New York Music Daily

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Tag: comedy songs

Irresistibly Quirky Ukulele Fun at the Jalopy

Ukulele bands are supposed to be funny. Saturday night at the Jalopy, the twinbill of Ukulele Scramble and the Ukuladies kept everybody chuckling and frequently laughing out loud for the better part of two hours. Name a comedian who can pull that off.

True to their name, Ukulele Scramble play a lot of mashups. When they’re not twisting styles from across the decades – and centuries – into knots, they’re playing ridiculous segues, and repertoire that was definitely never meant to be played on the uke. When’s the last time you heard ukulele versions of classical compositions by Charles Ives or Amy Beach? Ukulele Scramble did both, and well!

Six years ago, Robin Hoffman described herself as an aspiring uke player. Her main gig was visual art: her two coffee table books feature the illustrations she drew as a regular in the audience at the Jalopy. Last night, on the same stage where she captured a generation of New York Americana music talent in all sorts of revealing, kinetic poses, she played Bach. That was midway through a spiky, sparkling cover of Pink Floyd’s uneasy psychedelic pop classic See Emily Play.

Her sparring partner in this duo project, Richard Perlmutter sparred back and forth with the audience in an endless “name that tune” game when he wasn’t spinning precise spirals and nimbly plucking out complex classical chords. At least as complex as you can play on a uke, anyway

Hoffman sang the night’s funniest song, a version of the Brahms lullaby with new lyrics about being kept awake by a fly in the bedroom – the joke is too good to give away. They did Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue, which more than one uke player in the crowd agreed was the first tune that pretty much everybody learns to play on it. Throughout the set, Perlmutter’s flinty vocals contrasted with Hoffman’s cool torch-singer delivery throughout all sorts of clever syncopation and intricate harmony. The most dizzyingly impressive number was a tonguetwisting can-can remake of piece by Offenbach.

The Ukuladies used to be much more ubiquitous than they are now: ten years ago, you’d find them at Rodeo Bar one day, then at Barbes or Joe’s Pub the next. So it’s no surprise that their irrepressible, theatrical shtick was more about breaking the fourth wall this time out – and maybe especially fresh because of it. Tapdancer Heather Warfel a.k.a. Cousin Bunnie flashed a series of charmingly lo-fi props while uke players Katie Down and Mary Myers a.k.a. Genevieve and her Aunt Mary harmonized together through a mix of Andrews Sisters girl-group jazz numbers and sardonic originals.

Their funniest of those was Put Another Nickel in the Nickelodeon, interspersed with innumerable snippets of cheesy pop songs. They also treated the crowd to Asshole in a SUV – a classic Brooklyn song if there ever was one – and a tongue-in-cheek one about getting gaymarried that managed to poke fun at both those who do and those who object to it. Singing saw player Philippa Thompson a.k.a.  Jimmy Lu – who’d just played a set with another excellent Jalopy act, M Shanghai String Band at the Brooklyn Americana Festival earlier in the day – led the quartet through a witheringly cynical bossa nova parody. Warfel got a turn on lead vocals in a number where it was revealed that the Ukuladies aren’t really a family band: they’re her backing unit.

Ukulele Scramble, based in Massachusetts, are playing Sept 27 at 6:30 PM at the Merriam-Gilbert Public Library, 3 W Main St in West Brookfield, MA.

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An Iconic, Fearlessly Populist Brooklyn Band Releases Their Most Ambitious Album in Bushwick Saturday Night

If there’s any New York band who’ve earned a song about themselves, it’s Les Sans Culottes. It’s on their latest album, She is Tossed By the Waves But Does Not Sink, streaming at Bandcamp. That’s the Paris city motto, and there’s no small irony in that the same could be said for the band. Since the 90s, they’ve slowly expanded from their origins as the Spinal Tap of late 60s French ye-ye psychedelic pop, to become as eclectic as the New York borough they represent used to be before the blitzkrieg of out-of-state white yuppies and “luxury” condos. No other New York band have spoken out as witheringly or accurately against the blight of gentrification as this shapeshifting crew – in spot-on, slangy French, no less. They’re playing the album release show this Saturday night, June 2 at 10 PM at El Cortez in Bushwick. The show isn’t listed on the venue calendar, but if they charged $20 for Amy Rigby, this should be about half that or less.

Along the way, the group have weathered several lineup changes and even a lawsuit by a spinoff of the band. That the Sans Culottes brand would be worth taking to court speaks for itself. This latest edition, fronted by founder Clermont Ferrand, is the most stylistically eclectic ever. While there are a few songs that bring to mind late 60s Serge Gainsbourg or Françoise Hardy, the satire is subtler than ever. Their signature mockery of French would-be rockers stumbling through all sorts of American idioms is still there, but the songs span from lush new wave to Stonesy rock to faux funk, stadium anthems and the noir.

The opening track’s title, Eiffel Tour is a Franglais pun – in French, it’s Le Tour Eiffel. It’s as much a musical as lyrical spoof, a shuffling early 70s style French faux funk tune driven by keyboardist Benoit Bals’ trebly Farbisa over Jacques Strappe’s drums and M. Pomme Frite’s bass. It’s the band’s An American in Paris:

Je prends mon élan
Et parle en verlan
Nous sommes en terrasse

[This is tough to translate, and indicative of how clever this band’s lyrics are. The first couple of lines roughly equate to “I get up the nerve and talk in verlan,” a French counterpart to pig Latin from the late 80s Paris banlieu Arab ghetto. “Nous sommes en terrasse,” meaning literally “We’re on the terrace,” was a meme referring to how resolute the French remained in the wake of the 2015 massacre at the Charlie Hebdo office. In that context, it’s “We’re just chilling.”]

There’s more Bals on this album than any of the band’s previous releases. Case in point: the warbly Wurlitzer electric piano and swirly organ on the more authentically funky second number, which is also more musically than lyrically satirical.

Chuchotements Chinois (Chinese Whispers – a reference to the French obsession with the Cure, maybe?) sets Geddy Liaison’s Rolling Stones guitar and lush vocals from the band’s two women singers, Kit Kat Le Noir and Brigitte Bordeaux, over a coy new wave strut with a sly resemblance to a popular 80s hit by French band Indochine. The phony bossa De Rien is a cluelessly chipper breakup number complete with breathy boudoir vocals and loungey piano.

The glossy, synthy 80s-style Chibeca v. Chewbacca shoots a spitball at sleazy developers trying to rename New York neighborhoods: rebranding gritty, constantly shrinking Chinatown as part of shi-shi Tribeca isn’t quite as moronic as calling the South Bronx the Piano District, but it’s close.

The jaunty doo-wop rock of L’Histoire des Sans Culottes chronicles the band’s triumphs and tribulations:

NOUS AVONS EU DES IMITATEURS,
BANDES D’HOMMAGES, MAUVAIS DOPPELGÄNGERS
En manque évident de savoir faire
Ersatz inferieurs sorry ass loseurs

[We’ve had imitators
Tribute bands, bad doppelgangers
Who obviously couldn’t get things done…]

You don’t really need a translation for that last line, right?

Je Ne Sais Quoi pokes playful fun at French pronouns over a slightly less retro backdrop. Along with their Cure obsession, the French also have a rabid Stooges cult, which the band salute in Detroit Rock Cite – which actually sounds more like AC/DC with keys. Mismatched styles are also the joke in A La Mode, an ersatz Stones-flavored shout out to Prince. The band follow that with La Ballade de Johnny X, poking wistful fun at the femme fatale tradition as personified by noir acts like Juniore

The catchy, riff-rocking Je M’en Fous (I Don’t Give a Fuck) opens with the line “Tawdry Adieu ou Audrey Tautou” and stays just as amusing from there, with a snide reference to French misadventures in imperialism. In the Hall of the Ye Ye King (Agathe Bauer) is a mock-rock salute to the power of unlikely one-hit wonder Euro-pop. The album winds up on a surprisingly somber note with the lavish art-rock epic Aller Sans Retour (One Way Ticket). Your appreciation of this album will increase immeasurably if you speak French – check the band’s priceless lyrics page– but it’s not necessary. Look for this on the best albums of 2018 list at the end of the year if Trump doesn’t blow us all up by then. 

Rachael Kilgour’s Soaring Lyrical Brilliance Holds a Lincoln Center Crowd Rapt

“This is satire,” Rachael Kilgour grinned as she launched into He’ll Save Me, the spot-on, searingly funny centerpiece of her most recent ep, Whistleblower’s Manifesto: Songs for a New Revolution, at her headline debut earlier this month at Lincoln Center .She explained that there have been instances where booking agents heard snippets of her music and passed on her, thinking that she was a Christian songwriter. Testament to the power of that satire.

“Mothers on welfare? Healthcare? Don’t you think I know better than to hand out rewards to sinners?” she sang as laughter broke out everywhere. And the punchline,“I know I’ll get my way, when it comes to Judgment Day,” was as subtly sinister as Kilgour possibly could have made it. Considering that she was following a brief performance by a generic folkie from Philadelphia whose own brand of corporate Prosperity Christianity that song lampoons, it made even more of an impact. It’s hard to think of a more deliciously subversive moment on any midtown Manhattan stage in 2016.

.While there are echoes of both Tift Merritt and Loretta Lynn in Kilgour’s resonant, nuanced mezzo-soprano, the closest comparison is Roy Orbison: Kilgour soars upward into the same kind of otherworldly, angst-ridden melismas. And she has the material to match that transcendent voice. The ache and anguish as she hit the chorus of Round and Round – which she sang a-cappella at the end, to drive it home – held the crowd rapt. Likewise, I Pray, a tender wish song for a lost soul, gave Kilgour a platform to swoop up into her most Orbisonesque chorus. Later she went back to simmeringly savage mode for a number that was ostensibly about forgiveness but turned out to be more of a kiss-off anthem. And In America, another satirical one where she finally dropped the smiley-faced Republican ingenue act for reality, drew the night’s most applause.

The two most heartwrenching numbers were dedicated to her stepdaughter. Kilgour herself teared up during the first one, and by the time she was done, there probably wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd. Kilgour explained that she’d gone through a divorce a couple of years ago, “And that sucked!” She related how her earlier material has a populist, global focus, and that writing herself through the pain was a new experience, one that she’s still getting used to. Kilgour wants to break down the barriers between performer and audience, which harks back to a hallowed folk music tradition, where pretty much everybody in the village was in the band. Ultimately, that leads to the kind of community-building Kilgour has focused on thus far in her relatively young career.

In context, the gallows humor of the catchy, swaying Will You Marry Me took on new and unintentionally ironic resonance. The rest of the set mixed low-key, simmering ballads with the kind of anthemic acoustic rock Kilgour does so well, many of the numbers drawn from her brand-new album Rabbit in the Road.

These free Lincoln Center Atrium shows, as the space’s program director, Jordana Phokompe explained beforehand, are designed to offer something for everyone. And she’s right – they do. Tonight’s performance at 7:30 PM features ecstatically fun Colombian-American psychedelic cumbia band MAKU Soundsystem. Considering how well their previous Lincoln Center performances have drawn, you should get to the space on Broadway between 62nd and 63rd early if you’re going.

A LMFAO New Album and a Union Square Show by Honkytonkers Trailer Radio

Right off the bat, the opening track of New York honkytonk band Trailer Radio‘s new album Country Girls Ain’t Cheap tells it like it is:

Out here in podunk
We aren’t very metro
Everybody’s drunk
Everybody’s hetero…
We don’t like it in the blue states
We can live without…
Sister bought a trailer
‘Cause she’s selling crystal meth
Brother aced his driver’s test
Bourbon on his breath…

And the story gets even more amusing from there. On one hand, Trailer Radio are a really funny cowpunk band whose lyrics are packed with jokes too good to give away here. On the other hand, they really nail a classic 60s honkytonk vibe, adding a corrosively cynical lyrical edge: urban country, 2016. The twin guitar attack of David Weiss and Mike Dvorkin combines for classics riff from the 60s on forward while frontwoman Shannon Brown channels a genuine West Virginia twang over the swinging rhythm section of bassist Joel Shelton and drummer Kenny Soule. The new album – streaming at the band’s music page – is characteristically sardonic, hilarious, and they’ve got a show on April 24 at 6 PM at Brother Jimmy’s Union Square, 116 E 16th St. (bet. Union Square East and Irving Place). Then on April 30 they’re at An Beal Bocht Cafe, 445 W 238th St. (near Graystone) in the Bronx at 9.

The album’s title track, an electrified bluegrass tune, skewers good ole boy machoness as much as it pillories the gold-digging women they chase. Set to a tasty, Rickenbacker guitar-fueled Sweetheart of the Rodeo shuffle, Dirt Queen offers a shout-out to an outdoorsy type who’e inseparable from her ATV. Then the band brings it down for the wry ballad Woe Is Me, where Brown explores the various ways women self-medicate.

One of the guy duets with Brown on Jimmy Jack’s Diner (located adjacent to a landfill), a sad reminder that not all mom-and-pop joints with “authentic country charm” are an improvement over Mickey D’s. Three Diamond Rings is one of the funniest numbers here, a shuffling honkytonk chronicle that revisits the gold-digger theme, but as a kiss-off anthem. Another electric bluegrass tune with some bristling banjo work, Jesus Loves You (But I’m on the Fence) is another really funny one: this dude can’t even keep his shit together on his wedding day.

The album’s hardest-rocking cut, The Bottom of Her Boots tells the tale of one vengeful ex who really goes on the warpath: not only does she throw her boyfriend’s stuff out, she paints his AK-47 pink and sells his twelve-point buck on Ebay. A spot-on Moe Bandy-style hard honkytonk hit, Tar Beach pays tribute to rooftop rednecks who“don’t fit in with those Jersey Shore Italians or the Hamptons and their snooty finery” and who are plenty content to hang out on the roof. The album winds up with a droll murder ballad, Big Day for Steffie, a Chuck Berry/Stones rocker with some ferocious, vintage Keith/Mick Taylor twin lead guitars. Shelton’s Eric Ambel-style purist production enhances the vintage sonics. Not only is this a great counyry and roots rock album, Brown’s sense of humor will have you in stitches whether or not y’all grew up surrounded by rednecks.

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.

Comic Relief at the Expense of the Goths…If There Are Any Left

This is just too funny to leave sitting on the hard drive. Drop whatever you’re doing and grab a free download of Raleigh rocker Scott Phillips a.k.a. the Monologue Bombs‘ single Eighties Night. Hardly ever does a spoof this cruelly spot-on come over the transom here: cheesy fake Beethoven, Trenchcoat Mafia faux-angst and a perfect snapshot of what we had to endure at certain venues until the goth thing timed out and was supplanted by emo. The b-side sounds like Mellencamp at his darkest, but with keys instead of guitars. The Monologue Bombs open a good twinbill on December 29 at 6 (six) PM at Freddy’s, followed at 7:30 by iconic noir chanteuse Bliss Blood ‘s creepy torch song project with similarly dark flamenco-jazz/noir guitarist Al Street.

Another Edgy, Hilarious, Spot-On Album and a Muchmore’s Gig by Les Sans Culottes

Isn’t it ironic to the extreme that one of the few New York groups to articulately stand up to the menace of gentrification and trickle-up economics would sing their lyrics in French? In a global context, maybe there’s some twisted logic to that. After all, when faced with austérité or corruption, the French actually do something about it. Usually that means they go on strike. Maybe we should too: after all, at this moment in history, on est tous Charlie.

Les Sans Culottes are a New York institution, stars of the demimonde of Americans playing French music. Except that Les Sans Culottes’ music is original: they’re sort of the Spinal Tap of French rock. Their specialty, throughout a career that spans almost twenty years, is their own twisted take on the ye-ye pop that sprang up in France in the mid 60s, a coy hybrid of American garage rock and psychedelia and bouncy French variétés pop. More recently, their music has become somewhat less satirical, while their impressively fluent French lyrics have become more so, with a corrosively funny, politically spot-on sensibility. Their latest, arguably best and most savagely amusing album, the menacingly titled Les Dieux Ont Soif (The Gods Are Thirsty, a phrase that dates from the terror after the French Revolution) is streaming at soundcloud. They’re playing Muchmore’s at midnight this Friday, Jan 16.

The band members’s noms de plume (noms de guitarre?) give you a good idea of where they’re coming from. There’s frontman Clermont Ferrand (whose alter ego fronts another NYC institution, the Jug Addicts); girl singers Kit Kat Le Noir and Courtney Louvre; drummer Jacques Strappe; bassist M. Pomme Frite; keyboardist Benoit Bals, and hotshot guitarist Geddy Liaison. As you would expect from a band that’s been going as long as they have, there’s been some turnover across the years, this being by far the hardest-rocking version of the group. Throughout their career, their songs have parodied and pilloried everything French, from cuisine, to literary snobbery, to politics: in this age of austérité, it only makes sense that the new album would have more of a snarlingly political focus.

With its slinky Pink Panther groove, the title track perfectly capsulizes the band’s appeal: Clermont Ferrand and the girls poking fun at French vinophilia, but with a subtle undercurrent that casts the gods as a bunch of power-mad drunks. Allez Les Humains (Up with People) blends touches of gospel, Rolling Stones and Zapp and Roger into the mix, a gentle poke at the tech-obsessed. They revisit that theme with The Galactic Man, via Benoit Bals’ silly, quavery space-pop keys.

As usual with this band, the hardest-hitting tracks are the best. L’affaire Dominique Strauss-Kahn gets a withering look, speaking truth to power against a mighty, anthemic backdrop. DSK’s dismissive “Je suis un client de Sofitel” is priceless, and perfectly capsulizes what that was all about. Likewise, Gendarme Gendarme roars into Dead Kennedys territory, a blackly amusing view of police state terror in post-9/11 NYC. The bouncy groove of La Nouvelle Norme Amorale disguises its exasperated view of trickle-up economics and contains what might be the album’s best couple of lines:

Les troupes de choc pour notre chômage 
Ils sentent mauvais comme des grands fromages

Rough translation: “Shock troops against the unemployed/Smells as bad as the big cheese.” And the most resonant and maybe funniest of all the songs here, at least from a hometown perspective, is Très Brooklyn, a broodingly anthemic, keyboard-driven sendup of gentrifier #patheticness, right down to the trendy neighborhood name-dropping.

On the more lighthearted side, there’s the pretty self-explanatory Faux Pas, with its roller-rink organ. Kit Kat Le Noir sings Pierre, Don’t Let the Cat Out, which might be a satire of yuppie overconsumption, or it might just be a catchy, organ-and-guitar-fueled ye-ye pop tune. She also takes over vocals on the gently tropical-flavored La Fille Chichiteuse, a poke at a snobby girl.

The wickedly catchy, pouncingly pulsing Metro Boulot Dodo draws a sardonic picture of party animals caught on the dayjob treadmill. And the band revisits that in the lone sort-of-English-language track here, the hilariously funky What People Do for Money, which sounds suspiciously like the kind of conversation you might overhear between BCGB Parisian transplants recently relocated to Bedford Avenue.

Dans la Nuit is a cruelly accurate spoof of faux-jazzy 80s/90s French pop. The surreal cowboy tale Oh Minot has a wryly punchy, vaguely Spanish flavor: it sounds a lot like the group’s similarly satirical Dutch predecessors Gruppo Sportivo. And you don’t need to speak French to enjoy the music: in their own way, the English translations at the band’s lyric page are just as funny as the original French versions.

John Otway Provokes Laughter On the Big Screen and Onstage

As John Otway self-effacingly explained to the crowd at his Sunday concert at Theatre 80 St. Marks, he’s a “microcelebrity” in his native England. He was Spinal Tap before Spinal Tap existed. As documented in Steve Barker’s fascinating new documentary film Rock and Roll’s Greatest Failure: The Otway Movie, Otway was on the receiving end of a multimillion-dollar 1977 recording contract from Polydor Records, resulting in little more than a couple of minor UK hits. Apparently the label’s view was that Otway’s exuberant/buffoonish rockstar persona would put them in position to compete with the era’s foremost stadium rock buffoons, the Bay City Rollers. The deal may not have exactly worked out the way the label wanted it to, although there’s no question that today, Otway is more popular than the Bay City Rollers.

As both the movie and Otway’s show revealed, he was always ahead of his time. He was doing crowdsourcing and creating flashmobs before anyone else. His shtick may well have given Christopher Guest the inspiration for Spinal Tap. At this particular concert, he didn’t have his band, but he did have a roadie who did triple duty as offstage chorus, as shill hollering suspiciously well-timed repartee from the aisles, and on one number, as fill-in keyboardist. Much of Otway’s comedy draws heavily from oldtime English vaudeville in the same vein as Monty Python or Neil Innes, especially when baiting the audience is concerned. Another weapon in Otway’s arsenal is improv. His deadpan parody of rockstar narcissism – and the public’s cluelessness about it – is stingingly accurate and often gut-bustingly (and potentially head-bustingly) funny even if it’s sometimes a little obvious. And while the lovably inept one-hit wonder character he channels can’t resist taking a leap of faith and landing on the “fail” button every time, what becomes clear early on is that Otway is actually a decent tunesmith, a perfectly adequate guitarist and in a lot of ways an utterly original if utterly devious creative genius.

Much as his parodies of 70s stadium anthems, by-the-numbers punk rock, disco and heavy metal all had their moments, it was between songs that Otway was funniest. He related how “some people actually come to see me more than once,” that he recalled (accurately or not) being “in the loo and overhearing guys talking about where my guitar capo was, on this fret at one show but on another at the next.” That set up one of the night’s most irresistible musician-insider jokes, concering the challenges of playing solo versus playing with a band.

Otway’s most exuberant comedy is very physical: pratfalls, a ladder and the endangerment of expensive instruments are involved. His funniest is surprisingly subtle. The film goes into more detail than the stage show did about how Otway led a write-in campaign resulting in the BBC putting their imprimatur on his ridiculously absurdist psych-pop song Beware of the Flowers Cause I’m Sure They’re Going to Get You, Yeah as one of the seven greatest lyrics ever written. Because Otway’s humor is not for everyone, he sometimes gets heckled. His solution? Book Abbey Road Studios for a recording of House of the Rising Sun and invite a crowd to come heckle him. “I had to tell them that the crowd was a choir,” he confided, “Abbey Road is a proper studio, you know! And you know that everyone who’s on the record would want a copy for themselves and the mum!” Otway related the incident’s logical Top of the Pops conclusion with a smirking triumph that the crowd couldn’t resist.

At the concert, there was a special bonus, a stripped-down, mostly acoustic opening set by janglerock songwriter Richard X. Heyman and his trio including his wife Nancy on bass and a lead acoustic guitarist playing nimble, bluegrass and blues-infused fills. With richly intertwined, catchy guitar and vocal interplay and soaring harmonies, Heyman led the group through biting, defiant anthems, crescendoing  powerpop and some richly tuneful Britfolk-infused numbers in much the same vein as what Otway probably drew on for his initial inspiration.

Good Cop and Bad Cop Try to Remember Make Music NY 2014

Good Cop: Before we get sidetracked, which is what we usually end up doing, let’s run down the artists we got to see at this year’s Saturday edition of the annual buskers’ celebration, Make Music NY. We both agreed that four-piece percussion group Ensemble Et Al were a lot of fun. I had never seen a gamelan orchestra other than on PBS, so I really liked Gamelan Kusuma Laras, who hit the spot especially for me considering that Bad Cop had insisted I drag myself out of bed early on a Saturday just to get up to the Upper West Side for an act so bad that I’m not going to even mention who he was.

Bad Cop: My bad.

Good Cop: Ain’t that the truth. I was really out of it, and I was really in a bad mood after you subjected me to a wanky bass player singing Christian rock. Now your logic was that somebody who’s willing to play a show at ten in the morning has to be totally punk rock, he probably stayed up all night the night before, right? Well, you didn’t do your due diligence. And besides, there are other people who would be willing to play at ten AM on a Saturday. They’re called morning people and they are evil.

Bad Cop: At least the gamelan put you in a good mood.

Good Cop: Why didn’t you at least google the guy? I sure could have used another hour of sleep.

Bad Cop: I did. Couldn’t find anything.

Good Cop: My point exactly. I think you did it to be sadistic. Anyway, we agreed that the other two acts we saw, Killer Killy Dwyer, who’s sort of a combination performance artist and comedy-rock songwriter, and then instrumental rock band No Grave Like the Sea were also worth running around Brooklyn to see.

Bad Cop: We would have seen more bands but there were a lot of no-shows.

Good Cop: I don’t want to get into that.

Bad Cop: It’s germane to the conversation.

Good Cop: OK. The boss at this blog had mapped out a plan that sent us all over town, with plenty of choices depending on how much time we needed to get from Point A to Point B and so on. I’m sure we were the only people in town who were doing anything that crazy!

Bad Cop: As expected, lots of people who were on the Make Music NY master calendar either didn’t get to where they were supposed to be on time, or completely blew off their sets.

Good Cop: The program made a point of saying that set times were approximate…

Bad Cop: Approximate doesn’t mean nonexistent. This happens every year. I blew this off last year but I went to the one the year before, at least tried to, and saw a grand total of two bands in about six or seven hours and most of that was on the subway since everywhere I went, there was nothing to indicate that anyone was going to play there. I might do this next year if Blog Boss asks, when it’s on a Sunday, but after next year, there’s no way in hell I’m blowing off work just so I can run all over town on the hottest day of the year.

Good Cop: This year the weather couldn’t have been better, and it cooled off even more at night.

Bad Cop: Temporary reprieve. Don’t count your chickens.

Good Cop: Good point. Anyway, let’s tell the people about who we saw, starting with Ensemble Et Al. How would you describe this band?

Bad Cop: I’d call them downtempo, trip-hop, chillout music, but with an indie classical thing on the side. They know who Philip Glass and Steve Reich are, that sort of thing.

Good Cop: I really liked them. They looked like they’re all good friends, they interacted a lot with each other. And then they played frisbee in the street afterward. Everybody in this band smiles a lot. Which makes sense because their music is hypnotic and intricate, and requires a lot of teamwork, and a lot of tradeoffs, and the four people in the band clearly like working with each other.

Bad Cop: Ron Tucker is the group leader. I didn’t catch the names of the other three. Everybody in the group switched off between instruments – marimba, vibes, glockenspiel, a little synth, a drum kit. They like loopy phrases that they run over and over again, then they shift tempos. Some of those were weird but others were more straight ahead. I thought it was cool that since the gamelan wasn’t set up yet, they started their set all over again. Even though we’d just seen them play those first two songs, I didn’t mind hearing them a second time.

Good Cop: Whoah, that’s high praise from this dude. Ensemble Et Al’s music is gentle and rippling but also dancing and energetic. It was on the quiet side, which I liked since I was short on sleep and in a bad mood. I wish I’d brought a mat.

Bad Cop: You would have passed out.

Good Cop: You’re probably right. Gamelan Kusuma Laras‘ music, at least at this show, was very dreamy and ethereal. As you’d say, it vamped along. They made a good segue with Ensemble Et Al. Some of their tempos were strange but others were more straightforward. Their performance was very tightly choreographed – various band members took turns leading the group – and they came across as being very well rehearsed. I guess you have to be if you have, what, 35 or so people in the group?

Bad Cop: Something like that. I agree, this really hit the spot.

Good Cop: The gamelan bells are tuned in some kind of approximation of the Asian scale. Lots of songs would start fast and then slow down, then really slow to a crawl at the end. I wasn’t expecting to hear as much singing as there was, and I don’t speak anything that would be spoken in Indonesia so I have no idea of what the lyrics were. But the contrast between the very sober, even somber, almost chanted vocals, and the high, airy, tinkling bell tones, struck a very beautiful balance.

Bad Cop: I wish they’d used that big gong more. It only got into one song, at least for as long as we stuck around, which was for the better part of an hour.

Good Cop: Then we went off looking for more gongs but couldn’t find them.

Bad Cop: Just the idea that more than one crazy person would lug a bunch of big heavy gongs into the middle of Central Park in the midday sun, in the age of global warming, on the longest day of the year, makes me laugh. This was ostensibly the New York Gong Ensemble – which according to Google, doesn’t exist, but somehow made it onto the Make Music NY calendar – and Blog Boss wanted us to check it out.

Good Cop: But it was on the way to the west side train and we had to get down to Chelsea anyway…

Bad Cop: Where there was another no-show…

Good Cop: And it looked like somebody was squatting in that band’s space…

Bad Cop: Which seemed to be happening a lot. And it wasn’t like bands were fighting over space, either.

Good Cop: As you might already know, what Make Music NY does is help secure permits for outdoor performances, all over town, all day long, every June 21. A great idea…

Bad Cop: Some backstory. The reason why Blog Boss didn’t cover this show personally is that Blog Boss is officially retired from covering Make Music NY, having written a scathing review a couple of years ago which among other things challenged the promoters to move it to a more realistic date, like in the fall when the heat isn’t so oppressive. Personally, I think the whole summer solstice connection is bullshit – remember, this whole thing got started by a bunch of French hippies.

Good Cop: So this is where the B team, a.k.a. us, goes into action. Our next stop was Grand Army Plaza where we expected to see a really good Balkan brass band, another no-show. Instead, there were a bunch of drum corps…

Bad Cop: …whose big extravaganza with banghra funk band Red Baraat we missed because by the time that got underway we had to get over to Branded Saloon a few blocks west to see Killy Dwyer. Now she was hot!

Good Cop: What she was wearing didn’t leave much to the imagination.

Bad Cop: Actually, when you think about it, it did.

Good Cop: I know where you’re going with that and you’re not going any further. Killy Dwyer used to front a parody band called Kill the Band. They put out a couple of albums and then broke up. This was recent. She was playing solo, with lots of digital loops: choir and orchestration and all kinds of stuff. What she does is funny songs interspersed with lots of improv, shock theatre set to music. And all the jokes have a political edge: she riffed on racism and gentrification and musicians getting priced out of the city and pretty much everything she did was funny. A lot of people who try to do political humor end up sounding really strident and she had both of us laughing out loud, which wasn’t easy to do considering that I was running on fumes and Bad Cop was really stoned.

Bad Cop: Let’s tell some of her jokes.

Good Cop: No, that would be a spoiler.

Bad Cop: But I wanna tell the one about the clitoris….

Good Cop: OK. She’s obviously got a theatrical background, knows how to work a crowd. So she asked everybody, does anyone here know what a clitoris is? And one guy sheepishly raised his hand. See, she said, that proves my point. There’s definitely a need for a song that explains what the clit is all about.

Bad Cop: And for awhile it looked like she was going to lie down in the street, right there in broad daylight for everyone to see, and rub one out.

Good Cop: And then she stopped because a bunch of kids on bikes went by and she blamed them for ruining her orgasm. Which was a setup for another joke which I’m not going to tell.

Bad Cop: It was kind of a throwback to the kind of edgy performance art you’d see during the punk era, except with up-to-date references, you know, idiots on Facebook and that sort of thing. Along with the jokes, she did a fake gospel song, some hip-hop and a creepy garage rock song that she played on guitar. I recommend that you see her sometime: she’s funny to listen to on the web but that’s no substitute for what she’s like in person. She’s at Sidewalk on July 31 at 11.

Good Cop: From there we actually were able to catch a G train to Bushwick for No Grave Like the Sea

Bad Cop: Who were epic. An amazing band, one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. Cinematic without being cheesy. Postrock instrumentals with big swells and dips and genuine menace. And fronted by the bass player. Usually a bass solo is the last thing I want to hear, but when it’s Tony Maimone playing them, I want to hear one in every song. And the reality is that he really didn’t play any solos at all, just variations on riffs. Big, fat ones. Damn, this guy is inspiring to watch.

Good Cop: I was surprised there weren’t more people in the park to see them. They really have presence. It was like being at Madison Square Garden – their themes really envelope you. [to Bad Cop] I think you liked them more than I did – I think it’s a guy thing. Swaying, thunderous rhythms and anguished screams from the guitar and that ominous, booming bass. It wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of their songs were used as video game themes. Navy Seals Kuwait Inferno Challenge! That sort of thing…

Bad Cop: But with the anthemic drive of a rock band, like Pink Floyd or the Church playing instrumentals, or Mogwai. Maimone played with a slide on the first song – when’s the last time you saw a bassist do that? He owns Studio G in Williamsburg so he brought a super state-of-the-art rig and a pedalboard. They did a song with a reggae beat, then one that was more trip-hop…

Good Cop: …but loud!

Bad Cop: Yeah, there was a truck depot across the street from the park but you couldn’t hear the trucks backing in. That’s how loud, and how good this band was. It made my night. The guitarist stayed within himself even though he was playing all these screaming, wailing lines, the keyboardist played all these weird washes of sound, and used lots of pedals, one with a backward masking effect. Some of it was like watching Savage Republic with a keyboard, but without the Middle Eastern influences, I guess you could say.

Good Cop: I wanted to try to catch some of the Dum Dum Girls show at Prospect Park afterward, but there were problems on the L train so I went home.

Bad Cop: You should have taken the G instead…

Good Cop: I wasn’t going to push my luck. We already got lucky with the G once on the way over and I didn’t want to risk it a second time. Getting stuck in the middle of Bed-Stuy after dark with no other trains, no bus, no choice but to walk, no fun.

Bad Cop: You probably wonder why this blog has waited til now to publish this…

Good Cop: If you’re new to this blog, or new to us, we appear here about once a month, to offer a fresh perspective…

Bad Cop: We’re the B team. When Blog Boss doesn’t want to go out in the heat, or run around in the rain, or runs out of things to say about a particular artist, we get the call. Up and down like a yo-yo between here and the minor leagues, just to entertain you…

Good Cop: Anyway, the reason why this hasn’t appeared til now is that Blog Boss wanted to publish a bunch of stuff about upcoming shows first. As I understand it, that’s what people who follow this blog have asked for. We aim to please!

Bad Cop: And ostensibly there’s a historical aspect to what we do, which I think is debatable. But I agree with Blog Boss that on the web, the idea of getting the scoop on a particular event – a concept that goes back to the print-and-paper era – is dead. The first people on any scene will be tittering away on Twitter and Instagram and 99% of that turns out to be bullshit anyhow. It always takes awhile for the facts to shake out, whether you’re dealing with a newspaper, a blog, some loser’s Facebook page, the works. The more things change, you know the drill. Look for more snarky stuff from us here in a few days

Avi Fox-Rosen and Raya Brass Band Slay at Rock Shop

“Love is a word you use so you don’t hurt the feelings of the ones who like to say it more than you,” Avi Fox-Rosen sang nonchalantly, without a hint of sarcasm, over a bouncy, singalong, pseudo-theatrical pop tune, early in his album release show Thursday night at Rock Shop. “Love is as suspect as me,” he added later on. That’s Fox-Rosen in a nutshell. He’s sort of akin to Elvis Costello with better guitar chops. Both are purist pop tunesmiths with an encyclopedic bag of licks and ideas. But where Costello goes for lyrical gymnastics and umpteen levels of meaning, Fox-Rosen tells sardonically and sometimes grimly funny, aphoristic stories, and slips you the shiv when you least expect it. For example, the organ soul song that opened the set, So Fucking Happy: the implication is that this may be the only time in the guy’s life that he’s not miserable.

That song is sort of the title track to Fox-Rosen’s December album, his final release in a year that saw him put out an album a month (all up at his Bandcamp page as name-your-price downloads). That he actually pulled off this feat is impressive in itself; that the material he released was so strong catapulted him to the top of the Best Albums of 2013 page here. He’d pulled an excellent band together for this show – a melodic, eclectic basssist, the similarly diverse and tasteful Chris Berry on drums and Dave Melton channeling 60s soul grooves on organ and electric piano: these guys really get Fox-Rosen’s incessant references to decades of rock history.

The night’s second song was Baby, a twinkling lullaby from February’s ep that poked fun at the lure of returning to the womb: Fox-Rosen drew plenty of laughs from its “Suck and shit and sleep” mantra. On album, Fox-Rosen’s apprehensive playground narrative Ugly Duckling begins as a cabaret tune – this time, the band made fluid new wave out of it until they took it doublespeed into creepy, snarling, guitar-fueled circus rock territory. “The other ducks didn’t give a fuck, Brother Duck cursed my rotten luck,” Fox-Rosen intoned, deadpan and cool. But this little duck turns out to have unexpected bite.

College had a similarly tongue-in-cheek sarcasm, Fox-Rosen bemoaning his “worthless degree in esoterica” and the fact that living at home with the ’rents doesn’t exactly compare with studying in Paris. He kept a low-key but corrosive political edge going – “Are you proud to be American?” he challenged over faux-celebratory Huey Lewis-style 80s anthemic radio rock, Melton taking an lush, swirly organ solo.

Then Fox-Rosen shifted gears, showing off some impressively creepy surf rock chops and took a searing, intense, noisy solo on Everybody Dies, the most macabre song of the evening, Melton adding the occaasional jarring slasher-flick riff. They lost the crowd on the song after that – sometimes Fox-Rose’s satire can be so subtle that it’s hard to tell when he’s being serious or not, or a mixture of both. But he got everybody’s attention with the savage God Who Lives in Your Head, who’s a real sourpuss, watching you like a spycam and digging up as much dirt as he can.  He closed with Where Is My Parade, underscoring the song’s twisted carnivalesque side, a snide spoof of rockstar (or wannabe rockstar) narcissism. Fox-Rosen is at Bar Chord, 1008 Corteyou Rd. (Stratford/Coney Island Ave.), in Ditmas Park on Feb 6 at 9.

Afterward, Raya Brass Band gathered on the floor in front of the stage rather than on it, drew the crowd in and then played their asses off. “Do you do originals as well as covers?” a woman in the crowd wanted to know.  Trumpeter Ben Syversen paused: “We’ve been playing mostly originals, although we also play a lot of the traditional repertoire,” he hastened to add. That’s this band’s appeal in a nutshell: you’d assume that they were from East Serbia if you didn’t know they were actually from Brooklyn. A nonstop gig schedule over the past couple of years has made this scorching Balkan five-piece group incredibly tight. Syversen and alto saxophonist Greg Squared use extended technique – microtones, slides and lickety-split doublestops – that would make most jazz players green with envy. Tuba player Don Godwin’s funky, surprisingly bright tuba pulse fueled the nonstop groove along with the ominously booming clip-clop clatter of the standup tapan bass drum. Ostensibly there were sound issues with Matthew “Max” Fass’ accordion, but out in the crowd his swirls and rapidfire riffage were cutting through just fine.

A lot of the traditional material from throughout the Balkans pulses along on menacingly chromatic vamps, and Raya Brass Band does that as well, although their songs are a lot more complex. They don’t rely on a simple verse/chorus format, they love tricky time signatures and they jam the hell out of the songs. By the time the first explosive minor-key number was over, Greg Squared had already shredded his first reed. By the end of the set, there was something in Syversen’s mouthpiece – a piece of him, maybe? Talk about giving 100% onstage. The staccato twin riffage between the two horns had an icepick intensity, the two sometimes doubling their lines, sometimes pairing off harmonically. Fass led the band through an unexpectedly lush, lingering ballad that took all kinds of wary twists and turns before they brought back the marauding minor-key assault. The high point of the many originals was a slinky number with an austere Ethiopian flavor. The most exhilarating of the traditional tunes was a lickety-split dash through Mom Bar, which does not have anything to do with your mother although drinking is definitely involved. Raya Brass Band are at Golden Festival Saturday night at 11 PM and then play a 2 AM set at Freddy’s afterward.