New York Music Daily

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Tag: led zeppelin

Purposeful, Darkly Heavy Psychedelia and Blues From All Them Witches

Nashville hasn’t historically been a rock hotspot, but there’s been a lot of good stuff coming out of there recently without the hint of country twang. Heavy psych band All Them Witches are at the front of the pack. Their latest album, ATW, is streaming at Bandcamp. Their riff-rock is more minimal than Led Zep, less envelopingly hypnotic than the Black Angels, although there are moments where these guys very closely resemble those two very different groups.

The album’s first track, Fishbelly 86 Onions is a circling, staggered riff-rock mini-epic. “Never thought he would wake up from a fistfight,” frontman/guitarist Charles Michael Parks Jr. intones. “Never thought he would get knocked down,” he adds. Finally the cuts loose with the vibrato on the guitar; the bass doubling Jonathan Draper’s reverbtoned Fender Rhodes electric piano lines add to the smoky atmosphere. All of a sudden, six minutes in, it hits you: these guys haven’t changed chords yet!

“Like a warhorse caught in the stable,” Parks explains as the band builds a darkly rustic, 19th century blues-influenced groove in Workhorse.  “They want to feel the wheels of control…they wanna see me work in a cage, see me bleed.” It could be a heavier take on the kind of ferociously populist gutter blues the Sideshow Tragedy were doing a couple of years ago.

Drummer Robby Staebler steers the band through the tricky changes of the vintage Zep-flavored 1st vs. 2nd with a nimbly crushing attack. “I’ve been counting the seconds, I’ve been waiting too long,” is the mantra.

The brooding Half-Tongue is a gorgeously spare heavy blues, Parks’ jagged Chicago guitar lines over Draper’s smoky Hammond organ. The album’s darkest number, Diamond is almost as stark, finally building to a menacing, chromatic drive fueled by Parks and fellow guitarist Ben McLeod before returning to a deadpool ambience that sounds like the Black Angels covering Blue Oyster Cult.

The band go back to slow, heavy minor-key blues for album’s longest epic, Harvest Feast, which is definitely a feast of clanging, echoing, wailing and burning guitar textures, orchestrated with immense subtlety for a band this heavy. The way they edge toward Grateful Dead territory without losing focus is an especially cool touch.

The band turn on a dime from a drony jet engine intro to a shamanistic pulse as HJTC gets underway: it could be the Black Angels reduced to simplest and darkest terms. They wind up the album Rob’s Dream, a slow, spare, eerily warpy minor psych-blues tableau that finally rises to a scorching peak: British legends the Frank Flight Band come to mind. Despite a recent lineup shuffle, this captures one of this country’s most individualistic psychedelic bands at the top of their uneasy game.

Tenor Saxophonist Tom Tallitsch Puts Out His Best, Most Darkly Intense Album

Tom Tallitsch is one of the major composers in jazz right now and a dynamic force on the tenor sax as well. As a radio host, he’s also advocated for under-the-radar artists from the New York jazz scene. His latest, excellent album Gratitude is streaming at Posi-Tone Records; he’s leading a quartet this Saturday night, May 6 at Minton’s, with sets at 7 and 9:30 PM. Cover is $10; if you want a table, there’s a two-item minimum.

This is a very emotionally charged record; the unifying theme is sad departures and welcome arrivals. The opening track, Terrain, is a sonic road trip. Jon Davis’ piano anchors an allusively Middle Eastern intensity as drummer Rudy Royston flurries and spirals, the bandleader leading the charge into a more-or-less free interlude that this era’s great extrovert behind the kit pulls back onto the rails,

Tallitsch and bassist Peter Brendler double the melody as the tricky metrics of Kindred Spirit sway along over an implied clave, the bandleader’s bristling, smoke-tinged solo giving way to a deliciously suspenseful one from Davis and then a broodingly modal one from the bass.

The group’s reinvention of a generic old Fleetwood Mac song isn’t even recognizable until the first chorus; the wayDavis’ gold dust piano spins into blues, eerie passing tones and then back is a revelation, as is Talitsch’s magically dynamic, shivery, nuanced solo that follows as guest Brian Charette’s organ swells behind him.

The briskly swinging Refuge brings to mind Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Charlie Parker-fixated material, Davis’ scampering solo at the center. The uneasily modal Northeast is just plain one of the best jazz songs released in recent months, fueled by Tallitsch’s soberly cinematic drive, Davis’ masterful fugal tradeoffs and Brendler’s aching bends as Royston rattles the traps.

The album’s most epic track, Alternate Side is a rapdifire swing shuffle, a long launching pad for Tallitsch chromatics and a scurryingly droll Davis solo. More bands should cover the Beatles’ Because (you should hear Svetlana & the Delancey Five play Rob Garcia’s New Orleans funeral march chart for it). These guys’ version is similarly elegaic but more spare.

The broodingly funky, swaying Rust Belt aptly evokes a gritty post-industrial milieu with more tasty Tallitsch modalities, echoed by Davis and Brendler as Royston puts the torch to the remaining brickwork. The album’s title track is a gospel-infused pastoral jazz waltz and arguably its catchiest number. It’s definitely a new style for Tallitsch, but he nails it.

Oblivion isn’t anywhere near as disconsolate (or intoxicated) as the title would imply, but it’s got bite, Royston’s fierce drive straightening it out as Davis and the bandleader parse its modalities for anger and irony. The album winds up with a comfortably, loosely swinging take of Led Zep’s Thank You, Charette and Davis taking the band to church. Not only is this Tallitsch’s best album, iIt’s hard to think of a more ceaselessly interesting, tuneful jazz release over the last few months.

Slow Season Bring Their Wickedly Psychedelic Stoner Metal to Bushwick on the Fifth

Listening to Slow Season‘s deliciously psychedelic 2012 debut – newly remastered for vinyl just this year and streaming at Bandcamp – it’s fun to see how the band has evolved. Even back then, they were heavy – that’s the title of the first song they ever recorded. It’s a boogie, and it’s pretty simple, just a one-chord verse and then a chorus that’s closer to, say, the dark garage rock of the Black Angels than the bludgeoning stoner metal they’re mining these days. But they wind up the song in a flurry of jazz chords. An omen, or just the way it came out? They’re headlining a killer bill at the Acheron on June 5 at around 11; fellow stoners Sun Voyager, who go in a more garagey, early 70s Stooges/Sonics Rendezvous Band direction, hit at around 10. Cover is an absurdly cheap $7.

As for the rest of the record –  a new one is due out this year – it’s a trip. DayGlo Sunrise builds to a snarling interweave of multitracked David Kent wah guitar leads over frontman Daniel Rice’s simple minor-key blues riff. There’s – gasp – acoustic guitar and organ on the dynamically rich, surprisingly Beatlesque Evil Words. Drummer Cody Tarbell – one of the most consistently interesting players in all of rock – anchors the slinky, jangling guitars of Deep Forest with a distant, stygian rumble, and then swings the hell out of it when the band turns it into a boogie.

With its lattice of mandolins and between-Scylla-and-Charybdis metaphors, Ruah looks back to acoustic Zep, while the riff-rocking Coco a Gogo has to be the most unlikely place you’d ever expect to hear an expert Brian Setzer-style rockabilly solo. Bassist Hayden Doyel plays with a gritty, vintage 60s tone beneath the deep, bluesy jangle and clang of No Bridge Rag, which has the feel of what Jimmy Page was doing in the Yardbirds’ final incarnation. The last track is the bone-bleached fuzztone-and-wah epic Bars & Bars.“The flames keep calling,” Rice intones a couple of times at the very end – ain’t that the truth. Come out to the ‘Shweck on the fifth to see how much heavier the band has grown since then.

Beninghove’s Hangmen and Big Lazy in Brooklyn: Noir Music Heaven

Considering that we’re only in March, it’s hardly safe to say that the twinbill coming up this Monday the 14th at around 9 at Manhattan Inn, with Beninghove’s Hangmen and Big Lazy, is the best one of the year. The April 15, 10 PM doublebill of Desert Flower and Lorraine Leckie & Her Demons, at Sidewalk, of all places, looks awfully good. And there will be others. But as far as dark and blackly amusing sounds are concerned, it doesn’t get any better than Monday’s lineup in Greenpoint.

Big Lazy’s set last Friday night at Barbes was surprisingly quirky. Gallows humor, and funny quotes from other songs are familiar tropes for the noir cinematic trio, but frontman/guitarist Steve Ulrich was having an especially good time with them: Mission Impossible, My Funny Valentine, Caravan – which Ulrich has covered murderously well in the past – and a whole bunch of others. And a trio of creepy cover tunes: Girl, by the Beatles, a stabbing version of an Astor Piazzolla tango and an absolutely lurid take of John Barry’s You Only Live Twice, with a savagely tremolo-picked solo midway through.

It was kind of a weird night, if a good one. The crowd wasn’t the usual mobscene that this band draws. Out front at the bar, it looked like the prom bus from Jersey or somewhere in Alabama had just disembarked. Scarier than Big Lazy’s originals – even Park Slope isn’t safe from yuppie puppy zombie apocalypse anymore. But in back, people were dancing in an oasis of reverb guitar and pitchblende basslines.

This Monday’s opening act, Beninghove’s Hangmen work the same turf: raindrenched wee hours crime jazz tableaux and more overtly humorous interludes. Like Ulrich, frontman/multi-saxophonist Bryan Beninghove gets a lot of film work, so his instrumentals can shift shape from, say, blithe to brutal in a split second and the segue doesn’t seem the least bit jarring. Case in point: the title track to their deliciously creepy upcoming album, Pineapples & Ashtrays.

And they’re more of a jamband than Big Lazy. While a lot of their material can be grim, and ghoulish, and sometimes downright morose, they can also be hilarious. The best example is Zohove, their instrumental album of Led Zep covers, streaming at Spotify.. Zep’s music can be awfully funny by itself, and Beninghove’s reimaginings are even funnier.

On the opening track, Kashmir, Rick Parker’s elephantine trombone snorts and Beninghove’s spectacularly swirling soprano sax lines over the stomp behind it elevate it to Vesuvius heights. Heavy new wave rhythm from drummer Kevin Shea (of another even funnier band, Mostly Other People Do the Killing) and bassist Ezra Gale (of dub reggae crew Super Hi-Fi, who are also hardly strangers to funny songs) might be the last thing you might expect to work in a cover of Misty Mountain Hop, but it does. And the guitar is trippy behond belief: Eyal Maoz’s droll Spinal Tap bends over Dane Johnson’s Jabba the Hut Space Lounge electro-breakdown.

What Is and What Never Should Be is a droll mashup of quotes:You Can’t Just Get What You Want, ad infinitum. Likewise, the album’s title track, a sort of a greatest-riffs collection, cleverly disassembled in the same vein as what you find in how-to books like “Play Guitar in the Style of Tony Iommi.”

The group’s version of Immigrant Song substitutes Bennghove’s sax and Parker’s trombone for Robert Plant’s bleat – and it’s priceless. A shivery twin guitar solo decays toward the noir the band’s known for, over dancing bass to match Beninghove’s bluesy tenor spirals

It’s amazing how they reinvent D’yer Maker as uneasy, metrically tricky noir ska, and then an Afrobeat epic, And the Specials quote at the end is LMFAO too. The album ends with a slinking, incendiary take of When the Levee Breaks fueled by blue-flame slide guitar worthy of Jimmy Page himself. It’s the one place on the album where the band actually seems to take the material seriously, and it might be the best track of all. Get this and get a roomful of Zep fans laughing their collective asses off. Beninghove’s Hangmen usually play at least one Zep cover at most of their shows, so we’re likely to get some of this buffoonery Monday night in Brooklyn.

Jack Grace Puts on a Clinic in Latin-Inflected Surrealist Americana Tunesmithing and Entertainment at Barbes

Jack Grace was a good lead guitarist ten years ago. He’s a brilliant one now. Twenty years of constant touring will do that to you. Grace is best known for his surreal, LMFAO sense of humor and his funny songs that veer from exuberant vintage C&W, to Waits noir blues, to simmering southwestern gothic anthems. Leading a trio last night at Barbes, Grace put on a clinic in sizzling guitar and Americana songcraft. This was his latin set, propelled by drummer Russ Meissner’s expertly accented shuffle grooves. A flick of the cymbals, a rattle of the traps, a sudden gunshot rimshot, he made them all count. And maybe just coincidentally, it was a bittersweetly nostalgic show, at least as far as evoking the days ten years ago when Grace was booking the old Rodeo Bar, and could be found playing Lakeside Lounge on random Saturday nights when he wasn’t on the road.

They opened with Put on Your Shoes, Moonshine, a pensive, lyrically torrential desert rock anthem. Next was a boisterous trucker song peppered with filthy CB slang, the song’s chatty narrator wasting no time in explaining that the parking lot he’s spending the night is is so lame that the only hooker working it is a guy. “People that I can’t relate to don’t understand my ways.” Grace groused in Don’t Wanna Work Today, an uneasy, bluesy, minor-key Tex-Mex number.

“This next song is about snorting cocaine in the bathroom. There are plenty of places where you can do cocaine…but here in New York, the bathroom is where we do it,” Grace deadpanned in his cat-ate-the-canary, Johnny Cash-influenced baritone and then launched into Cry, a brooding minor-key cha-cha that swung from sly drug-fueled optimism to the despondency that sets in like a giant cat over the city the afternoon after a night of too many lines and too much tekillya. Speaking of which, he played his own version of Tequila – a dancing border-rock tune, not the surf rock instrumental – where the “lie, lie, lie” of the chorus spoke for itself.

The trio moved methodically from the muted country anomie of South Dakota to the sparse minor-key Waits blues strut Sugarbear. Throughout the set, Grace segued into deadpan country verses of familiar Led Zep songs, a trope he’s been working for years, more now since his side project Van Hayride – known for their even funnier covers of pre-Sammy Hagar Van Halen and other loud, cheesy stuff from the 80s – is temporariliy on the shelf. One of the night’s funniest moments was when Grace his his flange pedal, and without missing a beat, segued into a note-for-note cover of Pink Floyd’s Breathe, complete with a searing, doublespeed, savagely tremolo-picked guitar solo that would have made David Gilmour jealous.

The title track to Grace’s forthcoming album Everything I Say Is a Lie turned out to be a slowly swaying mashup of doo-wop, early 70s Willie Nelson and late 60s Jimmy Web balladry. Been So Long Since I Bothered to Think, an unselfconsciously haunting ba-bump bolero reminded just how dark and intense Grace can get when he’s in the mood. “In middle school I learned to criticize, the world’s broken down and compromised, “ he lamented – and then took a hit of beer and gargled a couple of choruses. Nobody can ever say this guy’s not entertaining.

The band went back to pensive, rustically bluesy ambience with Rotary Phone, a brooding, metaphorically loaded tale about getting old and out of touch, then some comic relief with a wry medley of Zep, Nirvana and Doors riffs. The set continued with a seriously bizarre C&W version of a Talking Heads song, then the absurdist mariachi funk of It Was a Really Bad Year – “A song that gets a lot of airplay this time of the year,” Grace mused – then a moody, pretty straight-up cover of Hank Williams’ I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive. They closed with Big Bear, an electrified bluegrass tune from the film Super Troopers. Grace is at Coyote Ugly Saloon on First Ave. just south of 10th St. – who have bands now – on December 29 at around 9, then he’s playing a New Year’s Eve show in Saratoga Springs and returns to Coyote Ugly on January 5.

Snarky Fun and Some Poignancy with Joey Arias and Paul Capsis at Joe’s Pub

Joey Arias seemed to be having the time of his life Sunday night at the end of last month at his sold-out show at Joe’s Pub, a twinbill with Australian singer/personality Paul Capsis. Arias’ firebrand lead guitarist and musical director Viva DeConcini was also having a ball, especially with her effects pedals, shifting deviously from one layer of whoosh and wail to another over the steady drums of Ray Rizzo, Mary Feaster’s melodic bass and Mara Rosenbloom’s characteristically judicious, elegant piano lines. Titled Rock & Roll Fantasy, the show was something of a departure for Arias, who’s best known as a jazz stylist, one of the few men alive who can channel Billie Holiday. “I feel like I’m at CBGB’s!” he grinned, with the authority of somebody who goes back that far and actually went to the place during its heyday. Maybe with Klaus Nomi, whom he worked with, and told a lascivious anecdote about, a naked and aroused Jean-Michel Basquiat walking out of Nomi’s bathroom in that one.

Considering how funny Arias’ act is, would it be unfair to give away the jokes? In this case, probably not – he most likely won’t be using any of these in the near future, anyway. He and the band opened with Purple Haze, Arias winding it up by vocalizing the backward-masked effects on the album, then harmonizing way, way up in his falsetto against the feedback echoing from DeConcini’s amp. The only thing he missed was the chance to wail, “‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy!”

A little later, he brought some Nomi-esque drama to Cream’s The White Room, evoking a hallucinatory, alien character, maybe locked away in a padded cell. Otherwise, Arias got plenty of laughs for what he didn’t do. When he reached the big crescendo on the chorus of Bowie’s Life of Mars, he didn’t budge from his midrange. Likewise, as the show wound out, he mumbled his way through Robert Plant’s faux-orgasmic vocalese on a couple of Led Zep radio hits as DeConcini wowed the audience with her flashy flights and string-wrenching bends. And in a departure from all the campy hijinks and theatrics, he brought an unexpected somberness and plaintiveness to the show with a lone Lady Day cover. As one audience member pondered during a recent Arias appearance at Pangea, how would his act go over in a mainstream jazz club? Would the black eyeliner, and the bling, and the garters distract from how otherwise unselfconsciously affecting, and distinctive, and purist a jazz singer Arias is?

Where Arias was making a stylistic depsrtuere, Capsis is all about the rock. Decked out as Amy Winehouse, he did a spot-on impersonation both vocally and jokewise, at one point practically drooling over someone’s food. His take on Janis Joplin was just as evocative, all frenetic and panting and breathless. Later on, after a change into a gold lame Elvis suit, he made the missing connection between the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams Are Made of These and the Doors’ People Are Strange. And the best song of the night might have been a chillingly expansive take of Patti Smith’s Pissing in a River: it was as if the ghost of Richard Sohl was wafting from the piano on that one. Arias is at Pangea (Second Ave between 11th and 12th Sts)  tonight, August 3 at 7:30 PM, back to doing his drag jazz chanteuse thing; cover is $25 and since it’s a small place, early arrival is a good idea.

Ruby the Hatchet Headline a Killer Triplebill at the Acheron

One thing that jumps out at you when you take a look at what’s happening out of town is that New York hardly has a monopoly on good multiple-band bills. For example, back on the 17th, intense Philadelphia psychedelic metal band Ruby the Hatchet played on a hometown quadruplebill with a couple of the bands – Slow Season and Mondo Drag – who SLAYED at St. Vitus this past Saturday. More about that inspiring night here momentarily. In the meantime, Ruby the Hatchet have moved on to a kick-ass triplebill, headlining at around 10 at the Acheron on July 24. Excellent retro 70s stoner band the Golden Grass – who add boogie and some unexpected blues to their riff-driven attack – play beforehand at around 9. The eclectic, interesting Iyez – who blend dreampop and noisy postrock into their reverbtoned lo-fi assault – open the night at 8. Cover is $10

Ruby the Hatchet’s new album, Valley of the Snake, is streaming at Bandcamp. It opens with Heavy Blanket, Sean Hur’s organ rising out of the mist, introducing Michael Parise’s galloping bass, then the rest of the group – guitarist John Scarps, drummer Owen Stewart and frontwoman Jillian Taylor – kick in. The vibe brings to mind early Maiden, back when they were more straightforward, less artsy. That, or Deep Purple without the hippie-dippy bullshit.

The second track, Vast Acid goes in the same direction, a catchy, swaying anthem fueled by Scarps’ terse multitracks. Taylor’s vocals are strong, with a bent, bluesy edge, but not going over the edge into Janis Joplin cliches. “I will cut you down, down, down,” is the mantra.

Tomorrow Never Comes, the album’s best track, is a haunting, apocalyptic, practically nine-minute epic, teasing the listener with a flamenco-tinged guitar intro before Scarps’ crushing riffage takes over and then eventually hits a cruelly stampeding pulse. Hur’s atmospheric keys are a neat touch. Mos Generator’s classic The Late, Great Planet Earth is a good comparison.

The Unholy Behemoth looks straight back to Sabbath, slow and doomy before it picks up with Iommi-style, bludgeoning blues riffage: it’s a trip to hear a woman singing this stuff. Ozzy, eat your heart out! Likewise, Taylor’s ominous harmonies max out the ethereal menace in the briskly pulsing, Blue Oyster Cult-ish Demons. It would make a good, heavier segue with, say, Burning For You. The album’s final cut is the title track, wryly making jangly psych-folk out of a very familiar Beatles theme before it rises toward Led Zep grandeur. One of the coolest things about this is that you can get it on cassette for the bargain price of $6.66. No joke.

Keith Otten’s Big Acoustic Anthems Defy the Odds in Williamsburg

Can you imagine Nick Drake playing a weekend gig at a pub? Pressured by his record label, he did more than one. And he hated every minute of them: no wonder he retired from live performance after that. Bar gigs are tough under any circumstances, but it’s a whole lot easier to compete with the drunks if you can blast back at them through a big guitar amp. Keith Otten, on the other hand, does it the hard way, the old-fashioned way, with just vocals and acoustic guitar. And he does it every week, and he manages to get random people to listen.

Which might sound more impressive than it actually is. Otten’s one of the great unsung heroes of lead guitar. He first made an impact here in New York with Feed, his legendary/obscure project with Tim Butler of the Psychedelic Furs. Over the last few years, he’s provided the scorch and burn in long-running, artsy Nashville gothic band Ninth House. Before that he led the twin guitar-fueled Gotham 4, a vehicle for his towering, anthemic, Britrock-inspired songwriting. Since early this winter, he’s been playing Tuesday nights starting at around 7 PM at Craic Bar, downstairs in the new building at 488 Driggs Ave. between 9th and 10th St. in Williamsburg, and damned if he doesn’t draw people in.

And he mixes it up. While his choice of covers reveals a lot about where his own songs come from, he throws some surprises in. Much as Otten can go way out on a limb with machinegunning volleys of notes when he’s playing electric, he doesn’t waste them. So a couple of weeks ago right after the big snowstorm, it was interesting to hear him do not only one but two acoustic Grateful Dead covers (Morning Dew and Samson & Delilah), the second wrapped around a tight take of Dylan’s It’s All Over Now Baby Blue, just as Jerry might have done it in the late 80s. Except that Otten sang those songs infinitely better than either of the guys who did them the first time around.

And he also did the Yardbirds’ Mister You’re a Better Man Than I, and paired Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust with Suffragette City, and managed to mix those numbers’ big riffs into his chords without getting all skeletal, like acoustic versions of big rock songs can become in the hands of less experienced players. But it was the originals that were the most fun to hear. Like the covers, Otten’s rearranged them so that they pretty much maintain the epic quality of the original electric versions. From the circling chords of Long Enough, from Otten’s first solo album back in the 90s, through the sardonically catchy Reunion (a snide tale about blowing off a bunch of aging blowhards at a school reunion) and then the unexpectedly upbeat Special, both tracks from his latest album Trickle, he kept the crew huddled over the pool table pretty attentive. Sure, there was a yuppie in the corner hell-bent on letting the entire bar know that he had designs on the girl he’d coaxed into meeting him there, but there’s always a guy like that when you least want him around.

In two long sets, Otten’s songs ran the gamut from the subtly minimalistic, post-U2 Already Knows, to the pensive Only Time and the majestic, wryly regretful Friend’s Girlfriend. He wound up the second set with the most epic song of the night, the gorgeous, flamenco-inflected 3001, equal parts ornate acoustic Led Zep and 90s spacerock, but in a stripped-down context that revealed how poignantly gorgeous the song is even without the searingly layered multitracks on the album version. If you’re in the neighborhood and on the way home from work, this guy’s weekly show is a great way to lift your spirits: his next one is March 10.

Maya Beiser Brings Her Classy Cello Metal to Bleecker Street

If a venue where Led Zeppelin or AC/DC were playing had a squeaky front door, would anyone have noticed? Wednesday night at the Poisson Rouge, cellist Maya Beiser played songs by both Zep and AC/DC from her cleverly inventive new album, Uncovered, while the downstairs front door creaked and screeched on its hinges throughout what appeared to be a sold-out show. At first that worked as a creepy horror-movie effect, underscoring Beiser’s alternately sultry and bluesily plantive version of Zep’s Black Dog and then an acerbically lingering, Janis Joplin-influenced instrumental cover of Gershwin’s Summertime. But by the middle of the set, people in the crowd were rolling their eyes, Beiser putting her hands over her ears in exasperation, and at that point it was hard to resist the urge to run up the stairs to the deli next door for a can of WD-40. If such a thing exists in the Poisson Rouge supply closet, no one working there saw fit to break it out.

Despite the presence of this unexpected fourth band member – along with Gyan Riley on bass and Matt Kilmer on drums – Beiser nimbly built a lush, often haunting intensity that pretty much didn’t waver even as she worked the dynamics up and down. Further complicating matters was that since her cello on the album is multitracked and processed to the nth degree, she and the band were playing along with a series of prerecorded tracks from it, leaving zero room for error or deviation from the script. But they pulled it off, the rhythm section playing heavy metal as elegantly as heavy metal can possibly be as Beiser – decked out in a tight gothic outfit that fit the music perfectly – swung through a sepulchrally mesmerizing version of Howlin’ Wolf’s Moanin’ at Midnight, arranged by Evan Ziporyn, as were the other numbers.

A mid-set diversion into the indie classical Beiser has made a name for herself met with mixed results. A new Glenn Kotche piece was more of a study in rhythmic horizontality than melody, and grew interminable: it would have been gone over better at, say, the Bang on a Can Marathon. But a David Lang tune employing Lou Reed’s lyrics from Heroin – sung in pitch-perfect Nico-esque by Beiser, if you can imagine such a thing – was a treat, and truer to the title of the song than the original. And the trio brought to life another premiere, David T. Little’s Hellhound – a vivid illustration of the Robert Johnson myth – with a diabolical franticness.

Beiser did Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here as a partita that grew more pastiche-like: here, especially, it was hard to distinguish what was being played and what was in the can without watching Beiser’s fingers. Kilmer’s spot-on Mitch Mitchell impersonation in places throughout Hendrix’s Little Wing contrasted with Beiser’s bittersweet approach, while the whole band took on the encores, a grinning, no-holds-barred attack on Back in Black and then a raucous stomp through Kashmir, with an unbridled ferocity. On album, Beiser reinvents these songs for the most part as art-rock, but this show was heavier on the metal. Raise your forefinger and pinky to that.

Cellist Maya Beiser Reinvents Art-Rock and Metal Classics

There’s a little cello metal on Maya Beiser‘s new album Uncovered (streaming online), but most of it is art-rock. Beiser has made a name for herself in the classical and avant garde worlds; this time out, she plays gorgeously reinvented, sometimes ethereal, often otherworldly covers of well-known FM radio rock and blues songs. The new arrangements by Band on a Can All-Stars clarinetist Evan Ziporyn are magical, enabling Beiser to become a one-woman orchestra via lushly layered multitracks, occasionally backed by simple, emphatic bass and drums. She’s playing the album release show at le Poisson Rouge on Sept 4 at 7:30 PM; advance tix are $15 and worth it.

Other than a coy vocal come-on early in the album’s opening track, Led Zep’s Black Dog, the rest of the album is all instrumental. With the other Zep cover, Kashmir, it’s ironic that since Beiser goes easy on the bombast and heavy on the poignancy, the moody faux Egyptian bridge doesn’t carry the impact it does on the original. And where Beiser swoops and dives through Black Dog, she follows a steadily rocketing trajectory through the album’s heaviest number, Back in Black, up to a crescendo that’s just as funny if completely different from the AC/DC version.

There are also a trio of blues tunes. Howlin’ Wolf’s Moanin’ at Midnight gets a hypnotically atmospheric, darkly otherworldly treatment. A remake of Muddy Waters’ Louisiana Blues is much the same but more rhythmic. And Beiser does Summertime as a dirgey, atmospheric waltz, using the Janis Joplin version as a stepping-off point.

But the real gems here are the art-rock songs. Beiser plays the famous series of chords that open Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing with an unexpected, striking fluidity instead of the punchiness you might expect; later on, she fires off a solo that brings to mind ELO’s Hugh McDowell. The high point of the album is the King Crimson classic Epitaph, a vividly elegaic take featuring Ziporyn’s bass clarinet doing a marvelous mellotron impersonation, Beiser substituting a long, loopy, ominously ambient outro in lieu of Michael Giles’ symphonic drumming on the original. Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here gets much the same treatment, but in reverse: atmospherics to open it, and then an artful cut-and-paste of the song’s central riffs in lieu of the slow segue into Shine on You Crazy Diamond. There’s also a Nirvana cover: Beiser and Ziporyn give it all they’ve got, but ultimately they’re stuck with a tune that never rises above peevishness. Beiser isn’t the first cellist to cover radio rock and metal: Rasputina did that on their covers album over a decade ago, and then there’s Apocalyptica, but this is even better.

People who like this album also ought to check out Sybarite5‘s similarly outside-the-box, playful album of Radiohead songs arranged for string quintet.