Jesse Lent, Unplugged @ 25th & 1st, 25/04/09

Making sweet music for our earsby DJW

I happen to know of Jesse Lent, simply because he fronts one of my favourite NY bands, The Monte Vista, so when I was informed he was playing a solo acoustic (unplugged, if you will indulge me) show this past Saturday, I was both excited and apprehensive.

Excited because talent is always exciting. Apprehension, however, because some artists cannot provide that ‘X’ factor to something so honest and intimate.

And good acoustic must be honest and intimate. It must also be compelling. And we were in an outdoor setting, which sometimes doesn’t give a performer the platform to deliver the goods.

Luckily, Jesse Lent was more than able to deliver. He was honest, real, and yet larger than life. The thing you need to grab an outdoor audience. Lent commanded our attention through the organic flow of voice, instrument and the emotion he conjured through each song.

Lent‘s performance was Chris Isaak without all that angst, Dylan if he was born in the 70s, and also a splash of Neil – that crooner quality in his voice.

As I said, I love his band, but to be perfectly honest, I preferred him like this. It could be because I have a real love of this kind of music. Especially when it’s done this well. When it’s just the performer and their instrument, the ability to be organic and flexible with the sound, with your own mood and the mood of the room, is thrilling from the audience’s perspective. Think Nick Cave’s live acoustic performances (the man and his piano) in Berlin with his Bad Seed songs and you know exactly what I mean.

Playing familiar songs in an unexpected, fresh way is what keeps audiences coming back again and again. Even when you think you know what’s coming, each performance is injected with something new and that’s exciting.

Jesse Lent did just that. The Monte Vista songs I knew were presented to us in a fresh and new way. Lovely, unexpected, honest and real.

I can’t go without mentioning Lent‘s one cover song. INXS’s Never Tear Us Apart. It was fantastic. Lent owned the song, made it his without betraying the base truth of the song.

Mr Neil says, my hat off to you, young sir. Mr Neil also says, more solo shows, please!

The Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 4.75 out of 5 stars

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Upcoming Shows

listen up!

PT Walkley – Southpaw, Brooklyn, 8pm, April 17. This is something you shouldn’t miss! I have a review of his album coming soon.

The Nightrats – Zebulon Cafe, Williamsburg, 9pm, April 18. Again, please go. This is pretty much my favourite NY band. If you miss this, you shall regret it!

The Nightrats @ The National Underground 03/27/09

The Nightrats using dark magic to transport you to Paris....

by DJW

When The Nightrats took the stage in their black Chairman Mao uniforms, it was a tiny nugget of dramatics that perfectly complimented their unique music to come. A great entrance is always welcomed and in a space like The National Underground, where the stage is a cave at the back of the room (and not elevated), this feat can be somewhat hard to do.

And, their little army is swelling (I knew it!). They have a drummer now. I was told he approached the band after their gig at Goodbye Blue Monday about drumming for them. That gig, if you remember (or care to go and read the review listed upon our hallowed pages), was a mere ten days ago, but listening to them play, you’d never realise – the drummer melded seamlessly into the band and they sounded as good as ever. In fact, it sounded as if he’d been with them forever.

It did, however, give The Nightrats a slightly more organic feel. Without having to rely on and, indeed, keep in step with their prerecorded drums, I felt there was more room to explore. It wasn’t better or worse; simply different, and that’s always a good thing.

But they did still have the samples that give them their vaudeville/Coney Isle edge, for which I am most pleased. In fact I can see them playing at one of those tacky places on Coney’s boardwalk on a rainy pre-season day, with a bunch of grizzled old men drinking whiskey…

The National Underground (the cave of a stage not withstanding) was still a step further away from my dream of the hole-in-the-wall Parisian hangout where they play for my delight (damn it), but The Nightrats took the space and made it all their own.

Being a band with an intimate feel working with a space that is not intimate at all (simply small), they were more than able to adapt to the space’s vibe.

Their sound was different, more spiky energy, something a place like The National Underground demands if you want to be able to keep your audience interested. And keep their audience interested, they did.

The sound was dark whiskey and melted ice with a splash of Brooklyn chutzpa added for a more robust flavour.

Still evocative, still addictive, still alluring, but more than able to stand up to whatever comes their way.

The Nightrats prove themselves to be a band that can work the vibe of the room as easily as if it were nothing more than air. They are a flexible, organic entity that can continually offer forth quality in familiarity’s cloak and yet always promise and deliver new gifts that surprise and delight.

Seriously. This is one extremely talented band. Their music is unique, addictive and hot. So do yourself a favour if you haven’t sampled The Nightrats. Give them a listen through their myspace link. Buy some songs – you’ll be more than glad you did.

They are next playing at Zebulon Cafe, 258 Wythe St in Williamsburg, 9pm, April 18.

Be there or you’re gonna kick yourself (also you’ll be square, man, SQUARE.).

The Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 4.65 out of 5 stars (and they are all golden.)

Swoon & Mike Borgia Downstairs @ The National Underground 03/27/09

Swoon

swoon's moody pop rock upbeat angst music on stage.by DJW

While we’d actually come to see both The Nightrats and The Monte Vista (Mr. Neil is in command of a very small troop division), our early arrival introduced us to Swoon.

Sometimes you don’t know what you’re going to get with early arrivals, but this was a pleasant surprise.

Swoon have a nice brooding pop sound that seemed to suit the National Underground space very well. Especially since the space has its own nice, dark, brooding quality going on.

Singer Minnie Cho’s understated voice is, like the melodies, pleasing and delicate, but with an intriguing edge. And it provided a nice counterbalance to the grungy guitars.

Swoon‘s crowd was small, but enjoying the show, which is always a good sign.

For me their vibe was tinged with an ’80s and ’90s edge. Grunge meets Tiffany. It was as if someone had morphed aspects of Nirvana to parts of The Bangles, and that band was now cheerfully wandering along the road of teen-angst with a pop-melodic beat (and we should throw a piece of Brit-pop in for good measure).

Swoon held the attention of their crowd and they are definitely a band to check out.

Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 3 out of 5 stars.

Mike Borgia

Mike Borgia rocking it old school. You know, with an acoustic guitar.by DJW

Mike Borgia performed between The Nightrats and The Monte Vista, and he apparently was a last minute fill in for the night, which is never an easy thing (but always, as any artist knows, a great opportunity).

A paired down, bare-bones presence on the stage, Mike Borgia played acoustic guitar with (in a throwback to another time) accompaniment from a double bass. While the feeling was somewhat reminiscent of folk, as in a quiet, listening space is seemingly demanded (I remember being shushed and given the evil side eye at a Bob Dylan concert in Canberra…), which with the crowd didn’t seem to be quite right, Mike Borgia isn’t folk.

His music really did warrant a close listen, and he had elements of an edgier Dallas Green, and his vocals, arrangements, guitar and honesty reminded me of Paul Kelly, a favourite of mine.

His voice had a lovely, clear emotional scale to it which makes him someone almost designed (when playing in this intimate way) for a small place, somewhere with a crowd that is sitting down and sipping their cocktails or coffee, a crowd that had come to actually mellow out and listen.

All in all, Mike Borgia is definitely worth your while checking out. His sound on his myspace page is at times different, which promises for a versatile performer, which I always find most positive. My only beef with his myspace is there are only snippets of songs (a fine marketing ploy on his behalf), so you’ll have to mosey on along to one of his performances or download some songs. Mr. Neil will check out another performance when he plays in town.

The Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 3 out of 5 stars.

Downstairs @ The National Underground

disco-dancing empty beer mug?by DJW

While I think I visited the upstairs part of The National Underground for about three whole minutes (which makes me somewhat unqualified to offer forth a review), the downstairs certainly knows how to rock your evening for you.

It’s a small space, with a couple of booths in the back, right at the side of the stage – the perfect spot for the talent of the evening to hang. The bar is at the back, a nice place to sip your beverage of choice whilst checking out the music.

It’s a dingy, dark spot that for some reason reminds me of those tiny hole-in-the-wall nightclubs that seem to populate certain country towns in Australia, especially during the ’90s. But that could just be me.

There is plenty of standing room, presumably under the assumption people are going there to watch the music, rather than natter with their friends or the nearest drunk.

The stage is a cave with strange, low lighting that still manages to showcase the talent of the evening very well.

Basically, if you’re popping in for a quick drink, then this isn’t the place for you. Of course, this isn’t the place to be doing that anyway. This is a venue for live music, pure and simple, and for that, it’s great. For me, the drinks are a little pricey, but I assume this is because many people don’t come there to drink, but to watch the music, and like all music venues, there is a drink minimum, because the bar has to make money. Meeting the drink minimum, however, is never a painful thing.

A highlight of the evening was chatting with the charming and driven Dan Herman, booking agent for the evening (for NYC Gigs, an agency that puts out consistently high quality shows of musicians with a New York area fanbase, and judging from his booking of two of Mr. Neil’s favourite NYC bands, this is very much true), and advocate of hot indie music. Herman believes in getting these bands exposure, not only through live venues, but also on his Radio Crystal Blue, an online radio station devoted to indie music. It’s definitely something to check out. As he said to me, “[tonight is]…a great evening of quality music.”

And he wasn’t wrong.

Downstairs at The National Underground is a mecca for new bands – there’s live music every night. So check it out for yourself. And if you see any of Mr. Neil’s favourites are booked for any night in the future, then do yourself a favour and head on down to the Lower East Side for a night of fabulous music, guaranteed.

Downstairs @ The National Underground, 159 E. Houston St, at the corner of Allen St, Manhattan.

Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 3 out of 5 stars.