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 clich├ęs 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.