New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: dark rock

Gato Loco’s Perilous Mambos and Noir Cinematics Capture These Dark Times

Perilous times, perilous measures, perilous bands. In an era in New York when seemingly half the population  doesn’t know if they’ll have a roof over the heads a month from now, it’s only logical to expect that the music coming out of this city at this moment would reflect that unease. Many of New York’s elite bands and artists – Karla Rose & the Thorns, Big Lazy, Rachelle Garniez, Beninghove’s Hangmen across the river, and now Gato Loco – speak for this new Age of Anxiety. Of all those bands, Gato Loco might be the loudest and most explosive.

Most bands pump up the volume with loud guitars, and Gato Loco have Lily Maase to bring that firestorm. But more than anything, Gato Loco’s sound is an update on the oldschool mambo orchestras of the 50s, emphasis on low brass. Frontman Stefan Zeniuk can be found on bass sax, baritone sax, and, ironically, mostly on tenor sax these days. “Tuba Joe” Exley brings the funk and the funny stuff (is there a tuba player alive without a sense of humor? Perish the thought). Trombonist Tim Vaughan takes over front and center since he’s often the guy with the most dynamic range; likewise, drummer Kevin Garcia supplies just as much color as groove, on his hardware and rims and cymbals and pretty much everywhere that can be hit.

Like so many of New York’s elite, Gato Loco’s home base these days is Barbes. Last month, they played a Wiliamsburg gig that gave them the benefit of a big stage, which was fun considering that it afforded them a lot more space to stretch out, yet didn’t compromise the intimate feel of their Park Slope gigs.

A tense, syncopated stomp introduced the show. Slowly, the horns converged with a similarly dark riff that suddenly flared into a classic Ethiopian tune: a noir latin spin on Musikawi Silt, an iconic Ethiopiques hit from the 1970s. Trumpeter Jackie Coleman fired off a plane-crash slide, then the band hit a monster-movie mambo pulse. That was just the first eight minutes or so.

Maase anchored the next song with her shadowy Brazilian riffs, a blazing Lynchian bossa of sorts, horns leaping from the shadows like flames on an old building whose landlord finally decided to show the remaining tenants the Bronx, 1970s style, the guitarist putting a tighter spin on spiraling Carlos Santana psychedelia. The highlight of the set came early with The Lower Depths, a slow, murderously slinky, blackly backlit number: the striptease theme from hell, essentially, something that wouldn’t be out of place in the Beninghove’s Hangmen catalog. Flickers of Lynchian dub and 60s Quincy Jones noir soul cinematics appeared before all hell broke loose, Vaughan contributing a long, cloudbusting major-on-minor solo. Zeniuk has been writing a lot of theatre music lately, and this is a prime example.

Likewise, with the set’s next song, the group worked a serpentine path upward through brooding exchanges of voices over Garcia’s nebulous woodblock-fueled groove, chaos threatening to break out every other measure. It was the sonic equivalent of a Sequieros mural. From there they hit a hint of dub reggae on their way to a brisk clave stomp and then more Ethiopiques fueled by Coleman’s tersely joyous blues and the bandleader’s cynically fleeting tenor sax.

Tuelo & Her Cousins opened the night with a rather epic set that drew equally on jaunty, jangly late 80s British guitar pop, oldschool soul and the exuberant, dynamic, socially aware frontwoman’s South African heritage. They’re at Union Hall on Sept 9 at 8 PM; cover is $8.

Relentlessly Haunting 60s-Influenced French Noir from Juniore

If the French didn’t invent noir, they deserve at least half credit since it’s their word. And much as the concept of existential angst may not be a French construct (for those of you who weren’t phil majors, meaning probably all of you, its roots are German), it’s safe to say that it wouldn’t have become so much a part of our collective consciousness if not for Jean-Paul Sartre. French singer Anna Jean’s band Juniore’s debut full-length album – streaming at Bandcamp – channels that restless, relentless solitude, putting a shadowy spin on bouncy Françoise Hardy-style 60s ye-ye pop. It’s one of the darkest and best albums of the year and it might well be the very best of all of them: hard to say, as we’re only in the beginning stages of another été meurtrier.

The opening track, Christine  sets the stage: the guitars building a mix of 60s fuzztone and icy 80s wash over trebly, snappy bass and skittish drums. The song is a period-perfect take on the peppy garage-pop that was all the rage in France in the late 60s, but with a brooding, noir edge. Jean sings with a snippy impatience on this one. Dans le Noir is 180 degrees from that, vocally, a warmly swirling, bittersweetly nocturnal tableau – but by the end, Jean hardly sounds like she’s looking forward to dancing in the dark, like she says. Similarly, La Fin Du Monde, with its blend of psychedelic grit, swooshy cinematics and Jean’s cleverly intricate rhyme scheme, isn’t as quite apocalyptic as its title would imply.

Jean follows a vivid, doomed narrative over a Ghost Riders in the Sky gallop in Marche, lit up with some creepy chorus-box guitar cadenzas midway through. She works the road metaphor implicit in the pouncing, persistent horror-garage hit La Route for all it’s worth – thematically if not musically, it’s her take on Iggy Pop’s The Passenger. Then she opens the skeletally dancing Mon Autre with a scream – finally, six tracks in, she can’t avoid a comparison to French obsessions the Cure, but with surreal deep-space keyb tinges.

The band goes back toward creepy new wave-ish border rock with Cavalier Solitaire (Lone Rider), bringing to mind the similarly brisk but persistent unease of Jean’s colleague Marianne Dissard‘s early work. The best song on the album, Je Fais Le Mort (I Play Dead) might also be the best song of the year, comparable to this year’s early frontrunner, Karla Rose & the ThornsBattery Park. That one’s a bolero of sorts; this is a toweringly sad, phantasmagorical lament in in 6/8 time. Over and over again, Jean underscores how this metaphorical killing wasn’t worth the time it took – along with plenty of other implications.

Even the bounciest and most retro number here, Marabout, a single from last year, has a dark undercurrent: this ladykiller will get you on your knees. And A La Plage might be the most melancholy beach song released in recent years, part Stranglers, part dark 60s Phil Spector, with hints of dub reggae. The album winds up with Animal, a coyly menacing number that reminds of Fabienne Delsol. While there’s no need to speak French to appreciate this on a musical level, Jean’s lyrics are superb, packed with double entendres and clever, sometimes Rachelle Garniez-class wordplay. You’ll see this high on the list of best albums of 2016 if the screen you’re watching doesn’t go completely noir by then.

Revisiting a Folk Noir Classic by Hungrytown

It might seem absurd that folk noir duo Hungrytown’s latest album Further West – streaming at Bandcamp -made the Best Albums of 2015 page here, yet never got a full writeup. That’s because if they made it to town last year, they did that before the album came over the transom. Where it sat, and sat, and sat, and that’s a crime: it’s by far their most vivid and intense album, in fact one of the most darkly memorable releases of the past many months.

Since the early zeros, singer Rebecca Hall and her multi-instrumentalist husband Ken Anderson have been working the darker corners of the folk milieu. Their most recent album before this, 2011’s Any Forgotten Thing took an impressively erudite detour into period-perfect 60s Laurel Canyon psychedelic folk. This release is a return to their elegant acoustic roots, more or less, although a couple of the most quietly lingering tracks also explore the band’s psychedelic side. The elegantly waltzing, understatedly menacing title cut sets the stage:

Rocks in my pocket
Blood on the stairs
Followed you down to the sea

And the story only gets better from there. Hall’s calm, collected narrator eventually intimates that she’s leaving the crime scene for parts further west simply because she’s got better things to do.

The album’s version of Hard Way to Learn – the chilling opening track on Hall’s excellent 2000 solo album Rebecca Hall Sings! – gets a slightly bulked-up remake, awash in lush, multitracked harmonies, propelled by Anderson’s steady banjo and Lissa Scheckenburger’s stark fiddle. In Sometime, Hall turns on her pillowiest, most understatedly wounded delivery, anchored by funereal organ, revisiting a theme of learning the hard way:

Rushing through my brightest hour but favoring the dark
Believing every undying word is justified in part

Hall doesn’t bother to change any of the lyrics to fit a woman’s voice for a stark take of the old British folk ballad, Don’t You Let Me Down, and the result is even more surreal than the original. And the bit about how “the bank man stole it all away” makes it even more relevant, here at the end of the real estate bubble era. The harrowingly catchy Day for Night takes that theme further into the present:

Losing streak, trying to sail, over dry land
Losing sleep, promise to pay, no money in hand
And the cold’s rolling in from the north…
So many ways, ways to go wrong, so we just go along
And the trucks run their engines all night
We’ll sleep in the glare of the streetlight

Hall and Anderson duet a-cappella and keep that hardscrabble ambience going with the bitter migrant work lament Pastures of Plenty. They pick up the pace with the Lynchian vintage C&W of Don’t Cross That Mountain, the bit of extra reverb on Hall’s voice matched by Anderson’s ominously echoey guitar. Then they revisit the indian summer psychedelia of their previous album with the hypnotic, uneasily starlit Highway Song:

Moon rolls down the highway
Playing hide and seek
Stop along the meadow
Tickling his cheek

Suzanne Mueller’s austere cello underpins the stately, heartbroken minor-key waltz Ramparts and Bridges. Anderson’s twinkling electric piano mingles with low-key fingerpicked guitar on Static, an enigmatic night drive that might or might not be a sequel to the title track: “I know how you feel to have lost every signal you once had,” Hall intones gently. The album ends up with the elegantly trad Eastward Forests, Westward Hills and then the spare, menacingly aphoristic Troubles in Between:

December, sorry, slept right through.
January, missed you too.
Sped past March, April and May
Sometimes it’s best to keep away

Not only is this one of the best albums of 2015, if’s one of the best of the decade, if anybody’s counting. Hungrytown’s next gig is actually sort of close to home, a free outdoor show tonight at 6:30 PM at Harborfront Park, 101A East Broadway in Port Jefferson, Long Island.

Haunting, Brilliantly Lyrical Noir Americana from Ben De La Cour

Crooner Ben De La Cour brings to mind Townes Van Zandt, and also a young Ward White. De La Cour shares a similarly cynical worldview and world-weary, rakish persona, and sings in an assured baritone that he would probably prefer was fueled by quality bourbon, although rotgut might do the job in a pinch. And as he makes clear from the git-go, he’s no stranger to being in a pinch. He tells a good yarn, is a hell of a lyricist and has a thing for windmills. Vocally, Nick Cave is the obvious comparison, but De La Cour doesn’t rip him off wholesale: where Cave looks to Ireland for inspiration, De La Cour goes to the dark side of Nashville – his adopted hometown – or the Mississippi gulf. His brilliant new album Midnight in Havana is streaming at his music page,

The opening track is Mobile Bay, awash in a lush bed of acoustic and electric guitars, with accordion and Meredith Krygowski’s violin adding subtle cajun tinges. De La Cour keeps his imagery close to his vest in this one: do those bells across the water imply that the doomed narrator’s ex is marrying some other guy, that there’s a hurricane on the way, or both?

The band builds from bassist Jimmy Sullivan and drummer Erin Nelson’s steady Nashville gothic shuffle to an afterdark Tex-Mex rock blaze – the BoDeans circa 1993, feeding the fire – with Evelyn:

Pain lay deep in every track as we crossed over the border
But only one of us came back and I was so much older
And if I had it all again I’d probably make a couple changes to the end, Evelyn

Anybody Like You puts a bluegrass spin on the opening tune, with a disarmingly charming Freewheeling-era Dylan lyrical feel. Hold On takes a hard turn into grimly surreal fire-and-brimstone blues: “It makes me sick to think of Charley Patton in his grave, if he rose up they’d put him right back down in there again,” De La Cour rails. Walkin Around with the Blues is a less successful detour into Allman Brothers redneck rock.

The Last Last Dance nicks a familiar REM riff for a booze-drenched, doomed hookup scenario: “They say pick your poison, for all I know you do,” De La Cour’s narrator explaining that “At the emotional soup kitchen, I’m down at the front of the line.”

With its snarling guitars from lead player Ryan Dishen, Ain’t Going Down That Road brings to mind the Bottle Rockets in a particularly dark moment:

I heard Mr. Williams say we’re all just sitting around a hole in the ground
Shutterbugs are just far-out weird while the rest are just hanging around…
Some folks gotta feel the heat before they ever see the light
But I ain’t going down that road tonight

Brandywine Bouquet shifts into slowly swaying Blonde on Blonde territory, while Windmills and Trees offers both droll environmentalist relevance as well as a little insight into everybody’s favorite power source. But De La Cour can’t resist bringing back the gloom with the viscerally uneasy Down to the Water’s Edge:

I can see that light in your eyes, is it love or is it fear
If I could tell one from the other maybe neither one of us would be here

The album closes with the offhandedly ominous title track, an allusive tale that sounds a lot more like Matt Keating – or a Russell Banks short story – than anything Cuban. Time after time, De La Cour takes a theme that others would only scratch the surface of, and plunges to its murkiest, terminally depressed depths. Get to know this guy – he has a ceiling as high as both Van Zandt and White, and will hopefully last a lot longer than the former.

Tattoo Money Brings His LMFAO Act to Bed-Stuy While the Bright Smoke Haunt the LES

Tattoo Money is one of the funniest acts in New York. And he’s as talented as he is funny, a one-man band equally adept at Chicago blues, psychedelic funk, oldschool soul and hip-hop. He’s like the missing link between Stevie Wonder, Buddy Guy and Rudy Ray Moore. This blog discovered him by accident, basically, late one night last December, when he headlined the Mercury Lounge after a harrowing set by art-rockers the Bright Smoke. It was after midnight, on a work night, but a friend was persuasive: “You should stick around for this guy, he’s hilarious.” No joke.

What Tattoo Money plays is loopmusic, more or less, which requires split-second timing and is even harder to pull off when you’re hitting the audience with one side-splitting one-liner after another. The multi-instrumentalist really worked up a sweat shifting from his guitar, to an electric piano, to his huge array of loop pedals and a mixing board, evoking sounds as diverse as vintage P-Funk, Isaac Hayes at his trippiest, or Fitty in a together, lucid moment (that last one is a bit of a stretch, but just imagine…).

Tattoo Money’s shtick is that he lays down a riff, or a vamp, or a beat, then sings over it, firing off some of the most amusing, sometimes X-rated between-song banter of any artist in town. Most of it has to do with the battle of the sexes. Midway through his set, he let down his guard. “When it comes down to it, what my songs are about is being single in New York, and waking up the next day, and thinking, I did WHAT last night?” he mused. And he kept the crowd in the house, no small achievement on a cold December night when the trains were a mess like they always are and everybody just wanted to get home.  His next gig is at the Way Station on July 8 at 10, followed at 11 by hotshot bassist Dawn Drake and Zapote playing their original high-energy, latin and Indian-tinged funk sounds. If there’s anybody who can get the yakking crowd at the bar at that place to pipe down and listen, it’s this guy.

The Bright Smoke are at the small room at the Rockwood on July 28 at 7 PM as a warmup for their upcoming national tour. A year ago, the group was a haphazardly haunting vehicle for frontwoman/guitarist Mia Wilson’s grimly sardonic, enigmatic narratives about hanging on by one’s fingernails, emotionally and otherwise. Watching them make the transformation into an incredibly tight, dynamic rock band, without compromising the blend of deep, otherworldy blues and enveloping, misterioso, psychedelic atmospherics that made them so captivating in the first place, has been inspiring, to say the least. They might be the best band in New York right now.

Wilson’s elegantly fingerpicked, reverberating guitar spirals built a ominous grey-sky ambience for guitarist Quincy Ledbetter to shoot thunderbolts from. As usual, he kept his solos short, other than one, long, crescendoing trail of sparks that brought one of the set’s later number to a volcanic peak. Drummer Karl Thomas had the challenge of playing in sync with the raindroplets emanating from Yuki Maekawa Ledbetter’s laptop, but with his clustering, unpredictable, jazz-inspired attack, he was as much colorist as timekeeper.

And Wilson has never been so much of a force out in front of the band, holding her ground like a female version of a young, pre-epilepsy Ian Curtis through the crushingly cynical lines of On 10, the bitter gentrification-era allusions of Hard Pander (does the current climate of conspicuous consumption overkill make us all whores?), and a starkly stinging, plaintive new minor-key ballad. They closed with a witheringly intense take of an older song from Wilson’s days fronting another first-class dark art-rock act, the French Exit, the bandleader leaving her feet as the song exploded in a boom of low register sonics at the end, rocking back and forth on her knees and channeling what seemed like a lifetime of pain. And injuring herself in the process (not to worry, she was pretty much ok after the show).

Or maybe that last observation is just projecting, from an audience point of view. Go and decide for yourself: if you have the guts to try it, you can get much closer to the band at the Rockwood than you can at the Mercury.

A Fun Early Evening Central Park Show By Dark French Rockers La Femme

On one hand, you see a band as good as dark French new wave/surf rockers La Femme open a show in broad daylight, to a relatively small crowd, and you think to yourself, damn, these guys should be headlining. Then self-interest takes over and you remember that the last time you were at Central Park Summerstage, the crowd was even smaller because of the monsoon that night. Yesterday evening, there was a similarly ominous cumulo-nimbus sky looming overhead, but as it turned out, no big cloudburst. Still, it was reassuring to be able to catch this interesting, individualistic, kinetic six-piece group – guitar, bass, drums, and as many as four keyboards – before any deluge could have developed.

The band romped through the opening number over a catchy four-chord hook, frontman Marlon Magnée’s sepulchrally tremoloing funeral organ – the group’s signature sound – front and center. Clémence Quélenneche, the lone femme in the band, sang on that one with an airy Jane Birkin delivery. Magnée took over the mic on the next number, a mashup of motorik krautrock, new wave and French hip-hop. After that they could have sung “Tu as les yeux verts, tu as les yeux verts,” over and over as they nicked a very popular New Order hit, but weren’t quite that obvious.

Then they brought the lights down low to a Lynchian glimmer over a hauntingly catchy Karla Rose-style desert rock hook, swooshy and sweeping keyboard textures mingling behind the steady minor-key strums of Strat player Sacha Got as Magnée traced the grim decline of some kind of relationship in rapidfire rap cadences. It was surreal to watch bassist Sam Lefevre put down his four-string and switch to keys even though an oldschool disco bassline was the central hook of the echoey new wave surf tune, Sur La Planche, the band hitting a trick ending with a splash of cymbals and then diving right back into it. They closed with a long, hypnotic, drony organ number that was a dead ringer for an early track from the Black Angels‘ catalog – and just as catchy. The crowd screamed for an encore but didn’t get one.

There were a couple of other French acts on the bill, psychedelic funk dude General Elektriks and southwestern gothic-tinged guitarist Yael Naimwho’s won all sorts of awards lately, but the safe call, at least with a laptop slung over the shoulder, was to head straight for the train. La Femme are staying in town a little longer to make a video or two, and promise to be back in the fall.

Darkly Glimmering Psychedelic Garage Rock Brilliance from the Mystery Lights

For the past few years, the Mystery Lights have built a devoted cult following for their shadowy, psychedelic garage rock. What differentiates them from every other bump-bump-BUMP-bump-bump, HEY band out there? They’ve got the trebly, reverbtoned vintage Vox amp sound down cold. Frontman/guitarist Mike Brandon delivers the requisite gruff, vintage soul-inspired vocals. But their songs are longer, and full of all kinds of interesting textures and touches you don’t usually find in bands who can ape everything on the original Nuggets compilation. What this band plays is a very old sound – yet they make it fresh and new and an awful lot of fun. They’re playing the album release show on June 24 at midnight at the Mercury; general admission is ten bucks. Then they’re off on US tour with fellow dark garage-psych band Night Beats.

Their debut full-length album isn’t out yet, so it’s not streaming at the group’s Bandcamp page, although fortuitously it will be available on vinyl. They go up the scale with a catchy four-chord progression to introduce the first song, Follow Me Home – with its creepy chromatic series of chords, Kevin Harris’ funereal organ and deft use of backward masking, it’s a cool update on classic 13th Floor Elevators. Drummer Noah Kohll’s flickering pulse underpins the lingering ultraviolet menace of L.A. Solano’s guitar as the band slowly makes their way through the ominous Flowers In My Hair, Demons In My Head, part Country Joe & the Fish, part late 60s Pretty Things, maybe.

Too Many Girls is funny, and pretty straight-up, in a Lyres/Fleshtones vein. Without Me is even catchier, a study in contrast between Alex Amini’s growling, melodically climbing bass and Solano’s mosquito lead lines. The stampeding Melt has a brooding flamenco tune at the center. The album’s best and darkest track, Candlelight, pairs moody minor-key organ against Brandon’s melancholy chromatic guitar lines – and then they take off on a breathless doublespeed sprint down the runway.

21 & Counting has an easygoing, swaying second-generation feel, like Rhode Island cult favorites Plan 9. Too Tough to Bear is the most trad, blues-based, Electric Music for rhe Mind and Body-type dirge here. Before My Own works the fuzztone sonics the band first made a name for themselves with. The album winds up with the uneasily swinging What Happens When You Turn the Devil Down, building to a machete thicket of guitar savagery.

On one hand, a lot of this is party music, but it’s just as enjoyable as late-night bedroom-floor or pass-out-on-the-couch music. Spin this record for a crowd of people who think garage rock is all cliches, and you’ll change a lot of minds.

Have You Hugged a Casket Girl Today?

If you’ve been to a Casket Girls show on their current tour, you have. Or at least you should have: hugs should be reciprocal, right? Last night at the Mercury, toward the end of their set, sisters Elsa and Phaedra Greene came down off the stage as the bass and drums buzzed and thumped behind them and one by one, gave every single person in the audience a hug. Not a halfhearted, let’s-get-this-over-with hug, but a long, blissed-out, forceful one, making good on Elsa’s gnomic comment as she took the stage that the show would be about “the intentionality of peace and love.” Not what you might expect from a band who work the mystery angle for all it’s worth. .

Hanging in the back and watching it all happen didn’t make any difference. Phaedra saved her last embrace for a black-clad guy who’d just given her band’s new album The Night Machines a glowing review – who knew? She certainly didn’t. Karma isn’t always a bitch. That seems to be the band’s ultimate message.

Before then, the group had run through a hypnotically oscillating, irresistibly catchy, ominously swirling mix of material that draws equally on ghoulish video game themes, film scores and vintage new wave, with more than a hint of hip-hop. Beneath his black fabric mask, polymath keyboardist Ryan Graveface sweated and worked an endlessly shifting series of organ and synth textures. What was most impressive was how much of the album he was able to recreate live: there was stuff in the can, and in Elsa’s guitar pedals, but not a lot. Her guitar chops were unexpectedly impressive, shifting her own textures from a steady clang to a furious roar on the night’s final number. Phaedra swooped and dove up and down the frets of her bass with a kinetic grace – she really likes to slide up to a note, a touch that enhances the songs’ distant menace.

This band is a lot of fun to watch. Decked out in more-or-less matching black dresses and shades, the sisters didn’t waste any time switching out their instruments for big black magic markers and blank canvases. Drawing furiously and singing without missing a note, by the four-minute mark, they each had either a self-portrait, or a sister portrait – they look so much alike, it was hard to tell. When the song was over, a couple of people in the crowd got to take home a signed piece of original Casket Girl art. A little later, the duo put down their instruments again for some playful choreography: a parody of Miley Cyrus and the like, or just some goofy relief from the songs’ underlying darkness?

The band – augmented by the hard-hitting rhythm of guitarist Chloe Pinnock – wound up the set with a resounding take of Tears of a Clown – the most politically relevant original on the new record – and then a more punk-oriented older number. Then the crowd scurried to the merch booth in the front to buy vinyl.

Intense, Haunting Guitarist Rony Corcos Plays the Meatpacking District Tonight

Rony Corcos is the rare lead guitarist who makes every note count. She draws on classic Chicago and delta blues as much as darkly edgy songwriters like PJ Harvey. Corcos is leading her artsy, catchy power trio Rony’s Insomnia at the recently opened, sonically excellent Lively on 9th Ave. between 13th and 14th Streets tonight, May 20 at 8 PM.

Corcos’ most recent show found her doing double duty, first playing a rare solo electric set and then taking over lead duties with dark, powerful-voiced songstress Jessi Robertson at Hell Phone in Bushwick earlier this  month. After a brief set by a solid, purist acoustic delta blues guitarist, folk noir songsmith Lara Ewen channeled a simmering southern soul intensity, opening with the brooding, achingly angst-fueled soul tableau Breakdown Lane, the haunting centerpiece of her latest album The Wishing Stone Songs. The strings of her guitar rang out as she slapped them, instead of strumming, Ewen putting some grit in her typically crystalline, reflecting-pool vocals as she brought to life a Waits-ish procession of flophouse characters on their way down.

She kept the smoldering ambience going through the pensive number after that, then hit a hypnotic art-folk groove with Untethered, akin to what Aussie art-rockers the Church might have done with an acoustic number around 1985. From there she hit an uneasy trip-hop groove with Restless, an explosive kiss-off anthem that gave her a platform for some chilling flights to the upper registers. Then she took a detour toward disconsolate oldschool C&W with 20 Years, and its vivid portrait of a middleaged woman looking back in regret, telling the guy who’s hanging around her that he wouldn’t have stood a chance when she “had ‘em hanging from the chandeliers and put on quite a show.” Ewen’s funniest song of the night drew on her experiences visiting her cashier pal at an all-night supermarket in her native Queens and being regaled with stories about the ridiculous antics of the loser the poor girl was dating. Ewen closed with her big audience hit, the morbidly catchy Death Better Take Me Dancing, a good setup for the rest of an intensely excellent bill.

Corcos opened her set with an opaquely lingering, psychedelically-tinged anthem: “Are we still in control? Is there anybody in there?” she pondered, low and brooding. Playing solo on her Gibson, she did the artsy, psychdelic anthem Emerald City as a spare, hypnotic mood piece: “Cover up your scars, pretty one, I’ll give you new ones,” she murmured. She aired out a lot of new material: a ripe, bruised post-breakup ballad, an atmospheric art-rock tableau spiced with the occasional ominous chromatic, and a couple of catchy, slow-to-midtempo numbers that brought to mind PJ Harvey’s recent work. Corcos’ carefully modulated voice rose and fell amidst spiky chordlets, oldschool blues licks and rainswept, trippy washes of sound.

Robertson and Corcos’ headline set reached a white-knuckle intensity. The two opened with an insistently anthemic, hypnotic number: ?Challenge me, don’t give in easy,” Robertson intoned enigmatically. Corcos’ spare, sparkling blues lines lit up the stately, moody waltz after that, up to an angst-drenched vamp, Robertson insistig, “Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing” over and over again. Then the two went deep into the blues for an explosively fun singalong take of Lipstick, a sardonic barroom pickup scenario. Strangely enough, Robertson, with her harrowing, otherworldly, soaring voice, delivered the night’s funniest number, a wryly countyr-flavored tune with a chorus of “I hope I hurt you more than you hurt me.” Robertson is at Bowery Electric on June 9 at 8 PM for a rare free show there.

A Dark and Stormy Night at Berlin with Diane Gentile and Karla Rose & the Thorns

Get out often enough and once awhile you’re rewarded with magic synchronicity. Last night’s show at Berlin turned out to be a long launching pad for two intense, charismatic frontwomen airing out their defiantly wounded low registers. Diane Gentile is sort of a younger New York counterpart to the Motels’ Martha Davis. She puts her own individualistic spin on the dark side of propulsive 80s new wave sounds, and her band is killer. Karla Rose & the Thorns have noir intensity, a more psychedelic sound, and while their bandleader has a chillingly vast range, she can also belt way down in the lows. It was a seriously dark and stormy night without the cliches.

Gentile was playing her birthday show, and the place was packed. The way Berlin – the lowlit basement space under 2A – is set up, you have to position yourself right where the bar, the stage and the tables past the sound booth intersect if you want a good view of the stage. But Gentile made all the jostling worthwhile. Playing a shortscale Gibson hollowbody model, she and her tight quartet opened with an indelibly shadowy downtown New York tableau held in check by drummer Colin Brooks’ backbeat and stormclouds of cymbals. The most sardonically funny song of the night was Boyfriend, a stomping, bitttersweetly Bowie-esque anthem. The most propulsive was Motorcycle, a brisk, understatedly desperate escape number. The most crushingly sad was Wasted Word, a requiem for the departed in every sense. Lead guitarist Jason Victor (of Steve Wynn’s band, the newly reformed Dream Syndicate and wildly fun noiserockers the Skull Practitioners), whose massive, menacingly reverberating clusters of chords ramped up the menace, smoldered and then eventually careened into brushfire terrain on Gentile’s anguished, closing cover of Bowie’s apocalyptic epic Five Years. She’s at Bowery Electric on June 12 at around 9 on a great triplebill with Americana rock songwriter Ana Egge and this era’s most spellbinding voice in newschool retro C&W, Laura Cantrell.

Rose and her band built a shadowy black-and-white Twilight Zone ambience right off the bat and set the bar impossibly high for the rest of the evening. The former Morricone Youth frontwoman opened with Silver Bucket, a surrealistic mashup of Smokestack Lightning sway and Gun Club gutter blues. Rose sang her misty, slinky film noir narrative Time Well Spent – a metaphorical time bomb of a song for any overworked New York artist on the brink of losing their grip – with a smolderingly low, ruthless edge. Then she foreshadowed where Gentile would go with Drive, an alluring new wave number. The best song of the night was Battery Park, a marauding desert rock anthem with a long, chainsaw Dylan Charles guitar solo to wind it up. A close listen revealed Rose making the connection between the pathology of Easton Ellis serial killers and the narcissism of high finance. Even with her gentlest number, the hypnotically Velvets-inspired Living End, she wouldn’t let up on the menace. It was absurd that this band, who capture both the angst and the guarded triumph of artists in a city under siege better than any other current New York act, didn’t get more time onstage.

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