Streets of Your Town: This week's concerts, with David Byrne & St. Vincent, Jay-Z, Corin Tucker, and more
11:44 am Sep. 24, 2012
It may not sound like a compliment to say so, but there's something mathematical about the music of Dirty Projectors (Sept. 25, Capitol Theatre). It's not that they’re obtuse—though they often are—or that they're more cranial than emotional—though, occasionally, they're that, too. It's that every tiny piece, every vocal trill or strand of wiry guitar, feels like a single crucial figure in one large, sprawling formula. 2010's lauded Bitte Orca offers endless examples of this notion. Its songs hum along efficiently, guitars and drums and Dave Longstreth's yelping vocals alternately orbiting and triggering each other, like gears in a pocketwatch. The cumulative effect is dense and dizzying, as if Longstreth was trying to cram as many digits into his equation as possible in order to dazzle with complexity. More often than not, he did. On this year's Swing Lo Magellan, the construction is simpler, but the results are still gloriously confounding. Lead single "Gun Has No Trigger" makes the case for this restrained approach: drums clatter and knock like an old car engine and vocalists Amber Coffman and Haley Dekle—Magellan's chief asset by a mile—coo softly as Longstreth blazes a wild trail up the center. Add a looping jazz-club bassline, and that's it. "Dance For You" is even quieter. Longstreth's voice spirals like a dizzy ballerina atop twinkling, music box guitar, and the only percussion is provided by some far-off handclaps. Yet somehow, the minimalism enables you to appreciate the cunning architecture even more. Bitte Orca contained a song about the velocity of quiet called "Stillness is the Move." On Magellan, they put that theory into practice. Grizzly Bear (Sept. 24, Radio City Music Hall) share the Projectors' fondness for elaborate construction, but in the past, their music has been warmer and more explicitly inviting. On the just-released Shields, they've gone dark, focusing now on woozy, percussive songs that are heavy on atmosphere and mood. Another thing Dirty Projectors and Grizzly Bear have in common is that Jay-Z (Sept. 28, Barclay's Center) is an avowed fan of both. Though he is often criticized for it, Jay-Z also shares their drive to move pop music forward. In interviews and on recent outings, he's shown an increasing interest in tinkering with hip-hop's DNA, writing for himself a role that doesn't exist—that of rap's elder statesman—and then fully inhabiting it. As such, his live shows have become grand, booming affairs, a celebration of past victories and a challenge for comers to try to compete. He's as much the showman as Jack White (Sept. 29, Radio City Music Hall), who has lately been touring with two bands—one all-male, one all-female—that he swaps in and out on alternating nights. If Jay is looking to the future, Jack is looking to the past, delivering ornery updates on blues, folk, and rockabilly. George Lewis Jr., who records as Twin Shadow (Sept. 27, Webster Hall), is more nakedly obsessed with nostalgia. His aerodynamic new record Confess is powered by the same blinking synths that turned up on records by Erasure and Depeche Mode. Lavender Diamond (Sept. 26, Mercury Lounge) are softer and moodier than Twin Shadow, frontwoman Beck Stark's willowy voice the perfect complement to her gauzy, slow-winding songs.
The songs of Saint Vitus (Sept. 25, St. Vitus) are also slow-winding, but are far more aggressive. Though formed in the late '70s, the group's identity wasn't fully established until the addition of vocalist Scott "Wino" Weinrich in 1986. That was the year they released Born Too Late, a grim, sludgy batch of sluggish doom metal that thrived on the tension between the subterranean riffs of guitarist Dave Chandler and Weinrich's bug-eyed howl. Though they were preceded by several years by Black Sabbath, there is something more ragged about Saint Vitus's songs. With their strange lyrics and vocal melodies that twist like gnarled tree trunks, they sound like eerie ditties hollered by an ancient gravedigger on some hilltop cemetery in early morning. The group has dissolved and reconvened several times over the years, but a full reunion became impossible in 2010 with the passing of founding drummer Armando Acosta. The current iteration of Saint Vitus released Lille: F-65 earlier this year, a batch of grim new songs that could well be a batch of grim old songs. The guitars are as grimy and grinding as ever, and Weinrich's drunk-warlock voice remains delightfully haggard. It's the sound of giant creatures preserved in amber, slowly stretching to life and lurching their way across the countryside. (And given that this performance is at a venue named for the band, expect a rabid audience.) Skeletonwitch (Sept. 27, Knitting Factory) are like Saint Vitus at four times the speed. Their bare-knuckle thrash merges velocity with astonishing instrumental accuracy, and their live set ably showcases both their formidable skill and sick sense of humor. As the frontwoman for Sleater-Kinney, with her blinding guitar work and wild-siren howl, Corin Tucker (Sept. 27, Mercury Lounge) also often seemed to have the powers of hell at her command. After a relatively subdued first outing with her new band, she's back to what she does best, writing revved-up punk-informed rock songs that put her mighty wail front-and-center. Dum Dum Girls (Sept. 30, Europa) are more detached and disaffected, but that doesn't make them any less engaging. Beginning with last year's exceptional Only in Dreams, frontwoman Dee Dee has developed into a skilled songwriter, one that blends loping '50s melodies with plenty of guitar fuzz and roar. ERAAS (Sept. 25, Cameo Gallery) prefer to twitch and howl. The ominous songs on their arresting debut feel like they're being piped in from beyond the river Styx, strange, disembodied voices coasting over throbbing, pitch-black arrangements.
There's something spooky, too, about Love This Giant, the collaboration between David Byrne & St. Vincent (Sept. 25, Beacon Theatre). That's not surprising—both artists have something of a fascination with oddities and grotesques. In both his solo career and his work with Talking Heads, Byrne often obsessed over the unusualness and uncomfortability of being human. In Byrne's songs, the human condition is a nervous one—the body is often treated as alien and day-to-day life is treated with a kind of clammy unease. In "Making Flippy Floppy," from 1978's More Songs About Buildings and Food, he wheezes "Snap into position/ snap until you ache/…bring me a doctor, I have a hole in my head," before unconvincingly concluding, "They are just people, and I’m not afraid." St. Vincent—or, as she is known to her parents, Annie Clark—shares Byrne's concept of human-as-alien, but the characters in her songs often feel more malicious. In the video for "Cruel," the first single from her bewitchingly twisted 2011 album Strange Mercy, she is kidnapped and forced to play mother to a strange family in a remote, empty house. The video ends with her being buried alive in the backyard. So small wonder the record Byrne and Vincent made together is full of alienated people who are either unwilling or uninterested in joining the rest of the human race. As befitting such uncomfortable subject matter, the arrangements jab rudely, like elbows in a packed elevator. Ice pick guitars puncture bloated-belly brass, and vocal harmonies are stretched and distended until they sound more robotic than organic. It often sounds like a 50-piece marching band gamely attempting free jazz, an appropriately violent sound for such discomfiting subject matter. The Bad Plus (Sept. 25, Mercury Lounge) also hang out at the intersection of pop and jazz; they're known as much for their covers of artists like Radiohead and the Pixies as they are for their own nimble compositions. Rhyton (Sept. 28, Death by Audio) are thornier still. Their self-titled debut finds an unlikely middleground between free-jazz and psych. Their fitful, snarling songs feel like the soundtrack to some lost '70s antidrug film. By that measure, Chris Cohen (Sept. 27, Glasslands) sounds practically cheerful. His forthcoming Overgrown Path conjures the mysticism of singers like Robert Wyatt, but grounds it in clean, spare, simple songs that often apply krautrock sternness to '70s folk. '70s rock collides with a host of other styles in a more literal sense at Global Festival (Sept. 29-30, Central Park Great Lawn), where Neil Young shares a bill with disciples like the Black Keys and Band of Horses and vocal admirers Foo Fighters. First Aid Kit (Sept. 29, Irving Plaza) reach further back, creating stirring, harmony-laden folk and country songs that recall the Carter Family.
On Hot House, the album he released with longtime collaborator, vibraphonist Gary Burton, earlier this year, jazz pianist Chick Corea (Sep 24-25, Blue Note) took a similarly subdued approach. Though his early work—particularly the albums he made as part of Return to Forever—showed off his obstinate, restless side, Hot House is more a lazy stroll than a breakneck dash. Corea's piano twirls and ambles, as unhurried as a stroll on a spring afternoon. Indeed, for much of the record, the spotlight is on Burton. His big, resonant vibes catch the light like dewdrops on grass blades; their rendition of "Eleanor Rigby" is like a pointillist rendering of the original, atomizing its swooping melodic lines for a version that feels more agitated than sorrowful. By contrast, Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Once I Loved" just glides along, a small boat coasting down a quiet stream. More than anything, the album showcases Burton and Corea's musical camaraderie; they combine and detach again and again, betraying the kind of natural instinctiveness years of collaboration provides. Where Corea's early work sought to uncover a shared locus between jazz and funk, Sumach Ecks, who records as Gonjasufi (Sept. 24, Cameo Gallery), is more omnivorous. His songs are dense jungles of sound that layer reggae and soul and various strains of world music into dense, collage-like sound patterns that feel like woozy, extended drug trips. Roy Ayers' (Sept. 26-30, Blue Note) music is smoother; the albums he made in the early '70s are full of limber, jazz-infused R&B that are frequently cited as inspirations by contemporary groups like the Roots. Bettye LaVette's (Sept. 28, Highline Ballroom) take on R&B is slower and more emotionally fraught, putting emphasis on her finely-aged rasp. Beacon's (Sept. 24, Cameo Gallery) songs are also slow and emotionally fraught, but they ride waves of woozy, surreal synth. And speaking of surreal: Snoop Dogg (Sept. 27, Wellmont Theatre), after a recent trip to Jamaica, has rechristened himself Snoop Lion and released a new single with the producer team Major Lazer that quotes Ken Booth's "Artibella" and features Snoop doing his best Rasta bob. Whether this is sincere, a put-on, or some combination of both, this show is the surest way to find out.
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