Manchester Oxfam. A surprising £1.99 in a shop where most of the records seem over-priced.
There are so many things wrong with this sleeve. The song, as you can see, is ‘Pretty Woman’ but the image suggests that maybe it should be ‘Pretty Boy’…or, at a pinch, ‘Pretty Women’. The woman on the right is directing that side-long glance at…who? What’s happening? They don’t look like people who would knock over a jukebox and then use it as a kind chaise longue. What kind of mess have they made of the 45s inside that jukebox? (Someone out there knows what model that jukebox is) Maybe they were upset that Roy Orbison (Roy Orbison and the Candy Men on the record) is not ‘Artist of the Week’. In fact the Artist of the Week’ is (are) ‘Les Chakachas…a Belgian Latin band who had their biggest hit in 1972 with a disco number ‘Jungle Fever. But that is to skip ahead…another time…another place. So who are these people on the cover? Is this a German love triangle or a Belgian anti-tango squad. Is it just a coincidence that the b-side of ‘Pretty Woman’, ‘Yo To Amo Maria’ features heavy Spanish guitars and a chorus that (web) translates as ‘I to love Maria’. We may never know.
I looked for some live footage of Les Chakachas but somewhere down the line I realized that life is too short.
1. The two tunes (not even tunes…phrases, lines) that were stuck in my head for most of the time in New York…’Bad Sneakers’ by Steely Dan. ‘Bad sneakers and a piña colada my friend, stompin’ on the Avenue by Radio City, with a transistor and a large sum of money to spend….’ And The Real Roxanne’s ‘Bang Zoom Let’s Go Go’…’…sorry, wrong beat!’ And (via Looney Tunes) ‘I ain’t pushin’ no moon button…’
2. At The Stone – NoHo, Alphabet City, Lower East Side, Wherever. Ned Rothenberg’s trio, Sync, as part of his week-long residency. I admire The Stone’s austerity and the straightforwardness of their mission. The space is a former corner shop on 2nd Street and Avenue C with no hint of its function, the name stencilled discreetly on the door. Two sets a night with separate admission…a standard ticket price of 15 dollars. No pre-booking. No bar. No food. The ticket price goes straight to the artists. This last seemed particularly appropriate on the night I was there. Two sullen young folk on the door and then three of us in the audience…maybe we should have skipped the middle man and each given one of the performers their 15 dollars. The intimacy of this performance was strained by the inability of us 3 to fill the space with applause. Ned and his two accomplices played as if the room was full…although maybe I overheard something along the lines of ‘oh, lets just play…’ A possible hint of disappointment at the artist to audience ratio. Anyway, it was a beautiful, composed set with overtones of classical Indian music throughout…the tabla providing a swirling fluid centre around which saxophone and guitar danced delicate patterns.
Ned Rothenberg, saxophones
Jerome Harris, guitars
Samir Chatterjee, tabla.
The Stone, 19. vi. 13
3. On a Friday afternoon, Astor Place closed to traffic to accommodate a continuous performance of Beck’s Song Reader by a variety of bands. (Song Reader is Beck’s un-recorded album issued only as a score). I chanced upon this event and stayed for a half hour as I was due elsewhere. I have noticed before the effect of the free concert in New York…namely that the social takes over from the musical. In effect the audience pretty much stops listening or, more accurately, allows its listening to become dissipated…is this just because the entertainment is free and therefore regarded as without value? This sometimes seems to be reflected in half-hearted performances too. This event was slightly different in that it was so low key…a Friday afternoon with the traffic rumbling down Broadway and up Lafayette, people strolling by and sometimes stopping, sometimes merely pausing. New York streets make a great backdrop to impromptu musical performances…contained, narrow, echoing canyons. Wisely the stage was set up facing the short end of the street with, in effect, a huge backstage area…this pushed the music into the active part of the adjacent streets. This was the flipside of a performance in The Stone…incidental, almost accidental, in its use of the city. As an audience we were drawn into this casual, quotidian encounter engaging in a network of relationships between music, sound, musician, street, audience, passer-by, architecture…
The Fall Café Allstars featuring members of Balthorp, Alabama.
For Joe’s Pub, Astor Place. 21. vi. 13
And 6 am. East 66th Street and York. A low background rumble of traffic through the window that opens out into the yard between this building and the adjacent apartment block. The traffic noise here is more distant than I hear it in London where the sound in the foreground is the street. This traffic sound is more constant and more even. There is no view of the street from any of the windows here so there is the sense of a strange, but not complete, detachment from the city. The birds that sing over this background rumble in the morning are more like soloists than a chorus…individual melodies that jump in from time to time. I have no idea which birds are singing though my hosts tell me there are cardinals in the area. (There were more birds yesterday morning but I woke at 5) Other sounds are overlaid on the drone of cars, trucks and buses: A truck reversing nearby. (Yesterday) A conversation between two women – in Slovak? Historically this area is Slovak. Ambulance sirens…there are a lot of hospitals in the vicinity…but what time do these start? Is there a time before which they are not allowed to use sirens? I have not heard any this morning now that I come to think of it. A garbage truck stopping on the street….warning signal, bags being thrown into the compressor, machinery. Repeat. A car horn. These come and go at different distances. The garbage truck (repeat but further away.) A long whistle, far away, like a train. Is this possible?..probably not. Sweeping in the yard. Someone messing with the bin lids.
49 Americans, Café Oto, 4th May 2013.
Fol Chen, Shacklewell Arms, 5th May 2013.
- Though there are a lot of them, 49 Americans are not what they seem…not even a band according to David Toop. (“Think of The 49 Americans as a band, in the conventional sense, and you’re lost.”) Maybe there have been 49 members since their inception…who knows? Tonight there are about 20 of them.
- The 3 Americans are really three Americans though. From Los Angeles, Cailfornia.
- Andrew ‘Giblet’ Brenner, the 49 American’s moving force, used this as a throw away line between numbers: ‘We are the 49 Americans…people playing at playing music.’
- How did it come about that Fol Chen got Brian Cox to do a spoken word version of ‘In Ruins’(‘A message from the subcommittee for public safety’)? ‘The bonfires are blocking the streets tonight…’
- As far as I can tell the 49 Americans have reformed tonight (for one night?) to launch the recently re-released albums ‘E Pluribus Unum’ and ‘We Know Nonsense’.
- How does it make sense for a 3 piece (there are more of them really…but tonight they are a 3 piece) twisted-pop band from California to play a gig in the sleazy back room of a hipster pub in Dalston – for free? After the gig I put this question to the singer, she said: ‘Don’t ask..’.
- The 49 Americans play damaged rather than twisted music. They are all ‘proper’ musicians who have not/hardly rehearsed. But beautiful moments of synchronous funk emerge nevertheless.
- Fol Chen, on the other hand, play things that they have clearly been working on but in an off-hand, devil-may-care and also exhilarating way.
- The 49 Americans have two special guests who are kind of in the not-band but who are also apart from them. Leafcutter John provides some tasty electronic noises and Alice Grant sings…at one point they assemble a song from lines chosen at random form 49 American titles.
- Fol Chen have got a singer, a drummer and a guitarist and some electronic backing tracks to fill-in vital twiddly baroque bits.
- Fol Chen have one red light slightly behind them and to the left. They play on a small raised stage with the drummer in an arched alcove at the back. For the last number the guitarist gets off the stage and plays in the audience looking back at the band. But this seems un-theatrical- as if he just wants to see what it might be like to be in the audience.
- At Oto, the 49 Americans had a bit more light than the audience though they were not lit in any conventional sense. They have long breaks between songs while the musicians re-arrange themselves.
- And 14. Consecutive nights in Dalston about a quarter of a mile apart. What makes the conditions for this to happen and for it all to seem quite ordinary?