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The Faint Turn Music Hall of Williamsburg into a Dance Party

May 15th, 2014

The Faint – Music Hall of Williamsburg – May 14, 2014

The Faint – Music Hall of Williamsburg – May 14, 2014
I’m a firm believer in the difference between favorite shows and the best shows that one sees over the years. They aren’t mutually exclusive concepts, but the ideas behind them are driven by differing meanings. When I saw the Faint open for Bright Eyes at Webster Hall in 2005, it was the kind of show that landed in both categories, one so memorably loud and fun that it’s stuck with me all these years. And seeing them again last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg for the first time in nine years, not much had changed, in a good way. After taking the stage to thunderous sound effects and slowly whooping sirens, the Nebraska dance rockers launched into an hour-and-a-half set, stretching late into the night.

While their music makes for great listening, the Faint’s live show feeds more senses. Matching and alternating with the dance beat of each song, beams of colored light quickly swept over the band, often while strobe lights popped and patterns flashed on giant LED panels at the back of the stage. Early in the set the band’s relentlessly pulsing club sound was in strong form on new songs like “Animal Needs,” a track off their newest release, Doom Abuse. But the crowd’s fever pitched when the band began reaching back a decade or more by playing their older material, bouncing around at a medium pace during “Posed to Death” before going wild when drummer Clark Baechle got to the machine-gun drum hits that preceded a big “HEY!” shout that everyone joined in on.

And when the Faint followed that with “I Disappear” from their most popular album, 2004’s Wet from Birth, the Music Hall floor started to bounce just like the one at Webster Hall does so often now (and did so memorably at that show in 2005). From that point forward, those kinds of moments escalated, notably during songs like the breakdown “Agenda Suicide”—the opening track to 2001’s epic Danse Macabre—which had fans hollering, and during the encore when singer Todd Fink said, “We’re going to turn this into a dance party now if you don’t mind” (as if that hadn’t already been happening) before the band finally played “Glass Danse,” arguably their biggest hit. By that time, what was left of the crowd obliged, crushing plastic drink cups beneath their feet as they jumped around to the beat. —Sean O’Kane

Photos courtesy of Greg Pallante | gregpallante.com

(The Faint play Webster Hall on Saturday and The Bowery Ballroom on Monday.)

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Angel Olsen Delivers a Gentle Knockout at Music Hall of Williamsburg

May 14th, 2014

Angel Olsen – Music Hall of Williamsburg – May 13, 2014

Angel Olsen – Music Hall of Williamsburg – May 13, 2014
In the buildup to Muhammad Ali’s historic 1974 win against George Foreman, Ali declared that his strategy was to “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” That phrase stuck in my head throughout Angel Olsen’s sold-out show at Music Hall of Williamsburg last night. Her singing voice has the uncanny ability to be at times flighty and beautiful and at other times shrill and piercing, never overdoing it with either style. The different tones often come out singing the same line, sometimes even phrasing the same word, which puts an added emphasis on her lyrics, even further embellished by her backing band—at times just playing light accompaniment then turning on a dime into some blues-heavy riffage.

“But all I want, all I ever need, is someone out there who believes,” Olsen sang gingerly on “Hi-Five.” Then her band jumped in with bass and snare as her voice got more biting to sing, “Sometimes believe, not always believe, sometimes believe.” The hairpin turns revealed an emotional honesty to her songwriting, opening a wide range of expression within her songs. This contrasts wonderfully with her adorably timid stage banter, shyly asking the audience questions like, “Do you guys have taco Tuesday here?” or “Have you guys ever been arrested before?” or my favorite, “Isn’t it weird … [laughs], never mind.” Olsen’s band left her on her own for the set’s final three songs: “Iota,” “White Fire” and “May As Well.” All three leaned heavily on the lighter side of her singing, as if she were almost crooning through a whisper. Backed by just light guitar playing, it was like the songs were so fragile and delicate they were hardly there at all, the gentle knockout punch of the night. —Dan Rickershauser

Photos courtesy of Peter Senzamici | petersenzamici.com

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Christopher Taylor Makes a Different Name for Himself as SOHN

May 12th, 2014

SOHN – Rough Trade NYC – May 10, 2014

SOHN – Rough Trade NYC – May 10, 2014
Hailing from South London but now calling Vienna home, Christopher Taylor, aka SOHN, immersed himself in the mountainous setting of Austria and its burgeoning electronic- music scene. Although his early training was on piano and guitar, Taylor has since traded in those classical instruments in favor of analog drum machines and synths. Having worked his production prowess for fellow countrymen Kwabs, Disclosure and BANKS, he has set aside time to foster his own songwriting.

With the recent release of his debut, Tremors, the Brit graced a sold-out Rough Trade NYC on Friday night to enamor the Brooklyn crowd with his latest. Hooded and cloaked in black, Taylor took his place behind his array of loops, pads and knobs as he tucked into “Ransom Notes.” Taylor didn’t waste any time before digging into his back catalog to unearth “Red Lines” from his EP, The Wheel. Appropriately, the forest of upright fluorescent lights glowed bright red for the tune. Lighting was a main fixture for the evening, as white lights drowned the producer-singer during his debut’s title track.

Following a pair of oldies, “Bloodflows” and “Oscillate,” the James Blake–like ethereal falsetto intro to “Tempest” entranced onlookers. Midway through the set, Taylor sincerely thanked everyone for coming and supporting his new album. And then pulsating illumination matched the beats of “Lights,” while his command for Brooklyn to move sent a sea of bodies into motion. A cadence of claps ensued for the set’s final song, “Lessons,” before an encore with fan-favorites “Artiface” and “The Wheel.” It’s clear that Taylor has eclipsed his behind-the-scenes role as a producer and that he should assume a position at the forefront as a bona fide talent in his own right. —Sharlene Chiu

Photos courtesy of Lina Shteyn | www.linashteyn.com

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Mogwai Provide More Than the Usual Concert Experience

May 12th, 2014

Mogwai – Terminal 5 – May 9, 2014

Mogwai – Terminal 5 – May 9, 2014
Mogwai transcend the traditional model of a band by elevating their playing to fabricate an intensely tangible environment that the listener inhabits. In this way they are more like an orchestra, with their evolving arrangements and sonic projections of the grand dramatic narrative. Mogwai are more gatekeepers to a dark, tempestuous world of their own creation, both menacing and beautiful. Stoic and reserved in typical Scottish manner, they usher in followers with their distinct brand of atmospheric instrumental rock and then pound them into submission

On Friday night, Terminal 5 was the ideal setting for Mogwai to display their experience and depth of catalog, masterfully demonstrating how, over time, an integral commitment to a musical identity can result in a set of carefully selected parts that ultimately stand as a singular, cohesive piece. Right off the bat, the epic “Friend of the Night” ramped up the energy in the room to an aroused pitch, and that gravity was sustained with a tapestry of songs that fed off the moods and contours of one another. New tunes like “Remurdered” built to overwhelming climaxes and were complemented in magnitude by “Auto Rock,” “Rano Pano” and “Batcat,” inducing rousing applause. Other songs like “Deesh” and the awe-inspiring “Mogwai Fear Satan” provided more meditative refrains before blasting back into majestic flourishes. Mogwai even invited additional musicians onstage to catapult certain numbers to greater levels of amplification, a new territory in their alternate world.

In the midst of all of this, Terminal 5 turned into a washing machine of pulsating splashes of light in punctuating unison with earth-shaking sonic movements, pushing beyond the ordinary interaction of listening and watching. It thundered and consumed, in some places abruptly alternating between splintering outbursts and soft undercurrents. The deliberate advance of heavy drums beneath layers of expansive guitars sent impact waves across the room, and from above you could see the crowd swaying like undulating waters, stirred into unified, synchronized movement. By the end, it was like a warm electric current had passed through everyone. There seemed to be an unspoken acknowledgement that a Mogwai show transcends the average concert experience. It’s the difference in reaction between “Oh, that was really good” and “What just happened?” In this way, Mogwai broaden the contemporary music landscape. —Charles Steinberg

Photos courtesy of Dana (distortion) Yavin | distortionpix.com

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Mavis Staples Proves Why She’s a Legend

May 12th, 2014

Mavis Staples – Music Hall of Williamsburg – May 9, 2014

Mavis Staples – Music Hall of Williamsburg – May 9, 2014
“This is gonna be a good one tonight!” announced Mavis Staples, after the enthusiastic Music Hall of Williamsburg crowd greeted her soulful rendition of “I Like the Things About Me” with rousing cheers on Friday night. The legendary gospel and soul singer and civil-rights activist began singing as a child in her family’s band, the Staple Singers, may be nearly 75 year old, but she still continues to create and perform music that resonates with fans across generations.

Onstage, Staples was indeed a force—her powerful voice rich with emotion on songs like “One True Vine,” from her 2013 Jeff Tweedy–produced album of the same name— punctuating certain lines with a nice, deep growl. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member also revisited hits spanning her fruitful career, giving a spirited and perfectly funky rendition of the ’70s Staple Singers hit “Let’s Do It Again,” and bringing out the night’s opener, Amy Helm (daughter of the Band’s Levon Helm), for a version of “The Weight,” which the Staple Singers performed with the Band for The Last Waltz. Staples and her band also treated the crowd to a version of the ’60s civil-rights anthem “Freedom Highway,” a song inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. and the 1963 March on Washington.

Staples was rarely without a grin as she performed, enjoying the energy from the crowd and her band, playfully punching the guitarist’s arm and fist-bumping the drummer after impressive solos. And following a performance featuring decades of great music, Staples and Co. had one last song to revisit: “We’re gonna take ya’ll back down memory lane.” But then after scrutinizing the first few rows of the crowd, she jokingly added, “Ya’ll weren’t even born,” as the band launched into the undeniable hit “I’ll Take You There.” Despite what age or year audience members may have been introduced to Mavis Staples’ music, all in attendance would agree the singer is a true legend, sending the band off with joyful applause that the ever-humble Staples replied to with an smile and an appreciative “Shucks.” —Alena Kastin

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com

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Wye Oak Wow Webster Hall with a New Album and a New Sound

May 8th, 2014

Wye Oak – Webster Hall – May 7, 2014

Wye Oak – Webster Hall – May 7, 2014
After heavily touring in support of their previous album, Civilian, Wye Oak, the indie-rock duo of Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack, retired to their respective homes for a much-deserved break. With Wasner in Baltimore and Stack in Portland, Ore., the distance provided a different way of collaborating and uncovered a new sound. Wasner traded in her guitar for a bass, while Stack assumed his place behind synthesizers rather than a drum kit.

With the time off, their roles reversed. As Wasner explained in an interview, “It basically inverts what we were responsible for. Andy was playing drone-y basslines on keyboard. Now he’s responsible for the more upper register stuff that guitar would normally handle, while I’m playing basslines on a bass guitar.” Tossing aside the indie-folk label, the pair returned with their audacious new album, Shriek, to a welcoming crowd at Webster Hall last night. Opening with the new tune “Before,” Wasner took to her bass while Stack added some darting synths. It was a grand introduction to their new sound, and it was quickly accepted by the audience.

Shriek could be the summer soundtrack for lazy, hazy afternoons lounging by a pool or laying out in the park—perfectly exemplified by the slow-burner “The Tower,” while the title track that followed offered choral-like vocals. Not to disappoint fans, the pair played “Holy Holy” and “Plains,” from their breakout, Civilian. Wasner expressed their excitement to play the renowned venue before launching into “Spiral,” a one-off for Adult Swim’s Singles Program. Digging even deeper into their back catalog, the duo treated old fans to “Take It In” and “That I Do,” off 2009’s The Knot. With a quick exit and prompt return for an encore, Wasner announced they’d do a cover, Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,” before closing the performance with crowd-favorite “Civilian.” —Sharlene Chiu

Photos courtesy of Ahron Foster | ahronfoster.com

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The Highly Influential Slint Prove They’re Post-Rock Stars

May 7th, 2014

Slint – Music Hall of Williamsburg – May 6, 2014

slint-gregg-greenwood-5
A Slint show begins in silence. As the band walked onto the Music Hall of Williamsburg stage last night, people in the audience started shushing one another, and then giggling at the shushing, followed by more shushing … and then nothing. Slint tuned their guitars, nonchalantly standing around onstage before slowly beginning the opening basslines of “For Dinner…” This was not your typical rock show, folks. It was the band’s third of three sold-out shows in New York City, a remarkable feat for a group that initially broke up in 1992, and never had huge album sales or even toured extensively. But their 1991 release, Spiderland, changed the course of music for good.

It was a delicious taste of alternative rock to come. Give rock fans the Internet and unlimited access to music, and they’ll trace their favorite band’s sound back to its roots. And many of those roots lead right to Slint. So 20-plus years after their original dissolution and they’re selling out shows left and right. Slint aren’t rock stars, they’re post-rock stars. It’s worth nothing that Slint are remarkably tight for a band that had last reunited back in 2007: There wasn’t even a hint of sloppiness to their live sound—in fact, it came impressively close to how they sound on their albums.

The repetitive angular riffs of “Breadcrumb Trail” came out perfectly in sync, all the more impressive considering how shape-shifting the song’s rhythms become. Every song Slint played began with guitar tuning from all, ensuring harmonics and the dissonant hums of guitars came out sounding perfect. And every noise the band generated was precise and deliberate. Such attention to detail is rare but necessary on sparse compositions like “Don, Aman,” which creepily inches forward through thin guitar playing. At times, the guitar and bass seem to merely be extenuating the relative silence that fills the rest of the composition. The song ends by being swept away by a louder, more distorted guitar creeping in and then retreating. Anxious tension runs throughout their sound, and the final moments of that song are as close as they come to releasing it. —Dan Rickershauser

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com

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Kevin Drew Proves He’s Still Got It at The Bowery Ballroom

April 29th, 2014

Kevin Drew – The Bowery Ballroom – April 28, 2014

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It had been a couple years, so I’d kind of forgotten what kind of live presence Kevin Drew has. But last night at The Bowery Ballroom, the Broken Social Scene frontman quickly reminded everyone of the captivating live show he can put on, colluding with the giddy crowd along the way. He opened with “Mexican Aftershow Party” playing piano, his strong voice as distinctive as ever, with the band surrounding his vocals with electronic beeps and an ethereal hum. But for much of the show, Drew played acoustic guitar, giving the songs off his new album, Darlings, a stripped-naked feel. But it was his band—an excellent ensemble in the spirit of BSS, led by Charles Spearin on bass—that provided the shimmering, flowing and beautiful music for Drew to swim around in. And along with his lyrics and personality, the effect was like skinny-dipping in an ocean of sound: half profound, half profane.

The show hit on most of the new material with many highlights along the way. As the set continued, Drew began to open up with anecdotes and asides, drawing in the audience. “Good Sex” was preceded by a short bit about his dad, who’s his business manager, asking whether Drew can sing a “love song that’s not about semen,” leading him to singing, “I fucking love you” before Spearin charged in with some curvaceous boogie bass bombs. Yes, there were plenty of NSFW moments in Drew’s show, but it made it all seem more real and, ironically, more heartfelt. Continuing on that theme, and throwing some red meat to the BSS faithful, the band played “Fucked Up Kid,” off 2007’s Spirit If…, contrasting Drew’s new, quiet keyboard-driven sound with plenty of big guitar rock.

Judge musicians by their talent, the songs they sing and the other talented musicians who will gladly play with them: Drew proved himself on all counts on Monday night. But it was the communal connection with the crowd that elevated the performance to something special. From the edge of the stage during “My God,” Drew sang, “What are you dreaming about now?” as the band curtained him with a dreamy backdrop before the singer jumped to the floor, calling in everyone closer and having them raise their arms, like the audience had swallowed him as he sang. (Drew later hugged concertgoers and had them say a little bit about themselves as if hosting a talk show. Sure it was corny, but it was an honest connection and a powerful moment.) The final charge of the 100-plus minute set included a moving solo acoustic new song possibly called “Skylar,” a guest appearance from opener Andy Kim and at least one more foray into the crowd. Near the end, Drew obliged various Broken Social Scene requests, bouncing around some sing-alongs before settling on a solo acoustic version of “It’s All Gonna Break,” which often served as the big, long rock-out set closer for BSS shows. But last night, it was a rowdy but real sing-along filled with plenty of expletives, poetic lyrics and glorious anthemic moments. It encapsulated Drew and the night perfectly, the crowd reminded once again that, oh, yes, he’s still got it. —A. Stein

Photos courtesy of Charles Steinberg | charlesolivierphoto.com

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Second Lining in the Street with Jon Batiste on Saturday Night

April 21st, 2014

Jon Batiste and Stay Human – Webster Hall – April 19, 2014

Jon Batiste and Stay Human – Webster Hall – April 19, 2014
At the end of what was an already excellent show, featuring everything from New Orleans standards to a “Wrecking Ball” cover to nonstop sing-alongs and even a dance contest between two audience members, all I could think was: How good are the chances that Jon Batiste becomes the next big thing? His headlining set on Saturday night at Webster Hall undoubtedly proved he has a magnetic stage presence and a lively and talented backing band in Stay Human, plus endless musical abilities to go along with a giant smile. That said, not everything is for everyone, and his improvisations stretched some songs into the 15-minute range, and lesser-known covers, like “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” might have limited appeal beyond a jazz-minded crowd.

But before I’d really even processed those thoughts, Batiste decided that his bow just wasn’t enough, and that the best way to end the show was to lead the band into the crowd and, gathering as many fans as they could, head out to the street. It began just as a singing-and-dancing huddle right out in front of the venue, but then a possessed Batiste sprinted to the corner and began a second line through the streets (and subways) of Manhattan. Followed by at least 100 fans, the band marched up Fourth Avenue, stopping traffic in half of the street and drawing at least one police car to the scene. After a brief huddle at a bus stop, Batiste took off again, toward Union Square, where he and the large singing crowd chasing him bewildered skaters and drum-circle participants. After another stop, Batiste led everyone down into the subway and onto a bench on the N/Q/R platform, where he brought the song to a finish and reveled in the applause while onlookers on both platforms tried to figure out what the hell they’d just seen.

The fans, too riled to stop, practically demanded that the band keep playing, and as an R train arrived the whole group piled on and went up to Madison Square Park, where Batiste finally outran everyone, quite literally disappearing into the night so quickly that his bandmates weren’t sure if they should keep the second line going. The tuba player and drummer hopped in a cab, but the saxophone and banjo players stayed with the crowd and brought everyone back to Webster with “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Back at the venue reality returned as security guards ushered everyone across the street and down the block, finally breaking up the fun. But at that moment, after that wild experience, whether Jon Batiste does become the next big thing suddenly seemed far less important, because what he’s doing right now already is amazing. —Sean O’Kane

Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane | seanokanephoto.com

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James Vincent McMorrow Closes East Coast Swing in Williamsburg

April 14th, 2014

James Vincent McMorrow – Music Hall of Williamsburg – April 11, 2014

James Vincent McMorrow – Music Hall of Williamsburg – April 11, 2014
There is something about Ireland that breeds singer-songwriters, like Damien Rice, Villagers and the recent buzz-worthy 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, McMorrow trapped himself in a house on an Irish coast to produce his 2010 debut, Early in the Morning. He recently returned to the limelight with his follow-up, Post Tropical, which dropped earlier this year. Although he’s categorized as a folk singer, McMorrow’s sophomore effort definitely shines more on the R&B and soul influences in his music.

On Friday, playing the second of two sold-out New York City shows (the first at The Bowery Ballroom on Wednesday), the Irishman descended onstage at Music Hall of Williamsburg to riotous cheers that never really let up all night. Between “Hear the Noise That Moves So Soft and Low” and “Glacier,” the crowd chatter came to a fever pitch before hushing sounds echoed throughout the venue for McMorrow’s distinct high-pitched falsetto to ring clear. Conversation ebbed and flowed between songs, which continued with the singer-songwriter appropriately bathed in red lights for “Red Dust.” He didn’t address fans until halfway into his set, expressing his thankfulness to close out his amazing American tour in Brooklyn.

The fans couldn’t hold in their appreciation, shouting out, ”Sing it” and “Come on, Ireland” during songs. Concertgoers clapped along to “We Don’t Eat” and joined in to sing the chorus, “That we don’t eat until your father’s at the table/ We don’t drink until the devil’s turned to dust.” At times the outbursts interfered with the performance, like when McMorrow performed the D’Angelo-inspired “Cavalier.” It could have been a special moment when silence would have elevated the song, but the spell was broken time and again. Nevertheless, McMorrow performed a rare solo cover of Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love.” And following a brief exit, he returned for a two-song encore: “And If My Heart Should Somehow Stop” and “If I Had a Boat.” —Sharlene Chiu

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com

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Childish Gambino Is Just Getting Started

March 31st, 2014

Childish Gambino – Hammerstein Ballroom – March 29, 2014

Childish Gambino – Hammerstein Ballroom – March 29, 2014 Although he’s performed in big New York City venues before (SummerStage, Terminal 5), Donald Glover faced a new type of challenge at the Hammerstein Ballroom on Saturday night for his rap act, Childish Gambino. Luckily for him, he’s no longer splitting time between his music and acting careers (his final episode on NBC’s Community aired early in the current season), allowing Glover to dive headlong into his musical creation. Gone are the days when he was recording short verses into a laptop over poor-quality samples and spreading them around to fans himself. Childish Gambino now has a life of his own, and it’s evident in the work that went into his most recent album, Because the Internet, which was released alongside a short film, a screenplay, and now a carefully and fairly elaborately produced live show with the Deep Web tour.

For most of the first half the show, a massive living-room scene was projected onto a white sheet at the back of the stage, while some fans sat on two couches on the stage riser beneath two massive chandeliers. Gambino relentlessly charged through much of Because the Internet, getting the biggest reactions on “3005” and “Worldstar.” Every few songs the stage went dark and a shifting geometric shape spun onscreen while a sort-of narration loosely linked together parts of the set, somewhat reminiscent of similar breaks in the action during Kanye West’s Yeezus tour. In fact, a lot Gambino’s show (and music) easily compares to West’s work, although Glover’s show only clocked in at about half the length of Kanye’s three-hour arena epics. But the biggest similarity might be that there’s always something more going on in between the lines, some deeper meaning that Gambino, like West, always wants to communicate to his fans.

As Glover repeatedly shouted the “Send them pics to my phone/ GPOY” conclusion of “Earth: The Oldest Computer,” one of the last tracks on Because, the previously static living-room scene onscreen crumbled into a bluish wormhole before reading “RESET.” After a beat, the stage essentially rebooted into a campfire scene, which was met by wild roars from the crowd as everyone in the room knew the rest of the night would feature songs from Gambino’s less elaborate but just as powerful debut, Camp. Even as now-old tracks like “Fire Fly” and “Bonfire” rattled the room, it was hard to not think that Camp was some sort of prologue to Gambino’s young career, and that Because the Internet— accompanied by the Deep Web tour—is really just the beginning. —Sean O’Kane

Photos courtesy of Mina K

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Grouplove Let Loose at Terminal 5

March 27th, 2014

Grouplove – Terminal 5 – March 26, 2014

Grouplove - Terminal 5 – March 26, 2014
Last time Grouplove played Terminal 5, this city (and much of the East Coast) was still reeling from the impact of Hurricane Sandy, something that informed how the band approached their set that night—and it was even worthy of a mention from lead singer Christian Zucconi during their show last night. But this time around the band, unburdened from the task of assuaging the fears and pains of the community they were playing for, let loose a little more and showed why they’ve become one of the hottest tickets around.

The California band is certainly one you’ve heard if not one you’ve heard of, as both of their albums are filled with songs that have been licensed for everything from beer commercials to Girls promos. Their West Coast roots influence their often airy, sunshine-ready rock sound, equally matched by a relentless momentum provided by heavily present (and catchy on their own) basslines and backed by thumping drums along an always danceable beat. Plus there are three- and four-part harmonies, and while each band member carries a seemingly endless amount of energy to expend during a set, Grouplove’s main draw is the back-and-forth vocals between Zucconi and Hannah Hooper.

Upbeat is almost a limiting word when it comes to describing Grouplove’s music, as songs like “I’m with You” and “Shark Attack” (both fan favorites) are more four- and five-minute parties unto themselves, as opposed to just upbeat songs. But thanks to their wild, genre-bending sound, the band can veer in other directions too, like taking the stage to Kanye and GOOD Music’s “Mercy,” or knocking a cover of Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love” clear out of the park (with Zucconi, not just Hooper, hitting Queen B’s notes). “What a surprise, New York’s the best night of tour,” said drummer Ryan Rabin late in the set, met by the roar of the sold-out crowd. That’s a comment we get a lot in this town, but last night, he was probably right. —Sean O’Kane

Photos courtesy of Joe Papeo | www.irocktheshot.com

(Grouplove play Terminal 5 again tonight.)

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Tinariwen: Magical, Beautiful and Difficult to Resist

March 25th, 2014

Tinariwen – Brooklyn Bowl – March 24, 2014

Tinariwen - Brooklyn Bowl - March 24, 2014
Tinariwen are one of those bands that can be all things to all people. There’s the Tinariwen as culmination of a fascinating backstory. There’s the Tinariwen as a metaphor. And, of course, most important, there’s Tinariwen the collective of musicians, playing excellent music all across the world. All of these were onstage at once Monday night at Brooklyn Bowl, and which one you saw was a purely personal experience, from the enthusiastic young guys chanting and waving flags to the middle-aged fans clapping along to the young Brooklynites dancing the night away.

The Malian music group seemed to know no boundaries, turning a brick-and-mortar bowling alley decorated with a disco ball and big screen TVs into a transcendental tent, orange and yellow lights of the desert on the ceiling, with room for all within. The set list drew largely from Tinariwen’s new album, Emmaar, and the musicians, and the words they sang, seemed to blur into a single communal experience. Electric guitars growled and moaned in helical patterns—was it with sorrow or was it with joy? Either or both or neither, you decide. With a popping electric bass and simple rhythmic percussion, this was mostly dance music: magical, beautiful, difficult to resist. The musicians clapping and twisting hypnotically felt just as vital to the experience as the musicians twisting the unique guitar solos, somewhere between Leo Nocentelli and Robert Johnson by way of the Sahara.

The encore encapsulated the night in three pieces: The first began with Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni, alone, chanting and playing acoustic before the band slowly grew, duet, trio until all six played as one, with little boundary between Tinariwen and the audience. The second piece was the funkiest of the night, the electric bass speaking the international language of groove. Finally, the percussion-dominated closer was a rhythmic cacophony, the dancer onstage moving in increasingly faster and more complicated fashion—either he was forcing the band’s tempo or vice versa, but the crowd tried to keep up regardless. The night ended with smiles all round, free of boundaries, at least until the magic wore off. With a final bow, the band repeated the only English words they had uttered all night: “Thank you.” —A. Stein

Photos courtesy of JC McIlwaine | jcmcilwaine.com

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An Experience Impossible to Deny

March 24th, 2014

Cut Copy – Terminal 5 – March 22, 2014

Cut Copy – Terminal 5 – March 22, 2014
Terminal 5 might damn well be the perfect venue for a Cut Copy show. The band had two sold-out weekend appearances there to make this point. The finer moments of their second night—“Take Me Over,” “Where I’m Going,” “Saturday” and “Lights & Music”—spurred three different levels of bodies moving more or less in unison. It was a sight to see, and if you were there and hearing Cut Copy’s music live, it was an experience impossible to deny.

Every little corner of the place was filled with dancing concertgoers: people trying to order drinks, the bartenders, people in line for the bathroom, security guards, you get the idea. Dancing down on the main floor and looking up made one feel like part of a larger, spectacular movement, while looking down on all of this from the third floor inspired feeling like the king (or queen) of the world. I’d imagine it was even more fun to witness this from the stage, watching this giant feedback loop of energy blasted out from the band to the dancing audience, and seeing that energy boomerang back to the stage and those conducting the experience. The breakdown of “So Haunted” had Cut Copy’s guitarist climbing on top of the drummer’s kit, smashing down on the cymbals with a tambourine. This wasn’t an act of free will, he had no choice: The energy in the venue demanded it.

Cut Copy’s music has always felt nostalgic in a way, like they’ve taken the electronic music of other eras and perfected it. Watching them tear down Terminal 5 reminded me of documentary footage from the early days of rave culture, with drugged-out electronic- music fans trying to explain rave culture as if it were some significant cultural phenomenon on par with Woodstock. Having not taken part in that era, it always sounded naive and silly. But find a good show with dance music powerful enough that it has everyone dancing on the same wavelength, and you can see their point. —Dan Rickershauser

Photos courtesy of Jeremy Ross | jeremypross.com

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Drive-By Truckers Impress with New Music at Terminal 5

March 21st, 2014

Drive-By Truckers – Terminal 5 – March 20, 2014

Drive-By Truckers - Terminal 5 - March 20, 2014
There are exceptions, but many of the best rock bands tend to be led by two heads, working with an energy that falls somewhere between collaboration and friendly competition. Drive-By Truckers have 18 years under their belt with not a bad album to their name. This has a heck of a lot to do with a friendship and musical partnership that’s even older than the band: Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood have really come to terms with being the songwriting yin and yang of their band.

Much of the praise heaped upon the band’s 10th full-length release, English Oceans, remarked on how the songwriting contributions between the two had moved toward a 50/50 split. This is felt in their live shows maybe even more so, with the two trading singing duties on every other song. It’s hard to prefer one over the other, and if you’re tortured enough to make that decision than you can consider yourself a true Drive-By Truckers fan. Their set last night at Terminal 5 began with three new songs, “Primer Coat,”The Part of Him” and “Til He’s Dead or Rises.”

“Lookout Mountain” was the perfect transition from Hood’s graveled vocals into a sludgy guitar jam. How exactly he’s been able to tour for nearly 20 years singing the way he does without spitting out blood at the end of every show is one of Southern rock’s greatest mysteries, but it also provides one of the genre’s rawest voices, a perfect accompaniment to the band. DBT classics “Ronnie and Neil,” “The Living Bubba” and the sing-along friendly “Hell No I Ain’t Happy” must be particularly taxing on his vocals. Hood’s voice has made it this long, as has the band, through turmoil, lineup changes and everything in between. But they can’t let it die now, ’cause they got another show. —Dan Rickershauser

Photos courtesy of JC McIlwaine | jcmcilwaine.com