New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: garage rock

The Legendary Shack Shakers Bring Their Expertly Menacing Party to the Bell House

The Legendary Shack Shakers are at the peak of their long career in creepy, sometimes macabre, cynical Americana party music. Frontman JD Wilkes has never sounded more in command of the dark side of every roots rock style ever invented: ghoulabilly, southwestern gothic, garage rock, punk and blues. They’re one of the few bands alive who can match the offhandedly savage minor-key intensity of Australian legends Radio Birdman. a band they often resemble. They’ve been hitting New York regularly over the last couple of years; their next gig is a headline slot at the Bell House on April 7. Raucous southern roots/jamgrass/honkytonk band the Pine Hill Haints open the night at 9; $15 advance tix, available at the venue box office, are your best bet.

The Shack Shakers’ latest album is The Southern Surreal, out from Jello Biafra’s label, Altenative Tentacles and streaming at Spotify. The first track, Mud, is a scampering, banjo-driven ghoulgrass shuffle. Its funniest number is Misamerica. 60s noir garage as Stiv Bators would have done it circa 1979, or Radio Birdman at three-quarter speed. “Bloody lipstick all over her teeth…the queen of idiocracy…from the party line to the tv screen,” Wilkes intones.

Cold, a loping gothic cowboy ballad, wouldn’t be out of place in the Mark Sinnis catalog; then guitarist Rod Hamdallah fires off a Birdman riff as the chorus kicks in. Gloomy lyrics soar over snarling Stonesy guitars on The One That Got Away, which looks back to a classic Grateful Dead anthem. Let the Dead Bury the Dead blends tongue-in-cheek noir cabaret and punked out Tex-Mex, while Young Heart, Old Soul represents the lighter side of the band, a carefree, stomping ska number, like the Slackers with distorted guitars

Fool’s Tooth, a brief blues vamp with honking harmonica sets things up for Down to the Bone, a southern psych-soul vamp. They really mix things up here: Christ Almighty, a lickety-split update on the Yardbirds or early Pretty Things, gets followed by Demon Rum, a snidely nonchalant honkytonk piano number.

Buzzard & the Bell, by drummer Chris Whitacre, makes a creepy shuffle out of a 1920s style Greek gangster tune, like Greek Judas in English. The album closes with a similarly menacing, slinky take of the Albert King blues classic Born Under a Bad Sign. The tracks are punctuated by fragmentary, sardonic samples including a really grisly roadkill story.

Their 2003 album Cockadoodledont also got a welcome reissue recently and is up at Spotify as well. Its first track, Pinetree Boogie is dirtier than the Yardbirds but tighter than, say, Knoxville Girls. The swamp-rock CB Song offers a darker take on a silly novelty genre. Help Me From My Brain spices frantic World Inferno circus-rock with eerie Romany and Balkan riffs

Shakerag Holler welds a slyly shuffling oldtimey blues to a split-second detour into hardcore punk. Hunkerdown bounces along on a familiar Doors riff, while Clodhopper goes in a sardonic jug band direction. Bullfrog Blues mashes up Radio Birdman and an Otis Rush classic, with more of that honking blues harp.

Blood on the Bluegrass foreshadows punkgrass bands like the Devil Makes Three. Devil’s Night Auction is your basic rockabilly dressed up in a flickering Halloween costume. Wild Wild Lover offers a nod to the haphazard shuffles of the early Gun Club, while the cover of Slim Harpo’s ShakeYour Hips improves on than the Stones version, although it’s not as feral as Randi Russo’s. The album winds up with the punkabilly Hoptown Jailbreak It’s good to see this back in print: you will probably get some of both albums and a lot more in Gowanus on the 7th.

The Amphibious Man Bring Their Creepy, Cinematic New England Noir to the South Slope

Hartford, Connecticut six-piece The Amphibious Man call their music “road slaw.” It’s dark and haphazard, yet purposeful and tuneful, with enough of an over-the-guardrail vibe to make it genuinely menacing. Reverbtoned surf lines sit side by side with blasts of pure punk rock, cheap 60s b-movie mystery soundtrack sonics, coyly creepy spacerock organ, plus grey-noise synth and guitar effects that look back to the earliest days of psychedelia but also instantly identify the band’s sound as being from right now. Their latest album Witch Hips is streaming at Bandcamp; they’re playing Fifth Estate Bar, 506 5th Ave (12th & 13th Sts), in that nebulous neighborhood between Park Slope and Sunset Park on November 20 at 10 PM. Ghoulpunks Danse De Sade play afterward at around 11, cover is TBA. You can take the F to 7th Ave. and walk downhill, or the R to 9th St, which is closer, and go up.

The album’s opening track, Fischer Cat veers back and forth between swaying, reverbtoned Ventures clang and roaring gutter rock; the band layers squirrelly Mystery Science Theatre sonics under the guitars as it winds out. Jimmy – as in the leering mantra “Jimmy doesn’t like this” – would be straight-up 70s proto-metal all the way through if not for the blippy, minimalist fuzz-synth verse. South Whitney Pizza, which may or may not be about or inspired by a hometown pie-and-slice joint, has a murky 80s lo-fi new wave garage feel with its oily mudpuddle bass riffs over a steady, watery guitar tune.

The album’s best track, Halloweed, brings to mind what Big Lazy might have sounded like in their earliest days exploring lo-fi noir cinematics before they started playing out. A slow, lingering, distantly bolero-tinged noir guitar intro fuels the song’s rise toward fullscale Lynchian horror, then goes in a colder but equally macabre direction. Hartman Park artfully and enigmatically comes together out of more of that syncopated quasi-surf. The swaying, sarcastic, almost lullabyish The Devil’s Hopyard follows a similar tangent toward a hypnotically dancing back-and-forth swing. The album’s final track is the blasting Tombstone Luvin, which blends an eerily anthemic lo-fi post-new wave ambience with gritty, punk-inspired proto-metal. Guitarists Jason Principi and Mike Myrbeck, bassists Jake Downey and Jackie Hopkins and keyboardist/drummers Adam Heege and Shaun Burns get extra props for originality and ominous outside-the-box ideas. You might not think that an album that sounds like this might be one of the best to come over the transom here this year, but it is.

Reverb Monsters Thee Oh Sees Flip the Script in Their Return to Bowery Ballroom

Is Thee Oh Sees’ September 8, 10 PM show at Bowery Ballroom going to be a wash since it’s right after the Labor Day weekend? Probably not, since the band had been on hiatus for much of this past year while frontman John Dwyer took care of Castle Face label business. And most everybody who’s coming back to town will be back by then. So if assaultively glimmering, reverb-drenched psychedelic garage rock is your thing, you should plan on getting to the venue a little early; general admission is $20.

Thee Oh Sees’ latest album – their fourteenth release –  is Manipulator Defeated At Last (streaming at Soundcloud), and it’s a real curveball, an unexpectedly successful departure into retro 80s tropes. If you thought you knew this band, you’re in for all sorts of surprises – good ones. The opening track, Web starts out as a coy new wave strut until Dwyer comes in and throws lighter fluid on everything – is it a spoof? Maybe. Probably. The twin guitars doing a horn chart toward the end is period-perfect 80s.

Halloweenish whistling wind sonics and a slinky bassline explode into an early Joy Division stomp in Withered Head. Likewise, Poor Queen welds a lingering Daniel Ash-ish reverb guitar riff to a skittish 2/4 beat. Then Dwyer mashes up galloping garage rock with Syd Barrett and a tongue-in-cheek early 70s stoner rock riff in Turned Out Light.

Lupine Ossuary – you just gotta love this guy’s song titles – is Link Wray as Barrett would have done it,  a surrealistically squalling one-chord jam. In what has become a sadistic formula, Dwyer juxtaposes a dreamily cinematic, serpentine early 60s organ theme with crushing guitars in Sticky Hulks: it’s the most psychedelic track here.

Acoustic guitars – WTF?!?! – build a web in tandem with the organ as the uneasy motorik theme Holy Smokes gets underway and remains in the fast lane. By contrast, Rogue Planet is sort of Wire as done by Guided by Voices. The album winds up with the murderously lingering, shuffling Palace Doctor, an ambling, ominously vamping, latin-tinged take on vintage Bauhaus. Wow. We take this band for granted and they just keep putting out great albums, this being one of their best.

Weird Night in Bushwick with Acid Dad

Went to the ‘Shweck last Friday night. It took a few rounds of shots and beers at one of the East Village’s few remaining oldschool, relatively tourist-free joints to fuel this trip to the belly of the beast. In case you haven’t been – and if you don’t live there, you almost assuredly haven’t – it’s Desolation Valley next door to Berlin after the war. Former crackhouses and future ones, since none of the spectacularly shoddy, even more spectacularly overpriced new prefab units are really meant to be lived in. They’re just lifesize game pieces for speculators who’re too chickenshit for the stock market. And yeah, as Eula’s Alyse Lamb has noted, what’s going on musically in Bushwick isn’t monolithic, and there are some good bands who play out there, and not everybody who lives there is an asshole. But so many of them are.

A publicist had sent word that a couple of good garage bands, Acid Dad and the Mystery Lights, would be playing a brand-new venue, Our Wicked Lady, just a couple of blocks from the Morgan Avenue L station, which made the night more appealing. It’s a decent enough club, although the setup is kind of weird – the stage faces the bar, with more space for spectators along the sides than directly in front. A spastic, dorky guitar-and-drums duo opened – they were awful. Then Acid Dad took their time setting up and throughout the set, interrupted it with attempts to get the sound just right – a common request was for more reverb on the vocals. C’mon, dudes, you’re playing through a Mackie and couple of JBL’s, what can you really expect?

But they were good, and they didn’t limit their recycled riffage to the 60s: the Jesus & Mary Chain and Brian Jonestown Massacre were also frequent reference points. The rhythm section was tight – apparently the bassist is leaving the band, which is too bad – and the frontman/guitarist played with a raw roar. He has good taste in equipment: a Mosrite running through a vintage Fender amp for purist tube amp sizzle. And the band stretched the songs out.

What was weirdest was the crowd. There were a couple of Russ Meyer girls decked out in the requisite black leather and eyeliner, and they were having a good time. But the rest of the crowd looked like a bunch of high school kids at their very first rock show…except that high school kids are typically full of energy and bouncing off the walls, right? These children were terrified! They couldn’t figure out if they should applaud or not, or, more visibly, whether they should be taking selfies. Meaning that they weren’t sure if they should be there. New venues usually ride a wave of buzz: was there some reason known only to the uber-trendy that made getting geotagged there a dangerous thing? Was the show missing the imprimatur of whoever decides what’s trendy in Bushwick? Obviously, it isn’t these kids deciding what they ought to be doing with all their leisure time – that would be too much work. Maybe the show wasn’t curated enough…or locavore enough, or ironic enough. Not that anybody there, other than the Russ Meyer girls, maybe, knows what irony is.

And all this raised the question of whether or not the Russ Meyer girls were just as clueless and lacking in inner direction as the fauxhemians. Maybe they were only drinking and bopping around because that’s what Russ Meyer girls  do: faster, pussycat! Go, go, go! What was clear beyond all this, after about 40 minutes, was that the Mystery Lights play elsewhere and that seeing them under less surreal circumstances would be a lot more fun. And by then it was getting dangerously close to the point where the trains were likely to go haywire (that actually didn’t happen until Saturday, which was a nightmare, and a story for another day). Not that the rest of the crowd would know anything about the subway – they take car services. Or Uber. But that’s a story for another day too.

Irresistibly Funny, Jangly Soul-Flavored Sounds from Larry & the Babes

Larry & the Babes have a fun, catchy, snarky self-titled cassette debut album, The Dolphin Tapes, streaming at Bandcamp. What’s cool and different about them is how they mash up all kinds of retro 60s styles – doo-wop, Phil Spector bubblegum pop, soul balladry and hints of Nashville gothic – and turn all of it into an original sound. Some of their songs come across as a less punk take on what Nashville group Clear Plastic Masks do with vintage soul. And their lyrics are really funny.

“You think I’m the perfect person, but I’m made of wax…you’re gonna melt me so I’ve got to stop you in your tracks,” the singer intones on the opening cut, Perfect Person, “You shat on my tv show.” WTF?

The second track, HCDB is a charmingly jangly update on Orbison bolero-pop. The band takes a stomping detour into wah-infused garage rock with Bad Dog and then offers an amiable latin-soul shout-out to one of the world’s most annoying voices, Fran Drescher. Seriously: who wouldn’t want to “shoot the shit and eat tofu” with the actress? Um, ok. The last and most unselfconsciously pretty track is Mostess. This band sounds like they’re a lot of fun live: fans of entertaining, irreverent bands from the Brooklyn What to the Dead Milkmen ought to check them out. They’re at Palisades in Bushwick tomorrow, Thursday, Feb 19 at around 10.

Des Roar Bring Their Unhinged Menace to Rough Trade

Des Roar may look back to Phil Spector pop for inspiration, but there’s a leering, lurking Lynchian creepiness in what they do. And they’re not exactly a pop band. Punk would be a better way to describe them – in a genuine sense. Des Roar’s kind of punk goes back to bands like the Jesus & Mary Chain or even the Dead Boys, when punk meant breaking any rules around rather than playing harmless, conformist, G-rated uh-AW-oh songs, the kind of stuff that Jello Biafra calls “shut up and shop music.” They’re at Rough Trade on Feb 18 at around 11 preceded at around 10 by retro soul band the Jay Vons. Advance tix are $10.

Like a lot of bands who got their start in the zeroes, it’s been awhile since Des Roar put out an album. Their most recent one, Mad Things, came out in 2009 and is still out there, streaming at Grooveshark. The centerpiece, a real classic, is Ted Bundy Was a Ladies Man. The version here is a lot cleaner and janglier than the absolutely harrowing version on the band’s 2008 debut release, When in Rome, but the pouncing stalker blues tune fits the creepy, sarcastic lyric. “He killed 38 women in five different states, it’s getting out of hand,” frontman/guitarist Ben Wolcott deadpans. Likewise, the gleefully menacing, swaying Confessions of a White Widowed Male, a chronicle of 36 fewer murders fueled by lead player Alan O’Keeffe’s echoey slide guitar.

The brooding, amped-up minor-key new wave tune King of Cuffs raises the suspense by keeping it at arm’s length: it wouldn’t be out of place in the catalog of legendary dark NYC new wavers DollHouse. Wolcott’s deadpan menace and savage sarcasm match the blackly propulsive groove of The Ballad of Little Bangs, a gorgeous, classic late 70s-style powerpop number pushed along by Ryan Spoto’s bass and Lyla Vander’s drums.

The J&MC – who Des Roar like to cover onstage – are evoked most visibly on the careening, swaying Sparrow, a sideways tribute to a now-dead Oxycontin addict; the savage Daddy’s Girl, a kiss-off to a rich bitch who has to run away and “hide in the hills…cause nobody’s gonna take your shit anymore;” and Finish What You Started, which Vander sings. The callous When in Rome, with its faux Motown groove, keeps the cruel sarcasm front and center: “You’re just my New York City fling.” Wolcott sneers. Vander and Wolcott duet on How Much Is Too Much – it’s practically punk Abba, but too funny/creepy, especially when she threatens to throw acid in the face of any girl who messes with her guy.

There are also a couple of less overtly hostile numbers here: Baby You’re Too Young, which evokes the Clash’s cover of Booker T’s Time Is Tight, and Not Over for Me, akin to Sonny and Cher doing a secondhand Lee Hazlewood soul-blues tune but with gritty 80s production values.

Des Roar also have a Soundcloud page with a bunch of first-class singles, including the horror surf-inflected The Watchers; the downstroke punk-pop of Watch Your Step, which the Strokes only wish they had the balls to have written; the grimy Diddleybeat surf-punk Hallucinations, and the Link Wray-inspired Paranoia.

The Electric Mess Headline a Kick-Ass Triplebill at Union Pool on Thursday

The Electric Mess distinguish themselves from the legions of garage rock imitators out there in a lot of ways. For one, they have a heavier, more Detroit- and Australian-influenced sound. Much as they’ve got the swirly Farfisa organ and the stomping rhythms, they aren’t just recycling old riffs: you know, one-one, FOUR-FOUR, one, chucka-chucka-chucka, repeat for two minutes thirty seconds. And where most bands are lucky to have a single strong songwriter, the Electric Mess have three: singer/percussionist Esther Crow (aka Chip Fontaine), savagely Deniz Tek-influenced guitarist Dan Crow and bassist Derek Davidson. They’re headlining a good triplebill at 11 at Union Pool on Jan 29 that starts with retro 60s soul band the Jay Vons at 9 followed by the catchy, jangly all-female Party Lights. Cover is eight bucks.

The Electric Mess also make excellent albums. Their latest one, House on Fire is streaming at Bandcamp. Guitarist Crow’s Better to Be Lucky Than Good opens the record: it’s sort of a less frantic take on what Radio Birdman was doing with Aloha Steve & Danno, the sonic attack anchored by Oweinama Biu’s tremolo organ. The catchy, barely two-minute title track sounds like a Steve Wynn song if he’d been recording back in the 60s. Another Birdman-style sizzler, Beat Skipping Heart ponders the impact of a girl who’s both a “biscuit roller and a barrel stack.” The album’s best track, Winding Stairs pairs a swaying, brooding four-chord minor-key verse with a bittersweetly anthemic chorus. And the longest number here, Every Girl Deserves a Song, draws a jaggedly druggy line back toward the MC5 with diversions through acid-scarred Stooges wah psychedelia and Brian Jonestown Massacre hypnotics.

Esther Crow also contributes three songs. The first is the Brill Building garage anthem She Got Fangs, with its droll Hendrix quotes – does the Brill Building have a garage? In the basement, maybe? The second is Leavin’ Me Hangin, which with Craig Rogers’ pummeling surf drums sounds like a mashup of the previously mentioned Birdmen and the Fleshtones. The last one is Lemonade Man, a twisted stalker’s tale.

Davidson has five songs on the album. She’s Got Something to Say is like a tighter version of Them; Get Me Outta the Country is a galloping mashup of Blues Magoos and Reducers. The ominously vamping There’s Nothing You Can Do offers a tip of the helmet to a certain Radio Birdman classic, while The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave is a kiss-off to noodge. Davidson’s final track here is You Never Come Around Anymore, which wouldn’t be out of place on a Plan 9 album from that band’s peak era back in the 80s. Fans of this era’s best garage and psychedelic retroists like the Allah-Las will love this band.

Another Edgy, Hilarious, Spot-On Album and a Muchmore’s Gig by Les Sans Culottes

Isn’t it ironic to the extreme that one of the few New York groups to articulately stand up to the menace of gentrification and trickle-up economics would sing their lyrics in French? In a global context, maybe there’s some twisted logic to that. After all, when faced with austérité or corruption, the French actually do something about it. Usually that means they go on strike. Maybe we should too: after all, at this moment in history, on est tous Charlie.

Les Sans Culottes are a New York institution, stars of the demimonde of Americans playing French music. Except that Les Sans Culottes’ music is original: they’re sort of the Spinal Tap of French rock. Their specialty, throughout a career that spans almost twenty years, is their own twisted take on the ye-ye pop that sprang up in France in the mid 60s, a coy hybrid of American garage rock and psychedelia and bouncy French variétés pop. More recently, their music has become somewhat less satirical, while their impressively fluent French lyrics have become more so, with a corrosively funny, politically spot-on sensibility. Their latest, arguably best and most savagely amusing album, the menacingly titled Les Dieux Ont Soif (The Gods Are Thirsty, a phrase that dates from the terror after the French Revolution) is streaming at soundcloud. They’re playing Muchmore’s at midnight this Friday, Jan 16.

The band members’s noms de plume (noms de guitarre?) give you a good idea of where they’re coming from. There’s frontman Clermont Ferrand (whose alter ego fronts another NYC institution, the Jug Addicts); girl singers Kit Kat Le Noir and Courtney Louvre; drummer Jacques Strappe; bassist M. Pomme Frite; keyboardist Benoit Bals, and hotshot guitarist Geddy Liaison. As you would expect from a band that’s been going as long as they have, there’s been some turnover across the years, this being by far the hardest-rocking version of the group. Throughout their career, their songs have parodied and pilloried everything French, from cuisine, to literary snobbery, to politics: in this age of austérité, it only makes sense that the new album would have more of a snarlingly political focus.

With its slinky Pink Panther groove, the title track perfectly capsulizes the band’s appeal: Clermont Ferrand and the girls poking fun at French vinophilia, but with a subtle undercurrent that casts the gods as a bunch of power-mad drunks. Allez Les Humains (Up with People) blends touches of gospel, Rolling Stones and Zapp and Roger into the mix, a gentle poke at the tech-obsessed. They revisit that theme with The Galactic Man, via Benoit Bals’ silly, quavery space-pop keys.

As usual with this band, the hardest-hitting tracks are the best. L’affaire Dominique Strauss-Kahn gets a withering look, speaking truth to power against a mighty, anthemic backdrop. DSK’s dismissive “Je suis un client de Sofitel” is priceless, and perfectly capsulizes what that was all about. Likewise, Gendarme Gendarme roars into Dead Kennedys territory, a blackly amusing view of police state terror in post-9/11 NYC. The bouncy groove of La Nouvelle Norme Amorale disguises its exasperated view of trickle-up economics and contains what might be the album’s best couple of lines:

Les troupes de choc pour notre chômage 
Ils sentent mauvais comme des grands fromages

Rough translation: “Shock troops against the unemployed/Smells as bad as the big cheese.” And the most resonant and maybe funniest of all the songs here, at least from a hometown perspective, is Très Brooklyn, a broodingly anthemic, keyboard-driven sendup of gentrifier #patheticness, right down to the trendy neighborhood name-dropping.

On the more lighthearted side, there’s the pretty self-explanatory Faux Pas, with its roller-rink organ. Kit Kat Le Noir sings Pierre, Don’t Let the Cat Out, which might be a satire of yuppie overconsumption, or it might just be a catchy, organ-and-guitar-fueled ye-ye pop tune. She also takes over vocals on the gently tropical-flavored La Fille Chichiteuse, a poke at a snobby girl.

The wickedly catchy, pouncingly pulsing Metro Boulot Dodo draws a sardonic picture of party animals caught on the dayjob treadmill. And the band revisits that in the lone sort-of-English-language track here, the hilariously funky What People Do for Money, which sounds suspiciously like the kind of conversation you might overhear between BCGB Parisian transplants recently relocated to Bedford Avenue.

Dans la Nuit is a cruelly accurate spoof of faux-jazzy 80s/90s French pop. The surreal cowboy tale Oh Minot has a wryly punchy, vaguely Spanish flavor: it sounds a lot like the group’s similarly satirical Dutch predecessors Gruppo Sportivo. And you don’t need to speak French to enjoy the music: in their own way, the English translations at the band’s lyric page are just as funny as the original French versions.

Garage Punk Madness at Don Pedro’s in Bushwick This Saturday

Marauding garage-punk trio Sun Voyager have a split ep out with Greasy Hearts (streaming at Bandcamp, and also available on cassette, yay). The opening track, Desert Dweller, is the best one, a truly gorgeous feast of multitracked, distorted Fender Twin guitar amp sonics. It’s like a slightly less noisy version of what the Skull Practitioners do. Mind Maze, Sun Voyager’s second track, sounds like something from the Boomtown Rats’ first album if that band had switched out the punk for stoner garage production values. The last one, Let It Ride has trickier rhythms and a searing, tone-bending guitar solo out. Greasy Hearts’ three contributions to the ep include one with a Coney Island High-style late 80s/early 90s punk-metal swagger, a more trad garage tune and then a surprisingly eclectic number with echoes of both oldschool soul and vintage Sabbath.

Another heavily Sabbath-influenced track is Sun Voyager’s latest single, God Is Dead (also up at Bandcamp). Both bands are playing the King Pizza Records mini-festival which starts at 4 PM this Saturday, Dec 13 at Don Pedro’s. Sorry for the short notice, but the show never made it onto the radar here: the venue’s calendar hasn’t been updated in a couple of months.

Needle Points Bring Their Danceable Psychedelic Grooves to Bushwick

Wow, are Needle Points fun or what! And it’s all because of the basslines. Their opening set at Palisades in Bushwick last night on a bill staged by Christiana of Indie Shuffle would have had a crowd anywhere but in this neighborhood dancing up a storm. OK, maybe not in Williamsburg either, but that’s another story. Within seconds of taking the stage, their guitarist broke a string as he launched into the opening instrumental. But no worries – he’d brought a gorgeous Les Paul as a backup, and blended bits and pieces of echoey surf, sunshiney Memphis soul, lowdown garage rock and hints of southern boogie into the band’s expansive groove. Their burly, bearded bassist rocked a Hofner, a surefire sign that he meant business. “I’m gonna play the fuck out of this bass,” he told the audience and he did. He’s a friendly guy, chatting up the crowd betweeen songs as the band tuned, which was actually a good idea as their frontman – who with the band behind him veered between blue-eyed soul and a garage rock shout – kept quiet. Bass is also the band’s not-so-secret weapon, anchoring the songs with wickedly catchy, vamping grooves that went on for minutes at a clip, punctuated by some neat slides and bends when least expected.

Their first number had the kind of infectuously funky sway that the MC5 were shooting for in their more soul-oriented moments but could never nail. Their second number motored along with a guitar-fueled shuffle that drew a line back to Chuck Berry, via the Stones or the Dead. Their even catchier next one had some heavy ba-BUMP-ba-BUMP low end courtesy of their percussionist, a petite brunette with an ear-to-ear grin who jumped around as she hammered out nimble leapfrog beats with her mallets on a single snare and a kickdrum. From there they made their way through an eerily reverberating Tobacco Road bounce, to a rousingly successful detour into Motown and then back to more side-to-side, swaying grooves. Bands like this make a trek on the J train on a nasty, raw night worth the hassle.

Mr. Kid & the Suicide Policemen are pretty new and have a brand-new name that’s better than their old one. It’s a good guess that they’ll probably have another by next month, which might explain why they don’t have a web presence – although they’ve got a little stuff at soundcloud. Their frontguy doesn’t sing as much as he rasps or does the soul-shout thing – but that’s cool because it fits the music. Right now their twin-guitar attack – roaring, reverb-drenched Fender Jazzmaster and riff-rocking Danelectro Rick copy – is more sonically interesting than their songs, but that will probably change. Like Needle Points, they have a thing for simple, catchy, incisive basslines. They kept things hard and direct, from their best song, a slowly unwinding paisley underground number with echoes of the Dream Syndicate, through louder, more garage-riff oriented material punctuated by the Fender player’s ferociously noisy attack.

As for the third group, Washington, DC’s Paperhaus…they’re the kind of band you really want to try to like. One of their guitarists linechecked with a verse of the Beatles’ Rain, always a good sign. But what they do just doesn’t gel. There were some tasty dreampop swells, some catchy basslines, and everyone in the band is a competent musician. They all probably have a future, just not together. It was too bad that the dreampop swirl so soon gave way to so many grandiosely empty Coldplay/Phoenix stadium gestures. And there were some distractingly dorky, mathrocky moments, and halfhearted attempts at something approximating humor.

A word about the venue: NICE PLACE. Asshole-free, laid-back, the sound isn’t Carnegie Hall but it isn’t ass either and the soundguy was very attentive to all the bands throughout their sets. In case you think that’s de rigeur at every venue, you haven’t been to Arlene’s lately. Now all they need is a website.