Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pretty good snow

Big ups to the hardy farmers who made it down to Avenue A this morning, guaranteeing my next half week will be filled with good stuff to eat. That includes you, stern bread lady…

…but especially you, comedy-bickering-and-cider couple. That cider he's pouring is in me now. ("Do you feel me, cider?") Also got an acorn squash from them for no good reason, since I already have one in the fridge. Maybe I just didn't want it to be lonely?

East Village–style snowbastard. I mumbled that it looked like he needed a new cig and some lady earnestly jabbed a Pall Mall in my hand. "Some people are veryyyy kiiind…"

I cidered while watching my favorite reality show: snowfall dog run. Hounds in particular look so thoughtful. As usual, I began to imagine having one in the house, and then he opened his mouth. FOGHOOOooorn!

The real adventuring was last night, as it was coming down (and across and over). After mixing martinis and such for the first half of the night (apparently successfully), I packed a flask and headed down to Damon Dash's house to see Talk Normal. (Huh…that sentence looks just as incongruous now as it did last night.) Crosshatch winds slashed me to ribbons at every intersection, but I knew you were counting on these poorly framed point-and-shoot photographs, so with the Balvenie as guide and courage-maker…

St. Marks Church corner. You can't really see the wind-tunnel of blowing snow along the ground.

First Ave, storm hitting its stride.

Sixth Ave at 10th St.

Long shadow of the MAW, 10th St.

E 10th St between Second and Third Aves.

I asked Mr. Balvenie where this was exactly and he couldn't remember either. Manhattan, we're both convinced.

Snowstorm, meet flash.

Looking at Fifth Ave. There's a street there somewhere.

Hey Balvenie, you remember this??

This door leads nowhere but it looks nice anyway.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Like the queens and kings of old

A one-year mourning period. Moving on now.

Monday, November 9, 2009


Thursday, October 22, 2009

I saw Broadcast! And the Phillies are going back to the World Series!

I saw Broadcast!

And the Phillies are going back to the World Series!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Taking the low road

It pays off sometimes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

On and on with Endless Boogie

Not much to say about last night's Endless Boogie show apart from the fact that it was in the 99th percentile of Endless Boogie–oriented excellence. They were hitting on cylinders the likes of which haven't come out of Detroit in 35 years. They are so manly, these men.

At the same time, they are quite feminine in their sound and way. I'd like to be the first to get out in front on this issue: I think Endless Boogie really is the band for all genders and dispositions. Mets fans too.

The Studio at Webster Hall is a good room for rock music (needs more Os for the marquee though), the sound just spread like night creeping over the high plains. One particular monster jam sounded fresh to my ears, but a well-placed source informed me that it was an unrecorded oldie. That'll hopefully be redressed soonly. Endless Boogie are hitting the road for a coupla weeks, so look alive out there in the South and Midwest.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Amy Annelle, atop the East Village

Amy Annelle brought the nurture of nature to my East Village roof last night, reprising a low-key appearance from last summer (or was it the summer before?). This time, I endeavored to actually tell people about it, and a coded message during her WFMU live set the day before also helped gather a crowd of about 20, which was just right for the space we had.

In fact, pretty much everything was just right: The sky, glowing and bruised; the breezes on full breeze; and Amy, who played for about 75 minutes at a volume that dueted (not dueled) with the city ambience that drifted up seven stories.

Folks spread out across the roof on throw rugs, blankets, dirty jeans. A batch of declared fans, a few old friends (Amy's and mine), a handful of curious neighbors who stuck around, a trio of effusive Oklahomans converted into believers on the spot, a couple who just moved from SF and felt like they'd won the lottery in learning of the show, and one sweetly hyperactive puppy. The natural tremble in Amy's voice reminded us all of the infinite. Time didn't stop, but it did seem a little less indifferent to everyone for a while.

Friday, August 21, 2009

"Where did you learn your TRADE?"

Like a comet that swings into our orbit every so often, this fire-in-the-night-sky of a scene. The actual best line: "I'm gonna be with you in a second."

Friday, August 14, 2009

Touching magic

An old friend "in the business" helped remind me today why I work in and around music, where the compensation is something to sneeze at (or even puke on). It's important to be reminded of things we already know. Today, unfortunately, I was reminded of two magic memories for the saddest reasons.

I saw Les Paul play only once, maybe five or six years ago. The old man was gigging in Midtown every Monday, for years, at Iridium. My friend Maggie was in town for a few days and I had the idea that it would be fun and not the same as just going to any old rock club for whatever band. At the time I enjoyed the sort of life where I could simply ring someone up and ask, and there'd be two tickets at the door, with nice reserved seats, and "No no, don't worry about meeting the minimum," which is good, cause I might not have been able to. Les Paul was 89 or 90, and still as in love with his guitar and the playing of it as anyone can love anything. If he had lost a step over the years, it really seemed only a step, even dealing with arthritis. Watching his long, craggy fingers dance on the strings was quite literally amazing — amazing in the true Webster's sense (as opposed to the modern vernacular). This master was funny and outgoing, not like an uncle or grandfather but like us, sharp and crass and not missing a beat, a glance or a comment. He ragged on his bandmates playfully, traded jabs with the crowd, told us every story that passed through his mind. Sometimes I wonder what people mean when they use the word "generous" to describe an artist, but that was him. He was playing one night a week, sometimes two shows a night I think, well into his 90s. He pretty much invented this stuff and was pretty much the best at it all along the way. Les Paul, ladies and gentlemen. Do follow the link on his name at the top of this graph — just incredible.

And Rashied Ali. I got to see him play a number of times earlier this decade, solo and in small groups, at Tonic, where I DJed with my friend Chris (we were The Polar Bear Club, extending a cool tradition that had started in Minneapolis). Man, did I see a lot of great music in that room. Friday nights at Tonic were usually my first chance to relax and have some fun after a stressful week at the magazine. We went from 9pm to 3 or 4am most nights, so I'd often walk outside for a break; Norfolk Street then was dark and quiet in a way no part of the Lower East Side is anymore. Rashied had a solo gig upstairs at Tonic one Friday night, maybe 30 people there. That whole thing always struck me: Rashied playing the drums right here, now, in this room...for 30 people. We had more than that downstairs (our thing was free, though).

I had watched most of his set, caught up in the storm of his playing, and some time later in the night walked outside to decharge my batteries. Across the street, a big old sedan was parked. I noticed a silhouette in the driver's seat. My eyes focused, and I realized the silhouette was looking at me; my eyes focused more, and I realized the silhouette was Rashied Ali, the guy who copiloted all the way out with Coltrane and spent the years since punching tickets for comparably heavy trips to other unmapped planes with all kinds of big hitters.

We stared at each other for a few seconds, or maybe an hour, who knows, and then he waved for me to come over to the car. When I got to the window I noticed a ribbon of smoke in the darkness. I think I laughed, and then like it was no big deal he asked if I wanted to help him finish his jazz cigarette, which he held up in the biggest fingers I thought I'd ever seen on a man. We sat right there on Norfolk Street and talked like regular people who'd known each other for a while. Except for when he spoke about the importance of "getting free," which he did with an uncommon authority, a relaxed, confident fervor that identified as religious way more than anything I know of as "religion." I didn't talk then, just listened.

I was a little bowled over by the experience afterward, but when I mentioned it to some friends working at the club they all were like, wave of the hand, "Oh yeah, Rashied's hilarious," like they were talking about an old aunt or something.

Rest in peace, Les Paul and Rashied Ali. Two real masters who may not have had a thing in common other than greatness before today.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The second part

I always thought it was what you know.

It's also the way you react to bullshit. Increasingly so.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Caught very live: Cass McCombs, Joe's Pub

Cass McCombs, who's never been through NYC with the same band twice, played tonight at Joe's with what was undoubtedly his best-looking assemblage yet, including local all-stars Andy Macleod (drums — worth pointing out as Andy plays everything, and well, in his particular idiom) and Melanie Moser (keybs, vox, sparkly dress).

It was all about Cass though. The scorpio (if they got the date right) has been one of Earth's best songwriters since he burst from some Grecian forehead earlier this decade, but his newest, the spacious Catacombs — very good, not nearly his best yet aligned perfectly in constellation with his others — arrives in tune with some vibey awareness tipping point about his persistent mercurial excellence. Last August he played the South Street Seaport (great venue, free show) to a middling crowd (by the by, he had an entirely different band, looked pulled from a Tennessee chain gang in the ’30s), and it seemed he was just destined to live in the interstices. Less than a year later and it feels like everybody's talking. Halleluwah. For people who try to make sense of life through the lens of music, McCombs's five records so far are like an observatory on top of an old volcano in Hawaii. And you can step right up to the telescope and have a look, and see whatever you see.

Onstage McCombs moves within a studied modesty so note-perfect that it couldn't be contrived; he's never seemed uncomfortable up there, but I couldn't remember if I'd ever heard him really say anything directly to the audience before. (He shyly removed his jacket at one point, and by commenting on it, primed the crowd to do its best impersonation of an ’80s sit-com studio audience.) His set tonight omitted "Deseret," the 21st century's secret-most-beautiful song, but included many of the rest, including a coolly tamped-down "City of Brotherly Love" and a sweet "Crick in My Neck," with McCombs — also a judicious handler of space and time on the guitar — spraying chord-arrows through the veil.

The only thing missing from tonight's gig was the low-light anarchic radiance of Karen Black:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Shut and open

I'm sure she's quite good

She's just got the wrong last name. Which is no more her fault than the fact that I'm in the wrong hemisphere twice over for the eclipse, but hey. Who wouldn't rather know what the person below has been up to?

No compromise in defense of Mother Earth (photo: Dennis Keeley)

But as the saying goes, one door that wasn't really there is just a wall, and another swings open on the L to Brooklyn. Nobody's consolation prize, Sophia Knapp played a solo set at Bruar Falls on the night her band Lights' new record, Rites, came out. Rites, which was recorded, will be getting a lot of proper attention this summer; no album in memory has taken an arrow for your psychedelic disco love quite like this one. But Sophia played an entire set of her own pointedly direct songs, which I hadn't heard before. They were great—or, well, maybe they'd seem less so in anyone else's hands, but Sophia has a way of snatching back near and total clichés of beauty and romance from the Hallmarxists, blowing away the dust and replacing it with…different dust. I might not stand or even sit for anyone else singing of golden mountains and love that goes by "love," but Sophia's a guilelessly pure spirit; she isn't getting away with anything. And she'll probably never get her due as a guitarist—one of those seemingly simple yet calmly precise players who doesn't strike, stroke or strum a note without purpose.

Sophia Knapp, in rainbows

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

In search of...

…our generation's Anne Briggs.

This week at the Lakeside Lounge

All respect to Eric and Amy, but it was the sight of Kendra Smith's name that gave me long pause. Could it be? Nah. I mean, could it? Last name as common as trees, first name less so; a city of 8 million–plus. But no, no way. Here? Now? Then again, her long-ago bandmate Steve Wynn drops in on the Lakeside semiregularly, so it's less completely impossible than it would be otherwise. A quick consultation with Sherlock Google indicates that tonight's music will be provided by a different Kendra, meaning the writers of this here chalkboard screwed up royally, for Kendra Smith is nothing if not musical royalty, and not just for her (five) way of disappearing. Still…I should probably be there, just to make sure.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Lucky 13

Summer babe dug winter just fine.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Black Monk Time: Akitsa + Bone Awl + Ashdautas

Naeth (enrobed) with Ashdautas [photo:, swiped from Nuclear War Now]

A bit delayed on this (and everything), but the Long Malaise hangs heavily at the moment, compounded by the fact that NYC seems to have swapped springs with Seattle.

Friday night brought a killer underground black-metal show to the unlikely Fontana's, a site chosen by the promoter for its lack of associations. Success there -- the upstairs, a nice and roomy but nondescript, kinda rocker-yuppie-vibed space, was generally empty except for the metal kids between sets downstairs, where the misanthropic chaos unfurled in dungeony comfort.

I was too late to catch Volahn's set but hey, three bands of any sort is a full meal at my age. When I arrived, he and his bandmates in Ashdautas were in the demonic throes of…lots of tuning and tweaking. The youngish crowd was antsy. Finally, vocalist Naeth ringwraiths his way onto the stage and—harwhoosh!—they commence with a brutal blackened attack. As in the photo above (not from Friday), Naeth's's hood hung several inches over his face; his throaty shrieks came beamed up from some satanic sub-basement, and with the moonbursts of spikes on each wrist, the total effect was thorough and intense and without any extraneous theatrics. The drummer had a weathered face of corpse-paint that looked like it had been applied three days ago, and it was all the more convincing for it. These fuckers walk through the valley of the shadow of death like they own the place. I was so taken that I bought both the CD they had, 2007's Where the Sun Is Silent…, and a shirt—the deciding factor there being that they'd ingeniously used bleach, rather than ink, for the design, which grimly replicates that record's cover, which is rather awesome.

Bone Awl
I had heard on record (one awesomely titled offering: Meaningless Leaning Mess) before—the sort of metallic fury that any old punk or hardcore fan would appreciate, but too monochromatic to hold interest over the length of an album. I expected to like them better live and was right: They spat out a super-raw, primal thrash onslaught with black-metal vocals and zero frills whatsoever, musically or look-wise—these three guys could've been gone-nowhere skater burn-outs (they are from Cali, like the placeless Ashdautas) rather than angrily ambitious cult-favorites with a long discography, much of it released on their own label. A handful of their songs were overly plain, like on record, but they're all hardcore-short and Bone Awl just kept barging forward with mercilessly single-minded purpose. (Opinions, photo and links to more on Hank Shteamer's blog.)

Headliners Akitsa I had heard on a couple of Hospital releases, so I thought I had an idea what was coming. Not exactly. Instead of the tortured bleakness I recalled from the records, the Quebecois quartet (as with many black-metal bands, their touring lineup likely augmented the core group on record) came hard and businesslike, a classic black-metal blitz with another top-shelf throat-ripper, O.T., whose static, sneering stance between vocals brazenly projected both "I am here to inflict pain" and "I am here to receive my punishment." The two really surprising things were the almost standard rock & roll backbeat—Akitsa will never outspeed anybody and it hardly matters—and the band's uniform appearance: tightly clipped haircuts plus short-sleeved black shirts with collars. It was enough to give you pause, but that's probably the intent. That or—who doesn't like to look snappy as the end of the world approaches? (Besides most of the audience.)

Other things stood out: Very good sound in the room. Rougly nine-to-one male-to-female ratio, which honestly was less tilted than I thought it would be. Even during the whirlpit that formed during Bone Awl's set, all the young misanthropes treated the club and each other with respect (try getting a roomful of drunken fratboys to behave so well), and it was returned: a couple of kids were semidiscreetly smoking a joint during Ashdautas when security approached and…simply told them to put it out. Also, the three bands looked and sounded completely different, yet all existed within the prescripts of black metal, a super-arcane underground niche that cares a lot about authenticity but which is clearly more open-minded than it might seem from the outside. All three vocalists were world-class. And none of them uttered a single word before, between or after songs.

Friday, May 8, 2009


The long malaise ebbs and flows. Did April even happen? More on that when I feel like it. Though there is this—me on a particularly welcome and unexpected reunion, New York's Chrome Cranks, in a brief, cause-we-can rip through a few dates. Look alive there, Lyonnaise. And dig this for a whiff of the vibe.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Yo La Tengo: still killin' em with the requests

Friday turned out to be a good night to re-create what your ancestors might have done for yuks 60-70 years ago: Stay in and huddle around the radio! What a rip! Also, madly text and e-mail friends while Yo La Tengo, in an annual rite of prespring, play your requests on WFMU, or ones close to them.


The band played on. A ripping version of the Clean's "Getting Older," so many Beach Boys and related that they had to put the kaibosh on it, talk of the Saints, classic ’80s pop and, at the end, comic bits to replace songs they didn't want to-- well:

Ira: "M.I.A., 'Paper Planes'? That's a head-scratcher people."
James: "M.I.A. -- izzat a hardcore band?"
Ira: "The Pixies? Draw'n a blank!"

The band played on. They played everything loose and tight and joyful and right, and what came through is that in these particular six hands, there are no old songs or new songs. In Yo La Tengo's world, there are just songs. The good ones are to be revered, played fast and sloppy or slow and sacred; the lesser ones can still have their 1.5 minutes. The chasm between how Yo La Tengo sees music and how the anxious uncurious indie world they were once lumped in with sees music has never been broader. That world of fake-exciting tour-announcements and predictable dress-alike Forkcast picks and iPod campaigns and cornball Stereogum writing boringly about what's boringly already known. Echo-echo-echo-echoooo. Listening to Yo La Tengo on WFMU didn't make you feel like this soul-murdering winter was drawing to a close; it made it feel as if it hadn't happened at all.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Overheard in the park

I hate those blind "overheard on the train platform" items that populate all the shittier, lazier, more desperate publications around town. Nevertheless…talk too loudly in a public place and your shit may just find its way…[cue music]…to the Internets! [Danh-danh-dannhhh!]

At Tompkins Square Park earlier today. Sipping the best coffee in Manhattan and reading D.T. Max's piece on the late, great David Foster Wallace in The New Yorker, while also doing my No. 1 favorite thing: minding my own. Young woman, not unattractive though dressed in a black and gold "I'm corny, or lazy, or both" tracksuit, sits three benches away, and makes a phone call. Shrill voice, volume set at STUN, with accent, possibly Australian though hard to place:

"Ooh, I miss you already." [pause] "I have separation anxiety already!!!" [pause, then half-sings the next line] "Did you really have to be there at 10 or are you a liii-ar?"

I'm no expert in dating but at this point I could hear him checking for the fastest routes out of town. And who could blame him? (Or her.) Because if that wasn't enough:

"Ooh, I just ate the most yummy pork sandwich from Porcetta, OMG."

She did say "oh-em-gee," by the way. And had some pork on her tracksuit, and her face. It's hard to say this made her any less attractive.

Trust that I didn't want to hear any of it, but she forced it upon me (and a few others, so there's a good chance this isn't even the first blind-blog-item about it). But for a brief few minutes I was made to reappreciate the single life.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Lux Interior R.I.P.

"The Cramps don't pummel and you won't pogo. They ooze, you'll throb." --from the back of Gravest Hits.

(Photo swiped from Stephanie Chernikowski's site.)

Friday, January 30, 2009

Blagojevich and Madoff hate my dj'ing, but Obama likes it

That subject line just quadrupled this blog's numbers. Awesome.

But it is true, which is good news for you (and the President I guess), because of the below superdope notifications you may read now:

Friday Jan 30

Mats Gustafsson with Thurston and Gene Moore 9pm
Whiteout and Samara Lubelski 8pm

DJ Mike Wolf

Club Rehab 25 Ave B (btwn 2nd and 3rd st) NYC
Early show set will start on time.....

Saturday Jan 31

Magik Markers
Eskimo King

DJ's Chris Freeman and Mike Wolf

Glasslands 289 Kent Ave (btwn S 1 and S 2 st) BKLYN
Doors 10pm

Monday, January 26, 2009

Ten from the bottom

Forgot to tell you -- my Pazz + Jop list is up, for those who dare to care about the air up dere. Uh, down here. Just like every year, the overall list is pretty predictable, as these things inevitably are. And just like every year, exactly one of my top ten made the big list. For the first time in a while it wasn't Kanye West though. Like my pal the Dilettante there are a handful of records that only got votes from me -- which, while I generally maintain a "What is wrong with everyone?" mindset (more fun that way), probably only means it's an awfully big world. Or I'm a complete mental defective. (We didn't vote for anything in common, but a couple of hers could've appeared on mine.)

Two records that were going to place highly with me were essentially disqualified when I was later hired by the label that had the great good taste to put them out: Palms and Lia Ices. If you want to know what I think of them both, this was written before I even met the shadowy figure (read: doesn't get enough sunlight) behind the label.

Thinking now about the ten or so other albums that could have made my list, and another ten that got regular play, I have to say it was a pretty good year for music.

Can't believe I haven't even told you about last Friday night yet -- saw one band I already liked bring it to the subsequent plane and picked up a totally new band to dig. Maybe tell you about it all tomorrow…let's just say I'm actively working against this lunatic notion that everything has to go really fast these days. Slow and steady finishes the race, or something.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cut the shit

I grew up about a half a mile outside Philadelphia, where the United States of America was born a short 232-plus years ago. This fact doesn't make me taller or my opinions any more important than those of someone born in Tempe or Wichita or Dallas. (Well, maybe Dallas.) What my childhood there did do, among other things, was provide me with endless elementary-school field trips to a wide range of historically significant sites: The Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Betsy Ross's house, et cetera and on and on. I went to these places under school supervision so many times that the occasional jaunt west into Amish country seemed like a breath of fresh air (though what we really smelled was manure). My ad-nauseum indoctrination into colonial American history seemed to have left little mark on me and my proudly inherited liberal politics until this decade, when everything that anyone believed this country was about got shat upon and spat upon by Bush and his craven allies. Even at its birth this country was not as clean as I was taught—many of our founding fathers owned slaves, the end—but the set of Western freedoms we loosely sum up as "democracy," in tandem with the superpower status held here throughout my lifetime to this point, felt more and more vital to me as they were squelched and distended ever further by the worst administration we've ever had. (And even at that, how many countries can say their worst-ever leader voluntarily surrendered power after eight years? Even when we suck, we kind of rule.)

Where'm I going with this? I apologize for rambling, I haven't written in this space for a while and today was jarringly emotional. Like many caucasians, when the TV cameras at the inauguration paused on the face of a middle-aged or older African-American crying, or saluting, I let myself believe I could possibly grasp 1% of 1% of that struggle.

I think I'm a fucking patriot, is what I'm saying. Check with me on this in four years (or less), but I also think Barack Obama is the best person we've elected president in my lifetime (I was almost two when Dick Nixon won in ’68.) But Obama isn't the problem; we are. As Mark Slouka's "Notebook" essay in the February issue of Harper's (worth the cover price) all-too-convincingly asserts, we have become a people so in love with our own ignorance that we perhaps shouldn't be trusted with this freedom anymore—at least not the freedom to vote. "Anti-intellectualism in America is a very old hat," Slouka writes, citing terrifying (if stray) anecdotes before reminding us that nearly half of those who voted in the last presidential election did so willingly for Sarah Palin (hide the kids) and that other guy. Also, 71% of Americans believe in angels. Linger on that one a bit.

And what about the rabid Obama supporters? "The fact that so many have convinced themselves that one man, thus far almost entirely untested, will slay the culture of corruption with one hand while pulling us out of the greatest mess we've known in a century with the other suggests that a certain kind of 'clap your hands if you believe' naiveté crosses the aisle at will." Then Slouka reminds us that in this pitched, so-important-that-everyone-in-the-world-was-watching election, 83 million Americans "didn't move, didn't vote." Some of them have just plain given up on politics, he admits, and who could blame them? (Well, ultimately, I could, and so could he.) The rest—and it's no small number—are dumber than a box of dirt, and they'd probably beat me to death to stay that way.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for espionage a little more than 50 years ago; what do you think the chances are that we'll see Bush & Co.—whose crimes stretch over the entirety of this decade and cost thousands of American lives (tens or hundreds of thousands of brown-skinned ones)—even brought to trial? The smartest among us wince and know that just to suggest it would be seen as anti-American. It's enough to make a guy wanna pull the wings off an angel (then dry them, crush them and maybe snort them).

I didn't even get around to how the most important things, like um, the election of a president, are seen in terms of sports now. Just listen to the anchors, look at the us vs. them mentality that defines us. And did you hear the "na na na na, hey hey hey, good-bye" cheers when Bush emerged this morning? If I can't see him imprisoned then i guess seeing him ridiculed is…no, no way is it good enough. Clearly I need to start going to rock shows in earnest again, and do little else. Stand by. Or sit, or whatever.