Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Hooray for Ladyfingers!

This is the version I sent to the columbia spectator, only slightly different from the version they ran, which seems to have disappeared from the internet to make way for the next day of news:

The word “Ladyfingers” might make you salivate and think of spongy treats, but does it make you want to rock out? Unless you are some sort of bizarre epicurean-punk, the answer is usually no. Adam Weiner is planning to change all that, however, with his smoky mix of vintage blues, rockabilly, cabaret, and country, served with a side of pure NYC punk energy. Lead vocalist/pianist/songwriter Weiner says their name was given to them by a friend after it came to her in a dream in which, she told him, he was not Adam but Ladyfingers. “It’s not even like you need to become that person,” she said, “you are that person. That’s the name. Deal with it.”
Anyone who’s seen the band play knows that they are dealing with it just fine. Weiner describes their live show as “in your face but in a non-confrontational way,” adding that there’s definitely “a theatrical aspect to it.” During the band’s shows at Pianos, where they are playing every Tuesday in September, the audiences take all the entertainment they can handle, as promised, right in their faces. Throughout the set, Weiner morphs from a vaguely menacing carnival charlatan, to a yelping Rockabilly boy, to Frank Sinatra melodizing sensuously, to Jerry Lee Lewis standing up at the piano, and back again.
Ladyfingers’ songs often feature outlaws as narrators, though many also catch the flavor of painfully suburban Americana; “white bread/Aquanet/I’m all dressed up for the dance,” Weiner sings in the track that lends their newly-released album, “My Prom,” its name. When asked how personal the songs are, he responds “I think I’m looking for characters within my own persona, or maybe I’m trying to create extensions of my persona…I don’t like to totally detach from myself.” He says the characters he explores affect his psyche in turn; for example, when he first did the darkly smoldering “Real Live Boy,” “people thought that’s Adam doing a gag, or that’s me doing cabaret. And the more I’ve done that song, the more I’ve turned into that guy.”
Scary? Maybe a little. But it’s this open exploration of fantasies both dark and light that make for such an engaging performance. The backing band, consisting of Dave Pinzur on bass, Robbie Radack on guitar and banjo, and Raky Sastri on drums, play hard and loose, taking liberties with arrangement that can only come from trust borne of hours of practice. Raky in particular will often go off in unexpected directions. “It’s unbelievable,” Weiner says, “he plays it like it was an improvisational jazz song…it makes it a whole different genre.”
The energy of these live performances is not easy to harness, but the band recorded “My Prom” in such a way so as to let that energy shine through as much as possible. They recorded it on a vintage reel-to-reel 8-track over the course of three sweaty days in Weiner and Pinzur’s Astoria apartment, and 80 to 90 percent of it was recorded live. “There are tracks in the album where we messed up,” Weiner says, “there’s tempo shift, I stumble over some words, somebody hits a clammy note, but that’s the way we wanted to do it. It sounds like we sound live.”
This gritty sound is a far cry from previous recordings. In a brush with country stardom, Weiner once garnered interest from some heavyweight Nashville producers but quickly realized he wanted out: “we went through this whole process of making this demo in one of the best recording studios in Nashville, and I ended up liking my stupid mini disc recording that I made at a live show better than that.” Additionally, the producers’ concept for the band—“straight up country…the outfits, the string ties, everything…but as delivered by New York Jews”—was somewhat degrading. Adam has no regrets; “I would’ve been Garth fucking Weiner,” he says. “What would that have done for me?”
Not much, for the band’s likeability lies partly in their unassuming character. Unlike many bands who do “straight up vintage,” the four guys in Ladyfingers refuse to play dress-up or identify as any particular genre other than the nebulous catch-all of “rock and roll.” “If I’m doing something that I feel is just a recreation of a genre, we usually take it out of the set because it’s not ours,” Weiner says. Though this resistance to genre often makes it difficult to fit into the notoriously cold and snobby New York scene, it seems people are starting to take note. So if you crave a departure from prevailing musical trends into the forgotten wilds of America’s past, this band is for you. Or, in Weiner’s words, “there’s a lot of good stuff going on in the city that doesn’t get much press…come to our fucking shows.”