New York Music Daily

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Sunday Salon #5 – Raw and Primal

The Sunday Salon at Zirzamin was conceived not as a stuffy, formal setting for songwriters to gently and daintily introduce new material but as a platform for risky behavior and fertile cross-pollination. There wasn’t much of the latter but plenty of the former at tonight’s show. Guitar virtuoso Homeboy Steve Antonakos, who’ll be playing a set of his own at 7 PM here on Dec 23, provided a handful of catchy numbers: he’s the rare sideman who actually writes as interestingly as he plays. Among the highlights: a sarcastic Christmas song where Santa’s HMO is letting him down, and Antonakos’ first number, a delicious janglerock gem that wouldn’t be out of place in the Love Camp 7 catalog (a band he just happens to play in).

Otherwise, Rick Snyder told funny road stories about driving through the south, and represented for the 99%. John Hodel evoked surreal Bukowskiesque morning barroom scenes. The Salon’s own Lauraly Grossman sang a couple of subtly torchy, allusively literate, oldtime swing-flavored tunes. Calum Ingram and his trio played slinky blues-funk, his cello blending with his excellent bassist’s vintage SG model for a tasty mix of low midrange tones. And LJ Murphy – who’s playing here at 7 PM with his band the Accomplices this coming Sunday, Dec 9 – took the opportunity to reinvent a handful of his noir classics, among them the snide afterwork scenario Happy Hour and the subtly soul-infused Sleeping Mind, a powerful portrait of clinical depression. Like most of the musicians on the bill, Murphy is a band guy – the Salon isn’t a singer-songwriter scene, at least in the common sense of the term – so watching him snarl through the tunes and strip them down to their raw blues framework, all by himself, was a lot of fun.

Afterward, Lorraine Leckie and Her Demons played an even more careening, umhinged set. Leckie’s latest project is an elegant chamber-pop collaboration with journalist and social critic Anthony Haden-Guest, which somewhat obscures the fact that her roots go straight back to punk rock. This set was more Canadian gothic than punk, courtesy of lead guitarist Hugh Pool. Fueled by a nasty bump on the head (most clubs aren’t built to accommodate players with NBA height), a broken string and then a brand-new secondhand guitar with a mind of its own, he scorched and burned through one series of wildfire hammer-ons after another, mixing in the occasional wry Hendrix quote over the tight groove of bassist J Wallace and the excellent drummer, who to his credit felt the intimate space and didn’t bludgeon the room.

Leckie started the show solo on piano with a coy noir cabaret song about drug smuggling and then moved to guitar, for a couple of pretty savage glamrock tunes and then Ontario Sky, an aggressively ambiguous look back at growing up in rural Canada. Regrouping after one technical difficulty after another, they finally took it out with a a new song that wound up with long, burning, Neil Young/Crazy Horse style vamp. Leckie will be back here on Jan 6 at 7.

Every Sunday starting at 5 PM, New York Music Daily presents the Sunday Salon at Zirzamin, in the old Zinc Bar space on Houston St. just west of LaGuardia Place. There’s no cover charge, and the public is always welcome to come and watch. LJ Murphy and the Accomplices rock the club this coming Sunday Dec 9 at 7 to wind up the Salon on a high note.


This Week’s Debut Sunday Salon at Zirzamin – Slow But Auspicious

This past weekend’s debut Sunday Salon at Zirzamin got off to a slow but promising start. Slow because there was only one subway line running between Manhattan and Brooklyn, promising because the playing was inspired. Cellist Calum Ingram saved the early part of the evening from being a total wash. Blues played on the cello always sounds good, but this guy’s blues are more funky than most. It’s obvious that he’s at least had an exposure to cello jazz, as well, as he and his cajon player spun through slinky polyrhythms and biting washes of microtones.

Then Rick Snyder made a welcome return to the New York stage; a prominent member of the old Banjo Jim’s scene, he’s been off the radar for awhile. But not anymore. On the spur of the moment, he invited Ingram up to join him for a bluesy Levon Helm-type number, and the cellist completely transformed the song with more of those lusciously uneasy harmonics.

Moments like that one are what the Salon is all about. The premise of the night is to give good songwriters and instrumentalists an opportunity to cross-pollinate and discover artists like themselves, in a supportive environment that operates on a high musical level without the endless parade of amateurs and creeps who tend to take over wherever there’s an open mic. There’s no cover charge for the Salon, and the public is always welcome to come out and watch the performance in the lowlit, Twin Peaks ambience of the club’s intimate back room.

After the salon, which runs from 5 to 7 PM, there’s a show by an invited artist or band. This past Sunday’s show featured dark Americana rocker Lorraine Leckie and Her Demons playing a rare acoustic set.

This time out, Leckie mixed it up. Backed by J Wallace on bass and Hugh Pool wailing as intensely on acoustic guitar as he typically does on electric, they opened with The Everywhere Man, a creepy serial killer chamber pop song from Leckie’s brilliant new collaboration with Anthony Haden-Guest, Rudely Interrupted. They revisited that offhand menace with the absolutely gorgeous, bittersweet piano ballad Happy City, channeled late-period Marc Bolan with Rainbow and You’re So Cool, and ripped through slightly quieter-than-usual versions of the snarling Canadian gothic Language of the Night and Ontario. Leckie and her band are playing the album release show for the new album on Nov 12 at 7 at the Mercury, with the excellent , intense Molly Ruth opening. The next edition of the Sunday Salon is on the 11th at Zirzamin (Houston and LaGuardia, downstairs) starting at 5 PM, followed at 7 by a rare acoustic performance by well-loved third-wave psychedelic rockers Love Camp 7.

The Live Chronicles Continue

Here’s a look back at a couple of Sundays ago, which happened to be a tremendous day for live music in New York: yeah, it’s a while ago, but good music is timeless. This was on a Sunday, no less. Goes to show that even gentrification can’t kill good music in this city: unexpected places yield unexpected rewards.

The day began with the New York Scandia Brass Quintet – comprising part of the brass section of the brilliant and underappreciated New York Scandia Symphony Orchestra – playing in Fort Tryon Park way up in Washington Heights. The tourists all went in the direction of the Cloisters; the neighborhood people went down the hill to hear the music. It might seem like an insult to describe a brass quintet as sleepy, but that vibe perfectly captured the feel of the afternoon, and as the show went on, the musicians picked up the pace. The Scandia’s raison d’etre is to spread the word about Scandinavian composers who deserve to be better known here than they are: the early part of this concert felt like it could have been staged in Copenhagen, or Oslo sometime in the summer of 1876, to pull a year out of the air. There were a couple of national anthems, a couple of arrangements of folk tunes, a secondary national anthem that’s sort of the This Land Is Your Land of Norway, and finally a bracingly modernist composition by Anders Koppel, a sixties rocker who found his calling as an avant-garde composer. Meanwhile, the quintet and their conductor took pains to introduce the compositions, engage the kids in the crowd and hold a raffle for the benefit of those lucky enough to be on the lawn when the music started: a pair of lucky couples walked away with some unexpected goodies.

If that was any indication, the concert picked up the pace from there – the orchestra has played a series of June concerts here for the last few years – but it was time to get on the train, and with some Sunday luck get to LIC Bar in Long Island City to watch Wallace on Fire prowl and sway their way through a casually intense set of Americana-flavored rock outside at the bar’s friendly patio space. An outside observer would never have guessed that this was the equivalent of a pickup band, frontman/guitarist J Wallace leading a four-piece group with a keyboardist and drummer who’d rehearsed together maybe once before, along with eclectic bassist Joe Wallace (who’d dropped his pants onstage during his show the previous night at Webster Hall, playing with glamrock party monsters Haley Bowery and the Manimals). Together they evoked Steve Wynn, Neil Young and maybe Son Volt. J Wallace’s laid-back drawl and unselfconsciously biting guitar set the tone, matched by his keyboardist’s soulful wail and Joe Wallace’s incisive, melodic basslines. Uneasily swaying anthems and a couple of laid-back backbeat-driven country numbers were a big hit with the impressively large crowd who’d gathered in the bar’s backyard patio space to hear the music despite some soccer game that had drawn all the neighborhood Europeans into the front room with the tv.

After that, the day wasn’t over yet. Indonesia’s massive, brightly costumed, roughly 40-person Manado State University Choir brought a stunning virtuosity and also a personal warmth to St. Paul’s Chapel downtown. The young singers – some of whom seemed to be younger than university age – greeted audience members personally, shyly but vigorously: choirmaster Andre de Quadros covers all the bases in their lessons in public performance. African-American spirituals are hugely popular with choirs and their audiences in the Indonesian archipelago, and they sang a handful with the same meticulousness they gave to a couple of Mendelssohn works. It didn’t have the improvisational ecstasy of American choirs; by the same token, it was good to see those haunting old songs treated with the same dignity and respect as Mendelssohn, which they deserve. But it was the traditional works that the crowd – a mix of expats, tourists and fans of esoterica – had come to see. The men assailed the first one with a percussive fury as the women’s voices swirled in a counterpoint rich in microtones, then brought it down with a guttural suspense to end it: there’s a lot of cross-pollination between India and Indonesia, and this piece reflected it. A second one took on an even greater majesty as the tightly choreographed singers shifted places almost as much as they shifted notes with a similar intricacy; the enveloping crescendo reached its peak with a third work, the womens’ lushly interwoven high tonalities mingling to the point where it was impossible to keep track of who was singing what. The group closed with a fascinatingly interpolated mashup of an ancient Andalusian Muslim hymn and an English one: “This was from the days when it was normal to be Arab, Muslim and European,” de Quadros remarked dryly, and his words took on a particular poignancy in a neighborhood that’s seen extremists protesting against a tiny second-floor storefront mosque a few blocks to the north. Susie Ibarra’s Electric Kulintang was next on the bill, but the interior of the landmark old church had risen to boiling point, and since her ensemble is New York-based and plays the occasional concert at the Stone, there didn’t seem to be any harm in leaving. Besides, it would soon be time to get to the Rockwood to see Vagabond Swing.

Walter Ego Brings His Cruel Wit to Otto’s

Walter Ego played Otto’s Saturday night. The tourists hadn’t made it to the back room yet, so he kept the crowd entertained for the better part of an hour. New York is full of great little scenes: country and oldtime Americana at the Jalopy and 68 Jay Street Bar; gypsy music at Drom and Barbes; metal at St. Vitus and Tommy’s Tavern; and also what has become an elite songwriter’s salon that began at Banjo Jim’s and migrated to Otto’s after the bar on Avenue C closed down this past summer. The core is mix of veterans: Lorraine Leckie, LJ Murphy, J Wallace and Mac MacCarty along with up-and-coming talent like Drina Seay. And then there’s this guy: Murphy’s longtime bass player, who has now moved to centerstage, part Magical Mystery Tour era Beatles, part Elvis Costello, part Nick Cave maybe. Lyrics drive his songs, but his tunes can be more ornate and complex than you typically find in his kind of powerpop and janglerock.

As usual, there was a theatrical aspect to the show. This time he took a little time away from the set to make fun of juggling in general – or maybe just his own juggling. And then launched into a bright, sarcastically bouncy, vintage Kinks-style 60s Britpop number possibly called Satellites. As with all this guy’s songs, it’s loaded with metaphors, balls flying through the air: “If I am your gravity, what are you to me? You are a tiny, tiny satellite, I am the one who put you in the sky…you’re so far away,” he sang to these poor satellites, letting the cruelty of the lyric speak for itself. After that, he did a funk song, The Immorality Detection Machine, which manages to make fun of both right-wing hypocrites and lie detectors. “It’s the next best thing to time travel to the 50s, when men were men and women were girls,” he explained. The swaying, bluesy Don’t Take Advice from Me offered a killjoy’s irrepressible point of view: “What else is one more yeasayer boosting your esteem when I can give you the ugly truth that wakes you from your dream?” Later in the set he echoed that with The Magician, who will explain why that joke you just laughed at isn’t funny, and is so magic that he can make magic disappear.

But not all his songs are as direct, or as funny. Switching to piano, he brought out a biting, Lennonesque anthem that could have been encouragement to seize the moment…or it might have been making fun of people who think their lives are bigger than life. As usual, the highlight of the set was I Am the Glass, a goth-tinged, brooding, vindictive, metaphorically loaded ballad that he sang icily: “Whether you were cruel or oblivious, it didn’t have to come to this, instead of fragments I should still be one,” the broken glass tells its owner: a little later on in the song, there’s a car crash that brings everything full circle. The biggest surprise of the night was a casually riveting version of an obscure LJ Murphy song, Sunday’s Assassin, a searing chronicle of clinical depression: this killer still can’t drag himself out of bed or out of the house as he waits for the cops to haul him off while the tv cameras give him his fifteen minutes. The set ended with a funky number with a never-ending series of chord changes, more Beatlesque psychedelia and then an obligatory encore, in this case a terse piano version of Nowhere Man. Although Walter Ego has been writing songs since his days in Murphy’s band back in the 90s, he wasn’t playing out regularly until the past couple of years. For the moment, he seems to call Otto’s home when he’s not out busking; watch this space for upcoming dates.

Wallace on Fire at LIC Bar

Last night Wallace on Fire played LIC Bar. Any musician whose peers rave about him – or who’s ambitious enough to seek out Lorraine Leckie as a collaborator – is always worth discovering. This particular version of the band was just frontman J Wallace on guitar and vocals and Joe Wallace (no relation) on bass. Even stripped down to just the basics, they were definitely worth the trip to Queens. J Wallace plays his acoustic through a Fender tube amp, often running through a distortion pedal for just enough grit to add an extra level of menace. The bar’s booker described their music as country blues, which is a starting point – J Wallace’s songs take the style to new places. He gets a lot of props for his vocals – and he’s an excellent singer, no question, as strong when he goes up the scale as when he hangs around the low notes – but he’s also a strong guitarist. Rather than getting involved in extended solos, he works in thoughtful riffs from across the acoustic blues spectrum (and one from Jimi Hendrix), and he’s just as solid with country and folk styles.

Some of the slower songs went into straight-up rock: a couple with echoes of heavy southern rock like Black Oak Arkansas, another that staked out territory in an artsy, post-grunge vein much like Fen or bands of that ilk. And then they segued straight out of that one into The Rain, a catchy, pensively swaying Leckie tune with a dark Patti Smith vibe. The set’s opening tune built around a menacing Steve Wynn-style hammer-on riff; a bit later, they covered Neil Young – another obvious but not overwhelming influence – and then went from bouncy folk-pop, to a carefree, whistling country song and then back to the pensively burning bluesy stuff.

Joe Wallace is an excellent bassist, propelling the songs with a smart, in-the-pocket style while managing to slide all over the place, using all kinds of imaginative voicings along with the occasional booming chord: watching him play was inspiring. LIC Bar seems to be a home base for Wallace on Fire: watch this space for upcoming shows.