Streets of Your Town: This week's concerts, with Norah Jones, CBGB reunion shows, PS1's Warm Up, and more
9:00 am Jul. 2, 20121
The appeal behind the seemingly unstoppable spate of band reunions in recent years can be summed up as follows: older fans crave the familiar thrills of their youth; older promoters crave the familiar thrill of a marquee headliner; and old performers crave either money or artistic validation or some unwieldy combination of both. Until now, most reunions have focused mainly on reuniting a few specific members. But what about reunions focused on reliving a movement? That seems to be the thinking behind the CBGB Festival (July 5–8, multiple venues), a four-day event that celebrates not so much an exact lineup as an approximate spirit. The venue's past is well-represented—punk icons like Fishbone, Cheetah Chrome, David Johansen, and Richard Lloyd are scattered across the bill. But so are more contemporary bands like Cloud Nothings, Superchunk, and the high-gloss arena-indie band PS I Love You, all of whom embody the club's spirit more than its sound. There's even room for the kind of music that would have been anathema at the original CBGB's: disco, courtesy of the sprawling New York group Escort. Maybe that's the new future of punk—rebelling against the rebellion. Anyone not sated by the pound-and-thrash at the CBGB Festival can get extra servings from the Chicago group Hollows (July 2, Knitting Factory), who spin sugar-sweet female vocals into grinding guitars, and Bezoar (July 3, Cameo Gallery), who are even nastier, delivering a feral take on the usually-sluggish doom metal genre.
The Spy Music Festival (June 29–July 15, various venues) is even more aggressively forward-looking. The festival, the bulk of which takes place at the John Zorn-curated venue The Stone, caters to artists who roam around the edges of jazz and, to a lesser degree, rock and roll, and whose music can be almost maniacally open-ended. And so the dismantled Americana of banjo player Eugene Chadbourne shares space with Rob Mazurek's knotted-up saxophone and Dustin Wong's eerie, ethereal guitar patterns. Wong is one of several artists in the lineup that seem fascinated by the possibility of texture and drone: Guardian Alien, whose founding member, Greg Fox, once played drums for the metal band Liturgy, summons dense, slow-building swirls of sound that are suddenly obliterated by meteorlike drum fills; the Colin L. Orchestra applies the same formula to country music, letting back-porch rambles congeal into slow-rolling clouds of sound; and P.G. Six delivers quietly vibrating, acoustic-guitar based numbers that seem unsure whether they want to lull you to sleep or frighten you awake.
Sometimes, the urge to experiment happens over time. In the early part of her career, Norah Jones (July 3, Central Park Summerstage) was the very definition of convention. Her hushed, willowy debut, Come Away With Me, was as stirring (and as threatening) as a cool spring breeze. But in the years since its release, Jones has seemed increasingly restless inside the clean-energy, crisp shirt, glass-of-cold-white-wine gazebo that sheltered her at the start of the last decade. In the intervening years, she's turned up on stage in a blonde wig playing guitar for the dour rock band El Madmo, sat in with country outfit the Little Willies, and her own records have felt increasingly like the work of a woman trying to wriggle out of the soft-rock strictures in which she's been placed. Case in point, Little Broken Hearts, the cover of which sports a picture of Jones looking like a pinup from a pulp novel, and the contents of which find her shrugging off exes and, in the endlessly-quoted country ballad "Miriam," committing murder. Even if it doesn't go quite as far as you sense Jones would like it to—this is a Norah Jones record, after all—its few controlled flirtations with danger are just enough to hope that there might be more on the way. There's an even more profound darkness in the mesmerizing songs of King Dude (July 5, Glasslands). "Tell me what's that light?" he sings, seemingly benignly, before answering his own question: "Lucifer's the light." This Dude's riveting warlock folk songs are packed with infernal surprises. Lonnie Smith (July 3, 5–8, The Jazz Standard) feels like the antidote to all that darkness. His dizzying organ runs combine jazz and funk and soul into a heady brew that is both effervescent and intoxicating.
And for those looking to blend both extremes, there's the first installment of PS1 Warm Up (July 7, MoMA PS1), the weekly series of shows at MoMA's Long Island City outpost that provides a haven for both adventurous art and adventurous sound. The museum—a converted public school—is strangely perfect for the event (and open to all who attend). There's a sense of stalled-time to its musty staircases and old cinder block walls that suits the often surreal, occasionally confrontational work it contains. But if the interior feels like a tug-of-war between aesthetics and intellectualism, the musical performances, which take place in its expansive, open-air court, are pure hedonism. The first of this year's series balances the brooding electro-goth of Light Asylum—whose frontwoman, Shannon Funchess is one of the most commanding presences in contemporary rock—and the similarly dour Canadian group Trust with the giddy, clattering bass outfit Nguzunguzu, whose music is festooned with disorienting sub-woofer drops, disembodied soul samples and strobe-like flashes of electronics. The bi-coastal band NewVillager (July 7, Cameo Gallery) also bring an art-school aesthetic to their fizzy, tribal pop songs. They bend and shift their voices until they sound supernatural, stretching them across elaborately orchestrated instrumental backdrops. Scissor Sisters (July 6, Terminal 5) built the early part of their career on theatricality, and though they've lately swapped brash disco for bubbly electropop, their joie-de-vivre spirit, thankfully, remains intact.
More by this author:
- Streets of Your Town: This week's live shows in New York, featuring Kendrick Lamar, Thurston Moore, Ravi Coltrane and more
- Streets of Your Town: Live shows in New York, featuring TORRES, Kurt Vile, Patti Smith, Tune-Yards