There’s something about Ireland that breeds singer-songwriters, like Damien Rice, Villagers and Hozier. Enter James Vincent McMorrow. Having only picked up a guitar at the age of 19, the late boomer quickly tried to master other instruments in order to create richer layers of composition. Like a Celtic Bon Iver, he trapped himself in a house on an Irish coast to produce his 2010 debut, Early in the Morning (stream it below). McMorrow didn’t return with the follow-up, Post Tropical (stream it below), which shined more on his R&B and soul influences rather than folk music, for nearly four years. But he’s been downright prolific ever since. In fact McMorrow’s fourth full-length—and third in four years—True Care (stream it below), suddenly arrived just a few weeks ago. The Irish Times says, “McMorrow presents 15 new tunes that further consolidate his position as a songwriter of meaningful, depth-charged soul music.” While the Irish Examiner calls the album “a sublime, abstracted gift that keeps on giving.” And having just kicked off a North American tour in support of the new LP, McMorrow (above, performing “Get Low,” on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and, below, covering “Purple Rain”) returns to NYC to play Brooklyn Steel on Thursday night. —Sharlene Chiu
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Jay Som – Rough Trade NYC – June 6, 2017
Better known by the stage name Jay Som, DIY wunderkind Melina Duterte crafts melodic, fuzzy masterpieces from her bedroom in Oakland, Calif,—and she released her debut full-length album, Everybody Works, in March to glowing reviews. NPR described it as a “gorgeous and messy intimacy [that] has the capacity to forge connections with those who might be going through similar uncertainty and tough times.” After touring with fellow Asian-American female singers Mitski and Japanese Breakfast last summer, Duterte headlined a sold-out Rough Trade NYC last night in support of her latest release.
Guitarist Oliver Pannell, bassist Dylan Allard and drummer Zachary Thomas Elsasser joined the singer onstage to open with “One More Time, Please.” Her compositions really flourished with a full band, as Allard added heavy basslines on the Fleetwood Mac–sounding “Turn Into.” Four songs in, Duterte joked that “Take It” would be the last tune, eliciting a roomful of grumbling quickly followed by laughter. The Left Coaster continued her playful banter, asking folks about who was gainfully employed and lauded them with a “sick” reply in admiration, a nice segue into the title track.
“Baybee” played up the pop influences, which perhaps were derived from her listening to Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion while writing her recent album. Fan fave “The Bus Song” had the packed crowd singing, “But I hate the bus,” before Duterte cooed the chorus of “Take time to figure it out.” The short but ethereal “Lipstick Stains” performed solo had the audience rapt, and the performance culminated with an encore featuring the uproarious “1 Billion Dogs,” in which Pannell and Duterte exchanged licks in a dueling guitar battle. —Sharlene Chiu
Nick Hakim – The Bowery Ballroom – May 17, 2017
Brooklyn-based Nick Hakim grew up in Washington, D.C., and matriculated from the famed Berklee College of Music before settling in New York City. He has a throwback feel to his vocals, with R&B grooves and good ol’ Motown sensibilities. Jazz influences are also heard, which makes sense as he recently completed a short residency at the Blue Note. And his pair of EPs, Where Will We Go, Pt. 1 and Pt. 2, have garnered considerable praise. Hakim’s upcoming full-length album, Green Twins, was born in a Brooklyn bedroom, and he’s described its influences as “if RZA had produced a Portishead album.”
Last night—two days before his LP’s release—Hakim graced the stage of The Bowery Ballroom. Opening with the title track, he quickly enraptured fans as his mellifluous voice lulled the room. The singer-songwriter managed to dip into his older material, producing “Cold” and the crowd-pleasing “I Don’t Know.” Hakim had lost his glasses and remarked that he couldn’t see, but who needs to see when you have an R&B voice that transmutes hefty doses of soul. Guitarist Joe Harrison took the “oldie” away with a soaring solo.
Midway through the set, pianist Jake Sherman offered up a heavily Auto-Tuned rendition of the Beatles’ “Yesterday.” The remainder of the performance was largely an introduction to his soon-to-be release, from the lilting “Needy Bees” to “Farmissplease,” which had the audience bopping to the percussion. There would not be an encore, but it’s plain to hear that the the Brooklynite’s neo-soul styling’s ushered in a unique take for this summer’s soundtrack. —Sharlene Chiu
Goldfrapp – Brooklyn Steel – April 27, 2017
For well more than a decade together, Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory have crafted a lineage of dance music heavily drenched in synth pop. And their seventh album, Silver Eye, is no exception. “Silver Eye’s tracks have a sincere, blunt-force feeling that’s new and closer to the actual core of their musical identity. It’s like Kiss taking off the makeup, but, you know, good,” cleverly positioned Pitchfork. Goldfrapp followers are aware of a past that floated from disco beats to romantic pastoral hymns, but even more memorable are Goldfrapp’s performances donning a Marlene Dietrich look to dreamy frocks paired with long curly locks. For the group’s second performance at the barely month-old Brooklyn Steel, she graced the stage with an appropriately metallic ensemble.
A pair of tracks from her debut album, Felt Mountain—“Utopia” and “Lovely Head”—had longtime fans in early elation before a survey of the latest album. Her newer pieces were nicely adorned with visuals ranging from the celestial for “Anymore” to ocular rings on “Ocean.” There was a fair amount of warning about strobe lights before going through the doors, and that was for good reason as the singer was backlit the entire evening with pulsating lights to animate her frenetic dancing. Goldfrapp paused the set to exclaim, “I’ve been here a week and love it. I wanna move here.” Yes please! A continuation of newer material rounded out the second half of the set with the robotic “Everything Is Never Enough” and tribal distorted voices on “Become the One.” The warehouse erupted for the recent single “Systemagic” as the sea of bodies pumped to heavy bass and were quickly lulled to a dreamy sway for oldie “Number 1.”
Despite a botched wardrobe change due to her current outfit being “stuck on,” the best was saved for last as Goldfrapp returned to encore with a quartet of fan favorites starting with the intoxicating “Black Cherry.” A keytar emerged on “Shiny and Warm,” and iPhone lovers held up their phones high for “Ooh La La,” which was featured in one of the product’s commercials. “Strict Machine,” with its thumping reverb, capped off the night sending a frenzied audience out onto the streets of East Williamsburg. —Sharlene Chiu
Violents and Monica Martin – Rough Trade NYC – April 26, 2017
Collaboration (noun): the action of working with someone to produce or create something. Jeremy Larson is a master collaborator and the man behind the indie collective Violents. The multi-instrumentalist not only plays all the music he has composed, but he also writes all of the lyrics. The hitch is that he partners with a female vocalist to bring each of these pieces to fruition. Previous collaborators have included Stacy King (Eisley, Sucre), Olga Yagolnikov (Kye Kye) and Nashville, Tenn., singer Annie Williams. For the first full-length record, Awake and Pretty Much Sober, Larson enlisted Phox frontwoman Monica Martin to flesh out his compositions with her sultry vocals.
Two days before the release of the album, Violents and Monica Martin played their first performance during an afternoon session at the Paste Studios before gracing the stage of Rough Trade NYC last night for their debut concert. Accompanied by the string quartet Rootstock Republic and a drummer (Joe), the duo opened with the glittering “Equal Power,” the first of four tracks released prior to the album. The performance would debut six additional songs, from the come-hither lullaby “Line Lie” to the trip-hop groove of “It Won’t Stop.” Throughout the set, clips of cinematic scenes played, including the iconic dance sequence from House Party providing the backdrop for “Hue.”
Midway through the show, Larson told the story of how the partnership formed after being a long admirer of Martin’s. He confessed he was a little cocky writing songs especially meant for her to sing before ever meeting the vocalist. Luckily a mutual friend got them connected and the rest is history. Martin added that a “shared insecurity” manifested with her singing lyrics she hadn’t written and Larson relinquishing vocal duties. As if new songs weren’t enough to satisfy the crowd, Martin proceeded to cover Frank Ocean’s “Self Control.” The evening was a reverie of dream pop that concluded with the title track and the apt closer “How It Left.” —Sharlene Chiu
Overcoats – Rough Trade NYC – April 20, 2017
Sisterhood runs deep between best friends Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell, a bond so strong it’s birthed a band, Overcoats. The New York City–based duo’s debut, Young, is a reverie of R&B soul folktronica coproduced by Nicolas Vernhes (Daughter, Torres, Dirty Projectors, Cass McCombs) and fellow singer-songwriter Autre Ne Veut. NPR’s Bob Boilen recently described the record as “driven by ambition and passion, not craft … the emotion in their harmonies and the space they give each other is filled with compassion.” Last night, the inseparable pair graced a sold-out Rough Trade NYC on the eve of their new EP’s release, donning white jumpsuits and silver platform boots. Microphone stands adorned with flowers and garlands of cameo silhouettes set the stage as their first headlining tour opened with the rhythmic “Smaller Than My Mother.” The crowd swayed to the lullaby of “Hold Me Close” before Elion exclaimed, “We are so fucking excited to be here.”
Covering the entirety of their album with the exception of one track (“Father”), the kindred spirits garnered much love from fans as the mutual admiration between each singer was palpable. They embraced often in between songs and danced side by side without a care in the world. When introducing the debut single “Little Memory,” Elion confessed it was the first one the girls had written together. The duo covered Hozier’s “Cherry Wine” midway through the set. Elion laid her head on Mitchell’s shoulder to preface “Siren,” as she proceeded to sing, “I feel many weights of many worlds on my shoulders.” In a speech that was carved out on the set list, Mitchell offered their gratitude to touring drummer Joao Gonzalez, Andy on sound and their agents. An overwhelming acknowledgement of the upcoming year ahead left the women truly humbled before an encore of the hymnal “Mother” and the rollicking “Leave the Light On” concluded the performance with a fever pitch of participatory claps. —Sharlene Chiu
Maggie Rogers – The Bowery Ballroom – April 11, 2017
When Pharrell takes an eye to an artist (and I’m not talking about his stint on The Voice), ears perk up. The celeb producer was enchanted by American songwriter Maggie Rogers’ track “Alaska” while teaching a master class at NYU last summer. Her anticipated EP, That the Light Is Fading, released back in February layers Rogers’ folk sensibilities with newly examined dance tempos she acquired living abroad. Rogers has the swagger of an Amelia Meath (Sylvan Esso) and the hymnal quality of Florence Welch (Florence and the Machine). Last night at The Bowery Ballroom, the first of two sold-out New York City shows, the singer-songwriter took center stage donning a custom white denim suit designed by Christian Joy. The room was filled with the chirping of crickets as Rogers opened with “Color Song” and her frenetic dance moves were unleashed.
After the dance-pop track “Dog Years,” the recent graduate offered a slow jam written for a crush entitled “Say It.” Wise beyond her years, Rogers pensively acknowledged not only how much has changed for her in the past year, but also the world itself. “Global grief hangs heavy as summer heat,” the first lines of “Hashtag,” rang especially true for the sunny front earlier in the day and the current political climate. She revealed that “Little Joys” was the first song she wrote in NYC and admitted the opening was inspired by Sharon Van Etten. Light on the material, a cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” was reimagined with dance beats ebbing and flowing into the folk-rock classic.
Before the final song, Rogers became teary and choked up recounting the times she had previously been to The Bowery Ballroom as an audience member. She pulled herself together, saying, “I really love making music,” and culminated the evening with the track that had left Pharrell virtually speechless. No longer a fledgling songwriter, the world awaits the next chapter of Ms. Maggie Rogers. —Sharlene Chiu
The Staves – Music Hall of Williamsburg – March 10, 2017
As youngsters in England, Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor learned guitar from their father and sang heavy folk melodies at the local pub, which has bloomed into something bigger. Their sweet sisterly harmonies have earned the Staves opening slots for the Civil Wars, Bon Iver and Florence and the Machine. The siblings formed such a strong friendship with Justin Vernon that the Bon Iver frontman produced their last album, If I Was. Playing at Music Hall of Williamsburg Friday night, the first of two sold-out weekend shows in Brooklyn, the sisters were a lovely respite after the morning’s snowfall. Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” introduced the ladies—and drummer Dave Power—to the stage. The show began with Camilla on ukulele for “Blood I Bled,” while Jessica, on guitar, and Emily, behind keys, offered backing vocals.
Opener Mikaela Davis added harp on the breakup song “No Me, No You, No More” as Jessica’s elfin vocals rang across the room. Midway through the set, when Emily and Camilla needed to swap stage positions, Jessica stalled with some light conversation about Gilmore Girls, which the band had been watching on the bus. This sent the crowd into a tizzy with shouts of “Team Jess,” but it was the sisters’ critical takes on the character Rory as “a nause” (an English term of annoyance) that elicited cheers. Vernon’s influences were obvious once everyone was in the right place and Camilla created an echo chamber with a series of vocal loops on “Train Tracks,” similar to those on Bon Iver songs. The skip-hop cadence of “Black & White” perked up fans and grew for the anthemic “Tired as Fuck” as crowd members clapped along to Camilla’s languid delivery. An encore was inevitable and Davis returned again for a dreaming acoustic cover of Sufjan Steven’s “Chicago.” Jessica prefaced the final song, “Mexico,” with “Don’t build walls, let’s build bridges.” —Sharlene Chiu
Grandaddy – Rough Trade NYC – March 2, 2017
There are albums that define an individual at a certain time of life, and for me it was Grandaddy’s The Sophtware Slump. I was a recent college graduate figuring out adulthood and working a “dream job” at my local radio station. Something about Jason Lytle’s specific lyrics laid across a series of bleeps and electronic haze struck a chord in me. I was first introduced to them when they opened for a then rising British band, Coldplay. That evening was highlighted by the special guest appearance by a barely recognizable Elliott Smith, whom Grandaddy had toured with prior. When the group disbanded back in 2006, there were morsels released in the form of a solo album by Lytle and side projects in Admiral Radley, but Grandaddy would not resurface until 2012 with a few local California gigs and select festivals in the UK. On the eve of their long-awaited fourth album, Last Place, the Golden State band played a sold-out Rough Trade NYC last night.
Opening their set with an abstract film filled with landscape juxtaposed with pixels, the quintet surfaced to the stage as if no time had passed. The crowd quickly got into it as Grandaddy opened with back-catalog gems “Hewlett’s Daughter” and “El Caminos in the West.” The evening would satisfy longtime fans, while introducing newer material like their first single from their latest, “Way We Won’t,” and follow-up single “Evermore.” The frontman was barraged with several requests midway through their set, but none of them were on the list. One fan graciously offered, “Your choice, Jason,” in which Lytle took the opportunity to segue into the spacey favorite “The Crystal Lake.”
The room erupted when the whimsical intro to “A.M. 180” signaled the audience to bop along to the melody, but it was near the end of the set that Lytle wrapped the night with an extra special bow. Going from new track “I Don’t Wanna Live Here Anymore” to the slow-burner “Jed’s Other Poem (Beautiful Ground),” he initiated the climax with a revved-up “Now It’s On.” Although the set concluded with harp-like keys on “He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s the Pilot,” the enduring bandmates would return to encore with a pair, the new song “The Boat Is in the Barn” and oldie-but-goodie “Summer Here Kids.” Needless to say Grandaddy’s return was so worth the wait. Let’s hope there won’t be another decade-long hiatus. —Sharlene Chiu
Lisa Hannigan – The Bowery Ballroom – February 20, 2017
Irish singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan has a way of wrapping you in a warm woolen blanket with delicate vocals that seem to embrace you in a loving hug. Often known for her backing vocals while touring in the past with Damien Rice, she has forged on to release three solo albums after an abrupt break from her former collaborator. Her previous album produced with the National’s Aaron Dessner, At Swim, arrived last summer following a long five-year hiatus. Needless to say, fans were excited for her return to New York City as she arrived at a sold-out Bowery Ballroom last night, midway through her U.S. tour.
The room came to a hush as Hannigan took to the stage crooning the ever-haunting “Ora.” Although she was sparse with banter throughout the evening, fans didn’t seem to mind as they happily soaked up her ethereal melodies. Opener Heather Woods Broderick added her vocals on “O Sleep,” stepping in for Ray Lamontagne. Hannigan mentioned how her video for “Undertow” was recently released and that in the filming she had to sing the song backward. The singer playfully proceeded to share her backward trill, before introducing a protest song, “Fall,” which was an appropriate addition to the events of Presidents’ Day.
The band exited, leaving the stage to the lass for the music-box plucks of “Little Bird” and the wanderlusting “Passenger.” Her lilting brogue rang true on “We, the Drowned,” as Hannigan pumped her harmonium with extra zeal. Stalwart fans were delighted by “Lille,” an oldie from her debut solo, Sea Sew. An encore opened with an a cappella version of “Anahorish” accompanied by Broderick and her bassist before the performance concluded with the pair of “Barton” and the uplifting “A Sail.” —Sharlene Chiu
Bear’s Den – The Bowery Ballroom – February 1, 2017
The British folk rock band Bear’s Den wrap gorgeous compositions with a searing banjo ribbon. It’s not a surprise that they supported fellow countrymen Mumford & Sons, as both share similar musical sensibilities. They’re also no strangers to road-tripping across America, having jumped in a Volkswagen Campervan to tour with Ben Howard, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Staves in 2014. In support of their sophomore release, Red Earth & Pouring Rain, the lads played to a sold-out Bowery Ballroom on a crisp Wednesday night. The balcony was overflowing with spectators, as folks could barely get on the floor. Although the evening featured songs from the recent release, special attention was paid to the faithful when the rarely sung and mostly back-cataloged “Sophie” was played acoustically as the audience came to a hauling silence.
Band leader Andrew Davie admitted it was likely their “second-oldest song,” and fans, new and old, were grateful. They erupted for “When You Break,” a favorite from Bear’s Den debut, Islands. A pause in the set carved time for guitarist Christof to make his traditional bottle-flip attempt. The suspense was thick as the water bottle flew in the air, and Davie bear-hugged his bandmate upon success before wailing the sea shanty “Auld Wives.” Christof strapped on the banjo for another favorite, “Above the Clouds of Pompeii,” as clapping hands and stomping feet revved up the band before they exited the stage.
There was little doubt they would not return for an encore, and they did with horn accompaniment for “Napoleon.” Davie, bassist Kevin Jones and Christof made their way into the crowd with only instruments on an acoustic rendition of “Gabriel.” Back onstage, Davie explained that throughout their tour they have been playing covers that were of local artists or about the city they were in. Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy in New York” checked off both those requirements. The evening wrapped up with the anthemic “Agape,” which was a fitting soundtrack to lead folks into the night and onto a new day. —Sharlene Chiu
Phox – Music Hall of Williamsburg – January 28, 2017
Amidst an indie-pop music landscape saturated with bands, the Wisconsin-based Phox spent half of a decade delighting fans with their whimsical melodies. Ascending a stage at a local festival, Boo Bash, the members played for the first time in May 2011 for what they thought would be a one-off performance. From there they became the darlings of Baraboo, Wisc., releasing the Confetti EP in 2013 and then their self-titled full-length, recorded in Justin Vernon’s studio the following year. Last fall the band announced that members had agreed to take a “hiatus” to allow for other creative pursuits, from film to graphic novels. For the occasion, the quintet embarked on their Goodbye (For Now) tour, which rolled into a sold-out Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday night.
Taking the stage to an opening composed by guitarist Matthew Holmen, the five-piece filed in with their phoxy lead singer, Monica Martin, clad in a shoulder-baring black top and high-waisted acid-washed jeans. She quickly began with the breezy “Leisure,” and keyboardist Matteo Roberts offered his vocals on the opening of “1936” before Martin took back the reins. The crowd participated in a chorus of “Wah oh oh” on “Evil,” which wouldn’t be the only time audience erupted. A cadence of claps was inevitable during fan-favorite “Slow Motion,” and many joined in, singing, “Everything I do, I do in slow motion.” The evening spotlighted Martin, who recently recorded the hypnotic “Equal Powers” with Jeremy Larson’s Violents.
A solo section showcased new material, including a ballad entitled “Make Believe,” and another song served as a cautionary tale about road trips with strangers. The little-sung “Laura” was hard to perform in the past Martin confessed because it was about the relationship with her mother. Saving the best for last, Phox covered the rhythmic chords of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” and Holman offered a blistering guitar solo on “Noble Heart” to punctuate the set’s end. The band would return to encore with another cover. This time it was Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody.” The bittersweet farewell ended with “Espeon” dedicated to Martin’s younger sister in the audience. And as it neared midnight, fans left dreaming of Phox’s swift return in the (hopefully) near future. —Sharlene Chiu
Kyle Morton – Rough Trade NYC – January 20, 2017
The path from band member to solo career can often lead to a clear separation from the former, but Kyle Morton of Typhoon has managed to avoid that divide. Rather his solo album was birthed while he was working on the group’s next major release. It’s not surprising that Morton had qualms touring alone when there are 11 members in Typhoon. In an interview, Morton confessed his nervousness of going it alone: “I’m learning a lot more self-reliance, since I’m out here traveling by myself. I never really wanted to tour by myself because it seemed kind of daunting. But there’s something kind of nomadic and cool about it.” And so the frontman arrived solo onstage before a welcoming crowd at Rough Trade NYC on Friday evening.
Covering a large portion of his debut album, What Will Destroy You, Morton expertly mixed new material with Typhoon fan favorites throughout the set. His singing cadence, which resembled Conor Oberst’s on “Poor Bastard,” was especially punctuated by the morbid, melancholic lyrics. The crowd quickly joined in on the Typhoon track “Belly of the Cavern” by stomping along to provide percussion before echoing the refrain “I will be good though my body be broken” on “Common Sentiments.” Morton joked that one really only had to sing that bit to be part of the band, which endeared him to the audience even more. The mention that his wife, Wild Ones lead singer Danielle Sullivan, was in attendance served as a teaser for an inevitable duet.
Before she would take the stage, Morton sweetly dedicated “My Little Darlin’ Knows My Nature” to Sullivan. Shining a new light on the familiar “Artificial Light” and “Prosthetic Love,” the stripped-down Typhoon songs highlighted the painstaking lyrics that can get lost in the hefty band’s weight. When the words “last song” provoked grumbles, the songwriter discarded the pseudo exit of an encore to remain onstage, calling upon his wife to join him on a new Typhoon song. And if that weren’t enough to appease the crowd, the pair covered the John Prine and Iris Dement duet “In Spite of Ourselves” to cap off the night. —Sharlene Chiu
Craig David Presents TS5 – Music Hall of Williamsburg – January 19, 2017
It was the summer of 2000 and I was gallivanting in Copenhagen as an exchange student. What I distinctly remember was the insane amount of the Europop that year, and a unique voice, Craig David’s, rang out amongst those omnipresent groups. His blend of R&B mixed with dubstep anchored his first album, Born to Do It. He never fully translated in America to my dismay, but David sold out the Brooklyn debut of his TS5 party at Rough Trade NYC last October. TS5 began as a house party in his penthouse in Miami, Tower Suite 5, and it’s no surprise that it has blown up into a hot ticket. His beginnings on the decks to his top-charting songs set up David as the perfect hybrid of MC and singer.
Commanding a sold-out Music Hall of Williamsburg last night, David opened with oldies “Rewind” and “Fill Me In.” His hybrid skills were on full display as he seamlessly moved from his ballad “Walking Away” to TLC’s “No Scrubs.” David continued, proclaiming, “We getting rotten,” before dropping a series of old school anthems ranging from House of Pain’s “Jump Around” to Chaka Demus & Pliers “Murder She Wrote.” He moved everyone in the packed venue through decades of popular music daring to follow Destiny Child’s “Say My Name” with Ginuwine’s “Pony.”
The latter end of the set produced tracks largely from David’s latest release, Following My Intuition, including the Dave Tozer–produced “Warm It Up,” first single “One More Time,” and the Blonde collaboration, “Nothing Like This.” David expressed his gratitude to fans who have followed him for 16 years, rolling it back one more time for “7 days” before concluding the evening with a cover of Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself” and his viral hit “Fill Me In/Where Are Ü Now,” a mashup of his classic blended with Diplo and Skrillex’s knotted beats. —Sharlene Chiu
Bon Iver – Music Hall of Williamsburg – December 14, 2016
During a cold winter in a Wisconsin cabin, the first Bon Iver album, For Emma, Forever Ago, was written out of heartbreak—and the indie folklore remains forever in perpetuity. Although raved about in music critics’ circles, the band wasn’t well-known until winning the Best New Artist Grammy in 2012 for the self-titled sophomore effort. Even then, the public was uncertain who was in the band with tweets throughout the telecast wondering exactly who Bonnie Bear was. After a three-year hiatus, Bon Iver returned to headline the inaugural Eaux Claires Music Festival in frontman Justin Vernon’s hometown. This fall, the latest release, 22, A Million, welcomed a new era in the band’s evolution, moving away from the melancholic, acoustic crooning to heavily Auto-Tuned vocals against grainy synths leaving little resemblance to that emotionally cracked man in the cabin.
Over the past two weeks, the once unknown folk band has played sold-out shows across the New York City area from Hammerstein Ballroom and Capitol Theatre to Pioneer Works and Kings Theatre. The residency ended last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg, blocks away from an in-store the band played almost a decade ago at the long-shuttered Sound Fix Records. The stage was set with gear trunks decorated with Eric Timothy Carlson’s artwork from the recent album and served as tables for laptops and synths.
Carlson’s graphics were projected throughout the entire set, offering a strange mix of numerology and lyrics. The opener, “22 (OVER S∞∞N),” echoed a familiar voice that sounded like Merrill Garbus (aka Tune-Yards), but Vernon’s foray into electronics has masked his vocal coherency. The frontman’s earlier work with the band Poliça can be heard in his delivery of “10 d E A T h b R E a s T,” where distorted percussions give way to shredding guitars. Midway through the show, Vernon confessed that it was great to be back “playing one of our favorite rooms.” In a charming moment, the sextet of backing horns, known lovingly as “Sad Sax of Shit,” accompanied the band on “8 (circle).” The evening was largely dedicated to the newer material, but Vernon offered a morsel of the past with an encore that included “Creature Fear.” —Sharlene Chiu