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Jesus, He’s Cool

By Paul Rapp

Nick Lowe, Eli “Paperboy” Reid

WAMC Performing Arts Studio, April 30

Talk about aging gracefully. Nick Lowe, alone with an acoustic guitar, put on a simply beautiful and uncommonly dignified show to a packed house of devotees at the Linda, his first Albany appearance in (I think) 23 years, when he played the second JB Scott’s with his rockabilly band the Cowboy Outfit.

Dressed in gray slacks and a white shirt, Lowe touched on all facets of his rough-and-tumble career, from the pure pop of “Heart” and “When I Write the Book” to the more pensive Americana-styled songs from his recent albums. He avoided the wackier tunes that so endeared him to late-’70s rock nerds—we didn’t hear anything about breaking glass, castrating Castro, or winners who became doggies’ dinners—but instead delivered a load of his incredible staring-into-the-void masterpieces, like “The Beast in Me” and “I’ve Let Things Slide,” songs that translate powerfully when sung solo in an intimate atmosphere. The clever wordplay and the improbable rhyme schemes have always been there in spades, but Lowe has replaced the more manic imagery of his songs with a sturdy gravitas and cocksure delivery. Not for nothing they call him the Jesus of Cool.

But this wasn’t a mopefest, either; a brand new song, the super-quiet “I Read a Lot,” got an hysterical intro, and after, as the applause was peaking, Lowe yelled “and the cavalcade of hits keeps coming!” and charged into pop nugget “Cruel to Be Kind.” And he played, as a rejoinder to a couple of songs that could (wrongly) be interpreted as misogynistic, the absurdist “All Men Are Liars,” with its out-of-nowhere takedown of ‘80s pop curiosity Rick Astley.

The biggest revelation of the night was the quality of Lowe’s voice, and how he wrapped it around the brilliantly wrought songs. This was never more apparent than with the set closing “(What’s So Funny ’bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” delivered downtempo with Lowe squeezing meaning and warmth out of every single word, reclaiming and rebranding his best-known song, for so long an angry Elvis Costello vehicle, as one of hope, and, yes, peace, love, and understanding.

Young Boston soul shouter Eli “Paperboy” Reid probably should not venture out without his band. Reid, who looks like a cross between Tony Dow and Ron Zeigler, sure has his bad-ass schtick down cold, right down to the pinky rings on each hand, but his retro-soul thing doesn’t fly while he’s struggling to keep up with himself on electric guitar. That being said, his new record sizzles, the cat can flat-out sing, and I’m dying to see the full Paperboy treatment. Somebody bring ‘em all over here for a gig. Quick.

Dark Interiors

The Secret Machines

Jack Rabbit Slims, May 1

Two summers ago I witnessed the Secret Machines, a two-piece at the time, wistfully blow through a set of pulsing, pulsating, and yet breezy Krautrock out in the summer air at the McCarren Park Pool in Brooklyn. The tinkle of their keyboards and propulsive thump of the bass made me feel like I was lying in the middle of a field among long reeds of grass tickling my bare feet.

On Thursday night, the Machines played Albany as a three-piece and, in the barely-lit space of the club, they sprayed thick slabs of broken-machine guitars over drummer Josh Garza’s precision kitwork, as singer-bassist Brandon Curtis delivered simple bass lines and understated but heartstring-pulling vocals.

This night in the dark, the Machines were heavy as fuck, oppressive and claustrophobic—like being pinned under a Mack truck, Curtis’ meek vocals only slinking out like muted cries for help.

Outside, the spring night seemed to be creeping in through the open façade of Jack Rabbit Slims toward the band, the night drawn in by the cyclone of their pummeling trance-rock. Two lone lamps, shining bright orange, were the only light keeping the band from being encased in darkness.

The experience, while undeniably different than the last time I saw the group, was overwhelmingly worthwhile. Adding a new touring guitarist (and, perhaps, permanent collaborator) in Phil Karnats has lent the band a weight they once lacked. It is hard to say if the change is an improvement over their bass-and-keyboard-heavy live shows of the past, but it is certainly different. Live, the band now come off more like a stoned-out My Bloody Valentine or an indie-rock Mastodon than the garage-rock Kraftwerk they used to do so well.

Samples bubbled up into the cracks between room-shaking guitar riffs, giving the crowd fits of indecision—do we clap now or do we clap later?—and then the pieces started to move again, each band member and their instrument like a cog in some great clanging (heh) machine.

The Machines crowned their set with their most well-known pieces, including, “Alone, Jealous and Stoned” off of 2006’s Ten Silver Drops, during which the armor of Karnats’ hyper-distorted guitar gave way to Curtis’ key work and pleading voice. No longer encased in walls of distortion, Curtis’ heart was exposed on stage as he sang, “Sitting at home, what am I doing?/Boy waiting by the phone/Alone, jealous and stoned/I waited for you/I always waited for you.” All that was left of the band was Curtis’ humanity, and it made me ache and shiver more than any of the bands’ newfound heaviness.

—David King

Trust Me

Jenny Scheinman

MASS MoCA, North Adams, Mass., May 3

Jenny Scheinman makes a tacit agreement with her audience: If you like one area of her music, trust her, step into another and she’ll make it worth your while. Her performance last Saturday at MASS MoCA found her fronting a quartet, primarily as the lead singer. While singing has been a part of her musical identity right along, her four releases thus far have focused on her as a violinist and composer. She’s also played violin with an impressive array of luminaries, from Norah Jones to Lou Reed, Bill Frisell to Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Her 2005 album, though instrumental, tipped her hand a bit, with its title, 12 Songs, revealing its contents (and cheekily referencing Randy Newman’s seminal album).

The identity of the band owed itself both to Scheinman and guitarist Tony Scherr. His approach to the instrument is related to Marc Ribot’s mix of edgy sonics and resonant traditionalism; he also sang harmonies. A number of songs started with just the two performers, a few being just duets. They were given swinging heft by the rhythm section of drummer Anton Fier and string-bassist Tim Luntzel. Fier is of course no longer the fresh-faced kid seen as one of the four band members on the cover of the Feelies’ debut album, now looking like a seasoned cop nearing retirement (and I mean that in the hippest possible way).

The hourlong set mixed choice covers (Lucinda Williams, Tom Waits), traditional numbers and originals. Scheinman’s songs are concise, slyly inventive and rooted in blues, country and folk. Her forthcoming eponymous album will be her first as a singer, and many of the songs were drawn from it. And, in keeping with Scheinman’s artistic modus operandi, it’ll be released simultaneously with her latest instrumental work.

—David Greenberger


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