Warpaint Puts on Their Warpaint and Plays It Cool

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A colloquial use of the phrase “warpaint” is makeup—and women have been putting on their  warpaint and going out ready to do battle with the  big bad world forever. So when the all-female LA  group Warpaint played in NYC this past week, one  would be forgiven to have expected a fierce, defensive, and ‘made-up’ bunch ‘o chicks. What transpired couldn’t be further from that.

Warpaint turned out to be an engaging,  personable group, rendering their name a sarcastic, rather than accurate, description of themselves. They are a  sort of psych band, but with three great lead singers,  and exquisite harmonies. They are nice looking
chicks, but they play it down down down. No pushed  up, laced in, exposed stuff here, and they were  wearing very little ‘warpaint’. Instead, It’s all about  the music, and the musicianship.

They want to be loved for their chops, not for their looks. The new  drummer, Stella Mozgawa is mixed in at the top of  the sound, like another lead guitar, and she
deserves to be. The playing and singing was as complex as any jam band, but with better singing. If  you had only heard Warpaint, but didn’t see them,  you may not have known that they were women—until the vocal parts, that is.

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The Last Brucennial

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The Bruce High Quality foundation put on it’s supposedly last ‘Brucennial’ this past Thursday at on the ground floor of the raw space in the new slope-sided building going up on Washington Street in the Meat Packing District. The rawness of the space fit the raw, jam-packed presentation of a week’s worth of viewable art placed on every available space, including the floor and the ceiling.

I think everyone who has gone to one of these Bruces will be seriously bummed out if this really was the end. These events are actually fun, as well as funny, serious, and irreverent. There is some really great art displayed along with some very silly, ridiculous stuff.

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Also on display was a diverse, eclectic crowd of people that I rarely see at gallery openings. Seemingly, the whole spectrum of New York City people managed to find out about it, and get in to the ‘Brucennial’—no mean feat. When we left at 9pm, there was a line that looked to be at least an hour long, people shivering to get in and have a cold PBR, and enjoy the art.  The music was rock—for a change—which was refreshing, and the DJs were throwing free T-shirts to the crowd of out-stretched arms that resembled a hawk putting food in the open mouths of her chicks.

There was a real bent over naked man installment, later substituted by a real bent over naked woman. They must have been very cold. A lot of people nervously suggested a blanket, but nobody would dare interfere with the art. There were stunning paintings, great photos, multiple videos, a lot of pubic hair, and a huge pile of debris on the floor. There was no master list of all of the art. The artist’s names were signed on the wall or on the floor next to the work. That was the only identification, and it was uniquely democratic.

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Everyone was actually looking at the art for a change, as well as the usual each other, and, of course, their phones—and they were having a great time, well oiled by the plentiful beer, and grateful to not be freezing outside on the line. The ‘Brucennial’—a great name—is a take off on the Whitney Biennial, which is being held simultaneously. The event shows how much more fun, and how much better it can be done. It couldn’t have been a coincidence that the new Whitney Museum building is going up down the block. If it is indeed the last one, it’s because it became a victim of its own success. Like the band or the athlete coming back after vowing to quit, however, I think we have not seen the end of this very cool event.

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Rhye Toasts New York at Webster Hall

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Until this past weekend, the L.A.-based songwriting duo of Canadian singer Milosh and Danish musician Robin Hannibal, known together as Rhye were purposefully shrouded in mystery for most people, including me. Apparently, that’s a great way to get attention. Their show at Webster Hall was sold out, and it seemed like everyone at the concert had made the effort to find out who was behind this camera and publicity shy group. For anyone there, the veil had risen. Shrieks of recognition greeted each song. Mystery works in familiar and un-mysterious ways!

As an American traveling in Europe there are things that you notice are different than what you encounter here every day. I’ve always felt there were a few musical styles I would commonly hear drifting out of bars and cafés that are uniquely Euro. The style of Rhye’s music is difficult to pin down, but I would describe it as this melodic, soft, jazzy R&B groove that you find yourself absentmindedly swaying to. It can become a soundtrack for your travel memories.   They have been compared to Sade, but I didn’t really get that. They gave me a very real ‘Euro’ experience in Feel and in Vibe.

The weird fact that Rhye transported me to a café in Paris, and a bar in Rome, made it a very rewarding concert. Everyone there was certainly into it. Hannibal wasn’t there, however. He won’t tour with this group, or his other band, Quadron. Milosh was there, and man, is he a great singer.

Part of the mystery, to me and everyone else, has been whether Milosh was a woman or not. He is, in fact, a man, singing in a beautiful high tenor, who writes deeply romantic songs. He and Hannibal moved to L.A. to be with and marry women. The group Rhye is a real, tight unit, and they have a unique configuration, with an electric violin, a celloist who plays trombone, a synthesizer / B3 Hammond organ player subbing for Hannibal, an extremely tight bass and drum unit, and it’s all topped by Milosh as a standalone singer, doubling on percussion and keys.

It must be said, this is music to have sex to, people! When you want a soundtrack for your next seduction, your Rhye may be buttered with love.

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Neutral Milk Hotel is Back, Way Past the Expiration Date

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There they are in Pitchfork’s Top 100 albums of the entire 1990’s, with the likes of Nirvana’s Nevermind, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, and Radiohead’s OK Computer—at #4, Neutral Milk Hotel’s most acknowledged and critically lauded record, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. And here I was this week at the last of the six or so New York/Brooklyn totally sold out shows for the band, this time around at the fabulous Webster Hall. For all the acclaim, and the huge smiles on the enraptured audiences’ faces, I hope nobody saw the look on mine. I was perplexed—and it showed.

This is one weird bunch, and the back story is equally strange. Neutral Milk Hotel formed in 1989 in Louisiana, but came together in Athens Georgia—home of REM, amongst others. The main brain here is a strange dude named Jeff Mangum, what ever he looked like then, he now looks like Joaquin Phoenix during his fake two-year retirement from showbiz—the huge beard, hat, and bad Christmas sweater, awaken from sleeping in his own pee on the street. He sings in a nasal howl and yodel, the words spilling out in furious progression, and there are a lot of words. They are about history and spirit, stream of consciousness, and nothing at all—or something, but definitely interesting, and maybe that’s the best we can hope for about anything, anyway. Keep it interesting.

And interesting they were. There’s a big fat guy with a huge white beard who mostly plays a weird, wide mouth trumpet, but otherwise strums a plugged in acoustic guitar that is going through distortion pedals. An elf-like dude with a pulled down knit hat plays a psychedelic accordion, and there’s some string wooden thing, plus occasional bouts on a cheesy 90’s synth. A bearded keyboard player switched to French horn to make some amazing harmony lines with the trumpet. Everyone doubled on bass—the only real electric guitar on the stage—but the drummer just played drums, and was the best musician in the group, and a real pro. He reminded a bit of Mitch Mitchell from the Jimi Hendrix Experience, quite a compliment coming from me.

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Many different people drifted on and off the stage, from a hot chick on a keyboard, to other accordion and banjo players—but make no mistake; this is no country roots band. They are more a combination psych, garage, punk band, even with all the furious acoustic guitar strumming holding it all together by Mangum. At times, though, they did remind me of The Band, and more importantly, what they looked like.

So the story goes that Mangum was so freaked out by the acclaim and unexpected success of the Aeroplane album, that he had a nervous breakdown, broke up the band, and wouldn’t come out of his house for years. I did research, and have yet to be able to confirm that story, but, again, it is interesting. Now, due to popular demand, or lack of money, or an allergic reaction to pumping gas, Neutral Milk Hotel is back. I had not heard their music before the show, so I was hearing them cold, live, for the first time.

As you may know from previous columns, I am a believer in taking the time to give music a chance. I had no chance. Everyone at the show has had the time though, since 1998, and it showed. This was a homecoming for these people, like seeing a long lost family member you’d never thought you’d see again ever.

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For me, I had a more objective observation: they definitely are an acquired taste. As I researched this musical collective, and the collective opinions out there about them in the ‘everyone’s a critic’ world, I found that to be true. The people that love them, love them. The people that don’t love them, hate them, strongly, and surprisingly passionately. Well, I say, “chill out people”. Peace, love and understanding.

Have a little sympathy for an eccentric and talented guy, and his talented and devoted group. I stayed till the end of the show, and so did everyone else.  Now, I’m going to have to give that # 4 record of the 90’s a shot.

Exploring the Unique Taste of Red Hook Winery

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Out there in the Brooklyn equivalent of the Wild Wild West, there is—believe it or not—a real winery in Red Hook, and it’s no punch line. They make serious wine, made by serious winemakers, with California pedigrees. In an outpost such as this, it is a labor of love, and much love has gone into this project. It’s located in one of those old waterfront factory buildings, with views of the Verrazano Bridge, Ellis Island, and the Statue Of Liberty on one side of the building. Through the winery out to the other side of the building looms the lower Manhattan skyline.

The tasting room is elegant, and very much industrial Old Brooklyn. It would make a great location for a special event, or a movie set. The winery part is classic with giant stainless steel tanks, and oak wood casks. They have crushers, and a bottling and labeling plant. They’re ready to go. It’s in a spectacular location, and even though it is the proverbial trip to the country on public transportation, it is a rewarding and revelatory journey. I have never been to the Smith Street subway station, which I got off at for Red Hook, for instance. It turns out, as I sort of suspected, that it is the highest elevated subway station (at 87.5 feet) in the world! It was built that way in 1933 to accommodate regulations for now long gone tall mast shipping on the Gowanus Canal.

Grapes are not grown in Brooklyn, but we in New York City live within a pleasant day’s drive of two of the finest grape growing areas in the country—The Finger Lakes in upstate New York and the newer North Fork of Long Island. The wine makers, Robert Foley and Abe Schoener, who are based out in Napa California, along with resident wine maker Christopher Nicolson, find enthusiastic farmers and pick out their own estates—which are specific sections of grapes on the farms, get them grown to their specifications, and delivered to Brooklyn in time for the crush, the process that begins the journey of fruit to wine. The two California makers have very different tastes and techniques, with Foley the more traditional and Schoener the one who goes out on a limb. It seems like Nicolson is the resident middle, firmly in both camps, learning from, and influencing both.

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If you are a California wine connoisseur, then you know who these two guys are. I tried wine from both philosophies. To my palate, the Schoener method is very reminiscent of Burgundy, France, my favorite type of wine. Burgundy, is a very small wine region, way smaller than Bordeaux. As a result, the wine from there is produced in small quantities, limited, and therefore, costly. The Red Hook version is not cheap either, but a lot less than the French. If you rationalize that a bottle of Red Hook from the winery or a store costs what ordering a non-descript wine in a restaurant costs, you can splurge for, in my opinion, a great bottle of wine that tastes very much like a Montrachet, creamy, and buttery, but not like a Napa chardonnay; decidedly French.

The specific wine I am referring to is ‘The Nereides of the East, 2010’—a crazy, long name, and a Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc made under the direction of Schoener. This is a great bottle of wine, people! I also really enjoyed a Cabernet Sauvignon Jamesport vineyard, 2008, a Foley directed, Bordeaux style, red. I got to taste a Merlot from the Jamesport Vineyard, a Cabernet Franc from the Finger Lakes upstate, and an Orange wine, a 2010 ‘Vipolze’ Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay blend SK Reserve, a pretty unusual wine making concept that I’d never heard of. It’s a skin fermented white wine, which results in an orange sort of color because it’s fermented on the grape skins. In white wine, the skins are removed in the fermenting process, while the grape skins remain for the reds. The concept works with these Orange wines, which are all Abe Shoener directed.

The wine is nice, unique, and certainly worth trying. Robert Foley directs pretty much all of the reds. Nicholson works with both winemakers, but Foley and Schoener do not collaborate. It’s a very interesting concept, like two distinct wineries. Owner Mark Snyder—longtime tech for Billy Joel (yes, that Billy Joel), is dedicated, but hands off. He lets the masters do their thing. Good owners put the pieces in place, and get out of the way.

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A few years ago, we went to Burgundy France to experience the wine at the source. It was more beautiful than we could have imagined, with Medieval Castles, draw bridges, and moats. Cote-d’Or, Burgundy, is a Department of France that’s off the beaten tourist path. We stayed in an old castle that had been turned into a hotel. We had no idea it was there till we came around a bend and saw it. Around every turn is a steep hill with grapes growing to the top. In the town of Chablis, we pulled into the driveway of a man’s house with a small winery sign outside. He came out, gestured to his garage, and we waited for him to slide open the door to his tiny winery. We tasted some great wine, and bought a few bottles to have back at the castle. Red Hook, and the winery reminded me of that experience. The streets are weird, and around every block is a strange, new surprise. At the waters edge, in the historic old factory area is this little winery where you can taste and buy these special wines and experience that weird feeling of discovering something for your self, in a city where everyone has discovered everything.

The tasting room at Red Hook Winery is open daily from 11am to 5pm, but I’d call to make sure. It’s a real trip to get there. Tours and tastings are weekends only. There is a small fee, depending on what you want to do. (Cheese, tour, tastes, etc.) You can bring lunch, get wine and hang outside with the fresh air and the views.

For more on Red Hook Winery, head HERE.

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Patti Smith and Her Band Play It Loose on Her Birthday

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Punk rock legend, one of the original CBCB stars, and the first of them to get a record deal, played her annual New Years show this year at New York City’s Webster Hall on December 29 and 30th—the second date being her 67th birthday. She has always been as much an author and a poet as a singer songwriter. At these homecoming shows, she paid tribute to her contemporary, Lou Reed and Velvet Underground with three songs: “I’m Waiting for the Man,” “Perfect Day,” and “Heroin.” She performed a very emotional version of the John Lennon song, “Beautiful Boy,” which I can’t get out of my head, and two off the wall covers, the Rihanna song, “Stay” and the Brenda Lee song, “I’m Sorry.”

At the birthday show, she did her biggest hit, “Because The Night.” Smith has always been an interpreter of music as much as a writer of songs and song poems. On her debut album, Horses,  considered one of the best of all time, she did a radical revision of “Gloria,” by Them, written by Van Morrison, and a reworking of “Land of a Thousand Dances,” by Fats Domino and Chris Kenner. The songs were incorporated into larger song poems that she wrote around them. To me, she is a connecting line from the Beats, a la Ginsberg and Kerouac, to Dylan, to Rap; Poetry to Beats to Music. All of this was on florid display at the shows.

She unabashedly spoke, rhymed, shouted, screamed, and sang her songs with the fury but also touching delicacy, of her 1975 self. And a lot of what she has to say is radical stuff. I’m guessing if she were younger, she’d be on the front lines leading the charge. Boy could we use her, or someone she may be inspiring in the crowd, at these limited edition performances. And make no mistake, Patti Smith is quite a performer. She speaks to the enraptured audience as if we were life long friends, telling off the wall stories of flying to Florida overnight between the two shows on her private jet for a night of tropical drinks. She answered a shouted inquiry by someone as to where she got her boots, by stating they were an exact copy of the boots worn by the mad hatter in Alice in Wonderland, and that they were magical. Then she said—off-handedly—that all of these stories, well, they aren’t true! I could tell that many people in the house believed they were.

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Younger artists could use the lessons Patti supplies in winning over a crowd. The love cascaded in waves from the sold out hall to the stage and back. While she is still her same angry self, railing at the political and corporate greed fest that our world has become, she has mellowed enough to smile and kiss back. I was amazed as she and her band were almost sexually turned on by the audience response to the undulating beat laid down by her original drummer Jay Dee Daugherty, and bass player Ivan Kral that then inspired them to play it with even more feel. Original Patti Smith guitarist, rock critic, and producer Lenny Kaye, looking dapper in a nicely tailored suit jacket, and cool, long gray hair, even managed a smile. At the birthday show, her daughter surprised her on stage with a birthday cake, and the band and audience sang her a “Happy Birthday” just after Kaye and the band did a medley from his 60’s ‘Nuggets’ collection including “Talk Talk,” by Music Machine, “Psychotic Reaction” by Count Five, and Open My Eyes, the great Todd Rundgren ‘Nazz’ song.

It all fit and had a beautiful flow to it. You know it feels right when it seems too short. “Banga,” and “People Have the Power” ended the 15 song main set, and for the encore, she ended with “Babelogue,” and “Rock N Roll Nigger.” These songs are radical get out in the streets and be outraged songs, people!

In the finale, she equated a host of people who stand up and shout truth to power to being the N word [ni%#ers], including Edward Snowden and Pussy Riot. When was the last time you saw arms pumping the air to a political message? Happy Birthday, Patti Smith, who still has the FTW vibe, but not towards her fans.

Johnny Marr Revives The Smiths at Webster Hall

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When Jimmy Fallon introduced Johnny Marr—former Smith’s guitarist and co-writer of all of their songs—along with Morrissey, to close his Late Night show on Friday, he referred to Marr as a genuine rock star. And at his Webster Hall concert the next night, Marr lived up to that billing. His virtuosity and performing brilliance was on full display, as he finger-picked simultaneous lead/rhythms, danced, and sang every song from his very Smiths-like new album, The Messenger, as well as a song from Electronic, his post Smith’s group. He also performed an encore of The Clash’s version of “I Fought The Law,” and six Smiths songs. Marr talked to the audience in a thick Manchester accent after every song, a la McCartney.

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Most performers just stand there—but clearly influenced by the ultimate virtuoso stylist playing of George Harrison, Marr went from power chords to the jangly speed roll interplay of picked notes and chords that gave the Smiths such a unique sound. It truly drove a jaded New York City sold out crowd crazy. Everyone went nuts. Unlike Morrisey—his operatic and dramatic Smiths co-writer and former singer, who is a reluctant performer of Smiths material— Marr took a distinct pleasure in doing a six song “greatest hits” of Smiths tunes, interspersed strategically in the set for maximum effect, beginning with song number two, “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before” from theStrangeways album. He proceeded to do “Panic,” “Bigmouth Strikes Again,” and as the song just before the encore, “How Soon is Now?”—which has transcended The Smiths to become an eternal ubiquitous hit.

For these last two Smiths songs, we were treated to a bit of a reunion, as Johnny brought out Smiths bassist Andy Rourke—or as he called him, Andy fuckin’ Rourke. It went in keeping with the hundred or so people who were wearing “Johnny Fuckin’ Marr” t-shirts they had bought at the merch table. After returning from the break, he did “Please Please Let Me get What I Want” and ended the show with the crowd favorite, “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.” The Clash song was next to last. Almost every other song was from his new album, and in the context of hearing all of these songs sung by a very good rock singer—other than the very operatic Morrisey—they all sounded of the same mold as the Smiths, but maybe better. It became more about the songs, the performance, and the musicianship, than about a drama queen. I over heard quite a few people saying, “Morrisey who?”

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