New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: power pop

Marianne Dissard’s Cibola Gold Distills Some of Her Most Shattering Songs

More than anything else, French singer Marianne Dissard’s new greatest-hits collection, Cibola Gold – streaming at Bandcamp – is all about solace. Betrayal, disappointment and fullscale heartbreak are frequent themes, and for anyone who’s suffered any of that (hasn’t everyone?), Dissard feels your pain. It’s a potently plaintive playlist for cold nights at 3 AM when there’s only a single glass left in the magnum and the ghosts on the perimeter are closing in.

It opens with a funny song and closes with a harrowing one. In between, it documents the career of one of the world’s most consistently compelling songwriters since 2008. She started out looking back toward new wave, then went deep into desert rock. Since then, Dissard has been just as eclectic, ranging from the towering, angst-driven art-rock of her 2014 masterpiece The Cat. Not Me, to the stripped-down noir of last year’s live-in-the-studio release, Cologne-Vier Takes. Beyond the thirteen newly remastered tracks, the album comes with a lavish, full-color booklet documenting Dissard’s well-documented travels, from her native country to the Arizona desert  – where she famously collaborated with Giant Sand and Sergio Mendoza – and eventually full circle.

Like Balkan singer Eva Salina, recently covered here, Dissard’s vocals transcend the limits of language. While her lyrics, mostly in French, are full of double entendres and clever wordplay, her powers of expression are such that anyone can get the gist if not the complete picture of where she’s coming from, emotionally speaking. For example, her coyly deadpan delivery on the scampering Django jazz-flavored Les Draps Sourds. In French, “sourd” means “deaf,” but it also means “hammered,” as in having had too much bordeaux. So the tale of the two lovers beneath the sheets, interrupted, takes on new dimensions, whether or not you speak French.

The One and Only, with its insistent, echoey Rhodes piano and purist blend of soul and blues, sends a joyously breathy shout-out to Dissard’s old Tucson stomping ground. She takes an animatedly anguished approach to the ache and abandonment of Election over an insistently pulsing piano-pop arrangement. Cayenne refers not to the quasi-narcotic qualities of capsicum but to its lingering burn, and all that it represents, Dissard’s mutedly wounded contralto mingling with a gently pointillistic, Chelsea Girl-style acoustic backdrop. The metaphorically-loaded images of the swaying folk-rock of Les Confettis are much the same.

With La Tortue (The Turtle), the door opens wide and the darkness, always hinted at, pours in, with more than a hint of hip-hop in Dissard’s half-spoken nightmare imagery over waves of strings and incisive neoromantic piano. The whisperingly conspiratorial ranchera art-rock of Almas Perversas (Perverse Souls) is more allusively troubled. Then Dissard offers a mysteriously seductive groove with the sunbaked Booker T psych-soul groove of Trop Expres (rough translation: Too Obvious).

Pomme (The Apple) expands on the William Tell fable, chamber-pop gospel as Roger Waters might do it, with an irresistible woodwind chart and similarly tasty piano. La Peau Du Lait (Porcelain Skin) blends new wave bounce and dancing echoes of vintage vaudevillian chanson, with one of Dissard’s trademark clever rhyme schemes. Likewise, It’s Love, a mashup of new wave and angst-tinged artsy pop: Botanica in a rare, lighter moment comes to mind.

Un Gros Chat (Fat Cat), more or less the centerpiece of The Cat. Not Me is a chilling art-rock anthem, again bringing to mind Botanica as well as Aladdin Sane-era Bowie, with a rare verse or two in English from Dissard. The album ends with the whispery, elegaic Am Letzen, a shatteringly wintry depiction of wee-hours emotional destitution on the final morning of the year. Everybody else is probably getting stoked for the evening’s festivities: Dissard’s drained, despondent narrator only leaves the apartment so she can come back to it.

This album fits with Dissard’s current retrospective mode: when she isn’t touring, she’s back in France, with a memoir in the works. From an oldschool media perspective, albums of previously released material aren’t typically included among critics’ picks of the year’s best releases, but if there’s any one that deserves to be an exception, this is it. Pour that last glass, stare down the demons and let Dissard’s wise, knowing murmur pull you off the ledge.

Erudite, Cleverly Catchy Rockers Regular Einstein Open a Great Bill at Cake Shop on the 24th

Regular Einstein are the kind of band whose albums you listen to for the lyrics. Frontwoman Paula Carino can’t resist a double entendre or a hilariously snarky pun, as you might expect from a band with such a sarcastic name: these people aren’t dummies. You can’t help but wonder how many fans of, say, the Joy Formidable or for that matter the Pretenders or the Distillers would put Regular Einstein in rotation if they knew the band existed. And as good as their lyrics are, they’re the kind of act you go see live because of the tunes…and for Carino’s coolly modulated, plush vocals. They’re opening an excellent night of music on February 20 at 8 PM at Cake Shop, with the amazingly eclectic, kinetically psychedelic, occasionally haunting Sometime Boys headlining at 10.

The last time this blog caught Regular Einstein in action, they were at Rock Shop the last time the Mets won a game, opening for another brilliantly lyrical band, Lazy Lions. Onstage, they have an enigmatically scruffy look that goes back to their late 90s origins. Drummer Nancy Polstein, probably the most eclectic of the bunch, can play anything and has: Britfolk, garage rock and Americana, among other styles. Likewise, lead guitarist Dave Benjoya, whose credits span from punk to Middle Eastern and Balkan-influenced sounds. Bassist Andy Mattina comes out of a jamband background, while Carino, the youngest of the bunch, draws on punk and new wave but also indie rock.

This time out was a loud, hard-hitting show, Carino stage left rather than front and center, projecting with more vocal power and bite than usual. Benjoya had centerstage and made the most of it, with a gritty roar and lead lines that wove and dipped between no wave skronk, slashing bluesy licks and ominous chromatics over Polstein’s elegant tumble and drive and Mattina’s growling, gravel-toned riffage, like a second lead guitarist rising from the lower depths.

One of the highlights of the show was a steady, stalking version of Robots Helping Robots. What becomes clear in this Twilight Zone rock tale is that these helpful beings or quasi-beings might have a slightly different agenda. The best song of the night was The Good Times, which the band elevated from a brooding 6/8 anthem into an angst-fueled Romany-rock waltz, Carino singing low and wounded, looking back on a long-gone era when “All we wanted was love.” As the set went on, briskly pulsing major-key verses hit uneasy minor-key choruses, or vice versa, Benjoya sometimes skeletal, sometimes roaring, Mattina keeping the cinders burning underneath. All this is just part of what the band will bring to the stage next week.

It wouldn’t be fair to mention Regular Einstein’s set without including the headliner at that October show, new wave rockers Lazy Lions, who managed to lure most of the Mets crowd back downstairs for an edgy, lyrically-driven set of their own. Frontman/keyboardist Jim Allen sang with a mattter-of-fact, Graham Parker-esque blue-eyed soul delivery and played slinky, tersely tuneful organ over bassist Anne-Marie Stehn’s pulsing new wave, Motown and reggae-inflected grooves. Guitarist Robert Sorkin gave the group a burning, blues-infused backdrop, often taking a handoff from Allen for all-too-brief, incisive solos.

He brought to mind Keith Richards’ uneasy chord-chopping on Rock in a Hard Place on the opening number. A little later, he and Allen hit an more forceful update on an Elvis Costello Watching the Detectives style interlude midway through the vengeful kiss-off anthem Susannah Rachel. .From there they deftly blended hints of XTC, Antmusic, oldschool soul and Let It Be era Beatles into their brisk, scampering new wave tunes, suspenseful minor-key verses rising to catchy, anthemic choruses and turnarounds. The slowest, most wistful song of the night was the most soul-inflected, a new one titled Liverpool Is Leaving You Behind. The catchiest grew out of hints of dub to a snarling chorus fueled by Sorkin’s phaser guitar. They closed with a characteristically sardonic, self-effacing one, Magellan in Reverse. Lazy Lions don’t play a lot of shows, but when they do, they always pick a good bill to play on and this was no exception.

A Gorgeously Jangly Paisley Underground Rock Masterpiece from Girls on Grass

The first thing that hits you right off the bat about Girls on Grass‘ debut album – streaming at Bandcamp – is the guitars. Two Telecasters, one in the left channel, one in the right, with multitracks in various places. Barbara Endes and Sean Eden’s playing is judicious, wickedly smart, purist and catchy as hell. There’s fifty years of Americana and tasteful, jangly rock in those matter-of-factly measured changes, and long crescendos, and solos that could go on for twice as long and you’d still want more. Girls on Grass know to always leave you wanting something else.

Girls on Grass play what was called “paisley underground” back in the 80s. Blending the twang of Bakersfield country, the insistent chordal pulse of the Velvet Underground and the electric blaze of Neil Young & Crazy Horse, bands like Steve Wynn‘s Dream Syndicate, True West and Green on Red earned a devoted fan base on college radio and in sweaty clubs across the country, and, soon after, around the world. Girls on Grass work that turf with a tightness and tersely imaginative ferocity that would have made them stars in that demimonde. Who knows, if we’re lucky other bands will hear them and we’ll get a paisley underground revival. They’re playing February 19 at Matchless in Williamsburg at 10 PM; cover is $10

The album’s opening track, Father Says Why is a plainspoken young rocker’s escape anthem with a spiraling, hair-raising solo filled with eerie bends over a a tight rhythm section. Too Pretty bounces along on an altered Bo Diddley beat before it straightens out at the chorus, Endes’ narrator broke and brooding over a girl she’s got a crush on…but that girl’s from New York, and gorgeous, and probably out of reach.

What They Wrought looks at the sheer force it takes to build a city…and that the talent and energy that went into building this one will probably never be repeated. The clanging, spiraling solos and contrast between the guitars in each channel has a similar craft and majesty. The band slows it down a little with Fair, a swaying C&W ballad: “I’ll take what comfort I can get, real or imagined,” the sad girl in the story admits.

Drowning in Ego opens and closes with a scampering Tex-Mex flair over drummer Nancy Polstein’s hard-hitting 2/4 stomp and another searing guitar solo midway through. The vindictive When the Pleasure Ends is a dead ringer for the Dream Syndicate (with a woman out front); the way the unhinged lead line slowly pulls away from the center is nothing short of delicious. The twin solo after that’s as tasty as it is intricate, too.

Pissin’ Down a Road starts off as a chain gang song and then hits a gorgeously hypnotic post-Velvets groove, spiced with lingering guitar flickers; it doesn’t even change chords til the turnaround into the second chorus. The way the second guitar echoes the first is an especially neat trick. The nonchalantly savage Return to Earth is another Dream Syndicate soundalike with its multi-channeled jangle and clang, Dave Mandl’s bass finally bubbling over the roar and crash as the song winds up to a mighty peak.

Karen Waltuch’s spare viola enhances the country sway of How Does It Feel. Dave We Love You sends a brisk electric bluegrass shout-out to a guy who “carries twenty film critic books under his arm….someday you’ll teach at NYU.” The final track, with its hints of Hendrix and gospel, is the 6/8 ballad One of the Guys, a fond nod back at someone who was a needed, steadying influence on a rugged individualist during her confused adolescence. There hasn’t been an album in this style of music this good since another band with girls in their name, Girls Guns & Glory, put out theirs in 2014. Like that one a couple of years ago, this is an early contender for best rock record of 2016.

The Likely Final Release by Powerpop Icons Skooshny Goes Out Lushly and Gorgeously

Powerpop cult icons Skooshny‘s new single Saved by the Bell – streaming at Bandcamp – carries some sad history. It’s likely the final recording by the legendary studio-only project, whose lone concert appearance was at an Arthur Lee benefit. It’s not an original – it’s a cover of a 1969 British hit single by the BeeGees’ Robin Gibb. Frontman Mark Breyer channels a balmy Colin Blunstone-style unease as a lush web of twelve- and six-string guitars builds to symphonic levels, drummer David Winogrond adding some judiciously artful tumbles on the final chorus. “I died for you, I died for two,” Breyer croons. For those who might not be aware that the BeeGees’ lead singer had a solo career that went back a lot further than the disco age, is a history lesson – and if this is truly the final release by one of the best jangly bands of the last half-century, it’s as good an exit as any.

Breyer – an Elvis Costello/Steve Kilbey class songwriter – ncver stopped writing or recording after the band broke up. His albums as Son of Skooshny (the word sarcastically means “boring” in Russian) are every bit as good. There’s also reputedly long-awaited new Son of Skooshny album in the works.

Powerpop and Janglerock Cult Heroes the Flamin’ Groovies Make Their Williamsburg Debut Sunday Night

How many bands from the sixties are still left, let alone worth seeing? The Stones may be a pale shadow of their former glory, but the Flamin’ Groovies are still out there and still reputedly ripping it up. As far as legendary twinbills are concerned, it’s hard to imagine anything much more adrenalizing than when they teamed up with the original version of Aussie garage-psych legends Radio Birdman for that band’s one and only European tour in 1979. Hundreds, maybe thousands of shows later, the Flamin’ Groovies are making their Williamsburg debut this Sunday, November 22 at 10 PM at Baby’s All Right. Cover is $20, and you might want to show up early just to make sure you get in since this is a small place, maybe the smallest venue the band has played in decades. You can expect to see Cyril Jordan, Chris Wilson and George Alexander from the classic 1971-80 lineup, bolstered by Victor Penalosa on drums,

Their latest release is Groovies’ Greatest Grooves, streaming at Spotify, a delicious and definitive 24-song playlist that would get a smile out of the most curmudgeonly, critical pop purist. There’s Shake Some Action, the iconic powerpop tune with the hook that every guitarist worth his or her salt has messed around with (and possibly stolen); the new single End of the World, echoing Blue Oyster Cult or possibly the Frank Flight Band; Teenage Head, the snotty, ghoulishly galloping number that at least one band named themselves after; the trippy, woundedly gorgeous twelve-string chamber pop classic I Saw Her; Slow Death; which prefigures both the Move and Big Star; the wickedly catchy yet counterintuitive Jumpin’ in the Night; and the proto-glam Tallahassee Lassie.

These guys were so far ahead of their time it’s not funny. The list of bands they’ve influenced, in punk, powerpop and garage rock, goes on for miles. You can hear electric T-Rex in Yeah My Baby (meanwhile, the Groovies are mashing up the Velvets with the Beatles). Their stripped-down cover of Don’t Lie to Me has been a prototype for bar bands covering Chuck Berry for decades. There’s First Plane Home, awash in glistening Rickenbacker chime and clang. Uneasy major-to-minor-and-back changes permeate the briskly pulsing shuffle Please Please Girl, while it’s the dancing, minimalist lead guitar lines that make I Can’t Hide so cool. There are also deeper tracks here like Yes It’s True and You Tore Me Down, with their heartbreakingly jangly, watery mashup of Byrds folk-rock and early Beatles pop; Between the Lines, which could be a proto-Cheap Trick covering Dylan: and Don’t Put Me On, a defiant stoner look forward to new wave.

There’s also Teenage Confidential, which sounds like the early Who taking a stab at Phil Spector; amped up early Pretty Things-style R&B like Down Down Down; I’ll Cry Alone, beefed-up acoustic-electric Fab Four; the fuzztone-tinged Byrds of Yes I Am; and the bizarre bluegrass-Beatles hybrid All I Wanted. There’s going to be a clinic in sharp, catchy tunesmithing Sunday night a few blocks from the Marcy Avenue stop on the J and M train and you can be there to witness it.

George Usher and Lisa Burns Channel 50 Years of Gorgeously Erudite Rock Songcraft on Their New Album

Some artists get overlooked if they aren’t playing shows regularly, an unfair disadvantage to say the least. George Usher and Lisa Burns earned their cred playing all over New York beginning as far back as the 80s. There’s a harrowing backstory and a happy ending, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, behind their album The Last Day of Winter (streaming at Spotify).

Usher earned iconic status as a powerpop songwriter and bandleader with House of Usher, Beat Rodeo and other groups dating from the CBGB days (and wrote the title track of Laura Cantrell‘s classic 2000 debut album, Not the Tremblin’ Kind). Burns also enjoys an avid cult following as an innovative crafter and reinterpreter of classic soul, powerpop and occasionally psychedelic sounds. While making a successful recovery from cancer, Usher decided to reinvent himself as a lyricist since he was too debilitated to play, and Burns set those lyrics to music. The result is a pensive, often plantive, richly arranged blend of janglerock, powerpop, Americana and new wave, one of the best albums of 2015.

Happily, Usher’s back to playing his guitar, and also piano on this album. The opening track, Wake Me When Tomorrow’s Here has the soaring crescendos of the Church, Burns’ soulful, vibrato-heavy harmonies mingling with Usher’s understatedly triumphant vocals: he’s been through a lot. Burns widens that vibrato all the way in the vintage C&W-tinged ballad Depression Glass, a vividly downcast Flyover America tableau. More Than That I Cannot Say amps up the late 60s folk-rock that Burns does so well.

Lost in Translation has a slow, hazy sway that’s part Beatles, part pastoral Pink Floyd, spiced with Usher’s spiky, minimalist piano accents. The wrly shuffling My Precious Wisdom gives Usher a platform to stay at the keys and ripple through some ragtime. If It Ever Comes to Pass is the album’s best track, a snarling minor-key, darkly new wave-tinged gem fueled by Mark Sidgwick’s lead guitar. The guy/girl harmonies bring to mind legendary late 90s/early zeros New York band DollHouse.

Usher airs out an unexpectedly powerful upper register on another real gem, the brooding, metaphorically charged honkytonk ballad Dark Blue Room, lowlit by Jonathan Gregg’s high lonesome pedal steel. Then Usher returns to the 88s as Burns sings the angst-fueled Wasn’t Born to Belong: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Matt Keating catalog.

Drummer Wylie Wirth’s elegant brushwork pushes the gorgeous, ominously bittersweet Never Ever Land while Usher handles its big, restless acoustic guitar chords: “It’s a cloudy dream and a slow return when the fire has nowhere to burn,” Usher and Burns warn. Then they go back to channeling the Church in 80s folk-rock mode in the understatedly savage kiss-off anthem The World That Rested on Your Word. The album’s creepiest track is The Ferryman’s Name, evoking both the Fab Four and CSNY with its harmonies and surreallistic death imagery. The album winds up with its magnificently saturnine – and ultimately hopeful – title track, Jeff Hermanson’s horn sailing over Claudia Chopek’s stark string arrangement.

Musically speaking, this is arguably the strongest collection of tunes Burns has ever written, pretty impressive for someone who’s been at it as long as she has. Usher himself has been recording since the 60s, beginning as a pop prodigy in his native Cleveland. Fun factoid: as a kid, he was known to take credit – or at least not deny credit – for Gary Puckett’s hits, since they were credited to one G. Usher (the unrelated producer Gary Usher). But he’s a generation younger than McCartney and Jagger and the rest of the guys from that era. His voice may have weathered a smidge, but it’s still strong. Long may it resonate.

Singles for the End of August

You notice that today’s piece doesn’t say “the end of summer,” right? Uh uh. In the global warming era, summer goes on forever. To soothe the burn, here’s a self-directed playlist, about 40 minutes of music to lift your spirits in this depressingly hot week.

Guitarslinger Allen Devine plays a clinic in smart, tasteful noir-tinged Elvis Costello-ish new wave rock on his Berlin-based band the Inside Tracks‘ single Ordinary Girl. The flipside, Your Baby has a snarling, period-perfect, all-too-brief early 80s style guitar solo. That’s Matt Keating channeling Steve Nieve on Farfisa! Listen on Soundcloud

Son of Skooshny‘s two latest singles are both gems. Frontman/rhythm guitarist Mark Breyer may be revered in powerpop circles, but he should still be better known than he is. Check out Cloud Cover, a wistful, dreamily uneasy transcontinental flight scenario. And his latest release, 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. Multi-instrumentalist/producer Steve Refling turns in some of his finest work as a one-man version of the Church. Listen on Bandcamp

Coney Island Russian rock band Newborn‘s Runaround is sort of Gogol Bordello meets roaring vintage 90s LES rock. Opening with that wicked bassline was smart – and you gotta love the visuals, the sight gag is priceless. Have a laugh via youtube.

Don’t let the primitive drum machine intro to Iva Dawn’s Officer scare you off – it turns out to be a solidly good Lynchian bossa-pop number, tasty reverb guitar paired against her smoky organ. Listen on Soundcloud

Chirpy-voiced oldschool soul songstress Rebecca Jordan‘s Remember When is creepy, torchy bossa noir worthy of Clairy Browne. Click the music player button at Jordan’s site and fast-forward to track 4.

Growling fuzztone bass and catchy, skittish garage guitar propel Bad Bad Hats’ Shame, a Minneapolis/Australia mashup. Watch it on youtube

And speaking of catchy and new wave-ish, Motobunny’s Thinkin’ Bout Me ought to be on the same youtube page.

Ike Reilly Brings His Down-to-Earth, High-Energy Lyrical Rock to the Mercury

Ike Reilly is sort of the Midwestern Willie Nile. Their big four-on-the-floor rock anthems have a lot in common: catchy riffs, purist arrangements, first-class playing and heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics. Like Nile, Reilly looks back to Highway 61-era Dylan a lot, but also draws on the most dramatic side of Celtic balladry. He and his excellent band the Ike Reilly Assassination are in the midst of their summer tour, with a couple of Mercury Lounge gigs coming up. On July 16 they’re playing at 7 PM, and then at 10:30 PM on the 17th. General admission is $15.

Reilly’s latest album, Born on Fire, is streaming at Spotify. The opening, title track sets the stage with its meat-and-potatoes Irish rock tinges, hitting a jaunty, dancing 70s Springsteen groove fueled by Adam Krier’s piano and organ and the tersely intertwining, soul-infused guitars of Phil Karnats and Tommy O’Donnell. Job Like That (Lasalle and Grand) blends Blonde on Blonde sway with arena-soul bombast, a characteristic blend of sardonic humor and irrepressible blue-collar charm.

Underneath the Moon gives Reilly a ragtime-inflected launching pad for him to work a rakishly surrealist come-on with some unnamed girl. Do the Death Slide! is a goodnatured, riff-driven spoof of 60s soul dance numbers, infused with bluesy harmonica and sax. With its torrents of aphorisms and subtle political subtext, the folk-rock anthem Am I Still the One for You brings to mind Fred Gillen Jr. at his wordiest and most Dylanesque. Likewise, 2 Weeks of Work, 1 Night of Love builds a bleak teens New Depression milieu, with more of that honking blues harp:

Work clothes, party clothes, funeral suit
Got nowhere to, got nothing to wear them to
I think I’ll put on my father’s shirt
And think of the days I used to have work
I don’t need no mercy
From your heaven above…

Hanging Around is one of the album’s best tracks, making organ-driven garage-psych rock out of what’s essentially Merle Travis’ Sixteen Tons, a snide tale of a rank-and-file guy trying to seduce a devil in disguise from human resources. Notes from Denver International Airport sets a harried, harrassed post-9/11, pre-flight narrative to bluesy Highway 61 rock, with a droll faux-gospel interlude.

The album’s garagiest number is Black Kat, springboarding a feral solo from one of the guitarists. Let’s Live Like We’re Dying kicks off with a darkly oldtimey New Orleans blues sway, then takes on a Thirteenth Floor Elevators slink and rises to a mighty gospel crescendo. Upper Mississippi River Valley Girl segues out of it, a vividly twisted Midwestern carnival tableau. The album’s most noir moment is another subtly political number, Good Looking Boy, bookended around a searing fuzztone guitar solo. The album winds up with wryly amusing character study Paradise Lane, with whiplash guitar from Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello. If a clever turn of phrase set to a catchy hook is your thing, go see this guy.

Tamara Hey Represents for Real New Yorkers at the Slipper Room

The dichotomy that runs through Tamara Hey‘s music is edgy, funny, picturesque New York-centric lyrics set to catchy, upbeat tunes with a purist pop sensibliity. Likewise, she balances the crystalline, unselfconscious charm of her vocals with what can be devastatingly amusing, deadpan between-song commentary. Her music has special resonance for those who consider themselves oldschool New Yorkers: Hey is sort of a songwriting Woody Allen of the Lower East Side…minus the celebrity and the ugly backstory. She’s playing the Slipper Room (Orchard and Stanton, upstairs over the big tourist restaurant) on July 1 at 7:30 PM; cover is $10.

And because there’s always an element of surprise when she plays live, she’s worth seeing more than once: this blog managed to catch a grand total of three of her shows over the past year at the Rockwood. One was a solo gig; two were with melodic bassist Richard Hammond, who managed to do double duty as rhythmic center and lead player, no easy feat. And the songs ran the gamut. One of the most charming numbers was Oscar & Bud, a vivid, minutely detailed portrait of a retired ex-showbiz couple who happen to be the narrator’s key people (i.e. they’ve got her spare keys – it’s a New York thing). That song looked back to vintatge Tin Pan Alley.

But Hey likes to mix it up. Drive, with its soaring chorus, 9/11 reference and get-me-the-hell-out-of-here theme, looked back to new wave, as did Miserably Happy (title track to her cult classic powerpop album), which evoked Blondie’s Dreaming. The rambunctiously pulsing, doo-wop tinged Alphabet City, a shout-out to familiar LES haunts which have lately been disappearing one after the other, took on a bittersweet quality. Likewise, We Lean on Cars, a snapshot of middle-school North Bronx anomie circa the early 90s. Hey and Hammond also ran through some more wrly entertaning snapshots of city life: David #3, weighing whether or not to succumb to the allure of a Mr. Wrong, who happens to be a Red Sox fan; Mexico Money, a droll tale of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat; and You Wear Me Out, a clever number about how macho guys sometimes turn out to be the most insecure ones. The C-Note may be long gone, Lakeside Lounge too, and Cafe Pick-Me-Up is moving to East 7th Street, but Tamara Hey still represents for the neighborhood.

And when she’s not playing gigs, she’s busy running Alphabet City Music, who offer economical and informative courses in guitar and applied music theory for players of all levels. This blog covered her introductory music theory course last year and found it both immensely challenging and also immensely useful. By the way, just in case anyone might assume ulterior motives, i.e. sucking up to the prof, to explain why this blog has been at so many of her recent shows, let’s set that record straight. The course was offered during the summer; two of those shows were in the fall and one was this past January.

Matt Keating and Band Put On a Clinic in Purposeful Janglerock

Last night Matt Keating put on a fiery, jangly, two-guitar full-band show. Beyond the catchiness of the tunes and the cleverness – and frequent ferocity – of the lyrics, it was a consummate display of musicianship. Keating is a perfectly good lead guitarist in his own right, but he’d chosen this time to give that job to Steve Mayone, who put on a clinic in good taste and judicious use of as few notes as possible. Rare in a guitarist, rarer still in a lead player. Mayone’s first solo was a blue-flame scorcher that ended in a flurry of tremolo-picking, so it seemed that he’d take it even higher after that. Nope. As it turned out, he stayed on the counterintuitive tip, first choosing his spots through a series of short, bluesy, single-note leads, often using a vintage analog chorus pedal for a deliciously watery, ominous tone. As the show went on, he switched on and off between that and more of a biting, distorted timbre, finally cutting loose and blazing his way to the top of the fretboard on one of the closing numbers.

Meanwhile, bassist Jason Mercer filled the role of second lead guitarist with his lithe slides, slithery upward runs and stairstepping moves toward the looming, foggy bottom of his hollowbody Danelectro SG copy. Like Mayone, drummer and longtime Jenifer Jackson collaborator Greg Wieczorek was all about counterintuitivity, throwing elbows and unexpected accents when a space would open up. To max out the textures, he cushioned his snare with a cloth on one of the early numbers and varied his attack from song to song: sometimes he’d be hitting the snare with a stick and the rest of the kit with a bundle, or with brushes, or he’d switch from mallets to sticks as a song would rise from misterioso to anthemic. Keating began on acoustic and then switched to Strat for couple of the harder-rocking, more Stonesy songs, although he saved his most intense wailing for the acoustic on the loudest number of the night, an unhinged, practically brutal version of They’ve Thrown You Away. It’s classic Keating, a searingly imagistic Flyover America narrative that ponders a lot of things, not the least whether or not the guy with designs on the damaged woman at the center of the narrative can drive her home from her job at the roadside corporate chain since he might have gotten his license revoked for giving a cop the finger.

And where did the band decide to show off all this artistry? The Beacon? City Winery? Nope. Hifi Bar in the East Village, in the old Brownies space where Keating had played, probably more than once, twenty years ago. If that isn’t keeping it real, you figure out what is. The songs ran the gamut from some of the catchiest material on Keating’s characteristically dark new album, This Perfect Crime, to a pair of jangly powerpop set pieces – Saint Cloud and Louisiana – from his brilliant 2008 double cd, Quixotic – to the ghostly Coney Island 1910, to a slowly crescendoing take of the old crowd-pleaser Lonely Blue, on which Wieczorek started out by transforming it into trip-hop before picking up with a stadium-rock drive as the band reached for the rafters. Watch this space for upcoming hometown shows from this killer group.

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