Lowe, Eli “Paperboy” Reid
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.
The Secret Machines
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
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.
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
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.