1. The Wheel and the Woe, Barbes, Park Slopes, Brooklyn Thursday 14th Jan 2010.
OK, so it was my first gig of the year. Although I was in NY, I could not get warm so I decided to only go to gigs that were worth braving the cold for. I wanted to go to this one, to actually see archival footage of American folk playing music. But I missed it for a sensational reason: Lola Mary was telling me stories. The band that came on afterwards were playing old timey music at this trendy little venue. Acoustic bass, guitar, violin and lap steel, they played delightful old tracks. The male and female sang duets with restrained yet emotional style, and it really worked. Each of the instruments complimented the other. One thing I noticed about Americana in the US: only 3 types of people look like Collingwood cowboys: some Mexicans in warmer climates, tourists and hipsters and those who genuinely don’t know any other way. The aloof crowd was mixed but all paid attention in the tiny band room out the back. Enjoyable on a cold night.
2. John Cunningham, Joe Pernice and sometimes Bob Pernice, Mercury Lounge, LES
Friday 15th Jan 2010.
I thought I’d be bored. Singer-songwriter here we go again. Red-headed Liverpudlian, John Cunningham plays fragile melodic pop songs. He himself seems quite fragile and shy. I think a little bit of confidence could go a long way for him, sitting in the middle of the stage, shoulders hunched. He sang a song about Easy Street, and waiting – this was his best. On his second last song, he introduced Joe and Bob Pernice to the stage.
One thing to say is that the audience are fans. They’re the one’s whose eyes are transfixed. They’re singing the words, playing air guitar and truly captivated. This was essentially a Joe Pernice solo show. Joe enunciates melody, stretching to the high notes, but the crowd doesn’t care because he oozes conviction. His love songs are studded with swear words; a brand of bittersweetness that is so alluring about the Pernice Brothers back catalogue.
Backstory: Joe is from The Scud Mountain Boys or the Pernice Brothers or perhaps you’ve read one of his books. His most recent was It feels so good when I stop. Originally from MA, now resides in music town Toronto.
Songs played: Chicken Wire; Endless Supply; Our time has passed; Goodbye Killer – the title track from a new record he has just finished recording. Song about Judy Garland called Judy, Prince Valium, Grudge Fuck amongst others. Then he invited his brother Bob to the stage and they sang SMB songs. Bob called Joe the “Quirky Master of Profanity”
Then he sang the Del Shannon cover “I go to pieces”
Sammy Johns song – Chevvy Van – bad country twang, lyrically amounts to a date rate song and we glorified it – said Bob – Joe surprised it topped the AM charts.
Amazing Glow, The Hungry Hungry Hippo song,
Finished set off with a song that he did not announce. Pernice Brothers for $15? The crowd was pleased.
3. The Gem
Sunday 24th January
Hank Ferguson and the Cosmonauts
Three piece hillbilly [twanging guitar, double bass, rhythm guitar] cover old country songs. Expressive nasally vocalist. Nothing new, but highly enjoyable group. Perfect for Sunday recovery.
Tuesday 26th January
Crystal Thomas and the Flowers of Evil & The Vandas
Crystal Thomas is working from strength to strength Intensity, conviction, alluring aloofness, down to earth banter. The boys standing with me love her, and not simply because she’s beautiful. CT has the X factor. Her band are good, and her songs are getting better and better. Totally impressed. I think audiences overseas will love her. Dark Australian done well.
The Vandas had manners, long hair and some nice pop songs, but you could tell the band members were tired of their own repertoire.
5. Bar Open
Thursday 28th January
Gareth Eunson and Crystal Thomas with Spencer P Jones
Gareth. I only caught him for one song. What I can tell is that he had a stark, bleak singer songwriter vibe. He took his time, and he spat out the lyrics. Funnily enough I can’t remember what the lyrics were about. I just remember drama.
Crystal sang a combination of originals and covers with Spencer accompanying her on electric guitar. What I love about her is she does this light and shade thing very well. But it wasn’t conveyed very convincingly on the night. Not one of her best, but I still like her.
6. The Rainbow
31st January 2010.
Charlie Marshall and The Existentialists
Bespecaled and in his 40’s Charlie Marshall appears to be the antithesis of a hyped to the hilt Melbourne musician. His heyday was the 1990’s/early 2000’s and since then, it appears the bandwagon jumpers have grown up and moved to the suburbs. What he gives us is an unpretentious performance at the Rainbow on this summer afternoon. Lyrics. Charlie Marshall is a lyrics man. He sings love songs from the dark side of the soul with pop inflections. Lyrics such as ‘Is it real or only make believe?’ Or ‘we talk about it until the crying is gone, goodbye or hello which will it be..Are you going to show yourself to me, please say hello! Sounds corny but it’s straight from the heart, put up on stage. Marshall has a beautiful rich deep voice, but he sang a lot of his songs in falsetto. Either way, he can definitely belt it out. Cam Butler was impressive on guitar. I’d definitely see them again.
7. Labour in Vain
31st January 2010.
Chris Altmann and Que Paso
Last year I saw Chris Altmann and Que Paso at the Gem. They did two styles: mountain music and southern rock. Since I was not a fan of southern rock, the former was my favourite. Today they played southern rock. Still not my favourite, but the band have become tighter, they’ve added a sax. They did a mix of originals and covers. They have three guitars, one bass, chris on vocals and drums and occasional keys. But mostly, they appear as though they really enjoy what they do. And since they do, the crowd do too. Suzannah Espie joined them for a couple of songs, sadly she did not sing lead. Nonetheless, great Sunday afternoon music.