February 13, 2000
Knitting Factory Works KFW 244
The question is whether a high-concept, pomo session can transcend its initial idea and become a — to be pretentious — "work of art", subject to many listenings. The answer, at least on the evidence produced here, is not very likely.
The reason for this is the difference between a live performance and a compact disc.
Slide trumpeter and Mob ringleader Steve Bernstein, is best known for his work with the Lounge Lizards and as music director of the film, Kansas City, while his associates here all have the prerequisite "downtown" cred. Furthermore, his idea of creating a non-hierarchical aggregation dedicated to songs of drinking, dancing and fornication is praiseworthy. To be fair, the Sex Mobbers can be quite entertaining when seen during a late night hang in some Lower East Side Manhattan club. But the ironic distance they can bring to their tunes when seen in person doesn't translate well to disc.
So, what you've left with for the most part is small band run-throughs of such oddball (for improvised music) tunes as ABBA's "Fernando", Nirvana's "About A Girl" and The Grateful Dead's "Ripple". But like retelling a seemingly funny Saturday Night Live routine the next day, once you've rhymed off the instrumentation and arrangement, you've essentially told everything there is to know about the tunes.
Thus The Buffalo Springfield's "What It's Worth" done as a cello solo, The Rolling Stones "Ruby Tuesday" built on a drum riff or Duke Ellington's "The Mooch" as a violin feature read well as concepts. But Bernstein and crew add very little to the songs that weren't already there. Only James Brown's "Please, Please, Please" built on a trumpet lead and then sped up for a string section seems to offer originality. But you still have to sit through the note-for-note beginning to get to the final deconstruction.
In this miasma of covers, Bernstein's own tunes like the blusey "Billy Preston" or "Solid Sender" with a scratching backbeat courtesy of DJ Logic stand out. But too many of his other themes are over in 30 seconds or less. Meantime "Not Boweevil" showcasing six children screeching the (minimal) lyrics is even less appealing and not likely to get The Sex boys a following among Raffi fans.
If you look on CDs as nothing more than background music or souvenirs of your trip to the City That Never Sleeps, SOLID SENDER may be for you. But there's very little else except ironic posing to interest more committed listeners. What do you expect with 19 songs crammed into less than 63 minutes?
C'mon Steve, your original work is good enough to stand on its own. Leave the hokey covers to the swing revivalists, do your own tunes and turn the Sex Mob into heavy hitters.
Track Listing: 1. Solid Sender 2. About A Girl 3. Fernando 4. Human Bidet Part 1 5. The Mooch 6. Rear View 7. Human Bidet Part 2 8. Crazy Beat/Don't Be Cruel 9. Ripple 10. For What it's Worth 11. The Grind 12. Human Bidet Part 4 13. Ruby Tuesday 14. Please, Please, Please 15. Human Bidet Part 5 16. Not Boweevil 17. Human Bidet Part 6 18. Billy Preston Personnel: Steven Bernstein (slide trumpet, mellophone); Briggan Krauss (alto and baritone saxophones); Tony Scherr (bass, guitar); Kenny Wollesen (drums, tambourines, maracas, beer bottle, parade drum) plus DJ Logic (turntables); Charlie Burnham or, Joan Wasser (violins); Julia Kent or Jane Scarantoni or Michelle Kinney (cello)