Friday, July 31, 2009

Featured Concerts: 8/01-8/08

08/06: Lift (DJs: Steve Lowenthal [Swingset Magazine]/Bobbi Lupo [Apartment Show]/Miho Hatori [formerly of Cibo Matto] and Cassie [Vivian Girls])
The Bell House (149 7th Street)
10 PM

Celebrate what would have been Andy Warhol's 81st (!) birthday at the Bell House with a phalanx of leading scenesters. Scheduled activities include a "make your own Brillo box" workshop, screen tests in the style of Warhol's mid-60s oeuvre (these will be posted on the Internet), and -- naturally -- covering the DJ booth in silver foil. About as fabulous as a sweaty August night can get.

08/06: Styles P, Metermaids, NSR, Soulico Crew
Southpaw (125 5th Av.)
$15 adv/$20 door
9 PM

08/07: Freeway, Hezekiah, Kimberly Nicole
Southpaw (125 5th Av.)
$15 adv/$20 door
9 PM

The eclectic Rock the Block Fest juxtaposes gangsta era veterans like Styles P and Freeway with a number of ascendant acts, including the Tel Aviv-based Soulico Crew. Those disenchanted with mainstream hip-hop's recent turn towards the dancefloor will likely enjoy the block rocking beats and erudite rhymes that will predominate here.

: Jonathan Toubin's New York Night Train
Market Hotel (1142 Myrtle Av.)
4 AM

Specializing in danceable soul records from the pre-disco era, Jonathan Toubin's esoteric take on dance music has earned him an avid following in the indie community, with over 600 people crowding into the low-capacity Market Hotel for one of his recent parties. (Toubin also presided over the bacchanalia at The Shank, an ill-fated Williamsburg after-hours club recently chronicled in the New York Press.) While Toubin will be spinning at his monthly Soul Clap & Dance Off at Glasslands earlier in the evening, this Todd P-sponsored after-hours "speakeasy" is bound to be the more exciting event for intrepid partiers.

: Baseline (Pilar Baizan)
Issue Project Room (232 3rd St.)
$12 adv/$15 door
8 PM

Beginning as a video artist, Basque musician Pilar Baizan began to drift into the realm of electronic noise with her Baseline project in the mid-2000s. According to the press release, "she starts working with glitches, field recordings, sounds of synthesis... she manipulates loops and sound fragments to make dense and heavy compositions. She often accompanies her shows with video, which are intended to provide more depth to the sound, an idea which comes from video-art." The concert is but a part of a greater program celebrating avant-garde Basque music, which will also include a lecture (“Sound Art in the Basque Country Today”) by Txema Agiriano and video excerpts from the MEM arts festival.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Titus Andronicus and So So Glos confirmed for new Knitting Factory

Since galvanizing the local live music cognoscenti last year with news of their impending move to Brooklyn, the proprietors of the Knitting Factory have been -- ahem -- taking their time. The Leonard Street venue has remained opened in a diminished capacity throughout the summer, and as per this report, renovations of the erstwhile Luna Lounge space have been occurring at what can best be described as a leisurely pace.

However, it seems that relief is finally in sight. Bushwick-via-Bay Ridge indie punks The So So Glos are teaming up with New Jersey rabblerousers Titus Andronicus for a September sojourn that culminates on October 15 at the new Knitting Factory. (For those who simply can't wait for this pairing of the prolific bands, the tour begins on September 2nd at Monster Island Basement in Williamsburg.) Whether this will be the premiere event at the club is unknown as of yet, but Brooklyn Music will have all the details. In any case, both of these groups are among the best currently operating in the oft-overhyped medium of indie rock, so be sure to give them a listen or two.

Review: My World by Lee Fields & The Expressions

The peripatetic story of Lee Fields is nothing short of a rock and roll cliche on the surface. Emerging in the waning years of the chitlin circuit (a predominantly black network of theaters that included such touchstones as the Regal in Chicago and Harlem's legendary Apollo) in the late 60s and early 70s, the North Carolina-born Fields immediately elicited attention for his gravely, sonorous voice, often likened by neophytes to "a poor man's James Brown". Not only did the Brown comparisons belie melodic gifts that were commensurate to and probably exceeded the Godfather's talents, they precluded him from making any tangible inroads into the music industry -- a couple of ribald singles (1973's "Let's Talk It Over" and 1975's "Funky Screw") notwithstanding, Fields was not coming to a record store near you. Years of relentless touring culminated in the release of Let's Talk It Over in 1979; aside from a tasteful concession to disco ("Wanna Dance"), the album is an anachronistic hodge-podge of mid-60s R&B and primeval uptempo funk (the JBs-esque "Flim Flam", recently sampled by Madlib).

After the obscure 1984 electro foray "Shake It Lady", Fields migrated to Brooklyn and fell off the radar. 1992's Enough is Enough is a risible comeback effort that finds the crooner extemporizing over MIDI tracks, but copies currently fetch upwards of $70.00 on -- a direct result of the return to form that began in earnest with Let's Get A Groove On in 1998. As the lodestar of the Brooklyn soul revival, the album paired the venerable singer with a crack backing group (one that would eventually metamorphose into Sharon Jones's Dap-Kings and the ensemble behind Amy Winehouse on "Rehab") that effortlessly repurposed the dynamics of early funk with the verve of contemporary hip-hop. 2002 brought a further refinement of the retro-tinged sound with Problems, and the recent My World -- recorded in conjunction with his latest band, the Expressions -- finds Fields finally on the precipice of breaking through to the mainstream with his best effort yet.

From the scorching trumpet solo in the opening "Do You Love Me" to the heavily arpeggiated guitars of "These Moments", much of My World showcases the technically sophisticated metier of the Expressions, who clearly operate in the lineage of early Philly soul (think The Delfonics). This could be daunting for a gutbucket-style singer like Fields, but as "Ladies" and "Honey Dove" ably demonstrate, his withered voice can still carry a demanding ballad or two. If those tracks are too ersatz-JB for you, be sure to download "My World Is Empty Without You", a lilting leviathan of sleigh bells, Latin percussion, and choral vocals that (un)intentionally recalls the sui generis of Phil Spector. On a handful of instrumentals, the affected nature of the venture threatens to come to the fore, but the timeless nature of the instrumentation -- heavy on punchy horn arrangements, light on the accouterments of bad 70s production -- will keep the listener returning for more.

All in all, My World -- as belated as it may be -- is a validating gesture for the thousands of soul shouters whose outputs have languished in record bins for the past thirty years. Lee Fields is one of the greats, and after a spin of this nugget, you'll doubtless agree.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Merce Cunningham: 1919-2009

Although he wasn't a musician, renowned choreographer Merce Cunningham -- who died of unspecified causes at his Manhattan apartment Sunday night -- had an indelible impact on the development of experimental music in the late 20th Century. As the life partner of John Cage from the late 1940s to Cage's death in 1992, Cunningham served as one of his most important patrons; concurrent with and after his lifelong collaboration with Cage, Cunningham would choreograph dances to music by David Tudor, Takehisa Kosugi, Gavin Bryars, Mikel Rouse, John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, Radiohead and Sonic Youth.

It was only natural that Cunningham's musical palette would err towards the abstruse and experimental. As a theorist, he shared Cage's dogged beliefs that dance and music should be extricated from their mutual underpinnings in other mediums, and frequently applied the I Ching-and-Zen-informed chance operations devised by his companion to his own work. "It's a very easy way to make decisions -- very simple," Cunningham said in a 1998 interview. "If you can't make up your mind about something, toss a coin and then accept it. Accept it." But in spite of these aleatoric leanings, Marc Swed of the Los Angeles Times described him as an "excellent and extravagant storyteller" not necessarily beholden to the Modernist leanings that shaped his early career. Cunningham's approach was eventually validated by the academy with the Kennedy Center Honors and National Medal of Arts, awards that the intractable Cage was never considered for. Throughout it all, the choreographer maintained his trademark magnanimity. When a party acquaintance lambasted Brooklyn-based Mark Morris -- arguably the heir to Cunningham's legacy as the most visible exponent of experimental contemporary dance -- for his rhythmic, music-based work, Cunningham simply rejoindered that Morris was his friend.

Having collaborated with the New York City Ballet, the Zurich Ballet, and myriad other organizations, Cunningham's company developed a close relationship with the Brooklyn Academy of Music in recent years, premiering important new works in 2003 (Split Sides) and 2009 (Nearly Ninety, performed on his 90th birthday) at the Lafayette Street venue. With Nearly Ninety eliciting some of the best reviews of Cunningham's career, it goes without saying that he will be missed.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Steely Dan-Brooklyn connection

For most people, Steely Dan are synonymous with the studio-bred meticulousness that permeated most California pop records of the 1970s. To this day, the irrefragably good "Do It Again", not to mention the circuitous "Aja" -- among many other songs -- continue to evoke the less than salubrious denizens of otherwise unimpeachable SoCal coastal towns, places like San Pedro and Huntington Beach. Long before American pop culture centered itself on the praxis of deconstructing the motivations of vapid models and pseudo-cult leaders, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were doing it with remarkable acuity.

But before the misanthropic duo embarked on their westward sojourn, Becker and Fagen -- who grew up in the New York suburbs and met as disgruntled students at Bard College in Dutchess County -- served as pioneers in another sense. Popular legend holds that they slummed it out in Brooklyn between 1969 and 1971 while pursuing their mutual dream of attaining success as professional songwriters; according to biographer Brian Sweet, only Fagen lived in the borough (in a President Street apartment with his girlfriend), while Becker stayed with his sister and grandmother in Queens. Although their stay was comparatively short, it was intensely prolific -- in addition to demoing dozens of songs (including "Brooklyn", which later appeared on their Can't Buy A Thrill EP), they toured as backing musicians for Jay & the Americans. Relations between the clean-cut band and the hippieish duo were acrimonious at best -- Jay Black (already ensnared in the gambling addiction that would drive him into bankruptcy) was fond of calling them "the Manson and Starkweather of rock and roll," while Becker and Fagen developed private in-jokes that left other band members on edge. Still, the twosome brought a new spirit to the group's tepid repertoire, adding Motown-style bridges to otherwise banal songs.

In addition to one song ("I Mean to Shine"), the most enduring contribution from the Brooklyn years was the soundtrack to You've Got to Walk It Like You Talk It or You'll Lose That Beat, an obscure film starring Richard Pryor. While the music is far from the sophisticated jazz-rock of later efforts, instrumentals like "Flotsam and Jetsam" -- driven by Fagen's wah-wahed electric piano -- are underpinned by the same bluesy structures that characterize the more accomplished "Reelin' in the Years". The soundtrack is still available as an import -- or, for the more daring, on numerous file sharing sites.

For those who are interested, Steely Dan play the Beacon Theater this week.

Venue Spotlight: Littlefield; Kaki King gets artsy

The economic downturn has had an adverse effect on the local concert scene this summer. At least three major venues (Studio B, Vanishing Point, and the oft-maligned Shank) have either suspended operations indefinitely or closed for good. And while the D.I.Y. spaces -- places like the Market Hotel, Monster Island Basement, and Death by Audio -- continue to draw large (albeit slightly homogeneous) crowds, their programming seems to have ossified into the same retinue of musicians. On the other side of the coin, more business-oriented venues like the Music Hall of Williamsburg and Bell House have severely curtailed their schedules, underscoring the gravity of the situation. It seems absurd to think of a $10 or $15 ticket as a luxury item when even the more respectable heritage acts (such as Bob Dylan & Willie Nelson, whose minor-league ballpark tour is unfortunately bypassing KeySpan Park) charge upwards of $200 for a single seat, but such is the curse of the zeitgeist. Until the storm finally begins to dissipate, it seems that the Brooklyn scene will lie in an odd form of stasis, still the subject of endless media inquisition -- at least until something grander rolls around -- but unable to truly live up to the "music capital of the world" appellation recently bestowed upon the borough by David Harrington of the Kronos Quartet.

Yet even in these trying times, the muses continue to be heard. The heretofore derelict industrial town of Gowanus seems to be supplanting the north Brooklyn corridor as the center for local live performance these days (quite thankfully for south Brooklynites who don't value interminably long late-night subway trips), with the Bell House, Old American Can Factory, and Issue Project Room all in the area. Recently joining their ranks is Littlefield, a performance and art space at 622 DeGraw Street. Like many of the new crop, music is only a part of a multifarious business plan that extends -- according to owners Julie Kim and Scott Koshnoodi -- to "art exhibits, literary events, and film screenings." Over the course of the next month, they will be hosting concerts by the likes of Bernie Worrell's SociaLybrium (July 29th and 30th), teen math-rock stalwarts Fiasco (August 2nd), and local singer-songwriter/busker Kaki King's The Exhibition (August 7th). According to the press release,

Sprung from the idea of using paint to visually represent the wide range of movement of King's virtuosic guitar playing, The Exhibition has now grown to involve much more than just paint. Each artist/fan was given the blank canvas of a guitar to shape, break, build, and form around the theme of a Kaki song of their choice. Hailing from all corners of the United States, each artist has taken his or her guitar in wildly different directions that range from ant farms, to delicate etchings and even to creating an explosion! Many are also incorporating Kaki's hand movement into their design. Follow their progress at the Facebook page.

For more information, click here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Featured Concerts: 7/24-7/31

Rather than assembling a tedious and interminably long calendar in the tradition of previous posts, I've opted to revamp this feature altogether and trim the fat by selecting the best concerts at Brooklyn's leading venues this week. In addition to ogling the accompanying photos, feel free to sound off in the comments if I have been remiss in neglecting your favorite artist!

"Old Rockers Never Die, They Just..."

07/24: Roy Loney & Cyril Jordan of The Flamin' Groovies with The A-Bones, The Underthings
Southpaw (125 5th Av.)
$15 adv/$20 door
8 PM

Despite the confusing moniker foisted upon this concert by its strangely genteel promoter (New York magazine, of all entities), Loney and Jordan are 2/3rds of the original 1965 trio and the primary creative forces behind 1970's Luddite tour de force Teenage Head. For the uninitiated, the Groovies were the lone reactionaries in the San Francisco scene, erring towards a guttural sound that owed more to the histrionics and twangy guitars of Sun Records than "At the Hop"-flavored nostalgia. Providing what will surely be more than proficient backing to these niche legends are The A-Bones, Brooklyn's rough-and-tumble contribution to the original garage rock revival of the 1980s. While fans of the Groovies' later (and better known) incarnation as saccharine profferers of power pop will not be appeased, any fan of traditional rock and roll will appreciate this performance.

"Further Complications..."

07/30: Jarvis Cocker, Little Joy

Music Hall of Williamsburg (66 N. 6th St.):
8 PM
This concert was initially scheduled for Terminal 5, a cavernous and aesthetically inhospitable venue in Midtown. Alas, Cocker's Stateside following has always been marginal at best (he could easily be likened to Ray Davies in this regard), so it was rescheduled for the less capacious Brooklyn venue when ticket sales failed to live up to expectations. First gaining belated fame with Pulp in the 1990s -- they had recorded their first John Peel session in 1981 -- Cocker returns to his melancholic, self-loathing roots with the recent Further Complications, an album that finds him paradoxically incorporating new influences from electro. The show is nominally sold out... but don't be surprised if a few tickets are put up for sale in the hours preceding the concert.

"Our Band Could Be Your Life"

07/25: Museyroom, The Beach Arabs, The Mighty Handful, Banzai
Shea Stadium (85A Debevoise Av.)
< $10
8 PM

Probably the best indie rock show of the week, or at least the most diverse. Museyroom's brand of scintillating post-rock is as danceable as it is prolix, while the Beach Arabs' feral kick will leave any jaded poseur dancing in the aisles. It's also the last performance of the Mighty Handful, a great Park Slope-based ensemble profiled on this blog and in my earlier column, Music Junkie. Considering that half the crowd will probably be on stage by the end, it will be the furthest thing from a requiem mass!

"And Now For Something Completely Different..."

07/31: The Mekons, The Horse's Ha

The Bell House (149 7th Street)
7 PM

The Mekons are the oldest continually active British punk band; over the past thirty years, they've expanded their purview from three-chord thrashers to whiskey-sodden epics. Playing semi-acoustically (in other words, expect the set to be heavy on country), they're paired with The Horse's Ha, a British/American outfit that has fused bossa nova and British folk to considerable acclaim.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Free Concert Roundup

Although midsummer is rapidly approaching, there are still many free -- and local -- performances that can quench your musical thirst in these tough economic times. Here are some of the more intriguing selections that I have yet to cover here.

Met in the Park:

Coffey Park (Red Hook)
Friday, August 14, 2009 at 7 p.m.
Joyce El-Khoury, soprano ; Keith Miller, bass; Vlad Iftinca, pianist; Damon Gupton, host
No, it is not a full-scale Metropolitan Opera performance, but the opportunity to see two of the world's finest opera singers in a Red Hook park should not be disavowed. The repertoire is still TBA, making it even more of a delectable surprise.

CityParks Foundation:

Red Hook Park & Recreation Center
Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 7 p.m.
DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Danny Castro

One of the seminal figures of contemporary turntablism (Premier) teams up with underground hip-hop's finest producer (Pete Rock) for what should be an exhilerating performance.

Brower Park (Crown Heights)
Wednesday, July 29, 2009 at 7 p.m.
Wayne Wonder

The progenitor of reggae/dancehall's cross-pollination with R&B earlier this decade, Wayne Wonder was an important influence on Shaggy and Sean Paul. You may remember his 2003 hit "No Letting Go".

Marty Golden's Summer Concert Series:

Shore Road Park (Bay Ridge -- 79th Street entrance)
Tuesday, July 28, 2009 at 7 p.m.
France Joli

Best known for her 1979 hit "Come to Me", France Joli -- whose career received an unanticipated boost when she was asked to fill in for Donna Summer at a Fire Island party -- was one of the last disco divas.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Jazz continues at Alta Voce

Just a reminder that Park Slope's Alta Voce restaurant (318 5th Avenue) is continuing to offer live jazz on Wednesday nights from 8:00 to 10:30. This week, vocalist Tierney Ryan is performing with accompanists Yuki Yamiguchi (piano) and Chris Davidson (drums). After a performance by Ayako Shirasaki and Sanae Kojima next week, the venue will be hosting return engagements by the Audrey Silver Trio, Nell Rumbaug, and Christian Nourijanian. There is no set cover, although management asks that patrons maintain a two drink minimum at the bar or a $15 tab in the restaurant area. For more information, click here.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Spank Rock triumph (and nearly get arrested), Built to Spill as dulcet as ever at Siren 2009

With temperatures hovering in the low eighties and the beach draped in crimson twilight, one could not have asked for more favorable weather at the conclusion to this year's Siren Music Festival. While the pernicious stomach flu kept me from catching some of the estimable (and yes, not-so-estimable) acts earlier in the day, I mustered just enough strength to catch the festival's headliners -- wizened rockers Built to Spill (at the main stage) and Baltimore club outfit Spank Rock (at the cavernous Stillwell stage, adjacent to Nathan's and the boardwalk).

One of the last vestiges of the nineties alt-rock exposition -- like the Flaming Lips, they were granted unusual creative autonomy by Warner Brothers -- the former group melds hallucinatory, Neil Young-via-Guided By Voices guitars to the broodingly ethereal vocals of world's sexiest vegetarian Doug Martsch. Yet their widespread appeal has always eluded me, and the Siren set -- which captured Martsch looking more haggard than ruggedly masculine -- was almost akin to the paint-by-numbers performance of a heritage act. The opening "Liar" and playfully wry "Dystopian Dream Girl" were immediate standouts, and the nature of the free show absolved any complaints of their merit, but it was still fairly underwhelming. That the reverent crowd skewed relatively young was a surprise that still mystifies over a day later.

By and large the most eclectic act of the indie-centric festival, Spank Rock demonstrated that they've still retained their ribald edge some three years after the release of the incendiary YoYoYoYo. Frontman Naeem Juwan has acquired a Sly Stone-like reputation for missing gigs in some circles, and the collective's (an ever rotating line-up ensures that they are not a band in the traditional sense) dearth of new recordings over the past two years left me expecting the worst. Undoubtedly aware of these perceptions, Juwan and company were exceptionally punctual, taking the stage to the strains of B.T. Express's "Peace Pipe" at their scheduled time of 8 PM. Looking more gaunt and emaciated than usual, Juwan was a spectral force at the show, ceding control after the first four songs to local rap legends Ninjasonik and regular collaborator Amanda Blank (whose solo debut I Love You -- co-produced by Brooklyn wunderkind Dave Sitek -- is dropping on August 4th). Clad in one of her trademark black minidresses, the vampish Blank was the unquestionable highlight of the show, exuding a feral presence that only upped the ante for Juwan -- who was subsequently escorted away from the stage by security.

The final verdict? After two lackluster years, Siren seems poised to reclaim its status as one of the nation's finest free music festivals.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Review: Rated O by Oneida

Part of this post is sheer repentance. Since going pro about a year and a half ago, I've relentlessly harangued Brooklyn-based Oneida for their amelodic diffidence. While I tend to favor music with repetitive structures, their faux-krautrock was never appealing to me -- the best tracks were merely odious, while the worst were flagrant emulations of Ash Ra Tempel and Amon Duul tracks that were close to my heart. But on their newest release, Rated O -- a sprawling triple album issued last week on Jagjaguwar Records -- they have crafted their finest statement, a diaphanous mess in the storied tradition of Exile on Main St. and Zen Arcade that somehow congeals into the best Brooklyn-related album of the year.

As many of their contemporaries (from Grizzly Bear to Animal Collective to the eccentrics in Gang Gang Dance) have embraced the trenchant winds of conformity, Oneida have not lost sight of their contrarian cusp-of-the-decade roots, taking their porous inscrutability to new heights here. With so many ensembles burning out and fading away into the depths of the noosphere after an album or two, they've remained steadfastly indefatigable. Like Exile, it is sequenced in genre-pillaging segments of three or four songs. The madcap electro sequence of "Brownout in Lagos", "What's Up, Jackal?", and "10:30 at the Oasis" may be their most confident and exigent work yet, while "The River" and "I Will Haunt You" are room-clearing classic rock mutations that find the band as sprightly as ever. The concluding "Folk Wisdom" stands as both a recapitulation and an invocation to something new.

As accessible as it is prolix, here's hoping that more artists follow in this album's vanguard lead.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

MyPod: "When I'm Gone" by Vivian Girls

Last year, Brooklyn-via-New Jersey transplants Vivian Girls attracted international acclaim for their eponymously-titled, self-released debut, which fetched upwards of $100 on Ebay until reissued by In the Red Records last autumn. The reason is simple -- while we armchair critics can harrangue Grizzly Bear or the Dirty Projectors for their falsely portentious solipsism, liken Here We Go Magic's Luke Temple to a poor man's David Crosby (actually, Vini Reilly may be more analogous... and quite frankly, Temple's preferable to both), or scoff at the media machinations behind the Pains at Being Pure At Heart, the Girls are like buttah. Shambolic and fecklessly ambulatory in the way that is practically synonymous with good rock and roll -- a quality lost on the neo-shoegazers -- they are one of the few contemporary local bands that have the capability to be transcendent. Which is saying a lot, considering that drum kits and electromechanical guitars seem as anachronistic as a 57' Chevy in the touch-screen milieu of 2009.

"When I'm Gone" is the debut single from the gals' upcoming Everything Goes Wrong, and as I prognosticated in an earlier post, the cover art's desert landscape hinted at a marked change in musical direction. This seems to have boded out, for while "Tell the World" and "Where Do You Run To" were lapidary Brooklyn/Spector/Velvets cool, scuzzy and compressed, the new track is more indicative of a West Coast spaciousness. Primitivism may still be the motto on paper, but the guitars and bass have taken on a symphonic flair that recalls the formative efforts of Brian Wilson. The effect is startlingly divisive; at moments, they sound like the best band in the world, while the desperate lyrics and indifferent drumming suggest all the end-of-the-road ennui of an overhyped punk group.

Judge for yourself here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Full BEMF line-up announced

After reports surfaced that such notables as the Juan MacLean and RJD2 would be playing the Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival last week, it seemed like the yearly shindig was coalescing into a major event. And while the latter artist has been dropped from the bill for unspecified reasons (either way, it doesn't augur well for future hip-hop/dance collusions...) the full bill adequately compensates for the loss by adding some of the borough's best emerging dancefloor mavens. Granted, Young Love -- who err more towards rock and are arguably best known for enlisting Terry Richardson to direct a video several years ago -- are something of a baffling choice, but Designer Drugs' patented neo-Mudd Club sound is sure to figure heavily in the post-electro haze. The indoor/outdoor event -- held at the Old American Can Factory in Gowanus -- will also feature such Studio B staples as DJ Ayres and Rosie Cottontail, and the commentators on BrooklynVegan are already speculating that LCD Soundsystem, The (long-defunct) Rapture, or even Daft Punk may be among the surprise guests. (Because of the MacLean presence, we're betting on the first... but who knows.) Tickets for the 12-hour event are priced at a reasonable $25, so it may be a worthwhile investment for the budget-conscious.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Crate Dig: Legends of Benin

Bordering Nigeria and Burkina Faso, Benin exemplifies the plight of third world nations in the post-colonial era. With half of the population living under the international poverty line (a measly $1.25 a day), the fact that this nation has emerged as a musical hotbed over the past three decades is all the more amazing. After the Kerekou regime began to loosen its totalitarian stranglehold in the late 70s and early 80s, musicians influenced by trends in African-American and Jamaican music were finally accorded the chance to record. These primordial attempts are captured on the recent Legends of Benin compilation, currently a staff pick at Sound Fix Records in Williamsburg.

The richly textured nature of this compilation is quite evident in the programming, which opens with the ersatz reggae-meets-Calling Out of Context Arthur Russell of Gnnonas Pedro, weaves its way into a straightforward early 70s James Brown pastiche -- down to the grunts (El Regno Et Ses Commandos' "Feeling You Got") -- and culminates in the pan-African JB/highlife/juju fusion of Antoine Dougbe's output ("Kovito Gbe De Towe" is the standout here). It's quite remarkable stuff, and unlike other Afrobeat recordings that seem strained by commercial concessions, this is the pure stuff. With the influence of Afropop looming heavily over many of today's most popular groups and the original artists no longer subject to occidential pillaging, it wouldn't be surprising if this compilation elicited a mini-Buena Vista Social Club ripple and brought these artists back from obscurity.

First Pool Party A Smash

After weeks of torrential rain and scaremongering on the part of overzealous scenesters, I fully expected the first Pool Party at Williamsburg's East River State Park (held yesterday) to be rather underwhelming. Instead, with a somewhat superfluous VIP area -- come on, guys, it's a free show -- and perhaps too many accouterments (outside of the main concert area, the music seemed rather peripheral... which wasn't necessarily a bad thing, as you will see) going on in the shadows of a seemingly abandoned condo development (see Eagle article from last week), the setting was somewhat surreal. Only a rusting fence lined with bikes prevented the confluence of big business and the unpaved lot adjoining the condo complex.

Overall, the event was something of a smash. Admittedly, Ponytail have never been my cup of tea. When seeing them open for Jens Lekman on two hours' sleep last fall at CMJ, I remarked to my improbable show buddy -- a recently laid off investment banker -- in an oh-so-obstreperous manner that there were several teen garage bands who could play much better. Ten months later, one must still get acclimated to Molly Siegel's onomatopoeic vocals and the breakneck pseudo-Pixies guitars, but constant touring has improved their sense of dynamics to the point where you could almost take them home to grandma. Furthermore, the lack of dissimilarity between songs was oddly appropriate at this event: there was enough primal energy for a mosh pit to get started in the main stage area, but those wishing to get overpriced burgers, play dodgeball (couldn't the hipsters have chosen golf or something less taxing as their international sport?) and Cafe Bustelo tote bags could appreciate the onslaught from afar on a purely musical level.

After hitting up the book vendors on Bedford Avenue -- for those not in the know, their selections are comparable to and often exceed the Strand... with none of the fuss and smugness -- I returned to hear Marty Markowitz's requisite speech being looped and electronically mangled by Mission of Burma sound engineer Bob Weston, presumably the latest demonstration of Marty's new avant-garde cred. While I didn't get to actually see their set, as the view was blocked by burger cooks, the veteran post punk group blended old 80s favorites ("Einstein's Day") and more unfamilar new material (with a clear dance influence) in a stunning demonstration of their relevancy. With contemporaries Sonic Youth just shy of geezer status at this point, seeing these fiftysomethings hold their own with much younger groups was quite validating. Here's a video.

All in all, a good time was had by all.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

More information about It Came From Brooklyn

As I reported quite tentatively last month, It Came From Brooklyn is a new monthly program at the Guggenheim that will showcase the best writers and musicians from what is already being heralded as "the Brooklyn renaissance". The first event, scheduled for August 15th, will pair veteran stalwarts The Walkmen with Bed-Stuy-based experimental duo High Places, best known for touring with the likes of Ponytail and Dan Deacon. Rounding out the bill is the BAM-funded, internationally-acclaimed Brooklyn Steppers Marching Band (in a nice acknowledgment that not all of the artistic fecundity in the borough is inextricably tied to the hipster scene) and writers Colson Whitehead (who will be reading some Walt Whitman in between the musical performances) & Leo Allen.

In response to earlier reports about Grizzly Bear having been tentatively scheduled for the event, Guggenheim special events director Bronwyn Keenan said that "Grizzly Bear were never confirmed for August or since. They were the one item on our wish list that had the misfortune of ending up on our website under our 50th activities for literally 24 hours. As it goes, it was picked up as a story and the rest is history." Keenan promises "a great line-up" for the September showcase, so stay tuned.

Marty Markowitz approves Issue Project grant

Borough President Marty Markowitz's affinity for music is well known. Beginning in his State Senate days, Markowitz began sponsoring the free summer concert series that eventually mutated into Celebrate Brooklyn, bringing artists as disparate as Beth Orton, David Amram, MGMT, and King Sunny Ade to Prospect Park. While his trademark opening histrionics may elicit snarls from jaded transplants at these concerts as of late, there's something truly ineffable about what Markowitz does. Occassional blunders like the Atlantic Yards farrago notwithstanding, he's arguably done more than any other individual to -- if I may paraphrase another city's anti-gentrification slogan -- "keep Brooklyn weird" in spite of major obstacles.

As reported on this blog last month, Gowanus avant-garde performance space Issue Project Room faced an uphill battle in renovating their new home at the erstwhile Board of Education headquarters at 110 Livingston St. Despite successful benefits and strong word-of-mouth, the project seemed doomed to fall behind schedule until Markowitz -- as reported by the New York Times -- recently approved a $1.13 million grant to the institution, covering all but a few hundred thousand dollars estimated for the project to go forward. According to Brooklyn Vegan, the grant was allocated from a $37 million capital fund, monies from which are distributed at Markowitz's discretion. Here's a video of the ever ebullient beep talking about the venue a few months back. It may be a far cry from the days when borough presidents wielded tremendous political leverage as members of the Board of Estimate, but decisions like these demonstrate that he's far more than a glorified cheerleader.

With the cash-straddled Brooklyn Philharmonic relegated to backing indie bands these days, the Issue Project Room is one of the few venues of its kind in the city. Kudos to him for this generous gift, and let's make sure that these spaces thrive.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Full Siren Festival Preview

While hardly the most influential or intriguing Brooklyn musical event of the year, the annually fledgling Siren Music Festival (scheduled for next Saturday) invariably draws legions of fans. To avoid the pedestrian and potential rail gridlock at Stillwell Avenue, here are the scheduled set times for each artist, along with my picks.

Main Stage (@ West 10th and Surf Avenue):

1:00 PM: Tiny Masters of Today
2:00 PM: Micachu & the Shapes
3:00 PM: Japandroids*
4:00 PM: Frightened Rabbit
5:00 PM: Grand Duchy (* -- with qualifications)
6:00 PM: The Raveonettes*
7:30 PM: Built to Spill

Stillwell Stage (at the subway complex):

1:30 PM: The Blue Van*
2:30 PM: Bear Hands*
3:30 PM: Thee Oh Sees*
4:30 PM: Future of the Left
5:30 PM: A Place to Bury Strangers
6:30 PM: Monotonix*
8:00 PM: Spank Rock*

Reverent indie elder statesmen Built to Spill are headlining the main stage, relegating The Raveonettes -- critical darlings of the mid-2000s, hanging on by a thread today -- to the secondary spot. Frankly, their piquantly postmodern take on Spector far outshines the deafening Wall of Sound of likeminded local gents A Place..., so be sure to catch their set. Japandroids are oversaturating the market fo sho, but their atavistic garage rock has captured my soul in a manner not seen since the breakthrough of the Vivian Girls nearly a year and a half ago. My advice -- acquiesce to their charmingly discomforting lack of charm. As Frank Black's songs were first inculcated into my impressionable brain nearly two decades ago, the sentimentalist in me will likely scope out his new Grand Duchy project -- even if his hoarsened voice and newly pliant countenance suggest middle-aged ennui. Monotonix and The Blue Van are both out to demystify the ineffable funk of 50s R&B, but The Blue Van wear their Small Faces pride on their sleeves -- I fully expect them to be the breakout act of the festival. And local heroes Bear Hands are among the more underrated acts of the Brooklyn renaissance.

My suggested itinerary:

The Blue Van
Bear Hands
Hit the beach
Grand Duchy (or continue swimming)
The Raveonettes
Spank Rock

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Review: New Denver by Motel Motel

Although they've yet to attain canonical word-of-mouth status, Brooklyn-based Motel Motel may be the best band you've never heard of. While the band prefers to categorize their putatively ramshackle sound as "folk-rock" and often liken themselves to Gram Parsons and Townes Van Zandt, this superficial categorization belies a world of influences that audibly range from The Pixies -- vocalist Eric Engel is Frank Black's misbegotten musical son -- to Tom Waits and the ethereal discord of Talk Talk's final releases.

Boldly schewing the traditionalist streak of most heartland groups, their most recent release -- 2008's New Denver, reissued this week on Rebel Group after a favorably-received tour that culminated in a homecoming performance at the Bowery Ballroom last week -- blends blocks of airy orchestration with rustic plaintiveness and a minimalist lyrical mindset that never strays far from Brooklyn in one of the defining artifacts of the contemporary scene. The epic "Tammy's Bodega" recasts "Where Is My Mind" in the superego's lambent glow, building from a quietly schizophrenic shuffle into an anthemic rocker over the course of seven minutes. "Mexico" is a frontier ballad of the soul that Townes (and possibly Parsons in his Nudie suit/Burrito Brother phase) would have doubtless appreciated, but Engel's pugnacious vocals owe more to the chamber-pop milieu of urban Brooklyn than any singular backwoods force. For iTunes/eMusic enthusiasts, the lightly-orchestrated "Virginia" reins in the group's more eccentric tendencies, delivering veiled optimism in the sanguine hue of the Flaming Lips. Whether you like them or loathe them, it seems that Motel Motel have already escaped the stylistic cul de sac that has ensnarled so many of their peers.

Weekly Show Calendar

Have a venue that you want covered? Email us at

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)

Trash Bar: 256 Grand St. (L to Bedford/J or M to Marcy)

Trash Bar:

07/09: King Fury, Fattooth, Super Potent Death Baby, The Mighty Pragmatics, Casual Acquaintance
8 PM


07/11: The Shills, Ellis Ashbrook, Social Hero, Thick As Thieves, I Love Monsters, Ashes
8 PM


07/13: The J.S.E., Sumo, The False Alarms, Tyler Rivenbark
8 PM

Public Assembly:

07/08: Haircut, Hugo, Project, Galapagos Now, Stark & Nemo
8 PM


: Shadow Box, Cinema, Cinema, DeVries, Heliotropes, By Night of Spear, Gracefully
8 PM

07/10: Female Singer-Songwriter Showcase: Ariel Lask, Melanie Edwards, The Great Republic of Rough and Ready
6:30 PM

Studio B:

07/11: Down and Derby Rollerdisco
10 PM
$5 advance/$5 skate rental

07/12: Tragedy, Morne, Blacklisted, Brainkiller, others
7 PM

Music Hall of Williamsburg:

07/07: Richard Cheese, Natalie Gelman
8 PM

07/08: Handsome Furs, Dri, The Cinnamon Band
8 PM

07/09: mewithoutYou, The Deer Hunter, Kay Kay and his Weathered Underground
7:30 PM

07/10: Future Rock, Orchard Lounge, Digital Frontier, DJ Tucci
8 PM
$14 adv/$16 door

Todd P. Presents:

07/11: Parts & Labor, Fiasco, Big Bear, Child Bite, Birdcage
Market Hotel
8 PM
$7-$20 sliding scale

07/12: Drunkdriver, Total Abuse
Market Hotel
2 AM


07/08: Tanya Morgan, Marco Polo, Torae
8 PM
$10 adv/$12 door

07/09: St. Cloud, Analogue Transit
8 PM

(*) 07/10: Those Darlins, The So So Glos, We Are Country Mice
8 PM

A Bill Graham-esque lineup brings an acclaimed Nashville alternative country-cum-indie pop trio (Those Darlins) together with one of Brooklyn's preeminent noise-punk groups (the So So Glos) and another local band (We Are Country Mice) indebted to both traditions but erring towards the former. Perhaps not as daring and outre as Graham's 1969 pairing of The Who and swing-era legend Woody Herman at the Fillmore West, but you get the idea.

Union Hall:

07/10: Jason Lytle, The Albertans
8 PM

07/11: The Friggs, Jesse Bates and His Flying Guitars
8 PM
$8 advance/$10 door

07/15: Hawk & Dove, Mr. Gnome
7:30 PM

Bell House:

MIA Riddle, Bon Savants, Patrick Bower and The World Without Music
7:30 PM

07/10: The Brunettes, Great Lakes, Sharon Von Etten, Animal Hands

8 PM


Monday, July 6, 2009

Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival returns with starrier line-up

Last year, the Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival attracted a motley but devoted retinue to The Yard, near Carroll Gardens. While there are plenty of free concerts this summer, this year's iteration of the festival -- announced last week for August 8th -- may be worthy of those additional $25 laying around in your penny jar. Confirmed thus far for the fledgling festival, moved indoors this year to the Old American Can Factory (232 3rd Street), are instrumental hip-hop pioneer RJD2 and the live incarnation of the Juan MacLean, whose last album (The Future Will Come) earned favorable notices in Music Junkie earlier this spring. While I would reserve from buying tickets until more headliners are announced, this is shaping up to be an interesting event!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

BrooklynBio: The Mystery of Grandmaster Flowers

Working in an era where their sociocultural stratum was plagued by gang violence and urban decay, many of the New York-based pioneers of hip-hop and dance music operated under a veil of secrecy. The block parties that served as the birth pang of hip-hop and the dance incubators of SoHo were more than merely parties and clubs -- they were refuges from such virulent forces of homophobia and compulsory braggadocio, where even the toughest B-boy could lock and pop to the JB's "Monorail". As glorified saloonkeepers who hardly saw themselves as enduring historical figures, the founding fathers of these respective movements -- whose paths commingled and dovetailed more frequently than the prematurely revisionist record led earlier generations to believe -- were largely forgotten until recent years, when ethnographers like Tim Lawrence brought such seminal figures as David Mancuso and Nicky Siano from the microfiche collection at the New York Public Library to VH1. Even still, figures are bound to get lost in the shuffle, and despite valiant efforts by the few who remember him, Grandmaster Flowers will probably remain not much more than an enigmatically fading memory.

Here's what we know about the elusive DJ:

  • In 1969, Flowers -- who was reportedly based in central Brooklyn -- opened for James Brown at Yankees Stadium. That a regional performer opened for Brown is rather peculiar in the context of the times, and the fact that the trend-saavy Brown hired a DJ (instead of a band) suggests that the influence of the discotheque had already become pervasive by 1969 -- three years before Vince Aletti's seminal article on the trend in Rolling Stone.
  • During the warmer months, Flowers and a coterie of earlier mobile DJs (also including Pete DJ Jones, Maboya, and DJ Plummer) would play spontaneous and semi-illicit gatherings at Riis Park in the Rockaways, Prospect Heights' St. Mark's Park, assorted Brooklyn schoolyards (with the P.S. 92 yard figuring most prominently), and Prospect Park. According to Mike Barnes, a member of the message boards who has done much to preserve the legacies of Flowers and other DJs whose careers defy the traditional bifurcation between disco and hip-hop, "Cats from Brooklyn would not fess when it came to traveling to other parts of New York to rock a spot or park throwdown."
  • According to Paradise the Architect from early 90s Afrocentric group X-Clan, "In Brooklyn, Flowers was to brothers in Brooklyn what Kool Herc was to brothers in the Bronx. Everybody loved and followed Flowers." After drug addiction forced Flowers into vagrancy and destitution in the early 90s, X-Clan took Flowers on the road with them as their sound engineer.
  • In addition to gigging at many Bronx proto-hiphop clubs, Flowers held down regular residencies at Panorama on Flatbush Avenue and the Blue Maze on Nostrand Avenue (popular discos that mainly catered to a straight African-American clientele) and worked at Downstairs Records (a specialist shop popular among early dance spinners).
  • As a primarily mobile DJ who played for a diverse range of audiences, Flowers was expected to be conversant in numerous styles -- and boast a sound system that could compete with the city's finest underground clubs. According to DJ Poppysoul, another DHP poster and veteran of the era, "Not only could Flowers and [Pete] Jones throw down on the turntable and rock a party, they had truly incredible sound systems and excelled at turning a plain space into something that resembled the Garage. Massive speaker stacks with subs you could walk into, horns you see in arenas, tweeters, speakers and more tweeters and speakers would be spread all around the ballroom, the park, etc., all connected with what seemed like Con-Ed feeder cable to four and five way active amp racks. There was no full range and a sub thing going on. Parties back in the day were really more like a cultural religious concert of sorts. Grandmaster Flowers was the first guy I ever heard scratch or cut if you prefer. It was back @ The Stardust Ballroom. The record he used was "Apache" [a staple of Nicky Siano's 1972-73 Gallery sets that later popularized by hip-hop "founding father" Kool Herc during his "Merry Go Round" mix of James Brown's "Give It Up Or Turn It Loose" and "The Mexican" by English prog-rock group Babe Ruth]. Talk about being amazed. The moment is forever etched in my mind. I used to say to myself I want to be like these guys when I grow up. My subsequent thought was where in the world will I get the cash to buy all that equipment (now called gear) they had?"
  • Tellingly, Kool Herc views the early mobile jocks like Flowers in a more circumspect fashion. "I used to hear the gripes from the audience on the dancefloor," he recalls. "Even myself, 'cause I used to be a breaker (breakdancer). Why didn't the guy let the record play out? Or why cut it off there? So with that, me gathering all this information around me, I say: 'I think I could do that'. Although hip-hop likely would not have coalesced into a genre without the contributions of the mobile DJs -- who brought funk and early disco records to some of the most economically depreciated areas of New York City -- Flowers' affinity for mixing and beatmatching records (like the gay club DJs) separated and eventually alienated him from the later generation of cutup-oriented jocks (who creatively looped the percussive breaks instead of playing whole records). Despite this, a tape from a St. Mark's Park performance in 1979 demonstrates that Flowers had integrated certain hip-hop flourishes -- MCing, limited scratching, and a greater propensity of break-oriented records (as opposed to the four-on-the-floor metier of disco that was then in vogue) -- into his sets. Barnes corrobrates this assessment and speaks of a "battle" between Grandmaster Flash (who omitted any reference of his namesake in his recent memoir) at the Stardust Ballroom in the late 70s where "Flash was doing alot of tricks (cutting, scratching, rocking the breaks of plates [records], etc.) while Grandmaster Flowers was mixing and blending plates ([but] rocking the breaks of plates too)."
  • According to Tony Smith, a peripheral DJ in the disco scene who asserts that it was possible that Flowers -- and not the canonical Francis Grasso -- was the first DJ to beat-match records, "He was the best, but he was most egotistical, too. He was a bastard. He just wasn’t nice to you. He wanted to be so exclusive. He wanted to be the best and I guess and he thought that’s the way he had to be to be the best."
  • On the Ilixor boards, PappaWheelie reports that "At a lecture about hip hop history at the Brooklyn public library the lecturer was interupted, while claiming hip hop to have originated out in the Bronx, by an angry man claiming hip hop to have started out in Brooklyn. After gaing the attention of the crowd the man, whose name escapes me now, proceded to produce photos and a flyer, both dated 1968, of Grandmaster Flowers rocking a party of thousands in Brooklyn and in the front row are what appeared to be bboys uprocking. Who knows, it might just turn out to be that Brooklyn keeps on makin it and its the Bronx that keeps on takin it."
What are we to conclude from these nebulous (and seemingly improbable) accounts?

  • Breakdancing began at Grandmaster Flowers' Brooklyn-based parties, which were already enjoying a considerable following by 1968. (What were they dancing to? Dyke and the Blazers? Southern soul?)
  • Grandmaster Flowers was so popular among inner city audiences that he opened a stadium show for James Brown in 1969 and -- his extreme arrogance notwithstanding -- inspired numerous DJs in the five boroughs.
  • Incensed by the disco tendencies of Flowers and his older brethren, a younger generation of jocks (led by breakdancer Kool Herc) began to isolate the percussive breaks in dance records. The birth pang of hip-hop.
  • Flowers solidified his connections with the predominantly gay downtown party network (namely Larry Levan and Francois Kevorkian) while still playing to the putatively "declasse" inner-city audience.
  • Hip-hop and dance music are so much more related than their exponents care to admit.
And that, as they say, is that.