New York Music Daily

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Horror Surf Legends the Coffin Daggers Play the Best Rock Show of 2019 So Far

The Coffin Daggers played what could have been the best rock show of 2019 at Otto’s just over a month ago. They might not just be the best horror surf band in the world. Since Dick Dale left us earlier this year, it wouldn’t be overhype to call them the best surf band around, period. And that’s no disrespect to Los Straitjackets. It’s just that the Coffin Daggers are infinitely more intense – and infinitely darker.

They opened the show with a series of endings, letting the crowd know that this was going to be a descent into the maelstrom. It was like Beethoven in reverse, and ten times as gothic. From there, they went straight for grimly enveloping psychedelia with an extended version of Avenue X, an older tune. Guitarist Viktor Venom’s Fender amp pulsed with icy waves of deep-space noise when he wasn’t ripping through one volley of machete tremolo-picking after another, standing calm and relatively motionless at the edge of the stage.

Bassist Peter Klarnet was the opposite, lunging toward the crowd like a rabid animal on a chain as he slammed out booming chords, slithery upward climbs and snidely slurring riffs. There’s been some turnover in the band over the years; their current drummer has the agility of their original guy behind the kit, but with a more ferocious attack. Their organist conjured up vampire castles, haunted roller rinks and on a couple of screamingly sarcastic faux go-go tunes, played more or less straight up Booker T. Jones-style soul. He also added burning, distorted rhythm guitar on a few of the band’s more straightforwardly punk tunes.

But it was the macabre material they do best, and there was a lot of it. The high point of the night was the newer songs: a couple of searing, serpentine, eerily modal, Middle Eastern-flavored numbers along with a pair of chromatically thumping tunes like Dick Dale on steroids. A couple of others echoed Vegas noir from a gleefully sarcastic distance.

A lengthy, unexpectedly dubwise interlude had several cruel quotes including a half a verse of the Dead Kennedys’ Holiday in Cambodia. They closed with what sounded like a parody of retro 70s stoner boogie; the last of the encores had a savage phony salsa fanfare from the organ at the end.

The Coffin Daggers usually play much larger venues: the Mercury has been their Manhattan home base in recent months. They’re playing at around 9 on June 22, immediately following this year’s Mermaid Parade, on the roof of Kitchen 21 at 3052 W 21st St, right off the boardwalk. Cover is $25.

The TarantinosNYC Surf the Silver Screen

The TarantinosNYC use that name to distinguish themselves from the Tarantinos, a UK band who play a diverse mix of songs from Quentin Tarantino films. The TarantinosNYC do some of that, but they also write originals. They’re best known as a surf band, but as you would hope from a group with a film fixation, they have a cinematic side. Their music is catchy, and fun, and sometimes pretty creepy, much more unpredictable and occasionally epic than what most straight-up surf outfits typically play. Between them, lead guitarist Paulie Tarantino, bassist Tricia Tarantino, keyboardist/rhythm guitarist Brian Tarantino and drummer Joey Tarantino make up one of New York’s most consistently interesting, original, entertaining bands. They have a new album, Surfin’ the Silver Screen coming out and a release show this Friday, May 15 at 11 PM at Lucille’s Bar, adjacent to B.B. King’s on 42nd St. Cover is $10.

Shindig – one of the six first-class originals here – makes a good opener: purist reverb surf guitar hitched to swirly organ, the rhythm section holding a classic Ventures beat. The organ and digital production give it a more current feel, yet also enable the band to put their own stamp on it. Bullwinkle Pt. 2 is the first cover, lowlit with Paulie’s lingering, noir, reverb-drenched tremolo-bar chords. Then they reinvent You Only Live Twice as a glittery showstopper, Brian’s organ front and center. It’s almost like ELO doing a surf song – and if you don’t think ELO could play surf music, you haven’t heard their version of a well-worn Grieg theme.

Dust-Up, another original, mashes up hints of monster surf and a Dell Shannon standard: it’s hard to imagine any band other than this one that would have come up with something this improbably successful. Their cover of Son of a Preacher Man brings to mind the Ventures’ psychedelic period – yikes! But then they get serious again with Our Man Flint/Dr. Evil, first doing an old hymn as surf, then channeling pretty much every dance rock style from the 60s in under three minutes

Quincy Jones’ Soul Bossa Nova is a bizarre hybrid of roller-rink theme, garage psychedelia, a vintage soul strut and artsy late 70s Britpop. With its vamping repeaterbox guitar and some dancing tremolo-picking from Paulie, Spanish Steps sounds like Link Wray in a hurry to get a Lee Hazlewood desert rock groove on tape. There are two versions of another instrumental, Our Man in Amsterdam, the second harder and more garage-rock oriented – it’s hard to figure where the Amsterdam connection comes in.

The theme from Django – Tarantino’s best film by a mile – gets a richly watery, jangly, psychedelic arrangement with layers of acoustic and electric guitar and keys that elevates it above the cartoonish original. Pushed along by Tricia’s dancing, period-perfect early 70s soul bassline, Lo Chiamavano King comes across as a more artsy take on what could pass for a big Roy Ayers title theme.

Elena Barakhovski contributes soaring vocalese on Korla’s Theme, an artfully nebulous, ominously crescendoing Dick Dale-style Red Sea stomp with all kinds of cool variations – it might be the album’s best song. Then they slow things down to a misterioso swing with an impressively lush cover of Shake Some Evil by 90s cult heroes Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet. Positraction, another original, manages to blend Booker T, 60s go-go music, surf and swing without anybody in the band stepping on anybody else. Then they do Les Baxter’s Hell’s Belles as blazing psychedelic soul. The album ends with Man from Nowhere, a rare spy-surf gem first recorded by Shadows bassist Jet Harris on the soundtrack to the obscure British film Live It Up, pairing a brooding baritone guitar hook against uneasily airy keys. Surf bands typically live for rarities, but this is an especially sweet find. For that matter, so is the whole record. While it  hasn’t hit the usual spots yet, cds are available, and there are a handful of tracks up at the band’s Soundcloud page.

A Killer New Twang and Surf Rock Album from the Bakersfield Breakers

The Bakersfield Breakers are one of New York’s funnest and most intriguing bands. They play twangy surf and country-flavored instrumentals inspired by Buck Owens’ wickedly catchy, Telecaster-fueled early 60s sound. There are times when you can’t tell this band apart from their influences, whether they’re doing reverbtoned Ventures themes, rugged Merle Haggard-style C&W, elegantly moody countrypolitan, even a rampaging cover of the Dick Dale classic The Wedge. They’ve got an amazing new album out, In the Studio with the Bakersfield Breakers, streaming at Bandcamp and a whole slew of shows coming up. They’re at South St. Seaport today, July 22 at noon for all you folks in the Financial District, then at Otto’s at 9 tomorrow night, July 23, then a gig at Sidewalk on July 27 at 6 and on the Coney Island Boardwalk on August 16 at 2 PM with a bunch of other instrumental and surf bands.

This band is all about tunes and textures: a clang, a crash, biting staccato, lingering jangle and everything in between from Keith Yaun’s multitracked guitars, he does it all. Bassist John Hamilton and drummer John DiGiulio team up through shuffles, surfy stomp and more subtle, gentler grooves. All of Yaun’s wild spiraling on the opening track, BB Breakdown, makes you forget that the band is just playing simple blues changes. The aptly titled Longing blends a sad, spiky mix of honkytonk, incisive blues and Britfolk licks and moody ranchera rock.

Hawaiian War Chant is basically a mashup of Buck Owens’ Buckaroo and the Charles Mingus classic Haitian Fight Song. Gored by a Board has a sarcastic edge: Weird Al couldn’t have done a Dick Dale sendup any better than this. They follow that with a precise, twangy reinvention of the Tennessee Waltz and then the Owens-ish boogie Honcho.

Stingray has more of the Buckaroo allusions – and some cool fuzz bass leads from Hamilton. Summer Sunset builds a wistful, regretful mood: it’s the most Lynchian of all the tracks here. Yaun builds to a series of sizzling electrified bluegrass licks on STP, then alludes to George Harrison on Whispering Guitar, right down to the watery Abbey Road-era chorus-box sonics. And speaking of the Beatles, the trio very cleverly interpolate a Fab Four classic into their cover of the Monkees’ Pleasant Valley Sunday.

New Paltz starts out sounding as if it’s going to be another series of variations on the Tennessee Waltz, but then goes a lot further afield. There are also two strolling takes of Just Holding Your Hand here, one instrumental and the other with a nuanced countrypolitan vocal by a mystery guest chanteuse. Is this the best rock instrumental album of 2014? The upcoming album by Big Lazy is the only foreseeable competition.

Revisiting a Great Doublebill

As regular visitors here know, this blog’s original and pretty much single focus was live music. Then the publicists, and the artists themselves, got out their catapults and started flinging albums over the moat and the parapets and the siege was underway. It hasn’t ended yet, and it won’t anytime soon. But in the spirit of being different from the rest of the blogosphere and the media – let’s not even get into the social media babble-on – it’s time, once again, to do some catching up on what some usual suspects who make New York such a hotbed of live music, even in this era of death by gentrification, have been up to.

A few weeks back at the Gutter bowling alley in Williamsburg, it was a trip to see Kill Henry Sugar with a bass player. As frontman/guitarist Erik Della Penna told the crowd, it had been ten years since the sardonic Americana-tinged rockers had one. And the new guy didn’t just play roots, he did lots of fluid, melodic runs and even a couple of solos way up the fretboard. All this freed Della Penna to cut loose more than he usually does when it’s just him and drummer Dean Sharenow. As usual, the songs were catchy, Della Penna’s vocals were unselfconsciously soulful and imbued with his signature dry wit. These guys have been around since the 90s; much as they beat the White Stripes to the guitar-and-drums thing, it was good to see them reinvigorated by some welcome low end.

The world’s creeepiest cinematic instrumental band, Big Lazy regrouped earlier this year, with a new rhythm section of Pink Noise‘s Yuval Lion on drums and the Greenwich Village Orchestra’s principal bassist Andrew Hall. From the perspective of someone who first saw Big Lazy back in the 90s and was blown away – when they were known as Lazy Boy and popping up in detective show soundtracks all over the cable channels – they’ve never sounded better. Jarring as the segue with Kill Henry Sugar was, the two bands made a great doubleibll. With his reverb turned up to the usual eleven, guitarist/bandleader Steve Ulrich led the trio through the lickety-split, marauding noir rockabilly of Princess Nicotine and Just Plain Scared, Lion hitting all over his hardware, Ulrich’s prickly staccato attack like a sharpshooter with a machine gun. Their rhythm section has never been more purposeful or emphatic, and Ulrich’s relentless chromatics were as macabre as always. Hall bowed his bass to max out the murky menace of the classic Theme from Headtrader to open the night; a little later, Lion kept the ba-BUMP shuffle of a new song going on the rims and cymbal heads and anything else he could find to create an incisive ping or click.

Most of the set was new material. Ulrich’s warped, quavery lapsteel bent a bolero out of shape with a mushroomy surrealism, followed by a warmly bucolic Bill Frisell-ish theme, moving methodically through apprehensive echoes to unexpectedly straight-ahead, distorted, anthemic rock. Spare, desolate riffs turned savage in a split second, Ulrich furiously tremolo-picking the strings, Dick Dale style. Bob Dylan keyboardist Mick Rossi made a cameo on harmonium, adding a surreal suspense on one of the new numbers. A little later, they brought up slide trumpeter and Sexmob mainman Steven Bernstein to wail and shimmy with his usual wry humor on a long, blackly amusing version of Gone, from the band’s third album, then a funky new number in 5/4 time with a droll fake fanfare and quotes from the Mission Impossible theme, and a long, shapeshifting Nino Rota movie mini-suite. They finally closed with a a haphazardly evil version of Uneasy Street, a concert favorite that could have been a trainwreck, as Bernstein built an unexpectedly bright break in the relentless cumulo-nimbus atmospherics, but wasn’t – Ulrich decided to stay in the sunlight a little longer before bringing it all back into the abyss. The band is scheduled to spend some time in the studio this summer, which couldn’t be better news from a group who for years were arguably the best band in New York.

Dark Retro Garage and Soul Sounds from Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside

Portland, Oregon band Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside mix retro guitar influences from the 60s into a defiantly unique, high-energy sound that’s part garage rock and part oldschool soul, with a lot of Link Wray snarl as well. They’re playing a free show at Pier 84 at 44th St. and the Hudson at around 8 PM on July 11; their latest album, Untamed Beast is streaming at Soundcloud.

“Never gonna apologize for being so intense, how the hell would that make any sense?” Ford sneers on the opening track, They Told Me, over drummer Ford Tennis’ caveman stomp, bassist Tyler Tornfelt going way up and hitting hard over the lingering Link Way Rumble menace of the two guitars. On the funky, doo wop-infused Addicted, Ford slashes and tremolo-picks against lead guitarist Jeffrey Munger’s resonant, reverb-drenched lines, building to a firestorm of trumpet, backing vocals and chord-chopping. “I know where the party can be found…dancing in the living room, drinking white wine,” Ford grins over a snarling minor-key soul vamp on Party Kids. Bad Boys works agile handoffs between the two guitars over a dark minor-key soul vamp lit up by a couple of slashing Dick Dale-style slides down the scale; then Ford pushes the beat on the slow, sultry, luridly noir Shivers.

Devil takes an oldtime gospel vamp and makes a rockabilly shuffle out of it. The album’s best song, Paris takes a richly successful, tuneful turn into open-tuned acoustic country blues. Do Me Right works a slyly innuendo-packed litany of food for a hokum blues vibe over a 60s soul shuffle. Lip Boy pounds along on a boomy, Cramps-y surf groove. Munger’s savage surf playing brings Rockability to a screaming peak; the album winds up with the surprisingly laid-back, acoustic Roll Around, Ford wishing for an escape back to the 50s away from teens technology overkill.

Another cool thing about this album, and about this band, is that while everything they’re doing has been done before, they don’t lapse into cliche or go over the top. Ford could put  a snotty pout into her nonchalantly sweaty alto delivery and probably get away with it, and the rest of the band could recycle more well-worn licks than they do. But they don’t. Much as they’ve got the 60s sound down so cold that someone hearing them might assume that these songs were recorded 45 years ago, nobody is going to confuse this band with anybody else.

Great New Psychedelic Rock from the Blackfeet Braves

In a lot of respects, the Blackfeeet Braves are basically a first-class surf band with vocals and psychedelic overtones. These Los Angelenos really know what they’re doing, setting a surreal mood and maintaiing it all the way through their new album, which is streaming at Bandcamp, with a free download.  Their songs are catchy, their twangy, reverbtoned vintage guitar sonics deliciously echoey, their solos interesting , their use of effects imaginative. The bass is trebly and cuts through the mix; the drums push the beat a little and keep things uptempo. Their songwriting draws as much on early 60s Orbison-style noir pop as it does the Ventures, Dick Dale and trippier bands like the Electric Prunes. They sound like they’d be great fun live. Reputedly, this album was recorded on the site of an old Indian burying ground – whether or not that contributed to the lingering menace of many of the songs is open to interpretation.

Mystic Rabbit kicks things off with a jangly minor-key surf gallop. The first thing it brings to mind is the Ventures’ version of Runaway, but slower. Nice hollowbody bass tone cutting through the mix, too. The bouncy surf-pop of Trippin’ Like I Do reminds of Milwaukee’s Exotics, while the distantly latin-tinged Open Your Heart introduces one of the guitars running through what sounds like a repeater box (analog forerunner of the delay pedal), an effect they use frequently from this point on.

Misery Loves Company, with the repeater box set to strobe, reminds of great second-wave Rhode Island psych band Plan 9 crossed with the Ventures in propulsive outer-space mode  Please Let Me Know sets a nonchalantly swaying soul strut verse up against an apprehensively jangly chorus  and then segues into Dockweiler, an allusively menacing, vamping garage-rock tune. They follow that with the chiming, organ-fueled stoner-pop song Oh So Fine.

Cloud 9 sets warbling funeral organ over a garage rock tune with aggressive vocal harmonies, a tasty, ringing guitar solo and a scampering doublespeed interlude. Strange Lovers features a theremin keening over catchy staccato guitar; it’s one of the most memorable tracks on the album. Hanging ‘Round is the slowest and darkest track here. Vicious Cycle, a free download, follows the same arc as Cloud 9: biting chorus and then another scurrying romp where the guitarist fires off some agile tremolo-picking instead of using the repeater box. The album ends with the short, catchy, syncopated minor-key bounce of High ‘n Dry.

As with a lot of psychedelic bands, their lyrics tend to be the neither-here-nor-there kind, when they’re not going for a surreal menace – somebody “spills the blood on the victim’s hands,” “I put a spell on you, you pur a curse on me.” So it doesn’t hurt that there’s so much reverb on the vocals that it’s sometimes hard to figure them out.

New York Surf City

There’s a method to the madness of covering so many outdoor concerts here. At some point in our lifetime, all these shows will be just a memory. Sooner or later at this time in August in New York, it might not be technically impossible to put on an outdoor show, but it’ll be unrealistic to expect anyone to come out into the heat and watch it. For the moment, it’s good that we have Julie Rozar, part of the brain trust behind the snarkily entertaining Alien Surfer Babes and Witches in Bikinis, and Deb Noble of Blue Stingraye Productions, who emceed a summer storm of surf bands Saturday afternoon on the Coney Island boardwalk out in front of the Wonder Wheel. They’d actually scheduled most of these bands for a concert here last year, but then Mayor Bloomberg decided to shut down the city for the “hurricane” which of course never arrived. Was this eclectic lineup worth waiting almost a year for? Depends on your heat tolerance. Even with a gusty breeze off the ocean, Coney Island was sweltering, and the show was scheduled to go into the early evening, with Connecticut’s Commercial Interruption followed by Long Island’s Strange But Surf, psychedelic Ohio instrumentalists Purple k’niF, the retro, purist Clams, Boston horror surf maniacs Beware The Dangers Of A Ghost Scorpion and then the ASB’s headlining [excellent set of photos on Flickr].

The early part of the show was full of examples of why surf rock is so much fun, and why it’s sometimes so exasperating. Spontaneous dancing was breaking out everywhere, even during at least two versions of Surf City Here We Come (there might have been more as the afternoon went on, you never know). Both Commercial Interruption and Strange But Surf write good original songs: they don’t have to fall back on cheeseball covers like that. There’s unfortunately a bunch of those in the surf repertoire along with classics like Misirlou (Strange But Surf’s closing tune) and Pipeline (Commercial Interruption opened with that one: since they’ve got a keyboard, their version was especially cool, in the spirit of the original). Since their songs don’t usually have lyrics, surf bands have to get over on music alone, which explains why so many good players end up becoming part of the surf music cult. Commercial Interruption, whose name alludes to the fact that they do a lot of old tv themes, covered an impressive range of styles, starting with the Mothers of Invention, complete with a noisy psychedelic freakout mid-song and then an amusing segue into a series of corny 70s hits including the Andrea True Connection’s immortal More, More, More. From there they tackled a couple of early Beatles tunes, then the loping C&W of The Magnificent Seven, and eventually a breezy, jazzy I Dream of Jeannie theme. Their frontman/bass player took a couple of solos full of slides and punchy chords that managed to be flashy but not stupid; they also did a couple of edgy, stomping minor-key originals.

Strange But Surf’s originals were also the highlight of their roughly 45-minute set, as they switched instruments, had fun putting their own spin on the Ramones’ “hey ho, let’s go,” sped up Lee Hazlewood’s spaghetti western theme Baja to a gallop, unearthed Where the Action Is (a mid-60s Dick Clark show theme) and turned Marbles, their drummer loose on guitar and vocals on The Martians Are Pissed. After swooshing their way through the Avengers Theme, Link Wray’s grandson joined them for a surprise appearance on guitar for The Rumble: as far as brushes with surf rock royalty go, it doesn’t get much more personal than that. There’s another free show here on August 18 with Witches in Bikinis headlining at 7.

The surf didn’t stop when the tide came up and the sun went down, either. Since this was the first Saturday of the month, tireless promoter Unsteady Freddie was putting on his monthly surf show at Otto’s. By half past eleven, the Tarantinos NYC had taken the stage. They’re an unlikely-looking bunch – jazz drummer, metal guitarist, rock bassist and pop keyboardist – but they have the kind of chemistry that comes from constant gigging and the kind of diverse, cinematic sound their name implies. And they don’t just do songs from Tarantino movies: this particular show featured a lot of unpredictable, anthemic originals, a digression into Link Wray like the one on the boardwalk earlier in the day but with a lot more alcohol involved, and finally a majestically lurid version of Henry Mancini’s You Only Live Twice.

For anybody who might have questioned the decision to put a psychedelic Greek rembetiko band at the top of the bill, the Byzan-tones’ eerie, chromatic, sometimes microtonally-spiked stomp generated a lot more spontaneous dancing and absolutely stunned the crowd: it was half past one in the morning by the time they finished, but nobody left the room. Recently regrouped, with Steve Antonakos’ guitar taking the place of the electric oud they employed back in the mid-zeros, they’re once again one of New York’s best bands. From the apprehensive, Arabic-tinged Byzan-Tone Beat, to the tricky Black Sea tempos of Pontic Pipeline, to the high point of the night, a murky chromatic vamp that morphed into a macabre samba, the intensity didn’t let up. In his resonant baritone, frontman/guitarist George Sempepos intoned a somber yet bouncy rembetiko song about a street urchin bumming for cigarettes and accosting the wrong guy (who turned out to be a cop; the kid asks him anyway). The music got a little bit lighter, with one number that sounded like a syncopated version of the Stones’ Beast of Burden before going back into the shadows with a slinky, furtive vamp that Antonakos lit up with some surrealistically searing slide work and then a warped variation on the Peter Gunne theme. They closed with a tongue-in-cheek song called Crawfish Saganaki, pulsing along on a Bo Diddley beat. All this made dealing with the heat seem like afterthought.

Kick-Ass Horror Surf from Boston

Today’s free download is from Boston horror surf band Beware the Dangers of a Ghost Scorpion. Their Legend of Goatman’s Bridge ep was one of the most entertainingly and tunefully assaultive rock records of last year; this latest one is even better – and both albums are up as name-your-price downloads at the four-piece group’s Bandcamp site. It’s put together as a radio broadcast, complete with host Sy Hearsewood introducing the songs and ghoulish “commercials” for services including Amontillonado Corpse Removal, undead specialist Vic Luciferi and in a meta moment, the band themselves.

But the songs are the stars of this show. The first is Denton County Casket Company, a growling minor-key rumble that reminds of the days when the Coffin Daggers would rip Besame Mucho Twist to shreds. The bluesy halfspeed bridge catches you unawares; so does the trick ending. Unforgettable Skull Deformation is a fast sledgehammer Journey to the Stars type tune that eventually builds to some skin-shredding Dick Dale style picking.

Red River Tombstone Hustle is a ghoulabilly theme with paisley underground psychedelic touches, while the Link Wray intro to The Lurker is a dead end: it quickly turns into a sad, disassociatively menacing waltz, the bass chords raising the suspense. This particular stalker is one depressed guy! The last song is North Texas Cobra Squadron, which sounds like a slightly more polished Man or Astroman. As you would expect from hearing this obviously live recording, these guys are a killer onstage – if you get the chance to see them, don’t pass it up.