Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Choke, Friday August 26th

“We saw an ad for some show in which the New York Dolls opened for The Killers,” says Jonny Napalm, drummer for The Choke. “We now know the world is coming to an end.” The Choke keeps history in perspective, proud they can trace their influences further back than “some lame synth-pop rock from the 80's,” where most bands’ inspiration sputters out.

But every record store clerk this side of Other Music can spout about the travesty of ahistorical rock. The question is, does the band deliver the goods? The answer is a resounding “Fuck, yeah.” It’s NYC Rock: trashy, a little sloppy-drunk, enough sneer to cut through the fog of the downtown scene. No amusing haircuts or thriftshop sex appeal needed to convince an audience; within the first 5 seconds the whole room is bopping.

Lead singer Cameron Miller is the ringer. As Jonny says, “She turned out to be our secret weapon!” She spits out the vocals like a resurrected Wendy O. Williams, her callisthenic performance all but embodying the fury of Horses-era Patti Smith. Above all, this band has the presence and charisma all too lacking in our current state of post-fun rock. So are the labels listening? Warner Music Group heard The Choke’s demo, commenting it wasn’t “the kind of stuff the industry is looking for in female-fronted bands right now.”

“In other words,” Jonny says, “we must be doing something right.”

Crash Mansion, 199 Bowery (betw. Spring & Rivington), 9:00, FREE before 11:00

Posted By Jimmy Legs

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

No Things, Saturday August 13th

No Things are having it out with the sound guy at a recent show. He’s being an asshole, telling them to turn down instead of adjusting the PA. They don’t want to; as bassist Pat Noecker comments, “This is how loud it has to be.” The sound guy cranks the vocal mics in retaliation, causing horrendous feedback, obscuring the band’s tightly-wound rock. He picked the wrong guys to fuck with: Lead singer/guitarist Christian Dautresme leaps offstage and heads for the sound booth, hollering into the screeching mic, “Look, we tried to talk this all out, but you had to fuck with us ...” They’re right, but the sound guy holds all the cards. The show is shut down 5 minutes into the set.

If nothing else, the incident gives No Things even more to be pissed off about. Their music may induce dance freakouts, but there’s little joyful noise. Dautresme’s voice and guitar are cut from the same cloth, spitting repetitive bursts of bile as befits his French upbringing. Noecker’s bass carries the melody, writhing, his movements out of time with the riffs to keep the audience off-balance. Ron Albertson holds it together on drums (or more correctly, keeps things from feeling too warm n’ fuzzy with his itchy beats). Hope the sound guy at Rocky’s knows they’re supposed to sound like that.

Rocky’s, 349 Kent Avenue (betw. S 4th Street & S 5th Street) 8:00

Posted By Jimmy Legs

Monday, July 25, 2005

Oxford Collapse, Saturday July 30th

Oxford Collapse is sweet on The Embarrassment, the little-known band of the early 80s from Kansas who pretty much coined the phrase “quirky rock band.” OC knows all about them and their “blister pop” sound, covering “Celebrity Art Party” and even tracking them down. Drummer Dan Fetherston explains, “Brent, their drummer, said he was interested [in recording OC], but told us that ‘The money you have is maybe too little.’” Unfazed, they penned a song commemorating the rebuff. They don’t need their forefathers’ blessing; the band improves on the sound innovated by bands like The Feelies and Television, filling the current void for breakneck rock without overblown egos or eardrums. Guitarist Michael Pace plays mostly without distortion, a move few others would dare attempt live. He has no reason to hide behind gobs of distortion; all the better to hear the intricate lines of his guitar and Adam Rizer’s melodic bass. Fetherston’s drumming can be as complex as the other instruments, but never lets the frenzied momentum lapse. Their new album, A Good Ground, makes good on the promise of their earlier efforts, which alone sets them apart from their predecessors; as good as The Embarrassment was, they only released one full-length before calling it quits.

East River Ampitheater, Cherry Street & FDR, 2:00, FREE

Posted By Jimmy Legs

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

USAISAMONSTER, Saturday July 23rd

“We’re not ‘computer people,’” explains Tom, USAISAMONSTER’s drummer. He mimes typing. “I wish we could do that stuff.” The band website has been down for months; a friend has to bring a laptop over to check email. But he really shouldn’t feel bad he can’t do something benumbed office drones do every day. For Christ’s sake, this is the guy who play drums, keyboard, and work bass pedals while singing complex American Indian-tinged progcore.

While the rest of us were wasting our lives trying to divine the next hip fashion trend, the two guys in USAISAMONSTER were packing the bong and working out the theory that King Crimson wasn’t complex enough. Or loud enough. Their schizo songwriting reminds one of the explosive skullfuckery of Lightning Bolt (with whom they’re rocking the Heavy Metal Parking Lot); if Synchronized Rock was an Olympic event both bands would take home honors. But USAISMONSTER culls its material from such unlikely sources as American Indian and Eastern European melodies, adding subtle dynamics unlike any other band, no matter how mosh-inducing their choruses may be.

They may look a little like time travelers from the 70’s, but one minute into their set proves it’s no pose; they live the way they rock, even if it means they miss out on present-day amenities like email. And considering the music, the past seems more promising than the future.

Parking Lot In LIC, 28-10 Queens Plaza (SE Corner of Jackson Ave & Queens Blvd), LIC, Queens 3:00, $10

Posted By Jimmy Legs

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Fresh Kills, Wednesday July 8th

They look like nice fellows. They sometimes show up for gigs in skinny ties and jackets, bed-headed like last-week’s Strokes wannabes. Seems like they’ll be playing some simple, catchy jams you can nod your head to without spoiling your conversation with the bartender. But even those familiar with Fresh Kills are never quite prepared for their eardrum-puckering wall-of-sound when they commence kicking out said jams.

Recently they played a set at Avenue C’s notorious C-Squat, punk rock venue and all-around flophouse for steel-toed malcontents. Weathering catcalls of “Hey, Haircut,” and “Look, it’s Harry Potter!” (referring to lead singer Zach Lipez’s glasses), the band silenced the punks by gobbing back lungfuls of their dense grooves.

Johnny Rauberts’ blues-inflected riffage clashes against Tim Murray’s hard-cornering chord changes. Bassist Bill Miller and drummer Jim Paradise lock the rhythm down, if only to eviscerate it, sinew straining to keep the internal organs from bursting all over the stage. All the while Zach fights to be heard over the din like a carnival barker at the end of his rope. It doesn’t always boil down to a unified sound, but when it does it can feel like a minor miracle. You can dance to it, but often a better response is to stand in the middle of the room and let the three-ring circus detonate inside your skull.

Trash Bar, 256 Grand Street (betw. Driggs & Roebling), Brooklyn, $9

Posted By Jimmy Legs

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Bent Outta Shape, Thursday June 30th

The music scene often sucks in NYC because clubs only want bands that have a sizable draw. Many local groups wrestle with the Catch-22 of “Clubs won’t let us play if nobody knows us, but how can anybody find out about us unless clubs let us play?” That’s a question of only marginal interest to Brooklyn’s Bent Outta Shape. Although not well-known on the local circuit, they’ve been operating below the radar, rocking house parties and underground spaces for masses of kids who could give two shits about who’s playing Webster Hall.

“There used to be house shows a few times a week,” explains lead singer Jamie. “All the same people would show up and dance and sing along.” This scene (which includes noteworthy acts like Meneguar and Japanther) cares little about status; it’s just about fun and good music. Informed by early Clash, The Replacements, even Billy Bragg (“Which my bandmates make fun of me for,” Jamie admits), Bent’s rock is refreshingly simple. It’s frantic, sloppy, and without one false note. This is beer-soaked punk by skate kids who secretly have been doing their homework. Maybe it’s nothing new to them, but it feels like a revelation.

Now that Bent is playing more high-profile shows (this week at Cake Shop, next month at B.B. King Club), venues should be falling over themselves to book the group. They’ve already got the fan base, and for once the status quo can be tweaked to actually improve the club scene.

Cake Shop, 152 Ludlow Street (betw. Houston & Stanton), 9:00

Langhorne Slim, Thursday June 30th

Hasil Adkins is no more, Tom Waits is too arty these days, and Bob Log III is too impersonal, what with all the headgear. So now we must look to the younger generation for our next eclectic iconoclast. Enter Langhorne Slim. He’s probably in his mid-twenties but his weathered stage persona bespeaks a man whose road of excess has led him only to the palace of surreality.

With his fedora pulled low over his brow, his fingers flat-picking a mile-a-minute, his voice gritty yet warbling, he’s a prefab Bill Monroe for the under-30 set. While perhaps not hitting the same level of total what-the-fuck the elder Adkins elicited, at least Slim writes complete songs, some bluesy, some country, all quite odd. In the same way Adkins argued a DIY esthetic taken to isolationist extremes, Slim’s eccentric choices also leave you smacking your forehead and musing, “Look at that caveman go!”

Time was he’d get so distracted by his own playing, he’d forget to stay close to the mic (he’s gotten a lot better at that), but it almost seems part of him won’t be restrained by the confines of the PA: He wants to holler on down the well, and the fact that he doesn’t give a good goddamn whether anybody hears him or not makes him one of best reasons to attend a show, if only to see if you can keep his attention.

Hasil Adkins is dead. Long live Langhorne Slim!

Tonic, 107 Norfolk Street (betw. Rivington & Delancey), 8:00, $8

Posted By Jimmy Legs

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Stay Fucked, Saturday June 25th

Stay Fucked sometimes has trouble getting the word out. “A venue wouldn't let us use our real name,” says drummer Hank,” so we called ourselves either ‘Stay Frenched’ or ‘Stay Rock.’” Luckily, word of mouth is still reliable in tracking them down. Far from the fuck-it-all attitude the name implies, their music is sharply intelligent (if mostly wordless), full of barely reigned-in chaos. While some of it wields the nihilistic sledgehammer of no wave, it’s just a launching pad for their prog-punk.

“The reason I say ‘prog’ is that I feel like I need to convey that the music is kind of weird,” explains Hank. In some instances they’re a power trio, playing straight-forward, stripped-down punk (The Misfits’ “Hybrid Moments” is often covered). But just when it seems like they’re about to hit another box chord progression, the music veers off at right angles: Drums, bass, and guitar strike accents in unison, with complex riffs that change so fast you’d need a calculator to keep up. At other times, the instruments kick at each other, threatening to topple the rhythm into the abyss. Then with dizzying ease, they resolve into anthemic choruses informed by the algebraic concoctions that came before. It’s deconstructionist rock, mining elemental punk for subatomic particles; the mind reels at what they find.

So maybe the media can’t be blamed for having a hard time figuring out what to do with Stay Fucked. “One time we got billed as ‘Dave Fucked.’” The struggle continues.

Lit Lounge, 93 2nd Ave (betw. 5th & 6th Streets), 9:00, $5

Dynasty Electric Duo, Sunday June 26th

Dynasty is an exercise in mastery of pop music. It should come as no surprise that members Jennifer DeVeau and Seth Misterka come with impressively diverse credentials: DeVeau was already touring with an all-girl Beatles cover band by the time she was a teenager, and Misterka has been a fixture of the avant-garde jazz scene for years. Dynasty’s brand of electro-rock should be a walk in the park for these stalwarts.

Not that the music itself is any slouch. Tight and spare, the tunes unwind and contract around DeVeau’s sinewy vocals, or Misterka’s sax (the delay-drenched solo in “Glass” echoes an unholy alliance of Suicide’s “Rocket USA” and Hall & Oates’ “Maneater”). For a band that relies on preprogrammed drums, the music never feels canned. Misterka’s Newsonic Studios houses the band, where they have they avail themselves of its 24/7 recording studio with which to hone their sonic experiments. “We've been doing some new material that's a little slower with more complex arrangements,” says Misterka. “But we still do a lot of high-energy material too.” For the latter, check out their driving, gritty “Hypnotized,” available on 7” vinyl.

It’s to their credit that they can such mesmerizing music without resorting to the smoke and mirrors that plague most synth-driven bands. In “Game of Jewels” the minimal melody bursts into a disarming guitar and bass break that not only takes the song musically skyward, but lets us know they’ve got many more cards up their sleeves.

The Delancey, 168 Delancey Street (betw. Clinton & Attorney), 8:00, $7

Posted By Jimmy Legs

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Vitamen, Wednesday June 15th

Before The Vitamen CD release show, the drummer came up to an older woman (probably his mom) waiting on line. “You don’t have to wait,” he said, and ushered her inside. Yeah, so they play music your mother would dig. That’s to their credit; they compose slyly subversive songs that also happen to be highly palatable guitar pop. That night they were The Commitments, white soulsters with horns and backup singers. More often the band is just its core members, who often draw comparison to Jonathan Richman for their self-deprecating lyrics. Richman’s mother probably came out to his shows, too, although he never wrote lyrics like “Was every girl on earth molested or am I just bad in bed?”

Sin-é, 150 Attorney Street (betw. Houston & Stanton), 9:00, $8

Guns Fire Mayhem, Thursday June 16th

If John Carpenter wanted to re-release his 80’s classics like They Live or Escape from New York, complete with unnecessary digital effects, he should look up Guns Fire Mayhem to rescore them. They’ve got a keys-driven hardcore sound that strangely recalls the synth-obsessed director’s soundtracks. Everything sounds a little like Halloween, not just Carpenter’s but also The Misfits’. The band sounds (and looks) like an all-star team of rock subgenres: a little Danzig guitar, NOFX drumming, Rites of Spring vocals, all held together with some “Final Countdown” keyboards. It’s a bizarre combination, but then again, who thought Rowdy Roddy Piper could carry a feature film?

Cake Shop, 152 Ludlow Street (betw. Houston & Stanton), 8:00, $6

Posted By Jimmy Legs

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Daughters, Saturday June 11th

Grindcore, as practiced by Daughters, is deafeningly loud and harsh, a reminder how tame old-school punk seems nowadays. But at the same time you can’t help thinking it takes a helluva lot of skill to make a sound this mean. Double-bass drum, skyrocketing guitar and screamed vocals are all de rigeur, but Daughters drag the standard hardcore sound through a prog-rock garbage dump. Sleaze is provided by the lead singer, who, when not hollering, may be found climbing into the rafters or spitting on the audience. At the end of one set he pulled his dick out, but by then we’d already witnessed plenty of cock.

Northsix, 66 North 6th Street (betw. Kent & Wythe), Brooklyn, $10

Up the Empire, Wednesday June 8th

Who isn’t a sucker for that anthemic pop-rock sound? Echoing bands like Superchunk and Sonic Youth (think “Teenage Riot”), Up the Empire gives marching orders in the form of driving hooks that never fail to raise spirits. Formerly The Kilowatt Hours, the newer outfit trades its previous incarnation in favor of a more collaborative sound; vocals define the melody but tend to take a backseat to the instrumental work. The five members conjure a huge (as opposed to just loud) sound. And just when you think their music can’t possibly get any more layered, multi-instrumentalist Doug Keith straps on the band’s third guitar and ups the ante exponentially.

Rothko, 116 Suffolk Street (at Rivington), 9PM, $10

Posted By Jimmy Legs

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Ex Models, Friday, June 3rd

As the story goes, these spiny anteaters of the art-rock world got bored playing songs from their killer first album, Other Mathematics, and started playing them with increasing velocity until every song was a blur of high-pitched gibberish, drum clatter and broken guitar strings. This apparently became the mission statement for their later releases, and now they’re barely recognizable as the band that once was compared to early Devo and Talking Heads. The live show, however, is still a sight to see, and what no longer works as music explodes into orgasmic frenzy that beats sitting at home listening to records any day.

The Space Formerly Known as Mighty Robot, 401 Wythe Avenue (betw. S. 6th & Broadway), Brooklyn, 8:00

Bent Outta Shape, Saturday, June 4th

New York is known for producing a lot of “challenging” music, stuff that can be fascinating but kinda hard to take in large doses (see entry for Ex Models). But where do you go if you just wanna rock out to some good old new-school punk? Best bet this week is Bent Outta Shape, a bunch of Brooklyn kids (eh, they’re all kids to me these days) who do the So-Cal melodic punk thing to a tee. Recalling some of the better acts on Fat Records without all that political crap, they churn out speedy-yet-musical odes to self-loathing and drunken boredom. But who cares about lyrics anyway? Let’s just get drunk and pogo!

Glasshouse Gallery, 38 South 1st Street (betw. Kent & Wythe), Brooklyn

Posted By Jimmy Legs

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Lightning Bolt, Thursday, May 26th

Jesus, weren’t they just here? I’m still exhausted from last month’s visit, but these guys are unstoppable. Lightning Bolt’s touring schedule is as relentless as their music. They play some of the most arresting avant-noise rock this side of Melt Banana with a determination that’s almost scary. They won’t play on a stage, preferring the floor so every performance feels like a sweaty basement show. Chippendale pounds out hectic stop-start rhythms with locomotive fury. Gibson spits out gobs of feedback-laden bass like an engine at full capacity. With a banjo string on his bass he coaxes ungodly tones, somewhere between an Yngwie Malmsteen solo and beating a telephone wire. There’s definite artistry at work, but their live show is all about the pure joy of thunderous rock calamity.

The Hook, 18 Commerce Street (betw. Columbia & Richards), Midnight, $10

Posted By Jimmy Legs

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Baby Dayliner, Friday, May 20th

I’m not sure which is more entertaining during a Baby Dayliner show: his music, or the spectacle of the event itself. Stalwarts in the audience crowd around the stage, dancing and singing along, throwing their hands up to punctuate a particularly clever lyric (and there are lots). And there’s Baby D himself, throwing tulips and jiving around the stage, every so often pulling a few dance moves (this drives the crowd into a frenzy for some reason). With his New Orderish music pulsating out of an old suitcase, his vocal style recalls Morrissey, Ian Curtis, even Lou Rawls at times. The vibe is so friendly (and not just a little odd), it’s hard not to be converted.

Mercury Lounge, 217 E. Houston St. (betw. Ave A & Houston), 11:30, $10


Electric Turn to Me, Saturday, May 21st

Does this make sense? Fierce, jazz-trained drumming, surf organ, spiky indie-rock guitar, and gothy, Teutonic female vocals. This shouldn’t work at all. But Electric Turn to Me pulls it off, and they keep getting better every time I see them. In the past couple of years they’ve honed these disparate elements into a sound truly unlike anything going on in this town. Silke’s wavering voice sounds at one moment vulnerable, turns sweetly ethereal then sly, suggesting Bowie in his glam days. Blake Fleming (Dazzling Killmen, Laddio Bolocko) keeps the beat, adding logic-defying flourishes effortlessly. A new album is in the works, so see them now before they get too big to play decent venues like Sin-é.

Sin-é, 150 Attorney Street (betw. Houston & Stanton), 11:00, $10


USAISAMONSTER, Sunday, May 22nd

I need to get some earplugs. This always occurs to me when seeing USAISAMONSTER live. They’re really loud. Hard to believe it’s just two guys making all this racket. But there’s more to their sound than just noise: Colin plays guitar through several huge amps and what appears to be a million effects pedals. Drummer Tom possesses incredible stamina and has the ability to play drums, keyboard and organ bass pedals simultaneously. And while the music can be brutal, their more dynamic numbers betray their eclectic tastes. “No More Forever” meditates on Native American melodies; “Bulgarian Dance Song” borrows its melody from, well, a Bulgarian dance song. It’s prog, it’s folk, it’s hardcore, it’s stoner. It’s clear these guys have been playing together for years.

Sin-é, 150 Attorney Street (betw. Houston & Stanton), $8

Posted By Jimmy Legs

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Forms Saturday May 14th

Some folks calls The Forms a math rock band, but frontman Alex disagrees. “I've been liking ‘math pop’ lately,” he says. “It suggests that melodies are important, which math rock bands generally don't believe.” It’s true; math rock sometimes feels like the tail wagging the dog: all numbers, an end unto itself. The Forms, however, use the same methods in service of melody. Everything else is attendant to the hooks that make their music instantly appealing. It’s not like they’re not cranking out tired 80’s-era britpop that seems to be so popular these days. This is still rock music, hard enough for the punk crowd, but with an algorithmic attention to detail underneath.

Usually based around Alex’s soaring vocals (“Lots of long notes, not many syllables,” he says half-jokingly), the songs structure themselves on what a given melody dictates. If the melody demands the band come to a sudden stop, turn Slint-esque or list out of rhythm for a moment before swelling into good ol’ fashioned stadium rock, then that’s what they have to do. Sometimes driving, sometimes jarring, it’s hard to see what’s coming next. “I think our music has no meter. It's more just whatever feels right.”

“People always think it's weird we're from NYC. We usually have to wait for bands that sound like us to come through town, which is too bad. It's like growing up in a neighborhood without any other kids to play with.” People unfamiliar with the band are likely to assume they’re from Chicago, due to similarities in their sound with the Windy City’s penchant for off-kilter melodic rock. In fact, the band recorded their debut album Icarus with Shellac’s Steve Albini, which Pitchfork Media named #1 album of the year.

They make it look easy, but it’s not the audience’s fault if they don’t catch everything going on in the songwriting. That’s for record store clerks and music writers to geek over. The average listener will just groove on the rock, perhaps vaguely aware of all the work that went into it.

Sin-é, 150 Attorney Street (betw. Houston & Stanton), 11:00, $10

Posted By Jimmy Legs

Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Oneida Saturday, May 7th

I never thought a band with an organ in it could really rock, in the same way I never thought a band who named The Grateful Dead as one of their influences could rock. Oneida dismantles both notions instantly with the bracing intensity of their organ-driven music. They deliver propulsive, seemingly endless riffs with such precision and energy even their most frequently-played songs always feel vital. Celebrating the release of their 7th LP, The Wedding, they explore more baroque (but no less mesmerizing) themes. They sadly won’t be bringing the fabled enormous music box they constructed for the record, but their live show should leave no one with any complaints.

Club Ice, 259 Banker Street (betw. Meserole & Calyer), Brooklyn; 8:00, $8

The Giraffes Saturday, May 7th

While still not as bad as the living-dead audience of, say, Columbus, Ohio, NYC crowds can seem like a sculpture garden even in the face of great music. But at a Giraffes show, people dance up a storm. It’s not the revisionist disco of dancepunk, it’s hard rock working off the same palette as bands like Motorhead, but with a boisterous energy that makes it impossible not to get down. Frontman Aaron Lazar belts out the songs with limitless charisma, and guitarist Damien Paris is a force to be reckoned with, a southpaw playing a right-handed guitar upside-down. News of Lazar’s recent heart attack brought fears of the band’s demise, but not even membership in the Zipper Club has slowed down this band’s barreling momentum.

Mercury Lounge, 217 E. Houston Street (betw. Ludlow & Essex) 212-260-4700; 7:30, $10

Posted By Jimmy Legs


These are blurbs I write for a prestigious local newspaper. Many of these never actually get printed, and those that do are after edited beyond recognition, so I offer them here in their unexpurgated form.
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