Now almost a half-moon ago, they were four Halloweenies jerking and stomping under the cover of black light: singer-trumpeter Jenny Hoyston, interrogating the Knitting Factory, her orange scarf aglow, markered-on handlebar mustachio curling defiantly; skinny guitarist Sara Jaffe, either bewigged or cultivating an Afro, short-circuiting the Robot; Ellie Erickson rapid-firing bass note barrages, head down and legs apart; drummer Bianca Sparta, nonchalant in a skirt. They wore cute costumes slashed with orange and green reflective tape, and played mostly new songs, which sounded a lot like the old ones—short and rough, bustling circus tents of disco hi-hats, scale-busting guitar flurries, and Hoyston’s fun-house barking (and screeching and talk-jiving). “We are the reasons for the gated communities,” went a familiar refrain, and in that moment you could’ve been forgiven for believing that punk feminists are.
Erase Errata‘s bomb-blast bombast scatters tiny hooks and sideways burrs, and if you bought their new remix EP, The Dancing Machine, at the merch table, you probably realize that even laptop fops like Kid606 and Matmos can’t break Humpty-Dumpty again. The ladies are glitchy enough. Fellow San Franciscans Deerhoof opened the show with their own hopping, skipping, and jumping songs. The one with the “bom-bom-bom”s sounded like an orchestra warming up—quite a trick for guitar, bass, and drums—and others like loosely stitched quilts of indie-pop, noise, and punk. Best moment: Satomi Matsuzaki, an anime Yoko Ono barely larger than her guitar, squeaking through the jumble, “Money money money, I can’t get you! La la la!” After their short set, Erase Errata ambled back onstage with Kim Gordon and two “sexy” masked dancers in tow, and bashed out some delightfully ramshackle hardcore, Gordon on guitar and backup shouts. “This one’s about a dead body that comes back to life,” Hoyston growled, and the chorus went, “I’m not dead yet!” Cemeteries—those are gated communities, too. —Nick Catucci
Songs From Underworld
“There’s two damn things that’ll break your heart,” kvetched singer-songwriter Tom Russell: “modern love and modern art.” Arguably the most literate and underappreciated singer-songer to sport the Americana logo, Russell swung into town May 3 for a to-the-point acoustic set at the Bottom Line. Accompanied only by longtime guitar hero (progressive-mariachi division) Andrew Hardin, with guest spots by singer Nancy Griffith and fiddler Elana Fremerman, Russell was econo-touring a new album every Don DeLillo fan should own.
Big on country conceptualism in recent years, Russell devotes much of Modern Art to the deathbed ruminations of such American icons as Mickey Mantle, Muhammed Ali, and Stephen Foster. Not coincidentally, the autobiographical title track provided the show’s centerpiece. A mildly optimistic self-assessment in the face of evidence to the contrary, “Modern Art” addresses the uphill battle of earning a living at this heartbreaking racket. Problem: Can’t go on. Solution: Must go on. Russell’s still got love songs if you want ’em, but now they’re more allegorical than sentimental; sort of like fairy tales, which in “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” he calls “funny little things, unless they’re happening to you.” But these days it’s Russell’s two-fisted, hard-drinking, baritone-deep borderland story songs of cockfights, craziness, and Sinatra playing Juárez that deliver the goods, telling us more about the American condition than cable news, and proving he’s the real deal.
Did I mention that Russell was this hootenanny’s glorified opener? Headliner of record was Dave Alvin, formerly of the Blasters, who’s a ragged-but-right middle-aged barn burner himself (though, like Russell, he could have used a band). Looking just a tad creepy in rockabilly black while delivering one despairing verse after another, Alvin had his own version of “Modern Art,” called “The Ash Grove.” Same problem, same solution. —Richard Gehr
If you took a look at the Knitting Factory main space’s April calendar, you saw punk semi-legends the Subhumans, Mark Gardener from Ride, alt-metal’s Nothingface, singer-songwriter Vic Chestnutt, and hipper-than-thou A.R.E. Weapons. A solid lineup for a rock club, but the longtime flagship of downtown jazz’s schedule featured only two jazz acts.
This change in booking has evolved over the last year with most hardcore jazz clientele moving over to Tonic for their Derek Bailey and John Zorn. According to Jared Hoffman, president of KnitMedia, the parent of the Knitting Factory, the club is adhering to its original charter of new and different music: “The problem was that the cutting-edge genres that made the Knitting Factory what it was in the early years continued to be a focus. And the cutting edge always changes.” While that sounds progressive, the bottom line is now the bar. “Selling tickets is not a measure of how well you’re doing,” he adds. “It’s whether the people who buy the tickets come in the door and drink.” Apparently downtown types don’t like to get shitfaced while watching Matthew Shipp. Who knew?
The club sometimes features Knit veterans like Tim Berne or William Hooker in the old office, and tap bar residences still include some jazz combos, but the club has turned a page. It should also be noted that Matt McDonald has been let go after three and a half years as club programmer. While founder Michael Dorf’s departure earlier this year was much publicized, music fans are more likely to feel McDonald’s dismissal in the months to come. —Tad Hendrickson
Not Pushin’ Daisies Yet
De La Soul began their show at the Hammerstein Ballroom by dating themselves. Posdonous and Trugoy bisected the audience and asked the crowd to cheer for the title of possessor of “the real hip-hop.” It’s an old-school crowd technique that immediately places De La within the company of elder statesmen. But unlike some of their other contemporaries, say KRS-ONE, De La have aged the same way they’ve done everything for the past decade and a half—gracefully.
Not that their popular influence isn’t on the wane. Last year the group was unloaded by Tommy Boy and then Elektra and has now signed to indie label Sequence. But the trio is only three years removed from their last hit and their last decent album. And instead of departing with angry shots at the industry, when De La were booted from the mainstream, they went self-reflective. “It’s easy to point the finger, man,” Posdnous told a Toronto weekly. “A lot of times you gotta look at yourself in the mirror and realize if you’re not on top of your game, you’ll find yourself in situations you don’t want to be in.” Thursday, De La Soul closed for a stable of young pitchers featured by Diesel’s U-Music Talent Search. By the time Mase started cuing up his records, the crowd had halved. If this decline in star power got De La down, they didn’t show it. What they did offer was a breezy 30-minute set—a primer in De La history—that flexed with the range of everything from “Potholes in My Lawn” to “Through Ya City” and “Oooh.” But mostly they served a reminder that rap was once something more than mean music, and that if De La Soul were to die, it would be with dignity. —Ta-Nehisi Coates