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Tag: stoner music

How to Sneak In to See Yo La Tengo

Many years ago, before blogs existed, a future daily New York music blog owner and a friend went to Central Park Summerstage to see Anoushka Shankar. It was a late-season afterwork show, and by the time the two got there, the space was sold out.

Big surprise. Shankar had played Carnegie Hall with her famous dad a couple of years previously, and although she was still in her teens at that point, she blew everybody away with her sitar work.

Undeterred, the intrepid concertgoers walked around the back, jumped the wire fence and crawled on their bellies through the shrubbery until they were about fifty feet from the rear of the stage. Shaded from the indian summer sun, they got to enjoy a tranceworthy qawwali ensemble – if memory serves right, they were called Kamkars – and then Shankar, who proved as adept at more western-oriented material as the ragas she played so beautifully.

Last Friday, a daily New York music blog owner went to Central Park Summerstage to check out the Yo La Tengo show. Having seen them several times over the years, the issue of getting in or not wasn’t a big deal. If that had been an issue, would it have been possible to go through the thicket out back, just like in the old days?

Yes!

The vegetation has grown in much thicker since then, but there’s nothing but chicken wire between you, the trees and the shrubs. Considering that it was after eight at night, and that you never know what’s lurking in the park after dark, the optimal choice at that point seemed to be to leave the greenery and head for the rear embankment and the bandshell, where all but the show’s quietest moments were plenty audible.

Seeing how the Patti Smith concert there last month not only didn’t sell out, but that the younger contingent there walked out in droves during her set, was weird enough. It gets weirder.

Like Smith, Yo La Tengo had originally been scheduled for the wide expanse of the Rumsey Playfield immediately to the south and east, but had been moved to the much smaller Summerstage arena. Standing at the entrance were a couple of women trying to lure random people into the space. For a free concert.

A little context: Yo La Tengo might be the most popular indie rock band in the world. Sure, their crowd has greyed over the years, but they still sell out wherever they play…or used to play, anyway.

“Hi!” a young woman in a blue skirt chirped from underneath her muzzle as she approached, aggressively, like a 34th Street hustler trying to score a fiver for Save the Children. “Are you here for the show?”

Blog owner was taken off guard. A sheepish grin. “Uh, maybe…”

“We have [inaudible – opening band] and Yo La Tengo, they’re just going on. I just need to see your ID and your [proof of lethal injection].”

“I’m going to live to see next year instead,” blog owner replied and walked off. Yeah, that’s snarky. But how do you respond? Kevin Jenkins says he doesn’t do “low-frequency conversations” and walks away: words of wisdom.

What’s happened at the Central Park free concerts is part of a much bigger referendum. Don’t engage with the monster: without your energy to feed off, it shrivels and dies.

Yo La Tengo’s jams are legendary. Where was the big stoner picnic crowd out back? Maybe a half a dozen small gaggles on the slope, if that. Friday night, Central Park smelled like the inside of a bong, but this wasn’t where the smoke was coming from.

The benches by the bandshell? Deserted. A couple leapt onto the empty stage and danced for a bit. From time to time, a few fearless souls would take a walk up the steps up behind the shell, only to be shooed off by a security guard hidden out of view.

Maybe this is a function of not being able to watch Ira Kaplan’s volcanic fingers on the fretboard, or spinning the knobs on his pedalboard, but Yo La Tengo seemed on the quiet side. Georgia Hubley sang one of the shorter, sparse numbers and wasn’t very high in the mix. Kaplan moved to keys for a brief, no-nonsense take of the Stereolab soundalike Autumn Sweater. They closed with a deliciously extended, feedback-laced noisefest version of I Heard You Looking, the missing link between the Velvets at their most crazed, and New Order.

They encored with a lickety-split, practically hardcore AC/DC cover which included a mystery second guitarist. Then Kaplan’s mom came up to the mic and sang something as the band tentatively tried to pull themselves together. And that was it.

For anyone worried that these shows are the last ones that Smith or Yo La Tengo will ever play, good news. A loophole in the DiBozo administration’s lethal injection scheme exempts touring musicians and their entourages. All this is based on science, of course. Won’t it be beautiful to see both of these acts play again somewhere, someday in this city after all this madness is over.

Yo La Tengo Return to Central Park on the First of the Month: Are You Game?

Yo La Tengo are playing Central Park Summerstage on Oct 1 at around 8:30 PM. In a normal world, that’s cause for celebration, if you’re a fan of crazed, noisy psychedelic guitar jams, or the quieter, more reflective post-Velvets sound the band have turned more and more to since the turn of the century.

But this year this city’s creepy, homicidal mayor has thrust us into the New Abnormal, where proof of a lethal injection is required for entry. So that means we have to listen from outside. It’s not such a big deal:  if you’ve seen any number of shows here, chances are there was probably some instance where you didn’t get to the arena early enough to get in. Obviously, it would be fun to be able to watch Ira Kaplan’s guitar-torturing, but there’s still plenty of room on the slope out back, the sound carries well, and if you want you can catch a glimpse of the band from the sidewalk on the east side near the entrance. This blog was there for Patti Smith last weekend and while it would have been more fun to be able to hear what she said to the audience, the songs came through loud and clear.

The last time Yo La Tengo played the park, it was on a muggy Monday night in July of 2017. Kaplan sized up the capacity crowd and reflected with just the hint of contempt about free concerts he’d attended here as a kid: “Sha Na Na. Pure Prairie League. Mahavishnu Orchestra.” And then launched into a sarcastic bit of the Ace Frehley novelty hit New York Groove.

That didn’t last long. The show was a characteristic mix of paint-peeling squall over hypnotic, practically mantra-like vamps, and spare, reflective, airy songs that matched the hazy atmosphere. Kaplan’s antics are a little more subdued than they were back in the 90s, but there were plenty of beautifully ugly interludes where he’d go to his knees, shaking and bending at the neck of his guitar, sticking it into his amp or just leaving it to feed there. There was at least one point where he left the guitar feeding and then picked up another, and then resumed the song. Meanwhile, drummer Georgia Hubley kept a supple, swinging beat while James McNew played his simple, catchy, endlessly circling bass riffs for minutes on end without once falling back on a loop pedal.

The steady, hypnotic storm began with Pass the Hatchet and continued with From a Motel 6. Kaplan reminded what a purist, catchy pop tunesmith he can be with a relatively undisturbed. loping version of All Your Secrets. Then he switched to keys for a Stereolab-ish take of Autumn Sweater. Did McNew switch to guitar on that one? All these years later, it’s impossible to remember all the details.

The quiet part of the show went on for what seemed like more than half an hour, with the wistful Nowhere Near and then Black Flowers, which Hubley sang from behind the keyboard. Almost mercifully, Kaplan brought the energy up slowly with I’ll Be Around, which sounded like the Stones’ Moonlight Mile on crank.

Hubley and McNew harmonized on Before We Run, then the trio buzzed and burned through Sugarcube, the closest thing to Sonic Youth in the set. After that, they took their time raising Ohm from a drony nocturne into a feral feedback fest. They closed with I Heard You Looking, Kaplan’s sparks and sputters and firestorm of raw noise going on for more than twenty minutes, the two guitarists from the awful opening act invited up but obviously in awe and not adding much to the jam.

The game plan for this blog that night was to get a field recording and use that as a reference. Sadly, the recorder, which was literally being held together with rubberbands, picked that evening to flatline. And after standing through an interminable opening set and then Yo La Tengo, this blog’s owner assumed the show was over and left.

Other blogs mention an encore and a jokey appearance on the mic by Kaplan’s mom. Don’t discount those kind of shenanigans, if the PA is really loud on the first.

An Epic, Free Jamband Festival This Weekend in South Dakota

From the perspective of being immersed in live music in New York long before this blog was born, it’s humbling and inspiring to see how many incredible shows there are outside this city, in what has become the free world. For anyone with the time and some reasonable proximity to the southwest corner of South Dakota, there’s nothing more fun happening this coming weekend than this year’s Deadwood Jam at Outlaw Square, at the corner of Deadwood and Main in Deadwood, South Dakota.

People travel hundreds of miles and spend hundreds of dollars for a jamband lineup like this one, which is free. The show this Friday night, Sept 17 starts at 4:30 PM; the Saturday show begins at one in the afternoon. Tuff Roots, an excellent reggae band who use everything in their vast psychedelic arsenal – innumerable guitar textures, melodic bass and horns, and a deep dub sensibility – open the Friday night show. Next up are the Kitchen Dwellers, a Montana crew who are a more jamgrass-oriented version of Widespread Panic. The headliner is a Rusted Root spinoff.

The Saturday lineup is more diverse. The 1 PM act is Neon Horizon, a jangly, catchy stadium rock band, followed by Musketeer Gripweed, the retro 70s hippie rock act responsible for the classic drinking anthem A Train. The group who might be the very best one on the bill are mammoth Colorado soul band The Burroughs, who are fronted by their drummer, Mary Claxton. After that, there’s Grateful Dead cover band Shred is Dead. War – whatever’s left of the legendary Bay Area latin soul hitmakers from the 70s – are headlining.

A few years before blogs existed, the future owner of a daily New York music blog went to see War on a hazy summer afternoon in Fort Greene Park. Looking back, it’s not likely that there were many if any remaining original members in the band, but, surprisingly, the set was as unexpectedly fresh as it was low-key, considering the relatively early midweek hour, and the heat. Elevating a bunch of old hits you’ve played thousands of times to any level of inspiration is not an easy job, especially if you’re stuck with a daytime municipal gig where you probably just got out of the van and need to get back in right afterward and head off to the next city.

There was plenty of obvious stuff in the set, included a radio single-length version of Lowrider – a big hit with the crowd, considering how many hip-hop acts of the 90s sampled it – and a pretty interminable take of Spill the Wine, the goofy novelty song that Eric Burdon sang with them. But the less obvious material was prime: slinky and even biting versions of The World Is a Ghetto, and Slipping Into Darkness, and a spirited take of the wry 1975 anti-racist hit Why Can’t We Be Friends. The horns and rhythm section were laid back and unobtrusive: nobody was trying to make crazed improvisational jazz or heavy metal out of the songs. This wasn’t a bucket-list show but it was a fun way to play hooky from a job where everybody was going to be fired from a company that would be sold at the end of the year to downsizers. That’s a story for another time. No doubt thousands of people will have their own fun stories of what’s happening this weekend in Deadwood.

Magical Middle Eastern Dichotomies on Opium Moon’s Lavish New Double Album

Opium Moon picked a good bandname. They play rapturous, often haunting original Middle Eastern themes with influences that span from Egypt, to Iran, Israel, Turkey and sometimes India. Their music is psychedelic, otherworldly and infused with the occasional dubwise touch. Their new double album, Night and Day, is streaming at Bandcamp. They love long songs: pretty much everything here isn’t finished until after the seven-minute mark. The first disc is nocturnes, the second a party record which in many ways is a reverse image of the first.

They open the record with the title track, a spare, slinky nocturne which rises almost imperceptibly out of a one-chord jam, Lili Haydn’s violin soaring over a backdrop of MB Gordy’s boomy dumbek, Hamid Saeidi’s spaciously rippling santoor and Itai Disraeli’s warpy, hypnotic fretless bassline.

Wisdom is slower and even more mysterious, Haydn’s gentle, graceful chromatics wafting overhead, throughout more than eleven minutes of austerely enveloping rapture. They pick up the pace with Dhikr (Night), violin and santoor elegantly exchanging phrases over a suspenseful flamenco-tinged drumbeat.

Likewise, the group make a dusky flamenco-tinged theme out of an ancient Jewish prayer in Ahava Ve Shalom, a tantalizingly brief santoor solo at the center. They slowly coalesce out of an Indian-flavored theme in When Their Wings, swooping bass contrasting with the violin’s terse resonance. With Messengers, the group take a stab at making Indian carnatic music out of a famous British folk theme and follow with I’ll Wait For You, a quasi trip-hop number and the album’s most hypnotic interlude.

The second record begins with a lively clip-clop depiction of birds in flight: “They’re smoking the opium of pure freedom,” Disraeli asserts. Dkihr (Day) is a brisk, psychedelic Balkan dancefloor variation on its parallel theme from the first disc, with some wryly amusing flourishes from the bass.

Likewise, they take the first album’s carnatic melody and make Feast of Sevens out of it. With its blend of Indian and classical influences, Dream is much the same. La La Lai, a pulsingly joyous chromatic romp, features Turkish-Kurdish ensemble MiRaz as well as two of the album’s most adrenalizing santoor solos. The final cut is 100 Ways to Kiss the Ground, which seems to be more about kissing the sky. Despite global conditions that have made it almost impossible, so many groups have put out transcendent albums this year, and this is one of the best of them all.

A Surreal French Moment From When Romany Punk Still Ruled the World

American bands are notorious for cultural appropriation, but it works both ways. So often, when acts outside the US emulate American styles, the result can be surreal to the extreme. French band Push Up’s sardonic, minor-key Balkan and Romany-influenced blend of punk rock and hip-hop wasn’t particularly extreme, but it was definitely surreal. You could call them Gogol Bordello lite. Their album The Day After came out in 2015 and is still streaming at Spotify.

It opens with Turn It Off, which is basically a one-chord jam about mass media brainwashing – prophetic,huh? The group bring in some brooding changes in Kiss From the Devil, a not-so-subtly metaphorical look at the perils of selling out.

They work a growly mashup of hard funk, lush 70s soul and hip-hop in I Try and follow with the moodily reggae-tinged Talking to You. Check Your Back is much the same, but with snakecharmer flute and more of a hip-hop edge. The Same – as in “I prefer not to be the same” – has soul organ, while You Never Got a Smile is a starrily organic, Eastern European attempt at American corporate urban pop.

Will You Make It has a psychedelic blend of keys, flute and acoustic guitar. The oldschool soul jam Quincy’s Interlude introduces the album’s lithely funky title track. The album’s most epic number, Pushaz is one of its strangest but also catchiest: imagine Gogol Bordello, Queen and Serge Gainsbourg all together in the studio, taking a stab at 70s soul music.

The rest of the songs on the album are pretty dubby: the Steel Pulse-tinged reggae tune A Dreamer, and a couple of versions of earlier tracks, the first of which is unlistenable at high volume because of the whistling. A snapshot of a world where Romany punk still ruled pretty much wherever there was a party..

Incendiary Ethiopian Jams on the Upper West Side This Weekend

Anbessa Orchestra‘s latest single Gobez (Brave) – streaming at Bandcamp – is a condensed, slashing version of a big anthem they slayed with for over a year before the lockdown. Then the Israeli-American Ethiopian jazz jamband had to record it remotely over the web since the band members had been scattered across the world. Here, guitarist/bandleader Nadav Peled introduces the big, defiant, ominous Ethiopian modal hook, picked up by the brass and eventually a slithery solo by baritone saxophonist Eden Bareket.

This wild, incendiary outfit are back in action with a free outdoor show on Aug 1 at 7 PM at Pier One on the Hudson; take the 1/2/3 to 72nd St., walk west and take the stairs down to the river at 68th St. out behind the Trump complex. There’s plenty of room for dancing on the pier.

Their most recent album, Live at New City Brewery 11/22/19 hit their Bandcamp page about a year ago and underscores why more bands should make live albums. For a soundboard recording that the band probably never planned on releasing until the lockdown, this is pretty amazing. They are in their element through a relentlessly slinky thirteen-song set in western Massachusetts, a mix of originals and classics. Bassist Ran Livneh and drummer Eran Fink run hypnotically undulating, circular riffs as the band shift from an ominous mode to sunnier terrain on the wings of alto sax player Bill Todd’s jubilantly melismatic alto sax solo on the night’s opening number.

As they like to do, they segue straight into a searing, practically eight-minute version of their signature song Lions, organist Micha Gilad holding down turbulent river of sound behind the biting chromatics of the horns, trumpeter Billy Aukstik out in front. Peled’s supersonic hammer-ons raise the energy to redline through a tantalizingly brief solo: this band can go on twice as long and the intensity never wavers.

Assefa Abate’s Yematibela Wef ((A Bird You Can’t Eat) has a subtext as salacious as the title implies and a bouncy triplet groove. The Gize Suite, a diptych, based on Gizie Biyasayegnem by Misrak Mammo, starts out as a shivery, chromatic, trumpet-fueled clapalong shadowed by Peled’s guitar and rises to blazing, symphonic proportions. Peled brings it down to a spare, ominously jangling solo guitar interlude, then the conflagration starts again.

From there the group hit a balmy oldschool 60s soul bounce with Zemena and Abebe Mellese’s Kelkay Yelelbebet, then an original, Tch’elema (Darkness), a turbulently pulsing salute to resilience in troubled times.

Todd’s spare flute contrasts with the brooding undercurrent of Werik’i (Gold), another original. Mahmoud Ahmed’s Belomi Benna gets a cinematic, relentless drive that goes straight-up ska and then reggae, then the band go back to biting minor modes with their own stomp, Gurage

Once again, they follow a segue, from their Ethiopian reggae tune, Le’b, into Aregahegn Worash’s wickedly catchy Zelel Zelel. “Do you want more?” Peled asks the crowd. “One more set,” a guy in the crowd bellows back. Yo which the guitarist responds with a menacing, spiraling, reverb-drenched solo into, then the band launch into the angst-fueled Yeleleu Hager Lidj (Man Without a Country). They close with the bounding, strutting, Dera, with solos all around. This is as good an idea as any of what the Upper West is going to get this weekend.

Careening Through Space with Psychlona

Psychlona are very heavy and very immersively psychedelic. They like hypnotic riffs, and volume, and organic textures that degenerate naturally into distortion and fuzz. And it’s obvious that this album wasn’t recorded to a click track. If your idea of a good time is getting so stoned that you can’t get off the couch, this is your jam. This music doesn’t move around a lot, either: it just hits you over and over again. The band’s 2016 album Mojo Rising – which has nothing to do with the Doors – is streaming at Bandcamp.

The distantly tolling guitar riff that kicks off the opening track, Stone, doesn’t hint at the all-enveloping crush that develops soon after. The band’s publicist nailed it when he mentioned early Orange Goblin; early Sleep is another good comparison, especially when it hits you that this is basically a one-chord  jam.

From there the group  – guitarists Phil Hey and Dave Wainfor, bassist Martyn Birchall and drummer Scott Frankling – ride a wave of screechy fuzz into Ride, the second track. It’s a funny, brisk boogie in an early Fu Manchu vein, where the guys want to get into the weed and the wine but the girl talking in the right channel isn’t into it. Down in the Valley may be hypnotic, but it’s an evil place – and that halfspeed Psychotic Reaction hook will have you nodding your head despite yourself.

Big River is about as far from Johnny Cash as you can possibly imagine, following Sleep-y fast/slow dynamics with layers of wah wafting through the mix: here and there Birchall’s bass slithers up for air. The band go back to heavy stoner boogie for Your God, an even more immersive one-chord heavy spacerock jam.

Master of Reality wah bass converges with into-the-fan vocals in Juju, as the band go doublespeed and back. Black Dog is not the Zep classic but an original where the foursome careen their way up to another doublespeed wah guitar boogie. They close with Beakfoot – all of a sudden the grit is off the bass, replaced by watery 80s sonics as the guitars go unexpectedly bluesy, over nine minutes worth of a one-chord jam where everybody in the band eventually goes through every one of their stompbox settings to keep things interesting.

Drift Through the Galaxy With Luke Schneider

Pedal steel player Luke Schneider’s ornately multitracked solo album Altar of Harmony – streaming at Bandcamp – draws equally on ambient music, dense Pink Floyd sonics and slowly drifting, cinematic guitar soundscapes in the same vein as Kaia Fischer’s epics, or Noveller in a more reflective moment.

There are eight tracks, each with a Latin or quasi-Latin title, a series of majestically minimalist variations on an A major drone. The live version of Brian Eno’s Apollo album, featuring another stellar pedal steel player, BJ Cole, is the obvious reference point.

Starry pulses and elegantly echoing tones mingle with muted plucks. Schneider gets his strings to hum and hover like a synth or an organ, in addition to the instrument’s signature keening, tremoloing sound. As tectonic sheets of chords oscillate, pan the sonic picture and the frequency of the pulse increases, Eluvium‘s more enveloping themes come to mind. Schneider typically plays a lot faster and more virtuosically than this: his focus on creating a mood and sticking with it is impressive. This is a great wind-down record.

A Poignant, Broodingly Gorgeous Greek Psychedelic Album From Kristi Stassinopoulou and Stathis Kalyviotis

You could make the argument that Greece has had a psychedelic music scene since the 1920s, when waves of refugees and exiles from Smyrna and Turkey brought their Middle Eastern-flavored hash-smoking songs with them. So it’s no surprise that psychedelic rock became a big thing there forty years later. Singer Kristi Stassinopoulou and Stathis Kalyviotis’ 2016 album NYN – streaming at Spotify – looks back to that era, with tastefully bulked-up 21st century production values.

The opening track, Ethertai Haimonas (Winter Is Coming) has a muted, wistful As Tears Go By vibe, set to a 90s trip-hop beat with layers of keys. The second track, Ouden Oida (I Know Nothing) is a gorgeously bristling, minor-key blend of brooding 60s Laurel Canyon psychedelic folk and chiming bouzouki janglerock.

The hypnotically droning, chromatically biting, syncopated Strati Strati (Step by Step) vividly echoes the dusky rembetiko sound from a hundred years ago, complete with a moody sax solo. Stassinopoulou’s poignantly misty mezzo-soprano takes centerstage in Gia Mia Stigmi (For a Moment), an unselfconsciously beautiful, swaying ballad with layers of clanging, ringing guitar and bouzouki.

They interrupt the pervasive melancholy for Mystic Rap, a whispery trip-hop number and then pick up the pace with Par Me Agea (Take Me, Wind), a starkly dancing, distantly Egyptian-tinged piano tune awash in trippy samples. The album’s most straight-up rock tune is the steady, darkly insistent Ah Athanate (Oh, You Century), bagpipes and backward-masked snippets fluttering in the background.

Nimbly fingerpicked acoustic guitar and swooping electric slide work contrast in the pensive Allarokania (Change in the Weather). Stassinopoulou sings the haunting rembetiko-tinged Sabah Tuo Erota, a love song, with an understated, melismatic, microtonal angst. While it’s understandable that the band would want to do something to beef up the hypnotic one-chord jam Kyma To Kyma (Wave After Wave), loopy trip-hop is definitely not the answer.

Thela Na Mouna Nero (I Wish I Was Water) is the album’s sparest number, just gongs, chimes, vocals and clattering percussion. The title track is a mashup of loops, a minor-key bouzouki riff and swoopy P-Funk keyboards. They break out the distorted electric guitar to close the record with the trickily dancing Ola Pane Ki Erhondai (Everything Comes and Goes). What a delicious rediscovery.

Dag Tenere’s New Album Explores Subtly Diverse, Hypnotic Saharan Sounds

Duskcore band Dag Tenere – “Desert Children” in Tamasheq – are a Saharan supergroup of sorts. Their take on Tuareg psychedelic rock is both cutting-edge, with a lot of two-guitar interplay, but also very much rooted in otherworldly, centuries-old traditional sounds. Their new album Iswat – “Jam,” more or less – is streaming at Bandcamp. Having a woman – percussionist Zaina Aboubacar – on lead vocals on some of these tunes is actually an ancient tradition, although one that’s been conspicuously absent over the last several decades as the style has developed and grown more electric, and it’s a welcome touch.

The opening instrumental is just former Etran Finatawa guitarist Goumar Abdoul Jamil’s haphazardly flaring melody and Aboubacar’s loping tendé drum, The album closes with the title track, an equally brief, celebratory traditional number sung by Aboubacar over a simple tendé beat. In between, other members of the group take turns out in front.

Guitarist Ibrahim Ahmed Guita moves to the mic for Tihoussay Tenere, a steady, pensively undulating contemplation of leaving the comfort of the desert for the city, set to a spare, spiky, hypnotic web of guitars. Jamil takes over a far more spare acoustic lead and shares vocals with Aboubacar in Tabsit, a tender love song.

They also deliver a subtly dynamic, intricately textured cover of Tinariwen‘s Koud Edhaz Emin and follow that with Anna, Guita sending a fond shout-out to his mom as bassist Zouher Aroudaini bubbles over the edge. If the shamanic, psychedelic twang and clang of desert rock from Mali, Niger and thereabouts is your thing, you can get very lost in this.