On an eyeball-freezingly cold January 17, between dates opening for the Stones at MSG, prolific comb-free princeling savior of trad rockways Ryan Adams took the time to inaugurate a new monthly music series at Housing Works Used Books Café. We wondered (waiting in the cold omigod this weather) if he might possibly be a touch overrated—his albums have the strange power, about a third of the way through, to make us leave the room and, if feasible, take a nap. But the ex-Whiskeytown frontman (federal law now requires that all Ryan Adams reviews contain this phrase) turned out to be in good voice and Gotham-centric and off-the-cuff appealing and intermittently hyper—and now we kind of love Ryan Adams.
The cruise-ship virus prevented Kathleen Edwards from opening, and testosterone-offsetting duties went to replacement Regina Spector, whose hypnotic warble conjures both Kate Bush and the Swedish Chef, and to the five-member Shivaree, whose crystalline catatonia provided a good backdrop for some constructive shelf browsing. Adams drew from the can’t-miss portion of his catalog—”Come Pick Me Up,” “To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High),” the lovely “Sweet Carolina”—and slowed down the now-more-than-ever “4th of July” to loosen its congested lyrics and “Free Fallin’ ” chordage to sound reflective, even necessary. The sublime moment should have come during a sound snafu, when Adams launched himself tabletop for a hammy, limpid, unplugged tour of Hank Williams’s “Lovesick Blues.” But a nearby showboat decided to join in and wouldn’t stop until every word had been sung in cloying tandem. After the ostensible star dismounted, the chipper interloper called out to what we hope was an utterly mortified acquaintance, as if to signal: My job here is done. “Patrick—Patrick. I’m going to Joe’s Pub now! A friend of mine is playing!” We could imagine her vocalizing at Joe’s Pub, then going all around town, chiming in with excessive gusto at cabarets as Stephen Holden grimaces at the far banquette. And all this time Patrick is thinking, OK! I’ll meet up with you later—not!
Adams’s set shambled to a close with a hat passed for $10 requests, to augment HW’s proceeds, with sometimes bracing, sometimes hilarious results: his own cast-off ace “Hallelujah,” half-remembered Oasis, “Brown Sugar” for the all-white crowd. (Our “A-dar” picked out only one other Asian dude—who turned out to be the drummer for Shivaree!) Bassist and Adams doppelgänger Billy Mercer camped through “Beast of Burden,” and it was like a conceptual art piece where you write down all you can remember about a song; the joy lay in the shared omissions and absurd repetitions—viz., never (never!) never (never!) never, never, never be, again and again and again. —Ed Park
“Is anybody listening?” screamed guitarist Jennifer Rogers during the rhythmic pause built into “Zero Point,” a no-wave-meets-Antmusic pogo that served as the opener of the trio’s scorching Friday-night set at Mercury Lounge. Her question wasn’t just an undressing of the talkative immediates in the crowd. It was also a rock thrown through the window of a 2003 life during wartime. Angry, far-flung, and idealistic are three things that a good Eco-anthem (like “Zero Point”) should be. It should also be fun, and the Sisters rocked it ferociously, resolving the song’s throbbing tension in a “Rock Lobster”-like new-wave watusi frenzy, with Rogers’s ponytail bop matching her lead guitar lines for pure star-power. Joe Strummer would have fallen in love.
Their Troubleman debut Purely Evil continues Nü New York’s fascination with all things post-punk. But the Rogers Sisters—Jennifer, drummer Laura (both formerly of the indie-rock quartet Ruby Falls) and live-wire bassist-singer Miyuki Furtado—build on sounds culled from their favorite records (“Songs the Lord Taught Us,” “Jumping Someone Else’s Train,” vocal inspirations from “World Destruction”). Jennifer’s detuned guitar has the echo-happy slither Eno used to give goofy names to; Laura’s drums mix bedroom-punk bash and surfabilly wipeouts; and Furtado’s bass bleeds about nervously in the mix, much like his own onstage stagger. (At one point Friday, he helplessly fell over, knocked down by the wall of sound.)
Their declarations of dead-end personal finances and torn desires of NME covers filled up the Merc while dancing the whole mess distinctively around. And while I wish they’d have dragged out more of Evil‘s agitated songs “about you, United States,” the foreseeable bidding war improves chances that we’ll be hearing them—or hearing them talked about —in between the bomb bursts. —Piotr Orlov
‘Opeth,’ Says Me
“Bwargh bwargh bwargh,” quoth Opeth fronthair Mikael Akerfeldt, between his band’s quarter-hour black-metal monster dirges. “Understand that? It was in Swedish.” The English was tough to understand, too, ground as it was into a half-kidding growly gravelslide of syllables, but the kids packed into Irving Plaza replied without missing an incantatory beat: “O-PETH! O-PETH! O-PETH!” Bathed in deep purple, the foursome opened the show in much the same way as they were to play the rest of it: Akerfeldt stiffening, then tossing his hair with the lube-smooth time-signature changes; guitarist Peter Lindgren discreetly reaching for his whammy bar; diminutive bassist Martin Mendez swinging his locks in great black swirls; skinsman Martin Lopez (like Mendez, actually from Uruguay), sitting behind a pair of bass drums, demurely blurring his sticks.
Eschewing shred-solos, flailing drum fills, and bass noodling for this virtuosic economy of movement, Opeth gave themselves over to the black magic of their rippling compositions. On “Deliverance,” the title track of their latest masterwork, the speed-metal chord-crunch, insect-whine lead, and jerking rhythms immediately resolved into a sort of crushed velvet; each part mutating simultaneously. Akerfeldt came croaking in (“Floating on mist/Crept up the caverns of my brain/Received no warning”). Then entered ye olde, folksy guitars, moist, mossy, lyrical, and Akerfeldt coursing through them, icy and clear. The gently psychedelic, hymn-like “The Drapery Falls” seesawed more predictably, from troubadour ballad to gothic upward-spiraling six-string and vox, into Lopez’s double-barreled cannons, lilting ribbons of guitar, Akerfeldt aroar. Darting in sync, like Swedish fish, Opeth schooled even the most metal among us. —Nick Catucci
“Did you see these?” Don Seigal, would-be teenpop impresario, is holding out a set of tiny plastic cheerleaders. “We had them made in China. There’s going to be one for each of the girls.” “The girls”—the Pep Rally Girls, a “Hot New All-Girl Cheerleading Pop Group”—are still just a twinkle in the eye of Don and his partner, Swedish former pop star-songwriter Katarina Sundqvist (Popsie anyone?), and a shadowy host of potential investors. But Thursday, January 16, will go down as the moment where it all came together: the final New York audition, which is also the taping of the pilot of The Making of the Pep Rally Girls, being shopped to UPN and the WB.
The press release called for ages 15 through 23, which means the two dozen girls here range from Westchester County eighth-graders in authentic cheerleading uniforms to a platinum-and-pancake Atlantic City model in a fetishy blood-red number with full pantyvision. The true nymphets, alas, seem more likely to appeal to both Don, with his “Spice Girls-meet-cheerleading” vision, and Seventeen magazine, on hand to record the moment.
“The world has demonized cheerleading. This is all about going for your dreams!” says the fiftyish Don with an ingratiating smile. “The girls write these cheers. They’ve been passed down from girl to girl for years. It’s teenage girls’ rap! It’s pure and it’s all hook.” In the klieg-lit audition room, one of Kat’s Popsie singles is blaring, girlish voices over a generic techno beat: “You maybe think I’m easy, but without respect, no score/I like to move, I like to tease, if you watch me, you want more.” In the corner, three or four called-back hopefuls run through a hip-hop dance routine that’s a tired set of come-ons: shoulder shakes, hip checks, and booty rolls. Only a single straddle jump shows a gymnastic influence. “Cheerleading is about being happy, being crazy,” says Angela, an almond-eyed teenager in a Westlake Middle School jersey who likes Ja Rule and Justin Timberlake. If it’s also about embodying a sleazy American Beauty fantasy, she’s come to the right place. —Anya Kamenetz
The Greatest Love of All
Based upon the rather quiet success of her second album, Voyage to India, alt-soul princess India Arie sold out Radio City Music Hall to predominantly young black female fans, who clearly identify with her unshakable sense of self-worth. Dressed in a floor-length white outfit to which her designer mom affixed a golden Sanskrit “Om,” gracious headliner Arie shared her stage with the emergent “chutney fusion” rapper K-os and fellow Grammy nominees Floetry—two British trip-hop sisters embraced by the progressive Philly/Atlanta r&b scene.
Particularly delightful was K-os’s brief set with acoustic guitar, tablas, and congas. This skeletal backup evoked the varied musical atmospheres from vintage Pal Joey house loops to Indian ragas. K-os (né Kevin Brereton), a Canadian from Trinidad whose stage name means “Knowledge of Self,” sings and raps conscious lyrics of eclectic provenance like a young, politicized Kabir. His masculine blend of chant and melody formed the perfect counterpart to Floetry, where “floecist” Natalie Stewart rhymed against Marsha Ambrosius’s vocal riffs. Their jazzy ad libs owe much to the Meshell Ndégeocello school of hip-hop, although the clash of tightly traded lead vocals and overwrought vamps worked against them.
Arie and her band zipped through a repertoire that included classic originals like “Video” and “Brown Skin,” and a gospel-folk version of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors.” Her hat-tip to Sade on “Sweetest Taboo” borrowed textures from “Shaft” and “Evil Ways.” Girls shouted for “Ready for Love” but still sang along to recent tracks like “Can I Walk With You” (which Arie sang with her mom) and the exuberantly sassy “Little Things” which convincingly contends that being surrounded by a loving family beats a roomful of Grammys any day. —Carol Cooper