Back in the day, before the web really took off, one of the best ways to find out about concerts in this city was the New York Waste. It still exists, sort of a cross between the Onion and the old NY Press. Copies of the paper were hard to find then, and they still are, because people grab it the moment it hits the street (i.e. the corner of the bar at Duff’s or St. Vitus, for example). It’s funny, and irreverent, and although ten years ago it could just as easily have been called Bands Who Play the Continental, it still covers music that few blogs and none of the corporate media will go near, especially what’s left of the indigenous punk and metal scenes here. Over the years, it’s generally been less of a guide to what’s upcoming than it is a sometimes tantalizing look at what’s already happened. So in the spirit of the New York Waste, here’s a look at some recent live shows worth revisiting.
A little over a week ago, Lorraine Leckie & Her Demons played an invite-only show at one of the local dives. She switched between guitar and piano, and the band – Hugh Pool on lead guitar, J. Wallace on bass and Paul Triff on drums – was at the top of their game. Even though this was basically a live rehearsal in front of a bunch of friends and media, they careened through a scorching mix of electric Neil Young-style anthems, a little punchy glamrock and the creepy noir songs that Leckie has made her specialty. Pool’s murderous rampages and judicious atmospherics serve Leckie’s songs perfectly: he’s the rare lead guitarist who plays a lot of notes yet manages to make them interesting. Unhinged cascades of crazed tapping, anguished, screaming bent notes and machine-gun volleys to bring a song over the top all figured into the equation. A couple of the night’s best songs were new collaborations between Leckie and legendary 70s nightlife figure Anthony Haden-Guest from a forthcoming album that they’ll be wrapping up next month: the first, a balefully quiet number told from the point of view of a serial killer, the last a bittersweetly glimmering piano ballad about addiction and disollution sarcastically titled Happy City.
The next day the Sic Fucs played the Howl Festival in Tompkins Square Park. The legendary, comedic 70s CBGB punks still have it. Tish and Snooky looked fantastic and still have those great voices – there’s a reason why Debbie Harry teamed up with them in the Stilletos – and they had all their props, including a couple of big cleavers to swing on the chorus of Chop Up Your Mother. Methodically and professionally – that’s no joke – they made their way through Spanish Bar Mitzvah – which was gypsy punk before gypsy punk existed – along with Rock or Die, Your Teenage Abortion and a bunch of other snotty, sarcastic barely two-minute songs. Russell, their frontman, told politically incorrect ethnic jokes, jumped off the stage and ran through the crowd and then found he couldn’t leap high enough to get back up there. So he went around the back. A torrential cloudburst had just ended when they first hit the stage; by the time the show was over, the clouds were gone.
Band of Outsiders, another group that called CB’s home in a previous life, were amazingly good at Local 269 a few nights later. It was fun watching Jesse Bates – one of the world’s least likely but most entertaining frontmen – lead former Lakeside supergroup, opening act Los Dudes, through a bunch of characteristically tongue-in-cheek garage rock tunes. Then Band of Outsiders reminded how they’re even better now than they were at the peak of their popularity almost thirty years ago. The twin guitars of Jim McCarthy and Marc Jeffrey jangled and clanged and intertwined with a psychedelic chemistry akin to Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine in Television, a band they get compared to a lot and deservedly so. Mixing up older songs with new ones from their excellent new Sound Beach Quartet mini-album, they evoked other great guitar bands from years past: the artsy catchiness of the Church; the menacing improvisational stomp of True West; the hypnotic but hooky jangle of the Feelies, and then closed with a rampaging, uncharacteristically loose cover of Shakin’ All Over. But the best songs of the night were the new ones. McCarthy sang the bittersweet, Grateful Dead-tinged Gods of Happenstance as Jeffrey hit his envelope pedal for some terse Jerry Garcia textures; Jeffrey took over vocals on the backbeat-driven, unexpectedly crescendoing One Life Is Not Enough.
The following night, dark folk songwriter Mac McCarty and his band packed the back room at a bar a little further north that occasionally doubles as music venue, and played their asses off, possibly fueled by the frustration of not having any amplification other than a couple of vocal mics. As it turned out, the swishy theatreboy behind the sound board was so concerned with getting the sound right for his own vocal mic – why he needed one in the first place is a mystery – that he forgot to unmute the other channels on the board. So none of the instruments, other than Walter Ego’s bass, was amped. But the group wouldn’t be denied, racing through a mix of lickety-split, punk-tinged acoustic songs, including a particularly angry one about strikebreaking Pinkertons torching a New Year’s Eve party in Michigan mining country sometime in the 1800’s with predictably gruesome results. The slow requiems and laments were just as intense, even though the crowd in the back were having a hard time hearing everything; former Banjo Jim’s honcho Lisa Zwier-Croce sang her heart out on a couple of them, giving them an absolutely chilling edge.
Because bad reviews don’t really serve any useful purpose (and can be totally unfair to the musicians involved), there’s no sense in going into any kind of depth about the shows by the well-loved veteran funkmeister just back from hanging out in the pool at his girlfriend’s place in Connecticut, who couldn’t pull himself out of vacation mode and found himself at a rare loss for words; the fortysomething chanteuse from the Great Plains and her twentysomething band who didn’t have a clue how to play the oldschool country songs she sings so fetchingly; the purist Americana guitarslinger and his talented pals who really, really need to rehearse before they play out again; the equally talented up-and-coming indie classical outfit who found themselves in unfamiliar circumstances outdoors, where they waged a sonic battle with a sputtering gas generator and lost, badly; and the legendary oldschool funk bandleader whose inspired performance was undone by an uncharacteristically wretched sound mix at a popular summer venue. Watch this space for the conclusion of this two-part series,with an iconic and still vital punk-era personality, a dub reggae band, a jam-oriented klezmer outfit and a famous rapper fronting a symphony orchestra.