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.