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A Modern Band with a Throwback Sound at Rough Trade NYC

August 4th, 2014

U.S. Royalty – Rough Trade NYC – August 1, 2014

U.S. Royalty – Rough Trade NYC – August 1, 2014
After first hearing U.S. Royalty, you might wonder exactly which decade they were popular in and why you’d never heard of them before. Not long after that, you’ll realize that they aren’t a band from the past, but rather, they are just making out-of-this-time rock music while touring the country—in this millennium. The Washington, D.C., foursome brought their throwback sound to Rough Trade NYC on Friday night and dazzled the crowd there for an hour with an excellent blend of songs from their 2011 release, Mirrors, and their new record, Blue Sunshine. And while they might still be a band trying to make a name for themselves, they are certainly worth your time.

Most touring bands with a few years behind them boast a tight musical performance, but U.S. Royalty’s live show was impeccable. Singer John Thornley’s seemingly effortless voice (no easy feat considering some of the high notes he hits), led the way for the beautifully fuzzy melodies backed by lead guitarist Paul Thornley. When bassist Jacob Michael wasn’t keeping the rhythm with drummer Luke Adams, he was way up the neck of his bass, adding in musical touches that most bands would hire another guitarist to pull off.

Some of U.S. Royalty’s catchiest songs, like “Only Happy in the Country,” make you wonder why you at least haven’t heard this band in commercials. Throughout the set they skimmed the waters of psychedelic rock with the rip-roaring set closer “The Desert Won’t Save You,” glam rock with the Garland Jeffreys cover “Wild in the Streets,” and just about every other classic-rock iteration in between. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine them opening for anyone from Gary Clark Jr. to Portugal. The Man and fitting right in. And while their music might seem more at home surrounded by the crackle of aged vinyl, it’s a very good thing that they’re here with us now. —Sean O’Kane

Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane | seanokanephoto.com

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A Little Bit of Everything with Conor Oberst and Dawes

July 30th, 2014

Conor Oberst and Dawes – SummerStage – July 29, 2014

Conor Oberst and Dawes – SummerStage – July 29, 2014
Going into last night’s Conor Oberst show, I really had no idea what to expect. I hadn’t seen him perform since 2005 at Webster Hall, when he was feverishly touring behind the concurrent releases I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. Would last night’s SummerStage crowd be made up of the same sort of screaming diehards who used to fill venues for his shows? Or would it be people who had found out about him later in life, perhaps just fans of his solo career? Turns out, those in attendance, much like the hour-and-a-half set they witnessed, were a refreshing mix of everything.

Backed throughout the night by the terrific opening band, Dawes—and occasionally some auxiliary members—Oberst began the set with “Time Forgot,” the opening track from his newest album, Upside Down Mountain. The song set the tone of much of what was to come, with Oberst strumming the rhythms (often on an acoustic guitar) behind his still sometimes trembling voice while lush melodies were sung and played behind him by the shape-shifting band. Considering the effort some other artists put into separating their solo careers from the bands that made them famous, I was surprised by how much of the set was filled with Bright Eyes songs. Oberst didn’t just play the obvious ones, like “Lover I Don’t Have to Love,” either. Early on, the crowd gleefully sang along to “We Are Nowhere and It’s Now” and “Hit the Switch,” each from those 2005 releases, and deeper cuts like the cheeky “Bowl of Oranges.” The expanded sound benefitted many of his more folkie songs extremely well, adding bounce to the already bouncy “Danny Callahan” and nearly turning the encore-capping “Another Travelin’ Song” into a soul revival with horns shouting over the tune’s furious pace.

The night’s most poignant moment just might have been the slow-burning country ballad “Poison Oak,” which began with just Oberst and Dawes’s Wylie Gelber and Taylor Goldsmith before it blossomed into a raging full-band sound as the song crested. Throughout all of this, the crowd hung on every moment. Fanatic adoration still pays a big part in the dynamic of Oberst’s performances, with concertgoers shouting at nonsensical moments, or loudly professing their love for the man while loosely mouthing the lyrics. But last night’s show proved that many of his fans have come a long way since the days of Bright Eyes—just as Oberst has. It’s a progression that’s stark when viewed after nine years of missing out, but it’s still just as rewarding to see. —Sean O’Kane

Photos courtesy of Mina K

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Braid Take a Look Back and Step Forward in Their Triumphant Return

July 28th, 2014

Braid – Music Hall of Williamsburg – July 26, 2014

Braid – Music Hall of Williamsburg – July 26, 2014
“We’re a band called Braid,” singer Bob Nanna happily but unnecessarily informed the packed crowd at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday night, midway through his band’s set. Just three short years after the ’90s-emo patriarchs reunited for a run of shows that featured full performances of their 1998 classic, Frame & Canvas, the foursome have returned with their first LP since that milestone release. The new album is called No Coast, and based on their reactions, fans are more than happy that this is the way the group has finally returned. And although the new music has been well received, testing it live in front of concertgoers hungry for nostalgia is always a different story.

Braid began the show with “Bang,” the new album’s first-released track, before going right back to Frame & Canvas with “Killing a Camera” and “First Day Back.” That oscillation between old and new got the crowd moving, and it was immediately clear that this mix of throwbacks and new tunes was going to work just fine. The loudest reactions were reserved for staples like “The New Nathan Detroits” and “A Dozen Roses,” which were also some of the few songs that inspired moshing and crowd surfing.

While Braid are no longer playing sweaty sets in low-capacity rooms like they were when they got their start in the ’90s, their sound remains as loud and sharp as ever, with Nanna and guitar player Chris Broach’s vocals leading the way through jut about every song. Nanna, who has notoriously kept detailed records of every show Braid show, reminisced about one of their first New York City performances at the now-closed Brownie’s “to like 5 people.” “We’re from Chicago but we’ve played … everywhere,” he quipped early in the set. And judging from the reception on Saturday night, Braid’s newest effort is a sign that they’ve still got plenty of miles left to travel. —Sean O’Kane

Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane | seanokanephoto.com

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A Late Night with Phox at Mercury Lounge

July 24th, 2014

Phox – Mercury Lounge – July 23, 2014

Phox – Mercury Lounge – July 23, 2014
Mercury Lounge filled up quickly last night for electric rockers Trails and Ways, out of Oakland, Calif., and the Wisconsin folk-pop outfit Phox. Trails and Ways, up first, are four friends who self-identify as a bossa nova dream-pop act. They played from their debut EP, Trilingual, including the effervescent tune “Nunca,” and shared a few new songs.

Clearly giddy to be playing in New York City, Phox’s six members took their posts on the tiny stage and launched right into a material from their self-titled debut album. The band’s size doesn’t faze them one bit. Their onstage chemistry is due in part to the fact that they grew up together, attending the same high school in a very small town. So what could easily be a tumble of clumsy fingers on instruments is instead a web of warm harmonies, clever strings, quiet keys, bold beats and even the occasional trumpet. Suffice it to say, there is an undeniable kinship here. Singer Monica Martin’s airy, lilting vocals were front and center, and her fellow bandmates took turns playing sparkling solos.

“Noble Heart,” “Kingfisher” and “Slow Motion” showcased Phox’s flare for sneakily swelling harmonies. Anecdotes from Martin—whose idiosyncrasies are downright charming—peppered the set. The band brought up a friend, John Cameron Mitchell, who sang a gorgeous rendition of “Why Try to Change Me Now” (made popular by Frank Sinatra) with Martin as the two sipped martinis. Although the show ran late and the crowd trickled out around 1 a.m., it was well worth burning the midnight oil to see two truly talented teams of musicians work their magic. As far as live performances go, Phox and Trails & Ways are the cream of the crop. —Schuyler Rooth

Photos courtesy of Adam Macchia | www.adamkanemacchia.com

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Camera Obscura Charm Music Hall of Williamsburg

July 17th, 2014

Camera Obscura – Music Hall of Williamsburg – July 16, 2014

Camera Obscura – Music Hall of Williamsburg – July 16, 2014
There’s something to say about bands that have stuck together for nearly two decades, as have the Scottish troupe Camera Obscura. Helmed by Tracyanne Campbell and her sweet vocals, the band released their fifth studio album, Desire Lines, last summer while touring in support of She & Him. Obvious comparisons to countrymen Belle and Sebastian are inevitable, especially when that band’s frontman, Stuart Murdoch, produced Obscura’s first LP. From album to album these Glaswegians have found the perfect balance of indie-pop melodies and bittersweet lyrics. Bringing their blend of heartbreak masked behind ’60s-influenced sensibilities, Camera Obscura charmed a sold-out crowd last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg.

Performing before a backdrop of their previous album cover, the Scots opened the show with “Break It to You Gently,” from Desire Lines. Much of the set was comprised largely from that album and their 2009 effort, My Maudlin Career. In her infectious Scottish brogue, Campbell exclaimed, “Hellllo, how’s it going? What a beautiful evening! Exciting!” And then the rotating disco ball sparkled as they broke into the rollicking “Let’s Get Out of This Country” before the horn-heavy “Honey in the Sun” drew cheers for more trumpet upon its conclusion. Fan-favorite “French Navy” elicited a sing-along from the audience: “I was criticized for letting you break my heart/ Why would I stand for disappointed looks?/ I’m fully grown, but I’m on tenterhooks/ Ooh with the looks, on tenterhooks/ Ooh with the looks, the looks, the looks.”

Handclaps introduced “If Looks Could Kill” just before a pair of older tracks, “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken” and “My Maudlin Career,” closed the set. But not wanting to leave their admirers brokenhearted, Camera Obscura returned to the stage to encore with “Come Back Margaret,” “Books Written for Girls” and “Razzle Dazzle Rose.” The “midweek New Yorkers” who made the evening feel like a Saturday night enamored the frontwoman, and those same New Yorkers were equally enamored with Campbell and her band. —Sharlene Chiu

Photos courtesy of Mike Benigno | mikebenigno.wordpress.com

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With New Music, Little Dragon Kick Off Midsummer at Terminal 5

June 23rd, 2014

Little Dragon – Terminal 5 – June 20, 2014

Little Dragon - Terminal 5 - June 20, 2014
I can remember it like it was yesterday. A magical summer day two years back after a downpour rinsed off Brooklyn and the steamy heat rose to engulf the members of Little Dragon as they stepped onstage at Celebrate Brooklyn at the Prospect Park Bandshell. The Swedish electro group, led by Yukimi Nagano, had been touring in support of their latest, Ritual Union. I had just recently returned from Sweden where I had attended a wedding, and coincidentally the happy couple danced the night away with me that unforgettable evening. Needless to say the quartet had a lot to live up to that summer night.

Playing the first of two sold-out shows at Terminal 5 on Friday night, Nagano and gang slowly marched onstage with drummer Erik Bodin leading the procession dressed in a black unitard replete with sewn-on DayGlo flowers. Fans knew they were in for a treat. Opening with “Mirror,” from their recent release, Nabuma Rubberband, the frontwoman swayed in her knee-high socks and sparkly dress. The crowd erupted for “Please Turn,” from Ritual Union, as a sea of bodies undulated across the dance floor. Nagano got into her groove twirling and shaking her tambourine to “Underbart,” which led into claps from the elated audience for “Crystalfilm.” Expressing their joy to be back in New York City, the lady of the night informed revelers that it was Midsummer’s Eve, a big holiday for Swedes in which “everyone gets crazy and dances around.”

No difference on Friday in New York City. In the meat of the set, “Ritual Union” and the new LP’s lead single, “Klapp Klapp,” climaxed the night with a confetti-cannon explosion. How’s that for a celebration? A short exit barely fooled the audience into thinking that there wouldn’t be an encore, as the Swedes returned promptly with a trio of treats: Nabuma Rubberband’s title track, plus oldies but goodies “Runabout” and “Twice.” As if a confetti cannon weren’t enough, a balloon drop was perfectly triggered when the second-to-last song ended, leaving a cloud of inflated friends looming. Terminal 5 was a flurry of Midsummer converts as they exited the venue against stray balloons following them into the night. —Sharlene Chiu

Photos courtesy of Mina K

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The National Close Out a Three-Night Run in Prospect Park

June 20th, 2014

The National – Celebrate Brooklyn at Prospect Park Bandshell – June 19, 2014

The National – Celebrate Brooklyn at Prospect Park Bandshell – June 19, 2014
The National have become the kind of band that’s comparable to a loyal friend—someone you hear from at the turning of the seasons and make time to meet up with in a place that allows for conversation, perhaps over a Scotch. The meeting place last night was the enchanting confines of Celebrate Brooklyn at the Prospect Park Bandshell, where the band concluded a three-night run in a triumphant mood, performing as the ambassadors they’ve become in the current realm of alternative rock.

The National make intimate and revealing music that’s emboldened by lush, emphatic musical composition. Vocalist-slash-existentialist Matt Berninger uses his aching baritone to establish intimacy with the listener, candid and honest about life’s troubles and his personal acquaintance with them. And behind Berninger’s stories of vulnerability hovers the musician tandem of brothers Dessner and Devendorf, there to paint in the emotive score, stirring in the drama and romance by using rock instruments with an approach closer to the aims of a symphony. For all of Berninger’s cerebral and introspective writing, the National have always brought out their impact more deeply through the bolstering drumming of Bryan Devendorf. “Don’t Swallow the Cap,” “Secret Meeting,” “Anyone’s Ghost” and “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” all charging percussive numbers, set a momentous tone and announced the band’s confidence on the grand stage.

Satisfied that the crowd was sufficiently captivated, the National took their time with the more sprawling pieces, “Afraid of Everyone” and “This Is The Last time.” And then by shifting up a notch with the galloping of “Squalor Victoria” and the panicked kicking of “Brainy,” they not only indicated the depth of each of their albums but also a sensibility of molding different frames of a live performance toward distinct shifts in mood and timbre. “England” directly following “Pink Rabbits” blended in elegantly near the set’s end before giving way to the show’s crescendo anthems, “Fake Empire,” “Graceless” and “Mr. November.” The National are indeed like old friends, purposeful and patient with their messages, reliably planted in their character, encouraging us to look upon triumph and disaster with equal measure and showing us the bravery of facing it all through their music. —Charles Steinberg

Photos courtesy of Greg Pallante | gregpallante.com

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Tigers Jaw Still Matter

June 19th, 2014

Tigers Jaw – Music Hall of Williamsburg – June 18, 2014

Tigers Jaw – Music Hall of Williamsburg – June 18, 2014Last summer there was a collective freak-out in the emo and pop-punk-revival scene when word quickly spread of the imminent breakup of scene darlings Tigers Jaw. The Scranton, Pa., band eventually quelled those unfounded rumors by announcing a second full-length and eventually more touring. And last night they put on an excellent set for a rambunctious crowd at Music Hall of Williamsburg. Led by Brianna Collins and Ben Walsh, the remaining core from the original lineup, the five-piece’s hour-long set celebrated the arrival of summer for the young crowd as much as it was a “welcome back” of sorts for the group.

The happy atmosphere was well justified: Collins and Walsh’s harmonies superbly blended together, as did her synth with his lead guitar—which was supported by another guitarist, Jake Woodruff. People rushed the stage, surfed the crowd and dove from the stage from the outset, when the band kicked off their performance with “The Sun,” the sing-and-shout-along opening track from their revered 2008 self-titled album.

Amidst all that clatter, things were so messy that by the second song one fan’s iPhone-lit search for his lost glasses turned up multiple pairs, only to discover that none of them were his. A few songs later he ended the search and continued hopping around, a smile on his face as he sang along. While it undoubtedly would’ve been a big loss had Tigers Jaw actually called it quits, last night proved that they’ll have a hold on their little corner the scene for as long as they please. —Sean O’Kane

Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane | seanokanephoto.com

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Still They Rise

June 10th, 2014

The Preatures – The Bowery Ballroom – June 9, 2014

The Preatures – The Bowery Ballroom – June 9, 2014
Taking a break from recording their new album, the Preatures traveled all the way from Australia to kick off a summer tour that will undoubtedly build on the buzz they began generating in the last year. And while half of the sold-out crowd last night at The Bowery Ballroom was apparently still nursing Governors Ball hangovers (discussions of which weekend set was the best and tales of festival survival were abound), the room’s energy level was on high for the quintet’s killer set.

Plenty of comparisons have been (and will be drawn) between singer Isabella “Izzi” Manfredi and other powerful band leaders, like Mick Jagger or Chrissie Hynde, but the truth is that she’s already carved her own unique space. Manfredi’s versatile, unwavering voice is strong on steamy, slow affairs like the moody keyboard ballad “Two Tone Melody,” but she can also wrap those notes in some high-energy shouts and wails on songs like the ’80s dance rock-ish “Is This How You Feel.” Meanwhile, the other band members around her have crafted an excellent, tight sound that, like Manfredi’s voice, is supremely versatile. Gideon Bensen’s smooth voice backs Manfredi’s well, and Jack Moffitt’s effortless lead guitar is a marvel on its own.

Compared to their Mercury Lounge show this past March, there was even more recognition from audience members, and those who didn’t already know the Preatures were shouting for more by the end of the short set. Although still a fairly new band, the Preatures seem to have just about everything that would indicate their successful rise is a long way from stopping, and last night’s set proved to be no different. Although fans were still asking for more following the show’s conclusion, they were out early enough to do what so many New Yorkers are using this week for after this festival weekend: to catch up on some sleep. But chances are they’ll be dreaming of the Preatures. —Sean O’Kane

Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane | seanokanephoto.com

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Old Friends in a New Band at Mercury Lounge

June 4th, 2014

Spanish Gold – Mercury Lounge – June 3, 2014

Spanish Gold – Mercury Lounge – June 3, 2014
As a freelancer, you’re constantly answering questions like “Where are you working now?” and “What’s next?”—or even “How do you keep all that straight?” These questions are something I’d imagine Spanish Gold’s Dante Schwebel and Patrick Hallahan are also used to answering, considering they’ve been a part of a number of different bands over the past few years, all which led them here.

Schwebel bounced around the country with Texas rockers Hacienda for a few years, recently opened for Pink with City and Colour, and he also toured as Dan Auerbach’s lead guitarist (a tour that stopped at Webster Hall in 2009). Hallahan, who is better known for his role as My Morning Jacket’s rhythm keeper, manned drums and percussion on that tour. The two added another killer lead guitarist in Adrian Quesada, plus a bassist and two singers (one on keys, one on percussion), and voilà: Spanish Gold.

Last night, the experienced musicians sounded far better than a new band normally does, and the Southwestern-rock sound had Mercury Lounge in party mode from the first song to the last, a surprising yet remarkable cover of Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison.” (Schwebel joked that since they had run out of songs to play they might as well do something with some “funk.”) The room was just about completely full for the late-night set thanks in part to the band’s origin story, but they all certainly seemed happy to keep jamming in this current arrangement for a while to come. If not, at least we’ll know it won’t be long before we get to see the members of Spanish Gold rock out as something else. —Sean O’Kane

Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane | seanokanephoto.com

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Manchester Orchestra Get Loud at Terminal 5

May 23rd, 2014

Manchester Orchestra – Terminal 5 – May 22, 2014

Manchester Orchestra – Terminal 5 – May 22, 2014
In what felt like the loudest show at Terminal 5 in a long time, last night, Georgia quintet Manchester Orchestra spent well over an hour eviscerating the eardrums of their fans from the mosh pit up front to the couches on the third floor. Song after song, the heavy distortion of both Andy Hull’s and Robert McDowell’s guitars was inescapable no matter where you moved throughout the venue, while Andy Prince’s bass and Chris Freeman’s keyboards filled in much of the rest of the sonic space. Tim Very’s drumming, which has become its own spectacle since he joined the band a few years ago, rounded out the band’s massive sound. Few drummers look like they hit cymbals and skins as hard as Very, who seems to use every bit of motion he can muster to crash along the beat with a force that makes you wonder how he doesn’t break his drums, let alone his sticks.

The band, fresh off the April release of their fourth studio album, Cope, skewed older in their set list. While the new album’s thunderous beats and ear-shredding riffs seem primed for exposure on this tour, it’s hard to imagine anyone in the crowd complaining that they got to see the now rarely played “Colly Strings” and “I Can Barely Breathe.” In fact, not even much of Manchester Orchestra’s second-to-last release made it into the set, with just the two fan favorites in “Pensacola” and “Pale Black Eye” being played. No, most of the set list was culled from the band’s debut LP and its follow-up, Mean Everything to Nothing, which ended up being a perfectly heavy complement to the new tracks they performed. Over the years, Manchester Orchestra have played in just about every little venue there is in this city, but their increasingly gigantic sound has finally been putting them in increasingly bigger venues—and boy does it suit them. Just ask one of the thousands of people whose ears will be ringing all holiday weekend. —Sean O’Kane

Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane | seanokanephoto.com

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Conor Oberst and Dawes Throw Record-Release Party

May 21st, 2014

Conor Oberst/Dawes – Rough Trade NYC – May 20, 2014

Conor Oberst/Dawes – Rough Trade NYC – May 20, 2014
The inspired pairing of Conor Oberst and Dawes, who have teamed up on tour in support of Oberst’s latest offering, Upside Down Mountain, threw a sold-old record-release party last night at Rough Trade NYC, a lively show full of mutual admiration and camaraderie, replete with a multitude of intra-band fist bumps. New songs like “Double Life” and “Time Forgot” cover Oberst’s signature introspective lyrical territory, and although the climax of “Desert Island Questionnaire” last night reminded us that Oberst likes to get loud and aggressive too, Upside Down Mountain is primarily a gentle, subtle album.

Dawes delivered a solid opening set of their own before beautifully fleshing out Oberst’s songs, lending a warm and roots-y vibe with occasional twang, and more than kept up as Oberst indulged in those louder moments. With a catalog as large and prolific as Oberst’s, having recorded and released music for more than two decades of his young life, he has the ability to curate a unique live experience by pairing new material with complementary songs from his long list of older work.

Last night, Oberst tapped into our collective nostalgia with “Hit the Switch,” “Old Soul Song” and “We Are Nowhere and It’s Now,” songs that were all released nearly 10 years ago, during a period of songwriting that contained an intimacy much like that found on Upside Down Mountain. A true celebration with his new friends onstage and old friends in the crowd, Oberst seemed happy and grateful to introduce his new collection of songs, and we were certainly happy to receive them. —Alena Kastin

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

(Conor Oberst and Dawes play SummerStage on 7/29.)

 

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Talib Kweli Returns Home to Play Rough Trade NYC

May 19th, 2014

Talib Kweli – Rough Trade NYC – May 17, 2014

Talib Kweli – Rough Trade NYC – May 17, 2014
Talib Kweli is an MC who takes his mastering of the ceremonies very seriously. Back in Brooklyn only for Saturday afternoon, coming directly from LaGuardia and leaving out of JFK that night, Kweli treated his hometown fans to an intimate performance at Rough Trade NYC. He had everyone’s hands in the air, dancing and singling along, an impressive feat for an afternoon show, with most of the crowd sober and/or hungover. The man knows how to treat his fans and gets it back in love, no matter the time of day.

Talib Kweli is an artist with a lot to say. With nearly 20 years of music behind him, he’s always been a rapper who takes his words seriously. His Rough Trade NYC performance included a rare live rendition of “Rare Portraits,” telling everyone afterward that he usually avoids the autobiographical songs at shows in favor of the more “rah-rah, let’s party” selections. Performing his new song, “State of Grace,” about a rap fan feeling disconnected from the hip-hop she loved and grew up with, Kweli’s lyrics came out so fast and furious it was like he was racing himself to get across the song’s message.

Kweli loves talking to his audience, and he took time to discuss how he took a page from comedian Louis CK’s playbook by releasing his latest album, Gravitas, on his Web site directly to his fans, without a middleman. The MC had his own audience laughing, too. After his DJ threw down the hook for Rick James’ “Mary Jane” and Kweli realized most in the audience didn’t know it, he explained the genius of the song and how “you had to be covert with that shit” when rapping about smoking weed in the ’70s. “We got some lazy weed songs,” said Kweli, poking fun at Drake’s material and Kanye West’s “Get Em High.” The performance ended with the now-classic “Get By,” and then Kweli worked his way over to the record-store half of Rough Trade NYC to meet fans, take pictures and sign records. —Dan Rickershauser

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

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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