New York Music Daily

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Tag: power pop

The Hilariously Relevant Rachael Kilgour Makes a Highly Anticipated Lincoln Center Debut Next Week

This September 8 songwriter Rachael Kilgour makes her Lincoln Center debut. She’s hilarious, and her acerbic, catchy songs are witheringly relevant. Her latest album is a terse three-song ep, Whistleblower’s Manifesto: Songs for a New Revolution, streaming at her site. It’s hard to imagine a handful of tunes released in recent years that capture the state of the nation any better than these three. The folksinger who opens Kilgour’s show in the atrium space at Broadway and 62nd St at 7:30 PM is pretty generic, but Kilgour is worth getting there early for – and especially since this show is free, it’s likely to sell out, so getting there early will be worth it.

Since the late zeros, Kilgour has made a name for herself as one of the smartest, most individualistic, and most rock-oriented acts on the folkie circuit. She’s a strong singer, a vivid lyricist with a populist streak and has a first-rate band. This little album is all about sarcasm. In a bright, cheery, soaring voice, Kilgour savages the kind of Prosperity Christians and related rightwingers that she may have grown up with her native Minnesota. The opening track, In America, sways along with a 90s trip-hop beat, although the layers of acoustic and electric guitars over an acoustic rhythm section gives the song a more organic feel than what you might expect:

It’s rags to riches, baby, that’s our story and we’re sticking to it
If you don’t make it big, you can’t claim the game is rigged
In America, you manifest your own destiny
Stack the deck and deal a hand and if your daddy’s rich
Every card you hold will be turned to gold
For a white man and his tricks
The bottom few could be privileged too
If they’d buckle down and try…

But at the end, Kilgour goes to the well for a punchline as devastating as anything the Clash or the Dead Kennedys ever put on vinyl.

He’ll Save Me is the centerpiece here. In this case, the sarcasm extends to the music, Kilgour’s blithely Bible-thumping protagonist chirping over a creepy, noir backdrop that’s Nashville gothic to the core:

As long as I pray I know I’ll get my way
When it comes to Judgment Day…
I don’t have to make nice
I know he’ll forgive me
Well, Jesus Christ, who do you think you are
Telling me I’ve gone too far?
…A three-car garage and a weekly massage,
I only take what I deserve
Healthcare? Don’t you know I know better
Than to hand rewards to sinners?
…She’s going to hell, another fetus killed
The Lord’s commandments say it’s true
But God bless my son as he aims his gun
At a cursed Afghani fool

The concluding, title cut is the most sarcastic of all mighty, swaying janglerock anthem, blending 90s Oasis clang with 60s Byrds jangle. The nagging, persistent cheer, delivered by the kind of know-it-all conformist we’ve all worked with (or worked for), is crushing:

There’s a man-boys’ club everywhere you look
From the Pentagon to your hippie neighbors
Keeping secrets, doing favors
‘Cause maybe in the end it’s easier to pretend
Than risk pissing off all your friends
Nobody wants a conflict
Nobody likes a tattletale
So keep your mouth shut, keep it to yourself
…Though you did what’s right
You’ll be the one to pay the price
Chances are you won’t be liked
They’ll never forgive you, Whistleblower
It’s on your shoulders
And you’re the only one to blame

The rest of Kilgour’s catalog is neither this grim nor this overtly political, but it’s just as tuneful. One suspects that Kilgour will be just as funny onstage as she is on these tracks.

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.

 

Edward Rogers Brings His Epic, Witheringly Relevant Britrock Masterpiece to Murray Hill

Quietly and methodically, Birmingham-born, New York-based songwriter/crooner Edward Rogers has established himself as a major force in retro Britrock tunesmithing. Over his four previosu albums, he’s earned comparisons to Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne, Bowie, Kevin Ayers (whose work he saluted with his previous album, Kaye) and – this isn’t an overstatement – Ray Davies. Rogers’ latest album, Glass Marbles – streaming at Spotify –  is a bitter, doomed, epic nineteen-track masterpiece: it’s his Sandinista, or Blonde on Blonde, or Here Come the Miracles. He and his brilliant band -whose core includes James Mastro on lead guitar, Don Piper on rhythm, Konrad Meissner on drums and Sal Maida on bass – to a killer twinbill with Marty Willson-Piper – the Richard Thompson of the twelve-string guitar – at the Cutting Room on June 21 at 7 PM. Advance tix are $20.

Rogers has an acute political awareness, whether casting a cold eye on how gentrification has devastated his beloved East Village, or here. The catchy World of Mystery opens the album, bringing to mind the Byrds version of Dylan’s My Back Pages. It’s an upbeat tune but it’s far from a happy song, the eyes of a clairvoyant “Now resigned and forced to be blind…the art of seeing is now dead, no more futures, no more futures can be read.”

Rogers revisits that theme on the toweringly crescendoing Denmark Street Forgotten, building out of spare, uneasily lingering guitars over mutedly ominous tom-tom syncopation:

You say it’s history
Please hear my plea
Not another robbers’ block for you and me

Welcome to My Monday Morning paints a vivid, grey-sky folk-rock portrait of working-class drudgery – and then picks up with a bounce as the weekend approaches. The Letter has an echoey, surreal blend of early 70s Bowie and vaudevillian Sergeant Pepper pop. The understatedly savage Jumbo Sale is one of those echoey, atmospherically psychedelic mood pieces Rogers is so adept at.

The entire band, especially the rhythm section, do a spot-on Stones impersonation throughout Bright Star, which could be a long-lost outtake from, say, the Black and Blue sessions. My Lady Blue – a droll Harry Chapin reference? – builds a pensive Hunkiy Dory Bowie-esque feel, just guitars and vocals, looking back bittersweetly on a late-night barroom hookup that predictably ended pretty much where it started. The glarmock/psychedelic stomp Olde House on the Hill is another bitter reminiscence: “The garden’s been replaced by thorns from hell,” Rogers rails.

The band goes back to pensively purposeful folk-rock for Broken Wishes on Display, then returns with a vengeance to withering social commentary with Blckpool Nights, a hauntingly vivid minor-key portrait of seedy resort-town dissolution and anomie. He and the band absolutely slayed with this last year at Rough Trade and did the same at Hifi Bar a couple of weeks ago.

Rogers evokes the Byrds again, both lyrically and jangle-wise, in I’m Your Everyday Man, a guardedly hopeful populist anthem with some nimble neo-baroque keyboard work. The band goes further down the psychedelic rabbit hole toward Indian exotica with Fade Away, its enveloping sonics contrasting with Rogers’ starkly straightforward tale of class disciminiation. Likewise, the easygoing baroque-rock sway of Seconds Into Minutes masks a bitter account of time gloat forever.

The albums best and catchiest track is Looking for Stone Angels, a dead ringer for a 1965 Byrds twelve-string janglefest: it’s Rogers at his elegaic best: “Not sure you want to live tomorow as your hopes fade away.” The band descends into broodingly artsy, Strawbs-isn folk rock with Just Like That It Came N Went, mellotron fluttering sepulchrally behind a web of acoustic guitars while Rogers’ scarecrow imagery completes the gloomy picture

Burn n Play is the album’s most sarcastic number, a thinly veiled anti-yuppie broadside that nicks a familiar 80s yuppie cheeseball anthem. Stars in Your Eyes, with its deep-space, minimalist piano, makes a striking contrast. The album’s title track is an even more unexpected departure into apocalyptic, scattergun no wave funk, boiling with nails-down-the-blackboard guitar multitracks. The End Moments offers muted, resigned closure: “I want to go out more quitely than I came in,” Rogers intones soberly.

Behind Rogers’ uncluttered, down-to-earth, weathered vocals, the entire band channels fifty years of smart UK songcraft. Where does this fall alongside the other albums released in 2016? It’s definitely the best nineteen-track release of the year…and the century, so far.

Intense, Purist, Catchy Tunesmithing and Devastating Wit from Elisa Peimer

Singer/keyboardist Elisa Peimer is a lot smarter, and edgier, and funnier than your typical folk-pop songwriter. She has a distinctive, soul-infused, slightly throaty delivery, has a way with a classic pop hook and also a devastating wit. When her lyrics aren’t uproariously amusing, they’re a lot more subtle. Case in point: Better, the big, Celtic-flavored 6/8 ballad that opens her new album Inside the Glass, streaming at her webpage. It’s not a typical kiss-off song: instead of chronicling a list of misdeeds, Peimer puts a positive spin on an otherwise gloomy storyline. Will the girl in the narrative realize that she can do better than the guy she’s with, who’s always got one eye on whoever’s coming through the front door of the bar? No spoilers here. Peimer and her excellent band – whose core is Paul Cabri on guitars, Irwin Menken on bass and John Clancy on drums – are playing the album release show on June 12 at 6 (six) PM at First Acoustics Coffeehouse in the basement of First Unitarian Church, 50 Monroe Pl. at Pierrepont St. in downtown Brooklyn. Take any train to Borough Hall; cover is $10 and includes yummy vegetarian food.

The funniest song on the album is titled Good Song. Anyone in the arts can relate to this one – see, the girl in the story used to write one great tune after another until she finally got into a good relationship with a guy. Now she’s happy…but she’s miserable all the same since all her new songs are trite and cheesy. The last verse is priceless. Bad relationships: the gift that keeps on giving!

The band blazes through stomping, new wave-inspired powerpop in the bittersweet Good for You, a dead ringer for vintage early 80s Motels. Bobby Hollywood, another Celtic anthem, is Peimer at her crushingly sardonic best. In a couple of tersely crafted verses and a chorus, she nails the pathology of the kind of gentrifier narcissists who frequent places like the Union Square greenmarket:

I was buying Brooklyn pickles
Made by a hipster out in Queens
Surrounded by my neighbors
In their hundred dollar jeans
But the one that caught my eye
Was the one that didn’t care
About the cooking demonstration
‘Cause Bobby Hollywood died right there
..But the teller of the story
Seemed to vanish in the crowd
Lost in trucker hats and strollers
Of the financially endowed…

Aloft with pilllowy strings, the parlor pop ballad Poetry is a lot more enigmatic – until the ending, which is way too good to give away. Hint: this song is MEAN! The band gets electric again on It’s All Right, a mashup of Rolling Thunder Revue Dylan and more recent folk-pop. Then Peimer switches to guitar for the delicously jangly, uneasly anthemic Can’t Make Me Stop Loving You.

She paints a guardedly hopeful late-winter tableau in Daffodils, then follows that with a considerably more morose, angst-infused parlor-pop ballad, What Would He Say. The album winds up with the towering, overcast art-rock anthem This Life. Another first-class release from a member of the Brooklyn-based Chicks with Dip songwriters’ collective, whose members include Aimee Van Dyne, Sharon Goldman, Carolann Solebello and several other cult favorite songsmiths..

Another Hauntingly Lyrical, Richly Jangly Masterpiece from Son of Skooshny

From 1978 until the band more or less dissolved somewhere around the late 90s – yet released a final single just this year – guitarist/songwriter Mark Breyer fronted Skooshny. The jangly powerpop trio still enjoys a cult following. Sort of the missing link between the Church, Cheap Trick and Elvis Costello, they played a single live show: an Arthur Lee benefit. As cred goes, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Since the group disbanded (but hey, we can always hope), Breyer has soldiered on as Son of Skooshny. And his songwriting, always packed with clever puns, multiple levels of meaning and an incessant angst, has never been better. With arrangements and spectacular multi-instrumentation from producer Steve Refling, Son of Skooshny’s catchy, anthemic latest album, the sardonically titled Confection, is streaming at Bandcamp.

Breyer claims to be technologically inept but he has a handle on marketing, releasing most of the album as singles over the past few months. Several of these have been featured on this page as they appeared, There’s Cloud Cover, “a wistful, dreamily uneasy transcontinental flight scenario. Just a Test is even better, a backbeat stomp that’s one of the funniest songs Breyer’s ever written…and then it gets dark. Refling turns in some of his finest work as a one-man version of the Church.”

No Ho “paints a gently devastating portrait of existential angst and understated despair, a couple doomed from the start traipsing their way through a vivid LA milieu. And the title could be as savage for the girl as the narrator’s prospects are bleak.”

Half of the World is Breyer at his sardonic, metaphorically-loaded best, opening this lushly swaying 70s folk-pop gem through the eyes of a guy trying to focus as the snow swirls around his eyes: Then,

Even this drunkard who chants between sips
And tries to keep the Lord’s name on his lips
Will surely move on and progress
When the mannequin changes its dress
It can see more than half of the world

As good as these tracks are, they pale next to The Subtle Eye. It’s one of best songs to come over the transom here in the past few years, never mind months, one of those 4 AM repeat-button numbers (in context: Matthew Grimm’s suicide narrative West Allis; Marianne Dissard’s drained and depleted Am Letzen; Karla Rose’s grimly defiant Time Well Spent).

Refling’s trebly accordion sheen belies a sadness that will rip your heart out. This is about dead people appearing in dreams – and it’s a wish song. Long-gone parents make fleetingly ominous appearances; a beloved canine comes to the rescue. That Breyer doesn’t completely rule out a happy ending is almost crueler than if he’d just wrapped it up on a depressing note: be careful what you wish for since you might not get it. It capsulizes his worldview, resolutely dreaming his way through every stop sign. Watch for this on the best albums of 2016 page if we get that far.

Above the Moon Transcend an Awful Sound Mix to Play a Deliciously Catchy Friday Night Show

You would think that a sound guy would relish the opportunity to mix a set by twin-guitar rockers Above the Moon, considering how catchy, and interesting, and texturally delicious their songs are. And then there’s the matter of the lustre, and puwer, and nuance of frontwoman/guitarist Kate Griffin’s exquisite voice. What did the sound guy at Leftfied do last Friday night when somebody in the crowd asked for more vocals? Did he tweak a couple of inputs, maybe, lower the drums or the guitars a tad? Nope.

He took her vocals out of the mix. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, right? At least you’ll be able to hear her when the band plays an extremely rare acoustic set at 9:30 PM tomorrow night, May 25 at the Bitter End, where the Aquarian – sort of the across-the-Hudson counterpart to the Village Voice – has been staging nights of bands fron their home state. Cover is $10.

Last Friday, only in the quietest moments was that spun-crystal voice audible, and then only through the stage monitors. So for all intents and purposes, the band played an instrumental set. Although Griffin’s vocals are probably what everybody in the crowd came to hear, to the band’s credit, they held their own as an instrumental unit, testament to how memorable their tunesemithing is. The subtle upper-midrange distinctions between Griffin’s Telecaster – which she often ran through what sounded like an old analog chorus pedal for an expecially tasty, deep-space jangle – and lead guitarist James Harrison’s Strat, which he played using a wah for all sorts of subtle and dramatic oscillations – were front and center throughout the show. Bassist Shawn Murphy played bitingly tuneful, catchy lines high up the fretboard, Peter Hook style, often serving as a second lead guitar. Powerhouse drummer John Gramuglia built drama when he wasn’t swinging the midtempo stuff by the tail, or providing a punchy postpunk pulse.

Some of the material followed what would become a famiiar and very effective pattern, a tensely enigmatic verse into a big, clanging, triumphant payoff on the chorus. A couple of other numbers took that idea and flipped the script. On one hand, there were echoes of the jaggedly minimalistic insistence of 90s bands like Versus, and the occasional oblique swipe from Harrison back toward  vintage Sonic Youth or Shellac. On the other hand, there was always a hummable tune somewhere, whether in the big buildup to a chorus, or the melancholy twang of the midtempo number toward the end of the set that proved to be the night’s high point. On one hand, taking Griffin out of the mix was criminal, like hitting the mute during a Prince guitar solo. On the other, Above the Moon turned into a great instrumental band – for one show and one show only, let’s hope.

Dada Paradox Pick Up Where the Wickedly Catchy, Lyrically Brilliant Larch Left Off

In recent years at least, it’s hard to imagine a more productive rock music couple than Ian and Liza Roure. As the brain trust of both the Larch and Liza & the WonderWheels, they made a mark as purveyors of hook-driven, lyrically sharp Elvis Costello-ish tunesmithing and acerbically catchy psychedelia, respectively. When both bands imploded, the Wheels morphed into Tracy Island – fronted by Liza, on guitar – and the Larch became Dada Paradox, fronted by Ian on a multitude of guitars, bass and percussion, with Liza on keys. Dada Paradox picks right up where the Larch left off with 2014’s In Transit without missing a beat. The new album, Mobile Flight – streaming at the band’s webpage – has some of the most memorable songwriting released this year, and the duo will bring it to the stage at the release show on May 25 at 8 PM at Bowery Electric. Low-key psychedelic crew Psychic Lines open the night at 7; cover is $10.

The anthemically crescendoing opening track, Find Ways to Matter traces an uneasily metaphorical space travel narrative over a tasty bed of judiciously multitracked guitar textures: the interweave between the acoustic, the electrics and the twelve-string is intricate and Byrdsy to the point where it’s hard to tell which is playing what. Light hand percussion rather than a full drumkit has the paradoxical effect of directing attention to Roure’s lattice of fretwork, adding a low-key bedroom pop charm.

The twelve-string also takes centerstage over twinkling electric piano on the first of a handful of miniatures here, the wistful, gently nocturnally-tinged Here Comes Another Day. From there the duo segue into the album’s catchiest and also most nonchalantly ominous track, the tropically-tinged Another Day in Paradise. It’s Squeeze’s Pulling Mussels without the one-note guitar solo, updated for the teens with a backdrop of global warming.

The resolute, propulsive Happy Families, another track from the late Larch days, looks back to vintage, offhandedly savage Armed Forces-era Costello with its sardonic portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Executive doing a number on each other while trying to keep up appearances. Spooky Action surrealistically explores an eerie sci-fi action-at-a-distance scenario over a stately Britfolk waltz, Ian’s recorder and Liza’s ghost-girl vocal harmonies ramping up the mysterioso ambience.

A gentle baroque keyboard interlude leads into the wryly sarcastic character study Inflexible Flyer, Ray Davies channeled through the prism of peak-era, mid-90s Blur. For those who don’t get the joke, the Flexible Flyer was a popular kids’ snow sled back in the 60s and 70s. There are a couple of folk-flavored tracks here –  The Far Side of the Fray has a deadpan savagery in the same vein as Roger Waters’ The Bravery of Being Out of Range, while The Apocalypse Cheering Committee is as cynically funny as you would expect from this crew.

There’s also Solar Birds, aloft on a keening slide guitar line with an early 70s pastoral Pink Floyd feel, and the album’s majestically jangly closing escape anthem, Sorrows of Stephen: “The sorrow suffocates, to draw a free breath seems like it’s worth the risk that you take,” Ian encourages. A good fifteen-plus years since the Larch started ripping it up in scruffy dives all over Brooklyn, it’s good to see the Roures arguably at the peak of their career as players and songwriters. Count this among the half-dozen best releases to come out of New York this year.

A Clinic in Purist Guitar Rock from Eric Ambel and Esquela

“Who needs pedals?” Eric “Roscoe” Ambel asked the party people in the house at a private event at Bowery Electric last week. His pedalboard was acting up, so he pulled the plug on it. Running straight through his amp, switching between a vintage black Les Paul and his signature Roscoe Deluxe Tele model by Stonetree Custom Guitars, Ambel put on a clinic in lead guitar, playing a mix of old favorites and material from his new gatefold vinyl album, Lakeside. Behind the guitar icon and head honcho of the late, great Lakeside Lounge were Brett Bass on bass, Phil Cimino on drums and Spanking Charlene‘s Mo Goldner taking on a Keith Richards role on second guitar. They kicked off hard with Song from the Walls, the angry, acidic riff-rock opening track on Ambel’s 1995 Loud and Lonesome album.

It’s amazing how few notes Ambel uses, considering what kind of chops the guy has. Everything counts for something: the lingering bends on the simmering, amped-up Jimmy Reed groove of Here Come My Love; the gritty, enveloping roar of the anti-trendoid broadside Hey Mr. DJ; the sunspotted, precise blues bite of Don’t Make Me Break You Down. Spanking Charlene frontwoman Charlene McPherson lent her powerful pipes to the vocal harmonies on Have Mercy, a soul-infused number that she wrote with Ambel. They sent a shout-out to the Ramones with Massive Confusion, then chilled out with Gillian Welch’s Miss Ohio. Ambel’s playing the album release show on April 29 at around 8:30 PM at Berlin (in the basement under 2A). He’s doing double duty that night: after his set, he’a adding “power assist guitar” with the ferociously funny Spanking Charlene.

The opening act, Esquela – whose album Canis Majoris Ambel recently produced – were excellent too. They work a country-oriented side of paisley underground twang and clang. The push-pull of the two guitarists, Brian Shafer’s snaky, sinuous leads against Matt Woodin’s punchy, uneasily propulsive drive had an intensity similar to great 80s bands like True West and Steve Wynn‘s Dream Syndicate. They also hit hard with their opener, Too Big to Fail (as in, “too rich for jail”), frontwoman Becca Frame’s big, wounded wail soaring over the twin-guitar attack and the four-on-the-floor drive from the band’s main songwriter, bassist John “Chico” Finn and drummer Todd Russell.

From there they hit a wry Del Shanon doo-wop rock groove with It Didn’t Take, went into stomping mid-70s Lou Reed territory and then rousing Celtic rock with Need Not Apply, a snarling look back at anti-Irish racisim across the ages. Their best song was a bittersweetly swaying dead ringer for mid-80s True West, but with better vocals and a careening, shoulder-dusting Shafer solo. Or it might have been an echoey psychedelic number that they suddenly took warpspeed at the end. They brought up harmony singer Allyson Wilson, whose soulful intensity was every bit the match for Frame’s – which made sense, considering that she usually can be found singing opera and classical repertoire at places like Carnegie Hall. Her most spine-tinging moment was when she tackled the Merry Clayton role on a slinky cover of Gimme Shelter.

The band closed with Freebird, a sardonically funny, Stonesy original that Finn wrote to satisfy all the yahoos who scream for it. Perennially popular indie powerpop road warriors the Figgs – who haven’t lost a step in twenty years – were next on the bill. Which was where the whiskey really started to kick in – this was a party, after all. Sorry, guys – for a look at what they sound like onstage, here’s a snarky piece from Colossal Musical Joke week, 2012.

Mimi Oz Brings Her Kitchen-Sink Songwriting Prowess to the East Village Saturday Night

Mimi Oz can write anything. She’s got a powerful, passionate, slightly coy voice informed by soul, 60s pop, Americana and punk. Likewise, her songwriting runs the gamut, and she’s a strong tunesmith. Her latest album Men Who Never Loved Me – a sardonically melancholy, thematic collection – is streaming at Bandcamp. She’s playing Saturday night, April 16 at 11 PM at Sidewalk with her band.

You might think that a song with the title Tickle My Berry would be something that, say, Iggy Azalea might do. This one turns out to be a summery psych-funk number that hits a burning powerpop drive on the chorus. Bad Love is a wryly hilarious faux girl-group pop number about being stuck with a losers like this one dude who’s “bad at kissing, he doesn’t use his tongue.” It’s sort of the missing link between the Universal Thump and the Ronettes.

The wounded waltz Dreaming Again blends stark country fiddle into a soaring new wave-tinged ballad. Future Trouble is spot-on 60s C&W, right down to the chicken-scratch honkytonk guitar and call-and-response, gospel-style backing vocals; then Oz takes it in more of a powerpop direction. She keeps the honkytonk flavor going, mashing it up with 60s pop in the romping, piano-driven, twisted Ugly Baby.

Neptune Hotel is a swaying soul-jazz number with muted trumpet and low-key, simmering vocals that grows more uneasily surreal as it builds. Alphabet City Gypsy, with its swirly organ and oldschool R&B bounce, puts a funny East Village spin on a theme familiar to fans of Elvis and the blues.

Be My Bobby is another bouncy piano number: like a lot of songs here, it’s a disquieting mix of sultry seduction, longing ache and crushingly cynical, punk-infused humor. The album’s best song is the rainy-day saloon jazz ballad Woman Perfect, balmy sax mingling with the piano and the stately, swinging rhythm section. The final cut is the bossa nova Somebody’s Nobody, sung in English and Portuguese. As eclectic, imaginatively purist songwiting goes, it doesn’t get much better than this in 2016.

7horse Bring Their LMAO Stoner Vibe and Catchy, Heavy Sounds to Bowery Electric

7horse play party music that’s not stupid. You might know them from their huge youtube hit, A Friend in Weed. The LA duo have an irrepressible, sardonic sense of humor and a much bigger sound than you’d expect from just a two-piece: big, burning, distorted guitars and an equally epic drum sound. Phil Leavitt sings with a brash but honest, unaffected delivery; guitarist Joie Calio layers his tracks for stadium heft and bulk. Their latest album Living in a Bitch of a World isn’t out yet, but they’ll be playing plenty of it at their show at 9 PM on April 15 at Bowery Electric. Cover is $10

It opens with the title track, a catchy, cynical midtempo number that’s part Dolls, part mid-70s Lou Reed: “Spending quality time with people I hate,” Leavitt complains. Two Stroke Machine – a motorcycle reference – has a four-on-the-floor Mellencamp thump and tasty layers of jangly Rickenbacker guitar, a wry tale about the hard life of a smalltime weed dealer.

The funniest track is their cover of the BeeGees’ Stayin’ Alive, reinvented as a stoner boogie. What might be funniest is that you can actually understand the lyrics, which are pretty awful. Leavitt stays down in his range rather than reaching for Barry Gibb’s helium highs. Dutch Treat isn’t as successful: the joke of a couple of white dudes doing a halfhearted spoof of putrid corporate hip-hop wears thin fast.

One Week is another boogie, a teens update on ZZ Top. 400 Miles from Flagstaff brings back the meat-and-potatoes highway rock, followed by the Stonesy, slide guitar-fueled Liver Damage Victims. Then they go back to heavy-lidded boogie with Answer the Bell: “The light in your eyes is making you sick,” Leavitt bellows knowingly.

Stick to the Myth is a real surprise, a brooding, minor-key kiss-off anthem, and it’s the best song on the album. They keep the low-key simmer going with Drift, a slow, pensive 6/8 stoner blues. The album winds up with She’s So Rock n Roll, an irresistibly spot-on parody of early 70s glam. For now, til the new record’s out, you can get a full-length immersion in what they sound like with their more roughhewn, gutter blues-oriented previous album, Songs for a Voodoo Wedding, streaming at Spotify.