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New Ghost: Live Upstairs at Nick’s

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New Ghost combines complex Zappa-esque instrumentals and spoken-word vocals with an off-kilter funkiness and anarchic punk expressionism. The result is a crazily inventive music that draws you in at the same time it tells you to go bleep yourself. Recorded live in Philadelphia in Jan. 1998, the music on Live Upstairs at Nick’s sounds like it’s played by a quartet of ingenious, semi-autodidacts-musicians who’ve mostly educated themselves without slacking on the fundies, then taken what they’ve learned and created something special. The band (guitarist-vocalist Rick Iannacone, bassist Steve Testa, drummer John Testa and tenor saxophonist Elliott Levin) places a greater emphasis on spirit than precision, which is all to the good, in my opinion. Regardless, they’re plenty tight when they need to be. On a tune like “Psychopathology of Everyday Life,” for instance, they play down the gnarly full-band unison with exactitude that in no way compromises their ferocious intensity. Levin has long been one of my favorite underrated tenorists. He’s in good company here.