New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: punk blues

The Sideshow Tragedy Bring Their Visionary Apocalyptic Blues to the Rockwood

The last time this blog caught up with the Sideshow Tragedy, it was a couple of years ago late on a Friday night in the red neon backroom at Zirzamin, and the Austin noir blues band was killing it. Really killing it. Guitarist Nathan Singleton was airing out his bottomless bag of jagged minor-key licks, drummer Jeremy Harrell had a murderous stomp going and there were some special guests, if memory serves right – it had been a crazy night up to that point. Fast forward to 2015: Zirzamin is sadly gone, but the Austin band has a new album, Capital, streaming at Continental Record Services‘ site, and a similar small-room, Friday night show, in this case at the Rockwood on May 22 at 11 PM. This usually sedate space is in for a serious jolt of adrenaline, tempered slightly by the fact that the new album is somewhat more spare and haunting than the band’s previous, often unhinged gutter blues attack. It’s a concept album, a sinister, brilliantly metaphorical portrait of a nation gone off the rails in an orgy of greed and mass desperation. Fans of Humanwine will love this.

“Summer’s here, and the tramps are on the move, ten to a trailerbed from Chicago to LA…you can taste the decay,” Singleton broods in Number One, a corrosively relevant, cynical portrait of haves versus have-nots over a riff-rock groove that other bands would have turned into metal, but these guys do as a shuffle. Likewise, Blacked Out Windows, with some harmonically offcenter multitracks, could be Sonic Youth, but instead Singleton runs the riff over and over for an ominously hypnotic vibe: “Smoke and mirrors closing in…his carnival calm is easy to believe,” Singleton warns. “The palms of the priest are easy to grease.”

Singleton more or less talks the apocalyptic lyrics to Keys to the Kingdom as Harrell beats a frantic, funereal pulse on his tom-toms. The Winning Side, a similarly frantic, scampering anthem, sounds like Dylan’s It’s All Right Ma, I’m Only Bleeding at doublespeed: “It’s not the thought that counts,” Singleton muses grimly. The title track works a dusky midtempo slide guitar groove, a caustically aphoristic parable of the 21 st century going back into the dark ages in a hurry. “You listen to the police scanner as your write your report, better fill your quota while you got time…you can’t see the horizon ’cause it don’t matter right now, so rob the beggars blind,” Singleton taunts. It’s arguably the best and most relevant song anybody’s released this year.

Two Guns pairs Harrell’s shuffling, misty cymbals against Singleton’s uneasily precise slide guitar and menacing stream of metaphors: “The rockets’ eternal red glare, the shooting off of lights and flares, it’s getting dark out there.” So when Singleton finally reaches the point where he works a song around a major-key hook – with the only slightly less troubled Animal Song, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Marcellus Hall catalog – there’s a sense of relief, however temporary.

Let the Love Go Down returns to a death-obsessed theme with a series of fire-and-brimstone metaphors over a relentlessly rolling and tumbling drive.The album ends with Plow Song, a spiky resonator guitar-fueled trip through a postapocalyptic landscape where you’re bound to end up with “a gun for all seasons and a bit in your mouth.” Powerful words from a Texas band. Best album of the year? One of the top handful, no question.

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JD Wilkes Brings One of His Great Bands to the Knitting Factory

Isn’t it cool when a band lives up to the name they have the balls to call themselves? From the early zeros through about the turn of the past decade, high-voltage Nashville gothic band the Legendary Shack Shakers became a cult favorite and a popular draw on the midsize club circuit. Lately frontman JD Wilkes, one of the real mavens of punk blues and Americana, has concentrated on his other, more blues-oriented project the Dirt Daubers. Wilkes’ latest Cheetah Chrome-produced recording, Wild Moon, features that appropriately named band (a dirt dauber is a particularly vicious wasp native to the Bible Belt), but most recently he’s been back with the Legendary Shack Shakers for a couple of tours, with an upcoming show on 9/11 at around 10 at the Knitting Factory. Tix are $14.

The new Dirt Daubers album – which other than a single Youtube clip of the title track, isn’t due out til Sept 24 – opens with a brief, brisk instrumental, Rod Hamdallah’s frenetic guitar intertwining with Wilkes’ Little Walter-style chromatic harp. Wilkes’ wife Jessica sings the swinging, snarling, noir gutter blues Apples & Oranges, with its Iggy Pop references and vernacular lyrics:

You can follow me down, hold my feet to the fire
Turn my pockets inside out
You know I’m in for a penny, down for a pound …
I’m taking my debts to the afterlife

With its screaming, bent-note Hamdallah guitar and twisted fire-and-brimstone imagery, the album’s title track continues in a careening noir blues vein. Drive brings to mind New York gutter blues band Knoxville Girls, but with better production values, another droll Iggy quote and a brief, gritty Wurlitzer solo from the frontman. His wife sings the shuffling No Rest for the Wicked, her seductive lyric contrasting with all the creepy guitar chromatics.

Wilkes’ low, haphazard minor-key piano adds to the doomed ambience on the suicide ballad No More My Love. Angel Crown brings to mind early Jon Spencer in simmering, low-key mode, with a creepy lyric about a dead baby underscored by echoey chromatic harp and Hamdallah’s broodingly rustic series of chords. Let It Fly is much the same but faster, followed by the torchy, lurid Clairy Browne-ish shuffle You Know I Love You, with more of that red-neon piano and smoky baritone sax from Tom Waits sideman Ralph Carney.

The macabre stomp Hidey Hole is the album’s creepiest track – what’s down in that hidey hole, anyway? – an appropriate place for Hamdallah to fire off his most memorable, menacing guitar solo. Throughout the album, there’s more than a hint of hypnotically unwinding Mississippi hill country blues, especially on Don’t Thrill Me No More, which is basically a long, moody one-chord jam.

River Song brings back a punk blues bounce, like a more lo-fi take on what Dylan did on Love & Theft. The album winds up with God Fearing People, which sounds like Smokestack Lightning at triplespeed. Dark, offhandedly savage, lo-fi electric blues doesn’t get any better than this. It wouldn’t be out of the question to hope for some of this stuff at Wilkes’ show at the Knit with his old band.

Stonesy Stoner Songs and a Bowery Electric Show from 7horse

7horse are a surreal stoner bar band – imagine a more trad version of the Black Keys after a couple bong hits of good hash. This band’s music is less stoned than it is high. They’re at Bowery Electric on July 9 at 7:30ish for $12.

Their new album Songs for a Voodoo Wedding is streaming at the band’s site. The opening track, Carousel Bar works an open-tuned Stonesy riff for all it’s worth – the bass doesn’t even come in until after the first chorus. “Had a ringside seat, was all you could eat, but you never got out of the car,” lead singer Phil Leavitt reminds, “I could sit right here for a hundred years rolling in the Carousel Bar.” That pretty much explains what this band is all about.

Meth Lab Zoso Sticker is another open-tuned, Stonesy, more or less one-chord jam, this one a slide-driven blues with an even stranger lyric. Flying High (With No ID) reaches for a Sticky Fingers-era take on oldschool soul, an uneasily amusing scenario about a guy who seems to be tripping in the airport and then on the flight. Imagine being on acid and having to deal with Homeland Security – it would be impossible not to have a laughing fit.

Headhunter Blues centers around a funny lyrical riff from baseball slang, and a romping post Chuck Berry tune that could be the Bottle Rockets (or the Stones, for that matter) with no bass. Long Way has a restless, minor-key, vintage Stooges menace, both musically and lyrically. Please Come On Home has a darkly shuffling hillbilly boogie vibe that recalls bands like the Gun Club and the Sideshow Tragedy. The funniest and also the most punk song here is I Know the Meaning of Rock N Roll: it’s totally mid-70s Detroit.

On the 4th of July brings back a Stonesy pulse: it seems to be a sly, surreal swipe at patriotism. So Old Fashioned blends LES punk blues with catchy Dolls glam, a shout-out to an “ancient recipe” that never fails to hit the spot. Some MF seems to be a spoof of hip-hop; the album’s longest track, Before the Flood strings together a bunch of old blues aphorisms over a skeletal Smokestack Lightning-style vamp. The final cut is the oldtimey A Friend in Weed, which is kind of obvious, but also unquestionably true. Most of these songs don’t reference anything after about 1973: aside from the strange absence of bass in places, this album could have been made then and would have earned the band plenty of road gigs or a maybe even a spot opening for somebody like Bob Seger or REO Speedwagon back when both of those acts were actually pretty decent.

Two Intense Guitarists Steal the Show at the Mercury

Wednesday’s show at the Mercury ultimately boiled down to great lead guitar. Expat Australian five-piece band Reserved For Rondee are tight and talented, lead player Billy Magnussen proving to be the star of that particular show. You might assume that a band opening for the Last Internationale would think segue, backloading their set with the heavy stuff. Reserved for Rondee did the opposite. Then again, like so many bands from down under, they have zero regard for convention, mixing up genres that make no sense at all together. And most of the time it worked. Early 70s stoner rock with disco bass and drums? Check. Classic Motown mashed up with new wave, but heavier? Doublecheck. But the their best stuff came early in the set, Magnussen firing off searing, lickety-split blues riffage over beats that drummer Warren Hemenway switched up effortlessly from funky to dinosaurian, in an In Through the Out Door way. Rhythm guitarist Nick Focas and bassist Tom Degnan supplied the catchy changes as Magnussen spun through volleys of icy bluesmetal, hitting his volume pedal, mixing up the reverb and delay and a little later, wailing through a vintage analog chorus effect for a deliciously shivery, watery tone.

The only song that didn’t work, at least musically, was a shout-out to the band’s new home, Bushwick. First there was some shameless borough-centric namechecking in the same vein as what bands like the Easybeats were doing 45 years ago, tossing around gratuitous American references in hopes of scoring a hit here. But then there was a surprise: the gentrifiers at the center of the song see their “boutique everything” world disintegrate and end up on the street with their less fortunate neighbors!

By the time the Last Internationale hit the stage, the place was packed. Guitarist Edgey Pires comes from the same place as Magnussen, although his brand of blues is more unhinged and raw, part Fred “Sonic” Smith, part Jon Spencer. Where Magnussen varied his textures,  trebly Fender Twin natural distortion was enough for Pires to work with, delivering highs that shrieked and whined when he wasn’t flailing his way through terse, hypnotic vamps, wielding his reverb-fueled chords and savage, bluesy swipes like a machete. Frontwoman Delila Paz began the show playing a gorgeous vintage Vox Teardrop bass, switched to acoustic guitar a little later and then put it down for the rest of the show, swaying and belting with an impassioned, throaty intensity and a wide-angle vibrato. Most of the set was new songs from a forthcoming album due out later this summer, the best of which, We Will Reign, sounded like Patti Smith fronting the MC5. Both comparisons extend beyond the music to Paz’s defiant, confrontational lyrics. Her most memorable line reflected how quickly a hippie peace-and-love vibe collapses when the cops show up and send in the stormtroopers. Strangely, Paz’s most intense moment behind the mic – an anguished a-cappella gospel interlude – was the one place where she lost the crowd. Then drummer Brad Wilk (formerly of Rage Against the Machine) kicked in and everybody shut up and listened.

Green Party Lieutenant Governor candidate Brian Jones introduced the set and explained his platform. Universal single-payer healthcare met with barely any response, but when Jones mentioned returning to this state’s previous, decades-long policy of free college tuition at New York State schools, the crowd roared. And They responded even more energetically to raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Jones backloaded his own little set by promising to legalize marijuana if elected and received the kind of cheers you would expect from a crowd in a city whose new mayor hasn’t delivered on his own vow to back off on pot busts.

Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs Tour Their Best Album with a Couple of NYC Shows

Well-liked retro rock duo Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs have a new album, It’s Her Fault, arguably the best one they’ve ever made (it’ s not on Spotify yet, but most of the rest of their albums are). They’ve also got a couple of New York shows: in Williamsburg for free on 4/20 at 2 PM at Rough Trade (get there early if you’re going), and the following night, April 21 they’ll be at the Mercury at 10:30 for $12 in advance.

The new album is a lot darker than anything they’ve done so far: much as a lot of the punk blues in their catalog isn’t exactly happy-go-lucky stuff, this can get unexpectedly intense. It’s also a lot more fleshed out than their earlier material, with bass, piano and all kinds of tasty but purist, spare guitar multitracking. SLC, the first number, is a duet, and it kicks ass: “You can turn around an oxcart in Salt Lake City, and they think that’s a really good time…but you ain’t gonna have a good time.” This amped-up oldtimey folk tune will resonate with aybody who’s ever been there. For All That Ails You, with its mournful train-whistle guitar and stalking, noir blues sway, is uncommonly dark for this band, and it’s excellent. Likewise, Pistol Pete, a creepy noir cabaret waltz.

They go back to the haphazard kind of hillbilly boogie they’re known for on Can’t Pretend and then do the same, adding uneasily quavering funeral organ, on 1 2 3 4. They hit a lurching honkytonk groove with the unexpectely hilarious Bless Your Heart, a reality check for any Brooklyn poser with phony C&W affectations.

Holly and Lawyer Dave reinvent Trouble in Mind as a lo-fi, punked-out oldtime slide guitar shuffle and go deep into echoey, eerily twinkling Nashville gothic with the sad waltz The Best – Holly pulls out all the stops in channeling a seriously damaged woman.

Don’t Shed Your Light offers a lo-fi take on the kind of nocturnal glimmer the Stones were going for circa Exile on Main Street, with more of that deliciously swirly funeral organ. They do the same with honkytonk on the vengeful No Business and then go straight for a Stones vibe with Perfect Mess, which would be a standout track on, say, Let It Bleed. The closing cut, King Lee, brings back the unhinged punk blues vibe. Not a single second-rate track here: one of the best dozen or so albums of 2014 by this reckoning.

Traveling Circle Escape from Black Cloud by the Skin of Their Teeth

Brooklyn trio Traveling Circle set a brooding, ominous mood and maintain it all the way through their album Escape from Black Cloud. Their signature sound is dark, echoey, hypnotic stoner bluespunk. Frontman Dylan Maiden’s high lonesome vocals linger and echo, almost in the background, while his similarly lingering, reverberating, minimalist blues-infused guitar rings out over tersely hypnotic rhythms. It’s so far from the blues that it could be from, say, Poland, yet the framework for the band’s simple, deceptively catchy guitar riffs is the old-fashioned minor-key blues scale. The album – most of which is up at Soundcloud – is almost like one long song, a theme and relatively brief variations. The simple yet brutal directness of Joy Division’s The Only Mistake could be one possible prototype for many of these songs.

The opening track, Higher, establishes the pensive atmosphere with a long vamp, followed by The Candlelight Sway, which adds fuzztone guitar over Josh Schultz’s steady, punching drums. Newborn Shadow starts out with distantly menacing, bell-like guitar, then the drums take the riff halfspeed. Likewise, Green Spider morphs from ominous to distortedly snarling and then back again.

Closer is another one-chord jam with up/down dynamics, segueing into The Willow Tree Fair, with its contrasting watery and buzzing guitar lines over Charlie Freeman’s ridiculously simple, darkly catchy bassline. Rock This Feeling picks up the pace – it could be a funk tune if the rhythm wasn’t so four-on-the-floor. Fountains of Time takes the ambience back to uneasy, followed by Conduit Is Closing with its sirening and hissing reverb effects behind the hypnotic guitar and bass. The album ends with Tears from the Soul, building to a shivery peak with distant echoes of Bauhaus. One suspect that the best way to appreciate these guys is live in a boomy room where the guitar and drums can really throw off some otherworldly sonics.

Haunting, Atmospheric, Blues-Infused Intensity from the Bright Smoke

The Bright Smoke is the more-or-less solo project from Mia Wilson, whose raw, wounded wail and menacing minor-key songwriting made her previous band the French Exit one of New York’s most riveting live acts for a couple of years in the late zeros. Her songwriting on the Bright Smoke’s new album Virginia Et. Al. is more blues-infused, in the same vein as a young PJ Harvey but more atmospheric. Likewise, her vocals here are more low-key and world-weary but no less haunted and intense. The recording quality is lush yet direct: organic instrumentation, darkly enveloping sonics. Along with Wilson’s guitars and vocals, producer Q. Ledbetter adds guitar and bass tracks over lo-fi percussion samples and loops.

Wilson’s stark blues lines resonate with a rustic, haunting quality on the opening track, God Willing. “God willing the creek don’t rise,” becomes a mantra. “My hands are shaking,” Wilson intones as simple, biting guitar layers linger in the background like a coiled snake that’s about to strike.

Sea Level is the rare song that’s Joy Division-influenced without being slavishily imitative. With its ba-BUMP beat and catchy, mournfully bluesy melody, it also brings to mind the Stooges classic I Need Somebody. “Do you know what it’s like to wake up after trying not to wake up again?” Wilson asks. Slow Burn is slightly more upbeat, like the Banana Album-era Velvets taking a stab at a classic country song. The ache in Wilson’s voice is visceral as she waves someone away for good.

Pure Light is the longest, most hypnotic track here, the low resonance of Wilson’s voice contrasting with the guitars’ overtones, gentle but uneasy slides and creepily tinkling piano overhead. “Can you feel the wind come to make you wild again?” Wilson asks on the next track – but the answer isn’t clear, and it’s as if the wind she’s talking about could freeze everything over, again with a minor-key, minimalist Joy Division intensity. The last track, Free, is ostensibly a demo, but Wilson obviously knew she had a gem when she recorded it. It’s a dirge, just simple guitar, vocals and a piano drenched in natural reverb and enough out of tune that it maxes out the horror factor: “What a beautiful means to an otherwise painful end,” Wilson muses, a vivid elegy for someone who chose to kill himself or herself by drowning. You want intense? The Bright Smoke’s next gig is at Lit on Second Ave. at 8 PM on Jan 18.

Slim Wray Rocks Bowery Electric on Oct 15

Brooklyn duo Slim Wray plays catchy, purposeful, riff-driven blues-based rock. They don’t have anything in common with Iceberg Slim or Link Wray; then again, Pink Floyd didn’t have a whole lot in common with Mr. Anderson and Mr. Council, either. Their debut release Sack Lunch has heavier production and fatter drumming than your typical punk blues album. With a full rock band lineup, with bass and a second guitar, it’s easy to imagine these guys taking the songs in more of a metal direction. They’re playing Bowery Electric at around midnight on Oct 15; they seem like a band that would really want to kick out the jams onstage. Their songwriting is retro, as you would imagine from a band based in the blues: some of the songs have a garage rock feel, others work a more miniamlist version of the 70s sound that was simply called “hard rock” back then, which now more or less gets categorized as metal. Guitarist/singer Howzr’s lyrics have a wry humor; the vocals have a bluesy drawl, but don’t go over the top into Pearl Jam cartoonishness.

The opening track, I Gotta Girl (With a List of Needs) kicks off with Chris Moran’s flurrying drums and big chords into a snarling fuzztone minor-key riff, then eventually hits a halfspeed third-generation Sabbath groove, then back up with more pummelling rhythm – and then it fades out with a wave of feedback. Reaction is a straight up four-on-the-floor garage rock song with guitar multitracks and bass: riffrocking verse, catchy poppy chorus. Bear, a simple, swaying, funk-tinged shuffle, could  easily go in a metal direction if they fleshed it out.

The jailhouse tale House of D is pretty hilarious, beginning as a spare acoustic blues tune and picking up from there; what the guys are in the slammer for turns out to be both funny and sad, a tale that rings all too true in post Giuliani-era New York. Long Long Way works a 4-chord hook for a hard-edged 60s folk-rock groove. Their version of Gloria looks straight back to the original by Them, complete with bass and multitracked, jangly guitars. Strychnine and then Cutout keep the biting garage rock vibe going.

Sunshine has a 60s psych-pop groove that gets more menacing as it goes along; it could pass for a demo for a song by the Turtles or the Grass Roots. With its tongue-in-cheek guitar pyrotechnics, Mr. Hunter might be a thinly disguised Grateful Dead parody: “Don’t ask why we always follow this little group around all day.” Abilene reaches toward a raw, punked-out Jon Spencer/Chrome Cranks feel. The album winds up with the riff-rocking, proto stoner metal tune Take a Number. The whole thing is a lot of fun.

Eerie Jagged Noir Blues from Austin’s Sideshow Tragedy

Sometimes it boils down to cred. The presence of Dimestore Dance Band’s noir gypsy guitar mastermind Jack Martin on Austin band the Sideshow Tragedy‘s album Persona instantly makes it worth a listen – it’s up at their Bandcamp page. For anybody who likes the idea of the Black Keys but finds them impossibly tame, the Sideshow Tragedy will not disappoint: they are the real deal. They’re upstairs at Bowery Electric, guessing at around 10 PM on May 15 and then at Zirzamin at 10 on May 17. If dark twisted surreal country blues is your thing, this will hook you up for the duration. Frontman/guitarist Nathan Singleton took the entire blues dictionary, distilled it, lined it up down the bar and then did shots of it until he had the whole thing in his system. And then recorded this album, for the most part just with drummer Jeremy Harrell. It’s like the Gun Club, but more raw, or like Dylan at his most haphazard and interesting – and funny. Singleton’s wry sense of humor is a welcome change from all dese wotbo blueschillun who done take da blues so serious, uh huh – there’s none of that blackface BS here.

Another cool thing about this record is that aside from Martin’s jagged guitar on the haunting, Otis Rush-influenced fifth track, The Bet, the rest of the album is all Singleton. He’s a one-man blues army, sometimes wailing with a slide, sometimes fingerpicking, sometimes slashing and roaring as he builds a doomed, menacing ambience. The album’s opening track, AM in Chicago sets the tone, an evil, reverb-drenched roadhouse vamp over tumbling drums: “A structure fire in the tower of song, a prisoner’s wish before he’s gone.” That the Leonard Cohen reference isn’t absurdly out of place speaks for itself.

“If you won’t believe me, I’ll keep telling you lies,” Singleton smirks over tasty layers of steady, shuffling slide guitar on Gasoline, then adds a sly, funky edge that reminds of Jon Spencer on the pulsing Something to Do. If there’s anything here you could call a hit single, it’s the wickedly catchy Satellite, bringing in a rare, upbeat major-key vibe.

Vasseline is a swirling, Steve Wynn style desert rock stomp. The title track, a snide portrait of a status-grubbing groupie type, opens with bit of feedback, early 70s stoner metal throuth the prism of punk, and then goes scampering. The exasperated I’m Gonna Be Your Man has distant echoes of the early Yardbirds and cool reverb on the vocals and the drums. The album winds up with the menacingly swaying Long Way Down, a hypnotic Howlin’ Wolf style groove, resonator guitar carrying the brooding tune over a wash of eerie distortion.