Livemusic2019 reviews, week 23

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 twenty-third of hopefully 52 posts…

4Jun19 Ages and Ages @ Rough Trade

After a weekend filled with jams! jams! jams! it was a nice respite to just catch an hour set of indie rock in a quarter-filled Rough Trade last night, I have to say. I’ve really been digging the new album from Ages and Ages (definitely suggest checking it out) and was happy that they did not disappoint live. Their music is a very happy, occasionally euphoric indie, 2 or 3 guitars, bass, drums and some synth, 6 members. They are from Portland, OR and they felt very Portland, like something out of the mid-2000’s. There were shades of early Arcade Fire and Decemberists and maybe even a little Malkmus in their sound, but while their songs had serious subject matter, they didn’t take themselves too seriously. Mostly their music is catchy as hell and live they were kind of easy to love. Everything was good and then every once in a while they’d border on great. The guitars had this sinewy, jangly feel to them, Sasha likened it to Cate Le Bon’s sound and that was an apt comparison. The crowd was light, sure, but they were enthusiastic as hell and totally into the music… I mean, I’d rather be a part of a quarter-filled room on a Tuesday night where no one was chatting and giving the band lots of love compared to a full room where no one is paying attention… not sure the band would agree, but I think they appreciated the crowd. They basically played stuff off the new album, started at 9:30, done at 10:30, home by 11:30… sometimes you need an easy night of feel-good, hook-driven music. Would definitely see them again. Early set in a festival setting would be a perfect role for them.

6Jun19 K3: Wayne Krantz, Tim Lefebvre, Keith Carlock @ Iridium (late set)

I often wonder about the band Darwinism that leads to certain musicians finding each other, musicians that have that magic together that other bands just don’t have, like… what twist of fate brings John, Paul, George and Ringo into the same city, same room, same band together? What happens if it doesn’t? There are bands and then there are bands and when something just transcends, well, maybe there is no science to it, just sit back and enjoy. That’s the way I feel about Wayne Krantz, Tim Lefebvre, Keith Carlock. These are guys that are clearly meant to play together, that transcend even their own insurmountable talents. The fact that they used to play weekly for $15 in a room like 55 Bar seems like some mistake of the universe, like how did I happen to live at the same time, in the same city as those three when they were together in that place. That $15 used to get you music and two drinks, by the way. Seems like a dream from another person’s reality to me. They got so good, they stopped calling it “Wayne Krantz” and started calling it “K3.” In fact, they were so good, they might have been the only band I know that had to stop playing because they were too good, Wayne uninterested in growing or touring, content in his happy home at 55 Christopher, the other two found their success elsewhere, too good and too much potential to stay put. Still, they got together every once in a while, “K3 is back, baby!” and when they got back together they usually played in bigger rooms, to make it an event, to accommodate the crowds, the throngs, that wanted to experience that magic once again. They played at Tribeca Rock Club and Highline Ballroom and Sullivan Hall and proved that outside the confines of 55 Bar, their music, beyond its brainmelting bombast, was also, perhaps surprisingly, dance music. Those shows were amongst the best K3 played, with proper tapers and big crowds and not even close to a step down from their 55 gigs. They were events.

The last time these guys played together was back at 55 Bar, a couple years back. That was awesome, too, fit right in with the rest of the Krantz gigs, now, once again, not only a weekly occurrence, but weekly must see TV, the Cosby Show and Seinfeld and Cheers all rolled into one $15 ticket at the door. Truth be told, the last couple of years in Krantzville has been, to me, nearly as good as the K3 days. Perhaps not as consistently through-the-wormhole as those shows, but, with Wayne casting a wider net, building a “family” of musicians and interchanging the parts, he’s created what seems to be an infinite-possibilities situation, a true never-know-what-you’re-going-to-get or how your mind is going to get crushed within the three-pronged vice of guitar/bass/drums. In many ways, it’s more interesting, more without-a-net, the payoffs greater, the energy as thrilling as anything you can find in this city or beyond.

Into this steps a return engagement of K3 at the Iridium. I mean… yes, of course, sign me up, but… good lord, anywhere but a crummy jazz club in midtown, man!

A few notes on the music: I was fascinated that Wayne chose to play from his standard “modern day” setlist and not go back to the “classics.” I mean, there is some old material in the 2019 repertoire, but they didn’t go too deep. I actually liked this, but found it pretty interesting. So you had Keith and Tim reading off sheet music from time to time, which is not a typical sight. Wayne was great, but really I was zoned in on the rhythm section the entire time. I was thinking during the show about what bass/drum pairs I’d pick over those two, I mean all time, I would put them up against any two you selected and I think maybe I’d come out a winner. Both of them having now spent a lot of time in big theaters and arenas and festivals, to seem them bring those experiences back and flex their old muscles was a treat. And, oh!, what muscles they have… Keith Carlock is just a phenom. So much going on, to look at his drumsticks in real time is to see the blur of a poor photograph of something in constant motion, a hummingbird’s wings for 80 minutes straight. Lefebvre was the leader of the set, I thought, the driver and the passenger, the engine and the steering wheel. From afar you could have easily convinced yourself that this was his band and he played like it was. To see him play like that was to see all the potential of the instrument, the past, present and future of the electric bass in all its glory. It gets little better than that, I hope you were there to see it.

The other thing that just killed me about how awesome the music was was how little time they needed to fuck shit up. You go see Wayne play now with the best of the best and they’ll stretch out for 10, 15 minutes at a clip and go all over the place. Whether by design or not, last night’s songs were more in the 6–8 minute range, half as long, but twice as potent. Each one hit a certain critical mass, population inversion, whatever physics metaphor you want to use, but the jams were incredibly nonlinear in that they built and as they built they got bigger and also the rate at which they got bigger increased so that very quickly there was this huge mass of sound, a swarming, viral, buzz of sound. It was intense and dense, on the outside it was just a big thing, but you could also see inside of it and, discern all the constituent sounds in there, the bass and drums and guitar, all bouncing around in here, defying the laws of thermodynamics. It was almost too much. But they got to that place every fucking song and it was glorious. It melted my synapses so I couldn’t think or move or barely breathe (was I breathing that whole time?) and then BAM! it was over. For all the greatness of latter day Wayne, you don’t get that. That’s the good shit. You have to travel uptown to get that, apparently.

There was this one dude at the show that was just losing his shit, kept jumping up out of his seat and shouting shit and, regrettably, clapping along. On one hand, kind of annoying. On the other hand, it just illustrated that this show should have been somewhere else. Somewhere where hopping out of your seat and moving to the music, shouting and reveling in it was appropriate. It should have been in a legit rock club, there are a dozen or so in the city that would have sufficed. If anything about the last 6 months of seeing pretty much every Krantz gig at 55 Bar has proven to me, yet again, is that this is not sitting down music. It is standing up music. It is rocking out music. It is funky and fun and a two-way affair. That guy was a bit much, suer, but goddamnit if he didn’t speak for most of us in that room last night. Why the Iridium, who knows, but hopefully next time K3 gets together, someone has the good sense to point them in the right direction.

7Jun19 Josh Abrams Natural Information Society/Sachiko Kanenbu @ Union Pool

I appreciate that not everyone feels the same way, but man, I love it when a band does something different, something challenging, something weird that no one else is doing. I don’t need a band that makes me feel the way Phish makes me feel, I already have Phish. Take Natural Information Society. Saw them for the second time last night in Williamsburg and listening to them is like looking at a color I’ve never seen before. The instrumentation itself is unique: gimbri + bass clarinet + harmonium + percussion. If they just did Led Zeppelin covers with that lineup it would be something weird and interesting for sure. But that’s not what they do, not at all. They’ve found a place in my musiclistening brain that no one else has found, like I said, inventing new colors that aren’t on the spectrum.

They started their set almost exactly at 9pm and walked off stage at 9:45, not stopping once along the way. The music consists of 4 overlapping cycles, each member creating a sort of drone, little riffs repeated over and over. There is no lead instrument, no discrenible points A, B or C. Just these short bits playing over and over. The magic is in how these interact, a musical socialism, each fourth of the ensemble contributing equally to the whole, so that you are not listening to clarinet and gimbri and harmonium, but you are listening to the Natural Information Society in toto. There are 4 different components, four different tempos, four different frequencies, four different swaths of sound, from high to low, fast to slow, but these shift between the four, slowly. Along the way your brain gets all sorts of fucked up trying to follow along, imaging mutations and deviations from the original, tracing evolutions, zeroing in on one member only to actually hear another one, possibly thinking one guy is taking the lead, not sure if it’s real or just your brain grasping at something. It’s rather remarkable, actually and maybe it sounds like a lot of mental gymnastics, but the fact of the matter is, it’s groovy as hell, esoteric, but not so far out there. Of course, there’s the length to contend with, no stops, no beginnings or endings, after a few minutes it’s a bit of a sweat lodge of sound, the passage of time is irrelevant and you may or may not start to hallucinate. What kind of music is this? It doesn’t fucking matter. Go see these guys, there’s nothing like it. They’re coming back July 1st in a double bill with a band that will similarly get into the deep recesses of your consciousness, 75 Dollar Bill, in a double bill that may or may not fuck your brain up good… in all the right ways.

The second part of the bill was a different thing altogether, with Sachiko Kanenobu, a sort of Japanese folk legend (the Joni Mitchell of Japan?) performing her first ever NYC gig. This is something on its own, but even more remarkable when you realize she is 71 years old and her big “hit” record came out over 45 years ago. What we learned last night that an interview on WFMU a couple years back somehow got her playing music again and somehow led to her being in New York playing Union Pool (and Central Park!) this week. Wow!

She started off solo acoustic and while 70+ years old and unseasoned live performer, she was totally spry, actually downright spunky. Cracking jokes, ribbing on Steve Gunn who helped produce her reissue and is playing in her band and seemed to be her handler/guitar tuner, etc… She was kind of hilarious, actually, the grandma you wished you had. She was full of goofy banter and good energy as she worked through a few songs solo. Her voice maybe showed its age at at times, but she was agile on her guitar and showed signs of what she once was. She made you love her and that carried over into the music. Then the band came out — Steve Gunn on guitar and James McNew on bass plus keys and drums and they really made some excellent pastoral folk magic, just a real lovely sound all around. Between the banter and tuning and joking around, she managed to stretch a late-starting set to 70 or 80 minutes, but it was all entertaining, all a show, an event the way you want your livemusic to be.

I have no idea how this will work at Summerstage in Central Park, but looking forward to finding out.

8Jun18 Parquet Courts, Sachiko Kanenobu, Arp @ Summerstage

There’s nothing like awesome free music in the summer in the city, particularly in Central Park and Prospect Park where you get creative bookings, amphitheater-grade bookings with legit full shows and the artists usually bring their A game. So, it was with sincere pleasure that I broke the seal on my freemusic festin’ yesterday at Summerstage for a seriously awesome bill top to bottom.

We got there in time for Arp. I really dig his/their 2018 release Zebra, was on my list all year and was one that I recommended on JamBase, etc. Thing is, it was one of those records that you don’t know if it’s a full band or one guy in a bedroom or what? Doesn’t matter when you’re listening to the album, but might make a difference live. I was very pleasantly surprised that it was, indeed, a full band, and they were, indeed, quite awesome. The band was Alexis Georgopoulos (i.e. “Arp”) on keyboards with two guys playing drums/percussion, a second guy playing both keys and some soprano saxophone and electric/midi saxophone and then a bassist. It was a stunningly gorgeous early evening/late afternoon when they started around 6:30 and the music was just a perfect heady groove. Rhodes-driven instrumental, kind of downbeat/ambient/funky that most people reading this would seriously dig. Once again I had the feeling like why haven’t I seen these guys play before the entire time. Like, these guys should be playing late sets at places like Nublu or Threes Brewing on the regular (or maybe they are and I’ve just been oblivious?). Anyway, loved that set very much, fit the end-of-a-perfect-weather-day vibe very well.

Next up was Sachiko Kanenobu who played her second NYC gig ever in Central Park. Union Pool to Central Park in less than 24 hours, pretty good. I thought her Saturday set was better musically, but less entertaining, because she trimmed down the banter and affable goofiness, so that she compressed the same set into 45 minutes. Really struck me more how Steve-Gunn-ish her music is, or vice versa is probably more correct. Glad I got to see her and the band play a second time.

Finally was Parquet Courts, a band I’ve really liked since I had Stoned and Starving on repeat when it came out back in 2012. Somehow I’ve always missed seeing them, though… didn’t put the effort in, or had something else or was out of town so that Saturday was my first time, and… dang! why did I wait so long, they were so awesome. I love it when a band just brings it to one of these free shows. Easy opportunity to mail it in, but most bands don’t and some seem to bring it up a notch. While I’ve never seen Parquet Courts before, I was impressed that they brought out a guest percussionist for a couple songs, a couple guest sax players for others and then a School of Rock kids choir for another. Mostly, though, they were just a kick ass bundle of pure energy. They’ve got their amazing stoner-rock sound, which is kind of irresistible, but the set also featured a wider palette, with some groove, almost LCD-Soundsystem dance stuff, some more classic rock thing, and a long, almost 15-minute rager psychedelic two-guitar jam to end the set.

I think the new Summerstage set up is going to work out nicely, gives it a more cozy, easier-to-move-around feel, and definitely a step up for the VIP’s, should you be lucky enough to find yourself in one of those sections. Looking forward to returning.

Absolutely gorgeous night in the park with a killer three-band, who-put-this-together? bill.

9Jun19

Another gorgeous day in livemusic paradise. Like 8 straight hours of music… what a town!

The New Masada Quartet @ Village Vanguard

John Zorn brought his New Masada Quartet back to the Vanguard for another matinee set and whatever I wrote about the last time they did this, well, it all holds true in triplicate for what went down yesterday afternoon. What an absolutely magical foursome this is. I was wondering last night if this was my favorite Masada group ever, whether such a thing could be true after only seeing them twice and it only being like their 4th gig ever and while I’m not ready to leap them over Electric Masada quite yet, I can absolutely say, there is little better than what I saw last night. The music, yes, but the energy on stage. Besides his one handling of a shout from the audience (replied with a middle finger and a joking “security, get this guy out of here!”) Zorn’s characteristic prickliness is all but gone when he’s on stage with this band, he’s happy, absolutely giddy to be playing this music. His going back to the original songbook seems to signal a return to his youth, like Lage and Roeder and Wolleson make him feel 25 years younger and it just permeates the whole vibe coming from the stage, fills the room… the best way to get someone to smile at you is to smile at them and that’s more or less what it feels like to watch these guys play.

The first song was an immaculate piece, a masterclass in what “Masada” can do. It took about a millisecond for Julian Lage to find that spot, I mean the song started and he just hopped on it right away and took control, exploring and leading and that really set the tone for what was a beautiful, exciting, hair-raising improv around one of Zorn’s compositions. JZ still keeps that “conducting” spirit with this group, but it’s more and more clear that it’s more of a figurehead monarchy, that the band, more than any other Masada group, is a democracy. Lage flatters and defers, but he’s as much in control as Zorn is, a young Skywalker learning from his Yoda but his own native abilities too strong to contain. I think they played about 5 pieces, hit all the right marks, split the atoms, proved Fermat’s last theorem, and uncovered the holy grail in an hour or so. Jorge Roeder is such a treat in this group, big fat grin on his face, he has the energy of someone who thinks he doesn’t belong up there and then realizes that he does belong. There was a moment late in the set, the penultimate piece, when Zorn kind of threw it to Jorge, maybe expecting a solo or something, and instead he went the other way, the opposite of a solo, he slowed the tempo down on a very simple repeated riff that was kind of tangent to the song’s theme. The band shifted immediately, sensing that Roeder was opening up a new space for improv, reflecting the spotlight onto his bandmates, and what ensued was one of the best parts of the show. Not sure I’ve ever seen a bassist do anything like that before, I can’t even describe it and maybe I’m just imagining it, but to see a guy have John Zorn point to you and then completely redirect the entire ensemble like that and know that the band will respond the way they did, because they are so fucking good it hurts to think about, well, that was pretty cool. There were a gazillion awesome solos, so many jaw-droppers, so much Rembrandt-level artistry and beauty, it’d be impossible to try to capture it all in words. Just awesome in the biblical sense. There was a Julian solo during the final piece that felt like 4 solos at once, like an impossibility of biology and physics, technically ridiculous, but soul-piercing, gorgeous, look-at-the-burning-bush kind of music coming out of that guitar, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anything like that. If he’s not the best guitarist I’ve ever seen, I don’t know what.

Apparently coming back for a proper full week of shows at the Vanguard in October, fuck yeah, don’t miss that.

L’Rain @ Union Pool

The only downside of the Vanguard set was that it was in a dark basement jazz club on a Sunday afternoon that couldn’t have been more beautiful: sunny, just the right temperature, just an every-day-should-be-like-this kind of day. The darkness upon entering the VV was actually disorienting. The only remedy, of course, was some outdoor music, so we headed to Union Pool for my first Summer Thunder show of the summer. This free series in their outside/backyard space is an ideal little Sunday happening, with a taco truck and canned beer/slushie Margs and, oh yeah, pretty good music usually. This week was L’Rain, someone I’ve seen a couple times in a tail-end-of-an-opening-set capacity… and every time I’ve seen her/them, I’ve enjoyed it and thought about how I’d really like to see a full set, so I was happy to get the chance, especially on such a day in such a spot.

Supposedly there was some issue with the start of the set and maybe some conflict with people not being quiet enough to her liking to start, which is a little WTF considering it is very much a backyard hang there, but I was oblivious to this. Her sound is very tough to describe. It’s sort of an experimental indie rock with some weirdness in there and some straight grooves and an occasional Pink-Floydian spacefloat as well. It’s L’Rain with a bassist, drummer and guy who plays keys/saxophone. She uses loops and her voice as an instrument as much as her guitar and while looping/layering is nothing new anymore, some people are better than others at it, and I think she does a good job with it. She’d do like layers of whistles or laughs in addition to some autotuned vocals to create some cool effects and her band would do a ambient spacey thing or a chill groove thing. The set was short and provided a nice soundtrack to the tacos and beer and company. I enjoyed it. Would get there early if she was opening a show I was hitting, for sure.

Naughty Pillows @ Skinny Dennis

If you’re in Williamsburg on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, you kinda have to stop by Skinny Dennis for whatever is going on there. I’ve gone on at length about this place and I do love it so and pretty much everything I’ve seen there has been some level of perfect-for-the-room. This was definitely the case for a band calling themselves Naughty Pillows. They did a bunch of old school country covers as well as a couple classic rock bar-band singalong songs (couple Petty songs and ended the night with Ophelia). Felt like a fuck-around covers band for all the musicians, who were all quite good, two guitarists both played some nice solos, vocals from 3 different members. You don’t necessarily go to Skinny Dennis looking to get your mind blown by the music, but it’s just awesome, down-home, country and/or rock and roll in one of the best rooms in the city, especially on a weekend afternoon. My no-holds-barred recommendation still stands.

John Coltrane Wall-to-Wall @ Symphony Space

If you’re in Williamsburg on a Sunday evening, you kinda have to hop in a car and head all the way to the Upper West Side… well, no, that’s not really advisable, but if there’s awesome free music to be had, it’s not the worst idea in the world. Sunday was a daylong event at Symphony Space celebrating John Coltrane, going from 3 until supposedly 10pm. We got there at 8pm and realized that they were way behind on the schedule, almost 90 minutes at that point. So instead of getting there in time to see Marc Ribot and the Brooklyn Raga Massive do Love Supreme in its entirety we saw a bunch of other acts. Sometimes that’s just the way it goes and, when it’s NYC, those “other acts” turn out to be pretty freakin’ amazing and maybe ones that you never would have seen otherwise, so was it that they were running behind or was it that the livemusic gods had other designs for you? Hmmm…

Anyway, we saw James Francies and trio do Coltrane in a piano trio format with Francies playing at a furious Coltranian pace; Ben Williams play with a bass-guitar-sax-percussion quartet with some mean sax playing from Marcus Strickland and an all-around cool take with a nice Naima to close out their mini-set; a show-stealing (by “show” I mean the two hour period when I was there) take from the Savannah Harris Trio, which was Harris on drums, Michela Lerman tap dancing and Maria Grand on tenor…. Actually, let me give these three their own sentence or two, it was so great how Harris and Lerman created this chaotic, high-paced rhythm section with this crazy tap dancing such a central figure in the sound and then Grand playing these long, gorgeous, slow notes on her sax. It worked so well and was something so very different and cool. I mean, I’ve seen tap dancers as “instrument” before, but not so central to the sound, not so much a gimmick as a rapid-fire click-clack-clicking and the contrast with the saxophone. So good. So very Coltrane in a unique way. Loved it. Then Wallace Roney quintet was a little more straightforward but a lot of really killer horn solos, trumpet and saxophone. I sometimes find the you-take-a-solo/I-take-a-solo brand of jazz a little sleepy, but when it’s done well, it’s still pretty great, and everyone in that band was great. The last set we caught was Lakecia Benjamin who was like a dressed-in-white ball of fire. She had a mic on her alto sax, instead of using a mic on a stand like the rest of the players did, and so she was mobile, moving around, restless energy that came out in her playing. She looked supercool and played superbadass and was very impressive with a great band. They did an Alabama > Favorite Things thing to finish that was pretty killer. I would have loved to have stayed til the end, but at that point it was already almost 11 and we’d been seeing music almost non-stop since 3pm with only a taco or two to sustain us. Plus, you know, Sunday night, work in the morning, kids to feed, and all that other the man bullshit, not to mention the hour drive to where our pillows were waiting, so…. I’m sure the rest was great, because I was very happy with everything we saw, and, very happy we saw what we saw, even if it wasn’t the original plan. Original plans are for suckers in this town, anyway.