Good things come in threes? The Feelies are back!

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Yes, all hell appears to be breaking loose around us these days. But – sssh – listen…Crackling. Crickets. Chirping birds. A gentle percussion sound. A gentle guitar. Three-syllable lines, recited gently. The song’s (three-syllable) title is “In Between.” It’s also the name of the album.

Another three-syllable song title follows (“Turn Back Time”), guitars not as gentle this time. The Crazy Rhythms sound (this band’s debut album from 1980) is key here, that alterna-strumming heard all over the soundtrack to Susan Seidelman’s 1982 movie Smithereens. Smith-er-eens. (For the record, this band made an appearance in another 1980s film, Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild. Counting syllables?)

Next, another (“Stay the Course”), as the music gets more and more mesmerizing…

Just for a curve ball, the only song on the album without a three-syllable title, “Flag Days,” takes off with more of an electric edge, a deeper atmosphere. And borrowing from the Beach Boys’ “Do It Again” as they chant “Hey now, hey now” – wait a second, what’s all this four-syllable stuff?

Oh good, back to three (“Pass the Time”) and back to another sound out of the past: the elegant “Slipping (Into Something)” from the group’s 1986 record (and three-syllable title), The Good Earth.

Another gentle moment, “When to Go,” goes nicely with the album cover photo of a view down the center of two rows of tall trees against a drab but peaceful gray sky.

Now. NOW. The band hits their stride with a Velvet Underground groove and a Modern Lovers favorite phrase – “With the radio on.” It’s “Been Replaced” and it’s the best track on this album so far.

Keep it up! That Crazy Rhythms feel is back with “Gone Gone Gone” (whoa, not just three syllables, three of the same word!). Now this song’s the best one.

Then “Time Will Tell.” Dant-dant-dant. One-two-three.

And “Make It Clear.” A nice three-chord recipe with a pinch of sleigh bells and a dash of accordion.

Finally, “In Between (reprise).” A nine-minute (that’s 3 x 3, you mathematicians), three-ring thrill-ride of darkness and distortion, of screaming, of howling, of a 40-year-old band stretching, groaning, rocking like pretty much nothing they’ve ever done before. This is the album’s greatest moment. Or nine moments. Or three syllables.

feelies-web-cityparksfoundation-org                                         photo courtesy http://www.cityparksfoundation.org

The band is The Feelies. The band’s guiding lights, producers, songwriters, and singer-guitarists since day one are Glenn Mercer and Bill Million. Check out all those names – one-two-three – all around. And still in The Feelies since the mid-80s are drummer Stanley Demeski, bassist Brenda Sauter, and percussionist Dave Weckerman.

The album is their sixth, In Between, due for release next month. And their first since 2011’s Here Before (anybody still counting syllables here?). It’s also one of their best – perhaps their finest since Crazy Rhythms – a perfect balance of tension and tenderness. The Feelies have grown older and wiser, and have taken their strumming, shimmering layers of jangle-pop to new heights while maintaining an artistic integrity that tops, well, most other artistic integrities. All such strum and shimmer displayed by any given twenty-first-century indie band owes its very existence to, among others, The Feelies and the vision of Messrs. Mercer and Million.

One! Two! Three!

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   photo courtesy http://www.thefeeliesweb.com

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Flamenco + mariachi + reggae + punk = Carmen rock! (and sung by someone actually named Karmen)

Mad Juana, Klubi, Tampere, 12.12.2014. Kuva: Olli Koikkalainen

A cold January 2017 evening, once again rendezvousing at the Bowery Electric. The purpose of this latest visit is to check out the Waldos – Walter Lure and company – for a “pre-album-release party” or something. That did eventually happen – and good old fun it was – but before Mr. Lure and his two-thirds-Japanese musical co-horts take the stage, an unusual, very schizomusical spell is cast. In the persona of a group named Mad Juana. And who, apparently, have been around for quite some time, their first album released in 1997. My first impression of this band is – Carmen rock. The Bizet opera has always been a favorite, well the music anyway, since way back (I think I’ve seen it three times, with a fourth imminent next month), and this Mad Juana takes the costumes, theatrics, and some musical elements and runs with it!

Formed in the mid-1990s in NYC by bassist Sami Yaffa (a.k.a. Sami Takamäki) and his wife, singer Karmen Guy, Mad Juana currently consists of Yaffa on guitar, George De Voe on bass, Marni Rice on accordion and vocals, Danny Ray on sax, Indofunk Satish on trumpet, Mal Stein on drums, Rain Bermudez and Tony Mann on percussion, and bewitching Patti Smith/Chrissie Hynde/Grace Slick-by-way-of-Spanish-gypsy-voodoo vocalist Guy.

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The group’s most recent album, 2008’s Bruja on the Corner, is a kaleidoscopic carnival of wonders like “Valhalla,” “Heloise,” “La Bruja,” and “Mad Love.” The stomping spice of flamenco, the bouncing energy of ska/reggae, the exotic fire of mariachi horns, the intense in-your-face-ness of punk, all on display here…and in their live show at Bowery Electric. This time the evening is not sold out, so I’m able to see the actual band instead of a video screen version over the bar, as Mad Juana whips the room into a flaming frenzy. Visually and musically one of the most exciting bands I’ve seen in a while…and a nice change from run-of-the-mill East Village guitar rock.

The name Mad Juana supposedly stems from a stint in Spain back in 1995, when Karmen and Sami were inspired by the story of the insane Queen Joanna of Castile – Juana la Loca – Mad Juana! ¡Olé!joanna_of_castile_by_juan_de_flandes_003

band photos courtesy Noise.fi and ReverbNation.com

 

Debussy, then the Dictators

Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” by Claude Debussy. You can’t get any more sublime, more tranquil, more exquisite. The Bloodbrothers album by the Dictators. You can’t get any more coarse, more raucous, more testosterone-fueled. Yet on December 30, 2016 – New Year’s Eve Eve – I’m listening to the Debussy piece, announced as number 21 on WQXR’s annual “Classical Countdown,” while getting set to journey downtown to the Bowery Electric for a performance of Bloodbrothers – from start to finish – by the Dictators NYC.

debussy_o_preludefaun_harp_1                                      image courtesy everynote.com

The Debussy, all flute and harp on a feather-bed of strings with touches of playful oboe and clarinet, cannot evoke anything less than lush landscapes of forests and streams, populated by sensuous figures out of an adult fairytale. Look up the words ‘pastoral’ or ‘magical’ in an online dictionary and there might as well be a recording of this piece uploaded nearby. Check out the visuals in this interpretation. Ok, and now – as if by a sudden, shocking scratch of the needle across the record on the part of some clumsy DJ…

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It’s another sold-out, packed-to-capacity evening at the Bowery Electric. Second opening act Palmyra Delran has just wrapped up their set, and just like the Heartbreakers show I reviewed in November, the only way to see anything is on a video monitor at the back bar. Just as crowded but this time more than a few of the patrons are, let’s say, size XXXL. And before long, here he is, in trademark BRONX knit cap, the one-and-only Handsome Dick Manitoba! He and the current incarnation of the Dictators (known as the Dictators NYC) – guitarist and original Dictator Ross “The Boss” Friedman, drummer J.P. Patterson, bassist Dean Rispler, and guitarist Daniel Rey – tear into the opener from the third album, 1978’s Bloodbrothers, “Faster and Louder,” and then keep on tearing into the whole record including all-purpose pop-rocker “Baby, Let’s Twist,” bad-boy anthems “No Tomorrow” and “I Stand Tall,” masterpiece of rock ‘n’ roll energy “Stay with Me,” all the way to the Flaming Groovies cover “Slow Death.” In between Mr. Manitoba delights in relating anecdotes about…what else?…growing up in Da Bronx! Then a couple of classics from debut album Go Girl Crazy!, “Weekend” and “Two Tub Man,” and…it’s up the stairs and out the door, to beat the exit stampede of 500-pound two-tub-men!

So welcome to 2017, where the sublime coexists with the coarse, the tranquil with the raucous, the exquisite with the testosterone-fueled. Schizomusica!

debussy_faun-_foresthdm1-44330_imageimages courtesy youtube.com/Cheryl Lim; bbook.com