05 July 2007

Review: Three Times One

At the end of Saturday night's Bad Plus early show, Ethan Iverson, wrapping up the proceedings and thanking everyone said something like "This being New York, this is just the beginning of your evening..." and damn, ain't it the truth... and damn if I wasn't too exhausted to take advantage of the 2 or 3 other shows going on that fine midsummer's evening -- shows that I had been hoping all week to squeeze in. No, this reviewer was too plumb exhausted Saturday night to do anything beyond an early set of sit-down jazz: twas the Friday night threefer that done killed me. Read on for my tales of whoa!

It's a tale of 2 boroughs:

The early part of my afternoon/evening went work>follow Mets win on mlb.com>train>Shake Shack>South Street Seaport. Bim, bam, boom the evening started off with striking precision and I got to the Seaport just in time for some FREE music courtesy of Sam Champion. There was a time when these guys seemed like a Rana spin-off outfit with the best damn band name to come out of NYC in a long time, but these boys are all grown up and true-blue rock and rollers they've become quite nicely. With ex-Rana drummer Ryan Thornton setting things up with enthusiasm from behind and Noah Chernin leading things on vocals, the band laid down an eminently enjoyable hour of Friday evening music. The Seaport is one of those pitch-perfect spots to see music; sandwiched between what is essentially a mall on one side and an big ole historic looking three-mast behemoth of a boat on the other, the don't-touch-the-water river providing a picturesque backdrop behind it doesn't get much more New York than that. Nor does an evening start off much better than that. All music tastes better when it's free and outdoors, but I think Sam Champion would have been equally a-rockin' in any other setting. Like many a alt-pop act these days, the mash of stylistic influences is overt from the get-go: take a heaping tablespoon each of Pavement and Neil Young (all years) and you've got yourself your own Sam Champion. Still, at some point it's all about conviction and they carried it off well for the half-attention-paying crowd. Midway through the show they brought out the guitar player's brother to play acoustic guitar for the rest of the set. Guest guitar strumming? That might not get the "special" appended to the "guest," but still, and somewhat surprisingly, that extra twang in the mix helped beef things up even more. The set arced wondrously such that the whole thing built up to the last couple of songs which brought it up a notch or two and ended on point for the next rendezvous quite nicely. I did learn that I need to stop neglecting Sam Champion -- that's some sweet stuff there -- there aren't too many surprises in there, but they'll rock you good.

A few of us broke off and shuttled via cab over the Williamsburg Bridge to Brooklyn's hipster zoo and entered the Luna Lounge in time to grab a drink and set up camp absolutely anywhere we wanted. It was a bit empty there, but that's OK -- it appears that any room and any crowd will do for the ass-in-your-face rock and roll of Emergency Party. My regular readers (big howdy to the five of you: Ma, John, Brother Billy-Bob, Schmuel and Big Zeke!) should already be tracking my love for EP, so there should be no surprise why I would risk cab fare and a river jump for a band the rest of you are saying "whoozit?" to. Well, it takes at least 3 times to hitch onto the Ned-O-Matic: 1st is the smell test, 2nd is the taste test, and on the 3rd time we chew swallow and hope we don't puke. Well, I'm happy to report that Emergency Party has passed without incident and -- giddy-up! -- have made the cut! I'm almost to the point of recognizing songs and with that recognition has come the realization that it may never matter. It all rocks. Friday's set started off with the lead nutcase playing on a sitar. The song felt new... brand new, like they had worked it out that afternoon. It had the potential to be something awesome, though, a fierce melodic line throughout, some sweet sounds from the sitar and that blistering nonlinear rock and roll that made me fall in love with these guys in the first place. The vocals were way off here, which is what made me feel it was new, there was little confidence in the playing, but still plenty of fun. Once they got over that hurdle, they fell back into their comfort zone and despite the serious lack of crowd in front of the stage, laid it on thick like we were packed back-to-chest from stage to bar. Gotta love a band that don't seem to give a shit, and Emergency Party has that in spades. At one point the lead singer was rolling about so that he was singing while lying on his stomach with his head just at the stage's edge. Anyway, everything I've said about these guys in the past continues to hold true on repeated viewings and if you live in the city and hold any faith in my ability to point you toward something worthwhile: GO SEE 'EM!! They may not have the most talent of anyone out there, but they've got a lotta frickin' talent. Their songs may not be the best songs you've ever heard but they're pretty frickin' good. They may not rock the hardest of anyone out there, but they rock pretty frickin' hard... heck, Dave Dreiwitz was quite obviously lovin' the heck out of them as he waited for his turn, need I say more? [also, NOTE: to guy taping this set, if you're reading this, I'd love to get a copy, you took off before I could pester you].

The next band up was Sounds of Greg D which is lead by a guy... a guy named Greg D. More importantly, he's got Dreiwitz on bass and Ryan Thornton on drums (and another perfectly talented dude on keyboards). You know those nights where you get to see Tugboat play in two different bands? This was one of those nights. Really, that rhythm section should seal the deal. The music was passable rock and roll with a ton of potential and some earnest earnestness from Mr. D. I didn't hate it and really, any band that features Dave D. on bass is a band I'd pay money to see.

The evening could have ended here and ended quite nicely. Peter Tomarken appeared before me and asked if I'd like to press my luck. With a confident "No Whammies!" stride, I was L-Train bound: back to Manhattan! This may be the year I become acquainted with Emergency Party, but it is most certainly the year I become overwhelmed with the talent that is Jenny Scheiman. It just so happens that Ms. Jenny was playing Friday night, supporting Todd Sickafoose at the 55 Bar. While I was one night late to bid adieu to Wayne Krantz, I was just in time to get my Scheinman on!

Todd Sickafoose is one of those (recent to) NYC musicians who gets around and spreads his seed, seemingly playing with everyone and getting a whole lotta good folk to play with him. His most recent ensemble is Blood Orange which itself seems pretty amorphous. Like many of these guys, the band is more the music and who plays it is only important on the night in question. Friday night the band was looking too good to forgo in favor of sleep: Scheinman on violin, Simon Lott II on drums, Shane Endsley on trumpet, Alan Ferber on trombone and Mike Gamble and Jonathan Goldberger on guitars. That's a lot of musicians to cram into that itty bitty space, Mr. Sickafoose, but I can see you've taken to playing in New York just fine.

I arrived at 55 Bar just in time to catch the late set in toto. In the immortal word of Stuart Scott: booyah! Oh for a notebook, I could have written down the songs they played, but let's just say they played all the good ones. They started off with a tune that no one seemed too comfortable playing, the guitar section was particularly off from the get-go and yet it all seemed to work out after a few minutes of stumbling in the dark. The group was interesting in inversion such that the guitars were treated more like a string section and the violin more like the lead guitar. I couldn't have been happier, the music was sublimely beautiful and Jenny played multiple solos throughout the set which were unmatched in "that was sick!"-ness compared with just about everything else I've heard this year. If I may, dog, quote Mr Scott again, Jenny Scheinman is cooler than the other side of the pillow. If you've got something better to show me, be my guest. I've run out of adjectives.

Sickafoose was excellent in bridging the band together, locking up with Lott while giving each plenty of freedom. Songs twisted and tied together really nicely so that the extent of the hour or so they played just felt like one long, dreamy orchestration: a single song with multiple movements. 55 Bar is the perfect place to catch the music after the music and this was the perfect stuff for the setting. I couldn't have been happier. Horns, strings, guitars -- all were of one mind... that's good leadership.

The most exciting thing about this show is that everyone tucked into the corner of the bar that serves as the stage was good and young and deeply into it. It's always fascinating to observe the different New York families of musicians, the way guys like Zorn and Frisell breed new band leaders and seeing how they all feed off each other incestuously in both styles and personnel. This music had a strong Frisellian feel to it, gentle, melodic, beautiful, but not afraid to bite or to explore. In fact, Sickafoose put together a band here that played better music and better songs than anything I've heard from Bill in quite a bit. Of course, the last time I saw Jenny, she was with Frisell... and the last time I saw Jonathan Goldberger, I think, was with Joe Russo making mind-flipping exotica in the pre-Duo days.

But I digress -- OTW to do: check out Sam Champion, Emergency Party, Todd Sickafoose.

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