Rock Feed

Christine and the Queens at Webster Hall

by Steven Pisano

  Christine and the Queens
(All photographs by Steven Pisano.)

To an English-speaking audience, the name Héloïse Letissier (le-TISS-ee-ay) was probably destined to drop to the bottom of the sea. But, reimagined as the semi-alliterative Christine and the Queens, Ms. Letissier has surfed across the Atlantic on a perfect wave of media hugs and kisses from Spin, The New Yorker, Pitchfork, and others, who have heralded not only her brightly appealing dance pop, but also her gender-bending persona, often dressing in men’s-style suits.

Touring this fall in support of Marina and the Diamonds, Christine and the Queens headlined the Grand Ballroom at Webster Hall on November 11, playing to a sold out audience including a sizable French-speaking contingent. Technically speaking, Christine and the Queens is not a group, but a solo project. But Ms. Letissier tours with others—in this case, two dancers, a guitarist, and a guy on keyboards and electronics. She likes to run back and forth on the stage, moving in a manner that reminds some people of Madonna-style vogueing.

Ms. Letissier is an extremely beguiling performer. She's a bit goofy, a bit romantic, screams, whimpers, and throws herself headlong into every song. In her own words, she is your weird cousin who sits at the end of the table during dinner, playing with her fork. Her English is flawless, which should help her bypass the resistance some Americans have toward Continental Europeans.

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Kacey Musgraves at The Apollo Theater

by Nick StubblefieldIMG_4501 (1)

Last Saturday, Kacey Musgraves became the first country artist to headline the famed Apollo Theater.  This historic event was met with the style you’d expect of an event described as a "Country and Western Rhinestone Review."  The audience was on their feet singing along the entire evening, while her back-up band, “The Runner-Ups,” rocked pinked suits with light-up fringe.  If you’re going to be the first country act at the Apollo, you might as well do it right.

After an electric opening set from Sugar and the Hi-Lows, Musgraves opened with “Pageant Material,” the title track off her latest record.  Mingling classic country themes with a down-to-earth modern outlook, Musgraves' witty lyricism (“Mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy”) and absolute command of the stage made you think for a moment that you were sitting in Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. That is, until she covered TLC’s “No Scrubs.”

Her song “It Is What It Is” was one of the highlights of the set: an almost love-song about casual romance, and the loneliness of being with someone that may not be just right.  It’s not every day you hear a lap steel guitar at the Apollo, but The Runner Ups knew just how to use the signature country instrument to bring the tender emotion to a boil.  Luckily, they also knew how to get the crowd smiling and laughing with a quick and silly Talent Show.

Kacey Musgraves shared stories as a young girl working to make it as a singer, turning mean Stage Mom comments into clever tunes like “Dime Store Cowgirl.”  All night, her gratitude and positive energy lit up the stage, telling the crowd that New York has been very supportive of her music.  With her passionate support of social issues such as marriage equality, Musgraves sounds right at home in NYC - and makes her a perfect fit for The Apollo.

The First Annual BRIC JazzFest Marathon

by Steven Pisano


(All photos by Steven Pisano,)

If I had thought about it too much ahead of time, I probably would have stayed home. Five hours of nonstop jazz, on three stages, with overlapping start and finish times for each set. Instead, when I finally walked out of the first annual BRIC JazzFest Marathon - at nearly 12:30 in the morning - I was disappointed that the music wasn’t continuing on til dawn. 

During a week when the 35th CMJ Music Marathon, the 26th New York Cabaret Convention, and the start of the 6th White Light Festival at Lincoln Center all were in town at the same time, the idea of introducing yet another music festival seemed to be sheer lunacy. But jazz fans should rejoice—BRIC has established a new festival that is sure to be here for many years to come, destined to become just as much a fixture of the borough's musical scene as Celebrate Brooklyn (also run by BRIC).

Sometimes, a musician’s instrument has a special personality. It’s more or less the same hunk of metal or wood that you or I can buy at any music store, but certain musicians can draw out a special character in their instrument (think Miles Davis' trumpet, or B.B. King's guitar) that only he or she can evoke. 

Such is the case with Donny McCaslin and his saxophone. Nominated for a Grammy for his work as a sideman, as well with his own quartet, McCaslin’s sax has a big sound, infused with explosive rock energy. Fortunately, wherever McCaslin went with his playing, the other players followed, building pyramids of soaring sound. It was nothing short of exhilarating. 

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CMJ Music Marathon: A Night at Webster Hall

by Steven Pisano 

Hannah Cohen(All photographs by Steven Pisano.)

On the second night of last week’s CMJ Music Marathon, Webster Hall was filled with bands that ranged from dreamy self-absorption, to dressed-all-in-black arena rock, to a trippy electronic dance fantasy. I caught acts on two of the three stages.

In the Ballroom upstairs, model and musician Hannah Cohen sang ethereal and meandering songs that looped in and out of focus. These contemplative meditations probably would be best listened to in a darkened bedroom illuminated by a galaxy of twinkling candles. Once a California high school soccer star, and the daughter of a jazz drummer, Cohen was “discovered’ as a model and spent most of her 20s modeling and then hanging out in the New York art scene. Now she sings moody and languorous songs as she pads about the stage slowly, seemingly lost in her own world, like a cat. Some people have compared her in some ways to Lana Del Ray.

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