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Serena Jost Brings Her Elegantly Gorgeous Cello Rock to Barbes

Good Cop: Serena Jost and her band play elegant, old-world, allusively beautiful songs. Listening to her, I’d want a glass of wine, maybe a single malt. Like something they’d have at Barbes. But malt liquor? No way!

Bad Cop: Way. Nothing goes with a Serena Jost show like a few Crazy Horse tallboys.

Good Cop: So that’s what you were up to on June 29th. Daydrunk on a Saturday afternoon. What bar serves that crap, anyway?

Bad Cop: Bar? I went to the deli. Then I went to to the community garden on 9th Street.

Good Cop: I thought you weren’t supposed to drink there…

Bad Cop: Who do you think created New York community gardens? People who drink bespoke locavore artisanal tea?

Good Cop: OK, you have a point. And I know your old hangout, Lakeside Lounge, is gone now. But Crazy Horse, damn, that stuff is foul…

Bad Cop: The true taste of cardboard! But anyway, what was coolest about that Saturday was that aside from having a nice place in the shade to kick back with a beer, there was a great band. Fender Rhodes, bass and drums. Slow, slinky, minor-key funk grooves: the ultimate soundtrack for a beautiful summer day in New York. According to the sign on the garden gate, as far as I can remember, the band was called Vic & the People, but I googled them and didn’t get any results.

Good Cop: What were they playing? Originals?

Bad Cop: I guess. Long bluesy instrumental jams, basically. Kind of funky, a little jazz, a little latin influence. The whole band was good. Pretty psychedelic too. No wanky bass solos, no coked-out drum solos, just good summery New York music.

Good Cop: I would have enjoyed that. You should have texted me!

Bad Cop: I thought you’d be on the train so I didn’t. But that put me in a perfect mood for Serena Jost’s show at the Rockwood afterward. It was great to get sort of lost in one band and then get completely lost in another. My favorite part of her show was that big swell out of the verse into the chorus of Sweet Mystery. That’s such a catchy song. On one hand, you start nodding your head to that Motown beat, you know the crescendo is coming a mile away, but you want it so bad, and then you get it…oh baby. That was heaven.

Good Cop: And you can hear it for yourself when Serena Jost and her band play Barbes at 8 PM on July 31. They make a great segue with the headliners, Kotorino, who are playing at 10 and are one of the best bands in New York. They mix latin sounds with noir cabaret and circus rock and like Serena’s band, they have a very lush sound. Although Kotorino have more of a brass band and jazz influence, where Serena’s sound is more classically oriented.

Bad Cop: She’s a cellist. All cellists have that classical thing. She’s a symphony orchestra player. And she was in Rasputina for probably longer than anybody except Melora Creager.

Good Cop: Yeah, that in itself is an accomplishment. Let’s tell the people about the Rockwood show, which should give everybody a good idea of what we can look forward to at Barbes…

Bad Cop: OK. They opened with A Bird Will Sing, which is the title track on her most recent album. A swinging art-pop song that the crowd of douchebags who were at the bar, after the band before, hollered and blabbered through. They didn’t give a shit. Amateur hour: Jersey assholes completely blitzed on one beer. But then they started to clear out and you could hear the band. Amazing band, too: Julian Maile on guitar, Rob Jost – no relation – on bass, Robert DiPietro on drums.

Good Cop: My favorite song in the set was Great Conclusions, which has this lithely dancing, ballet-like verse and then this heavy, bada-BUMP, bada-BUMP heavy metal groove on the chorus. Who would have thought, you know?

Bad Cop: The Move would have done something like that. But that’s oldschool. Early 70s. Nice to see somebody doing that kind of thing these days. Not that there aren’t other good art-rock bands out there.

Good Cop: You think anybody knows what we mean by art-rock?

Bad Cop: That’s a good question. The term goes back to the 70s. Pink Floyd, ELO, Procol Harum, you know…

Good Cop: …the Universal Thump, Botanica, Kotorino.

Bad Cop: Exactly. Second song of the set: douchebags haven’t completely cleared out of the bar yet. Luscious bittersweet major-minor changes. Serena’s playing guitar which isn’t her main instrument but she’s good at it anyway. And that bruised, haunted voice: I love her songs but I can’t figure out what any of them are about.

Good Cop: Maybe she’s trying to draw you in. Maybe you should listen more closely..

Bad Cop: Hmmm…no objection there! Next song: sort of slow Highway 61 Dylan doing Fairport Convention. Wow, it’s an instrumental! With wordless vocals! I had forgotten about that!

Good Cop: I tell you, we’re taking over this blog. We get to see all the best shows.

Bad Cop: Let’s do play-by-play for the rest of the Rockwood gig and then wrap this up. An absolutely gorgeously soaring, swaying, hypnotic Britfolk-flavored waltz with some out-of-this-world vocals. A couple of BUMP-badda-BUMP cello-rock anthems, including your favorite.

Good Cop; You sure you want to wrap this up so quickly?

Bad Cop: Blog Boss says to remember that nobody has time to spend a lot of time at a music blog. People work for a living. Everybody’s exhausted.

Good Cop: OK, I’m listening back to your recording, who’s that playing accordion?

Bad Cop: Accordion? Serena Jost doesn’t have an accordion player. Oh wait, that’s Isle of Klezbos. Another East Village garden show. More on that later…

Good Cop: So are we going to Serena’s show on the 31st at Barbes?

Bad Cop: Sure, why not. It’s free, anyway. If Blog Boss doesn’t approve, tough. We just might write about it anyway. You know where I can get a can of Crazy Horse in Park Slope?

Good Cop: I think the further downhill you go, the more likely you are to find it. That’s a double entendre, by the way…

Serena Jost Plays an Enchanting Set at Barbes

Thursday night at Barbes Serena Jost played a concert to get lost in. “Night time and shade were never the same,” she sang, carefully modulated, nuanced, allusively, early on. If there’s anybody who knows what the difference between night time and shade is, it’s Serena Jost. This time out she and her band brought both, along with some sun as well. Like most artists whose main axe is the cello, her background is classical music, and as you might expect, she adds a classic pop feel to that – her songs are always about the melody. Her sound is one that first gained traction in the early 70s, when Genesis was a theatrical psychedelic band, and ELO played raw, apocalyptic, amped-up orchestral suites. But Jost’s melodies, and her vocals, go for plaintivess and an occasionally allusive wit instead of theatricality or fullscale epic grandeur.

Much of the set was new material from her forthcoming album A Bird Will Sing; Jost played acoustic guitar on the majority of those songs. One early standout had a distantly Brazilian flavor, Strat player Julian Maile shadowing Jost ominously, bassist Rob Jost (no relation) rising to meet a crescendoing wave head-on, nimbly filling in the spaces with some playfully sliding riffs. Another new one with a long solo cello intro followed by a brief fanfare, and then a march, sounded like a less caustic Rasputina. Drummer Rob DiPietro gave Almost Nothing, a track from her most recent album Closer Than Far, some marvelously funereal drumming that matched perfectly with her soaring vocals, stopping just this short of anguish. She also brought up her recent tourmate Robin Aigner to sing defiantly brassy harmonies on several songs.

“What’s the first thing you think of when you think of a deli?” Somebody in the audience nailed it. “That’s right! The cat!” she grinned, approvingly, and launched into a song inspired by a deli trip (and the furry friend she found there) that sounded something like White Rabbit done as chamber pop. The rest of the show was deliciously all over the map. The forthcoming album’s title track, a countrypolitan ballad, had Maile doing a spot-on imitation of a pedal steel with some nuanced slide work. Another new one, a gorgeous art-pop tune, had him running a fat Steve Cropper-style Memphis lick against the song’s balmy melody. They reinvented Doris Fisher’s Whispering Grass as a slow, sinuous funk groove, and then went into late 60s ye-ye pop on the “one song that sounds like a cover but isn’t,” as the bandleader took care to note. And Great Conclusions, another new track, was genuinely majestic, its slowly galloping chorus kicking in with an apprehensive power that wouldn’t be out of place in the Grieg repertoire.

Another excellent band, the People’s Champs, were scheduled to follow, but it was time to go home and pack for the Great Evacuation on Saturday (just kidding about that – but no trip to Barbes is complete without a visit to the totally oldschool 24-hour donut shop up the block on 7th Ave.).