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Lo-Fang Delights Mercury Lounge Crowd on Saturday Night

November 3rd, 2014

Lo-Fang – Mercury Lounge – November 1, 2014

Lo-Fang - Mercury Lounge - November 1, 2014
The classically trained singer-songwriter Matthew Hemerlein produces lush soundtrack-worthy music under the moniker Lo-Fang. Most recently, he had been tapped to perform his cover of the Grease favorite “You’re the One That I Want” in a Chanel No. 5 short film starring supermodel Gisele Bündchen and directed by Academy Award–winning Baz Luhrmann. Not bad company to keep. With a slew of influences from R&B to electronica, it should be noa surprise that Hemerlein’s debut album, Blue Film, was written over a three-year globetrotting journey across Cambodia, London, Nashville, Tokyo and Bali. After making his New York City debut at Mercury Lounge earlier this year, the L.A.-based producer returned to the venue for a sold-out performance on Saturday night.

Those in the crowd waited in the chilly rain but were quickly heated up by the singer’s theatrics. Opening with “Silver,” from his newly released Every Night mixtape, Hemerlein literally kicked off his shoes to work his magic not only on the violin but also on the multitude of pedals beneath his feet. The ladies front and center were in for a treat as Hemerlein lunged closer for the throbbing “Light Year.” Wooing the opposite sex further, Hemerlein covered BOY’s “Boris,” serenading, “You owe me/ Your lips I’m gonna give tips/ And I heard your boyfriend is out of town?” Plenty of his admirers would have happily run away with him. On the title track, he even broke out some push-ups to work out his guns for further flexing throughout the evening. With Lo-Fang’s dramatics checked, his classical training shown through on “#88” as he lithely wove Andrew Bird–like violin plucks into his falsetto.

Nearing the end of the set, Hemerlein returned down the path of seduction for “When We’re Fire,” as his gyrations, straight out of Magic Mike, would make Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey blush. And when this reviewer was mistakenly taking notes, the singer cheekily reprimanded me by pocketing my phone. Boy wants all eyes on him. Lesson learned. To punctuate the evening, Lo-Fang dug deep into the late ’90s with Ginuwine’s “Pony” for a fitting final fling. But despite his female admirers’ desire for more, they were left hot and bothered into the crisp evening air. —Sharlene Chiu

Photos courtesy of Mina K

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The Sky Is the Limit for Larkin Poe

October 30th, 2014

Larkin Poe – Mercury Lounge – October 29, 2014

Larkin Poe – Mercury Lounge – October 29, 2014
When I saw Conor Oberst play Central Park’s SummerStage back in July, I loved his massive hodgepodge of a backing band, the majority of which was made up of opener Dawes, and there was a horn section. But most notably there were two women tearing it up on slide guitars and singing the Emmylou Harris parts during the Bright Eyes songs that night—and I knew I had to find out who they were.

It turns out they are the sisters who make up Larkin Poe, a country-tinged band from Atlanta that last night set Mercury Lounge ablaze with a pressure-cooked set of songs. Fresh off an appearance backing up Kristian Bush on the Today Show and not far removed from a tour opening as a duo for Elvis Costello (“We got to stay on his tour bus,” admitted older sister Megan Lovell excitedly), they looked and sounded ready to be doing their own thing again. “It feels so good to be back with the full band,” the younger Rebecca Lovell candidly told the crowd. The exposure and experiences the pair were able to rustle up in the last year or two must have been fun, but you could see they are now dead set on focusing that momentum on Larkin Poe.

That starts with their first full-length, Kin, released last week, an album full of sweet melodies juxtaposed with bluesy grit often materialized in the form of Rebecca’s straight guitar licks or Megan’s atmospheric slide-guitar playing. Larkin Poe played most of the album last night, and as good as those songs sound in headphones, they’re even more of a force to hear in person. And if Larkin Poe can find a way to use the sisters’ music-industry momentum to attract more ears, the sky’s the limit. —Sean O’Kane

Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane | seanokanephoto.com

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SBTRKT Captivates Terminal 5

October 28th, 2014

SBTRKT – Terminal 5 – October 27, 2014

SBTRKT – Terminal 5 – October 27, 2014
Restrained energy perhaps best describes the music the captivated Terminal 5 crowd witnessed last night courtesy of SBTRKT. It was constructed much in the way a wave rolls into its crest, with deliberate forward motion and then unfurling, tumbling over itself as it cascades onto the shore. As if stepping out of a spacecraft wearing his trademark tribal mask, the phantom of electro-soul opera expressed his sonic salutation to the New York City earthlings, greeting them in a convivial British manner along with his strobed-out laser-splashed music from somewhere just outside the stratosphere.

What came across straight away was that SBTRKT commands his own instruments—
and consequently the crowd—deliberately building each movement of a neo-funk symphony through orchestration, elevating each piece to its climactic flourish, adding layer upon layer of percussion loops, further propelled by the accents of the drummer and keyboardist who accompanied him. Just after the first movement, SBRTKT gauged the audience’s temperature, checking to see if everyone was ready to be swept up in his momentous arrangements.

SBTRKT creates epic, soulful soundscapes that hearken back to ’90s R&B that he accentuates with jungle beats and dubstep, and he recruits a diverse assembly of crooners to emphasize his dynamic compositions in the process—a few of whom landed with him last night. This mixture of style and form is most comparable to his American contemporary, Flying Lotus, yet SBTRKT’s individuality is unmistakable, and he demonstrated with reserved confidence why his appeal is expanding. Dancing between his surrounding soundboards and keyboards while eluding the laser beams shooting from the stage behind him, SBTRKT put on a performance that left its intended mark, before jumping back into his spacecraft to look for the next destination and bring new life to the contemporary-music environment. —Charles Steinberg

Photos courtesy of Charles Steinberg

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Shoegaze Pioneers Slowdive Reunited and Sounding Fresh

October 27th, 2014

Slowdive – Terminal 5 – October 25, 2014

Slowdive – Terminal 5 – October 25, 2014
The first of many shoegaze moments occurred near the beginning of Slowdive’s sold-out Terminal 5 show on Saturday night. The group—pioneers of a sound that combines loud, fuzzy guitars and ethereal vocals, now emulated by a plethora of contemporary bands—recently reunited after disbanding in the mid-’90s. While strobe lights flickered around them, Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell began to sing “Catch the Breeze” from 1991’s Just for a Day. As the song progressed, all band members (minus the drummer) were focused intently on their guitars, bass and effects pedals, necks craned downward, rocking gently back and forth amid the dreamy chords—the classic shoegaze stance and sound.

As Slowdive played precise and lovely versions of crowd favorites like “Crazy for You,” “Machine Gun” and “Souvlaki Space Station,” they cycled through an impressive lineup of guitars, even taking a moment to give a nod of appreciation to their guitar tech, a constant onstage presence between songs, swapping and receiving and replacing armfuls of guitars. To their credit, for a band with such intricate guitar arrangements and dynamics, Slowdive’s songs sounded bright and clean, never muddy or muddled, often classic shoegaze stumbling blocks.

“This is a pop song, kind of,” proclaimed Halstead before the band played what may have been the night’s crowd favorite, “Alison.” Indeed, a catchy song on the surface with moderately morose lyrics, it’s a prime example of Slowdive’s signature subtle hypnotic power, a sound that was exhilarating to experience live. By giving us a taste of their classic shoegaze, Slowdive managed to also feel completely modern and fresh—a very successful reunion indeed. —Alena Kastin

Photos courtesy of Adela Loconte | adelaloconte.com

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Cold War Kids Headline Diverse CMJ Lineup at Rough Trade NYC

October 23rd, 2014

Cold War Kids – Rough Trade NYC – October 22, 2014

Cold War Kids – Rough Trade NYC – October 22, 2014
Rough Trade NYC hosted a flock of impressive acts last night, and concertgoers who caught this show on the second night of CMJ 2014 lucked out, as the lineup provided such a satisfying variety befitting the festival’s spirit. Fresh off tours supporting Sylvan Esso and My Brightest Diamond, Brooklyn native Doe Paoro and her band entranced early arrivals with celestial electro soul. Australia’s Little May followed with their subdued rock sensibilities. The band had many an audience member swooning with material from their self-titled debut album. Little May’s gorgeous, resonant sound is full of husky whispers and hook-y choruses, and they played up their songs’ melancholic beauty throughout their set.

Moses Sumney took the stage next and quickly mesmerized the crowd with his velvety voice and artful looping skills. The Los Angeleno stood alone onstage and built vast choral phrases out of lilting, angelic tones and subtle beat-boxing. Sumney could sing every word in the dictionary and make it sound interesting—his voice is just that good.  The 20-year-old electro rocker Elliot Moss and his band continued the night with a dynamic set of songs from Moss’s 2013 album, Highspeeds. His music is mercurial, with elements of Radiohead, James Blake and Bon Iver popping up here and there. Having successfully wooed the audience to move superclose, Moss and Co. graciously left the stage to make way for the night’s headliners.

The much-loved members of Cold War Kids meandered onto the stage as the audience roared with excitement. The band’s career has spanned nearly a decade, and the five-piece has some serious discography to show for it. From their 2006 debut record, Robbers and Cowards, to the just released Hold My Home, the band has made a big impression on their fans. The gentleman barreled through an extensive set featuring songs from all over their repertoire. Nathan Willett’s valiant vocals drove “All This Could Be Yours” and “Miracle Mile” at the top of the set. All-time favorites like “Hang Me Up to Dry” and “Hospital Beds” got the crowd howling. The guys in Cold War Kids have an astounding sense of synchronicity. They’re constantly making contact with one another, whether it’s a hand on a shoulder or an intense glance during a chorus. Their set was a spectacular burst of energy, proving that Cold War Kids aren’t losing steam. Rather, they’re louder than ever. —Schuyler Rooth

Photos courtesy of Pip Cowley | pipcowleyshoots.com

(Cold War Kids play Terminal 5 on 3/20.)

(Elliot Moss plays Music Hall of Williamsburg on Sunday and Terminal 5 on 3/20.)

(Moses Sumney plays Rough Trade NYC tonight.)

(Little May play Mercury Lounge tomorrow and Pianos on Saturday.)

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Flying Lotus: Commander of the Afterlife

October 16th, 2014

Flying Lotus – Terminal 5 – October 15, 2014

Flying Lotus - Terminal 5 - October 15, 2014
“I have come to inform you that, you’re fuckin’ dead,” said Flying Lotus last night to a sold-out Terminal 5 crowd, stated in the most matter-of-fact way possible, thus kicking off the all-senses barrage that is a Flying Lotus show. With glowing bright yellow eyes and sitting in the midst of an inverted cube bathed in shape-shifting projections, Flying Lotus provided a symphony of his own creation. Further driving home the afterlife theme, someone dressed as the Grim Reaper menaced the audience for a few songs. But those sounds were not of this world. There was bass so heavy you could not only feel it but also sort of taste it, almost as if Flying Lotus had turned an intensity dial up to 11 and then the dial broke, so he just said, “Fuck it” and left it there.

But there was also a top on this, a weird calming sense of meditative contemplation. And those two things don’t often work together. Some jazz has been able to do it, although it’s rare. But Flying Lotus is related to Coltranes, which may partially explain his mystical musical powers, but to nail it down in a different genre—electronic music—is a noteworthy innovation. Of course, the visuals were extravagant enough to make up half of the show’s overall experience. Think of Flying Lotus’s amazing album covers but always morphing. It was like a trippy three-dimensional stream constantly flowing through the stage, with a mere silhouette pushing buttons, moving dials, throwing his hands up and dancing.

For a few songs, Flying Lotus popped out of the inverted projection cube of awesome to rap a few songs as his alter ego, Captain Murphy, right into the first few rows of audience. After the set ended he returned, saying he’d see some of the crowd on Thursday at Music Hall of Williamsburg. It’s remarkable how trailblazing Flying Lotus’s sound has become, especially in an era when people are racing to find that next big thing, the last morsel of underutilized electronic sounds that could (potentially) change everything. Only recently are others catching up to FlyLo, in a rush to appropriate, integrate and collaborate with that sound he’s pioneered for years. It’s like he’s turned around to ask, “Where have y’all been?” But by the time the rest of the world finally catches up, we may all well be dead. —Dan Rickershauser

Photos courtesy of Andie Diemer | issuu.com/andiediemer/docs/portfolio

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The Airborne Toxic Event’s Group Effort at Terminal 5

October 8th, 2014

The Airborne Toxic Event – Terminal 5 – October 7, 2014

The Airborne Toxic Event – Terminal 5 – October 7, 2014
I’ve always thought of the Airborne Toxic Event as a band that’s been around far longer than they have. Because there’s something about them that screams comfort and confidence on a big stage like Terminal 5, something that usually only comes from a seasoned band with lots of experience. Although they only formed in 2008, last night the five-piece put on a show with the aplomb of an act that’s been around twice as long.

The Airborne Toxic Event crammed a career’s worth of songs into the show, and even from up close the full-page set list looked like it was written in 12-point font. A feathery 20-foot avian sculpture adorned the stage and provided the production an ethereal quality— drummer Daren Taylor practically looked like he could take flight—as they crisscrossed back and forth among songs from their self-titled debut, 2011’s All at Once and 2013’s Such Hot Blood. Lead singer Mikel Jollett never seemed happy in one place, taking each chance he could to leave his microphone to wail on his guitar or tease the crowd. Within the first half hour of the set, he was hanging from the facade of Terminal 5’s second floor and joking with the crowd he was singing and dangling above.

Anna Bulbrook was lively, too, as she took turns doubling up the vocals, ripping on her violin and tapping away at her keyboard. Guitarist Steven Chen and bassist Adrian Rodriguez put on a show of their own on the opposite side of the stage as they shredded their way through their parts of every song. It was the kind of group effort you expect from a band with decade-spanning experience, and it hopefully means that the Airborne Toxic Event will be around for that long … or more. —Sean O’Kane

Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane | seanokanephoto.com

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Delta Spirit Prove That Three Is Better Than One

October 2nd, 2014

Delta Spirit – The Bowery Ballroom – October 1, 2014

Delta Spirit – The Bowery Ballroom – October 1, 2014
Why celebrate the release of your new album with one show when you can do it with three? That was the mindset of Delta Spirit, who last night played the second of three sold-out shows at three different venues. This one was in The Bowery Ballroom, which was buzzing after a rollicking opening set from Streets of Laredo. The stage was set up with long floor-to-ceiling white slats reminiscent of a giant picket fence. Nothing more simple, quaint America than a white picket fence, but the reality was much more interesting as the slats became a segmented screen for a series of on-the-fly projections that alternated between arty, dreamlike and full-on psychedelic. Similarly, the band taking the stage: guitars, drums, bass and a little keyboard—nothing more simple, quaint American rock and roll than that. Again, the truth was infinitely more interesting, as Delta Spirit proved to be a force, putting on one of the better rock and roll shows I’ve seen this year.

They opened with a one-two punch of “From Now On” and “Tear It Up,” the former from their new album, Into the Wide, and the latter from their 2012 self-titled release. It was the equivalent of kicking down the door and bursting into the room guns a-blazing. There was a constant churl of electric guitar from William McLaren as Matt Vasquez riled up the crowd like only the best frontmen can. If things seemed a bit more intense during that second song, they were. As Kelly Winrich hopped on a second drum kit, joining Brandon Young in kicking things up a few notches. From there, the crowd was completely in the band’s hands, compelled to sing and clap along as the five-piece mixed up new material and old. As the digital projections spiraled behind them, Vasquez and Co. kept things intriguing without falling back on long guitar solos or extended rock jams. It was a combination of great songs, choreographed interplay among bass, guitar, drums and keys, and just pure manic energy that proved to be totally irresistible.

A highlight middle section centered on “Live On” seemed propelled almost entirely on Jonathan Jameson’s superlative bass playing. Around the time when most Bowery headliners announce their last song, Vasquez informed the excited audience that they were about halfway done. And while that wasn’t exactly true, the next 30 minutes, kicked off by “Language of the Dead,” played out like one long epic closing number: a master course and total deconstruction of how to put on a great rock show. “Children” was the highlight of the closeout, a great display of dynamics, the band waxing and waning as little digital mites buzzed around a surreal cityscape behind them. The encore centered on the new LP’s fiery title track, Vasquez belting out the lyrics with plenty of emotion left in his tank. Of course, the encore featured a trio of rockers total, because why close a show like that with one song when you can do it with three? —A. Stein

Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane | seanokanephoto.com

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Augustines Take to the Streets

September 30th, 2014

Augustines – The Bowery Ballroom – September 29, 2014

Augustines – The Bowery Ballroom – September 29, 2014
Augustines have become synonymous with the tricky combination of moral victories and abject failures, if not unique, certainly associated with living in New York City. Theirs is a story of name changes, near misses and eventual triumph: Pela splitting into We Are Augustines and Thieving Irons, and then We Are Augustines becoming Augustines. After a performance on his show, it was finally David Letterman—a guy who appreciates tragicomedy—who suggested the band’s debut LP, Rise You Sunken Ships, as a bromide with which to face down struggle. The band took the stage at The Bowery Ballroom last night with a Billboard-charting second record, a movie about their ascendancy recently funded on Kickstarter, Rise, and maybe a bit of a crisis about transitioning from the band that could never get it right to the one that seemingly couldn’t miss.

Lead singer Billy McCarthy kicked off the show with “Headlong into the Abyss,” a song he closed with the coda “It’s good to be home. We’re going the distance.” But this was no conversational promise: The show would end more than two hours later out in front of the venue on the Delancey St. sidewalk. The band marched through their brand of underdog rock, playing “Chapel Song” and the pointed “Cruel City.” The latter prompted McCarthy to issue a pseudo-apology: “I might say some bad things about this town in the songs, but I got love for you all.” The New York City focus rarely left the band’s focus. In fact, McCarthy introduced “Waiting on the Stairs” by yelping, “This one’s for New York”—as if there were anything else to say.

The frontman launched himself from the top edge of the kick drum and brandished the neck of his guitar like a Tommy Gun to the delight of the assembled. An increasingly soft-at-the-edges McCarthy reaching for the top of the room proved to be something of an allegory. If the National stormed out of the NYC market with their willingness to replicate and repeat being miserable despite all evidence to contrary, Augustines continue to mine the against-the-odds narrative, even while the band approaches becoming an overdog. McCarthy still desired connection, perhaps the band’s enduring truism, first taking to the center of the room and then the street outside for an acoustic encore. This commitment to New York City was more than an aesthetic choice, McCarthy, sweating profusely, shed down to his undershirt in the unseasonable humidity of the Lower East Side, surrounded by his people. —Geoff Nelson

Photos courtesy of Greg Pallante | gregpallante.com

(Augustines play Rough Trade NYC on Friday.)

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Broken Bells Make Memories at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park

September 29th, 2014

Broken Bells – Rumsey Playfield – September 26, 2014

Broken Bells – Rumsey Playfield – September 26, 2014
What began as a notable collaboration has morphed into a true band, as Broken Bells showed a packed Rumsey Playfield on Friday night. With two LPs, the band—comprised mainly of Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse, one half of Gnarls Barkley) and James Mercer (the Shins—already has grown a fan base that didn’t spend the night shouting requests for songs that didn’t belong to Broken Bells. Musically, the biggest sign they’ve done something really right might just be that Mercer’s voice, unmistakably the most identifiable part of the Shins’ sound, easily blends into the cool and moody rock that they’re now known for. Rather than this being some side project, Broken Bells have had remarkable shows of their own without needing to be qualified as “that guy’s other band.”

For more than an hour, Broken Bells bounced between material from this year’s After the Disco and their 2010 self-titled debut in front of a circular screen filled with images like starry expanses and tunnels of colored light. And whether he was on the slick white keyboards or banging away at the drums, Burton, his head hung low, was a wonder to watch, fully concentrated but loose enough to groove. Dance-y tracks like “Holding On for Life” contrasted well with the likes of “Perfect World” and its spacier jams. And often Broken Bells met somewhere in the middle, with songs like “The Ghost Inside.” Right before the show ended and everyone in Central Park split off in different directions to finish their Fridays elsewhere, the band let loose a dozen giant glowing orbs, giving the crowd one more Broken Bells memory. —Sean O’Kane

Photos courtesy of Charles Steinberg | charlesolivierphoto.com

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Lily Allen Doesn’t Miss a Beat at Terminal 5

September 24th, 2014

Lily Allen – Terminal 5 – September 23, 2014

Lily Allen – Terminal 5 – September 23, 2014
On the 10-year anniversary of penning “Smile,” the song that would cement Lily Allen’s place in the pop scene, the British singer opened her show last night at a sold-out Terminal 5 drenched in sequins. The stage had been transformed into a toddler’s playground surrounded by larger-than-life baby bottles that lit up the venue in a rainbow of colors. Allen first entered our lives with a distinctly wry wit, donning baggy tracksuits and a ballsy attitude. She made creepin’ sound cute and her unpolished pop had a childish sensibility, which made her fans fall in love with her.

A decade on, Allen has matured into a more developed songwriter with her 2013 LP, Sheezus, however her playfulness is still front and center. One of the early surprises of the night was a cover of R&B princess Jhené Aiko’s slow burner, “The Worst.” Straying from its original version and instead mashed up with a little drum and bass and reggae, Allen’s megahit “Smile” had the crowd singing along. If it sounds odd, it sort of was but no one seemed to care. The real highlight was Allen’s dedication to “the divorced bank accountant” with her fearlessly crude hit “Fuck You.”

With all the baby paraphernalia on hand, anyone in attendance could have expected that at any moment we were going to be sung lullabies and rocked to sleep. But instead, the performance was packed with energy and punchy lyrics, and the pop diva didn’t miss a beat. In her fourth and final costume change, Allen closed the show with Sheezus favorite “Hard Out Here,” giving the night a truly anthemic send-off. —Pip Cowley

Photos courtesy of Greg Pallante | gregpallante.com

(Lily Allen plays Terminal 5 again tonight.)

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Panda Bear Plays New Material at Music Hall of Williambsurg

September 23rd, 2014

Panda Bear – Music Hall of Williamsburg – September 22, 2013

Panda Bear - Music Hall of Williamsburg - September 22, 2013
Flanked by two large blinking strobe lights, Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) stood behind an elaborate console last night at a sold-out Music Hall of Williamsburg. At times, as bright, undulating video projections (designed by longtime collaborator Danny Perez) beamed upon the stage, Lennox, in his white T-shirt, nearly blended in with his surroundings. Of course, even when overtaken by pulsing patterns and colors, Panda Bear commands attention, singing earnestly while managing to craft elaborate layers of sampled sound, manipulating beats and looping vocals.

A new full-length album, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, is slated for release later this year (although details are scarce), and Panda Bear performed several new tunes last night, mixing in a few crowd favorites from 2011’s Tomboy, like “Last Night at the Jetty” and “You Can Count on Me.” Many Panda Bear songs center around a repeated lyrical refrain, which Lennox sings over and over as music ebbs and flows around it, subtly shifting gears or abruptly changing course. As the projections flashed between disparate images—ice cream, lizard eyes, anemone, bunch of grapes, hypnotic dancing bald women—Lennox repeated the line, “Don’t ask why.”

It’s a treat to experience Panda Bear’s new material in the live format, where he seemed to relish the freedom to experiment and to witness the response from a crowd hearing the music with fresh ears. It shifted organically, ranging from haunting and spare to playful and pulsating, and although the grim reaper referenced in the upcoming album’s title did pay us a visit via projector, we emerged unscathed and fully entertained. —Alena Kastin

Photos courtesy of Lina Shteyn | www.linashteyn.com

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Hiss Golden Messenger Make a Connection at Rough Trade NYC

September 19th, 2014

Hiss Golden Messenger – Rough Trade NYC – September 18, 2014

Hiss Golden Messenger - Rough Trade NYC - September 18, 2014
Raw seems to be everyone’s go-to word to describe music that’s innately soulful, so much so that it can sometimes seem a little overdone. I’ve always taken it to define the stuff of pure heart, feelings berthed there spilling right out, largely unfiltered by the brain, the great rationalization of our abstract and unruly emotions. There are few people who sing this stuff better than MC Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger. It’s not just evident in his compositions’ great emotional landscapes, but also you can see physical evidence of it as he performs. When he sings loud, he leans back as if the feelings coming out cause recoil like when firing a gun. Sometimes he’ll squint a little, further proof of the cocktail of feelings that first berthed the music. And all of that was on display last night at Rough Trade NYC, a perfect setting for an intimate performer.

When Hiss Golden Messenger last came to town, it was just MC Taylor and an acoustic guitar. This time, though, he was backed by a full band, including longtime collaborator Scott Hirsch and talented Megafaun multi-instrumentalist Phil Cook. With projects largely the vision of one musician, backing bands can seem a little out of step or merely following the lead of the group’s visionary. But that’s not the case with Hiss Golden Messenger, which speaks both to the band’s pure talent and their ability to feel out Taylor’s vision. “We’re going to start the dancing portion of this set,” said the frontman, somewhat tongue in cheek as he introduced “Blue Country Mystic.” The song had an irresistible group sound to it fleshed out with a full band, complete with collective rhythmic pauses, swooning baritone saxophone lines from Matt Douglas and some Cook wizardry on the keyboards.

“Lucia,” off the latest release, Lateness of Dancers, showcased the Hiss Golden Messenger’s harmonizing prowess, including some backup vocals from guest Alexandra Sauser-Monnig. The band’s encore took them out into the audience to play an acoustic rendition of “Drum,” a song that first appeared on the lo-fi Bad Debt and again on their latest release. The audience was encouraged to sing along to the song’s chorus: “Take the good news and carry it away/ Take the good news and spirit it away.” And without much coaching, fans beautifully filled out the harmonies. As adeptly as this band fulfills Taylor’s vision, there just might be something about his music so fundamental that it’s felt by everyone—and damn easy to sing along to. After the show, in what now seems to be standard protocol at Rough Trade NYC, the band hung around to talk to concertogers. The band-fan connection is strong with Hiss Golden Messenger, and it’s a beautiful thing. —Dan Rickershauser

Photos courtesy of Peter Senzamici | petersenzamici.com

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Portugal. The Man and Grouplove Close Out Tour in Central Park

September 17th, 2014

Portugal. The Man/Grouplove – Rumsey Playfield – September 16, 2014

Portugal. The Man – Rumsey Playfield – September 16, 2014

Portugal. The Man

Midway through their set at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park on Tuesday—the closing night of the Honda Civic TourGrouplove’s Hannah Hooper declared that the tour was all about “making art.” As incongruous as that may sound, the show was one of those rare instances where live rock and roll was elevated to an art form: the music, the lights, the visuals and the crowd interaction. The pairing of Grouplove with Portugal. The Man was an inspired billing, each band bringing a different aesthetic and energy to the performance, and both inspiring a whole lot of singing along, clapping along, waving arms along, pretty much everything along.

After a big-sound set from Typhoon, Grouplove entered amidst a cloud of smoke and a haze of hip-hop over the PA. Their set was 70 minutes of cathartic, jubilant bounce, beginning with the opening “I’m with You” and its sing-along-ready ah ah ahs and oh oh ohs. The audience was in it from the start. Grouplove’s free-form sing-along contrasted with the visuals, which had a sleek, modern feel, colorful geometric rectangles or simulated multihued television static danced on the large-screen backdrop while the audience danced in front. Everyone loves a hit, and Grouplove played plenty of them, highlighted by the ecstatic groover “Tongue Tied.” The set peaked with the couplet of “Slow” and “Borderlines and Aliens,” and particularly the space in between the two, where lights, the band’s movement and the pulsing drums worked together as one entity, eventually releasing into a wild guitar jam. After a rousing “Colours” to close their part of the show, the band returned for a rare mid-show encore, bringing along members of Portugal. The Man for a crowd-riling version of the Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” everyone screaming the classic lyrics. Any other night it would have been the ultimate sing-along, but there was more to come.

A quick breather later, Portugal. The Man returned and picked up right where Grouplove left off, with another classic-rock along, covering a verse and a chorus or two of Pink Floyd’s anthemic “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” before quickly kicking into their own “Purple Yellow Red and Blue.” Their aesthetic was more bright-eyed psychedelic, like crawling into a living version of frontman John Gourley’s bizarre drawings. That is until the lasers came out, transforming Rumsey Playfield into an alien planet, with Portugal. The Man’s music as a galactic soundtrack. The band was in top form, looping verses of multiple songs into coherent medleys, stretching others, like “All Your Light,” into prog-rock freak-outs and dropping snippets of perfectly placed covers throughout. This was live music as art form, the audience digging every moment and singing from beginning to end. Like Grouplove had done, the band saved the biggest moment for their encore, which began with their slow-build rager “Sleep Forever” and ended with all of Grouplove and Typhoon onstage—horns, strings and all—for the second ultimate sing-along of the night, everyone belting out the coda to “Hey Jude”: the final touch on a work of art. —A .Stein

Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane | seanokanephoto.com

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Sylvan Esso’s Potent Chemistry on Display at Rough Trade NYC

September 12th, 2014

Sylvan Esso – Rough Trade NYC – September 11, 2014

Sylvan Esso – Rough Trade NYC – September 11, 2014
Last night’s Sylvan Esso show at Rough Trade NYC, alongside Landlady, sold out at lightning speed when tickets went on sale months ago. Adventurous pop rockers Landlady took the stage first and delighted the audience with their sprightly music. Six men strong, they commandeered the stage and held everyone in their thrall as they launched into a glittering set of percussive, psychedelic songs. Lead singer Adam Schatz propelled the performance with his soulful crooning and no-holds-barred dancing. Songs like “Maria” and “Above My Ground,” from the band’s sophomore album, Upright Behavior, began ever so quietly and culminated thunderously. Schatz provided plenty of entertaining and insightful banter throughout and had no trouble engaging the crowd in sing-alongs.

Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn of Sylvan Esso took the stage next, Meath in six-inch platform sneakers and Sanborn with his fingers poised to take command of his soundboard. The sultry chords and audacious beats of “Hey Mami” launched their set. Sylvan Esso’s music is simultaneously doe-eyed and wolfish—it’s a tantalizing tangle of abstract lyrics and sly electronica. The duo’s chemistry is some of the most potent stuff around these days. They faced off throughout the set, feeding off each other’s energy and charging the air with fervor. Heavy reverb on Meath’s vocals made for an especially heady effect. The two played some artful cover songs during their encore, but it was the originals from their self-titled debut album that mesmerized most. These two bands are the quintessence of enchanting, and their magic won’t be fading any time soon. —Schuyler Rooth

Photos courtesy of Lina Shteyn | www.linashteyn.com

(Tonight’s Sylvan Esso show at The Bowery Ballroom is sold out, but you can see them play Terminal 5 on 1/23.)