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Tag: concert review

A Haunter of the New York City Subway Emerges From the Underground

It was past eleven on a raw, gloomy, pretty desolate Thursday night on the Lower East Side of New York in the fall of 2014. Waiting impatiently for the F train, a daily New York music blog owner leaned against a pole on the Second Avenue subway platform after a show by My Brighest Diamond. Across the way, a petite, black-clad woman wearing raccoon-eye mascara played instrumentals on an accordion.

The concert had been underwhelming. Shara Nova’s crystalline voice had soared as high as anyone could have wanted, but the band was a lot more stripped-down, compared to the symphonic lineup she’d had at an outdoor festival the year before. And the swirl and lushness of that performance was conspicuously absent. To the publicist who hooked up that show, this is a mea culpa, eight years late.

But the best was yet to come that night. Stationed in her usual spot on the platform, Melissa Elledge slowly worked her way into an absolutely chilling, gorgeously rubato take of Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1. And then followed it with an even more spacious, haunting version of Gymnopedie No. 2! For those who have no idea how beautiful Satie sounds on accordion, fast forward to 2:30 of this video of Elledge in her element, five years later. In a split second, that whole night was redeemed.

Elledge also plays the occasional above-ground show, and she’s doing an official outdoor performance on the water behind Battery Park tomorrow, June 21 starting at 4:30. As a bonus, you can catch a more theatrically-inclined, accordion-wielding artist, Mary Spencer Knapp, beforehand starting at around 2 if you have some time in the middle of the day.

Elledge has recorded with groups including folk noir band Thee Shambels but not much as a solo artist. Her Bandcamp page has a single, For Beethoven, with Love and Distortion, a wry rearrangement of a famous theme which she jams out on the platform a lot and is too funny to spoil.

She also has a Soundcloud page. The first track is a steady, ominously pulsing, uber-gothic solo accordion version of Clint Mansell’s Luz Aeterna, from the Requiem For a Dream score. She echoes that ambience a little later on with Radiohead’s Exit Music For a Film.

The rest of the page is eclectic to the extreme, and a lot of fun. Most of this is live. Elledge takes Duke Elington’s Shout ‘Em, Aunt Tillie and basically makes noir cabaret out of it – at least until a train rumbles into the station. She fires off a strutting backing track to the Coolio hit Gangsta’s Paradise, along with a cleverly reharmonized standard that she calls You Must Take the A Train…It Doesn’t Stop Here, Though. That’s a reference to how, for years, the F was constantly rerouted at night, away from Elledge’s regular busking space. Little did we know how that was just a part of a slow lead-up to the divide-and-conquer of 2020.

Elledge comes out of a classical piano background, so the Soundcloud tracks also include a Romantically-tinged take of Philip Glass’ Wichita Vortex Sutra, complete with a voiceover of the Allen Ginsberg text. And if you have the time, there’s an irresistibly fun and unexpectedly tight accordion orchestra version of Terry Riley’s In C, with Elledge leading the ensemble.

Mariachi Real de Mexico Bring Their Flair and Grandeur to Queens on the 22nd

It was July of 2019, and Mariachi Real de Mexico were playing an outdoor show on the east side steps to the plaza at Lincoln Center. A big crowd grew, to the point that the group were completely surrounded. New York’s largest and lushest mariachi band didn’t care: that hot summer day, almost three years ago, they seemed to be completely in their element. These days, you will assuredly not get the chance to stand that close to the band, or any band, at Lincoln Center, but you can do that on June 22 at 6 PM when they play Highland Park in Ridgewood. Take the J to Crescent St., enter at Warwick and Jamaica Ave. and follow the sound.

Singer and bandleader Ramon Ponce Jr. – son of the man who founded the group in the early 90s – projects with an expressive, dramatic voice. He’s got a powerful falsetto and will use circular breathing to wow the crowd by sustaining a single note for a solid thirty seconds. You can see that reaction in an old clip of La Malagueña from 2013.

The Lincoln Center show featured an unusually large lineup, even for this crew: there were over a dozen members, from the graceful bajo sexto and guitarron anchoring the music’s elegant sway and the occasional bouncy dance tune, to the brass and strings which give the group a symphonic sweep. The show was a mix of old standards, ranchera ballads and a couple of originals. At one point, they pulled out the old trick of speeding up one of their instrumentals to doublespeed and beyond, to where they were right back at the original tempo.

There isn’t much Mariachi Real de Mexico online, but the handful of clips up at their youtube channel will give you a good idea of their many flavors. An old clip of El Pastor is a prime example of how their brass cuts through over the strings and guitars. If the sequence of the youtube playlist is any indication, they’re more proud of the time they backed Placido Domingo singing El Rey – with the crowd joining in vociferously, just like at the Lincoln Center show – than they are of playing the theme song to the tv show Narcos. They’ve also played live with Los Tigres Del Norte – check the wistfully lavish version of Hermoso Cariño.

For the way they play a shapeshifting waltz, watch their take of La Sinaloense. There’s only one audio clip up at their webpage, but it’s choice: Realeza, a swaying, lushly orchestrated, Andalucian-flavored anthem. They sing in Spanish but explain a lot of the material in English if it seems the crowd need some context. Either way, you don’t have to speak the language to get swept up in the drama. This could be the soundtrack to your personal novela on the 22nd in Queens.

The Knights Make History With Beethoven and Janacek at the Naumburg Bandshell

Last night at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park was a welcome return for one of New York’s most enduring cosmopolitan traditions. This was a particularly clever installment. It’s been done before: pairing Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata with Janacek’s String Quartet No. 1, “Kreutzer Sonata.” A Naumburg Concert favorite, chamber orchestra the Knights worked several levels of meta with new symphonic arrangements of both: the former a chart by violinist Colin Jacobsen, the latter a collaboration between his brother Eric and Knights horn player Mike Atkinson.

Orchestral scores for both works go back as far as Tschaikovsky, who did it with Beethoven. Likewise, there have been plenty of programs pairing both of the original pieces. But yesterday evening’s concert might have been the first time two orchestral versions of both have been played on the same bill. It turned out to be as colorful as expected, considering the ensemble’s penchant for surprise.

They opened with a Colin Jacobsen piece, playfully titled Kreutzings, rising from dizzyingly dissociative layers through jaunty microtonal glissandos from around the ensemble, to a coyly contrapuntal waltz. Flickers of each of the night’s main composers bubbled to the surface occasionally as the strings joined in precise, steady eighth notes while winding their way out.

Jacobsen, celebrating his birthday, served as soloist in the Beethoven. Crisp, elegant cheer interchanged with a little suspense and a bustling freshness that veered toward the raw side in the opening movement, confirming how well this material lends itself to orchestral sweep and majesty. Jacobsen quickly went for silkiness and ran with it amid anxious Vivaldiesque counterpoint. The restless thicket of low strings toward the end was a particularly juicy moment for the orchestra to sink their teeth into.

As if by design, a passing airplane introduced the andante second movement, bubbly woodwinds picking up the pace considerably before Jacobsen took over with a fine-toothed staccato. The bristling energy never dissipated, through lushness and a coyly pulsing bounce beneath the violinist’s spirals, flurries and animated pizzicato. Interestingly, the finale was on the spare and restrained side, despite the velocity: an urbane party that earned a contrastingly raucous standing ovation.

After the intermission, the ensemble tackled Anna Clyne’s Stride. Echoing the concert’s opening number, fleeting hints of Beethoven percolated amid tense close harmonies and microtones over a striding tempo flecked with rather suspenseful lulls and a long trajectory up to an anthemic, Dvorakian coda. Clyne doesn’t usually go for fullscale High Romantic: turns out she excels at it. This was a revelation.

Janacek’s first quartet follows the drama and familial mischegas of the Tolstoy tale, giving us an extra level of meta. Furtive Balkan chromatics quickly receded for an aching lushness and unexpected pageantry in the opening movement, only to reappear in a tensely gripping, Bernard Herrmann vein. Giving the anxious conversation in the third movement to the woodwinds paid magnificently poignant dividends on the way to an equally memorable stampede out. The ensemble encored with flutist Alex Sopp leading the group through a lickety-split, buoyant arrangement of a Taraf de Haidoucks Romany dance tune.

For those who missed the concert, the Knights managed to record the Beethoven and Janacek in February 2020, just under the wire before the fateful events that would crush the world a few weeks later. The next Naumburg Bandshell concert is on June 28 at 7:30 PM with the Handel and Haydn Society, led by violinist Aisslinn Nosky, playing works by Corelli, Vivaldi, Geminiani, Handel and Charles Avison.

Whirlwind Violin Metal at a Favorite Uptown Spot Tonight

“Your prism is just a prison,” Stratospheerius frontman/violinist Joe Deninzon sings on the band’s latest single, Prism – streaming at Bandcamp – which they recorded live at the Progstock festival in New Jersey in 2019 . It’s surprisingly mellow for such a ferocious band, who dance through the tricky rhythms of this characteristically ambitious blend of 70s stadium rock and artsy metal with Andalucian violin flourishes. They survived the lockdown intact and are back tonight, May 12 at 11 PM at a favorite Manhattan spot, Shrine. The Harlem venue is a scruffy little place which is not known for being particularly organized. Considering the location, it’s highly unlikely that there are any apartheid door restrictions.

The band have another single from the Progstock show, Game of Chicken, which is also up at Bandcamp. Moving through clustering minor-key riffs, the band build to a ferocious guitar/violin duel on the way out. “Drowning in the false alarmers…Chicken Little is hungry for you, on your way to your alley of doom,” Deninzon sings: a prophetic statement from right around the time the Gates Foundation and Johns Hopkins were staging Event 201, the final rehearsal for the 2020 plandemic.

A third single, Cognitive Dissonance, could be the Alan Parsons Project at their heaviest and most complicated.

The last time this blog was in the house at a Stratospheerius show, it was in late May, 2018 at Gold Sounds in Bushwick on a killer twinbill with another tyrannosaurus of a band, Book of Harmony. Tragically, there is no field recording of the show in the archive here, although Book of Harmony did have the presence of mind to put several songs from a Drom show earlier that year up at youtube. Their band’s lone album is still up at Soundcloud: serendipitously, the oceanic first track is titled Echoes of Freedom. Less serendipitously, the band did not survive the lockdown.

That album features the band’s original singer, Leah Martin. By the time the group reached Bushwick, they had a new singer, an Asian woman with a dramatic intensity that may have been influenced by pansori or kabuki theatre. Bandleader/lead guitarist Anupam Shobhakar is also an accomplished sarod player and has a background in Indian music, which translated less in terms of riffage than long, labyrinthine, rhythmically impossible tone poems that seemed to go on for fifteen minutes at a clip.

If memory serves right, Stratospheerius headlined (the master concert list here isn’t clear on that). Deninzon was a whirlwind onstage, leaping down into the crowd and firing off lightning, Romany-flavored cascades of notes while the band pounced and roared behind him. The metal intensity grew as the show went on, the guitarist’s flurries of tapping entwined with Deninzon’s shivery, supersonic volleys. The crowd grew slowly, to the point where Deninzon actually had to dodge audience members as he spun across the floor in front of the stage. He may have to stay put at Shrine where there is less room for those kind of shenanigans.

Some Takeaways and Tunes From Yesterday’s Defeat the Mandates Rally in LA

In early March 2020, if someone had told you that the crowd at a daylong outdoor concert in Los Angeles would have saved their wildest applause for the truckers, doctors and cops onstage, you would have figured that the music must have been pretty lame, right?

It wasn’t. But at yesterday’s Defeat the Mandates Rally at Grand Park in downtown LA, the rockstars were the dudes from the Freedom Convoy, the physicians from the Front Line Critical Care Coalition, and an energetic group of cops and firemen who’d been fired, or whose jobs were imperiled by Governor Gavin Newsom’s Covid shot orders.

What was most apparent was how much the crowd skewed female – and how mainstream, and LA-diverse they turned out to be as the Highwire‘s camera panned the park. Mama bear has been poked and she doesn’t want her kids in any genetic engineering experiment. One particular sign in the crowd spoke for everybody: “There’s a new variant spreading around the world, it’s called freedom and I hope you catch it.”

You may have heard about the ten bills currently on the table, in one place or another, in the California legislature. Word on the street is that they’ve been masterminded by State Senator Richard Pan, a shill for big pharma since he was first elected. He’s on the way out, so this last-gasp batch of Orwellian proposals runs the gamut from the codification and prosecution of thoughtcrime, to weaponizing law enforcement to carry out health department orders. The way that bill works, money earmarked for police gets diverted to the health gestapo if the cops stand down. Recipe for murder and mayhem? Hey, nobody’s taking the shot anymore, so Klaus the Louse and Bill Gates have to go to plan B.

And that’s not working either. The cracks in the oligarchs’ united front, which was never as united as many thought, are showing. And that’s in stark contrast to the energy and discipline of the left coast freedom movement. Amy Bohn, tireless leader of Parents For the Educational Rights of Kids, a.k.a. PERK, has been on the front lines of the fight and made an early appearance. Her group has all kinds of useful resources, including a concise guide to stopping this tarnish on the Golden State. “If you negotiate with tyranny, you’re not going to get anywhere,” she warned.

It was another tireless activist, bestselling author Naomi Wolf of Daily Clout, who drew the most thunderous roars of applause. If you’re open to the idea that these days, we may be getting some help in mysterious ways that we don’t quite yet understand, you should read her latest Substack – it will blow your mind. Expertly sussing out her audience, she spoke to the collective wrath of the mom contingent, relating how her crew are currently digging through the latest Pfizer document dump and have found all sorts of incriminating evidence of fraud.

Just as dynamic and perceptive a presence as Wolf was ten-year-old New York activist Jayla, who offered plenty of common sense in her moment in the spotlight: “How am I supposed to enjoy my childhood when I can’t go anywhere?” she asked. She thought it was equally implausible that kids shouldn’t be allowed to join the fight, considering that it’s their future which is most at stake. Echoing her later on were a very popular crew of LA-area high school kids who’d been booted from classrooms for random acts of self-preservation.

FLCCC doctors Richard Urso and Ryan Cole were the first to specifically call out the World Economic Forum, underscoring how what was widely considered conspiracy theory in 2020 is now accepted as gospel truth. Cole, always a sage presence, was especially amped: “I prefer dangerous freedom to peaceful slavery,” he enthused. He also was the first on the program to acknowledge openly that what Sage Hana calls “OG Covid” has been extinct since 2020. Dr. Robert Malone seconded that without actually speaking the forbidden word.

Filmmaker Mikki Willis proudly announced that his 2020 documentary Plandemic has become the most-watched film in the history of the internet (Plandemic 3 is coming on the Fourth of July, and in the meantime you can get a free audio download of his new book). Willis shared that his brother died of AZT poisoning in 1994, and three months later his mom died from the effects of chemotherapy. The second that Willis mentioned AZT pusherman Anthony Fauci, the crowd spontaneously burst into Dr. Paul Alexander’s, “Lock him up!” chant. The colorful, philosophical Alexander – who refused to take a multimillion dollar Pfizer deal to just shut up and go away – energized the troops with a characteristically uproarious appearance a little later on.

Journalist Lara Logan emceed the latter half of the bill and spoke eloquently to the impact of divide-and-conquer schemes. Dr. Bob Sears underscored how much “Our country has been discriminating against people of a certain medical persuasion for decades now.” He’s been fighting pharma-funded mandates and the marginalization of the vaxx-injured for a quarter of a century: one suspects there were others in the crowd with as much experience.

The most entertaining and utterly fearless of the several political candidates on the bill was Dr. Michael Huang, who as he tells it is the one remaining doctor in the state who writes medical exemptions to lockdown and jab orders. “I am the Chinese version of Del Bigtree,” the affable family physician boasted. Having successfully treated two thousand patients for Covid, then helping over a thousand school kids “come off face masks,” as he put it, he’s running for state Senate to represent the district situated around the park. He deserves our support.

Bigtree, whose weekly news program The Highwire now has three times the viewership of every nightly tv news show, was as much of a firebrand as he was at the January rally in Washington. “Senator Richard Pan wants to kill your children,” he asserted, “We will not recognize any leader again who will not stand for freedom.” Words of wisdom for any candidate running this fall. Ultimately, Bigtree said, the only thing in this moment that we have to fear is fear itself.

Attorney Leigh Dundas, longtime crusader against sex trafficking and leader of Freedom Fighter Nation, was also on fire. “Two years ago, on the steps of the Capitol in Sacramento, I said we are on a bullet train to Auschwitz if we do not course correct. Well, we did not course correct.” She also asserted that “The Third Reich will not rise on my watch….the Third Reich wasn’t over when World War II ended. The Third Reich ended when we put the criminals on trial and then put them to death.”

There’s more to unpack and a lot of takeaways here – as historic a moment as this was, this blog doesn’t recommend spending eight straight hours in front of a screen even if you’re getting paid for it. The Highwire has archived the whole thing if you’re feeling ambitious.

Carina Powers, founder of Latinos For Medical Freedom reminded that in California alone, that demographic numbers almost sixteen million, most of them Mexican-American. It would be wise for the movement as a whole to reach out and embrace this population. Inflammatory rhetoric about border closures is not a way to win the support of millions of America’s most unselfconsciously patriotic people.

It was stunning to watch the elegant, articulate Dr. Christine Parks completely drop her guard for once: “It’s time to stop the fucking gaslighting and it’s time to stop the mandates!”

Best joke of the afternoon was from Kevin Sorbo, who deadpanned that “If you want to get rid of Covid, tell the Clintons that Covid has something on them.”

A close second came from actress Leigh-Allyn Baker, who via uplink explained that “I’m just your average, run-of-the-mill. everyday domestic terrorist…I mean mom.”

Oh yeah – there was intermittent music, most of it acoustic or semi-acoustic. Protest song maven Five Times August – whose hit Silent War topped the list of best songs of 2021 here – debuted a defiant, catchy, Tom Petty-esque new tune, Fight For You. And he got the crowd singing along to his bestselling hit Sad Little Man, a corrosive portrait of Fauci: “I released this song in November…in an ideal world it would be irrelevant by now.”

Former Mighty Mighty Bosstones frontman Dicky Barrett offered a message of unity, then turned the stage over to his guitarist bud Grant Ellman of roots reggae band Prezence, who delivered one of the night’s smartest, most aphoristic numbers. “We’re dying to get better,” was the chorus.

There were also low-key cameos by theatrical rap-rock band Sonic Universe and cinematic disco loopmusic violinist Dpak, as well as a couple of moments where it was obvious that rap duo Hi-Rez and Jimmy Levy were lipsynching. Dudes, you are perfectly competent at what you do, you don’t need that backing track. Just let it flow. By the way, Hi-Rez, that was ballsy of you to propose to your girlfriend onstage. The two of you won’t forget this day, ever.

There were many, many others on the bill. In the interest of brevity, too many to enumerate. Marines facing discharge over the Covid shots, heartwrenching survivors of Covid vaxx injury and ubiquitous Constitutional scholar and Arizona sheriff Dr. Richard Mack.among them.

And did anybody notice, toward the end of the night, how The Hill’s Kim Iversen was trying to play both sides of the issue? Changing jerseys, but leaving the old one on underneath just in case? In insisting that there were still good journalists in the corporate media, and that she always stuck to the facts, she never once enumerated what those facts were. Her closing ad-lib spoke volumes: “Party at my house! Just kidding. Don’t show up at my house!”

Springtime Blossoms in Boston With a Concert of Vivid World Premieres

Last night at the Multicultural Art Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Juventas New Music Ensemble played eight verdant world premieres celebrating the Frederick Law Olmsted bicentennial. In a spot-on example of post-March 2020 programming, the bill was titled Lungs of the City. It was a breath of fresh air on many levels.

A subset of the ensemble – which comprised flutist Wei Zhao, clarinetist Wolcott Humphrey, horn player Anne Howarth, violinist Ryan Shannon, cellist Minjin Chung, violist Lu Yu and percussionist Thomas Schmidt – went off script to open with a sober arrangement the Ukrainian national anthem. With the stark cello introduction, it seemed like more of an elegy than a celebration of solidarity. Such are the times we live in.

The first piece on the program was The Forest and the Architect, by Christina Rusnak. The Portland, Oregon tableau began with elegantly cheerful passages spotted with moments of more somber reflection, moody clarinet over a gently emphatic march and a visceral sense of relief. Burred woodwind timbres and a dancing, enigmatic, circular theme quickly gave way to a lush pastorale and then a dance kicked off by woody flute tones. A terse interweave with lower pitches developed to mingle with the initial theme: this music breathed, deeply.

Ryan Suleiman‘s still, meditative Piece of Mind was inspired by Olmsted’s Brookline home workshop, as well as the Japanese concept of a park coexisting with nature rather than being imposed on its milieu. Subtly breathtaking long tones and circular breathing from the wind players were first punctuated by momentary sprouts in the ether, then the group slowly unfolded a calm series of harmonies. Like a muezzin, Chung’s cello sounded a bracing trill before the whole group returned to calmly shifting tectonic sheets.

That work’s minimalism was echoed more playfully by Libby Meyer‘s diptych Beauty of the Fields. Butterfly weed was brought to life by minutely oscillating overtones from Schmidt’s vibraphone behind a minimalistically balmy flute theme sailing on the breeze. With echoey percussion through a buzzy haze, evocations of muted insect activity and birdsong, her portrait of milkweed just might have involved somebody plucking a ripe stalk and blowing it on an unsuspecting neighbor.

Ayumi Okada‘s tantalizingly brief partita Golden Hour Walk at Fort Tryon Park traced the Washington Heights composer’s 2021 winter solstice stroll through her favorite spots there just as the sun was about to go down over the Hudson. It was characteristically evocative, beginning as a wistful pavane and growing more animated, with Carl Nielsen-esque echo phrases bouncing from voice to voice. Baroque inflections, elegantly intertwined horn and flute, and colorfully squirrelly pizzicato rose to a lushness that contrasted with shivery strings and silken flute lines. The final sunset theme became a gently wafting, Dvorakian singalong.

Composer Justin Ralls related that prior to creating parks, Olmsted worked as an undercover journalist chronicling the horrors of slavery in the American south, and that those experiences informed the democratic aspect of his designs. Ralls’ Olmsted 200: Theme and Variations reflected the bustle of the landscape assembled around Seattle’s Lincoln Reservoir. Somewhat akin to Peer Gynt taking a stroll in the garden, the group’s long tones coalesced from echoes of a familiar, sunny morning theme to a rather triumphant, steady, circular pulse fueled by the highs. Tight polyrhythmic counterpoint receded to a reflective, echoing quiet signaled by Schmidt’s lingering vibes.

The most unselfconsciously catchy piece on the bill was Michael-Thomas Foumai’s Indian-flavored mini-suite Olmsted Gardens. Anticipatory sprouts of melody pushed up, to a cheery carnatic flute theme followed by a deliciously coy, suspenseful interlude with film noir bongos, furtive individual voicings having devious fun in the shadows. The group took it out with an anthemic return to the initial dance.

Also on the bill were an unhurried, warmly crescendoing Oliver Caplan ballad without words, and a similarly fond summer pageant by Nell Shaw Cohen bookended around a cautious dance.

Those who missed the concert can catch the video of the entire performance here. Juventas New Music Ensemble’s next scheduled concert is June 5 at 6 PM at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Massachusetts. Tickets are $18, ages 4-12 get in for $12.

Elegant, Intricate, Psychedelic Cumbias and Tropical Sounds on the Upper West Side

Saturday evening on the Upper West Side, banks of grey clouds were moving in fast and ominous. But in the community garden on 89th west of Amsterdam, tucked in cozily under a tent, Inti & the Moon played a colorful, upbeat, intricately individualistic mix of tropical sounds with tinges of psychedelia and jazz.

There is no Inti in the band. Inti is the Incan sun god: so, the band cover all the bases. They did all that in a mix of originals and imaginative covers. Bandleader/guitarist Geo Suquillo played spiky thickets of fingerpicking, flinging shards of chords into the mix. Frontwoman Noel Wippler shifted from a simmering, ripe, oldschool soul-infused delivery to a wounded wail in the night’s biggest crescendos, in both Spanish and Portuguese. Alto saxophonist Xavier del Castillo began the night playing brooding resonance on the band’s first number, then shifted to alto flute on a few songs, including a bossa tune where he played both.

This group’s cumbias are more relaxed and slinky than the briskly pulsing chicha-style versions that some of the bands around town – at least the ones playing before the lockdown – typically gravitate toward. It was the bass player’s birthday, and he was clearly in a good mood, adding deft harmonic accents against low open strings, plus fleeting hammer-ons and slides. The drummer brought a jazz sophistication, whether subtly riding the rims, or working his way into a 5/4 groove on a biting minor key number which for a second seemed to be a Caribbean take on Take Five.

Suquillo saved his most sparkling solo for a bright, merengue-flavored tune, then took it unexpectedly dark and vampy after a long solo. Del Castillo’s plaintive phrasing pulled the song further into the shadows before a tantalizingly brief guitar/sax duel. The biggest hit with the crowd was Wippler singing an impassioned take of Los Hijos del Sol’s classic Carinito, over an animated but restrained backdrop. There were a couple of other popular covers in the mix, one possibly from the Yma Sumac catalog, but done with much less fanfare. The band approached a familiar Jobim theme with a similar elegance and encored with a stately Brazilian ballad.

With November looming, there isn’t much in the way of live music that’s been publicly announced which is open to all New Yorkers without apartheid restrictions. However, Inti & the Moon have been staples of the free outdoor concert circuit since the late teens, so it’s hardly a stretch to think they might try to squeeze in another park appearance like this before winter gets here.

How to Sneak In to See Yo La Tengo

Many years ago, before blogs existed, a future daily New York music blog owner and a friend went to Central Park Summerstage to see Anoushka Shankar. It was a late-season afterwork show, and by the time the two got there, the space was sold out.

Big surprise. Shankar had played Carnegie Hall with her famous dad a couple of years previously, and although she was still in her teens at that point, she blew everybody away with her sitar work.

Undeterred, the intrepid concertgoers walked around the back, jumped the wire fence and crawled on their bellies through the shrubbery until they were about fifty feet from the rear of the stage. Shaded from the indian summer sun, they got to enjoy a tranceworthy qawwali ensemble – if memory serves right, they were called Kamkars – and then Shankar, who proved as adept at more western-oriented material as the ragas she played so beautifully.

Last Friday, a daily New York music blog owner went to Central Park Summerstage to check out the Yo La Tengo show. Having seen them several times over the years, the issue of getting in or not wasn’t a big deal. If that had been an issue, would it have been possible to go through the thicket out back, just like in the old days?

Yes!

The vegetation has grown in much thicker since then, but there’s nothing but chicken wire between you, the trees and the shrubs. Considering that it was after eight at night, and that you never know what’s lurking in the park after dark, the optimal choice at that point seemed to be to leave the greenery and head for the rear embankment and the bandshell, where all but the show’s quietest moments were plenty audible.

Seeing how the Patti Smith concert there last month not only didn’t sell out, but that the younger contingent there walked out in droves during her set, was weird enough. It gets weirder.

Like Smith, Yo La Tengo had originally been scheduled for the wide expanse of the Rumsey Playfield immediately to the south and east, but had been moved to the much smaller Summerstage arena. Standing at the entrance were a couple of women trying to lure random people into the space. For a free concert.

A little context: Yo La Tengo might be the most popular indie rock band in the world. Sure, their crowd has greyed over the years, but they still sell out wherever they play…or used to play, anyway.

“Hi!” a young woman in a blue skirt chirped from underneath her muzzle as she approached, aggressively, like a 34th Street hustler trying to score a fiver for Save the Children. “Are you here for the show?”

Blog owner was taken off guard. A sheepish grin. “Uh, maybe…”

“We have [inaudible – opening band] and Yo La Tengo, they’re just going on. I just need to see your ID and your [proof of lethal injection].”

“I’m going to live to see next year instead,” blog owner replied and walked off. Yeah, that’s snarky. But how do you respond? Kevin Jenkins says he doesn’t do “low-frequency conversations” and walks away: words of wisdom.

What’s happened at the Central Park free concerts is part of a much bigger referendum. Don’t engage with the monster: without your energy to feed off, it shrivels and dies.

Yo La Tengo’s jams are legendary. Where was the big stoner picnic crowd out back? Maybe a half a dozen small gaggles on the slope, if that. Friday night, Central Park smelled like the inside of a bong, but this wasn’t where the smoke was coming from.

The benches by the bandshell? Deserted. A couple leapt onto the empty stage and danced for a bit. From time to time, a few fearless souls would take a walk up the steps up behind the shell, only to be shooed off by a security guard hidden out of view.

Maybe this is a function of not being able to watch Ira Kaplan’s volcanic fingers on the fretboard, or spinning the knobs on his pedalboard, but Yo La Tengo seemed on the quiet side. Georgia Hubley sang one of the shorter, sparse numbers and wasn’t very high in the mix. Kaplan moved to keys for a brief, no-nonsense take of the Stereolab soundalike Autumn Sweater. They closed with a deliciously extended, feedback-laced noisefest version of I Heard You Looking, the missing link between the Velvets at their most crazed, and New Order.

They encored with a lickety-split, practically hardcore AC/DC cover which included a mystery second guitarist. Then Kaplan’s mom came up to the mic and sang something as the band tentatively tried to pull themselves together. And that was it.

For anyone worried that these shows are the last ones that Smith or Yo La Tengo will ever play, good news. A loophole in the DiBozo administration’s lethal injection scheme exempts touring musicians and their entourages. All this is based on science, of course. Won’t it be beautiful to see both of these acts play again somewhere, someday in this city after all this madness is over.

Entertaining, Mesmerizing Solo Soprano Sax? Check Out Sam Newsome on the 9th

It’s hard to imagine anything more difficult than playing a solo show on a chordless instrument. Sure, there are buskers…but it’s rare to see someone sticking around to watch an entire solo “set.”. On the other hand, the prospect of watching soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome play a solo show is enticing to the extreme. He has three solo live albums out and all of them are worth hearing. And if his East Village duo show with guitarist Elliott Sharp last weekend is any indication, his upcoming gig on Oct 9 at 2 PM at the Urban Meadow park at the corner of President and Van Brunt in Red Hook is going to be off the hook.

You could take the B61 bus and get out just down the block from the Jalopy, but it might be even faster to take the F to Carroll, exit at the front of the downtown train, take First Place straight to the pedestrian bridge over the BQE, then make a U-turn at the base of the bridge, go another block on Summit and then hang a left on Columbia. That’s about ten minutes from the subway.

It’s funny how, ten years ago, Newsome was regarded as the rising star for straight-ahead postbop jazz on the soprano. Then all of a sudden he started turning up at places like the late, great Spectrum and took a deep plunge into the avant garde. It was then that his mind-blowing extended technique really came to the surface. For example, at the East Village gig, he got his horn to resonate with a low digeridoo buzz, or a keening wail like an Indian shennai or a Bulgarian zurla, shedding otherworldly overtones and duotones. And while Sharp was playing through his usual arsenal of effects, Newsome was completely unamplified. What had he done to his reeds, or his valves, or both? Who knows – but it was raw magic.

There were all kinds of irresistibly amusing moments, when Newsome would pick up a rack of wind chimes, or two, slinging them over the body of the horn as he blew looming duotones for background. Then there was the point where Sharp, who’d been tapping out tensely frenetic sequences, fired off a phrase of about twenty notes. Newsome paused and played the whole paragraph back to him, and suddenly the dialogue shifted from jaunty banter to a serious joust. Musicians engaging each other with short. singalong riffs is the oldest cliche in the book, but this seemed to be a philosophical discussion between two sages. What they were philosophizing about wasn’t entirely clear, but it was deep.

Meanwhile, Sharp maintained his edge throughout about fifty minutes of close interplay, whether opaquely ambient, squirrelly, skronky, or lingering in a couple of brief, overcast A minor interludes. Newsome got plaintive in response to the first one, then expansive on the second, drawing out similarly thoughtful flurries from the guitarist. There were plenty of other points in the improvisation that were funny, and formidable, and fleeting; you can expect the same at the Red Hook show.

Yo La Tengo Return to Central Park on the First of the Month: Are You Game?

Yo La Tengo are playing Central Park Summerstage on Oct 1 at around 8:30 PM. In a normal world, that’s cause for celebration, if you’re a fan of crazed, noisy psychedelic guitar jams, or the quieter, more reflective post-Velvets sound the band have turned more and more to since the turn of the century.

But this year this city’s creepy, homicidal mayor has thrust us into the New Abnormal, where proof of a lethal injection is required for entry. So that means we have to listen from outside. It’s not such a big deal:  if you’ve seen any number of shows here, chances are there was probably some instance where you didn’t get to the arena early enough to get in. Obviously, it would be fun to be able to watch Ira Kaplan’s guitar-torturing, but there’s still plenty of room on the slope out back, the sound carries well, and if you want you can catch a glimpse of the band from the sidewalk on the east side near the entrance. This blog was there for Patti Smith last weekend and while it would have been more fun to be able to hear what she said to the audience, the songs came through loud and clear.

The last time Yo La Tengo played the park, it was on a muggy Monday night in July of 2017. Kaplan sized up the capacity crowd and reflected with just the hint of contempt about free concerts he’d attended here as a kid: “Sha Na Na. Pure Prairie League. Mahavishnu Orchestra.” And then launched into a sarcastic bit of the Ace Frehley novelty hit New York Groove.

That didn’t last long. The show was a characteristic mix of paint-peeling squall over hypnotic, practically mantra-like vamps, and spare, reflective, airy songs that matched the hazy atmosphere. Kaplan’s antics are a little more subdued than they were back in the 90s, but there were plenty of beautifully ugly interludes where he’d go to his knees, shaking and bending at the neck of his guitar, sticking it into his amp or just leaving it to feed there. There was at least one point where he left the guitar feeding and then picked up another, and then resumed the song. Meanwhile, drummer Georgia Hubley kept a supple, swinging beat while James McNew played his simple, catchy, endlessly circling bass riffs for minutes on end without once falling back on a loop pedal.

The steady, hypnotic storm began with Pass the Hatchet and continued with From a Motel 6. Kaplan reminded what a purist, catchy pop tunesmith he can be with a relatively undisturbed. loping version of All Your Secrets. Then he switched to keys for a Stereolab-ish take of Autumn Sweater. Did McNew switch to guitar on that one? All these years later, it’s impossible to remember all the details.

The quiet part of the show went on for what seemed like more than half an hour, with the wistful Nowhere Near and then Black Flowers, which Hubley sang from behind the keyboard. Almost mercifully, Kaplan brought the energy up slowly with I’ll Be Around, which sounded like the Stones’ Moonlight Mile on crank.

Hubley and McNew harmonized on Before We Run, then the trio buzzed and burned through Sugarcube, the closest thing to Sonic Youth in the set. After that, they took their time raising Ohm from a drony nocturne into a feral feedback fest. They closed with I Heard You Looking, Kaplan’s sparks and sputters and firestorm of raw noise going on for more than twenty minutes, the two guitarists from the awful opening act invited up but obviously in awe and not adding much to the jam.

The game plan for this blog that night was to get a field recording and use that as a reference. Sadly, the recorder, which was literally being held together with rubberbands, picked that evening to flatline. And after standing through an interminable opening set and then Yo La Tengo, this blog’s owner assumed the show was over and left.

Other blogs mention an encore and a jokey appearance on the mic by Kaplan’s mom. Don’t discount those kind of shenanigans, if the PA is really loud on the first.