Ten Years Gone
When Bettina Richards started Thrill Jockey Records in 1992, after a&r stints with Atlantic (where she signed the Lemonheads) and London (where she guided the Meat Puppets toward post-SST riches), she already had a clear picture of what she didn’t want a record company to be. Armed with Touch & Go/Dischord’s revenue-sharing plan and an appreciation of musical eccentrics, she set out to realize a vision that would become integral to Amer-indie’s sonic expansion of the ’90s, using elements both new (glitch techno, post-rock) and old (honky-tonk harmonies, free jazz). Few indie-rock folk had such nerve.
The hardcore purists-turned-bohemian outsiders who embraced Thrill Jockey’s diversity were out in full force for the last two nights of the label’s 10th-anniversary trifecta at Irving Plaza and Bowery Ballroom. Audience and artists both demonstrated that a decade takes a lot out of you, and while neither’s as spirited as they were at the initial meeting, both seem happy with the relationship and are the wiser for it. Mouse on Mars, who got back to computer-generated basics, are still intent on freeing techno from its 4/4 chains. Chicago jazz veterans 8 Bold Souls bridge the divide between harmonic freedom and the big-band watusi in the manner of other Windy City blowers like the Art Ensemble. Eleventh Dream Day, making their first NYC appearance of the 21st century, continue to ride their Crazy Horse riffs out into the desert to see if they can settle their marital/musical differences. The Sea & Cake have written bossa nova and lounge elements into the blueprint for swooning, upper-register indie-pop, re-creating it again and again. And though they played a disheveled set, Freakwater still make the best classicist two-part female country music around. Then there was Sue Garner, whose frayed roots tunes were turned into delicate orchestral fuzz-bubbles by her über-skillful backing band (Tortoise). The fact that a single audience digested every one of these disparate acts seems the whole point of Thrill Jockey’s legacy. —Piotr Orlov
Give ‘Em an Angry Inch . . .
The Losers’ Lounge concerts have reinterpreted out-of-style auteurs of pop from Burt Bacharach to the Kinks, requisite cheek seldom outweighing respect. With People Are Wrong, the collective’s first original production, they reinterpret an out-of-style form, the musical.
Based on events in the life of chanteuse-about-town Robin Goldwasser and Might-Be Giant John Flansburgh (playing Homeowner Russ here with brio), the play involves a pair of chic “bright-lighters” with a new slice of paradise—a foreclosed farm in the Catskills of ashrams and Woodstock burnouts. A local cult leader cum holistic landscaper sets about turning their rustic sanctuary into the launch pad for his sixth-dimensional delusions.
Joe’s Pub wouldn’t be hosting a new musical (Mondays in September) without the breakout of Hedwig, but writers Goldwasser and Julia Greenberg are nobody’s bandwagon. Hedwig was rock opera, Tommy and Ziggy via Cabaret. People is true musical theater, an exurban Oklahoma as much as an atheist Godspell, changing song forms to fit the story.
Greenberg sings Homeowner Terri with a rich sweet-n-sour alto, and Goldwasser is gloriously melancholic as spooky Joyce, manager of the Agway. As gardener Xanthus’s disciples, Loungers Tricia Scotti, Connie Petruk, and Sean Altman smart-bomb every note. The band, directed by bassist Jeremy Chatzky, is as Kinky as they wanna be.
There’s even a scary moment when People‘s metaphysical conflict threatens to make the viewer take sides. Xanthus’s eschatology may be all wrong, but “The Beyond Ballet” reminds us darkly that materialism is also a form of denial. We’re talking life and death, folks. Then comes the final “Oh,” the whole cast with arms and voices raised high, and you could float on into the sixth dimension yourself. It’s a musical, for Godspell‘s sake. —David Krasnow
Reggae Fi LKJ
Margaret Thatcher time was a lot like Rudy’s/Police inna Inglan beating up everybody/Black and brown people get a little more popping/On their way home from work or doing some shopping/From Brixton come a poet telling some of these stories/Took the piss out of Labour and ripped through the Tories/He got a rock and roll combo so the youth would understand/Linton Kwesi Johnson, Dennis Bovell Dub Band
Late August in the rain in the park by Mount Morris/Harlem quick gentrified, lots of buppies and tourists/Maybe a hundred diehards came out to him feel/Just like they do for the Jazzmobile/Sweet stenches, wet benches, plates of whiting and greens/Little kids, grandmas, old souls, young teens
Johnson may be strident but he’s also real cute/With his high cheek bones and his straight-cut suit/His voice is commanding even though it’s always soft/Little bit prophet and a bit more prof/Of sociology or political science/Writing reggaes for the martyrs of political violence/(He had a hosanna for a hero of Guyana and a bitter paean for one from New Zealand)/Bovell played the bass like it’s the beat that matters/Rougher and tougher than he does on the platters
So when the drizzle was falling and Linton was calling/For less time working and more time balling/They were dancing through the lesson and messing with the blessing/Of a perfect night of sound/Uptown/Profound/In the round, on the ground, getting down. —Josh Goldfein