Gary Lucas   reviews  

Time Out New York, November 2, 2006

CMJ Music Marathon: Gary Lucas's Gods and Monsters offers rootsy, hard-groovin' rock goosed by the leader's eclectic virtuosity. The band's latest, "Coming Clean" (Mighty Quinn) features the usual downtown all-stars—Modern Lovers bassist Ernie Brooks, Swans drummer Jonathan Kane—plus plenty of Lucas's smoky crooning and fiery strums.

Crossroads (France), October 2006

Gary Lucas And Gods & Monsters ****
Coming Clean
(Productions Speciales)

Atypical rock

by Tony Grieco

A cross between the Velvet Underground and Frank Zappa, playing with psychobilly, is more or less the end result of what is delivered by this artistic collection. The songs here are presented as happenings rather than neat songs under the benevolent gaze of Jerry Harrison (ex-Talking Heads). This association of bad boys mixes adventurous rock and devilish experimentalism. Gary Lucas, the master of the project, officiates on guitar, loves to surprise us, and leads us far off the beaten path. He tortures his instrument to pull us in for the maximum ride, laying his delirium on a massive bass sound like a menacing storm. The spirit "noisy" of this record is ameliorated by the intervention of surprising guests like Elli Medeiros, who offers her beautiful web of sensual vocalizing on Skin Diving, and also David Johansen, who offers his very lively spirit on One Man's Meat, cutting like a laser opening this record. Connoisseur's will delight in Ain't Got You by Bruce Springsteen, transfigured in the manner of Alan Vega like the way he transfigured Gene Vincent on the order of Juke Box Baby. You understand this album is like a cache of TNT, and not for everybody's ears—but many will come out refreshed. This artful action painting doesn't respect any style, you can't pigeonhole it like something typical on the radio—it exists in its own universe, far from preconceived, comfortable ideas of rock...a cross between Laurie Anderson and the best things of Lou Reed.

Record Collector (UK), October 2006

Gary Lucas And Gods & Monsters
Coming Clean

Side Salad / Universal
* * * *

Interstellar overdrive with the Captain's former axeman.

by Grahame Bent

As a former manager to and sideman with the inestimable Captain Beefheart and one of the driving forces behind the successful Magic Band reunion of recent times, risk taking has long been a full time job with Gary Lucas. Featuring among its ranks the talents of Television's Billy Ficca, Ernie Brooks formerly of the Modern Lovers and one time Talking Head Jerry Harrison Gods & Monsters are a supergroup from the New York underground in way more than name. Stylistically the action on Coming Clean the band's third album since its formation in 1989 spills across a broad canvas treating all who venture this way to an unsettling ride through a landscape of expressionistic blues creations, tangential art rock and bursts of rampant psychedelia. While Under My Wing, One Man's Meat featuring David Johansen, Fata Morgana, Evangeline Skin Diving featuring Elli Medeiros and Land's End featuring Richard Barone rank among the album's highlights Maestro Lucas' famed skills as an interpreter of other artists' work is also showcased with a blistering cover of Bruce Springsteen's Ain't Got You, a gravity defying John Zorn's Naked City style take on Bernard Hermann's title theme from Psycho and a stunning solo guitar exploration of Kraftwerk's Autobahn. Revelatory is the word.

The Gazette (Montreal), October 6, 2006

Review of "The Golem"

by T'cha Dunlevy

Eglise St. Jean Baptise was a spectacular setting for the 1920 German silent film The Golem, with sweeping, impressionist soundtrack by former Captain Beefheart guitarist Gary Lucas. The screen was huge, the ornate ceiling seemingly miles high, the film awash in overexposure and melodrama. An early bet for one of this year's festival highlights.

Brabants Dagblad (Netherlands), September 28, 2006

Beautiful contrasts: Gary Lucas and Jozef van Wissem at the Paradox, Tilburg

by René van Peer

The string duo of Gary Lucas and Jozef van Wissem have made their name in the United States for some time now, but they still have not made a breakthrough in our country. The day before yesterday they played the Paradox in Tilburg [Netherlands] for a concert in which the contrasts between the two were highlighted beautifully.

The Dutch lute player Van Wissem began solo, playing modest pieces in which he wandered between Renaissance and folk music. He placed brief repeated patterns in a varying order, letting some tones splash out from time to time. When after ten minutes Gary Lucas joined in with his National steel Duolian, the performance changed considerably. Everything about that instrument is sharp. The sound box is made of metal, as are the strings, and when Lucas also slid a bottleneck across the strings it was a spine-chilling experience.

The two began with explorations around chords which Van Wissem laid as the foundation – round warm, tones that rang on for a long time. Lucas was full of flashy accompaniment, playing ultrafast flageolets, sometimes drawing out in a tormented and fierce style, only to throw open his heart in deeply sad metal sobs. A surprising song was The Hall of Mirrors by German electronic band Kraftwerk, enhanced with numerous playful variations by these two musicians.

Van Wissem then left the stage allowing Lucas to treat the audience to lengthy, elaborate solos. At times he presented the audience with an extremely contrary view of American fingerpicking music, but he also conjured up the mood of the deep south of the United States, the swampy steamy delta of the Mississippi. Often songs and dances would ring though his melodies, which he followed for a while, and then he turned into a completely different direction. In this way he wandered around in his metal, tinkling and humming world of sounds, driven by the feverish power of his imagination. All of this was executed with the same precise command and impeccable technique. The contrast between the two string instrumentalists gave their joint performance a unique tension. Van Wissem forced Lucas to stay within defined frameworks. This gave the free explorations played by Lucas extra depth. This duo deserves the attention they receive on the other side of the ocean.

The Sunday Times (London, UK), August 27, 2006

Pop: New Releases: Gary Lucas: Gods and Monsters: Coming Clean

Coming Clean
Side Salad SIDECD006

In the early 1980s, Lucas helped Captain Beefheart get his second and final wind. In the 1990s, an unknown vocalist he was nurturing, Jeff Buckley, split to make Lucas’s best songs cornerstones of his own repertoire. Now, Lucas’s band, Gods and Monsters, are back, featuring his discreetly perplexing guitar and friends...when the New York Dolls’ David Johansen channels Beefheart into One Man’s Meat, Coming Clean catches fire.

Village Voice, August 31, 2006

Live Rave

Downtown guitar maven Lucas plays a rare solo acoustic set here, still aglow from his recent gigs in Romania and travels in India, The guy has and can do it all—of course, you may know him as the one-time squawker for Captain Beefheart, but his wide-ranging styles run the gamut. Tonight, I imagine, will focus on his tripped-out bluesy finger-style numbers. Hopefully.

Salzburger Nachricten (Austrian daily newspaper), May 2, 2006

Article about the Austrian Cultural Forum NYC "Moving Patterns" concert of 4/28/06

See the article on the web site here

Among the Friday evening performances the New York professionals in the audience were also won over. Gary Lucas, ex-guitarist with the Rock Eccentric Captain Beefheart, showed himself to have been influenced by the “unbelievable complexity” of the improvised music of Max Nagl and Co.. And he recounted after the concert about his own experience with intercontinental cultural transfer. The leader of “Gods and Monsters” had his first European appearance in 1973 in Vienna – as the guitarist at the European premiere of Leonard Bernstein’s sacred musical theatre piece “Mass.” “The Church authorities campaigned afterward to make sure that nothing like that would ever happen again.”

Burlington Free Press, Burlington, Vermont, April 4, 2006

After Dark: Lucas' live guitar brings life to 'Golem'
by Brent Hallenbeck
Free Press Staff Writer

"The Golem" would be a great movie to see on Halloween. It has dark tension, shadowy cinematography and a monster running amuck.

A dreary April Fool's Day wasn't a bad time to see it, either. "The Golem" is basically a horror movie, but it's also got that same sort of pulling-your-leg humor you expect on the first day of April. When your villain is a clay monster whose "hair" makes him look like a cross between a stormtrooper from "Star Wars" and a burly woman with a page-boy haircut, somebody must be playing a practical joke.

What made Saturday's two showings (one sold out, the other almost sold out) at FlynnSpace even cooler was the live soundtrack, provided by guitarist Gary Lucas. He played with oddball rock legend Captain Beefheart in the early 1980s, and since then has made much of his living by taking the classic 1920 silent film on the road and providing the musical support for it.

Lucas alternated between his clear-as-a-bell '66 Fender electric and some nifty bottleneck work on his acoustic. He filters it all through a collection of "black boxes" that make simple guitars sound other-worldly. Sometimes he evoked a jazz sound, or the blues, and he even threw in a little Wagner that fit the German-made, Prague-based film perfectly.

Most of the time his guitars just sounded spooky and ethereal, especially when he started waggling that tremolo bar on his Fender. His sound reminded me of punk-era guitar genius Tom Verlaine of Television, something that made even more sense when Lucas said after the Saturday afternoon show that his current band, Gods and Monsters, includes ex-Television drummer Billy Ficca (as well as former Talking Heads keyboardist Jerry Harrison). The attire he wore at the Saturday-afternoon performance, a black leather jacket and a wide-brimmed black hat that obscured much of his face, made the whole presentation just a little more mysterious.

"The Golem" is derived from Jewish legend involving a creature built to ward off persecutors. The main human character is based on a real person, 16th-century rabbi Jehudah Loew, who in the film gives life to the titular creation after the Christian ruling class threatens to eradicate the Jewish-ghetto community.

"The Golem," however, is one of those be-careful-what-you-wish-for deals. As readers of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" or viewers of any film versions of the novel will tell you, you'll often pay for what you create. This film clearly had a big influence from Shelley's work and on the 1931 Boris Karloff movie, from the significant use of fire to the charm of a child soothing the savage beast.

The star, of course, is the Golem, played by the movie's director, Paul Wegener. He exhibits that same stiff choreography Karloff would make famous 11 years later, and that menacing attitude of a guy with the worst-of-all combination of super strength and no conscience. He does his job—he saves the lives of the pompous twits in power, who spare the Jewish community in repayment—but it turns out that the fine print in the whole Golem legend says that when the planets align just so, he'll turn on ya.

That's where the film's dark humor comes through. Hundreds of take-charge men couldn't stop the guy with the clay helmet hair from rampaging through the village, but he meets his match on the playground, where a charming little girl manages to de-activate him. Lucas accentuated the denouement with a guitar-generated thud as the Golem fell to the ground, just the last bit of musical onomatopoeia Lucas crafted to match scenes from the film.

He talked after the afternoon show about how some view "The Golem" as anti-Semitic, largely because it equates Judaism with black magic. Lucas doesn't see it that way. How many films in 1920, or today for that matter, show the Jewish community rising above an oppressive ruler? The Christians are painted as silly fops with no understanding or desire to understand the ghetto-ized Jewish community, yet Rabbi Loew and the Golem come through to save the day when the silly fops need it most.

Then again, as Lucas pointed out, Wegener stayed in Germany years later to make propaganda films for the Nazis, so—big surprise here when dealing with matters of culture and religion—the message is a bit complicated.

Lucas said his brother studied the Kabbalah faith that the movie draws upon (the same branch of Judaism that Madonna's into now) and believes that when the Nazis arrived in Prague, the Golem came down from the synagogue where he hides out and slew them, saving the Jewish section of the city. Clearly Wegener hadn't shown this film to the Nazis. Then they would have known not to mess with the Golem.

Contact Brent Hallenbeck at 660-1844 or

Downtown Music Gallery newsletter, March 2006

Review of "Russian Fireworks - Gary Lucas Live in Saint Petersburg" DVD

GARY LUCAS - Russian Fireworks: Live In St. Petersburg [DVD] (private release) Recorded live at the SKIF Festival in St. Petersburg, Russia in April of 2004. SKIF 8 was the 8th annual Sergei Kuryokhin International Festival. The late Mr. Kuryokhin was a seminal Russian keyboard player, composer and leader of the Pop Mechanika Orchestra. Guitar-slinger, Gary Lucas, has sat in with Henry Kaiser, John Oswald and Lukas Ligeti, earlier in the festival and progressive legends, Magma, had played just right before, so Gary took the stage at 2am and was determined to blow minds once again with his arsenal of electric & acoustic guitars. With a well-selected batch of diverse covers from Dollar Brand, Albert Ayler, Arthur Russell, Robert Johnson and Dvorak, as well as a couple of traditional tunes and original songs, Gary once again shows why he is in a class of his own on the guitar. Although this was recorded on a single video camera, it still looks just right and captures Gary wailing his way through a dozen diverse tunes, At times Gary reminds of me of Jimi Hendrix in the way he was able to transfix his audience with cosmic sounds and electronic manipulations. Who else could play a blues version of Dvorak's "String Quartet in F Major" on a National steel guitar and make it work? He plays a spooky version of Ayler's "Ghosts" Even on acoustic guitar, Gary selects certain phrases to loop, repeat and magically transform. Gary plays like a man possessed by spirits, unleashing certain forces from within. This is not just for guitar freaks, but for those who still love instrumental fairy tales to take us on a journey or a magic carpet ride. - BLG

The Newark Star Ledger, January 16, 2006

Return to 'Nebraska'
Springsteen makes surprise appearance at guitar fest

by Jay Lustig
Star-Ledger Staff

NEW YORK—No one has ever sounded more alone than Bruce Springsteen did on his 1982 "Nebraska" album, which was dominated by bleak, minimally arranged ballads. "Deliver me from nowhere," he sang, and that's precisely where it sounded like he was.

Saturday night at the World Financial Center Winter Garden, a community of musicians joined Springsteen in that nowhere. The free "Nebraska Project" concert, which kicked off the 2006 New York Guitar Festival, featured covers of "Nebraska" songs by rock, folk, country and blues artists, as well as a surprise appearance by Springsteen himself.

The Boss waited until the end of the show to make his entrance, and led the ensemble through the encore, a rousing cover of Woody Guthrie's "Oklahoma Hills." (Guthrie was a huge influence on "Nebraska.")

About 20 musicians joined Springsteen, who played acoustic guitar and sang lead on two verses, reading the words off a piece of paper. Appropriately enough for a guitar festival, there were plenty of the six-stringed instruments onstage. But this was probably the first version of "Oklahoma Hills" to also feature a tuba (played by George Rush, who had previously backed singer-guitarists Dan Zanes and Vernon Reid on "State Trooper") and a boisterous trumpet solo (by Rich Armstrong, who had played the instrument on Michelle Shocked's cover of the "Nebraska" title track).

The concert featured the "Nebraska" songs in the album's original running order. There were also some instrumental interludes not related to "Nebraska," and covers of two other Springsteen songs: "Born in the USA" (which had been considered for "Nebraska," but became the title track of his next album) and "I'm On Fire."

Jen Chapin's "Born in the USA" was arguably the concert's biggest revelation. It was a guitar-free version, featuring just her voice and standup bass playing by her husband, Stephan Crump. Her grim, focused singing brought the song's tragic lyrics into sharp focus, and Crump's jazzy bass playing was absorbing in its own right.

The Shocked/Armstrong "Nebraska" was also a highlight. Armstrong had plenty of room to solo and added a yearning flavor, somewhat reminiscent of another Springsteen song, "Meeting Across the River."

Marc Anthony Thompson (a k a Chocolate Genius Inc.) slowed down "Johnny 99," making it sound unprecedentedly sad and dreamlike. Kevin Kinney (of Drivin' N' Cryin') and Lenny Kaye (of Patti Smith's band) added an upbeat country-gospel coda to "Reason to Believe."

Mark Eitzel's rich, resonant voice fit "My Father's House" perfectly. Using loops, guitarist Gary Lucas created an extravagantly blaring wall of sound during one of the instrumental interludes.

Less successfully, Martha Wainwright brought an emotionally raw quality to "Highway Patrolman" that didn't fit the song's stoic lyrics, and the spooky "State Trooper" didn't benefit from the loose funk arrangement Zanes and Reid gave it.

Between numbers, the show's MC John Platt—a disc jockey on radio station WFUV (90.7 FM)—discussed the making of the "Nebraska" album and asked the artists to talk about "Nebraska," and their upcoming projects.

At times, these segments were jarringly out of place in a show full of such uncompromising music. "What is the name of your forthcoming album, and when should we expect it?," Platt asked Chapin, after her masterful "Born in the USA." Eitzel's short answers made it clear he had no interest in cooperating.

New York Guitar Festival shows take place at various venues through Feb. 8. For information, visit

The New York Times, January 8, 2006

Feature Article on New York Guitar Festival
by Jon Pareles

What could be more wide open than a festival of guitar music? It's the ubiquitous, ever-adapting instrument, with a place in virtually every genre of music and countless variations of shape and sound: acoustic and electric, played with fingertips and picks and slides, 6-string and 12-string and customized, strung with nylon and steel. The three-week NEW YORK GUITAR FESTIVAL, which starts Saturday, takes place in clubs and concert halls, mixing tribute concerts with 21st-century tunes. It embraces everything from blues to classical guitar to avant-rock to bluegrass to jazz to Brazilian and South African music (a full schedule is at

Opening night is a free concert at the Winter Garden in the World Financial Center and it's one of the tributes. "The Nebraska Project" revisits Bruce Springsteen's darkest, most stripped-down album: "Nebraska," 10 bleak songs he recorded on a four-track cassette, could not improve with full-band arrangements, and was released as he first recorded it in 1982. It's an album of stories about characters with no way out - murderers, working stiffs, prodigal sons - set to a few guitar chords like old country songs or mountain ballads.

Performing the songs will be more than a dozen musicians, in a lineup that mixes visitors like MICHELLE SHOCKED and MARK EITZEL (from American Music Club) with New York City stalwarts like LENNY KAYE from Patti Smith's band, the rhythm-and-blues songwriter MESHELL NDEGEOCELLO, the fringe-of-jazz guitarist MARC RIBOT, the country songwriter LAURA CANTRELL, the speed-fingered guitarist VERNON REID, the folk-rock songwriter MARTHA WAINWRIGHT, the sly and brooding MARC ANTHONY THOMPSON (alias Chocolate Genius Inc.) and the genre-hopping guitarist GARY LUCAS. They're likely to carry some "Nebraska" songs back toward roots and others out toward distant horizons. Saturday at 8 p.m.; World Financial Center Winter Garden, Battery Park City, West and Vesey Streets, (212) 945-2600.