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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.

Live Music Calendar for New York City and Brooklyn for October 2021

As expected, outdoor concerts and those which are officially open to all New Yorkers have tapered off this month, but there are still performances popping up all over the place. If you go out a lot, you might want to bookmark this page and check back regularly.

A lot of venues aren’t enforcing the Mayor’s evil and sadistic apartheid policy: if you’re thinking of trying to catch an indoor show, use your intuition. Williamsburg venues are completely fascist these days, but other parts of town are quietly working back toward normalcy.

If you’re leaving your hood, don’t get stuck waiting for a train that never comes, make sure you check the MTA delays and out-of-service page for cancellations and malfunctions, considering how unreliable the subway has become.

If you don’t recognize a venue where a particular act is playing, check with the artist, or check the list of over 200 New York City music venues at New York Music Daily’s sister blog Lucid Culture. The list hasn’t been updated since this past summer, but it has directions and links.

This is not a list of every show in town – it’s a carefully handpicked selection. If this calendar seems short on praise for bands and artists, it’s because every act here is recommended if you like their particular kind of music.

Showtimes listed here are set times, not the time doors open – if a listing says something like “9ish,” that means it’ll probably start later than advertised.

If you see a typo or an extra comma or something like that, remember that while you were out seeing that great free concert that you discovered here, somebody was up late after a long day of work editing and adding listings to this calendar ;)

10/1, 6 PM the Italian Expressiveness and Expressionists Quartet “performs a program that spans four centuries, from Isabella Leonarda, a 17th century Ursuline Nun, to the 20th century expressionist and avant-garde composer, Niccolò Castiglioni” at Pier 3 Greenway Terrace toward the south end of Brooklyn Bridge Park

10/2, 7 PM Ray Santiago’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Band in the community garden at 640 E 12th St (B/C)

10/3, starting noon ish the annual Atlantic Antic street fair extending from northern Atlantic Ave all the way to the Atlantic Ave. subway station, there are always lots of street performers and usually a Middle Eastern band up the hill a couple of doors from Sahadi’s

10/3, 5 PM mighty Brazilian drumline street band BatalaNYC leads a parade starting in the community garden at Ave C and E 9th St

10/3, 6 PM the Chupacabras play psychedelic cumbia surf jazz at the community garden at 84 Ave B at E 6th St

10/3, 5 PM, repeating 10/6 at 6:30 colorful, charismatic pianist/salonniere Yelena Grinberg joins forces with violinist Emilie-Anne Gendron of the Momenta Quartet for a program of works by CPE Bach, Brahms, Mozart and Beethoven at Grinberg’s popular monthly upper westside salon, email for deets here., a 3  minute walk from 1/2/3 train at 96th St.

10/3, 3 PM violinist Clara Kim leads a quartet playing Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s exhilarating 5 Fantasiestücke, Op.5 plus works by Angel Lam: and Schubert’s String Quartet no. 14, ‘Death and the Maiden at Concerts on the Slope, St. John’s Episcopal Church, 139 St. John’s Place downhill from 7th Ave, sugg don

10/2, 8 PM intense saxophonist Jeff Lederer’s Leap Day Trio w/ Mimi Jones and Matt Wilson at Bar Bayeux

10/4, 4 PM nimble tsimblist Pete Rushefsky‘s Boardwalk Serenade play rippling klezmer tunes up on the Brighton Beach Boardwalk near the Volna Restaurant (corner of Brighton 4th St.).

10/5, half past noon pianist Ayako Shirasaki at Bryant Park

10/6, 8 PM jazz drummer Savannah Harris’ Group at Bar Bayeux

10/8, 7 PM the irrepressible, colorful, alternately atmospheric and picturesque Erica Seguine/Shannon Baker Jazz Orchestra  outdoors at Culture Lab in Long Island City

10/9, 2 PM mesmerizing soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome plays solo at the Urban Meadow (President St & Van Brunt St, in Red Hook)

10/9, 2:30 PM drummer Aaron Edgcomb with guitarist Will Greene, bassist Simon Hanes, possibly playing John Zorn material on Vanderbilt Ave btw Bergen and Dean, 2 to Bergen St and walk uphill

10/9, 4 PM violinist Sarah Bernstein‘s mesmerizing, microtonal Veer Quartet with Sana Nagano, Leonor Falcon and Nick Jozwiak on bass at Oliver Coffee on Oliver south of East Broadway, take any train to Canal and go down Mott

10/13, 8 PM bassist David Ambrosio‘s allstar Civil Disobedience project w/ Duane Eubanks, Donnie McCaslin, Bruce Barth and Victor Lewis at Bar Bayeux

10/14, 3 PM Venezuelan jazz pianist Gabriel Chakarji at Haswell Green Park, 60th/York Ave

10/16, 5 PM  energetic delta blues/Romany swing guitarist Felix Slim at Culture Lab outdoors in LIC, down the block from his old haunt LIC Bar

10/17, 2 PM epic, Americana-inspired multi-reedman Mike McGinnis leads his group to accompany a couple of dance performances at at Parkside Plaza, corner of Parkside and Ocean Aves in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Q to Parkside Ave

10/21, 5:30 PM jazz bassist John Benitez leads his latin jazz group at Wright Park, Haven Ave/170th St., Washington Heights

10/22, 6:30 PM  the cinematic, eruditely comedic Broken Reed Saxophone Quartet with special guest singer Tammy Scheffer outdoors at Open Source Gallery, 306 17th St south of 6th Ave, South Park Slope, R to Prospect Ave

10/23, 11 AM the Hudson Horns play brassy funk and soul sounds on Bridge Park Dr and Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park

10/23, 2 PM jazz bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck solo & duo w/drummer Andrew Drury at the Urban Meadow (President St & Van Brunt St, in Red Hook)

10/23, 2 PM Sonido Costeño play oldschool salsa on the steps of the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza

10/25, 2 PM high-voltage psychedelic cumbia/Afrobeat jamband MAKU Soundsystem   at Wingate Park in Crown Heights, 2/5 to Sterling St.

10/26, 5 PM irrepressible composer/performer and improviser Ljova solo on fadolin outdoors at Anita’s Way, 137 W 42nd St

10/29, 3 PM chanteuse/uke player Dahlia Dumont’s Blue Dahlia playing edgy, smartly lyrically-fueled, jazz-infused tunes in English and French with classic chanson and Caribbean influences  at Ruppert Park. Second Ave. bet. E. 90 St. and E. 91 St.

10/31, 4 PM a creepy classical program TBA plus candy for the kids outside the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music

10/31, 7 PM haunting Mexican singer Magos Herrera – who does classic film score music as well as nuevo cancion and classical music – leading a quintet at Terrazza 7, free

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.

Patti Smith Plays Prophetic Powerpop in Central Park

Have you seen the anti-discrimination signs? They’re popping up in the windows of small businesses all over town. Even on the conformist-AF Upper West Side.

“We shall live again,” Patti Smith intoned to start her Central Park show last night. And encored with People Have the Power. There’s a sea change going on.

Smith’s show had been moved abruptly from the expansive Rumsey Playfield lawn to the much smaller Summerstage arena space. Set time had also been changed: she hit the stage sometime after 8. Likewise, if Antibalas played the park on Saturday, the time and venue had been changed as well. Apologies to readers of the live music calendar here who might have been led astray – some of those listings date back to when those shows were first announced.

Constantly flipping the script is a hallmark of abusive relationships, whether between a couple, parents and children, or on a societal scale. You do the math.

There was another odd kind of arithmetic at play here. Before the lockdown, Smith would routinely sell out a weeklong year-end stand at Bowery Ballroom, at outrageous prices. This show was free. Yet the arena never reached capacity. What’s more, a steady trickle of concertgoers slowly – s l o w l y – being let in by security was matched by twice as many people traipsing out, beginning at the start of the show. And although the party on the slope out behind the space was much more lively, much of Smith’s diehard fanbase had clearly stayed away.

That’s because proof of being part of a lethal injection campaign, which completely stalled out several weeks ago, was required for entry. Europeans come out in the millions to protest fascist takeovers. Australians bust through police barricades. Americans just stand firm and wait it out.

Smith’s set went on for short of an hour. Opening with Ghost Dance was characteristic of this ageless sage, who shows no sign of slowing down. This was the powerpop set: rather than pouncing on the syncopation on the chorus of Pissing in a River, she and the band motored through the changes with a lingering burn.

Although there were quiet moments – it was impossible to hear any of Smith’s poetry, or her remarks to the crowd from outside the space – most of the material was backbeat rock hits, starting with Dancing Barefoot and continuing with Because the Night. Lenny Kaye limited his lead guitar pyrotechnics to a couple of blue-flame solos, moving around edgily against a resonating string, raga style. Speaking of ragas, the night’s longest interlude was a mostly acoustic, Indian-flavored jam which ended with Smith roaring that “The future is NOW!”

Bassist Tony Shanahan’s soaring, melodic lines were serendipitously high in the mix, most enjoyably in his reggae leads in Ain’t It Strange. From there on, it was all rock, beginning with a stripped-down cover of the Stones’ I’m Free wrapped around a verse of Take a Walk on the Wild Side – subtext, anyone? An assertive bit of Horses set up a steady, resolute G-l-o-r-i-a. And soon afterward, it was over. “Patti Smith! A full moon!” a pretty blonde woman enthused to a bearded man on the hill behind the space. “She picked the right night!” he grinned back. Both were off by a day – the full moon is tonight.

A Free Outdoor Show From Eclectically-Inspired Trumpeter Wayne Tucker

Wayne Tucker is known for his electrifying performances as a lead trumpeter in various jazz situations. And before the lockdown, he got around a lot. For a couple of years, he was the not-so-secret weapon in feral, high-voltage Ethiopian jamband Anbessa Orchestra, whose small-club gigs in Park Slope in the late teens are legendary. This blog covered one of them back in 2016, but they played shows after that which were even more spectacular.

For those who’ve seen Tucker raise the rafters, it might come as some surprise that he has a much mellower side. This past spring he was one of the first jazz artists to get back to playing publicly announced gigs, leading a quartet up on a little hill just off Central Park West back in early May. The show was part of photographer Jimmy Katz‘s nonprofit series, which turned out to be a lifesaver for musicians starved for money and for audiences starved for music.

The sky may have been ominous that Sunday afternoon, but the music was balmy. Tucker and the band’s tenor saxophonist played calm, airy exchanges and harmonies over a diverse series of rhythms, with tinges of Afrobeat, salsa and bossa nova. Tucker’s latest album goes in a completely different direction, into trippy, hip hop-inspired corporate urban pop. You can find out which side he wants to have fun with – maybe, all of them – at his gig on Sept 21 at noon at the little pedestrian plaza at Pearl and Willoughby in downtown Brooklyn. It’s about equidistant from the 2/4/R Borough Hall station and the F train at Jay St.

Firey String Sistas Simmer on the Hudson

Jazz played on stringed instruments in general is usually a springboard for new and interesting ideas. After all, string players can sustain notes that horn players have a harder time with, never mind having unlimited access to blue notes. There was a point toward the end of the Firey String Sistas’ rapturously memorable set Tuesday night at Pier 84 on the Hudson where in the middle of a funky, blues-infused swing tune, violinist Marlene Rice went completely off script and took a bracing downward solo that could have been in the quartertone scale.

More likely, it was in whatever scale she was feeling at the moment. Pianist Mala Waldron picked up the handoff and responded with an insistent attack that ramped up the intensity with rhythm rather than avant garde harmony. Drummer Camille Gainer-Jones, whose lithe brushwork gave the set a comfortable wide-angle swing, built a subtly turbulent crescendo while Rice harmonized acerbically with cellist and co-founder Nioka Workman. With jazz clubs officially off limits to all but a small, physically imperiled subcaste of New Yorkers right now, this show hit the spot, to say the least.

The group opened with Waldron on vocals as well as the keys. on one of her famous dad Mal Waldron’s tunes: she’s a fine singer, with a poignant, nuanced, coloristic delivery. Workman and Rice set the stage with their terse harmonies as ringer bassist Melvin Bullock – who’d signed up to be a “Firey String Brotha,” as Workman put it – bolstered the rhythm with his judiciously incisive boom and pulse.

They reinvented Cedar Walton’s To the Holy Land with a starkly resonant, intense rubato intro, then swung it with a rustic, brooding minor key gospel feel. Rice reached for the rafters; Workman went for deep, minor-key gospel plaintiveness.

Waldron sang a loose-limbed, unexpectedly funky take of Round Midnight, her calm reassurance contrasting with the enigmatic melody. The group’s take of I Remember You surprisingly did not have vocals and was more nocturnal, all the way through the solos. Rice’s most sizzling, rapidfire moment came in the original after that. The night’s closing number, a brand-new original, was the most bitingly catchy tune of the night, Gainer-Jones subtly driving the groove from funky syncopation to a persistent clave. Workman introduced the song as being inspired by the “current situation,” and left that to the crowd to interpret.

A Wild Cuban Salsa Dance Party at Drom

Friday night at Drom, percussionist Pedrito Martinez and his band put on a feral, thunderous dance party. This wasn’t tame, watered-down covers of famous salsa jams from the 70s: Martinez plays originals, set to a constantly shifting, slinky groove. If the club wasn’t sold out, it was close to capacity, and from the second the smoke machine kicked in and the band hit the stage, people were dancing in their seats.

That didn’t last. By the end, everybody was on their feet. There was one particular couple who spent the entirety of the show twirling in between the tables, and they were just as interesting to watch as the band were, completely locked into the kaleidoscope of rhythms. When the pretty brunette saw Martinez move from behind his massive kit to show off his own dance moves at the front of the stage, she leapt up onstage and joined him. By the end of the show, the duo looked as if they’d changed shirts. You would have too if you’d given yourself that kind of workout.

In this band, everybody is part of the percussion section, even the horns. Martinez had six congas, a snare, hi-hat, two cymbals slung overhead, and would occasionally drive home a turnaround with a mighty thump on the cajon he was sitting on. He introduced his timbalero as “the greatest percussionist of his generation,” and nobody in the crowd argued with that, especially when the two dueled and built supersonic volleys of beats, to a tropical hailstorm.

The group’s roughly ninety-minute set was like one long song, but with sometimes subtle, sometimes spectacular rhythmic shifts. Even more impressive than the sheer physicality and grace of the performance was how fresh it sounded. Martinez has been doing this for a long time, but the chemistry in this band is such that everybody knows how to push everybody else’s buttons and drive the jousting to new levels of intensity.

Martinez’s forthcoming album is titled Autentico, and his pianist is in charge of the arrangements, so it was no surprise to see what a polyrhythmic approach he took to his cascades and stabbing chords. Likewise, the group’s bassist would hammer on the strings with the edge of his fist rather than merely fingerpicking. The man in the sunburst shirt who started out on guiro doubled on both trombone and trumpet, often playing all three instruments in the same song. And it was fun to watch Martinez take a turn on bass late in the set: he knows what he’s doing! Likewise, the timbalero took over on congas when Martinez would get up to dance with a pretty girl.

Fearless Texans Raise Their Voices For Freedom in Austin

Songwriter Five Times August was obviously amped to open Texans for Vaccine Choice‘s massive protest at the Capitol building in Austin yesterday. So amped that as he left the stage, he forgot to tell the audience who he was. It took a vociferous reminder from a woman in the front row to send him back to the mic. You can watch the whole performance, as well as the inspiring parade of medical professionals and activists afterward, at the Highwire.

For someone who over the past year has been writing catchy, corrosively funny, tragically perceptive protest songs, gigs don’t get any better than the chance to play to a robust, impressively diverse crowd of over a thousand people. The guitarist and singer otherwise known as Brad Skistimas opened with his lone cover of the day, an aptly Steve Earle-influenced take of Tom Petty’s Won’t Back Down. Then the lyrics and the jokes started flying, fast and furious.

God Help Us All, a spiky, fingerpicked tune, might be the biggest viral hit (pun intended) Skistimas has had so far, no doubt due in part to the hilarious video on the front page of his website.

Citizen fools and brand new rules make everyone a hero now
Keep your distance, no resistance, only do what you’re allowed…
See no evil, bow to the needle, didn’t we turn out great?
Sick is the new hell, poor is the new well, truth is whatever they say…
Divide and conquer, weak not stronger, everybody know your place
Do it now, it won’t hurt, dig into your own dirt, virtue found its grave

His third number was an update on what Woody Guthrie did with This Land Is Your Land. The horror-stricken ballad Jesus What Happened to Us was taken down by youtube, no surprise considering the lyrics. It’s Eve of Destruction with a locked-in, lockdown-era focus: “Keep staring at your smartphone, get dumber every week,” Skistimas taunted.

The funniest song of the afternoon (and most hilarious video he’s made so far) was Outttayerdaminde, a rapidfire Subterranean Homesick Blues flavored broadside that makes savage fun of narcissists run amok on Tik Tok. The quietest and most sobering number was a new one, a sad waltz titled Silent War:

Someone is trying to sell you the cure
Same one who made the disease
And they’ll try to convince you, and make you feel sure
But hey, there ain’t no guarantee
They’ve covered your mouth and tied back your hands
They did it to all of the kids
And nobody knows all the damage it’s done
And won’t ask until the master permits

He wound up the set with the bouncy, defiant I Will Not Be Leaving Quietly.

The speakers afterward were a microcosm of the kind of ordinary heroes who have sprung up around the world in the past year and a half. Physician assistant Miguel Escobar, whose incendiary address to his local muzzlemaniac school board went viral a couple weeks ago, spoke truth to power in both English and Spanish (even if you’re a non-native Spanish speaker, he’s very easy to understand). He takes the mic at 1:19:00.

Irrepressibly upbeat hero nurse Jennifer Bridges – who is suing her former employer, Houston Methodist Hospital for being wrongfully fired for refusing the kill shot, even though she has natural immunity to Covid – is at 2:09:55. The Highwire’s Del Bigtree closed the afternoon with an impromptu challenge to the crowd to take the energy of the rally home with them. He’s at 3:18:21 in the video.

As the irreplaceable and tirelessly entertaining Dr. Pam Popper has revealed, the 70% figure the US government has been throwing around is a lie. The Kaiser Family Foundation study she cites, based on individual state records, puts the actual percentage of the population who’ve been coerced or terrorized into taking the kill shot at less than half that. Bigtree elaborated on a point he made a couple weeks ago on the Highwire, that the roughly sixty percent majority who won’t take the kill shot is not going to budge, and that the PR campaign behind it is dead in the water. Our challenge is to be less of a silent majority, organize and get back to normal, because nobody’s going to do it for us.

Speaking of which, there’s a big protest at City Hall here in Manhattan on August 25 at 4 PM.

Incendiary Guitar in Brooklyn and Queens

Tuesday was a good day for hotshot guitarists in New York. The first played acoustic, the second fronted a sizzling electric band. Each put an individualistic, high-voltage spin on an old tradition.

At one of the ongoing outdoor lunchtime concerts at the little plaza where Willoughby meets Pearl Street in downtown Brooklyn, Noe Socha proved he’d been polishing his chops during the lockdown, both on guitar and blues harp. His second set of the afternoon was a mix of expertly fingerpicked traditional blues from across many styles, many of them instrumentals, along with a handful of more outside-the-box, jamband-oriented material.

Playing a duo set with a bassist who provided a slinky backdrop when he wasn’t doubling the melody line, Socha shifted effortlessly from one open tuning to another. The most rustic tunes began in the Mississippi delta, Socha sometimes playing with a slide. His brisk fingerpicking on some of the other songs seemed rooted in both Piedmont and Texas styles. Occasionally, the two musicians would play over a backing track of simple chords. The most adventurous number was a leaping, bounding mashup of Thelonious Monk phantasmagoria and what could have been a darkly simmering Albert King ballad, in a past life. What’s coolest about Socha is that pretty much everything in the set could have been an original: he doesn’t just play the same old standards everybody else does. The sun isn’t just gonna shine on his back door someday. It’s there right now.

Later in the evening, the fireworks were at Gantry Plaza State Park on the water in Long Island City, where Santo Domingo-born Yasser Tejeda & Pelotre roared and slithered through a head-bobbing set of mostly original material centered around several beats from his Dominican home turf. Joined by a bassist who played fat, puffy downtuned lines, Tejeda’s drummer and percussionist – the latter on a big kit with congas and bongos – further energized the big crowd of dancers gathered down front. It’s impossible to remember seeing so many people – at least three hundred, probably twice that including everybody passing through – at this space for a concert. Tejeda may be a popular guy anyway, but New Yorkers are clearly starved for live music right now!

Tejeda brings a fiery psychedelic rock intensity to merengue. If you love the ramshackle improvisation of oldschool merengue tipica but wish it was louder, Tejeda is your man. He loves reverb, an effect that really resonated across the boomy stone plaza. Other times he played through a chorus pedal, using various levels of iciness.

He started the set with a catchy minor-modal bounce that was almost a cumbia. The second number was where he first brought in an achingly majestic David Gilmour-style wail that ultimately looked back to Jimi Hendrix, but without being imitative. Meanwhile, the rhythm section churned out a galloping triplet groove that reminded of qawwali in places: these guys obviously have their ears wide open.

The quietest numbers of the set were a quasi-cumbia take of the Beatles’ Do You Want to Know a Secret, which Tejeda sang in Spanish, and later a spare minor-key original where Tejeda brought to mind the Police’s Andy Summers at his most mutedly somber. The best song of the night was an original instrumental that sounded like Juju-era Siouxsie & the Banshees doing a creepy merengue, Tejeda setting his chorus box to deep freeze. With the rest of the merengues, Tejeda sped up, slowed down, then finally played a cheery old carnival tune from the 1950s that turned out to be the biggest hit with the dancers. In the careening final number, Tejeda quoted liberally from Bob Marley’s I Shot the Sherriff on the the turnarounds when he wasn’t firing off icepick volleys of tremolo-picking. What a party!

Tejeda’s next gig is at the downtown plaza at Willoughby and Pearl on Aug 24 at noon for two sets. Socha’s next non-apartheid gig is Aug 22 at around 8 outdoors at the Flying Lobster, 144 Union St off Hicks, just over the BQE. Take the F to Smith/9th.