross (L’Albatros), done as one of his signature noir blues numbers over a subtle backdrop of accordion and funeral organ textures behind his animated vocals and stark banjo. The translation is vivid: Eller goes the big picture rather than word-for-word, and he doesn’t bother with a rhyme scheme. The mashup of the final stanza is artful to the extreme, driving home Baudelaire’s equation of the tormented poet to the tortured bird amid the drunken sailors, crippled beneath the weight of its vast wings.

The New Town Drunks’ first track is Always the Same (Semper Eadem), a menacing tango sung with unselfconscious angst by Diane Koistinen over a pouncing beat, Doug Norton’s ominously chromatic Balkan accordion swirling through the mix. This particular translation, voicing Baudelaire’s proto-existentialist anguish over distractions from the inevitable, is a challenging one and takes some poetic license. The band’s other song is Le Vampire. Interestingly, they set Baudelaire’s savage kiss-off of a lyric to upbeat after-the-rain jazz-pop livened with Robo Jones’ trombone. As short albums go, there’s been nothing released this year that compares with this, unfair as that comparison is, considering the source of the lyrics. And the package is an Antiques Road Show type of piece, a limited edition bound to appreciate in value as the years go by.

A Dark, Surreal, Original, Carnivalesque Romp by Fable Cry

Nashville band Fable Cry play what they call “scamp rock.” It’s an interesting, original, frequently creepy sound. Lickety-split, theatrical noir cabaret gives way to roughhewn Irish punk rock, or darker Appalachian-tinged sounds. Sometimes all of that in a single song. Among current bands, the Dear Hunter – who’ve got a new album of their own – seem to be an obvious influence, but Fable Cry are their own animal. Since their debut a couple of years ago, the group have expanded from brother-sister multi-instrumentalists Zach and Kirstie Ferrin to include cellist Joshua Dent, violinist/singer Jo Cleary, bassist Scott Fernandez and drummer Rachel Gerlach.

Their album We’ll Show You Where the Monsters Are – streaming at Soundcloud – kicks off with Onion Grin. The frontman’s stage-whispery, Brecht/Weill-inspired persona comes through immediately, although the grossness implied in the title isn’t part of Zach Ferrin’s shtick. Dead Or Alive (For Now) would be a period-perfect 80s goth anthem if it wasn’t anchored by growly, rattling bowed bass and cello: “You won’t think I find eyes at the top of the hill,” the narrator leers. Cleary eventually caps it off with a savagely shivery violin solo.

The Good Doctor alternates between a sea chantey-ish waltz and a vastly less cartoonish, quieter theme: it’s sort of a mashup of Kotorino and Not Waving But Drowning. The pirate-anthem vibe continues, with a Pogues-ish punk rock edge, in From Myth To Moon: “What’s beyond is better than what’s behind,” Zach insists. Once again, it’s Cleary’s witchy, swirling violin pushing the track to peak velocity.

You Ain’t My Baby No More is a bouncy, cheery punkgrass number. Fancy Dancing has a creepy, balletesque sway, Gorey-esque call-and-response between band members and a refrain that might be either “hide your fear,” or ‘hide your beer.” Both make sense in context.

The Zoo of No Return is just plain kooky, a surreal blend of Weimar cabaret, Romany punk and hip-hop. Set Me Loose brings a return to waltz time, jumpily stabbing strings and an escape theme (about time, from the looks of things). The Train Song shuffles and shambles along, taking a familiar railroad theme completely over the top and off the rails. The album winds up with the mostly-instrumental Slow Down, part bluegrass, part garage rock. There seems to be a central concept here: a journey across land and sea is involved. Where it leads is open to interpretation, but it’s a fun ride all the same. Fable Cry sound like they’re a great live band. Watch this space for future NYC appearances.

Joanne Weaver’s Noir Electro Glistens and Gleams From an Icy Distance

Going out in costume this Halloween? Nobody really wants to be the Boston Bomber, or a Republican operative, or a laughingstock, but we can all dress up at the expense of Dzhokhar Tsareyev, or Hillary, or Trump, right?

Speaking of dressing up, the blip on the radar that was Lana Del Rey seems to have jumpstarted a cottage industry of would-be femme fatales who think that a slinky black dress, fire-engine-red lipstick and a smoky come-on of a voice somehow equates to noir. Among the genuinely noir artists here in New York – Karla Rose & the Thorns ripping it up at CMJ a couple of weeks ago, Liz Tormes haunting the American Folk Art Museum last night – Joanne Weaver factors in. Her latest album Interstellar Songbook II is streaming at Soundcloud, and it’s one of the most original, interesting noir releases of recent years. Imagine Jeff Lynne circa 1981 producing an album of jazz standards reinvented by a swing chanteuse with a completely unadorned delivery that’s all the more disarming for its directness.

The not-so-secret weapon throughout this album is an Omichord synthesizer (or a damn good digital facsimile of one), its shimmery oscillation building a starry-night ambience throughout each of the the eleven tracks on Weaver’s sophomore release. Like a late-period ELO or Pink Floyd album, it opens with some wry, sampled movie dialogue. Begin the Beguine sets the stage, awash in icy reverb, the tremolo on the funeral parlor organ wide open: it’s closer to Orbison than the material on Weaver’s more overtly jazz-oriented debut, which is why it works so well

Weaver freezes any possible Borscht Belt shtick out of Golden Earrings and turns it into hi-tech Vegas noir: the deep-space kettledrum completes the desolate picture in contrast to the come-hither lyrics. Moonlight Serenade takes the atmosphere back into the shadows, while Sway – the album’s first single – gets an aptly creepy trip-hop groove. The strongest – and saddest – track is Summer Kisses, Winter Tears, reinvented as a Lynchian bolero.

With its languid trip-hop beat and shiny, chrome-plated late 90s downtempo lounge production, If I Didn’t Care is out of place here. Weaver’s take of Autumn Leaves brings back the gloomy Sunday evening mood, its layers of keys and delicate electronic touches spiraling out into the darkness. From there she segues into the album’s most cinematic track, a lushly ominous, neoromantic version of As Time Goes By – if you can handle the anachronism, think Julie London covering Siouxsie.The final cut is a delicate, flamenco-tinged take of When the Swallows Come Back from Capistrano. Whoever produced this album is a genius. Weaver’s NYC hang is the swanky Flatiron Room, 37 W 26th St. (6th Ave/Broadway) where she’ll be with her band on December 18 at 9 PM.

Charming Disaster Take Their Wickedly Literate Narratives and Murder Ballads on the Road

Charming Disaster are a New York mini-supergroup, a collaboration between Jeff Morris, frontman of majestically slinky circus rock/latin/art-rock band Kotorino, and Ellis Bisker, who leads existenialist chamber pop/soul band Sweet Soubrette. Their debut album, which came out earlier this year and is up at bandcamp, is a mix of murder ballads and crime narratives. Since then, they’ve expanded their worldview to include songs about just about any kind of troubled relationship. They like duets, and swing, and Romany sounds, and mythology. They’re currently hitting the road (tourdates are here), and when they get back they’re hosting a night of murder ballads at Branded Saloon in Ft. Greene on October 19 at 8 PM.

Their show at the end of last month at Pete’s Candy Store – which also went out over the interwebs via Concert Window – was deliciously creepy, but there was also a lot of new material, a series of character studies and retelings of old myths from around the world which were just as erudite and bewitchingly lyrical as their earlier stuff. Bisker played electric ukulele and kept time on a hi-hat while Morris played guitar and a stompbox of sorts. The uke and guitar mingled so seamlessly that it was as if they were a single ringing, rippling entiity. Morris took the deadpan rake role in contrast to Bisker’s torchiliy menacing allure.

They opened with Ghost Story, a catchy backbeat-driven tale of love or something like it, beyond the grave. The darkly jaunty, Weimar-inflected Showgirl, Morris explained, was inspired by his great-aunt, a real showgirl back in the Roaring 20s who dated a mobster…and also went out with a cop. The most gorgeously jangly number of the night was Ragnarok, a sardonic Laurel Canyon psychedelic folk anthem exploring grisly Nordic apocalyptic imagery; it brought to mind Pierre de Gaillande‘s late, lamented art-rock band the Snow.

The duo joined voices for a grim, Appalachian-tinged waltz about starvation in the wilderness, then made uneasily pouncing garage-psych rock out of the Egyptian Osiris myth. They cast Persephone not as an ingenue longing to be rescued but someone who’d embraced her fate as a permanent citizen of Hades, bringing to mind another great, now disbanded New York group, the Disclaimers.

A ukulele swing version of Led Zep’s Immigrant Song was just plain hilarious; after that, the duo went back to bittersweetly jangly with Artichoke, Bisker contributing a droll kazoo solo over Morris’ frenetic guitar clang. They wound up the set with a funny circus rock duet in the same vein as what Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl did with A Fairytale of New York. Audiences up and down the Eastern Seaboard are up for a real treat this month.

Sweet Soubrette and Kotorino Haunt Joe’s Pub

Did Ellia Bisker, leader of elegant existentialist chamber pop band Sweet Soubrette, make a quantum leap…or did she have those lush, poignant, unselfconsciously brilliant songs in her all along? Her emergence among New York’s songwriting elite dovetailed suspiciously with her joining forces with the more established and similarly brilliant Jeff Morris – leader of latin/circus rock/art-rock luminaries Kotorino – in the murder ballad project Charming Disaster. Whatever the case, the Sweet Soubrette/Kotorino twinbill at Joe’s Pub a week ago had to be one of this year’s best New York concerts, hands down.

Sweet Soubrette have been through several incarnations: the current version, with its terse, richly arranged horn charts and frequent echoes of classic soul music, is by far the best. Heather Cole’s violin dipped and soared over Bob Smith’s nimble bass and Darrell Smith’s jazz-inflected, low-key drums as the horns – John Waters on trumpet, Cecil Scheib on trombone and Erin Rogers on alto sax – provided lustrous, vintage Memphis-inspired, resonant harmonies. Bisker played ukulele, singing in a confident but angst-drenched alto that really kicked into gear in the lows: she’s made a quantum leap as a singer as well.

A coy gold-digger’s tale was an early highlight. On album, the band does Burning City – inspired by the account of the bombing of Berlin in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five – as moodily dancing art-rock, but here it had a more purposeful drive and heavier gravitas. The newest songs were the best: the sardonically pensive waltz Wake Up When pondered how little we retain from what should be life lessons, while Talk To Me explored the futility of breaking out of one’s aloneness and actually communicating. The catchiest number of the entire night, Ghost Ship, bopped along on a new wave Motown bassline, Bisker’s deadpan, staccato vocals building on a sort of catch/release dynamic: it would be a standout track in the Serena Jost catalog. The set wound up with the understatedly venomous oldschool soul-inflected Big Celebrity and its thinly veiled references to gentrifier status-grubbing, then the broodingly balmy, doomed wee-hours scenario Night Owls, and finally some comic relief in the form of a song-length shout-out to Anais Nin. “Let’s find out what’s stronger, my pen or your sword,” Bisker demanded.

She returned to the stage as Morris’ femme fatale foil in Korotino, who killed it, as usual. On any given night, they might be the best live band in town: that they could earn a roaring ovation by closing with a suicide song speaks for itself. While Morris has gone deeper and deeper into his pan-latin side in recent months, this show focused more on the band’s phantasmagorical, surrealist rock catalog. The dizzyingly syncopated, doomed minor-key cha-cha Never Had a Chance was a red herring of sorts, fueled by the devious rimshot drive of drummer Jerome Morris (Jeff’s brother) in tandem with Mike Brown’s sinewy bass and the horn section of Gato Loco‘s Stefan Zeniuk (who switched from bass sax, to bass clarinet and then tenor sax) and lively trumpeter Jesse Selengut. Violinist Estelle Bajou’s menacingly slitherly lines mirrored Cole’s approach in Sweet Soubrette – or was it the other way around?

Morris is another guy who’s never sung better, coming across as sort of an exasperated Joel Grey at the peak of his powers, armed with a hollowbody Gibson, the awestruck, epically shapeshifting steampunk adventure Oh My God giving him plenty of chances to air out his pipes. From there the band made their way through moodily strutting Weimar cabaret rock, building to a dixieland-flavored peak with the horns.The frantically swinging circus rock of Going Out Tonight contrasted with the angst-fueled, eerily misty vocal harmonies of the angst-fueled waltz Planes Land.

The rest of the set worked the dynamics up and down without a respite: it was a pretty wild ride. They opened the droll, artsy new wave-flavored Sea Monster with a chugging ska bass-and-drum intro and built from there to the deliriously balletesque, swirling latin noir What Is This Thing. An especially menacing, nocturnal take of North Star State, Morris explained nonchalantly, explored the simple, everyday chore of breaking your girlfriend out of the nuthouse. They closed with a suspensefully dynamic take of that suicide anthem, Dangle Tango. Kotorino are at Rock Shop on Oct 3 at 8, opening for the even more theatrical Funkrust Brass Band; cover is $10. And Charming Disaster play Pete’s on Sept 30 at 10.