New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: lazy lions

The Best New York Concerts of 2015

On one hand, pulling this page together is always a lot of fun – and there could be a late addition or two, since the year’s not over yet. Of all the year-end lists here, including the Best Songs of 2015 and Best Albums of 2015, this is the most individualistic – everybody’s got their own – and reflective of the various scenes in this blog’s endangered but still vital hometown.

On the other hand, whittling this page down to a manageable number always hurts a little. With apologies to everyone who didn’t make the cut, for reasons of space or otherwise – seriously, nobody’s got the time to sift through the hundred or so concerts that realistically deserve to be on this page – this list feels bare-bones, even with a grand total of 28 shows.

In terms of epic sweep, intensity and gravitas, the year’s best concert was by Iran’s Dastan Ensemble in September at Roulette. This performance marked the New York debut of intense young singer Mahdieh Mohammadkhani, who aired out her powerful voice in a series of original suites on themes of gender equality by members of the ensemble, along with some dusky, austere traditional songs.

Since trying to rank the rest of these shows would be impossible, they’re listed as they happened:

Karla Rose and Mark Sinnis & 825 at the Treehouse at 2A, 2/15/15
The frontwoman of noir rockers Karla Rose & the Thorns in a chillingly intimate duo performance with her Tickled Pinks bandmate Stephanie Layton, followed by the Nashville gothic crooner and his massive oldschool honkytonk band.

Molly Ruth and Lorraine Leckie at the Mercury, 3/12/15
A savage, careening set by the angst-fueled punk-blues siren and her new band, followed by the Canadian gothic songstress and her volcanic group with newly elected Blues Hall of Fame guitarist Hugh Pool.

Lazy Lions and Regular Einstein at Rock Shop, 3/20/15
A feast of lyrical double entendres, edgy new wave and punk-inspired tunesmithing. Jim Allen’s band were playing their first gig since 2008 and picked up like they never stopped; Paula Carino’s recently resurrected original band from the 90s were just as unstoppable.

The Shootout Band and a nameless if good pickup band led by John Sharples at the Mercury, 3/22/15
Cover bands get very little space here for reasons that should be obvious, but the Shootout Band devote themselves to doing a scary-good replication of Richard & Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights, Erica Smith shattering in her role as Linda Thompson and Bubble’s Dave Foster doing a spot-on-Richard. Afterward, multi-instrumentalist John Sharples led a similarly talented bunch song by song through Graham Parker’s cult favorite Squeezing Out Sparks album

Ensemble Hilka, Black Sea Hotel and the Ukrainian Village Voices at the Ukrainian Museum, 4/25/15
In their first performance in over three years (see Lazy Lions above), the Ukrainian choral group ran through a rustic, otherworldly performance of ancient songs from the area around the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site. Innovative Bulgarian/Balkan trio Black Sea Hotel and then the esteemed East Village community singers were no less otherworldly.

Mamie Minch and Laura Cantrell at Union Hall, 5/5/15
Resonator guitar badass and pan-Americana songstress Minch, and then Cantrell – the reigning queen of retro country sounds – each took their elegant rusticity to new places. Cantrell’s final stand of a monthlong residency here, a mighty electric show, was also awfully good.

Emel Mathlouthi and Niyaz at the World Financial Center, 5/8/15
Menacingly triumphant, politically-fueled Arabic art-rock from Mathlouthi and then mystically hypnotic, propulsive Iranian dancefloor grooves from Niyaz.

Rachelle Garniez and Carol Lipnik at Joe’s Pub, 5/14/15
Noir cabaret, stark Americana, soul/gospel and deviously funny between song repartee from multi-instrumentalist Garniez, followed by the magically surreal art-rock of Lipnik and her spine-tingling four-octave voice in a duo show with pianist Matt Kanelos.

Amy Rigby at Hifi Bar, 5/28/15
The final show of her monthlong residency was a trio set with her husband Wreckless Eric and bassist daughter Hazel, a richly lyrical, puristically tuneful, characteristically hilarious career retrospective

Erica Smith, Mary Spencer Knapp, Pete Cenedella, Monica Passin and the Tickled Pinks at the Treehouse at 2A, 5/31/15
Guitarist and purist tunesmith Passin, a.k.a L’il Mo, put this bill together as one of her frequent “Field of Stars” songwriters-in-the-round nights here. Smith was part of a lot of good shows this year because she’s so in demand; this was a rare chance to hear her dark Americana in a solo acoustic setting, joined by eclectic accordionist Knapp (of Toot Sweet), irrepressible American Ambulance frontman Cenedella, and a surprise appearance by coyly edgy swing harmony trio the Tickled Pinks (Karla Rose, Stephanie Layton and Kate Sland).

Jim Allen, Kendall Meade and Ward White at Hifi Bar, 6/15/15
Songsmith Allen doesn’t get around as much as a lot of the other acts here, but he really makes his gigs count: this was a glimpse of his aphoristic, lyrical Americana side. Meade, frontwoman of the late, great, catchy Mascott, held the crowd rapt with her voice and her hooks, then White went for deep literary menace with a little glamrock edge.

Glass House Ensemble and Muzsikas at NYU’s Skirball Center, 6/17/15
Trumpeter Frank London’s collaboration with an all-star Hungarian group, recreating rare pre-Holocaust Jewish sounds, followed by the more stripped-down, rustic but high-voltage Hungarian folk trio.

The Claudettes and Big Lazy at Barbes, 7/11/15
Fiery, sometimes hilariously theatrical barrelhouse piano soul followed by New York’s most menacing, state-of-the-art noir soundtrack band. Big Lazy have an ongoing monthly Barbes residency; their two sets this past May were particularly scary.

The Bright Smoke at the Mercury, 7/25/15
This was the show where intense frontwoman Mia Wilson’s blues-inspired psychedelic art-rock band made the quantum leap and earned comparisons to Joy Division.

Robin Aigner & Parlour Game at Barbes, 8/8/15
The torchy, wickedly lyrical oldtimey/Americana songstress at the top of her captivating game with a trio including poignant, powerful violinist/pianist Rima Fand.

Ember Schrag, Alec K Redfearn & the Eyesores and Escape by Ostrich at Trans-Pecos, 8/23/15
The fearsomely talented Schrag did double duty at this show, first playing her own murderously lyrical, Shakespeare-influenced art-rock with her own band, then switching from guitar to organ in Redfearn’s equally murderous Balkan psychedelic group. Jangly no wave jamband Escape by Ostrich took the evening into the wee hours.

Sweet Soubrette and Kotorino at Joe’s Pub, 9/2/15
This time it was menacing chanteuse Ellia Bisker who did double duty, first fronting her richly horn-driven noir soul band, then adding her voice to the noir latin art-rock of Kotorino.

The Shannon Baker/Erica Seguine Jazz Orchestra at Shrine, 9/7/15
Lots of good jazz shows this past year, none more unpredictably fascinating and lushly gorgeous than the epic performance by this unique, shapeshifting large ensemble uptown.

Kelley Swindall at LIC Bar, 9/16/15
The noir Americana songwriter and murder ballad purveyor usually leads a band; this solo gig was a rare chance to get up close and personal with her creepily philosophical southern gothic narratives

Charming Disaster at Pete’s Candy Store, 9/30/15
Speaking of twisted narratives, this multi-instrumentalist murder ballad/noir song project by Bisker and Morris (look up three notches) never sounded more menacing – and epically inspired – than they did here.

Jenifer Jackson at a house concert on the Upper West Side, 10/1/15
A long-awaited return home by the now Austin-based Americana/jazz/psychedelic songwriter, in a rare trio show with amazingly virtuosic multi-instrumentalist Kullen Fuchs and violinist Claudia Chopek

Liz Tormes and Linda Draper at the American Folk Art Museum, 10/23/15
A rare solo acoustic dark Americana twinbill by two of the most potently, poignantly lyrical songsmiths in that shadowy demimonde.

LJ Murphy & the Accomplices and MacMcCarty & the Kidd Twist Band at Sidewalk, 11/6/15
Murphy has defined New York noir for a long time – and now he’s gone electric, with searing results. McCarty has more of a Celtic folk-rock edge and equally haunting, politically-fueled story-songs.

Karla Rose & the Thorns at the Mercury, 11/17/15
Enigmatic reverb guitar-fueled Twin Peaks torch songs, stampeding southwestern gothic bolero rock, ominously echoey psychedelia, venomous saloon blues and stiletto between-song repartee from another artist who made multiple appearances on this list because everybody wants her to sing with them.

The Sometime Boys at Freddy’s, 11/20/15
One of New York’s most individualistic, catchy, groove-driven bands ran through a sizzling set of haunting, gospel-inflected ballads, jaunty newgrass, acoustic funk and blue-flame guitar psychedelia

Amanda Thorpe, Mary Lee Kortes, Lianne Smith and Debby Schwartz at the Treehouse at 2A, 11/22/15
Impresario Tom Clark remarked that there might never have been so much talent onstage here as there was this particular evening, with noir Britfolk songwriter Thorpe, the soaring and savagely lyrical Kortes, the ever-darker and mesmerizing Smith and the powerful, dreampop/Americana-influenced Schwartz. For that matter, there have been few nights on any stage anywhere in this city with this much lyrical and vocal power, ever.

Like last year, the numbers here suggest many interesting things. Eighteen of these shows were in Manhattan, eight were in Brooklyn and two in Queens, which is open to multiple interpretations. More instructive is the fact that half of the twenty-eight 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, even more so than they did last year: an astonishing 39 of the 53 acts here were either women playing solo or fronting a group. That’s a trend. You’re going to see more of that here on the Best Albums of 2015 and Best Songs of 2015 pages at the end of this month.

Regular Einstein and Lazy Lions Reprise One of 2015’s Best Concerts at Rock Shop on Friday Night

What if you could live your whole life over again? Even better, what if you could just relive the fun parts? Unlikely as that may seem, there’s a fun part of your life just waiting to be relived, if you were one of the lucky hundred or so people who went to see genius lyrical rock bands Regular Einstein and Lazy Lions in late March at Rock Shop. If so, you can revisit that wild, intense night of wicked lyricism, catchy tunesmithing and fiery guitars this October 30 at 9 PM…or you can live it for the first time and be jealous of everybody who got to see this before spring arrived. Cover is ten bucks.

If memory serves right, it was a chillly walk downhill from Atlantic Avenue, but frontwoman/guitarist Paula Carino’s band played a searing set to open the show. This is why we go to concerts – not just to hear a group play all the tracks on their new album, as Regular Einstein did – but to rip the hell out of them. You hear Carino’s velvety voice and cool, clean, lean guitar lines, and you might expect subtle, and there was plenty of subtlety at this show, especially when it came to the lyrics, but the energy was through the roof. Carino’s voice took on a menacing edge as the grimly propulsive Never Saw It Coming got underway with its two-guitar crunch. The Queens Tornado and its sardonic outer-borough wordplay had a similarly pouncing intensity. They hit an electrified, chord-chopping Celtic ballad sway, then took the mood down into the bittersweetly gorgeous territory that Carino has made a career of mining with Hydrangea and its dynamically shifting metaphors.

Likewise, they picked up Jimmyville – a pensively defiant adolescent escape anthem on the new album Chimp Haven – with resonance and stomp, lead guiitarist Dave Benjoya teaming with Carino, drummer Nancy Polstein and bassist Andy Mattina, whose gritty lines made him a second lead guitarist. After a detour toward punk rock with Bad Actor and its snarky Rotten Tomatoes movie references, they brought it down into nocturnal tropicalia rock with the album’s title track. From the riff-rocking Three-Legged Race – a double-entrendre-loaded mashup of early Kinks and the Pretenders –  they hit a high point with the most unselfconsciously haunting number of the night, The Good Times and its morosely punchnig 6/8 minor-key sway. The loudest and punkest number was the snidely and blackly amusing Old People.

Lazy Lions frontman Jim Allen made his mark in the early zeros as a sort of New York counterpart to Elvis Costello and Graham Parker. A guitarist by trade, he plays organ in this outfit, who draw deeply on classic new wave while taking the style to new places. And they very rarely play out: this gig, the album release for their brilliant new one When Dreaming Lets You Down, might have been their first since a sizzling Lower East Side gig way way back in 2008. They opened with a look back to early 80s Parker in I Don’t Think That It’s Gonna Stop, guitarist Robert Sorkin blazing over the tight backbeat of bassist Anne-Marie Stehn and drummer Sean McMorris. Allen didn’t waste any time hitting a lyrically scathing peak with Susannah Rachel, a kiss-off anthem rivalled by few others. Allen’s narrator can’t wait to “get high above this vale of tears” and disappear like steam into a chilliy night sky.

They made their way from a funky shuffle to a jauntily soaring chorus on the next number, then a slinky Elvis Costello Goon Squad groove on the enigmatc It’s Just the Night, an anthem for all of us nocturnal creatures who can’t resist all the delicious and also the less delicious things you find in the shadows, literally and metaphorically. Allen took an all-too-brief, swirly organ solo on the next number, then hit another punchy peak with the snarling She’s Your Nightmare Now, Sorkin’s guitar raging as the organ reached distortion point.

They went back to Parker new wave soul sway and got funny with Scientific – as in “she’s not coldhearted, she’s just scientific…you don’t wanna mess around with someone like that.” The band switched out all the extraneous rhythm of the album version of the irresisitibly catchy Let the Bad Times Roll for a burning, backbeat drive, then Stehn pushed the creepy new wave disco groove on the number after that. The straight-up, deadpan cheery cover of the Go-Go’s Our Lips Are Sealed was a lot of fun, right down to the murky “hush, my darling” bridge, Allen reaching way up from his usual baritone and nailing the notes. They closed with the cynical, self-effacing Magellan in Reverse, from the band’s auspicious 2008 debut ep. Hit Rock Shop on Friday night and avoid the Halloween plague from out of state.

Lazy Lions’ New Album Evokes Classic, Early 80s Graham Parker and Elvis Costello

The 80s get a bad rap. Sure, pretty much all evil today took root under Ronald Reagan, and deregulation paved the way for the Clear Channel monster to seize the airwaves in its iron fist, effectively killing off commercial radio as a viable means for a band to build an audience. But much as 80s music is typically remembered for cheese and cliche, from Tears for Fears to Bon Jovi, that decade also produced a ton of incredibly good stuff: paisley underground rock, new wave, hip-hop and what would become alt-country in the 90s, among dozens of other styles.

In that era, Lazy Lions would have been stars of college radio and the club circuit. With frontman/keyboardist Jim Allen’s sharp, sardonic lyricism, Robert Sorkin’s similarly edgy, tuneful guitar work, Maul Girls bassist Anne-Marie Stehn’s signature melodic groove and former Richard Lloyd drummer Sean McMorris’ artful four-on-the-floor beat, they’re the rare band who deserve comparisons to vintage, early 80s Graham Parker and Elvis Costello. They’re playing the album release show for their full-length debut, When Dreaming Lets You Down on a killer twinbill on March 20 at 11 PM at Rock Shop in Gowanus, with Paula Carino‘s similarly lyrical, tuneful Regular Einstein also playing the album release show for their new one and opening the night at 10. Cover is $10

Since Lazy Lions’ album isn’t out yet, there are only a couple of tracks up at the band’s Soundcloud page, although their excellent previous ep is up at Reverbnation. The new record kicks off with I Don’t Think That It’s Gonna Stop, a cynicallly catchy, swinging powerpop smash that would fit perfectly on a Graham Parker album like Squeezing Out Sparks (which, incidentally, will be covered by a bunch of NYC rock luminaries at the Mercury at 6 PM on the 22nd along with Richard & Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights).

Sorkin’s crunchy/jangly guitar multitracks contrast with Allen’s roller-rink organ on February – cold climactic metaphors abound on this album, and this is a prime example. Tiny Little Cracks sets corrosive Parkerilla galllows humor (the classic Lunatic Fringe comes to mind) to a spiky early ska-punk bounce. One of the real killer tracks here, It’s Just the Night pounces along on a wicked minor-key tune, Allen’s deadpan baritone refusing to allude to impending doom:

Thoughts rising from the bottom
Once you got ’em they hang around
Shadows are falling right into your path
Trouble is crawling through, you better do the math

Stehn’s oldschool soul pulse and Allen’s swirly organ propel the wistful Diane:

The title that we’re writing’s nothing new
The palace falls to pieces
The penury increases
What I need is someone to expound on
Is why she turned around and flew

Hints of funk, hip-hop, a latin beat and some acidically bright french horn from Sorkin push Let the Bad Times Roll up to yet another catchy chorus, an anthem that any 99-percenter can sing along to. Freezing blends an ambered french horn chart and flamenco guitar into a stately chamber-pop waltz:

It’s the wrong time of year to be opening windows
And whiskey works better than beer
How hard can you pray that nobody will say
Jesus, it’s freezing out here

The chorus of Scientific -“She’s not coldhearted, she’s not scientific” – gives Allen a springboard for all kinds of cruel puns and wordplay, set to soul-inflected 80s Graham Parker rock. Susannah Rachel is a kick-ass kiss-off song:

Every face can mask a mystery
The one you wear can be the hardest thing to see
But I got wise to inside information
I got high above the vale of tears
I disappeared like steam into a hazy atmosphere

The album’s catchiest and most vicious track, She’s Your Nightmare Now paints a cruelly allusive picture of a backstabbing girl who “packed up and backed out on me…I lose the kind of sleep that only dreaming will allow, all you fools line up, she’s your nightmare now,” Allen croons with a savage grin. The album winds up with You Can Run, a lingering, warily hypnotic stroll and then the swinging noir blues-infused Creep Across the Night, which nicks the hook from the Church’s powder-drug classic Under the Milky Way. Pound for pound, this is a lyrically and tunefully rich addition to the shortlist of 2015’s best albums alongside postpunkers Eula, desert psychedelicists the Sway Machinery, the luminous Carol Lipnik, noir duo Charming Disater and tirelessly lyrical, uneasy rocker Matt Keating. Oh yeah, and Regular Einstein, whom you’ll be hearing about here tomorrow.