Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Seaside Summer Concerts at Asser Levy Park


Well off the beaten path, the little-publicized Seaside Summer Concerts at Coney Island's Asser Levy Park (as always, sponsored by The Man) are a great way to catch quality oldies-but-goodies acts for free. Last year, I caught Brian Wilson and Liza Minnelli (don't laugh) at the park, which will soon (?) be home to a new ampitheater that -- in the pipe dreams of the city fathers, at least -- may rival Jones Beach and the Westbury Music Festival as a premier destination for long-in-the-tooth cash cows. (And likely render the free shows a dream of the past.)

Before the quality of the programming likely depreciates into the kind of stuff that is the norm at Westbury (two syllables: doo-wop), this year promises to bring an unexpectedly satisfying line-up. On July 16th, Creedence Clearwater Revisited (the cringeworthy rhythm section of Creedence Clearwater Revival) will be headlining, but opening act John Sebastian makes the series' "tribute to Woodstock" a worthwhile pick. Disco and soul is on the menu the following week (July 23rd), when Gladys Knight and The O'Jays play sets that will likely be heavy on standards like "For the Love of Money" and "Midnight Train to Georgia". The Four Seasons (with Frankie Valli) and Connie Francis will make July 31st a quintessentially Brooklyn evening, while Hall & Oates -- in a festival coup -- are bringing their signature blue-eyed soul to the series on August 6th. I'm personally anticipating the Blondie and Donna Summer performances on August 13th and August 27th (respectively, of course); although both artists can't resist the financial allure of the oldies circuit, their recent albums ably demonstrate that they haven't lost sight of innovation in their later years. All in all, a good time is sure to be had by many.

Jazz at Alta Voce


For some reason entirely unbeknownst to me, Brooklyn's jazz scene hasn't exactly been all that vibrant in recent years. Of course, part of this is because the idiom appeals to steadily decreasing audiences; while its influence may be pervasive in numerous genres, jazz (especially traditionalist subgenres that employ a minimum of amplified instrumentation) is perceived by many as antediluvian as Gilgamesh these days. Which is a shame, for while the current indie rock scene hardly stands on the vanguard of pop music, its adherents number in the hundreds of thousands. Jazz, on the other hand, is consigned to the dinner crowd.

Stepping into this massive void, Park Slope's Alta Voce (on 5th Avenue between 2nd and 3rd Street) is committed to presenting younger and off-the-radar jazz talents, albeit in the dreaded restaurant/dinner context. Tomorrow evening, jazz wunderkind Christian Nourijanian will be playing with his quartet. Having played at such disparate venues as the Apollo Theater, Groove, and Pianos, Nourijanian should be very interesting. Performers in the coming weeks include the popular Kazuko Mausner Trio (July 8th), the Marianne Solivan Trio (July 15th), the Tierney Ryan Trio (July 22nd), and the duo of Ayako Shirasaki & Sanae Kojima (July 29th).

Monday, June 29, 2009

Brooklyn musicians support renewable energy


Even in the midst of a recession, it's amazing how there's always a surfeit of free shows in New York City... and Brooklyn in particular. While there's usually plenty to do in the borough proper, next weekend's Citysol festival in Stuyvesant Cove Park (adjacent to the East River and Stuyvesant Town) features many talents in the namer of a very pertinent cause -- urban sustainability. All acts will be performing in a solar-powered tent, while you can enjoy discounted drinks if you bring your own cup. Among the Brooklyn talents trekking across the river for the musical portion of the program on July 12th are the So So Glos (whose patented punk will go down favorably in what are sure to be humid conditions), Fiasco, electro fiends Love Like Deloreans (in what will be their homecoming apperance after a long tour), Shilipa Ray and Her Happy Hookers, and agitprop hip-hop duo Dead Prez (who are actually from Tallahassee but play here often enough that they may as well be native sons). Check it out!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Preview: Church of the Haunted South by the Winter Sounds


Artist sobriquets and album names are seldom reflective of actual product in the 21st Century. The Winter Sounds have decisively bucked this trend, for while you would expect a group of road warriors (they played 217 shows in 2007) from Athens to be fazed by cold weather, their ethereally plangent songs will leave those of us disinclined towards summer yearning for lost love, echoey guitars, or whatever the winter conjours up for you. Veterans of such estimable local venues as Trash, they have forged a sound that as wistful as it is ebullient -- a rare feat these days. While we wouldn't want to spoil the album for you (it's due on July 7th), lead single "Trophy Wife" applies Beach Boys harmonies and angular guitars to an eighties alt-rock beat -- the voice of the outsider set to music if there ever was such a thing. As indie becomes the next corporate behemoth, support a true alternative group.

Studio B is closing (as of right now)


After nearly a year of equivocation and voiciferous community opposition, it appears that venerable Greenpoint nightspot Studio B is finally closing after July 12th; according to BrooklynVegan, a 2 Live Crew soiree planned for July 25th is currently looking for a new home. This would account for the venue's leviathan of a 4th of July bash, which some commentators are already describing as a final kiss-off to the venue's ornery neighbors. This is by no means the first time that the proprietors of Studio B have nearly pulled the plug -- shortly after a Lindstrom concert that was billed as the club's penultimate event in January, they began to resume full operations after a month of diminished programming. But the recent Sunset Rubdown farrago at the Northside Festival, where frontman Spencer Krug enjoyed a Mexican standoff with the sound crew that lasted for nearly a half hour, didn't endear the venue to its remaining indie constituents, while no self-respecting househead would pay a $20 cover -- the standard in recent weeks -- just to dance for 3 or 4 hours. (That figure is the norm at quasi-illicit, after-hours shindigs like Refuge and Danger in Bushwick, but such events usually extend well past 4 AM and feature less homogenous music.)

Although Studio B was a nightclub before its mid-2000s rebranding, there is only an infinitesimal chance of new ownership taking the space after the current owners installed an illegal roof garden last year (see my coverage in the Eagle archives), much to the consternation of nearby residents. That was on top of the overly boorish behavior of its patrons, who seemed confused about the layout of the neighborhood and quickly became pariahs of the local community board. The club, incidentially, straddles the border between the seemingly deserted remnants of the Williamsburg industrial zone and a working-class block of Cayler Street.

Even though Studio ultimately overstayed its shelf life, for a brief glimmering moment in 2007, it ably demonstrated that a legal dance club could thrive in Brooklyn and arguably make -- to quote Todd P. in a contemporaneous Gothamist profile -- "the most intelligent electronic curatorial choices in this country." While the closure of the club offers renewal for a scene all too readily condemned to verbal flagellations of rock snobs, the reopening of the Knitting Factory and the ascendancy of indie into the mainstream are harbingers of the future that is to come.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Weekly Show Calendar: 06/27-07/04


Caveat: Not all of the venues below have published concert schedules, but there's a fair chance that live music will be booked, especially towards the end of the week. Most bar shows and Bell House 21+; Studio B 19+ (21 to drink); all others 18+/16+ or all ages. Starred shows represent my picks.

Have a venue that you want covered? Email us at musicnow@brooklyneagle.net.

Venue Addresses:

Studio B: 259 Banker Street (L to Lorimer; G to Metropolitan)

Spike Hill: 184/186 Bedford Av. (L to Bedford)

Europa Night Club: 98 Meserole Av. (G to Nassau)

Coco 66: 66 Greenpoint Av. (G to Nassau)

Cameo Gallery: 93 N. 6th St. (L to Bedford)

Bruar Falls (Cake Shop Brooklyn): 245 Grand St. (L to Bedford)

Death by Audio: 49 S. 2nd St. (J/M/Z to Marcy)

Glasslands: 289 Kent Av. (L to Bedford; J/M/Z to Marcy)

MHoW: 66 N. 6th St. (L to Bedford)

Public Assembly: 70 N. 6th Street (L to Bedford)

Bell House: 149 7th St. (R to 9th Street; F/G to Smith/9th)

Issue Project Room: 232 3rd St. (R to Union)

Union Hall: 702 Union Street (R to Union)

Southpaw: 125 5th Av. (R to Union)

Union Pool: 484 Union Av. (L to Lorimer; G to Metropolitan)

Market Hotel: 1142 Myrtle Av. (J/M/Z to Myrtle Av)

Monster Island Basement: 128 River St. (J/M/Z to Marcy)

Shea Stadium: 85A Debevoise Av. (L to Graham)

Vanishing Point: TBD

Public Assembly:

07/01: Metal Night -- Shiro-ishii, Respawn the Ancient, Malebolgia, Sapremia
9 PM
$10

Studio B:

(*) 07/04: Mark Farina, DJ Dara, DJ Translucent, many others
8 PM
$20 advance/$25 door

Considering that the program is littered with many unknowns, the cover is a tad steep. But Studio B has reclaimed its former position as the borough's best dance venue after nearly shuttering last year over the past few months, and this should be another resounding success.

Music Hall of Williamsburg:

07/02: Jay Reatard, TV Smith 8 PM $15

Europa:

06/30: The Strickers, The Arkhams, Devil Sits Shotgun 7 PM $10

Todd P. Presents:

07/03: Cryptacize, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, Katie Eastburn
Market Hotel
10 PM
$10

07/03: Captured Tracks Festival: Crystal Stilts, Blank Dogs, others
979 Broadway Backyard
4 PM
$15
07/04: Capture Tracks Festival: The Oh Sees, Vivian Girls, others
979 Broadway Backyard
1 PM
$15

Southpaw:

07/01: A Big Yes and a Happy No, the Happy Hookers, Wild Yaks, Infinity
7:30 PM
$10

(*) 07/02-03: Yak Ballz
16+
8 PM
$15

Inarguably the coolest graduate of my school's business program, veteran indie rapper Yak Ballz successfully straddles the line between sophomoric humor and thoughtful satire. Highly reccomended.

Union Hall:

06/27: The Most Serene Republic
8 PM
$10 advance/$12 door

06/30: An Evening with Maron and Garofolo
7:30 PM
$15

07/01: Ravens & Chimes, Soy Un Caballo, Rich Bennett
7:30 PM
$8


07/02: Maria Taylor, Morgan Nagler
7:30 PM
$10 advance/$12 door

Bell House:

06/27:
Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3, Paramount Styles, Doug Gillard
7:30 PM
$12

(*) 06/28: No Guest List

7:30 PM

$5

Ever wonder how your favorite shows are booked? Join the city's leading booking agents for a roundtable discussion on event booking and show curating.

07/01: Apollo Run, the Hard Lessons
7:30 PM
$8

Loud, Fast, and Out of Control: The Coney Island Rockabilly Festival


Although I'm a college student and probably blissfully unaware of some aspects of Brooklyn's musical past, from what I do understand, this was more of an R&B and doo-wop town than a rockabilly mecca back in the 50s. Nevertheless, since the Cramps released the Alex Chilton-produced Songs the Lord Taught Us in 1977, the genre -- not to mention an associated subculture of hot rod enthusiasts, Bettie Page-loving vamps, burlesque performers, and other connoisseurs of weird -- has enjoyed a steady international revival. (The pedant in me would like to remind people that aside from some unusual proclivities, the late Ms. Page was a Baptist in good standing with little to no interest in rock and roll -- indeed, her career preceeds the rock era -- while latter-day burlesque performers were usually backed by jazz musicians. That said, cultural syncretism and revisionist history can be quite interesting if rendered tastefully, and most of these 50s revivalists are very dedicated to their craft.)

If neo-burlesque, twangy vocals, and doghouse basses are your thing, the third annual Coney Island Rockabilly Festival is most certainly for you. Sponsored by local businesses like Gretsch Guitars and Coney Island Lager for a change, the festival -- centered around legendary Cha-Chas on the boardwalk -- will play host to over 20 bands over Labor Day weekend. Arguably the centerpiece of the festival, the Big Burlesque Blow Out on September 5th will feature such local talents as La Maia, statuesque newcomer Magdelena Fox, and Public Assembly regular Coco La Pearl. Among the local bands being showcased, Guitar Bomb's bluesy music recalls the earlier efforts of the White Stripes and the Von Bondies, albeit with extra twang (catch them at rockabilly haven Hank's Saloon on August 14th for a preview), Rockets Red Glare are straight-up psychobilly, and... uh... Brooklyn electro DJ duo Designer Drugs are ostensibly soundtracking the Miss Pin Up Coney Island contest on Labor Day proper; hopefully I'm completely wrong here. (There is a rockabilly group out of Boston using that moniker, but as far as I know, they haven't relocated to enemy turf.) By the way, I love Designer Drugs, but the idea of them playing a rockabilly festival is just a little incongruous. In any case, there will also be a performance by the world famous Coney Island Sideshow augmented by extra burlesque performers on September 4th.

While it would be nice to see some more local performers, kudos to Cockabilly Records and their partners for keeping Coney Island weird (to paraphrase Austin's anti-gentrification slogan) during this period of transition. That this festival is entering its third year is a testament to the fact that people from all over the world love the seaside neighborhood just the way it is, a message that will hopefully reach the suits at Thor Equities.

A Very Special Mypod: Michael Jackson


Despite being a risible laughingstock in his final years (like an earlier King), it seems that death has finally put Michael Jackson into perspective as a tortured soul who didn't ask for the Faustian bargain that was his life. Admittedly, this is one of those tangential posts, but Jackson's music has had such a profound impact on the pop sphere over the past forty years that I would be remiss not to say something.

In any case, while the early hits of the Jackson 5 and the multi-platinum triptych of Off the Wall, Thriller, and Bad (we'll forgive Victory) are thoroughly ingrained into the collective American unconscious and likely will be for decades to come, the Jacksons' mid-70s funk/disco output stands as some of MJ's best work. Working in close conjunction with trenchant producer Norman Whitfield, a meglomaniacal talent on par with Wilson and Eno who previously brought the Temptations into the psychedelic era with "Cloud Nine" and "Papa Was A Rolling Stone", the Jacksons successfully transitioned from a pubescent bubblegum act into one of Motown's most credible dance groups. The "ABC"-esque "Dancing Machine" was the big radio hit from this period (be sure to download the LP version, which is vastly preferable to the sterile single edit), but b-boys at Bronx and Brooklyn block parties preferred to groove to the eight minute "Hum Along and Dance", a funky, dubbed-out excursion from 1974 that looks back to psychedelia (dig the Ray Manzarek-like organ) but points forward to the metronomic rhythms of electro. The seven-minute "Mama I Gotta Brand New Thing" is another Whitfield funk tour de force, pairing materialist lyrics and a prominent Jackson lead with acoustic guitars, blippy synthesizers, and dollops of reverb.

On the more disco side of things, both "Get It Together" and "Forever Came Today" (a cover of an earlier Supremes classic) were local underground club mainstays for years. The former cut was popularized by Brooklyn DJ Nicky Siano at his early Gallery parties in SoHo, while the latter particularly resonated with the legendary Larry Levan, who reportedly performed an hour-long mix of the song at the vanquished Paradise Garage on several occassions. (Levan was quite fond of playing his personal favorites over and over again, which may account for this legend.)

Rest in peace.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Celebrate Brooklyn roundup


Since David Byrne's triumphant opener a couple of weeks back, we've neglected the always-dependable Celebrate Brooklyn concert series. Since being spearheaded by the oft-imitated but never rivaled Marty Markowitz in his formative years as a politico, the summer series has gone on to be one of the best of its kind in the United States, introducing avant-garde (Marc Ribot) and exotic sounds to Brooklynites for free, all in the confines of the spacious Prospect Park Bandshell. Although these cultural events usually grow torpid in the face of a recession, this season may well be the best yet.

Tomorrow night, Femi Kuti will be bringing his family's patented brand of Afrofunk to the Bandshell with Brooklyn-based Positive Force, led by "best bassist in the world" Melvin Gibbs. For the uninitiated, Afrofunk (or Afrobeat) is a subgenre of Nigerian music pioneered by Kuti's father (the late Fela Kuti) that combines the socially-charged lyrics and funk rhythms of late-period James Brown with highlife-influenced horn arrangements, making it not at all dissimilar to American funk, disco, or hip-hop and such postcolonial touchstones as Paul Simon's Graceland & the work of the Talking Heads. With Kuti tickets routinely in the $30 range, this is a great bargain, and you can count on Brooklyn Music being there.

Other interesting free shows (there are several paid benefits) include a They Might Be Giants concert for kids (the afternoon of July 11th), the Kronos Quartet (July 16th), the African Roots Music Festival (headlined by King Sunny Ade and featuring Brooklyn vocalist Abena Koomson; July 18th), Buckwheat Zydeco (July 24th), roots reggae elder statesman Burning Spear (July 30th), the Crystal Stilts (August 1st), and disco revivalists Escort (August 6th).

East River State Park concert series in danger of being cancelled?


Although you're probably not aware of its existence, East River State Park -- which opened to little fanfare, even among the encroaching hipster set, a few years back -- is one of the more pristine recreational areas in the borough . (That other bloggers tend to refer to it by the nebulous moniker of "Williamsburg Waterfront" is a testament to its obscurity.) As of right now, the park is the new host of the McCarren Park Pool summer concert series, which brings a mixture of local and internationally recognized talent to Greenpoint for free most Sunday afternoons in July and August. Or is it?

While several acts (Grizzly Bear, Dan Deacon, Mission of Burma, the Dirty Projectors, No Age, Deerhunter, Simian Mobile Disco, and possibly And You Know Us By the Trail of Dead... among others!) have confirmed that they will be playing "Pool Party" shows (see earlier post about contaminants in the East River, O crazy ones), the venture's web site isn't exactly a paragon of information. This is on top of several rumors floating around the Brooklyn Vegan comment boards that the promoters are near financial insolvency.

In all likelihood, the matter boils down to simple economics -- higher guarantees and market oversaturation. Over the past year, Grizzly Bear have gone from the industry margins to the top 10, Dan Deacon has been showcased alongside Tom Waits on NPR's concert series, and the guys once-lowly noise punk outfit No Age have metamorphosed into leading critical darlings. All (with the possible exception of No Age) are fixtures on the local concert circuit, playing so frequently and cheaply that the notion of a free show loses much of its allure. As I have alluded to in recent posts, many of the artists who stood on the Bush-era vanguard are now reaping the success of the seeds that they sowed years ago -- and if that means pulling the plug on a free show that may not even draw that many people in the first place (especially in the case of Grizzly Bear, who play practically every other week), than so be it.

Of course, this development shouldn't dissuade the Pool Party people from taking advantage of what were surely hard-earned permits, and the cancellation of a No Age or Simian Mobile Disco could always expose insurgent younger bands like Coyote Eyes or Fiasco to an even greater audience. There is also the nature of the announced programming itself, which amounts (SMD and Deacon kind of notwithstanding) to being very white, very indie, very male, and very guitar-y. With the local hip-hop scene as fecund as ever and a comparable dance-oriented series in Queens eliciting complaints for its banal programming, more DJs or MCs wouldn't be a bad thing, either.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Review: The Phenomenal Hand Clap Band (Self-Titled)


The Phenomenal Hand Clap Band is one of the most buzzed about outfits of the year, and for once, it seems the hyperbole may be justified. On their debut album (a first only in the sense that this particular aggregation of musicians has never recorded together; as an earlier post last week detailed, these are all veteran musicians), the Hand Clap Band exploits the alembic of the sound studio to blend late 70s italo, Sugarhill Gang-era hip-hop, Philly disco, neo-soul redolent of Sharon Jones, Hendrixian funk-rock, and God knows what else in to one of the more ingenuous sounds of the decade. Since indie's ascendancy began in earnest three or four years ago, we've had to contend with the usual stereotypes (TV on the Radio and the Carps notwithstanding) of willowy prep school musicians playing music for, well, other willowy prep schoolers. The Hand Clap Band is by far the funkiest group of whites assembled since the Average White Band -- and that's intended as a compliment. (The Remain in Light-era Talking Heads don't really count, obviously.) Just as Living Colour and a new generation of "Afropunk" bands have demonstrated that rock isn't always the province of whites, the PHCB can get down quite well.

A catchy opener, "The Journey to Sella De Estrada" effortlessly evokes the cheap disco-influenced soundtracks that Justice routinely plunders; after not overstaying its welcome, the final strains segue into "All of the Above", a sort of discofied take on the San Francisco sound of the late 60s. "You'll Disappear", currently immortalized in local nightlife legend as a 12-minute Moroder tribute, is halved and quartered here, but the unexpected opening salvo of that one-two opening punch more than compensates for what sounds like a failed experiment. Side two is a miasma of downtempo explorations; being more familiar with their pulsating disco oeuvre, this is still sinking in. But it sounds quite promising.

All in all, if you feel compelled to buy a new album this week, check this baby out. My divagations don't do it justice.

It Came from Brooklyn! (Or Washington D.C.)


This has been floating around for a while, but worth a reminder on this very slow news day. Popular rock -- which is not to say noisy esoterica patronized by the most important visual artist of his era -- and highbrow art museums began to converge in 1968, when the psychedelic miscreants of Jefferson Airplane played a benefit for the Whitney Museum in the cultural space's hallowed halls. (How Paul Kantner -- one of San Francisco's greatest bastions of civic pride -- was corralled into playing such a show remains unknown.) In any case, the historical ossification of what an accompanying press relesse has termed "the Brooklyn renaissance" will continue on August 14th, when elder stalwarts the Walkmen and High Places will open the Gugg's "It Came from Brooklyn" series, which will then continue for the next five Fridays. The concerts will be accompanied by readings from notable Brooklyn writers, all of whom are TBA at this point. Price is also TBA, but seeing as Grizzly Bear -- the original scheduled headliners -- backed out (they're playing a freebie two weeks later at East River State Park), we can assume that the performances will be gratis with admission. While the whole "50s sci-fi kitsch" ardor of the title is just short of condescending ignorance (this ain't exactly the sticks), it's great to see local acts being featured in one of the nation's preeminent museums and further evidence that Brooklyn is the place for innovative contemporary pop.

St. Vincent adds last minute Brooklyn show


St. Vincent (nee Annie Clark; not to be confused with the namesake of some three dozen towns in France, a small Caribbean nation, and the logarithm pioneer) has garnered quite a bit of justified acclaim since embarking on a solo career three years ago. (Cognoscenti know her from her previous efforts with the Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens earlier in the decade). As many contemporary indie popsters value pristine Wilsonian production and grandiloquent (cough... proggy... cough) song structures over the rock and roll heart that characterized forebears like Guided by Voices, Clark's songs are elliptical, jagged, prolix, and even discordant at times -- try to picture a punkier Joanna Newsom and you have the basic idea. (Her album covers, on the contrary, are wretchedly bland, but who's to judge?) An ideal fit with British doom/gloom indie 4AD (also home to elder statesman Scott Walker and the Cocteau Twins), her recent Actor is already destined to top end-of-the-year lists while exposing her songcraft to a new audience. On July 24th, Clark -- a resident of Brooklyn -- will be swinging through her hometown for her inaugural Letterman appearance, followed by a just-announced show at the Bell House on Thursday. With comparable acts now charging upwards of $25, the $10 advance/$15 door price is nothing to scoff at either. Check this one out!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Local bands give jam bands improbable tip of the hat


Since punk and hip-hop dovetailed to make 1976 the year zero of contemporary pop, the Grateful Dead and the "jam band" subgenre they spawned have enjoyed a canonically tenuous presence among critics and musicians. (The public being the odd exception -- between 1987 and 200, the Dead and standard-bearers Phish reached their commercial zenith and regularly sold out arena and stadium shows.) Iconoclastic, insurgent, but never fashionable, these bands constitute the subversive apocrypha of vernacular music, a Mirror Universe where collective virtuosity trumps lyrical vision, syncretism is style, and the more hubristic aspects of the 60s remain as alive and well as ever.

But with many of the more inventive pop alchemists of the past five years or so quite fond of jamming out and juxtaposing dissimilar influences, something had to be at work. In an article discussing the indie-hippie collusion in Relix magazine (originally a Brooklyn-based publication in its original 70s incarnation as a Dead fanzine), members of such Brooklyn-based bands as MGMT and Animal Collective discuss their admiration for the je ne sais quoi of the jam, the Dead's oeuvre in particular. As Geologist of the latter group notes here, "people seemed to welcome you and the community didn't feel exclusive." Of course, with Sonic Youth having gone on record with their (highly circumspect) approval of the Dead years ago, not to mention Husker Du's cover of "Eight Miles High" and 14-minute finale on Zen Arcade, this is something along the lines of old news. But it doesn't hurt to remind people that all music, at the end of the day, is pretty similar.

The Dead, for the record, played at the 46th Street Rock Palace -- a decrepit 30s movie palace converted by avaricious promoters -- with Hot Tuna in Borough Park in late 1970.

Crate Dig: Make It Last Forever by Donna McGhee


Another find in the bins at Academy. Long due a reappraisal, Donna McGhee is a Zelig-like presence who toured or recorded with the likes of Chaka Khan, Teddy Pendergrass, the Fatback Band, and numerous Patrick Adams ventures in the halcyon days of disco. Blessed with a urbane, azure tone that blended well harmonically and owed little to the gospel-derived histrionics that were in vogue among lead vocalists at the time, she was seldom accorded the opportunity to record in her own right. One of the few extant examples of her artistry (Adams's productions were quite meticulous by disco standards, and we can only wonder if discarded tracks or scratch vocals by McGhee for his seminal "Weekend" are lying around in a vault somewhere), Make It Last Forever (1978) is a periplum for a sound that never was, blending debonair orchestral funk and gritty guitars redolent of Stax Records with McGhee's louche vocals. As the progenitor of "sleaze disco", the downtempo title track was a significant underground hit, enjoying early-morning play in scores of pre-Giuliani all-night dance clubs throughout the boroughs for years to come. (Nevertheless, many purists will cede to disco-funk outfit Inner Life's relatively concurrent recording of the song with diva Jocelyn Brown; an unreleased remix of this version by Larry Levan, adding proto-electro flourishes, has been described as the venerated SoHo DJ's secret weapon.) No less significant is "I'm A Love Bug", a fairly crass sellout attempt in the tradition of Marvin Gaye's I Want You that nonetheless retains more charm than, say, "I Love the Nightlife". (Along with "Make It Last...", it was excavated for the popular Deep Disco Culture series a few years back.)

After a moderate hit with "You Should Have Told Me", remixed by freestyle wunderkind Jellybean Benitiz, McGhee promptly fell off the radar for several years. Her MySpace indicates that a new album is in the works, but in the meanwhile, delve into some of the deepest disco ever recorded... gauche cover typesetting not included.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Weekly Show Calendar: June 21st-June 27th


Caveat: Not all of the venues below have published concert schedules, but there's a fair chance that live music will be booked, especially towards the end of the week. Most bar shows and Bell House 21+; Studio B 19+ (21 to drink); all others 18+/16+ or all ages. Starred shows represent my picks.

Have a venue that you want covered? Email us at musicnow@brooklyneagle.net.

A relatively quiet week as the doldrums of summer take hold. Nonetheless, quality trumps quantity this week with some of the most intriguing picks of the year. Enjoy!

Venue Addresses:

Studio B: 259 Banker Street (L to Lorimer; G to Metropolitan)

Spike Hill: 184/186 Bedford Av. (L to Bedford)

Europa Night Club: 98 Meserole Av. (G to Nassau)

Coco 66: 66 Greenpoint Av. (G to Nassau)

Cameo Gallery: 93 N. 6th St. (L to Bedford)

Bruar Falls (Cake Shop Brooklyn): 245 Grand St. (L to Bedford)

Death by Audio: 49 S. 2nd St. (J/M/Z to Marcy)

Glasslands: 289 Kent Av. (L to Bedford; J/M/Z to Marcy)

MHoW: 66 N. 6th St. (L to Bedford)

Public Assembly: 70 N. 6th Street (L to Bedford)

Bell House: 149 7th St. (R to 9th Street; F/G to Smith/9th)

Issue Project Room: 232 3rd St. (R to Union)

Union Hall: 702 Union Street (R to Union)

Southpaw: 125 5th Av. (R to Union)

Union Pool: 484 Union Av. (L to Lorimer; G to Metropolitan)

Market Hotel: 1142 Myrtle Av. (J/M/Z to Myrtle Av)

Monster Island Basement: 128 River St. (J/M/Z to Marcy)

Shea Stadium: 85A Debevoise Av. (L to Graham)

Vanishing Point: TBD

Studio B:

06/25: The Glass, Stretch Armstrong, Dominique, VDRK
18+
10 PM
Free with RSVP, $5 door

06/26: Yikes, Grum, Hostage, House of Ladosha
10 PM
$7 advance, $9 door

06/27: Trouble with Bass, Foamo, Starkey, others
10 PM
$5

Music Hall of Williamsburg:

(*) 06/22: New York Dolls, Black Joe Lewis, Madison Square Gardeners
9 PM
$35

Not quite the rapscallions who conquered the Mercer Arts Center in 1972 (Johnny Thunders and Arthur Kane are deceased), the ersatz Dolls -- led by crinkled David Johansen (fear not, Pointedexter loathers... he's once again emulating Jagger in the sartorial department) and second guitarist Syl Sylvain -- have garnered consistently gushing reviews in the press. Worth checking out.

(*) 06/24: Hank Williams III, Lucky Tubb
8 PM
$22/$25

Estranged from his redneck father, Hank III carries on his grandfather's shambolic tradition into the 21st Century with an equally syncretic sound influenced by hardcore punk and speed metal (indeed, all of his shows include two sets -- one from the country ensemble, and a sequence of songs in the noise/punk vein played under the moniker of Assjack). A pariah in the mainstream of country but beloved by his cult, don't miss this rare Brooklyn performance.

Todd P. Presents (Market Hotel, Shea Stadium, Monster Island Basement):

06/26: Kurt Vile & the Violators, Girls, Real Estate, Beach Fossils
Monster Island Basement
8:30 PM
$8


Southpaw:

06/22
: Shemspeed Summer Show Featuring Six Point Star, The Constant (Steven Baggs) and Diwon, Describe & Y-Love 18+ 8 PM $10

06/23
: Ever So Klever, Tristan Clopet, The Modern Airline 8 PM $8
06/24
: Asa Ransom, Spanish Prisoners, Bonne Baxter
16+
8 PM $8

06/25: Brooklyn What, Warm Hats, Shark's Roar/Box of Crayons 18+ 8:30 PM
$8

06/26: Appomattox, Gold and Gunmetal, Javelins, Me You Us Them
9:09 PM $10

Issue Project Room:

(*) 06/19: Phill Niblock
10 PM
$10 advance/$12 door

Evidently, the IPR is rapidly becoming the venue of choice for minimalist geezers, as this just-announced show attests. Though not as well known as Glass, Reich, List, Anderson, Chatham, or Russell, Phill Niblock was the eminince grise of the SoHo new music scene, his Experimental Intermedia Foundation loft offering a alternative venue to the more established Kitchen. Niblock's unhearlded drone compositions, often involving trombones, are quite stimulating and far better executed than those of La Monte Young, among other likeminded contemporaries. Perfect if you need to quench your thirst for extremely cerebral music tonight.

06/25: Mivos String Quartet, CNS Symphony Orchestra
8 PM
$12

06/26: Susie Ibarra Quartet
8 PM
$12

Union Hall:

06/25: Pattern Is Movement, Bell, Inlets
7:30 PM
$10 advance/$12 door

06/27: The Most Serene Republic
8 PM
$10 advance/$12 door

Bell House:

06/22:
Via Audio, Ha Ha Tonka, The Dig
8 PM
$10

06/23: The Legends, The Drums, Soft City, Care Bears on Fire
All Ages 7:30 PM $10

06/25: Tim Fite, Jesse Marchant
7:30 PM
$5

(*) 06/26: The Smithereens
7:30 PM
$25

The Smithereens are one of those lamentable bands who, despite years of Flaming Lips-esque perseverence, have never broken through. You may remember their Byrdsey "Blood and Roses", appropriated as the theme for Dangerously Close; Troma fans like myself will always hold their apperance in Class of Nuke 'Em High dear to our hearts. A bit pricey, but worth it for this influential group.

Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival comes to DUMBO tomorrow


While lacking the pizazz of last year's eclectic old-meets-new school lineup, tomorrow's 4th annual Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival (held in Empire Futon State Park in DUMBO) is sure to delight hardcore adherents of the genre. Veteran Tallahassee-based political rap duo Dead Prez is headlining a connoisseur's program of nascent, female, and thoroughly underground acts including Tye Phoenix, Tanya Morgan and Children of the Night -- all as divorced as one could possibly get from Lil' Wayne and T-Pain in the midst of the autotune era. Tickets are available at the link above for a mere $10 -- a bang for your buck on par with Todd P. indie shows -- but be forewarned: having attended last year, I can vouch for tight security, long lines, and the annoying rumble of D, N, and Q trains traversing the Manhattan Bridge. But with a relatively esoteric program this year, the festival may be worth checking out.

The final Siren line-up is as follows...


...and actually, it's quite holistic and may well be the finest roster the fledgling festival has assembled in the past two years or so. Still, the fact that the unprolific party animals in Spank Rock are headlining over Bear Hands is kind of baffling (this is actually moot, seeing as there are several stages). Although Siren's humidity, vague tendrils of sea breeze, and groping hands still pale in comparison to the eclectic programs in the more serene environs of Prospect Park that Celebrate Brooklyn has assembled in recent summers, kudos to Village Voice Media (a.k.a. the Phoenix-based publisher that fired Robert Christgau and Nat Hentoff, in essence reducing the paper to a bowdlerized finishing school for Columbia grad students) for thinking about their constituents for a change and sticking with Coney -- and locally-affiliated musicians -- during these precarious months.

The full bill (with my reccomendations; times TBA):

BUILT TO SPILL

SPANK ROCK (*)

THE RAVEONETTES (*)

FRIGHTENED RABBIT

A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS

GRAND DUCHY

MONOTONIX

THEE OH SEES

FUTURE OF THE LEFT

JAPANDROIDS

MICACHU & THE SHAPES

TINY MASTERS OF TODAY (*)

BEAR HANDS (*)

JUSTINE D.

DEADHEAT DJS

For the laymen, Spank Rock and The Raveonettes may be "so 2007" for some, but their visceral stage shows will leave you spellbound (assuming ol' Jamal of the former group doesn't pull a Sly Stone, of course). Bear Hands are like Matt and Kim with a Beirut edge, while Tiny Masters of Today -- as written about yesterday -- may be very important in the future. All in all, a satisfying production... and don't forget your dancing shoes this year, with the Deadheat DJs and Brooklyn-based mixmaster Justine D. adding all the levity and then some that last year's chamber pop-laden proceedings could have used in spades.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mypod: "Skeletons" by Tiny Masters of Today


In what other era could a band of putatively hep 13 year olds set off a firestorm of accusations and recriminations in the blogosphere? Along with fellow tween-scenesters Care Bears on Fire, it's easy to lament Park Slope-based duo Tiny Masters of Today for the excessive and stagey misparenting they're doubtless subjected to on a daily basis -- while it's natural for a kid to want to strum a guitar and play the talent show, Leia Jospe photo shoots with Karen O and a major-label recording deal are something else altogether. Since it seems that the Tiny Masters' parents at least have the temerity to let their children lead relatively normal lives, their sophomore album was released to general ennui and indifference at the beginning of the month. That is, until Pitchfork staff writer and wizened music blogger Matthew Perpetua deigned to give the Brownstone Brooklyn upstarts' latest sacrifice a 3.0 (out of 10.0) on the site's overly quantitative rating scale, citing their "self-conscious kiddy variations on vaguely arty strains of punk and alt-rock" and the lack of "practical use for this music besides causing adults to go, 'awww, cute!'". And yes, in a statement that may well have been the most opprobrious thing I've read all year, he chided the twosome for their "predictably banal lyrics". (Literary rant of the day: uhm, Matt... as precocious as these kids may seem on the surface with two records behind their belt and all, they are still kids. Since you evidently value the praxis of poesis over chord progressions, taut production, and having a good time -- like most outmoded music critics -- please do the literary community a favor and write an 800 page onanistic treatise on mimetics in the work of Robeson Jeffers or something.) In any case, all publicity is good publicity, and you can see the Tiny Masters rocking out at Coney Island's Siren Festival next month. (More details, including the full schedule lineup, will follow tomorrow.)

Leadoff single "Skeletons", while somewhat too derivative of past tidings and callow in the way that any major-label production looking to cash in on the Brooklyn scene is going to be, may actually be more listenable than anything (save for that recent "Genius of Love"-ish YACHT single on DFA) gracing Pitchfork's Best New Music list right now. It may even be the first reification of the art rock backlash that's going to ensue in a couple of years, when teenagers of the Tiny Masters' vintage decide that the fetid retroversion of many of those groups is as happening as that quaint relic known as the iPhone. It is in this revisionist environment that their angular guitars and grime-influenced backdrops will inspire a new generation of malcontents. Invest in these Tiny Masters, and invest in the future.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Morbid crooner is "Crazy in Love"


Local British transplant Antony Hegarty is one of the most acclaimed musical performers of the decade, and I can't say I know why. Although his performance of "Candy Says" at St. Ann's Warehouse was an unquestionably moving moment in Lou Reed's Berlin extravaganza and the filmic highlight of the concert movie that ensued -- not to mention his triumphant vocal on Hercules & Love Affair's "Blind" -- Antony's trilogy of somambulent chamber pop albums is enough to send anyone in a fog of depression... at the very least. Which leaves us very surprised that the effete crooner has included Beyonce's Chi-Lites sampling hit "Crazy in Love" in his live sets for some time now, and even more surprised that Pitchfork is reporting that he will release a recording the song as a single on Rough Trade this August. Although I expect a glacially-paced monstrosity along the lines of this year's overhyped The Crying Light, such a rendition may actually do the song justice. Stay tuned.

Crate Dig: Disco 3000 by the Sun Ra Arkestra


With a plethora of record stores in Brooklyn, odd things invariably wash up. Each week, Crate Dig rescues a dusty slab of overlooked vinyl from the bins. This week, we look at avant-garde jazz impresario Sun Ra's Disco 3000, found at Academy Records in Williamsburg.

Like Captain Beefheart, Tom Waits, and even Frank Zappa, Sun Ra was and remains a figure whose veneration and critical cachet has always exceeded any conventional notions of popularity. By far the most outre performer to ever appear as a musical guest on Saturday Night Live, Ra (nee Herman Blount) and his Arkestra big band drew upon the cacophony and clangor of free jazz but never lost sight of swing's rhythmic foundations. All the while, the band foregrounded their use of electric -- Ra was an early devotee of the portable combo organs popularized by 60s garage bands -- and electronic instrumentation, relative exotica that only served to emphasize the Arkestra's penchant for Egyptological themes. Long before George Clinton and the P-Funk collective submerged their cliquant funk in Star Trek-influenced self-mythologizing, Ra -- who claimed that he was a messenger from Saturn and had experienced contact with extraterrestrials some 10 years before the Roswell incident, a story that even his closest associates found to be spurious -- and the Arkestra explored science fiction tropes as a metaphor for the plight of African Americans and, inferentially, gays. (Ra was nominally homosexual, but most evidence suggests that he was a functional asexual, perpetually shy and consumed by the rigors of touring & composing.) By the 1970s, however, Ra distanced himself from black power and black nationalism even as the Arkestra remained primarily black, claiming that all people were "puppets and pawns of some greater force"; interestingly, the Arkestra -- which received reviews from the hippie press that ranged from extremely desultory to mildly bemused -- enjoyed a modicum of popularity as SoHo's experimental loft jazz scene began to coalesce, culminating in the national exposure of the SNL performance.

Recorded live in Italy around 1977, Disco 3000 -- the title mocking the percieved futurism of late-period disco -- captures the mature Arkestra at its absolute zenith. Having integrated synthesizers, female dancers, and conservative use of drum machines into their arsenal, with Ra's personal set-up alone extending to three keyboards, the reductionist would merely classify them as a thinking man's agitprop P-Funk. But even as the stage show grew more elaborate, the music -- as minimalist as it was discordant on earlier releases like Atlantis, essentially presaging the no wave/new music fusions of Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca -- is a cornucopia of sound here, evoking the metal-tinged avant-garde jazz-funk (how's that for critical largess?) of Miles Davis's mid-70s ensemble in its ingenuous exploitation of unusual timbres (rest assured, the drum machines do not sound like drum machines) and coruscating harshness. For jazzers well into middle age, this is intense music, setting a precedent for the continued activities of Chatham, Branca, Lydia Lunch, and Sonic Youth today. As with Davis's live albums of the epoch, the song titles are fairly arbitrary, although hints of standards like "We Travel the Spaceways" and "Geminology" can be discerned in the primordial ooze.

Shortly after this recording, the Arkestra would decamp to Chelsea, where their celebrated engagement at the Squat Theater would draw various members of the avant-rock cognoscenti (John Cale, Nico) as the effects of their innovations began to be felt in rock music. Sun Ra would continue to record and tour until his death in 1991; a reconstituted Arkestra has continued to tour in time-honored jazz tradition, spreading the gospel to a new generation of jazz aficionados .

Monday, June 15, 2009

"Phenomenal" guys and gals go to London, finally release album


Ever since I saw the opening minutes of their second performance at CMJ last year -- I would have stayed longer, but a looming deadline and fatigue have their ways -- I've been tremendously excited about the debut album from local supergroup the Phenomenal Handclap Band. Contrary to their portentous moniker, which suggests revved-and-chopped-up British soul beats along the lines of the Pull Shapes, the large ensemble -- masterminded by DJ/production duo Daniel Collás and Sean Marquand, late of excavations involving Brazilian funk musicians and old Salsoul types -- takes cues from funk, deep soul, disco, italo, psych, krautrock, and a litany of other snobbish subgenres. Their eponymously-titled debut, due out next week, features guest apperances from TV on the Radio's Jameel Bunton, Lady Tigra, Jon Spencer, and Reno Bo of Mooney Suzuki. Already gaining plaudits from the mainstream (they may be the first indie band ever featured in Playboy, once a decent source for... umm... jazz criticism), they're taking their act to Britain in early July with two weeks of shows in London, Manchester, Bristol, Canterbury, and Dublin. Since the British tend to be more attuned to good music -- especially groove-based music played by sleazy disco enthusiasts in white jeans (see photo) -- this isn't necessarily a bad career move in the "Ivy indie" epoch. Expect an album review in the coming days.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Music-Related Film Screenings in Brooklyn Bridge Park; McCarren Park ballfields


One of the benefits of living in an urban oasis is a surfeit of free summer film screenings. Cineastes can be reassured that the annual Brooklyn Bridge and McCarren Park series will be returning this July with plenty of -- you guessed it -- music-related films! On July 22nd, the folks at McCarren will be presenting 24 Hour Party People, Michael Winterbottom's hillarious romp about the rise and fall of preeminent British indie Factory Records (of Joy Division/New Order and Happy Mondays infamy). Steve Coogan stars as the late Tony Wilson, while Andy Serkis can be found in a pre-Lord of the Rings turn as brilliant producer Martin Hannett. One of the best music films of the decade, be sure to catch this movie for the first -- or five hundreth -- time; it's that good. Less exciting is the July 29th screening of David Lynch's Wild at Heart, but the highly underrated film -- which introduced Chris Isaak's singular neo-Orbison talent to the world -- is still worthy of your time.

The DUMBO screenings are slightly less exciting, but be sure to look out for "Rainbows Keep Falling Off My Head" in the August 13th screening of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a film that never grows old.

Northside Guide: Friday


Not much to report for tonight; unlike many of these festivals, Northside seems to be geared towards weekend warriors. Union Pool is hosting the Panache Booking showcase, including Todd P. stalwarts Golden Triangle (headlining at 11:20), Pterodactyl (at 8:40). and Big A Little A (8:50); for the catholic indie fan, this is perhaps the best bet of the evening. The FreeWilliamsburg showcase at Death By Audio is promising (These Are Powers, Javelin, and Air Waves), but claustrophobes bewhere. The BrooklynVegan showcase at MHoW is compensating for a relatively blah line-up with a surprise act at 9; this may be worth checking out, but I wouldn't hedge any bets on it. For other acts, consult the schedule below.

Weekly Music Calendar: June 14th-20th


With the Northside Festival (schedule posted last week) extending until Sunday, this week's calendar will commence (except for one show) with concerts on June 15th.

Caveat: Not all of the venues below -- namely bars like Spike Hill -- have published concert schedules, but there's a fair chance that live music will be booked, especially towards the end of the week. Most bar shows and Bell House 21+; Studio B 19+ (21 to drink); all others 18+/16+ or all ages. Starred shows represent my picks.

Venue Addresses:

Studio B: 259 Banker Street (L to Lorimer; G to Metropolitan)

Spike Hill: 184/186 Bedford Av. (L to Bedford)

Europa Night Club: 98 Meserole Av. (G to Nassau)

Coco 66: 66 Greenpoint Av. (G to Nassau)

Cameo Gallery: 93 N. 6th St. (L to Bedford)

Bruar Falls (Cake Shop Brooklyn): 245 Grand St. (L to Bedford)

Death by Audio: 49 S. 2nd St. (J/M/Z to Marcy)

Glasslands: 289 Kent Av. (L to Bedford; J/M/Z to Marcy)

MHoW: 66 N. 6th St. (L to Bedford)

Public Assembly: 70 N. 6th Street (L to Bedford)

Bell House: 149 7th St. (R to 9th Street; F/G to Smith/9th)

Issue Project Room: 232 3rd St. (R to Union)

Union Hall: 702 Union Street (R to Union)

Southpaw: 125 5th Av. (R to Union)

Union Pool: 484 Union Av. (L to Lorimer; G to Metropolitan)

Market Hotel: 1142 Myrtle Av. (J/M/Z to Myrtle Av)

Monster Island Basement: 128 River St. (J/M/Z to Marcy)

Shea Stadium: 85A Debevoise Av. (L to Graham)

Vanishing Point: TBD

Studio B:
06/19: Yikes!, Thunderheist, Wallpaper, Terry Diabolik, DJ Never Forget
10 PM
$8 advance/$10 door
Open bar from 10:00-11:00

06/20: Jeff Samuel & Jona, others
10 PM
$10 advance/$20 door

Music Hall of Williamsburg:

(*) 06/18: Phoenix, Lightspeed Champions
10 PM
$25

After bubbling under for years, these French-Anglophone Daft Punk/Sofia Coppola pals finally came into their own this year with a starmaking performance on Saturday Night Live. Melodic, danceable pop-rock -- nothing more, nothing less.

06/19: Peaches, Drums of Death
8 PM
$25 (sold out, but tickets may be available at the door)

06/20: The Maccabees, others

9 PM
$15 advance/$17 others


Todd P. Presents (Market Hotel, Shea Stadium, Monster Island Basement):

06/16: Predator Vision, Sudden Oak, White Light, others
Monster Island Basement
8 PM
$5

06/18: Best Friends Forever, Hot Box, Babies
Monster Island Basement
8 PM
$7

(*) 06/19: El Jezel, Coyote Eyes, Thunder Power, The Rest
Monster Island Basement
8:30 PM
$8

Coyote Eyes are a slightly goth-y, slightly noisy outfit on the rise. Check them out in this nascent stage.

(*) 06/20: HEALTH, Jonathan Toubin
979 Broadway Backyard (J/M/Z)
6 PM-4 AM (HEALTH at 9:30
$10

Jonathan Toubin has belatedly introduced Americans to northern soul. Be prepared to dance the night away.

Southpaw:

06/19: The Spirit Family Reunion, Frontier Ruckus. Matt Sucich with The Vanderettes. Two White Horses 8 pm
$8

06/20: “All For One” – Official After Party for the 5th Annual Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival: Legendary Buckshot (Black Moon, Duck Down), The Cypher (from Peter Rosenberg’s ‘Noisemakers’). DJ JS1, 8thw1 and more 9 PM $10 reduced with ticket stub

Issue Project Room:
06/15: Francesco Dillon & Emanuele Torquati
8 PM
$10

06/17: Ha-Yang Kim
8 PM
$15 for members

(*)06/19: Either/Or plays Morton Feldman’s “Why Patterns” + David Budin plays Karlheinz Stockhausen’s “Klavierstuck IX”
8 PM
$10

Before electronic pop, Morton Feldman and Karlheinz Stockhausen were among the first to employ synthesizers in recorded music. Come here these pieces as they were intended -- for the concert chamber.

Bell House:

(*) 06/14: Ida Maria, Prayer For Animals, Aaron Behrens
8 PM
18+
$12

"Ida Maria is a force of nature." -- Music Junkie

06/19: Locksley, Tres Bien, The Queen Killing Kings
7:30 PM
All ages
$12

Union Hall:

06/16: Bachelorette, Pikelet
7:30 PM
$10
06/20: The Loom, Cotton Jones
8 PM
$10

Northside Festival Day One: Strange Rumblings in the Press Lounge; Holding Steady


Photo courtesy of the redoubtable L Magazine.

Sponsored by DUMBO-based L Magazine, the ongoing Northside Music and Art Festival is, depending upon your view, either a callow attempt to cash in on the burgeoning north Williamsburg music scene or a genuine celebration thereof. With many local bands enjoying a modicum of mainstream success and many people compelled to go out at least one to three times per week, there is an air of frivolity in applying the "festival" appellation to what is essentially just another weekend of concerts and dance parties. (And, while this is nominally an art showcase as well, that aspect seems to be sorely deemphasized... unless your definition of "fine artist" extends to obsequious concert photographers.) Aside from the media circus enveloping the de facto entertainment district of Public Assembly and the Music Hall of Williamsburg on North Sixth Street, it seemed to be just another evening in the neighborhood. A gaggle of much-loathed "trustafarian" indie chicks drank wine on a N. 7th fire escape as skater kids eyed each other with menacing glares, while Doo-Wop Guy (a portly neighborhood legend with a vaguely Mafiosi ardor) circled around the various thoroughfares in his sedan, blasting The Orioles and "Earth Angel" in defiance of quality of life laws. Thank God for genuine eccentrics like him; otherwise, the Bedford corridor would be virtually interchangeable with the decidedly un-New York environs of Haight Street or Sixth Street in Austin.

The first evening of the festival was by far the most important, with the Hold Steady wrapping up a four-night engagement at the aforementioned Music Hall and psychedelic freak-folkies Brightback Morning Light headlining Studio B.

Although Brightback are more my pace, I opted to cover the concurrent Hold Steady show, seeing as virtually none of my coverage has ever included these local (if not native) sons. Enjoying a certain panache and level of visibility as the most commercially successful Brooklyn ensemble until the recent TV on the Radio/Grizzly Bear/Animal Collective trifecta, the Hold Steady's relationship with the borough could be likened to Creedence Clearwater Revival's role in the San Francisco scene -- despite some facile similarities in fashion, influence, and lyricism, they are indebted to a different pantheon of heroes than most of the contemporary Brooklyn bands. For one thing, they employ roadies and equipment techs, old-school anachronisms in an era where the musicians themselves often set up at club shows. (Seriously, when was the last time you saw equipment techs set levels and test a flotilla of guitars and basses before a show?) Moreover, as you can see in the photo, drummer Bobby Drake's set-up includes a gong, that Chinese percussion instrument virtually metonymous with overblown excess in 70s rock; ironically, Drake is the punk of the band fashion-wise. Aside from the natural quirkiness added by criminally underutilized keyboardist Franz Nicolay (you may know him in his other incarnation as the garrulous, liquor-swilling pianist of cabaret-punk ensemble World Inferno Friendship Society, arguably a better forum for his talents), they almost belong in an Akron bar. (More on the almost later.)

Opening for the Steady were Hype of the States, a five-piece from Greenpoint whose refreshingly unpretentious pop-rock -- a cross-pollination of the pre-"Summer Feeling" Modern Lovers, Shibuya pop keyboards, and the feral stagecraft of Patti Smith -- gradually won over a crowd that, judging from its demographic diversity, was only assembled for the headliner. Lead singer Jezrael (yes, she's ready for the ubiquity of stardom) brought an insouciance to the proceedings that many female musicians have shunned as of late in the name of ponderousness. Rocking an outfit that would have seemed gauche on anyone else and probably elicited snarls from the trendoid contingent, she ably demonstrated that stagecraft needn't be sacrificed in the name of hipness -- or a good melody, for that matter. Guitarist Austin Raukus may well be the Ricky Wilson of his generation, an understated guitarist whose distinct style makes this band half as interesting as they are (the rock-solid rhythm section ain't so bad either). Keep an eye out for this bunch -- they're really good, and may presage a turn back to a more dance-oriented rock sound.

Since the Hold Steady really aren't my thing, recusing myself here would probably be the best option. Nevertheless, much as Roger Ebert once gave a three-star review to a film (some gross-out comedy, as I recall) that he loathed by virtue of the fact that it accomplished what the filmmakers set out to do, I fear I must do the same thing here. If you have a penchant for raucous Springsteen-style rock, overwrought Dylanesque lyrics, a frontman who goes through ten guitars per show and yet only plays in the "spare" (i.e. an occasional strum) style of Waylon and Johnny Cash, getting felt up by the American equivalent of boorish football hooligans (women only), and just obliviously bad taste... run, don't walk, to a Hold Steady show. That said, quite a few people out there appreciate their atavism and yeasty Middle Western/Rust Belt authenticity, and only the Dropkick Murphys -- another group you'll probably never read about in these pages -- rival them for the dubious honor as masters of the "fratster" subgenre. What I can tell you is that every song except for the opening "Stay Positive" and an ode to Stevie Nicks with interesting dynamics basically sounded the same, while Craig Finn's spasmodic Jaggerisms grew repetitious after about fifteen minutes. But the sheer energy of the crowd, unmatched at every event I've gone to as of late save for the tribal rites at those semi-illicit Refuge parties in Bushwick, was a testament to the emotive power of this band. It's difficult to muster much excitement about an electric organ, two guitars, a bass, and elaborate drum sets these days, but the Hold Steady somehow manage to do it.

More Northside reports to follow over the next few days.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Health play 979 Broadway Backyard and Pool Party; Grizzly Bear goes swimming, too


Best known for their crossover dance hit "Crimewave" with Crystal Castles from last year, Angelino post/noise/dance/something-rockers Health are bringing their live extravaganza to East River State Park (N. 6th St.; L to Bedford) on July 26th as part of the relocated McCarren Park concert series. While we don't necessarily recommend taking a dip in the river a la Cosmo Kramer quite yet (a friend who occasionally works for the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance and tends to be authoritative about such matters has informed me that the Hudson-sourced strait should be free of contaminants in about twenty years... alas, these people do it anyway), the ersatz "pool party" series is shaping up to be one of the better bargains of a depressing recessionary summer. As already announced, graying postpunks Mission of Burma are swinging on through on July 12th with annoying-but-lovable Baltimore noise outfit Ponytail, while fellow Smellers No Age will be tripping the afternoon fantastic with adult child Dan Deacon on August 3rd. And, if that wasn't already enough, newly anointed superstars Grizzly Bear will bring the series to an incongruously appropriate finale on August 30th. (Grizzly Bear in summer? Really?) If you're idea of a fun Sunday afternoon is not hitting the remnants of Coney Island, or if you just want to catch up on some of the more happening musical artists of 2009 and not pay a cent, be sure to hit the park for these appropriately underpublicized concerts.

The healthy ones are also playing a paid show/self-described "happening" promoted by New York Night Train (soul impresario Jonathan Toubin) on June 20th at the 979 Broadway Backyard/5 Stuyvesant Avenue with a hula hoop artist, light show artists, and a drum & trapeze act... should be interesting, eh?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Show Review: David Byrne @ Prospect Park, 06/08/09


After keeping a low profile since the Talking Heads disbanded around 1989 (1992 if you charitably include the Heads-in-name-only "Sax and Violins" from Wim Wenders's Until the End of the World), David Byrne has emerged from his hermitage as one of the more resurgent musicians of the decade. The renaissance culminated with last year's Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, a collaboration with Brian Eno that found the alt-geezers tastefully mining the saccharine waters of adult contemporary -- not entirely surprising considering Eno's recent productions of Coldplay & Paul Simon and Byrne's soundtrack work -- while still managing to somehow sound medium cool. Although the album foundered on the charts, it provided a convenient excuse to mount a lucrative tour in the vein of the halcyon Stop Making Sense extravaganza. And so Byrne has returned to many of the same barns where he enjoyed the spoils of nascent success twenty five years ago with an odd sense of vindication. While he was never able to parlay "Burning Down the House" into Pretenders/UB40/Blondie megastardom -- not that he ever wanted to, mind you -- he's remained on the same plateau of visibility on his own hermetic, everything-including-the-Twyla Tharp dancers terms. Which is more than contemporaries like Lou Reed (now living vicariously through wife Laurie Anderson) or Deborah Harry & Chris Stein (relegated to the purgatory of the oldies circuit, more or less) could ever say.

Over the years, true believers in Byrne have had to endure the usual laundry list of complaints and remonstrations from the likes of former bandmate Tina Weymouth: he's indifferent to friendship; his callow opportunism during the Remain in Light sessions engendered more bad morale than good music in the long run; he's just not a nice guy, the archetypal Faust in the flesh. Alas, according to a Celebrate Brooklyn stagecrew member, Byrne went out of his way to make the stagehands feel like a part of the family yesterday, joking around during a lengthy soundcheck. "He's still got it," my friend texted me, and while I was obviously skeptical -- another friend prognosticated that the free show was destined to be "less than vintage" -- he hit it right on the nail.

When we arrived a little after 5:00, the serpentine line extended from the Lafayette memorial entrance on 9th Street and Prospect Park West to at least 11th Street; it would swiftly double over the next hour. The crowd was already shaping up to be an idiosyncratic, only-in-Brooklyn convocation of frayed hippies of all ages (obviously cognizant of the Garcia maxim that "music is music"), local yuppies, Afrocentric types, hipsters, normal people (including bros in Celtics jerseys), Jack and Hank from the Mighty Handful, a couple of college acquaintances, more hipsters, Vampire Weekend-venerating altbros, and the cop/fireman/garbageman who wound up standing next to us for the entire show. Diverse? Try microcosmic. But as someone pointed out, "all of them -- even the normal folks -- seemed to be a little off, a little weird, just like Byrne."

After an ebullient introduction from Marty Markowitz (who else?), Byrne and his eight-piece band -- soon to be accompanied by three contemporary dancers -- took the stage in their already-iconic white outfits to the tune of "Strange Overtones" from Everything that Happens. While the results were less than feral mania of Stop Making Sense, the new songs -- which, to Byrne's credit, comprised a substantial portion of the set -- sounded far more muscular than their flaccid album counterparts. On the surface, "I Zimbra" was no match for the Busta Jones
-driven renditions of the early 80s (yes, that is an euphemism), but upon further reflection the slower tempo brought out the hidden Afrofunk long subsumed by the Arthur Russell-style beat; "Heaven"'s breakneck arrangement was a moment of Dylanesque insouciance, the hymn transformed into something almost unrecognizable... and just as good. (The repetitious synth loop on "Once in a Lifetime" was not nearly as interesting in its 21st Century incarnation, however.) Schooled well in frantic contemporary styles, the much-buzzed-about dancers initially detracted from Byrne's laconic stage demeanor, but their presence was a subtle tip of the hat to his collaboration with Tharp and the collusions that permeated the downtown arts scene in the 1970s. Stagey -- though not as stagey as they could have been, judging by their strategic presence on only a handful of songs -- but essential, just as percussionist Steve Scale's presence on "Life During Wartime" and the encores established necessary continuity with the Expanded Heads ensemble that toured many of these songs thirty years ago.

By the time Byrne donned a tutu for the second encore of "Burning Down the House" (followed by the slightly anticlimactic finale of "Everything that Happens"... um, where was "This Must Be The Place"?), he was oozing in layers of sweat; naturally, the 10,000+ assembled in the park clamored for even more. As the crowd slowly dispersed into the Slope, an aging yuppie -- potbellied and hunched over, a far cry from his Patrick Bateman salad days circa 1985 -- inquired his family about "this new group called the Management -- who are they?"

Needless to say, one couldn't help but to smile. A good time was had by all, and kudos to Byrne and Celebrate Brooklyn for making it possible.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Show Review: The Diamond Center and North Highlands @ Market Hotel


Bereft of many of the usual trendoids, carpetbaggers, and scenesters, it was a quiescent Sunday evening in the hothouse confines of Bushwick's Market Hotel. It had been some time since I last visited the venue which seems to be inextricably linked with my writing career -- my first review was of one of the first Market Hotel shows, back when tres-chic commissary Mr. Kiwi was in its infancy and the neighborhood guys would scowl at you under the El -- and the gradual transformation of the space from the austere remnants of a Dominican social club into one of the city's foremost venues for experimental rock has been something to behold. Aside from the climate control issues, exacerbated by last night's humid conditions, it doesn't get much better than this these days.

Appropriately for a Sunday show, few of last night's players, to employ the old addage, were quite ready for prime time, hearkening back to the venue's roots as a showcase for the less-than-blogworthy. A relatively new collective of musicians, local residents North Highlands opened the show nearly an hour and a half after the doors opened at 9:00 with a corruscating set of Van Morrison-meets-David Crosby-via-Grizzly Bear harmonies, block rocking drums, and Brenda Malvini's tremulously sultry vocals. While Malvini (who doubles on electric piano) seemed to take far too many vocal cues from freak folk stalwart Joanna Newsom for her own benefit at times, her incalculable yet highly mutable stage presence makes this band quite worthy of future attention, and it's more than a pleasure to welcome them at the beginning of a great career. Closing number "Fresca", which found the band members laying down their instruments to partake in some a capella vocal gymnastics, was just the tip of the iceberg. With likeminded groups such as the aforementioned Ursus Aarctos Horribilis and Animal Collective now breaking through the Billboard Top 20, it's only a matter of time before North Highlands supplant them as local faves.

On the contrary, Lubbock's own Diamond Center seemed to take the stage in an atonal necronarcotic haze, the last thing my friends and I were looking to groove to in the oppressive heat. (Sorry, guys!) Although I only stayed for about five minutes of their set, their jagged psychedelic noise/folk-rock places them in the freaky Texas tradition of antecedents like the 13th Floor Elevators and Shiva's Headband. With appearances on NPR and their new record My Only Companion garnering favorable reviews in the indie press, it would be remiss to immediately dismiss them. Expect a review of MoC later this week, and in the meanwhile, check out North Highlands as they emerge from the musical womb.

Spotlight: Coyote Eyes


With unsigned indie bands as prevalent as corner bodegas these days, there's nothing remarkable on the surface about the lapidary, azure sounds of Coyote Eyes. But the Brooklyn-based trio sent me some mp3s in advance of their performance at the Northside Festival later this week, and while I must concede that I'm still digesting their songs, their album (available here) seems very promising. Check out their showcase at Spike Hill this Friday, and be on the lookout for this nascent band's headlining performance at Union Hall on August 29th!