New York Music Daily

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Tag: jason victor

You’ve Got to Watch the Dream Syndicate Live at KEXP

The Dream Syndicate reputedly ripped the roof off at Rough Trade when they played there last fall. Of all the good shows that this blog missed out on covering last year, that two-night stand is at the top of the list. But we have Now I’ve Heard Everything to thank for posting the whole half-hour set that the regrouped and reinvigorated version of Steve Wynn’s iconic, mega-influential paisley underground/noiserock band played at KEXP last year.

They do Tell Me When It’s Over pretty straight up, almost tentatively, as an opener, until Jason Victor suddenly lets off a toxic squall and right there, that loosens everybody up. And both drummer Dennis Duck and bassist Mark Walton have the groove down cold, if anything they’re better now than when the original incarnation of the band (with guitarist Karl Precoda) was together.

Likewise, That’s What You Always Say starts out a little janglier, chimier than the original but then Victor hits that murderous minor chord midway through the first verse. You only wish the duel between the two guitarists – skronky Wynn and murky, murderous Victor – would go on longer. But then they launch into a vigorous, bouncy John Coltrane Stereo Blues – Walton and Duck swing it so hard it’s almost funk. This is a real livewire version, way better than the much heavier original studio recording, with plenty of boiling-acid guitar sparring – and then they segue into the Doors’ Break on Through for a couple of verses! What they’re going to end with isn’t clear – the band changes up the rhythm and keeps you guessing – but then it turns out to be a stampeding version of The Days of Wine & Roses. Victor’s jet-engine-in-flames stuff at the end is especially evil.

Let’s hope that Wynn keeps the Dream Syndicate warm in the bullpen along with the other thing he does on the side, the jangly and historically rich Baseball Project. In the meantime, Wynn is at Bowery Ballroom at 10ish on April 11 with his regular band the Miracle 3. And Victor’s similarly incendiary noiserock band the Skull Practitioners have been playing around town a fair amount lately  – their Halloween show at Pine Box Rock Shop in Bushwick was off the hook.

Now I’ve Heard Everything also has some good stills of Karla Moheno wielding her Telecaster during her haunting set at the Rockwood last November – a show that this blog didn’t miss.

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The 50 Best Albums of 2014

Of the hundreds of thousands of albums released every year, maybe ten percent of them are worth hearing. That’s about twenty-five thousand albums, possibly a lot more – it’s harder to keep track of the numbers than it was in the previous century. A very ambitious blogger can hear bits and pieces of maybe twenty percent of that total. That’s the triage.

A very, very ambitious blogger can hear, at best, maybe ten percent of that small sample, all the way through, at least enough to get the gist of what those few hundred albums are about. So consider this list – and the Best Songs of 2014 and the Best NYC Concerts of 2014 lists here – a celebration of good music released in 2014 or thereabouts rather than anything definitive. Links to listen to each album are included: whenever possible, the link is to an ad-free site like Bandcamp or Soundcloud rather than Spotify. So bookmark this page and come back to enjoy what you might have missed.

Every few years, there’s one album that stands out above all the rest, which transcends genre. This year, that was Big Lazy‘s Don’t Cross Myrtle, a creepy collection of reverb-drenched, Lynchian songs without words and desolate highway themes. Even by the standards of frontman/guitarist Stephen Ulrich’s previous work for film, tv and with this band, he’s never written with more delectable menace. Stream the album via Spotify.

Before the rest of the list kicks in, there are two ringers here from a couple years ago: Great Plains gothic tunesmith Ember Schrag‘s The Sewing Room, a quiet, allusive, disarmingly intense masterpiece (at Bandcamp), and a considerably more ornate and more chromatically-charged release, Philadelphia-based Turkish art-rockers Barakka‘s Uzaklardan (at Reverbnation). Both albums came over the transom too late to be included in the 2012 list here, but each of them is a real gem.

Beyond the choice of Big Lazy as #1, there’s no numerical ranking on this list. For fairness’ sake, the remainder of the fifty are listed in more-or-less chronological order as they first received attention here, without taking release dates into consideration. So the albums at the end aren’t the ass end of the list – they just happened to have been reviewed here at the end of the year. To be clear, the Ministry of Wolves, the last act on this list, are every bit as enjoyable as creepy surf band the Reigning Monarchs, who lead the rest of the parade:

The Reigning Monarchs – Black Sweater Massacre
Marauding crime-surf instrumentals from an unlikely cast of 90s powerpop types. Stream the album via the band’s page

Curtis Eller – How to Make It in Hollywood
Wickedly literate, historically rich, pun-infused and unexpectedly rocking Americana from the charismatic roots music banjoist. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Karla Moheno – Gone to Town
Nobody writes more intriguing noir musical narratives than this inscrutable chanteuse. If Big Lazy hadn’t put out their album this past year, this one would be at the top of the pile with a bullet. Stream the album via Soundcloud

Marissa Nadler – July
Arguably her best album, the atmospheric folk noir chanteuse and storyteller’s lushly enveloping adventure in Pink Floyd-style art-rock. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Marianne Dissard – The Cat. Not Me
A stormy, brilliantly twisted, angst-fueled, epically orchestrated art-rock album by the French southwestern gothic avatar and Sergio Mendoza collaborator. Stream the album via Spotify

Aram Bajakian – There Were Flowers Also in Hell
Darkly blues-inspired, characteristically eclectic, moody instrumentals by the last great lead guitarist from Lou Reed’s Band. Stream the album via Spotify

Rosanne Cash – The River & the Thread
A pensive southern gothic travelogue set to terse Americana rock, arguably as good as Cash’s iconic Black Cadillac album from a few years ago. Stream the album via Spotify

Laura Cantrell – No Way There from Here
The lyrically strongest and most musically diverse album yet by this era’s most compelling voice in classic country music. Stream the album via Spotify

The New Mendicants – Into the Lime
A janglefest of gorgeous Britfolk-infused powerpop from Joe Pernice of the Pernice Brothers, Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake and the Sadies’ Mike Belistky. Stream the album via Spotify

Siach HaSadeh – Song of the Grasses
Slowly unwinding, raptly intense improvisations on classic Jewish cantorial and folk themes from over the centuries. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Son of Skooshny – Mid Century Modern
Mark Breyer achieved cult status in the 90s with powerpop vets Skooshny and continues to write biting, lyrically rich, beautifully jangly songs. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Isle of Klezbos – Live from Brooklyn
A deliriously fun concert recording by the mostly-female, pioneering New York klezmer whirlwind. Stream the album via Bandcamp

New Electric Ride – Balloon Age
Period-perfect, fantastic mid-60s style psychedelic rock in a Dukes of Stratosphear or Love Camp 7 vein. Stream the album via Bandcamp

The Baseball Project – 3rd
Catchy, characteristically insightful powerpop, paisley underground and janglerock from Steve Wynn and Peter Buck’s supergroup, rich in diamond lore from across the decades. Stream the album via Spotify

Ichka – Podorozh
Meaning “journey” in Russian. the new album by the Montreal klezmer group blazes through bristling chromatic themes. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Jaro Milko & the Cubalkanics – Cigarros Explosivos
The Firewater lead guitarist’s adventure in psychedelic cumbias comes across as a sort of a Balkan version of Chicha Libre. Stream the album via Bandcamp 

Bad Buka -Through the Night
A harder-rocking, more theatrical take on Gogol Bordello-style Slavic punk from these New York guys and girls. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Gord Downie, the Sadies & the Conquering Sun
Ominously jangly southwestern gothic and paisley underground rock from the Canadian Americana band and the Tragically Hip frontman. Stream the album via the band’s page

Cheetah Chrome – Solo
It took practically twenty years for this searing, intense album by the punk-era guitar icon to see the light of day, but the wait was worth it. Stream the album via Spotify

Andrew Bird – Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of
The cult favorite Americana songwriter plunders the catalog of another similarly literate, frequently creepy Americana act, the Handsome Family, for an insightful and lyrically rich collection of covers. Stream the album via Soundcloud

Guided by Voices – Cool Planet
If the last of the final four albums from the indie powerpop band’s marathon of recording over the last two years is really their swan song, they went out with a bang. Stream the album via Spotify

Golem – Tanz
A wickedly hilarious, blistering mix of edgy punk rock, crazed circus rock and straight-up hotshot klezmer. Stream the album via Spotify

Matt Kanelos – Love Hello
Pensive, allusively lyrical Radiohead-influenced psychedelia and art-rock from the popular NYC jazz and rock keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Spottiswoode – English Dream
Purist, richly arranged, artsy janglerock with psychedelic and Britfolk tinges from the cult favorite lyrical songwriter and bandleader. Stream the album via Bandcamp

The Skull Practitioners – ST1
Searing, pummeling, catchy noiserock and riff-driven jams from Steve Wynn lead guitarist Jason Victor’s explosive trio. Stream the album via Bandcamp

HUMANWINE – Fighting Naked
Creepy, menacing, chromatically-fueled narratives from an all-too-plausible, Orwellian nightmare future from the politically spot-on Vermont band. Stream the album via Bandcamp – free download

Amanda Thorpe – Bewitching Me: The Lyrics of Yip Harburg
The riveting Britfolk chanteuse reinvents songs by the Tin Pan Alley figure as noir-inflected janglerock, backed by a stellar NYC band. Stream the album via Spotify

Changing Modes – The Paradox of Traveling Light
Frontwoman/multi-instrumentalist Wendy Griffiths’ band’s most ornate, intricately crafted art-rock masterpiece, with the occasional departure into punk or powerpop. Stream the album via Soundcloud

The Bakersfield Breakers – In the Studio with the Bakersfield Breakers
These New York surf and twang instrumentalists put their own kick-ass spin on a classic Telecaster-driven sound from the early 60s. Stream the album via Bandcamp

The Sometime Boys – Riverbed
One of the most distinctively unique bands on this list, they blend newgrass, country blues, funky rock and Nashville gothic into a spicy, anthemically psychedelic, lyrically intense blend. Stream the album via the band’s page 

The Immigrant Union – Anyway
The Australian band – a Dandy Warhols spinoff – craft deliciously catchy Rickenbacker guitar janglerock. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Bombay Rickey – Cinefonia
The year’s best debut album is by spectacular, intense singer/accordionist Kamala Samkaram’s ornate, intricate, surfy Bollywood-inspired art-rock band. Stream the album via Bandcamp 

Hannah Thiem – Brym
Lush, moody, Middle Eastern and Nordic-inspired violin grooves and cinematic soundscapes from Copal‘s dynamic frontwoman/composer. Stream the album via Soundcloud 

The Larch – In Transit
Characteristically urbane, insightfully lyrical, Costello-esque powerpop with searing lead guitar from the highly regarded New York quartet. Stream the album via Bandcamp

The OBNIIIs – Third Time to Harm
The twin guitar-driven Austin garage punks are probably the closest thing we have to Radio Birdman these days. They released two albums this past year, one a sizzling live set, and this studio release which is more psychedelic and every bit as volcanic. Stream the album via Spotify

The Wytches – Annabel Dream Reader
Arguably the darkest album on this list, this harrowing collection mines the desperation of living at the fringes of society, set to scorching, reverb-drenched noir rock. Stream the album via Spotify.

Lorraine Leckie & Her Demons – Rebel Devil Devil Rebel
The Canadian gothic chanteuse returns to her fiery, electric Neil Young-influenced roots with this stampeding effort, driven by guitar great Hugh Pool’s ferocious attack. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Ward White – Ward White Is the Matador
The most intricately literate of all the albums on this list. Nobody writes more intriguing, or menacing, rock narratives than this New York tunesmith. And he’s never rocked harder, either. Stream the album via Bandcamp 

Jessie Kilguss – Devastate Me
The title is apt – the NYC folk noir singer/bandleader offers a quietly shattering. impeccably crafted collection of Nashville gothic and paisley underground rock. Stream the album via Spotify

Mesiko – Solar Door
One of the most tunefully eclectic albums on the list, the debut by Norden Bombsight’s David Marshall and Rachael Bell with all-star drummer Ray Rizzo has postpunk, paisley underground, psychedelia and kinetic powerpop, sometimes all in the same song. Stream the album via Bandcamp

O’Death – Out of Hands We Go
A characteristically careening, ominous mix of Nashville gothic, oldtimey, circus rock and noir cabaret from these Americana individualists. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Chuck Prophet – Night Surfer
One of the great lead guitarists in rock, Prophet is also a great tunesmith who spans from psychedelia to janglerock to Americana and powerpop. Stream the album via Spotify

Wounded Buffalo Theory – A Painting of Plans
The New York art-rockers have never sounded more focused, or more intense on this richly ornate, psychedelic collection. Stream the album via the band’s page, free download

Mark Rogers & Mary Byrne – I Line My Days Along Your Weight
A brooding, plaintive and vividly lyrical folk noir masterpiece, Byrne’s tersely evocative lyrics and luminous vocals over a darkly magical web of acoustic textures. Stream the album via Spotify

Jessi Robertson – I Came From the War
Combat is a metaphor for all sorts of angst on the riveting soul and Americana-influenced singer/bandleader’s intricate, atmospheric latest release. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Metropolitan Klezmer – Mazel Means Good Luck
An especially wild live album by this deliciously shapeshifting, latin and reggae-influenced New York Jewish music juggernaut. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Matt Ulery – In the Ivory
The jazz bassist’s lush, rippling compositions blend soaring neoromantic themes, edgy improvisation, cinematic instrumental narratives and frequently haunting interludes. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Jenifer Jackson – TX Sunrise
One of the most diverse songwriters here, she’s done everything from Beatlesque bossa pop to psychedelia to Nashville gothic. This is her deepest and most rewarding dive into Americana, comprising both classic C&W and southwestern gothic. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Mark Sinnis – It’s Been a Long Cold Hard Lonely Winter
A death-obsessed hard honkytonk album from powerful baritone crooner and leader of cult favorite dark rockers Ninth House. Stream the album via Spotify

The Brooklyn What – Minor Problems
The best short album of 2014 has explosive, dynamic guitar duels, a catchy anthemic sensibility, psychedelic intensity and edgy, sarcastic wit. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Robin Aigner – Con Tender
Historically rich, period-perfect, sultry and often hilariously lyrical tunesmithing equally informed by stark southern folk music, vintage blues and oldtimey swing jazz. Stream the album via Bandcamp, free download

The Ministry of Wolves – Happily Ever After
The second album of creepily theatrical art-rock songs based on Grimm’s Fairy Tales by the all-star band of Botanica‘s Paul Wallfisch, Alexander Hacke and Danielle de Picciotto from Crime & the City Solution and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds co-founder Mick Harvey. Stream the album via Spotify 

If you’re wondering why there’s hardly anything in the way of jazz or classical music here, that stuff is more likely to be found at this blog’s older sister blog, Lucid Culture.

The Skull Practitioners Bring Their Tuneful Noiserock Assault to Grand Victory

The Skull Practitioners are just about the ultimate Halloween band – but not in a campy way. There’s no way any other group could have played as genuinely menacing, or deliciously noisy a set as the trio of guitarist Jason Victor, bassist Kenneth Levine and drummer Alex Baker did that night at Pine Box Rock Shop in Bushwick. The reason that their reverb-drenched noiserock assault works so well is because their songs are so catchy. They’re always going off the rails in one way or another, but there’s always a tune somewhere – even if it’s about to come unglued. They’re bringing their mix of savage jams and deceptively tight tunesmithing to Grand Victory in Williamsburg on December 9 at around 9:30.

These days everybody agrees that Victor is the best guitarist ever to play in Steve Wynn‘s band – and now, also in the Dream Syndicate, considering that Wynn has resuscitated his legendary 80s paisley underground outfit. And since Victor is always out on the road dueling with Wynn, he hasn’t had much time off for this project until the last couple of months, when they’ve been playing out a lot. That probably explained why they were as tight as they are their twisted debut cassette (which is also streaming at Bandcamp).

At the Halloween show, they got in and got out, Ramones style: seven songs in half an hour, then called it quits. Levine’s catchy bass riffage in tandem with Baker’s tersely bounding drums anchored Victor’s smoldering, anguished bends and swoops laced with shards of feedback when he wasn’t burning through a catchy chorus with the kind of rich Telecaster roar that few other guitarists – maybe Orville Neeley of the OBNIIIs – can generate. A tight, purposeful groove anchored the opening instrumental, Victor leaping through a cloud of reverb into a furious chorus and then winding his way through a rattlesnake of a string-wrenching solo.

A couple of friends of the band took turns hollering vocals that might or might not have been made up on the spot, just like much of the music. The band worked a biting, minimalist early 80s postpunk Gang of Four/Wire riff on the second song, but with more gravitas and edge than either of those bands. They segued into the ominous, Dream Syndicate-influenced third number, Victor flailing around wildly until he’d found his footing as the band took the song doublespeed and then back to a careening sway. The song after that had a chugging Train Kept a-Rolling style rhythm, Victor alternating between savage bluesmetal and raw, reverb-drenched noise. From there they hit an insistent, metalish attack, like a punk take on early Iron Maiden, then did a couple of numbers that could have been James Williamson-era Iggy Pop but more unhinged, Victor ripping his way through catchy Kinks-ish riffage, tense Dream Syndicate jangle, a funny Link Wray quote and a teeth-gnashing tremolo attack that pulled and eventually ripped away from the song’s central riff. So no matter how far out he went, the song never got lost. Listening back to a cheap recording of that show, along with a bunch of equally savage tracks the band cobbled together in the studio recently, is reason to believe the Grand Victory gig could be even more intense.

A Brief, Unhinged Masterpiece from the Skull Practitioners

Jason Victor is the best lead guitarist/sparring partner Steve Wynn‘s ever had. That’s high praise, considering Karl Precoda’s unhinged work in Wynn’s iconic 80s band the Dream Syndicate. Then there’s Chris Brokaw, whose uneasy riffage in the early days of Wynn’s Miracle 3 band was probably the most menacingly gorgeous that group’s ever had. And let’s not forget Rich Gilbert’s similarly paint-peeling playing in Wynn’s sinister, ferocious mid-90s band. But Victor stands alone as a master of both noise and tunefulness, shifting gears in a split second from savage to beautifully terse. For a taste of some of the wildest guitar jams ever attempted, let alone recorded, check out Wynn’s archive.org channel – you can get lost there for days.

But Victor also plays in other bands. There was an adrenalizing, sludgy unit called DBCR who recorded an ep a couple of years ago that you should hear if noise is your thing. What’s even better is ST1, the awesome ep by the Skull Practitioners, Victor’s band with Kenneth Levine and Alex Baker, which is also up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download (although what you really should own is the cassette recording – you have a boombox, right?). It’s as good as the best side on the Stooges’ Metallic KO.

This ep is so beautifully evil and assaultive and catchy despite itself that there’s really nothing that compares with it this year other than G.W. Sok’s album with Action Beat, and this is more tuneful. The first track evokes both Daydream Nation era Sonic Youth and 80s noiserock legends Live Skull, with desperate vocals from Ana Barie: “I’ll bring it down” is the mantra that she hits after every litany of doomed imagery. Victor hits a haphazard raga-ish solo that eventually echoes itself to death, then a vicious, Blue Oyster Cult-style progression as Barie wails to the end.

The second track, Nelson D (a reference to the New York Governor responsible for the state’s paleoconservative drug laws, maybe?) sounds like Arthur Lee on crank, an endless series of whistling, whirring, toxic guitar lines sputtering and chopping through riff-rock and then dreampop interludes: the Steve Wynn influence is everywhere. Foreign Wives is sort of their Psychotic Reaction: spiky icepick intro, sarcastically wailing guitar leads, brisk new wave beat. The final track is the longest, with an out-of-focus vocal from Tom Derwent, long drones, allusions to funk, sick bent-note mental asylum screams from the guitars going on for what seems minutes and an ending that the band finally allows to completely disintegrate – considering how tight they’ve kept everything this far, they’ve earned it. Crank this up whenever: getting up for work, coming home furious after a bad day at work, smoking up, it’ll hit the spot.

Sunday Salons and Unusual Suspects

Today is time to finish catching up on shows by the acts who’ve made the weekly Sunday Salon at Zirzamin so much fun, week after week. If you run a music blog the right way, you walk a fine line. On one hand, it’s important to keep up with the important artists in your scene, or from your era. On the other hand, nobody wants to hear about them over and over again. By the same token, this is a new mix of old favorites: because this blog casts such a wide net, it’s never safe to assume that you’ll be running into the same old faces.

Pete Galub headlined Salon #28. He’s one of the great lead guitarists of our time. In the era of indie rock, that may be a lost art, but it’s not lost on him. As a songwriter, powerpop is his thing. Humor is very important, and always present, in his writing, but at this gig, solo on electric guitar, there wasn’t any. He was pissed. He’d played the album release show for his long-awaited, absolutely brilliant new album, Candy Tears, to a packed house at Littlefield a couple of weeks previously. This time out was a wash as far as turnout was concerned. If that was the issue, Galub took it out on his Telecaster, squalling and wailing, sheets of paint-peeling noise juxtaposed against the richly tuneful jangle that defines many of his songs. At Littlefield, Jason Victor from Steve Wynn’s band squared off against Galub for a memorable duel; by himself, Galub didn’t need a sparring partner to rid himself of his demons, or at least to battle them. The 9/11 reflection I Plead the Fifth Dimension echoed the angst and uncertainty of the weeks following that horrible day; 300 Days in July made a slow, sun-drenched, less angst-fueled but sardonically bittersweet seaside tableau. It was a clinic in technique: thoughtful, judicious fingerpicking, searing blues lines, resonant jangle and clang and scorching noise that throws a vicious lateral pass over to Steve Wynn.

Phil Shoenfelt and Pavel Cingl, the brain trust of anthemic Czech rockers Phil Shoenfelt & Southern Cross headlined Salon #29. Southern Cross is huge in Europe: where was this festival favorite playing in New York? Zirzamin. Although there were just the two musicians onstage, they had the lush, majestic sweep of a full band, in the same vein as their recent Live at the House of Sin album but even more epic. Shoenfelt’s rhythm guitar playing is tremendous: they didn’t have drums, but they didn’t need them. Running his acoustic guitar through an obscure effects pedal for a deliciously reverberating, practically orchestral sound, Shoenfelt unleashed a river of jangle and clang underneath Cingl’s terse, gorgeously incisive violin and electric mandolin leads. It was like watching the Church, or Nick Cave, from the first row. In his resonant baritone, Shoenfelt painted gloomy, sometimes portraits of life among the down-and-out in Berlin, New York and elsewhere, gambling with one’s own life and paying the price, as Cingl colored the music with elegant violin lines and ringing, soaring mandolin that sounded more like a twelve-string guitar.

SLVPistolera frontwoman Sandra Lilia Velasquez’s sultry new trip-hop/downtempo project – headlined Salon #31. She was a good singer in that band and she’s a great one in this project. She joked about being liberated from behind her guitar, and there might be some truth to that: she’s the closest thing to Sade that we have in New York right now. Bassist Mark Marshall played slinky, serpentine grooves as drummer Sean Dixon colored the music with counterintuitive jazz flair, using his rims and hardware as well as the cymbals to create a backdrop that was as energetic as it was misty. And he managed to stay on top of the atmospherics and synth orchestration on the laptop without missing a beat. While the strongest songs were Velasquez’s own, the biggest surprise of the night was a politically-fueled, obscure early 80s Genesis song reinvented as stripped-down, funky art-rock. In front of the mic, swaying, eyes closed, she channeled minute fractions of the spectrum between boudoir seduction and full-blown angst and every emotion in between. It was a clinic in subtlety and nuance, a side that Velasquez has always had even while it often got lost in the jangle and clang of the guitars.

At Salon #33, the headliner was the sound guy. As a bass player, he’s familiar with several different styles, as most bassists are. As a pianist and singer, he’s a work in progress, right now a stronger sideman than frontman. His lyrics are narrative, stringing images together and employing a lot of double entendres and the occasional pun, although his music is fueled more by anger than by humor. Apocalyptic imagery, references to global warming and the Iraq war recurred frequently throughout the songs. His melodies gave away a fondness for chromatics, frequently referencing the Balkans and the Middle East along with some classical flourishes. The piano was in pretty bad condition, tuningwise and otherwise: for someone who’s spent as much time onstage as this guy has, he should have been prepared for the challenge of having to maul that damaged beast and he wasn’t. It would have been interesting to see how this performance might have gone had the instrument been in something approximating working condition.

A Month’s Worth of Nightcrawling, Part Two

Funny how this blog started out covering live music almost exclusively, then within weeks the torrents of albums began and never stopped. Remember when everyone was saying that the album was a thing of the past? Now you can record an album with your phone, and everybody’s doing it. There’s a pile – or a virtual pile – of more than fifty of them patiently waiting their turn here. And they’ll have to wait another day because today is part two of catching up on all the shows from the past couple of weeks or so.

Lorraine Leckie is as comfortable with elegant, brooding chamber pop as she is at unhinged noir Americana rock. Her most recent show at the big room at the Rockwood last month featured the former. Then headlining Sunday Salon 26 at Zirzamin this past week, Leckie and her band the Demons were at the absolute peak of their game, slashing and burning through a mix of retro glamrock, surreal downtown NYC narratives and an unhinged version of Ontario, her sideways Canadian gothic salute to her birthplace. At the Rockwood, pianist Matt Kanelos added a nonchalant menace to several of Leckie’s collaborations with Anthony Haden-Guest (from the duo’s recent, excellent collaboration, Rudely Interrupted), especially on Bliss, a cruelly sarcastic portrait of a marriage gone irreparably wrong. At Zirzamin, guitarist Hugh Pool fired off machinegunning riffage that evoked Hendrix without being slavishly derivative or drowning out the vocals. Harmony vocalist Banjo Lisa amped up the songs’ allusive menace, blending bewitchingly with Leckie’s ever-increasingly full-throated wail.

The following Saturday night, Kanelos was at Littlefield playing in his duo project, Ghosts in the Ocean with Coney Island noir siren Carol Lipnik, who continues to move further toward the avant garde. One perceptive musician in the crowd likened their hypnotically minimalist performance to a cross between early Jane Siberry and Philip Glass, and she was right on the money, other than that Lipnik has a four-octave range and uses every inch of it. The two reinvented Leonard Cohen’s Gypsy Wife as Radiohead-inflected art-rock, then Lipnik employed a magical theremin-like vibrato on a mesmerizing version of Harry Nilsson’s Lifeline. They brought out every ounce of menace in Dylan’s Man in the Long Black Coat, turned Nick Drake’s Black Dog Blues into an even more haunting, skeletal sketch – that dog is a lethal predator – and moved through Richard Thompson’s The Great Valerio with a bell-like, funereal pulse, Lipnik going down into the sinister depths of her low register. But it was the originals – the catchy, anthemic Sonadora Dreaming, the defiantly insistent Crows and the disarmingly sarcastic Oh the Tyranny – that were the most memorable. They’re at Zirzamin after the Sunday Salon this coming June 16 at 7 PM

Pete Galub followed them, playing the album release show for his fantastic new one, Candy Tears. Galub brings world-class, dangerous guitar chops to classic powerpop, with an often frenetic, menacingly noisy edge – the Steve Wynn influence has made itself more and more clear in his music in recent years. Appropriately, he had Wynn’s guitar sparring partner Jason Victor as a guest on the album’s next-to-last track (they played the whole thing through, in order). And counterintuitively, after he and Galub had reduced the song to a toxic, molten mess of overtones and raging reverb, Victor led the band back in with gentle washes of major chords. Before that, the songs ranged from what sounded like Yo La Tengo doing XTC, Roscoe Ambel doing the Beatles, Guided by Voices doing Syd Barrett, and on a suspensefully skeletal version of the album’s gorgeous title track, Wire doing Big Star. In over an hour onstage, Galub made his notes count, choosing his spots – space is just as important in his music as the actual notes. Guest Karen Mantler played plaintive art-rock piano on the bittersweetly psychedelic 300 Days in July; Greta Gertler lent her soaring multi-octave voice to one of the later numbers. Drummer Chris Moore swung the backbeats while bassist Tom Gavin varied his attack from growly and slinky to a deep, anchoring pocket that held the center while Galub plotted where he was going to go next. Galub is at Zirzamin after the Sunday Salon on May 19 at 7.