Sunday, June 23, 2019

performance review: Puma Perl's Pandemonium, 6/21/19

Puma Perl’s Pandemonium, 6/21/19, Bowery Electric, NYC
Performance review by John Pietaro

Puma Perl & Friends 
The spirit of downtown past was on raucous display at Bowery Electric on June 21, once again under the guiding hand of Puma Perl, denizen of this hallowed corner at Joey Ramone Place. While the Bowery of old has fallen under the thicket of high-priced restaurants and luxury buildings commanding the once infamous strip, real New York, equal parts LES community and outsider arts ingenuity, has survived the maelstrom. At least in quarters such as this, yards from the sad carcass of CBGB and the phantom hindsight of Max’s, Club 82, Mercer Arts, the Mudd Club, the Tin Palace. Could Joey have ever envisioned that his name would hover East 2nd Street? For most of us in the house, there’s no rest until street sign dedications proclaim a Punk Place, Richard Hell Way, Patti Smith Street, Lydia Lunch Lane and Basquiat Avenue, for a start.

Puma Perl is most identified with punk verse, but rather than an artform grown in the midst of the melee, hers predates the turning new wave, growing along with venues like the Nuyorican Poets Café. Perl’s quarterly events at the Bowery Electric, the Pandemoniums, debuted in 2012. It’s easiest to think of these very hip showcase/parties as Village arts salons strained though rocking energy, dry humor and artful rebellion--a “Die Yuppie Scum”, if you will, for the Trump years. This latest Pandemonium featured poetry of not only the post-punk sort, but neo-Brecht, neo-Beat and with bits of slam alternating driving, moving and alluring music. 

Rick Eckerle & co
The show opened with a dedication to the late Dr. John by singer-guitarist Rick Eckerle in a quartet that kicked out roots and bar-room songs, setting the mood in a most timeless way. 
He was followed by the emotive performance poets Annie Petrie (best line: “Mercury, go fuck yourself”) and San Franciscan KR Morrison who offered fine radical feminist pieces that are utterly necessary in this age of the Gorsuch court. Petrie, who later said she was in the mud at the original Woodstock, wore sunglasses and latter-day rainbows, but it was Morrison, of a considerably later generation, who embraced the retro-hippie vision with long straight hair and flowy outfit. For the hardcore folks in attendance, her militance was assured by way of shaved temples contrasting the Baez-do, but both poets reminded the house of the need to maintain outrage in times such as these.

Cait O’Riordan, former Pogues bassist, next performed a lilting acoustic guitar/vocal duet with Kath Green and then stand-up comic Susan Jeremy tore up the night with a timely set of LGBTQ+ hysterics. Bringing the edgy rock back into focus, NY Junk members Joe Sztabnik and Jeff Ward punched out the raunch before the evening’s host took the stage with Puma Perl & Friends. This ensemble magically blended provocative inner city spoken word, including moving reminiscence of Coney Island, with the best in fire music strained through thoughtful, tuneful arrangements. The front line of Perl, tenor saxophonist Danny Ray (seriously blue bar-walker, even if stationary throughout), screaming, shimmering, celebrated electric violinst Walter Steding (a Warhol protégé) mixed it up most artfully with guitarist Joff Wilson and it was all contained by Sztabnik’s bass and Dave Donen’s drums. This band is not to be missed.

Steve Dalachinsky
Jane LeCroy & Tom Abbs
Avant jazz poetry wizard Steve Dalachinsky, recently back from his latest Parisian tour, came up just after and wondered aloud how he might compete with Puma & Friends. However, did so with a sizzling set of poetry that calls into question the very nature of verbiage and shreds the poetic form with the panache of a spoken word Albert Ayler (and though he didn’t hawk it from the stage, Steve has a brilliant new book, Where Day and Night Become One, highly recommended). After the audience applause faded, another excellent performance poet, Jane LeCroy, and noted cellist Tom Abbs (though on guitar here) laid out a very special latent Brechtian array of compelling works. This pair, along with other musicians, often perform as the Icebergs, the implied coldness of which was far from evident, what with the heat emanating onstage.

Soul Cake
The evening closed with a stirring, rocking performance by power pop-rock trio Soul Cake with the aforementioned Joff Wilson, here as lead vocalist as well as lead guitarist, Laura Satvia on flute and Sarafe on bass, with Dave Donen on drums. They had me right from the quick sound-check (it’s rare to hear “PS, I Love You”, the flipside of the Beatles first single in clubs). Throughout, Wilson’s McCartney-inspired vocals (though one also hears the Trogg’s Reg Presley in there and possibly all of the Knickerbockers) soared and the band’s unique take on “Pipeline” and particularly “Eleanor Rigby”—with modified lyrics speaking to the tragedies of NYC’s homeless—had Bowery Electric simply shaking. And Wilson’s resemblance to Johnny Thunders couldn’t hurt either. A perfect ending to the kind of evening many had hopelessly assumed were relegated to the past. 

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