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Tag: parody music

Moppa Elliott Brings His Twisted, Hilarious Parodies to Gowanus

Is Moppa Elliott this era’s Frank Zappa? Elliott is funnier, and his jokes are musical rather than lyrical, but there are similarities. Each began his career playing parodies – Zappa with the Mothers of Invention and Elliott with Mostly Other People Do the Killing. Their bodies of work are distinguished by an equally broad and spot-on sense of humor, with a cruel streak. With Mostly Other People Do the Killing – the world’s funniest jazz group – seemingly in mothballs at the moment, Elliott has gone out and made a lavish triple album with three separate, closely related ensembles. The world’s funniest jazz bassist is playing a tripleheader, with sets by each of them tomorrow, Feb 15 at Shapeshifter Lab starting at 7 PM with the jazz octet Advancing on a Wild Pitch, following at 8 with quasi-soul band Acceleration Due to Gravity and then at 9 with instrumental 80s rock act Unspeakable Garbage. Cover is $10.

Where MOPDtK savaged Ornette Coleman imitators, fusion jazz and hot 20s swing, among many other styles, the new record Jazz Band/Rock Band/Dance Band gives the bozack to New Orleans shuffles, Kansas City swing and retro 60s soul music, and attempts to do the same to 80s rock. It hasn’t hit the usual streaming spots yet, although there are three tracks up at Soundcloud. Throughout the record, Elliott is more chill than ever, letting his twisted compositions speak for themselves.

It’s redemptive to hear how deliciously Elliott and the “dance band” mock the hordes of white kids aping 60s funk and soul music. This sounds like the Dap-Kings on a cruel overdose of liquid acid, trying desperately to hold it together. Without giving away all the jokes, let’s say that drummer Mike Pride’s rhythm is a persistent punchline. And yet, as relentless as the satire here is, there are genuinely – dare we say – beautiful moments here, notably guitarist Ava Mendoza’s savage roar and tuneful erudition: she really knows her source material.

The horns – trumpeter Nate Wooley, trombonist Dave Taylor, saxophonists Matt Nelson and Bryan Murray – squall when they’re not getting completely self-indulgent, Mendoza serving as good cop. Guitarist Kyle Saulnier and pianist George Burton fall somewhere in the middle along with Elliott. As an imitation of an imitation, several generations removed from James Brown, Isaac Hayes and Louis Jordan, this is hilarious stuff. The arguably most vicious payoff of all is when they swing that unctuous King Crimson tune by the tail until it breaks: it’s about time somebody did that.

Advancing on a Wild Pitch – with trombonist Sam Kulik, baritone saxophonist Charles Evans, pianist Danny Fox and drummer Christian Coleman – is the jazz group here, akin to a less ridiculous MOPDtK. As with that band, quotes and rhythmic japes factor heavily into the sarcasm, but you have to listen more closely than Elliott’s music usually demands to pick up on the snarky pokes. This is also his chance to remind the world that if he really wanted to write slightly above-average, derivative postbop jazz without much in the way of humor to score a record deal, he could do it in his sleep. But this is so much more fun!

Again, without giving away any punchlines, the length of the pieces and also the solos weighs in heavily. Oh baby, do they ever. They savage second-line shuffles, the Basie band, early Ellington, 30s swing and doofy gospel-inspired balladry, among other things. If you really want a laugh and can only listen to one tune here, try St. Marys: the most irresistible bit is about midway through. Even so, there are long, unselfconsciously engaging solos by Fox and Kulik in the two final numbers, Ship and Slab, which don’t seem like parodies at all. If Elliott has a dozen more of these kicking around, he could blend right in at Jazz at Lincoln Center – and maybe sneak in some of the really fun stuff too.

Unspeakable Garbage’s honking instrumental approach to cheesy 80s radio rock is too close to its endless litany of sources to really count as parody. With blaring guitar, a leaden beat and trebly synth, they devise mashups from a list including but not limited to Huey Lewis, Van Halen, Pat Benatar and Grover Washington Jr. This predictable shtick gets old fast: Spinal Tap it’s not. You’d do better with Murray and his band Bryan & the Haggards, who have put out three surprisingly amusing albums of instrumental Merle Haggard covers.

Sam Broverman Skewers Holiday Overkill

Sam Broverman is the Tom Lehrer of cabaret music. Like Lehrer, he’s a math professor with an insatiable love for parodies. His latest album A Jewish Boy’s Christmas is out just in time for the holidays and streaming at Spotify. The songs first took shape as part of what would become a spoofy annual concert. They’re sardonic, cynical, sometimes schmaltzy, other times absolutely priceless.

True to form, he covers Lehrer’s Hanukkah in Santa Monica, but adds some lyrics of his own, a litany of holidays too good to give away here. Then he does the first verse again – in what sounds, at least from a former Lower East Sider’s perspective, to be perfectly good Yiddish. If you want a translation of “Every California maid’ll find me playing with my dreydl,” this is where to find it.

What’s a Jew to Do on Christmas is a deadpan, faux-wistful swing ballad about Christmas envy. What if ham could be kosher for a day – and maybe shrimp too? Multi-instrumentalist Drew Jurecka’s clarinet echoes that sentiment over the judicious backdrop of Peter Hill on piano, Ross MacIntyre on bass and Ernesto Cervini on drums.

As one of several shout-outs to Jewish artists who’re responsible for famous Christmas songs, Mel Torme is represented twice. The Christmas Waltz is a duet with Broverman’s cabaret partner, chanteuse Whitney Ross-Barris. The other is The Christmas Song, a.k.a. Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire – it’s not Nat Cole, but Broverman nevertheless characterizes it as one of the album’s more “serious” songs. Oy.

Ross-Barris’ misty take of the British folk staple Coventry Carol is the best of the serious tunes here, a somber jazz waltz. Then Broverman flips the script with You’re Speaking Yiddish, an irresistibly dixieland-flavored litany of chazzerai, shiksas, kvelling shlemiels and such which have insinuated themselves into everyday English.

The First Noel Parody, featuring the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, casts a suspicious eye on members of the tribe who celebrate Christmas – hey, don’t laugh, in the old country the cossacks would leave you alone if you were ho-ho-hoing with everybody else.

Ross-Barris offers a brassy take of the Tom Waits classic Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis. Christmas Carol Parodies might be the album’s best track, a cautionary medley about holiday selfies, overindulgence and the Halloweenish experience of children’s concerts.

Broverman explains Swinging the Chicken as “a comedic look at the traditional Yom Kippur ritual ‘kapores,’ when a live chicken is passed overhead three times with the hope that it will help atone for one’s sins.” Mazel tov. Ken Whiteley plays slide guitar and Jurecka switches to fiddle in this ersatz western swing tale of poultry in motion. To call this one of the alltime great Christmas albums is akin to saying that Shoko Nagai is one of the world’s greatest Japanese klezmer accordionists. Such things do exist; this is one of them.

The World’s Funniest Jazz Band Return to Their Favorite Brooklyn Spot

What makes Mostly Other People Do the Killing so damn funny? They do their homework, they really know their source material and they can spot a cliche a mile away. Over the course of their dozen-album career, the world’s most consistently amusing jazz band have pilloried styles from hot 20s swing to post-Ornette obsessiveness. They also did a pretty much note-for-note recreation of Kind of Blue (that was their “serious” album). Their latest release, Loafer’s Hollow – streaming at Spotify – lampoons 1930s swing, Count Basie in particular. There’s an additional layer of satire here: ostensibly each track salutes a novelist, among them Vonnegut, Pynchon, Joyce, Cormac McCarthy and David Foster Wallace. The band return to their favorite Brooklyn haunt, Shapeshifter Lab on June 29 at around 8:15, with an opening duo set at 7 from their pianist Ron Stabinsky with adventurous baritone saxophonist Charles Evans. Cover is $10.

The band keeps growing. This time out the three remaining original members – bassist Moppa Elliott, multi-saxophonist Jon Irabagon and drummer Kevin Shea – join forces with Stabinsky, banjo player Brandon Seabrook, trombonist Dave Taylor and Sexmob trumpeter/bandeader Steven Bernstein, an obvious choice for these merry pranksters.

This is  a cautionary tale, one negative example after another. Respect for bandmates’ space? Appropriateness of intros, lead-ins, choice of places to solo or finish one? Huh?  For anyone who’s ever wanted to take their instrument and smash it over the head of an egocentric bandmate, this is joyous revenge. It also happens to be a long launching pad for every band member’s extended technique: theses guys get sounds that nobody’s supposed to.

It’s not easy to explain these songs without giving away the jokes. Let’s say the satire is somewhat muted on the first track, at least when it comes to what Seabrook is up to, Bernstein on the other hand being his usual self.

Honey Hole – a droll ballad, duh – is where the horns bust out their mutes, along with the first of the chaotic breakdowns the band are known for. Can anybody in this crew croon a little? We could really use a “Oh, dawwwwling” right about here.

A strutting midtempo number, Bloomsburg (For James Joyce) takes the mute buffoonery to Spike Jones levels. Kilgore (For Kurt Vonnegut) its where the band drops all pretense of keeping a straight face, from the cartoonish noir of the intro (Seabrook’s the instigator) to the bridge (not clear who’s who – it’s too much), to Stabinsky’s player piano gone berserk.

Stabinsky’s enigmatic, Messiaenic solo intro for Mason & Dixon (For Thomas Pynchon) is no less gorgeous for being completely un-idiomatic; later on, the band goes into another completely different idiom that’s just plain brutally funny. Likewise, Seabrook’s mosquito picking and Taylor’s long, lyrical solo in Meridian (For Cormac McCarthy) are attractive despite themselves. Maybe that’s the point – Blood Meridian’s a grim story.

The band returns to a more subtle satire – such that it exists here – with Glen Riddle (For David Foster Wallace), in many respects a doppelganger with the album’s opening track. They wind it up with Five (Corners, Points, Forks), which gives the gasface to Louis Armstrong – and reminds how many other genres other than jazz this band loves to spoof. As usual, there are tons of quotes from tunes both iconic and obscure:  this is the rare album of funny songs that stands up to repeated listening.

Not to be a bad influence, but these catchy, jaunty tunes reaffirm that if the band  really wanted, they could just edit out the jokes and then they’d be able to get a gig at any respectable swing dance hall in the world  Another fun fact: this album was originally titled Library (all MOPDtK albums are named after towns in Elliott’s native Pennsylvania). In researching the area, Elliott discovered that before it was Library, it was Loafer’s Hollow. The more things change, right?

Rachael Kilgour’s Soaring Lyrical Brilliance Holds a Lincoln Center Crowd Rapt

“This is satire,” Rachael Kilgour grinned as she launched into He’ll Save Me, the spot-on, searingly funny centerpiece of her most recent ep, Whistleblower’s Manifesto: Songs for a New Revolution, at her headline debut earlier this month at Lincoln Center .She explained that there have been instances where booking agents heard snippets of her music and passed on her, thinking that she was a Christian songwriter. Testament to the power of that satire.

“Mothers on welfare? Healthcare? Don’t you think I know better than to hand out rewards to sinners?” she sang as laughter broke out everywhere. And the punchline,“I know I’ll get my way, when it comes to Judgment Day,” was as subtly sinister as Kilgour possibly could have made it. Considering that she was following a brief performance by a generic folkie from Philadelphia whose own brand of corporate Prosperity Christianity that song lampoons, it made even more of an impact. It’s hard to think of a more deliciously subversive moment on any midtown Manhattan stage in 2016.

.While there are echoes of both Tift Merritt and Loretta Lynn in Kilgour’s resonant, nuanced mezzo-soprano, the closest comparison is Roy Orbison: Kilgour soars upward into the same kind of otherworldly, angst-ridden melismas. And she has the material to match that transcendent voice. The ache and anguish as she hit the chorus of Round and Round – which she sang a-cappella at the end, to drive it home – held the crowd rapt. Likewise, I Pray, a tender wish song for a lost soul, gave Kilgour a platform to swoop up into her most Orbisonesque chorus. Later she went back to simmeringly savage mode for a number that was ostensibly about forgiveness but turned out to be more of a kiss-off anthem. And In America, another satirical one where she finally dropped the smiley-faced Republican ingenue act for reality, drew the night’s most applause.

The two most heartwrenching numbers were dedicated to her stepdaughter. Kilgour herself teared up during the first one, and by the time she was done, there probably wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd. Kilgour explained that she’d gone through a divorce a couple of years ago, “And that sucked!” She related how her earlier material has a populist, global focus, and that writing herself through the pain was a new experience, one that she’s still getting used to. Kilgour wants to break down the barriers between performer and audience, which harks back to a hallowed folk music tradition, where pretty much everybody in the village was in the band. Ultimately, that leads to the kind of community-building Kilgour has focused on thus far in her relatively young career.

In context, the gallows humor of the catchy, swaying Will You Marry Me took on new and unintentionally ironic resonance. The rest of the set mixed low-key, simmering ballads with the kind of anthemic acoustic rock Kilgour does so well, many of the numbers drawn from her brand-new album Rabbit in the Road.

These free Lincoln Center Atrium shows, as the space’s program director, Jordana Phokompe explained beforehand, are designed to offer something for everyone. And she’s right – they do. Tonight’s performance at 7:30 PM features ecstatically fun Colombian-American psychedelic cumbia band MAKU Soundsystem. Considering how well their previous Lincoln Center performances have drawn, you should get to the space on Broadway between 62nd and 63rd early if you’re going.

A LMFAO New Album and a Union Square Show by Honkytonkers Trailer Radio

Right off the bat, the opening track of New York honkytonk band Trailer Radio‘s new album Country Girls Ain’t Cheap tells it like it is:

Out here in podunk
We aren’t very metro
Everybody’s drunk
Everybody’s hetero…
We don’t like it in the blue states
We can live without…
Sister bought a trailer
‘Cause she’s selling crystal meth
Brother aced his driver’s test
Bourbon on his breath…

And the story gets even more amusing from there. On one hand, Trailer Radio are a really funny cowpunk band whose lyrics are packed with jokes too good to give away here. On the other hand, they really nail a classic 60s honkytonk vibe, adding a corrosively cynical lyrical edge: urban country, 2016. The twin guitar attack of David Weiss and Mike Dvorkin combines for classics riff from the 60s on forward while frontwoman Shannon Brown channels a genuine West Virginia twang over the swinging rhythm section of bassist Joel Shelton and drummer Kenny Soule. The new album – streaming at the band’s music page – is characteristically sardonic, hilarious, and they’ve got a show on April 24 at 6 PM at Brother Jimmy’s Union Square, 116 E 16th St. (bet. Union Square East and Irving Place). Then on April 30 they’re at An Beal Bocht Cafe, 445 W 238th St. (near Graystone) in the Bronx at 9.

The album’s title track, an electrified bluegrass tune, skewers good ole boy machoness as much as it pillories the gold-digging women they chase. Set to a tasty, Rickenbacker guitar-fueled Sweetheart of the Rodeo shuffle, Dirt Queen offers a shout-out to an outdoorsy type who’e inseparable from her ATV. Then the band brings it down for the wry ballad Woe Is Me, where Brown explores the various ways women self-medicate.

One of the guy duets with Brown on Jimmy Jack’s Diner (located adjacent to a landfill), a sad reminder that not all mom-and-pop joints with “authentic country charm” are an improvement over Mickey D’s. Three Diamond Rings is one of the funniest numbers here, a shuffling honkytonk chronicle that revisits the gold-digger theme, but as a kiss-off anthem. Another electric bluegrass tune with some bristling banjo work, Jesus Loves You (But I’m on the Fence) is another really funny one: this dude can’t even keep his shit together on his wedding day.

The album’s hardest-rocking cut, The Bottom of Her Boots tells the tale of one vengeful ex who really goes on the warpath: not only does she throw her boyfriend’s stuff out, she paints his AK-47 pink and sells his twelve-point buck on Ebay. A spot-on Moe Bandy-style hard honkytonk hit, Tar Beach pays tribute to rooftop rednecks who“don’t fit in with those Jersey Shore Italians or the Hamptons and their snooty finery” and who are plenty content to hang out on the roof. The album winds up with a droll murder ballad, Big Day for Steffie, a Chuck Berry/Stones rocker with some ferocious, vintage Keith/Mick Taylor twin lead guitars. Shelton’s Eric Ambel-style purist production enhances the vintage sonics. Not only is this a great counyry and roots rock album, Brown’s sense of humor will have you in stitches whether or not y’all grew up surrounded by rednecks.

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.

Hang On In There Baby, Smoota’s Coming

Dave Smith is an elite trombonist whose background extends from jazz to funk and pretty much everywhere in between. He has a purist, bluesy style, is a strong, conversational improviser and a good listener. That’s why people like Elvis Costello and Rev. Vince Anderson enlist him as a sideman. Smith also has an alter ego: Smoota. Smoota plays a keytar onstage, wears his polyester shirt unbuttoned down to his bellybutton and sings (mmm hmmm, baby) seductive (yeah, I feel it) sex joints. Smoota’s music isn’t politically correct but it is funny as hell, and as a live performer, Smoota’s half-spoken deadpan come-ons are even more of a riot. His debut album, appropriately titled Fetishes, is streaming all the way through at his site.

Smoota follows the Prince sex-joint template by playing everything on the record – trombone, bass and Wurlitzer – over a gently trippy, mechanical beat from an early 70s Maestro Rhythm King drum machine. Vocally, he’s got the blue-eyed soul thing down cold. Tunewise, he plays vamping mid-70s style soul grooves using a blend of wryly oscillating and blipping keyboard textures But it’s the songs that everybody comes to hear: when this guy is at the top of his game, he’s as funny as Blowfly or Devin. Yet where those guys go over the top, Smoota’s shtick is innuendo: he’s a lot more sly.

On the opening track, over a slinky stripper bassline, Smoota goes on nonchalantly about a girl whose “dress is wet from all her sweat, and her lips suck….” you’ll have to guess the rest. I’m Sorry, which chronicles a bedroom situation that pretty much all of us, male and female, have encountered at some point, will leave you in convulsions. It’s funny just to think about, because it’s painfully accurate. It’s not clear whether the guy is just being a selfish pig, which makes it even funnier. Our Relationship, the album’s trippiest track, sets swirling Wurly over a brisk rocksteady bassline – and then the punchlines start coming fast and furious.

If You Let Me Be Your Knife has Smoota making a special just-for-you pass at a girl who happens to be a cuttter – real sexy, huh? Body to Body to Body is a stoner soul waltz that seems to be about a threesome, or maybe just a chronicle of turn-ons. On Criminal, Smoota psychedelically contemplates teenage lust. He finally breaks character on Much Too Much, another stoner soul waltz: this particular woman is just too high-maintenance.

Smoota mixes up the music, too – buffoonishly winking wah-wah Wurly in Fallin’ and Foolin’, a straight-up gorgeous oldschool blues trombone solo in the tiptoeing soul-pop vamp Black White Yellow Makes Blue. Pretty Poison toys with a droll 70s blaxpoloitation theme, while These Are the Things That Fuel My Desires makes twistedly amusing psychedelia out of a Bill Withers-style 70s groove. The album ends with My My My, which is as irresistibly funny as is is obvious. It’s one of the funniest and most original albums of recent months.

Queens of the Stone Age at Joe’s Pub?!?

Queens of the Stone Age at Joe’s Pub: makes you smile, right? If you’re a New Yorker and you know that band, that’s worth at least half a laugh: QOTSA rocking the hell out of that sedate, shi-shi venue? That concert may not exactly be on the horizon, but you can see an entire set of QOTSA songs there when Nouvelle Vague mastermind Olivier Libaux brings his Uncovered QOTSA project there on Oct 15 at 10. And it’s a lot different than his regular band. Nouvelle Vague have a polarizing effect: some love them for their sarcastic loungey covers of 80s music, from punk to new wave; others dislike them because they lampoon iconic bands (Joy Division, for one), or because Libaux’ satire is so scattershot. In his world, everything from the best to the schlockiest is fair game for a spoof. Libaux has a whole album of QOTSA covers just out, and not only is it very funny, it’s also very revealing. Stripped to their core, these are really good songs, some of them maybe even better than the originals! Even if the sarcasm drips off them like fresh camembert.

There are a dozen songs on the album, delivered by a parade of female vocalists from genres across the spectrum, indie rock to jazz to straight-up goth music. Libaux’s M.O. here is to turn the tracks into goth-pop, which works as well as it does because QOTSA’s tunes draw a straight line back to Sabbath with their macabre chromatics. The opening track, River in the Road has Rosemary Standley’s nonchalantly warm vocals over a sway that hints at trip-hop – and it might be creepier than the QOTSA version. Katharine Whalen sings Medication as a catchy oldtime swing shuffle, as Jolie Holland might have arranged it. Clare Manchon (of Clare & the Reasons) does a deliciously blithe take of Burn the Witch, reinventing it as droll goth-pop that wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Twilight.

Libaux’ Lynchian bossa arrangement of No One Knows, with Inara George on vocals, is the closest thing to Nouvelle Vague here. George also sings a lingering version of Hangin’ Tree. Susan Dillane’s faux-seductive goth delivery washes over carefree fingerpicked guitar and minor-key string synth on In My Head, while Skye sings 3/s and 7’s with hints of corporate “R&B” over funeral parlor organ and castanets: RZA might have done it this way.

Tangled Up in Plaid reaches for a Lynchian trip-hop swing with Gaby Moreno on the mic and, like a lot of the tracks here, manages to outdo the menace of the original despite itself. The comedic factor gets amped up when Ambrosia Parsley sings “I roll my bloodshot eyes,” on the devilishly droll cover of The Blood Is Love. Likewise, jazz chanteuse Youn Sun Nah’s deadpan “when I was a little boy” as Running Joke, done here as a mid-90s style Blonde Redhead-style waltz, gets underway. The Vegas-y space-pop version of Go with the Flow, with Emiliana Torrini on vocals, is as silly and over-the-top as Libaux gets here. The album winds up with Alela Diane singing a swaying, electric harpsichord-driven gothic cabaret take of I Never Came. Plenty of LOL moments here, especially if you know the source material (although some QOTSA fans might disagree vehemently). It’s also disquieting, something that Libaux seems to be going for, and if that’s the case he’s succeeded as mightily if a lot less loudly than the band that wrote these songs.

Avi Fox-Rosen’s Album-a-Month Steak Isn’t Dead

Since this past January, songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Avi Fox-Rosen has been releasing a new album (or at least an ep, to be precise) every month at his Bandcamp page as a name-your-price download. Has there ever been another rock artist who’s done that? He’s got two more months to go to bring the yearlong marathon full circle. Plenty of other artists, especially in the jazz and classical worlds, have pulled off similar feats – another multi-instrumentalist, Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal comes to mind. Then there’s John Zorn, who’s probably written or improvised at least one piece of music for every day he’s been alive.

Sheer volume aside, what makes Fox-Rosen’s stunt worth following – which this blog has done since day one – is that the music has been so consistently excellent. Of the ten albums Fox-Rosen has put out this year, only one of them is a dud, and that one is all cover songs. Whether this whole undertaking is just Fox-Rosen emptying a very deep songbook he’s been building for years, or coming up with new stuff month by month, isn’t clear, but it’s an impressive feat any way you look at it.

Having reviewed the initial release back in January, a mighty handful from February through June and then July and August together, it’s time to take a look at September and October’s releases. September‘s theme (each one of these explores a specific concept) finds Fox-Rosen confronting his Seventh Day Adventist roots (you didn’t think he was Jewish, did you? ha ha, jk…). One important thing to know about Fox-Rosen is his music has a dark, ironic (some might say Jewish) sense of humor. He is unsurpassed as a parodist…and the first song on this album sounds suspiciously like a spoof of indie whiteboy blues. The longer it goes on, the more he slurs his words. “I’ve lied, overcharging my credit card til the day I die,” he drawls. The second song, This Year, takes the dirty blues vibe in a White Light/White Heat direction – it reminds of Sway Machinery before that band discovered Malian music. Alone sets a gloomy existential lyric to pensive folk-rock, followed by the album’s real zinger, The God Who Lives in Your Head, where Fox-Rosen gets to do a pretty amusing one-man Oasis approximation. This particular deity is a real, um, meshugganeh: he’s a “meticulous accountant” who keeps a shit list, who watches you like a hawk, who “has a famously inflammable tongue – he gets dissed anytime anybody smiles, anytime anybody looks his damn way.” And he might resemble you more than you want to admit.  At the end of the album, Fox-Rosen finally lets down his guard with the broodingly catchy, nonchalantly haunting acoustic anthem Days Become Weeks Become Years. On this album, aside from a single percussion track from the ubiquitous Rich Stein, Fox-Rosen plays all the instruments.

The theme of October’s album is Scary. Here Fox-Rosen has a full band including Dave Melton on keys, Rima Fand on violin and Yoni Halevy and Chris Berry sharing the drum chair. The first track, Everybody Dies is basically Misirlou with lyrics and some snarling klezmer trumpet from Ben Holmes. Characteristically, Fox-Rosen’s black humor has a message:

Little boy, your german shepherd’s gonna die
The goldfish you won at the carnival’s definitely gonna die
Your teddy bear’s not gonna die
But the kids who sewed him at the factory are gonna die

Apocalypse Party is Fox-Rosen doing yet another one of his spot-on 80s imitations, in this case an irresistibly funny Prince parody. “This shit ain’t global warming, this heat’s not from the south,” he wants all the peeps banging in the VIP section to know. Terrified is a very different, and more subtle parody, a self-obsessed singer-songwriter contemplating the unthinkable fate of fading into obscurity – or simply into the background. When I’m Dead seems to be a spoof of hi-de-ho noir swing – and it would be a great song with or without the snidely macabre lyrics. October’s installment ends with I’ll Be Leaving, which is sort of a musical version of the movie Ghost…or something like that. It leaves the listener guessing to what degree it’s supposed to be funny or serious, one of Fox-Rosen’s signature traits and reason to look forward to what he’s got in store for November. He’s also got a couple of shows coming up, at 9 PM on Oct 10 at Pete’s and then at around 9 again on Oct 27 at Freddy’s.

A Fish Out of Water at the Dan Band at Stage 48

It’s an unseasonably gorgeous Thursday night over by the water in Hell’s Kitchen. By 8 PM, the tables at swanky triplex venue Stage 48 are mostly full. There are two distinct, and separate crowds here to see the Dan Band: one young, loud, starstruck and very El Lay, the other older, beefy, New Jersey. Loud rock standards play over the PA. A gaggle of drunken Jersey tiara witches, screaming and whistling, totters on six-inch heels to the second level  The stage crew test the smoke machine: it’s working. By around twenty after eight, a club employee takes the stage and offers a couple of drink tickets as a prize for imitating the character Alan from the movie The Hangover. This is starting to feel more and more like spring break. On the other hand, who can blame the half-dozen sheepish contestants – drinks here are expensive.

The Dan Band take the stage about forty-five minutes late. The bassist kills his first beer before the show starts: he’ll be mostly inaudible throughout the set. The drummer keeps things simple; it becomes obvious that there’s a lot more music on the laptop manipulated by the guitarist. – who turns out to be a solid, eclectic rock player – than is being played by the band. But they’re not who the crowd came to see.

Frontman Dan Finnerty first achieved notoriety for his role as the pottymouth wedding singer in the film Old School, leading to similar roles in the Todd Phillips movies Starsky and Hutch and The Hangover (which explains the pre-show contest). He’s wearing a backwards baseball cap, baggy pants, sneakers, a gas station attendant shirt with “Dan” on the nametag and a blue t-shirt underneath. The hat stays on for the whole show. He’s flanked by a duo of backup singers dressed in identical dorky thick-frame glasses and matching brown suits: the two guys look as if they could be twins but as it turns out they’re not. They’re both good singers, and Finnerty isn’t bad himself. But he’s not there to hit the notes: he’s there to skewer a whole lot of cheeseball pop songs, most of them from the past decade or so.

They open with a recent top 40 medley, doing it completely straight-up, which isn’t funny at all. They sound like an awful Long Island wedding band. Then they launch into an Abba medley and start to have some fun. A lot of this band’s shtick is pretty obvious: the guys singing songs written for women, white men struggling with the ebonics of hip-hop, the stage moves and the gang signs. But they have their American Idol parody down cold: the phony, simpering energy, the ridiculous boy-band choreography, the equally ridiculous props. The music may be corporate putrid, but the esthetic is pure oldschool punk rock. Finnerty’s contempt for the schlocky tunes is surpassed only by his contempt for the audience. His standup shtick is oldschool, Don Rickles doing Vegas, going into the crowd and ragging on random customers. Two girls enjoying a night out are singled out as lesbians; Finnerty hits on women who’re clearly with other guys, steals a dollar bill off someone’s table and uses it as a sweatrag. Later in the set, a drunk girl wearing a hat festooned what appear to be two illuminated, red plastic penises arrives at the edge of the stage and becomes a favorite target.

What Finnerty likes to spoof most is “R&B,” i.e. corporate pop sung by black people or white people imitating a black accent. And he could actually pull it off if he wanted to, it seems. But the joke is that he’s phoning it in – he doesn’t even try to stay on key, pepppering the lyrics with random obscenities. The big faux-sensitive crescendos get a predictable but irresistibly amusing over-the-top treatment. The backup guys’ stage moves are just as over-the-top: are they making fun of top 40 music videos, maybe?

As the show goes on, it becomes clear that Finnerty is phoning in not only the vocals but the standup: by the time he’s been up there a half an hour, he’s pretty much given up on assaulting the audience. Half the time, he’s got a bewildered smirk on his face, as if to say, I can’t believe I’m doing this at all, let alone getting paid a little something for it. And the crowd loves it! They don’t seem to be in on the joke, that they could see the exact same thing for a lot less at a karaoke bar or a show by a high school cover band.

Finnerty brings the performance to a climax with arguably the ultimate cheeseball power ballad, Total Eclipse of the Heart and then a mashup of the theme songs from Flashdance and Fame. He saves his best and most graphically obscene gesture for the end – a water bottle is involved – and gets called back for a couple of encores. On one hand, this band’s basic jokes get old fast, and the music, from the hip-hop to the dance-pop and occasional elevator-music ballad, reminds how nauseatingly cliched corporate pop has become over the past twenty years: after awhile, all the songs literally sound the same, with the same mechanical beat and phony hip-hop bridge. On the other, you have to love a guy who’s been able to make some money satirizing something he detests to this extreme, along with the people who, if they don’t love Finnerty’s source material, are at least familiar with it to the point where they know some of the words. The Dan Band have a monthly residency at Stage 48 if you feel like sharing Finnerty’s contempt. Just don’t sit too close to the stage.