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Jim Jarmusch Turns Out to Be As Interesting a Guitarist As a Filmmaker – In a Completely Unexpected Way

The one quality that was surprisingly absent from the world premiere of indie film icon Jim Jarmusch’s band Squrl’s performance in the Financial District this evening, playing live soundtracks to a quartet of Man Ray silent films, was Jarmusch’s often devastatingly droll, deadpan humor. Sure, there were a few places where Jarmusch – alternating mostly between Strat and what sounded like a Farfisa – and his drummer/keyboardist pal Carter Logan, would accent a pratfall or a sudden shift in imagery with an “omg” drum hit or an eerily bent note or guitar chord. But mostly, the duo stuck to their blueprint. Which meant slow, resonantly droning, Indian-flavored soundscapes, a highly improvisational theme and variations.

As the pieces peaked, Jarmusch – who distinguished himself as an individualistic, talented and unassailably tuneful player – would launch into a phrase, or a chorus of sorts, sometimes evoking Neil Young with Crazy Horse, other times Yo La Tengo at their most epically melodic, or a paisley underground band like the Dream Syndicate. Many of the pieces grew slowly out of lingering, reverb-drenched guitar atmospherics and frequent, simple looped phrases, Logan shadowing Jarmusch with his own organ settings. Other than in a few lighter moments, the duo didn’t seem to be trying to correlate their slowly unwinding jams with any of the films’ playfully dissociative imagery. Then again, plot is an afterthought in Man Ray’s onslaught of action, deadpan dadaisms and wryly aphoristic, proto-existentialist subtitles. A particularly menacing, chromatically smoldering crescendo rose up during one of the lighter moments in a carefree sequence of rooftop dancing on the screen above the stage; similarly, the most ominous imagery onscreen appeared early on as Jarmusch and Logan let their notes ring out, judiciously shifting timbres with an assortment of pedals and a mixing desk.

WNYC‘s John Schaefer – on whose New Sounds Live this performance and the one Thursday night, Feb 19 at 8 PM will ostensibly air at some future date, at least in pieces – cautioned anyone thinking of coming back for Thursday’s second show to arrive early. Logistically, your best and fastest bet is to hang a left into the World Trade Center Path station, then go around the bend, under the West Side Highway and then up into the “winter garden” across the street with its stage in the center of the building’s west wall.

Squrl also have new albums out – the most recent profiled here a couple of days ago – both streaming at Soundcloud and available on delicious gatefold vinyl.

Water Seed Bring Their Infectious Dancefloor Grooves to the Brooklyn Museum

The first Saturday of every month, starting at 5 PM is free day at the Brooklyn Museum at 200 Eastern Parkway, and there’s often music there on free days as well. This coming Saturday, New Orleans-bred psychedelic dancefloor unit Water Seed makes an appearance at 5 PM. Early arrival is always a good idea; take the 2 or 3 train to Eastern Parkway.

What Water Seed is doing is subversive. Like Moon Hooch and Bombrasstico, they’re playing organic whoomp-whoomp dancefloor grooves. But where those two bands mash up jazz, second-line riffage and punk rock along with the disco, Water Seed are more psychedelic, closer to P-Funk or the intricately orchestrated psych-funk of Turkuaz. Now some people might say that Water Seed’s nonstop party vibe isn’t exactly revolutionary, but there’s an enemy out there and its name is EDM. There’s a whole generation, maybe more than a generation, who grew up with the sound of the synthesizer, who learned to dance to the beat of electronic drums, as Black Box Recorder’s Luke Haines warned us fifteen years ago. Obviously, those people don’t come out for the music: they’re there for the hang, and to get wasted (and to meet boys). What Water Seed is doing is something for them – and something for us, bringing everybody together on the dance floor and playfully reminding everybody in the house that beats are more fun when they’re played by people rather than machines.

Water Seed’s latest album, Retro Electro, is streaming at Bandcamp. Imagine Bill Withers, or P-Funk, or Roy Ayers doing tracks from Sade’s Love Deluxe album, hitting on the “one” over and over again and you get the picture. Among New York artists, Jesse Fischer‘s Soul Cycle are similar. The result is as energizing as it is trippy. The opening track, Couldn’t Love You More (a free download) sounds like a minimalist remix of something of Sade’s from twenty years ago. With Joy Clark’s chicken-scratch guitar, J Sharp’s swooshy synth strings and brass and twinkling electric piano over Lou Hill’s undulating percussion, their cover of the Jackson 5’s Shake Your Body Down is akin to how the Gap Band might have done it

We’ve Got to Do This mingles woozily intertwining portamento synth loops, bursts of fake brass and tinkling electric piano. The catchy, oldschool psych-disco number Mama Use to Say has a spicy arrangement featuring Cinese’s flute, Mario Abney’s moody muted trumpet and Clarence Slaughter’s alto sax. Night and Day has tasty, loopy latin percussion underneath its plushly enveloping sonics, Abney again adding tasty trumpet flavor overhead. The album ends with the pillowy 70s-tinged soul/dance epic I Would Die 4 U. Other than the randomly sampled between-song “interludes,” the only mistake the band makes here is to assume that a song by an act as icky as the Eurythmics could be worth covering, even with a clever latin arrangement.

Chicano Batman Bring Their Trippy LA Latin Soul to NYC

Every January, the booking agents’ convention hits New York and brings in its wake a handful of spectacularly good multi-band extravaganzas. Will there be a better show in NYC this year than the seven-band lineup at Drom on Jan 11 at 7:30 PM? Probably not. Check out this insanely good bill put together by the Barbes folks, all this for a ridiculously cheap ten bucks at the door: pan-latin revolutionary anthem singer/bandleader Ani Cordero; ten-piece Balkan brass band Slavic Soul Party (who do Duke Ellington as well as they do their own rat-a-tat originals); nine-piece original psychedelic Afrobeat dancehall monsters Zongo Junction; serpentine LA psychedelic soul band Chicano Batman; politically-fueled, bitingly funny son jarocho folk-punk group Las Cafeteras; Ethiopiques keyboard legend Hailu Mergia & Low Mentality; a bit of a lull and then at around 1 AM Chop & Quench playing Fela classics and their own originals. If you can’t make it or can’t pull it together for seven or so hours of music on a Saturday night, Chicano Batman and Las Cafeteras are also at the Shop in Bushwick, 234 Starr St. (Wyckoff/Irving; L to Jefferson St.) at 7 the following night, Jan 11.

Of all those bands, the most intriguing one might be four-piece LA crew Chicano Batman. Their 2012 ep Joven Navegante was a pretty straight-up retro latin funk affair with wah-wah guitars, slinky organ and an infectious dance groove. Their latest one, Cycles of Existential Rhyme – streaming at Bandcamp with their other stuff – is a lot more psychedelic, and eclectic, and a lot of fun. It’s less a bolt of sunshine for a gloomy NYC winter night than a shiny haze rippled with riffs that are as catchy as they are expansive and trippy: happy, upbeat music for people who aren’t shallow.

Frontman/organist Bardo Martinez plays either a vintage Farfisa organ or a newer keyboard with a rippling setting that sounds like one, while guitarist Carlos Arévalo spirals and resonates with a similarly vintage reverbtoned sound over the slinky groove of bassist Eduardo Arenas and Gabriel Villa. Among New York bands, Damian Quinones y Su Conjunto are similar, although this group is both more keyboard-driven, soul-oriented and likely to go way out with an organ or guitar jam.

The album’s opening instrumental, El Frio sounds like something by Country Joe & the Fish at their trippiest yet most succinct. It’s less of a chillout theme than the title might indicate, especially when the band reprise it later as a shapeshifting psychedelic ballad with a pulsing outro that nicks the hook from Steam’s Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.

The title track is a swaying Farfisa soul tune with jazzy, reverbtoned guitar behind Martinez’s expressive vocals. The band follows that with Lisandreando, a spiky, upbeat, tropical-flavored guitar miniature and then El Jalapeño, a droll Mexican folk tune spun through the kaleidescope of 60s American psych rock.

“She lives on my block so I ride by, I haven’t had the opportunity to stay high,” Martinez laments on the next track, a brightly shapeshifting, catchy soul tune about a purple-haired girl who got away; Arévalo kicks in with a tasty wah guitar solo at the end. After that, they slow things down with some weirdly warping sonics and then pull the groove together again with a sunbaked, guitar-and-bass-fueled pulse.

They go back to the psyched-out Mexican folk with Amor Verde and then the sunny, jazzy A Cool Blessing and its wry blend of lingering guitar, ah-ah vocals and wah-wah keys, like Os Mutantes with fatter production values. The album’s best and most epic track, Magma (that’s the name of a girl, go figure) sets slowly unwinding, intertwining guitar and organ over a dancing beat that the band picks up with a labyrinthine, trippy rhythm. They do the same later with Wednesday Morning.

Stoned Soul Picnic isn’t the Laura Nyro blue-eyed soul classic but an original that bookends a brightly unwinding guitar solo with a similarly glistening vintage soul-pop tune. The album winds up with Para Agradecer, a summery soul strut that gets your head bobbing before you realize what’s going on – something you can count on at either of these two shows.

Some Possible Context for the New Pink Floyd Album

Imagine that you didn’t know who David Gilmour and Richard Wright are – and if you don’t, you will soon. The former, an icon of improvised music; the latter devoted to meticulously composed soundscapes. An unlikely pair of collaborators considering their backgrounds, wouldn’t you say?

Sometime in the early 90s, the two find themselves together in the studio and jam out a series of themes. Sounds pretty avant garde, doesn’t it? Twenty years go by: meanwhile, the session sits, unedited, in a vault at a once-dominant record label, whose global sales fall to about one-fifth of what they were when the session was recorded.

In 2006, Gilmour releases a rare solo album, On an Island, a magically crepuscular, foreboding suite of sorts. Two years later, Wright dies at 65. Another six years go by; Gilmour plays a successful world tour of midsize venues, reunites his old 70s band for a cameo at a one-off tv concert, then pretty much retreats from view.

Was it the desire for filthy lucre that set loose The Endless River, the latest album released under the Pink Floyd name? Or was it more of a genuine need for same, considering that Gilmour isn’t making any money touring these days, and that the entire Pink Floyd discography can be downloaded in seconds flat if your connection is fast enough? And is there anything to this release by the post-Roger Waters version of the band, more than the uneven and aptly titled Momentary Lapse of Reason or the ponderous and tunefully deficient Division Bell, which sounds like a collection of Dire Straits outtakes?

Best to take this “new” album out of context and forget Gilmour and Wright’s glorious art-rock past for a minute. As a series of simple, mostly one or two chord vamps, all of them instrumentals except for a single track, it showcases each musician’s strengths and signature tropes. Throughout these seventeen brief, often barely two-minute excerpts, obviously a series of carefully chosen edits, Gilmour unleashes his usual mournful wails, anguished screams and ominous swells, building the expected, majestic wall of reverb. Wright, true to form, is more judicious, even careful, peppering the mix with pensive, sometimes gingerly placed neoromantic chords and piano riffs and the occasional blues or gospel-tinged phrase. Every so often, there’ll be a hint of a big ballad or a sweeping, cinematic theme, the last of them a particularly triumphant one. Drummer Nick Mason, one of the art-rock era’s most underrated and richly musical players, anchors these miniatures with his reliable combination of elegant color and mighty thud.

Gilmour distinguishes himself the most when he uses a slide, much as he did on Dark Side of the Moon. The sample of Wright reputedly playing the organ at the Royal Albert Hall in 1969 is insignificant and is over before you know it. And the single song with vocals is a throwaway that tarnishes the band’s legacy. Even so, every year, a new generation of alienated kids discovers this band, just as they do Sartre, and Margaret Atwood, and Frida Kahlo. They’ll make their way through the catalog to this one eventually, and will find it as musically intriguing as the band’s iconic 70s work. The elephant in the room, or, rather, lingering just outside the door, is Roger Waters: one can only imagine what these tantalizing fragments could have become as vehicles for his visionary lyricism.

Singles for 12/18

These things accumulate like dust bunnies around here. Imagine if dust bunnies could talk. What would they say?

Birmingham, Alabama trio Wray’s Bad Heart is Jesus & Mary Chain x Lost Patrol with a little dreampop swirl mixed in with the postpunk growl and the reverb-iced surf catchiness (via youtube).

Black Light White Light’s Running sounds like peak-era 90s Wilco doing paisley underground, with an echoey Rickenbacker jangle, a little glam and a LONG stoner outro (via last.fm - don’t worry, this is their free page, you don’t have to pay to hear it).

Tori Vasquez will bring you back into focus with the uneasy southwestern gothic folk of Wear You Thin (youtube). And here’s Pale Green Stars doing Lesson 27 (via Reverbnation): slide guitar swamp rock straight out of the Gun Club songbook circa 1985, an unrepentant reflection on a stoner past complete with a sweetly sarcastic verse from a famous hymn.

Garage Punk Madness at Don Pedro’s in Bushwick This Saturday

Marauding garage-punk trio Sun Voyager have a split ep out with Greasy Hearts (streaming at Bandcamp, and also available on cassette, yay). The opening track, Desert Dweller, is the best one, a truly gorgeous feast of multitracked, distorted Fender Twin guitar amp sonics. It’s like a slightly less noisy version of what the Skull Practitioners do. Mind Maze, Sun Voyager’s second track, sounds like something from the Boomtown Rats’ first album if that band had switched out the punk for stoner garage production values. The last one, Let It Ride has trickier rhythms and a searing, tone-bending guitar solo out. Greasy Hearts’ three contributions to the ep include one with a Coney Island High-style late 80s/early 90s punk-metal swagger, a more trad garage tune and then a surprisingly eclectic number with echoes of both oldschool soul and vintage Sabbath.

Another heavily Sabbath-influenced track is Sun Voyager’s latest single, God Is Dead (also up at Bandcamp). Both bands are playing the King Pizza Records mini-festival which starts at 4 PM this Saturday, Dec 13 at Don Pedro’s. Sorry for the short notice, but the show never made it onto the radar here: the venue’s calendar hasn’t been updated in a couple of months.

Needle Points Bring Their Danceable Psychedelic Grooves to Bushwick

Wow, are Needle Points fun or what! And it’s all because of the basslines. Their opening set at Palisades in Bushwick last night on a bill staged by Christiana of Indie Shuffle would have had a crowd anywhere but in this neighborhood dancing up a storm. OK, maybe not in Williamsburg either, but that’s another story. Within seconds of taking the stage, their guitarist broke a string as he launched into the opening instrumental. But no worries – he’d brought a gorgeous Les Paul as a backup, and blended bits and pieces of echoey surf, sunshiney Memphis soul, lowdown garage rock and hints of southern boogie into the band’s expansive groove. Their burly, bearded bassist rocked a Hofner, a surefire sign that he meant business. “I’m gonna play the fuck out of this bass,” he told the audience and he did. He’s a friendly guy, chatting up the crowd betweeen songs as the band tuned, which was actually a good idea as their frontman – who with the band behind him veered between blue-eyed soul and a garage rock shout – kept quiet. Bass is also the band’s not-so-secret weapon, anchoring the songs with wickedly catchy, vamping grooves that went on for minutes at a clip, punctuated by some neat slides and bends when least expected.

Their first number had the kind of infectuously funky sway that the MC5 were shooting for in their more soul-oriented moments but could never nail. Their second number motored along with a guitar-fueled shuffle that drew a line back to Chuck Berry, via the Stones or the Dead. Their even catchier next one had some heavy ba-BUMP-ba-BUMP low end courtesy of their percussionist, a petite brunette with an ear-to-ear grin who jumped around as she hammered out nimble leapfrog beats with her mallets on a single snare and a kickdrum. From there they made their way through an eerily reverberating Tobacco Road bounce, to a rousingly successful detour into Motown and then back to more side-to-side, swaying grooves. Bands like this make a trek on the J train on a nasty, raw night worth the hassle.

Mr. Kid & the Suicide Policemen are pretty new and have a brand-new name that’s better than their old one. It’s a good guess that they’ll probably have another by next month, which might explain why they don’t have a web presence – although they’ve got a little stuff at soundcloud. Their frontguy doesn’t sing as much as he rasps or does the soul-shout thing – but that’s cool because it fits the music. Right now their twin-guitar attack – roaring, reverb-drenched Fender Jazzmaster and riff-rocking Danelectro Rick copy – is more sonically interesting than their songs, but that will probably change. Like Needle Points, they have a thing for simple, catchy, incisive basslines. They kept things hard and direct, from their best song, a slowly unwinding paisley underground number with echoes of the Dream Syndicate, through louder, more garage-riff oriented material punctuated by the Fender player’s ferociously noisy attack.

As for the third group, Washington, DC’s Paperhaus…they’re the kind of band you really want to try to like. One of their guitarists linechecked with a verse of the Beatles’ Rain, always a good sign. But what they do just doesn’t gel. There were some tasty dreampop swells, some catchy basslines, and everyone in the band is a competent musician. They all probably have a future, just not together. It was too bad that the dreampop swirl so soon gave way to so many grandiosely empty Coldplay/Phoenix stadium gestures. And there were some distractingly dorky, mathrocky moments, and halfhearted attempts at something approximating humor.

A word about the venue: NICE PLACE. Asshole-free, laid-back, the sound isn’t Carnegie Hall but it isn’t ass either and the soundguy was very attentive to all the bands throughout their sets. In case you think that’s de rigeur at every venue, you haven’t been to Arlene’s lately. Now all they need is a website.

Psychedelic Art-Rock Band Wounded Buffalo Theory Headline a Great Friday Night Twinbill at Freddy’s

Wounded Buffalo Theory made a name for themselves back in the zeros as a jamband playing around New York and at the upstate summer festivals. But as much as they can get crazy live, they’re also a first-class, intense, psychedelic art-rock band with strong, ferociously anthemic songwriting. At this point in their history, it’s good to see them at their creative peak. Their latest album, A Painting of Plans is streaming online; they’re headlining at Freddy’s this Friday, Nov 21 at midnight, preceded at around 10 by the similarly excellent, more Americana and blues-influenced Sometime Boys, with whom they share a guitarist and drummer (Kurt Leege and Jay Cowit, respectively).

Cowit and bassist Rob Malko give the band a hard-hitting, metrically shapeshifting platform for the lithe, biting, intertwining guitars of Leege and John Blanton (who’s also the band’s keyboardist). One album that’s an obvious influence is Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (which this group just happened to help recreate in all its trippy grandeur this past fall at Rock Shop). And this is a really long one: back in the all-vinyl days, it would have been a double-disc set. It opens with The Brain Is Half Full, cynically contemplating mortality over echoes of 80s Peter Gabriel and 90s stadium acts like Ride. The first real gem here is the ominous minor-key anthem Fistful, with its eerily, methodically dancing Leege lead, a tinge of dreampop and an ominous multitracked quasar pulse as it winds up. It brings to mind something Leege might have written in his days with paint-peeling art-noise band System Noise back in the mid-zeros.

Shores of Japan is even catchier and just as angst-fueled (though it doesn’t seem to reference 3/11), building to an anguished chorus of intertwining lead guitar lines. For whatever reason, the following cut, Sombrero, brings to mind the Yellow Magic Orchestra at its moodiest. With its chiming acoustic/electric textures, A Planning of Saints works a broodingly artsy-folk rock vibe. The album’s most epic track, Leslie Got a Rabbit builds its way out of hypnotic Frippertronic-style guitar through steadier, trip-hop inflected interludes that almost imperceptibly rise to a visceral, orchestral menace. They follow that with the equally brooding yet kinetically crescendoing Gold (Everybody Needs Some Bodies) with its surrealistically nimble guitar leads and Cowit’s knifes-edge vocals.

The Power of Nothing takes a pensive folk-pop tune and fleshes it out with an ornately layered arrangement. After the trippy, loopy instrumental Here Be Dragons, Why Now evokes the pop side of Radiohead: “I ate his head,” Malko announces nonchalantly. The band follows the trippy, circling instrumental Dirty Walls with Turtles, a more menacing variation on the theme. The Storm Celler continues to raise the menace, driven by the rhythm section’s cumulo-nimbus sonics.

They bring it down for a bit with the gorgeously angst-fueled You Have Left Me, building a thicket of chiming guitars behind Cowit’s pensive vocals. The album winds up with a boomy, gamelansque instrumental and then the title track, reverting to a Trail of the Dead anthemic pulse. What’s best is that the album is available as a name-your-price download!

2014’s Best Reinvention of a Classic Album: Wounded Buffalo Theory and Others Play Genesis at Rock Shop

It’s been a good past few weeks for intriguing cover band projects. Austin psych-funk rockers Brownout reinvented Black Sabbath, when they weren’t channeling that band at their mid-70s peak, at Brooklyn Bowl last month. William Maselli‘s clever orchestral mashup of Sabbath themes got a workout at Merkin Concert Hall about a week after that. Then there was Grey McMurray and band recasting Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells as lush, string-driven art-rock, a performance that will air on Q2 shortly. But the best of all of these shows was masterminded by Sometimes Boys and Wounded Buffalo Theory drummer Jay Cowit, who brought members of those two bands plus Afroskull, 29 Hour Music People, and the Trouble Dolls together to perform Genesis’ classic 1974 double album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Other bands have done it over the years, and there’s a Genesis cover band, the Musical Box, who regularly perform it along with an elaborate set and projections for astronomical prices . But it’s hard to imagine anybody other than the original band doing it as energetically yet surrealistically hauntingly as this one-off pickup band. Best of all, the entire concert was recorded and has been immortalized on youtube, disc one streaming here and disc two here.

Keyboardist Eric Lipper did a spectacular approximation of Tony Banks at the top of his Terry Reid-like, rippling game while Vince Fairchild added more ambient textures, using a studio’s worth of vintage and near-vintage synth and organ patches. As the set went on, the keyboardists moved around and exchanged roles, notably when Matt Iselin joined the festivities as both third keyboardist and singer. Considering how long ago the album was recorded, with instruments – especially keys – that are now museum pieces, it was amazing how closely the timbres and overall sonics matched up with Genesis’ original. What was even more astonishing was how closely Cowit channeled the young Peter Gabriel’s antagonized bark. But the inclusion of other singers – Iselin doing Anyway with a nonchalant menace, the Trouble Dolls’ Cheri Leone delivering The Lamia with a wounded Marianne Faithfull restraint, and the Sometime Boys’ Sarah Mucho holding Counting Out Time together as the guitars roared and squeaked – added all kinds of unexpected dynamics.

Another playful deviation from the script was the inclusion of John Hockenberry of WNYC’s The Takeaway reading Gabriel’s drolly surreal album liner notes in between several of the songs. But otherwise, the attention to detail was meticulous: with its endlessly shapeshifting, kaleidoscopic, trippy pastiche of themes, this album is awfully hard to play. Bassist Rob Christiansen cycled through Mike Rutherford’s dizzying lines with a Bach-like precision and a biting, trebly attack amid the bluster, in tandem with nimble drummer Jason Isaac.

Just as the keyboard lines were divided up among a trio of players, Sometime Boys lead guitarist Kurt Leege and his fellow axemen Joe Scatassa and Alan Black shared duties and exchanged roles. Leege played with his signature, instantly recognizable, icily resonant blend of delay and reverb, handling the more resonant parts while Scatassa and Black took turns and occasionally traded off when Steve Hackett’s original lines would hit a snarling, bluesy peak. Meanwhile, Cowit’s vocals were amped well up in the mix so that his take of Gabriel’s frequent lyrical jabs and slashes could resonate. And ultimately, this band literally brought the album to life, revealing it not only as a trip through the underworld and finally out, but one with a vital, rather snide antiwar and antiauthoritarian message. They careened to a close through the incessant flood and drowning metaphors of side four, then kept the triumphant vibe going with a coy encore of I Know What It’s Like (In Your Wardrobe), from the Selling England by the Pound album.

The other bands don’t seem to have any upcoming NYC shows at the moment, but the Sometime Boys are at the Way Station this Friday, Oct 24 at 10, playing two sets. It’s not likely that they’ll cover any of this stuff, but they’re a killer jamband in their own right.

A Wild, Psychedelic Manhattan Show and an Upcoming Brooklyn Gig from the Sometime Boys

The Sometime Boys make elegant, meticulously crafted albums that blend elements of bluegrass, delta blues, funk, soul and artsy chamber pop. Their most recent one, Riverbed, is one of 2014’s most compelling and eclectic releases. But onstage, they transform into a ferocious jamband: as improvisational rock crews go, there is no other New York band who are better at it, and that includes Steve Wynn‘s volcanic Miracle 3. The Sometime Boys are playing two long sets at the Way Station on the border of Bed-Stuy and Fort Greene on Sept 26 at 10 PM, and it’s free.

Their long show at the end of this past month at Bar 9 in Hell’s Kitchen – much of which has been immortalized on youtube - had everything the band is known for: expansive, explosive solos, mighty peaks, whispery lows, stop-on-a-dime changes, a sense of humor and a handful of covers that spanned the genres just as their originals do. The band’s brain trust, singer/guitarist Sarah Mucho and lead guitarist Kurt Leege were known for putting on the occasional and spectacularly good cover night in their previous band, the mighty System Noise: their series of sold-out David Bowie nights are legendary. So it was no surprise to see Mucho reinvent Aretha’s Chain of Fools with a surprisingly nuanced bitterness (and a long, dancingly delicious Leege guitar solo); to deliver a rousingly New Orleans-flavored take of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s Strange Things Happening Every Day with a menacingly gleeful grin; or to hear her actually enunciate the lyrics of the dadrock standard Burn Down the Mission, unlike the guy who set it to music and sang it. And midway through the show, they invited their similarly charismatic pal Mark Bailey (no relation to the Houston Astros backstop) up to deliver vigorous versions of tunes by Neil Young, Jack White and the Proclaimers.

But it was the originals that everybody had come out for, which took centerstage. The opening number, the bluegrass-tinged Buskin’, peaked out with a jaunty Rebecca Weiner Tompkins violin solo. Mucho got a droll, sarcastic audience singalong going on the bouncy, zydeco-inflected Pharaoh, the band taking it down to just vocals before Leege pulled the beast back on the rails. Bird House began with a menacing art-rock guitar intro before they took it into noir folk territory, to a long, relentless, Jerry Garcia-esque solo that Leege capped off with an ominous Pink Floyd quote.

Likewise, the funky A Life Worth Living – a song that brought to mind an even earlier Mucho/Leege project, Noxes Pond – echoed the Grateful Dead at their peak. They went into more straight-ahead funk for the defiantly lyrical Modern Age, a little later bringing down the lights for a broodingly waltzing version of the country-tinged lament Master Misery, from the band’s debut album Any Day Now.

The best of the covers was an extended, tranced-out jam on Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced: the way Leege, drummer Jay Cowit and keyboardist/mandolinist Gypsy George matched the album version’s kaleidoscopic, psychedelic fragments and rhythmic blips was as funny as it was impressively faithful to both the spirit and the essence of the original.

Cowit and Mucho matter-of-factly exchanged hostilities on a duet of the tongue-in-cheek newgrass romp Why Can’t We Just Be Enemies, Leege wrapping it up with yet another methodically intense solo. Much as Mucho worked all the magic in her vocal arsenal, from smoky, sultry lows to stratospheric highs, it was Leege who really got the crowd screaming. Counterintuitively, they wound up the set with The Great Escape, a quietly glimmering suicide ballad that wouldn’t be out of place on the Dead’s American Beauty (and is currently this blog’s pick for best song of 2014). That took the bar crowd by surprise, but by the second verse they were quiet and listening again. It was a gentle reminder that this band has the muscle to overpower the yakking crowds at the Way Station.

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