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Cate Le Bon Shows The Bowery Ballroom a Good Time

January 27th, 2017

Cate Le Bon – The Bowery Ballroom – January 26, 2017

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Welsh musician Cate Le Bon has a unique sound—a voice not unlike the rich throb of Nico’s, with the addition of some amped-up exuberance and a penchant for jangly guitars. Last night at The Bowery Ballroom, Le Bon and her band brought a focused energy to their performance, highlighting songs from 2016’s Crab Day, as well as crowd-pleasing material from its predecessor, Mug Museum.

Le Bon and her band’s precision and cohesion came through in particular during their version of Crab Day’s “How Do You Know?” a song that culminated with the singer-songwriter staring out at the crowd, rhythmically nodding her head, almost robotically, to the beat, as she and her bandmates strummed a repeated riff, slowing down bit by bit. As the speed decreased, so too did Le Bon, mimicking a machine shutting down and eventually stopping, head and body limply hunched over her guitar. Moments later, she was suddenly upright again, launching into the jaunty “I Can’t Help You” and even letting out a few excited yelps at the end.

After performing some new material and bringing out the night’s opener (and Le Bon’s frequent musical collaborator), Tim Presley, to accompany the band on a few songs, Le Bon treated us to Mug Museum’s “Are You With Me Now?”—an eminently catchy crowd-pleaser that featured lovely backing harmonies from the band. It was a sweet nightcap, and if I had to answer the song’s question based upon crowd response, I’d give it a resounding yes: We are with you, Cate Le Bon. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK

 

 

 

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Kyle Morton Goes Solo at Rough Trade NYC on Friday Night

January 23rd, 2017

Kyle Morton – Rough Trade NYC – January 20, 2017

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The path from band member to solo career can often lead to a clear separation from the former, but Kyle Morton of Typhoon has managed to avoid that divide. Rather his solo album was birthed while he was working on the group’s next major release. It’s not surprising that Morton had qualms touring alone when there are 11 members in Typhoon. In an interview, Morton confessed his nervousness of going it alone: “I’m learning a lot more self-reliance, since I’m out here traveling by myself. I never really wanted to tour by myself because it seemed kind of daunting. But there’s something kind of nomadic and cool about it.” And so the frontman arrived solo onstage before a welcoming crowd at Rough Trade NYC on Friday evening.

Covering a large portion of his debut album, What Will Destroy You, Morton expertly mixed new material with Typhoon fan favorites throughout the set. His singing cadence, which resembled Conor Oberst’s on “Poor Bastard,” was especially punctuated by the morbid, melancholic lyrics. The crowd quickly joined in on the Typhoon track “Belly of the Cavern” by stomping along to provide percussion before echoing the refrain “I will be good though my body be broken” on “Common Sentiments.” Morton joked that one really only had to sing that bit to be part of the band, which endeared him to the audience even more. The mention that his wife, Wild Ones lead singer Danielle Sullivan, was in attendance served as a teaser for an inevitable duet.

Before she would take the stage, Morton sweetly dedicated “My Little Darlin’ Knows My Nature” to Sullivan. Shining a new light on the familiar “Artificial Light” and “Prosthetic Love,” the stripped-down Typhoon songs highlighted the painstaking lyrics that can get lost in the hefty band’s weight. When the words “last song” provoked grumbles, the songwriter discarded the pseudo exit of an encore to remain onstage, calling upon his wife to join him on a new Typhoon song. And if that weren’t enough to appease the crowd, the pair covered the John Prine and Iris Dement duet “In Spite of Ourselves” to cap off the night. —Sharlene Chiu

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An Eclectic Craig David Dance Party at Music Hall of Williamsburg

January 20th, 2017

Craig David Presents TS5 – Music Hall of Williamsburg – January 19, 2017

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It was the summer of 2000 and I was gallivanting in Copenhagen as an exchange student. What I distinctly remember was the insane amount of the Europop that year, and a unique voice, Craig David’s, rang out amongst those omnipresent groups. His blend of R&B mixed with dubstep anchored his first album, Born to Do It. He never fully translated in America to my dismay, but David sold out the Brooklyn debut of his TS5 party at Rough Trade NYC last October. TS5 began as a house party in his penthouse in Miami, Tower Suite 5, and it’s no surprise that it has blown up into a hot ticket. His beginnings on the decks to his top-charting songs set up David as the perfect hybrid of MC and singer.

Commanding a sold-out Music Hall of Williamsburg last night, David opened with oldies “Rewind” and “Fill Me In.” His hybrid skills were on full display as he seamlessly moved from his ballad “Walking Away” to TLC’s “No Scrubs.” David continued, proclaiming, “We getting rotten,” before dropping a series of old school anthems ranging from House of Pain’s “Jump Around” to Chaka Demus & Pliers “Murder She Wrote.” He moved everyone in the packed venue through decades of popular music daring to follow Destiny Child’s “Say My Name” with Ginuwine’s “Pony.”

The latter end of the set produced tracks largely from David’s latest release, Following My Intuition, including the Dave Tozer–produced “Warm It Up,” first single “One More Time,” and the Blonde collaboration, “Nothing Like This.” David expressed his gratitude to fans who have followed him for 16 years, rolling it back one more time for “7 days” before concluding the evening with a cover of Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself” and his viral hit “Fill Me In/Where Are Ü Now,” a mashup of his classic blended with Diplo and Skrillex’s knotted beats. —Sharlene Chiu

 

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Mild High Club Bring Hazy, Good Times to Rough Trade NYC

January 17th, 2017

Mild High Club – Rough Trade NYC – January 14, 2016

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The band name Mild High Club might resemble something you could find searching for #fakejambands on Twitter, but it turns out to be an apt title for Alex Brettin’s L.A.-based slack-rockers. Their show at Rough Trade NYC on Saturday night got rolling with a palette-priming set from Brooklyn’s Pavo Pavo. Filled with arty permutations of synth, guitars and bass, they got the sold-out crowd moving with songs off their newest album, Young Narrator in the Breakers, and featured a few new songs for the last time live before bringing them into the studio.

Mild High Club kicked off their set featuring double twelve-string guitars, one of which Brettin said was brand new. The resulting dreamworld created by those guitars defined the show’s sound. Playing mostly songs off their 2016 Skiptracing album, like “Homage” and “Tesselation,” the band defined a music space evocative of the hazy feeling between a waking stupor and full-fledged REM sleep, a buzz not too extreme in either direction.

The slack-psych kept the audience spellbound, often crossing over into an almost smoke-filled jazz-club feel on “Head Out” or the bossa nova underpinnings of the album’s title track. Many of the songs oozed short-lived instrumental outros, floating dust motes of lingering melodies, ethereal and engaging and then fading to nothing. The set maintained the laid-back vibe of a cozy couch sit for a solid hour and then Brettin muttered, that mild buzz reaching its natural end, “I guess that’s it.”—A. Stein | @Neddyo

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Big Thief Play Sold-Out Hometown Show at The Bowery Ballroom

January 9th, 2017

Big Thief – The Bowery Ballroom – January 7, 2017

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With the release of their well-received first album, Masterpiece, last year, Brooklyn’s Big Thief had a big 2016. On Saturday night, the band played a hometown show at The Bowery Ballroom, treating the sold-out crowd to well-loved songs from their debut as well as new material from a second record that Big Thief frontwoman Adrianne Lenker said is “close.” In a word, Big Thief’s music might best be described as emotional—Lenker channels a great deal of feeling through her evocative voice, ranging from sweet and delicate to plaintive to a near-shout or wail. Songs like Masterpiece’s “Real Love” and “Parallels” each illustrated this emotional landscape, with moments of sadness, anger and yearning simmering beneath Lenker’s voice and lyrics. The new material lingered in the same satisfying emotional sweet spots.

Big Thief also treated the crowd to a performance from special guest Sharon Van Etten, who knows a thing or two about emotional melodies herself, and who joined to sing on some of the new material, beautifully weaving her voice around Lenker’s. At various moments throughout the show, Lenker poked fun at her own guitar-tuning perfectionism, taking short pauses between some songs to ensure she had it just right. But despite her self-awareness, this attention to detail served Big Thief well: Their warm, spare instrumentation, the vivid lyrics and the conviction behind each verse and chorus are what have drawn admirers to them, and why the new album on the horizon stands to resonate with fans once again. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK

 

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A Lenny Kaye Birthday Party with Patti Smith at The Bowery Ballroom

December 28th, 2016

Patti Smith and Her Band – The Bowery Ballroom – December 27, 2016

(Photo: Dina Regine)

(Photo: Dina Regine)

Lenny Kaye has worn many hats over the course of his impressive career, including guitarist, songwriter, producer and author—but he is best known for being a founding member of the Patti Smith Group. In tribute to their long and fruitful partnership, they threw Kaye a rocking 70th birthday party last night at The Bowery Ballroom, featuring Kaye and a slew of fellow musicians and friends performing for a sold-out crowd.

Kaye laughed with a sense of disbelief as he prefaced a performance of his song “Crazy Like a Fox,” with the fact that he’d recorded it 50 years ago. As he and the rotating backing musicians, including Tom Clark and Tony Shanahan (also of Patti Smith Group), tore through a set of nostalgic cover songs and originals, Kaye reminisced about growing up in New Jersey, his love of the Lower East Side and his fondness for the opportunity to work with a variety of different artists and genres during his days as a record producer.

Smith later joined the band to perform songs like “Free Money,” “Pissing in a River” and “Mercy Is,” lending her powerful stage presence in tribute to her longtime friend and collaborator. “Hey, Patti,” yelled someone in the crowd. “Tell us a story about Lenny from the old days.” Without missing a beat, she retorted, with a wink, “Those were the new days, these are the old days.” But judging by the great music and big smiles onstage from Kaye and Smith (who turns 70 herself in just a few days), the “old days” seem quite promising. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK

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Bon Iver Close Out Epic New York Run at Music Hall of Williamsburg

December 15th, 2016

Bon Iver – Music Hall of Williamsburg – December 14, 2016

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During a cold winter in a Wisconsin cabin, the first Bon Iver album, For Emma, Forever Ago, was written out of heartbreak—and the indie folklore remains forever in perpetuity. Although raved about in music critics’ circles, the band wasn’t well-known until winning the Best New Artist Grammy in 2012 for the self-titled sophomore effort. Even then, the public was uncertain who was in the band with tweets throughout the telecast wondering exactly who Bonnie Bear was. After a three-year hiatus, Bon Iver returned to headline the inaugural Eaux Claires Music Festival in frontman Justin Vernon’s hometown. This fall, the latest release, 22, A Million, welcomed a new era in the band’s evolution, moving away from the melancholic, acoustic crooning to heavily Auto-Tuned vocals against grainy synths leaving little resemblance to that emotionally cracked man in the cabin.

Over the past two weeks, the once unknown folk band has played sold-out shows across the New York City area from Hammerstein Ballroom and Capitol Theatre to Pioneer Works and Kings Theatre. The residency ended last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg, blocks away from an in-store the band played almost a decade ago at the long-shuttered Sound Fix Records. The stage was set with gear trunks decorated with Eric Timothy Carlson’s artwork from the recent album and served as tables for laptops and synths.

Carlson’s graphics were projected throughout the entire set, offering a strange mix of numerology and lyrics. The opener, “22 (OVER S∞∞N),” echoed a familiar voice that sounded like Merrill Garbus (aka Tune-Yards), but Vernon’s foray into electronics has masked his vocal coherency. The frontman’s earlier work with the band Poliça can be heard in his delivery of “10 d E A T h b R E a s T,” where distorted percussions give way to shredding guitars. Midway through the show, Vernon confessed that it was great to be back “playing one of our favorite rooms.” In a charming moment, the sextet of backing horns, known lovingly as “Sad Sax of Shit,” accompanied the band on “8 (circle).” The evening was largely dedicated to the newer material, but Vernon offered a morsel of the past with an encore that included “Creature Fear.” —Sharlene Chiu

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Metric Play Intimate Hometown Show at Music Hall of Williamsburg

November 30th, 2016

Metric – Music Hall of Williamsburg – November 29, 2016

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Before the 21st century, a musical collective out of Toronto formed by the name of Broken Social Scene and spawned such acts as Feist, Stars and Metric. The environment was a supportive one, nurturing a space where each band could thrive. The founding duo of Metric, Emily Haines and James Shaw, moved to New York City in the late ’90s and recorded early demos that would provide material for their first studio album. Fast-forward a decade and some change, the indie-rock band released a sixth studio album, Pagans in Vegas, last fall. And last night they returned to Brooklyn for a sold-out Music Hall of Williamsburg show as part of the Steve Madden Music series.

Fashioning a black cap, the lead singer took center stage kicking off the evening with a rousing rendition of “Speed the Collapse,” followed by the up-tempo “Youth Without Youth” as guitarist Ward added Auto-Tuned choruses. Haines had a few wardrobe changes, with the most notable being a luminescent cape that glowed against the black lights. (Added kudos to the lighting tech for her mastery of the syncopation of pulsating white shocks to several songs.) For crowd favorite “Dead Disco,” Haines turned up the showmanship, thrusting her fist and engaging the crowd from right to left. Bassist Joshua Winstead drove in the throbbing introduction to “Front Row,” as Haines took over with her melodic chants of “Burned out stars they shine so bright.”

The frontwoman noted that it was a hometown show for the band and great to “rekindle memories of North 6th.” A lot has changed since Haines and Ward moved here and shared a Williamsburg loft with soon-to-be members of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars and TV on the Radio. As the singer stripped down “Combat Baby” to a shortened a cappella interlude, I couldn’t help but relate the lyrics to a recent presidential candidate’s resilience. Following up that with “Gold Guns Girls” seemed to emphasize the formation further with Haines donning a guitar to jam with Winstead and Shaw, who closed out the song with an electrifying solo. The evening came to a close with singer and guitarist paired for a stripped-down “Gimme Sympathy,” before Winstead and drummer Joules Scott-Key rejoined the band for the finale, “Breathing Underwater.” —Sharlene Chiu

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The Moth & the Flame Light Up Mercury Lounge

November 30th, 2016

The Moth & the Flame – Mercury Lounge – November 29, 2016

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An upside down ampersand symbol lit up Mercury Lounge last night as the Los Angeles quartet the Moth & the Flame set up onstage. Brewing a melting pot of alternative-rock sounds, they began their performance with tracks from their second full-length album, Young & Unafraid. Ranging from slow, thoughtful songs like “Wishing Well” to energetic numbers like “Red Flag,” the Moth & the Flame take you through a roller coaster of emotions. There were certain moments when the bassline was pure perfection and the drums echoed through the mesmerized crowd.

There’s something about how singer Brandon Robbins’ voice hits a low pitch and then rises higher, like on their most popular song, “Young & Unafraid,” a bittersweet tale of youth and taking risks. As the crowd loudly sang along, the ampersand changed colors. Young & Unafraid was made with the help of Tony Hoffer and producer-mixer Peter Katis—best known for his work with bands like Interpol and the National. It’s no wonder why the Moth & the Flame lit up Mercury Lounge on a rainy night. —Karen Silva | @ClassicKaren

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The Bad Plus Sound Right at Home at Rough Trade NYC

November 22nd, 2016

The Bad Plus – Rough Trade NYC – November 21, 2016

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Over the course of their 15-plus-year career, the Bad Plus have played in nearly every conceivable New York City venue: the Village Vanguard and the Jazz Standard, sure, but also The Bowery Ballroom and Prospect Park Bandshell among many others. So, although you don’t often see a grand piano, let alone many jazz trios, at Rough Trade NYC, it’s not surprising that the Bad Plus eventually were slotted to play there. Coming off their recent album, It’s Hard, consisting entirely of cover songs, many of them from the contemporary rock and pop canon, seemed like a good time to start. Their two-set show on Monday night stood on four tentpoles from the new LP—four covers that showed the range and creativity that would shine through in any setting.

The Bad Plus take a cover song like a blank sheet of paper and start making cuts into it to create an elaborate, unique snowflake. For one group to adequately cover music as varied as Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” Barry Manliow’s “Mandy,” Kraftwerk’s “The Robots” and Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps” would be very impressive. For a piano trio playing a rock club to do it, all the more amazing, each song recognizable only in its base parts, the group otherwise tearing at each composition’s fabric, finding patterns and beauty where it didn’t seem to exist in the original, often to stunning effect. But if the covers were paper snowflakes, the original Bad Plus material was some sort of four-dimensional origami, intricately folded artworks, dynamic and shape-shifting. The opening “Prehensile Dream” was a subtle slow build, pianist Ethan Iverson repeating a beautiful riff until quiet became loud and pretty became intense, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King providing an awe-inspiring crescendo.

The highlight of the first set came with the closing “Seven Minute Mind,” complicated rhythms hidden beneath an undeniably funky bass riff that may have required basic calculus to follow completely. “Keep the Bugs Off Your Glass and the Bears Off Your Ass” was rollicking blues that revealed multiple parenthetical diversions, eventually giving way to a great tangential bass-and-drum solo. Each song had its own unique feel and sound, all tied together with the band’s wit, talent and strong emotional core. The respectful but enthusiastic crowd was treated to one more cover for the encore, Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line,” which, under the eager scissors of the Bad Plus, became a thrilling exercise in rhythmic experimentation. For one night at least, for the Bad Plus and the roomful of fans, Rough Trade NYC felt just like home. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

 

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Ours Mix New and Old at The Bowery Ballroom on Saturday

November 21st, 2016

Ours – The Bowery Ballroom – November 19, 2016

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Known for its classy, sultry aesthetic, The Bowery Ballroom was perfectly suited for the amazing talents of Zane Carney and the incredible Ours on Saturday night. Ours, the headliner, are fronted by New Jersey native Jimmy Gnecco, a force to be reckoned with best known for his multioctave vocal range and taking personal experience and raw emotion to create meaningful songs. He introduced Hannah Gernand to accompany him on a new song from their forthcoming album due next spring. And earlier, she beautifully sang Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’s “Pure Imagination” with a modern rock twist.

Ours performed an array of new songs mixed with older stuff like “Bleed.” Their magnetic stage presence transcended beyond words with loud-as-hell drums and guitar riffs. Each member—Static (guitar), April Bauer (piano), Chris Goodlof (bass), Race (guitar and keys) and Shane Rozum (drums)—brought something special. And despite some interpreting their lyrics as despondent, the band’s songs speak of everyday situations everyone can identify with. Ours are the charismatic alternative rockers you can see hundreds of times live and each show is something different. With a vast catalog of impressive songs, they passionately prove that anything can be accomplished. —Karen Silva | @ClassicKaren

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Chris Robinson Brotherhood Take Their Time at the Space at Westbury

November 21st, 2016

Chris Robinson Brotherhood – the Space at Westbury – November 18, 2016

(Photo: Jay Blakesberg)

(Photo: Jay Blakesberg)


I’ve seen the Chris Robinson Brotherhood do their pie-eyed, soulful thing plenty now, and the word I keep going back to is unhurried, which doesn’t mean slow, for this band can cook up a good old rock and roll, blues or country racket when called for. But that does mean you go at their pace: a deliberate, expansive set or two of deeply fleshed out and not-a-little-cosmic Americana that insists you groove in its orbit or that you politely leave the rocket ship. It may not be for everybody, but in every year since the band’s 2011 inception, yielding to what the CRB does has been rewarding for the willing listener.

Robinson and his band of aces—guitarist Neal Casal, keyboardist Adam MacDougall, bassist Jeff Hill and drummer Tony Leone—throw back to a time when rock, blues, country and folk were painted with Day-Glo and didn’t mind a layer of stardust. Their music feels nostalgic but embraceable and honest. Those wistful moments that might sound sad or might sound accepting depend on how a guitar string is plucked, meshed with those more celebratory, up-tempo, let’s-kick-it type of songs. They can be short statements or long statements or really long statements, protracted with jam segments that can veer toward an ambient soundscape or burn with the gnarly guitars of a Tuesday night at the roadhouse.

They’re encyclopedic too, and that reach goes wide and deep. This two-setter at the Space at Westbury on Friday featured songs by Hoyt Axton (“Never Been to Spain”), Jackie Moore (“Precious Precious”), Bob Dylan (“It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”) and New Riders of the Purple Sage (“Last Lonely Eagle”) tucked between CRB originals and songs from Robinson’s previous associations given new life by this band (“I Ain’t Hiding,” came from the Black Crowes while “Tumbleweed in Eden” and “Train Robbers” drew from the brief, turbulent life of Robinson’s 2002-2004 era band, New Earth Mud). None of those felt out of place, but rather they were bent to the groovy CRB m.o. such that a well-trodden tune like “Baby Blue” had a livelier, hootenanny feel than the regretful folk sound it’s most often associated with. Robinson was as ever the band’s centerpiece. He’s still the charismatic hippie-with-an-edge howler he always was leading the Crowes, and with Leone and Hill keeping things humming—and from veering off course—Casal and MacDougall become its painters, working with a significant range of tones and colors both earthy (Casal’s paint-peeler slide guitar) and spacey (MacDougall’s spattering psych-out effects).

Together, the fivesome offered a few hours of vignettes: the mournful then defiant narrator of “Train Robbers,” which began as spooky country before erupting into vocal howls and volcanic guitar, the vicious rock and roll of “I Ain’t Hiding” (“Ain’t your saint, ain’t your enemy/ I’m a long shadow on the highway”), the big dreams and tortured realities of “Forever as the Moon” and “Star or Stone,” plus the drunk-on-life rambling in “Rosalee,” which began and ended the second set as effectively one long sandwich. And if there’s a newer song from the band’s rapidly growing catalog that takes its place among its best and most complete statements, it’s “Narcissus Soaking Wet,” which on this tour has been a second-set showpiece, getting really cosmic and Dead-y, a lengthy tale of myth. It’s a song to get lost in from a band really good at making them. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

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Caspian Find Their Mark at Music Hall of Williamsburg

November 18th, 2016

Caspian – Music Hall of Williamsburg – November 17, 2016

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Coming out of a Caspian show, you feel roughed up and blown out, but in a good way. The post-rock band’s (mostly) instrumental sound seems to build from somewhere far away, encroaching gradually until it’s totally taken over, swarming you with a hail of guitar and other effects, roiling the floor with pummeling rhythms, pushing you over an abyss or up into a heavenly resolution of chords. It’s exhausting, cathartic and mighty dramatic—but that’s the point. You’re enthralled by the layers of sound and it’s kind of alarming, but you feel it build and build in tension, then give way to explosive release, whether on the back of a high-stacked triple-guitar melody or something more latent that takes longer to reveal itself. Dust and Disquiet, as Caspian’s 2015 release was named, and very much so.

Caspian were a buzzed-about curiosity in Massachusetts and in post-rock circles for long enough that when they finally began to mount national tours, the crowds were there to greet them. Their sound can be dense—you’re entering a sonic thicket and it’s easy to get lost in it—but the band also prioritizes melody. They’re accessible and not given to long stretches of ambient goo or merely retreading a crescendo-and-explode-over-elaborate-orchestration format. The five-piece found their mark early and often last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg, with a cinematic hour-plus set of selections that focused on but didn’t limit to Dust and Disquiet material. Some songs, such as “Rioseco” and the old Caspian favorite “Some Are White Light,” favored the long build, with layer upon layer of guitar swells crashing against a wall until they broke through, washing the senses. “Arcs of Command” and “Echo and Abyss” veered toward prog-metal, doped on guitar syncopation, letting crashing cymbals and electronic loops overwhelm the audience with inspired clangor.

They’re not all dark-night-of-terrors songs, though. Many Caspian tunes go for ominous uncertainty—inchoate guitar tones wandering around one another in a maybe-spooked, maybe-blissful haze—or for unbridled, bust-out joy, with massive builds that sound like blasts of light through a darkened tunnel look like. This is not an easy feat. Too much indulgence into a sound like this means lots of sculpted noise and guitar hail with little to hang on to. Too much composed orchestration, however, and the feeling in the music goes away—it becomes antiseptic, a tasteless recital, especially for those who’ve already taken the ride with the band. So credit Caspian for infusing so much heart into a genre that can sound remarkably numb. This is a rock-your-face sound you want to lean toward, rather than resist. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

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Hiss Golden Messenger Dazzle at Music Hall of Williamsburg

November 16th, 2016

Hiss Golden Messenger – Music Hall of Williamsburg – November 15, 2016

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The challenge when writing about Hiss Golden Messenger is to not overdo it. There’s marvelous stuff going on in this music, delivered in a deceptively simple framework. It’s the kind of thing that once you’re in its thrall and listening to frontman MC Taylor ramble on the frayed edges of Americana, you’re given to purple prose out of obligation, wanting to make sense of music that projects grandeur but also feels remarkably earthbound. It was a great turnout last night for Taylor’s latest stop in Brooklyn, part of a national tour behind the recent Hiss Golden Messenger album, Heart Like a Levee.

It’s accurate to call Hiss Golden Messenger a concept as much as a band; the live membership is variable (“MC Taylor + pals” is how they bill themselves), with a malleable cast of players who are at least as entranced as Taylor by what this music can do. At Music Hall, the band was on the larger side: usual suspects like Phil Cook on guitar and keys, Ryan Gustafson on lead guitar, Scott Hirsch on bass and Matt McCaughan on drums, plus expansion members like Josh Kaufman (everywhere lately) on guitar and the dazzling singer Tift Merritt, who earlier in the evening slayed with a soulfully roots-y solo set.

They were feeling it plenty: The band played a bit longer than the tour’s previous shows and held steady on a warm, almost hootenanny vibe that was at times both uplifting and spooked. Songs from Levee dominated, from “As the Crow Flies,” “Biloxi” and the soul-gospel “Happy Day” to the title track, and its loaded entreaty, “Will you grieve me, honey?/ Will I give you a reason to try?” “Tell Her I’m Just Dancing” is a Hiss Golden Messenger tune with a harder edge, awash with Cook keys in its closing jam. Such older tunes as “Lucia” and “Mahogany Dread” mixed with newer ones like “Like a Mirror Loves a Hammer,” and none were afraid of gritty rock and funk.

It’s Taylor’s band but the collective nature of it buoys him. His mates were free to roam, whether it was Merritt with deep-impact harmonies, or Gustafson injecting spooked or spacey guitar flourishes, or Cook pulling psychedelic tones from the keyboards to light the way. Together it’s a chameleonic thing—just when Hiss Golden Messenger sounded like a remarkably sturdy country-rock band, there were tears at the seams and more than hints of ’60s psychedelia, or a retreat into austere folk or hymnal balladry when it seemed like there might be a give in to boogie, or a heavy Southern soul thing when you were expecting, I don’t know, singer-songwriter confessionals. That it sounded like all part of one fabric is the mystery and also the joy. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

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Margo Price Delights The Bowery Ballroom with New Music

November 16th, 2016

Margo Price – The Bowery Ballroom – November 15, 2016

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“The first time I played New York, there were about seven people there,” announced country singer Margo Price from the stage at The Bowery Ballroom last night. Surveying the sold-out crowd that had turned out to see her perform, she smiled and said, “This feels good.” Since the release of Price’s debut album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, earlier this year, it’s safe to say there is no going back to the days of sparsely attended shows. Price’s sound, a blend of traditional country music with lyrics that feel decidedly modern, is capped off by her smooth, soaring voice, capturing the raw emotion of her subject matter. Like any legit country artist, the topics of depression and drinking make an appearance throughout Price’s material, most notably on songs like the aptly titled, “Desperate and Depressed,” “World’s Greatest Loser” and “Since You Put Me Down.”

Price and her band fleshed out songs from the album with covers of artists like Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson and Karen Dalton, and, as the show fell on the week-anniversary of the presidential election, she made several references and allusions to our current state of politics (for the record, she is, to quote her own song, “desperate and depressed.”) As Price revisited numbers written about some of her darker moments, she maintained an upbeat attitude, offering, “I’m gonna sing a song about the time I went to jail accidentally,” as an introduction to “Weekender.” “Wasn’t the first time, but hopefully will be the last,” she added winking. Closing the show with “Hurtin’ (On the Bottle),” another crowd-pleasing drinking anthem, Price cheerfully jumped down into the audience, singing and dancing along with the revelers, a pure expression of the resilience she clearly seems to find in her music. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK