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Celebrating the life and legacy of Jinsen Liu (RIP) and 28 Degrees Taurus

Readers’ note: If you're inclined to skip straight ahead to the interview with Ana Karina Dacosta from 28 Degrees Taurus then by all means scroll down a few pages and you can’t miss it. Otherwise, The Deli invites you to enjoy the following misty-eyed reminiscences... 
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Glasslands. Death By Audio. Cameo located behind the Lovin' Cup Cafe. Cake Shop. Goodbye Blue Audio. Trash Bar. If the names above ring a bell it probably means that you were a live music junkie 10-to-20-years ago forever looking for a fix on the mean streets of turn-of-the-millennium Williamsburg and Bushwick and maybe even Manhattan's Lower East Side and East Village...

…and while your average schmuck on the street today may have very well read Meet Me In The Bathroom and be able to tell the Strokes from the Interpols, Vampire Weekends from Moldy Peaches, it still doesn't mean they're experts on that particular chapter in New York City music history and I'd ask the nameless schmuck a couple questions like these as a litmus test: Did you see 28 Degrees Taurus when they played with You Aren't My Mother and The Soundscapes at the Trash Bar on 11/19/2006? Or did you see them when they played with June Moris and Quiet Loudly on 10/28/2007 also at the Trash Bar?  



I'm guessing the answer's "no" and not to humble-brag too much but I was at both of those gigs and that's why I'm paid the big bucks to write for the Deli instead of some schmuck on the street who probably doesn't even have a real name but I digress...

...with the larger point being that the bedrock of New York City's indie-rock aughts salad days was less rooted in familiar names that anyone would know and more so rooted in names that are long forgotten or never on the radar. I mean, just consider the hundreds upon hundreds of bands and other musical artists who play NYC venues week after week, month after month, at glorified dive bars like the aptly named Trash Bar...



...a bar known for its adventurous and/or simply anarchic booking practices and its ratty basement couches and its glistening tater tots served up fresh out of the deep fryer from behind the bar and...suddenly I'm flasing back to the time I watched a highly inebriated woman assume a reverse cowboy position over a men's room urinal at the Trash Bar and take a long, no-doubt satisfying piss without a single drop hitting the floor and that's about as "indie sleaze" as it gets isn't it...



...and while I don't pretend to be any better at remembering names than the next functional alcoholic—somehow or other I've managed to retain a few of them despite partaking in a few too many "5 Jägermeister shots for 10 dollars" drink special at the Continental (talk about your trashy bars!) back around that same time—I do clearly remember Strange Things Done In The Midnight Sun and Coyote Eyes and 28 Degrees Taurus with 28dt being a personal fave around the years 2006-09, a Boston-based duo with rotating drummer and occcasional additional collaborators, that played up and down the Eastern Seaboard on a regular basis...



...not to mention how 28dt played on bills with one or two bands that my own band "back in the day" also played with which is pretty cool and all (apologies for all the not-so-humble bragging) but the point here is that I'd be willing to wager five Jäger shot that a few of you or more are less than "six degrees of separation" away from 28 Degrees Taurus too...

...seeing as how the band's main songwriter/guitarist/multi-instrumentalist/backing vocalist/record producer Jinsen Liu is someone who knew lots and lots of people and who was positioned as a central node attached to some of coolest of musical entities and events across New England and beyond but he was never one to brag or even to humble brag about it...

…and when it comes to the actual music 28 Degrees Taurus has been described as “explosive, intense, dreamy, ultra romantic neo-psychedelic/ambient/indie rock walking the thin line between darkness and light” with live shows described as “loud, ultra high energy, psychedelic, chaotic freak out session usually done on mass quantities of alcohol” but whose recorded output occilates to the other end of the shoegaze spectrum with “dreamy, intimate and romantic influences including 60s pop, Japanese noise, the Jesus & Mary Chain, Cocteau Twins, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth, Slowdive, and The Bee Gees” as described in what I'm guessing may have been their old MySpace band bio... 

...but plagiarism aside if I had to guess how 28 Degrees Taurus got their name I'd say "Taurus" reflects their Taurus-like embrace of warmth and earthiness and sensuality, but then there's often an underlying chill, or even a haunted quality, that also frequently present what with all the woozy near-ASMR vocals and the eerily chiming guitars...

...not to mention 28dt's frequent use of Eastern scales and Medieval-like parallel intervals, basslines that chase the guitar's shadow and lyrics that are tap into a guile-free immediacy, so with all this in mind I figure the “28 Degrees” part of their name could be a reference to the body temperature (measured in Celsius) that's the lowest you can go without catching hypothermia so in other words it's chilly...

…but a little chill never deterred the Taurus-like perseverance of 28 Degrees Taurus who released five full-lengths plus a remix EP over the course of a dozen years culminating with 2019’s Lost & Found singles compilation but then in March 2020 Jinsen Liu tragically passed away at 42 years of age which besides being an unfathomably terrible loss for his friends and family and for longtime bestie-bandmate Ana Karina Dacosta, is also a terrible loss for the the Boston music scene and beyond...



...in light of his unyielding work (though I doubt he ever thought of as "work") supporting emerging artists, booking shows, and generally acting as a hub of Boston's local music scene, and I haven't even mentioned Deep Heaven Now yet, a a multi-venue festival and meetup that Jinsen instigated and curated in 2010 (and also in subsequent years with later editions) catering to psych/shoegaze/ambient/experimental artists not only from Boston and Massachusetts but also from across the Northeast and Midwest regions and the whole thing was a tribute of sorts to similar gatherings held in '90s Boston that helped shape Jinsen's own musical tastes and his hyper-local perspective...

…but on Friday 10/21 it's Jinsen Liu's turn to be on the receiving end of a musical tribute taking place at the Windjammer in  Ridgewood, Queens as presented by The Footlight Presents, and despite the tragic circumstances that led to the show it's sure to be a barnburner because that's how Jinsen would have wanted it...

...with producers and participants looking to put on a raucous celebration of Jinsen's life, because rumor has it that his life was pretty raucous at times but in the best possible sense, and it'll feature the music of 28 Degrees Taurus as performed by Ana Karina with special guests (in keeping with the band's collaborative ethos) plus a stacked lineup with sets by Dead Leaf Echo, Ceremony (the East Coast Ceremony) and Brief Candles visiting all the way from Milwaukee so here's your perfect chance to get caught up on what was happening at the Trash Bar in 2006 and '07...

…and one last piece of sliver lining to this dark cloud is that I got a chance to speak to Ana Karina, Jinsen's partner and collaborator in 28dt across its entire lifespan, so check out the transcription below where A.K. was kind enough to share some compelling memories of Jinsen and 28dt...

...and in closing The Deli offers our deepest condolences to Jinsen Liu's loved ones, and raises a glass for all the great music he created and facilitated, not to mention all the lives he touched and enriched, and we hope that at this very moment he's looking up some old contacts who've likewise passed over and planning his next musical blowout in that great DIY space in the sky, but until you get a chance to check one of his Deep Heaven Afterlife shows we say "get thee to the Windjammer" for a sneak preview... (Jason Lee)


 

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Ana Karina Dacosta: I have the best memories of driving around in Jinsen’s shimmering pastel green Honda Civic listening to the Bee Gees , and a lot of other music he loved or was currently working on. A lot of his friends remember doing the same thing with him as well, it was a real era! It was definitely some of our personal best times, Without fail it always built up to us driving aimlessly listening to "Alone." We shared this deep and ridiculous respect for how undeniably cool Barry Gibb sounded in the opening lines to that song and all of the songs he sang....."I was a midnight rider on a cloud of smoke, I could make a woman hang on every single stroke"---like, what kind of badass says that?? A lot of our bonding came from overanalyzing Bee Gee's lyrics.

That era was also spent at a lot of house shows and open mics, consistently and possibly the most fruitful was the All Asia (RIP) on Wednesday nights, where he made so many true friends, it's hard to describe how many but a huge core of his life were friends he made there.

In our first iteration we were called Red Skies, Let’s Die with me on cello playing through a reverb/delay pedal. They were all instrumental songs. Eventually we had a keyboard player named Dan, who was brilliant on keys, and Alyson on drums. She was and still is an amazing drummer and percussionist,and a lot of our later songs carried over that sound. 

We could only get shows with the local Goth community, who were all of these amazing people and bands Jinsen had followed or knew from some place or another. We made a lot of meaningful friendships during that time, such as Kris Thompson who is an anchor and beloved scene captain and musician in Boston with so many bands I would need to make a loooong list!! We played all over the place as Red Skies. I’d nearly forgotten but we were pretty active. 

When 28dt was forming, Jinsen had recruited his "Gemini friend" from High School in Andover, MA, Erika, to play bass with him. He said astrologically it was perfect and that she was maximum rock'n'roll which she really is. I just happened to be at his parents house on the first day they were supposed to practice. The night before though, at a 28 Degrees Taurus show, she’d met a guy named Dan who later became her husband. So for obvious reasons she blew off the rehearsal! I said I would try to play along since I had played the cello and it had four strings, how bad could it be?!

When we transitioned to 28 Degrees Taurus I’d never been the singer in a band before so he would play the demos and I naturally altered my singing voice to mimic his. He loved to sing, but also just wanted to play guitar and come in and out of singing. It’s funny how truly haphazard it was in the beginning. He didn’t really set expectations and as far as I remember–never gave much advice or directives on how I or anyone should play anything, EVER! 

I really loved doubling his guitar parts on bass which made me feel very heavy metal, and Jinsen loved Black Sabbath and lots of multi-metal genres which is probably why he never said anything. The band was never just the two of us because we always worked together with drummers and with other collaborators sometimes, although I would say it was all him running the show. But he would always say it was me. The truth is it was really whoever was drumming for us at the time. 

It was always the drummers who kept the band functioning, shaped the sound and kept things moving in all ways. Every single one of them. Barry, Kyle, Greg, Ian....Max. Who else? Has to be more! I only wanted to take over drumming for Lost & Found, since Jinsen used a drum machine to record all of the drum parts and there was no bass on it. Chrissy Prisco, aka Chris Face, is legendary in our history as well. She went everywhere with us for years and was a huge part of the band dynamic. Our sister for sure. It was always her and the drummers who kept the band moving forward. We were so lucky 

And the words you hear in a lot of lyrics were just things that Jinsen would say like “ “I wanna party! I wanna drink! I wanna feel like this forever. I don’t wanna fuckin’ think!” but with a big hint of humor. These were just his thoughts rolling off his tongue. Another person may’ve said “we need to rework these lyrics,” but we would just laugh at the thought and keep going with it. 

Jinsen was such a social butterfly, so it was easy for him writing from experience. He loved being out at night. He loved to pretend he was a werewolf! He loved meeting new people. He was a local nightlife icon, he called himself the Paris Hilton of Allston, MA for a long time, it was funny!

There are a lot of endearing and wild stories with Jinsen. One night he stayed out for the entire night in New York City and when he finally came back to where we were staying he’d lost his glasses and told us this whole story aboutI hanging out with some new friends and losing his glasses, getting lost and feeling his way along the curb and finally passing out and getting bitten by a rat which elated him, like it was “a great night out in New York” by anyone’s standards!! 

And then he revived the ‘90s Boston psych-rock fest Deep Heaven, with the name tweaked to Deep Heaven Now. He Jinsen was always inspired by watching and observing other people and how they, went about supporting the scene. And he was nostalgic for the people who had guided him along when he got into playing. Jinsen was very sponge-like, always taking in information and inspiration from others, with a mind like a trap for retaining information and remembering people. He must have had a mental Rolodex the way he could keep so many people’s names in his brain. 

It was really impressive and admirable how many people he communicated with in his life and how he could instantly remember the name of an old online friend he made on GeoCities Chat in 1996.It was a valuable skill to have when a lot of music was being shared between people on physical media all over the place, sending CD's through the post office to each other. Remarkable!

He organized all of our tours and lots of other tours. He made all our records. There’s all these Midwestern bands that I am sure would give him credit for the group of likeminded bands and a whole scene that came out of meeting at Deep Heaven Now. Speaking of which, Brief Candles from Milwaukie will be playing the Brooklyn show.

It’s hard for me to say it, because I feel so close to him still and I know his many many friends do as well. I feel in my heart that he would not live a life with any guard rails. He always told me that we have to accept people for who they are and how they live. He was not afraid of dark waters. He worked hard to be a spiritual warrior despite any demons, and he was exceptional at his core essence. He was quite magical.It was the only way for him. Jinsen had a lot of seasons in his life and that will be visible at these shows. But it won't even do him justice because no one else could possibly be another Jinsen and I love him for that. Even when we weren't getting along, we loved each other and the music too much to consider ending 28dt.

If he didn’t have demons, and didn’t confront his demons head on, Jinsen probably wouldn’t have made the music he did. And we all wouldn’t have had the intense relationship we had with him and with each other as friends. A lot of folks call me when they’re thinking about him. I love that. I feel lucky that I knew him. I didn’t even mention how metaphysical Jinsen was. He read people’s charts all the time. You can hear it in the music. He thought we were all here to teach each other and to learn from each other. 

At his memorial in 2020, the bar tab for his wake came to $666. He would have loved that!

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Songwriters

Time: 
21:00
Band name: 
Bill Bartholomew
FULL Artist Facebook address (http://...): 
http://www.facebook.com/billbartholomewmusic
Venue name: 
Pete's Candy Store
Band email: 
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World

Time: 
07:00
Band name: 
Carlos Jimenez
FULL Artist Facebook address (http://...): 
https://www.facebook.com/carlosjazzflautist/
Venue name: 
Chelsea Table Stage
Band email: 
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Sean Spada's "The Wild Ride" is a yacht-rock-run-aground piano-based psych-rock operetta

photo by Tasha Lutek

The piano isn’t exactly the coolest instrument in the public imagination these days and it hasn't been for a good while which yeah of course there’s plenty of cool piano music out there but not like back in the day like say 19th-century Europe up to its armpits in mad genius sex-crazed pianist-composers roaming the continent like the polonaise-playing rock stars of their day…

…wantonly indulging in sex, drugs, and Rachmaninoff and not even the most shameful STD of the century could stop Byronic fops like Robert "Mad Bob" Schumann from writing some truly sick tunes (wordplay!) made only sicker by the syphilis-induced “hallucinations and horrors and psychological conflicts reflected in [their’] music” this according to an article entitled “Syphilis’ Impact on Late Works of Classical Music Composers” published in the July 2021 issue of International Journal of Urologic History which makes for great bathroom reading...YEAH I JUST WENT THERE SO F*CKING WHAT!

…and heck even well into the 20th century the piano was still pretty damn hip, take for instance the early-century rise of stride, ragtime, and boogie-woogie piano styles or the decades-long dominance of Tin Pan Alley which birthed the modern day hit parade by selling millions of copies of piano-based sheet music to the All-American masses ultimately displaced by the piano-pounding R&B shouters and early rock ’n’ rollers of the mid-20th-century…

…but this all changed somewhere between then and now and personally I'm inclined to hold Giorgio Moroder and Peter Criss of KISS responsible cuz in the first case when the Italian synth wizard teamed up with disco queen Donna Summer for “I Feel Love” in 1977 the synthesizer was transformed overnight—once the primary province of pretentious prog rock profligacy—into a booty-shaking, floor-filling miracle machine and why would anyone wanna play a dumb ol’ piano ever again…

…meanwhile a year earlier the fire breathing, blood spewing, all-night partiers known as KISS scored their first top ten hit with a piano-driven ballad called “Beth” featuring the band's raspy-voiced, pussy-faced drummer apologizing (apologizing!) to his titular lady friend for staying out too late rockin' out with the boys and at precisely this moment the piano became the antithesis of cool… 

…and don’t even get me started on Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” (an easy target, I realize, but still!) with its self-regarding, pseudo-Dylanesque portrait of a “piano man” who despite being lucky enough to be gainfully employed at a local watering hole and to be much loved by its regular clientele (“it's me they've been comin' to see”) nonetheless looks down his nose at all the pathetic, self-deluded saps (“they're sharing a drink they call loneliness”) who hang out at the piano bar

…but never mind Billy Joel or Peter Criss or Donna Summer because this article is about SEAN SPADA (obviously!) and SEAN SPADA is the real deal, a hard-working, consummate-pro piano everyman who would never dream of insultingly patronizing the sad sacks at the bar because clearly he identifies with and counts himself among the sad sacks at the bar (“the world is too much, I’m not enough”) facing down life’s dead-ends and cul-de-sacs with steely resolve, fatalistic wit, and a clutch of jazz-laced seven- and nine-chords on his new album The Wild Ride

…a record that’s not lacking for Leonard Cohen/Tom Waits type vibes like when Sean wonders aloud “am I lost? / am I found?” before conceding that “sometimes I just prefer to be / spaaaaacing oooout” which is a theme explored at length on numbers like “Spacing Out, Pt. 1” and “Spacing Out, Pt,. 2,” songs that are fittingly full of stereo-panned mindfuckery (theremins and vocoders and vibraslaps, oh my!) so pass the bong, yo…

…but it’s “Doppelgänger Jungle” that’s the biggest head trip of all, a six-and-a-half-minute epic tale of “shadow selves escaping from my dreams” glanced by our narrator on every other street corner, a paranoic but pretty rad fantasy matched to a soundtrack of planetarium-ready percolating synths and a whole entire part that sounds like a Steely Dan/ELO/Boz Skaggs mashup and finally an extended breakdown coda section with “breakdown” being the operative word that slowly-but-surely builds back up to a swirling vortex of sound before trailing off again with some airy vocal harmonies floating off into the ether like a puff of fog machine smoke in the corner of a run down piano bar…

…so needless to say it’s a wild ride akin to “Pablo Cruise in purgatory” (pull quote!) or if you prefer a cross "between Randy Newman and Huey Lewis" but either way it's a ride that never flies off the rails thanks to the ever-present guard rails of Sean’s sensitive, skillful piano playing to the point where I’m moved to proclaim The Wild Ride the world’s first psychedelic piano lounge yacht-rock-run-aground rock operetta, a character study of a piano man who may be “Set Up To Self Destruct” but who’s nonetheless “Getting on the Highway” with predictable results perhaps but all the more stirring for seeing it coming...

…so in closing we recommend you pour yourself a double on the rocks and don’t forget the swizzle stick (because…stirring!) before dropping the digital needle on Sean Spada’s The Wild Ride and when he observes in the album-opening “When You’re Crazy” that “the only sane way to truly be yourself” is to embrace your own craziness you'll no doubt slowly and sagely nod your head and raise your glass to toast the bittersweet poignancy of it all. (Jason Lee)

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Release-Day Hot Take: "Versechorus" by Two-Man Giant Squid

Admittedly I can be prone to taking band names a little too literally sometimes but with Two-Man Giant Squid I think it’s a fair opening gambit because even though they’re on the record described their band name as silly it nonetheless conveys the aura of TMGS’s debut LP Abyssal Gigantism and by the way that’s “abyssal” and not “abysmal” as in an an immeasurably deep gulf vs. immeasurable deep suckitude…

…because right from the opening moments of opening track “Don’t Make Your Presence Known” the band has a way with combining herky-jerky rhythms, twisty arrangements and “angular” melodies™ much like a lurching pantomime horse whose head and ass each have a mind of their own (i.e., two heads) which is both amusing and unsettling to witness…

…with the surreal subaquatic fluidity of a giant squid witness for instance the watery vibes of song #2 on the album “First (And Last) Time In Your Nightclub” which has been described elsewhere as the band’s “November Rain” and in fact I'd say the record as a whole continually plays off this same dynamic push-and-pull between teetering post-punk angularity and woozily soft-focus psychedelia, ergo Two-Man Giant Squid…

…all of which can now be tossed out the window because TMGS’s just-dropped single “Versechorus” throws the listener a curveball with its straight-down-the-middle verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge song structure and its loud-quiet-loud grunge dynamics not to mention its repetitive, self-referential lyrics (“I’ll probably just, like…write a bridge”) that otherwise concerns mundane topics like text messaging…

…which all makes sense once you realize the song is intended “as a tongue-in-cheek FU to modern songwriting expectation” or “a tongue-in-cheek spite-song that was written as an FU to a former band member who was not pulling his weight because the songs weren’t ‘verse-chorus’ enough for him to learn properly” which I wouldn't have realized without the quotes above kindly provided by frontperson Mitch Vinokur…

…and the way I see it “Versechorus” could easily end up being TMGS's “Song 2’ in other words a lean-yet-loin-stirring garage punk ripper by an art-damaged band who accidentally pen a future sports-stadia anthem that although intended sardonically at first is transfigured over time into a populist fist-pumping, adrenaline-boosting singalong of the masses (there’s even a subtle “woo-hoo!’ near the end) and if it actually pans out this way remember you heard it here first! (Jason Lee)

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