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Tag: hannah fairchild

Brooklyn’s Two Most Irrepressibly Entertaining Rock Bands Branch Out This Month

The most entertaining rock twinbill of the year so far happened on one of the summer’s most blustery, wet nights last month at cozy Prospect Lefferts Gardens boite the Nest. It began with a wail and ended with the headliner’s frontwoman skidding on her knees to the edge of the stage, drenched in blood.

As impossibly high as noir punk trio Hannah vs. the Many raised the bar, the Manimals were just as charismatic. Where Hannah Fairchild ripped through torrents of lyrics, literary references, savage puns and righteous feminist rage with her siren vocals and Telecaster roar, singer Haley Bowery and her theatrical powerpop band the Manimals were every bit as dramatic and ridiculously fun to watch. Hannah vs. the Many are back at the Nest, (504 Flatbush Ave.) on August 18 at 6 PM on a bill with lots of bands. The noiserock act on afterward, George Puke (jazz fans will get the joke) are also a lot of fun. Take the Q to Prospect Park; the venue doesn’t have a website, but cover probably isn’t more than ten bucks, if that. The Manimals are at Union Pool on August 24 at 9 as part of a pro-choice benefit show; cover is $12.

It’s never safe to say that a musician is the world’s best at any one particular thing, but there’s no better songwriter than Fairchild right now. For about the past four years, she’s stripped her material down to fit her nimble, scrambling, burning power trio with bassist Carl Limbacher and drummer Max Maples. In about an hour onstage, they ripped through one menacing number after another, a mix of songs from the group’s latest album Cinemascope as well as a couple of new tunes, calling bullshit on clueless exes on Instagram, madonna/whore dynamics in theatre, and narcissism run amok. The best of the brand-new tunes followed a long trail of phantasmagorical, Syd Barrett-esque chromatic chord changes, a familiar trope for this band.

The most savagely punk tune of the night was The Auteur, a kiss-off anthem to end all kiss-off anthems: in this group’s world, the battle of the sexes is always a death match. They closed with Kopfkino, which on one of many levels is a terse, allusive Holocaust narrative set to amped-up 60s Flamin’ Groovies janglerock: “What’s the last stop for a face on a train?” Fairchild asked pointedly.

The Manimals followed with a slightly less savagely surreal set of Bowie-esque powerpop: imagine what the Thin White Duke would have done, backed by Cheap Trick, around the time of the Alladin Sane album. Where Fairchild, tall and blonde in her slinky black strapless dress, played femme fatale, the lithe, strikingly blue-eyed Haley Bowery pulled off some neat split-second costume changes for a more chameleonic look.

The band’s set was less overtly venomous but still had an edge. Sadly, this was drummer Matt O’Koren’s last show with this crew: like so many other good New York musicians, he’s been brain-drained out of town. The twin guitars of Michael Jayne and Christopher Sayre kept the glamrock flair front and center while bassist Jack Breslin kicked in some emphatic climbs along with slithery low-end riffage.

The irresistible “whoah-oh” chorus of the big powerpop anthem Bury Me Here masked the song’s ambiguity over how much fun it really is to be young and out on the prowl in what’s left of this city. Likewise, the band scorched through a punked out take of A Key, a cynically detailed, defiant burner from the band’s latest album Multiverse. Another almost obscenely catchy tune from the record, Savage Planet was more Runaways than Go-Go’s.

The funniest moment of the night was when the band finally figured out what they were going to do with Under Pressure – the Bowie/Queen collaboration – playing it suspiciously deadpan. There was also a satanic ritual of sorts as an intro to Triple Hex, a big, creepy Lynchian country-pop ballad which set up the end of the night. The blood all over Haley turned out to be fake, but for a minute it wasn’t completely obvious whether all the drinks had finally caught up with her and she really was offering herself up as a human sacrifice. Or a female Iggy Pop – the show was that much fun.

Rock n Roll Suicides of 2018, Live

The Man in the Long Black Coat is lost.

He’s never been on this Crown Heights block before. Then again, before the days of the Long Black Coat, there was no reason for anyone who didn’t live or work, or have friends or family on this block, to be here.

The address he’s looking for seems to be in an unmarked former commercial storefront on an otherwise mostly residential brownstone street. He moseys a couple of doors down to a gentrifier bar and peers in: no sign of anything out of the ordinary. Turning back, he spots a couple making their way into a darkened doorway. The Man in the Long Black Coat follows them: he’s psyched. He likes mysteries.

Another mystery immediately presents itsef when the friendly girl at the door greets him. See, if you’ve been following this oft-interrupted story here, you’ll remember that the Man in the Long Black Coat is having a problem with invisibility. People have been bumping into him, and he’s had several near-misses with Ubers blasting through intersections. It’s not that the Ubers are even running the light like they always do: it’s that they clearly don’t see him.

And it’s not that being invisible, for sometimes hours at a time, doesn’t have its benefits. The man has discovered that he can walk into any gentrifier boite in town, check out the band and not have to worry about dropping a double sawbuck on a glass of fancy beer or a tiny, garlic-deprived crostini. He just needs to stay out of the way of the kids staggering around the joint.

Unfortunately, invisibility isn’t something that the man can switch on or off. The bank, the jewelry store, the lumber yard, the supermarket: it never occurs at any of those places. He’s tried all of them, only to be disappointed every time.

But here, it’s a welcome change to be at least marginally perceptible. Because of who he is, the Man in the Long Black Coat’s favorite holiday is Halloween: invisible or not, this is the one time of the year that’s really his.

The long, rectangular groundfloor space is obviously somebody’s home – with a big stage in the back. The hosts are throwing a Halloween kegger, and there are bands. The crowd is demographically diverse, a few in costume but mostly not. Nobody’s taking selfies, and people are talking directly to one another rather than texting. The man is reminded of downtown Manhattan theatre crowds in the days before the Long Black Coat. These people are sharp, and energetic: they all look like they’d love a turn onstage.

As it turns out, many of them end up doing exactly that. One of the drummers opens the night with a few stagy Rocky Horror-style bits. Is one of those ghoul-camp numbers actually from the Rocky Horror soundtrack? It’s been so long since the Man in the Long Black Coat heard the album that he can’t remember. Being ensconsed behind a couch, close to the keg, doesn’t help the memory factor.

Toot Sweet are the first band onstage. Accordionist Mary Spencer Knapp, rocking a leopard-print bodysuit, wields her axe like a guitar. Her vocals are fierce, intense, sometimes channeling righteous rage, like a young Rachelle Garniez. The songs mash up noir cabaret and Brecht/Weill, punk and new wave, with a distant latin influence. The new wave aspect is heightened by the  second keyboard, a synthesizer, taking the occasional keening solo over a nimble rhythm section. The crowd sings along: they want more than they get.

Dressed as a superhero, Haley Bowery – leader of the Manimals – makes her way through the crowd, handing out jello shots. The Man in the Long Black Coat takes one. It’s a scary toothpaste blue, but it tastes fruity and it has a kick. The man doesn’t need it. A welcome if unexpected shift into invisible mode just a couple of hours earlier gave him a chance to crash a shi-shi Alphabet City party and pound one glass of bourbon after another like a college kid. He’s never been able to drink himself visible – usually it seems to work the other way – but the way things are going here, he reasons that this might be the night.

The Manimals take the stage: Bowery on the mic, guitarists Michael Jayne and Chris Norwood trading licks on their flashy Les Pauls, melodic bassist Jack Breslin pushing the songs alongside drummer Matt O’Koren. The Man in the Long Black Coat thinks to himself that this is what it must have been like to see Bowie around the time of the Aladdin Sane album – but with a woman out front. Back when the band were known as Haley Bowery and the Manimals, they had a bit of a glam thing going, but they sound a lot more British and a whole lot more eclectic now. Verses don’t necessarily resolve into choruses and vice versa, and there’s a lot more angst – and depth – to the songs.

And just like Bowie, there’s an alienatedly reassuring ‘you’re not alone” theme to several of the songs. So this is where all the Rock n Roll Suicides of 2018 have gone, The Man in the Long Black Coat muses. Haley was a decent singer back in 2012 – when he saw her at Webster Hall on a twinbill with the amazingly lyrical noir cabaret-punk band Hannah vs. the Many – but she is fantastic now, with a highwire wail that she cuts loose when she really wants to drive a chorus through the roof.

With her piercing blue eyes, boxcutter cheekbones and lithe stage presence, she also looks a lot bigger onstage than she really is. One superhero outfit eventually falls to the side for another superhero look, a unitard this time. Hannah Fairchild from Hannah vs. the Many takes a cameo on harmony vocals and adds her own rocket-fuel wail to the mix. At the end of the show, Haley pulls out an old song, Halloween. “Fuck the rest of them, let’s paaaarty,” is the chorus. The crowd seem to know all the words. The Man in the Long Black Coat gives the band a devils-horns salute: maybe someday we won’t need to shlep all the way to Crown Heights to see a show like this.

Happy Halloween, everybody.

The Manimals play Hank’s on Nov 9 at around 9. Hannah vs. the Many are at the Way Station on Nov 10 at 10.

Hannah vs. the Many Bring Their Withering Lyrics and Riveting Presence to an Iconic Brooklyn Dive

The best lyricist in rock music played Long Island City Bar last month. It wasn’t Elvis Costello or Aimee Mann doing a secret gig to warm up for a tour. It was Hannah Fairchild, who at this point in history is the gold standard as far as double entendres, searing metaphors and savage wit set to catchy tunes are concerned. That she plays a mean Telecaster, fronts an incendiary power trio with a slinkily feral rhythm section and has a flamethrower wail for a voice is the icing on the cake. She’s playing Hank’s this Saturday night at 10 PM; cover is $7.

Fairchild calls her band Hannah vs. the Many. “Just to be clear, you are not the many,” she reassured the crowd. She is the rare instance where the enemy of your enemy is actually your friend. Her music is not for people with meh lives. But for anyone who’s been wounded, or even tortured, she is your vanquishing valkyrie

And she was noir before that Canadian dotcom millionaire’s trust-tunded kid picked a Spanish last name to advertise herself as rock royalty. Fairchild’s doomed anti-heroines immolate themselves publicly and throw themselves headlong from tall buildings when the pain becomes too much. Fairchild followed the magic-realist trajectory of the latter through the machinegunning cadences of the night’s oldest song, All Eyes on Me, charging through the song’s eerie chromatic changes.

Most of the material was taken from Hannah vs. the Many’s most recent album Cinemascope, ranked as best rock record of the year here several months ago. “Here’s a song about musical theatre,” Fairchild said brightly, then launched into the grim punk rock torrents of Surrender Dorothy:

Cinderella’s sisters tell us
Nothing in the final edit
‘Cause we left them blinded, bled and
Screaming through the rolling credits
Made a mistake, played it straight
How many punchlines til she breaks?
Splitting on seams, no reprieve
What I get is what you see

Although Fairchild has led a more-or-less separate career in the theatre, obviously the road hasn’t been easy, for her or for any woman, for that matter.

Carl Limbacher’s bass scrambled over Max Tholenaar-Maples’ drums as the trio launched into the cynical Cameo, Fairchild’s simmering, distortedly jangly broken chords expoding into a fireball on the chorus. The swaying, simmering ballad Slow Burn made a stark contrast, then the band picked up the pace again in a split second.

When the night’s best number is a new  one, that speaks volumes to where its writer is right now. This one, Stupid, blended uneasy Syd Barrett-ish changes beneath a characteristically defiant narrative. And despite all the relentless cynicism and gloomy punchlines, the blonde woman in the classy black dress, cranking out chords from her vintage Fender amp under the low lights, was no victim. This was a victory snatched from the jaws of defeat. Never mess with a songwriter: they always get even in the end.

Who Goes to the Middle of Nowhere for a Couple of Great Bands?

The last thing this blog wants to encourage anybody to do is to stay home. We should all be out, interacting, gathering, celebrating what’s left in this city to celebrate. That’s how societies are built and revolutions begin. Bernie Sanders wouldn’t be drawing thousands and thousand of people at rallies and picket lines if we were all spending what free time we have alone and atomized, substituting Facebook ‘friends’ for real ones. But that’s a story that’s too long to get into here.

How does this relate to the twinbill of Hannah vs. the Many and Haley Bowery & the Manimals at the Way Station on April 23 at 9 PM? On one hand, the option of watching the live webcast might be your best bet. The bar is hard to get to unless you’re in that other-side-of-the-park Bed-Stuy neighborhood, it’s a Saturday night and there’s going to be a loud crowd there – nobody goes there to listen – and the sound system is horrible. Then again, these bands can be so much fun that it could be worth the trip.

Hannah vs. the Many have been through several incarnations and have most recently reinvented themselves as the most lyrically brilliant punk band in the world. Frontwoman Hannah Fairchild got her start playing opaque, roughhewn acoustic guitar tunes with venomous, corrosive lyrics packed with double entendres, literary and historical references and savagely cynical humor. Then she learned how to play, went electric and put a band together, part punk, part noir cabaret and part janglerock – a little like Pulp but with a woman out front who can really wail.

The last time this blog caught them was out in Bushwick at Pine Box Rock Shop on a cold Saturday night in February. The way that bar is set up, you’d never know they have music in the back room if you just wandered in randomly. But there is, and a lot of is quite good: the Skull Practitioners, Pete Lanctot and Rony’s Insomnia have all had recent gigs there. Hannah vs. the Many blasted through a lickety-split set marred by a horrible sound mix, drums and bass way too high and vocals too low. Which was too bad, since lyrics and narratives are what this band’s all about. Even so, just getting to hear Fairchild’s jet-fueled valkyrie voice soaring, embittered, alienated and defiant over the roar of her Telecaster made the trek out to the ‘Shweck worthwhile.

Fairchild debuted a catchy new number; her bassist is excellent and plays a lot of slinky riffs, and the drummer is solid too. Two of the best songs were the rapidfire, surrealistic suicide plunge story All Eyes on Me, and The Party Faithful, one of the most spot-on descriptions of what constitutes nightlife in New York these days. Frida Kahlo said, “I tried to drown my sorrows in alcohol, but the bastards learned how to swim,” and that’s the gist of the song.

The last time this blog caught Haley Bowery & the Manimals was a few years back at Webster Hall. These bands like to play as a twinbill, Haley taking the good cop role, more or less. Her band plays meat-and-potatoes, glamrock-flavored anthems with lyrics that can be hilarious. That summer night, their frontwoman brought a giant water rifle fillled with good-quality whiskey and drenched the crowd with it. And she was generous! Whenever somebody thirsty – guess who – went up to the edge of the stage for a mouthful or two, she really let them have it, right in the face. It’s not every day you walk away from a show reeking of bourbon, with a buzz courtesy of the band’s lead singer. No guarantees that this would or could happen at the Way Station gig – you can watch the webcast and find out.

The Year’s Best New York Rock Show Happened in Queens Last Week

The best New York show of 2014 happened last week at Trans-Pecos. There’s no way anybody’s going to top the quadruplebill of art-rock cellist-singer Meaner Pencil, charismatic Great Plains gothic bandleader Ember Schrag, the starkly entrancing duo of guitarist Mary Halvorson and violist Jessica Pavone and the darkly psychedelic Christy & Emily. After the show had finally ended, the challenge of getting home from Ridgewood at half past midnight seemed pretty much beside the point. Nights like this are why we live here instead of in New Jersey.

Meaner Pencil takes her stage name from the online anagram generator. Her music is plaintive and poignant but also occasionally reveals the kind of quirky humor that you would expect from someone who would do that. Or, from someone who honed her chops and her ability to hold a crowd by playing in the subway. This crowd responded raptly – you could have heard a pin drop as she sang in the arrestingly bell-like, soaring voice of a chorister, playing solo on her cello with a elegant, minimalistic blend of gentle plucking and bowing. Her second song, with its sadly tolling, funereal chords and hypnotically drifting sense of resignation, was a quiet knockout. Longing, alienation and abandonment were recurrent themes, set to slow tempos with the occasional hint of renaissance plainchant, pansori stateliness, and maybe Stereolab. And there was a riff-based art-rock piece that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Serena Jost catalog.

Ember Schrag’s albums have a similar kind of low-key, lustrous elegance, but with a more distinct Americana flavor. Onstage, she leads a fiery, virtuosic art-rock band who are unrivalled in all of New York. Drummer Gary Foster established an ominous tone with rolling toms and deep-fog cymbals in tandem with bassist Debby Schwartz as their hypnotically rumbling first number, The Real Penelope got underway. Schrag varied her vocals depending on the lyrics, from austere on this particular one, to torchy, gritty and often downright haunting, playing nimble rhythm on a beautiful vintage Gibson hollowbody guitar while lead guitarist Bob Bannister aired out a deep vault of eclectic licks. In this case, he started out with wry wah-wah and ended up ankle-deep in murky surf.

They followed with the bittersweet, trickily rhythmic, distantly Beatlesque Sandhill/Seaside: “Is it worse to kill a god or kill a child?” Schrag challenged. Tell Me a Nightmare blended sardonic ba-ba harmonies into its lushly theatrical sonics, the band joined by a string trio featuring both Pavone and Lenna M. Pierce (an anagram of Meaner Pencil) as well as violinist Sana Nagano, playing an arrangement by June Bender.

From there Schrag led the band into a wickedly catchy, waltzing Celtic-tinged anthem, The Plant & the Seed and then the menacingly sensual, carnivalesque 60s psychedelia of As Birds Do. Schrag dedicated William for the Witches – not the first Macbeth-inspired song she’s written – to “all the Republicans back home,” ramping up the menace several notches with her litany of spells as Bannister veered from monster surf, to ominous jangle, to a little skronk. They went back to Nashville gothic with Sycamore Moon, lowlit by Bannister’s blue-flame slide work and closed with a sardonic art-pop anthem, Virgin in the Shadow of My Shoe that would have fit well in the Hannah Fairchild songbook. There is no more interesting, intelligent rock songwriter than Ember Schrag anywhere in the world right now. To put that in context: Steve Wynn, Richard Thompson, Paul Wallfisch and Neko Case, scooch over and make some room for your sister.

Flipping the scirpt and putting Halvorson and Pavone next on the bill was a smart piece of programming: it kept the intensity at redline even as the idiom completely changed. They’re two of the world’s foremost improvisers, yet what they played seemed pretty much composed. An alternately lively and broodingly conversational repartee between Pavone’s meticulous, elegant washes and biting, austere motives, and Halvorson’s similarly precise, pointillistically rhythmic tangents took shape immediately and kept going. Like the night’s opening act, a feeling of unease pervaded the duo’s short, two-to-three-minute pieces, both instrumentals and moody vocal numbers, yet there was subtle, sardonic humor that bubbled up from time to time as the melodies and voices intertwined. A distantly Balkan-tinged instrumental, Halvorson bobbing and weaving through the flames shooting from Pavone’s viola, was the high point of the set.

Guitar/keyboard duo Christy & Emily opened with a droning, pitchblende organ dirge that was a dead ringer for the Black Angels, but with better vocals, enhanced by a harmony singer who contributed to several songs. Christy stabbed against Emily’s neo John Cale drone, All Tomorrow’s Parties without the drums, so to speak. At one point Emily played nimble broken chords in her lefthand on the organ while hitting a boomy tom-tom – crosshanded, without missing a beat. Cheery, clear vocals contrasted with the enveloping ultraviolet sonics as the show went on, Emily’s sometimes minimalisticaly echoing, sometimes ornately neoromantic phrases counterbalanced by Christy’s off-the-rails attack on the frets. They wound up the show with a Lynchian Nashville gothic ballad and then a more lighthearted, bouncy singalong. Schrag has another full-band show coming up in Greenpoint next month while Pavone can be found next with Clara Latham’s Same Size at Radio Bushwick a couple of days from now, on Oct 16. Halvorson is at the Firehouse Space on Nov 6 with Dan Blake and Sam Pluta.

Hannah vs. the Many Battle the Sound at Cake Shop

Hannah vs. the Many played the album release show for their latest one, Ghost Stories, at Cake Shop Thursday night. Frontwoman/guitarist Hannah Fairchild’s songs are lyrically driven, and the vocals were hit-and-miss in the mix all night, beginning with the opening bands and continuing through her band’s ferocious, roughly 40-minute set. So this was a chance to focus on Hannah the tunesmith. She’s just as strong with the tunes as she is with the words and the vocals (too bad there were issues, since this club usually has much better sound than in your typical bodega basement). Guitarist Josh Fox is her not-so-secret weapon, weilding spaghetti western/crime jazz twang against acidic postpunk chords, judicious single-note harmonies and roaring punk riffage. Fairchild is no slouch on guitar herself, wailing and tremolo-picking her Strat with a slasher menace as the drums pummelled and the bassist (yeah – this band has bass now!) played tight, melodic lines.

The opening number, Poor Leander – a lit-rock scorcher from the new album – got a menacingly scampering, chord-chopping  psychobilly edge fueled by long drum rolls over bridge and some paint-peeling vocals from Fairchild, whose vocals are even better live than in the studio. The twin slasher guitars on the twin suicide anthem All Eyes on Me led up to a cartwheeling bridge and then a false ending that faked out the crowd. Jordan Baker, Fairchild’s gentlest and arguably most haunting song matched her elegantly apocalyptic lyric to a quiet jangle that Fox finally lit into with some otherworldly swoops before the last chorus kicked in.

There were a couple of new songs, one that built from noir to a punkish scamper, another that worked a skeletal/explosive dynamic;. Fairchild’s song structures don’t follow any kind of typical verse/chorus architecture, and from the looks of things that’s not about to change. Her next song, Muse, galloped along with a scathing, bitter lyric: “No kiss is ever more than sugar sweet/No affection is ever more than river deep.” Then they took the breathlessly sardonic Biography of Cells down to just the cymbals and Fairchild’s guitar for the last verse. The equally searing Lady of the Court – another track from the new album – had a Fox guitar solo in place on the wry 80s synth on the album and was better for it. They wound up with an absolutely bloodcurdling version of the raging noir cabaret anthem The Party Faithful and closed with a sarcastic, punked-out cover of some mallstore pop song. A lot of people in the crowd sang along. but for others, it was a WTF moment. That Hannah vs. the Many’s songs are better known in some circles than, say, Lady Gag, says a lot about the state of the rock music world in 2013.

While Fairchild’s lyrics tend to be on the venomous side, she had a coy repartee going with the crowd and with her band – when her drummer called her out for wearing her underwear on the outside of her fishnets, she didn’t blink. That every guy on the Lower East Side wasn’t packed into Cake Shop to enjoy those visuals pretty much speaks for what’s happened to the neighborhood.

The opening bands were good, too, if not particularly tight. The 9 PM act, Toronto’s Fast Romantics, worked an retro 80s/90s Britrock vibe that evoked both the Smiths and Pulp without being arch or affected. The high point was a decent cover of Pulp’s classic anti-fauxhemian anthem Common People, which is almost 20 years old now but in a lot of ways was the perfect song for the night, considering what part of town the band was playing in. Pep, the 10 PM act, had a trio of women out front singing fetchingly catchy, Spector-ish 60s girl-group pop and oldschool soul.

Another Assaultively Brilliant Album from Hannah vs. the Many

It’s never safe to say that one artist is the best in a particular genre: every time you think you’ve heard everything, a songwriter like Nehedar comes out of the woodwork and blows you away. But it’s safe to say that there is no better lyricist, tunesmith or singer in rock right now than Hannah Fairchild of Hannah vs. the Many. Her previous album All Our Heroes Drank Here was rated #13 on the best of 2012 list here and probably should have been #1. With its torrents of lyrics, savage humor, menacing noir cabaret cascades, scorching guitar riffage and relentless angst – not to mention Fairchild’s searing, wounded wail – it illustrates a bitter, doomed urban milieu as memorable as anything Leonard Cohen or Jarvis Cocker ever wrote. Hannah vs. the Many have a new ep aptly titled Ghost Stories just out and an album release show coming up on Nov 14 at Cake Shop. They’re ferociously good live, and Fairchild is as charismatic a frontwoman as you would expect after hearing her studio material.

The new ep reinvents several of the tracks from Fairchild’s 2010 solo album Paper Kingdoms. It’s amazing how different they are, yet how much the original, mostly acoustic versions sound like demos for these volcanic full-band performances.

All Eyes on Me builds from layers of resonant guitar from Fairchild and her brilliant lead player, Josh Fox, as the organ and keys rise to a slashing insistent Strat-fueled chorus. The narrative could be about a triumphant flight above the “the sorry strangers under glass, no time to think about their lives, identical in horror” – or it could be the desperate tale of a double suicide told from the point of view of someone with no fear of the reaper.

Lady of the Court is Fairchild at the top of her dramatic power, a bitter cautionary tale from the perspective of someone who’s just willing enough to work her way up…but to what? From its faux-bombastic twin guitar intro, it hits a roaring anthemic groove, Fairchild’s voice low and menacing as she traces another angst-fueled trajectory:

Unlikely princess in the eyes of the day-old drunks
I’ve never been the girl whose name is in the title
The story is ending and the world just blurs away
Turning pages and waiting on the hero
I am a guardian of thieves
Flying on unbuttoned sleeves 
Falling in the backstreets but not for too long

It hits a wry 80s keyboard interlude on the way to a surprise ending.

Nicollet captures a bitter breakup over creepy piano-based art-rock. The original version has a folkie acoustic feel, albeit with a distant menace; what’s stunning about this version is how much more power, yet more nuance there is in Fairchild’s voice:

Crossing yourself at my door
You’ve come seeking some quick and easy absoloution
But I’m only as clean as the floors I’ve been kneeling on

The most explosive and arguably best song here is Poor Leander, a corrosively poignant account of two probably irreparably damaged souls hell-bent on NOT making things work, set to marauding noir cabaret rock:

Bedsheet around your shoulder, scrapes on both your knees
Were you running off the rooof again, my broken friend?
Now you’re flying out to save her from the latest ivory castle that you found
But the second she lets you in her window it’ll all come crashing down

The closest thing to the original here is the luridly torchy, aptly titled Slow Burn, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Julia Haltigan catalog. As with the rest of the album, guitars gleam and smolder, electric piano tingles and Fairchild’s voice rises from an anxious murmur to a vengeful scream and then back again. Forget about Grace Potter and all those wannabes: Hannah vs. the Many are the real deal, the teens equivalent of what Siouxsie & the Banshees were in the 80s or the Avengers ten years before.

Halle & the Jilt: Oldschool Soul with a Fresh, Dark Undercurrent

A cynic might say that the recent explosion of female-fronted oldschool soul bands are all trying to be the next Adele. But the reality is that most of them have been going for as long or longer than she has: the main reason why Sharon Jones isn’t on commercial radio is because her little label doesn’t have the payola money. Meanwhile, fantastic acts like Clairy Browne & the Bangin’ Rackettes, the Right Now and Meah Pace are packing small and midsize clubs. Halle & the Jilt work a lot of that same turf: for a taste of some of the lusciously noir cutting edge of retro soul music, they’re playing the album release for their second one, Three Roads Home, at the big room at the Rockwood tonight at 7.

Frontwoman Halle Petro goes for a steamy but biting oldschool soul vibe. Her voice is more crystalline and direct than most of the other retro soul mamas; when she’s not wailing full steam, her vocals often have jazz nuance. Petro’s not-so-secret weapon here is guitarslinger Michael Gomez, best known for his purist but often slashingly pyrotechnic work in careening minor-key gypsy/jamband Hazmat Modine. The album’s production is anything but slick, and all the better for it. At first listen, the funky opening track, Kiss My Ghost sounds like she’s saying “kiss my nose.” Petro sings vengefully over Tim Luntzel’s dancing, boomy bass, Jim Wert’s prominent drums and Gomez’ distorted funk guitar: “Are you happy when you kiss my ghost?” she demands. Did  she kill herself? Was she killed instead? Did anybody really get killed? The answer isn’t clear, and it’s intriguing.

The second track, Confessions is a feast of oldschool, jangly Memphis soul guitar under Petro’s nonchalant alto. Signs – which appears here in both live and studio versions – works a surprisingly interesting, artsy take on standard coffeehous singer-songwriter fare. Graveyard of the Ocean sets shipwreck metaphors over a cleverly creepy blend of noir funk and gothic folk. One suspects it might have a past life as a country song, reinforced by the presence of a broodingly torchy electric version of Wayfaring Stranger (which is actually fantastic – it wouldn’t be out of place on a Jennifer Nicely album).

Take What I Can Get pairs Petro’s elegant kiss-off narrative against echoey blues harp and nonchalantly unhinged, bluesy wailing from Gomez. Trees has a catchy, upbeat sway, Petro’s voice taking on a clipped, sardonic edge in the same vein as Hannah Fairchild of Hannah vs. the Many.

“You’re just a paper doll,” Petro adds casually on the burning, crescendoing, funk rock tune 10 East. Carry Me Home, a catchy 60s-style soul ballad, is a showcase for Gomez’ inspired, oldtime blues work with a slide on resonator guitar. The album winds up with a doo-wop soul number.

CMJ 2012: Make Music NY for Kids with Badges

When the Figgs played their first show in 1987, CMJ was a marketing idea whose time had come. By then, just about every college was sending at least a couple of representatives of the campus radio station to the annual festival. In reality, since it was a pretty much all-expenses-paid New York vacation, most of the kids who went to CMJ didn’t go to more than a show or two. In those days, New York had plenty of cheap bars where underage drinking was openly encouraged, and if you knew where to look, there were drugs as good as anything available on campus for half the price. Other than the overabundance of cheap drugs making up somewhat for the disappearance of dives catering to an under-21 crowd, it’s hard to imagine that things have changed much for CMJ attendees since then..

At that point in history, bands were ostensibly auditioning for airplay. Then the urban myth that record labels were signing bands out of CMJ persisted for a few years. By the late 90s, crowds were often still good enough to make a CMJ show worth the hassle since it could be an opportunity to play to some fresh faces. But as the festival ran out of venues, spilling over into rice-and-beans joints and coffeeshops and anywhere a primitive PA could be set up, overkill set in. With the web and Youtube eliminating the need for any kind of live audition, a CMJ gig inevitably became no more of a big deal than any other random show – which it probably never had been, anyway.

But as much as the crowds, and the number of bands gets smaller and smaller every year, CMJ still comes around. And somebody had asked the Figgs to play a CMJ gig Saturday night at Rock Shop. It’s hard to imagine any other show on the slate this year being as wickedly fun as this one was, despite its brevity. “25 years, 25 minutes,” drummer Pete Hayes said sardonically, seconds after the set had ended without an encore – gotta run ’em up and run ’em off, after all, this is CMJ. But the sold-out crowd went wild, at least as wild as guys who probably saw the band at CMJ 1992 can get for an hour after leaving the wives and kids at home.

But the band is absolutely undiminished: after 25 years, their passion and energy puts most acts half their age to shame. It’s no wonder that they’re Graham Parker’s first choice as a backing band. This show had special significance for being a reunion of sorts with original lead guitarist Guy Lyons, who stepped back in as if he’d never left. Leaving barely a pause between songs, they blasted through one catchy tune after another. As powerpop bands go, do these guys have as solid a back catalog as the Raspberries or Big Star? No question. Is Hayes the most solid four-on-the-floor rock drummer anywhere in the world at this point? No question. Bassist Pete Donnelly added a darkly growling edge with burning chords, tree-snapping climbs to the top of the fretboard…or he’d deliver a laid-back soul groove, as on a wryly amusing version of Do Me Like You Said You Would, the first single from the band’s latest album The Day Gravity Stopped. And guitarist/singer Mike Gent got to indulge his Stones fixation as well as blast through both Kinks and Beatles-inspired riffage throughout the set, which was catchier than anything Chisel or any other of the Figgs early 90s contemporaries ever could have mustered.

Hayes drove the barely minute-long opening number with a grinning hardcore stomp; then they lauched into the considerably more tongue-in-cheek Favorite Shirt, a big crowd-pleaser from their 1994 Lo-Fi at Society High album. Lyons sang the biting, sardonic Bad Luck Sammie and the even more snarling Rejects. Did Wilco rip off the Figgs for Shot in the Arm? Hearing this show, you could make a strong case for it. As the show wound up, they messed with an insistent reggae pulse, then referenced the Ramones with Wait on Your Shoulders and finished with the Kinks/Who stomp of Something’s Wrong. The only thing wrong with this picture was that a band this good deserved a biggger venue – and if this had been Manhattan rather than the Gowanus, they would have packed it.

A couple of other acts who made CMJ appearances this year deserve a mention. Fiery, charismatic, literate rockers Hannah vs. the Many played an all-too-brief set here on Friday night: it was good to get to hear frontwoman/guitarist Hannah Fairchild’s blistering wail over the roar of the guitars and the macabre cascades of the keyboards (the band still seems to be without a bass player). It’s hard to think of any other band who has smarter, more incisive lyrics than they do.

And for what it’s worth, the single most impressive song of the entire festival – at least from this perspective,  it’s still impossible to catch each and every act – came from an unexpected source, jangly 80s-influenced Bushwick guitar pop band the Denzels. The version of the ominously swaying minor-key garage-rock anthem Waterfront up at their Bandcamp site doesn’t do justice to the majestic power they gave it onstage at the Knitting Factory on Saturday. Hearing a song that intense and smartly orchestrated makes you wonder, is there more where that came from? Throughout the rest of their show, some of which was more Britpop-inflected, some of which sounded like the Alabama Shakes without the girl singer, there wasn’t – but it was a short set. Which perfectly capsulizes CMJ’s appeal as well as the severity of its limitations.

Doing Shots with Haley and Hannah

Saturday night at Webster Hall, singer Haley Bowery waited about half an hour into her show before she reached behind the sound monitor and pulled out the gun. Before the song started, she’d lured several people in the crowd to the edge of the stage with the promise of whiskey. She pumped the rifle, then held it steady in her right hand, taking aim at a guy in the front row. As his jaw dropped, she fired at him.

If he’d been as steady on his feet as her aim was – Keith Richards’ right hand has nothing on Haley Bowery’s – he would have gotten a generous mouthful of hooch. It wasn’t bottom shelf, either: whatever she’d filled that big black heavy-duty squirt gun with, it was decent whiskey. As the band stomped behind her, she moved on to the next person, and then the next. A couple of them came back for seconds and she took her time with them: at least a couple of people left the show with a free buzz. But that’s not the only reason why it’s impossible not to like Haley Bowery.

Her songs imagine a CBGB of the mind, but not from the punk rock era. Instead, her glam-infused four-on-the-floor rock has a little bit of Bowie, the Dolls, maybe T-Rex but through the prism of cynical 80s New York powerpop, with all the accoutrements: the leather boots, the torn fishnets, the booze, the defiant pose and maybe other stuff. It’s a lifestyle, and she seems hell-bent on putting across the fact that she’s living it – and maybe building a tribe of fellow troublemakers who also consider themselves born strange (which is the title of the album whose release she was celebrating). Her band the Manimals is tight and unexpectedly diverse: solid Attis Jerrell Clopton on drums, surprisingly eclectic Patrick Deeney on guitar and Joseph Wallace (who also plays in the excellent Wallace on Fire) on bass, with Matthew Pop guesting on keys on a couple of numbers. She didn’t waste time getting to the point: “Fuck the rest of ’em, let’s paaaarty,” she ordered the crowd the end of Halloween, a lurching anthem that with a little youtubing could be the theme for next year’s freshman class and many afterward. Some of her songs turned out to be unexpectedly bittersweet, like 29, a wistful ballad pondering  how to stay young when you’re staring down the wrong side of 30. A little later she turned to the bitterness and anger of Blitzed, a kiss-off song whose protagonist “Tried to find my bliss, and I got blitzed”- and then “If you need me, boy that ship has sailed.” And Undertow (the backdrop for the booze and the squirt gun) implored everyone to “Drink your whiskey up for the people who never thought you’d be more than a zero.” Revenge is sweet.

Opening act Hannah vs. the Many took that theme further. With a ferocious, spun-steel wail, charismatic frontwoman/guitarist Hannah Fairchild poured out torrents of double entendres and embittered imagery over catchy melodies that ranged from roaring punk-pop to hauntingly ornate, slower, artsier ballads. Her four-piece band didn’t have a bass player this time out, but that didn’t phase them, lead guitarist Josh Fox raising the songs’ searing ambience with long, echoing, slowly twisting sustained notes drenched in cold reverb. Fairchild projects a warmth and nonchalance in contrast with her songs’ raging angst: she reflected on how nice she felt the audience was, but then she related how when she’d just arrived here from her native Minnesota, people had said the same thing about her. “So I called up my girl friend and told her that, and she just laughed. I’m Minnesota mean!”

But her songs aren’t so mean as they’re just plain anguished: they’re anthems for a new generation of smart, alienated kids. The best one of the entire night, and the quietest one, was Jordan Baker, a torchy, sadly bouncing chamber-pop song that Jarvis Cocker would be proud to have written, and it was there that the audience split up: the front row bobbing their heads in unison, completely lost in Fairchild’s tale of infatuation despite knowing better, while the crowd in back noisily readied themselves for the whiskey. The rest of the show was a lot louder: over scorching punk-noir and stagy, gypsy-tinged dark cabaret, Fairchild savaged poseurs, backstabbers and the slow death of hope in a city full of promises that end up dashed in the crush simply to survive as rents rise and imagination is drowned out in the roar of conspicuous consumption and a cultivated shallowness. “How long before the suburbs come to claim us?” she pondered toward the end of Fox’s Wedding, as the song built from almost a whisper to a wail. A lot of the songs were new, and considerably louder than the haunting, often piano-based tracks on her absolutely brilliant new album All Our Heroes Drank Here: whether she follows that or remains sort of a New York teens counterpart to Pulp, she’s someone to keep an eye on. In a way, Haley Bowery was the perfect segue: there wasn’t any way anybody was going to top Fairchild as far as intensity was concerned, so, fuck the rest of ’em, it was time to party. Hannah vs. the Many are at Spike Hill on July 7 at 11; Haley Bowery’s next gig is a private show (well, sort of – her site lists it as July 17 at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, presumably indoors).