07 May 2007

Photos+: Hopewell/La Laque (28) | Masada mini fest (29)

Liffy came to town this past weekend, so we had to get some good thick-of-NYC music in. First some good eats, though. The fryer came out of hiding for some fantastic wings and a first stab at some onion rings... wethunk they were alright:

Luna Lounge, Brooklyn, 4 May 2007

Friday night was Hopewell at (the new) Luna Lounge in Brooklyn. The room gets a provisional thumbs up from OTW upon first visit. Good size (figure 200-300ish comfortably), good sightlines all around (nary a support column to be seen), good layout (bar on the far side of the door; wide area in front of the stage), big fat stage.... sound was decent in most spots, better close to the stage than near the bar for sure.

Hopewell is a band I've been meaning to check out live for a while. They seem to play a ton of gigs around town but I'm always on a different schedule. Glad I finally caught them. Band is two guitars one played by lead vocalist plus keyboards, bass, drums. The key for the first two thirds of the show was the bass/drums combo. These guys just made the whole thing work for me -- the bulk of both the technical talent and the rock-this-shit-out energy came from the rhythm section who were out of the Moon/Entwhistle school of kickin' ass. When the songs would make their way to the bridge or an extended instrumental section, it was these guys that seemed to pour out the melody while the guitarists took a supporting role. Based on delicious bass playing alone, Hopewell is worth checking out. The front man had a wonderfully semi-psychotic slant to his presence which worked in the context and his energy was just the right mix of everything you'd want in a guy leading your band. As the set went on, he became more and more integral to what was going on... not coincidentally, the shit got tighter and tighter. While that first chunk was well worthwhile and would have had me thinking "definitely gotta check these guys out again," it was all a set-up for the payoff that was the last 3 or 4 songs. These guys didn't necessarily jam or even go off instrumentally too much, but that last stretch may have been one song or it may have been several, I don't know, they all ran together perfectly. It was one of those sum greater than moments -- so many bands and musicians out there, the line between what's good, what's great and what's transcendent seems to be dictated mostly by perception, mood and context. If you want Hopewell to blow your mind, they may very well do so.

The final blistering 15 minutes came to a close with a kick ass cover of Jane's Addiction's "Of Course" with a long, psychedelic intro and zig-zagging vocals and guitars. "What do they sound like?" is usually the hardest question to answer... especially in words. If we instead use music as our language, cover songs are a great way to start (which is why I wish all bands would play at least a couple covers). If I had to sum up my 1st Hopewell experience it would be with this set-ending cover. They made it their own. Of course, you could just check out their myspace page or just go see 'em live.

We stuck around for the next band which was La Laque. If I had to sum up this one in a word it'd be: sex. There's a band back there playing some weird manic surf popedelica via Paris circa 1965, but really all you're paying attention to is the woman up front. She was wearing a dress that was little more than a towel wrapped around her waist and made eyes at the sparse audience as she sang in French. The music was actually pretty good, or I was tricked into believing so by the slithering seductress.

The base of the band -- guitar, drums and bass -- actually seemed to operate completely independently of their main attraction, digging deep. The drummer especially seemed to be on a different level, but it all worked together. I wouldn't say no to another La Laque experience, although I figure they'd work wonders in a more lounge setting.

Abrons Arts Center, 5 May 2007

Saturday was, as the stench flows, just across the Willamsburg Bridge, but musically and emotionally, we may as well have taken the J train to Jupiter. John Zorn continues to work the onion bagel of the Lower East Side with his special schmear of Masada cream cheese. Saturday was a show put on by the wonderful folks that brought you such next-level shit as everything that happened at Tonic for the past however many years. They've moved on and are doing a limited number of shows at Abrons Arts Center which is both more lower and more east than before. The performance space is like a small lecture hall, maybe a 1/3 of the size of a standard high school auditorium. File under ironic: all the nights I spent at Tonic wishing I had a comfy seat... took the place to get priced out of the neighborhood, I guess. But I was comfortable!

This was the John Zorn Masada Book II "mini fest" -- two nights, 4 different ensembles all playing songs from the gift that keeps on giving that is the Masada songbook. Saturday was Shanir Blumenkranz Group and the Masada String Trio. Let's get the superlatives out of the way quickly: the best damn musicians. period. Blumenkranz played the oud and was backed by Erik Friedlander on cello, Greg Cohen on bass, Rob Burger on accordion, Satoshi Takeishi on percussion and Steve Gorn on flutes. Masada music is first and foremost a Jewish music, balancing nicely the sounds of the Middle East with Eastern European. Under this ensemble's direction, though, the music was just flat out foreign without regard to where it came from or where it was going. Who knew that these instruments would mesh the way they did Saturday night? With the exotic, droning twang of the oud leading the way, the sounds of these disparate elements came together in what could only be described as magical ways.

Every once in a while it's good to just get serious about music and for all the uninhibited glee this music builds inside me, it is nothing if not serious. Watching these masters play and interact with each other is to appreciate not just this music but music itself. You get a sense of not just the sound but what makes the sound: the way a bow across a string makes it vibrate and how a finger plucking the same will be similar and yet undeniably different; the way air blown into a long wooden cylinder will form a standing wave across its length; the strange dynamics of the accordion and so on. And somehow, as you sit in your cushioned seat, 6 men coax all this noise, these sounds, out of these instruments and make them all coexist in such a way that it sends chills down your spine. Serious stuff.

This is what John Zorn can do -- he's not even in the band, not even on stage... actually he's sitting a couple rows in front of us in the audience. Yet here is this music he has made, and it's really a simple music, the range across the hundreds of compositions in the Masada catalog don't vary too much, to the point of many songs sounding pretty similar when you get down to it. But somehow it inspires. It is the thing that makes mere mortals , talented to be sure, but men nonetheless, somehow do miraculous things. The spider that bites Peter Parker turning entire bands into a group of superhuman Spidermen, defying gravity and the laws of physics with the music that they make. The last song or two were above and beyond what the $20 ticket required. Group mind, a musical seance where we all conversed with the dead. I only hope these guys play again and that they're recording some time soon...

Not to be outdone, the old guard of the Masada String Trio followed after a short break. By this time the work week and the previous night were weighing down on my eyelids and I drifted in and out of consciousness. It may have been that I dreamed the whole thing. There are no 3 musicians out there that know, I mean really know each other, the way these three do. Tinker to Evers to Chance except turning triple plays... every inning... ever. Here Zorn sits on the stage and "conducts" but really I think he just wants to sit close to see if whatever these three -- Friedlander, Cohen and Mark Feldman -- are on. "How do they do it?" he's thinking to himself as he sits there counting out beats, "what's the trick?"

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