New York Music Daily

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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 #4 – What Tryptophan Overdose?

Every Sunday at 5 PM, New York Music Daily hosts the Sunday Salon at Zirzamin in the old Zinc Bar space at Houston and LaGuardia. The previous week was a hotbed of dark songwriting activity; this one began with a small sampling of the A-list, some of whom will be performing here in the weeks to come. Beyond the inevitability that this music blog would start booking shows, why this format, and why here? Because it’s one of Manhattan’s best-sounding rooms. And since there are upwards of a thousand groups and musicians across all styles who comprise this city’s elite, it’s a daunting task to keep up with each and every one of them individually. From a blogger’s point of view, the salon is a step closer to one-stop shopping, a chance to stay on top of what at least a portion of the most important artists in town are doing.

LJ Murphy, who’s playing here at 7 on Dec 9 with his band the Accomplices, opened the evening with a trio of characteristically vivid, savage, catchy songs including the big crowd-pleaser Barbed Wire Playpen (about a Madoff type who likes to get spanked) and Sleeping Mind, a nonchalantly chilling, soul-infused chronicle of clinical depression. John Hodel did a couple of surreally aphoristic, grimly funny numbers, followed by the Salon’s own Lauraly Grossman, who unearthed a rustic Laura Marling rarity as well as a bluesy, rustic one of her own which she sang a-cappella. Lorraine Leckie, who’s here this coming Sunday at 7, then took over the piano. While it’s amazing how simple yet resonant her dark chamber pop songs are, her upcoming show here is with her careening Canadian gothic rock band the Demons, featuring Hugh Pool on lead guitar.

After the salon, chanteuse Carol Lipnik and pianist Matt Kanelos (who also fronts Americana soul band the Smooth Maria) treated the crowd to a luminous, magical, otherworldly set. Lipnik had brought her famous vocal pedal but used it judiciously for just an extra touch of creepy reverb or echo. Though she can wow a crowd with her four-octave range, she only went up that high a handful of times throughout an eclectic mixof originals and covers that nonethless came across almost as a single piece. Kanelos’ judiciously resounding chords and hypnotic, percussive attack took the trancelike quality of the music several steps up, through Leonard Cohen’s The Gypsy Wife, an utterly minimalist version of Harry Nillsson’s Life Line and then Wilco’s War on War, stripped bare to its inner juxtaposition of hope and dread.

They elegantly elevated an Emily Dickinson poem to New England gothic territory, following with the high point of the evening, two new Lipnik originals, the ethereal Crow’s Nest and the toweringly mysterious Oh, the Tyranny. Kanelos reinvented Nick Drake’s Black-Eyed Dog as a deadly, ravenous beast with his hammering cross-handed counterrythms, then taking the mood back to deep ethereality with two songs of his own, With the Sum and The Brink. The biggest hits with the crowd were a trance-inducing take on Richard Thompson’s gloomy The Great Valerio (where Lipnik did a bit of wirewalking, consciously or unconsciously, to drive the lyrics home). They closed with Neil Young’s There’s a World (which as Lipnik explained could be part of a much bigger picture…or just about smoking pot), freak-folk icon Michael Hurley’s Troubled Waters, and then, persuaded to do an encore, ended the night on a chilling but transcendent note with Kanelos taking over the lead vocals on a minimalist yet lushly haunted version of the Smiths’ There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.

The Sunday Salon happens every week starting at 5 PM at Zirzamin, the lowlit subterranean music parlor in the old Zinc Bar space on Houston and LaGuardia. The public is always welcome to come out and watch, and admission is always free. This coming Sunday’s featured guests at 7 PM are Canadian gothic rockers Lorraine Leckie and Her Demons.

Reaching Altitude: Sunday Salon #3

First time was a washout due to the hurricane; second time was an excellent if intimate gathering despite the lack of subway service. The third week of the new Sunday Salon series at Zirzamin was the best yet, with contributions from both the new and established vanguard of New York songwriters and players. As he did the previous week, cellist Calum Ingram kicked things off, this time with a trio, playing his raw, high-energy blend of blues and funk, this time beginning with an intriguing jazz waltz groove.

John Hodel is not a polished musician but he is unsurpassed as a storyteller. His inimitable sense of humor refuses to quit. The Bukowski of the NY acoustic scene knows his subject matter like the bottom of his glass and he is authentic oldschool New York to the core. This time out he treated the crowd to his classic, surreal, dead-accurate Tuesday Morning in a Bar and the chillingly aphoristic Love Has No Home.

Jon LaDeau, an adept blues guitarist, followed with the distantly ominous Stonewall, a southern gothic travelogue of sorts, along with a couple of other bluesy tunes. The Salon’s very own Lauraly Grossman, a cellist by trade, picked up her gorgeous resonator guitar and revealed that she has a beautiful voice with brassy edges and knows her way around an oldtime swing tune.

Anthony Haden-Guest, who has a new collaboration with Canadian gothic rocker Lorraine Leckie just out, ran through his latest snarkily savage lyric, this one a kiss-off to someone. He dared the sound guy to accompany him on piano, which was either an unfortunate or brilliant idea depending on what your tolerance is for out-of-tune piano and rehashed Ran Blake licks.

Leckie then took the stage for a wickedly deadpan take of her classic Don’t Giggle at the Corpse as well as twisted versions of Getaway Car and one of the Haden-Guest collaborations, Bliss, a spot-on portrait of an old couple who have completely lost it in more ways than one.

Pretty much everybody agreed that the star of this evening was Kelley Swindall. The Americana songstress wowed the crowd with a couple of brutal new murder ballads, the second one long and mysterious with a wicked payoff. Swindall is southern by birth and sings with a charming natural twang but also a persistent unease: you wouldn’t necessarily expect nuance in a murder ballad, but that’s what she gave them. And she knows her blues on the guitar too.

The guest spot afterward was by Viking. Viking’s real name is Victor. He’s from Texas, and he doesn’t have a website (for a laugh and not much more, you can google “Texas viking”). He’s a good guitarist and a good pianist as well. He opened with a twisted number about a guy on a crack or ecstasy binge and the nice people (REALLY nice, actually) who took him in. From there he found the inner Buddy Holly in Roky Erikson’s Starry Eyes, then did a skeletal, full length version of House of the Rising Sun with all the lyrics and drove home how absolutely morbid that song is. He also took a terse and purist stab at R.L. Burnside’s Penitentiary as well as a Hank Williams tune. Viking’s quirky deadpan delivery gave the songs considerable extra menace.

The Sunday Salon happens every week starting at 5 PM at Zirzamin, the lowlit subterranean music parlor in the old Zinc Bar space on Houston and LaGuardia. The public is always welcome to come out and spectate, and admission is always free. This coming Sunday’s featured guests at 7 PM are Coney Island noir chanteuse Carol Lipnik with brilliant pianist Matt Kanelos, performing some of the songs from their haunting Ghosts in the Ocean project.

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.

This Week’s Debut Sunday Salon at Zirzamin – Slow But Auspicious

This past weekend’s debut Sunday Salon at Zirzamin got off to a slow but promising start. Slow because there was only one subway line running between Manhattan and Brooklyn, promising because the playing was inspired. Cellist Calum Ingram saved the early part of the evening from being a total wash. Blues played on the cello always sounds good, but this guy’s blues are more funky than most. It’s obvious that he’s at least had an exposure to cello jazz, as well, as he and his cajon player spun through slinky polyrhythms and biting washes of microtones.

Then Rick Snyder made a welcome return to the New York stage; a prominent member of the old Banjo Jim’s scene, he’s been off the radar for awhile. But not anymore. On the spur of the moment, he invited Ingram up to join him for a bluesy Levon Helm-type number, and the cellist completely transformed the song with more of those lusciously uneasy harmonics.

Moments like that one are what the Salon is all about. The premise of the night is to give good songwriters and instrumentalists an opportunity to cross-pollinate and discover artists like themselves, in a supportive environment that operates on a high musical level without the endless parade of amateurs and creeps who tend to take over wherever there’s an open mic. There’s no cover charge for the Salon, and the public is always welcome to come out and watch the performance in the lowlit, Twin Peaks ambience of the club’s intimate back room.

After the salon, which runs from 5 to 7 PM, there’s a show by an invited artist or band. This past Sunday’s show featured dark Americana rocker Lorraine Leckie and Her Demons playing a rare acoustic set.

This time out, Leckie mixed it up. Backed by J Wallace on bass and Hugh Pool wailing as intensely on acoustic guitar as he typically does on electric, they opened with The Everywhere Man, a creepy serial killer chamber pop song from Leckie’s brilliant new collaboration with Anthony Haden-Guest, Rudely Interrupted. They revisited that offhand menace with the absolutely gorgeous, bittersweet piano ballad Happy City, channeled late-period Marc Bolan with Rainbow and You’re So Cool, and ripped through slightly quieter-than-usual versions of the snarling Canadian gothic Language of the Night and Ontario. Leckie and her band are playing the album release show for the new album on Nov 12 at 7 at the Mercury, with the excellent , intense Molly Ruth opening. The next edition of the Sunday Salon is on the 11th at Zirzamin (Houston and LaGuardia, downstairs) starting at 5 PM, followed at 7 by a rare acoustic performance by well-loved third-wave psychedelic rockers Love Camp 7.

Noir Night at Zirzamin In Case You Missed It

It seems inevitable for music bloggers to start booking shows. In the case of this blog, that meant coming full circle. Where did New York Music Daily’s debut as live music promoter take place? At New York’s best new venue, of course: Zirzamin, the lowlit subterranean music parlor at the corner of Houston and LaGuardia. It was an aptly dark and stormy evening for what was billed as “noir night.” It wasn’t lucrative in any commercial sense, as the early part got more or less rained out, thanks to crazy winds and flying trashcans and intermittent explosions in the sky, two hundred years of CO2 emissions coming back to haunt us all. But the music was transcendent.

Elisa Flynn opened. With a polymath’s insatiable curiosity and a keen sense of history, she proved as knowledgeable about classic Americana roots as she is with indie rock, and it showed in her music. Armed with just her acoustic guitar, her trusty loop pedal and a richly nuanced voice that she let trail off with a suspenseful vibrato, she made her way through aching big-sky themes, a bitter returning Civil War soldier’s lament and a disarmingly pretty but grimly sarcastic Afghan War narrative told from a perspective looking out from inside an “iron galleon.” She reinvented the old folk standard Henry Lee as bitingly atonal, nimbly fingerpicked indie rock, underscoring the doom of the lyrics. A little later, she ran through a wistful high school reminiscence that referenced both Johnny Thunders and Ian Dury, which has got to be the only song in existence that does that. Moving from a catchy, simple, circular riff to fiery, anthemic minor chords, she brought a Marc Chagall picture to life, mixing gypsyish tonalities, enigmatic open chords and a little late Beatles. And just to prove that not all of her songs are dark, she played a new one that ended up hitting a bittersweet note despite itself: “Oh, won’t you tell me what drugs you’re on,” she sang, not a little jealous of how blithely some people carry themselves. Flynn has booked an intriguing show of her own on September 18 at the Way Station in Ft. Greene, where she and a parade of songwriters will be playing the entire Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music.

As eclectic as Flynn’s set was, Liz Tormes set a single mood and never wavered from it. That mood was menacing. Tormes makes it work because she does it so nonchalantly, and takes great pleasure it: when she described a song or two as murder ballads, her face lit up noticeably as the word “murder” crossed her lips. While between songs, bantering with her bandmates – Ollabelle keyboardist Glenn Patscha and guitarist/singer Fiona McBain – she broke character from the stoic, wounded femme fatale persona, it served her equally well throughout a mix of originals and classic country/folk covers, including understatedly haunting, gorgeously harmonized versions of Rosalie, I Never Will Marry and the old honkytonk hit Comin’ on Strong. The version of Read My Mind on Tormes’ brilliant 2009 Limelight album is a fiery rock song; stripped to its brooding acoustic roots, it was even darker. As is often the case with her, the subtext was crushing: “And I want you to read my mind. Dear,” she sang, with just the slightest hint that this was not exactly a love song. A bitter resignation and sense of all hell about to break loose dominated several other songs, including one hypnotic number that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Randi Russo catalog, and the steady, pulsing Maybe You Won’t, another track from Limelight. Eerily and methodically calm, the trio made their way through a troubled East Village nocturne that worked on a million different levels, and a Carter Family cover that could have been the Velvet Underground doing country gospel, with the piano in…um…western saloon tuning. Patscha would have been within his rights to have complained, but he didn’t. Toward the end of the set, Tormes catalogued a list of things that haunted her: “Nothing haunts you – I think it should,” she sang again and again as it wound out, raising her voice just enough to drive the point home, hard. There is no singer in the world who channels heartbreak or unconsummated rage more potently than Tormes.

By the time Beninghove’s Hangmen took the stage, the storm had subsided and a crowd had gathered to see saxophonist Bryan Beninghove and a six-piece version of his powerhouse noir soundtrack band careen through a wild, improvisational set. While what they’re playing is essentially film music, this time out they went deep into their diverse jazz roots, transforming the Neil Diamond cheeseball Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon into a Russ Meyer set piece. A little later, they rampaged through a practically twenty-minute version of Quatro Loko, an unexpectedly cheery number fueled by Beninghove’s jaunty soprano sax before going completely haywire, drummer Shawn Baltazor and bassist Kellen Harrison wailing on each others’ instruments, trombonist Rick Parker (also of the fascinating Bartok cover band Little Worlds) wailing on the out-of-tune piano for extra amperage.

Beninghove began a distantly apprehensive, swinging gypsy jazz tune on melodica, then switched to tenor sax and took it into more lurid territory, handing off to Parker, whose long, shivery, microtonal solo maxed out the menace. Guitarist Dane Johnson opened a horror-surf tune with some bracing, off-kilter grit, juxtaposing a klezmer-flavored dirge theme that shifted to a surprisingly warm, soul-infused chorus, Parker blasting over it with a coldly haphazard rage, Beninghove following with a long, electrically chromatic, achingly tense tenor solo. Their version of Hangmen’s Waltz took the macabre mood of the version on the band’s amazing, self-titled album from last year and expanded on it, polyrhythmic and hallucinatory. After diversions into calypso, samba and dixieland flair and then a morbid surf stomp highlighted by Johnson’s echoey, overtone-drenched intensity, they wrapped up the night at around half past eleven with another album track, Roadhouse, a surreal, volcanically Lynchian boogie. Beninghove’s Hangmen will be in residency several Mondays at 9 in September at Zirzamin; watch this space for details.

Catch Rob Teter Now Before He’s Popular Again

First-class melodic rock tunesmith Rob Teter has a 8 PM-ish Sunday residency through the end of this month at Zirzamin. Songwise, the obvious comparison is Tom Petty, but that doesn’t do Teter justice: he’s a better and far more eclectic songwriter than Petty, as you’d expect from the co-founder of the popular, now defunct Austin gypsy-rock band the Belleville Outfit. Don’t think Petty in phone-it-in, boring, American Girl mode – imagine early, inspired Damn the Torpedoes-era Petty, with even better lead guitar. This past Sunday he had a brilliant band – who call themselves the Slaw Dogs – featuring Teter’s old Austin pal Grant Gardner on lead guitar. That guy is the real deal, a phenomenal, Jim Campilongo/Bill Frisell class player who takes Teter’s jangly, catchy songs to the next level.

One of the best tunes in the set was Plywood and Plaster, a brooding kiss-off anthem: Gardner was in chill mode on this one, adding judicious slide licks to Teter’s bitter, brooding brokendown house metaphors. They picked up the pace with the next one, building from Teter’s skeletallly funky guitar hook that Gardner fleshed out with burning, sustained chords that crescendoed to a wickedly catchy, minor-key chorus: “Don’t go looking for me, sometimes I don’t wanna be found,” Teter warned, deadpan and casual as the band jangled and clanged, nonchalant but energetic. They did one cover, a western swing tune that Gardner lit up with jaunty pieces of jazz chords and Chet Atkins licks and then an original that grew from a laid-back, folky hook to a western swing-tinged slink. After a catchy detour into oldschool 60s soul, Teter switched to piano and mixed the soul with Britpop on a number whose catchiness played down the wrath of the lyric: “I’d rather die than fall in love with you again,” Teter mused, Gardner casually firing off a richly jangling, clanging,, jazz-fueled solo. The set went out on a high note with I Get High, a bouncy, biting minor-key gypsy-rock number where Teter finally cut loose and sparred periodically with Gardner, whose ferocious flurries of Django chords alternated with spiraling, prowling nocturnal runs. The rhythm section of bassist Mike Noordzy and drummer Mark Crowley felt the room. When Noordzy finally got a solo at the end of the set, it was slinky and fluid and cool. Crowley kept the groove going artfully with his brushes: Zirzamin is a deliciously intimate venue, and he made things intimate to the point of suspense. A lot of rock drummers won’t or can’t do that. If you like the idea of Zach Brown – or Petty – but need more substance, Rob Teter and his band will sustain you. Teter is playing solo this coming Sunday the 15th; he’ll have the band, or at least some of them, back on the 22nd and 29th.