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Sleater-Kinney Make a Triumphant Return to New York City

February 27th, 2015

Sleater-Kinney – Terminal 5 – February 26, 2015

Sleater-Kinney – Terminal 5 – February 26, 2015
Midway through Sleater-Kinney’s sold-out show last night at Terminal 5, drummer Janet Weiss pounded out the intro to “Entertain,” a song from the group’s seventh LP, the 2005 record The Woods, and the energy that had been pulsing and bubbling throughout the crowd surged to its highest point yet. Perhaps this overwhelming response was something of a collective sigh of relief, for until Sleater-Kinney’s recent reunion and the release of a new album, No Cities to Love, it seemed that The Woods might be the band’s final musical statement. And yet fortunately, here we all were. Of course, there’s also the fact that it’s just a really fantastic song—catchy, sharp, imbued with a sense of immediacy—the quintessential Sleater-Kinney sound.

Throughout the show, Weiss, Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker treated the audience to older favorites like “Oh!,” “Get Up,” “Youth Decay,” “The End of You” and “What’s Mine Is Yours” (complete with windmill guitar strums by Brownstein). Songs from Sleater-Kinney’s excellent new album were also well represented, and witnessing them perform numbers like “Bury Our Friends” and “No Anthems,” it’s clear that the passion and conviction that drove their previous output is still fueling the jagged guitar lines, driving drums and sing-shout vocals.

Sleater-Kinney have also always been driven by their dedication to political and feminist issues, and during the band’s encore, Tucker thanked Planned Parenthood, which has partnered with the trio to provide outreach and information to concertgoers for the duration of their tour. “Reproductive health is just a part of … health. And quite frankly, we are tired of asking for it,” proclaimed Tucker. With that, the band ripped into new song “Gimme Love,” which was quite fitting as New York City definitely had lot of love for Sleater-Kinney last night. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK

Photos courtesy of Jeremy Ross | jeremypross.com

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They Might Be Giants Take a Look Back and a Peak Ahead

February 23rd, 2015

They Might Be Giants – Music Hall of Williamsburg – February 22, 2015

They Might Be Giants – Music Hall of Williamsburg – February 22, 2015
While millions tuned into the Oscars last night to see whether a movie about an aging actor would defeat a film that took place over the course of 12 years, They Might Be Giants, a project that demands its own meditation on mortality and the march of linear time, took the stage at Music Hall of Williamsburg to play their debut album. Part of a string of shows at Music Hall that will see the band celebrate the 25th anniversary of their seminal record, Flood, next month, TMBG, as they’re fondly abbreviated, navigate their third decade as a project with the aplomb of the Original Gangsters of Brooklyn. But the two Johns—Flansburgh and Linnell—that still comprise the genesis and 30 years of enjoyable musical entropy of the band, remain as sharp in their arrangements and as quirky as ever. If the night promised a return to the 1986 self-titled record, this wouldn’t be the bildungsroman narrative of Boyhood or the middle-aged redemption tale of Birdman. The amazing thing about the Giants is how little they’ve changed since the Reagan administration.

John Flansburgh opened with the band’s requisite dry humor, quipping, “This room smells great … I’ve been on uptown buses, and this beats all of them.” The show itself, billed as the band playing their first LP, quickly wasn’t about that at all, Flansburgh again wryly noting, “We’ll be playing our first record, but out of order and with other songs in between.” Trust TMBG to playfully subvert their own premise. They opened with three cuts in a row off They Might Be Giants, “Chess Piece Face,” “I Hope That I Get Old Before I Die” and “Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head,” before mixing in such recent favorites as “Dr. Worm” and “Man, It’s So Loud in Here,” plus yet-to-be-released material, like “Let Me Tell You About My Operation” and “Music Jail, Part 1 and 2.” The crowd, reacting more feverishly to the older numbers, sang along, a mutual memory machine for those who knew all the words and one of the most prodigious acts in rock history remembering some of their oldest songs. Even the rapid-fire lyrics of “Rhythm Section Want Ad” and “Everything Is Right Is Wrong Again” clearly emerged from the band and their fans.

After playing the club-music send-up, “Man, It’s So Loud in Here,” Flansburgh remarked that the 2001 composition was from the “middle of our career.” Linnell looked askance at his bandmate just for a moment, before correcting, “I think we’re in the middle right now.” While the implication of another 30 years of making hyperliterate, genre-bending pop would wait on the march of time, the Giants launched into “Absolutely Bill’s Mood,” a song they wrote in 1985. Birdman won the Oscar for Best Picture an hour or so after this brief but telling moment, but it was TMBG who looked and sounded undaunted and enlivened staring into their past and unfolding future. —Geoff Nelson | @32feet

Photos courtesy of Joe Papeo | www.irocktheshot.com

(See They Might Be Giants at Music Hall of Williamsburg on 4/26 and then again on 5/31.)

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Sharon Van Etten Captivates the Hometown Crowd at Warsaw

February 19th, 2015

Sharon Van Etten – Warsaw – February 18, 2015

Sharon Van Etten – Warsaw – February 18, 2015
Sharon Van Etten is known and appreciated for her powerful voice and ability to craft evocative and often haunting songs like “Your Love Is Killing Me,” a blunt title with equally disquieting lyrics. So, it can be a illuminating experience to witness the author of such bleak sentiments in a live setting—as a sold-out crowd did last night at Warsaw—and realize that Van Etten also happens to be quite funny, self-deprecating and downright cheerful, even while singing lines like “I wanted to try for you/ Wanted to die for you/ Dramatic things” from “Leonard.”

The act of performing may be therapeutic, but it’s also clearly just a lot of fun for Van Etten, and she gave her hometown Brooklyn crowd a set that touched on material from her most recent album, Are We There, like “Tarifa,” “Taking Chances” and “Break Me,” as well as numbers from records both previous and forthcoming, “Love More,” “I Don’t Want to Let You Down,” plus even a lovely cover of Damien Jurado’s “Museum of Flight.” (“To those of you who know this song, air high five!”) Van Etten’s vocals were beautifully complemented by backup singer Heather Woods Broderick and rounded out with instrumentation that included flourishes of saxophone and harmonium.

The night’s final song began with a false start due to a guitar-tuning snafu, after which Van Etten charmingly poked fun at herself, and upon regaining composure (and finding the right key), the singer-songwriter and her band proceeded to play a searing version of “Serpents,” perhaps the set’s most intense and raw song. For her part, Van Etten seemed at home making lighthearted banter with the crowd and with the visceral bite of the song, while the audience was simply captivated by it all. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK

Photos courtesy of Lina Shteyn | www.linashteyn.com

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Leon Bridges Brings Raw, Timeless Soul to Mercury Lounge

February 18th, 2015

Leon Bridges – Mercury Lounge – February 17, 2015

Leon Bridges – Mercury Lounge – February 17, 2015
On the strength of just two songs—produced by White Denim guitarist Austin Jenkins and drummer Josh Block—posted to his Soundcloud, Leon Bridges announced his considerable talents to the world a few months back. Not much was known about him beyond his name and that he hailed from Fort Worth, Texas—and oh, yeah, his gospel-meets-soul vocals reminiscent of Sam Cooke’s. And from there things began to build. Bridges was signed to Columbia Records (a full-length album is due later this year), and he further made a name for himself performing alongside much bigger acts at a Nina Simone tribute at Sundance last month. This week he arrived in New York City for a pair of dates supporting Sharon Van Etten at Warsaw, plus his very own headlining show at Mercury Lounge last night, which sold out well in advance.

Bridges took the stage, stylishly dressed to match his timeless sound, modern while evoking the past, joined by Jenkins and Block, plus another guitarist, a bassist and a sax player, all dressed in suits, and two backing singers in dresses. It’s probably safe to assume that the majority of the people in the room only knew, at best, two songs. And the eight-piece kicked off the set with one of them, “Better Man.” Bridges is still relatively new to touring and performing—he didn’t even introduce the band—so he didn’t chat too much between songs, although he did say, “This next one’s dedicated to Rosario Dawson” before they launched into “Brown Skin Girl.”

The second tune everyone seemed to know, “Coming Home,” had the swaying crowd singing along. Bridges gave others their own moments to shine, especially Block, who, resembling a young Levon Helm, held together everything over the course of the 50-minute performance. The stage cleared after the 12th song, but after some hearty applause, Bridges returned on guitar backed by just the two singers for a gorgeous “River,” eliciting some of the loudest crowd response of the night and smiles across the packed room. It was the perfect musical antidote to the cold, snowy night. The singer-songwriter is still raw, he’s not even six months removed from bussing tables, but big things await Leon Bridges.
—R. Zizmor | @Hand_Dog


Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com

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Father John Misty Delivers at Rough Trade NYC

February 13th, 2015

Father John Misty – Rough Trade NYC – February 12, 2015

Father John Misty – Rough Trade NYC – February 12, 2015
Because his larger-than-life persona isn’t well suited for paraphrasing, it seems the only way to write about Father John Misty is in long form. And while it might be impossible, here’s an attempt: Father John Misty, real name Joshua Tillman, was raised in a strict ultra-Christian household in Maryland, left it behind for Seattle, worked menial jobs, wrote songs as J. Tillman, started drumming for Fleet Foxes, went to California and ate some mushrooms, had a revelation, moved to L.A., traded the name J. Tillman for Father John Misty, wrote a killer album, married a photographer who has a sweet Tumblr, bought a house in New Orleans, won over David Letterman, wrote another killer album, trolled the Internet with an intentionally shit-quality stream of it via a make-believe streaming service. And as tempting as it is to go into further detail about any of these things, we need to save some real estate here to talk about his performance last night at Rough Trade NYC.

Father John Misty knows how to perform. He’s the craftsman of tunes grandiose in theme, scope and sound, and it takes a grand performer to own them onstage. Father John Misty and company came out with musical guns blazing, performing “I Love You, Honeybear,” blowing through every single page in the Key to Great Rock Performances playbook, all within the first song: Standing on top of the bass drum, holding the microphone stand over his head, walking out into the audience, snaking his way back up onstage, twirling once around the microphone stand. It’s worth noting that Tillman’s a lanky six feet, which adds drama to his every move. Standing on the bass drum, he was eye level with the balcony, an imposing presence dominating the small venue.

“We have gathered here today in this place of commerce,” said Father John Misty. His performance hit just about every song he’s recorded, each featuring its own theatrics. For the bridge of “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow,” Tillman threw back his head like his own song had shot him, falling to his knees and hitting the floor. “Funtimes in Babylon” came with a gorgeous tinge of country, peppered with a meandering slide guitar. At some point, stage banter became a free-flowing Q&A session before Father John Misty walked out into the audience, hugging people one at a time during the set-ending “Holy Shit.” For the encore, the audience covered the canned laughter at the “punch lines” of “Bored in the U.S.A.” And Tillman sang, “I never liked the name Joshua, I got tired of J,” on the night’s final song, “Everyman Needs a Companion.” But as it turns out, no one is tiring of Father John Misty. —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks

Photos courtesy of Pip Cowley | pipcowleyshoots.com

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Sylvan Esso Amaze Terminal 5 with a Dazzling Show

January 26th, 2015

Sylvan Esso – Terminal 5 – January 23, 2015

Sylvan Esso – Terminal 5 – January 23, 2015
Having been on the wrong coasts at the wrong time, I missed seeing Sylvan Esso live all of last year, which was a major downer since their self-titled album was one of my favorites from 2014. I’d been a fan of Amelia Meath from her time with Mountain Man, and I’d seen Nick Sanborn perform with Megafaun. But what they create as a pair far exceeded anything I could have imagined and fueled many a late summer night—pairing simple but dang catchy synths with Meath’s vocal dance and bounce from beat to beat. This past Friday night at a sold-out Terminal 5, I rectified last year’s elusion.

Ensconced in darkness, Meath and Sanborn descended onstage with minimal equipment, only the synth station and microphones. Barreling into “Could I Be,” the sound gave out midway to the surprise of the duo. Not to miss a beat, Sanborn stated, “This has never happened before.” Those in the crowd weren’t worried as the band quickly took it back to the top before Meath playfully announced, “Once more with feeling.” The pint-size singer in platform shoes commanded the stage with intricate dance moves that could give Robyn
a run for her money. I’m not sure if it was the java scent stuck on my clothes from an earlier Cafe Grumpy run, but I was abuzz for “Coffee” and so were the fans cascading to the lyrics “get up, get down.”

The hostess of the night led the crowd in pre-howls on “Wolf” as Sanborn infused pulsating beats. Not stopping there, he delivered a heavy helping of drum and bass for “H.S.K.T.” Then, after a quick exit, Sylvan Esso returned to encore with a new song that they joked would be on a future album, Bangers with an s. Take that, Miley Cyrus. Meath called “Come Down,” the finale, a “slow one” before crooning to a packed Terminal 5, still reeling from the high-energy show. As folks filed downstairs, I heard multiple proclamations of “best show ever” and “aren’t they the beeest?” Needless to say, everyone was thoroughly entertained. —Sharlene Chiu

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com

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A Fun Night at Music Hall of Williamsbrug with Dr. Dog

January 12th, 2015

Dr. Dog – Music Hall of Williamsburg – January 10, 2015

Dr. Dog – Music Hall of Williamsburg - January 10, 2015
Christmas arrived about two weeks later for local Dr. Dog fans. With the city now covered in sad, discarded Christmas trees and dirty days-old snow, Dr. Dog began their long stretch of New York City shows, eight to be exact, with four at Music Hall of Williamsburg and then four at The Bowery Ballroom. According to the band, there’s a pool of 700 songs to choose from, giving those fans attending each show with something new every night. Dr. Dog’s set on Saturday at Music Hall covered the fan favorites and dug deeper into their catalog, leaving everyone with a handful of new ones to adore. In my case, “Be the Void,” off the Wild Race EP. (How could I have missed this song?)

Dr. Dog adapt their live show to their recordings, not the other way around, which is impressive when you consider the complexity of their harmonies. Take “The Breeze,” with its harmonic breakdowns reminiscent of the Beach Boys’. Most would hear that recording and assume Dr. Dog wouldn’t even attempt it live, never mind the fact that they could make it sound even better onstage—and they do. It certainly helps that Toby Leaman and Scott McMicken, who share lead-vocal responsibilities, have complementary singing voices. The two have been writing music together since early adolescence, which probably helps with their harmonizing. If you had to distill Dr. Dog and their live experience down to one word, it’d be: fun. And or the sake of not having to look up synonyms, I’ll just keep repeating the word. “That Old Black Hole” makes for a fun band’s most fun song. Their cover of Architecture in Helsinki’s “Heart It Races” takes someone else’s fun song and makes it even more fun.

After finishing “Lonesome,” Leaman ended up crowd surfing alongside seemingly everyone else in the building. Not in the punk-rock, jump-off-the-stage-in-a-spur-of-the-moment way, but more in a gradual collapse into the audience, as if the crowd had swallowed him whole, a funny gesture considering he’d just sung about being lonely. Delicate Steve’s Steve Marion came out for a guest appearance to rip a massive guitar solo, leaving just him and the drummer while the rest of the band sneaked off, returning in full force for a blazing rendition of “These Days.” If you missed this show, there’s still a chance to catch Dr. Dog on Monday. And if you miss that … well you had eight other chances, so get your shit together. —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks

Photos courtesy of Mike Benigno | mikebenigno.wordpress.com

(A few tickets remain for tonight’s Dr. Dog show at Music Hall of Williamsburg. All four nights at The Bowery Ballroom are sold out.)

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Future Islands Impress in Their Biggest Show to Date

January 9th, 2015

Future Islands – Terminal 5 – January 8, 2014

Future Islands – Terminal 5 – January 8, 2014
Future Islands’ own expectations are a motivator, fueling their quest to connect with people through their music, pushing them through gutting recording sessions and endless stretches of performances. From their listeners’ standpoint, expectations are confronted—and subsequently suspended—upon taking in a Future Islands album or live show. In essence, this duality of expectations is what’s made this Baltimore band the attraction they now are. And that phenomenon was on full display last night at a sold-out Terminal 5, the group’s biggest headlining appearance to date. “Let’s bring a little sunshine to this room,” said frontman Sam Herring. “It’s fucking cold outside.”

Future Islands’ passion comes across so strikingly that as the audience was swept up by the synth-propelled rhythmic progressions, animated by Herring’s flair and multifaceted vocal dimensions, thoughts of categorizing the music, or the swirling, kinetic atmosphere surrounding it, gave way to an irresistible visceral sensation. But one thing’s for sure: There is a dark beauty formed by their sound that has a paradoxical aching forward motion to it, like a wounded bear not stopping to rest. Plus Future Islands’ material hits on every level of what make humans respond to great music. And when all of these zones are stimulated, it’s a high particular to music—the animal that wants to pounce and flail while the sentimentalist wants to ponder.

Future Islands create the lush landscape of dance-inducing sounds, and Herring travels over and through it, providing the story as its narrator and its protagonist. He’s the chief of the campfire, telling his story, gathering everyone closer. Herring’s dancing and gesticulations somehow emphasize his voice. Prowling the edge of the stage, bowing his head and looking for faces to make eye contact with, he plead his case by singing, like someone trying to impress something deeper upon the listener than what seems to have gotten through. Herring is saying, “No, I want you to really feel what I’m talking about, beyond your indifferent nods of acknowledgement.” He’s looking for a hallelujah. And judging by the rapt exuberance of the dancing crowd looking on, his service was heard loud and clear. —Charles Steinberg

Photos courtesy of Greg Pallante | gregpallante.com

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Deer Tick Don’t Need a Reason to Throw a Party

December 29th, 2014

Deer Tick – Brooklyn Bowl – December 28, 2014

Deer Tick – Brooklyn Bowl – December 28, 2014
If Deer Tick have proved anything over the past 10 years, it’s that they don’t need an excuse to celebrate: Their shows are always equal parts rock concert and private party. So when there really is a reason to throw a bash, like, say, their 10-year anniversary this month, well, they really go all out. Sunday night found them halfway into a six-night New Year’s run at Brooklyn Bowl, each date featuring special guests and album covers and plenty of surprises. Last night’s first set was Deer Tick’s take on Meet the Beatles, an interesting selection to say the least. Wearing matching custom bowling shirts commemorating the anniversary, they got things moving with spot-on renditions of the opening one-two of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” McCauley’s Providence, R.I., growl provided a Deer Tick warmth to the well-known songs. He joked that he would sing the Lennon parts, Ian O’Neil would sing the McCartney parts, but they had no George Harrison, so they invited the night’s first guest, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, to sing “Don’t Bother Me.” His manic presence on vocals loosened the band a little. Later the Felice Brothers’ James Felice played accordion to the same effect, punctuating a set that was equally fun for the band and packed house alike.

Following a short break, just McCauley and Goldsmith returned to play as “Little Brother,” performing material from the Middle Brother collaboration they were involved in a few years ago. The audience went quiet at once, savoring the special treat while the duet spun a stellar four-song mini-set that included “Daydreaming,” “Thanks for Nothing” and “Million Dollar Bill,” the stage dappled in colored lights adding to the special feeling in the room. By the time Deer Tick proper took the stage to play their own material, it felt like we’d already been treated to a celebration worthy of 10 years, but of course the guys had plenty more in the tank, pulling out rarities like “Hand in My Hand” and crowd-favorite sing-alongs like “Main Street,” which anchored the strongest stretch of the evening.

Just when things felt like they were winding down, Deer Tick brought out the Replacements’ Tommy Stinson to lead a couple of songs, including a barn-burning version of the Who’s “The Kids Are Alright” that had Dennis Ryan impressively going all Keith Moon behind the kit. It didn’t seem possible to top that, but Deer Tick had no problem trying, bringing about a dozen guests onstage, including Stinson, Goldsmith, Felice as well as Robert Ellis and opener Joe Fletcher, all in their own bowling shirts, I might add. They led the crowd in a rousing version of “Goodnight, Irene” that was appropriately epic to end a weeklong celebration. But it really only marked the midway point of the week and, who knows, maybe their career. But one thing’s for sure, Deer Tick are just getting started.
—A. Stein | @Neddyo

Photos courtesy of Joe Papeo | www.irocktheshot.com

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Trombone Shorty Keeps It Funky at Terminal 5

December 11th, 2014

Trombone Shorty – Terminal 5 – December 10, 2014

Trombone Shorty – Terminal 5 – December 10, 2014
It’s become something of a routine—the weather turns cold, December rolls around and Trombone Shorty returns to New York City to play Terminal 5. The New Orleans native is now so popular here that his shows have become something of a can’t-miss seasonal staple. Despite being extremely funky, Shorty and his excellent band, Orleans Avenue, often oscillate into the territory of jazz and soul during their performances. They aren’t afraid to embrace pop or rock either, and last night’s show featured renditions of Green Day’s “Brain Stew” and even Limp Bizkit’s “Rollin’”—the latter being a cover you can only get away with if you have a crew that has as much fun onstage as this one did.

The focus, of course, is on Shorty himself. He’s been a stellar frontman for a while now, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t gotten better. It was fitting that the band took the stage to James Brown’s “Make it Funky” because Shorty increasingly shows more and more of the Godfather of Soul with each passing show. His stage presence was already great, but it’s becoming the stuff of legend, on a bother-your-friends-who-don’t-like-funk-until-they-see-him kind of level. Orleans Avenue are made up of five seriously impressive musicians, and their skills were often featured throughout the set.

When Shorty wasn’t tirelessly tearing up the stage on trombone or trumpet, he parked right next to whichever bandmate had a solo going. Like Hendrix appeared to be coaxing spirits from a burning guitar, Shorty swayed back and forth and waved his arms next to each musician, like he was trying to help him get every ounce of funk out of his veins. Like the inevitable changing of the seasons, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue will be back again before you know it. And that next time he returns, tell everyone you know it’s a can’t-miss show. —Sean O’Kane | @Sokane1

Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane | seanokanephoto.com

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The Bowery Ballroom as a Recital Hall for a Night

December 8th, 2014

Max Richter – The Bowery Ballroom – December 7, 2104

Max Richter – The Bowery Ballroom – December 7, 2104
Renowned composer-producer Max Richter graced New York City for a rare performance of his soundtrack for HBO’s The Leftovers, paired with his classic album, The Blue Notebooks, last night at The Bowery Ballroom. Richter’s music should resonate with cinephiles as his compositions have accompanied such films as Waltz with Bashir, Stranger Than Fiction, Prometheus and Shutter Island. It’s no wonder that HBO tapped the German-born British composer to score The Leftovers. The show’s producer Damon Lindelof (Lost) and director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) sought out Richter after hearing his score for a Broadway production of Macbeth.

Last night the esteemed Lower East Side venue was filled with melodious harmonies seeping into the crevasses that are normally reserved for rock and pop outfits. Clad in a black turtleneck, Richter took his place behind the piano as the American Contemporary Music Ensemble filed onstage. Opening the evening with “The Leftovers Piano Theme,” the band played the entire soundtrack. All in all the audience was rapt on the sumptuous notes. Through the set, uncertain applause was offered, as folks were not completely sure when pieces concluded. There was no doubt when the crescendo of strings came to a halting stop on “Afterimage 3” for an uproar of claps to follow. Richter confessed he never thought he’d perform the soundtrack live, but he was happy he had.

The performance of The Blue Notebooks was in honor of the album’s 10th anniversary. Tilda Swinton read the excerpts from Franz Kafka’s and Czeslaw Milosz’s works on the original recording. But at The Bowery Ballroom, Sarah Sutcliffe did the honors as Richter dabbled with sound effects on his iMac. Despite bows from the composer and ensemble upon the album’s conclusion, they returned to encore with “Autumn Music 2.” This unorthodox evening turned the venue into a concert recital hall, leaving fans with an indelible music memory. —Sharlene Chiu

Photos courtesy of Charles Steinberg 

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Yo La Tengo Celebrate Their 30th Anniversary at Town Hall

December 4th, 2014

Yo La Tengo – Town Hall – December 3, 2014

Yo La Tengo – Town Hall – December 3, 2014
Thirty years ago a little band named Yo La Tengo played their very first show, at Maxwell’s—in their hometown, Hoboken, N.J. Their very first song was a cover of the Urinals’ “Surfin’ with the Shah.” Three decades later, and the band began their encore with that very same song, this time joined onstage at Town Hall with more than 15 fellow musicians, friends and ex-band members all playing along. Other bands take note: This is how you celebrate a band-iversary.

It says something about Yo La Tengo that they’re still friends with former band members, which is a pretty rare thing. Sure it might make for a boring episode of Behind the Music, but it also means that they were able to reach far back into their catalog last night, pulling out songs like “Tried So Hard” and “Can’t Forget,” off their 1990 album, Fakebook, alongside the old friends who helped record them. For Yo La Tengo diehards, this was the show to see them bring out everything they’ve got. As frontman Ira Kaplan explained, they are celebrating the release of their “brand new 21-year-old record,” the expanded rerelease of Painful, but beyond that, the performance was a rare chance to pull from anywhere in the band’s discography. There were tender songs on acoustic instruments, like the opener, “My Little Corner of the World,” sung beautifully by drummer Georgia Hubley. There were blisteringly loud squealing Kaplan guitar solos, an all-body attack on the instrument that came out for the likes of “The Story of Yo La Tengo,” “Blue Line Swinger” and others. Very few bands do loud so well, or soft so well, and very very few bands can do both.

The night was filled with many little special moments. It’s easy to forget that at the heart of this band is a husband-and-wife duo (plus bassist James McNew). When they wrapped up “Nowhere Near,” Kaplan remarked how it felt like just yesterday that he’d first heard Hubley play the song for them, kind of like an older couple looking at each other and asking themselves, “Where does the time go?” A good concert is one remembered fondly by the audience, but a truly great show is equally special for the band. And last night was special for all. So expect great things for their 50th anniversary, because if any band can make it there, it’s Yo La Tengo. —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks

Photos courtesy of Ahron Foster | ahronfoster.com

(Tonight’s Yo La Tengo show at Town Hall is sold out.)

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James Blake Melts a Sold-Out Music Hall of Williamsburg

December 2nd, 2014

James Blake – Music Hall of Williamsburg – December 1, 2014

James Blake – Music Hall of Williamsburg – December 1, 2014
James Blake is like a fine wine: His live performances get better over time. Last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg, the English singer drew complete silence as he opened the show, his entrancing hum casting a spell over the audience, making anyone in the room with testosterone turn all gooey on the inside. I have boobs, so I’m already made that way, and as a result, I completely melted all over the floor.

In case you’ve forgotten what it’s like to feel a full range of human emotions, witnessing James Blake live will remind you. It’s a psychological roller coaster of feels, from the pure joy of hearing his crystallizing vocals to the overwhelming sadness of his slow-burning piano ballads. Blake’s soul-crushing rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” still jerks a tear (or 50) from my eyes every time I hear it, damn it. Then there’s the part when you feel anger, jealousy and spite, because seriously, how can one human be that talented?

Blake showcased his diversity as a producer and as a singer-songwriter while bouncing across genres, from deep house into trap before whipping into piano solos on “Limit to Your Love,” “A Case of You” and “Overgrown.” One of the best things about the show was seeing the enjoyment on Blake’s face, resonating throughout his performance. But the night’s real highlights were “Retrograde,” which had the entire crowd humming and cooing, and then the encore of “The Wilhelm Scream,” leaving everyone on a total high. —Pip Cowley | @PipCowley

Photos courtesy of Charles Steinberg

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Interpol Play with a Purpose on Their Home Turf at Terminal 5

November 25th, 2014

Interpol – Terminal 5 – November 24, 2014

Interpol – Terminal 5 – November 24, 2014
Image always matters in popular music, perhaps more than it should. So when Interpol emerged in 2002, pouncing like a fenced-in Doberman onto New York City’s then indeterminate alternative-rock scene, they evenly struck the balance between style and substance with impact. Theirs was a convincing symbiosis. The music was at once emphatic and intricately textured, catchy yet with cerebral and ambitious arrangements, and their image of midnight coolness mirrored it effortlessly, lending the mystique and credibility to a style of rock that was commanding and often imposing. Their debut album, Turn On the Bright Lights, was the soundtrack to Friday nights in NYC, with all of its promised deviousness to be found in the shadows and around corners.

Twelve years—and four albums, including the freshly released El Pintor—later, and Interpol return for a homecoming, beginning on Monday a sold-out three-night run at Terminal 5. With the glimmering bravado underlying the elegance of a veteran band, they played with the purpose of cementing their legacy. Armed with a classic like Turn On the Bright Lights makes it easier to throw around your weight, and an abrupt announcement of their stature was delivered with the opening statement, “Say Hello to the Angels,” a stalwart number off their first record. An assertive turn into new material, like “Anywhere” and “Everything Is Wrong,” was deftly interwoven with the invigorating “Take You on a Cruise” and the crowd-pleasing “Evil,” with its whimsical flavoring of ’50s-era Jerry Lee Lewis rock and roll over their trademark rhythmic surge. Quite suddenly, the divide between stage and audience disappeared like a bridge in the fog as Paul Banks’s haunting, serpentine vocals took turns with Daniel Kessler’s shimmering guitar chords, elevating the icy operative-like persistence of Sam Fogarino’s drumming.

Ruminative pieces “Lights” and the “The Lighthouse,” pulled along by the Kessler’s sultry strumming, echoed just long enough amidst the black sea of currents projected behind them, before giving way to the climactic flourish that everyone knew was coming: The show culminated with “PDA” and its wondrous cascading finale. By night’s end, Interpol had left no doubt of their authority. Somehow, they represent how the smart, artistic post-graduates living in the city want to come across, and their tensely dramatic rock songs have always been in sync with their collectively pounding pulse. Listening to Interpol brings with it a rush, like stepping out into a biting, blustery winter wind from somewhere safe and warm. —Charles Steinberg

Photos courtesy of Joe Papeo | www.irocktheshot.com

(Try to Grow a Pair of tickets to tomorrow’s sold-out Interpol show at Terminal 5.)

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A Taste of Alberta Lands on Delancey St.

November 14th, 2014

Rural Alberta Advantage – The Bowery Ballroom – November 13, 2014

Rural Alberta Advantage – The Bowery Ballroom – November 13, 2014
Rural Alberta Advantage singer Nils Edenloff never makes anything look easy. The veins in his neck bulge as he reaches for his upper register, a frequent move in the arrangements of his band’s emotive acoustic pop. Often as early as a melody’s second or third note, Edenloff’s raspy tenor nears the top of his range, rattling away like a charming, reliable, old bucket-of-bolts car, possessing a mixture of utility and worn grace. The overwhelming sense of watching him perform his craft, a painful high-wire act, is that he may well be damaging himself for your benefit. If it isn’t guilt you’re feeling, it’s something like indebtedness. So it was theatrically painful pathos—along with their most bombastic studio album to date, Mended with Gold—that the Rural Alberta Advantage brought to The Bowery Ballroom on a blustery Thursday evening.

The RAA opened with “Stamp,” “Muscle Relaxants” and “Don’t Haunt This Place,” all songs from their first two records. The opening sequence reminded a New York City audience that hadn’t seen the band since January that their catalog runs deeper than just a new LP. Paul Banwatt, one of the best-period-drummers-period-in-rock-music-period, wailed away on the same beat-up drum kit he’s used for years. The My Old Kentucky Blog sticker on the side of one of his tom drums dates the kit back to an era when music blogs helped rocket the band out of the open-stage night in Toronto where Edenloff and Banwatt first met. The band, too, felt older, more methodical, moving with deliberate if not frenetic pacing. The riffs exploding from Banwatt’s drums supported Edenloff’s raspy vocal when the band switched to material from Mended with Gold, pounding out lead track “Our Love…,” the snare hits arriving with the same inhuman effort as the melody.

Edenloff reminded fans that although the band is from Toronto that he was originally from Alberta and that many of the songs regarded his native province. With the always delightful Amy Cole—backstage sticker affixed to her bare right arm—leaning on the backing vocals, the RAA played  “Runners in the Night” and “Vulcan, AB.” On the latter, Edenloff sang into a modified telephone-receiver microphone. It was a call from far away, a Canadian prairie hymn shot through with human suffering and effort. Outside, the first snow of the season was rumored to be only hours away from dusting Delancey St., a bit of the frontier carried in a gravelly vocal, an old drum kit and Cole’s Swiss Army ebullience. It was anything but easy. —Geoff Nelson | twitter.com/32feet

Photos courtesy of Mike Benigno | mikebenigno.wordpress.com

(Tonight’s Rural Alberta Advantage show at The Bowery Ballroom is sold out.)