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




Phantogram Continue to Grow Bigger in Philadelphia

October 20th, 2014

Phantogram – Union Transfer – October 18, 2014

What a difference four years can make. In 2010, Phantogram played Mercury Lounge to an audience of half the venue’s capacity. The duo of beat-maker Josh Carter and vocalist Sarah Barthel showed confidence then, playing songs from their excellent debut album, Eyelid Movies, complemented by art-house films in the background, but they were still feeling through the material to create an engaging live show. On Saturday night at Union Transfer, though, Phantogram looked like a band transformed, in full possession of their talents and truly deserving of the sold-out crowd’s transfixed gaze. It was a performance to enjoy in and of itself and to admire for its passion, physicality and complete beauty.

Stunning Barthel is Phantogram’s visual and emotional center. On Saturday, she wore a black leather crop top with black short shorts to match and silver bracelets running from her wrist to her elbow. Throughout the set, Barthel moved around the stage with a microphone in hand, sighing and singing her vocal parts with an intensity that soared above the group’s full-bodied sound. Two additional musicians, a live drummer and multi-instrumentalist, created floor-shaking bass and teeth-clattering kicks. Beams of strobe light flashed onto the band and crowd. Still, Barthel’s fragile voice juxtaposed against huge electronic beats is the unique success of Phantogram’s sound. It’s what kept the audience rapt until the last electronic loops cut out.

Four years later, Phantogram are famous. Their music appears in commercials and on the Hunger Games soundtrack. Their second album, Voices, released this year, reached No. 11 on the Billboard 200. And when Phantogram played their most recent single, “Fall in Love,” next to Eyelid Movies“When I’m Small,” 1,000 people sang along to both choruses. That’s a new phenomenon, but it’s also a consummate showing of support from Philadelphians. At the show’s end, Barthel said of Phantogram’s first ever performance, which was in Philadelphia: “Ten people showed up, but they brought it.” And with a second sold-out show on Sunday, Philly brought it again—and whenever Phantogram return, a growing and increasingly connected audience will be there. —Jared Levy





Zeus Use Democratic Effort to Wow Late Mercury Lounge Crowd

October 20th, 2014

Zeus – Mercury Lounge – October 17, 2014

(Photo: Sean O’Kane)

(Photo: Sean O’Kane)

Sometimes we speak of a rock band being democratic, meaning that everyone in the band has a voice. But there are always degrees to this, and usually there’s a frontman rock god pulling the levers. Watching the Toronto quintet (recently grown from a foursome) Zeus bound across the stage late on Saturday night at Mercury Lounge felt like observing a true musical democracy at work (ironically despite the deity band name). Who is the lead guitarist in Zeus? Who is the lead singer? All of them and none of them. Must be a Canadian thing—their universal health care is much more universal than ours too.

Promoting their new album, Classic Zeus, and mixing in plenty of older, classic Zeus, they declared their love for New York City: “You always know how to treat a band!” The feeling was mutual. A core of die-hard fans tried their darndest to keep up with the kinetic energy onstage. There was constant motion as Zeus rocked new tunes like “Miss My Friends” with its breezy ’60s pop sound and older favorites like “Heavy on Me,” off their debut release, Say Us. This motion included gyrating and head-banging from all, particularly (mostly) bassist Carlin Nicholson, as well as song-to-song instrument switching so that everyone got their hands on the guitars, bass and electric piano without a lapse in the set’s continuously improving energy.

Zeus were even democratic in their rock clichés, mastering the good ones (share-a- microphone harmonies, two-guitar dueling solos, timely cowbell) and avoiding the bad ones. Mostly their set was superlative rock songs played by a bunch of guys having a whole lot of fun. As they out-classic-rocked classic rock with their raging “Are You Gonna Waste My Time?” everyone in the crowd was in thrall, having whole lot of fun, themselves. There is something irresistible about watching a band wear their emotions on their sleeves. In Zeus’ case the overall emotion was “hell yeah,” which seemed to be the democratic consensus of all in attendance. —A. Stein


A Special Night of Southern Rock with Drive-By Truckers on Friday

October 20th, 2014

Drive-By Truckers – Beacon Theatre – October 17, 2014

In all its majestic glory, the Beacon Theatre has a way of making rock shows feel special. As the go-to venue for any local Allman Brothers Band show (and reportedly their final one), this may hold especially true for Southern rock. It was certainly the case on Friday. Following a fantastic opening set from the Alabama soul outfit St. Paul and the Broken Bones, there wasn’t a single butt sitting in one of the venue’s seats. And it was pretty much that way for the next several hours as Drive-By Truckers performed. “Today’s one of those days where your real life exceeds the life you dreamed of,” said Patterson Hood.

Drive-By Truckers are a band that never seems to stop gaining momentum. And if these aren’t the group’s golden years, there still hasn’t been a time when they’ve had more loyal fans. Led by Hood and Mike Cooley, two songwriters who seem to keep getting better, DBT brought out everything you’d expect, leaving no stone unturned: Great songs about Southern tragedies, “Puttin’ People on the Moon” from Hood and “Uncle Frank” from Cooley, to fan favorites like “Women Without Whiskey” to deep cuts like “Runaway Train,” from Cooley and Hood’s first band, Adam’s House Cat.

Of course, there were also the rousing sing-alongs, like the one that accompanied “Hell No, I Ain’t Happy.” Hood added in an epilogue of “I’m fuckin’ happy” at the end, as if to let everyone know that the song wasn’t a real-time account. There were some epic tales of Hood family history leading into “Box of Spiders,” a song about Hood’s great grandmother, who loved going to strangers’ funerals. The night closed with “Grand Canyon,” off their latest album, English Oceans, and then one by one everyone in the band waved goodnight and exited the stage. —Dan Rickershauser


Pond Evoke the Past While Providing a Glimpse at the Future

October 16th, 2014

Pond – The Bowery Ballroom – October 15, 2014

61-atxl1Having never been there, I imagine Australia to be like a bizarro northern hemisphere— perspective is flipped, up is down, the earth spinning in the other direction. For all I know, it’s possible the arrow of time is pointing in the other direction, so a band like Pond isn’t influenced by past greats, but is somehow instead influencing classic rock’s future past. As they tore through their late set last night at The Bowery Ballroom, the Perth quintet evoked the sounds of prog and psych rock—bands like Pink Floyd, Genesis, Black Sabbath and even David Bowie—but made these sounds their own from an alternate universe where those bands don’t even exist yet. Maybe that doesn’t make too much sense, but these are the kinds of things that run through your head when your body and brain are being jostled around by Pond’s live set.

Things got to that place quickly, particularly with “Giant Tortoise,” off last year’s Hobo Rocket, early in the set. With pixilated stripes of primary colors jiggling on the screen behind them, Pond deftly switched gears, high then low then back to high again, propelled by Jay Watson’s superlative drumming. The guys in the band didn’t seem to take themselves too seriously at all. Guitarist and lead singer Nick Allbrook wore a dress more appropriate for a picnic date and a Justin Bieber sweatshirt that only muddled the ensemble, plus he went on a long ad-libbed bit in the middle of “Fantastic Explosion of Time” that touched on a number of topics, including the taste du jour, pumpkin spice.

The music, though, twisted expertly through multisectioned compositions, heavy two-guitar rock-outs and more prog-y interludes. The crowd pulsed with each shift and crescendo, bouncing and bumping around the Ballroom floor. “Don’t Look at the Sun or You’ll Go Blind” was a brilliant Pink Floyd–as-disco jam from their back catalog, while “Xanman” was pure Sabbath fist-pumping energy. As the music pulled in different directions, Pond remained tight, largely on the strength of Watson’s intense playing and focus. The set climaxed with “You Broke My Cool,” off their 2012 album, Beard, Wives, Denim, a dense double helix of psych and funk, and the closing “Midnight Mass (At the Market Street Payphone).” That last tune was pure “save the best for last,” with a long spaced-out bridge zapped with a dreamy slide-guitar riff from Joseph Ryan. Evocative and futuristic all at once, which describes Pond through and through. —A. Stein

(Pond play Rough Trade NYC on Saturday.)


Guitar Maestro Steve Gunn Celebrates New Album in Brooklyn

October 13th, 2014

Steve Gunn – Rough Trade NYC – October 12, 2014

sg-in-the-park-2There was an old kind of guitar nerd who would go cross-eyed from a solo of Malmsteenian technical skill muttering in awe, “How does he do that?” But nowadays, there’s a new kind of guitar nerd that was out in full force at the Steve Gunn show last night at Rough Trade NYC. These ladies and gentlemen still appreciate the technical skill, which was to be found aplenty throughout Gunn’s set, but along with and really beyond the proficiency, there is an emotional connection that goes deeper. Gunn and his soul-probing band seemed to be performing therapy by six-string, wowing the crowd and then asking, “And how does that make you feel?”

He was an unassuming guitar maestro in denim, his banter was almost accidental and his vocals were understated (part mumble, part moan), but got the job done and counterbalanced the music behind them. The set began with a quick in-line sound check that itself was pretty great, reminiscent of a 1973 Grateful Dead jam, the band tossing around a melody like no big thing. Once the set got swinging, though, it was a cascade of musical emotion, jubilant, cathartic, evocative. The songs were mostly from Gunn’s excellent new album, Way Out Weather—with one or two of the longer jams drawn from older material—the show serving as a release party (with Gunn the type of musician who drinks water at his own Sunday night celebration). Each seemed to evoke a feeling, from the nostalgia of “Wildwood” to the bickering of “Milly’s Garden.” The latter, Gunn explained, was basically about an asshole neighbor, and his guitar and lap steel went back and forth in musical argument, building to an angry crescendo.

Later, those same two instruments overlapped again on “Way Out Weather.” This time the guitars felt like they were in deep, respectful conversation, the jam moving from quiet and beautiful to fiery, the whole band expertly coming together. Whatever the feelings evoked, it was Gunn’s guitar as the source. Impossible amounts of notes poured from his instrument, acoustic and electric, his fingers moving effortlessly up and down his fretboard, like a minimalist masseuse who knows the exact location of each melody’s pressure points. The notes layered into nonlinear masterpieces that stretched out in time and filled the room with a steady hypnosis. After the “session,” a big hug felt appropriate, but a deserved ovation and a soul-searching encore did the trick as well.  —A. Stein


At Terminal 5 Banks Proves That Her Star Is Still on the Rise

October 1st, 2014

Banks – Terminal 5 – September 30, 2014

“New York, I’d die for you,” shrieked Banks last night to the sold-out Terminal 5 crowd, almost in disbelief to be playing her biggest headlining show in the city to date. And rightly so—it’s been barely 18 months since the once mysterious Californian chanteuse began dropping tracks on Soundcloud and gaining traction after Zane Low featured her on BBC Radio 1. Now, it’s clear that Jillian Rose Banks is a star in the making, building more than just a solid Internet following.

Playing off the theme of her recently released debut album, Banks revealed the growth of a real Goddess. There’s an intimacy to each of her gigs, which makes those in the audience feel like they’re the only ones in the room, as she reveals deeply personal lyrics about love and heartbreak. But don’t be fooled, this is one strong woman who makes it known that she’s a force to be reckoned with through her haunting don’t-fuck-with-me vocals. In fact, Banks went all boss during the title track, “Goddess,” flipping the bird at the crowd as if she were M.I.A. at the Super Bowl.

Having attracted some heavyweight producers for her first record, Banks’ live show really brought the likes of TEED’s production work on “Warm Water” to life. One of the night’s clear highlights was her live take on the brooding track with Sohn, “Waiting Game,” and a surprising rendition of a Fugees’ classic, “Fu-Gee-La.” On a final note, Bank’s hipster-Goth-awkward-dance game is something to rival Lorde’s epic double claw. Just saying. —Pip Cowley





Teleman Impress in Their First Visit to America

September 26th, 2014

Teleman – Mercury Lounge – September 25, 2014


If last night’s Mercury Lounge crowd had—as English four piece Teleman suggest on “23 Floors Up”—their “conscience stuck 23 floors up,” their superegos would have been stuck on the roof of the 22-floor luxury apartment complex the Ludlow that now towers above the Houston Street venue. It would have also left nothing but unrestrained id on the ground floor, sort of an odd image for a band as methodical and fastidious as the elegant Teleman. Plunging down from towering heights through the layers and layers of Pottery Barn dwarfing the memory of the Lower East Side, the audience and band resembled a different, more generative lyric from “23 Floors Up”: “The city below is anywhere you like.”

With songs that lack a similar discernible quality, Teleman bounded through cuts off their debut LP, Breakfast, before a crowd that showed a similar level of careful enthusiasm. It was, they told the audience, their “first time in America.” The band opened with “In Your Fur” and its repeated chorus, “We’re on the strangest ride,” a subtle irony for a band that crafts such straightforward, satisfying pop songs. Emblematic of this impulse, “Skeleton Dance” and “Cristina,” a pair of tunes about different ways of getting down in the bedroom, populated the middle of the set.

Consistent, wry commentary sprang from the stage, like lead singer Thomas Sanders introducing “Cristina”: “This song is called ‘Cristina.’ It’s about a girl named Cristina from America. It’s our only tie to your country.” The blithe discourse continued on the night’s closing number, “Travel Song,” and its final, repeated promise—“I’m not in control.” This was, in part, the joke. Teleman were masterfully in command the whole time, from the roof all the way down to the ground level. —Geoff Nelson


A Wednesday Dance Party with Pomplamoose at The Bowery Ballroom

September 25th, 2014

Pomplamoose – The Bowery Ballroom – September 24, 2014

There is an art to covers—a balancing act, if you will, between reinvention and cheesy imitation. The Californian couple of Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn, aka Pomplamoose, have tackled a slew of artists ranging from Beyoncé to Eden Ahbez and have garnered a large fan base from their YouTube videos. It’s difficult to pin down the duo to a genre, as the two float between pop, jazz, blues, punk and folk. Whether doing covers or their own original songs, the pair infuses jauntiness to every melody they tackle. In front of a sold-out crowd at The Bowery Ballroom last night, Conte and Dawn kicked off the night fittingly with the introductory “Hey, It’s Pomplamoose.” Dawn announced the night would be a dance party as she barreled into Lady Gaga’s “Telephone.” For the doo-wop sway of “Bust Your Knee Caps,” references to the Italian mafia rang through the lyrics but the bouncy cadence had the fans singing the chorus to the end of the ditty.

The evening turned toward covers from a “Lorde 2Pac Beck Mashup” to Eden Ahbez’s “Nature Boy,” after which the backing band exited to leave the couple front and center. While Dawn attended to some battery issues with her earpiece, Conte proceeded to entertain the crowd with stories from their tour. As they ad-libbed through the technical hiccup, their personalities shined through. Fueled by a crowdsourcing engine Patreon, Pomplamoose aren’t signed to a label, and they produce largely through funds from their patrons, a few in attendance last night. Some covers (Mark Owen’s “Makin’ Out” and Pat Ballard’s “Mister Sandman”) hit stronger than others (Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” and the Beatles’ “Come Together”).

Dawn’s playful vocals shown through on “If You Think You Need Some Lovin’” and telegraphed a resemblance to Feist and Inara George of the Bird and the Bee. Conte playfully called for a James Brown “hit me” moment egging on the band to “Another Day.” He continued the frivolity on “Get That Body Back” by asking the audience to part ways to create a circle that he proceeded to occupy by “going crazy” in and recruiting fan upon fan to join him. To top it off, both Conte and Dawn stage dived and crowd surfed before ending the set with the timely cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September.” Returning to the stage, Pomplamoose encored with “Centrifuge,” while an accordion was being located. That fine instrument would put the icing on the cake for the evening as Dawn lulled the crowd with Édith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose.” —Sharlene Chiu

 (Pomplamoose play Music Hall of Williambsurg tonight.)


Ty Segall Proves to Be a Rock Music Life Force at Webster Hall

September 18th, 2014

Ty Segall – Webster Hall – September 17, 2014

(Photo: Andie Diemer)

(Photo: Andie Diemer)

“Did anybody lose a red shoe?” asked Ty Segall last night, the Webster Hall stage littered with lost items: a blue backpack, a handful of wallets, a boot, even a belt. With more people in the front row trying to crowd surf than hold up said crowd surfers, the venue had become one giant lost and found. What do you get when you have a sold-out Webster Hall audience collectively losing their shit? You get a lot of people, well, physically losing a lot of their shit. For anyone not familiar with Ty Segall at this point, he can best be described as some superhuman rock music–making machine. At 27, he’s already got seven solo albums to his name, plus another excellent one filed under the Ty Segall Band, several side projects and bands he’s involved with in one way or another. Segall has yet to put his name on anything subpar. He tours constantly. And with the energy he throws into performing, seeing him play live makes this output slightly more believable, further proof that there’s some supernatural rock music life force coursing through his veins.

Segall, who came out wearing the same glam makeup he wore on his latest appearance on Conan, was joined by longtime collaborator—and accomplished solo artist—Mikal Cronin on bass, Charlie Moonheart on guitar and Emily Rose Epstein on drums. Everyone besides Segall sporting waist-length hair made their collective head-banging a glorious spectacle. They opened with the title track off Segall’s latest album, Manipulator, and continued checking off most of its songs. Three tunes in, the barricade separating the audience from the stage began showing signs of giving out, with five security guards doing their best to keep it together. And then two songs later, Segall announced that they were going to pause so they could get the barricade out of there, thus beginning the endless crowd surfing.

For his guitar solo on “The Faker,” Segall joined the surfers, walking out onto the crowd’s hands Iggy Pop style to rip his face-melting guitar solo right into his fans’ faces. But the best crowd surf of the night was courtesy of the band’s “manager,” Jimmy Longhorn— prior to the show, he declared that the band was from Jupiter—who came out asking people to carry him to the bar on the opposite side of the venue and back, and they happily complied. “Caesar” brought out a bunch of folks from backstage into the audience. Shows don’t usually get this out of control. Musicians don’t usually release this much quality music this fast. Concerts don’t usually sustain such a high level of energy. Those in the crowd aren’t usually that willing to give it their all. But maybe this band really is from Jupiter. —Dan Rickershauser

(Ty Segall plays Webster Hall again tonight.)


Chromeo Bring Their Dance Party to Central Park

September 15th, 2014

Chromeo – Rumsey Playfield – September 12, 2014


(Photo: Timothy Saccenti)

As summer winds down there are only a few remaining outdoor shows around the city, and, fortunately, Chromeo’s appearance at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park on Friday night was one of them. The dance-pop duo’s set not only kick-started the weekend for a few thousand fans, but it also helped close out a season. The band proved again that Chromeo as a whole are more than the sum of their parts. Look too closely and you’ll see David Macklovitch tapping at a keyboard and easing his way through guitar solos, or Patrick Gemayel occasionally crashing a cymbal or cowbell with a drumstick. But focus less on the details and let loose a little and suddenly you see Dave 1 and P-Thugg orchestrating one hell of a dance party.

All those little things, like handclaps timed to strobe lights, escalated the atmosphere surrounding the hook-filled jams Chromeo so adeptly make. The set was filled with a range of their songs, from the pounding dance beats of “Sexy Socialite” to “Momma’s Boy,” a sweet blend of electronic sound straight out of ELO mixed with guitar that would make the CarsRic Ocasek proud. And regardless of whether they’d seen Chromeo prior to Friday, everyone at Rumsey Playfield ended up hearing something they could enjoy, which always makes for a fun night. —Sean O’Kane






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