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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regular Einstein and Lazy Lions Reprise One of 2015’s Best Concerts at Rock Shop on Friday Night

What if you could live your whole life over again? Even better, what if you could just relive the fun parts? Unlikely as that may seem, there’s a fun part of your life just waiting to be relived, if you were one of the lucky hundred or so people who went to see genius lyrical rock bands Regular Einstein and Lazy Lions in late March at Rock Shop. If so, you can revisit that wild, intense night of wicked lyricism, catchy tunesmithing and fiery guitars this October 30 at 9 PM…or you can live it for the first time and be jealous of everybody who got to see this before spring arrived. Cover is ten bucks.

If memory serves right, it was a chillly walk downhill from Atlantic Avenue, but frontwoman/guitarist Paula Carino’s band played a searing set to open the show. This is why we go to concerts – not just to hear a group play all the tracks on their new album, as Regular Einstein did – but to rip the hell out of them. You hear Carino’s velvety voice and cool, clean, lean guitar lines, and you might expect subtle, and there was plenty of subtlety at this show, especially when it came to the lyrics, but the energy was through the roof. Carino’s voice took on a menacing edge as the grimly propulsive Never Saw It Coming got underway with its two-guitar crunch. The Queens Tornado and its sardonic outer-borough wordplay had a similarly pouncing intensity. They hit an electrified, chord-chopping Celtic ballad sway, then took the mood down into the bittersweetly gorgeous territory that Carino has made a career of mining with Hydrangea and its dynamically shifting metaphors.

Likewise, they picked up Jimmyville – a pensively defiant adolescent escape anthem on the new album Chimp Haven – with resonance and stomp, lead guiitarist Dave Benjoya teaming with Carino, drummer Nancy Polstein and bassist Andy Mattina, whose gritty lines made him a second lead guitarist. After a detour toward punk rock with Bad Actor and its snarky Rotten Tomatoes movie references, they brought it down into nocturnal tropicalia rock with the album’s title track. From the riff-rocking Three-Legged Race – a double-entrendre-loaded mashup of early Kinks and the Pretenders –  they hit a high point with the most unselfconsciously haunting number of the night, The Good Times and its morosely punchnig 6/8 minor-key sway. The loudest and punkest number was the snidely and blackly amusing Old People.

Lazy Lions frontman Jim Allen made his mark in the early zeros as a sort of New York counterpart to Elvis Costello and Graham Parker. A guitarist by trade, he plays organ in this outfit, who draw deeply on classic new wave while taking the style to new places. And they very rarely play out: this gig, the album release for their brilliant new one When Dreaming Lets You Down, might have been their first since a sizzling Lower East Side gig way way back in 2008. They opened with a look back to early 80s Parker in I Don’t Think That It’s Gonna Stop, guitarist Robert Sorkin blazing over the tight backbeat of bassist Anne-Marie Stehn and drummer Sean McMorris. Allen didn’t waste any time hitting a lyrically scathing peak with Susannah Rachel, a kiss-off anthem rivalled by few others. Allen’s narrator can’t wait to “get high above this vale of tears” and disappear like steam into a chilliy night sky.

They made their way from a funky shuffle to a jauntily soaring chorus on the next number, then a slinky Elvis Costello Goon Squad groove on the enigmatc It’s Just the Night, an anthem for all of us nocturnal creatures who can’t resist all the delicious and also the less delicious things you find in the shadows, literally and metaphorically. Allen took an all-too-brief, swirly organ solo on the next number, then hit another punchy peak with the snarling She’s Your Nightmare Now, Sorkin’s guitar raging as the organ reached distortion point.

They went back to Parker new wave soul sway and got funny with Scientific – as in “she’s not coldhearted, she’s just scientific…you don’t wanna mess around with someone like that.” The band switched out all the extraneous rhythm of the album version of the irresisitibly catchy Let the Bad Times Roll for a burning, backbeat drive, then Stehn pushed the creepy new wave disco groove on the number after that. The straight-up, deadpan cheery cover of the Go-Go’s Our Lips Are Sealed was a lot of fun, right down to the murky “hush, my darling” bridge, Allen reaching way up from his usual baritone and nailing the notes. They closed with the cynical, self-effacing Magellan in Reverse, from the band’s auspicious 2008 debut ep. Hit Rock Shop on Friday night and avoid the Halloween plague from out of state.