Back in the day there were two songwriters, Ian and Liza, and their two bands, the Larch and Liza & the WonderWheels. The Larch was Ian’s band – he played lead guitar and Liza played keys. They sounded like Squeeze or Elvis Costello. Their final two albums – assuming that the band is finished at this point – are among the most brilliantly catchy, subtly venomous lyrical rock releases in recent New York music history.
Liza played rhythm guitar and keys while Ian played lead in Liza & the WonderWheels, who interestingly enough, were one of this city’s great jambands over the past fifteen years or so. Other than Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds, it’s hard to think of another female-fronted psychedelic band who were so consistently good.
Attrition set in, the rhythm section in both Ian and Liza’s bands went through some changes – you know, New York brain drain, rents going up, people getting forced out, ad nauseum – and Liza and the WonderWheels morphed into Tracy Island. Meanwhile, the Larch faced the same dilemma and eventually turned into Dada Paradox, who have a show this coming Friday, March 25 at 8 PM at Freddy’s. Either way, both bands are basically Ian and Liza – who eventually married, but have so far avoided becoming a couplecore band, not only once but twice. That might seem like a major achievement, but it’s no big deal when you consider that Ian and Liza Roure would never write a song about the joys of shopping unless they were being very, very sarcastic.
This blog has yet to cover Dada Paradox, but back in November at Bowery Electric, Tracy Island played a show for the cognoscenti. There was probably as much talent in the crowd as there was onstage. Rebecca Turner and her band opened the night with a richly jangly set that put a teens Brooklyn update on 60s/70s Laurel Canyon psychedelic folk, John Sharples taking centerstage on several of the songs with his tersely gorgeous twelve-string lead guitar lines. John Pinamonti, another excellent, judicious twelve-string player, used to be this band’s lead player, and Sharples took his already formidable approach to a new level. Meanwhile, Turner her drummer and her melodic bassist Scott Anthony aired out a bunch of new material as well as old favorites like Brooklyn Is So Big, an ever more bittersweet shout-out to the borough and its ever more widely dispersed artistic class.
The Kennedys headlined, playing guitarmeister Pete Kennedy’s latest solo album Heart of Gotham from start to finish, his wife Maura on soaring vocal harmonies and rhythm guitar. “Down on the corner of hope and glory, to a place called Union Square,” they sang, two voices rising to anthemic proportions that most stadium rock bands can only dream of, in tribute to the many cultures that built New York into one of the world’s great cities until the luxury condo pestilence began wiping it out. A web of deliciously Byrdsy guitars mingled with rousing Celtic flourishes and slinky Pete Kennedy leads, the duo imagining Moses dreaming in the arms of Pharaoh’s Daughter. As a metaphor for a city, is that a ridiculous conceit, or something we can still aspire to? It felt awfully good to get a shot of optimism from these two.
Tracy Island were sandwiched between the two acts, playing the album release show for their debut, War No More. They opened with the catchy, vamping What You Want, a springboard for Liza’s jaunty, seductive vocals. The most delicious moment of the night was when they launched into Eddie Come Down. which is less an entreaty to a would-be suicide than it is an order to a crazy dude to pull his shit together. It wasn’t recognizable at first, Liza’s lingering blue-flame resonance against Ian’s resonantly evil slide lines. With just the two guitars, it brought to mind Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine dueling it out circa 1978, but with vocals that were cool, mentholated, on key, anchoring the stampede as Ian spun wild paisley underground circles against the center. They took it down to almost silence, then back up: if you’ve ever seen the Dream Syndicate, it was like that, just without drums. Back in the day it was the WonderWheels’ big showstopper: they’d go on for ten minutes or more if they were in the mood. Check out the Hall of Eds (hit the listen button and then scroll all the way down) for some of the most enjoyable moments from the last ten years or so of NYC jamband history.
The rest of the set had the jangle and clang and wah and scream going full steam. The catchy, sardonic faux-futurist Where’s My Robot Maid had a stairstepping, axe-murderer solo midway through. From there they rose from a cynical, brooding, minor-key New Depresssion anthem to summery post-Velvets ambience under Liza’s soaring, operatic vocals, then a shuffling, upbeat, Television-ish number. After that they worked an insistent Saturday Nigtht’s All Right for Fighting riff into a characteristically defiant Liza chorus, a reference to a classic punk anthem by X. And with Meet the Animal, they built a distantly simmering, sultry, psychedelic menace, Liza’s voice matched by Ians’s creepy washes of wah guitar. There will probably be many moments like these Friday night at Freddy’s.