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Tag: mary lee’s corvette

Transcendent Lyrical and Vocal Power From Mary Lee’s Corvette at the Mercury

Saturday night at the Mercury, Mary Lee’s Corvette put on a clinic in eclectic tunesmithing, smartly conversational interplay, brilliant lyricism and spine-tlngling vocals. There literally isn’t a style that frontwoman/guitarist Mary Lee Kortes can’t write in: powerpop, Americana, glam rock, cabaret, classical, jazz, and psychedelia, to name a few. She did a lot of that, and held the crowd spellbound with that crystalline voice, which can leap two octaves or more, effortlessly. She’s been regarded as arguably the best singer in New York for a long time (noir haunter Karla Rose and Indian belter Roopa Mahadevan are good points of comparison).

Throughout a tantalizing forty-five minute set, Kortes validated everything good that’s ever been said about her. The band opened with the gritty new wave-flavored kiss-off anthem Need for Religion (as in, “Maybe it was just my need for religion that made me believe in you,” and it gets meaner from there). New lead guitarist Jack Morer played purposeful, incisiive fills on his Strat while new bassist Cait O’Riordan – founding member of the Pogues – shifted from nimble, dancing lines to snarling upward runs, and swung hard. Not only does she totally get Kortes’ songwriting – which some players can’t – but she also makes a good visual foil, two tall blondes bopping onstage and intertwining riffs.

Smartly, Kortes paired the warily triumphant garage-psych anthem Out From Under It with Learn  From What I Dream, with its edgy chromatic riffage and 60s Laurel Canyon psych-folk ambience. Through the night, the dream world was a frequent reference point, considering that Kortes is also a compelling prose writer and editor, with a new book, Dreaming of Dylan: 115 Dreams About Bob just out. Since Kortes has had more than a few (including a touching “don’t quit writing songs, no matter what” dream, as she explained to the crowd), it makes sense that she’d pull a collection like that together.

The best song of the night might have been Well by the Water, a corrosively metaphorical, lilting amthem that works on the innumerable, Elvis Costello-esque levels that Kortes loves so much, as apt a portrait of tightlipped Midwestern dysfunction as a history of human civilization itself. After that, the band stretched out in a bitingly bluesy take of Dylan’s Meet Me in the Morning – which Mary Lee’s Corvette famously recorded on their live cover of Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks album.

O’Riordan approached the slow, lingering bittersweet mini-epic Portland Michigan – a not-so-fond childhood reminiscence – with finesse but also as a search for impactful harmony, something few bass players do. They closed with a new song, a series of dreamscapes over a pulsing, Stonesy vamp – which Kortes used as a launching pad for her most spellbinding leaps of the night. Good to see this band back at a venue where they’ve put on similarly transcendent shows over the years.

Mary Lee’s Corvette Revisit Their Iconic Recording of Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks at Joe’s Pub

There’s considerable irony in that as brilliant as Mary Lee’s Corvette’s original songs are, the band are best known for a cover album that they didn’t even plan on releasing.

Seventeen years ago, they were a ubiquitous presence in what was then a thriving Lower East Side rock scene. One of the few remaining venues from that time, Arlene’s, had a series of “classic album” cover nights. Most of them were pretty cheesy and didn’t draw very high-quality talent, further reinforcing the assumption that the best musicians all want to play their own material.

One of those nights featured a local venue owner doing a version of an album by the Band. The other album on the bill that night was Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, which Mary Lee’s Corvette played all the way through, after only two rehearsals.

It was one of the most transcendent shows ever witnessed by anyone from this blog (or its more primitive predecessor – in the fall of 2001, blogs as we know them today didn’t exist). That e-zine rated Mary Lee’s Corvette’s venomous version of Idiot Wind as the best song of the year. A few months later, the band officially released the live recording, which by then had been circulating among collectors who were in awe of frontwoman Mary Lee Kortes’ vocals and the band’s similarly electrifying performance.

In the years since, Mary Lee’s Corvette have reprised that concert a few times. They’re revisiting it this Thursday night, Jan 24 at 7 PM at Joe’s Pub, another of the few neighborhood venues left that still have music. General admission is $18. If you’re going, you should get there early because it might sell out.

If you give the record a spin at youtube, you’ll notice how the drums suddenly get much louder when the band get to Meet Me in the Morning. That’s because somebody forgot to push a button and the original recording didn’t catch the song. The version on the album is from drummer Diego Voglino’s own recorder, positioned much closer to his kit; consequently, guitarist Andy York’s searing slide guitar solo is way back in the mix.

The rest of the record is what you would expect from a topnotch Americana rock unit – this incarnation of the band also featured Brad Albetta on bass and Andy Burton on organ – fronted by one of the most amazingly versatile singers on the planet. Kortes’ own material spans from folk-rock to jazz, but she also has a background in classical music. She founded the UN Voices choir, and has recorded with Placido Domingo.

And if you’re lucky, she’ll break out some of her own material at the show (she didn’t do that at the Arlene’s gig). Watching her play an extremely rare solo acoustic show at Pete’s late last summer was a revelation. Kortes’ tensile wail is every bit as formidable as it was almost twenty years ago; if anything, she’s even more nuanced a singer than she was then. She mixed up some new material – a couple of stark folk noir numbers, one of them an especially allusive one that could have been a murder ballad – along with more anthemic favorites from years past.

As usual, she got a lot of laughs with More Stupider, a radio pop parody she wrote in response to someone telling her that her songs were too smart for mass consumption. The lyrics to Sweeter Than True are as opaque as the swaying, bittersweet melody is catchy: Kortes confided that she’s still trying to figure out exactly what that one’s about. And she ran through a couple of jaunty swing-flavored tunes from her Beulah Rowley Songbook concept album, told from the point of view of a mysterious, obscure 1930s songwriting polymath. Even if she doesn’t get to the originals at the Joe’s Pub gig, it’s a rare chance to revisit a fleetingly magical time and place that most people in New York today never got to witness.

Concetta Abbate Records a Lush, Glimmering Album of Chamber Rock Nocturnes at Spectrum

On one hand, the cred you used to get for being in the crowd at a live album recording has lost a little lustre over the years. After all, these days, if you’re up to the job, you can make your own live album most any night and put it up at youtube or archive.org. Still, it was awfully cool to be at Spectrum Saturday night, where elegant violinist/guitarist Concetta Abbate recorded a live album with a string quartet. The experience wasn’t as intense as being at Arlene’s the night that Mary Lee’s Corvette recorded their Blood on the Tracks album (although nobody other than the band knew that would happen), or as dark as when Rasputina recorded A Radical Recital a few years later at B.B. King’s…or exasperating, like when Aimee Mann did alternate take after alternate take for her live DVD at St. Ann’s Warehouse.

This was a warmly enveloping, raptly glimmering night of nocturnes, many of them miniatures: Abbate doesn’t waste notes. What’s even better is that the lucky four dozen or so people who got to witness her quiet magic will get a digital copy of the album, and then presumably it’ll be up at her webpage. Her opening instrumental had subtle rhythmic shifts and a delicate pizzicato/legato dichotomy; afterward, a handful of numbers had light electroacoustic touches, like the second one, its allusions to oldschool soul awash in uneasily lush string textures, like a more polished version of early ELO. Abbate sang while playing, in an expressively airy, carefully modulated soprano.

Disquieting electronic washes gave way to a twinkle balanced by a spare, balletesque string arrangement on the night’s next song, beneath Abbate’s melismatic, Renaissance-tinged vocals. Ambered string washes anchored a trickily syncopated piano riff, no easy task to pull off live. The upbeat, catchy, pulsing number after that sounded like a mashup of the Universal Thump and Linda Draper’s acerbic parlor pop.

From there the ensemble took an ornate waltz arrangement up to a vividly wounded series of crescendos; then Abbate brought the lights down with a playfully psychedelic vignette in 5/4 time. Spare, spacious minimalism gave way to a brooding viola solo over tersely fingerpicked acoustic guitar, then a lively, balletesque tune, then a lushly melancholy art-rock anthem in the same vein as Sarah Kirkland Snider’s recent work. After that, the pretty waltz that sounded like the Left Banke made a striking contrast. It’ll be even more fun to enjoy the nuances of the album and ponder Abbate’s terse lyrical imagery. Abbate’s next New York solo show is on June 12 at 8 PM at Chinatown Soup, 16B Orchard St. just north of Canal.

Ian Hunter Never Gets Old

Ian Hunter’s new album When I’m President is the good rock record that the Stones should have made this year (or around 1986, for that matter) but didn’t. It’s hard to believe that the former Mott the Hoople frontman, somebody who’s collaborated with everyone from John Cale to Mick Ronson to the Clash’s Mick Jones, is now past seventy. But Hunter is absolutely undiminished as both a frontman and a songwriter. On the mic, his rasp is as relentless as ever, and his poison pen still kills: as a stinging, surrealist wordsmith, Hunter still has few rivals. As usual, he plays acoustic guitar and piano here, backed by the Rant Band: Mark Bosch and James Mastro on guitars, Paul Page on bass and Steve Holley on drums, with Andy Burton on keys and Andy York (of John Mellencamp’s band and Mary Lee’s Corvette) adding subtle shades of guitar, some keys, and instruments like baritone guitar and dulcitar.

The music here chugs along with a familiar, Stonesy growl: if Keith Richards could be cloned, he’d sound like them. Mastro plays in the left channel, Bosch in the right, firing off the occasional solo with expert command of five decades worth of rock styles. The catchiest song on the album is the title track (available from Hunter as a free download). With its familiar janglerock melody and an irresistibly funny allusion to a certain “classic” rock riff, Hunter defiantly takes a stand with the 99% against the fat cats: “Still whining about your bonus? Man up, you’re ridiculous…” But as much as trying to buck the system may be like “the pit and the pendulum,” it ends optimistically.

With another amusing allusion to a well-known song (this one from the new wave era), What For is a rant worthy of any other in Hunter’s vast back catalog, a slap upside the head of a clueless conformist, suggesting a break from the cellphone in exchange for “a little recreational skulldiving.” Likewise, the big, dramatic 6/8 anthem I Don’t Know What You Want takes a jaundiced look at generational dissonance.

Other tracks work a psychopathological vein over a roaring backdrop. Bosch channels David Gilmour with an searing, angst-fueled solo in Black Tears, a kiss-off to a psychic vampire, that faux melancholy being “just another weapon in your arsenal of fear.” There’s also a Pink Floyd influence in the suspensefully percussive Ta Shunka Witco (Crazy Horse), the Indian warrior out for revenge anthem against those “paid by the rich to steal from the poor.” The down-and-out junkie in Saint, a pretty standard-issue garage rock number, rails that “I ain’t no saint but I could never be you.” And Fatally Flawed gets a crushing crescendo on the first verse and an all-too-brief, screaming Bosch solo: “Lookit that trainwreck, purring like a Cadillac,” Hunter snarls.

The other tracks include Just the Way You Look Tonight, a casually majestic anthem that’s a dead ringer for Willie Nile, lit up by Mastro’s mandolin ; The Wild Bunch, a bankrobber ballad with saloon piano by Burton and an unexpected gospel choir; the rakishly seductive Comfortable (Flyin’ Scotsman), with some cool syncopation to fit the lyrics at the end as the chorus stretches out; and the surprisingly upbeat, amusing closing track: “Did you blow it on Myspace, did you twitter when you was clean outta your face?” Hunter wants to know. At this point in his career, his greatest shining moment is still Rant, his savage 2001 response to creeping fascism in the wake of 9/11. But this is a clinic in good tunesmithing and good playing from a bunch of guys who’ve been there and done that, and are still there and still doing it as well or even better than before. One of the best albums of 2012: long live Ian Hunter.

Thanks for the Memories, Lakeside Lounge

Lakeside Lounge has been sold and will be closing at the end of April. After just over fifteen years in business, the bar that defined oldschool East Village cool will be replaced by a gentrifier whiskey joint, no doubt with $19 artisanal cocktails and hedge fund nebbishes trying to pick up on sorostitutes when their boyfriends are puking in the bathroom – or out of it.

Lakeside opened in 1996 [thanks for the correction, everybody] in the space just north of the former Life Cafe on Ave. B north of 10th Street in the single-story building between tenements that had previously housed a Jamaican fried chicken takeout restaurant. It was an instant hit. Owners Jim Marshall (a.k.a. The Hound, an astute and encyclopedic blues and soul-ologist with a great blog) and Eric “Roscoe” Ambel (of the Del-Lords, and eventually lead guitarist in Steve Earle’s band) had a game plan: create a space that nurtures artists rather than exploiting them as so many venues do. And they stuck to that plan. Before long, Lakeside had become a mecca for good music. For several years, there was literally a good band here just about every night with the exception of the few holidays when the bar was closed. Artists far too popular for the back room would play here just for the fun of it: Earle, Rudy Ray Moore, Graham Parker, John Sinclair, the Sadies, Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby all had gigs here, some of them more than once. Dee Dee Ramone hung out here and eventually did a book signing on the little stage in the back, with people lined up around the block. Steve Wynn had a weekly residency here for a bit (which was amazing). The place helped launch the careers of countless Americana-ish acts including Laura Cantrell, Amy Allison, Mary Lee’s Corvette, Megan Reilly, Tom Clark & the High Action Boys, Tammy Faye Starlite and Spanking Charlene and sustained countless others through good times and bad. And as much as most of the bands played some kind of twangy rock, booking here was actually very eclectic: chanteuses Erica Smith and Jenifer Jackson, indie pop mastermind Ward White, punk rockers Ff and several surf bands from Laika & the Cosmonauts to the Sea Devils all played here.

As the toxic waves of gentrification pushed deeper into the East Village, Lakeside never changed. You could still get a $3 Pabst, or a very stiff well drink for twice that. Their half-price happy hour lasted til 8 PM. The jukebox was expensive (two plays for a buck) but was loaded with obscure R&B, blues and country treasures from the 40s through the 60s. Countless bands used their black-and-white photo booth for album cover shots. Their bar staff had personalities: rather than constantly texting or checking their Facebook pages, they’d talk to you. And they’d become your friends if you hung out and got to know them. Some were sweet, some had a mean streak, but it seemed that there was a rule that to work at Lakeside, you had to be smart, and you had to be cool.

But times changed. To a generation of pampered, status-grubbing white invaders from the suburbs, Lakeside made no sense. The place wasn’t kitschy because its owners were genuinely committed to it, and to the musicians who played there. It had no status appeal because it was cheap, dingy and roughhewn, and Ambel refused to book trendy bands. Had they renovated, put in sconces and ash-blonde paneling, laid some tile on the concrete floor, kicked out the bands and brought in “celebrity DJ’s” and started serving $19 artisanal cocktails, they might have survived. But that would have been suicide. It wouldn’t have been Lakeside anymore.

There won’t be any closing party, but the bands on the club calendar will be playing their scheduled shows. Ambel plays the final show at 9 on the 30th. Before then, stop in and say goodbye to a quintessential New York treasure.