Streets of Your Town: This week's concerts, with Beirut, Jenny Scheinman, the Electric Zoo Festival, and more
10:53 am Aug. 27, 2012
Because there was no clear sonic analog when they started making music in the mid '80s—and because they recorded for the label 4AD, home to similarly ethereal acts like Cocteau Twins—Dead Can Dance (Aug. 29, Beacon Theatre) were often casually considered a "goth band." Their music was comprised of eerily-billowing synths, sudden, sharp flashes of guitar and centered around Lisa Gerrard's medieval howl and Brendan Perry's deep-seated croon. From this vantage point, though, it's clear that what the band was doing was not so much courting shadows as devising a different, darker take on world music. Songs like "The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove," with its snake-charmer oboe line or "Song of the Dispossessed," which features a brittle, twirling kora and hypnotic, repeating percussion, feel like telegrams from the darkest parts of every continent—North America included—the kinds of music that gets played around fires in order to access the secrets of the past. Anastasis, their first record in 16 years, is no different. It, too, feels haunted by history, Gerrard again playing a sort of guide through the spirit world, beckoning the listener forward with each eerie coo. It all makes for a distinctly transportive live experience, a misty ride across the river Styx. Julia Holter (Aug. 31, Bowery Ballroom) works the same kind of magic, laying her breathy alto over enchanted electronics. On their last album, Celestial Electronic, AM & Shawn Lee (Aug. 31, Knitting Factory) put an interstellar spin on R&B, winding sensuous vocal melodies across gently throbbing funk that sounds like it could have been cribbed from old educational films. And the Vaselines (Aug. 30, The Bell House) operate in their own galaxy entirely. Their primitive approach to pop, honed in the late '80s, was a template for Kurt Cobain, who famously covered several of their songs, but their 2010 album Sex With an X found their ability to write charmingly ramshackle pop songs undiminished.
Cobain rescued the Vaselines from obscurity, but it took a lot more effort to bring Rodriguez (Aug. 31, Highline Ballroom) to the general public. The singer recorded two albums of mystic folk in the '60s that fell squarely alongside similar efforts by Donovan and Buffalo Springfield, but they failed to find an audience, and Rodriguez slipped quickly into anonymity. In a strange twist of fate, however, his two albums—Cold Fact and Coming From Reality—were reissued on C.D. in South Africa and became sensations, which led to a South African tour in 1998. His story is documented in the moving new documentary Searching for Sugar Man, which details the efforts by two fans to track down Rodriguez. His story is one of hope deferred but, ultimately, rewarded. His albums were reissued in the U.S. in 2009 by the Seattle label Light in the Attic Records, and he's been touring on and off ever since. This performance comes at the crest of a rise to fame 50 years in the making, and his gentle, tie-dyed folk music feels all the warmer for the wait. There are echoes of Rodriguez's plaintive melodies in the music of Beirut (Aug. 29, Central Park Summerstage), though the latter is more prone to spike them with bustling Eastern European horn charts. Nude Beach (Aug. 29, Death By Audio) and Mac DeMarco (Aug. 30, Death by Audio) also look to the past. The slack-jawed racuousness of Nude Beach feels like an indie rock take on the bruising pub rock of Graham Parker, while DeMarco's pouting and preening feels like the bedroom-recordings version of Roy Orbison. Bleeding Rainbow (Aug. 29, Brooklyn Bowl) are leaner and sleeker than both, rocketing songs that recall a worked-up Bangles.
Jenny Scheinman's (Aug. 28-Sept. 1, Village Vanguard) music falls somewhere between the mysticism of Dead Can Dance and the languid elegance of Julia Holter. She's a lyrical player; the best songs on her 2008 album Crossing the Field put her big, weeping melodies up front, and alternating songs that felt like long, cathartic sobs with deft, skipping numbers that tripped and tumbled forward. This year's Mischief and Mayhem was even more adventurous. A collaboration with noted jazz drummer Jim Black, Ani DiFranco bassist Todd Sickafoose, and Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, the record was both more rhythmic and, in its own way, rockier. If Scheinman's violin line on "Blues for the Double Vee" were played on electric guitar, the song would be easily mistaken for post-punk, so sharp are its edges and angles. "A Ride with Polly Jean"—named in honor of PJ Harvey—is the kind of lonesome, out-to-sea number that the Dirty Three used to write, and the cleverly-named "Ali Farka Touche" is dotted with strange, twinkling speckles of electronics, and showcases a splendid bit of bent-wire guitar from Cline. She's supported on this live date by a trio of like-minded experimentalists, among them, Greg Cohen, sidearm for both John Zorn and Ornette Coleman. The results are sure to be as obstinate as they are engaging. Ron Carter (Aug. 27, Jazz Standard) has a history of collaborating with musicians who hover on the fringes of jazz, but his own music is slightly more direct, tending toward jazz's early-'60s heyday. Lee Ranaldo (Aug. 30, Union Pool) has also tiptoed from the left to the center. Though his past work—both with Sonic Youth and on his own—was no stranger to violent, noisy squalls, his recently-released Between the Times & The Tides at times recalls the sprightly jangle of classic R.E.M. And Fujiya and Miyagi (Aug. 30, Glasslands) layer throbbing, pulsing indie rock with more than a few eerie shadows.
There are long shadows cast across "New York," the breakout single from the 19-year-old rapper Angel Haze (Aug. 29, S.O.B.'s). Built around crackling handclaps and an eerie snatch of Gil Scott-Heron's voice, the song menaces like a phantom street gang. The video, in which Haze and her crew prowl the streets of the city in gas masks wreaking havoc, only adds to the effect. "Tie a rope around your neck and let me kick you off a bungee/ I'm Satan," she sneers at one point. Some of that might be a response to her religious background—Haze was raised in an intense branch of Christianity known as the Greater Apostolic Faith—but just as much of it feels like a bold assertion of strength and identity. The verses she's laid over Nicki Minaj's "Roman's Revenge" and Lil Wayne's "6'7" have the same welterweight's determination. Haze's voice has some of Minaj's fierce snap, but where Nicki offsets taut syllables with elastic, almost cartoonish elongations, Haze is all jab, treating each song like another opportunity to assert her dominance. The music of Pop. 1280 (Sept. 1, Death By Audio) is just as grim but more nihilistic. Like Haze, they also have a song about violence in New York—"Bodies in the Dunes," about the Gilgo Beach murderer—but their music is constructed from slashing, minor-key guitars and thundering percussion. The Electric Zoo Festival (Aug. 31-Sep. 2, Randall's Island) is all about the latter, assembling a cavalcade of electronic music's biggest stars (David Guetta, A-Trak, Diplo, Skrillex, Apparat, and a few dozen more) for a weekend-long dance party. The only bodies in these songs are the ones in motion.
More by this author:
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