New York Music Daily

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Tag: punk music

20 Years of a Legendary Venue and a Legendary New York Punk Band

Is punk nostalgia an oxymoron? Or is a band’s refusal to calm down and be quiet something we should all aspire to? Gogol Bordello’s latest album, Seekers and Finders – streaming at Spotify – doesn’t pose those questions, but it offers a mighty, roaring answer.

Twenty years ago, the self-described gypsy punks – a term which ironically has become outdated – were a cult band playing midsize venues across the country. Since the band hadn’t yet embarked on their seemingly endless, global stadium tour, frontman Eugene Hutz frequently spun vinyl on Friday nights at Mehanata, the Bulgarian bar that was then located in a second-floor space at the corner of Canal and Broadway.

Those nights were insane – not just because of Hutz, or because it was the best dance party in town, but because in the early internet era, it was pretty much the only place in New York where you could hear Balkan turbo-folk music, at least playing over a good PA. Who would have thought that two decades later, Mehanata would still be in business – relocated to the Lower East Side – and that Gogol Bordello would still be together, let alone still vital?

The band don’t have any New York gigs coming up – their most recent was at a hideously overpriced corporate venue at the far fringes of Williamsburg – but Hutz is playing a very rare acoustic gig to celebrate Mehanata’s 20th anniversary on Feb 13. Doors are at 6, the party goes all night, Hutz is theoretically headlining – in a duo set with his Gogol Bordello bandmate Sergey Ryabtsev. Also on the bill are klezmer trumpeter Frank London with percussionist Deep Singh, Bulgarian sax titan Yuri Yunakov, accordion wizard Yuri Lemeshev and oudist Avram Pengas; other special guests are promised. Cover is $20; the first 200 through the door get a free Mehanata 20th anniversary t-shirt.

What does the new album sound like – in case you haven’t heard it? It’s a throwback to the2005 classic Gypsy Punks, arguably Gogol Bordello’s definitive statement (even though the word “gypsy” now has a connotation akin to “colored” – we are all better off saying “Romany”). The opening track, We Did It All comes across as a stomping Balkan brass number transposed to the electric guitars of Hutz and Boris Pelekh, with a characteristically surreal Hutz stream-of-consciousness lyrical interlude before the band explodes again.

Walking on the Burning Coals is a classic, metaphorical GB anthem spiced with brass, Sergey Ryabtsev’s violin and Pasha Newmer’s accordion over the guitar fury and the surprisingly slinky rhythm section: bassist Thomas Gobena and Alfredo Ortiz.

Break Into Your Higher Self is closer to 90s Warped Tour punk, with a typical Hutz exhortation to get with the revolutionary program. Harmony singer Vanessa Walters duets with Hutz on the singalong title track, followed by Familia Bonfireball and its unexpected spaghetti western tinges. Ryabtsev’s slithery violin pans the mix as it winds out.

Clearvoyance has a sotto-vocce bounce: “It’s like running from my prison of your mind,” resolutely solitary Hutz insists. Then the band picks up the pace with the album’s best track, the magnificently scorching, chromatically charigng Saboteur Blues. They keep the energy at redline with Love Gangsters, which begins as reggae tune as the Clash would have done it and builds from there. If I Ever Get Home Before Dark follows the same blueprint but more quietly.

Pedro Erazo-Segovia’s trippy, echoing charango kicks off You Know Who We Are before the big guitars kick in. The album ends with Still That Way, the band taking a stab at a big, dramatic Celtic ballad. After all these years, Gogol Bordello haven’t lost sight of a message that’s more relevant than ever: it’s never too late to party for our right to fight.


Lilian Caruana’s Fascinating, Bittersweet New Photo Book Offers a Rare Glimpse of the Mid-80s New York Punk Rock Scene

In one of the initial CBGB crowd shots in photographer Lilian Caruana’s new book, Rebels: Punks and Skinheads of New York’s East Village 1984-1987, an audience member appears to be wearing a swastika patch. A closer look reveals a famous Dead Kennedys quote: “NAZI PUNKS FUCK OFF.” In many ways, that capsulizes the unexpected complexities of Caruana’s collection of black-and-white photos and brief interview quotes. It’s more bittersweet, strikingly insightful historical document than it is nostalgia.

In her introduction, Caruana puts the era in perspective. By the 1990s, punk fashion had been completely co-opted by corporate interests. Violent evictions by the police put an end to the Lower East Side squatter movement, paving the way for the destruction and suburbanization of a long-thriving artistic neighborhood. With a finely honed sense of irony – in the true sense of the word – and a wry sense of humor, Caruana portrays a long-lost subculture in their irrepressible DIY milieu.

In what might be the most surreal shot of all, a blonde girl who looks all of about fourteen sits on a mattress, her legs wrapped in a repurposed American flag. Her blank stare fixes on a black-and-white tv propped up on a milk crate. A Ronald Reagan movie plays on the screen. The pillow to her left is from the Bellevue mental ward. Decorations on the wall are sparse: a grimy handprint and a label peeled off a torpedo of Budweiser. The year is 1986.

As Caruana explains, the individuals in her portraits come from a wide swath of social strata. Collectively, they feel disenfranchised. Bobby sees himself as exploited at his minimum-wage job and isn’t beyond taking a little extra from the till to make ends meet. Dave, an Army deserter, longs for the American dream but not the mortgage and suburban drudgery. Matt comes from a more affluent background but is similarly alienated by outer-borough conformity.

As grim as their worldview may be, these people seem anything but unhappy. They lounge with their pets – a colorful menagerie including rats, kittens and an iguana – practice their instruments and strike sardonically defiant poses. Recycling may be all the rage in yuppie circles now, but punks were doing it forty years ago, if only because it was a practical survival strategy.

Unsurprisingly, the Cro-Mags, the Exploited, Agnostic Front and Battalion of Saints are the bands most often visually referenced here. But what these photos remind over and over is the vast difference between the Lower East Side hardcore contingent and their bridge-and-tunnel counterparts. Hardcore may have been more relentlessly aggressive, monotonous, and implicitly violent, compared to punk. But the LES crowd was far more likely to be politically aware, multi-racial, tolerant and open to women. In other words, they remained closer to punk’s populist roots than the high school boys whose moms would drop them at CB’s for the Sunday afternoon hardcore matinee and then drive them home to Long Island in the family Chevy Suburban. Other photographers have made big bucks shooting the famous and the semi-famous in that same part of town at the height of the CB’s scene a few years previously; Caruana’s work both dignifies and illuminates a time and place too infrequently chronicled.

Catchy, Raw, Soulful, Original Funk and Dance Music From Eliza and the Organix

There’s no band in New York who sound anything like Eliza and the Organix. You can dance to them, but they also have flashes of psychedelia and a vintage punk fearlessness. They’re funky, but their sound is uncluttered and gritty – is it legal to call them organic? In other words, they’re nothing like the slick, cheesy Berklee clones noodling ad nauseum into the wee hours at Rockwood Music Hall. Over the past few years, Eliza and the Organix have been gigging constantly all over town. Their new album Present Fuure Dreams is streaming at Bandcamp; their next show is Nov 16 at 11 PM at the Way Station in Bed-Stuy.

Frontwoman/guitarist Eliza Waldman gets the funk going on the album’s catchy opening track, My Way (no relation to the Sex Pistols classic), but she also hits some burning Keith Richards riffage. Alto saxophonist Kristen Tivey – an ambitious songwriter and multi-instrumentalist in her own right-  adds vocal harmonies over John Gergely’s subtly crescendoing drums. On the album, Stephen Cleary and Will Carbery share bass duties. The song has a recurrent reference to “doing coke out on the driveway,” which could be sarcastic – or not.

When I Call You is a snide slap upside the head of a “nihilist, masturbator, man-hater,” Waldman’s smoldering distorted chords rising to an unexpectedly swirly break midway through, with more of the band’s signature, tasty guitar/sax harmonies.

Blameless has a slinky latin soul groove under Waldman’s sarcastic vocals and wah guitar: “Aimless, shameless, am I blameless?” she wants to know. Waldman’s organ and Matt Soares’ vibes linger over sharp, staccato guitar in Trouble, an individualist’s anthem and another latin-flavored number: “I’ve been in trouble so long that I hardly remember the other side,” Waldman confides.

The album winds up with the moody nocturne Tapestry in Blue, which is an organ tune until Waldman’s guitar kicks in hard at the end. Everything here sounds like it could go on for twice as long and it would still be interesting – and you could give your lower parts a decent workout. Fans of Sharon Jones,classic soul and funk, and obscure punk-funk cult heroes like the Maul Girls should check them out.

Incendiary, Siouxie-esque Dark Guitar Rock From Touched By Ghoul

Today’s Halloween album is Murder Circus, released by ferociously dark, punkish Chicago band Touched By Ghoul last year and streaming at Bandcamp.

From the first few stomping beats from Paige Sandlin’s kickdrum, Alex Shumard’s uneasily rising bass and the roaring chromatic chords of guitarists Angela Mullenhour and Andrea Bauer, the album’s opening track, B.A.C.M., could be a lost gem from Siouxsie’s first album. Mullenhour’s insistent, wounded vocals are more evocative of the goth-punk icon’s raw, early style, before she developed her signature microtonal style.

The rest of the album careens between eras. The second cut, Whores is a mashup of Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth and early Siouxsie – or the Grasping Straws in particularly assaultive mode. Western Child has a skittish downstroke guitar pulse and a wrathful vocal straight out of Hong Kong Garden.

Rapevan has the same kind of haphazard drive and dirty Bush Tetras guitars, with a tasty scream from Mullenhour. She really pulls out all the stops with her vocals in Immaculate Consumption, which unexpectedly veers from punk thrash to skronk and then back.

“I was lost in a graveyard,” Mullenhour muses as Nice Corpse, a blend of early Public Image Ltd. and classic-era SY gets underway. With its artfully cynical variations on a familiar circus theme, the album’s title track is a real gem. The final cut is the brief, stomping Adios!, awash in a deliciously toxic, swirling cloud of guitar reverb. This makes you wonder what other treats this group have up their collective sleeves. 

Castle Black Bring Their Towering, Magnificently Dark Roar to Arlene’s This Saturday Night

If you run a music blog, it’s especially validating to watch an artist or an act deliver on the promise of their early days.  A couple of years ago, power trio Castle Black weren’t all that tight, and they were still getting the hang of their instruments. But it was obvious they had something that most rock acts in this city don’t have: fearlessness. For one, they don’t fall back on all the lazy indie rock guitar cliches – the moveable chords, the open chords, the pilfered New Order and Cure licks – that all the richkid Bushwick bands use. Do Castle Black even know what a cliche is? OK, last Friday night at the Well, there were a couple of choruses during the band’s blistering, careeningly triumphant release show there for their latest short album Trapped Under All You Know that were pretty Ramonsey. But all punk bands do that.

Otherwise, it was impossible to tell was coming next, except that it was bound to be loud and hard and intense – and catchy. At the release show at Matchless this past winter for their video Dark Light, guitarist Leigh Celent was starting to really flex her chops as the savage lead player she’s always wanted to be. This time out, she was that person – and bassist Lisa Low is flexing too, with a lot of riffs instead of just a booming low resonance. Drummer Matt Bronner, who was the best musician in the band when they first started, now finds himself propelling one of the most powerful and interesting bands in town.

Celent is really cutting loose on the mic now too. She finally unleashed that wounded wail in all its vengeful glory in the night’s best song, in fact one of the year’s best songs, Broken Bright Star, through all sorts of permutations. finally bringing it full circle to the haggard, elegaic blown-tube opening riff. Watching as the band built steam from from there, through the bitterly anthemic Sabotage, the serpentine, jaggedly noisy Dark Light and then Next Thing, echoing 70s Patti Smith, was just as much fun.

A new number, Man on a Train followed an unpredictable path of doomed late-night imagery. Low’s suspenseful epic-Buzzcocks rumble as Rise slowly got underway gave Celent a long launching pad to burn out of. They ended the show with some of their catchiest numbers: Blind Curtain, which sounded like powerpop Blondie on steroids; Seeing in Blue, the new album’s opening track, smoldering with Fender Twin amp roar and machete postpunk riffage; and the sardonically funny classic punk encore, One Track Mind. Castle Black will probably do a lot of this at their next Manhattan gig this Saturday night, September 2 at 10 PM at Arlene’s. Cover is $10.

Ferocious Power Trio Castle Black Put Out One of 2017’s Best Short Albums

In an era when gentrification, the demise of one venue after another and subway closures all down the line at night have landed one crushing blow after another on the New York music scene, Castle Black’s rise to become one of this city’s best bands is as heartwarming as it is improbable. A couple of years ago, they were playing the usual cruddy circuit of bottom-tier venues that most new bands never gain enough traction to leave. Since then, Castle Black have put out a succession of ep’s, each one better than the other and emerged as a relentlessly touring powerhouse.

Armed with a couple of vintage Fenders, guitarist/frontwoman Leigh Celent has grown into a powerful and distinctive player equally at home with noise and melody. Bassist Lisa Low anchors the music with a looming ominousness while drummer Matt Bronner ranges from rapidfire four-on-the-floor punk to doomy metal to the occasional departure into unorthodox meters, holding the beast to the rails. The band’s latest ep, Trapped Under All You Know is streaming at youtube. They’re playing the release show on August 25 at 10 PM at the Well in Bushwick – they’re definitely loud enough to drown out any of the other bands rehearsing in the upstairs rooms there.

The album’s first track, Seeing in Blue kicks off with Bronner’s boomy tom-tom rolls, Celent building an angst-fueled nocturnal scenario with her guitar and her vocals. It’s part Avengers roar and part enigmatic late-period Bush Tetras, with a little Cramps menace. And it’s as catchy as all those references

Broken Bright Star is one of the half-dozen best songs of 2017, hands down. The catchy, doomy opening guitar riff brings to mind the Vice Squad classic Last Rockers, rising to a richly jangly mesh of guitar multitracks on the chorus. The point where the verse suddenly dips down to just Celent’s vocals, and then explodes with a wrathful guitar chord, will give you goosebumps.

Blind Curtain is just as anthemic and catchy: imagine a two-guitar version of Blondie covering mid-80s Husker Du. The album stays in that relentlessly troubled zone with the distantly Joy Division-inflected last cut, Rise, Celent’s roaring, reverbtoned guitar shards flickering through the “shadows as they rise, again and again again.”  Brief as this is,  you’ll see this album on the best of 2017 page here in December if we’re still all here.

Acerbic, Catchy LA Folk-Punks Las Cafeteras Headline This Thursday at Lincoln Center Out of Doors

Sometimes Las Cafeteras come across as sort of the Mexican Pogues – with an infinitely better singer. Other times they could be a more rock-oriented version of New York son jarocho folk-punks Radio Jarocho. The bilingual Los Angeles band’s punchy acoustic sound has a fearless political relevance to go along with a spiky catchiness. Their latest album, Tastes Like LA is streaming at Bandcamp, and they’re headlining an excellent pan-latin bill at Lincoln Center Out of Doors this Thursday, July 27 at around 10. Fiery, dramatic belter Xenia Rubinos opens the night at 7, followed by trippy downtempo guy Helado Negro and then our own fearlessly lyrical Hurray For the Riff Raff. It won’t hurt to get to Damrosch Park as early as you can; gates open at 6.

The album opens with the catchy Tiempos De Amor, its bouncy, anthemic tune in contrast to frontwoman Leah Rose Gallegos’ biting delivery, an anthem for anyone who would dare create a better world in a time when it’s never been more imperiled, for immigrants or anyone else. The band revisits that theme with the snide lyrical volleys of Señor Presidente a little later on.

Vamos to the Beach – how’s that for Spanglish? – is more carefree, with its shuffling acoustic textures (that’s Hector Paul Flores on jarana tercera, Daniel Joel Jesus French on jarana segunda and Jorge Mijangos on requinto), tinkling glockenspiel and peppy brass. Paletero, a salute to refreshing treats from the guy with the cart full of ices, has a bittersweet, reggae-tinged groove and a chirpy vocal. At one point, if the band switched out the thicket of acoustic instrumentation and keening organ for a more electric arrangement, it would be a dead ringer for a big Cure hit from the early 80s.

Las Cafeteras’ remake of Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land is definitely the wildest anybody’s ever done with this song, an apt direction to take in this era of deportations and Boris Yeltsin-like demagoguery about border walls. The optimistic anthem Apache is a Mexican take on late 90s trip-hop, while the harmonies of La Morena, a shout-out to a Mexican earth mother archetype, bring to mind New York’s all-female Mariachi Flor de Toloache.

If I Was President features defiantly optimistic rap cameos, matching Gallegos’  resolutely assertive vocals. Likewise, the loping Feo Mas Bello is a joyous look forward to as-yet-unrealized romantic bliss…and possibly a long-overdue reunion with a loved one from south of the border. The album winds up with the unexpectedly C&W flavored Two More Days, tackling that same theme much less opaquely. Crank this up and let’s party for our right to fight.

A Ferocious Brooklyn Celebration of Diverse Mexican Sounds

Thursday night at Prospect Park Bandshell, Lila Downs and her lavish twelve-piece band put on a show that was as American as America gets these days. Early in the set, the intense, impassioned singer and bandleader explained that Mexican music is a joint celebration of three cultures, African, Spanish and Native American. Then, addressing the Mexican contingent in Spanish, she made it clear that this was in defiance of the demagogue in the Oval Office. Even the non-Spanish speakers figured that one out – and roared their approval.

The red-flare trumpet cadenza that her Mexico City-based trumpeter fired off to open a duel with his American jazz counterpart, Josh Deutsch. Spanish flamenco, but with the biting chromatics of North Africa and the Middle East hovering in the distance. But then Deutsch took it straight into volleys of African-American jazz.

The insistent, off-kilter metrics of a couple of mariachi songs drew a dotted line across the water to Africa, while their bouncy melodies were pure, native Mexican. And the overtone-rich jangle of the Rickenbacker guitar – when it could be heard ringing through an awful sound mix – was pure heartland America, or Liverpool, if you go back a little further.

Downs’ latest album Salon, Lagrimas y Deseo goes deeply into the mariachi tradition, but as the show went on, she also took on the role of angst-ridden ranchera diva, cumbia siren and wounded Mexican film ingenue. Over the keening strings and frequently spine-tingling flights of a trio of members of New York’s own all-female Mariachi Flor de Toloache, she belted with characteristic raw power in her low register, and took a couple of dramatic flights up to the very top where she held on for dear life – and held the crowd breathless with how long she managed to stay up there.

There are many cultures in Mexico, but one common quality is resilience: the Mexican people have been through a lot, especially lately, and Downs’ songs reflect that. It would be an overstatement to say that love under an occupation is one of her themes, but any Spanish-speaking American can relate to her irony-infused narratives of trying to keep things together on a personal level while embattled from all sides. Minor keys soared and pulsed, guitars and cuatros rippled and strummed amidst blazing brass and undulating, eclectic grooves. Downs hadn’t been here in awhile, was psyched to be back and everybody was glad to have her here.

Another band who’re taking Mexican music to new places, Orkesta Mendoza, opened, cursed with an even worse sound mix. Yet while they were also missing their usual secret weapons – baritone saxophonist Marco Rosano and lapsteel player Joe Novelli – their songs proved to be so strong, and catchy, that they stood alone with just a guitar-bass-drums setup frequently spiced with trumpet, clarinet or creepily carnivalesque roller-rink organ. Like Downs, they played a bunch of slinky cumbias; at one point, leader Sergio Mendoza tried to get the sleepy early early-evening crowd to count down a number, James Brown style, but they weren’t having it. Charismatic baritone singer Salvador Duran worked up a sweat punching out the beat with his shakers while Mendoza switched back and forth between acoustic guitar and organ and their multi-instrumentalist played just about everything else And bassist Adam Rogers sang a number that was part latin soul, part Thirteenth Floor Elevators. Which makes sense: the Elevators were a Texas band.

The afterparty was at Barbes, and was even wilder. With their biting, chiming, punchy acoustic guitars and singer/dancer Julia del Palacio firing off machinegunning beats with her tap shoes, Radio Jarocho celebrated the pan-latin sounds that have steamed into Veracruz over the past many decades. With their colleagues Mariachi  Flor de Toloache in the house, New York’s only original son jarocho band sprinted through a mix of funny, often smutty, wryly aphoristic songs about drinking, chasing women and smoking weed. Yet just when it seemed the party had reached its peak, they completely flipped the script with the best song of the night, a gorgeously stark, bolero-ish minor-key lament. This is what Trump wants to keep out of the country with his wall? Put a wall around this, wigface. Happy Fourth of July, everybody.

Powerful Singers and an Iconic Band Celebrate Global Yiddish Music in Central Park

What’s the likelihood of seeing the Klezmatics not only slink, and barrel, and slowly sway through a gorgeous and often haunting blend of minor keys and punk-klezmer romps…but also  getting to see them back two of New York’s most powerful singers? It happened Wednesday night at Central Park Summerstage, where cantors Chaim David Berson and Yanky Lemmer got to take tantalizingly short turns on the mic in front of the band, along with other entertainment on a night celebrating Yiddish music from around the world.

There was a time when being a cantor was just as competitive as, say, African-American gospel music, or a jazz cutting contest. The cantor was the treasure of the temple, the guy you’d send on tour to represent you and thrill the people with his powerful pipes. That tradition has sadly fallen into disrepair in recent years, but it is alive and well on the Upper West Side, at the Jewish Center on 86th St. and also the Lincoln Square Synagogue, where Berson and Lemmer, respectively, hold court.

Berson has a vibrato wide enough to drive a truck through, with Little Jimmy Scott nuance but also Johnny Cash intensity, if you buy those references. He also turned out to be a fluent guitarist as well, adding poignant, purposeful jangle to one of the set’s early numbers. Lemmer’s baritone has a tinge of grit and a similarly steely resonance, opera without the buffo.

He immediately made an impact, sending a shout-out to the 99-percenters in the crowd (which seemed to be pretty much everybody) with a stern march through We’ve Got to Make a Living, an anthem for solidarity in hard times. Then he led the band through an increasingly dynamic, lickety-split, sardonically funny medley of drinking songs. “Drinking songs?” Lemmer deadpanned, “Jews don’t drink. We’re too busy suffering.”

But a little l’chaim never hurt anybody – they did that one, too toward the end of the evening. Berson opened his own set with an impassioned, broodingly rapturous, melismatic improvisation while the band built an ominous wash of sustain behind him. From there, he worked the corners for every bit of chromatic mystery in a mix of numbers that looked forward to messianic redemption and sought worldly solace, either through transcendence or libations.

The Klezmatics finally got a set of their own and reveled in it with the energy of a group, well, thirty years younger. The original rebels of the 80s klezmer revival, they celebrated all things treyf, sexually and foodwise and otherwise in the high-voltage, Romanian-tinged dance numbers, and kept an eye on history with the slower ones. There’s no small irony in that the high point of the evening might have been the slow, subdued dirge The Yoke, a Yiddish translation of a Catalan protest song from the 1960s.

Frontman Lorin Sklamberg played that one on piano rather than his usual accordion, like he did much of the rest of the material, and showed off similar chops: at one point, he hit an unexpectedly feral barrelhouse groove. Likewise, trumpeter Frank London spent much of the night behind an electric piano, constantly tweaking it to get the textures right when he wasn’t hitting ecstatic heights or firing off hundred-yard spirals on his horn. Bassist Paul Morrissett took a turn on tsimbl, the Ukrainian Jewish ancestor of the cimbalom, while violinist Deborah Strauss switched between icepick precision and stark, rustic, otherworldly sustain over Richie Barshay’s playful, jazz-inflected drums. When he wasn’t reaching the rafters on alto sax, Matt Darriau was adding ethereal flute textures or channeling grim Balkan tonalities on clarinet. 

As an encore, Daniel Kahn – star of the upcoming immigration-themed musical Amerike – came up to deliver a Yiddish version of Leonard Cohen song whose expiration date passed a long time, joined by the rest of the night’s performers, among them tongue-in-cheek a-cappella unit the Maccabeats. But then everybody segued into a rapidfire dance number every bit as fun as Man in a Hat, the title track from the Klezmatics’ cult classic 1995 Jews with Horns album, a wry salute to their home turf: “I’m a man in a hat, a Manhattan man,” Sklamberg reaffirmed.

The next Central Park Summerstage event of note starts at 5 PM on June 24, a night of Portuguese music with newschool fado star Sofia Ribeiro and assaultive goth/Stooges punk duo Dead Combo with special guest guitarslinger Marc Ribot. Get there early if you’re going. 

Twisted Valentine Fun with Genghis Barbie

Is there any logic at all to be willing to take a bullet for Dolly Parton, or to at least give Madonna a push out of harm’s way…or to offer that level of allegiance to Lady Gag, or Mariah Carey instead?  Is that just a matter of personal taste? Or a matter of growing up while Ed Meese was assembling the world’s largest porn collection at taxpayer expense…or in an era remembered best for the radiation poisoning known as Gulf War Syndrome …or during the Obama years, when drones were blowing up Islamic wedding parties in the desert?

Or is this just scraping the bottom of the barrel, any way you look at it?

Obviously, you can tell whose side this blog is on. Early Tuesday evening, before any of us were called home for Valentine duty, all-female french horn quartet Genghis Barbie packed the Miller Theatre uptown for a goodnaturedly amusing display of fierce chops and wicked new reinventions of otherwise pretty cheesy material.

Back when your parents or grandparents were kids, they used to call shows like this “pops concerts.” Orchestral musicians would catch a break playing easy charts for instrumental versions of the radio hits of the day. This usually happened at places like the Brooklyn Prom or Coney Island. What differentiated this concert from that kind of schlock wasn’t so much the material as the arrangements and the musicianship.

Genghis Barbie played with an intuitive chemistry and a boisterously contagious camaraderie. Somebody to Love, by Queen – Freddie Mercury’s mashup of doo-wop and opera buffo – got a neat baroque arrangement and an even funnier singalong round at the end led by Leelanee Sterrett, a.k.a. Cosmic Barbie, and then Rachel Drehmann, a.k.a. Attila the Horn. Likewise, the deadpan, steady exchange of voices in Without You – written by Badfinger’s Peter Ham, turned into a hit by another doomed Brit, Harry Nilsson and then tepidly reprised by Carey about a quarter century ago. The quartet – who also include the similarly sardonic, talented Danielle Kuhlmann, a.k.a. Velvet Barbie, and Alana Vegter, a.k.a. Freedom Barbie, went deep into Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach to reveal its inner oldschool disco goddess. A little later, the group took a Lady Gag number to the Balkans and made a quasi-cocek out of it. They took a detour into the opera world, then jumped forward a century and a half to the Disney autotune era once again. Colorfully yet effortlessly, they switched between bubbly Balkan phrasing and orchestral lustre.

The highlight of the show, at least from this perspective, was a vivid Spanish-tinged instrumental take of the Dolly Parton classic Jolene. The low point was a cover from the catalog of a saccharine California pop group from the 60s who got their start ripping off Chuck Berry and then did the same to the Beatles. For much of that time, one of that extended family band was hanging out with another family – the Mansons. You can read about it in the Vince Bugliosi classic Helter Skelter.

The next concert at the Miller Theatre features the work of hauntingly atmospheric, sometimes shamanic Japanese composer Misato Mochizuki played by amazingly eclectic indie classical ensemble Yarn/Wire on March 2 at 8 PM; $25 tix are available.