The Bogmen Celebrate Christmas at The Bowery Ballroom

December 22nd, 2014

The Bogmen – The Bowery Ballroom – December 19, 2014

(Photo: Dan Rickershauser)

(Photo: Dan Rickershauser)

If you’ve already heard of the Bogmen, then you probably love them. They had a short but sweet run through the mid-90’s, which included getting signed to the major label Arista for the release of their two albums. But in the pre-Internet days, when music discovery was left to happenstance, the Long Island group never broke huge. So instead of being liked by all, they remain loved by the select few in the know. The Bogmen dissolved with the ’90s but have reunited occasionally for charity shows, like their appearances at The Bowery Ballroon on Friday and Saturday. Their fans are still rabid, and anyone who saw them on Friday night has the beer-shower stains to prove it. (For those wondering if The Bowery Ballroom has the structural integrity to sustain a sold-out crowd of rather large men jumping in unison, the answer is yes.)

Their stage had all the glitz and glamour of a true Christmas spectacular, complete with a silver-streamer background and Christmas lights–lit microphone stands. The band wore all white outfits with wonderful accents of Christmas tree garland, and lead singer Billy Campion sported a tie made entirely of Christmas ornaments. With your eyes closed once the music started, you’d have thought this was a band playing shows on a regular basis. Dance friendly polyrhythmic grooves reminiscent of Talking Heads carried “Big Burn.” “Dr. Jerome (Love Tub, Doctor),” with its chorus of “Dr. Jerome, love tub doctor!” sung in unison by all, as loud as possible. Campion, who’s had vocal-cord issues in the past, powered through the vocal-straining “It’s a Fast Horizon,” noting that it was the first time he was able to sing it live, declaring his voice, at 43, the best it’s ever been. “Suddenly” came complete with a live rendition of the back-and-forth breakup phone call, with the original line declaring that the ’90s would be all about love replaced with “the ’90s, they’ve come and gone/ And now I don’t know what’s going on/ But I’m loving it!”

With a point, a nod or a smile, over the course of the night, band members acknowledged a number of faces in the crowd—a healthy mix of friends, fans and family. Opener Julia Haltigan joined the Bogmen for their encore of a stirring rendition of the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York,” complete with dancing around a stage crowded with band members. Someone dressed as Santa eventually made his way onstage. Or, if you believe in miracles, maybe it was Kris Kringle himself, taking off time from his busy schedule. After all, the Bogmen don’t perform very often, but when the opportunity arises, you take it.
—Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks




Landlady Holiday Spectacular: Great Night of Music for a Great Cause

December 9th, 2014

 The Landlady Holiday Spectacular – Mercury Lounge – December 8, 2014

I walked into Mercury Lounge last night to a festive holiday party already in progress. There were blinking lights, multiple trees and decorations throughout the room, a jar labeled FREE CANDY offered candy canes, and Santa Claus had just hopped off the stage to lead the room in “Silent Night.” Far be it from me to call Santa a liar, but the Landlady Holiday Spectacular would turn out to be anything but a silent night. In fact, with a makeshift second stage set up on the side of the room, there was almost no pause in the music for three-and-a-half hours, with brass bands big and small to indie-rock quartets to bluegrass trios, folk duos, large Afrobeat ensembles and almost anything else you could imagine. The sets were quick: two to four songs each, so if you didn’t like what you were hearing, you didn’t have to wait long, but that was rarely the case. It would take too long to even try to list the proceedings, probably about a dozen bands played in all, but there were Zula mixing Latin rhythms in an indie rock thing, the Westerlies adding Christmas songs to originals arranged for two trombones and a trumpet, the avant drum-and-guitar duo Star Rover expertly going post-post-rock, and Zongo Junction getting everyone boogieing down with their big, funky Afrobeat.

The audience constantly rotated between the front and the side, where little impromptu groups would spring up in between the more established ones, like when Rubblebucket’s Kal Traver joined the man of the hour, Adam Schatz, on a nice bluesy sax-and-vocals duet. Although the room was full, at times it felt like there were more musicians in the crowd than paying customers, a constant stream of saxophones and guitars fighting their way one of the stages. If this party were a movie, Schatz, who amazingly made the evening work while sitting in on sax with almost everyone, would’ve filled the director, producer and lead-actor roles. Still, by the time his band, Landlady, took the stage there was a risk that it would be anticlimactic after all that had already come. Not to worry, there wasn’t a chance of that happening. They opened with “Under the Yard,” off their new album, Upright Behavior, and raised the energy a few notches, mixing harmonies and offbeat rhythms with Schatz’s unique songwriting. The music was a groovy, progressive New Wave, a Talking Heads for the 21st century, with Schatz gesticulating lovingly at the front on keyboards. But even as he led Landlady through their repertoire—the title track and “Dying Day” were early set highlights—he was directing the show, prompting a horn section on the side stage to enter the fray at just the right moment.

Of course, with so many friends in the house, you had to expect even more collaborations, guests and permutations, and Schatz quickly ceded the stage to Jared Samuel (leading the band in a nice cover of George Harrison’s “Awaiting on You All”), Sam Cohen, Xenia Rubinos and Luke Temple. This highlight stretch turned Landlady into an expert house band primed for late-night talk shows, slipping between genres as easily as flipping through LPs at the record store. As if to punctuate the point, Landlady invited pretty much everyone onstage for a closing climactic one-two punch of covers by Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love” and Funkadelic’s “I Got a Thing.” With horns, guitars, drums and what seemed like the whole room singing along, spectacular doesn’t even begin to describe the festivities. It should also be noted that the whole night was a benefit for the Bushwick School of Music, which provides music education to kids who wouldn’t otherwise receive it in school. It was a worthy cause, indeed. Guys like Adam Schatz just don’t appear beneath the Christmas tree, you know. —A Stein | @Neddyo


L.A. Trio Wildcat! Wildcat! Make a Home at The Bowery Ballroom

November 25th, 2014

Wildcat! Wildcat! – The Bowery Ballroom – November 24, 2014

Despite taking their name from a reference to Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums, Wildcat! Wildcat! don’t sound anything like that film’s soundtrack, but rather they produce hazy tracks perfect for long drives around their home city, Los Angeles. Bassist Jesse Taylor, keyboardist Michael Wilson and drummer Jesse Carmichael garnered plenty of buzz for their early releases, a sold-out 7″ and a self-titled debut EP. And following a busy 2013 touring and supporting Alt-J and Portugal. The Man, the lads released their first full-length album, No Moon at All, this past August.

On an unseasonably warm Monday in New York City, the sunny tracks provided a perfect (if temporary) send-off to the autumn chills. Southern Californians turned The Bowery Ballroom into a party beginning with the slow burner “Tower // W.O.H.L.” Its quiet, starry intro burst into a kaleidoscope of dance beats and an echo of “put your head down low.” The vibe continued with the glimmering guitar lines against floating falsetto on “Garden Grays.” Although they almost played their album in its entirety, Wildcat! Wildcat! made sure to pepper the set with tracks from earlier in their catalog to delight fans.

Notably, Taylor admitted that they hadn’t played “The Chief” in some time, but those in the audience couldn’t tell a bit. Having dropped a cover of Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” on Baeble Music earlier in the day, the trio played their rendition live for the first time. And on a night when Carmichael hacked through not one but two sets of drumsticks, it seemed like nothing could limit the exuberance in the crowded room. Wildcat! Wildcat! ended the show and their tour with an encore of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” —Sharlene Chiu


TV on the Radio End Tour at Home at Music Hall of Williamsburg

November 24th, 2014

TV on the Radio – Music Hall of Williamsburg – November 22, 2014

TV on the Radio – Music Hall of Williamsburg – November 22, 2014
There was a time when Williamsburg was still an affordable place to live, before New York City’s music scene exploded with a handful of bands that would go on to define indie-rock music at the turn of the millennium—the Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol and TV on the Radio. That last group had their gestation period take place in Williamsburg, so it makes sense that they’d wrap up their latest tour in their home base. Still absolutely adored here, the band easily sold out three local shows (plus a free in-store appearance at Rough Trade NYC), with their final appearance taking place at a packed Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday night. The performance kicked off with one of TV on the Radio’s very first songs, an unraveling expansive soundscape that slowly evolved its way toward the introductory vocal coos of “Young Liars.” Its energy notched up incrementally until dissipating into the taut funkiness of “Golden Age.”

Singer Tunde Adebimpe was a stage-performing spectacle. Whichever hand wasn’t holding his microphone was almost always miming out the song, sometimes reaching out to the audience as if to lend them a hand into the tune. “The age of miracles/ The age of sound/ Well there’s a Golden Age/ Comin’ round, comin’ round, comin’ round,” Adebimpe sang in “Golden Age,” spiraling his hand in the air before extending it out to the audience: Grab my hand, hop on board and let’s check it out. Then there was the near constant harmonizing with Kyp Malone, and if there’s one thing that’s instantly recognizable as TV on the Radio, it’s the two of them singing together, with Malone always several octaves higher in the highest of falsettos. It splits the expressive possibilities of their songs in half, and in it’s best moments the two of them sing the same lyrics with different emotions. On “Careful You,” off their new album, Seeds, one seems to be singing a statement and the other a plea.

The older numbers had a more abrasive edge than the newer ones. “I Was a Lover,” with all its jittery, stuttering rhythm, encapsulates the Bush-era anxieties of the mid-’00s as well as any other song of that time. On “Wolf Like Me,” the band made things as loud as possible. Dave Sitek even brought out a four-foot wind chime, rattling the hell out of it as the song finished. Contrast that with the new tune that followed, “Trouble,” and its reassurances in the chorus of “‘Everything’s gonna be OK/ Oh, I keep telling myself, ‘Don’t worry, be happy’/ Oh, you keep telling yourself.” TV on the Radio’s encore kicked off with “Forgotten,” off Nine Types of Light, Adebimpe leading the audience in chanting, “Light,” to combat life’s darkness. The set closed with “Staring at the Sun,” their first single, the perfect finish to a tour-ending show in their hometown, where once upon a time it had all begun. —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood |


The Barr Brothers Bring Their Beautiful, Exotic New Music to the LES

November 24th, 2014

The Barr Brothers – The Bowery Ballroom – November 21, 2014

If you got to the Barr Brothers show at The Bowery Ballroom a little early on Friday night like I did, you were greeted by a stage filled with instruments. Music makers of all sorts crammed every corner of the space: at least half a dozen guitars including some D.I.Y. thing that looked like an old lunch pail with strings, a harp, a pedal steel guitar, a couple of keyboards, drums (is that a bicycle wheel?!) and at some point around a zillion I lost count. It was a sight to behold and foreshadowed the music to come. At least a couple of those instruments belonged to the opener, Leif Vollebekk, who mesmerized the early birds with a solo set of folk-centric music, the perfect palette cleanser between the workweek and the weekend. He packed quite a bit into his 30 minutes, playing two different guitars at multiple tunings each, an electric piano, a harmonica and a violin he had hidden off to the side. The highlight was “When the Subway Comes Above the Ground,” a long, Dylan-esque number with wonderful imagery and acoustic guitar playing to match. Vollebekk finished with a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.”

By the time the Barrs took the stage, the room was filled with decidedly high spirits. The band, the brothers Andrew and Brad Barr plus four, began things, naturally, all with an instrument in hand, including Sarah Page, holding what I guess I’d call a mini harp, and Andrew on banjo. The music was beautiful and exotic, a sound greater than the contributions of each musician and instrument. Songs like “Wolves” and “Love Ain’t Enough,” off their new album, Sleeping Operator, or the excellent “Beggar in the Morning,” from their 2011 self-titled debut, deliciously blended pedal steel–meets-harp in ethereal melody. Along the way, all those instruments onstage—and more hidden from sight—made an appearance in fascinating permutations, Brad Barr performing with each different guitar like a musician showing off a how’d-he-do-that trick. The sounds were dense and often unexpected, I kept craning my neck to see who was playing what and how and usually gave up. While Brad led the way and proved his mastery on guitar, Andrew held things together and set the tone, at one point simultaneously singing and playing drums and banjo. At different times the music felt African and heavy blues and art-folk-pop or genres still to be determined, everything made to fit together snug by the brothers Barr.

Following a lengthy set, the Barr Brothers encored with “Cloud (For Lhasa),” which seemed to encompass and summarize the whole night at once—beautiful songwriting augmented by masterful guitar playing, distinctive harp plucking, pedal steel (played with a bow for good measure), Andrew playing drums and xylophone, Leif Vollebekk returning to add some violin, not to mention great keyboard and bass playing, and to top it all off, Brad Barr taking a lengthy solo that brought him down into the crowd. Quite a way to end quite a set. Good thing too … if they had kept playing, they might have literally brought out the kitchen sink. —A. Stein | @neddyo


The New Pornographers Are in the Zone

November 21st, 2014

The New Pornographers – Union Transfer – November 20, 2014

Last night at Union Transfer, I felt a collective sense of nostalgia. The sold-out crowd that came out to see the New Pornographers appeared to know many of the songs, but they mostly showed quiet appreciation for the music, rather than jubilant release. That seemed to suit the New Pornographers, too, as cofrontman AC Newman said, in a song break, “We’re all focused on rocking…. We’re in the zone.” And within that zone, they played a smattering of songs from their new album, Brill Bruisers, as well as selections from their formidable catalog, six albums deep.

Last night’s show played to the strengths of the other cofrontman, Dan Bejar—who goes by Destroyer in his solo project. Bejar, visually distinctive with his raised mess of curly hair, full beard and rumpled, unbuttoned shirt, crooned in his odd, high register. On the songs that featured his vocals, he walked out from stage right, sang with nonchalance, bowed deeply and then disappeared again to stage right. It was an excellent counterpoint to the otherwise straight-up power pop songs that are the staple of the New Pornographers.

What made the performance so enjoyable, though, was the balance. The New Pornographers are a supergroup, with essentially every member counting as a someone who fronts the band. The greatest example of this is Neko Case, an incredibly successful solo artist in her own right, who sacrificed most of her vocal duties to support Newman and Bejar in harmonies. She tapped the tambourine and clapped with the audience, but when she blended her voice, it made the whole thing work. It’s that attention to detail that shows the wisdom of experience. Seeing that from Case and the New Pornographers reminded me that there’s improvement to be had over time and endless good feelings in the small refinements of prolific talent. —Jared Levy |


Thee Oh Sees Chase Away Cold Weather at The Bowery Ballroom

November 19th, 2014

Thee Oh Sees – The Bowery Ballroom – November 18, 2014

The reasons to stay home last night were there for the taking: It was the first “damn, it’s cold outside!” night of the season, late start on a Tuesday night, etc. No one’s blaming you if you skipped out on the Thee Oh Sees at The Bowery Ballroom. But John Dwyer and his bandmates are a center of gravity, and judging from the jubilant packed house, few, if any, were able to withstand its irresistible pull. Opening with “Tunnel Time,” off last year’s Floating Coffin, Dwyer was a lesson in classic physics—pure kinetic energy, object-in-motion-tends-to-stay-in-motion conservation of angular momentum—and pretty much kept it up the entire set. The band mixed songs off their newest album, Drop, with plenty of older barn burners, but it wasn’t so important which tunes they played as how they played them, and how they played them was like a powder keg with a very short fuse.

Here’s what you don’t get at a Thee Oh Sees show: fancy lights, digital projections or witty banter … or any banter for that matter. They pretty much employed the Bowery’s basic lights, eschewing the modern color palettes and designs available and sticking mostly to red, yellow and blue. This was primary-color rock, stripped down to its bare essentials: guitar, bass and drums operating as a single unit, a shot of punk adrenaline with a garage-psych chaser. Which isn’t to say that Dwyer’s music is simple. Songs were stretched out just long enough, Tim Hellman on bass and Nick Murray on drums matching his blistering, never self-indulgent guitar with propulsive melodic rhythm.

On some songs Dwyer used a 12-string guitar to add a little flavor, other times playing a few riffs through a small synth to good effect, but mostly he was pounding away at his guitar, half singing/half shouting his lyrics, everything punctuated by one big Sans Serif exclamation point, if not two or three of them. The crowd kept up with the band, bouncing and moshing with the occasional stage diver taking a ride on the bubbling audience. It was hard to not get sucked into the high-energy fun. For all their great studio tracks, Thee Oh Sees proved that they are best experienced live in the raw and that this was live music in its purest, distilled form … well worth getting off the couch. —A. Stein |

(Thee Oh Sees play Warsaw on Friday.)


Lucinda Williams Rises to the Challenge at the Beacon Theatre

November 18th, 2014

Lucinda Williams – Beacon Theatre – November 17, 2014

Lucinda Williams celebrated her new LP, Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, with a spirited performance at the Beacon Theatre last night. For many artists, creating a double album of almost completely new and original music might be a bit daunting, but Williams’ musical output in recent years has been ambitious and inspired, and perhaps this is the new normal for her—the fans would certainly not complain.

With her leather jacket and confident, wide-legged stance, Williams commanded the stage, as usual, combining new songs—like “Protection,” the moody “Burning Bridges” and the bluesy “Something Wicked This Way Comes”—with material from back in the ’80s (“Side of the Road”), the ’90s (“Pineola,” “Lake Charles,”) and of course, a great deal from her prolific songwriting period during the Aughts. With a natural ability to give a strong sense of atmosphere with just a few well-chosen details, she’s always been an excellent storyteller. But during last night’s show, Williams prefaced another new song, “Compassion,” by saying it was especially challenging to write. It was the first time she attempted to put one of the poems by Miller Williams, her father, to music. She spoke about his insistence that songs and poems are “two different animals.”

Yet Williams rose to the challenge, and the resulting song was something of a departure from much of her lively, roots-y material, a stark, melancholic piece of music that seemed to wrap itself around the lines of the poem, allowing the rhythm of the words to inform the melody. The result was both arresting and refreshing, an interesting look at an artist seeking to keep exploring and challenging herself, while continuing to make and perform the music that has always spoken to her. —Alena Kastin |


Come On, Get Happy with Ani DiFranco at Music Hall of Williamsburg

November 17th, 2014

Ani DiFranco – Music Hall of Williamsburg – November 14, 2014

(Photo: Charles Waldorf)

(Photo: Charles Waldorf)

One word that kept popping up during Ani DiFranco’s set at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday night was happy. Whether it was her performance of “Happy All the Time” or her anecdote about an early MTV appearance when Kurt Loder described her as “alarmingly happy,” there was no mistaking the word’s presence in the room. But even her most casual fans know that in DiFranco’s universe words have meaning, have consequence. So while happy made its presence felt, happiness itself, that most sought after of emotions, was in overabundance from the moment DiFranco took the stage. By the time she played the first notes of the show-opening “Not a Pretty Girl,” singing, “I ain’t no damsel in distress,” the audience was drowning in unadulterated joy: screaming, singing, dancing, shouting and, of course, smiling.

DiFranco has that effect on people, and while her own smile was positively beatific, she seemed used to such a reaction. Watching her perform, it’s little surprise that DiFranco pours more emotion and energy into a single chord of her acoustic guitar and wrings more rhythm and soul out of a phrase-turning lyric than you would think is possible. Even her between-song banter was the stuff of Zen poetry: her apologies for new material to come after the old “lulls you into a false sense of security,” and an anecdote about her daughter’s favorite “mommy song” (“Rainy Parade”), and the description of taking a very old song, “Itch,” and turning it into something new. While the old numbers elicited the most enthusiasm from the audience, it’s saying something that some of the best moments came from the new stuff. And there was plenty, whether a generous helping from her new album, Allergic to Water, or the song she wrote a couple of weeks ago or the one that she was working on the previous evening that may or may not be finished, DiFranco proved herself to be dense with songs that are dense with musical ideas and notes and imagery.

As always with DiFranco, part of her show’s magic was the chemistry of the band: Todd Sickafoose on bass, Terence Higgins on drums, and about half the set with Jenny Scheinman on violin and backing vocals. The group was part folk-rock band, part country ensemble, part jazz quartet. The portions with Scheinman (who played an excellent solo opening set) were arguably the strongest, her kindred-spirit playing and singing providing valuable, dimension-expanding counterpoint to DiFranco’s frantic musicianship. The four of them performing “Tis of Thee” was chills-inducing good, a happy-making highlight in a show alarmingly full of them. —A. Stein |


Tame Impala Lay It Down on Broadway

November 11th, 2014

Tame Impala – Beacon Theatre – November 10, 2014

SwFNceWCEg-39M-6eaLmGM1RUUQeEzLOdaOmq8EzDGMWhat is it they say about Broadway, something about how there’s always magic in the air? Australian rockers Tame Impala made the move uptown this week to the Beacon Theatre, playing the second of two-sold out shows last night and there was plenty of magic in the air as the five-piece proved that they’re a perfect fit for a show right there on Broadway. After a mesmerizing set of instrumental guitar music from Delicate Steve, the Perth quintet took the stage as the electronic drums of “Be Above It” set the tone, green oscilloscope lights on the backdrop twinkling in time to the beat. As Kevin Parker’s zone-out vocals echoed, the sights and sounds grew more chaotic, the band arching orbital sounds through the venue.

The tone firmly set, the rest of the show was a majestic 80-minute psychedelic rock–and-lights masterpiece: immersive and transforming. On a day when many in the music world were discussing a new Pink Floyd release, on songs like “Solitude Is Bliss,” Tame Impala felt like the real thing at their peak, mixing prog and psych, groove and full-throated rock outs while every color of the rainbow zapped through the room in time to the music. In working through most of their 2012 LP, Lonerism, they showed there’s plenty of life in slow, otherworldly groovers like “Why Won’t They Talk to Me?” and big time arena-rock bliss in “Elephant.” There was one moment during “Endors Toi” when the group seemed to make science, ’70s prog rock and the slow clap seem cool again in one single passage, the crowd holding the beat, the band tripping hallucinogenic in synth and guitars and the backdrop going full on mathematical. Keeping with the theme, in the intro to “Mind Mischief,” Parker turned to face the screen behind him as it buzzed into shapes following his distorted guitar solo, like he was painting psychedelic patterns with his music, science meets art in Technicolor.

Of course, there were plenty of bits of esoteric instrumentals and extended jams throughout the performance, but they felt earned, part of the journey and not the destination itself. The growing entropy of the show met its end with the set-closing “Apocalypse Dreams,” the oscilloscope imagery a Crayola box of squiggles seeming to rush out at the geeked audience while the band built to a final climax. With a crowd-pleasing, sing-along encore of “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” it appeared that what they say about Broadway, at least as far as Tame Impala are concerned, is true after all. —A. Stein

(Delicate Steve play Mercury Lounge on 11/20.)


The Dismemberment Plan Deliver Live at The Bowery Ballroom

November 10th, 2014

The Dismemberment Plan – The Bowery Ballroom – November 8, 2014

“We’re the Dismemberment Plan from Washington D.C.” I’ve never seen this band introduce themselves any other way, and it’s as good a starting point as any. This is a rock band from D.C., America’s most political town that took punk rock in the ’80s and evolved it, kept it great. In some future book about D.C. punk, their chapter will probably follow Fugazi’s and will say a lot about the late ’90s and early Aughts, when they made a legacy for themselves. Here’s the band that took post-punk technicality, added in a synth where applicable, surrounded themselves with a community of devoted fans, and in many ways kept a scene alive. They were an indie band that flirted with a major-label career, one with Interscope Records that gave them the resources to record a near-perfect record, Emergency & I, only to see the relationship dissolve before it was ever released. After some breaks, the band seemed to be back for good as of 2010, even releasing some new material in 2013 with Uncanney Valley. But this latest tour comes on the heels of the vinyl rerelease of Change, their 2001 record that most at the time assumed would be their last. In short, they’re the Dismemberment Plan from D.C. One thing to add: They’re incredible live. That observation inevitably follows their introduction.

If it’s possible for a band to be tighter live than on record, the Dismemberment Plan are. They wouldn’t function without perfect drumming, which they get from Joe Easley. He doesn’t so much lead the band as he pushes them all into the same rhythm. Fun fact: His day job is programming robotics for NASA. Those two jobs are definitely related. Look at New York City from a distance and you may see the place pulsing with an almost mechanical life force, pushing its millions of inhabitants through their lives, creating some large-scale sense of order with a mind entirely of its own. The first few bars of “The City” distill that feeling into the song’s rhythm. Lead singer Travis Morrison’s plainspoken lyrics sit comfortably atop all of this, feeling like real-time narration for the world the song represents. For “You Are Invited,” nothing but a synth skeleton of a beat makes up this world, but when Morrison breaths humanity into the scene he’s setting and responds to it, the band jumps in for the chorus. “You are invited by anyone to do anything/ You are invited for all time.” The sudden change really does make the chorus feel like you’re being extended an invitation to belong in a world that seldom feels welcoming. And it’s certainly an invitation to sing along.

Some of Dismemberment Plan’s lesser-known songs become highlights when performed live. “Dismemberment Plan Gets Rich” almost seemed like the whitest rap song ever written. For seven seconds, the frantic noisy song fell unexpectedly into an out-of-nowhere funk groove for the line “Joe got caught aboard a boat with seven tons of opium,” the most pleasant of sonic surprises for those not anticipating it. “Girl O’Clock” felt like a panic attack in music form, with Morrison thrashing onstage toward his synth, falling over, convulsing through stuttered lyrics about how if he doesn’t have sex soon he’ll die. His self-deprecating banter between songs was almost a show in and of itself. Two songs in, his failed attempt to drink beer soaked the stage. When someone came over with a towel, the frontman remarked, “This is like James Brown with the cape except really pathetic.” The incident provided commentary for the rest of the night, complete with zippy cup jokes, pulling up the beer-soaked set list and other jabs at his own expense. As is customary for Dismemberment Plan shows, about half the venue joined the band onstage for the mighty sing-along that is “The Ice of Boston.” Morrison allowed everyone to stay for the final song of the night, providing the opportunity to “commit to Andrew W.K.–style head banging” through “What Do You Want Me to Say?” They complied. —Dan Rickershauser







Jenny Lewis Entertainingly Shows Depth at Terminal 5

November 6th, 2014

Jenny Lewis – Terminal 5 – November 5, 2014


(Photo: Eddie Bruiser)

In the years since Jenny Lewis’s band Rilo Kiley broke up, she has become a bona fide solo artist, honing and sharpening her songwriting skills and delivering her lyrics with a signature hint of twang and melancholy. In support of The Voyager, Lewis’s latest solo record, last night the artist treated a sold-out Terminal 5 to a lively, rainbow-hued evening of material from the album, complete with crowd-pleasing detours down memory lane to some Rilo Kiley favorites.

As an onstage presence, Lewis is confident and eminently jovial—strutting and posturing playfully during “Just One of the Guys” and “The Next Messiah,” and regaling the crowd with a comedic story that inspired to the vacation-gone-awry song “Aloha & the Three Johns.” Lewis’s fun-loving stage persona during these moments was an interesting counterpoint to the themes within much of her musical output over the years—songs that explore a cynical or wistful take on love and marriage, personal insecurities and perceived failures. The inner life that emerged in these songs added a layer of depth and intrigue to the stage show’s cheerful pop veneer while also providing a nice hint of irony during certain moments, particularly when large colorful balloons cascaded down on the crowd like giant gumballs as Lewis sang “Love U Forever,” a song with subtext far bleaker
than the title suggests.

Lewis closed out the night with The Voyager’s “She’s Not Me,” a completely catchy breakup song with an easy-listening vibe that nonetheless simmers with a certain sadness on the album. Yet when Lewis performed the number last night, smiling and dancing with her band, it felt much more empowering, almost triumphant—another example of the performer’s many understated complexities. —Alena Kastin

(Jenny Lewis plays the Space at Westbury tonight.)


Ex Hex Close Out the Weekend at Mercury Lounge

November 3rd, 2014

Ex Hex – Mercury Lounge – November 2, 2014

Ex Hex – Mercury Lounge – November 2, 2014
Ex Hex took to the stage at Mercury Lounge on a cold and blustery New York City Marathon Sunday evening, where at least one attendee displayed his race-finishing medal along with a whiskey and Coke. It turns out a marathon wasn’t a bad visual metaphor for independent-rock endurance racer Mary Timony, a purveyor of catchy garage rock since the 1990s, and her latest project, Ex Hex. Timony’s latest band articulated something beyond the well-worn loneliness of a long distance runner.

Playing songs from their appropriately titled debut LP, Rips, Ex Hex showed no signs of wearing out. Instead, the Thin Lizzy drums and guitar riffs settled the three-piece into a place that sounded newly generative and well-worn. The band had finished their sound check to the pounding sound of Kanye West’s “Hold My Liquor,” but “Don’t let me get in my zone/ I’m already in my zone” might have been better entrance music for a trio so steeped in both the present and the past. Dressed in black, Ex Hex opened with “Waterfall” before moving through “Don’t Wanna Lose” and “How You Got That Girl.” The sold-out crowd shuffled and bounced to match the down-stroke guitars coming from the stage.

Ex Hex—also the name of one of Timony’s solo albums in one of those meta moments where the art and the artist grow increasingly more intertwined—sat their best song, “Hot and Cold,” in the middle of the set. Despite the blowing waste outside on Houston St., or the hours-earlier struggles of runners on the Verrazano or Queensboro Bridges, Ex Hex suggested something different about temperature and age. Timony sang, “I cannot see through your disguise,” and then the intentional dissociation: “So young, so old.” The band’s set headed for its conclusion, a mixture of the aged and contemporary, and for the moment, with the chunky guitars and Ex Hex’s big hooks, we were all finishers.
—Geoff Nelson

Photos courtesy of Peter Senzamici |


A CMJ Showcase with a Global Touch at Rough Trade NYC

October 27th, 2014

Austin Psych Fest Presents – Rough Trade NYC – October 25, 2014


For a showcase evening put on by a psych-rock festival, you might have expected trippy visuals, a slacker vibe and plenty of long guitar jams. As far as the Austin Psych Fest CMJ show at Rough Trade NYC on Saturday night, that’s a check, affirmative and a “hell yeah!” The full marathon showcase stretched from Saturday supper to just about Sunday breakfast, but I can only attest to the three heart-of-the-night sets I caught and assure you there were plenty of all three. Wampire, out of Portland, Ore., didn’t shy away from the night’s extended free-for-all mentality, stretching out things in a sort of psychedelic doo wop while a virtual pot of water boiled on the screen behind them. A guest sax player brought a free-jazz sound that got things even more out there.

Melbourne’s King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard provided the night’s centerpiece. Only at CMJ can you go to a Brooklyn venue to see an Australian band in a show put on by a Texas promoter. The group’s name evokes something Jim Morrison might have ad-libbed in a lysergic-induced rant—or maybe the band that played the raging Butterbeer keggers in the Hogwarts dungeons—and their set didn’t dispel such notions. They opened with a 15-minute blizzard of sound: double drums setting off three overlapping guitars (including a space-out 12-string) and an acid-blues harmonica, everything resting on a Jack Bruce (R.I.P.) bass. Was it one song or several duct taped together? Didn’t matter, because it was a glorious display of body-shaking psych rock that turned the sold-out club on its head. The rest of the set emerged confidently from the crater left by the explosive opener, stoner excursions crossed with a smart prog-rock mentality (a little flute, anyone?) accompanied by jittery Technicolor static on the backdrop. When they announced their last song, the just-getting-going audience learned the downside of CMJ week, the set felt like the trailer of a blockbuster, whetting the appetite for the real thing later on down the road, which most in the room would agree will be here soon.

The upside of CMJ is there is always more. And as the clock ticked toward morning, Moon Duo turned things inward. The trio (!?) began each song, like “Free Action,” and then let the sound become untethered. Long droning guitar jams circled back on themselves while drums and synth did their best to keep things from floating too far away as the display zapped horizontal lines of color back and forth across the screen. For me, it was a perfect ending to the night, for others, it was probably just the beginning. —A. Stein




Courtney Barnett and San Fermin Are a Winning Combination

October 21st, 2014

Courtney Barnett/San Fermin – Union Transfer – October 20, 2014


The rarely mentioned truth about live music is that it is, in essence, an exercise in predictability. From night to night, bands play the same songs with minor variations. The attitude of the crowds may influence things, but when a group plays their songs, they are working from a script, a set list of material, which, hopefully, they know well. Within that paradigm, where is the band’s enjoyment? What does the audience come to see and hear? How is live music a unique experience?

Listening to Courtney Barnett, you get the sense that whatever navel-gazing, highbrow thinking is imposed on her music, she will shrug it off and keep playing. As the lyric to her runaway radio hit, “Avant Gardender,” goes, “It’s a Monday/ It’s so mundane.” Mundane for her, maybe, but for the audience that came to see Barnett with coheadliner San Fermin last night at Union Transfer, the performance was extraordinary, necessarily so. It’s self-evident that everyone would feel something different, from the older couple sitting at the circular table wedged between the bar and a support beam to the many flannel-clad twentysomethings. As a member of the visual majority, I too could pick out the influence of the Dirty Projectors and the National on the intricate orchestral pop of San Fermin.

And in Barnett’s shrug-filled delivery, I even heard a little Dylan. But on Monday I wanted to lose myself in these performances, and for two mesmerizing hours, they offered just that, as routine magic. Midway through her set, Barnett asked, “How is everyone doing? Good, great or average?” You could take a poll, but we all know that the responses would differ. Barnett—and her band—and San Fermin are two well-paired acts, touring as a curveball-to-fastball one-two combination. It’s tricky and off-kilter, but I imagine that every night is slightly different and new. And when it comes to live music, that is what you hope for. —Jared Levy