“The light is all wrong,” sighed London retro-pop singer Gemma Ray, by way of explaining of her glum set. “I have some psychedelic songs but they won’t be right in here.” She was onto something–the vibe was unfocused at Mercury Lounge on Monday night, with a perplexing lineup that skipped from Ray’s solo specter to a troupe of marching band misfits who dressed in floral lingerie and bleated out goofy heavy-metal jazz. This understandably seemed to confuse her, and everyone else as well. Conversely, it seemed to soothe all involved that Ray dressed as Sailor Moon, covered Etta James, and mashed her Mary Janes into her guitar pedals until the looped caterwauling was overwhelming.
Ray had something of a last-Shangri-La feel on 2009’s Lights Out Zoltar!, on which girl-group harmonies eerily stretched under noir surf reverb. At Mercury, she proved more of a no-frill singer/songwriter, though “(You Got Me in a) Death Roll” and her bluesy take on “I’d Rather Go Blind” were standouts. Ray is truly talented–hopefully soon she’ll come back with a backing band and deliver the full, intricate effect of her record.
And hopefully she’ll be drunker next time–hopefully, we all will be–if her followers are again Jerseyband, a gleefully ridiculous 7-piece gang of saxophonists, trumpeters, and percussionists who aped Primus with their heavy prog jazz (“lungcore,” they dubbed it) and delivered deadpan vaudeville in bras, boxers, and ski goggles. They were either brilliant performance artists or just a bunch of nerds who got together after their Fighting Mustangs lost the homecoming game and decided this was the path to women. Or they were both at the same time–but why was this paired with Ray? We’re still in the dark.