What more can we say about the Spectrum? The diverse movie programming,
the tasty almost-gourmet treats at the snack bar, the comfy seats
and excellent sight lines in the cinemas remain terrific. Well,
it turns out there is more to say. The Spectrum has renovated
the lobby and expanded the box office, the better to herd through
the ever-increasing crowds that line up down the block on weekends.
And it’s added iced coffee to its summer snack bar menu, too.
grandeur of the movies: Proctors Theatre.
Photo by: Leif Zurmuhlen
Second-Run Cinema (Macro)
Another venue that can’t be beat, Proctor’s is the last theater
in the area—and one of only a few in the country, actually—where
you can get a taste of what the golden age of moviegoing must have
been like. It’s an elegant place where you can see both art films
and box-office favorites. This year it’s been innovative in its
programming, too: It hosted a one-day festival of Hong Kong action
classics, and coming soon is a marathon screening of all three Lord
of the Rings films. And the top ticket price is still only a
couple of bucks.
Second-Run Cinema (Micro)
Broadway, Saratoga Springs
Saratoga Film Forum really came into its own this year. This little
film society that could continued to program the current art-house
favorites but also hosted a number of notable local premieres. Let’s
face it—there are some foreign and/or independent films that are
too unusual for any local commercial cinema to screen, and
Saratoga Film Forum has filled this niche admirably.
and Francine Clark Art Institute
South St., Williamstown, Mass.
The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute exudes authority.
The museum’s collection of 19th-century American and European paintings,
particularly its extensive collection of French impressionists (which
for some people is pretty much where fine art begins and ends),
is justly world-renowned. Statesiders include Homer, Inness, Sargent,
Cassatt and Remington; among the Europeans you’ll find Renoir, Monet,
Pissarro, Gauguin, Bonnard, Manet, Degas and old masters such as
Fragonard, Lorrain and Gainsborough—and all in a beyond-stately
facility on 140 acres of idyllic Berkshire greenery (Clark had originally
planned the museum for his townhouse in New York City before developing
a fear of nuclear attack on America’s cities around 1946, but he
and his politics are a whole ‘nother story). Major traveling exhibitions
touch down with regularity to keep things fresh, and owing to its
parallel life as a research facility, there’s an unmistakable air
of scholarship to the place (though suede elbow patches, we’re assured,
are purely optional).
Museum (Je Ne Sais Quoi)
MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, Mass.
Whether it’s a series of underwater dance portraits or a song cycle
based on the speeches of Donald Rumsfeld and the poems inscribed
on Zippo lighters by soldiers serving in Vietnam, MASS MoCA consistently
presents artwork and performances of genre-defying ambition, scale
and scope. The curatorial approach is inclusive and innovative,
ranging from modernist-classic (Robert Rauschenberg) to confoundingly
complex (Matthew Ritchie). MASS MoCA can be viewed as a temple of
both “Aha!” and “Huh?” and, for us, that makes for a mighty fine
Marathon Art Drive
There are four mega-art shows in the area this summer, so gas up
the jalopy and hit the road. The New York State Museum is hosting
French Painters of Nature: The Barbizon School, on loan from
the Met. After digging on 19th-century nature, grab a sandwich and
head south to Cooperstown: The Fenimore Art Museum is offering Winslow
Homer: Masterworks from the Adirondacks, a major retrospective
of this American icon’s work. Next, head northeast to the Clark
Art Institute in Williamstown, where Bonjour Monsieur Courbet
collects rarely seen works by Gustave Courbet. Finally, if you’re
not sated, return to New York and turn right at the Northway: The
Hyde Collection in Glens Falls has Masterworks: Selections From
the New Britain Museum of American Art. (It’s like the Reader’s
Digest Condensed History of Art.) If you complete this itinerary,
congratulations: You have officially earned the title “art groupie.”
Being based in the Adirondacks hasn’t prevented this sculptor from
making strong and steady progress toward the big time. Winning major
grants, mounting shows at top local venues like the Arts Center
of the Capital Region and doing installations at Albany International
Airport along the way, Palermo continues her smart, sassy legacy
of original forms and neon colors in her current solo exhibition,
titled Flo-mation, at the Williams College Museum of Art.
Art Gallery (Industrial)
Park Place, Hudson
It has the smoothest concrete floor, the slickest angle-iron fixtures
and some of the coolest art, all coordinated under the watchful
eye of owner/curator/designer/artist Jefferson Snider.
just below Lark: Firlefanz Gallery. Photo by: Teri Currie
Art Gallery (Carnival)
Lark St., Albany
The sunflower-yellow walls and tiny back sculpture garden make it
super-friendly, while the always challenging (yet inclusive) curating
makes it top-notch. One only hopes that enough collectors will somehow
find this daring gem to keep it going.
Art Gallery (Co-op)
Fulton St., Troy
Nothing is less likely to succeed than a collection of (broke, distracted,
self-involved) artists trying to make a go at a business venture—i.e.,
your typical co-op gallery. Fulton Street has defied the odds and
is still going strong after 12 years of everything from grassroots
free-for-alls to national juried shows to strong solos to weeklong
“Blink” exhibitions. It may still be broke, but it’s focused and
community-centered, and we love that.
Art Gallery (Retail store)
Broadway, Saratoga Springs
It has work by top-quality artists, both regional and national;
a clean, well-lit (if a bit cramped) space; and a smart, friendly
staff that knows how to sell like nobody else this area has ever
seen before in the business of art. That means collectors get art,
and artists get paid. Get the picture?
Gallery (Abandoned storefront)
Space Will Do
Chip Fasciana and Tommy Watkins are like a two-man wrecking crew—in
reverse. They’ll take a neglected former bakery (or filling station
or whatever), and in no time flat it will be full of wild art, happy
throngs and very much energy. The local scene hasn’t been this vibrant
since—well, we’re not old enough to remember.
College Gallery (Division I)
College Museum of Art
Street, Williamstown, Mass.
With a never-ending stream of grad student curators and a collection
that spans the millennia, this resource keeps getting better. There
are usually three or four shows on at any given time (covering a
gamut of artistic and academic ideas), admission is free, and the
building itself is a great piece of architecture. A clear winner.
College Gallery (Division II)
New Scotland Ave., Sage College of Albany
Under the expert guidance of director/curator Jim Richard Wilson,
the Opalka is only in its second year but is already building a
legacy of unforgettable shows, including Ugo Mochi’s stunning paper
cuts, Frank Wimberley’s jazzy and intelligent abstract paintings
and Conrad Atkinson’s brilliant blend of Dada and contemporary politics.
We want more!
landscaping: Union College. Photo by: Martin Benjamin
College Gallery (Division III)
Memorial, Union College, Schenectady
Housed in the bizarrely marvelous Nott Memorial, this gallery in
the round, under the savvy leadership of curator Rachel Seligman,
brings in shows we’d otherwise never see—women printers, outsider
artists, basket weavers—but are so glad we did. Faculty shows (usually
solo) also outdo the competition in their comprehensiveness.
College Gallery (Intramural)
of Saint Rose Art Gallery
Hall, 324 State St., Albany
Working out of a space about the size of a Loudonville foyer, curator
Jeanne Flanagan puts up some of the smartest exhibitions in the
area, often enticing outstanding mid-career artists to the college
to meet with studio majors and give public talks as well. An underappreciated
public resource in a private-college wrapper.
Museum You Drag Your Kids to
York State Museum
State Plaza, Albany
From fine art (Barbizon School), to sociology (Lost Cases,
Recovered Lives) to pop culture (Woodstock), this museum’s
exhibitions fulfill a range of desires and emotions of children
more inclined to be taken to the movies than to a state-funded behemoth.
And hey, what 8-year-old isn’t willing to tolerate yet another viewing
of the Ice Age dioramas just to keep Mom and Dad happy?
Museum Your Kids Drag You to
South St., Pittsfield, Mass.
Even the art exhibitions are kid-friendly, and the aquarium and
hands-on stuff just keep ’em coming back for more. Fortunately,
with such shows as last year’s Myth, Object and the Animal,
featuring the glass art of William Morris, and the current Presence
of Light installation, the adults don’t get bored too easily,
Equity Theater Company (Year-Round)
N. Pearl St., Albany
Capital Repertory Company is the only full-time theater in the area,
and Artistic Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill gives her subscribers
what they vote for.
Equity Theater Festival (Long-Established)
Street, Stockbridge, Mass.
Since Kate Maguire took over the reins, the BTF has steadily grown
in production values, programming quality and educational outreach.
In presenting plays with important themes that enlighten as they
entertain, the BTF has gone where no other major theater company
has dared to tread. Nowhere else has there been such a steady and
healthy critique of our society and values as at the BTF with its
first four offerings: Heartbreak House, Siddhartha, Blues for
an Alabama Sky and Floyd Collins.
Equity Theater Festival (Newly Established)
Glen St., Glens Falls
Now with its own theater space, Adirondack Theatre Festival performs
plays few others dare to, and it’s a proving ground for new plays
and musicals; it’s also working with the community leaders to revitalize
Equity Troupe (Risk-Loving)
Cross St., Hudson
StageWorks/Hudson has more balls than money, scraping together enough
hope to open a new theater complex in Hudson on credit. StageWorks
left the safe but banal surroundings of North Pointe to strike out
in a gritty area by the train tracks.
Theater on a Shoestring
E. Main St., Cambridge
Every community theater makes do with what it can beg, borrow or
scrounge from its neighbors and wring out of its underpaid and overworked
creative staff. But whether it’s a Victorian drawing room, a Monet
landscape or the mayhem of a circus tent, Hubbard Hall has got the
knack of shabby chic down to a science.
Eclectic Community Theater Venue
Hamilton St., Albany
Where else can you see three different improv groups, three different
community theater troupes, belly dancing and ballroom dancing; take
classes in yoga, meditation and group drumming; as well as hear
folk singers and performance artists? The art gallery space and
the baked delights from the Caputo Kitchen of Wonder aside, ZuZu
has a lot—and all in downtown Albany.
Hill, who resides in the Berkshires, is a triple threat: actor,
writer and director extraordinaire. Taking wild but not foolhardy
risks, Hill has consistently pushed his actors and audiences into
new realms, always with a look toward exploring the human psyche
at its most tragically destructive (Moby-Dick: Rehearsed)
or metaphysically creative (Siddhartha). To each of his tight
ensemble productions, he brings a uniquely physical style, a fierce
passion and a mighty intelligence.
Theatre at Shakespeare & Company
The Founders Theatre’s thrust stage is working-class friendly, surrounding
the audience with canvas and pipe,and the seats are comfy and nice.
The Founders can be adapted to theater-in-the-round or the more
conventional proscenium arch found at other local venues. Coupled
with the outdoor space of the Rose Theatre (an “in progress” re-creation
of the Elizabethan Rose Theatre in London), Shakespeare & Company
is a theatrical wonderland.
Theater Education Program
It has the largest program in the Northeast; operates year-round,
not just as a summer camp; works in four states (Vermont, Connecticut
and New York as well as Massachusetts); and does different programs
for schools, communities, corporations and jails. It works with
everyone, not just the pampered and privileged.
Local Dance Company
Sinopoli Dance Company
Egg, Empire State Plaza, Albany
The Sinopoli company continues to mature without losing its quirky
side. The proof includes the recent premieres Rising Low,
which bolstered mournful country music with the power of women together,
and Jammin’, which pulled jazz and swing into the modern
College Dance Theater
College, 815 N. Broadway, Saratoga Springs
Skidmore’s dance theater has 184 seats, great sight lines, and performances
by the likes of Jeanne Bresciani, Robert Battle and Doug Varone.
It also offers cheap or free concert tickets and a generous helping
of dance demonstrations, talks and videos.
Indoor Concert Venue
Egg, Empire State Plaza, Albany
Smart and even adventurous booking, reasonable start times, comfortable
seats, great sound—the Egg is more than just the city’s architectural
identifier. And it’s always fun to hear performers riff on the shape
of the place. The current champion is John Flansburgh of They Might
Be Giants. At their show last year he looked the place over and
dryly stated, “I can’t believe they stole my idea!”
Outdoor Concert Venue
With nary a blade of grass in sight, the Plaza doesn’t present an
“outdoor” experience in the conventional sense. But with strong
booking, great organization, a wide range of vendors and an airy
landscape that’s equal parts imposing monoliths and modern art,
it continues to be a wonderful (if surreal) gathering place where
local folks of all ages can enjoy free music. It’s a strikingly
unique setting—no other city has a place like it. Add a knockout
performance and well-organized event, and you’ve got a concert experience
like no other.
Concert Venue (Worth a Drive)
MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, Mass.
As you arrive at the Main Stage at MASS MoCA, you feel as though
you’re a part of the set. The small bar with snacks and beverages
is a welcome addition to the room, complementing the relaxed atmosphere.
The audience sits at tables on the floor and on risers, which favor
everyone with a spectacular view of the stage. And the gracious
staff at MASS MoCA make you feel right at home, which is mighty
nice after you’ve bothered to make the trip all the way out to North
baby, like you never done before: Troys Gasholder
Photo by: Shannon DeCelle
and Jefferson Streets, Troy
Originally built to house coal gas, the domed and circular Gasholder
building stands out in its rickety, residential South Troy neighborhood.
Its architectural individuality has been well-matched by recent
performances staged by RPI’s electro-musico-community, from laptop
DJ Jesse Stiles and violinist-electronic musician Todd Reynolds
to accordionist-improv guru Pauline Oliveros, sound artist Stephen
Moore and electronic cellist Sarah Warren. It’s a visionary use
of an underutilized and unlikely monument.
Warren St., Hudson
Under the careful guidance of Musty Chiffon (aka Dini Lamot, formerly
of Human Sexual Response), the Hudson River Theater has regularly
presented the kind of entertainment you’d expect to find at the
closing party for an East Village avant-garde musical. Maggie Moore
(Hedwig and the Angry Inch), Bitch and Animal, assorted celebrity
impersonators and the occasional member of the B-52’s have all made
appearances. And the upcoming schedule shows no signs of slacking
off, boasting top stars of drag culture such as Lady Bunny and Lypsinka
as well as an eclectic roster of musical acts like Seth’s Sauerkraut
Revue and Max Sharam & Her Quartet. You’ve just got to love
a joint in which “Mustang Sally” is more likely to be a stage name
than a request.
International Polytechnic Happening
IR, RPI, et al.
We love this. We just don’t know how to describe it. The various
hipsters and electro-, alterno- and engineero-nerd/geniuses who
nest in Troy have created a musical and multimedia scene that attracts
internationally renowned artists and musicians. Whether it’s iEar,
Impulse Response or the assorted RPI affiliates who kick it in the
Gasholder Building, this is really and truly art on the cutting
edge. To be perfectly frank, it’s almost too cool for the Capital
Club Venue (Living Room)
Street Book Shop
Lark St., Albany
When we say “living room,” we’re not kidding. Complete with candles,
small wooden chairs lined up in rows and an inviting backdrop of
thousands of books, the Lark Street Book Shop has succeeded in creating
an intimate, cozy atmosphere that lends itself perfectly to the
acoustic acts that play there once a month. No sound equipment is
needed—it’s just the artist, a guitar (or other instrument of choice)
and a stripped-down sound that reminds you of . . . yup, listening
while relaxing in your living room.
Club Venue (Den)
Union Ave., Saratoga Springs
With its lodge-like interior, King’s Tavern is a little like Dad’s
hangout across the street from the track. There are martini and
amoeba shapes cut out of the log-paneled walls and brands blazed
into same. It’s dimly lit; the stage is far from rectangular and
sits in front of a fireplace. Jazz, the venue’s amazing and huge
rock & roll dog, passes in and out of the room with ease, occasionally
lying down at patrons’ feet. Recent improvements have made King’s
a tidier, nicer place but haven’t sanitized its character (though
the bathrooms are always clean). Beyond that, the family who own
this watering hole are always welcoming, and King’s serves as a
second home to excellent area bands such as Small Axe.
Club Venue (Basement)
Fourth St., Troy
This may not be the place for eschatology, but we hope that B.R.
Finley’s—or a place very much like it—is where we go when we die.
This basement bar is the antithesis of pretension: It’s got nothing
much fancier in the way of decor than some Christmas lights in its
cozy grotto-like confines, and its patrons respond with an appropriately
easygoing bonhomie. The drinks are cheap, the bartenders are friendly,
and the live entertainment on any given night is as likely to include
dueling DJs as it is to boast Tom Jones covers. Stranger still is
the fact that people will actually dance to said performers, a phenomenon
almost unheard-of in the ostensibly hipper Albany clubs. And given
the proximity of RPI, you’re likely to find one of your dancing
companions willing to cease busting a move long enough to talk enthusiastically
about such far-flung egghead topics as media theory, acoustic archaeology,
culture jamming techniques or—maybe, just maybe—eschatology.
Schizophrenic Concert Venue Identity
Performing Arts Center
Central Ave., Albany
This is the only building we know of that has one name for the outside
surface and another for the inside. A fine structure, it’s basically
one big room. From the outside it’s the WAMC Performing Arts Center
(our preferred designation); inside it’s the Linda Norris Auditorium.
The latter being a bit of a mouthful, there’s an effort afoot from
within the WAMC think tank to have the populace refer to it as simply
“the Linda.” Well, we say, “Not in our lifetime!” If we’re going
to boogie down to a night of Keillor- or Seeger-approved music,
we’re going to make the scene at the WAMC Performing Arts Center.
New Scotland Ave., Albany
Howard Glassman has been hanging in there while other local venues
have come and gone, and we’re glad he has, because no other club
in the region can boast such a consistently high-quality live-music
schedule. In a town that’s largely ignored by touring bands, this
is where they come to play when they do stop in our fair city. In
the last few months alone, the old “beer joint and music hall” has
played host to top-notch performances by Ted Leo/Pharmacists, the
Pernice Brothers, Grand Champeen and the Candy Butchers. Young,
local bands are always given welcome here, too, and when the going
gets rough, the cooler case is always stocked full of ice-cold cans
of Schaefer. Yum.
Third St., Troy
Weekly hardcore, hiphop, blues, garage, metal, comedy, block parties,
all-age matinees and cheap, killer pub fare make former Bruise Brother
Mike Valenti’s vision of the old Rolls Touring Company a Collar
City must-see. He’ll try anything, usually successfully. The club’s
balcony stage makes you feel like Kiss in their heyday. Or at least
like one of their lighting technicians.
A roadhouse no more, this perennial hard-rockers’ favorite earned
some fresh appreciation of its endearing attempts at a nightclub
atmosphere—especially the fluorescent green fog lighting over the
new banquets and the deer-yard smoking area where the sound bleeds
through the exterior with little loss of volume. Yet what remains
best about Winners is that it brings in the edgiest, evilest and
all-out heaviest acts that nowhere else will dare to book,
from the bizarre (Cradle of Filth) to the extreme (Morbid Angel)
to the just plain crazed (Hank Williams III).
Lark St., Albany
Finally, a bona fide all-ages space on Lark Street—a perfect locale
with Washington Park a block away and two premier vegan joints just
down the road (Bombers, Shades of Green). The killer shows dropped
on the lids of all-too-suspecting youths by Step Up Productions
and Wake Up Punk bring hardcore & punk underground back to Albany.
In a Methodist church, no less. God bless.
we do say so our damn selves: the Sixfifteens.
Photo by: Leif Zurmuhlen
Since emerging in 2002, Saratoga band the Sixfifteens have just
gotten stronger and stronger—and have continued to evolve in compelling
ways. A large portion of the group’s appeal stems from a blistering
live show; leader Bob Carlton (formerly of Dryer) plays every set
like it’s his last, his stage presence and energy hovering somewhere
between Frank Black and Jack Black. The ’fifteens—which also consist
of Carlton’s former Dryer colleague Joel Lilley, along with Jeff
Fox and Matt Bombard—have moved long strides beyond their original
punk/power pop intentions, adopting complex, contrapuntal guitar
lines, tightly frenetic rhythms and melodic noise. Their recent
EP, Let’s Not Think About It, was a strong debut, but we
can’t wait to see what they cook up in September, when they head
into the studio for their first full-length.
The Erotics continued to burn the glam-punk, Bowery-sleaze torch
with conviction this year. Leader Mike Trash is one of the region’s
most unabashed rock stars—equal parts Nikki Sixx, Johnny Thunders,
tattoo ink and eyeliner. And there’s no other band like the Erotics
in the Capital Region: they’ve constructed their own neon-glitter
world around chunky glam-metal riffs, Trash’s Crüe-like shriek,
and such otherworldly thematic fare as “Gas Chamber Barbie Doll,”
“Space Age Mafia,” “Teenage Drag Queen” and “Fast Cars & Porno
Stars.” If you need any more convincing, check out the group’s music
(“Banged Up”) in an actual upcoming B-movie called The
Situationist. But let’s not forget that beyond all the otherworldly
trash and glitz lies a great band. They earned our Best Rock Band
honors just last year.
Prog Rockers of the Future
This Greenwich-based quartet (with a drummer hailing from Saratoga
Springs) are high schoolers with one foot in Starless and Bible
Black-era King Crimson. It’s hard to tell whether they’re aware
of that reference point, but it matters not. They could use more
focus on their songs’ beginnings and endings, but in between they
sure do get some ferociously hypnotic cerebral grooves going. There
are vocals (and some angst-heavy titles like “A Brief Study of Existentialism”
and “Fireworks Make Me Feel Lonely”), but it’s the instrumental
onslaught that mesmerizes and impresses.
They’ll say it themselves: Rocking is their job. These wild and
crazy guys have been doing their shtick around the area’s club scene
for more than two years now, but it’s safe to say they’ve come a
long way in that time. Since debuting as a duo, their “big band”
appearance at last year’s Aerosmith tribute and recent performances
with bassist Obelix “Testosterone” Tungsten (we’re pretty sure it’s
actually Mike Pauley of the Day Jobs, but they won’t budge) have
made it clear that the boys from Iceland (cough) are here to stay,
and we’re happy to have ’em, no matter where they really call home.
And what other area band can whip up an honest-to-God sing-along
the way these guys can with that “Time to Rock” song?
It’s said that, in this business of music, you have to go where
the work is. For rockabilly revivalists Slick Fitty, that means
regular trips overseas—to Germany, to be specific. We’re not sure
whether they’re getting a sweet money deal or if they’re just über-fond
of wheat beer and bratwurst, but our rockabilly boys have been spending
an awful lot of time over there this year—in fact, they’re currently
in the midst of their second six-week German tour in six months—and
we’re right proud of them. Wir gratulieren, boys!
Albert Cummings has played and recorded with Double Trouble (the
late Stevie Ray Vaughan’s rhythm section), toured with B.B. King
and lit up hundreds of stages with his smoldering blues guitar and
soulful singing. So what else is there to say about this Berkshires
bluesman? Well, for one, he’s also a darn fine songwriter, and he’s
set to drop another full-length album of originals in August. The
album, recorded in Austin and Memphis with producer Jim Gaines (Santana,
Stevie Ray Vaughan)—and once again featuring Double Trouble’s Tommy
Shannon—will be followed by a national tour. Let’s hope the nationally
emerging blues star doesn’t forget to light up a few stages back
The term most often associated with Brian Patneaude is “ubiquity,”
and for good reason; we’re under the impression that Patneaude has
the ability to be in three places at once. While this may not be
the case, the sax slinger has earned his stripes as most active
player in our fair city. Whether it’s his Tuesday night jazz jam
at the Larkin (with the Adrian Cohen quartet), his regular Sunday
gig with his own quartet at Justin’s or his new Thursday night saxophone-and-DJ
combo at the Lark Tavern (Nouveau Chill), he’s almost always playing
somewhere. Oh, yeah, and the cat can blow, too. Real good.
It’s good to have them back. OK, they never really went away, but
their appearances on the Albany side of the river have been sporadic
at best over the last few years. Good news, though: It turns out
they’ve actually been lying low while recording their long- awaited
second album. And now that they’ve returned to regular gigging,
we’ll be damned if they’re not better than they’ve ever been.
Instrumental mastery and enviable internal chemistry aside, they’ve
also shown their ever-improving skills as songwriters over the years.
You’re going to have to wait a few months on the new record (not
to boast, but we’ve heard it, and it’s out of this world); in the
meantime, catch them live just once, and trust us, you’ll begin
setting your watch by their performance schedule.
Hotter has been slowly but surely revealing his many layers over
the years. Besides his longstanding role as guitarist for knotworking,
he can also be found churning out the tasty licks for Mitch Elrod’s
CountrySoulHouse, and his recent all-star Strange Personalities
project showed his strengths as a bandleader. He’s also got considerable
songwriting chops—check out the wonderful title track from knotworking’s
The Garden Below LP for an example. With knot leader Ed Gorch
having recently released his first solo CD, we have a feeling that
it’s only a matter of time before Hotter follows suit, and we can’t
wait to hear what he comes up with.
With the grouchy soul of Chuck Berry and the glib chic of Dee Dee
Ramone (sans the poppy fetish), Plastic Jesus lay down some glorious
duck-walking noise. The trio have matured tenfold in the past two
years, improving both their live sound and their writing prowess
with the release of 2003’s So You Say Rock and Roll’s a Sin.
Loud, leather-clad and slightly unwashed, the band recently ranked
third on Rolling Stone’s local-indie chart and continue to
draw scads of miscreants to local clubs to feel the pain.
Break out your graphic calculators. Glens Falls band the Mathematicians
know how to rock their algebraic equations and then some, creating
a highly entertaining form of dance-friendly electro-rock. Regardless
of how you feel about the band’s “shtick” (the plaid suits, the
four-function lyrics, the geeky personas), the band always put on
an energetic live show. Though they’ve only been around for a year,
the band have toured the country from coast to coast and released
their full-length Level One album, one of the best-sounding
(and best- packaged) local releases of the year. Nerds of the world,
in front: Kelly Murphy of Empire State Troopers.
Photo by: Joe Putrock
Even Newer Band
Empire State Troopers, a band that includes members of Small Axe
and the Wasted, have only been together long enough to play a handful
of shows, but here’s to their longevity (we hope). With an electric
stage presence (thanks in part to front woman Kelly Murphy’s animated
singing style), a kick-ass live show and some great tunes that cover
the best sort of devil-worshiping, white-trash- celebrating territory,
EST have been generating quite a buzz in the local music scene.
Some have said EST = Soundgarden + White Zombie, while others
claim EST = Shellac + Pat Benatar.
In her other band, Albany’s the Wasted, Empire State Troopers singer
Kelly Murphy plays bass and takes on a somewhat more subdued role
in comparison to her bandmate, singer/songwriter Gay Tastee. So
we were a bit unprepared for Murphy’s turn as the energetic and
captivating frontwoman of EST. She rocks the microphone with powerful
pipes and an in-your-face, vaguely menacing charisma that perfectly
compliments the band’s scuzzed-out, stoner- friendly rock.
They’ve been crunching it out for years. Their recordings are spellbinding.
Their songwriting has gotten better and better. All three members’
roles play perfectly together in creating the sincere intensity
that is Small Axe. DJ Miller’s power-gruff vocals are the most original
in town. His ability to front a powerhouse rock band without falling
for lame antics of the ego (despite being a guitar whiz) is not
only an admirable achievement of the psyche, it’s what steeps Small
Axe in their patent authenticity. Bassist Orion MacDonald has helped
contain the band’s muscled, experimental abandon with a tighter,
arguably better-fitting sound. Tom Parker’s drumming style—equally
brainy and forceful—neatly sums up what their garage-sludge cacophony
is all about. Yeah, maybe they should have been Best Band. But they’re
so damn amazing live, we couldn’t resist.
Singer-Songwriter (Arena Rock)
The term “singer-songwriter” usually conjures images of acoustic
strummers delivering folky or brooding narratives. But Brian Bassett’s
straight-ahead rock tunes—which call to mind expansive fare like
early Radiohead, Oasis and Matthew Sweet’s 100% Fun—are made
to be swathed in thick guitars and lush production (courtesy of
former Wait member Ryan Barnum). His songs take a direct, simple
path to the heart, not to the intellect and not hitched to any trend.
On last year’s Rock and Roll LP, Bassett came off like a
man in search of an arena, avoiding poetic platitudes and complex
rumination and glorying in big, breathless love-rock, earnestly
direct anthems and throbbing melodic hooks. Bassett was back in
the studio with Barnum recently, so let’s hope that we soon see
a new album packed with his grand rock intentions.
Singer-Songwriter (Indie rock)
Apart from being a ubiquitous star of rock in local circles, from
promoting shows to recording bands like the Kamikaze Hearts and
Coal Palace Kings, Brent Gorton has an acuteness for smart, twisted
songwriting. Since his 2002 home-recorded masterpiece, San Diego—one
of the best albums to come out of the area in recent memory—Brent’s
songwriting has rendered an experimental bend on the lo-fi pop he
perfected on San Diego. That experimentalism, along with
his incorporation of things old and new (e.g., acoustic guitar and
theremin, folk and dissonance), creates an ironic twist in his music—playing
with the tradition while still traveling along it. Singing in his
lispy, quivered hush, Brent’s songs can sound like an Americana-obsessed
mental patient, disposing of his near, dark and bizarre secrets,
but with a disproportionate beauty.
Listen to any track off his album Uncertain Future or a two-minute
drop from any of his mix tapes, and it’s plain that we’ve got a
soon-to-be master on our hands. DJ P.Z.’s turntablism might be described
as academic funk experiments, forays into the glitchy, sonic shadows
that can lurk around hiphop’s clichéd boundaries (if you’re daring
enough to look). But Zandahz isn’t just some square-pants rat stuck
in the turntable lab, micromanaging the mods on his sequencer steps
(well, maybe, kind of); he’s also a very serious fan of the funk
groove, especially in his live sets and mix tapes. As turntable
law should mandate, Zandahz shakes your brain only after he’s taken
care of your ass. Technologically, Zandahz is an adamant purist—sticking
with the basics (turntables, mixer, sampler, sequencer) and swears
off all computer-DJ hacks (“You kids who DJ on the computers are
not DJs, you’re just kids”). Check out his multiple projects (a
new full-length; a fully self-written, self- published magazine,
Send in the Clones; production work for Pitch Control’s Atypical)
at his self-designed (of course) Web site, www.pz.com, or his online
Whether it’s battle lyrics or spreading the gospel, we love Sev
Statik for his humble, thought-provoking style and his dedication
to putting the 518 on the map. He’s also responsible in part for
Pitch Control Music, a cooperative of local artists that continues
to bring hiphop to new heights in the Capital Region. His work ethic
is hard to top by any standard, what with his hand in the California-based
Tunnel Rats projects and Deep Space 5 and his latest solo effort,
Speak Life. The international distribution through Uprok/EMI
doesn’t hurt, either.
Like the Mathematicians, our newest techno-rockin’ darlings, this
project also hails from the hub of Glens Falls/Lake George. Both
bands feature the same drummer (we’ll call him Al Gorithm), and
his multitasking production, live programming and live drumming
for both make us wonder whether he’s the mastermind behind them.
Besides his excellent live drums (an impressive enough instrumental
feat in the universally digital genre of hiphop), Blue Water Tribe’s
three-way MC bouts pair their vigorous flow with intelligent (and
intelligible) lyricism. What results is like if the Beastie Boys
grew up under the Def Jux umbrella of experimental hiphop: a smart
expository force of tight rhymes and tighter beats (and did we mention
live drums?). Full album available for download at www.bluewatertribe.com.
and Blue Lights
If they were from the Midwest in the mid-’90s, Rockets and Blue
Lights would have been big, and here—where the kids can’t seem to
get enough of ’em—they are that. Perhaps it’s their Fugazi-esque
obstinacy about playing all-ages venues that endears them so to
fans, or their refusal to play on stages, instead setting up on
the floor so that they can’t be separated from the kids. Yes, high-octane
rocket fuel and a Turner painting could be to blame for their brand
of anxious guitar work, melodic lilts and polyrhythmic antics. They
even do that cute Joan of Arc/Braid/Bach thing where they sing different
lyrics over one another.
So they’re not the most active band around right now, but they sure
know how to pack a punch. Their one single last year, “Smoke This,
Joe Bruno,” was an ornery nose-thumbing at the state’s decision
to ban smoking. With no shortage of piss and vinegar, they had stickers
made up and proudly sang their way into a political-song hall of
fame in Scotland in the same year as Bob Dylan and Rickie Lee Jones.
Hey, Joe: “Smokers are taxpayers, they’ve been treated like mutts
/ Next election year, they’re gonna blow smoke right up your butt.”
Hearse Paparazzi Project
Dare we dissect the brilliance of this four-word juggernaut? If
this name isn’t nonsense, it can be construed many different ways.
Does it mean the practice of stalking dead celebrities as they are
hauled off in inconspicuous pink hearses? Maybe the paparazzi are
dead and being dragged around in a pink hearse. But then the word
“project” leads one to believe that it’s a special paparazzi assignment
to cover only pink hearses. Could it be that the band, then, are
organized spectators, documenting the death of a gaudy, celebrity-obsessed
culture? (What is this, an art review?) Of course, this name could
simply be fun words thrown together: the alliteration of popping
P’s is strong, yet offset by the soft hiss of “hearse.” Well done.
Caroline St., Saratoga Springs
Travis has always been proud of this fine jukebox and does his best
to keep it stuffed with the very best artists, everything from Ray
Charles and Steve Earle to the Dirtbombs and Belle & Sebastian.
Select from a double-disc Kinks collection or nuggets from the Nuggets
box set; dig deep into nearly complete catalogs of the Figgs or
the Replacements; hear both versions of “Jailbreak” back to back;
choose from Chocolate and Cheese or More Songs About Buildings
and Food; sample the new EPs from the Sixfifteens and the Kamikaze
Hearts . . . we could go on. The only pap you’ll find is there because
the meatheads and tourists must like it.
Arts Organization Imitating Enron
League of Arts
Going, going, gone. Like college grads bouncing debt from credit
card to credit card, the ASLA has been treading water financially
for quite a while now. Last month the league’s board finally decided
to throw in the towel, leaving a good number of folks uninsured
and scratching their heads. Don’t expect any federal indictments,
though—turns out they were just plain old broke in the end.
1. Spectrum 8 Theatres
2. Regal Crossgates
1. New York State Museum
2. Albany Institute of History & Art
1. Albany Institute of History & Art
Local Performing Arts Organization
1. Capital Repertory Co.
2. Saratoga Performing Arts Center
Local Visual Artist
1. Tom Lindsey
Kara Nigro (tie)
1. Michael Swantek & Justin Maine
1. William Kennedy
1. R.M. Engelhardt
Lyn Lifshin (tie)
2. Cryin Out Loud
Local Solo Musician
1. Mike Grosshandler
Live Music Venue
1. Northern Lights
2. Saratoga Performing Arts Center
Dance Club/Dance Night
2. Sneaky Petes
2. Lark Tavern (tie)
1. Oh Bar