Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Sufficiently Peculiar Review #2

Rodriguez @ Bowery Ballroom, NYC
Friday, May 15th, 2009

By Miles Kowitt

It is a now legendary story of VH1 Behind the Music proportions; Mexican-born Detroit-based singer-songwriter, Sixto Rodriguez, now aged 67, comes out of a 30-year period of obscurity and receives long-overdue international acclaim. In 1970, with his name only known in the sleaziest dive bars on the darkest streets of the Motor City, Rodriguez, a then 20-something upstart, recorded an album with Motown session aces and inked a record deal with Hollywood-based Sussex Records. That album, Cold Fact, proved to be a psychedelic folk-rock masterpiece peppered with eclectic and often apocalyptic musical flourishes offering biting social observations about class, race, gender and equality in American culture. Of course, the album was doomed to obscurity here in the U.S., but somehow wound up on the shores of such far-flung places as South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. A trip to the U.K. was arranged and Rodriguez found himself in Lansdowne Recording Studios in early-70’s London with a crack producer and top session men. His sophomore album, Coming From Reality, was released in late 1971 on Sussex with high hopes, but again disappeared without a trace.

His music career abandoned, Rodriguez became a blue-collar man back in Detroit and worked construction and hard-labor jobs for a meager paycheck. By this time, the idea of making music again, let alone touring, seemed as far away to him as the mountains of Mars. All the while, his album Cold Fact became a staple of rock record collections in South Africa, nestled comfortably between the Beatles and Dylan and blaring out of dorm rooms and car speakers all across that country. A pretty, young South African woman at the show said, “To me his album will always be summer camp in the countryside with red wine and really good pot.”

True enough, several South Africans at the New York show shockingly knew every word to those songs, singing and bopping their heads as if they had lived and breathed those songs. In fact, those songs were part of the soundtrack to their lives, despite the cold fact that very few record buyers here even knew who Rodriguez was. But the wheel of history is an uncanny mechanism and turns in the most unexpected ways. Out of the blue, a promoter contacted Rodriguez about doing some shows in South Africa. Thinking he’d play a few dive bars for chump change and drink some free booze, he agreed to the tour. When he arrived, he found himself and his hastily assembled band booked into a 25,000-seat arena playing to a packed house of adoring fans. Now both of his albums have been re-released here in the U.S on reissue label Light in the Attic, and have received rave reviews, picking up new fans along the way. Thus, several decades late (but better late than never as they say), Rodriguez is finally on tour in America.

On this particular night, Rodriguez took the stage with his band of razor-sharp twenty-something musicians: a three-piece horn section, a rock solid drummer, a fluent lead guitarist filling out the sound nicely, a very capable female keyboardist and a bassist who seemingly served as band leader and also as Rodriguez’s personal escort. Clearly, the years have been rough for the singer-songwriter; he walked slowly with an apparently painful limp, led to his perch at center-stage by the aforementioned bassist. Donning a dark pair of blind man’s shades and a black-brimmed hat with black, straggly hair flowing out from under his hat, Rodriguez looked more like a seedy East L.A. street urchin than a celebrated performer about to play to a fairly packed house of old and new fans.

After an anxious few minutes of on-stage acclimation and impromptu band introductions at the singer’s behest, the band launched into the first number of the evening “Only Good for Conversation.” Within moments, the song took off like a rocket into a psychedelically charged stratosphere with screaming lead guitars and an almost Sabbath-like crunching breakdown, involving the audience more than just as mere spectators but as participants in a riot, pushing back against invisible barriers. The singer summoned all the rage he could muster from the turbulent 60’s to present-day struggles, spitting out the biting lyric “My statue’s got a concrete heart, but you’re the coldest bitch I know.”

The band maintained a consistent groove as they ran through storming versions of most of the tracks on Cold Fact with just a few from the newly reissued sophomore album. His classic drug-song “Sugarman” sounded edgier and almost post-modern, sans the queasy strings of the album version. Between-song banter and accessory adjustments took up a lot of time but never really took away from the show itself. Instead, they allowed the audience a glimpse into the fragility of an eccentric and often misunderstood artist at work, in his element. At times, however, one wondered whether this man would make it through the set, stripping down to a black wife-beater to reveal somewhat muscular arms built on Detroit construction sites and swilling down cupfuls of red wine procured from eager fans. Curiously, he would take his hat off, rustle his fingers through the greasy strands of hair, stagger nervously about and look as if about to keel over and pass out right there on the stage; but then, as if touched by some deep inner spirit, he would place his hat back on his head, his fingers finding the right chords on his guitar and the other hand miraculously beginning to strum, haphazardly at first, his voice cracking a little, but finally finding his way into the tune. The set closed with “Forget It” which begins with the lyrics, “But thanks for your time, then you can thank me for mine, and after that’s said, forget it.” Surely, no better song could sum up the pent-up bitterness and regret of his formerly side-lined music career.

Rodriguez came out by himself for the encore, which for me, was really the most magical and revealing section of the entire show. He played two songs on his battered semi-acoustic guitar, showing him to be vulnerable yet dignified. The first song “I’m Gonna Live” he introduced by addressing his mature age, telling the audience, “There’s only one age and that’s…alive!” He closed the evening with the Etta James classic “At Last” which ended the evening on a poignant note. A gracious and genuinely humble performer, he seemed truly surprised at his recent success, telling the audience, “It is an honor, a privilege…man, I’m impressed by all of you.” He bowed to the audience and was led slowly off stage by one of his lovingly protective band members.

After this performance, one has to wonder what’s next for the man: a world tour, some new songs, a new album perhaps? With Rodriguez, like all truly great artists, you get the sense that it takes a while for the world to catch up to where he is at; but now that it has, there’s no telling what he might do next.

Both Cold Fact and Coming from Reality are available through Light in the Attic Records.

*****Also, check out Rodriguez's set on - ed.

Monday, May 18, 2009

BANG! it's ON! A marathon? CAN do!

I've been seeing posters advertising this 12-hour avant-garde music marathon and I've been wanting to share it with you.
It's the Bang On A Can annual music marathon, Sunday, May 31. Click here for info.

It will go from 12 PM to 12 AM at the World Financial Center Winter Garden. I'm going to do my best to show up.
I'm a huge fan of Julia Wolfe's work; some of that will happen around 8PM. The capper is Tortoise at 10PM. It will be packed, for certain.

I plan on compiling a calendar for this summer which will collate all of the festivals, primarily the free ones, going on in NYC. For now, however, I'll post these links so that you can whet your appetite.

Central Park Summerstage

Celebrate Brooklyn @ Prospect Park

River-To-River @ Manhattan south venues

Lincoln Center Out of Doors

Solar-One @ East River & 23rd St. (nothing scheduled yet, as of 5/18/09.)

Bryant Park Film Festival

McCarren Pool (I don't yet know if they will be having shows this year.)

Please comment if you know of others in this vein that we ought to know about!

[image by Antony Hegarty]

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Puns, Visual and Aural; Homophones; Lists: pt. 1

Sometimes I just can't get things out of my mind. Sometimes I can't get my mind out of things. Somethings, I just can't get mind out of my time.
That being established, I feel the need to let you know I've worked up some lists. I just don't know how to present them. I'm thinking I'd like to show them on a separate page with a link on this site. How does that sound? Ha! It shouldn't have sounded like anything, because I'm not actually speaking to you. In fact, maybe no one is reading this! So I'm not even not-talking to myself.
Anyhow, I'd like to present a couple of of pairs of record covers; the first two are 7" singles sleeves and the second pair are from current CD covers.

Hey kids! Think up your own "two-of-a-kind" covers pairs! Collect them all! Trade with friends!

Now, if you're looking for something unique, may I suggest you start: here.
Personally, I'm backing these guys:
Kind of Bloop and Unbunny.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Sufficiently Peculiar Review

Together Through Life – Bob Dylan
Columbia Records, 2009

Robert Zimmerman, better known as Bob Dylan, has just released his 33rd studio album for Columbia Records. Together Through Life is a brief, but ultimately fulfilling jaunt down the overgrown back-roads of American musicology. From the swampy Zydeco-like accordion riff Los-Lobos-member David Hildago drives through the heart of disk opener, “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’,” through the Honky Tonk Roadhouse Boogie of “Shake Shake Mama” and turning a corner into the Tex-Mex flavored “This Dream of You;” this album is a fine representation of Dylan’s post-millenium oeuvre.
Like his last two albums, Dylan himself again takes the producer’s chair and dons the alias “Jack Frost.” His icy production is similarly sparse and to-the-point, allowing the listener to wade through the bog and into the root of the songs. Guitars fuzz and fizzle in a murky backwater, punctuated by shimmering electric organ blasts, snatches of accordion, and wayward fiddles churning this gumbo into a spicy concoction of countrified, boogie blues. Heartbreaker Mike Campbell and the aforementioned Hildago come along for the ride, adding an earthy hue to the groove. All told, these 10 songs, in classic album format brevity, find their rightful place in Dylan’s ever-expanding canon.
Although not as biblically revelatory as Modern Times or apocalyptically desolate as Time Out of Mind, Together Through Life easily notches another entry into Dylan’s restless travelogue. All of the trademarks any Dylan enthusiast has come to expect are here: the odd pop-culture allusions such as, “I’m listening to Billy Joe Shaver and reading James Joyce,” in the lilting, joyous optimism of “I Feel a Change is Coming On” to his reworking of the Willie Dixon Blues classic “I Just Want to Make Love to You” onto which he grafts original lyrics—a tight re-reading of the tune to come up from the waters anew—with “My wife’s Home Town” much like he did for the last album’s “Rollin’ & Tumblin’.” In the lyrics department, Dylan has become less wordy and more precise in his imagery, enlisting celebrated Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter to stir this recipe into something more easily digestible.
Yet this album is all Dylan; a road-weary traveler footing it down America’s lost highways in search of the secrets so many other musical journeymen have chased after, but were ultimately consumed by: Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie—all ghosts haunting Dylan’s work but resonating strongly through it. As always, Dylan forces his listeners to face up to the hard truths of life as he cynically wheezes out this album’s philosophical gem, “The door is closed forevermore, if indeed there ever was a door,” on the album’s centerpiece “Forgetful Heart;” reminding us that life is foremost about the journey and not about the destination. "There must be some way out of here?," a character in a Dylan classic from another era questions, and we all know the answer; we are all stuck with our lot, so let’s make the best of it. Together Through Life is certainly not the beginning, nor is it the end for Dylan, however it is a document that somehow magically weaves past and present into some alternate reality where the American Wild West and the steel-and-glass towers of corporate America meet on an endless horizon.

-Miles Kowitt

Saturday, May 2, 2009


The Buskers have a new album coming out soon - and they are performing at the Franklin Opera House to celebrate its release. Oops. That's tonight. Guess I can't make it. Sorry, Craig, et al.

Wanna buy the albums? Here's a link to an address where you can order via good old US mail (Oh, and you can buy mp3s of the new stuff, too).
Hey that last one looks familiar. Oh, yeah, I designed the "doggy" cover.8¬/

I've listened to Spank That Tambourine - and it is wonderful. From the opening chords it's clear that The Buskers have sharpened their production and sweetened their sound. The vocal mix is the best yet, with terrific backup singing and the instrumentals are smoking. Not literally. Favorite song (so far): "You Devil, You Dog." (or is it dog/devil?)

Painter, poet and raconteur Hal Bernstein is reading some of his poetry at The Telephone Bar on Second Avenue (just south of St Marks Church in The Bowery, b/w 9th & 10th Sts.) on Monday, May 4 at 8PM.

I'll be there. With flour in my hair.

*****Extremely EXTRA****
This is happening this weekend - mark your calendars.

This is from Steve:

A lot of people have been asking:
One way to describe it is a Clothing Swap that substitutes Knowledge for Clothing. Another way is a farmer’s market in which you substitute Knowledge for Produce (although no Money is exchanged).

It’s a forum for you to share one thing you know well by sitting in a flea market like atmosphere for 20 minutes or longer and share your knowledge with people who what to know what you know. Everyone knows something and there is no prerequisite for who can exchange knowledge. Expect people from all backgrounds and ages….

Here’s How it Works:
1.) Think about what you know and would like to share. You needn’t be an expert, but simply feel confident and passionate about what you know. Past knowledge exchanges have included: Hypnotism, Breastfeeding, Grilling, Photoshop, How to Argue, Interior Decorating, Knitting, Salmon Fishing…
2.) Give what you know a name.
3.) Decide how long you want to be responsible for sharing what you know in public. The smallest increment of time is 20 minutes and the maximum amount of time is 3 hours. At least 40 minutes would be great
4.) Send an email to Steve Ausbury (or find him on Facebook) stating your name, knowledge sharing topic, specific time you can commit between 12 – 3pm and contact info.
5.) See you on May 9th. We will have pads, pens, large memo pads, and a box of various materials to help you share your knowledge. Please bring your own special supplies if needed. Bring friends and family!
The Knowledge Exchange is part of the Flatbush Freemeet: The Knowledge Exchange will be part of the Flatbush Freemeet hosted by Freecycle™NYC and Sustainable Flatbush. Bring your old clothes, electronics, and other reusable household items and pick up new stuff! Then exchange knowledge with people from Flatbush and parts elsewhere!

Time: May 9th from 12 – 3pm
Location: P.S. 217 playground, Coney Island Avenue at Newkirk Avenue, Brooklyn. Closest subway is the Q train.

Kevin Hays, pianist extraordinaire, filmmaker, and teacher, will be performing at the Rubin Museum of Art on June 26, 2009!

Heck, maybe I'll make it this time. Here's what I said about the show I saw: "This is the kind of music I always want to hear." Endquote, the raven.