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Swans Leave Music Hall of Williamsburg Wanting More

March 23rd, 2015

Swans – Music Hall of Williamsburg – March 22, 1015

(Photo: Matias Corral)

(Photo: Matias Corral)

There was a buzz in the air last night, quite literally, as Swans shook Music Hall of Williamsburg during a powerhouse two-hour set. The show began with percussionist Thor Harris taking a mallet to a gong and building a reverberating noise that filled the room. In turn, drummer Phil Puleo first joined him and then Christoph Hahn on lap steel guitar. They spent several minutes slowly building reverberation that had my clothes buzzing against my skin. Eventually frontman Michael Gira and the rest of the band joined in and layered guitars and bass, creating an all-immersive, almost Zen-like wall of sound for “Frankie M.” This wasn’t music you listened to as much as you felt: a wind of guitars in your face, the low-end shake of bass and drums rattling your extremities. The first “movement”—from the opening gong to Gira subtly arching his eyebrow and the band collectively crashing to an end—was 35 minutes of traveling through the looking glass.

From there Gira led the band through several more sections, perhaps they were songs, or maybe they were more than that. Each stretched on in time, seemingly in units of 12 minutes: 12, 24, 36 ticks of the hand went by as the six musicians locked into looping soundscapes, hypnotizing and brutalizing the crowd. There weren’t solos so much as six simple patterns played by each man, combined into fractal geometries. Along the way the vibrations grew into tremors, eventually rattling the floor. At some point early in the set, Harris lost his shirt, moving bare chested from violin to vibraphone to haunted-house percussion, revealing the underlying, dark secrets of each song as the band crashed wave after wave of sound on the Sunday night audience.

Gira held court, often raising his arms like a big bird (a Swan, perhaps). His banter was minimal, apologizing for unnoticeable voice troubles with “I have 61 years of angst in my throat.” His vocals were more like chanted koans, mostly undecipherable in the mix, but a necessary component of the ritualistic music. As the clock moved deeper into the night, I tried to convince myself to call it an evening, but found that I couldn’t pull myself away. Like the rest of the people in the room, I was mesmerized. By midnight, the venue was full on rumbling, my teeth actually chattering as the energy ratcheted up to maximum level before ending in a set-closing thermonuclear explosion of cymbals and guitars. Stunned, the audience gave a hearty ovation as Gira and company took a bow and left the stage with a thank you and the promise of a new album out soon, leaving behind plenty of buzz.
—A. Stein | @Neddyo

 

 

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A 75th Birthday Bash Full of Smiles and Classic Rock

March 17th, 2015

Phil Lesh – Capitol Theatre – March 16, 2015

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead and, if you haven’t noticed, their music seems to be everywhere, a constant presence that transcends genre, age and geography. Part of that constant presence has been the band’s bassist, Phil Lesh, who, remarkably, turned 75 on Sunday and is celebrating (how else?) with a run of jam-filled shows at the Capitol Theatre. Monday night’s band of Lesh’s friends included Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers Band and Gov’t Mule on guitar and vocals, Eric Krasno of Soulive on the other guitar, and longtime Lesh running mates John Molo and Rob Barraco on drums and keyboards respectively. The evening began with a session of noodling: free-form, aqueous improvisation that featured all five musicians interacting with the others, like wolves licking their chops before devouring helpless prey.

The set proper bounced back and forth between the Dead’s repertoire, older blues-based material like “Dupree’s Diamond Blues” and “Cosmic Charlie” interleaved with later-era groove-rockers like “West L.A. Fadeaway” and “Alabama Getaway.” Of course, the songs themselves were merely starting points for various shades of space-outs and left-turn excursions. The walls of the Capitol Theatre were populated in tie-dyed fractal explosions that seemed to open up wormholes to past eras, 20, 30, 40 years back. Krasno’s clean-toned guitar played counterpoint to Haynes’s gritty licks, but Lesh was the constant force, running circles around his younger crew. Each measure of bass playing was a snowflake— clear, defined crystal, beautifully unique. The first set ended with an optimistic spring theme: “Here Comes Sunshine” brought a projected sunrise to the theater’s walls with Lesh pushing Haynes and Molo while Baracco glued together the sonic collage, segueing into the Allman Brothers classic “Blue Sky,” the ceiling turning a bright indigo as Haynes ceded the floor for Krasno and Baracco solos before shining his own big, Allmans-y turn.

The second set picked up where the first left off, another round of free jamming, Lesh slithering through multiple THC-soaked themes before charging through a few more covers: Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” and later Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic,” the band cracking open classic-rock radio and lacing it with LSD-inspired psychedelia. There’s often a concern with the various Dead-cover outfits about who will sing which song, but really it’s not a problem because the guy next to you will (probably) know most of the words and sing it out, loud and proud. The smiles and the twirling dancers were as integral to these shows as the weird set-list variations like the traditional “Help on the Way” > “Slipknot” > “Franklin’s Tower” being split up by “Just a Little Light” and “Uncle John’s Band” as the quintet mostly pulled off Monday night. Krasno shined best during the closing section, finding comfort in build-up solos and going toe-to-toe with Haynes. A supercharged ovation brought back the band for an emotional “Stella Blue,” Haynes belting it out as those in the smiling audience sang along, many swaying in one another’s arms. But no smiles were bigger than the constant one on the 75 year old leading the way. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

(See Phil Lesh play the Capitol Theatre on Thursday night.)

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Twerps and Ultimate Painting Provide a Friday Night of Laid-Back Rock

March 16th, 2015

Twerps – Rough Trade NYC – March 13, 2015

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It was a slacker’s paradise at Rough Trade NYC on Friday night, featuring a couple of bands with a laid-back style that suited the packed house just fine. Ultimate Painting took the penultimate slot playing with that breezy ’60s Brit sound that’s best suited to London bands. They opened with “Ultimate Painting,” their debut album’s title track, singing, “I don’t know what I’m thinking” and sounding as wonderfully can’t be bothered as a group that only managed to come up with one name for everything. The principals, Jack Cooper and James Hoare, tossed vocals and guitar riffs back and forth like playing some lazy afternoon tennis before tea. The melodies were perfectly matched to the vibe, easy to listen to and easy to love. Following a handful of keepers from the album, Ultimate Painting played a few new ones, including “It’s on You,” a slick bit of bluesy pop with some just-fancy-enough guitar interplay and the lyric “C’mon, man, you made me late,” nicely capturing the vibe. “Central Park Blues” was somewhere between contemporaries Parquet Courts and Courtney Barnett, with a slightly angrier vibe contrasting with a sweet guitar that painted a kind of stoner New York City. Their set closed with “Ten Street,” a thumping drumbeat paved the way for a wailing guitar excursion that went as deep as advertised before ending in exactly 10 minutes.

Ending the show, Twerps, from Melbourne, Australia, took the jangly, slacker vibe to the extreme. Marty Frawley and Julia McFarlane split the vocal duties, alternating on songs mostly about love and/or heartbreak like it’s the only thing worth singing about—sounding like they were singing along to themselves in the mirror. With delightful melodies and an almost platonic ideal indie-rock sound, there was much for the crowd to love. With Frawley and McFarlane providing double duty on the singing and guitar licks, the real hidden secret of their live set was Alex MacFarlane on drums. His rhythms and textures added a vital flavor to the sound, giving the effortless sound a much-needed zest, from the mallets on “I Don’t Mind” to the tambourine-heavy playing on “Shoulders.” The latter featured a nifty guitar riff and built to a climactic 15 seconds of angry bliss.

The set picked up a bit of steam midway through, McFarlane’s guitar finding new ways to perfectly highlight the lo-fi songs as the Friday night crowd loosened up to dance. Even the banter had a lackadaisical demeanor: Frawley commented on a band they had opened for that said the same thing every night in a bit of meta chatter, and then later he and McFarlane mentioned how they had a bit of an argument in a way that was unclear the matter had been fully resolved. Still, it was tough to imagine any of them getting too worked up on a night as chill and laid back as Friday proved to be. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

 

 

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Moon Duo Color Outside the Lines at Rough Trade NYC

March 10th, 2015

Moon Duo – Rough Trade NYC – March9, 2015

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The first thing most will notice and likely joke about when seeing Moon Duo live is that they are, indeed, a trio. Playing before a packed Rough Trade NYC last night, the Wooden Shjips spin-off proved that they’re willing to color outside the proverbial lines in more ways than just redefining what a duo is. The band—Ripley Johnson on guitar, Sanae Yamada on keys and John Jeffrey on drums—took the stage beneath a wash of multihued horizontal lines dancing on the screen behind them. Except the projections actually extended well beyond the apportioned white screen, stretching almost around onto the side walls, pulling the entire room into the musical chaos happening onstage. Working almost in silhouette against the flickering lights, the trio churned at full volume, looping drumbeats providing a foundation for psychedelia highlighted by synthesizer organ and electronica.

Moon Duo are a band that longs to be heard live. And while their set largely featured material from the recently released Shadow of the Sun, the songs were just the black outline for the music to quickly jag out from. Vocals felt like a murmured suggestion and the melodies some sort of fevered surf-y doo-wop. Before long, Johnson was deep in a relentless solo, streaks of Crayola guitar licks filling the page. Those guitar jams took on many forms, from lightning staccato licks to more soaring drawn-out hallucinations. These sections lasted just a bit longer than they had to and then as if on some hidden cue, they would end to make room for the next. While the band lacked a bassist, the low end was omnipresent through a combination of drums and synths and guitar drone. Jeffery’s bass drum was a constant paranoid telltale heart, seemingly pounding up through the floor.

But perhaps the most surprising thing about Moon Duo’s live set was just how danceable it was. While the guitars continued to go extraterrestrial, the rhythms remained rooted, providing a beat that had most of the packed crowd moving. Of course, in the nonconformist spirit of the music, the audience proved there were many ways to dance to it, including not at all. And after an intense set of breaking the mold, it was kind of impressive that Moon Duo ended their last jam exactly an hour after starting. But those in the still-hypnotized crowd clamored for more, and they were obliged, the Duo that’s a trio laying down a ten-minute encore featuring “Animal” and plenty of scribbling chaos for good measure. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

 

 

 

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The Bright Light Social Hour Debut New Music at Mercury Lounge

March 9th, 2015

The Bright Light Social Hour – Mercury Lounge – March 6, 2015

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“Let’s have some fun!” That’s how bassist Jack O’Brien began the late show at Mercury Lounge on Friday night, and for the Bright Light Social Hour, is there any other way? The Austin, Texas, quartet has always been an instant party in a bottle, a genie of good times ready to be released on command. The clock had just nudged past midnight and the sold-out crowd was cocked and ready to fire as the band opened with “Sweet Madeline,” the lead track off their new album, Space Is Still the Place. The LP’s title may reference Sun Ra, but the BLSH source material is Southern rock meets the discotheque with jam sensibilities, and the opening songs highlighted all of these influences, Curtis Roush singing like a young Gregg Allman while playing a cosmic slide guitar, and Joseph Mirasole mixing techno beats with rock-out power.

The new material added subtleties to the Social Hour live show, many of the songs having quieter moments to offset and accentuate the high-energy rock and roll. The band played with veteran confidence, debuting soon-to-be-released tunes to the NYC audience like they’ve already been playing them for years. When the group finally broke the ice and busted out an old favorite, “Shanty,” the crowd responded with a surge, Edward Braillif laying down the irresistible synth hook, Roush building an expert slide solo and O’Brien bouncing around the stage with infectious glee. “I Need Your Love” was quintessential BLSH: blues with a funky inside, featuring tremendous drumming throughout from Mirasole, the party in full swing with everyone in the room singing along at the top of their weekend-ready lungs and getting their boogie on in between verses.

By midway through the set, the entire crowd was sucked into the resistance-is-futile party and the band went in for the kill. “Infinite Cities” felt completely like the “first single,” a groovy space-pop declaration of where the Bright Light Social Hour are right now, the entire band contributing and the audience responding in kind. “In and Out” pushed the room to its inevitable climax before the four-piece ended with the new album’s final two songs, “The Moon” and “Escape Velocity,” the latter featuring an excellent cruising-altitude jam. O’Brien said the closing pair described “orgies from the future,” which might have made an excellent alternative title for the funk-blues-dance-jam-groove-rock-and-roll party that is the Bright Light Social Hour. —A Stein | @Neddyo

 

 

 

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North Mississippi Allstars and Anders Osborne Put on Marathon Show

February 27th, 2015

NMO – the Space at Westbury – February 26, 2015

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It was a night of beginnings at the Space at Westbury on Thursday. With a stage packed with two drum kits and more guitars than fingers to count them with, the marathon show officially began with Luther Dickinson and Anders Osborne as a duet, playfully matching slide guitars in each other’s faces, singing “Let It Roll.” As the two hugged and Osborne left the stage to applause, Dickinson announced the evening as the “North Mississippi Anders Osborne Experience” before inviting his “brothers,” Cody Dickinson and Lightnin’ Malcolm, to kick off things once again with a few North Mississippi Allstars songs. But things didn’t really get rolling until Luther coaxed everyone out of their seats, filling in the space in front of the stage and in the aisles while the trio matched the energy with their bread-and-butter material, including “Shake ’Em on Down,” “Drinking Muddy Water” and “KC Jones (On the Road Again).” The trio flexed their Delta blues–rock muscles with Luther strutting his superlative slide playing and Cody shuffling along in time.

Throughout the night, one song’s ending was another’s beginning, and as the NMA mini-set closed, the entire trio banging away on a drum as Osborne and the rest of his trio—Carl Dufresne and Brady Blade—hopped onstage with their own percussion in hand, Cody Dickinson got the party started, singing “Granny Does Your Dog Bite” and getting the audience to sing along. Before long, the six musicians were on the floor marching through the crowd like New Orleans was on Long Island. Again, it felt like things were coming to an end, but the night was just pushing off from shore as NMA ceded the stage to Osborne and with a soulful moan in his voice and his slide, he took the helm. It seemed like the volume was raised a couple of clicks for this portion of the show with Osborne’s trio in fine form. Antics and marching bands are all in good fun, but the audience certainly was hungry for some red-meat rock and roll, which Osborne delivered. The highlight of the night featured his band rounded out to a quartet with Luther on acoustic guitar for a bang-bang-bang stretch of “Mind of a Junkie,” “Back on Dumaine” and “On the Road to Charlie Parker.” Again, each tune bubbled up out of the predecessor’s ending. The first featured a narcotic Neil Young–esque slow-burn guitar jam with Osborne as soulful as ever. “Dumaine” dissolved into a hair-raising improv with Osborne’s guitar channeling Jerry Garcia and Luther matching with an almost-Latin flair of acoustic guitar picking. Finally “Charlie Parker” was a powerhouse of New Orleans–infused rock and roll that easily could’ve ended the night, but, naturally, they were still just getting going.

From there, it would take a slide rule and a spreadsheet to properly keep track of the permutations of musicians and instruments. There was a trio version of the classic “Junco Pardna,” the Dickinson brothers and Osborne doing justice to the source material. Oh, did they mention that they have a new album out together? Finally, after about 90 minutes of soul-warming Southern rock, they got around to playing material from the new release, Freedom & Dreams, like everything else leading up to it had been a rehearsal. Combined as a massive six-piece, looking and sounding a bit like an updated version of the Allman Brothers Band, NMO proper began their night. “Back Together” stood out here, featuring count-’em three overlapping and interweaving guitar solos. Before the night came to a real, honest-to-goodness close, Cody Dickinson took a washboard solo, complete with wild flashing white lights that seemed to turn the band inside out, Malcolm ending up on the drums, Dufresne on the guitar and Luther on the bass. At one point earlier in the two-plus-hour show, Osborne mentioned the writing of a new song, “Westbury Blues,” joking it wasn’t ready … but maybe for the “next album.” From the sounds of it, for NMO, this is only the beginning. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

(North Misissippi Allstars and Anders Osborne play the Capitol Theatre tonight.)

 

 

 

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Ariel Pink Brings New Music to Terminal 5

February 26th, 2015

Ariel Pink – Terminal 5 – February 25, 2015

(Photo: Dan Rickershauser)

(Photo: Dan Rickershauser)


As lore has it, at some point deep into the doldrums of the 1970s, glam rock and punk rock had a lust-driven one-night stand, and out of the encounter came their bizarro love child Ariel Pink. Maybe this isn’t entirely accurate, but what is true is that in the world’s quest for ever-weirder music, they stumbled upon the bedroom-pop aficionado, who since the mid-’90s has been making some seriously strange pop music, a variety that’s rockin’ but off-kilter, sexy sounding but in an unsettling way, and most important, irresistibly catchy. Pink’s latest release, Pom Pom, has been his most acclaimed release to date, and it brought him and his band to Terminal 5 last night.

Sporting a silver mane of messy hair, Pink began things by letting everyone know that he was very sick, apparently having caught the same cold it seems that most in New York City are currently battling. The multicolored-light-pinwheel contraption behind the band made up for any energy lacking in the under-the-weather Pink. It also didn’t stop him from wolfing down a burger that seemed to appear out of nowhere during the second song, “Jell-o,” leading a person behind me to ask, “Did he just order Seamless in the middle of his set?” Pink is backed by an eclectic group of musicians. His bass player looks like a ’70s version of that spooky long-haired guy in the Black Eyed Peas that doesn’t seem to do anything except dance frantically. His drummer sported a cowboy hat and what appeared to be a child-sized teal bikini. (He participated with Pink in the creepy-uncle back and forth about a topless dancer and her aureoles on “Black Ballerina.”)

Pink’s many requests to make certain instruments louder in his monitors and “really, really loud” for the house meant that everything was running at extremely high volume by the set’s midpoint, further making the whole performance seem like a trippy fever dream. Pink’s finale, “Picture Me Gone,” was dedicated to friend, collaborator and fringe-music legend Kim Fowley, who passed away inJanuary. And although the crowd was desperate for an encore, Pink was feeling too sick to make it through one. The drummer came out to apologize and let everyone know that Pink loved us all. Get well soon, Mr. Pink!
—Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks

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A Dan Deacon Dance Party at Rough Trade NYC

February 26th, 2015

Dan Deacon – Rough Trade NYC – February 25, 2015

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It was the year 2007 and I had only been living in Brooklyn for a few months. Being a native West Coaster, I was not privy to the genius and fun of Dan Deacon until a coworker (now friend) initiated me to his greatness. She’d recently moved from Baltimore and had regaled me with tales of Deacon’s legendary DIY parties. She described them as “complete madness” and “a mix of spastic dancing, mosh-pitting and communal hugging” in a warehouse space called the Copycat building.  She recounted how “the crowd there was so crazy, that I pretty much went to those shows prepared to get pushed so hard that I’d crash into a random drum set or the wall at some point in the night.”

Fast forward to last night, when I finally experienced Mr. Deacon’s musical wizardry. Readied for my own taste of his exuberant live shows, I (and my previously mentioned friend) embarked upon a sold-out Rough Trade NYC, where Deacon celebrated the release of his latest album, Gliss Riffer. The faux-warehouse venue, which captures some of that look and feel of the space where Deacon got his start, felt like a telling metaphor for the trajectory of his career. Although audience participation was high with Deacon calling for a dance circle and opposite-side dance offs, it was by no means the spectacle I’d heard about.

Nevertheless, the master of ceremonies did not disappoint weaving oldies “Paddling Ghost” and “Wham City” against the latest and greatest from the brand new release. Early on, “Sheathed Wings” had fans whipping their heads to the bass, while everyone erupted in euphoria for “Feel the Lightning,” a track that according to the A.V. Club “comes across as the love child of Daft Punk and Todd Rundgren.” The evening culminated with Deacon playing America, leaving no need for an encore. —Sharlene Chiu

(Dan Deacon plays Warsaw on 5/22.)

 

 

 

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Kishi Bashi Provides a Feast for the Senses at Union Transfer

February 19th, 2015

Kishi Bashi String Quartet – Union Transfer – February 18, 2015

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Sight and sound are the primary senses that an audience uses. And while they complement each other, it’s often said that one sees a band rather than hears one. The body isn’t given enough credit, the muscles and bones. They ache for hours after standing, but if it’s a good show, it’s a good hurt. Still, with that awareness of the body, on Wednesday night at Union Transfer, Kishi Bashi provided floor seating for those eager enough to arrive before the opener, Busman’s Holiday, which he justified by saying, “I know it’s unusual to see a show seated, but I saw one recently and it was great.”

That kind of playful, upbeat attitude was what came across in both Kishi Bashi’s stage banter and his music. After he strode onstage following his four-piece orchestra, Bashi brandished a baton with a maestro’s flair. His particular aesthetic was less traditional, as he wore a well-tailored jacket, dark vest and a plaid bow tie. The clothes were somehow reminiscent of his music, juxtaposing the classical and the idiosyncratic. It was heard on songs like “Bittersweet Genesis for Him and Her,” when Bashi explained that the lyrics told of how “Earth was created by a cosmic couple,” although when the music faded out, he offered, “Earth was destroyed at the end of the song.”

The music featured an unconventional approach to percussion through the work of the orchestra, as well as ecstatic drumming on the banjo(!) from Kishi Bashi’s partner, Mike Savino of Tall Tall Trees. The two traded verbal jabs but also seriously blended instrumental parts when the musical moments called for interplay. To parse out the experience, it went back to this idea of sight and sound: Savino’s neon banjo glowing against the dark stage and Bashi’s high register sailing over the strings—the audience standing after “a seventh inning stretch,” only to stay upright until the final song, when Kishi Bashi, surrounded by his band, played an acoustic version of “Bright Whites.” It was quiet, lush and physically striking as the other musicians stood in a semicircle and watched for cues. It was a full sensory experience, as all good concerts should be.
—Jared Levy | @Playtonic

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Phox Gain the Friday Audience’s Trust at Union Transfer

February 16th, 2015

Phox – Union Transfer – February 13, 2015

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It should be difficult for an audience to trust a band. There are reasons to be skeptical. Despite the usual assurances that band X is happy to be performing at venue Y and loves city Z, audience members ought to understand that touring is a grind. It can’t be the case that every show is the best show or that every city is the best city. Still, it’s an act of faith that keeps concertgoers going to shows, to see bands they love or those that intrigue them.

On Friday night at Union Transfer, Phox proved to be truly genuine. The six-member band from Baraboo, Wisc., walked onstage, illuminated by four marquee letters spelling their name. Lead singer Monica Martin stood in the center, surround by the band’s five male members. She nervously cracked her knuckles and fidgeted before diving into the first song, singing with natural confidence. Maudlin and mid-tempo, at first it seemed out of place, as the guitarist in a pink blazer failed his arms, imploring the drummer to play more aggressively, but it was also quintessential Phox: outwardly confident yet inwardly insecure. The songs ache.

Martin gestured to the significance of the night, Valentine’s Day eve. In her typical humorous yet painfully self-aware stage banter, she mentioned how the third song was about “homeboy walking away,” but circled back, saying, “Happy Valentine’s Day is what I’m trying to say.” And then, midway through the set, Phox made an unexpected decision. They stripped away the electric instruments, grabbed their acoustics, huddled around Martin and played songs just like they “did in the living room.” It was an intimate moment and hard to believe it was unscripted. Still, that was Phox. At another point in the show, they called up multiple friends and the opener, Field Report, to sing “You Are My Sunshine.” It was achingly cute and reminiscent of a Gap ad, but it would be wrong to think poorly of such a sincere moment. They earned the audience’s trust and, in doing so, gained their admiration and respect. —Jared Levy | @Playtonic

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Sturgill Simpson Transforms Music Hall into a Honky-Tonk

February 13th, 2015

Sturgill Simpson – Music Hall of Williamsburg – February 12, 2015

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Without notice, a new honky-tonk opened on a stretch of N. 6th in Williamsburg near
the East River. Or maybe it just felt that way last night as the Music Hall hostedt to a rollicking set of country music courtesy of Sturgill Simpson and his excellent band. The room was as packed as it’s ever been, the crowd was hitched up and ready to go, and Simpson seemed larger than life onstage, delivering a dominating performance from start to finish. His sound owes much to the outlaw country greats of yore—Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash quickly come to mind—but Simpson proved throughout the show that his is an evolved country for the modern day.

To listen to Simpson sing songs from his best-in-genre 2014 release, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, is to listen to someone born to play this kind of music. His voice was like a fine Kentucky bourbon with a blend of flavors deserving of its own language to describe: oaky with hints of smoke and cinnamon, maybe. The set built like a good whiskey buzz, the aroma, the bite of the first sip on songs like “Long White Line” and “Voices,” the taste turning into a warm sensation in the belly. With each succeeding song, the sensation moved to the head and then a whole-body experience, alternating between soulful introspection and shoe-stomping fun. Much of that giddy feeling was due to Simpson’s stellar backing band, led by Laur Joamets on guitar, who seemed to contain all of country guitar playing in his single Telecaster. He impressively alternated between lightning-fast picking, beautiful slow-and-steady slide guitar, which often took on shades of a steel guitar, and then swirling galactic twang.

As the show built a head of steam, the crowd followed along in their gleeful whiskey drunk, chattering and jostling back and forth to the bar became dancing, whooping and hollering. The second half of the show was an avalanche of superlative country music. “It Ain’t All Flowers” had the packed house shouting along before opening up into one of several belt-hitching rock-out jams that seamlessly transitioned into the quieter “The Promise.” Next, “Railroad of Sin” reached the night’s most frenetic moment, with Joamets, Simpson, Kevin Black on bass and Miles Miller on drums as a locomotive in danger of hopping off the tracks, the dance floor exploding with a manic energy. After a triumphant, cathartic take on his self-professed favorite song on the new album, “Just Let Go,” Simpson’s voice as strong as it had been all night, the show closed with a crowd-pleasing sing-along on “Turtles All The Way Down,” leaving everyone feeling boozy and elated and wondering if there was still time for one more shot before hitting the road. The band obliged the thunderous ovation with two fingers of Simpson spirits, a soulful crooning of “I’d Have to Be Crazy” (“for the ladies”), his voice nearly channeling Otis Redding,  and finally a cover of the Osborne Brothers’ “Listening to the Rain,” which opened into a full-fledged T. Rex cover before looping back around to finish out in didn’t-think-it-could-be-topped fashion. Simpson and Co. exited the stage to more raucous applause and then, the strangest thing, that new honky-tonk disappeared. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

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A Celebration of the Rich Musical History of Memphis

February 12th, 2015

Take Me to the River – Brooklyn Bowl – February 11, 2015

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Last night Brooklyn Bowl hosted a celebration of the rich musical history of Memphis, Tenn., in conjunction with Take Me to the River, a new documentary that traces the roots of the incredible blues, soul and R&B that originated in the city and shows how new generations of artists are carrying on and reinventing this musical legacy. That legacy was on display last night, beginning with the Hi Rhythm Section—musicians who once backed Al Green among many others—performing as the house band for the night.

With expert style, the Hi Rythym Section treated the crowd to a wide range of Memphis music history, as a rotating cast of multigenerational performers took the stage. Otis Clay, who was celebrating his 73rd birthday, performed a soulful rendition of “Precious Precious,” while later Bobby Rush, in a crisp white suit, looking (and sounding) great at 81, performed the Stax Records hit “Push and Pull” alongside rapper Frayser Boy (of “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” fame). Later, William Bell worked his magic on a cover of “Knock on Wood” before enlisting rapper Al Kapone to help perform “I Forgot to Be Your Lover,” a smooth new song featured in the film. In addition to the foundational and contemporary Memphis performers who came together last night, the show featured some very up-and-coming young musicians from the Stax Records Academy, a music school that mentors and trains the next generation of Memphis musicians.

By night’s end, there was really only one natural choice for the finale: So all of the performers crowded onto the stage to collaborate on a rendition of the Al Green version of “Take Me to the River,” joined by Jerry Harrison, of Talking Heads (whose popular cover of the song is yet another example of the impact and power of Memphis music). It was a joyful, freewheeling, inclusive sing-along—a nice distillation of the spirit of Memphis, now and then. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK

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Natalie Prass Entrances a Sold-Out Rough Trade NYC

February 9th, 2015

Natalie Prass – Rough Trade NYC – February 6, 2015

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Natalie Prass was nothing if not alluring at her sold-out Rough Trade NYC show on Friday night. Yes, there was that stylish, short white-and-black floral dress and her flirtatious banter, but the real sexiness was in Prass’s music: her mesmerizing songs, the subtle flavors of her voice, the bounce of the bass and drums, the come-hither grooviness of the electric piano and some steamy guitar. On her justifiably acclaimed self-titled debut full-length, Prass’s music is adorned with an orchestra and a production that display a mature, capable performer with a power and wisdom beyond her years. Live, the music is stripped down to its unmentionables and the Friday night crowd was entranced with the results.

Prass opened on the piano accompanied by her crackerjack band from the Spacebomb indie-soul stable, based in Richmond, Va., led by Trey Pollard on guitar. On songs like “My Baby Don’t Understand Me,” she was in complete control of the room, silences were truly silent, the typical Friday night chatter and bartender glass clanking seemed to disappear in the magic of the moment. After guiding the band through several groove-hooked numbers during which you could almost feel everyone in the room falling head over heels, Prass paused to joke about how she had been described as a Disney princess before grabbing the microphone for “It Is You.” Lots of musicians hop down into the crowd and lots of them try to get more people to dance. But midway through her Disney audition, Prass went one further, hopping down to the floor and grabbing a guy to slow dance with to her own song as the band kept vamping, the crowd, feeling the moment, swaying along.

A pair of covers at opposite ends of the spectrum aptly summed up Prass’s sound: Janet Jackson’s “Any Time Any Place” and Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You.” The former (“a dirty song”) came off as a mesmerizing slow jam with the band locked in on the heart of the groove, invoking the Valentine’s Day spirit a week early. For the Cline cover, the two ladies from Lady Lady (who played a terrific Nashville-esque opening set), joined Prass, the three of them trading verses and playfully harmonizing. The set arced perfectly to a close with two more of the new songs—Prass sitting on the edge of the stage, legs crossed singing “Reprise” and then the show-closing “hit,” “Why Don’t You Believe in Me?” which found a night-making funkiness and left many attendance with that I-think-I’m-in-love feeling. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

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Greensky Bluegrass Use a Little Bit of Everything to Brooklyn

January 30th, 2015

Greensky Bluegrass – Brooklyn Bowl – January 29, 2015

(Photo: Chris Monaghan)

(Photo: Chris Monaghan)

“We’re a bluegrass band.” That’s what members of Greensky Bluegrass kept announcing between songs at last night’s sold-out show at Brooklyn Bowl. At first, I was like, “Duh, it’s in your name!” But after a few decidedly out-there jams, I finally picked up on the very bluegrass joke. They definitely have the proper instrumentation (banjo, guitar, dobro, mandolin, bass), and they can play comfortably in the genre—but Greensky Bluegrass were playing with a jam-band style in rock club beneath a light show suitable for an EDM show. (Yes, Greensky Bluegrass are one of the few bands I’ve seen bring their own lighting rig.)

The set began with a dobro-heavy “Just to Lie” that showed off their abilities in the standard-bluegrass region before quickly going off course into a darker, minor-key piece with the lights following suit. This led to some deep hallucinogenic jamming that featured excellent playing from each of the band’s instrumentalists, with multiple build-and-release moments that prompted a healthy “whoop” from the packed house. Twenty minutes later, the opening sequence finally came to a climactic end. The crowd and band now settled in, Greensky crafted a two-set show filled with genre-straddling songs and jams, deftly flipping between the more traditional and progressive and whatever it is that’s beyond that. The lights followed suit, zipping through all of the colors of the rainbow and beyond, sometimes in unexpected combinations—an apt visual metaphor for the music being made. NYC jam-guest extraordinaire Eric Krasno came out for the first-set-closing cover of Norton Buffalo’s “Ain’t No Bread in the Breadbox,” a song made popular by Jerry Garcia but perfectly suited for a duel between dobro player Anders Beck and Krasno.

Things got even deeper during the second set, which opened with a dark, country-rock “Bring Out Your Dead.” The second guest of the night, Andy Falco of the Infamous Stringdusters, came out to help on Bill Monroe’s “Working on a Building,” yellow spotlights emanating from the stage like beams from the sun, before jamming out admirably on a David Grisman number. Throughout the second set, Greensky Bluegrass started in a place that felt recognizably connected to bluegrass but would then venture far into something different. The closing song was a prime example, the music dipped into an almost trance jam before returning to the theme and then running off again exploring in impressive fashion. The encore seemed designed to ground everyone again, Greensky calling out Krasno once more to help with a cover of the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider,” the crowd singing along at full volume, and the bluegrass band doing a pretty good Southern rock impression with a little help from their friend.—A. Stein | @Neddyo

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Marilyn Manson Takes His Time at Terminal 5

January 30th, 2015

Marilyn Manson – Terminal 5 – January 29, 2015

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I had never seen Marilyn Manson perform before, so I was a little upset that I was running late to Terminal 5 last night. (Note to self: LISTEN when people say to give yourself an extra five minutes to commute in this town). Out of the cold and into the venue, I hadn’t even made it past the box office before I could hear ferocious screams from the crowd. As I wound my way upstairs to get to my usual vantage point on the third floor, I dodged couples making out in an uninhibited way, weaved around dancing fans and almost got knocked flat by a girl in a full-body black leather suit. It was quite the experience to walk into late, and that was before I’d even caught a glimpse of the night’s headliner.

Finally facing the stage, I watched as Manson performed for the next 90 minutes, each song eliciting more screams from the fanatical audience. He didn’t necessarily blaze through the set—instead, a slower, more methodical pace suited him—but Manson still managed to evenly cover his two-decade career. Each song was accompanied by some sort of sly joke or demand, like when he said he wanted them to “pound the witch drum” before his band started up “Cupid Carries a Gun,” or when he made a pun with the title of “Disposable Teens,” or when he asked his stage manager to tie his shoe before “No Reflection.” I hadn’t expected as much dry wit on top of the biting and provocative statements, but over the last 20 years the world has sort of caught up to how weird Manson used to seem. But those in attendance didn’t care either way: Everything he did stoked the fire of their fandom.

Over the course of the rest of the set, Manson oscillated among whipping around his microphone, kneeling on the stage monitors and striking dramatic poses during songs like his infamous cover of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams.” The night’s momentum peaked just at the end when Manson donned a black surgical mask, apron and, of course, some blood for “The Beautiful People.” The crowd contracted as almost everyone thrust their phones in the air, attempting to capture the night’s final celebration of freakish fun.
—Sean O’Kane | @Sokane1