New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: punk music

Marc Ribot’s Young Philadelphians Bring Their Twisted Take on Philly Soul and Disco to Bowery Ballroom

To say that guitarist Marc Ribot doesn’t let the grass grow under his feet is a something of an understatement; where this guy treads turns into Carthage. To take that to its logical extreme; whatever he touches, he destroys – in the best possible sense of the word. The irrepressible downtown polymath’s career high point may be his shadowy, noir 2010 Silent Movies album, but his latest release, Live in Tokyo, with his group the Young Philadelphians – guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Jamaladeen Tacuma and drummer G. Calvin Weston – might be the best album of 2016. It’s a volcanic punk-funk record – most of it streaming at the band’s music page -with the same noisy, clenched-teeth exhilaration as Ribot’s 2014 Live at the Village Vanguard set. The premise of this one is typically ambitious: to connect the dots between Ornette Coleman’s 70s/80s Prime Time band and the plush Philly soul which served as a backdrop if not an immediate touchstone. AND to do it with two guitars instead of a horn band. Wild stuff. They’re bringing their careening intensity to a gig this Thursday, July 28 at 11 PM at Bowery Ballroom, a rare appearance by a jazz band at Manhattan’s best-sounding midsize venue. Advance tix are $20, half of what you’d spend if you saw Ribot in any number of jazz clubs. Chris Cochrane subs for Halvorson on the band’s current US tour.

The intro to the album’s opening track, Love Epidemic, is worth the price of admission alone: Ribot blazes through a classic funk riff, then Halvorson comes in with an artery-slashing pickslide, a pickup Japanese string section swirling animatedly overhead. Tacuma anchors all this with his bubbly, purposeful vintage disco lines in tandem with Weston’s straight-up dancefloor pulse. Both guitarists switch on a dime between hard funk and irresistibly jubilant blasts of distorted punk rock. It’s fun to just think about this, let alone hear it or try to play it.

By contrast, the two guitarists’ droll wide-angle tremolo approach on the ballad Love TKO brings to mind Isaac Hayes at his most soulfully hot and buttered. Tacuma and Weston draw on their time with both Coleman and James Blood Ulmer, the bassist strutting and slipsliding, drums moving effortlessly from chill to crush. Ribot builds with fiery deliberation from shivery acid blues to skronk to cap it off.

The group twists Fly, Robin, Fly – a cheesy 1975 hit by German one-hit wonders Silver Convention – into a sick mashup of Bush Tetras and late-period ELO – and then takes it toward saturnine Sun Ra territory. TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia) is just plain hilarious, Weston and the strings opening it as a bombastic Olympic theme over the guitars’ jagged, sandpapery attack, then they hit the groove with a snarky thump. They get a lot looser on an even more sardonic, wah-infused take of the Ohio Players’ Love Rollercoaster, Halvorson having a ball anchoring Ribot and Tacuma’s stoner funk with her cumulo-nimbus ambience and woozy textures.

Do Anything You Want is closer to classic P-Funk than anything else here, and a launching pad for both Halvorson’s and Tacuma’s most incendiary playing. The group winds up the set logically with the funniest number of all, The Hustle. Ribot’s incessant quoting from an iconic anthem from a completely different idiom is as cruel as it is hilarious, finally getting his revenge for having to play the song on a wedding gig decades ago.

On the vocal numbers, it sounds like everybody sings, or at least vocalizes – not that there’s a lot in the way of lyrics, but it adds an extra dimension of fun. Since releasing the album, Ribot explains that the band is now stretching this material out even further, slicing and dicing the big hooks as springboards for even crazier improvisation. That’s an auspicious move since Halvorson’s own legendary ferocity is held in check somewhat here (she plays in the left channel, Ribot in the right).

And in case you haven’t already guessed, the Bowery gig may have something to do with the material on the bill, in addition to the artists. Can’t you see it: two dudes texting back and forth on Okcupid, “Let’s go to this, it’ll be so ironic.” To pronounce that final word correctly you have to hold your nose and say it in as flat and loud a voice as you can while trying to photobomb the selfie being taken by the gentrifier next to you. Steve Wynn put out a couple of dozen brilliant albums before he realized that he needed to write songs about baseball in order to reach a mass audience. Maybe Ribot has to be the leader of the world’s funnest and funniest disco cover band to do the same.

Power Trio Castle Black Blast Through a Tight, Killer Set in Bushwick

Doesn’t it feel great when you stumble on an up-and-coming band who end up fulfilling their promise, and them some? Castle Black‘s sizzling set Friday night at Basement Bar in Bushwick had the fearlessness and outside-the-box creativity of classic punk rock. A lot of people assume that punk music is just three chords and a fast beat, but the reality is that the artists in the first wave of punk bands went into punk because they wanted to do something more fun and also more sophisticated than they could within the cliched confines of 70s dadrock or hippe blues. Castle Black delivered that kind of defiantly individualistic energy with equal parts guitar-fueled savagery and sardonic humor.

It’s amazing how tight this band has become over the past six months: constant gigging will do that to you. And yet, their music hasn’t lost its raw edge, or persistent unease, or outright menace. And they’re a lot of fun to watch live. Guitarist Leigh Celent played most of the set on her Fender Jazzmaster, changing to a Mustang when she wanted to switch out grit for reverb and resonance. She rocked a vintage Runaways t-shirt and jeans, with a wiry intensity in both her vocals and stage presence.

Back-clad, dark-eyed bassist Lisa Low made a stark contrast, distant, enigmatic and seemingly haunted. She ran her Fender Precision bass through an amp turned way up, then varied her attack on the strings for an unexpected amount of sublety. But when she stepped to the mic and traded vocals with Celent, she was no less forceful. If you could find the perfect picture of a rock drummer circa 1981, that would be Matt Bronner. Head down, sticks in the air, focused to the point of tunnel vision, he made the band’s sudden detours into some unexpectedly tricky metrics look easy, as one song shifted into 10/4 time, another one with some deviously teasing syncopation. And he’s not the kind of guy who tries to beat the sound into the drums: instead, he lets it out, for extra low rumble.

The band opened with the skronky postpunk of Doing Time Pass. Celent is an interesting guitarist: she likes catchy hooks, but just when things might get predictable, she veers off into noise. There was a little Andy Gill, or maybe Arto Lindsay in her jagged lines, but mostly it was just her. The band roared their way into Leave It with a slow, stalking groove, like a vintage Buzzcocks epic that they suddenly took doublespeed into anthemic Avengers territory, then back again.

This Old Town, with its uneasy shifts between major and minor, was a biting, bitter portrait of deadend hopelessness. Just when the catchy, Joan Jett-flavored Premonition sounded like it was going to sway along with an easygoing highway rock beat, Bronner and Celent bit down hard. They took that drive to an angrier level with Sabotage and then segued into the night’s best song, the ominously ferocious Secret Hideaway. After a confident run through the endlessly unanticipated, haunting dynamic shifts of Dark Light – Castle Black’s Last Rockers – they closed with their single The Next Thing, with its offhanded references to both stoner metal and classic punk. Castle Black’s next New York gig is July 29 at 10 PM at the Parkside; for the Hoboken crowd, they’re also at Maxwell’s the previous night, July 28 at 8.

Who Goes to the Middle of Nowhere for a Couple of Great Bands?

The last thing this blog wants to encourage anybody to do is to stay home. We should all be out, interacting, gathering, celebrating what’s left in this city to celebrate. That’s how societies are built and revolutions begin. Bernie Sanders wouldn’t be drawing thousands and thousand of people at rallies and picket lines if we were all spending what free time we have alone and atomized, substituting Facebook ‘friends’ for real ones. But that’s a story that’s too long to get into here.

How does this relate to the twinbill of Hannah vs. the Many and Haley Bowery & the Manimals at the Way Station on April 23 at 9 PM? On one hand, the option of watching the live webcast might be your best bet. The bar is hard to get to unless you’re in that other-side-of-the-park Bed-Stuy neighborhood, it’s a Saturday night and there’s going to be a loud crowd there – nobody goes there to listen – and the sound system is horrible. Then again, these bands can be so much fun that it could be worth the trip.

Hannah vs. the Many have been through several incarnations and have most recently reinvented themselves as the most lyrically brilliant punk band in the world. Frontwoman Hannah Fairchild got her start playing opaque, roughhewn acoustic guitar tunes with venomous, corrosive lyrics packed with double entendres, literary and historical references and savagely cynical humor. Then she learned how to play, went electric and put a band together, part punk, part noir cabaret and part janglerock – a little like Pulp but with a woman out front who can really wail.

The last time this blog caught them was out in Bushwick at Pine Box Rock Shop on a cold Saturday night in February. The way that bar is set up, you’d never know they have music in the back room if you just wandered in randomly. But there is, and a lot of is quite good: the Skull Practitioners, Pete Lanctot and Rony’s Insomnia have all had recent gigs there. Hannah vs. the Many blasted through a lickety-split set marred by a horrible sound mix, drums and bass way too high and vocals too low. Which was too bad, since lyrics and narratives are what this band’s all about. Even so, just getting to hear Fairchild’s jet-fueled valkyrie voice soaring, embittered, alienated and defiant over the roar of her Telecaster made the trek out to the ‘Shweck worthwhile.

Fairchild debuted a catchy new number; her bassist is excellent and plays a lot of slinky riffs, and the drummer is solid too. Two of the best songs were the rapidfire, surrealistic suicide plunge story All Eyes on Me, and The Party Faithful, one of the most spot-on descriptions of what constitutes nightlife in New York these days. Frida Kahlo said, “I tried to drown my sorrows in alcohol, but the bastards learned how to swim,” and that’s the gist of the song.

The last time this blog caught Haley Bowery & the Manimals was a few years back at Webster Hall. These bands like to play as a twinbill, Haley taking the good cop role, more or less. Her band plays meat-and-potatoes, glamrock-flavored anthems with lyrics that can be hilarious. That summer night, their frontwoman brought a giant water rifle fillled with good-quality whiskey and drenched the crowd with it. And she was generous! Whenever somebody thirsty – guess who – went up to the edge of the stage for a mouthful or two, she really let them have it, right in the face. It’s not every day you walk away from a show reeking of bourbon, with a buzz courtesy of the band’s lead singer. No guarantees that this would or could happen at the Way Station gig – you can watch the webcast and find out.

The OBNIIIs Bring Their Austin Garage Punk Menace to Bushwick

Searing Austin garage punk band the OBNIIIs are the best approximation of Radio Birdman on this side of the earth. Unless the Australian chromatic-rock legends extend their 2016 tour beyond Europe, the OBNIIIs’ menacing minor keys and whirlwinds of machinegunning, macabre riffage over a hotrod rhythm section are the closest thing that American audiences will see this year. They’re playing Shea Stadium in Bushwick on April 23 at around 10; cover is $12.

They’ve done a couple of New York gigs over the past several months; the last time this blog caught them was at one of those annoying rush-’em-on, rush-’em-off late-afternoon Colossal Musical Joke shows at Cake Shop in the fall of 2014. Frontman Orville Bateman Neeley III is a big, imposing guy, and he had a chip on his shoulder right from the git-go at this show. Everybody in the band looked hungover and mean, especially him. He sneered that he’d finally gotten some good press out of the NME (the New Musical Express, a formerly influential British rag whose writers took considerable pride in dissing iconic bands like Joy Division back in the day when those opinions actually mattered). Neeley, when his role in the band was limited to vocals, was infamous being confrontational with the audience. Was he going to get up in anybody’s face? Actually not. But there was no shame in his snarl as he mentioned how hard he’d worked on his guitar playing, and he’s got a right to be proud: the twin-guitar attack of this latest edition of the group, with lead guitarist Tom Triplett’s murderous cascades and coal-oven flurries of chords, is the best yet.

Too bad the sound was so bad – hardly typical for Cake Shop, but you know how CMJ is – and the set was so short. They could have gone on for twice as long and the packed house still would have wanted more.  Triplett, playing a gorgeous vintage Gibson Flying V, got plenty of chances to solo, but it was hard to figure out what he was going for without watching his fingers as they flew up the frets. Otherwise, Neeley led the band through a mix of recent as well as older material, from a twisted, Dead Boys-style stomp, to a couple of stampeding numbers in a Raw Power-era Stooges vein, to No Time for the Blues, the closing tune, the best and most darkly catchy, chromaticaly bristling track on the band’s Live in San Francisco album. Drummer Marley Jones swung with a pummeling finesse, in a Dennis Thompson vein; bassist Michael Goodwin, like Triplett, was way too low in the mix. At the end of the set, Neeley left his guitar up against his amp to let it feed, but only got a hum and a few sputters instead of the shriek he was no doubt hoping for.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Legendary Shack Shakers Bring Their Expertly Menacing Party to the Bell House

The Legendary Shack Shakers are at the peak of their long career in creepy, sometimes macabre, cynical Americana party music. Frontman JD Wilkes has never sounded more in command of the dark side of every roots rock style ever invented: ghoulabilly, southwestern gothic, garage rock, punk and blues. They’re one of the few bands alive who can match the offhandedly savage minor-key intensity of Australian legends Radio Birdman. a band they often resemble. They’ve been hitting New York regularly over the last couple of years; their next gig is a headline slot at the Bell House on April 7. Raucous southern roots/jamgrass/honkytonk band the Pine Hill Haints open the night at 9; $15 advance tix, available at the venue box office, are your best bet.

The Shack Shakers’ latest album is The Southern Surreal, out from Jello Biafra’s label, Altenative Tentacles and streaming at Spotify. The first track, Mud, is a scampering, banjo-driven ghoulgrass shuffle. Its funniest number is Misamerica. 60s noir garage as Stiv Bators would have done it circa 1979, or Radio Birdman at three-quarter speed. “Bloody lipstick all over her teeth…the queen of idiocracy…from the party line to the tv screen,” Wilkes intones.

Cold, a loping gothic cowboy ballad, wouldn’t be out of place in the Mark Sinnis catalog; then guitarist Rod Hamdallah fires off a Birdman riff as the chorus kicks in. Gloomy lyrics soar over snarling Stonesy guitars on The One That Got Away, which looks back to a classic Grateful Dead anthem. Let the Dead Bury the Dead blends tongue-in-cheek noir cabaret and punked out Tex-Mex, while Young Heart, Old Soul represents the lighter side of the band, a carefree, stomping ska number, like the Slackers with distorted guitars

Fool’s Tooth, a brief blues vamp with honking harmonica sets things up for Down to the Bone, a southern psych-soul vamp. They really mix things up here: Christ Almighty, a lickety-split update on the Yardbirds or early Pretty Things, gets followed by Demon Rum, a snidely nonchalant honkytonk piano number.

Buzzard & the Bell, by drummer Chris Whitacre, makes a creepy shuffle out of a 1920s style Greek gangster tune, like Greek Judas in English. The album closes with a similarly menacing, slinky take of the Albert King blues classic Born Under a Bad Sign. The tracks are punctuated by fragmentary, sardonic samples including a really grisly roadkill story.

Their 2003 album Cockadoodledont also got a welcome reissue recently and is up at Spotify as well. Its first track, Pinetree Boogie is dirtier than the Yardbirds but tighter than, say, Knoxville Girls. The swamp-rock CB Song offers a darker take on a silly novelty genre. Help Me From My Brain spices frantic World Inferno circus-rock with eerie Romany and Balkan riffs

Shakerag Holler welds a slyly shuffling oldtimey blues to a split-second detour into hardcore punk. Hunkerdown bounces along on a familiar Doors riff, while Clodhopper goes in a sardonic jug band direction. Bullfrog Blues mashes up Radio Birdman and an Otis Rush classic, with more of that honking blues harp.

Blood on the Bluegrass foreshadows punkgrass bands like the Devil Makes Three. Devil’s Night Auction is your basic rockabilly dressed up in a flickering Halloween costume. Wild Wild Lover offers a nod to the haphazard shuffles of the early Gun Club, while the cover of Slim Harpo’s ShakeYour Hips improves on than the Stones version, although it’s not as feral as Randi Russo’s. The album winds up with the punkabilly Hoptown Jailbreak It’s good to see this back in print: you will probably get some of both albums and a lot more in Gowanus on the 7th.

A Monstrously Intense, Reverb-Drenched Album and a Greenpoint Show by Twin Guns

Twin Guns play some of the most deliciously menacing music of any band in New York. Their third album The Last Picture Show is streaming at Bandcamp. They’ve got a show coming up on February 24 at 8 PM at the Good Room, 98 Meserole St. (Manhattan/Lorimer), cattycorner from the Greenpoint YMCA. The closest train is the G to Nassau; you can also walk from the L at Bedford. Cover is $6

Frontman Andrea Sicco plays with as much or maybe more reverb than any other New York guitarist. The eleven tracks here range from horror surf, to stomping Cramps garage punk, to the occasional departure into 60s biker rock and snatches of film noir themes. The opening track, Temperature Rise has a pummeling monsterwalk groove – supplied by drummer “Jungle Jim” Chandler, whose credits include playing with the Cramps – over which Sicco layers chainsaw fuzztone riffage, a handful of spare, neat trumpet voicings and bloody, teardrop blue notes.

Fugitive cascades from a mean pickslide into a fuzzed-out attack, the early MC5 stampeding across the Great Plains, with a couple of savagely tasty horror surf interludes. Much as that band would frequently do, The First Time builds out of a vintage funk riff and makes a Frankenstein stomp out of it with tinges of ghoulabilly.

Over steady macabre sway with hints of Syd Barrett and twelve-string Laurel Canyon psychedelia, Johnny’s Dead tells the sad tale of a really popular guy who still managed to end up cold and blue in the back of a car. You might think that a song titled Maniac would be a fullscale rampage, but this one has a slow menace in the same vein as the Stooges’ Gimme Danger.

Twin Guns’ cover of Harlem Nocturne, the Duke Ellington classic reinvented as a surf tune by the Champs and the Ventures, moves like a trickle of blood down a slope, slowly congealing amid Sicco’s measured chordal blasts and shivery surf lines. The wall of reverb-tank noise that opens Trigger Jack hints that it’s going to go in a bludgeoning Link Wray direction, but instead Sicco takes it into creepy border rock, like Radio Birdman covering Calexico, up to a long, murderously sunbaked guitar solo. It’s arguably the album’s best song.

Living in a Dream has a chugging riff-rock pulse and echoingly sinister, lingering Coffin Daggers sonics. With its briskly hypnotic new wave groove, the wickedly catchy Now I Understand sounds like a mashup of Brian Jonestown Massacre and the MC5. The final cut is the title track, a slow, sad, Lynchian doo-wop ballad spun through a million doomed layers of reverb…and then it morphs into a lurid ba-bump noir cabaret-tinted sway. Compared to the band’s previous work, this is somewhat more bulked up – the addition of bassist Kristin Fayne-Mulroy was a subtle but important one for their sound. This would qualify as one of the best albums of 2016 except that it came out last year…and ended up on the best of 2015 page.

A World of Great Music at Globalfest, and the Crowd Is Clueless

“Shhhh,” Simon Shaheen gently told the boisterous, largely daydrunk crowd crammed into an impossibly small ground-floor space at Webster Hall last night. Then he motioned for his nine-piece pan-Andalucian ensemble, Zafir, to stop. “I think this is disrespect,” he explained somberly, “To the people who are listening.”

That shut up the roar emanating from the back of the room for a minute or two, but then they were back at it. Which perfectly capsulizes both the lure and limitations of Globalfest.

This was the thirteenth anniversary of the annual multiple-stage festival of sounds from around the world, a spinoff of the annual January booking agents’ convention. On one hand, those guys – an older bunch whose general overindulgence at this year’s concert suggested that they haven’t been getting out much lately, at least to tie one on – can be interesting to talk to. It was lovely to be able to get Wayne Shorter biographer and NPR correspondenent Michelle Mercer’s inspiringly un-jaded take on changes in how music is being staged around the world (in Korea, promoters turn a daylong jazz festival into a picnic and in the process create thousands of new fans for the genre). It was less so to have to deal with the noise, and the overcrowding, and the most hostile security staff of any venue in the five boroughs. You usually have to go to New Jersey or Long Island for this kind of hell. How much this city has changed since the festival promoters figured out that they could make a few extra bucks if they opened the doors to the public.

Let’s be clear that the artists who play the festival don’t book themselves into it: they’re all invited. Many of them can be seen – and have been covered here in the past – in the summer at Lincoln Center Out of Doors. Wild expat Ukrainian chanteuse/keyboardist Mariana Sadovska, the even wilder New Orleans Russian folk-punk band Debauche, hypnotically kinetic Ethiopian krar harp-driven dance band Fendika and Shaheen himself have all made appearances there.

Fendika’s distinguishing characteristic among similar Ethio-folk acts is their heavy, insistent western dancefloor beat: they switch out the frequently intricate rhythmic latticework for a more straightforward approach for the sake of western audiences who don’t have a feel for those ancient and sometimes tricky beats. The crowd of dancers onstage grew as the music followed a slow trajectory upward toward fever pitch as the krar fired off simple, catchy, upbeat major-key riffs. The dancefloor was pretty empty when they started; by the time they’d finished, the club’s big main room was packed.

In the small basement studio space, Sadovska and her multi-instrumentalist bandmate – who switched in a split-second between drums, keys, what looked like a tsimbl dulcimer and a mixing board – treated the crowd to a phantasmagorical, otherworldly mashup of ancient Carpathian folk songs and eerie electroacoustic art-rock. Sadovska shifted between her trusty harmonium and an electric piano as her voice lept, soared, snarled, snorted and screamed, through a series of pretty wild old folk narratives and finally, a somberly lingering dirge that eventually rose to fullscale horror as a depiction of war in general, and in particular, ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine.

Unsurprisingly, even the wildfire noir cabaret punk antics of Debauche couldn’t upstage Shaheen. Equally erudite and thrilling on both oud and violin, he’s simply one of the world’s greatest musicians (in context: it’s probably safe to say that Kayhan Kalhor, Richard Thompson and JD Allen are operating on his level). This ensemble included oud, kanun, strings, multiple percussion plus flamenco and classical Arabic singing and dancing. Matter-of-factly and expertly, they made their way seamlessly and rivetingly through themes from Arabic, Jewish, flamenco and possibly Romany music, interwoven with biting minor keys, ominously elegant Middle Eastern modes, slowly slinking rhythms and frequent, exhilarating peaks. At the end of the show, after having to shush a disinterested crowd (that a crowd could possibly find Shaheen disinteresting speaks for itself), how did he respond to a two-minute warning from the sound guy? With one of the most bittersweetly beautiful violin solos of his life. OK, maybe not the very best one, but it was awfully good, and Shaheen showed not the slightest interest in cutting it short, going on for at least five minutes as his fan base at the front of the room looked on raptly. If that’s not punk rock, nothing is.

Although the acoustic Gogol Bordello-esque Debauche downstairs were pretty close (memo to the frontguy – that incessant wolf whistle has got to go). Ultimately, where all this goes down best is in more spacious confines..like Lincoln Center Out of Doors, where everybody seems to be a lot happier and a lot less cynical, an emotion that at this festival gets contagious real fast and shouldn’t be considering the quality of the music. It’s too bad that the overall experience, year after year, doesn’t measure up.

A Historic Marathon Weekend at Martin Bisi’s Legendary BC Studio

While booking agents clustered around the East Village at several marathon multiple-band bills this past weekend, another far more historic marathon was going on in a Gowanus basement. As chronicled in the documentary film Sound and Chaos: The Story of BC Studio, Martin Bisi has been recording and producing some of New York’s – and the world’s – edgiest music in that space for the past thirty-five years. A couple of years ago, a dreaded upmarket food emporium moved in, sounding an ominous alarm bell. Like a smaller-scale Walmart, when that chain shows up, the neighborhood is usually finished. And with rents skyrocketing and long-tenured building owners unable to resist the lure of piles of global capital, what’s left of the Gowanus artistic community is on life support.

BC Studio’s lease runs out next year. The historic space is where Bisi earned a Grammy for his work on Herbie Hancock’s single Rockit, where Sonic Youth, the Dresden Dolls and innumerable other defiantly individualistic bands made records, and where a sizeable percentage of the foundation of hip-hop was born. If there’s any artistic space in Brooklyn that deserves to be landmarked, this is it.

This past weekend, to celebrate BC Studio’s 35th anniversary, the producer invited in several of the most noteworthy acts who’ve recorded over the years, to collaborate and record material for a celebratory anthology. Both a Sonic Youth (Bob Bert) and a Dresden Doll (Brian Vigliione) did and lent their eclectic pummel behind the drumkit to several of the acts. It was a quasi-private event: media was invited (look for Beverly Bryan‘s insightful upcoming piece at Remezcla). Bisi also spilled the beans and invited the crowd at his Williamsburg gig this past week, and from the looks of it, some of that younger contingent showed up to see some of the more memorable acts who’ve pushed the envelope, hard, over parts of the last four decades there. It wasn’t a concert in the usual sense of the word, but it was a rare chance for an adventurous crowd beyond Bisi’s own vast address book to watch him in action. And while he’d fretted out loud about keeping everything on schedule, that hardly became an issue, no surprise since he knows the room inside out. The most time-consuming activity other than the recording itself was figuring out who needed monitors, and where to put them.

Historically speaking, the most noteworthy event of the entire weekend was the reunion of Live Skull, who were essentially a harder-edged counterpart to Sonic Youth back in the 80s. One of their guitarists, Tom Paine couldn’t make it, but his fellow guitarist Mark C, bassist Marnie Greenholz Jaffe and drummer Rich Hutchins made their first public performance together since 1988, in this very same space. Methodically, through a series of takes, they shook off the rust, the guitar lingering uneasily and then growling over the band’s signature anthemic postupunk stomp. Watching Greenholz Jaffe play a Fender with frets was a trip: in the band’s heyday, she got her signature swooping sound as one of very few rock players to use a fretless model. In a stroke of considerable irony, Mark C’s use of a synth in lieu of guitar on one number gave the band a new wave tinge very conspicuously absent from their influential mid-80s catalog. Both four- and six-string players sang; neither has lost any edge over the years. Greenholz Jaffe ended their last number by playing an ominous quote from Joy Division’s New Dawn Fades, arguably the weekend’s most cruelly apt riff.

Of the newer acts, the most striking was guitarist Adja the Turkish Queen, who splits her time between her more-or-less solo mashup of folk noir and the Middle East, and ferociously noisy, darkly psychedelic band Black Fortress of Opium. This time, she treated the crowd to an absolutely chilling, allusive trio of jangly, reverb-drenched Lynchian numbers: a brooding oldschool soul ballad, an opaquely minimalist theme that could have passed for Scout, and a towering art-rock anthem. Botanica’s Paul Wallfisch supplied a river of gospel organ, elegant piano and then turned his roto to redline on the last number, channeling Steve Nieve to max out its relentless menace.

Dan Kaufman and John Bollinger of Barbez – who have a long-awaited, Middle East conflict-themed new album due out this spring – were first in line Saturday morning. Bollinger switched effortlessly between drums, lingering vibraphone and a passage where he played elegantly soaring bass while Kaufman jangled and then soared himself, using a slide and a keening sustain pedal. Togther they romped through apprehensively scrambling postrock, allusively klezmer-tinged passages and elegaic, bell-toned cinematics.

Susu guitarist Andrea Havis and drummer Oliver Rivera Drew (who made a tight rhythm section with baritone guitarist Diego Ferri, both of whom play in Bisi’s European touring band) backed Arrow’s soaring frontwman Jeannie Fry through a swirl of post-MBV maelstrom sonics and wary, moodily crescendoing postpunk jangle. In perhaps the weekend’s best-attended set, Algis Kisys of Swans jousted with ex-Cop Shoot Cop bassist Jack Natz and drummer Jim Coleman for a ferocious blast through a hornet’s nest of needle-pinning fuzztones and boomoing low-register chords, followed by a gorgeously contrasting ambient soundscape by Dave W and Ego Sensation of White Hills. It was the weekend’s lone moment that looked back to Brian Eno, who put up the seed money to build the studio.

There were also a couple of performances that echoed the studio’s formative role as hip-hop crucible. The first was when Tidal Channel frontman Billy Cancel channeled the inchoate anger of the Ex’s G.W. Sok over Genevieve Kammel Morris’ electroacoustic keyboard mix. The second was former Luminescent Orchestrii frontman Sxip Shirey‘s New Orleans second line rap over the virtuosic fuzztone bass of Don Godwin, better known as the funkiest tuba player in all of Balkan music. Wallfisch was another guy who supplied unexpectedly explosive basslines when he wasn’t playing keys.

The rest of the material ranged from industrial, to cinematic (JG Thirlwell’s collaboration with Insect Ark frontwoman/composer Dana Schechter, bolstered by a full string section and choir), punk (Michael Bazini’s wry gutter blues remake of an old Louvin Brothers Nashville gothic song) and to wind up the Sunday portion, an unexpectedly haunting, epic minor-key jam eventually led by Bisi himself, doing double duty on lead guitar and mixer.

Music continued throughout the afternoon and into Sunday night after this blog had to switch gears and move on to another marathon: the festivities included Bert backing Parlor Walls guitarist Alyse Lamb, an Alice Donut reunion of sorts and a set by Cinema Cinema. As much a fiasco as Globalfest turned out to be that night, the wiser option would have been to stay put and make an entire weekend out of it. As Kammel Morris put it, Bisi should host a slumber party next year.

A Good Noisy Punkish Night Coming Up This Saturday at Hank’s

There’s a cool quadruplebill at Hank’s on Saturday night, the second of January. It’s as if somebody said, “Let’s find four bands who know who the Dead Kennedys and Joy Division were, but don’t rip them off wholesale.” Creepy chromatics, minor keys and no fear of noise seem to be the themes this particular evening. The Heaps – who aren’t as hard to find on the web as you might think, and do a cool, noisy post-DKs thing, and have an organ in the band – open the night at 8:30, followed at 9:20 by the funniest and most original act on the bill, Sex Scheme, then ominously swirling lo-fi keys/guitar/drums unit the Hot Solids at around 10, then speedmetal band Elefantkiller at 11. Shows like this are reason to stay optimistic in the midst of ongoing real estate bubble-related devastation: that there are four punkish bands like this still in town, and that there are still places to see them (in this case for a measly five dollar cover) testify to the tenacity of the people of this city. Just wait til after the bubble bursts – gonna happen, folks!

The Heaps have a cool “demo tape” available as a free download at Bandcamp, although the cassette is worth owning. They like short songs. Funeral parlor Eraserhead organ kicks off the first cut, Amoeba Brain, then the bass and guitar punch in and blast up to doublespeed and back and forth. Deranged is a really good, hard-hitting mostly instrumental number where the drums gather steam and then everything suddenly falls apart. Kid Sin sounds like Metallica if that band could swing and their albums didn’t have such sterile production. Wool – which might or might or might not be about crack – has a really catchy, tumbling verse, then hits a slow, doomy interlude.

Wrist/Willows sounds like a catchier Sex Scheme, finally reaching the point where the band just lets their haphazard vamp implode. Ruin kicks off with some delicious Bach organ and then makes swaying punk rock out of it – how cool is that? The concluding cut, Magnet is the shortest and most hardcore thing here.

Sex Scheme also have a couple of free eps at Bandcamp. The most recent one follows a recent live setlist, the songs segueing into each other with a noisy, careeningly menacing early Joy Div/Warsaw feel. Have My Child is pretty twisted, screeching with feedback as the band stomps along. “Push your head into the mattress and have my child,” the singer insists. Hey Jesus follows the same kind of vamping, feedback-infested stomp : by now, it’s obvious that the dude is either completely trashed or trying hard to sound drunk and doing a pretty good job of it. Put Your Priest on My Leash – a song that needed to be written, huh? – has fuzzier bass and a twisted story that slowly comes together. Gratification is like the Joy Div cover of Sister Ray, but about a tenth as long. The final cut, Sleazy Doctor circles around a catchy. trebly blues hook that the early Stooges could have used: this creep likes to watch, maybe do something more. It’s a fun song.

The Hot Solids, led by vocalist Drea Mantis and multi-instrumentalist Michael Merz, have a Reverbnation page with several tracks that bring to mind jagged postpunk bands like Live Skull, Come and Pere Ubu. Likewise, Elefantkiller have a few machinegunning tracks up at Reverbnation – and a welcome awareness of how messed up the world is.

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