For each of the last few years, it was rumored that the woman-fronted Medusa Festival was being held for the LAST TIME EVER at famed New York rock dive CBGB. In 2006, the rumor became truth. Fortunately, the fest, and its founder/frontwoman, Lourds, are alive and kicking. CBGB closed its doors for the last time in New York on October 15, 2006, but Lourds says plans are already underway for the next Medusa Festival. And she promises, that it will be even bigger and better than fifth festival, which is the subject of this story.
This year’s lineup offered eight acts, plus special guests and (as always) a rocking DJ playing between the sets all night long. The crowd was large and early, a mix of fans of the different bands (from Lourds fans in elaborately decorated shirts like their idol, to mohawked punks, to riot grrls redux to people swinging by to see CBGBs [and smell it] one last time). As is a Medusafest tradition, the ones playing late came early to hear the openers, and the ones playing earlier stuck around, not just to sell their merch, but to share in the party spirit.
Swati, a native New Yorker, led off the night. Lourds introduced her by telling us that ‘Swati’ means ‘birth of a star’ in Hindu. A singer/songwriter with hypnotic vocals, Swati stood on the stage alone with just her guitar. And what a guitar: It’s a twelve string fitted with eight strings, employing open tunings ala Joni Mitchell and played through an assortment of effects pedals (according to her website, as this reporter is not nearly that technically savvy to pick these things up). The result is a solo act that has the sound closer to a band.
The next act doubled the number of musicians onstage: but even with only two players, Sirsy, down from Albany, sounded a lot bigger. Billed as ‘Sirsy 2.0,’ the band was a slenderized version of the one that rocked the house last year at Medusa Festival IV. Now made up of frontwoman Melanie Krahmer (vocals, electric flute, drums, and “bass with a stick”) and Rich Libutti (guitar, bass, “bass & snare with his feet’), the two of them whirled from one instrument to the next. They’re a real band, with their own sound, anchored by Krahmer’s throaty, growly vocals. They never let up even to the impassioned pitch to visit their merch stand: “Holy Crap! Two CDs for $10! I KNOW!”)
Between sets, DJ Jenncity (Suicide City, ex-Kittie) drew from an extensive collection of recorded rockers, from The Runaways to today’s women rockers, and the fans crowded the bar and merch tables, signing up for mailing lists and grabbing stickers and buying t-shirts. As always, people climbed the walls to carefully peel off the posters, done in underground comix style by Joe Simko.
Next up, Me Talk Pretty can call New York City its home, but its members aren’t all from around here: recent Romanian emigre Julia Preotu fronted the band, her small, thin form belying a strong voice, with barely a trace of accent; on guitar Spanish-born Leon Lyazidi provided solid backing with a strong grunge influence, along with the rhythm section of James Kluz on drums and Joseph Smith on bass. Me Talk Pretty’s set built well, climaxing with “Ana,” which is the title of their new CD.
Sarah Greenwood was a fixture on the downtown scene in the mid-90s, and emigrated to England for a few years in the early ‘00s, returning to New York City a couple years ago, rocking harder than ever. I first saw her when as simply ‘Sarah Greenwood’, she opened for Joan Jett at the Mercury Lounge. In June of this year, she opened for Jett again, this time at Jett’s last CBGB show. The conservatory-trained Greenwood both knows her way around a guitar and how to put on a show. Older songs have grown harder and tougher, newer songs take their place among them. Backed by Chris Goercke on guitar, Frank Ferrer on drums, and Val Glauser on bass, Greenwood grabbed the stage and didn’t let go until it was wet with sweat, and the crowd was pressed up against it, rocking with songs like “Downsized” and “Sicko.”
Lourds took the stage between each band, reminding us of the historic nature of the occasion, urging us to smell the foul bathrooms (don’t worry, it’s a smell that I’ll never forget) and to seize sharpies and spraypaint and make a mark on the hallowed Bowery dive.
Then it was time for Lourds’s set, which included special guest stars. Metal Mistress Juliya introduced the evening’s organizer, who quickly brought up with her singer/comedian/diva extraordinaire Sandra Bernhard, accompanied by longtime (and much beloved) Blackheart (as in Joan Jett and the…duh!) guitarist Ricky Byrd. Bernhard began with a cover of “My Girl,” with Lourds on violin, segueing to “My Guy,” and then into her version of Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll.” And while I am a fan of Ms. Bernhard’s from way back, no one (repeat: no one) can really cover that song. And it’s criminal to sing over Ricky Byrd’s solos. But she did deserve the Oscar for “King of Comedy,” so we will overlook this.
And get back to the real musicians, when Lourds came front and center for her set. Her fans swung glowsticks and necklaces in the air, as is their custom, and Lourds was their leader and co-conspirator, urging them to ever-higher levels of frenzy. “This is a song about fucking,” she began. Well, of course it was!
Lourds is another musician whose journey into rock has gotten harder and more fantastic: her current backing band of Sarah Vasil (drums), Gene Blank (guitar), and Joey Sagarese on bass, has a pure rock feel to them, and Lourds shifts from violin to guitar and back again, slamming herself into the energy of the music and throwing it all back out at the crowd.
kHz next took the stage, and Lourds went on about why she liked them so: “kHz has a unique and identifiable sound: There’s the sultry female vocals over kickass driving metal.It's no wonder Dave Navarro is such a big fan of the band!” The NYC-based band is fronted by Raiana, with Pull on Guitar, keyboards and programming, Nick Fakis on bass and Joe Migz on drums. The set was laced with tunes from their new CD, “Reality on a Finer Scale.”
The night’s final band was Mahavatar, about whom Lourds said approvingly: “When Lizza of Mahavatar growls, she drives the metal deep into your gut. I heard the head bobbers in the audience say, ‘I can't even believe that voice is coming from a chick!’” Formed in 1999 when Jamaican guitarist Karla Williams joined forces with Israeli vocalist Lizza Hayson, Mahavatar, which means, by the way, “an energy that needs nothing but itself to survive... physical as well as spiritual immortality ... deathlessness” has been gigging ever since, with its current lineup consisting of Lizza Hayson on vocals, Karla Williams on guitars along with Shahar Mintz - guitars/vocals, Szymon Maria Rapacz on bass and Eran Asias on drums.
The last chord rang out well into the next day: from start to finish, Medusa snaked on for nearly six hours. In front of CBGB, bands came and went with their instruments, people smoked cigarettes and talked (you haven’t been able to smoke in a NYC club for several years), and either went home or tried to talk their way back in. In the beginning of autumn, short weeks away from its final curtain call, CBGB did what it was meant to do, and Lourds packed the spirit out with her to carry on into next year.
Metal Mistress Juliya
ME TALK PRETTY