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

Mr Macy Walks Alone – PT Walkley

another pilfering from someone's website. oh, when will it ever stop?by DJW

PT Walkley emerged from the Twitterverse and presented me with his new album along with the words “so proud of new album” (hey, twitter makes you tres frugal with words). And I must say, after listening to it, so he most definitely should be.

Mr Macy Walks Alone is like a complex novel or a poem, as in not only is it a concept album (one of those old fashioned things where the whole thing is like a story arc or at the very least, interconnected songs) that takes us on a journey, but it offers something new, deeper, more vulnerable and exhilariting and exposed at each listen.

For me, the most recent album like this is Kate Bush’s Ariel (which is brilliant).

It’s a strange and risky move, this whole making of a concept/story album. Yes, it’s a step back into nostalgia (if we can say the 60s et al, are nostalgic? Oh, my, why do I have the feeling we can? I know it’s not the drugs…) but it’s also done here and now, in a time when the masses have basically the attention span of a gnat.

However, like any good story, whether it be in bookish, film or music format, the good story will always shine through. Talent shines through.

And the beauty of music is you can choose to listen to it unfold as this artist wanted it to be, or you can jump around, listen and decide which songs you like and which ones you’re not so moved by, like you do on any album.

One thing, though, on the talented Indie stuff I’ve been listening to, is there is usually not much filler like on the (now dying) commercial offerings. You may not like something because it strikes a chord within you, but you are almost always left with that feeling of ‘it’s not my particular cup of tea, but it’s certainly very talented tea’. And yes there are a few songs on this album that really don’t do it for me.

However, I do find those songs sliding into their rightful place when I listen to the album yet again. In a concept piece, like a novel, like a jigsaw, they all have their place and they all work in a symbiotic way.

I think you definitely should give PT Walkley a listen or two.

There is a not-quite-folksy feel, a definite psychadelic 60s groove, a skittering of the Beatles, just for good measure. There’s even a hint of rag time in a couple of songs! Vocally he reminds me of Elliot Smith, James and even a little touch of Damien Rice.

Basically, if you didn’t listen to me when I told you to get your sweet self over to Southpaw a week or so ago, then you were dumb. This man is talented and his music is really quite beautiful. Lyrics and melody and vocals are all meeting quite wonderfully.

Give PT Walkley a listen. Go buy some music. If you’re out and about in NYC, and he’s performing, then go along.

Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 4.5 out of 5 Stars.

Filthy Boy

filthy boy, stolen from their myspace page. by DJW

When a band with the name Filthy Boy adds you as a friend on Myspace, you feel compelled to  check them out.

Filthy Boy, hailing from Mother England, are, according to to their brief bio on their Myspace page, a very young band. Aged between 16 and 17.

They don’t sound it.

With a voice that’s part Nick Cave, part Ian Curtis, with a little tinge of our old friend, Mr Tom Waits, singer Paraic Morrissey definitely commands attention and gives the aura of a man who’s lived life long and hard and still around to tell you all about it.

Their sound is part Nick Cave, and that slight tongue-in-cheek taste of The Magnetic Fields. They are definitely British, a throw back to the late 60s and early 70s, with a nice touch of grunge and a splash of almost (dare one say it?) honky-tonk thrown in for good measure. Like you’ve been transported to Texas in the midst of a kitschy Vampire film of yore.

While there are only three songs on their page, their music is strong and very listenable. So why not click on the link and give them a listen?

The Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 3.65 stars out of 5.

Pauline Kyllonen

picture from her websiteBy DJW

I came across Pauline Kyllonen via Twitter. She sent me a link to her website and I checked it out.

I’m pleased I did.

Although there’s only four songs on her website, they’re a nice showcase of her talent. This Canadian singer/songwriter clearly has roots in country music. It’s that clear, simple weaving of story, melody and a voice that can communicate the emotional undercurrent of the situation being outlined in the song.

When listening to the music, I could see myself in a bar somewhere in the middle of nowhere, having wandered in in the middle of the day for a cold beer and stumbling across Pauline singing on a bare-bones stage.

Her voice is strong and clear, reminding me of Australian singer, Deborah Conway. A strong woman who won’t take any crap, but one who’s been through a lot, seen many things in her life and is willing to share.

The melancholy sounds bring Chris Isaak to mind, and they are the kind of tunes to listen to when sipping a cold beer or glass of white wine, most certainly on a balcony somewhere, alone, to immerse yourself in the images and emotions her songs conjure up.

I don’t know if Pauline Kyllonen is ever heading to NYC for a gig, but if she is, I’ll be there to check her out. If you’re in Canada and happen to be where she’s playing, you should check her out…

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

The Monte Vista @ The National Underground 03/27/09

The Monte Vista rocking out @ The National Underground

by DJW

This was my first viewing of The Monte Vista live and they did not disappoint (which is a good thing, because Mr. Neil does not like to be disappointed, since it’s always just so…disappointing).

After hearing their CD I’d marked them as a band to watch for. It’s a great CD, and they promised a good live performance, but they exceeded my expectations.

The National Underground’s cave-like space doesn’t work for every band’s style and vibe. But it suited The Monte Vista down to the ground. The space is small, but not intimate, and it’s the kind of place if you don’t have the ability to hold your audience then they will slip through your fingers.

The Monte Vista held our attention tight from the first few bars and the crowd moved in around the stage. The only other act with the same ability I’d seen that night was The Nightrats, and each for their own, distinctive reasons.

Good music is open, honest, vibrant, and those that hear it know it. No matter what umbrella it comes under, it’s that undeniable truth we all seek out.

I said it in my review of their CD, and after hearing them live, I shout it out. They have the soul of a Melbourne (Australia) pub band (which to those of you sadly not in the know, is a damned good thing).

I think Crowded House, Hunters and Collectors, Paul Kelly, even Midnight Oil. I’m not saying they are the same musically as The Monte Vista, but they all share a realness, a commitment to their vision that’s not tainted by gimmicks, mirrors or names. Just no-holds-barred talent. Pure and simple.

The Monte Vista‘s high energy, no bullshit performance draws you in. Edgy, sharp and eminently watchable.

They are a band who are able to sound different live yet stay true to their recorded sounds. Edgier and darker than their CD, the intensity is a pulsating neon sign that belongs in a smoky, beer-stained bar, with people who know the score.

Their front man, Jesse Lent, is a rocker who has the fine distinction of moving from sub-genre to sub-genre without compromising his artistic vision. And the bassist and drummer know how to do the same. The band is smooth crooner melded with raw Iggy Pop honesty. Their grunge-tinged edge made the entire room rock out and the girls lean in.

The Monte Vista were pure single malt whiskey, straight up, from the bottle. Fire in the belly, uncompromising yet smooth.

I don’t know when they’re playing next, but if you haven’t heard them, check them out, both on their website, and on myspace. And then, head on down to their next show. You won’t regret it.

Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 4.65 out of 5.

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.