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.