New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: paula henderson sax

Epic, Fearless, Funky Orchestral Jamband Burnt Sugar Celebrate Twenty Years at Lincoln Center

Burnt Sugar hold the record for the most performances at Lincoln Center’s atrium space, impresario Jordana Leigh enthused moments before the mammoth ensemble took the stage there this past evening in celebration of their twentieth anniversary. “I can’t think of a band that more encapsulates New York…and the talent, and the energy, and style!”

“If you’ve seen us before, you know that we alternate between the raw and the cooked,” founder and conductor Greg Tate grinned, referring to the band’s penchant for swinging wildly between reinventions of others’ music and their own serpentine, tectonic, often thunderous mass improvisations. If memory serves right – there were a LOT of people onstage – this version of the collective had four singers, four guitarists, a horn section, rhythm section and keys in addition to plenty of beats and maybe atmospherics stashed away in somebody’s pedal.

From behind his Strat, Tate directed rises, falls, signaled for solos and for specific groups of instrumentation to punch in or out, in the same vein as the inventor of “conduction,” the late, great Butch Morris. The evening’s sprawling opening instrumental rose and fell with all sorts of sudden shifts, punchy and lyrical solos from JS Williams’ trumpet, V. Jeffrey Smith’s alto sax and Paula Henderson’s smoky baritone sax.

With former member Rene Akan’s Wretched of the Earth, Page 88, they made squalling, careening, Rage Against the Machine metalfunk out of a grim account of a city under fire in Frantz Fanon’s classic antiglobalist manifesto. This may be the performance where Burnt Sugar set another record, as the loudest band ever to play this space, a possibility reinforced by another Akan number that sounded in places as if the Bad Brains had cloned themselves.

“Rome burned while freedom lurked, masquerade and misdirection, incantations hide intentions,” singer Lisala Beatty mused over Leon Gruenbaum’s percolating, slinky Fender Rhodes groove a bit later in the set. It was akin to symphonic Gil Scott-Heron: “Young, black and vague, now you gotta ride the future shock wave.”

Smith’s disarmingly beautiful sax swirls spun over a slow, hypnotic beat as a wryly funny duet between Beatty and fellow vocalist Mikell Banks got underway – it could have been a joint homage to Sun Ra and Prince. The vocal version of Chains and Water – the opening track on Burnt Sugar’s 2009 album Making Love to the Dark Ages – had a subdued, hypnotic sway that masked its ferocious look back at the legacy of the Middle Passage, at least until the guitars flared up. They took it down with a rather chilling chain gang-style contrapuntal vocal outro.

Smith and bassist Jared Nickerson dedicated Naomi, a tender yet lively duet, to Nickerson’s aunt. It brought to mind Kenny Garrett back in the 90s in a particularly sunny mood. Then the group completely flipped the script with Ride Ride Ride – complete with sarcastically loopy faux-anthemic organ and a singalong chorus that went “Ride ride ride, everybody gonna get gentrified.” Henderson’s snarky, honking, repetitive solo offered momentary relief from a scenario where everyone’s “Homeless and boneless, your judgment an eternal curse.”

Tate might laugh if he heard this, but at this show he was the best guitarist onstage, plucking out sparse, enigmatic chords that resonated far more than any Eddie Van Halen squeals and divebomb effects could have. The group wound out the night with a nebulous backbeat-driven examination of racism in the early Bush/Cheney war era, an oldschool disco tune, and a gritty, atmospheric, Nina Simone-tinged ballad sung with considerable gravitas by Meah Pace.

Burnt Sugar are at the Brooklyn Museum on Jan 31 at 7 PM; cover is $16 and includes museum admission. The next show at the atrium space at Lincoln Center on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is Jan 17 at 7:30 PM with the amazing and only slightly less epic Black String, who blend stormy art-rock, mesmerizing Korean traditional music, opera and hip-hop. Get there early if you’re going.

Rev. Vince Anderson: Brooklyn’s Wildest, Most Relevant Monday Night Institution

The 2016 Presidential election really lit a fire under Rev. Vince Anderson. That was a dreaded wakeup call for just about everyone, but it really pushed the bushy-bearded, wild-haired keyboardist and jamband leader to new levels of intensity. “Get off that magic rectangle,” he admonished the crowd more than once a couple of weeks ago at his ongoing Monday night residency at Union Pool. “Just turn around, look at your neighbor and introduce yourself,” he cajoled.

That moment turned out to be infinitely less awkward that it would have been in a house of worship. A vacationing Georgia couple were wide-eyed; they admitted not having the slightest idea of what they’d just wandered into. “He’s a New York institution,” explained the tired but obviously reinvigorated black-clad man next to them.

In the years since Anderson first started playing his first weekly residency at the old Avenue B Social Club in the East Village, he’s switched out any kind of overtly Christian message for a community-centered, populist philosophy that he’s really concretized and brought to the stage since last year’s November surprise. And while gospel music is still the foundation of what he plays with his raucous, semi-rotating backing band the Love Choir, these days his sound is more funk and soul-oriented. The songs go on for ten minutes or more, with all kinds of dynamics, ferocious and stampeding, then hushed.

There was a time when he’d always open the show with Get Out of My Way, the pummeling first cut on his 2002 album The 13th Apostle: the studio version is a mashup of Gogol Bordello, Tom Waits and oldschool gospel. These days, Anderson plays the song closer to lickety-split Billy Preston funk…but he also likes to bring it down to a lusciously glimmering classical piano interlude. This guy can literally play anything.

Over the past couple of months, he’s also opened with a rapt, quiet take of the gospel standard Precious Lord, Take My Hand, and with Ready for the Light, a relatively new number that’s sort of symphonic James Brown. His best song lately, which he’s been playing at pretty much every show, is a new version of his slow but mighty gospel anthem I Don’t Think Jesus Would Have Done It That Way. Anderson wrote that one in response to the Bush/Cheney invasion of Iraq, but the new version is even more incendiary. Anderson takes potshots at Trump and the swamp cabinet and Steve Bannon in particular: it ends with everybody that Trump hates – immigrants, gays, women and, hell, pretty much all of us – having a barbecue on the White House lawn.

Watching the audience react is fascinating – and sad. Much as this is one of the rare Williamsburg events that draws both a local black and latino crowd as well as the young Republicans hell-bent on taking over the neighborhood, the former contingent here is a lot smaller than it used to be. And the song doesn’t get the enthusiastic reaction you might think it would: there’s a lot of polite silence, and a little clapping, mostly from the women – there are always a handful of Hillary supporters. Obviously, the young Republicans come here to to dance, not to be confronted by any reality that would threaten their rich parents’ dominance in the political sphere, never mind their real estate bubble profits.

But the crowd be damned – the music is fantastic. The first couple of shows in May were on the lacklustre side since the band had a sub guitarist who obviously didn’t really get the music. On the third and next-to-last Mondays in May, regular axeman Jaleel Bunton was back with his psychedelic bluesmetal/funk attack and the energy suddenly went back through the roof.

The second Monday in June, Bunton was absent again, but in his place was the brilliant Binky Griptite, the late, great Sharon Jones’ lead guitarist, who brought his elegant, virtuosic, low-key Hendrix-inspired lines to the mix and as usual elevated everybody in the band. The week after that was Moist Paula Henderson’s birthday, so Anderson gave her a feature in an old audience favorite, the nocturnal waltz New Orleans, 4 AM. His longtime baritone saxophonist, musical sparring partner and “ex-wife,” as he’s called her for the better part of two decades, responded with her usual blend of irony, humor and irrepressible fun. The group had a great drummer that night, too – it was the bartender!

They had their usual guy behind the kit, Torbitt Schwartz, back the week after, for a little extra slink alongside most of the regular band, which also comprises bassist Jeremy Willms and trombonist Dave Smith.

Rev. Vince Anderson’s Union Pool residency continues this Monday, July 31 at around 10:30 PM. And Henderson’s weekly residency with Binky Griptite continues on Wednesdays in  August at around 8 at Threes Brewing, 113 Franklin St. at Kent Ave in Greenpoint.

Moist Paula Henderson Brings Her Starry, Playful Improvisations Back to Greenpoint

Baritone sax star Moist Paula Henderson is, among other things, the not-so-secret weapon in gonzo gospel-funk pianist/showman Rev. Vince Anderson’s wild jamband. Last night at Union Pool, she was in a characteristically devious mood, having all sorts of fun in between the notes. But she’s not limited to baritone sax. Last month at Troost, she played a fascinatingly enveloping, psychedelic show with multi-instrumentalist and film composer Dorothea Tachler and inventor/guitar shredder Nick Demopoulos. She’s back there tomorrow night, April 26 at around 9 in a duo with Demopoulos, who will no doubt be improvising on the SMOMID, his own electronic invention that looks like a vintage keytar would look if such things existed back in the 50s.

Beyond her work as a hardworking sidewoman, Henderson is also a great wit as a composer. And she’s not limited to baritone sax, either: like the Sun Ra Arkestra’s Marshall Allen, she frequently employs the EWI (electronic wind instrument) for her more adventurous projects. Her most recent solo album, Moist Paula’s Electric Embouchere – streaming at Bandcamp – is a series of EWI compositions that harken back to the playfully cinematic pieces she explored with her late-zeros electroacoustic act Secretary, while also echoing her work with legendary downtown punk-dance sax-bass-drums trio Moisturizer.

The album’s opening track, I Dream of Dreams on Wheels juxtaposes wispy, fragmented, woozily tremoloing upper-register accents over a wryly shuffling, primitive, 70s style drum machine beat. We Always Fought on Thanksgiving – Henderson is unsurpassed at titles – is typical example of how she artfully she can take a very simple low-register blues-scale riff and build a loopy tune around it. 

Awake Against One’s Will is as surreal and distantly ominous as a starry dreamscape can be, awash in ambient waves and gamelanesque flickers. Old Ass Air Mattress is a jaunty electronic strut over a buzzy pedal note that threatens to implode any second: if there’s anybody alive who can translate sound into visuals, it’s Moist Paula. 

Riskily, She Named her 13th Child Friday sounds like P-Funk on bath salts, a rapidfire series of sonic phosphenes over which she layers the occasional droll, warpy accent. The album’s final cut is the mini-epic  Trick Or Treat Suite, ironically its calmest, most spacious and gamelanesque number, spiced with the occasional wry, unexpected swell amidst the twinkles and ripples. It’s like a sonic whippit except that it’s not as intense and it lasts longer. 

Baritone Sax Goddess Moist Paula Henderson Explores Her More Devious Side

Moist Paula Henderson is one of the world’s most distinctive and highly sought after baritone saxophonists. She got her nickname as the co-leader of legendary downtown punk-dance sax-bass-drums trio Moisturizer. She’s toured the world with avant jazz collective Burnt Sugar, noir rock crooner Nick Waterhouse and oldtime blues marauder C.W. Stoneking, among others. She’s also the not-so-secret weapon in Rev. Vince Anderson’s ecstatically careening gospel-funk jamband. But she’s not limited to baritone sax: like Marshall Allen of the Sun Ra Arkestra, she also plays the electronic wind instrument, a.k.a. EWI.

The last time this this blog was in the house to catch one of Henderson’s “GPS” gigs, as she calls them, was last month at Troost in a trio with multi-instrumentalist and film composer Dorothea Tachler and inventor/guitar shredder Nick Demopoulos. The three played music to get lost in, improvisation on the highest level, throughout a mix of themes that seemed at least semi-composed.

And the music was as fun as it was enveloping and trippy. Henderson is one of the world’s great musical wits: she takes her art very seriously, but not herself. She introduced a couple of long, kaleidoscopically unwinding soundscapes with wry P-Funk-style wah-wah basslines. Throughout about 45 minutes of music, Henderson got just about every sound that can be conjured out of an EWI, further enhanced by Tachler’s constant looping and shifting the riffs through an serpentine series of patches on her mixers. When she wasn’t occupied with that, Tachler sang calm, balmy vocalese, played and then looped all sorts of catchy, warpy riffs on a mini-synth, and on the night’s most ornately assembled sonic adventure, played and then looped a series of austere violin phrases.

Waves of gentle countermelodies, droll marching band cadenzas, artful pairings of fuzzy lows and twinkling highs from both EWI and the rest of the instruments, a rapturous quasi-Americana hymn and twinkling trails of deep-space dust wafted through the mix. At the end of the set, Demopoulos joined the duo, adding shifting tones on a couple of home-made analog synths as well as a custom-built, brightly color-coded keytar called a SMOMID. Silly vocoder-like phrases mingled within an increasingly warmer framework, the bassline growing gentler and more pillowy. They brought the morass of shifting textures down to the just that bassline and a few upper-register sparkles, then took it up again, building a starlit backdrop peppered with woozy Dr. Dre synth. They faded it down with a couple of mini lightning bolts and an echoey bubble or two. Henderson’s next show is with the Rev. – as the dancers who pack his Monday night residency like to call him – at Union Pool on April 10 at around 10:30 PM.

Meah Pace Brings Her Blue-Flame Retro Soul Stylings to a Rare Park Slope Gig

The stage at Long Island City Bar turned out to be too small for Meah Pace the last time she played there, over Martin Luther King weekend last month. The charismatic, personable retro soul singer pounced, and shimmied, and twisted in front of her simmering six-piece band, but ultimately it was like watching a lioness in a cage. She really needs a big stage to do her thing. Until then, you can catch her in similarly intimate blue-flame mode on March 23 at 8 PM at Salzy Bar, 506 5th Ave at 13th St. in Park Slope. Take the F – or the G – to 7th Ave.

Pace’s voice is raw but refined; to compare her to Sharon Jones would not be an overstatement. The nuance and wiggles in her blue notes are in the moment rather than studied, and her band pays close attention to where she takes the crowd. That cold evening in Queens, guitarist Alec Berlin warmed up the room with a wryly haphazard intro from Hendrix’s version of the Star Spangled Banner. Then keyboardist Randy Ingram hit his echoey Fender Rhodes patch and the band launched into a slinky version of Gimme Shelter. It was as if Jagger had invited a young Tina Turner up to sing it, the two-sax line of tenorist Jeremy Udden and baritone goddess Paula Henderson punching in hard.

Pace took the sound back in time another half-decade to the mid-60s with the bouncy, swaying vintage soul ballad after that, Berlin giving it a funky pulse in tandem with bassist Jeremy Willms and drummer Greg Joseph. Then Pace’s voice got gritty as they went deep into Promised Land, the opening track on her album 11:03, part vintage 60s JBs funk, part latin soul.

Ingram’s electric piano flickered over a slow 6/8 groove as Pace brought the lights down with the gorgeously bittersweet 70s Stylistics soul jazz-tinged ballad Gracefully. Then they lit into the vampingly hypnotic clave soul groove of On My Brain and kept the nocturnal vibe going with I Wish It Would Rain, punctuated by Berln’s wall-bending acid-rock solo.

The night’s funkiest, hardest-hitting number was I Don’t Need Ya, the horns nailing a sassy go-go riff, Pace picking it up at the end with a defiant, passionate rasp. Then they brought out all the doom and despair in an absolutely spot-on reinvention of the old mid-70s Alice Cooper ballad Only Women Bleed.

Willms’ Stax/Volt riff and Berlin’s Tex-Mex phrasing anchored their Big Mama Thornton-inspired version of Hound Dog, Pace cajoling Joseph into playing a shuffle beat on the snare with just his hands; Henderson’s shivery hailstorm of a solo brought the intensity to redline. They closed the night with a motoring, expansive take of the album’s title track, Nutbush City Limits style. While Pace can sing classic covers all night long if she feels like it, and has done that for the sake of a payday, it’s always more fun to hear her originals. That’s what she’s probably going to do at the Brooklyn gig.

The Best New York Concerts of 2014

Of all the year-end lists here, including the best albums and best songs of 2014 lists, this one is the most individual, and the most fun to put together. But as amazing a year for live music as it was, there were twice as many enticing shows that this blog never had the chance to cover as there are on this list. It’s called having a life – or trying to, in between concerts, anyway.

So consider this an informed survey rather than anything definitive, and ultimately, a reason for guarded optimism. Much as gentrification destroys the arts like Walmart destroys local economies, neither one has killed us. Yet.

What was the single best show of the year? Four multi-band bills stand out from the rest. Back in October at Trans-Pecos, charismatic Great Plains gothic bandleader Ember Schrag played a wickedly lyrical mix of mostly new material, some of it with a string section, the rest fueled by the snarling, spectacular lead guitar of Bob Bannister. Also playing that night: rapturously hypnotic, melancholic cellist/songwriter Meaner Pencil, dark art-rock duo Christy & Emily, plus a starkly entrancing set by two jazz icons, guitarist Mary Halvorson and violist Jessica Pavone.

A month earlier, renaissance woman Sarah Small put together a similarly magical night at Joe’s Pub featuring her Middle Eastern-inspired trio Hydra with Rima Fand and Yula Beeri as well as her otherworldly Balkan choral trio Black Sea Hotel with Willa Roberts and Shelley Thomas. There were also brief sets from the reliably entertaining all-female accordion group the Main Squeeze Orchestra and a trio version of one of NYC’s original Romany bands, Luminescent Orchestrii.

In mid-November, the Bowery Electric triplebill of hauntingly catchy Nashville gothic tunesmith/singer Jessie Kilguss, similarly lyrical and vocally gifted art-rock songwriter Ward White – both playing an album release show – and well-loved literate Americana rocker Matt Keating was pretty transcendent. And let’s not forget the Alwan-a-Thon back in January, the annual celebration of cutting-edge sounds from across the Arabic-speaking world held at financial district music mecca Alwan for the Arts. This one featured two floors of amazing acts including intense Lebanese-born pianist Tarek Yamani and his trio, luminous Balkan chanteuse Eva Salina, amazingly psychedelic 1960s Iranian art-dance-rock revivalists Mitra Sumara, sizzling Romany party monsters Sazet Band, and the all-star Alwan Ensemble, who played bristling jams on classic themes from Egypt, Syria and Iraq.

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

Avi Fox-Rosen and Raya Brass Band at Rock Shop, 1/9/14 – Fox-Rosen had just released an album every single month in 2013, so this was a triumphant sort of greatest hits live gig for the sharply lyrical, catchy art-rock tunesmith followed by a wild vortex of Balkan jamming, the group down on the floor in front of the stage surrounded by dancers.

LJ Murphy & the Accomplices at Parkside Lounge, 2/1/14 – the charismatic, nattily dressed noir rocker led his explosive, blues-fueled band through a careening set of intensely lyrical, distinctively New York narratives.

Siach Hasadeh and Ichka in the basement at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue on the Upper West Side, 3/4/14 – every Tuesday, more or less, drummer Aaron Alexander – a prime mover in Jewish jazz circles – books a series of reliably excellent bands here. This twinbill kicked off with a rapturously haunting set by Montreal’s Siach Hasadeh followed by another Montreal outfit, the high-energy Ichka and then a jam with members of both bands joined by audience members.

Tammy Faye Starlite singing Marianne Faithfull’s Broken English at the Lincoln Center Atrium, 3/13/14 – a counterintuitive, sardonically hilarious reinterpretation of a haphazardly iconic new wave era album.

Jenifer Jackson at the Rockwood, 3/26/14 – the eclectic Austin songwriter brought her new band from her adopted hometown, reinventing older material and newer stuff as well with Kullen Fuchs’ rippling vibraphone as the lead instrument.

Gord Downie & the Sadies at Bowery Ballroom, 5/2/14 – a furious, often haunting sprint through the Canadian gothic Americana band’s most recent collaboration with the Tragically Hip frontman, ending with an explosively psychedelic Iggy Pop cover.

Hannah Thiem at Mercury Lounge, 5/29/14 – the haunting violinist/composer teamed up with an A-list string section to air out soaringly ethereal, cinematic new Nordic and Middle Eastern-tinged electroacoustic material from her latest album.

Nick Waterhouse at the Brooklyn Night Bazaar in Greenpoint, 6/13/14 – the LA noir soul bandleader and a killer pickup band featuring Burnt Sugar’s Paula Henderson on baritone sax brought moody Lynchian sounds to this grotesquely trendoid-infested space.

Kayhan Kalhor and Jivan Gasparyan at the World Financial Center, 6/14/14 – the legendary Iranian-Kurdish spike fiddle virtuoso and composer joined the similarly legendary Armenian duduk reedman for a rapturous, otherworldly duo set of improvisations on classic themes from each others’ traditions.

No Grave Like the Sea at Ramirez Park in Bushwick, 6/21/14 – after a day running around aimlessly trying to find bands playing daytime shows during the annual Make Music NY buskerfest, the volcanically sweeping, epic set by bassist Tony Maimone’s cinematic postrock band made it all worthwhile.

Karen Dahlstrom at the American Folk Art Museum, 6/27/14 – while she may be best known as one of the four first-rate songwriters in Bobtown, arguably the best gothic Americana harmony band around, Dahlstrom is also just as captivating as a solo performer. She took advantage of the museum’s sonics and sang a-cappella and ran through a tantalizingly brief set of haunting, historically rich original songs from her Idaho-themed album Gem State.

Serena Jost at the Rockwood, 6/29/14 – a lush, sweeping, richly enveloping, tuneful show by the art-rock cellist/multi-instrumentalist singer and her band. The all-too-brief, eclectic set by southwestern gothic bandleader Sergio Mendoza y la Orkesta about an hour beforehand at South Street Seaport – with psychedelic cumbias, rumba rock and the most twisted Fleetwood Mac cover ever – got the evening off to a great start.

Changing Modes at Bowery Electric, 7/19/14 – keyboardist/bassist Wendy Griffiths’ slinky, shapeshifting art-rock band has never sounded more anthemic or intense. And earlier that afternoon, scorching sets by the noisily atmospheric VBA, pummeling postrock/metal band Biblical and dark garage punks Obits at Union Pool kicked off what might have been the year’s single best day of music.

Jacco Gardner at South Street Seaport, 8/15/14 – he sort of plays the same song over and over, a dreamy, gorgeously chiming, psychedelic sunshine pop number straight out of London, 1967. But it’s a great song, and it was worth sticking around for what were essentially variations on a theme.

Bliss Blood & Al Street at Brooklyn Rod & Gun Club, 8/27/14 – the lurid but plaintive and haunting torch song icon teamed up with the brilliant, flamenco-inspired guitarist for a riveting, Lynchian set of mostly new material from their phenomenally good forthcoming album.

Gemma Ray at Rough Trade, 9/13/14 – the British noir songwriter played a similarly Lynchian set in a stark duo show, just guitar and drums, a showcase for her smart, individualistic, creepy playing and macabre songwriting.

The Dances of the World Chamber Ensemble at St. Marks Church, 9/14/14 – the improvisationally-inclined, cinematic instrumentalists ran through a magical blend of African, Middle Eastern, tango and jazz pieces by frontwoman/pianist/flutist Diana Wayburn.

Chicha Libre at Barbes, 9/15/14 – sadly, NYC’s funnest band have since gone on “indefinite hiatus,” whatever that means. At least they were on the top of their game when they played a wild, darkly psychedelic mix of trippy, surfy Peruvian psychedelic cumbia sounds in one of their last shows of the year.

Wounded Buffalo Theory playing Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway at Rock Shop, 9/19/14 – the art-rockers joined with a revolving cast including members of the Sometime Boys, Afroskull, 29 Hour Music People, and the Trouble Dolls for an impressively spot-on, epic recreation of the cult favorite 1974 art-rock album, WNYC’s John Hockenberry reading Peter Gabriel’s drolly surreal album liner notes in between songs.

Souren Baronian’s Taksim at Barbes, 9/23/14 – this isn’t the show reviewed at this blog back in June. That show featured the octogenarian multi-reedman and his hypnotic but kinetic band playing an unselfconsciously deep, soulful blend of Armenian music and incisive American jazz. His next gig there was even better!

Sherita at Barbes, 9/30/14 – the Brooklyn Balkan supergroup of sorts – reedman Greg Squared of Raya Brass Band, violinist Rima Fand of Luminescent Orchestrii, percussionis/singer Renée Renata Bergan and oudist Adam Good – played an alternately sizzling and sepulchral mix of originals and classic themes from Turkey, Greece and here as well.

Mary Lee Kortes at the Rockwood, 10/7/14 – the brilliant Americana songwriter and chanteuse and her band, feauturing John Mellencamp guitarist Andy York, aired out dazzlingly eclectic, intensely lyrical songs from her forthcoming album, The Songs of Beulah Rowley, a mix of saloon jazz, torch song and plaintive Americana.

The Skull Practitioners at Pine Box Rock Shop in Bushwick, 10/31/14 – it was the ultimate Halloween show, Steve Wynn lead guitar monster Jason Victor’s otherworldly, pummeling noiserock trio building a menacing but wickedly catchy vortex. That their half-hour set was as good as some of the four-hour bills on this list testifies to how volcanically good it was.

Karla Moheno at the Rockwood, 11/18/14 – the inscrutable noir songwriter and guitarist led a killer, Lynchian band through a mix of low-key, murderous, mysteriously lyrical narratives and more upbeat but no less shadowy material.

Mamie Minch at Barbes, 12/20/14 – this is why it always pays to wait til the very end of the year to finish this list. The charismatic resonator guitarist/singer and oldtime blues maven teamed up with Kill Henry Suger drummer Dean Sharenow for a killer set of blues from over the decades along with similarly edgy, sardonically aphoristic original material

If you’re wondering why there isn’t any jazz or classical music to speak of on this list, that’s because this blog has an older sister blog, Lucid Culture, which covers that kind of stuff in more detail.

A couple of things may jump out at you here. Nineteen of these shows were in Manhattan, eleven were in Brooklyn and one in Queens, which is open to multiple interpretations. More instructive is the fact that nineteen of the thirty-one were free shows where the audience passed around a tip bucket rather than paying a cover at the door. Most interestingly, women artists dominated this list. 26 out of of the 42 acts here were either women playing solo or fronting a group. That’s a trend. You’re going to see more of that here in the next couple of days.

Getting Caught Up on Concerts

Much as gentrification has dealt a crippling blow to music and the arts in general in this city, a gritty individualistic spirit persists. “Raided all my hangouts, put away my friends, now I’m sitting on a bonfire in a night that never ends,” LJ Murphy intoned ominously as his band the Accomplices played the careening noir blues of his song This Fearful Town the other night after the Sunday Salon at Zirzamin. The nattily attired rocker  (black suit, porkpie hat, red tie for Valentine’s Day) embodies everything that’s good about un-trendy rock in this town. With Tommy Hochscheid’s Stax/Volt guitar and Patrick McLellan’s piano firing off savage ripples and rumbles over a swinging rhythm section, Murphy romped through a mix of his signature surreal, blues-infused, urbane urban narratives. They opened with the slinky menace of Another Lesson I Never Learned and encored with Barbed Wire Playpen, a rather gleefully scampering tale about a Wall Street one-percenter with a fondness for the dungeon. In between Murphy chronicled eerily delirious rust belt crowds dancing away their doom to a stripper-fronted jazz band, clueless bridge-and-tunnel happy hour crowds yucking it up, along with several postapocalyptic scenes and would-be stalkers contemplating their next moves or lack thereof. As much as Murphy’s white-knuckle intensity and goodnatured energy onstage are contagious, his songs are all ultimately in the here-and-now, and they don’t paint a pretty picture.

At Salon #13 the previous week, chanteuse Drina Seay aired out some new, torchy, sophisticated country tunes and then joined her brilliant lead guitarist, Homeboy Steve Antonakos, for a set of his own purist, sardonic janglerock and Americana songs, including some pensive tracks from his latest ep. Other highlights of the past couple of salons included angst-fueled Americana rock and southwestern gothic by the Downward Dogs’ Joe Yoga, gorgeously lyrical chamber pop and art-rock by Serena Jost, creepily gleeful murder ballads and jaunty original bluegrass/C&W by Kelley Swindall and mysterious blues-infused narratives (and a pretty hilarious Glimmer Twins interlude) by the Salon’s own Lauraly Grossman.

Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co. have a monthly residency at Otto’s and a pretty much monthly, sometimes more than monthly gig at Rodeo Bar. Much as their satire of early 50s pre-rock hillbilly sounds is pretty hilarious – they’d kill on Broadway – their most recent gig on 14th Street was a reminder of just what a good straight-up country band these guys are, never mind the shtick. Michael McMahon’s a hell of a lead guitarist, with a snarling but sophisticated edge – and the band brought munchies, a big basket of snacks for every table. Thanks guys!

Among New York acts, nobody’s bigger in Peru than Chicha Libre. Which on face value seems pretty absurd, until you consider that they’re probably the world’s greatest psychedelic cumbia band. A lot of us take their weekly Monday residency/live rehearsal on their home turf at Barbes for granted, and we shouldn’t – they’ve never sounded more tight or energized, and they’ve been tight and energetic for years. A December show got shut down early because of a bass amp malfunction: bassist Nicholas Cudahy’s pulse is so subtle and simple and hypnotic, and so essential to the band. Too bad, because they had really been on a roll up to that point. A show in in the middle of last month was packed with dancers, and the band fed off the energy, romping through a mix of classic Peruvian covers and originals ranging from keyboardist Josh Camp’s creepy vamp Tres Pasajeros, to frontman Olivier Conan’s cynical, Gainsbourg-esque L’Age D’Or.

Out of print for years, the Mumbo Gumbo album is now available digitally (and streaming at co-frontman Joe Flood’s Bandcamp page). Last month, the band reunited for a one-off cd release show at Rodeo Bar. The crowd was a surreal mix of drunken Baruch kids and fans of Flood and accordionist Rachelle Garniez who’d come out to see them in their old Americana project, possibly for the first time. Word on the street is that the sonic issues that plagued the early part of the show were resolved as it went on. In the beginning, much as it was a pain to hear the band having to jostle with the crowd for volume, it was a lot of fun to be able to catch Garniez doing the enigmatic Swimming Pool Blue and the sly, innuendo-fueled New Dog with some old friends, more rustically and rawly than she usually does them. And Flood was on his game with his violin, and his guitar, and his big voice too.

Indie classical string quartet Ethel – which has undergone some personnel changes in recent months – has a weekly Friday night residency at the balcony bar at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You can hear them as you walk in. On a dim, rainy evening, listening to the sound rise as you go up the stairs evokes a magical old-world Europe of the mind. To fully appreciate what they’re doing, you have to get closer to the action, i.e. along the rail where they’re playing in the bar space itself. A random, recent misty night found them inviting colleagues from other ensembles and exploring the classical and the baroque as well as the adventurous avant garde sounds which have come to define them. If the idea of the Kronos Quartet intrigues you but all the electronic bells and whistles leave you cold, this group will hit the spot.

Melvin Van Peebles has to be close to eighty now, but he still plays regularly with his psychedelic funk band Laxative, which includes members of Burnt Sugar. One of the final shows at Zebulon  before they closed their doors for good saw the mordantly funny indie filmmaker/personality in low-key, smoldering mode, bantering with the crowd and making his way through a sometimes wryly sexy, sometimes corrosive mix of tunes from his cult classic albums from the 70s. As usual, the band behind him – featuring bassist Jared Nickerson and baritone saxophonist Moist Paula Henderson – gave him a dynamically-charged groove to croon over.

Morricone Youth have a singer now. The elegant, darkly torchy presence of Karla Rose Moheno out in front of the cult favorite film soundtrack band has not only transformed their sound but also has opened up a whole different repertoire beyond the already vast Italian film themes that they’ve been mining since they were a mainstay on the Lower East Side about ten years ago. Their most recent show at Otto’s – yeah, this is going back a ways – featured a lot of unfamiliar material, some of it on the jazzy side, some with a lushly psychedelic rock feel. These days, when they’re not in Europe, they’re more likely to be playing a theatre than a rock club, which makes a lot of sense.

And it was good to catch a bit of energetic third-stream jazz group the Trio of Oz at one of those multi-act extravaganzas at the booking agents’ convention last month. Pianist Rachel Z is a force of nature, but she can be plaintive when the song calls for it. Her version of King of Pain far outdid the Police at brooding poignancy.

Much as the recent slate of shows has been a lot of fun, there have been some duds. That enticing, by-invitation-only multi-piano fest in midtown turned out to be a disappointment despite the starpower of the players involved, for lack of solid material: garbage in, garbage out, no matter how many fantastic fingers might be playing it. There was another show on the east side recently that promised to explore the apocalyptic effects of natural disasters: it turned out to be a Euro-jazz band vamping endlessly behind amateurish videos and awkward, stilted poetry. And another semi-recent show featuring a member of a famously creepy indie band turned out to be a lot more indie than creepy, a nonstop barrage of dorkiness from the wannabe bass player/composer whose spastic, sort-of-indie-classical, sort-of-indie-rock stuff was being put on display.

Legendary Pittsburgh Punk Funk Band Reunites with a New Album

Stick Against Stone Orchestra”s new album Get It All Out has a quaint early 80s charm: it should resonate mightily with people who were there at the time and dancing up a storm at college parties and punk clubs. That’s because this group was there, a wildly popular Pittsburgh attraction who never managed to catch on outside their local scene. Many of the catchy, simple songs on this album date from from 1983 or before: as early indie funk, this stuff foreshadows the advent of cool bands like D’Tripp and the Family Stand, who were influenced as much by the Talking Heads as James Brown. What’s obvious is that this was a bunch of punks trying their hand at funk and Afrobeat. Like the Gang of Four, their plainspoken, politically-charged lyrics, shouted more often than sung, have the feel of a college term paper, but as early Reagan-era observations, they’re spot-on. Musically, the hooks are simple and catchy, with bright horn charts and incisive bass, and the NYC pros who form the backbone of the newly reassembled band do a good job capturing the music’s irrepressible, subversive spirit.

The backstory is a heartwarming one: in the early stages of producing a documentary on the band (due out next year, with the same title as the album), filmmaker Will Kreth ended up putting the surviving members of the group back together, bolstered by some hot NYC funk talent including baritone sax genius Paula Henderson (who absolutely nails this ambience) and Shudder to Think bassist Jesse Krakow, along with jazz saxophonist Michael Blake (doing double duty on soprano and alto) and drummers Tony Mason and Denny McDermott.

The opening track – a snide broadside against the music business – blasts through in a minute fifty-one seconds and sets the stage with growly bass, a tensely aggressive beat and catchy horn hooks. Wasted Lives keeps the briskly shuffling pulse going, through long bass-and-drum and horn vamps; they follow that with a slinky reggae tune, Wish and Want, spiced with melodica and flute and sarcastic, politically-fueled, stream-of-consciousness lyrics.

They go back to the rapidfire punk funk for Face Down and then hit a smooth Afrobeat groove with Moonlight Finds a Face, violin and flute dancing over simple, wickedly catchy verse and chorus hooks – it could be Liza & the WonderWheels trying their hand at an African vibe. They mingle funk and Afrobeat on the next track and then make their way through Elephants, a slowly undulating, hypnotic, summery Afrobeat-tinged groove, followed by a similarly slinky, somewhat more lush track.

Medicine Wheel juxtaposes snarling staccato guitar, flute and another wicked horn chart. The Private Sector is the best, most sonically assaultive and funniest track here, reminding that the roots of turning essential services like health and childcare into a profitable means of exploiting the public go back a lot further than Mitt Romney.”They’ve been held back by regulation, from here on out you’re dependent on them,” the singer shouts gleefully. The album ends with the warm, rootsy reggae of Necessity’s Tongue and then a long, intensely crescendoing funk vamp to close it out on a high note. Stick Against Stone Orchestra play Joe’s Pub on 1/29 at 9:30 PM.

Meah Pace at the National Underground: Better Than Adele

The little brown rat in the corner at the National Underground upstairs Wednesday night was full of energy. He (or she) went into somebody’s gym bag, then back out, scampering around intently. Maybe it was because the rat was young, or hungry – or maybe, on a rodent level at least, he or she could feel the intensity coming from the stage. And the band was cooking – waves of echo from the Fender Rhodes piano, fat, reverberating, tastefully bluesy lines from the guitar and a sultry, oldschool soul groove from the bass, drums and baritone sax. Meanwhile, singer and bandleader Meah Pace sized up the situation in a split second and made her move. A graceful whirlwind, she took over centerstage and then moved out into the crowd, pouncing and seizing the first few feet in front of the stage as her own, as if in a ballet choreographed by Tina Turner.

A very smart move, because with a few exceptions, the expensively dressed, drunken gentrifier crowd had not come to hear music. Tbey’d come out to talk loudly and languidly with their fellow suburbanites. But Pace not only got them to shut up – by the time the show was over, many of them were singing along. She owned them. The transformation was astonishing. Then again, Pace has the kind of charisma that only comes along every few years. Forget Adele – Meah Pace is the real deal. Her style is strictly oldschool, mid-60s soul, from all over the map – Memphis, Detroit, Chicago, it doesn’t matter, she goes there. Her voice has a sharp edge that reminds a little of a young Aretha Franklin, but it’s different, a lot sweeter and warmer. A little like Tammi Terrell – how she moves so effortlessly between the high and lows is absolutely breathtaking. Yet that warmth also carries a 100-proof punch. Best of all, in an hour onstage, Pace wailed, and murmured, and seduced, but she never once lapsed into cliched, fake, over-the-top American Idol theatrics. Then again, American Idol didn’t exist in 1967.

The band was like the Dap-Kings on steroids. Brisk, two-chord King Curtis vamps; bouncy, syncopated Memphis grooves; slow, slinky ballads – they could do them all. In front of them, Pace mixed it up – other than the obvious covers (a funked-up version of Your Cheating Heart that got everybody singing along), it was pretty much impossible to tell her originals from the classics. She opened with one of hers, a potently catchy number: “You can dance to the music – you gotta dance through the fire,” she wailed, and she danced along, but as if she was fireproof, or part of the flame. They reinvented the oldies radio hit I Got You Babe with a Sergeant Pepper-style intro and turned it into a hypnotic soul/funk tune, with a split-second breakdown to just the drums and vocals. A considerably slower, warm, Bill Withers-style song fueled by cascading waves of electric piano was even more hypnotic, like a soul classic the Rolling Stones might have ripped off around 1968. They went deep into Chicago-style blues with a song-length intro to a swinging organ tune (by Etta James, maybe  Telephone Blues?) lit up by a methodically crescendoing, soulful guitar solo and an even longer one from the organ, baritone saxophonist Paula Henderson stepping on it playfully with a deliciously torchy one of her own. They wrapped up the set with a Memphis-flavored tune and a surprisingly blistering rock version of High Heeled Sneakers, Pace’s wordless vocal outro just as full of longing as ecstasy. Which is pretty much what soul music is all about, isn’t it? She plays here pretty much every Wednesday at 9 or so (the club plays pretty fast and loose with set times).

In case you’re wondering about what happened to the rat, that’s a mystery. A customer told the waitress (yeah – they serve food here), who told an official-looking guy who may have been the manager. His response? He dimmed the lights in the back, so if the rat came out for an encore, nobody would have noticed. Who knows. Maybe the guy just likes animals.