New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: charlene kaye

Charlene Kaye Funks Up the Mercury Lounge

Charlene Kaye & the Brilliant Eyes brought a party to the Mercury Lounge Wednesday night with a too-brief set that was as quirky and fun as it was surreal, blending equal parts psychedelic funk, new wave and postpunk. She had not one but two drummers onstage, playing full kits: how cool is that? Kaye has jumped nimbly from style to style in recent years, from pensively jangly rock to  more oldtime-flavored sounds, but lately she’s put a lot more muscle into the rhythm. Since this band had no bass, the low notes were supplied by keyboardist Jason Wexler, whose fat, woozy synth basslines drew a straight line back to Bernie Worrell. And this guy is FAST – he played his one solo of the night, a machinegunning series of spirals down from the upper registers, with just his right hand. It was Kaye’s bad luck to follow that big crowd-pleaser with one of her own, firing off nimble funk and blues licks. She’s a connoisseur of guitars – last time this blog caught her onstage, she had a Les Paul, this time it was a Jazzmaster – and has serious chops to match. And an ear for assimilating the sounds of a particular era and then spinning them back with her own stamp on them.

The night’s second number began with acidic sheets of noise from the keyb – which drove the sound guy crazy – and blippy 80s synth grounded by Kaye’s solid, minimalist, funky riffage. The slinky, vintage P-Funk-tinged number after that, Kaye said, she’d written to pick herself up after a particularly bad summer. From there she led the band into oldschool 70s disco updated with wry 80s synth voicings. She reinvented a Drake song as classic disco, building from minimalist postpunk guitar on the verse to a big lingering chorus over fuzzy, sustained synth bass and echoey electric piano.

One of several brand-new songs, simply titled You, set an anthemic 80s Britpop tune to the cleverly orchestrated thump of the two drums – this was the number with the back-to-back high-voltage solos. Another song brought back the classic disco groove and then morphed into an anthemic new wave hit that evoked the Motels at the peak of that band’s mid-80s popularity. Years go by and people still dance to these sounds – and Kaye seems determined to capitalize on that. There were a couple of songs that missed the mark – the opener, which had a cloying, Vampire Weekend-ish sweaterboy Afropop feel, and the closer, with its singsongey ah-OOH-ah backing vocals, which veered toward the studied awkwardness of corporate emo. But the crowd was into it. It would have been more fun if Kaye’d had the chance to do a longer set and cut loose more on guitar. To let off steam, she sometimes plays in an all-female Guns & Roses cover band called Guns & Hoses (no joke) and is reputedly fierce in that one as well.

Charlene Kaye Rules the Rockwood

Last night Charlene Kaye played a fun, fascinating set of catchy, eclectic powerpop at the Rockwood. She’s got a classic pop sensibility, but with an edge. Playing a beautiful black-and-white Les Paul and backed only by drums, she made her notes count and sang in a cool, thoughtful voice that mirrored the thoughtfulness of her lyrics, occasionally soaring up to unexpected heights. The Les Paul is a new acquisition: she bought it since she’d just joined an all-female Guns & Roses cover band called Guns & Hoses (don’t bother googling unless you’re looking for a Port Authority cop blog or an Indiana cover band made up of cops and firefighters). And don’t hold it against her – her own songs don’t sound the slightest bit corporate.

Kaye plays with effortless intelligence and agility, moving all over the fretboard. She started the set using crunchy distortion. A little later, she switched to an unorthodox tuning for some neatly reverberating, overtone-laden, jangly chords and fills, eventually bringing back the crunch. One of the best songs of the set came early, a stomping boogie with jazzy vocals and a wailing, crescendoing bridge that jumped out of nowhere. The shuffling tune after that sounded like a ballsier version of Heart of Glass. She went back to a torchy vibe for a long, pensive waltz that had the feel of a Patsy Cline classic, and then another gorgeous, jazz-tinged number where she let the lyrics tumble out with a restrained Chrissie Hynde soulfulness before cutting loose when the drums kicked in with her crashing chords. The upbeat, ridiculously catchy pop hit that followed had a fun, wordless singalong that sounded like Men at Work with a Ph. D. Toward the end of the show, she brought out some intriguing new material from a forthcoming album, including the smoldering, unpredictable Animal Love and then its far more gentle follow-up, Animal Love Pt. 2 as an encore. Between songs, the room was silent: if there’s any need for proof that there’s a mass audience for accessible, attractive rock that’s not stupid, Kaye is it.