New York Music Daily

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Tag: prewar ponies

Deliciously Shadowy Surf Tunes From the Pi Power Trio

The Pi Power Trio first took shape in the backyard at Long Island City Bar, where they entertained summertime crowds with a psychedelically drifting, rather darkly enveloping sound informed by guitarist Pat Irwin’s years of film work. They’re as close to a supergroup as exists in New York: bassist Daria Grace has been a prime mover in the city’s oldtimey scene since the late 90s, and drummer Sasha Dobson plays in another “power trio,” country soul band Puss N Boots with Norah Jones. This particular trio have a delightful, allusively dark surf rock album, The Walk, out recently and streaming at Bandcamp.

The title track, which opens the record, is not the woozy bass synth-driven new wave hit by the Cure but a distantly Lynchian, surfy reverb guitar-fueled go-go groove with cheery vocalese from the women in the band. The Dreamy Vocal (that’s the name of the tune) is a growling all-terrain-vehicle theme that harks back to Irwin’s days fronting 80s cult favorite instrumental band the Raybeats.

Grace hits a catchy surf riff right from the start of pH Factor, which comes across as vintage Ventures doing their cinematic thing, with plenty of Memphis in Irwin’s simmering guitar lines. The three close with a pummeling, somewhat haphazard, punky cover of the B-52s classic 52 Girls. The trio don’t have any gigs on the slate at the moment, but Grace is leading her luxuriantly boisterous oldtime uke swing band the Pre-War Ponies at 8 PM on March 12 at Barbes.

Elegant, Unpredictably Fun Oldtime Swing Sounds at Barbes This Thursday

As far back as the late 90s, Daria Grace had established herself as one of the most distinctively melodic and consistently interesting bass players in the New York rock and Americana scenes. From her work with art-rockers Melomane to country hellraisers the Jack Grace Band, she would always find an opening on the low end that would give her a chance to be just as adrenalizing as all the soloing and mayhem overhead.

But Grace also plays other four-stringed instruments – and 88-keyed instruments, as she revealed with a rare appearance on organ at a recent Long Island City show with Pat Irwin‘s cinematic band. Yet these days she’s better known as a singer than for her instrumental prowess.

Since the late zeros, she’s fronted the playful oldtimey swing band, the Pre-War Ponies, where she plays baritone ukulele and covers all kinds of charming, often very obscure repretoire from the 20s to the 40s. For awhile she was running her axe through a bunch of pedals for many unexpected textures, but lately she and the band have taken a more trad approach to the songs. The Pre-War Ponies have had an ongoing monthly residency at Barbes for several years; their next gig is Nov 8 at 8 PM followed at 10 by furry-suited, xylophone-driven oldtimey swing busker legends the Xylopholks.

Grace has been chronicled on this page on several occasions. The last couple of times this blog was in the house for her Barbes residency was back in February when she opened for the electrifying Bollywood-influenced Bombay Rickey, and then this past June. Typically, the two consistent members of the cast are Grace and her longtime trombomist (and frequent uke sparring partner), J. Walter Hawkes. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch them with the great Willie Martinez – the original drummer in Big Lazy – behind the kit. One of the band’s favorite songs is an old mambo, Amapola – ostensibly dedicated to an opium poppy, hmmmm – and Martinez always gets a juicy rumble going with that one

Otherwise, the material at those two shows ranged from the obscure – the bubbliest suicide song ever written, and the irresistible Moon Over Brooklyn, which other than a couple of lines could be Moon Over Marin, or Moon Over Staten Island – to energetic takes of standards like Take All of Me. Grace’s plush, subtle voice always finds quieter openings to add nuance, and Hawkes will use any opportunity to squall and spiral and bring down the house.

Pat Irwin and Daria Grace Bring Their Brilliantly Eclectic Sounds to an Laid-Back Outdoor Show in Queens

The theory that Sunday or Monday are the new Saturday cuts both ways. On one hand, the transformation of hallowed downtown New York and Brooklyn neighborhoods into Jersey tourist trashpits on the weekend has driven some of the best New York talent to gigs and venues that might seen off the beaten path. On the other hand, for the permanent-tourist class whose parent guarantors have driven rents in Bushwick and elsewhere sky-high, every day is Saturday because nobody works for a living. OK, some of them are interns. But that’s a story for another time. For an afternoon that perfectly reflects the state of the city, 2016 and also features some of the city’s most eclectic talent, brilliant singer Daria Grace has put together a triplebill starting at around 4 PM on July 31 in the backyard at LIC Bar, with ex-B-52’s guitarist Pat Irwin playing his often hauntingly cinematic instrumentals, then a set by Norah Jones collaborator Sasha Dobson and finally a set by Grace’s charming uke swing band the Pre-War Ponies at around 6.. The venue is about a three-minute walk from the 21st St. station on the 7 train.

Last month’s installment of this same lineup was a treat. Grace did triple duty, first joining Irwin on keys (who knew that she was a more than competent organist?), then adding her signature counterintuitive, swinging, slinky basslines to a set by Dobson, then switching to uke and leading her own band. Irwin opened the afternoon with a set that touched on Bill Frisell pastoral jazz, Brian Eno ambience and most significantly, Angelo Badalamenti noir. He mixed slowly crescendoing, shifting instrumentals from his film work across the years with a couple of new numbers, one more minimalist and atmospheric, the other far darker and distantly menacing. By the time his roughly forty-five minutes onstage was over, he’d gone from solo to having a whole band behind him. Dobson followed with a set that drew on roughhewn 80s indie rock, switching from harmonium to Strat as she led her trio – Grace on a gorgeous vintage 1966 hollowbody Vox bass – through a mix of her solo material and a couple of jaunty Americana-flavored numbers from her Puss & Boots album with Norah Jones and bassist Catherine Popper.

It’s hard to find a window of time for sets by three bands; the last time this blog caught Grace leading the Pre-War Ponies was on a twisted but actually fantastic twinbill back in May at Barbes, opening for psychedelic Middle Eastern metal band Greek Judas (who are back at Barbes tomorrow night, the 28th, at 10). Grace’s not-so-secret weapon, J. Walter Hawkes is an incorrigible extrovert and a charismatic showman, but he really was on his game this time out, whether firing off lickety-split cascades on his uke or on his trombone, which he typically employs for both low-register amusement and purist oldschool swing and blues. A real force of nature up there, he spent the set blasting out droll vaudevillian licks, foghorn riffs and serioso latin lines.

Lately Grace has been doing a lot of gigs with iconic latin jazz drummer Willie Martinez, but this time out she had Russ Meissner behind the kit, who had a ball adding counterintuitive hits and accents to cha-cha jazz numbers like Amapola, from the band’s latest album Get Out Under the Moon. As expected, the big audience hit was Moon Over Brooklyn, which Grace delivered with so much genuine, unselfconscious affection for her adopted hometown that it was easy to forget that you could change the lyrics just a smidge and it would make a romantic anthem for any city, anywhere. Romantic songs are usually cheesy and rote and this was anything but. You can get some romance and some sun on the 31st in Long Island City.

The Pre-War Ponies Bring Their Lush, Romantic, Warmly Nocturnal Swing Sounds Back to Barbes

Every time you turn around, another oldtimey swing band pops up somewhere around town. And venues have gotten wise: even grungy old Arlene’s has swing bands now! Ten years ago, who would have thought? One of the most original and distinctive groups in that feverishly followed demimonde is the Pre-War Ponies. Where most 20s hot jazz outfits play lickety-split, uptempo material, the Pre-War Ponies specialize in warmly swinging, mostly midtempo songs anchored by the plush, balmy, disarmingly clear vocals of frontwoman/baritone uke player Daria Grace (a founding member of another iconic New York swing band, the Moonlighters). And while many of the other swing crews in town play the same old standards, the Pre-War Ponies have been known to scour junk shops in search of rare gems from eighty and ninety years ago. They’ve got a fantastic new album, Get Out Under the Moon due out soon and a show on Sept 10 at 10 PM at Barbes. Auspiciously, Pierre de Gaillande (former frontman of brilliant New York art-rockers Melomane, with whom Grace played bass) debuts his new band, Open Kimono to open the night at 8.

The Pre-War Ponies’ Barbes show last month was as pillowy, and romantic, and fun as you could possibly want, enhanced by the erudite wit and groove of polymath latin jazz drummer Willie Martinez. Grace ran her uke through an effects pedal, adding subtle tinges of reverb as well as some psychedelically oscillating timbres on a couple of numbers. J. Walter Hawkes doubled on uke and trombone, alternating between boisterous – and sometimes droll – and comfortable, nocturnal ambience on both instruments. Martinez’s ambling brushwork and artful cymbal work propelled the forthcoming album’s 1928 title track;, then he gave a lowlit slink to Grace’s subtly moody take of Irving Berlin’s Say It Isn’t So as Hawkes added shadowy resonance.

They played what’s more or less their signature song, Moon Over Brooklyn – a onetime Guy Lombardo recording – early in the set. Other than the Flatbush Avenue reference, it could be set pretty much anywhere, but as Grace sang it, it had a coyly strolling charm that was impossible to resist. From there they picked up the pace with a jaunty take of Fats Waller’s How Can You Face Me with Hawkes’ trombone front and center. Then they went back toward bittersweet territory as Grace’s expansive chords anchored a brooding shuffle take of The Lamp Is Low, a showcase for Martinez at his most articulate and expressive.

You wouldn’t think a band could raise the energy level with a suicide song, but that’s what they did, with a bouncy take of Jimmie Noone’s 1920s hit Ready for the River. Amapola, a tongue-in-cheek cha-cha shout-out to a pretty little poppy (you do the math) was another springboard for Martinez’s spring-loaded subtlety behind the kit, Hawkes adding foghorn trombone ambience. Al Dubin and Harrry Warren’s risque swing tune Pettin’ in the Park bore a mysterious resemblance to Walking in a Winter Wonderland, with a pulsing Ian Riggs bass solo midway through. Hawkes’ eyeball-rolling muted trombone solo took centerstage in the Boswell Sisters’ Got the South in My Soul to wind up the band’s first set. The crowd responded warmly: it was date night, lots of couples, from their 20s to older Slopers out for a romantic evening in Barbes’ cozy back room. That’s probably the biggest reason behind the unwavering popularity of the stuff the Pre-War Ponies play.

Daria Grace at Rodeo Bar Last Night

For some crazy reason this past couple of weeks has been all about singers. Maybe there’s some mysterious force at work that science doesn’t understand yet. Or maybe it’s just that this is New York and even the far less mysterious forces of gentrification can’t banish all the great voices from this town.

In case you ever wondered, a lot of the vocal jazz groups you see playing restaurant gigs in New York actually serve a purpose. They give A-list players a chance to moonlight for a little extra cash – or maybe just dinner – and a chance to hang with their friends, and keep up their chops, even if nobody’s listening. What makes Daria Grace and the Pre-War Ponies any different from those other bands? She can’t resist a bargain at a junk shop – if that bargain is an old chart for some obscure song from the 20s or 30s. Last night at Rodeo Bar, they threw a few standards into the mix – Heart and Soul, and All I Do Is Dream of You, and a really thoughtful, low-key but vividly anxious version of It’s the Talk of the Town. But the real treats were the rarities that hardly anybody else plays: Jimmie Noone’s 1920s hit Ready for the River (“The happiest song ever written about suicide,” said trombonist J. Walter Hawkes); Hoagy Carmichael’s Two Sleepy People, about a “foggy little fella and drowsy little dame” who can’t drag themselves away from each other; and Belle Baker’s quietly brooding waltz Underneath the Russian Moon, from 1929.

Grace played baritone ukulele and sang with a cool, pure, mountain-spring clarity that went misty as she went up the scale, dipping down low and then stretching to the top of her register and making it look effortless. Hawkes varied his attack from droll to snarky to whispery to full-on crystalline intensity: when he wasn’t playing trombone, he was playing snaky, thoughtful leads on ukulele. The bass player dove into what was obviously a bunch of unfamiliar material, playing half his solos with a bow and coming up triumphantly while drummer Russ Meissner kept a wry shuffle groove going, often using just his hands on the snare and a cymbal. On the bouncy 1928 Helen Kane tune Get Out, Get Under the Moon, Grace finally cut loose at the end – the effect was intense.

Guy Lombardo’s Moon Over Brooklyn, a big favorite of this band, was as amusing as always. What makes it so funny is that it’s really not about Brooklyn at all. Somewhere in a junk shop in Illinois there may be a moth-eaten chart for the same song, except that the Chicago version switches out Flatbush Avenue for North Huron Street – and a line that rhymes with it. On Johnny Mercer’s Pardon My Southern Accent, was the band singing “Shut up!” on the chorus? No. The phrase was “Sho ’nuff!” Hawkes added his own version of a Southern accent on Atlanta Blues a.k.a. Pallet on Your Floor. They also did a balmy version of Paul Robeson’s Got the South in My Soul, a torchy Say It Isn’t So and flipped the script with a bracing bolero tune that gave Meissner a chance to really turn up the heat.

What are such a superb singer and her band doing singing over – or into – the Monday night football crowd at Rodeo Bar? This is a side project for her. Grace is also the bass player in her husband Jack’s group, one of the East Coast’s most popular country bands, so she’s busy with that. In the meantime, you can catch her with the Pre-War Ponies the last Monday of the month here playing two sets, starting a little after 9.