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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What is it about the Irish that makes the music that comes from that tiny little Emerald Isle loom so large? Is it the water? Is it the Guinness? Is it the water in the Guinness? What ever it is that gets them to produce such great music such as U2, My Bloody Valentine, Snow Patrol, and Two Door Cinema Club, it’s also the same genes that produces good looks and big personalities.
Kodaline, a new group from Ireland that certainly has those big personalities, played a sold out show here in New York City last week. They looked good, and they sounded fantastic. They do big, anthemic songs suitable for an arena, where, like U2, I believe they are eventually headed.
Steve Garrigan, the lead singer, is undeniably a great singer, but he is also charismatic. In addition, he has the kind of appearance that’s likely to attract a substantial number of followers (female). At the show, there were quite a large number of enraptured women, and they were all paying attention, and singing every word. For a refreshing change, they were NOT on their phones. Apparently, the word gets around quick.
Actually, all of the other guys in Kodaline are also pretty handsome. But make no mistake—this is no boy-band. This is a group of serious musicians, great at the craft of songwriting, staging the show, and sound production, producing a crisp clean sound that made it possible to hear every word, every riff (by lead player Mark Prendergast), and each distinctive smack of the snare drum. The great sound acutely accented the unified playing of the excellent drummer (Vinnie May), and bass player (Jason Boland) so that they sounded like one man playing both instruments at the same time. To top it off, Kodaline—which, by the way, is a name that means nothing—does a sweet four part harmony, as good as any I’ve heard. I think doing perfect harmony singing is among the hardest things to achieve in pop music. That’s why you hear so little of it.
TV has already gotten hip to this group, with their song ‘All I Want’ featured on the MTV show, Catfish. It was also in Vampire Diaries, and Gray’s Anatomy. Their album is In A Perfect World. One of my personal favorites off the album is ‘Lose Your Mind,’ which they did an unbelievable version of at the show. You can check out a full version of the album that someone posted on YouTube [of course, where else?]
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.
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.
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.
By now, you are sick of best-of lists, and are starting to get sick of the awards shows, which are now in full swing after the boozy Golden Globes and the Oscar nomination rollout. Please, do not send me hate mail. This not a haughty I-know-better-than-you piece, and I am not telling you what’s bad. I simply want to turn you on [to music ]. You may have missed some of this. You may have heard it once or twice, and it flew by you. You didn’t want to give it a second chance.
If you think about it, though, the best music [art, film, books, fashions ] is usually a bit difficult. You have to hear it a number of times to ‘get it’—and who has the time? And, really, why is it even worth the effort? Well, because the reward is great. Once the door is open, great music gets in your head like a beautiful disease, keeping you awake at night, while you grind your teeth into the gums. Years from now, you’ll probably still love it.
Because Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Jerry Garcia, John Lennon, Syd Barrett, and Jimi Hendrix are still dead, we’ll have to stick with some living artists. Although, Jimi did somehow put out a new album last year, but I have yet to hear it. I really like most types of music. My library is large and diverse. I tend to love 1960’s-influenced Psychedelic music, Blues, Classic Rock, and British blues. I’m open to anything, my teeth grinders fit into that wide canyon of the musical mouth.
‘Indigo Meadow’ by the Black Angels
Deep in this fuzzed out, phased out, vibrato reverb psych album is some of the catchiest brain freezing music you’ll hear. Combined with their previous great record, ‘Phosphene Dream’, this Austin Texas band has really hit their stride. You need to hear this in headphones. HBO was using one of the songs in the promo for the new ‘True Detective’ show that began last week. KaChing! ‘Don’t Play With Guns’ will keep you awake long into the night. They have a girl drummer. They have long hair. The singer has a voice from deep space. They come from the same town as the Thirteenth Floor Elevators.
‘Monomania’ by Deerhunter
This record plays like a rock opera. The music flows together. On the first few listens, you could mistake one song for another. Deerhunter made the recording sound denser than they should have, which makes it more difficult. When they played in NYC this fall, however, the light went on for me, and that was it. Now I can’t listen to this with out taking a few days off in between hearings. It will drive you crazy. This group’s concerts are as good as anyone, and I’ve seen many of the best. For the first time, an album by Deerhunter lives up to the live experience. Taking all of their musical output together, they have a fine, enduring legacy. ‘Dream Captain’, ‘Back in the Middle’, and ‘Monomania’ are teeth grinding standouts.
‘Reflector’, by Arcade Fire
Like some of the movies that come out at the end of the year to qualify for year-end awards, this record slipped on out, almost unnoticed. From what I hear in the ‘everybody’s a critic’ comment world, many peeps think this is not their best. Really? I have been coming back and back and back to this collection, and it just shows how one man’s diamond is another mans coal. The song ‘Reflector’ is down right subversive. Be careful with this song. It is insidious. It will burrow deep into your brain, and eat it alive.
If you didn’t see Arcade Fire on Colbert’s show, it’s because they were advertised as ‘Reflector’, not Arcade Fire. Funny! The song they did, ‘Normal Person’ was an incredible performance. You should Google or YouTube it. I won’t ruin it for you, but let’s just say, it may give you a big head. This is a great record. Give it a chance. You’ll see. ‘Here Comes the Night Time’ is anither great tune that is seriously ruining my teeth.
‘The Messenger’, by Johnny Marr
Do you like The Smiths? Do you love The Smiths? You do? Well, here’s the new Smiths album, although they have a new singer, who’s name is Johnny Marr. More of a classic rock singer than the operatic drama queen, Morrisey, Marr just happens to be the other half of the song writing team behind ALL of the Smiths songs, [along with Morrisey]. The riffs are there, the beats are there, the flow is there, and the catchy, timeless tunes are teeth grindingly, brain numbingly there, as well. Every song is great, but it’s going to take you a few listens. Again, the Marr concert, late last year in NYC, brought home the Smiths-like timeless greatness. [ See my review of the show at Webster Hall HERE]
‘Right Thing Right’, ’Generate Generate’, and ‘The Messenger’ are particularly teeth grindingly insidious. He did ‘Generate Generate’ on Jimmy Fallon, and ‘Right Thing Right’ on Conan.
‘Specter at the Gate’ , by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club –
Classic rock, and one of the best live acts you’ll see.
‘Love From London’, by Robin Hitchcock –
Continuing in the tradition and style of The Beatles. He played this new album at one of the best shows of last, or any year, at which he also did Beatles covers like ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’.
‘Face the Sun’, by ‘Entrance Band’ –
A real, genuine, 60’s psych album that came out this year.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sometimes the unexpected strikes. I was going to see the Mikal Cronin Band, a longhaired, surf/ garage/ guitar rock band and I thought I was on time, but the show was running really late. As I walked up the stairs to the hall, I could hear the sounds of the opening act The Entrance Band, getting louder and clearer—and better and better. I turned the corner and went inside, getting a full blast of crisp, clear, psychedelic rock. It sounded like a quartet—possibly a quintet—but I was pleasantly surprised to see a trio.
The guitar player/singer and writer of the all of the songs, Guy Blakeslee, was playing rhythm and lead, filling up the sound, and singing at the same time—no easy feat. The drummer—who I think is Derek James—was doing straight ahead solid and counter beats, almost like another lead guitar. Most drummers are more like drum machines, playing one big steady beat. This is one of the big differences between the current, and the 1960’s and 70’s music, when music was more adventurous. It was the drums and bass, playing with and against the grain, creating a buzzing tension. The bass player was definitely more like a second lead guitar player—doing high trebly fills, and switching to deep bass drum-like dynamic thumps.
I found out later doing research on this group—who I’d never heard of before—that she is Paz Lenchantin, and apparently has enough of a rep that she was hired just a couple of days ago to be the new bass player in the touring version of The Pixies. Crazy coincidence for me to be there at her last show with this group, for at least a while. Funny thing is, I had read in the New York Times Art section that The Pixies had replaced their bass player, but I’d never heard of Paz, and the piece didn’t mention her band. I hope this doesn’t spell her exit from the Entrance Band, because it’s not often I discover music that I know I’m going to like going forward
Paz’s style reminded me of one of my all time favorite bass players, Jack Cassidy, from the ‘60’s San Francisco band Jefferson Airplane. And that is quite a compliment. She also sang back up, but I think she was concentrating so hard on the riffs that she forgot to sing when she should have. Too bad, because when she did, the Jefferson Airplane comparison was even more evident. The harmonies with Blakeslee were distinctive. She looked very cool, in a vaguely see through dress, and a face full of hair flopping around. Blakeslee was rolling on the floor and jumping on the speaker towers while playing searing, psych leads. The crowd was egging them on. Usually the audience is indifferent towards the openers—but they had a lot to be excited about.
The new album by The Entrance Band is Face The Sun. I’m looking forward to hearing it.