New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: indie rock

Catchy Postpunk Tunefulness and Joyous Noise in Williamsburg Last Night

Melody and noise are two sides of the same coin. Martin Bisi and his band, and Parlor Walls know that, and work that dichotomy for all it’s worth. So did Guerilla Toss guitarist Arian Shafiee, who opened a vastly enjoyable bill featuring both those acts at Aviv in Williamsburg last night. His single, long, droning, pitchblende intro – “Like an invocation,” Parlor Walls frontwoman/guitarist Alyse Lamb beamed afterward – built a warm, welcoming ambience in the lowlit space, all the more resonant for Shafiee dedicating it to David Bowie.

Bisi and his three-piece European touring band kept the ultraviolet gleam going with a set that alternated between kinetic drive and a vortex of ominous low register sonics. The secret to this band’s sound, other than Bisi’s umpteen pedals, disembodied vocal loops and occasional whoops, is Diego Ferri’s baritone guitar. Sometimes he’d play straight-up basslines but other times went into trebly Peter Hook territory, then washes and bursts of chords to match the bandleader’s swirling menace. Rather than letting any song end cold, Bisi would let a chord linger, filter through the mix and then pulled out of the chaos toward another. Toweringly anthemic post-Velvets hooks swayed and punched side by side with shimmering pools of noise, muted Syd Barrett-ish motives and creepy chromatics ramped up a notch by Genevieve Kammel Morris’ ragingly insistent viola and washes of organ. Dummer Oliver Rivera Drew negotiated the thicket with a nimble pulse and drive: oldschool punk energy, newschool psychedelic atmosphere.

Parlor Walls drummer/organist Chris Mulligan chose to keep that murky river flowing. The segue between bands was so seamless that it was almost as if it was the same group onstage, if with completely different personalities. Parlor Walls never play a set or a song the same way twice: this was. an enveloping blanket of dreampop-laced, no wave-referencing postpunk. Alto saxophonist Kate Monahty was motionless, a human statue firing off slithery Coltrane gliesandos, coyly minnmalistic rhythmic bursts and squawks and austerely shifting sheets of sound. Lamb’s vocals bent and swayed with the music; likewise, the band would let the organ and guitar siren and shimmer, Lamb firing off a jagged phrase and then swooping to her pedalboard to sculpt an edge or extend the envelope. On their latest album, Cut, the opening track is a sort of mashup of indie classical circularity and droll faux “R&B” – onstage this time, they reinvented it as skittish postpunk. Likewise, they extended the stampeding miniature The Key into a fullscale gallop across a postapocalyptic plain.

Zs drummer Greg Fox closed the night with his Guardian Alien duo project with Eartheater’s Alex Drewchin. Swaying and bending, she intoned her vocals low over a rippling electroacoustic backdrop, shaping its edges via a mixer/keyboard as Fox clustered and circled with an elegance that brought to mind Lukas Ligeti’s more kinetic adventures in indie classical music. But by the end of the relatively brief (half-hour) set, Fox was machinegunning and volleying, at one point in 15/8 time. As precise and purposeful as the drums were, the pulsing, pointillistic electronic backdrop and the vocals were uneasy and messy, a long way from contentment. It ended the night on an aptly energetic yet enigmatic and restless note.

Parlor Walls are at the Citizen, 332 2nd St, about six blocks from the Grove St. Path station in Jersey City at around 10 on January 28, then they’re back with a couple of February shows at Shea Stadium and Trans-Pecos.

A Smartly Enigmatic New Album From the Shapeshifting Parlor Walls

Parlor Walls – part of the Famous Swords art collective – call themselves trash jazz. It’s a modest handle for their ferociously kinetic, shapeshifting, noisy songs. Much as their sound is distinctly teens, their esthetic looks back to the no wave era of James Chance & the Contortions and Lydia Lunch’s various projects, if with a lot more focus and emphasis on melody and memorable hooks. In music-school terms, their songs are pretty much through-composed. Not only do verses and choruses tend not to repeat: the music just flows, or leaps and bounds, rather than following a distinct progression. Tempos and meters shift in a split-second.

Onstage they’re a lot of fun to watch. Drummer Chris Mulligan anchors the music with a mighty rumble and crash while playing organ, ambitiously, with his left hand. Frontwoman/guitarist Alyse Lamb spins and pounces and fires off shards of noise one second, then evilly lingering, noirish phrases the next. Alto saxophonist Kate Mohanty provides a calm yet similarly brooding presence with her resonant, minimalist lines and astringent, boxcutter tone. Parlor Walls also find a way to join a lot of really good lineups onstage. This Thursday, January 14 they’re at Aviv at 496 Morgan Ave. (Division/Beadel) in Williamsburg starting at 8 with the restlessly noisy, hypnotic, surprisingly groove-driven, bitingly lyrical Pill, then the more assaultive, noisier Guardian Alien, Parlor Walls at around 10, darkly psychedelic art-rock legend Martin Bisi and finally guitarist Arian Shafiee of dance-punks Guerilla Toss at the top of the bill. Cover is $10.

Parlor Walls’ latest album, Cut is up as a name-your-price download at Bandcamp. It opens with Bloodsport, a maze of guitar loops quickly giving way to a mashup of circling indie classical riffs and what sounds like wry faux urban corporate pop. The Key, clocking in at just a little over two minutes, sets haphazardly lingering guitar, warping organ and sax over a drum stampede.

Mulligan and Mohanty work a creepy/jaunty contrast for all it’s worth on Me Me My, Lamb adding a similar dichotomy with her menacing guitar flares and enigmatically playful vocals: “Push me out,” is the mantra. The build up to bell-like hypnotic ambience over Mulligan’s tersely dancing drums as the surprisingly dreampop-influenced Sundress reaches toward escape velocity is a lot of fun. Likewise, the final track, Birthday, which rings and clangs as it follows an unexpectedly warm, Afrobeat-tinged triplet groove before a tempo change, Lamb and Mohanty throwing off sparks over Mulligan’s pulsing syncopation. Get this album, crank it and revel in the fact that we live in such uneasy, interesting times.

Miwa Gemini Plays Her Smart, Surreal, Uneasily Enigmatic, Jangly Rock at a Rare Afternoon Show

Miwa Gemini is sort of the missing link between Shonen Knife and Calexico. She’s got the endearingly surreal lo-fi Japanese janglerock thing down cold, but she also has a southwestern gothic side. She likes waltzes, but these days it seems that she likes boleros even better. Her quirky sense of humor, along with the birittle vibrato that trails off as her voice reaches the end of a phrase, bring to mind Melora Creager of Rasputina. Gemini’s clangly, reverb-tinged minor-key guitar fits in among the many bands haunting the northern fringes of desert rock, like And the Wiremen. For those of you who might be stir-crazy after spending the evening in while the annual Santacon puke-a-thon made so many of us prisoners in our own homes, Gemini is playing the small room at the Rockwood at 4 (four) PM today, December 13. It’s a pass-the-tip-jar situation.

At her most recent show, at Branded Saloon last month, Gemini and her trumpeter had the misfortune to follow a sizzling set by another duo, cellist-vocalists the Whiskey Girls. Charismatic belter Patricia Santos aired out her powerful and spectacular vocal range throughout a mix of sultry blues, an in-your-face kiss-off song or two and a murderous oldschool soul narrative, all the while playing slinky basslines, ominous deep-well washes of sound and challenging harmonics that required a lot of extended technique. Tara Hanish carried the lead lines with her elegantly serpentine, sometimes baroque-tinged phrasing while adding similarly spot-on high harmonies on the vocal side.

After all that, you might think that Gemini would have been anticlimactic, but she wasn’t. As a guitarist, she didn’t waste notes, using lots of simple, catchy descending lines and uneasy chromatics. As a singer, she projected strongly despite being under the weather after taking a red-eye flight back from a West Coast tour. Some of the duskiest, darkest material seemed to be new, while much of the rest of the set drew on Gemini’s most recent album, Fantastic Lies of Grizzly Rose. It’s a trippy narrative loosely centered around an imperturbably adventurous imaginary muse and possible alter ego – or wishful alter ego. Gemini and her bandmate jangled and soared through the briskly uneasy border-rock shuffe Goodnight Trail, then later on (or before – the memory is fuzzy on this), made a hypnotic Steve Wynn-style low-key groove out of the psychedelic soul ballad The Other Half of Me. Gemini has done a lot of different styles, from oldtimey to swing to garage rock and psychedelia over the years, but she’s never sounded more eclectically tuneful than she has lately.

Distinctive Postrock Instrumentalists Tigue Return Home with a Greenpont Show

Tigue – percussionists Matt Evans, Amy Garapic and Carson Moody – play an imaginative, distinctive, hypnotic yet kinetic blend of indie classical, minimalism, postrock and drone music. On their latest album, Peaks – a suite, streaming at Bandcamp – each play various drums and other bangable/rattlable objects, along with a kitchen sink’s worth of other instruments. For example, Evans also serves as the group’s main keyboardist, but also plays shruti box and melodica, as his bandmates also do. Garapic also adds vibraphone throughout the album’s most tuneful moments. They’re just back from a midwest tour, with a homecoming show at 11 PM on December 3 at Manhattan Inn in Greenpoint.

The best way to experience the album is when you’re not multitasking. Otherwise, the subtly shifting, cantering rhythms of Cranes won’t catch your attention. From there, they segue with a crash into Sitting, slowly adding bagpipe-like, droning synth chords as the sonic picture slowly brightens and the swaying beat recedes back into the mix, then rises and falls with a propeller-like insistence. Mouth is where the pace picks up even faster and the tempo gets tricky as a catchy, vamping tune slowly develops.

Then there’s a brief, static, ambient interlude followed by the pretty self-explanatory Drips. Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan and James McNew add guitar and bass, respectively on Dress Well as its circles expand outward from neo Steve Reich to echoey, lingering yet propulsive psychedelia. From there they follow a methodical downward tangent into Cerulean, with its trippy sheets of white noise shifting through the sonic frame. The final cut, Ripped, brings the suite full circle, sometimes primal, sometimes icily elegant. Fans of similarly pulsing, hypnotic instrumental groups like Dawn of Midi should check them out.

Haunting Noir Psychedelia and a Rare Williamsburg Show by Fernando Viciconte

“Everything you’re saying turned out wrong,” Fernando Viciconte muses. “Busted and broken or dead and gone.” Then a Farfisa keens, way back in the mix. And then the song explodes. The song is Save Me, the opening track on his new album Leave the Radio On, streaming at Bandcamp. And it’s killer. Sort of the lost great Steve Wynn album.

Viciconte hails from Argentina originally. Got his start in LA twenty-odd years ago, fronting a band called Monkey Paw. Eventually landed in Portland, Oregon. Wynn heard him and gave him the thumbs-up, as does his Baseball Project bandmate Peter Buck, who plays a lot of guitar on the album. You could call this noir psychedelia, for the sake of hanging a name on it, and you wouldn’t be off the mark, although there are a lot of different flavors here from both north and south of the border. It’s one of the best records of the year (and it is a record – you can get it on vinyl). Viciconte is making a rare New York swing, with a gig on November 27 at 9 PM at Pete’s. He’s also at the small room at the Rockwood tomorrow night, the 25th at 8.

The album’s second cut, The Dogs, is a lot quieter and vastly more surreal, with a similar sense of desperation and doom: Viciconte airs out his balmy, Lennonesque voice as the fuzztones come in with a swoosh of cymbals and a big exhaust fan blast of reverb. El Interior blends uneasy organ and mariachi horns into its Patagonian gothic resonance, an allusive tale of return and despair.

Icy, trebly layers of acoustic guitar mingle with eerily stately piano as So Loud gets underway, then picks up with a shuffling border rock groove up to a murderous series of drumshots out. The slow, brooding 6/8 anthem Friends and Enemies traces the last days of a dying relationship over Daniel Eccles’ elegaic guitar and pedal steel lines. Viciiconte hints that he’s going to take The Freak in a growling garage rock direction, but instead rises toward circus rock drama and desperation, David Bowie as covered by southwestern gothic supergroup Saint Maybe, maybe.

Paul Brainard’s pedal steel and then Buck’s mandolin sail woundedly above Viciconte’s low-key, defeated vocals and steady acoustic guitar on another elegaic number, the vintage C&W-inflected Kingdom Come:

Stay in pale moonlight
Stand your ground and choose your side
We don’t believe you anymore
We’ve all crawled on your killing floor

Then the band picks up the pace with the backbeat-driven Burned Out Love, part blistering paisley underground anthem, part wickedly catchy late Beatles. The gloomiest number here, White Trees takes a turn back down into spare folk noir:

When you left the table, who followed you home?
The knives and daggers left flesh and bone
The moon moon was shining on that cursed white stone
And you were crying and crying, trying to let it go

The catchiest yet arguably most haunting of all the tracks is the surreal In Their Heads, with its echoey blend of backward masking and ghostly narrative of childhood memories of an execution. One can only imagine what Viciconte might have witnessed, or heard about, during his early years in Argentina in the days of los desaparecidos. The album winds up on its most Beatlesque note with the title track: “Illusion is only skin deep, like raindrops on your wall,” Viciconte broods, “It all comes to an end in the blink of an eye.” Enjoy this dark masterpiece while we’re all still here.

Enigmatic Songwriter and Magical Singer Elisa Flynn Puts Out a Richly Nuanced, Eclectic Solo Album

Elisa Flynn‘s new album My Henry Lee – streaming at Bandcamp – picks up where she left off with her unselfconsciously haunting, historically-infused 19th Century Songs in 2011. Flynn has been one of New York’s most distinctive, poignantly powerful singers since the zeros, back when the founding member of Bunny Brains decided to study vocals with Shara Worden. If anything, this is Flynn’s most nuanced and dynamic album yet, maybe because it’s mainly just solo electric guitar and voice with the occasional echoey electric piano or guitar overdub. The music is both elegant and scruffy, and very catchy: Flynn likes to juxtapose enigmatic, simple variations on a spare guitar riff with more anthemic, sometimes majestic choruses. Flynn is also an irrepressible impresario: she’s playing one of her usual haunts, the Way Station tomorrow night, November 17 at 8 PM, leading “ an evening of songs of antagonism and rivalry” with Lys Guillorn, Maharajah Sweets, Dan Cullinan, Wifey, Sarah Bisman, Thee Shambels’ Neville Elder, John LaPolla, plus a reading by Kevin Kinsella (ex- John Brown’s Body).

The title track of Flynn’s new album sets the tone, a brooding, resonantly fingerpicked, carefully considered but also pretty radically reworked take of the classic murder ballad popularized by Nick Cave and PJ Harvey. Flynn follows that with the ominously picturesque My Blood, set to a hypnotically ringing, loopy guitar backdrop. Cheetah, the first of a couple of numbers celebrating animalian fearlessness, rises from a briskly strummy, fast 6/8 groove spiced with surrealistically echoey early 80s electric piano: it could be a demo from the Church circa 1983.

Likewise, Horse Race, with its weirdly echoey, lo-fi, bell-like guitar, except that this is Flynn at her sardonic, darkly amusing best: “There’s nothing rough about you, I’d just like to put that on you, I want you to be more like me…tell me what drugs you’re on,’ she poses to a complicated person who’s clearly vexing her. Keeper of Secrets is another number pairing unresolved minimalism against another wickedly catchy chorus, a possible elegy with hints of late Beatles as the music subtly builds from skeletal to lush. The final cut is a banjo tune that’s simultaneously stark and rustic and yet completely in the here and now: as ancient as this song sounds, it’s impossible to imagine it being recorded in, say, 1988. It’s an uneasy escape anthem that harks back to the Reconstruction-era milieu of much of Flynn’s previous album. There’s a lot going on here, lyrically especially – these songs grow on you. Watch this space for more full-length solo shows by Flynn, who’s just as funny a stage presence as she is an individualistic guitarist and rivetingly good singer.

A Balcony View of the Incredibly Popular Oh Hellos at Bowery Ballroom

In an era in New York when nobody leaves their neighborhood anymore, that the Oh Hellos sold out Bowery Ballroom on a rainy Monday night is a major achievement by any standard. Has anyone ever sold out Bowery Ballroom on a Monday? Maybe Patti Smith, if New Year’s Eve happened to fall on that day of the week. Of course, a cynic might argue that the rich southern white kids who packed the house are the neighborhood now, more or less. As was clear from the ecstatic pitch of the applause as the band hit the stage, this was date night: lots of fresh-faced guys and girls, college juniors and seniors and recent grads, from the looks of them.

How do you report on a show if you spend most of it shooting pics of random gaggles of girls who’ve wordlessly handed you their phones, beaming and breathless? You try to get a grip on what brought those girls out – other than some mad dash for fifteen seconds on Instagram, maybe. What the Oh Hellos did to clinch this blog’s interest was to record an aptly creepy, enigmatic newgrass-tinged version of Camille Saint-Saens’ famous late 1800s classical piece, Danse Macabre, on their brand-new album Dear Wormwood. Interestingly, frontman/acoustic guitarist Tyler Heath apologized in advance for a setlist that would take a dip into darker material, although, he hastened to add, it would emerge triumphant shortly thereafter and pretty much stayed that way for the rest of the show.

Which is what got the girls swaying and singing along. A lot of times it seemed that everybody in the band was singing, even if they didn’t have a mic in front of them, adding considerable lushness and bulk to what was often already a towering, anthemic sound, the Polyphonic Spree with more of an ecumenical feel and some real tunes for once. Something you get growing up in the church in Flyover America, maybe? With two drummers – one on a full rock kit, the other on a more stripped-down but heavier standup kit – a total of three guitars, bass, viola, banjo and Heath’s sister Maggie adding her soaring, occasionally operatically-tinged vocals, the peaks and valleys were about even,, but the former made the latter seem hours away. A couple of cheerily circling numbers early on seemed to reference Vampire Weekend;; by the end, they’d risen closer to cloudy Coldplay bluster. The banjo and viola grounded much of the material in a folk vernacular, but one that was closer to the Punch Brothers than, say, Doc Watson. In between, symphonic swells and lustrous washes of sound sat side by side with both pensively fingerpicked folk-rock interludes and rousing, stomping, Celtic-flavored choruses.

One of Tyler’s lines that seemed to go over particularly well with the audience was, “We are not all alone in the dark with our demons.” Those who might need that kind of assurance can get it tonight, Nov 11 at Terminal 5 on an eclectic triplebill, starting at 8 PM with fiery female-fronted psychedelic/garage/honkytonk hellraisers Those Darlins, the Oh Hellos afterward and then fire-and-brimstone Americana dude Shakey Graves. Hopefully you have $27.50 advance tix if you’re going; it’s more at the door.

Fever the Ghost Bring Their Droll Blend of Glam, Psychedelia and Art-Rock to Bushwick

The title of Fever the Ghost’s new album Zirconium Meconium – streaming at Bandcamp – basically means “fake shit.” Is that because their style springboards off a sparkly psychedelic sound that crystallized about a half-century ago? Whatever the case, the quality of the music is no joke, even if the album is full of them. Fever the Ghost have a gig tonight, November 7 at around 9 at Alphaville,140 Wilson Ave (Stuydam/Willoughby) in Bushwick, cover TBA, guessing around $10. Take the M to Central Ave.

Bobby Victor’s ornate, baroque-tnged piano kicks off the instrumental overture Metempsychosis, which segues into Rounder II, frontman Casper Indrizzo’s strobe guitar mingling with the organ for a high, High Romantic vibe with a touch of glam. If Spacehog was a keyboard band, they’d sound like this. From there the group segues into Hinterland, Indrizzo’s playful faux-Bowie vocals rising over pulsing waves of ELO keyb arpeggios, bassist Mason Rothschild and drummer Nick Overhauser providing an unexpectedly balletesque beat.

Peace Crimes has a mystifyingly out-of-tune synth underneath the balmy vocals, lingering guitar and Tschaikovskian tune. Surf’s Up!…Nevermind puts a droll prog-pop spin on Astronomy Domine-era Pink Floyd. Long Tall Stranger – a trippily twisted tale of a child kidnapping – reverts to a blend of blue-eyed Bowie soul and vintage symphonic rock.

Fathoms puts a third-wave glam spin on an old Status Quo garage rock classic. From there the band takes a techy-tacky, Pulp-ish detour into synthy disco with 1518, then bookends a nebulous interlude with new wave Motown in Sun Moth. Vervain (Dreams of an Old Wooden Cage) leavens the gravitas of mid-90s Blur with a wry Gringo Star sensibility. The album winds up with Equal Pedestrian – a not-so-successful parody of Disney autotune pop – and the George Harrison-esque piano ballad A Friend in Lonely Jesus. Like a lot of the best psychedelia, this music doesn’t take itself the least bit seriously, especially as far as the faux-operatic octave effects on the vocals are concerned. If the band can replicate any reasonable proportion of this studio grandeur, they should be a lot of fun live.

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.

Young Marble Giants on Both Sides of the Pond

What’s the most unlikely band reunion ever? The Velvet Underground? Or when Pink Floyd got back together for that live tv cameo? How about this August 27 at 7:30 PM, when Young Marble Giants will play their cult favorite 1981 album Colossal Youth at London’s Royal Festival Hall? There’s karmic justice, and no little irony in the fact that thirty-five years after they first broke up, the band are playing one of their biggest gigs ever. What’s probably just as unlikely is that they’d be together to do it at all. £17.50 balcony seats are still available for budget-minded London postpunk fans.

Meanwhile, on this side of the pond, a stellar and similarly unlikely collection of downtown New York rock talent are getting together at the exact same hour at Hifi Bar to play the album in its entirety. Springboarded by Elk City’s Renee LoBue, the performers include folk noir chanteuse Erica Smith, janglerock mastermind Paula Carino, the Bush Tetras’ Cynthia Sley, Toot Sweet‘s acerbic Mary Spencer Knapp, Speed the Plow‘s John and Toni Baumgartner, along with many, many others. This is a gig where there may be as many band members as audience members in the house.

The album itself is quirky, very humbly and rather primitively recorded, and an acquired taste for some. A favorite of college radio dj’s when it came out, it’s considered one of the foundations of lo-fi music in general. As precious and prissy as so much so-called bedroom pop is, it wouldn’t be a stretch to file the record within that genre. Stuart Moxham’s minimalist, tentative guitar and simple yet saturnine keyboards made an apt backdrop for frontwoman Alison Statton’s distinctive, unassuming, low-key vocals, punctuated by Moxham’s brother Philip’s incisive if similarly simple bass work. You can check it out – or revisit fond college dorm memories – at Spotify.

Speaking of performers who’re doing the tribute show, Smith and Knapp most recently shared the stage at 2A at the end of May, on a fantastic quadruplebill with American Ambulance‘s Pete Cenedella and host Monica “L’il Mo” Passin. Passin distinguished herself with her ability to shift seamlessly between innumerable styles, from Brill Building pop, to latin soul, rockabilly, oldschool C&W and rootsy bar-band rock. Her guitar playing was just as eclectic: she’s the rare player who can do a song solo acoustic, stick a solo in the middle and have it seem perfectly natural even without bass and drums.

Knapp’s accordion work was just as diverse, running the gamut from torchy French chanson, to enigmatic bedroom pop (if anybody on this bill really GETS Young Marble Giants, it’s her), ornately theatrical art-rock and an unexpected and very successful detour toward the avant garde. Passin playfully needled Cenedella for his handful of references to ganja, in several numbers from American Ambulance’s cult classic Streets of NYC album, a bittersweet look at uneasy teenage romance in New York in the late 70s. Which was funny, since Cenedella’s blend of twangy Americana and biting Graham Parker-esque proto new wave songcraft is the furthest thing from stoner music.

The star of the show was Smith, who held the audience rapt with a mix of new material and old favorites. As she told the crowd, her songs typically fit into three distinct categories: death songs, seduction songs and despair songs. An unexpectedly seductive number was the chilling, nocturnal Nashville, Tennessee, a stark waltz from Smith’s Snowblind album. Along with similarly spare, plaintive versions of the folk standards Pretty Saro and Wayfaring Stranger, she spun quietly through the wrenchingly poignant River King, a gently swaying, Fairport Convention-ish art-folk number with a knockout punch, a metaphorically loaded tale of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. She also brought out a handful of new numbers: the night’s most impactful song was a brand-new one, Veterans of Foreign Wars, a brooding, suspensefully enveloping waltz with what could be a chilling allusion to the Eric Garner murder. Although Smith’s imagery is opaque and allusive – that’s the seduction thing going on – so you never know.

And after the four onstage had wrapped up their evening, the irrepressibly charming, ebullient, wickedly tight swing jazz harmony trio the Tickled Pinks lept onstage with their bassist and guitarist and kept the audience on the sunny side of the street with a brief set of standards. “They’re all the same song,” bandleader Karla Rose (of brilliant, psychedelic noir quartet Karla Rose & the Thorns) joked, but all that counterpoint, and all those harmonic leaps all over the place, aren’t exactly easy. But the trio sang as if they’d been doing this all their lives. Which they sort of have.

Passin’s next show upstairs at 2A is this August 30 at 9, where she switches to bass to play with countrypolitan chanteuse Drina Seay‘s fantastic noir-inclined band.

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