Antifolk Night featuring Matt Stache, Phoebe Novak, Cannonball Statman, Grey Revell's Roman Candles
Dec. 12, 2013
Though Revell has expanded his sonic palette and geographical horizons over the years, he's kept in touch with the Antifolk scene which was - and still is - centered around NYC's Sidewalk Cafe. Roux's evening of challenging, hilarious, and at times, blood curdling performance spotlighted two luminaries from that loosey-goosey and mind-expanding scene - Brooklyn musicians Phoebe Novak and Jesse "Cannonball" Statman.
Yet, before the audience embarked on a latter-day experimental Freak Folk voyage, they were serenaded by Matt Stache's solo set. Filling in at the last minute for local keeper of the Antifolk flame Fountain Penn, Stache appeared sans his garage-prog power trio the JackKnike Barbers. Promising to pound out piano arrangements of JackKnife songs as well as choice singer-songwriter covers, Stache proved to be a deft and supple player on his trusty Rhodes.
Bathed in red light, sporting a raffish black fedora, Stache segued from Elton John's "Rocket Man" to an arrangement of Pink Floyd's "Breathe" that unlocked that prog chestnut's inner funk. In a smooth, yet slightly sinister, set, the affable Stache touched on JackKnife originals like the urgent barn-burner "Duval" and the Supertramp-collides-with-Nick-Cave uneasy listening of "Skinny Cigarette." Buttoning his spotlight with an absurd-yet-appropriate medley of Billy Joel's "Captain Jack" and the theme song from Cheers, the dapper Stache set the evening's tone of rollicking David-Lynchian noir.
Looking like an angelic cross between Jennifer Lawrence and Cyndi Lauper in her prime, Phoebe Novak took the weird-beard atmosphere established by Stache and launched it into the stratosphere. Tuning her acoustic guitar, Novak smiled as she leaned into the mic. "I'm going to ease you into the slaughter."
Novak's voice was a rollercaster, seeming to create its own gravity which pulled the audience along for a vertiginous ride. Idiosyncratic, impassioned vocals which scaled the oxygen-sucking heights of yelping, belting and yodeling, slipped precipitously into lilting, cooing valleys. A Celtic edge echoed in Novak's voice, suggesting the Cranberries' Delores O'Riordan in unholy communion with growling punk harpie Nina Hagen.
Novak's songs complimented the emotional whirlwind cast by her awe-inspiring vocal calisthenics. Coupling gentleness and beauty with barrel-house hellfire, twisting serpentine tunes like the avant-noise-meets-rockabilly "Time" and the growling gypsy jazz "Bliss" took dizzying left turns and featured swooping, soaring bird calls and ear-splitting screams. Yet there was an aura on beatific calm at the center of Novak's songs, which seemed less an exorcism of personal demons than the spiritual concept of stepping through the veil - a harrowing passage to the otherworld, where great truth and beauty is revealed.
Following such a spiky and transcendent set was no easy task, but Jesse "Cannonball" Statman met the challenge. With his great mop of curly hair surging as he head-banged and ripped into his guitar, Statman was a bristling ball of energy. Marrying his grunge folk attack to an earnest, off-kilter manner that recalled Jonathan Richman, Statman introduced absurdist songs about being half man-half-black-Labrador-retriever, and spying for the French government by swimming the English channel with entertaining, non-sequitur explanations.
"This is about my evil twin who lives in France, but I don't have a twin," was Statman's hilariously unhelpful set-up for the rumbling, rambling "Strasbourg." The acoustic punk thrash of "My Mind is Cold" backed a rapid-fire monolog that dissolved into a darkly funny dialog detailing Statman's escape from a mental institution, before ghost-train guitar snapped the tune back to a lithium-fueled rocker.
Statman leaped off the stage several times, before using a broken string to mimic flossing his teeth. The good-natured rant "Cannonball Becomes the One-Armed Man," cap-stoned the kinetic set with an explanation of how Statman's hand arm back grew back through primal scream therapy. Accepting Statman's enthusiastic encouragement, the audience sang along whole-heartedly to the unlikely chorus of: "I'm the one armed man. I can walk but I can't talk. This will be your last day in the mud."
The Roman Candles, including bassist Rodney Wallins, drummer Daniel Jackson and guitarist-vocalist Zoe Vette, in addition to front-man-guitarist Grey Revell, took the stage and ripped into the melodic, High Plains Drifter folk rock of "I Don't Leave Friends in Darkened Houses." Immediately, it was clear that the Candles - with Stache sitting in on piano - were a more precise and polished act that the pair of Brooklyn-based guest artists. Yet there was an underlying edge in Revell's melodic yet complex compositions, which echoed the jangly and mysterious alt-rock of Americana tinged 80s icons like R.E.M. And the dBs.
The driving heartland rocker "Return of Red Cat" summoned the lonely roadsides and Spaghetti-tinged desert wind of New Wave paisley underground stalwarts like the Dream Syndicate while retaining a modern urgency. The chugging dark juggernaut "Crow" accelerated to an unlikely collision of the Zombies and the Doors, powered by Revell's and Vette's entwined vocal interplay, and the propulsive and intuitive rhythm section of Jackson and Wallin.
Yet for all the magnetic allure of Revell's originals, it may have been the Candles' cover of Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane" that was the most transcendent moment in the set. Stripping back the clarion call of the Velvet's all-powerful riff, Vette's and Revell's vocals entwined in a wistful yet uplifting anthem, unpacking the well worn tune to reveal one of the greatest love songs of all time.
Clearly the Candles were not joining in the ramshackle clamor of Antifolk, and indeed, when Revell was key player in the New York City scene more than a decade ago, he was always the California guy, bringing a tuneful roots-music based sensibility to the experimental mash-up of Antifolk. Yet it's clear that Revell has remained a champion of Freak Folkers everywhere, helping on Thursday night to turn a spotlight on challenging and enriching performances. In bringing a taste of N.Y.C. to the QC, and melding it to his surging brand of pan-cultural Americana, Revell curated an evening of cathartic, daring and uplifting sounds.