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Tag: jacco gardner

A Wickedly Catchy Weekend Show by the Mysterious Melissa & the Mannequins

Melissa & the Mannequins are New York’s most exciting new band. There’s very little about them on the web. The only one of their songs that’s made it online so far is Slip Away, the gorgeously bittersweet, propulsively jangly number they closed their deliciously catchy set with at Long Island City Bar over the Labor Day weekend. They’ve been around for about  a year, tops. Quietly and steadily, they’ve put what’s obviously been an enormous amount of work into this band, equal to their formidable chops. Up-and-coming rock acts seldom have as much command of their instruments, let alone as many styles as this group winds their way through.

In roughly an hour onstage, frontwoman/guitarist Melissa Gordon sang with a cool, collected delivery over a tight rhythm section. Lyrically, most of the songs dealt with brooding breakup scenarios, often in contrast to the tunes’ bright,upbeat quality, Stylistically, they really ran the gamut. Several numbers worked a psychedelic soul vein, bringing to mind Chicano Batman with a woman out front and a more subdued, atmospheric keyboardist: throughout the set, the Mannequin on keys kept a tight focus and added all kinds of subtle textures and washes of sound.

Midway through the set, the band switched it up with an unexpectedly funky song, like Turkuaz in a rare low-key, trippy moment. There were also a couple of detours in the direction of Jacco Gardner-ish retro 60s sunshine pop and a distant Beatles influence. The most riveting song of the set might be called I Wasn’t Listening, an uncharacteristically haunting, epic, wounded noir soul ballad in 6/8 tiime, lead guitarist Steve Flakus capping it off with a long, biting, purist blues solo.

Gordon is also an excellent guitarist (which you wouldn’t know from her Soundcloud page, something she obviously put up as she was learning the fretboard). She and Flakus took a grand total of three perfectly synchronized twin solos: it wasn’t Iron Maiden, but it was just as tight. Gordon also engaged the crowd with her deadpan sense of humor: she seems to come out of a theatre background. LIC Bar also seems to be the group’s home base these days as they build a following, an aptly cool joint for this band. They’re also at Bowery Electric at 9 on Oct 1; cover is $10.

Jacco Gardner Brings His Trippy 60s Top of the Pops UK Sounds to Rough Trade

Psychedelic songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Jacco Gardner is sort of the Elliott Smith of retro 60s sunshine pop. But where Smith wrote doomed junkie narratives, heartbreak ballads and politically relevant broadsides, Gardner stays in the 60s witth his dreamy, trippy, pastoral baroque pop. He’s got a couple of albums out: Cabinet of Curiosities, which this blog gave a solid thumbs-up to last year, and a new one, Hypnophobia, which seems (at least from what little’s up at Bandcamp) to be more epic and slightly more beefed-up sonically. Gardner is Dutch but sings in a period-perfect , precise, cat-ate-the-canary 60s Carnaby Street London accent. Underneath, he layers all sorts of jangly, spiky, ringing, pinging vintage guitars, trebly bass and what sounds like vintage mellotron and organ (he really likes the flute patches). He’s also got a show coming up on June 11 at 10 PM at Rough Trade; advance tix are $12.

Gardner’s most recent New York show was in the middle of last August at South Street Seaport – yeah, that’s going back a ways. Listening back, what does the recording sound like? Trebly and tuneful. Outdoors in mid-afternoon, Gardner played an acoustic-electric model, backed by lead guitar, bass, drums and keys. The show was a good approximation of the meticulousness of his recordings, with enough wobbly reverb on the vocals to drive a minivan through. The lushness of the keys over a hard-hitting beat gave the songs more energy and sweep than you would expect, enhanced by how long the band jammed them out, a couple numbers clocking in at around seven or eight minutes. There were also three-part vocal harmonies that brought to mind the Zombies, the Move and the Pretty Things. And one of the later tunes, with its swirly keys, resonant guitar clang and uneasy major/minor chord changes, strongly evoked Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. All this should sound even better in the intimate, sonically superb confines in the back at Rough Trade.

The Best New York Concerts of 2014

Of all the year-end lists here, including the best albums and best songs of 2014 lists, this one is the most individual, and the most fun to put together. But as amazing a year for live music as it was, there were twice as many enticing shows that this blog never had the chance to cover as there are on this list. It’s called having a life – or trying to, in between concerts, anyway.

So consider this an informed survey rather than anything definitive, and ultimately, a reason for guarded optimism. Much as gentrification destroys the arts like Walmart destroys local economies, neither one has killed us. Yet.

What was the single best show of the year? Four multi-band bills stand out from the rest. Back in October at Trans-Pecos, charismatic Great Plains gothic bandleader Ember Schrag played a wickedly lyrical mix of mostly new material, some of it with a string section, the rest fueled by the snarling, spectacular lead guitar of Bob Bannister. Also playing that night: rapturously hypnotic, melancholic cellist/songwriter Meaner Pencil, dark art-rock duo Christy & Emily, plus a starkly entrancing set by two jazz icons, guitarist Mary Halvorson and violist Jessica Pavone.

A month earlier, renaissance woman Sarah Small put together a similarly magical night at Joe’s Pub featuring her Middle Eastern-inspired trio Hydra with Rima Fand and Yula Beeri as well as her otherworldly Balkan choral trio Black Sea Hotel with Willa Roberts and Shelley Thomas. There were also brief sets from the reliably entertaining all-female accordion group the Main Squeeze Orchestra and a trio version of one of NYC’s original Romany bands, Luminescent Orchestrii.

In mid-November, the Bowery Electric triplebill of hauntingly catchy Nashville gothic tunesmith/singer Jessie Kilguss, similarly lyrical and vocally gifted art-rock songwriter Ward White – both playing an album release show – and well-loved literate Americana rocker Matt Keating was pretty transcendent. And let’s not forget the Alwan-a-Thon back in January, the annual celebration of cutting-edge sounds from across the Arabic-speaking world held at financial district music mecca Alwan for the Arts. This one featured two floors of amazing acts including intense Lebanese-born pianist Tarek Yamani and his trio, luminous Balkan chanteuse Eva Salina, amazingly psychedelic 1960s Iranian art-dance-rock revivalists Mitra Sumara, sizzling Romany party monsters Sazet Band, and the all-star Alwan Ensemble, who played bristling jams on classic themes from Egypt, Syria and Iraq.

Rather than trying to rank the rest of these shows, they’re listed in chronological order:

Avi Fox-Rosen and Raya Brass Band at Rock Shop, 1/9/14 – Fox-Rosen had just released an album every single month in 2013, so this was a triumphant sort of greatest hits live gig for the sharply lyrical, catchy art-rock tunesmith followed by a wild vortex of Balkan jamming, the group down on the floor in front of the stage surrounded by dancers.

LJ Murphy & the Accomplices at Parkside Lounge, 2/1/14 – the charismatic, nattily dressed noir rocker led his explosive, blues-fueled band through a careening set of intensely lyrical, distinctively New York narratives.

Siach Hasadeh and Ichka in the basement at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue on the Upper West Side, 3/4/14 – every Tuesday, more or less, drummer Aaron Alexander – a prime mover in Jewish jazz circles – books a series of reliably excellent bands here. This twinbill kicked off with a rapturously haunting set by Montreal’s Siach Hasadeh followed by another Montreal outfit, the high-energy Ichka and then a jam with members of both bands joined by audience members.

Tammy Faye Starlite singing Marianne Faithfull’s Broken English at the Lincoln Center Atrium, 3/13/14 – a counterintuitive, sardonically hilarious reinterpretation of a haphazardly iconic new wave era album.

Jenifer Jackson at the Rockwood, 3/26/14 – the eclectic Austin songwriter brought her new band from her adopted hometown, reinventing older material and newer stuff as well with Kullen Fuchs’ rippling vibraphone as the lead instrument.

Gord Downie & the Sadies at Bowery Ballroom, 5/2/14 – a furious, often haunting sprint through the Canadian gothic Americana band’s most recent collaboration with the Tragically Hip frontman, ending with an explosively psychedelic Iggy Pop cover.

Hannah Thiem at Mercury Lounge, 5/29/14 – the haunting violinist/composer teamed up with an A-list string section to air out soaringly ethereal, cinematic new Nordic and Middle Eastern-tinged electroacoustic material from her latest album.

Nick Waterhouse at the Brooklyn Night Bazaar in Greenpoint, 6/13/14 – the LA noir soul bandleader and a killer pickup band featuring Burnt Sugar’s Paula Henderson on baritone sax brought moody Lynchian sounds to this grotesquely trendoid-infested space.

Kayhan Kalhor and Jivan Gasparyan at the World Financial Center, 6/14/14 – the legendary Iranian-Kurdish spike fiddle virtuoso and composer joined the similarly legendary Armenian duduk reedman for a rapturous, otherworldly duo set of improvisations on classic themes from each others’ traditions.

No Grave Like the Sea at Ramirez Park in Bushwick, 6/21/14 – after a day running around aimlessly trying to find bands playing daytime shows during the annual Make Music NY buskerfest, the volcanically sweeping, epic set by bassist Tony Maimone’s cinematic postrock band made it all worthwhile.

Karen Dahlstrom at the American Folk Art Museum, 6/27/14 – while she may be best known as one of the four first-rate songwriters in Bobtown, arguably the best gothic Americana harmony band around, Dahlstrom is also just as captivating as a solo performer. She took advantage of the museum’s sonics and sang a-cappella and ran through a tantalizingly brief set of haunting, historically rich original songs from her Idaho-themed album Gem State.

Serena Jost at the Rockwood, 6/29/14 – a lush, sweeping, richly enveloping, tuneful show by the art-rock cellist/multi-instrumentalist singer and her band. The all-too-brief, eclectic set by southwestern gothic bandleader Sergio Mendoza y la Orkesta about an hour beforehand at South Street Seaport – with psychedelic cumbias, rumba rock and the most twisted Fleetwood Mac cover ever – got the evening off to a great start.

Changing Modes at Bowery Electric, 7/19/14 – keyboardist/bassist Wendy Griffiths’ slinky, shapeshifting art-rock band has never sounded more anthemic or intense. And earlier that afternoon, scorching sets by the noisily atmospheric VBA, pummeling postrock/metal band Biblical and dark garage punks Obits at Union Pool kicked off what might have been the year’s single best day of music.

Jacco Gardner at South Street Seaport, 8/15/14 – he sort of plays the same song over and over, a dreamy, gorgeously chiming, psychedelic sunshine pop number straight out of London, 1967. But it’s a great song, and it was worth sticking around for what were essentially variations on a theme.

Bliss Blood & Al Street at Brooklyn Rod & Gun Club, 8/27/14 – the lurid but plaintive and haunting torch song icon teamed up with the brilliant, flamenco-inspired guitarist for a riveting, Lynchian set of mostly new material from their phenomenally good forthcoming album.

Gemma Ray at Rough Trade, 9/13/14 – the British noir songwriter played a similarly Lynchian set in a stark duo show, just guitar and drums, a showcase for her smart, individualistic, creepy playing and macabre songwriting.

The Dances of the World Chamber Ensemble at St. Marks Church, 9/14/14 – the improvisationally-inclined, cinematic instrumentalists ran through a magical blend of African, Middle Eastern, tango and jazz pieces by frontwoman/pianist/flutist Diana Wayburn.

Chicha Libre at Barbes, 9/15/14 – sadly, NYC’s funnest band have since gone on “indefinite hiatus,” whatever that means. At least they were on the top of their game when they played a wild, darkly psychedelic mix of trippy, surfy Peruvian psychedelic cumbia sounds in one of their last shows of the year.

Wounded Buffalo Theory playing Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway at Rock Shop, 9/19/14 – the art-rockers joined with a revolving cast including members of the Sometime Boys, Afroskull, 29 Hour Music People, and the Trouble Dolls for an impressively spot-on, epic recreation of the cult favorite 1974 art-rock album, WNYC’s John Hockenberry reading Peter Gabriel’s drolly surreal album liner notes in between songs.

Souren Baronian’s Taksim at Barbes, 9/23/14 – this isn’t the show reviewed at this blog back in June. That show featured the octogenarian multi-reedman and his hypnotic but kinetic band playing an unselfconsciously deep, soulful blend of Armenian music and incisive American jazz. His next gig there was even better!

Sherita at Barbes, 9/30/14 – the Brooklyn Balkan supergroup of sorts – reedman Greg Squared of Raya Brass Band, violinist Rima Fand of Luminescent Orchestrii, percussionis/singer Renée Renata Bergan and oudist Adam Good – played an alternately sizzling and sepulchral mix of originals and classic themes from Turkey, Greece and here as well.

Mary Lee Kortes at the Rockwood, 10/7/14 – the brilliant Americana songwriter and chanteuse and her band, feauturing John Mellencamp guitarist Andy York, aired out dazzlingly eclectic, intensely lyrical songs from her forthcoming album, The Songs of Beulah Rowley, a mix of saloon jazz, torch song and plaintive Americana.

The Skull Practitioners at Pine Box Rock Shop in Bushwick, 10/31/14 – it was the ultimate Halloween show, Steve Wynn lead guitar monster Jason Victor’s otherworldly, pummeling noiserock trio building a menacing but wickedly catchy vortex. That their half-hour set was as good as some of the four-hour bills on this list testifies to how volcanically good it was.

Karla Moheno at the Rockwood, 11/18/14 – the inscrutable noir songwriter and guitarist led a killer, Lynchian band through a mix of low-key, murderous, mysteriously lyrical narratives and more upbeat but no less shadowy material.

Mamie Minch at Barbes, 12/20/14 – this is why it always pays to wait til the very end of the year to finish this list. The charismatic resonator guitarist/singer and oldtime blues maven teamed up with Kill Henry Suger drummer Dean Sharenow for a killer set of blues from over the decades along with similarly edgy, sardonically aphoristic original material

If you’re wondering why there isn’t any jazz or classical music to speak of on this list, that’s because this blog has an older sister blog, Lucid Culture, which covers that kind of stuff in more detail.

A couple of things may jump out at you here. Nineteen of these shows were in Manhattan, eleven were in Brooklyn and one in Queens, which is open to multiple interpretations. More instructive is the fact that nineteen of the thirty-one were free shows where the audience passed around a tip bucket rather than paying a cover at the door. Most interestingly, women artists dominated this list. 26 out of of the 42 acts here were either women playing solo or fronting a group. That’s a trend. You’re going to see more of that here in the next couple of days.

The White Kites Aren’t Missing Anything, Psychedelically Speaking

Imagine if Ian Anderson had a thing for psychedelic pop music instead of heavy blues. That’s what Warsaw-based band the White Kites evoke. Pawel Betley’s pretty much omnipresent flute in tandem with Jakub Lenarczyk’s keyboards gives their album Missing a period-perfect 1968 feel. If the idea of a mashup of the Pretty Things and early Jethro Tull doesn’t scare you off, you’ll love this band. Their sound is retro in every possible way: they absolutely nail their vintage melodic tropes, keyboard and amp settings. Much as this album is all about catchy hooks, there’s a trippy undercurrent that sometimes takes everything in its tow, then eventually lets some familiar, comforting structure bubble to the surface once again. There’s also a meandering lyrical theme on the subject of absence, which may or may not carry some symbolic weight: it’s hard to tell. The whole thing is streaming at their Bandcamp page.

The centerpiece of the album’s carnivalesque opening track, predictably titled Arrival, is a menacingly swirling funeral organ solo. There are also echoes of Brazilian-tinged American pop from the 60s as well as British glamrock from five years later, or Jacco Gardner in particularly amped-up mode. Track two, The Foreigner morphs from jazzy chamber pop to slithery, jangly art-rock in a Nektar vein. Stowaway Sylvie, a twisted, metaphorically-loaded seafaring tale, brings back that awesome funeral organ: “Reading the stars won’t help me know where we are,” frontman Sean Palmer laments.

Percival Buck has a sarcastic, satirical Ray Davies vaudeville pop flavor; then the song picks up with an anthemic Abbey Road vibe. Much as it may be derivative to the extreme, Beyond the Furthest Star is irresistibly fun. Mellotrons! Circus imagery! Oscillating synths, twinkling neoromantic piano, you name a stoner art-rock device, they manage to cram it in here. By contrast, Should You Wait is more sprightly and pop-oriented, with guy/girl vocals: “Though dawn is anew, my dose shall be complete,” the guy asserts.

Turtle’s Back seems to capture the moment when that dose is complete beyond any doubt: an atmospherically crescendoing keyboard-versus-keyboard interlude and watery Leslie speaker guitar help complete the picture where “we’ll be leaving soon, but not from the room.” When Will May Return is where the trip gets dicey, pensive folk-rock giving way to glam and then a soaring, orchestrated grandeur underscoring what seems like a variation on the Persephone myth – or maybe an eco-disaster parable. Clown King is where the Tull comparisons really come in, a sarcastic anthem told from the point of view of a selfish tyrant, lit up with twin flutes, baroque keys and then an unexpectedly balmy interlude. The title track is an apprehensive piano waltz: “Paper saviors get burned, and your ship is no ark,” Palmer warns bitterly. The album ends up with Farewell, tremoloing organ and bluesy lead guitar evoking a period-perfect early 70s backdrop for a brooding contemplation of the ravages of time. Snobs may turn up their noses at this, saying that it’s all been done before – and it has, but never quite this way. And for real fans of classic 60s psychedelia, this is a feast.

Jacco Gardner’s Period-Perfect Psychedelia Comes to NYC

Psychedelic songwriter Jacco Gardner’s new album Cabinet of Curiosities so perfectly recreates the surrealistically vaudevillian sound of 60s British psychedelic pop that it could be a parody. Consider: the central instrument here is the electric harpsichord. If you’ve ever killed time with “classic rock” radio, you know the sound: Ray Manzarek plays one on the Doors’ People Are Strange. Gardner delivers his paradoxical, sometimes befuddled lyrics in in perfect deadpan English, his purist second-generation Beatles melodies mingling with the baroque via an endless series of vintage and neo-vintage keyboard patches. Does he realize how completely absurd, and completely ridiculous a lot of this sounds? Consider: Gardner is Dutch, and while it seems everybody in Holland speaks English, it’s not everyone’s first language. Whatever the case, ultimately it doesn’t matter. Whether or not this is a homage, a sendup, a serious (hmmm) attempt to take the psych-pop pantheon to new places, or all of the above, it’s impossible to listen to this and not smile. The whole thing (along with other miscellaneous treats) is streaming at his Bandcamp page.

What’s most spectacular about this is that Gardner not only writes this stuff, he plays all of it, manning all the keys as well as guitars, bass and drums, all of them period-perfect! If Elliott Smith had been born thirty years earlier and had followed his muse into mushrooms rather than opiates, he might have sounded something like this. The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle is an obvious influence, as are the Pretty Things, the Move and the Kinks in their airiest and artsiest mid-to-late-60s moments. Among current-day acts, the Smiles and Frowns and Jeremy Messersmith come to mind.

The opening track Clear the Air sets the tone, both swooshy and rippling all at once: the guitar doesn’t come in til the second chorus, and then it’s just an acoustic. The One Eyed King works a more classically-tinged minor-key vibe: “Open up the window to your mind so I can look inside,” Gardner teases as the mellotron pans the mix. Puppets Dangling continues in the same vein, a mix of oldschool chamber pop and fifth-wave psychedelia. Where Will You Go teleports the idea of Oasis’ Wonderwall 25 years back in time and improves on it immensely, sort of a carnivalesque take on the Moody Blues.

The most anthemic track here is Watching the Moon, making its way from a sureal waltz into more ornate territory. Gardner is brave enough to make the title track an instrumental, and a good one, with its ghost-girl vocalese and unexpected chord changes: with tunes this good, who needs lyrics, anyway?

The Riddle, with its wry Good Vibrations references, rocks harder than anything here: it reminds of Brooklyn art-rockers Aunt Ange. Gardner goes back to weird waltz mode with the aptly titled Lullaby, its Nektar-ish broken chords and long, dreamy fade, then raises the angst level and the epic sweep with Help Me Out: “I need another curtain just to make me feel all right…let the sunlight find me just before I turn into stone,” he intones with an eerie matter-of-factness.

With its warm harmonies and wistful catchiness, Summer’s Gone reminds of Love Camp 7. Chameleons contrasts nimbly fingerpicked guitar and resonant electric piano; the album winds up with The Ballad of Little Jane, a wry and strangely pretty ELO-tinged piano ballad. Gardner is at Death by Audio on Mar 3 and then back in New York on Mar 23 at the Mercury; it’s not known if he’s doing these shows solo or with a band. Either way, it should be a lot of fun.

Trippy Noir Pop and Instrumental Tracks from Maston

Some might hear Maston’s new album Shadows and conflate it with 60s stoner pop kitsch like the Beach Boys or Van Dyke Parks. But one-man band Frank Maston actually comes across as more of a cross between Lynch film composer Angelo Badalamenti and vintage keyboard maven Joe McGinty. Maston sings and plays all the instruments here except for Ana Caravelle’s concert harp. Simple, cheery hooks turn apprehensive in a split second, the guitars echoing wet and surfy over a deftly orchestrated series of keyboard patches ranging from vintage 60s organ to the latest lo-fi imitation Casio tones that are all the rage with the Bushwick New Order wannabes. The whole thing is streaming at Maston’s Bandcamp page.

The opening cut, Strange Rituals takes Lesley Gore’s You Don’t Own Me and does it as  Joe Meek might have envisioned it, with reverb guitar and organ and echoey faux Spector kettledrums, rather than high camp. You Were In Love has Hawaiian-flavored slide guitar keening in the distance over an electric harpsichord theme, a more carnivalesque take on Penny Lane moptop pop. Messages, a coolly ominous LA psych-folk tune,  reminds of the Peanut Butter Conspiracy at their trippiest.

Looks, an allusively tropicalia-tinged psych pop tune, recalls Os Mutantes. Young Hearts kicks off with a tiptoeing hook that wouldn’t be out of place in a Frankie Valli song but gets wary and weird in a hurry. The echoey, opaque Judge Alabaster takes awhile to get going before it hits a scampering new wave groove and suddenly it’s over. King Conrad, a trippy guitar-and-harpsichord waltz, would make an elegant interlude on an album by current-day psych stars Jacco Gardner or the Blackfeeet Braves (who both also have excellent new albums out).

The album’s final cuts include Flutter, a twinkling, goodnatured dub-inflected nocturne; Mirror, an unconvincing stab at late 80s Britpop; and Night, a brief ELO-tinged lullaby.