Reigning Sound Bring New Tunes to The Bowery Ballroom

August 29th, 2014

Reigning Sound – The Bowery Ballroom – August 28, 2014

There’s a theory that some people have that the mountain of great music to come out of America—or more specifically the South—has a lot to do with the Mississippi River. That massive flowing body of water just puts a spell on people, and from that spell comes the great genres of American music: blues, soul, gospel, rock and roll. The river is merely a natural world muse for the region and its artists. A part of me believes this. And it would help explain Memphis-born Greg Cartwright, the lead man behind Reigning Sound with an uncanny knack for pumping out songs that fit so nicely into the canon of American music. Almost all of his material comes with a dash of soul, a sprinkling of gospel and a nice healthy dollop of classic rock and roll. Few people are this good at it. (Perhaps Alex Chilton, another Memphis native, who was once wade deeply in the mighty river.)

Cartwright’s on-again-off-again career with Reigning Sound has most certainly switched back to on as of late. Having just released one of the year’s best albums, Shattered, Reigning Sound came to Bowery Ballroom last night to play through almost the entire LP. Their set kicked off with the album opener, the fiery upbeat “North Cackalacky Girl.” Given the newness of the record, the new songs played live came out sounding incredibly polished. Their set even got some assistance from a violin and cello player to fill out the gorgeous backings of the mournful “Never Coming Home.” Cartwright has a long history of working in punk bands, most notably the Oblivians. And if you listen closely, you can hear it influencing Reigning Sounds’ … well, sound.

Although not a band that falls into the punk category, there is certainly a punkish energy behind some of Reigning Sounds’ earlier songs, especially “Reptile Style.” That tune still sticks out crystal clear in my mind when I first heard the band opening for the Hives in 2004. That they weren’t overshadowed opening for a group Spin magazine dubbed “the best live band on the planet” that year, certainly says something. That the latest iteration of Reigning Sound some 10 years later plays that song even better than when I first heard it says something, too. Their band name is fitting, I’ll leave it at that. —Dan Rickershauser



Music as Medicine on Saturday Night at Rough Trade NYC

August 18th, 2014

Bobby Long/Dawn Landes – Rough Trade NYC – August 16, 2014

It had been one of those weeks when upsetting news and disturbing images across the world seemed to fill an even greater percentage of our consciousness than usual—the kind of week that requires some good, honest music to remind you that there are still beautiful things out there. And thankfully, on Saturday night, Rough Trade NYC hosted a bill filled with acts that were just what the doctor ordered. A band to keep your eye on, Brooklyn upstart Bird Dog, opened the show with intelligent songwriting and innovative genre blending. The band hopped among styles easily: a close approximation of a country honky-tonk, a Latin groove machine and a radio-ready pop group in quick succession. And terrific guitar playing and touches of violin impressively punctuated great songs like “Holiday Season” and “Read My Letter.”

Dawn Landes, a one-woman prescription for whatever ails you, played the middle set. Her newest album, Bluebird, comes off like a newly found timeless classic, filled with golden-era country-inflected folk songs. As luck would have it, Robert Ellis, who also has a best-in-class album out this year, joined her. With Landes leading the way with her sweet-tea voice and easy-to-love charm and Ellis chiming in with an occasional harmony and quick acoustic-guitar fills, the duo melted away worries and evaporated strife. The set was full of highlights, from the cover of the sweetly humorous John Prine/Iris Dement duet “In Spite of Ourselves” to the gorgeous trio (with friend Lauren Balthrop singing harmony) on “Twilight.” But my favorite moment was when Landes sang the new album’s title track, a few minutes of perfection.

Bobby Long, who is from NYC by way of London, closed out the night singing folk the old fashioned way—just a man and his guitar onstage. With hair covering his eyes and a heavy dose of Brit humor, Long was introspective with his music. Songs were introduced with quick jokes and “true story” anecdotes, but seemed to grow in his playing, with vivid emotional imagery and broader themes. Singing solo allowed Long to expand his vocals, repeating choruses each time with different emphasis, filling in nicely with bits of fingerpicked guitar. I thought the set highlight was “Kill Someone”—about “fucking assholes”—which was prefaced with a description of Long’s sister’s ex-husband. His jokey introduction of “serious song, no clapping” made way for a piece with real anger that gave it a lively energy. Long described it as “hitting him with lyrics” as opposed to the real-life swing and a miss that his dad tried to lay on the jerk. That song might have had much more of an impact, but when passionately sung by Long it was a damn good one regardless, which counts for something. If only all the world’s problems could be solved with a great song. —A. Stein


Agnes Obel Proves to Be Worth the Wait

August 15th, 2014

Agnes Obel – The Bowery Ballroom – August 14, 2014

Unusual for the popular music vernacular, Danish singer-songwriter Agnes Obel floats through a landscape of pop divas and indie bands. She trained in classical piano at a very young age and was ensconced in a house filled with music, including a mother who was a talented pianist and father with a habit of collecting instruments. Her current residence in Berlin houses not one, but two pianos—a Grotrian-Steinweg and a Berdux. As if the pair weren’t enough, she’s also got a vintage house organ for good measure. Obel released her sophomore album, Aventine, last fall following the success of her debut Philharmonics. Although she was slated to play The Bowery Ballroom this past March, visa delays prevented her from arriving Stateside, but not to fear as she returned for a small three-city tour, which concluded last night at a sold-out Bowery Ballroom.

Clad in an iridescent and sheer black shirt, Obel took her seat behind a black Steinway as she opened with “Louretta,” an instrumental piece worthy of a period drama musical score. A river of trembling keys introduced “Fuel to Fire” before the Dane produced Kate Bush–like choral cooing. The pianist apologized to those March ticket holders and promised a special evening. Cellist Anne Müller later confessed that she was the one who hadn’t gotten her visa to travel to the United States. All was forgiven as the trio, completed with violinist Mika Posen (Timber Timbre), effortlessly weaved through both albums.

From the fluttery keys on the song about a bad temper, “Beast,” to a waltz of title track “Philharmonics,” the women hovered amongst the delicately played pieces to the joy of fans. Obel saved the best for last, offering crowd-favorite “Riverside,” as well as the new love song “Words Are Dead.” Although “The Curse” closed out the set, the three returned to encore with a pair: the vocally requested “Pass Them By” and a reimagined cover of folk blues singer Karen Dalton’s “Katie Cruel.” —Sharlene Chiu



Wildcat! Wildcat! Charm Mercury Lounge

August 14th, 2014

Wildcat! Wildcat! – Mercury Lounge – August 13, 2014

Wednesday nights at Mercury Lounge can begin slowly. But last night’s late-show crowd was mesmerized early on as multi-instrumentalist Marley Carroll took the stage. He kicked off things by songs filled with sharpshooting synths and airy vocals. Initially, the crowd shied away from dancing due to the set’s slow, ambient beginnings, but Carroll’s fast-morphing samples and rhythmic bass quickly took hold of everyone. Based in Asheville, N.C., the producer has a knack for melding effervescent pop stylings with eerie electronic elements to create a gorgeously sleek sound. A pair of tracks from his 2013 album, Sings“The Hunter” and “Speed Reader”—anchored his impressive performance.

Grinning ear to ear, the four Wildcat! Wildcat! bandmates wove through the dense crowd and onto the stage. In town for a second night, the inventive indie rockers were more than happy to have another keen New York City audience. They opened with “Tower,” the first song off of their debut full-length album, No Moon at All, which came out just last week. A longstanding friendship among the three core Wildcat! Wildcat! members explains the organic camaraderie that radiates from them onstage. There’s a lot of humor and exuberance at play in their material, and while these elements could easily make their music float aimlessly into the realm of sugary synth pop, introspective, desire-filled lyrics and beguiling harmonies root the crafty Los Angeles outfit’s music firmly in its own little plot of land somewhere in the Venn diagram overlap of dance, pop and rock.

“Hero,” “Circuit Breaker,” the playful-yet-somber ballad “Mr. Quiche” and “The Chief” (complete with a very clever sax solo) stood out. And the entire show proved that Wildcat! Wildcat!’s songs are built for live play. With the memory of last night’s sparkling performance still clear in my head, I’ll happily put No Moon at All on heavy rotation and surrender to the band’s ever-vibrant charm. —Schuyler Rooth




A Modest Mouse Lovefest at the Capitol Theatre

August 6th, 2014

Modest Mouse – Capitol Theatre – August 5, 2014

(Photo: Andie Diemer)

(Photo: Andie Diemer)

A love for Modest Mouse is one that runs deep. My own unscientific assessment of this leads me to believe that an unusually high percentage of the band’s fans also have Modest Mouse tattoos. And at the earliest indicators that the group was about to take the Capital Theatre stage last night—as the road crew wrapped up tuning guitars, the house lights dimming—just about everyone in the building screamed at the top of their lungs. That screaming would carry on for the rest of the night. Most artists tend to see their muse as something external, but Isaac Brock’s seems to live in his belly. It’s as if he’d swallowed his muse whole many years ago, and it’s been trying to fight its way out ever since. It’s a battle that seems to take place as he performs: As “King Rat” began, Brock countered with his signature howls of “Well!” like the muse was acknowledging its creation.

It’s been five years since Modest Mouse have released new music, and while there were some new songs sprinkled into the two-hour set (previously played “Sugar Boats” and “Lampshades on Fire”), the night was mostly a nonstop Modest Mouse retrospective. With a touring band up to eight, possibly nine members, songs weren’t spared a single sonic embellishment. Some even ended up sounding more polished than when they were first recorded. With three people covering percussion, “Bukowski” took on an almost-marching-song tempo. An added string arrangement on “Cowboy Dan” made an already epic song that much more colossal.

The set featured practically the entirety of Good News for People Who Love Bad News, in addition to old favorites like “3rd Planet,” “Out of Gas” and “A Different City.” At about the moment when you might have thought, “Have they left any time for an encore?” the band left the stage but returned to play through six more, “Black Cadillacs,” “Wild Pack of Family Dogs,” “Broke,” “Paper Thin Walls,” “Fly Trapped in a Jar” and “Spitting Venom,” with hardly any breaks between them. With too many great songs to choose from, Modest Mouse did their damnedest to squeeze in as many as possible. How they’ll pull this off when a new album is added into the mix will certainly be a challenge, so better see them before it comes out. Or just see them then, too. A Modest Mouse love knows no bounds. —Dan Rickershauser




Not Coasting By on Their Reputation, Neutral Milk Hotel Deliver

July 23rd, 2014

Neutral Milk Hotel – Celebrate Brooklyn at Prospect Park Bandshell – July 22, 2014

Neutral Milk Hotel
In the glow of the so-called magic hour before sunset in Prospect Park last night, Neutral Milk Hotel appeared onstage before a sold-out crowd as part of the Celebrate Brooklyn summer-concert series. They have something of a magical status of their own these days, after their seemingly permanent hiatus miraculously came to an end about a year ago. Everyone from the original lineup that appeared on the band’s heralded 1998 album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, was onstage together last night, along with supporting musicians helping to round out the songs with violin, trombone, accordion and more.

Of course the main attraction (aside from Julian Koster’s impressive singing saw) was Jeff Mangum, the frontman whose name over the past decade was most often preceded by words like enigmatic, reclusive, mythical and just about any other melodramatic adjective describing his retreat from the public eye as a performer. As a lyricist, Mangum has crafted much-revered songs like “Holland, 1945,” “Two-Headed Boy” and Aeroplane’s beloved title track, all of which elicited extreme reactions from last night’s crowd—from tears of elation to exuberant, completely un-self-conscious dancing and singing along.

Because the sacred aura that hovers around Neutral Milk Hotel and Mangum’s return is so prevalent, it’s worth noting that the live band does not simply coast by on their reputation. Neutral Milk Hotel delivered a solid, joyful performance of the songs that garnered them such a loyal fan base, with Mangum’s distinctive voice clear and powerful on songs like “Ghost,” “Oh Comely” and “King of Carrot Flowers (Parts 1, 2 & 3).” His stage presence was understated and humble, and he proved a naturally compelling performer—hopefully no longer a myth or mystery to so many fans, just a real person, a talented musician, whose songs have come to life on stage once again. —Alena Kastin

(Neutral Milk Hotel play Celebrate Brooklyn at the Prospect Park Bandshell tonight.)




Glass Animals Delight a Sold-Out Bowery Ballroom

July 8th, 2014

Glass Animals – The Bowery Ballroom – July 7, 2014

Glass Animals, a freshly minted indie-rock group hailing from Oxford, England, hit the United States on their first headlining tour in support of their debut album, Zaba. What began as a solo bedroom project for frontman Dave Bayley blossomed into a full band with the recruitment of some childhood friends. And as summer hits full swing, their jazzy, trip-hop melodies provide the perfect soundtrack for a day at the beach or hanging out on the stoop. Last night as the quartet descended upon the unlit stage of a sold-out Bowery Ballroom, Bayley cried out, “What’s up, New York?”

Beginning the show with material from their self-titled EP, an undercurrent of tenor beats against a bubbling effect introduced “Psylla,” followed by the Afro-jazz toned “Black Mambo,” which had most in the room bobbing their heads to the infectious rhythm. Fan favorite “Exxus” elicited a sing-along of the chorus: “Gone in the blink of my eye.” Moving on from their earlier works, the fresh-faced lads offered “Hazey,” “Flip,” and “Gooey.” Bayley’s ragdoll movements and upraised arms used for exclamation had the lead singer resembling a young Thom Yorke with a rapper’s flair.

Having a great night, Bayley gushed, “You guys are too cool to us,” as his shoeless feet bounced across the stage and his pedals. He encouraged everyone to dance for “Wyrd” and treated the dancers to a slowed-down cover of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown” before closing the set. After a brief exit, the band returned for an encore of “Pools,” which would be perfect for a day at PS1’s Warm Up. Needless to say, get on this rising band STAT and score your tickets now for their show at Music Hall of Williamsburg at the end of summer. —Sharlene Chiu

(Glass Animals play Music Hall of Williamsburg on 9/15.)


Iron & Wine Play Career-Spanning Show at the Space at Westbury

June 27th, 2014

Iron & Wine – the Space at Westbury – June 26, 2014

When you go see Iron & Wine, you know what you’re going to get but also don’t know what you’re going to get. Of course, there are going to be great songs, lots of them, overflowing with unique lyricism, imagery and melody, and you know you’ll have Sam Beam there to sing them to you. What you don’t always know is who will be playing with him, which will set the tone and style of the show. In past years, the sound has followed as Beam has toured with horns or backup singers or a stripped-down band. On Thursday night at the Space in Westbury, Beam played what he thought was his first show on Long Island proper, backed by a steady-as-she-goes roots-rock band that might be equally comfortable backing Bob Dylan these days, and the music followed suit.

The show opened with a terrific set from the Secret Sisters, out of Alabama, their vocal harmonies resonating to almost cosmic effect, while their backing band rumbled with soulful blues rock. The voices, the music, the set—which ranged across multiple styles of rock and roll, including covers of Hank Williams and their take on an unfinished Dylan piece—and the Sisters’ Southern charm easily won over the crowd. Beam and his band opened their career-spanning headlining set with a high-energy folk-shuffle version of “Boy with a Coin.” Banjo, acoustic guitar, organ, bass and drums nicely accented Beam’s agave-nectar natural-sweetener voice. The band flipped among instruments to widen the sound, Jim Becker moving from banjo to mandolin to acoustic-wired-electric guitar; Rob Burger moving from organ to Rhodes. Songs of exquisite beauty, like “House by the Sea,” with some nice double-acoustic guitar picking, led up to some momentum-building blues rock on songs like “Freedom Hangs Like Heaven.”

And while the band nicely worked the material, the set’s highlight was at the halfway point when Beam cast aside the extra musicians, first with a gorgeous duet with Burger on “Joy,” off his most recent album, Ghost on Ghost. This was followed by an all-request group of solo songs that stole the show. The enthusiastic crowd was up for the task, asking for some A-list material. All were great, but two songs stood out: First, Iron & Wine’s made-it-his-own, pure-light-and-good version of the Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights,” which certainly took away the breath from even the most cynical curmudgeon in the room. The poetic “Flightless Bird, American Mouth,” was second, Beam’s voice shocking the not silenced easily audience into a silence beautiful in its absoluteness. The remainder of the show was a cascade of hits, featuring great versions of “Woman King,” “Rabbit Will Run” and the dark, slow build-to-climax encore of “Lovers Revolution.” It was a reminder of how many great songs Beam has to choose from, but really, no surprises there. —A. Stein





Tune-Yards Close Out Tour at Webster Hall

June 24th, 2014

Tune-Yards – Webster Hall – June 23, 2014

New Yorkers, if you haven’t had the chance to catch Tune-Yards yet you’ve missed your chance this time around. The band ended their U.S. tour in New York City last night, giving locals three different chances to see them over the past couple of months, first playing a show at Rough Trade NYC in May and ending it with two more at Webster Hall, including last night. The show began with the venue practically already at capacity for Sylvan Esso’s opening set. The band featured the wonderfully charismatic singer Amelia Meath, with equally impressive dance and vocal moves, backed by Nick Sanborn’s dance-mandatory electronic music. With its repeated chorus of “heads, shoulders, knees and toes,” the song “H.S.K.T.” felt like a request to move all of the following. Watching Meath do so unabashedly onstage made it easier for everyone else at Webster Hall to follow. It was a set that could leave one thinking, “Why isn’t this band bigger?”—a question more likely than not to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Behind Sylvan Esso was the backdrop for Tune-Yards. The Peptmo Bismol–colored pink curtain covered in giant UFO-looking iridescent eyes offered a taste of what was to come. Tune-Yards have grown for this tour to include a handful of backing dancers and singers. It’s a welcome addition for the new Nikki Nack songs, much more percussive and rhythm-based, which even had Merrill Garbus on the drums for most of the night. With the backdrop, dancing, backup vocals and neon costumes perfect for a backlight, things kicked off in a maximalist way, offering something for every sense.

In comparison, “Gangsta” felt distilled down to its chaotic essence, held together at times only by its intermittent police-siren-sounding wails. Garbus brought ought the ukulele for “Powa.” Just the sight of it elicited a noticeable cheer from the audience, but the highlight of the night was “Bizness.” The song kicked off with the backing singers impressively covering the harmonic hoos usually done by Garbus and a loop pedal. As the tune reached its triumphant peak, Sanborn from Sylvan Esso jumped out of nowhere to crowd surf over the dancing audience. This moment, as well as the rest of the night, felt like a celebration of a U.S. tour well done. —Dan Rickershauser




Ásgeir Leaves No Doubt at Mercury Lounge

June 20th, 2014

Ásgeir – Mercury Lounge – June 19, 2014

There’s something about the far off environs of Iceland that gives birth to unique musical voices. Everyone knows Björk and Sigur Rós, and soon they will know the name Ásgeir Trausti. With one out of 10 people in Iceland owning his first album, he is already well known in his home country and is ready to conquer the States. The English translation of his debut album, Dýrð í dauðaþögn (renamed In the Silence) was translated with the American singer John Grant and released earlier this year.

Donning a trucker hat, Ásgeir ascended to the cozy stage of a sold-out Mercury Lounge. Icelandic folk music preluded the start of the show, however Trausti began his set with the English tune “Head in the Snow.”  There’s something interesting about hearing songs in which you don’t know the lyrics or the meaning behind them. As he sang the pair “Leyndarmál” and “Sumargestur,” thoughts of what they might be about tickled my brain. Was it a ballad for an unrequited love or a song about homesickness for the beauty of his home? Only the Icelandic speakers would know, but the mystery is almost alluringly fitting for the language so steeped in a far-off land.

Weaving between his native tongue and English throughout the performance, Trausti made sure to offer several mid-set treats with a debut of a new song, “Ocean,” drenched in reverb, and a cover of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box.” The latter was a drawn-out version of the original that reminded me more of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” than of Kurt Cobain’s grunge masterpiece. Trausti managed to play most of his debut album, which included an acoustic rendition of “Summer Guest,” plus fan-favorites “Higher,” “Going Home” and “King and Cross.” For the final song, Trausti admitted that it was “a strange moment” as his band—consisting of his producer, his big brother, the album’s lyricist, and a drummer—couldn’t exit the small stage as he concluded the night with the lullaby “On That Day.” But there’s no doubting the family onstage and the magical evening they produced for the New York City crowd. —Sharlene Chiu


Goat Show Webster Hall How It’s Done

June 19th, 2014

Goat – Webster Hall – June 18, 2014

It’s said that time travel will never happen, because if it did, we’d already have met someone from the future here in the present. Well, I’m not so sure I didn’t see time travelers last night. The venue was Webster Hall, the band was Goat, supposedly from the nether regions of Sweden, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were from the not-too-distant future, but had come back to show us how it’s done. The collective took the stage dressed in their traditional full weird-is-right garb, which hides their faces completely, adding to the mystery. The music began with a boom da da boom of the drums, quickly followed by a dual-guitar chicka chicka chicka and then an explosion of na na na nas from the two singers as Goat quickly grabbed the audience with “Goatman.”

While the set drew largely from their superlative 2012 album, World Music, the live versions were engorged with heady jams and extended breakdowns. Each piece seemed to be a lesson in a new yet-to-be-discovered genre of music from the future. Early on, the sound was what I’d call interplanetary Afrobeat, rocket-fuel drums and congas whipped up the rhythmic guitar lines as the singers gyrated around the stage, adding maracas, tambourines and finger cymbals. Things spiraled quickly (whether it was up or down is all relative), the band a physics-defying perpetual-motion machine. One long instrumental jam with a nasty two-guitar-two-percussion jam was a magic carpet ride over the Styx river. “Run to Your Mama Now” introduced a new genre, Swedish death funk, equal parts light and good and dark and evil.

About 30 minutes into the set, things hit hyperspace, each song drawing out longer and longer, each moment rife with new styles. Goat went from Hobbit hippie jam, with noodling Middle Earth guitars, to dragon-slayer boogaloo, with a conga-heavy dance groove, to event-horizon roller disco, funked up with skull-crackling bass and dueling guitar riffs. All the while Goat were soaked in a pulsing light show that switched between psychedelic liquid bubbling and digital kaleidoscopic brainteasers. The crowd absorbed it all and grew in energy as the band did with plenty of body moving all across the room. The encore ended at peak chaotic kinetic energy, the singers pounding a bass drum stage center as they taught the audience about the yet-to-be-invented genre of face-melting magma music. Unfortunately, that was it for a pretty spectacular show. But, fortunately, the future is not too far away. —A. Stein




Andrew Bird and the Hands of Glory: Easy Like Saturday Night

June 9th, 2014

Andrew Bird – Rough Trade NYC – June 7, 2014

There was a time when labeling someone’s music easy listening or adult contemporary was the ultimate put-down, and maybe it still is to some people. I was thinking about this on Saturday night as I watched Andrew Bird lead his new band, the Hands of Glory, through the sold-out early set at Rough Trade NYC. The listening definitely was easy: The quintet felt perfectly constructed to complement the violin and whistling sound. Bird can easily fill a room with sound on his own, so often an entire band can feel like an indulgence, which is exactly what they felt like Saturday, the sound falling comfortably on the cozy side of the cozy/cramped divide. Every sound seemed to find an echo or a resonance, whether it was a three-part harmony with Bird, Tift Merritt and bassist Alan Hampton, or Eric Heywood on pedal steel doubling a violin melody. And with old-fashioned lighting strung up around the stage, the feeling was one of warmth—easy as can be.

With its upright bass, brushes on drums from Kevin O’Donnell, pedal steel, whistling, violin, and the combination of jazz, classical, pop and country, the set was nothing if not adult, the musical equivalent of a glass of moderately priced Scotch to rid your mouth of the taste of another long workweek. The band was celebrating the release of Things Are Really Great Here, Sort of…, an album of Handsome Family covers, and the set featured many of these—including “Cathedral in the Dell” and “Drunk by Noon,” which were highlights—providing the show an old-timey country feel. Bird mentioned that the music was close to him, so much so that the songs felt like his own. And, indeed, he did make them his own, with the violin transforming to fiddle and back again within the same song, Bird’s whistles and brown-butter croon giving each song his distinctive color.

Bird mentioned that the show was the first of the tour and, at times, it felt like the full dress rehearsal before opening night, with a few false starts and missed moments, although each song still managed to feel like a mini-masterpiece, music for grown-ups and easy to swallow all at once. The final few songs were particularly strong, featuring some originals off recent releases, these taking on a reworked energy with the new band. “Pulaski at Night” and “Danse Caribe” were standouts, the band nicely clicking around Bird’s violin as the set closed to soon. —A. Stein



Kishi Bashi Provides a Jolt to the Senses at The Bowery Ballroom

June 5th, 2014

Kishi Bashi – The Bowery Ballroom – June 4, 2014

Spirits were high at The Bowery Ballroom as last night’s bill consisted of the supremely talented Kishi Bashi and rollicking supporters Buried Beds—each band worthy of the sold-out crowd’s exuberance. Buried Beds quickly proved their worth, crafting lush, orchestral music with a light-pop sheen. “Stars” and “1000 Acres,” off their most recent album, In Spirit, stood out as crowd favorites.

As the lights dimmed, the audience drew closer to the fog-shrouded stage, anticipating a dramatic performance. And clad in a dapper outfit complete with one of his signature bowties, K. Ishibashi and his band wasted no time in setting their trademark looping into motion. At the start, he beckoned everyone to clap along to a superpowered rendition of “Philosophize in It! Chemicalize with It,” and as the band kicked each successive song into top gear to a dizzying effect, the crowd kept on clapping throughout the night. Casual stage banter punctuated the performance, as did darting projections and a surprise performance by local contortionist-dancer Amazing Amy.

A masterful lyricist, Kishi Bashi seems to embody every word he sings, from the eerie words of “Beat the Bright Out of Me” to the whimsical verses of “The Ballad of Mr. Steak” to the introspective colloquy of “Bittersweet Genesis for Him and Her.” Kishi Bashi established a tradition of delayed gratification for the audience, playing hefty, largely improvised introductions and then launching full throttle into each song. The whole performance was a jolt to the senses, climbing quickly and deftly to quite a few poignant emotional precipices. The encore, complete with a cover of Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” and Ishibashi crowd-surfing while eating a banana, didn’t disappoint. But his earnest lyrics in one of the night’s earlier songs—“Manchester”—summed up my post-concert mood perfectly: “I haven’t felt this alive in a long time.” —Schuyler Rooth

(Tonight’s Kishi Bashi show at Music Hall of Williamsburg is sold out.)



Daniel Lopatin Dazzles Music Hall as Oneohtrix Point Never

May 27th, 2014

Oneohtrix Point Never – Music Hall of Williambsurg – May 24, 2014

Saturday night’s Oneohtrix Point Never show at Music Hall of Williamsburg was an intense, immersive experience. From behind his array of samplers and synths, OPN mastermind Daniel Lopatin cocooned the crowd in his layered electronic sound, a style that oscillates between drone and ambient and harsh and melodic, along with some touches of rattle-your-bones-level bass. Although watching Lopatin’s sharp focus as he crafted and manipulated his equipment to perform songs from his latest release, R Plus Seven, and other material was fascinating, the sensory experience of the Oneohtrix Point Never live show was further enhanced by the computer-generated video art performed live to complement the ebbs and flows of Lopatin’s sound.

At times the visuals pulsed hypnotically, leaving the room dark for several seconds before projecting a jarring flash of light. During other moments, the images on-screen became a slow journey through a series of abstract rooms and doorways—floating by odd sculptures and figures, an almost CGI-meets–Salvador Dali effect. Like the music, the visuals had a similar ability to entrance and lull, before shocking you out of your dream state. Although listening to Oneohtrix Point Never’s recorded music can be an engrossing, engaging experience on its own, to witness the synergy of sound and visuals during the live performance was a completely unique experience, and a perhaps as close a glimpse as possible at just what the artist may see and hear as he crafts and conceptualizes his singular sound. —Alena Kastin




Willie Watson Celebrates New Album at Mercury Lounge

May 22nd, 2014

Willie Watson – Mercury Lounge – May 21, 2014


“I guess I’m a folk singer now,” announced Willie Watson midway through his show at Mercury Lounge last night, the now implying he was previously something else. Watching him hold the sold-out audience in rapt attention as he made his way through folk standards, a sweet, natural warble in his voice, alternating between guitar and banjo easily, it felt like he was born a folk singer. Opening with “Take This Hammer” (later explaining that there are lots of “hammer songs” in folk music), Watson stood alone, working the time-tested material like sandpaper to a piece of wood, bringing out the simple, natural, beautiful grain.

The set was filled with traditional folk music: songs about drinking, trains and bank robbers, doing wrong by women and (barely) being saved (or not), and John Henry’s hammer—many featured on Watson’s new album, Folk Singer Vol. 1. The crowd filled in the gaps with plenty of shouts, all drawn in for the early set, many straight from work, by the higher power of folk music, a weekday religious service of sorts. Watson moved easily through the material, switching between banjo and guitar on almost every song, filling little solos in between verses. He played on the theme of folk tradition, setting up a sing-along for “Stewball,” the audience waiting for the moment to pounce.

Humorous moments drew laughter while songs of pure, simple beauty had the room silent. As Watson closed the highly entertaining set with “On the Road Again,” it became obvious how infinite the folk-music canon is, and that despite him squeezing in tons of material, both familiar and un-, into the hour, it was like examining the contents of the ocean with a Dixie cup. No wonder the album is only Vol. 1. To prove the point, Watson saved the best for last, encoring with an excellent version of Ma Rainey’s “See See Rider,” blowing his harmonica in that gorgeous, mournful folk tradition and then finishing with a rousing, crowd-pleasing “Midnight Special.” The audience filed out, eager for more, already anticipating, I’m sure, Vol. 2. —A. Stein