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After the jolt: (l-r) Foster, Snow and Allingham at Valentine’s.

The Anti-Hootenanny


By Shawn Stone

Josephine Foster, Cherry Blossoms, Connie Acher

Valentine’s, May 27

Call it whatever you want, but Josephine Foster’s brand of “folk” music is arresting, compelling . . . haunted. When she performed at Valentine’s on Friday, she lived up to the advance hype. Her vocal inflections were strangely reminiscent of 1920s pop; she used whatever instrument she was playing at the time—harp, electric or acoustic guitar—as a means to create a soundscape to set off her voice; and she made either language she was singing in, English or German, sound foreign.

The two examples of German lieder she opened with, performed with electric guitar, were eerie; the songs she sang in English were frightening. (“Oh Sally my dear/Oh how I wish I could woo you” sounded like a threat; later in the song, that’s what it became.)

To add to the mystique, she dressed like Wednesday Addams.

Foster was on her way to giving a memorable performance, but the evening was short-circuited. When Foster commented, after a sound glitch, “now I electrocute myself with a microphone,” it seemed like a joke. It was, unfortunately, no joke. Plagued by a series of microphone malfunctions, Foster got a serious enough shock from the mic in the middle of her sixth song that she was in visible pain. It was doubtful, in fact, whether she would continue playing. She did, with a little help from her friends, but the spell was broken.

It was an unhappy turn in an otherwise entertaining evening of non-folk folk music. New York City-based Connie Acher has a strong local following, and a good-sized crowd turned out for her opening set. (She met the locals halfway with her Stephen Gaylord covers.) Acher, whose songs are usually about the loathsome or the self-loathing, charmed with her deadpan, downbeat approach. One of the funnier moments was in a song about dating Sean Lennon: “I want to have dinner/With you and your mom.” Starfucking-by-proxy has rarely seemed so cute.

The Arizona Drains were advertised, but the Cherry Blossoms showed up. (It’s sort of complicated, but not particularly worth going into.) The duo of John Allingham and Peggy Snow were old-style folk, in the building-the-Erie Canal, settling-the-West sense. I mean, does anyone else still perform the rousing Boar War ditty “Marching to Pretoria”? Whether singing about drought or Jesus or lost love or, well, whatever, Snow and Allingham gave off a definite rural 19th-century vibe.

And, as the poet said, I shit you not: Snow is also a mean soloist on the kazoo. You might not realize what a cool sound a well-“played” kazoo can make, but Snow proved a genuine badass on what is probably the goofiest instrument in the arsenal of Western musicians.

When the Cherry Blossoms came to Josephine Foster’s rescue, the show went on. But the traditional songs the trio played were too conventional compared with what Foster had been doing. And Snow is too dominant a personality; Foster melted into the background when it should have been her showcase. Too bad.

Welcome Back

Carl Palmer

Revolution Hall, May 29

Cruel and dastardly fate! The gentle reader may recall my lamentations of just two weeks ago regarding my punctual arrival at an Albany nightclub only to suffer the woeful, thumping allergy of a DJ for almost two hours before I could witness my raison d’etre, get my brain pounded into milk protein, take a few notes and go home so I could get up at 5 AM and do it all again. And ha! That wasn’t going to happen again, my friends. Lo, Revolution Hall’s Web site boasted a clue that percussionist/prog-rock legend Carl Palmer—in town to perform classical works by Emerson, Lake and Palmer (ELP)—would indeed be joined by “special guests.” So I piddled around the house for a spell instead of blasting out to Troy in broad daylight.

“Not this time,” I said to myself, in a manner not unlike Wile E. Coyote about to ride an Acme hot-air balloon into an ocean of boiling lava. Instead, I had a banana. Walked the pooch. Watched old fight films. Scratched, sniffed and arrived in Troy at about 10 PM, and as I began walking toward the club I could hear that Palmer was already onstage! Christ. I begged my way inside, turned the corner, and there was the living legend, pounding away on his Ludwigs with a young gun on either side wowing the rather sparse crowd (it was Memorial Day Monday, after all) with dragon-slaying fretwork. I felt a wee bit bad about the attendance, but took full advantage, walking right up to the stage to watch the bomber from Birmingham go to work a scant five feet away from my shiny dome! It was too good to be true, and Palmer confirmed this when he bid his small but appreciative audience farewell after only five numbers. I had missed more than half the show. Bilked again.

>From the small sampling I witnessed, Palmer mainly offered interpretations of instrumental pieces once performed by ELP but not written by the trio, with the exception of the elephantine “Tarkus” (and when I asked around I found they also played “Trilogy” and a little bit of “Tank”). This was well-reasoned and perhaps preferable to Keith Emerson’s recent decision to play works actually written by the original band. Instead, we were treated to Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” (complete with a Buddy Rich-style solo), Rodrigo’s “Canario,” Ginastera’s “Toccata” and a brilliant rendition of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” which any horror buff would recognize from The Omen. And while it was a little strange watching men in their 50s play air keyboards to guitarist Paul Bielatowicz’s interpretations of Emerson’s take on such classics, for the most part the material was transcribed beautifully. Bielatowicz and bassist Stuart Clayton both looked only just old enough to enjoy their first pint here in the States, but they dropped jaws all ’round. Kudos to Palmer for giving these young lads an opportunity of a lifetime.

Interestingly, it was “Tarkus”—the only original piece I heard—that was the shabbiest, what with somewhat sloppy delivery and unfortunate equipment failures. In fact, it could be argued that for all the technical prowess in the room, the seamless telepathy that made ELP seem like aliens just visiting this planet was missing, but no matter to me. Hell, you get up there and try it. And besides, Carl Freakin’ Palmer! Five feet away! Prog as pretentious backwash? Bah. In the context of today’s jumble of no- talent air fresheners it’s almost pretentious to call ELP pretentious, you get me?

—Bill Ketzer

Ripple Effect

The New Riders of the Purple Sage

The Egg, May 20

Jerry Garcia may not have cared much about politics, but Buddy Cage, who took over the pedal-steel chair in the New Riders of the Purple Sage from Captain Trips in 1971, was clearly exercised over the Republican Party’s policies when the country-rock band took the stage at a sold-out Swyer Theater at the Egg last Saturday night. After grousing about Bush and the GOP, he gruffly informed the largely graying, baby-boomer crowd, “We’re gonna change things in November.” It was the first of a few goofy yet refreshingly serious outbursts on the subject by Cage that punctuated the two-step grooves, smooth vocal harmonies, and honky-tonk riffs from his pedal steel and founding member David Nelson’s B-bender Telecaster that characterized the evening. Even though he and Nelson were the only longtime members left, the New Riders had no trouble conjuring up the laid-back sound that made them famous in the 1970s. Panama Red was back in town, and he was an activist to boot.

The New Riders of the Purple Sage (the original Riders were a famous 1940s Western band named after a Zane Grey novel) began as a Grateful Dead spinoff in 1969 when Garcia paired his newfound love, the pedal steel guitar, with guitarist John Dawson’s lead singing and songwriting. The Dead’s drummer Mickey Hart and bassist Phil Lesh, and Jefferson Airplane drummer Spencer Dryden were in the early lineups, and both Dryden and Garcia graced the 1971 debut record. By the time Cage joined, the New Riders were an independent group who went on to release nine more LPs over the next eight years as their popularity grew, well, like a weed.

These days, Dawson reportedly is retired from the music business and living in Mexico. Currently performing with Nelson and Cage are rhythm guitarist and Hot Tuna alumnus Michael Falzarano, and bassist Ronnie Penque and drummer Johnny Markowski, formerly of the jam band Stir Fried. Even though Dawson was a Jerry Garcia vocal clone, none of the current New Riders sang as well, although Penque, another Garcia soundalike, came closest. Nelson’s lead guitar work tended to be rudimentary, reminding one of John Fogerty’s countrified soloing with Credence Clearwater Revival, and the fact that Nelson and Falzarano often played identical open guitar chords during the vocals gave the rhythm section a simplistic texture that was saved from monotony only by Cage’s glistening pedal steel licks.

The band opened with a rarity, country bluesman Mississippi John Hurt’s “Sliding Delta,” with Nelson fingerpicking Hurt’s original acoustic guitar part. From there they went to the first of several well-chosen covers, the Rolling Stones “Dead Flowers,” in which Cage used a distortion effect to make his pedal steel sound like electric slide guitar playing. In the course of two long sets they doled out all the New Riders classics: the dope smuggler ballad “Henry,” “Lonesome L.A. Cowboy,” with its refrain “Snortin’ coke, smoking dope, tryin’ to write a song”; their biggest hit, “Panama Red,” Peter Rowan’s 1973 tune about a rogue who is the personification of dope, and others. They closed with R. B. Greaves’ “Take a Letter, Maria,” and encored with a sweet, twangified version of the Grateful Dead’s “Ripple.”

My Stetson’s off to the New Riders of the Purple Sage for playing as well as they did, and to Buddy Cage for reminding us that this old world’s in a hell of a fix.

—Glenn Weiser

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