What if the Beach Boys had been raised on Coney Island in the 1980s? Summer would make them think only of the lengthening days, friends going away, and sunburn. They’d have to reconcile their desire to be the Ramones with their resemblance to the Everly Brothers. California girls wouldn’t move them as much as divorcées from Queens who work at Liberty Travel. They’d probably even name themselves for a New Jersey lawn sculpture dealership like Fountains of Wayne.
The band in question finally arrived at the Bowery Ballroom last Tuesday, full of guilt for canceling their last gig here. “I was vomiting snakes and blood,” explained Chris Collingwood, the lead-singing Wayne, tongue characteristically in cheek. He and co-songwriter Adam Schlesinger often get razzed for letting their self-conscious silliness get the better of them. After all, the average Wayne song is either a power-pop tribute to “survival cars” or a near commercial for the Hayden Planetarium’s laser show. Yet these local antiheroes’ jokes aren’t exclusively the type that make you groan. Plenty of them are the type that make you smile and sigh, like “Barbara H.,” or the downright sincere “Troubled Times” (from the new Utopia Parkway). Onstage, they were so relaxed they seemed like four random schlubs who got up at a party to play obscure covers for their friends. “I was here at the Semisonic show, and I got thrown out for running up and down the aisles singing ‘Closing time!’ ” Collingwood admitted, flaunting his loser status.
Rampaging through their toy chest, they understayed their welcome. Who could resist a band that starts their set with a song about failure (“I’ve Got a Flair”) and follows it with “Please Don’t Rock Me Tonight”? They turned the bridge of “Radiation Vibe” into a medley of “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Twilight Zone,” and “Hot for Teacher,” which Collingwood ended by saying, “This sure has gone on too long, hasn’t it?” Still, the masterstroke was the first encore, in which they ripped into “My Sharona”— but just the coda. You didn’t even have to be a rock critic from Scarsdale to love them for it. I did, and I’m from Yonkers. —James Hannaham
During VH1’s rock history series, Tom Petty declares: “Our goal in the ’70s was to destroy disco.” VH1 seems to endorse Petty’s view of disco as “a terrible menace to music.” Blissfully unaware that their culture is still being written out of history, close to a thousand mad-for-it dancers gather every Sunday evening for Body & Soul at Vinyl, and celebrate disco as a living musical tradition.
Like many in the crowd, resident DJs Francois Kevorkian and Danny Krivit are middle-aged veterans of Manhattan’s 1970s underground disco scene; B&S is modeled on the legendary Paradise Garage, right down to the alcohol-free juice bar and fabulously crisp sound system. The crowd— a utopian mix of black and white, male and female, straight and gay, drugged and undrugged, shirted and shirtless— clearly don’t recognize the rockist version of disco as the death of community and meaning. Soul classics by Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield are dropped next to ’90s deep house anthems, as if they’re all part of the same sonic-spiritual continuum. Krivit sometimes cuts out the testifying choruses so the audience can participate, call-and-response style.
This can get a bit too Pentecostal, though, and I prefer it when vocal-free house tracks are meshed into a redemptive flow of ambient gospel. The combination of the club’s sweat-stippled humidity and the spongy, succulent sound creates an intimate pressure, amniotic and baptismal. Often, I’m
reminded of Talking Heads at their Steve
ReichmeetsKing Sunny Ade peak; like
Remain in Light, the music’s built from onionskin layers of melodic-percussive pulses. Afro-funk is actually a major fad in house at the moment, with Masters at Work
reworking Fela Kuti tunes.
If anything, Body & Soul set a tad too much store in vocal accomplishment and live instrumentation (chicken-scratch guitar, horns, etc.), not enough on disco’s plastique fantastique side. To these rave-glazed ears, the most exciting stuff at B&S is what house-heads call “tracky” as opposed to “songful” instrumental rhythm tracks that are dub-spacious and F/X-addled. But even spinning a hoary slice of faux-disco like the Stones’ “Miss You,” Kevorkian will use the mixer’s EQ switches to cut out entire frequency bands, creating violently lurching, staccato dynamics. It’s like a latent house track is fighting its way out of the original song, Alien-style. The phuture manifesting itself through the flesh of the past— this is how disco/house culture evolves, honoring its ancestors even as it bastardizes their legacy. — Simon Reynolds
Under the Volcano
Giovanni Sollima erupts like Etna, the volcano of his homeland. The composer-cellist, who swept through New York with his band last week for a set of concerts, may well be the most exciting Sicilian musician since Vincenzo Bellini. Not that he is, like his 19th-century compatriot, particularly interested in opera (although he’s currently setting an unpublished screenplay by Pasolini). Rather, he reinvents his instrument, exploiting its gritty nether regions, sometimes even playing with two bows. What emerges is neither avant-garde nor solipsistic, but
rhapsodic— strains ranging from sorrowful to joyous, the savage to the sentimental. His solo concert at BAM Café demonstrated a fertile— and sometimes dangerous— musical mind profoundly connected to the sounds of his country, historically a catchall of cultural crosscurrents. Sollima’s cosmopolitan ears reach as far as India— he’s able to make his cello sing a droning raga.
This richness is best exemplified in his Aquilarco, an evening-length suite for amplified ensemble, performed at the Knitting Factory last Monday. This vertiginous concerto (recorded on Point Music) is a wild tornado whipping up everything from the Sicilian tarantella to melancholic minimalism, from frenetic jazz to high-wired rock (not to mention some cheesy electronics). African and Arabic threads— there’s a thumb piano and Moroccan drum in the ensemble— are also weaved into the dynamic tapestry, which bears the stamp of his New York stay two years ago. Like the best of Bang on a Can, Sollima loves the verve of insistent odd meters and the thrill of contrasting textures.
Some stretches were so exhilarating you wanted to get up and dance. In fact, Robert Wilson, whose recorded voice appears in several movements reciting the inspired nonsense of Christopher Knowles, will choreograph Aquilarco in Italy this fall. —Robert Hilferty
Turning The Tables
DJ culture’s dark underbelly (and steaming viscera!) were exposed at Tonic last Wednesday when Christian Marclay— who virtually invented the turntable as discrete musical instrument some two decades ago— joined illbient scener DJ Soulslinger and multi-
instrumentalist Elliott Sharp for an evening of slashing, scratching, and sonic bloodletting. Although billed, French DJ Erik M. was a no-show. But there were still five turntables onstage in addition to Sharp’s digitally turbocharged guitar and soprano saxophone— enough to create a cacophony of colliding soundscapes.
Sharp has long been interested in sonic excess, of course; his last two Tectonics albums explored the textural overdrive inherent in jungle and drum-and-bass, and a European collaboration with Soulslinger resulted in the recent live album Rwong Territory. The DJ’s fast, thick, stuttering beats provide an equally nervy counterpoint to Sharp’s nimble chaos of effects-driven soloing and slurring slide guitar.
Marclay at first seemed to add a “fun” element to a mix that was usually more ominous than halcyon. Where Soulslinger combined funk breaks and Bahian choruses into abrasive locomotive rhythm sections, Marclay took a slower and more tactile approach on his three wheels of steel. Sources as seemingly unrelated as bird whistles, crickets, hot jazz, and a kitsch rendering of “Somewhere My Love” permeated Sharp and Soulslinger’s thick barrage. Where Soulslinger is a spinner and scratcher, Marclay’s masking tape added repetitive skips and speed bumps to his thrift-store pool of surface-noisy sounds. During a shorter and more focused second set, Marclay put two tone arms on a single disc, creating an endlessly repeating out-of-synch sax section on the spot. Such infinite gestures demonstrated both the limits, and ultimate freedom, of the turntablist as improviser. —Richard Gehr