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Tag: steve antonakos

New York Guitar Star Homeboy Steve Antonakos Releases His Best, Most Eclectic Album

If you were a kid in New York back in the 80s, you had pretty much unlimited opportunities to see live music, theoretically at least. Sure, you could get into any club you wanted to: no venue owner was going to turn away a paying customer. The idea of bouncers hassling club patrons for identification was almost but not quite as faraway as the Orwellian nightmare of face recognition technology.

But getting into clubs could be expensive. Those who weren’t there may not realize just how much free live music, much of it outdoors, there was. For the sake of argument, let’s say you carried your beer into Union Square one evening. Everybody drank on the street back then since the implementation of “broken windows policing” as a means of making a revenue stream out of those least able to pay – kids and ethnic minorities, mostly – hadn’t gone beyond the drawing board.

Maybe you were drawn in by the twangy “rig-rock” sounds of the Blue Chieftains, who were doing a afterwork show on the plaza at the south end of the park. Maybe you wondered who was firing off that downward cascade of high-octane honkytonk guitar in that one big, stomping anthem.

That was Homeboy Steve Antonakos. The Blue Chieftains live on as a memory of a better time in New York history, a prestige piece of his resume. Since then, he’s played with a bunch of Americana outfits as well as the richly tuneful Greek psychedelic bands Magges and Dervisi, the latter with his fellow Greek-American guitar luminary George Sempepos. But Antonakos isn’t just one of New York’s great guitarists: he’s a strong songwriter too. His latest album, Bodega Rock is streaming at Bandcamp. His next gig is on March 30 at 9 PM at Espresso 77, 35-57 77th St. in Jackson Heights. where he does double duty playing his own material and then takes a turn on lead guitar with Drina Seay, New York’s answer to Neko Case. The closest train is the 7 to 74th St., but you can also take any train to the nearby Roosevelt Ave. stop.

The album opens with the Stonesy title track, guest guitarist Tim Heap fueling a shout-out to the 24-hour suppliers of Slim Jims, Bambus, beer and neighborly good cheer that help make this city so great. Antonakos sings the wry, aphoristic, ragtime-flavored The Improbability of Love backed by Bruce Martin’s piano, Seay a one-woman gospel choir.

Jeff Schiller’s smoky tenor sax wafts through the wistful shuffle Make It Swing, Antonakos raising a glass to an early influence in both jazz and pregaming. Seay sings the acoustic Americana ballad There’s Always Yesterday with tender restraint against Neil Thomas’ lilting accordion. Martin’s flurrying drums and Skip Ward’s bass propel One of Us, a pretty hilarious catalog of New York characters who might or might not exist. Awash in stormy layers of acoustic and electric guitars, He’s Still Not Over Her follows a much more ominous tangent.

Antonakos’ shivery lapsteel permeates the cynically shuffling It’s a Beautiful Day and its Sixteen Tons allusions; it might be the best song on the album. Seay ought to sing lead on this one: she’d hit it out of the ballpark.

With steel guitar and banjo lingering ominously in the background, the stark Nashville gothic ballad Poisoned Well is another standout. The album winds up with the gorgeously anthemic It Takes Time, another duet with Seay.

While we’re at it, could you imagine an album called 7-11 Rock? Actually, yes: it would be by Journey.

Dervisi Recreate a Shadowy World of Gangsters, Underground Revolutionaries and Hash Smoke

As guitarist Steve Antonakos puts it, Dervisi – his rembetiko guitar duo with fellow six-stringer George Sempepos – plays “gangster blues.” The two put a psychedelic spin on the haunting, Middle Eastern-flavored sound borne on waves of displacement when hundreds of thousands of refugees, most of them of Greek heritage, returned to their ancestral land from Cyprus and Turkey in the wake of brutality and repression in the years right before World War I. Aliens from a Middle Eastern culture suddenly thrown into a Mediterranean one, many of these people became part of the underground resistance to tyranny on their new turf. Their music is plaintive, full of cruel ironies and soul and colorful stories, in the same vein as American blues.

For the last couple of years, Dervisi have held down a couple of regular monthly residencies in Brooklyn and Queens. Sempepos is one of the real mavens of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern psychedelia, dating from his days leading Annabouboula, one of the few Greek psych bands to reach an audience beyond the Aegean. These days, he also leads even harder-rocking surf band the Byzantones. Antonakos also has a background in Greek psychedelia, notably with Magges, and is a ubiquitous presence in the New York Americana scene. He’s one of the most interesting and instantly recognizable lead guitar virtuosos around, but in this band he plays mainly rhythm. It was fun to catch their Greenpoint residency at Troost earlier this month; on June 16, they return to their regular Queens haunt, the intimate Espresso 77 at 35-57 77th St. in Jackson Heights; take the 7 train to 74th St./Broadway..

In Dervisi’s music, you can hear where Dick Dale got his inspiration. This time out Sempepos had not only his his guitar but also a saz lute, which he hit pretty hard for all manner of plinks and clanks: it has a very distinctive, spiky sound, well-suited to the music’s serpentine, slinky grooves. Singing in Greek in his signature, sonorous baritone, he and Antonakos were joined by ex-Annabouboula clarinetist George Stathos, who added uneasily quavery melismatics and tightly wound spirals as the stringed instruments fluttered and sputtered behind him. One by one, Sempepos explained the songs for those in the crowd (probably everybody) who didn’t speak Greek. A defiantly catchy, steadily pulsing anthem celebrated the joys of smoking hash with fellow stoners. A jailhouse scenario, a bunch of bad guys conspiring what they were going to do when they got out, was more low-key.

The most memorable tune of the night might have been a stalking number told from the point of view of Death, who goes out looking for the party just like everybody else. The duo also took a couple of the classics that the Byzantones play and brought them full circle, back to their smoky, rustic, broodingly modal roots. Late in the set, they surprised everybody with a jaunty Bollywood freak-folk theme. This music may seem esoteric, and one level it is, but so is cumbia, and look at how that went global. Maybe rembetiko is next: if Antonakos and Sempepos get their way, someday it will be.

A Killer Free Download From Drina Seay

New York songwriter and bandleader Drina Seay seemingly came out of nowhere to become one of the great voices in pretty much every style of Americana music. For her, Americana means jazz and soul music in addition to country and blues. Her blend of all these vocal styles is one of the things that distinguishes her; the other is her songwriting, which draws equally powerfully on all of those genres as well. For the moment, she has an intriguing ep of original songs available for free download at her site. The lineup here features her on acousttic guitar along with Homeboy Steve Antonakos doing his usual virtuoso job, this time on both acoustic and electric, backed by Skip Ward’s terse bass.

The first song, Don’t Keep Me Waiting Too Long works off a catchy rustic fingerpicked bluegrass riff, Seay”s voice alternately stern and alluring, Antonakos firing off a sizzling solo. It wouldn’t be out of place in the Mary Lee Kortes songbook. The second cut, a big, torchy concert favorite, is Chase My Blues Away. Seay’s lurid, aching, reverbtoned vocals have a Neko Case menace matched by Antonakos’ blue-flame slide guitar: it’s one of the best songs written by anybody in this town in recent years. The last track, Whatcha Gonna Do, brings back Seay’s blend of bluegrass and classic pop chops. Watch this space for future show dates.

Sunday Salon #5 – Raw and Primal

The Sunday Salon at Zirzamin was conceived not as a stuffy, formal setting for songwriters to gently and daintily introduce new material but as a platform for risky behavior and fertile cross-pollination. There wasn’t much of the latter but plenty of the former at tonight’s show. Guitar virtuoso Homeboy Steve Antonakos, who’ll be playing a set of his own at 7 PM here on Dec 23, provided a handful of catchy numbers: he’s the rare sideman who actually writes as interestingly as he plays. Among the highlights: a sarcastic Christmas song where Santa’s HMO is letting him down, and Antonakos’ first number, a delicious janglerock gem that wouldn’t be out of place in the Love Camp 7 catalog (a band he just happens to play in).

Otherwise, Rick Snyder told funny road stories about driving through the south, and represented for the 99%. John Hodel evoked surreal Bukowskiesque morning barroom scenes. The Salon’s own Lauraly Grossman sang a couple of subtly torchy, allusively literate, oldtime swing-flavored tunes. Calum Ingram and his trio played slinky blues-funk, his cello blending with his excellent bassist’s vintage SG model for a tasty mix of low midrange tones. And LJ Murphy – who’s playing here at 7 PM with his band the Accomplices this coming Sunday, Dec 9 – took the opportunity to reinvent a handful of his noir classics, among them the snide afterwork scenario Happy Hour and the subtly soul-infused Sleeping Mind, a powerful portrait of clinical depression. Like most of the musicians on the bill, Murphy is a band guy – the Salon isn’t a singer-songwriter scene, at least in the common sense of the term – so watching him snarl through the tunes and strip them down to their raw blues framework, all by himself, was a lot of fun.

Afterward, Lorraine Leckie and Her Demons played an even more careening, umhinged set. Leckie’s latest project is an elegant chamber-pop collaboration with journalist and social critic Anthony Haden-Guest, which somewhat obscures the fact that her roots go straight back to punk rock. This set was more Canadian gothic than punk, courtesy of lead guitarist Hugh Pool. Fueled by a nasty bump on the head (most clubs aren’t built to accommodate players with NBA height), a broken string and then a brand-new secondhand guitar with a mind of its own, he scorched and burned through one series of wildfire hammer-ons after another, mixing in the occasional wry Hendrix quote over the tight groove of bassist J Wallace and the excellent drummer, who to his credit felt the intimate space and didn’t bludgeon the room.

Leckie started the show solo on piano with a coy noir cabaret song about drug smuggling and then moved to guitar, for a couple of pretty savage glamrock tunes and then Ontario Sky, an aggressively ambiguous look back at growing up in rural Canada. Regrouping after one technical difficulty after another, they finally took it out with a a new song that wound up with long, burning, Neil Young/Crazy Horse style vamp. Leckie will be back here on Jan 6 at 7.

Every Sunday starting at 5 PM, New York Music Daily presents the Sunday Salon at Zirzamin, in the old Zinc Bar space on Houston St. just west of LaGuardia Place. There’s no cover charge, and the public is always welcome to come and watch. LJ Murphy and the Accomplices rock the club this coming Sunday Dec 9 at 7 to wind up the Salon on a high note.

Sunday Salon #2 – Gaining Traction

Every Sunday starting at 5 PM, New York Music Daily presents the Sunday Salon at Zirzamin, in the old Zinc Bar space on Houston St. just west of LaGuardia Place. Last Sunday’s was Salon #2. Conceived as a place for elite songwriters to work up new material in a supportive milieu with the possibility of spontaneous interaction with their fellow A-listers, this one was more about individual contributions. The one unexpected turn came when Rick Snyder asked the sound guy to join him on bass for a trio of catchy, John Prine-ish Americana rock tunes and the sound guy obliged.

There were other highlights. LJ Murphy, who’s playing here on Dec 9, burned through a handful of relatively new versions including the lusciously new wave flavored Imperfect Strangers and a snarling Wall Street afterwork scenario, Happy Hour. Salon co-founder Lorraine Leckie, who played a soaring, rivetingly psychedelic set of chamber pop collaborations with Anthony Haden-Guest the following night at the Mercury, warmed up her pipes with a handful of creepy, sarcastic numbers. But the star of the evening, by pretty much everybody’s reckoning, was Molly Ruth. She too would go on to play an assaultively intense set at the Mercury the following night; this time out, she treated the crowd to a pretty hilarious look at a one-sided relationship, playing both voices in the conversation; a little later on, she did an absolutely morbid Robert Johnson-style blues set in the Rockies. She could have told the crowd that it was an obscure blues classic and nobody would have guessed it was an original.

Love Camp 7 followed with a set of their own. Seemingly finished in 2010 after the sudden death of their brilliant drummer and harmony singer Dave Campbell, the three surviving members have recently regrouped and have been playing a handful of semi-acoustic shows. This one was a mix of new tunes as well as a bunch from their absolutely brilliant 2012 album, Love Camp VII, part tongue-in-cheek Beatles homage and part cynical look at the 60s. Hearing these wickedly catchy, wickedly lyrical songs stripped down to just a three-piece was a revelation.

The Beatles stuff blended bittersweetness and a cruel sarcasm that was often just as unsparingly funny as the Rutles, bandleader Dann Baker’s acoustic guitar mingling with Steve Antonakos’ stingingly precise, staccato electric, Bruce Hathaway taking a handful of lead vocals when he wasn’t adding harmonies. They followed the wry Rubbber Soul with the bouncy Beatles 65 and its recurrent Hollies reference, its baroque guitar duet of sorts in the middle a possible parody of the Fab Four’s neoclassical adventures…or just an attempt to outdo them at chamber pop. Either way, it worked.

They did a request for an older song, The World Is Full of Dianas, its snarky lyric and catchy jangle juxtaposed with jazzy, Brazilian tinged sophistication, and tongue-in-cheek Society’s Child quote. Three of the set’s best songs were new ones: One Turquoise Afternoon, blending catchy vintage-60s psych-folk with teens bite, and an absolutely gorgeous number that built from a steadily pulsing, apprehensive, chromatically-fueled verse to a jazzy pensiveness. Horseshoe Canyon Road looked at a fast-disappearing childhood through the envious eyes of child star Mickey Dolenz, who never got to hang out and ride bikes with the rest of the neighborhood kids since he was always getting ready to go onstage or get off it.

They parodied early metal bands like the Pretty Things with Beatles 6, a corrosively riff-driven look at the record industry and made fun of themselves and fellow music snobs with Other Music, a backhanded tribute to the Astor Place record store and its ineffably hip clientele. Abbey Road turned the Youngbloods Get Together into an alienation anthem, while Help put the failings of everybody in the Beatles under the microscope – except for Ringo, since there’s no need for a microscope with him. They took unexpected detours into hardcore, surf music, faux-Indian raga rock and finally wound up on the catchy janglerock note where they started. They might be back here – watch this space.

The Sunday Salon at Zirzamin is free of charge and the public is always welcome to come and watch.

Love Camp VII – Their Brilliant Swan Song?

If this is the last Love Camp 7 album – and it might be – the long-running New York psychedelic rockers went out on a high note. Aside from a brief set by two longtime members – frontman/guitarist Dann Baker and bassist Bruce Hathaway – at a Manhattan bar last year, and an upcoming cd release show by the three surviving bandmates (guitarist Steve Antonakos joining Baker and Hathaway) at the Parkside this Saturday, this looks like the end for one of the most unpredictably brilliant rock acts to ever come out of this town. Despite the tragic and unexpected 2010 death of drummer Dave Campbell – whose nimble, shapeshifting, jazz- and Brazilian-influenced rhythms in many ways defined this band – they have a brilliant album to show for some of their last studio sessions. Titled Love Camp VII, it features the full band playing fourteen songs (including a secret track), all using Beatles albums as their titles.

While there are plenty of wry and lovingly pilfered riffs here, this isn’t a Beatles parody. Nor is it a homage in the strict sense of the word: when the Fab Four first make an actual appearance, it’s after the band has broken up, a rather cruel look back on what John, Paul, George and Ringo’s solo careers should have been (ok, Ringo gets a pass) but weren’t. Rather, this album is sort of a history of the Beatles era, that band somewhere in the picture, usually in the background. Which makes sense, given Baker’s fondness for historical themes (particularly on the group’s fifth and arguably best album, 2007’s Sometimes Always Never).

For all the stylistic and tempo changes here, this is basically a janglerock record with numerous breaks for psychedelic mayhem. Meet the Beatles opens the album, taking a brightly jangly Merseybeat melody and twisting the rhythm, with a big choir of voices, a fragment of baroque guitar, and a rolling, tumbling Campbell solo all together in the middle, one right after the other. That’s Love Camp 7 in a nutshell. The Beatles’ Second Album is cast as a shuffling, harmony-driven reminiscence by a kid whose time in a dysfunctional family is soothed by that particular soundtrack. Arguably the funniest track here, A Hard Day’s Night subtly observes how the Beatles changed everybody’s lives, in this case the members of the Byrds (back when Jim McGuinn was in the band – the lyrics are priceless). It’s the most Spinal Tap moment here, in a comedic sense at least.

Beatles ’65 evokes the Hollies with its bracing major/minor changes, then shifts suddently from cheery Merseybeat to an ornately artsy anthem and then back again. Beatles VI completely switches gears, an unexpectedly grinding, proto-metal heavy R&B number, like the Pretty Things circa 1968, that cynically celebrates the “media saturation” that the Beatles spearheaded. With its layers of ironically blithe harmonies, Help imagines what Lennon might have done without Yoko, George without Krishna, Paul if he hadn’t stolen ideas from Denny Laine, and Ringo….”help me understand how he ended up so much the same.” It’s a beautiful ballad, something that Roy Wood could have written: reputedly Erica Smith (who’s opening the Saturday show at 8:30) has a version of this song in the can that’s even better.

Rubber Soul starts out as a look back at Love Camp 7’s trickily rhythmic, often dissonant earlier work and then rises to a roaring art-rock crescendo complete with horns, while Revolver cleverly recasts a summer pool party as portent of radical times to come. Ironically, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has more in common musically with earlier Beatles sounds, although at this point marijuana finally makes an appearance: “The moon will soon be manned; brave new world’s at hand,” Baker observes, not without apprehension. A somewhat radically reconstructed skiffle tune, Magical Mystery Tour explores Baker’s first encounter with the album – in a Sav-On department store at the corner of Laurel Canyon and Ventura Boulevard in Los Angeles.

The Beatles is the second proto-metal track here and also only the second to (briefly) chronicle the band, in this case what seems to be their eventual demise. The most musically diverse track here, Let It Be juxtaposes hardcore punk with a coldly sarcastic pop melody and a blatant I Am the Walrus quote. The saddest track (and ostensibly the final one) is Abbey Road, gently quoting the introduction to the Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry and later the Youngbloods’ Come Together as the 70s creep in, “Lying in their beds, a fearful throbbing in their heads, wishing they were dead; nobody cares.” The mystery track, The Beatles’ Story, is a perfect match of pensive yet optimistically jangly, Arthur Lee-esque pop that ends the album on a less than optimistic note: arguably, being able to live vicariously through the Beatles is a lot more fun than actually being one.

Drina & the Deep Blue Sea Take It to the Next Level

A couple of years ago, Drina Seay was singing harmonies with what seemed like every good country band within earshot. Now she has her own band, which frees her up from having to hang out way, way up in the high notes where only a singer of her caliber can go. Instead, out in front of the band, she uses a richly nuanced, high midrange, drawing deeply on all styles of Americana from country to soul to blues to straight-up rock. Her songwriting is just as sophisticated and eclectic: Neko Case started doing the exact same thing about ten years ago.

Seay’s show last night at Lakeside with her band the Deep Blue Sea – Skip Ward on upright bass, the ubiquitously brilliant Homeboy Steve Antonakos on lead guitar and solid, versatile drummer Eric Seftel – left even her regular crowd stunned. There are other players in town who have come of nowhere, or at least that’s how it seems, but nobody moving down the fast track quite like her – plenty of good singers out there, but only a small handful with the quality and intelligence of the songs she ran through here. She opened with a sly, midtempo country song told from the point of view of a party animal who’s open to settling down and leaving the tequila alone – “Yeah, right,” she murmured at the end of a chorus. The best songs of the night were the darkest ones, especially the second one, a bitter blend of oldschool soul and jazz. When Seay reached the end of the chorus and slid pensively downward over the song’s brooding, minor-key hook, the effect was viscerally spine-tingling.

Lorraine Leckie , somebody who knows a thing or two about dark songwriting, joined her on another noir Americana number called Black Roses, amping up the outrage factor with her harmonies. Seay brought down the house a little later on with a big, torchy, minor-key ballad lit up by one of Antonakos’ inimitably cerebral, jazz-infused, fearlessly intense solos where he’d go to the edge of the melody every time and hang over but never completely fall out of the picture – and then he’d pull himself back in a split second. It wasn’t all chills, either. Antonakos sang a cleverly amusing country song with Seay doing her signature high harmonies while he went on about how movie monsters aren’t really evil: it’s just the humans behind them who can’t be trusted. A little later they did another one of his songs, one with a vintage 50s country vibe possibly called Baptised in Fire, with a lyric and vocals to match the angst of the title. Mad Mad Baby gave Antonakos another chance to go out on a limb and then pull the entire crew back from Wes Montgomery-land to solid country ground in seconds flat. They closed the set with a sultry New Orleans vamp and eventually a raw, plaintive version of CC Rider that Seay dedicated to her husband, a bass player (it was his birthday – what a present this show was, especially for a fellow musician). Seay plays Otto’s on the 22nd at 7:30 PM; it’s safe to say that her voice will transcend anything the PA system there might throw at her.