The Nightrats @ Southpaw 05/21/09

Before I launch into this review of one of the most innovative, exciting and fabulous bands running about the NYC area (well, I’m not sure if they run, but they do make some mighty fine music), Mr. Neil would like to say sorry for being so incommunicado.

Mr. Neil has been busy. This review and the other three following it, are, for want of a better few words, really bloody late. There’s no excuse, except for the fact I was busy. There are lots of sparkly bits and bobs and things to be…shined, in the Mr. Neil fiefdom. Sometimes these things are very important and they make the sharing of great musical experiences run quite late.

But I think we’re back on track.

ANYWAY, BACK TO THE NIGHTRATS @ SOUTHPAW!

OMG! The Nightrats!

Having a Thursday night headlining gig at an Indie Mecca spot like Southpaw was a great boon for The Nightrats, and I was excited for them. I got on my bike and trundled over to Park Slope.

They had two acts before them, Golden Bones and Miracles of Modern Science (MOMS). The bands were all very different, and for some reason that worked perfectly. The crowd grew as the night went on and by the time The Nightrats were ready to play, the audience was more than ready for them.

Last time I heard them, they had two other members. This time, it was just the two of them, Randy Frey and Chris McMillen… and old Mozart’s rusty squeezebox, supplying us with their samples to go with their songs.

Thing was, it didn’t matter. It just didn’t matter; in fact, it may have been more powerful because of this.

Whether it’s two people, or our two leading men and a whole ensemble supporting them, I’ve seen enough of their shows to know they are always true to their music while still being able to be free and organic in their musical growth and output on the night

I always go back to 50s Paris when describing them, but seriously, they invoke, no matter where they are, what the space or the mood and size of the crowd, an intimate musical experience that is at once pure art and fantastic entertainment.

The acoustics at Southpaw are great, but even if they weren’t this band would have still owned the crowd. People stopped talking and started listening when they took the stage.

They nailed it. The space was big, their musical style is intimate and yet they managed to fill the space with their sound and presence while still making everyone there think they were one of a few privileged people listening to something underground, hip, happening, ultra smooth-cool, and listening to it way before anyone else would be, for a while.

I don’t call them rock stars, or rock star wannabes. They have too much talent, integrity and artistic vision for that (not that there’s anything wrong with being a rock star, or wanting to be, these are simply very different visionistic styles and also different musical styles. But, it is very easy when you’re on the stage to launch into ego-assuaging moves without thinking once about what you want to give, only wanting the accolades).

The Nightrats are artists who have that factor to appeal to the general public, once they catch on.

The thing is, I say listen to them now when you have the chance before you find yourself having to fork over many a pretty penny to hear them play. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

  • The Nightrats are playing tomorrow night (Saturday!) at Public Assembly, in Brooklyn, at 8pm, sharp. It was meant to be in the back room, but now they’re taking the mainstage That’s 8pm, Public Assembly, 70 N 6th St, Williamsburg.

Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 4.89 out of 5 Stars.

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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.

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.)

The Nightrats at Goodbye Blue Monday, 3/17/09

it's the nightrats!by DJW

Nestled in deepest, darkest Bushwick (okay, on Broadway), Brooklyn, Goodbye Blue Monday is pretty much not the place I expected to be on St. Patrick’s Day.

GBM, a coffee shop/bar, a dark hole in the wall filled with a mishmash of books, garage sale leftovers and lighting by the local gypsies was not the underground Parisian hole-in-the-wall spot I’d wanted to see The Nightrats play in, but it has its own threadbare air of cool intimacy.

Perfect for The Nightrats.

This was my first viewing of them live, and I must say I loved what I saw. Slightly different to their recorded stuff (and so it should be), their quirky, intimate vibe remained, with the live vocals actually making it more so.

Randy Frey’s velvet voice invites you to lean in, immerse yourself in their music. The Nightrats don’t command or demand you with their presence, they beguile.

The three performers took the stage, dressed in black, Hugo Bossish uniforms (actually black replicas of Chairman Mao uniforms), and armed with guitars. They looked good, not gimmicky, presenting us with a persona that transformed them into a cohesive army of three (three so far in their nefarious underground army, but I’m watching closely…).

When they started playing they were accompanied by pre-recorded drums, beats, and sounds laced with those scratches and ticks of yesteryear recordings, which gave them an almost surreal, vaudeville and Coney Island on a cold pre-season day feel, where you eat fried food and drink whiskey with old sea dogs.

Tonight The Nightrats had a circa 1950s surfer movie sound to them. Well, if the surfer film had been made by David Lynch.

In fact, I could see Lynch using their music in a future dark, strange and compelling project, or even having the band play in the background of a dark and weird bar scene in said future film…

The music was tight, with a polish on the good side of slick and a beat beyond drums that comes from within the vocals and melodies that infects your veins and stays with you long after the last note.

The Nightrats have a sound dark like good coffee laced with bourbon and a live vibe that belongs in muted neon nights.

I’m most definitely excited about seeing this band at their next show. The Nightrats are one to watch out for and I recommend seeing them soon, before they’re discovered.

See you at the next gig.

(March 27th, 9pm @ The National Underground in Manhattan, NY)

Neil Diamond’s Seal of Approval Rating? 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Chin Chin at Union Pool 3/10/09

I was excited to see Chin Chin live for the first time. Up until this point I’d only hit them up on the You-Tizzles and I had an appetite to see what they could do live.

We rallied troops and began gravitating to the back bar at Union Pool. The list girl at the door was nice (a rarity) and in we went.

The music that the DJ was playing was great. I couldn’t quite put my finger on the funk, so I asked what he was rocking.

“Just a little foreplay,” he said with a wink. “You know baby, kind of like Prom night…”

I turned around to finish my lap of the room (I always like to come full circle) but I was stuck, the crowd had grown so thick. Thick, foreplay, prom night….I was starting to get really excited. For the show (so keep your mind out of the gutter, people).

The show started with their own version of foreplay…the Chin Chin‘s new video “Go There With You”. The video, directed by Brody Baker, was hot.

Their sound? My friend George described it thus: “If you melted an M & M on your nipple and someone licked it.” Right on. 70’s love power, George Clinton and The Parliaments funk-a-licious! Disco Biscuits (on speed and making Honor Roll)!

Toward the end of the show they took on a more Phish/Pink Floyd jam band tone and then came an amazing surprise when the drummer, Torbitt Schwarz, stepped away from his drum set and broke into a really deep hot guitar solo. A great way to close a show.

The sound is lush, polished to extremely shiny, and unabashedly retro. Think Shaft. Think shimmery bell-bottomed jumpsuits, disco balls and those excellent dance floors that light up. Think over-the-top funk ‘n’ roll. Their vibe is tinted with a sly tongue-in-cheek overtone, and they invite everyone in the room to join in.

And the normally cooler-than-cool Williamsburg crowd did just that.

Chin Chin possesses a tight, professional sound, and it’s obvious they’re having fun while doing it. Which makes a show always that much more enjoyable, no matter how much or, indeed, little, talent a band has. Luckily, Chin Chin has talent.

I am more than looking forward to their next gig. I hope to see you there.

The Neil Diamond Seal of Approval Rating? 4.25 out of 5 stars.

The Beach Project at Trash Bar 3/4

myspace pilfering rocks...stolen from their page.

There is something to be said for going to shows on time. There are so many little details you get to take in. Highly recommended (only when open bar is provided): SHOW UP TO SHOWS ON TIME!

I noticed the lead singer of The Beach Project earlier in the night because she was wearing hottie-for- hot-hot-pants (not that I was looking but I couldn’t help but notice). She stood next to me at the bar and asked the bartender for a water, I sensed that she was not just an overdressed patron but a LEAD SINGER and about to go on! She appeared friendly but serious, responsibly keeping a supply of H20 nearby for quenching her cords during the show but obviously not high up enough to have a manager to get her water (man I love this indie shit, it’s so real, so now, it’s so what you make of it….and she seemed to be making the best of it) or, maybe she was just getting a goddam water and I’m looking too into it? I don’t know I don’t care, I’m just saying.

I was now anxiously awaiting for her band to go on (but of course I just stood there and tried to play it cool…b/c you know I am cool…well, that’s what my mother says, anyway). Not only the hot pants but she had on what looked like some sort of self created butterfly extreme plung V neck.

Ok, now enough about the ambience and outfits, let’s get to the music. What can I say, besides ultimately lovely vocals! Peaceful, soothing their music reinforced an almost lost belief I had about of finding goodness in life. They were sharp on point electoro pop, candy shop hotness. They had a real ’80s vibe and there were touches of Kate Bush and Bjork in both her vocalisation and her theatrics. The band had the crowd into them.

Definitely a band to check out.

Neil Diamond Seal of Approval Rating? 3.75 out of 5 stars. Mr. Neil is very fastidious about his rating system.

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