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Tag: patti smith

Amy Rigby at the Peak of Her Rapturous Literary Powers in Alphabet City Last Night

Last night at Berlin Amy Rigby was a riveting, intense, spring-loaded presence, swaying and stabbing at the air with the headstock of her guitar. She’d brought two for this solo show: a lusciously jangly Danelectro twelve-string, and a standard-issue acoustic for the punkier stuff.

About midway through, somebody interrupted her with a request. Rigby considered it but then admitted she’d forgotten what key it’s in, adding that she’d retired it after a critic had taken her to task for being too self-effacing.

In reality, Rigby definitely qualifies as humble, but her characters – single moms and struggling musicians in particular – don’t put themselves down as much as they just get worn down by having to surmount one obstacle after another. Like Ray Davies, a counterpart from an earlier era, Rigby is populist to the core, and even funnier than he is. Where Davies falls back on British vaudeville, Rigby draws on both Americana and classic powerpop, among other styles. And she’s more specifically literary.

Case in point: an offhandedly savage take of From philiproth@gmail to rzimmerman@aol.com, the wickeldy catchy, jangly shout-out to Dylan winning the Nobel Prize that opens Rigby’s latest album, The Old Guys. Just the premise of the song is hilarious. That Rigby offers a degree of sympathy for the wannabe sending his own halfhearted shout-out before her knockout of a punchline speaks to her prowess as a storyteller. She probably won’’t ever be enshrined in that corporate museum in Cleveland, but in the secret history of rock music, she’s a first-ballot hall-of-famer. Patti Smith times Elvis Costello divided by Skeeter Davis equals Amy Rigby – more or less.

Much as there were plenty of even more amusing moments, there’s always been a lot of gravitas in Rigby’s work and this set was loaded with it. She opened with Bobblehead Doll, a haggard, depleted narrative whose mantra is “What was it all for?” As she sometimes does, she coyly referenced a classic from her Nashville days in Are We Still There Yet, a fond look back at an era where cds and cassettes weren’t yet being left in boxes at random streetcorners.

A gorgeous, expansive take of Summer of My Wasted Youth was even more bittersweet. On a personal level, the screaming subtext is about having a hard time letting go of a pre-parenthood, pre-divorce rock & roll lifestyle. In historical context, it’s nothing short of shocking: there actually was a time in New York when an unemployment check could not only cover Manhattan rent but also the occasional tab at a cheap Greenpoint Polish bar.

Knapsack, a cleverly constructed tale about an unrequited crush on a bookstore security guy (at the old Borders on Church St., maybe?) was just as poignant. Rigby recounted how she’d written the wistful Tex-Mex flavored Back From Amarillo as a salute to the city, something that went little-noticed when she got to the venue because there wasn’t much of a crowd. She picked up the pace with The President Can’t Read, a savage swipe at the bozo in the Oval Office and kept the energy going with Hometown Blues, an uneasy bigup to her Pittsburgh hometown and all its quirks.

The funniest song of the night was Men in Sandals, a perplexed look at how anyone aspiring to any kind of macho heroism could wear them – it could be Mets broadcaster Howie Rose’s theme song. Rigby grew more somber toward the end of the set, reading a colorful excerpt about a college boyfriend from a forthcoming memoir and then playing a subdued, elegaic take of Bob, a song from the new album memorializing the late Lou Reed fanatic who obviously had a major impact on a future songwriting legend. She closed with Don’t Ever Change, which stops just short of exasperation in the latest chapter of a lifelong search for simple contentment. That’s just one reason why Rigby’s work resonates so universally.

Playing solo, just bass and vocals, Faith bandleader Felice Rosser built a magical, misty ambience with her catchy changes, looming chords, subtle slides and her otherworldly, Nina Simone-esque soul voice to open the evening. You might not think that just a Fender Precision and a mic would be enough to fill a room, but Rosser held the crowd rapt. With the Corinthian columns at the edge of the little stage, “It was like being in a temple,” as Rigby put it.

Rigby’s next gig is somewhere in Ojai, California on June 16. Her tour page doesn’t say where or when,

A Spare, Edgy, Incisive Jazz Poetry Album From Brilliant Violinist Sarah Bernstein

Sarah Bernstein has to be the most fearlessly protean violinist in any style of music. Just when you think you have her sussed, she completely flips the script. Beyond her brilliance as an improviser, she’s a master of eerie microtonal music. As a result, she’s constantly in demand, most recently this past weekend at Barbes as part of thereminist Pamelia Stickney’s hypnotically haunting quartet.

But Bernstein’s best music is her own. Her previous release, Propolis was a live benefit album for Planned Parenthood with an alternately stormy and squirrelly improvisational quartet including Alexis Marcelo on keys, Stuart Popejoy on bass and Nick Podgursky on drums. Her latest release, Crazy Lights Shining – streaming at Bandcamp – is with her Unearthish duo featuring percussionist Satoshi Takeishi, a return to the acerbic jazz poetry she was exploring a few years ago. Patti Smith’s adventures in ambient music are a good comparison; Jane LeCroy’s Ohmslice project with Bradford Reed on electronics is another. Bernstein’s playing the album release show on a great triplebill on May 30 at around 10 PM at Wonders of Nature; cover is $10. Similarly edgy, eclectic loopmusic violinist Laura Ortman opens solo at 8, followed by fearlessly relevant no wave-ish songwriter Emilie Lesbros.

“Come in to feel free, no fear,” Bernstein’s echoey, disemodied voice beckons as the album’s initial soundscape, For Plants gets underway. Takeishi’s playfully twinkling bells mingle with Bernstein’s shimmery ambience and resonant, emphatic vocalese.

Bernstein has never sung as storngly as she does here, particularly in the delicately dancing, sardonic Safe:

No one can find you
No one can eat you
You’re not alive
You are safe

Is that a balafon that Takeishi’s using for that rippling, plinking tone, or is that  Bernstein’s violin through a patch?

She subtly caches her microtones in the deceptively catchy, balletesque leaps and bound of Map or Meaningless Map:

…A calm enthusiasm should suffice
The fuzziness of an empty sleep
The rush to extrovert, sure thing!
Expressing can feel like living…

Bernstein’s uneasily echoey pizzicato blends with Takeishi’s rattles in the album’s title track, which could be the metaphorically-charged account of a suicide…or just an escape narrative. In the instrumental version of The Place, the two musicians build from a spare, slowly shifting mood piece to a slowly marching crescendo. A bit later in the vocal version, Bernstein sings rather than speaks: “There are war crimes and recipes and kisses remaining,” she muses.

The acerbically brief Drastic Times starts out as a snippy cut-and-paste piece:

Drastic times require tragic measures?
We live under a system (drastic)
…Like anyplace where thought control is under physical control
..Maybe that will change when the rest has exploded
Drastic time
Maybe that is something to look forward to!

Little Drops follows an allusively twisted narrative into chaos, in the same vein as Meaghan Burke’s most assaultive work. The album’s final cut is the kinetic Four Equals Two, its catchiest and seemingly most composed number, complete with a nifty little drum solo. Count this among the most intriguingly relevant albums of 2018.

The Top Thirty New York City Concerts of 2016

An informed snapshot of some of the most amazing performances across the five boroughs from a year that started out with some promise and ended with the whole world on edge and dreading the worst. Of all this blog’s year-end lists, including the 50 Best Albums and 100 Best Songs of 2016, this one’s the most fun to put together. And the most most individualistic: everybody’s got their own favorite concert moments. While it wouldn’t be hard to think of a hundred from the past year that deserve mention, that would be overkill. It all comes down to triage: apologies to the dozens of artists who played transcendent shows in this city in 2016 who aren’t represented here because of space constraints. Next year, dudes!

Concerts are listed chronologically; the very first one could be the best of the bunch.

Karla Rose at 11th St. Bar, 1/6/16
With her allusive lyrics, her silken voice and enigmatic stage presence, Karla Rose personifies noir. In 2016, out in front of her psychedelic, darkly cinematic twin-guitar band Karla Rose & the Thorns, she played Webster Hall, opened for first-wave punk legends the Dickies and the king of powerpop, Paul Collins. But her most intriguing show of all might have been this low-key trio set with World Inferno bassist Sandra Malak and pianist Frank LoCrasto, unveiling several new, mysterious numbers.

The 35th Anniversary of BC Studios, 1/15-16/16
Producer/guitarist/art-rocker/professional antagonist Martin Bisi booked a global cast of talent to perform and record a long timeline to commemorate his legendary Gowanus space, which might not last much longer if it isn’t landmarked. Highlights of the marathon weekend included slinky jazz punks Barbez, goth legend JG Thirlwell, haunting Middle Eastern noir singer and bandleader Ajda the Turkish Queen, a historic reunion of legendary 80s noiserock band Live Skull – who, back in the day, were better than Sonic Youth – and Bisi himself.

Gato Loco at Joe’s Pub, 1/29/16
The mighty psycho mambo band ambushed the audience with a battalion of baritone sax snipers throughout the space to bolster their explosive, darkly majestic reinventions of themes from the Verdi Reqiuem

Greg Squared’s Circle at Barbes, 3/6/16
The pyrotechnic multi-reedman and co-leader of Raya Brass Band – who’ve made frequent appearances on this page over the last few years – brought a bunch of A-list Brooklyn Balkan talent to work out about two hours’ worth of epically explosive new original pieces

Big Lazy and Mercury Radio Theater at Barbes, 4/1/16
The cinematic noir legends continue their monthly Friday night residency at Brooklyn’s best music venue; pound for pound, this twinbill, with the ferocious Philadelphia circus punk band, was probably the best of the bunch. Big Lazy’s best gig without a supporting act was probably this past May at the Lively, a great little Meatpacking District basement bar that lasted only a few weeks.

Kinan Azmeh and Erdem Helvacioglu at Spectrum, 4/9/16
Syrian clarinetist and Turkish guitarist join forces for a smoky, sinisterly ambient depiction of the horrors of war. Keep your eyes out for a forthcoming album of this material.

The Bright Smoke at Mercury Lounge, 4/14/16
Mia Wilson’s harrowingly intense art-rock band took their dynamic, explosively crescendoing live show to the next level at this one: it wouldn’t be overhype to say that they’re the closest thing to Joy Division that New York’s ever produced.

Greek Judas and Choban Elektrik at Barbes, 4/28/16
Greek Judas play careening psychedelic metal versions of classic hash-smoking and gangster music from Greece and Cyprus in the 20s and 30s. Choban Elektrik do the same with themes from across the Balkans, with organ and violin out front instead of screaming guitars. A real wild night, sort of like seeing the Doors and Iron Maiden on the same bill somewhere in the Aegean.

Ambrosia Parsley, Chris Maxwell and Holly Miranda at Hell Phone, 5/5/16
Short sets from the goth-tinged songbird and then the Arkansas gothic songwriter, followed by a raptly intense set from the cult favorite noir Americana singer, who showed off her chops on bothTelecaster and piano.

The Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York at I-Beam, 5/17/16
The room was so packed it was impossible to get inside, after the start of the great jazz pianist/composer/conductor’s shattering, angst-drenched suite reflecting horror and terror in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown on March 11, 2001. Watch out for the forthcoming album.

Eden Lane at Caffe Vivaldi, 5/29/16
Velvet-voiced jazz chanteuse Stephanie Layton channeled a century’s worth of existential angst and longing in front of her tightly swinging band, with a set packed with obscure treats from across the ages, including a vivid detour into the Erik Frandsen songbook.

Goddess, Ember Schrag and David Grubbs at a private party in Brooklyn, 6/3/16
Unsettlingly theatrical psychedelia, opaquely venomous Shakespeare-influenced Great Plains gothic songs and vast, deep-space guitarscapes to wind up one of the funnest nights of the year.

Lorraine Leckie at Pangea, 6/8/16
Backed by a tight, stripped-down version of her incendiary band the Demons, the eclectic songstress treated an intimate audience to everything from noir cabaret  to surrealistic art-rock. Her full-throttle Bowery Ballroom gig in November might have been even better.

 Attack and Tipsy Oxcart at Barbes, 7/5/16
Violinist Marandi Hostetter’s slinky, classic Levantine bellydance group made a great opener for the boombastic Balkan/Middle Eastern dance jamband.

Mariachi Flor De Toloache and Patti Smith at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, 7/20/16
The all-female Mexican-American folk ensemble mesmerized the crowd with a plaintive set that ranged from mariachi, to rancheras, to some sly psychedelic rock. Then the queen of dark downtown New York art-rock and her band scorched through a characteristically fearless, defiantly populist, epic set of classic anthems and poignant newer material.

Robin Aigner and Kotorino at Barbes, 7/21/16
Brooklyn’s most deviously lyrical, torchy historical songwriter/chanteuse and her excellent, swinging Americana band followed by the darkly intense, phantasmagorical circus rock/art-rock/mambo crew

The Sway Machinery and Hydra at Joe’s Pub, 8/4/16
The debut of the ongoing collaboration between the psychedelic cantorial rock jamband and singer/composer Sarah Small’s lustrous, haunting Middle Eastern/Balkan trio with Yula Beeri and Rima Fand was every bit as entrancing as it promised to be.

Sandcatchers at Barbes, 8/9/16
Surfy, uneasy, richly psychedelic Middle Eastern jamband with a lapsteel along with guitar. Wow!

Bombay Rickey at Barbes, 8/12/16
Powerhouse singer/accordionist Kamala Sankaram brought her four-octave vocal range and also a sitar to a characteristically serpentine set of psychedelic cumbias, Bollywood, southwestern gothic themes and an electric take of a classic Indian raga.

Dan Penta at Sidewalk, 8/14/16
“Now that’s songwriting,” marveled one listener gathered in the back room of the East Village shithole where the harrowing, surrealistically intense frontman of great, obscure New York bands like Jagged Leaves, the Larval Organs and Hearth played a relatively rare solo set of relentlessly doomed anthems and dirges.

The Chiara String Quartet play Bartok from memory at National Sawdust, 8/30/16
The group’s new double-disc set of the complete Bartok quartets has a bristling, conversational quality, echoed by this performance of the sullen Quartet No. 1 and the chilling Quartets Nos. 3 and 5

Ben Holmes and Patrick Farrell at Barbes, 9/3/16
The hauntingly tuneful trumpeter and his longtime Yiddish Art Trio bandmate, pyrotechnic accordionist Farrell, played their creepy, carnivalesque new Conqueror Worm Suite, based on the Edgar Allen Poe poem.

Ensemble Fanaa at Rye Bar, 9/7/16
Otherworldly, microtonal tenor saxophonist Daro Behroozi’s eerily trippy gnawa-jazz trio with bassist/gimbri player John Murchison and drummer Dan Kirfirst slayed at their debut at Barbes back in July. They were even better in this cozy downstairs South Williamsburg boite.

Anbessa Orchestra at Barbes, 9/9/16
The fiery guitar-and-horn-driven Ethiopian psychedelic funk band put on a pretty ferocious show here back in May. This one was even hotter, sweatier and wilder, with some auspicious new material.

Hearing Things at Barbes, 9/11/16
Another band who slayed at a Barbes show that earned a rave review here, but whose next gig at the Park Slope hotspot was even hotter. Saxophonist Matt Bauder, organist JP Schlegelmilch and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza spun and stomped and slunk their way through a darkly psychedelic mix of surf and go-go originals.

The Allah-Las at Baby’s All Right, 9/17/16
About an hour and a half of lushly catchy three-minute retro psychedelic jangle, clang and twang, fueled by the overtone mist from Pedrum Siadatian’s twelve-string. That the best song of the night was a surf instrumental speaks to the quality of this band’s tunes.

The Attacca String Quartet and Jeff Lynne’s ELO at Radio City, 9/18/16
A bucket-list show. The Attaccas impressed with their ability to hold a sold-out crowd who didn’t seem likely to have any interest in composers like John Adams, but the ensemble kept their attention with a blazing, smartly curated mini-set. Visionary art-rocker Lynne’s band included only one remaining member from the iconic mid-70s lineup, and they played mostly radio hits instead of deep album cuts. But the new, young-ish ensemble was stoked to share the stage with one of the world’s alltime great tunesmiths, and he sang as strongly as he did forty years ago. Not bad for a guy who notoriously hated touring and playing live.

Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society at National Sawdust, 10/2/16
Along with the Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York’s Fukushima suite, this was the most intense show of the year, the composer/conductor stern and enigmatic out in front of his mighty big band as they blustered and lurked through his crushingly relevant new conspiracy theory-inspired suite

Satomi Fukami, Masayo Ishigure and others at Merkin Concert Hall, 10/5/16
A feast of spiky, interwoven Japanese koto sounds. featuring the music of legendary 20th century koto virtuoso and composer Michio Miyagi

LJ Murphy in the East Village, 10/8/16
The charismatic noir blues bandleader was at the top of his game, skewering security state paranoia, smarmy East Village gentrifiers and little Hitlers of all kinds while his explosive three-guitar band the Accomplices careened and roared behind him.

Steve Ulrich and Mamie Minch at Barbes, 10/14/16
The debut live collaboration between this era’s definitive noir film composer and the darkly compelling resonator guitarist/blueswoman, a live score to Windsor McCay’s pioneering early animated film The Flying House, turned out to be even more haunting than expected. Then they played some blues, and some Johnny Cash

Sahba Motallebi at Symphony Space, 10/21/16
This concert never could have been staged in the pyrotechnic tar lute virtuoso’s Teheran hometown, because she’s a woman. Her slashing volleys of tremolo-picking and whirlwind riffage were pure adrenaline. That this was a duo performance with another woman musician, percussionist Naghmeh Farahmand made this a special slap upside the head of Islamofascists everywhere.

The Spectrum Symphony with organists Janos Palur and Balint Karosi at St. Peter’s Church, 11/4/16
Possibly this century’s only New York performance of concertos for organ and orchestra featured a richly textural take of the Poulenc concerto plus the world premiere of Korosi’s menacingly cinematic Second Concerto for Organ, Percussion and Strings plus works by Mendelssohn and Bach. Pound for pound, the most mighty, titanic, epic show probably staged anywhere in this city this year.

In 2015, women artists ruled this list; this year, acts were split evenly along gender lines. Tellingly, even more so than last year, about sixty percent of these shows were either free or a pass-the-bucket situation. Clearly the action in this city, in terms of live music at least, is on the ground floor.

Slashing, Fearlessly Populist Classic Detroit-Style Rock from Sulfur City

Sulfur City evoke the hard-charging, uncompromising Murder City garage-punk intensity of Radio Birdman and Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, with elements of retro soul, psychedelia, a little funk and a fearlessly populist political sensibility. But they’re not from Detroit or Australia: they hail from Sudbury, in northeast Ontario. Their album Talking Loud is streaming at Soundcloud. And it’s one of the best four-on-the-floor rock records of the year.

The opening track, Whispers, is anything but. It’s basically a frenetic one-chord minor-key jam over a stomping hardcore punk pulse. The way frontwoman Lori Paradis bends her notes with just a hint of plaintive angst, she sounds a lot like the Passengers’ Angie Pepper with a slightly lower voice. Keith Breit’s organ interlude midway through is unexpected, and wouldn’t be out of place in the Radio Birdman songbook either.

The defiant War Going On, with its funky, organ-fueled sway, connects the dots between the grotesqueness of consumer capitalism and combat – is the reference to “plastic-wrapped people” a dis, or a grisly image of battlefield casualties?

Pockets is a sort of mashup of Bo Diddley, Rare Earth and the MC5 at their most populist and confrontational, with a snide gospel interlude. With its smoky organ, Ride With Me has a Sticky Fingers latin soul groove. It ‘s hard to figure out whether Paradis’ vengeful wail in Don’t Lie to Me is channeling the wrath of an abused woman, or if this is an S&M anthem. Jesse Lagace’s eerie slide guitar bends and warps through the gritty boogie backdrop of Sold, revisiting an ages-old, devilishly bluesy theme.

Highways, a ghoulabilly shuffle, keeps the lurid intensity going up to a tumbling, bluesy piano solo straight out of the Pip Hoyle playbook. With its intertwining minor-key guitar leads, the ominously elegaic murder ballad Johnny could be an outtake from Radios Appear with a woman out in front of the band. The album’s most epic track, One Day in June is a brisk noir blues in 6/8, fueled by Lagace’s slide guitar and Paradis’ grim, Patti Smith-ish vocals. It’s an apt post-election anthem: “We tell ourselves it’ll be ok, this too shall pass, everything must change,” Paradis intones. “The end of November and the leaves have all gone, and the air is cold and the snow’s about to fall, standing with my palms raised up to the sky.”

By contrast, Raise Hammer is a sarcastic Celtic punk number with layers of gritty open-tuned guitars and a carnivalesque organ solo. The album winds up with You Don’t Know Me, a gutter blues shuffle in an early 80s Gun Club vein. Lots of flavors and plenty of tunefulness from a group with great influences that seems to be on the verge of similar greatness.

Mariachi Flor de Toloache and Patti Smith Play an Unforgettable Opening to This Year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival

What was most miraculous about Patti Smith’s performance yesterday evening, opening this year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival, was that everybody who wanted to get in to see her was able to. That may seem bizarre, considering how far the line snaked around Damrosch Park and down Columbus Avenue before the gates opened at six, but by the end of the night, everybody was in, there was plenty of room and if everybody wasn’t listening attentively – most were – at least the crowd seemed contented. Prospective concertgoers should be aware that this year, in the wake of the tragedies in Paris and Nice, the security staff here are checking everybody’s bags. But they did that quickly and efficiently, and even courteously, something that should be the case everywhere but is not. Getting practically strip-searched by the sadistic door crew at Brooklyn Bowl Tuesday night was beyond the pale: that venue most assuredly won’t ever get any coverage at this blog again.

But Lincoln Center Out of Doors will, because even by cynical New York standards, this concert was transcendent, and there are several on this year’s slate that are equally enticing – the full schedule is here. The all-female Mariachi Flor de Toloache opened the night auspiciously with a tantalizingly brief set that ran short of forty minutes. Frontwoman Mireya Ramos dazzled the crowd with her soaring vocal range and her lightning chops on the violin, backed by her bandmates on bajo sexto, guitars and percussion. Ramos’ originals ran the gamut from plaintively waltzing to bouncy quasi-schoolyard rhymes, with a couple of playful detours into Led Zep and a less successful grunge remake. While the group – who take their name from the moonflower, which is reputedly an aphrodisiac – have a thing for the stately, dramatic strains of classic mariachi music, they transcend that genre. They closed with an irrepressibly jaunty, snazzily harmonized, Andrews Sisters-inspired arrangement of the jazz standard Blue Skies, a hint that this group has even more up their collective sleeves.

Smith told the crowd that she’d been asked to read a lot, in lieu of playing, but then added that she didn’t always do what she’s told. And drew lots of applause for a couple of poignant reminiscences of her Chelsea Hotel days with Robert Mapplethorpe, from her wildly popular memoir Just Kids. Then she led the band – her daughter Jesse Paris Smith on keys and longtime supporting cast Lenny Kaye on lead guitar, Tony Shanahan on bass and J.D. Daugherty on drums – through a mix of crowd-pleasers and unexpected treats. They opened with a delicate, slowly waltzing version of Wing, then picked up the pace immediately with a bristling Dancing Barefoot, the prototype for a million janglerock hits or would-be hits. Pouncing, intense versions of Summer Cannibals and Ghost Dance followed: Smith was on a roll and building to something that would prove to as unforgettable and impossible to turn away from as it was characteristically relevant.

A toweringly elegaic, organ-fueled take of This Is the Girl brought down the volume but raised the intensity. Introducing a tensely waltzing take of Break It Up, the bandleader explained how the song was based on Jim Morrison appearing to her in a dream as a marble statue in chains, finally breaking free and flying off to “his next adventure,” as Smith put it. The highlight of the show, musically at least, was a searing if relatively brief and almost unrecotnizable take of Radio Ethiopia, opening with a misty, hypnotic wash of acoustic guitar and building to a firestorm where Smith lashed out at the Donald Trump camp for calling for Hillary Clinton’s execution. In a long, heated address to the crowd, Smith reasserted that “This isn’t the American way,” and railed at the media for being lapdogs to the Trump crowd. Ultimately, Smith’s message is what it’s always been: “We want peace, we want love, we want to be fucking free!”

From there, the dynamic sweep of the rest of the show ranged from a soft electric piano-driven easy-listening radio take of of Peaceable Kingdom, matched by a cover of Prince’s When Doves Cry, to the garage-rock energy of  the Stones’ The Last Time. From there they made a familiar run-through of Because the Night and then hit an apt coda with People Have the Power. And then segued into the Who’s My Generation, complete with Shanahan doing a spot-on John Entwistle impersonation on the bass breaks, his treble turned all the way up. As the rhythm disintegrated and the band descended into a cauldron of noise, Smith alluded to the righteous wrath of Rock & Roll Nigger, but never ended up going there as the group left their instruments to feed into the amps. As she’d been doing all night, Smith chose a moment and let it speak for itself.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors may not have anything this politically charged coming up, but the rest of the festival is as excellent and eclectic as past years have been. Tonight features gospel and jazz; tomorrow there’s a concerto and a symphony by Mozart; Sunday has haunting psychedelic bolero band Miramar opening for salsa dura legends Richie Ray & Bobby Cruz. And that’s just this weekend. The secret to getting in seems to be not to wait for hours in the blasting heat before he gates open, but to show up about 45 minutes early, i.e. around 6:45 when the diehards are already seated.

 

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.

A Riveting Patti Smith Premiere at the French Institute

Considering that France is spiritual home to Patti Smith‘s music and art, it made sense that she would premiere her latest composition, Killer Road, at the French Institute last night. At the sold-out show at the Institute’s Florence Gould Hall, she worked a somewhat more low-key take on the spontaneous, literary-inspired performance art magic of her early collaborations with Lenny Kaye, but with 21st century production values.

Killer Road is an atmospheric electroacoustic setting of the last poems written by legendary gothic chanteuse Nico, with music provided by Smith’s daughter Jesse Paris Smith in tandem with indie classical chamber ensemble Soundwalk Collective. The trio – Stephan Crasneanscki, Simone Merli and Kamran Sadeghi – moved nimbly between mixers and singing bowls while Smith fille – trained as a pianist -colored the music with percusssion, glockenspiel and a mysterious bowed instrument (an Ethiopian riti?) when she wasn’t rubbing the inside of the bowls for lingering, resonant washes of sound, often in gentle harmony. Meanwhile, samples of Nico’s harmonium emanted from the mixing desk, along with found sounds from the seaside and the forest, an ironic juxtaposition with Nico’s doomed, imagistic texts.

It would be an exaggeration to explain them away as a self-penned obituary: that describes pretty much everything Nico ever wrote from day one. Smith mère parsed them pensively, often landing on a central phrase and running it like a musical loop for extra emphasis. When she broke the fourth wall, that was welcome comic relief from the relentless bleakness of what she’d been reading and occasionally singing, the shamanistic, mesmerizing quality of the latter bringing to mind the work of Patti Smith-influenced songwriter Randi Russo. Interesting how these things come full circle, isn’t it?

As the show revealed, the erstwhile Krista Paffgen wrote these lyrics not in her native German but in the English in which she recorded most of her songs. Many of them were fragmentary, speaking of utter desolation, abandonment and despair. Some rather tender lines seemingly dedicated to her son intimated that he would be surrounded by insensitivity and cluelessness, yet he’d rise above it all (a little projecting on mom’s part, maybe?). Though Nico is remembered as an existentialist icon, if her lyric junkyard is to be taken at face value, there were mentions of an afterlife and a possible reference to her father, whom she lost at a young age. There was also occasional bleak humor, notably a sarcastic dig at a nameless guy whose self-described empty heart didn’t stop him from writing her love songs. And the coda, with its references to bent spokes on a bicycle wheel – Nico died at the handlebars of hers, in a ditch in Ibiza after nodding off on heroin – seemed to be the point at which Smith gave a graceful adieu to an artist who’d inspired her more than it might seem. Then again, it’s hard to think of an edgy woman songwriter who came of age forty years ago who wasn’t influenced by Nico.

This concert was part of the French Institute’s current Crossing the Line festival of avant garde performance. Upcoming musical events include 600 Highwaymen‘s creepy collaboration with David Cale, Employee of the Year – performed by six girl actors and told from the point of view of a gradeschooler who loses her home and family in a fire – on October 15-16, and then sound sculptor Ryoji Ikeda‘s futuristic multimedia extravaganza, Superposition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Oct 17-19.

Two Intense Guitarists Steal the Show at the Mercury

Wednesday’s show at the Mercury ultimately boiled down to great lead guitar. Expat Australian five-piece band Reserved For Rondee are tight and talented, lead player Billy Magnussen proving to be the star of that particular show. You might assume that a band opening for the Last Internationale would think segue, backloading their set with the heavy stuff. Reserved for Rondee did the opposite. Then again, like so many bands from down under, they have zero regard for convention, mixing up genres that make no sense at all together. And most of the time it worked. Early 70s stoner rock with disco bass and drums? Check. Classic Motown mashed up with new wave, but heavier? Doublecheck. But the their best stuff came early in the set, Magnussen firing off searing, lickety-split blues riffage over beats that drummer Warren Hemenway switched up effortlessly from funky to dinosaurian, in an In Through the Out Door way. Rhythm guitarist Nick Focas and bassist Tom Degnan supplied the catchy changes as Magnussen spun through volleys of icy bluesmetal, hitting his volume pedal, mixing up the reverb and delay and a little later, wailing through a vintage analog chorus effect for a deliciously shivery, watery tone.

The only song that didn’t work, at least musically, was a shout-out to the band’s new home, Bushwick. First there was some shameless borough-centric namechecking in the same vein as what bands like the Easybeats were doing 45 years ago, tossing around gratuitous American references in hopes of scoring a hit here. But then there was a surprise: the gentrifiers at the center of the song see their “boutique everything” world disintegrate and end up on the street with their less fortunate neighbors!

By the time the Last Internationale hit the stage, the place was packed. Guitarist Edgey Pires comes from the same place as Magnussen, although his brand of blues is more unhinged and raw, part Fred “Sonic” Smith, part Jon Spencer. Where Magnussen varied his textures,  trebly Fender Twin natural distortion was enough for Pires to work with, delivering highs that shrieked and whined when he wasn’t flailing his way through terse, hypnotic vamps, wielding his reverb-fueled chords and savage, bluesy swipes like a machete. Frontwoman Delila Paz began the show playing a gorgeous vintage Vox Teardrop bass, switched to acoustic guitar a little later and then put it down for the rest of the show, swaying and belting with an impassioned, throaty intensity and a wide-angle vibrato. Most of the set was new songs from a forthcoming album due out later this summer, the best of which, We Will Reign, sounded like Patti Smith fronting the MC5. Both comparisons extend beyond the music to Paz’s defiant, confrontational lyrics. Her most memorable line reflected how quickly a hippie peace-and-love vibe collapses when the cops show up and send in the stormtroopers. Strangely, Paz’s most intense moment behind the mic – an anguished a-cappella gospel interlude – was the one place where she lost the crowd. Then drummer Brad Wilk (formerly of Rage Against the Machine) kicked in and everybody shut up and listened.

Green Party Lieutenant Governor candidate Brian Jones introduced the set and explained his platform. Universal single-payer healthcare met with barely any response, but when Jones mentioned returning to this state’s previous, decades-long policy of free college tuition at New York State schools, the crowd roared. And They responded even more energetically to raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Jones backloaded his own little set by promising to legalize marijuana if elected and received the kind of cheers you would expect from a crowd in a city whose new mayor hasn’t delivered on his own vow to back off on pot busts.

Unselfconsciously Intense, Insightful, Vivid Tunesmithing from Sharon Goldman

Sharon Goldman is one of the most criminally underrated tunesmiths of the last ten years. Lately she’s split her time between leading her own band, playing solo or as one-half of lyrical folk-pop duo the Sweet Bitters (whose impromptu show this past spring was one of the most memorable concerts anywhere in New York this year). And as much as her clear, unaffectedly shining vocals were always a strong suit, lately her voice has taken on a lot more gravitas: she has become a shattering singer. On her new album Silent Lessons, she channels both the subtlest and the most overwhelming emotions with a gentle and graceful understatement that’s all the more haunting for how quiet it is.

Her lyrics are a clinic in how to paint an indelible picture with the simplest images and symbols. Although Goldman can be uproariously funny, her songs tend to be brooding, if sometimes guardedly optimistic. As usual, her band is fantastic: Thad DeBrock (who also produced) working his typical magic, building a glimmering web of acoustic and electric guitars, adding elegant touches from piano and keys over the terse groove of bassist Jeff Allen and drummer Doug Yowell.

The opening track, Left Turn takes a mundane, random bike ride through the neighborhood and turns it into a haunting tale of restlessness and spinning one’s wheels: Springsteen would have done well to have written this thirty years ago. As Goldman’s narrator sees it, she’s almost invisible as she pedals her way around the block: she “can’t get lost or found.” Debrock’s judiciously jangling, artfully layered guitars slowly build to an uneasy lushness. Likewise, the nebulous, wintry atmospherics of Her Secret underscore the story of a woman alone on the train platform, knowing that her clandestine affair is only keeping her in a rut. And Goldman’s terse fingerpicking in tandem with Noah Hoffeld’s stark cello provide a shadowy backdrop for Amy, someone’s mysterious, now-deceased ex who still manages to cast a wide shadow.

A Night to Forget is an unexpectedly driving, noir-tinged, Patti Smith-flavored electric rock nocturne, its narrator hell-bent on tying one on and forgetting everything she’s left behind. Valentine’s Day, which builds from opaque washes into another anthemic rock number, bitingly assesses how double standards still separate the boys from the girls, and ruin lives in the process. Pocket Full of Sun works a charging, Grateful Dead-tinged groove with an almost defiant optimism, gorgeously multitracked acoustic guitars and a surreal, metaphorically-charged lyric that goes unexpectedly dark. And Let You Go takes a catchy, syncopated oldschool country ballad into more opaque, pensive territory, another disarmingly simple story whose doomed plotline becomes crystal-clear as it goes along

As vivid as those songs are, the title track is the masterpiece here. It’s one of the best songs Goldman’s ever written, and it packs a gentle wallop. Her careful, precise but wounded vocals absolutely nail the “four in the morning of your soul” ambience of a woman sleepless and alone, abandoned and embittered and sobered by the reality that she isn’t blameless in how she ended up there. “What do you see in the stillness when you feel blind, and you need all six senses to know what to find?” she asks, hushed and low: the matter-of-factness in her delivery is what makes it so chilling, just Goldman’s voice and acoustic guitar and the cello. It’s over in barely two minutes and it’s one of the best songs of the year.

Goldman’s next live appearance is on 12/17 at 9 PM EST at Concert Window, where she’s doing a “pre-release pyjama party” streaming around the world from her living room. She’ll be taking requests and answering questions. It’s a pay-what-you-want show; “tickets” are available now. And the show isn’t going to be recorded or archived: it’s a literally once-in-a-lifetime event.

The 30 Best New York Concerts of 2012

Of all the end-of-the-year lists here, this is the most fun to put together. It’s the most individual – everybody’s got a different one.  Last year’s list had 26 shows; this year’s was impossible to whittle down to less than 30. What was frustrating was looking back and realizing how many other great shows there were. Erica Smith, Rebecca Turner, Love Camp 7 and Pinataland all on the same bill at the Parkside? The club didn’t list it on their calendar. Neil Young in Central Park? Completely spaced out on that one. Pierre de Gaillande’s Georges Brassens translation project, Les Chauds Lapins and Raya Brass Band at that place in Tribeca in January? That night conflicted with Winter Jazzfest. The Brooklyn What at Littlefield, Rachelle Garniez at Barbes, Ward White and Abby Travis at Rock Shop, Spanglish Fly at SOB’s…all of those conflicted with having a life. But it was still a great year, arguably better than 2011.

Of all the multiple-act bills, the longest marathon, and arguably most exhilarating show of the year was Maqamfest on January 6 at Alwan for the Arts downtown with slinky Egyptian film music revivalists Zikrayat, haunting vintage Greek rembetiko oud band Maeandros, torchy Syrian chanteuse Gaida, rustic Iraqi classicists Safaafir, deviously intense Palestinian buzuq funk band Shusmo and then a crazy Middle Eastern jam with the brilliant Alwan All-Stars. Maqamfest 2013 promises to be just as good.

Rather than trying to rank the rest of these shows, they’re listed chronologically:

Walter Ego at Otto’s, 1/28/12 – the witty, brilliantly lyrical multi- instrumentalist/songwriter, minus his usual theatrical shtick, instead running through one clever, pun-infused, catchy song after another.

Eva Salina at the Ukrainian National Home, 3/31/12 – this was the debut performance of brilliant Balkan chanteuse Eva Salina Primack’s new band with Frank London on trumpet and Patrick Farrell on accordion. She swayed, lost in the music and sang her heart out in a bunch of different languages over the haunting pulse behind her.

Closing night at Lakeside Lounge, 4/30/12 with co-owner Eric Ambel’s Roscoe Trio, Lenny Kaye from Patti Smith’s band, Mary Lee Kortes, Boo Reiners from Demolition String Band, Charlene McPherson from Spanking Charlene and many others giving the legendary East Village rock venue a mighty sendoff.

Little Annie, Paul Wallfisch and David J at the Delancey, 5/7/12 – the smoky, sureallistically hilarious noir cabaret chanteuse, Botanica’s brilliant keyboardist playing three sets, and the legendary Bauhaus bassist/songwriter/playwright at the top of their brooding noir game.

Ben Von Wildenhaus at Zebulon, 5/14/12 – at one of his final shows before leaving town, the noir guitarist played solo through a loop pedal and turned the club into a set from Twin Peaks.

LJ Murphy & the Accomplices at Otto’s,  6/16/12 – backed by the ferocious piano of Patrick McLellan, Tommy Hochscheid’s classic Stax/Volt guitar attack and a swinging rhythm section, the NYC noir rock legend careened through a politically-charged set of songs from his reportedly phenomenal forthcoming 2013 album.

Black Sea Hotel in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, 6/17/12 – the trio of Willa Roberts, Corinna Snyder and Sarah Small sang their own otherworldly, hypnotic a-cappella arrangements of surreal Bulgarian folk songs from across the centuries, their voices hauntingly echoing in the cavernous space of an old synagogue.

Veveritse Brass Band at Barbes, 6/28/12 – over the absolutely psychedelic, bubbly pulse of the trubas, this ten-piece Balkan jam band burned and roared and turned the club’s back room into a cauldron of menacing chromatics and minor keys.

Kotorino at Joe’s Pub, 6/29/12 – transcending a series of snafus with the sound system, the lush, artsy chamber-steampunk band evoked other countries and other centuries throughout a set that was as jaunty and fun as it was haunting.

Aaron Blount of Knife in the Water with Jack Martin from Dimestore Dance Band at Zirzamin, 7/9/12  – although the two hadn’t rehearsed, Martin evoked the ghost of Django Reinhardt against the reverb cloud swirling from Blount’s guitar amp, through a mix of moody, gloomy southwestern gothic songs.

Magges at Athens Square Park in Astoria, 7/10/12 – the Greek psychedelic rockers played a long show of spiky, often haunting songs spiced with Susan Mitchell’s soaring electric violin and Kyriakos Metaxas’ sizzling electric bouzouki – it seemed that the whole neighborhood stuck around for most of it. Too bad there wasn’t any ouzo.

Neko Case out back of the World Financial Center, 7/12/12 – the stage monitors weren’t working, which messed up opening act Charles Bradley’s set, but Case, Kelly Hogan and the rest of the band didn’t let it phase them, switching up their set list and playing a raw, intense set of noir Americana.

Niyaz at Drom, 7/22/12 – a  long, mesmerizing cd release show by the artsy Canadian-Persian dance/trance ensemble, frontwoman Azam Ali slowly and elegantly raising the energy from suspenseful to ecstatic as it went on.

Dimestore Dance Band at Zirzamin, 7/23/12 – since reviving this group, guitarist Jack Martin has become even more powerful, more offhandedly savage and intense than he was when he was leading them back in the mid-zeros when this witty yet plaintive gypsy/ragtime/jazz band was one of the finest acts in the Tonic scene. This show was a welcome return.

The Secret Trio, Ilhan Ersahin and Selda Bagcan at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, 7/28/12 – the annual “Turkish Woodstock” began with short sets of haunting classical instrumentals, psychedelic jazz and then the American debut of the legendary psychedelic rock firebrand and freedom fighter whose pro-democracy activism landed her in jail at one point.

Bettye LaVette at Madison Square Park, 8/8/12 – the charismatic underground soul legend took songs from acts as diverse as George Jones, Paul McCartney and Sinead O’Connor and made them wrenchingly her own, a portrait of endless struggle followed finally by transcendence.

Bombay Rickey at Barbes, 8/11/12 – jaunty, jangly, surfy , psychedelic Bollywood rock fun, with guitar, accordion and frontwoman Kamala Sankaram’s amazing operatic vocals.

Daniel Kahn & the  Painted Bird at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, 8/12/12 – grim, politically spot-on, lyrically brilliant klezmer-rock songwriting from the Berlin-based bandleader backed by an inspired New York pickup group.

Ulrich Ziegler at Barbes, 8/17/12 – of all the single-band shows, this was the year’s most intense, over an hour of eerie. reverb-driven noir cinematic instrumentals from genius guitarist Stephen Ulrich and his inspired colleague Itamar Ziegler, celebrating the release of the album rated best of 2012 here.

The Byzan-Tones at Zebulon, 8/22/12 – the recently resurrected Greek psychedelic surf rockers traded in the electric oud for Steve Antonakos’ lead guitar, and the result sent the haunting, Middle Eastern-fueled energy through the roof.

J O’Brien and Beninghove’s Hangmen at Zirzamin, 9/10/12 – a fascinatingly lyrical, characteristically witty set, solo on twelve-string guitar, by the former Dog Show frontman followed by New York’s best noir soundtrack jazz band at their most intense and psychedelic.

The Strawbs at B.B. King’s, 9/11/12 – it’s amazing how almost 45 years after the psychedelic/Britfolk/art-rock band began, they still sound strong, their lyrical anthems still resonant even in a stripped-down acoustic trio setting.

Sam Llanas at Zirzamin, 9/11/12 – rushing downtown to catch a solo show by the former BoDeans frontman paid off with a riveting, haunting set of brooding, austerely nocturnal songs, especially when J O’Brien joined him on bass.

Sex Mob at the World Financial Center, 9/27/12 – the downtown jazz legends got the atrium echoing with a hypnotic, absolutely menacing set of classic Nino Rota film themes – and they didn’t even play the Godfather.

Julia Haltigan at 11th St. Bar, 10/2/12 – the eclectic southwestern gothic/Americana/soul siren and songwriter at the top of her torchy, sultry, intense game, backed by a brilliant, jazzy band.

M Shanghai String Band‘s cd release show at the Jalopy, 10/5/12 – an hour of cameos from too many New York Americana luminaries to name, followed by two long sets from the massive oldschool string band, moving energetically from bluegrass, to Appalachian, to sea chanteys, gypsy sounds and Britfolk, sometimes fiery and intense, sometimes hilarious.

Theo Bleckmann backed by ACME, crooning Phil Kline song cycles at BAM, 10/25/12 – this was the premiere of Kline’s lushly enveloping chamber-rock arrangements of his acerbically hilarious Rumsfeld Songs, his eclectic Vietnam-themed Zippo Songs and his brand-new, luridly haunting new Sinatra-inspired cycle, Out Cold.

The Arturo O’Farrill Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra at Symphony Space, 11/2/12 – in the wake of the hurricane, O’Farrill decided to put on a couple of free concerts to lift peoples’ spirits. This was the first and better of the two nights, the brilliant latin big band pianist joined by special guests including Anat Cohen, Sex Mob’s Steven Bernstein, Rafi Malkiel and Larry Harlow, playing long, broodingly intense, towering themes, many of them based on classic Jewish melodies.

Katie Elevitch at Zirzamin, 12/16/12  – goes to show that you can’t really count the year’s best concerts until the year’s almost over. Backed by her fantastic four-piece band, the haunting, intense rock siren improvised lyrics, roared, whispered and seduced the crowd in the plush space with her voice and her achingly soul-inspired songwriting.