New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: charlene mcpherson

Eric Ambel’s New Lakeside Record Captures the Guitarmeister at the Top of His Game

Eric Ambel is well known in Americana rock circles and something of a legend in New York. He’s played with everybody. He did a lengthy stint as Steve Earle’s lead guitarist back in the zeros. Before that he fronted the influential Del-Lords. For more than a decade, he ran the East Village’s coolest bar and music venue, Lakeside Lounge. And he continues to produce artists at his Williamsburg studio, Cowboy Technical Services.

He’s also got a new album, also called Lakeside, a fond over-the-shoulder look at the kind of edgy, purist retro sounds that could be found onstage during his old venue’s heyday. Interestingly, rather than producing this himself like his other solo albums, Ambel brought in Jimbo Mathus. formerly with the Squirrel Nut Zippers, who also contributes guitar and bass – and drums on one track. The result is a gatefold vinyl album (that comes with a couple of download cards), available in a limited edition of 500 copies, signed and numbered. This is one of those records you’ll probably want to tape and then play the caasette til it self-destructs. Seriously – if you own a turntable, you probably own a tape deck too.

Ambel’s longtime rhythm section, bassist Keith Christopher and drummer Phil Cimino show up on most of these tracks. As dirty and messy as Ambel can get, there’s a level of craft in what he does that’s rarely seen these days. That isn’t to say that there aren’t guys dedicatedly spending hours hunched over their laptops trying to get the right sound or the right mix, just that Ambel does it with quality gear. And while he’s known first and foremost as a guitarist, he really hit the vocals out of the park here. Other guys get old and reedy and raspy; Ambel sounds about 25, full of piss and vinegar.

The opening track is Ambel’s old Del-Lords bandmate Scott Kempner’s Here Come My Love. It’s a ba-bump roadhouse rock number with that band’s signature sardonic, surreal sense of humor and a tasty acoustic/electric backdrop. Mathus’ first number, Hey Mr. DJ is a sludgy, coldly amusing look at groupthink among the entitled sons and daughters of the idle classes on the demand side of the current plague of gentrification.

Have Mercy, a co-write with Spanking Charlene frontwoman Charlene McPherson, revisits that theme, an update on Creedence swamp rock with plenty of Ambel’s signature, offhandedly savage riffage. Let’s Play with Fire, another Mathus number, mashes up shuffling C&W and Orbison noir, with an absolutely Lynchian lapsteel solo by the bandleader. Side 1 concludes with Don’t Make Me Break You Down, an Ambel/Mathus co-write with a glowering Neil Young/Crazy Horse vibe.

Side 2 opens with the Ramones-tinged Massive Confusion, a Mathus tune. Gillian Welch’s Look At Miss Ohio, which always seemed to pop up somewhere during Ambel’s shows on his old East Village turf, gets a lingering, nocturnal Sticky Fingers treatment that builds to a mighty psychedelic peak. Ambel does the old soul hit Money as a haphazardly prowling Neil/Crazy Horse burner. The album’s best track is the slow, brooding minor-key Buyback Blues, drenched in an ocean of reverb and guitar multitracks.”It takes a special kind of understanding for a man to live in the nighttime,” Ambel sings dryly and knowingly. The record winds up with Ambel’s twangy, bittersweet, distantly Lynchian instrumental Crying in My Sleep.

Is this Ambel’s best solo record? It’s definitely as good as any of the other three. From the perspective of having caught the cult classic Roscoe’s Gang album back in the day when every bar in what used to be a happening neighborhood was playing it, it’s hard to tackle that question with any real objectivity. Ambel’s next show is at Berlin (in the basement space under 2A; enter through the door on the right, midway down the bar on the first floor) on April 29.

Briana Layon & the Boys Bring Their Menacing, Heavy Intensity to Arlene’s

Briana Layon’s bio at her web page compares her to both the Runaways’ Cherie Currie and Jinx Dawson of Coven, which is ok for starters, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The trouble with the current crop of women with big voices – and Layon has an epic one – is that so many of them are American Idol-ing it, all show, no substance, one watered-down gospel riff after another. Or even worse, they do the dorky SING-song-EY her-KY-jer-KY up-AND-down Tourette’s thing that spewed out from emo into the dogshit pile of Disney autotune pop. Briana Layon doesn’t go for that – it seems she’d rather be her own person. Which is why she’s not on American Idol. Briana Layon & the Boys, her smart, ferocious, blues and metal-infused heavy rock band, have a killer album, Touch and Go streaming at Bandcamp and a show at 7 PM on August 20 at Arlene’s for $5.

What’s coolest about the album is that a lot of these songs are long, with plenty of room for Layon to hit a bitter, gale-force wail and hang there, or for brilliant lead guitarist Chris DiBerardino to scorch the earth with a deep arsenal of stylistic assaults. The opening track is All Yours, a catchy three-minute bluesmetal tune, Layon bringing to mind two other distinctive, charismatic frontwomen, Spanking Charlene‘s Charlene McPherson and then Ann Wilson of Heart, rising to a searing wail at the end. The title track has DiBerardino delivering vamping, clustering early 70s riffage with a hint of funk and some cool, evilly chromatic Buck Dharma glissandos.

Pistolero could be a standout track from the first couple of AC/DC records, bassist Josh Castellano’s chords lurking at the bottom with solid drummer Vlad Hancu, who trades off with DiBerardino on the chorus. Teach Me is unexpectedly subtle, DiBerardino channeling Keith Richards with his catchy chords on the verse and then going to an Angus Young growl on the chorus, Castellano delivering a rare snappy bass solo that doesn’t suck.

Cut My Man opens with an icy, watery lead over a sketchy, muted riff, Layon joining in the ominous ambience and then rising toward murderous rage, airing out her wounded low range and in the process channeling the Sometime Boys‘ Sarah Mucho. They take it out as a waltzing danse macabre – this is just plain awesome, one of the best songs of the year.

Playing Dead is a menacingly elegant noir soul ballad in the Clairy Browne vein, Layon rising from an aptly ghostly purr to a roaring peak. Rope blends sludgy Spanking Charlene-style punk and fuzzy early 70s style metal riffage – ironically, it’s as close to “R&B” as Layon gets here. Sticky Wicket (meaning tight spot, a term taken from cricket, the British empire’s ancestor to baseball) is the closest thing to funkmetal here, DiBerardino capping it off with a gritty wah solo.

Castellano’s pitchblende Geezer Butler lines anchor a sweet, vintage Iron Maiden-style hook on Vanagloria – it would make a good three-minute-thirty track from Number of the Beast. Tell Me I’m Good blends jaunty flamencoesque flourishes from DiBerardino, a dancing pulse from the bass and Layon channeling her usual luridness.

Dear Friend starts out as a 6/8 soul ballad with organ lurking in the background, Layon putting a teens update on pensive Vera Beren-style theatrics – her shivery, low-key outro is just as chilling as her fullscale wail. The album peaks out with Looks Like Rain, which is not the Grateful Dead song but an eerily atmospheric art-metal piece that if you listen very closely sounds suspiciously like it might have had another life as a trip-hop pop song. It’s amazing what a tricky time signature and a great band can do for a tune.

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.

Reliving October

Who in New York would want to relive October, 2012? Actually, if you can make the big, stormy elephant in the room disappear, it wasn’t such a bad month – and there were plenty of good shows happening, right up until a couple of days before the hurricane. This month’s account is part of an ongoing feature on concerts that for various reasons escaped front-page coverage here. Although most of the artists involved have already gotten plenty of space here before, it wouldn’t make sense to neglect what they’re doing because in one way or another, it’s important.

Early in the month on a deliciously cool Saturday, Tom Warnick & the World’s Fair played their usual careening mix of haunted, noir rock and contrastingly sunny oldschool soul songs at a gig at Freddy’s in Brooklyn’s south slope. Warnick is a keyboardist; he stands deadpan, sometimes with just the hint of a smirk and intones surreal, historically-inspired lyrics while the band motors behind him. This particular version had the blazing guitars of both Ross Bonadonna and John Sharples plus tenor sax and a rhythm section. Other than the utterly blissful soul sway of My Troubles All Fall Apart, the songs had a persistent unease. Catchy as the pulsing new wave of I’m a Stranger Here and the slower but equally catchy Lost in Place were, they both spoke to youthful alienation. Likewise, The Great Calamity didn’t shy away from potential disaster – Warnick has walked away from several in his life – and delivered a persistent defiance.

Other songs were considerably darker and ran the gamut from reggae, to bluegrass, to an a-cappella cover of an old chain gang song from the 30s. Cop Car, a stomping blues tune about a stoner being tailed by the po-po, had the guitars gleefully sirening in unison on the bridge – yikes! A Little Space worked a leering Tom Waits vibe, while Keep Me Movin’ rose and fell with a moody, Doorsy-y ambience. This time out, the big hit was The Impostor, with its chromatically-fueled menace and macabre crescendo on the chorus. As strange a segue as these guys made with the opening act, Beefheart cover band Admiral Porkbrain, they kept the surreal energy going.

Onetime Dog Show frontman J. O’Brien has hardly been idle since the breakup of the band late in the zeros. His Vibedeck page has tons of name-your-price goodies, including both new songs and newly stripped down, mostly acoustic versions of Dog Show classics. He also has a monthly gig at Zirzamin, Manhattan’s newest and most exclusive venue for A-list songwriters. His October show featured a lot of his more pensive, darker material, including a welcome return of the offhandedly savage, bitter kiss-off ballad All About Wrong, as well as fueling  pre-election unease with the politically-charged Black Eye and Hold Me Down. His November show was more upbeat and drew more heavily on his more recent songs, notably Cottonmouth, a hilariously snide litany of characters on the train between Manhattan and south Brooklyn. He’ll be back at Zirzamin, solo on twelve-string guitar, on Dec 10 at 7.

Spanking Charlene, leaders of the scene at the late, lamented Lakeside Lounge, made a rare trip uptown to the Ding Dong Lounge for frontwoman Charlene McPherson’s birthday. The band’s new rhythm section – Patti Rothberg’s bass player and Drina Seay’s drummer – gave them extra punch and kick, and semi-permanent lead guitarist Eric Ambel got plenty of opportunities to sear and burn with a noisy, bluesy menace. Their long set mixed in a few covers along with many of the roaring Americana-punk songs on their latest album Where Are the Freaks – notably the stomping, sludgy title track, inspired by a drunken walk through increasingly yuppified Stuyvestant Town. McPherson wailed with her usual high voltage against the squall of a huge tenor saxophonist who looked like he’d just come in from Giants practice, as the band made their way through the sarcastic crash and roar of You Suck, Secrets, Tie Me Up and Stupid Me. As the show wound up, they made the connection between Black Sabbath and the Sonics and then a version of Heat Wave that owed more to the Martha Reeves original than the Jam. Spanking Charlene’s next show is on the road, on Dec 8 at the Record Collector in Bordentown, NJ.

A day before that, Niall Connolly played the weekly acoustic series at the American Folk Art Museum a few blocks north of Lincoln Center. He’s a band guy at heart and writes like it, buildling to anthemic choruses and leaving plenty of space for guitar breaks and other interesting stuff. In an all-too-brief set, he alternated between gloomily sardonic, spare, fingerpicked reflections on relationship dysfunction, and more upbeat, politically-fueled acoustic rock. Connolly is Irish by birth and not a fan of the post-9/11 American police state, and has plenty to say about it that’s both amusing and insightful. Connolly plays a LOT of shows; he’s at Caffe Vivaldi tomorrow night at midnight and then on Tuesday (officially, early Wednesday) at one in the morning at the Red Lion on Bleecker Street, where the tourists might have actually cleared out by then.

Closing Night at Lakeside

How do you play your own funeral? Obviously, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel and the Roscoe Trio have plenty of life left in them, as they made clear last night when they played the closing night at Ambel’s beloved Lakeside Lounge. An East Village fixture for sixteen years, Lakeside was home to literally hundreds of excellent New York bands: its absence leaves a gaping hole in the New York rock scene. Still, it’s no wonder that Ambel – someone whose muse is not booze – had already gone through three pints of red wine (ok, somebody kicked one of them over) by the time their practically three-hour performance was over. The energy onstage bristled with raw anxiety, echoed by the crowd packed into the back room and lingering on the sidewalk outside: people were not happy to see their favorite rock club being priced out of the neighborhood for yet another effete, shi-shi gentrifier bar. Neither Ambel nor the band – Alison Jones on bass, Phil Cimino on drums and Ambel’s pal Chip Robinson on guitar and also vocals – alluded to rage or resentment: they just let the songs do the talking and gave the club the sendoff it deserved. Taken out of context as an especially raucous Lakeside show, or as a harbinger of possibly worse things to come, this was something people will be at least thinking about for a long time.

They opened with Girl That I Ain’t Got, a twangy country-rock number from Ambel’s cult classic solo debut, Roscoe’s Gang, and closed with Cinderella, an obscure riff-rocking R&B song from Lakeside’s famous jukebox. Was it deliberate when Ambel’s wife Mary Lee Kortes, singing a rampaging version of Tangled Up in Blue (which also appears on her iconic 2002 live recording of Blood on the Tracks), gave special ferocity to “all the people we used to know, they’re an illusion to me now?” Who knows. Ambel did make a point of giving shout-outs to Lakeside regulars now gone, notably Ff bandleader Tom Price and multi-instrumentalist genius Drew Glackin, who, “If he would have lived, would have played more gigs here than anybody.”

Guitarist Mark Spencer, originally with the Blood Oranges, added some seriously searing rock leads on a couple of tracks. Lenny Kaye memorialized the place as “a place for musicians, and people who like to hang around them,” then led the band (with Ambel moved behind the drumkit, replaced on guitar by Demolition String Band’s Boo Reiners) through “the national anthem of rock n roll,” Gloria, with an interlude where he imagined the girl lifting her shirt in Lakeside’s photo booth for the benefit of Ambel and co-owner/jukebox archivist Jim Marshall, a.k.a. The Hound. John Mellencamp lead guitarist Andy York also beat a path through the crowd from the bar to the stage several times, notably for an absolutely luscious cover of Raw Power where he switched to bass and played wave after wave of Ron Asheton melody.

The New Heathens’ Nate Schweber sang Thousand Dollar Car, by the Bottle Rockets (who’d played the opening night party here on April 10, 1996 if memory serves right). Robinson delivered a subdued, pensive one from his Mylow album [memo to self – must dig that one out again] that picked up with one of an endless series of growling, sideswiping Ambel solos. Spanking Charlene’s Charlene McPherson took centerstage for a volcanic take on I Wanna Be Your Dog. And was that Schweber singing the night’s most brooding, downcast song, Dylan’s I and I? That’s the problem of not having any video to go with the audio, 24 hours later.

With Ambel out front, they blasted through familiar favorites like Garbagehead – written in five minutes for a particularly high-energy New Year’s Eve show – as well as blistering versions of the angry, overdriven, Beatlesque Song for the Walls along with Ambel’s inimitable version of Swamp Dogg’s Total Destruction to Your Mind. But this wasn’t just the hits. Ambel’s shows here with his trio have always been a party, part live rehearsal, part focus group for new material, and as usual he brought some of that, including a particularly hard-hitting, riff-rocking new collaboration with Kasey Anderson. The band had never played the Kinks’ Where I Belong – the anthem that Ambel had picked out specially for the night – but they made it through that one without embarrassing themselves thanks to Ambel somehow managing to play lead guitar and simultaneously signal chord changes via sign language (musicians understand those things).

Jimbo Mathus, who’s currently recording with Ambel, joined the band on mandolin for a killer honkytonk song about homeless people on the streets of Hollywood who should be diamonds rather than lumps of coal. As the set went on, Ambel called up Alex Feldesman, the club’s tireless soundman and gave him a guitar in appreciation for his years of service. “Now I have to learn to play the thing,” deadpanned Alex (he was being sarcastic, as usual – maybe this is what he needed to get a new band going).

Whoever ends up taking over the Lakeside space, you can be damn sure they won’t be handing out guitars to loyal members of the staff. Nor is it likely that they’ll be there sixteen years like Lakeside was. Back in 1995, a friend may have responded to Ambel’s news that he was the proud owner of a New York State liquor license by telling him, “That’s like giving a monkey a gun.” That comment would later become a song title; going on twenty years later, the guy would have to eat his words. By the time the show was over, the line to the bar was five deep and growing and at this point, at least from a blogger’s perspective, there was no reason to stay: anything that anyone might have said or drunk at that point is strictly personal business. Thanks for the memories, Lakeside Lounge.

By the way, if anybody has video, please don’t keep it to yourself and hide it on Facebook where nobody can see it: put it up on youtube, or on your blog, and send a link over here!

Spanking Charlene Kicks Ass

Spanking Charlene are sort of a New York counterpart to X: for punk rock, they’re very diverse musically. Substitute a distinctively New York snarl for the LA band’s DIY gutter-poetry vibe, bring the vocals up a lot higher and put producer Eric “Roscoe” Ambel in the Ray Manzarek role and you get an idea of what they sound like. Like X (at least in the old days), they’re fronted by a couple, Charlene McPherson on vocals and Mo Goldner on guitar. Like Exene, McPherson takes an unapologetic feminist-hedonist stance, deploring the kind of shit women let guys get away with (and on the gentlest song here, My Girl, offering a warm shoulder for any woman with the nerve to stick up for herself). But where Exene is a distinctive singer, McPherson is a phenomenal one: an outraged, wounded wail like hers only comes around every few years. And the band can be very funny, and pretty amazing live. Besides producing their latest album Where Are the Freaks, Ambel plays a Fifth Beatle role, adding his trademark surreal wit with both lead guitar and piano.

The best songs here are the angry ones. You Suck is just plain great: as the band runs the riff from Pil’s This Is Not a Love Song, McPherson cuts loose on a guy who’s an emotional leech – and is she singing “fill me up” or “feel me up?” Stupid Me is even more intense – and as good as the vocals are here, McPherson always turns this into a showstopper onstage. And as much as she’s berating herself for falling for some loser, it’s the loser she fell for who’s even stupider. Tie Me Up sarcastically juxtaposes everything a girl wants – the flowers, a guy who takes care of her every need and more – with a crushing chorus:

Tie me up
Make me beg,
Pin my hands against the bed
Bite my lip
Taste my sweat
Tell me it’s not ready yet

Then there’s the title track, an exasperated shout out to anybody with a sense of fun who might have survived the blitzkrieg of gentrification that’s destroyed so much of New York (and major cities around the world). Stuck at a lame yuppie party and feeling sullen, McPherson longs for the kind of people who used to make neighborhoods like the East Village so much fun before they were driven out by the heirloom artisanal lardons-and-nori martini crowd.

The rest of the album covers a lot of ground. The opening cut, Secrets, lumbers along with some AC/DC style riffage, while Rev It Up goes into punkabilly, Cry Baby works a slow, Stoogey wah guitar feel and Booze and Pills – which really nails that particular vibe – is the closest thing to X here. There’s also the sarcastic The Other Girl and I Like You As a Friend, a woman’s perspective on the one line that every guy dreads most. The final two tracks here were originally released as singles on Little Steven Van Zandt’s label: a beefed-up version of Dismissed with a Kiss (the title track from their 2007 debut) and the edgy Canarsie, a catchy, Stonesy look at the band’s love-hate relationship with the distant Brooklyn neighborhood that McPherson and Goldner call home. What else is there to say – great band, great album, a lock for one of 2012’s best. We need more smart, assaultively fun, funny records like this, with raw but rich production values all the way through and solid playing from the rhythm section which includes Alison Jones on bass and either Eric Seftel or Phil Cimino on drums. Spanking Charlene’s home base is Lakeside Lounge, where they’ll be on Feb 18 at 11.