Sunday, March 26, 2017

A contrast in styles

On both Thursday night and Saturday night, I saw concerts in Town Hall at West 43rd Street (a very nice smallish setting, apart from being a bit low on bathrooms). However, despite the respective artists' having been born just 12 years apart and having some overlap in influences, the two shows and bands were pretty different.

On Thursday night, it was Yo La Tengo performing a show entitled "And Then Yo La Tengo Turned Itself Inside Out." Despite the reference to their album, "And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out," only three or so of the tracks they played were from the album, most notably "Autumn Sweater." While they rocked out occasionally, a lot of it was jazzy and improvisational, with the aid of a 4-piece horn section plus extra guitarist, drummers, and harpist. Very intense and New York cool - a lot of frowning concentration and interplay between the musicians, but not much gab to the audience apart from introducing the guest performers.

On Saturday night, it was the Zombies of 1960s quasi-fame. The first set was a potpourri, including a couple of songs from their 2015 album. The second set consisted of "Odessey and Oracle"(sic), their subsequently celebrated (though at the time ignored) baroque pop classic from early 1968. Broadly smiling, happy to be there, at this late date, with a good-sized and receptive audience, earnestly recounting stories about particular songs with apologies to those who had already heard them, expressing pride in their old work but wishing people were more eager to hear their new material, etc.

The Zombies also have a range of styles, from ballad to more rave-up, but they're very much in McCartney's 1960s territory. However, they don't sound like they're imitating him (apart from a track on Odessey, called A Rose for Emily, that might be a bit of an Eleanor Rigby rewrite). Instead, they just seem to have similar DNA, including the tunefulness, use of piano-based songwriting, rich harmonies that also show a Beach Boys influence, multiple musical ideas in the same song, and wistfulness without bitterness. Although my technical musical knowledge is extremely limited, they also seem to use more odd chords (III and VI for starters, and with plenty of minor keys) than anyone else of the era apart from the Beatles.

Their only really famous songs are She's Not There, Tell Her No, and Time of the Season (plus Hold Your Head Up from keyboardist Rod Argent's 1970s band). But Odessey and Oracle is well worth a listen if you're the sort who likes Sgt Pepper and Pet Sounds, and who wishes that Satanic Majesties were as good as the Stones' psychedelic singles (Dandelion, She's a Rainbow, Ruby Tuesday, Paint It Black, Lady Jane, etc.).

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