Why do we go see bands? To hang with our friends? For an excuse to tie one on? Maybe to transcend whatever trouble this century’s ongoing depression has sent us. If there are clouds ahead, and clouds behind, as Karla Rose sings in her signature song, Time Well Spent, her band will drive those clouds away, at least as long as the torchy, magnetic singer/guitarist is onstage. Karla Rose & the Thorns are the kind of act that you walk away from glad to be alive, firing on all cylinders, the roar of the guitars, slinkiness of the bass, misterioso groove of the drums and Rose’s hauntingly lyrical vocals still playing in your head. They’re bringing Rose’s signature blend of menacing, film noir-inspired torch song, jaunty new wave and offhandedly savage psychedelia to a headline slot at midnight this Thursday, April 14 at the big room at the Rockwood. The even louder, hard-charging, more Americana-influenced Marco with Love play the album release show for their new one beforehand at 11.
Rose did a stint fronting Morricone Youth, so it’s no surprise that there’s a cinematic influence in her music, although she’s developed a sound all her own. Her band is relatively new: starting about last July, she pulled this semi-rotating cast of players together. Right now, the one constant is the sometimes elegant, sometimes thrashing interweave between Rose’s Telecaster and lead guitarist Dylan Charles’ hollowbody Gibson. They played a tantalizingly brief show last November at the Mercury that landed on this blog’s Best New York Concerts of 2015 list, but looking back, their gig at Berlin a month beforehand might have been even better.
It definitely was louder. As you might expect from someone who writes lyrics that are usually pretty dark but can also be extremely funny, Rose typically zings the crowd with one-liners in between songs. This was not one of those shows. Fronting this group, Rose tends to be pretty inscrutable, but she was clearly out of sorts, maybe because she’d just spilled vodka all over her butt. “Very sanitary,” she joked, but otherwise she took out whatever was troubling her on her instrument. It was rewarding to hear that jangle, and clang, and eventually the unrestrained ferocity blasting from her amp while Charles made his way up the fretboard, chopping at the strings with an unhinged attack that made Dick Dale look like a wimp by comparison.
The best song of the night was a new one, Battery Park. Rose opened it solo, flinging her chords out over a slithery altered bolero groove, with a deliciously Lynchian, unexpectectedly minor-to-major change before the first verse kicked in. This is how Rose works at the top of her game: in the middle of this creepily allusive narrative, inspired by American Pycho, there’s subtle political subtext and also a hilarious double entendre that looks back to hokum blues. The joke is too good to give away. Charles eventually took the song out with a machete-through-the-underbrush solo.
The rest of the set wasn’t quite as feral but just as intense. The angst-fueled chromatics of Girl Next Door – which has a surrealistic, Twilight Zone-esque video, directed by Peter Azen – contrasted with the achingly sultry Sunday hangover sceneario alluded to in the bouncy new wave of Drive, as well as the serpentine, seething Time Well Spent, which seems on the surface to be a murder mystery but is actually a thinly veiled, exasperated account of trying to stay sane in gentrification-era Manhattan. Rose has a new album in the works, which, if this show is any indication, is a lock for best of 2016.
Rose also has impeccable taste as an impresario. This time out she decided to book the Paul Collins Beat to headline the show, and the “king of powerpop” lived up to his regal status as hookmeister and guitarslinger. And by the end of the night, Rose seemed to have her mojo back and was down front, dancing. You could do the same at the Rockwood this Thursday.