Livemusic 2019 reviews: week 6

My goal for 2019 is to write at least a little something about every show I see, preferably by the next day, we’ll see how it goes. I will compile weekly and post here as-is.

So, in that spirit, this is the sixth of hopefully 52 posts…

5feb19

Four Tet @ Brooklyn Steel

Caught Four Tet last night. He played in a totally dark Brooklyn Steel from the center of the room. Pretty cool, I thought! My review is here: http://thebowerypresents.tumblr.com/post/182606180642/fourtetbksteelreview

6feb19 Dave Harrington/Spencer Zahn/Jeremy Gustin @ Bar LunAtico

It’s entirely possible that I’ve seen and written about Dave Harrington too much in the past week. It’s equally if not more possible that it’s not nearly enough. Not nearly. Sandwiched in between a 3-for-5 showing for his recent Threes residency and a must-see Freaks Ball appearance Saturday, was his regular (I believe regular) 1st-Wednesday-of-the-month show at LunAtico in Bed-Stuy with Jeremy Gustin and Spencer Zahn. What, stay home and miss that?? No way. No way.

I won’t go into gory details, but the room there is tiny and perfect for nights like this, not too many people, everyone had a seat, which is saying something about the intimacy of the show. It really felt like a living room atmosphere. Many of the people in the room weren’t there for the music and couldn’t have given a shit about it and so there was a dichotomy of sound and energy, the back chatty and loose, the front enraptured by the music. That music. The music was ridiculous… this is a trio that is really locked in and getting better and better. Everyone contributes equally and each fascinates in their own way. They definitely played “songs” and definitely took many of them out to a jammy leftfield. The second piece of the first set was just jaw-dropping. Harrington was at his Garcia-meets-Frisell best, Gustin was transfixing, often playing brushes, but these big-ass dust-the-blinds jobbies that he was just pounding away at, windmill style, and Zahn was a freakin motorboat of bass notes, just a constant melodic patter, playing a fretless, there was this smooth jazz feel to it, but somehow in a good way. The first set ended with Harrington on slide doing a version of the James Bond song “Nobody Does It Better” and it was like this song was a big, beautiful antique vase and he just climbed up to the roof and let it drop and shatter into a million pieces. The combination of slide guitar shred and his knob-and-pedal electronics bleeping was kind of mindbending old-meets-new shit. Damn! The not-much-of-a-crowd thinned out for the second set, and then it really felt like a private concert. In true second-set fashion, the jams really loosened up, totally awe-inspiring improvisation. Pretty much blew me away. They played “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” even though it wasn’t even 11pm, and it was a serious chill-out from the peaks-upon-peaks playing up to that point, but gave the trio a chance to make some real beautiful music. I headed out to go and they started up “Pure Imagination” as I was leaving right at 11pm.

Say it often, but it’s amazing what you can walk in off the street and see and hear for a few bucks in a repurposed hat box in this town. I don’t think people who live elsewhere appreciate that, and probably many of the people who live a lot closer than I do to LunAtico do either…

7feb19

Maybird @ Nublu 151

We got to Nublu about midway through the middle band of the bill’s set. That was Star Rover which is Jeremy Gustin on drums and Will Graefe on guitar/vocals. This was my 3rd time seeing Gustin since Saturday and I am not complaining. Gustin seemed to pick right up where he left off at LunAtico the previous night, although in a sort of different setting, with Graefe doing a sort of half-instrumental-guitar/half-experimental-indie thing. Pretty cool set, would definitely check ’em out again.

Rochester’s Maybird turned over the stage in an impressive few minutes and managed to start pretty much at the advertised 10:30pm, didn’t think they would. I thought the first song had some shaky vocals, but that was about the only thing I can say that isn’t synonymous-with-stellar about this set. The band is three guitars, bass and drums, but manage to make some very textured sound, muscular but not overwhelming considering, you know, there are three guitars on stage. It’s good to see a damn good rock and roll band every once in a while and these guys delivered, great songs with some groove, some psych-rock sound, a little country maybe. The three guitars each brought a different feeling and they worked off each other really well. Overhand Sam somehow created sounds that were a mix of sitar and country twang and the rightmost guitarist took some nice solos and then switched over to first pedal steel (yes!) and then some really tasty lap steel. The band did a couple new songs (possibly debuts) which sounded awesome and also took a couple songs, if not “deep,” definitely out for a spin. Their record comes out in March, I believe and I am pretty sure it’s on Danger Mouse’s label/produced by… really looking forward to it. Definitely check these guys out when you get a chance, definitely recommended.

Wayne Krantz/Kevin Scott/Cliff Almond @ 55 Bar

What, you’re surprised? Got to a rather-empty 55 Bar more or less a minute or two before the set started, band already getting ready to go and yet, we walked right up to the front table and had a seat for a good old-fashioned Thursday-night Krantzin’. Scott and Almond are deeply in the mix and they wasted absolutely no time. The opening “Once In a Lifetime” was about 20 minutes long and just a string of stones in a river that they improvisationally hopped across, so expertly, it was just like walking and when they finally got to the other side, bringing back in that Heads riff, it was a classic oh-yeah! moment. Definitely had to check the time after that one. Everything is great, but that was the highlight of the set. What more can I say? I have not regretted a single Wayne-induced bleary-eyed Friday morning since like forever. Making a habit of it, always the highlight of the week. Next Thursday with le Fleming and Almond and, yeah, yeah, yeah, I know it’s 2/14, but you know what they say, Wayne Krantz is for lovers…

8feb19

Boyfriends @ Nublu 151

How many best-show-of-the-year’s can you have in a single week? That was my immediate thought at the end of the show last night at Nublu, after Boyfriends a now-two-gigs-strong “supergroup” of NYC jammers Joe Russo, Ben Perowksy, Josh Kaufman and Stuart Bogie had thoroughly brought the house down. Have I said “holyfuckingshit!” lately?

One of the thoughts I had on the drive home was, like, what kind of music was it? We’re in a very livemusic goldenage here in NYC and it’s fueled by this sort of improvisational sound that is very much a New York thing. It’s something that’s been going on for the past 20+ years, but whatever this “genre” of music is — a sort of jazz/rock/improv/instrumental/world/experimental/jam fusion, there is so much of it right now and it’s all quite amazing. There’s sort of this Knitting Factory/Tonic branch and this Wetlands branch and this DIY Brooklyn branch and this traditional NYC jazz branch and maybe a couple more and they’ve all combined over the years in a sort of musical chemistry set thing and now is home in places like The Stone and Nublu and Threes and other strange corners of the city. What a thrill it is to see all these pieces come together, sometimes seemingly at random, on a single night in a club downtown or in Brooklyn somewhere and just make best-shit-ever kind of music. What a fucking thrill. Enjoy it.

Anyway, so that’s what we had last night, this crazy amalgam of talent on stage. I think further context is important: last week we had this Dave Harrington residency at Threes where he created more than 5 of these little chemistry experiments to great(est) result. Last night felt very much like an extension of that. In fact, the sound very much felt like it could have been made in Threes last week and so, to me, I thought of this show as part of the Harrington residency, as if he had curated this show as well, it had his sound and whims, even though he wasn’t playing in it… even though he had nothing to do with it. When you see as much music in NYC as I do, context is part of the fun. Knowing that Bogie and Russo had played last week with Harrington, having seen Kaufman play with Bonny Light Horseman earlier this month… that all enters the mental algorithm that’s deciphering/interpreting/enjoying-the-fuck-out-of the music that’s being fed into the mainframe. So that’s where we were at last night.

As for the music? Fuck. Yeah. The first set was incredibly, beautifully subdued. For a band with two drummers, two powerhouse drummers, there was an amazing level of nuance and restraint. For all its sort of quiet energy, the music was phenomenal. Pure improvisational music creating such a light, floating energy is not a simple matter, but they made it look easy. Despite the fact that they were a nominally drums/drums/horn/guitar group, there was an incredible amount of variety to it. Throughout the night Bogie played about 8 different instruments: sax, clarinet, flute, synth-bass, keyboards… OK, that was only 5, but I may have missed a couple. Kaufman played both guitar and lap steel and the drummers weren’t just playing drums… they both had rather involved and intricate rigs and Joe had a whole slew of Morf-beat-y kind of implements. So over the course of the show these different elements worked into dozens of permutations, creating sounds that were spacey or funky or straight rocking or make-you-cry gorgeous and all points in between. The other thing about these guys is that in their individually accomplished careers, they all have spent time leading their own bands and also playing in other people’s bands. I was struck by the depths of their interplay, everyone took the lead at varying times during the show, but they also were amazing at complementing each other and the dynamic between leading and following was liquid, it just flowed easily back and forth, as the tides rolled in and out between the four of them.

If the first set was a sort of mellow energy, almost ambient in its foundation, the second set felt like an explosion of this energy… it wasn’t quite a 180 turn, more like a fleshing out of the skeleton established early on. I know a bunch of people left at the break and if you were one of them, you saw an incredible set of music, one of my favorites of the year. But, if you were there for the second set, you got to witness some next-level 4-man wizardry. Because the music was so even-keeled (and so great because of it), the two peaks in the second set (and there were two massive peaks in the second set) felt so earned. By both the band and the audience. Let me just stop and say something about the people in the room last night at Nublu. Wow. Very early in the show it was clear that this was going to be a quiet kind of thing, a show to savor and enjoy mostly through attentive listening and man, did the crowd respond. I couldn’t believe how quiet it got. It was a Friday night and you know how those die-hard Russo heads can be, but damn, did the room just tune in. People would occasionally chat to each other the way people do at shows and even a hushed “hey, I’m going to the bar, want anything?” felt loud and obtrusive. It wasn’t just that they were quiet, it’s that they were zoned in and the music responded to that response to the music and the energy in that room was pretty great. Which isn’t to say that it was all so quiet and subdued, there was plenty of groove, music to move to. But still… so later in the second set when the band unshackled themselves a bit and built to a couple barnburner moments, it was like the first 60 degree day after a long, cold winter and damn, did it feel good.

I’ve loved all 4 of those musicians for a while, but each one of them really impressed me in different ways last night, somehow surprised me in good/great/amazing ways. The way Bogie moved from different instruments seeming expert at all of them, creating all this sonic counterpoint. I mean, doing high-level improv music on the sax is one thing, but he somehow makes me want to hear more clarinet, it sounds like something from an alien disco when he plays it, there were moments when he was basically playing bass parts on the clarinet and damn, that was sweet, and then that fucking flute playing? So ethereally groovy… and perhaps his best moments were later in the second set playing the synth bass while Kaufman took a ridiculous guitar solo, Stuart just locked in on Josh and doing a rather good Lesh-to-his-Garcia thing, but with that lush, synth sound. And what about Josh Kaufman? I first saw him as the bassist in Yellowbirds and always kind of thought of him as a bassist and then a producer who also could play guitar. But something happened in the past 3 years where all of the sudden he’s a go-to guitar shredder. I imagine he always had the skills and is just now gaining a new sort of confidence and respect which has created a little positive feedback loop, because last night was not only as good as I’ve seen him play guitar (and pedal steel, fuuuuck, that was otherworldly == there was a pedal steel vs. clarinet section that was just unlike anything I’ve ever heard, music from through a wormhole), but on par with some of the better guitar nights I’ve seen recently (which is saying something….). Watching Joe and Ben play in the two-drum format and make it sound less like two drummer making a big noise and more like two guitarists trading rhythm and lead duties in a folk-rock band was quite amazing. Joe just doesn’t do the two-drummer thing very often and it’s a shame, because he is perfectly suited for it. His set-up last night was kind of cool, with a large array of toms which he could play both sitting and standing, arranged around his bass drum… and then all these other high-grade pots-and-pans action. It’s amazing to see Russo play with a jazz-great like Ben Perowsky and to see the click like they did last night. And Perowsky is someone you see in a lot of jazz-jazz settings and to see him a bit untethered in this kind of improvisational band and not just play well, but thrive, create, lead, collaborate… well, that’s pretty fucking awesome.

Maybe too much rambling for a Saturday morning, but that was one helluva show. I imagine if/when they play a 3rd gig it will be something completely different just as last night felt like another level from their previous inaugural gig (which was pretty amazing as well). Hopefully it happens someday. But if not, there will be something else with some of these guys in different combinations with the seemingly infinite number of NYC-based whatever-you-wanna-call-it improv scene. Cheers!

9feb19

Phantasos @ Barbes

Yes, I went to a show before the Freaks Ball. Yes, it was worth it. The second of Saturdays-in-Feb residency of this Morphine cover project was much, much better than last week. More people, different (better!) rhythm section, played Cure for Pain straight through… really good. And kind of perfect in that 6–7pm Saturday slot. I wouldn’t be surprised if I talked myself into going back next week. To be determined.

Freaks Ball XIX @ The Bell House

The beauty of a plan coming together…