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Nick Hakim Celebrates New Album at The Bowery Ballroom

May 18th, 2017

Nick Hakim – The Bowery Ballroom – May 17, 2017


Brooklyn-based Nick Hakim grew up in Washington, D.C., and matriculated from the famed Berklee College of Music before settling in New York City. He has a throwback feel to his vocals, with R&B grooves and good ol’ Motown sensibilities. Jazz influences are also heard, which makes sense as he recently completed a short residency at the Blue Note. And his pair of EPs, Where Will We Go, Pt. 1 and Pt. 2, have garnered considerable praise. Hakim’s upcoming full-length album, Green Twins, was born in a Brooklyn bedroom, and he’s described its influences as “if RZA had produced a Portishead album.”

Last night—two days before his LP’s release—Hakim graced the stage of The Bowery Ballroom. Opening with the title track, he quickly enraptured fans as his mellifluous voice lulled the room. The singer-songwriter managed to dip into his older material, producing “Cold” and the crowd-pleasing “I Don’t Know.” Hakim had lost his glasses and remarked that he couldn’t see, but who needs to see when you have an R&B voice that transmutes hefty doses of soul. Guitarist Joe Harrison took the “oldie” away with a soaring solo.

Midway through the set, pianist Jake Sherman offered up a heavily Auto-Tuned rendition of the Beatles“Yesterday.” The remainder of the performance was largely an introduction to his soon-to-be release, from the lilting “Needy Bees” to “Farmissplease,” which had the audience bopping to the percussion. There would not be an encore, but it’s plain to hear that the the Brooklynite’s neo-soul styling’s ushered in a unique take for this summer’s soundtrack. —Sharlene Chiu

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Jerry Joseph Pulls No Punches at Mercury Lounge on Sunday Night

May 1st, 2017

Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons – Mercury Lounge – April 30, 2017


Jerry Joseph isn’t one to sugarcoat: As longtime friend Widespread Panic bassist (and sometime bandmate) Dave Schools has put it, his music can be “an absolute emotional slaughterhouse.” Which is not to call it dour—a Jerry Joseph show is a master class in old school, highly emotional rock and roll energy—just that when you experience it you’re often in for a scorched-earth kind of evening, no-holds-barred, no-punches-pulled, no-edges-filed-down, no phony sanctimony. He’s an iconoclast, for sure, and the less he seems to care about how some take to his abrasive sentiments, the more his music deepens and becomes more soulful. It can sound ferocious and cynical, tender and fragile, world-wise and world-weary. And he’s crazy prolific. Each time Joseph returns to New York City he’s got new songs that sound of a piece with everything he’s done over a 30-plus-year career—and yet don’t repeat himself.

One of Joseph’s masterstrokes was finding bandmates who could be an extension of this personality and translate it into feral rock—jammy and shape-shifting. The Jackmormons, now again a trio after a stretch as a quartet, returned to Mercury Lounge Sunday night for a rare local long-play, meaning it wasn’t over and done within a tight hour and had ample room to stretch out, welcome friends and do what they do best: rough-scuffed folk rock played at times with Crazy Horse–like abandon and paint-stripping guitar. Whether it was the anthemic, gospel-y “Think on These Things” to open or the roiling “Soda Man” or a long, gnarly jam out of Bob Marley’s “Positive Vibration” that burrowed its way into the metal-scraping “Brother Number One,” every tune took its time, unhurried, and yeah, with incendiary guitar solos, chunky bass and crashing drums but none of it out of place or feeling extra. A lot of bands jam because they want to expand a song with improvisational solos or groupthink, but Jackmormons jams seem to go long because the emotional weight of a lot of this material commands a full workout. As an audience member, you’d rather be drained instead of left too heavy.

This show was a benefit for Joseph’s forthcoming trip to Iraq to work with refugee, cultural and educational organizations—a very Jerry Joseph think to do—and summoned some extra friends to accompany Joseph, bassist Steven James Wright and drummer Steve Drizos. Among them were the sage Mookie Siegel, dappling the music with heavenly organ and piano, and the ace Jamie McLean, bringing a red-meat blues-rock sensibility as a foil for Joseph’s own teeth-bared guitar playing. Especially remarkable was how well both of them became an extension of the Jackmormons, a trio that at times couldn’t seem to possibly hold more personality, and yet, there they were as part of the band, deep in its thrall. Potent stuff, you’d say with a chuckle, like calling an erupting volcano “potent stuff.” —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

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Bonobo Dazzles a Sold-Out Terminal 5 with Wide-Ranging Sounds

May 1st, 2017

Bonobo – Terminal 5 – April 28, 2017

(Photo: Dan Rickershauser)

Simon Green, better known as Bonobo, has always dealt in big sounds. His musical universe seems to expand with each new release, and it now includes full string sections, brass sections, guest vocalists, even guest entire other bands. So how do you tour to meet the demands of such a maximalist sound? (Even the Beatles gave up on touring for Sgt. Pepper’s.) The answer is you bring everyone along for the journey.

Friday’s show—Bonobo’s second sold-out appearance at Terminal 5—featured a stage full of widely talented musicians, all finding a home in Bonobo’s world. Szjerdene’s soulful voice smoothed out the electric arpeggios of “Towers.” Nick Murphy, the artist formerly known as Chet Faker, made an appearance to sing “No Reason,” his reverb-y vocals carrying through the cavernous venue. The sound mix was perfectly layered with the many rich textures of Bonobo’s sound, not an easy feat on a stage filled with as many as 11 musicians playing at the same time.

The swirling string orchestrations of “Kiara” were loud enough to drive the song. The bass never managed to drown out a flute part, the brass band cut through electronic haze like the stage lights through the smoke-filled venue. Grey Reverend mellowed the night for the slow-building burn of “First Fires” before the Morroccan band Innov Gnawa came out to kick off “Bambro Koyo Ganda” with their harmonizing chants. The set ended with the frantic “Kerala,” followed by an encore that included the infectious polyrhythms of “Know You.” —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks

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A Frenzied Thursday Night Goldfrapp Dance Party at Brooklyn Steel

April 28th, 2017

Goldfrapp – Brooklyn Steel – April 27, 2017


For well more than a decade together, Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory have crafted a lineage of dance music heavily drenched in synth pop. And their seventh album, Silver Eye, is no exception. “Silver Eye’s tracks have a sincere, blunt-force feeling that’s new and closer to the actual core of their musical identity. It’s like Kiss taking off the makeup, but, you know, good,” cleverly positioned Pitchfork. Goldfrapp followers are aware of a past that floated from disco beats to romantic pastoral hymns, but even more memorable are Goldfrapp’s performances donning a Marlene Dietrich look to dreamy frocks paired with long curly locks. For the group’s second performance at the barely month-old Brooklyn Steel, she graced the stage with an appropriately metallic ensemble.

A pair of tracks from her debut album, Felt Mountain“Utopia” and “Lovely Head”—had longtime fans in early elation before a survey of the latest album. Her newer pieces were nicely adorned with visuals ranging from the celestial for “Anymore” to ocular rings on “Ocean.” There was a fair amount of warning about strobe lights before going through the doors, and that was for good reason as the singer was backlit the entire evening with pulsating lights to animate her frenetic dancing. Goldfrapp paused the set to exclaim, “I’ve been here a week and love it. I wanna move here.” Yes please! A continuation of newer material rounded out the second half of the set with the robotic “Everything Is Never Enough” and tribal distorted voices on “Become the One.” The warehouse erupted for the recent single “Systemagic” as the sea of bodies pumped to heavy bass and were quickly lulled to a dreamy sway for oldie “Number 1.”

Despite a botched wardrobe change due to her current outfit being “stuck on,” the best was saved for last as Goldfrapp returned to encore with a quartet of fan favorites starting with the intoxicating “Black Cherry.” A keytar emerged on “Shiny and Warm,” and iPhone lovers held up their phones high for “Ooh La La,” which was featured in one of the product’s commercials. “Strict Machine,” with its thumping reverb, capped off the night sending a frenzied audience out onto the streets of East Williamsburg. —Sharlene Chiu

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Marty Stuart Pays Homage to California Country at Bowery Ballroom

April 27th, 2017

Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives – The Bowery Ballroom – April 26, 2017


Marty Stuart is old school country good—it’s right there in the title of his band. Raised in Mississippi, entranced with the likes of Buck Owens and Marty Robbins, Stuart came to renown as a guitarist with Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash before he broke out as a solo artist, favoring a high-energy country, roots and Americana sound that feels classic but not overly nostalgic. The essence of his 18th album, the outstanding Way Out West, is also right there in the title: Stuart loves the mythology of the American West, the panoramic dreams and wide-open-desert terrors it can evoke and the range of moods that music flavored with these things can inspire.

Lest it seem like Stuart and his crackerjack band will get lost in the cinematic sweep of things, however, they definitely don’t: They’re as fun, foot-stomping and down-to-earth good a country band as any New York City can attract. Over an hour and a half at The Bowery Ballroom last night, they plumbed the best of Way Out West and served up hefty helpings of Stuart chestnuts and roots-music staples, from ancient stuff like “I Know You Rider,” “Orange Blossom Special,” “Country Boy Rock & Roll” and Robbins’ “El Paso,” to ripping, surf-leaning instrumentals like “Mojave” and “Torpedo,” newer tunes like the honky-tonk “Whole Lotta Highway” and Stuart classics like “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’.” They’re storytellers, string-benders, good-time Charlies who can acquit a twangy reworking of Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream” and make it feel like a deep cut from a Best of the Bakersfield Sound compilation.

Stuart is the proverbial “name on the door,” but it’s the Fabulous Superlatives who get at least as much of the spotlight, claiming at least one solo vocal or instrumental performance apiece. Among them, Kenny Vaughan, Harry Stinson and Chris Scruggs (yep, grandson of Earl) cover guitar, bass, drums and plenty of other things, but, like Stuart, are best described as multi-instrumentalists for how seamlessly—and how musically—they inhabit whatever they’re playing or singing. That’s key: Beneath the wisecracks and convivial joy, the foursome exhibit a deep trust and abiding gratitude for this music and their ability to play it so magnificently. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

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Violents and Monica Martin Bring Their Dream Pop to Brooklyn

April 27th, 2017

Violents and Monica Martin – Rough Trade NYC – April 26, 2017


Collaboration (noun): the action of working with someone to produce or create something. Jeremy Larson is a master collaborator and the man behind the indie collective Violents. The multi-instrumentalist not only plays all the music he has composed, but he also writes all of the lyrics. The hitch is that he partners with a female vocalist to bring each of these pieces to fruition. Previous collaborators have included Stacy King (Eisley, Sucre), Olga Yagolnikov (Kye Kye) and Nashville, Tenn., singer Annie Williams. For the first full-length record, Awake and Pretty Much Sober, Larson enlisted Phox frontwoman Monica Martin to flesh out his compositions with her sultry vocals.

Two days before the release of the album, Violents and Monica Martin played their first performance during an afternoon session at the Paste Studios before gracing the stage of Rough Trade NYC last night for their debut concert. Accompanied by the string quartet Rootstock Republic and a drummer (Joe), the duo opened with the glittering “Equal Power,” the first of four tracks released prior to the album. The performance would debut six additional songs, from the come-hither lullaby “Line Lie” to the trip-hop groove of “It Won’t Stop.” Throughout the set, clips of cinematic scenes played, including the iconic dance sequence from House Party providing the backdrop for “Hue.”

Midway through the show, Larson told the story of how the partnership formed after being a long admirer of Martin’s. He confessed he was a little cocky writing songs especially meant for her to sing before ever meeting the vocalist. Luckily a mutual friend got them connected and the rest is history. Martin added that a “shared insecurity” manifested with her singing lyrics she hadn’t written and Larson relinquishing vocal duties. As if new songs weren’t enough to satisfy the crowd, Martin proceeded to cover Frank Ocean’s “Self Control.” The evening was a reverie of dream pop that concluded with the title track and the apt closer “How It Left.” —Sharlene Chiu

 

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Overcoats Sound Right at Home at Sold-Out Rough Trade NYC

April 21st, 2017

Overcoats – Rough Trade NYC – April 20, 2017

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Sisterhood runs deep between best friends Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell, a bond so strong it’s birthed a band, Overcoats. The New York City–based duo’s debut, Young, is a reverie of R&B soul folktronica coproduced by Nicolas Vernhes (Daughter, Torres, Dirty Projectors, Cass McCombs) and fellow singer-songwriter Autre Ne Veut. NPR’s Bob Boilen recently described the record as “driven by ambition and passion, not craft … the emotion in their harmonies and the space they give each other is filled with compassion.” Last night, the inseparable pair graced a sold-out Rough Trade NYC on the eve of their new EP’s release, donning white jumpsuits and silver platform boots. Microphone stands adorned with flowers and garlands of cameo silhouettes set the stage as their first headlining tour opened with the rhythmic “Smaller Than My Mother.” The crowd swayed to the lullaby of “Hold Me Close” before Elion exclaimed, “We are so fucking excited to be here.”

Covering the entirety of their album with the exception of one track (“Father”), the kindred spirits garnered much love from fans as the mutual admiration between each singer was palpable. They embraced often in between songs and danced side by side without a care in the world. When introducing the debut single “Little Memory,” Elion confessed it was the first one the girls had written together. The duo covered Hozier’s “Cherry Wine” midway through the set. Elion laid her head on Mitchell’s shoulder to preface “Siren,” as she proceeded to sing, “I feel many weights of many worlds on my shoulders.” In a speech that was carved out on the set list, Mitchell offered their gratitude to touring drummer Joao Gonzalez, Andy on sound and their agents. An overwhelming acknowledgement of the upcoming year ahead left the women truly humbled before an encore of the hymnal “Mother” and the rollicking “Leave the Light On” concluded the performance with a fever pitch of participatory claps. —Sharlene Chiu

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The Decemberists Drop In on New Venue Brooklyn Steel

April 18th, 2017

The Decemberists – Brooklyn Steel – April 17, 2017

image(The Decemberists play Brooklyn Steel again tonight and tomorrow.)

Not to show my age or anything, but (I looked it up), the first time I saw the Decemberists was at the relatively intimate Mercury Lounge nearly 14 years ago. Back then it was as equally inconceivable that a venue like Brooklyn Steel could exist where it now does as it was that the Decemberists might headline one of its first run of shows. The Decemberists were “Portland” before “Portland” was a thing—or “Williamsburg” was a thing for that matter—and still have the same magic today that they did back then. Kicking off the first of three shows in the brand-new room, they felt like an old friend stopping in for a visit. Before we get to their set, though, I have to spare a sentence or two for Julien Baker, who induced chills in the opening slot, reducing the large venue with just her guitar and voice, commanding the place as if holding a heart-to-heart in a living room. If you’re going to one of the next two nights, don’t miss her.

The Decemberists took the stage to a literal fanfare over the PA, frontman Colin Meloy announcing, “Welcome to Night One,” not even waiting until the first song to play with the crowd, joining in on drummer John Moen’s intro to playact lifting up the audience. By the time “The Infanta” began in full, the band and audience were already locked in for a long night of Decemberists-induced fun. With Meloy’s judicious use of the dramatic pause and the lights momentarily catching the disco ball, bathing the crowd in stars, Brooklyn Steel was immediately transformed. Without a new album to promote, the band was free to play from across their vast catalog, and it only took a couple of songs to realize that you could fill quite a few sets with “greatest hits,” things rolling with “We Both Go Down Together” (introduced as Donald Trump Jr. fan fiction) and a sing-along “Down by the Water.” With slight tweaks on their instruments, like guitarist Chris Funk moving to pedal steel or Jenny Conlee picking up her accordion, the band transformed their sound, gypsy swing to fantastical prog rock, all while Meloy sang his pitch-perfect songs, usually of woe, creating new worlds within the greater Decemberists universe.

Olivia Cheney came out to guest on a debut song from a reported fuller collaboration with her, which stretched that universe even more, the band becoming backing musicians as she sang and played harpsicord-esque runs on the keyboard. Another new tune, introduced as “about the state of the union,” centered on the joyful phrase “everything is awful,” but it was actually a rather exultant number, easily inducing the audience to sing along with the chorus. The show closed with more well-worn, well-loved Decemberists material—too many songs to list—including an extended mini-suite from the more-than-10-years-old-but-still-feels-new album The Crane Wife and a fun version of “Chimbley Sweep” complete with a guitar-accordion duel that played like a short skit. Meloy was, as always, equally adept with between-song banter. I mean, who throws out the phrase “conviviality of a campfire” in casual conversation? But the evening did have that intimate feeling, just another evening with old friends. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

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Spafford’s Hot Streak Continues at Music Hall of Williamsburg

April 14th, 2017

Spafford – Music Hall of Williamsburg – April 13, 2017

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The jam-band scene is a happy-eyed, self-sustaining beast: Young bands grow to become veteran and vanguard bands—just as they did a generation earlier in the post–Grateful Dead afterglow—and then do their part to support the next generation of improvisers and torchbearers. Fans do the same: Word of mouth does wonders for long-term support of a fledgling jam band like in no other pocket of the music scene, especially as buzz builds and what was seemingly moments ago a regional favorite is now a headliner with national buzz, collecting believers left and right.

And so, as of April 2017, goes Spafford, the Arizona-based four-piece on a true hot streak, coming off a summer tour opening for Umphrey’s McGee, and now, as evidenced by a slam-bang show last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg, well worthy of the spot atop bills. Despite mounting their first national tour less than a year ago, Spafford are a band with “future vanguard” written all over them. They played until well after midnight: two sets of shape-shifting, rigorously funky groove music that hit all the hallmarks—segues, guests (what up, Todd Stoops!), well-chosen covers that added but didn’t dominate, plus lengthy, unhurried workouts on songs with names like “Slip and Squander,” “Electric Taco Stand” and “In the Eyes of Thieves,” that last one a hot groover that emerged from a spookily psychedelic place and built to peak after hammering peak with screaming guitar.

People have grabbed on to Spafford early because there’s a lot to grab. I liked the patient builds and forward-looking improvisations, which didn’t feel like extended vamps—didn’t revel in ambient noise—and seemed to have a destination in mind even as they slowly unfolded. “America,” a chugging, panoramic road trip, was a great example. I liked their Dead cover, “Feel Like a Stranger,” soaked in keys and perfect for who the band is. I liked the filthy disco of “Ain’t That Wrong,” with Stoops spider-handing the keys. I liked “Beautiful Day,” an anthemic stroll that hit somewhere among Phish, Ben Harper and Bill Withers. It segued into “Leave the Light On” to close the second set—lilting, a little tentative, and then building into one more jammy release. I like that these guys trust one another and can demonstrate, astonishingly well sometimes, a deeply connected understanding of where they want to take a song, instead of just surrounding the guitar player and letting him cut loose every four minutes.—Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

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Chicano Batman Make Good on Expectations at The Bowery Ballroom

April 3rd, 2017

Chicano Batman – The Bowery Ballroom – March 31, 2017‪‬

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Friday night at a sold-out Bowery Ballroom: The lights go down, the audience goes wild, music plays over the PA for a minute or two. Finally, the band appears, all dressed in identical suits. A bit dramatic, don’t you think? When that band is Chicano Batman, a Los Angeles quartet overflowing with energy and personality, it’s not clear that it’s dramatic enough. The four-piece and their music and the packed house were a clichéd melting pot, a bilingual diversity of sound and talent that bowled over the crowd from start to finish.‬

‪The set opened with “Angel Child,” off of the recently released Freedom Is Free. Backed by sequined singers from soulful opening act 79.5 (whose members rotated onto the stage all night), the band looked good and sounded even better. Within the first three songs, Chicano Batman had traversed as many styles, genres, tempos and deep strata of groove as could be dreamed up. Zappa-esque prog dropped into funk into soaring soul and then back again. The audience hollered an almost teenybopper scream of recognition and adulation at the start of each number, and song after song, the band made good on the expectation.

Chicano Batman played almost all of the new album as well as favored material from their back catalog, each number leaping in multidimensional energy in the live show, as if the songs themselves yearned for the energy in the room. The politics were implicit, the new record’s title track feeling like an appropriate new national anthem, balancing pessimism and optimism with a serious backline-beat boogie. The encore began with a somewhat triumphant take on “This Land Is Your Land” before devolving into an anarchy of Spanish and English, of rock and funk and beyond, of a leaping quartet onstage and a roomful of fist-pumping, smiling, jumping dancers on the floor below. Never has a melting pot been so much fun. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

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Wilco Are Reliably Terrific in Closing Out a Four-Night Run

March 23rd, 2017

Wilco – Beacon Theatre – March 22, 2017

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There is plenty of debate these days about what makes America great, but for some things there is no argument, no matter what you believe. There is greatness in American monuments and symbols—Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty and, of course, rock and roll. Over the past couple of decades, few bands have been able to claim the mantle of the “great American rock band” quite like Wilco have. Last night at the Beacon Theatre, Jeff Tweedy and Co., closing out the last of four sold-out shows, proved that they certainly belong on the Mount Rushmore of present-day American rock bands.

Trees painted on either side and rolling hills behind, the stage evoked a rustic setting, a bucolic countryside scene, even though the band and audience were smack dab on Broadway in one of the busiest cities in the world. Wilco’s sound captured this all-American city mouse/country mouse vibe from the start, alt-country meets explosive rock and roll. Early on, Tweedy’s voice was front and center, the crowd hanging on each syllable, while he sang material from the band’s newest, Schmilcolike “Normal American Kids,” while guitarist Nels Cline danced Garcia-esque licks into the packed venue. A few songs in, however, the band picked up steam, drummer Glenn Kotche and bassist John Stirratt chugging alongside Cline and Tweedy’s guitars, a pair of tractor trailers plowing down the open road of the U.S. Interstate on rockers like “Side with Seeds” and “At Least That’s What You Said.”

A Wilco show is as reliable as another American landmark, Old Faithful. You know the eruption is coming, but that doesn’t it make it any less impressive when it arrives, like clockwork. Wednesday night, as is often the case, the pressure-relief came during “Impossible Germany,” Cline gushing geothermal guitar licks, while the audience looked on in awe. Still, perhaps the set’s all-encompassing highlight may have been “Via Chicago,” Wilco channeling the great American poet, Whitman, very large and containing multitudes, overlapping Tweedy’s own soft-sung poetry with a barbaric yawp of guitars and drums. Before the set ended, they made sure to serve up their version of the all-American diet of meat and potatoes in the form of crowd favorites “Heavy Metal Drummer” and “I’m the Man Who Loves You.” The 30-plus-minute double encore was an almost let’s-play-two run-through of the band’s history, songs old and new, including, naturally, “Red-Eyed and Blue.” Preceding the end of the set, Tweedy, who was relatively quiet with the banter all night, said, “We’ve got no time for fucking pessimism.” And it doesn’t get much more American than that. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

 

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Jens Lekman Offers an Antidote to NYC’s Winter on Saturday night

March 20th, 2017

Jens Lekman – The Bowery Ballroom – March 18, 2017

(Photo: Andie Diemer)

(Photo: Andie Diemer)


(Jens Lekman performs live at Rough Trade NYC tonight.)

Given New York City’s week of Swedish weather, with gray days and precipitation falling within the never land between rain and snow, it must have felt like home for one of Sweden’s great pop troubadours, Jens Lekman, who, before returning to Europe, ruled the weekend here in the city, playing The Bowery Ballroom on Saturday and Music Hall of Williamsburg on Sunday—plus he’s at Rough Trade Trade NYC tonight. His Saturday show began with just him and an acoustic guitar, performing “To Know Your Mission” and “Evening Prayer,” off his latest album, the fantastic and much-acclaimed Life Will See You Now. The latter track was particularly Jens-ian, a tender yet optimistically upbeat tune about worrying and carrying for a friend going through chemotherapy.

“Who here is seeing Jens Lekman for the first time tonight?” asked Lekman to a handful of cheers. Going back all the way, he then went through every one of his local shows, even asking who was at his 2005 Mercury Lounge appearance. “I like growing older with you guys. I want this thing to last forever,” he said. The rest of the band then joined him onstage for “What’s That Perfume That You Where?” about memories triggered by a scent. After an amp malfunction that cut the song short, Lekman began again, playing through on acoustic guitar, somehow sounding even better the second time around: Nothing can hold back those danceable Lekman grooves. There’s a heartfelt warmth to his music that even permeated how he performed. For the end of “The Opposite of Hallelujah,” Lekman pantomimed the xylophone notes in front of him like falling snowflakes.

He introduced “I Know What Love Isn’t” as something he wrote during a cynical time of his life, but even this song brought forth a sense of cheeriness. Perhaps cynical New Yorkers have our taste for cynicism skewed too far to recognize the finer nuances of Scandinavian cynicism. Lekman introduced “Dandelion Seed” as the last song, realizing as he said it that the audience wouldn’t let things end there. The band returned for Lekman classics “Maple Leaves” and “A Postcard to Nina.” And when even that wasn’t enough, the affable performer returned solo yet again for “I Want a Pair of Cowboy Boots” and “Pocketful of Money.” “I’ll come runnin’ with a heart on fire,” sang the packed crowd with Lekman repeating the chorus over the audience, delivered like a high-pitched plea. There’s no better antidote to the dregs of a New York City winter than huge moments like these. —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nricks

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The Staves Build Bridges at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday

March 13th, 2017

The Staves – Music Hall of Williamsburg – March 10, 2017

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As youngsters in England, Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor learned guitar from their father and sang heavy folk melodies at the local pub, which has bloomed into something bigger. Their sweet sisterly harmonies have earned the Staves opening slots for the Civil Wars, Bon Iver and Florence and the Machine. The siblings formed such a strong friendship with Justin Vernon that the Bon Iver frontman produced their last album, If I Was. Playing at Music Hall of Williamsburg Friday night, the first of two sold-out weekend shows in Brooklyn, the sisters were a lovely respite after the morning’s snowfall. Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” introduced the ladies—and drummer Dave Power—to the stage. The show began with Camilla on ukulele for “Blood I Bled,” while Jessica, on guitar, and Emily, behind keys, offered backing vocals.

Opener Mikaela Davis added harp on the breakup song “No Me, No You, No More” as Jessica’s elfin vocals rang across the room. Midway through the set, when Emily and Camilla needed to swap stage positions, Jessica stalled with some light conversation about Gilmore Girls, which the band had been watching on the bus. This sent the crowd into a tizzy with shouts of “Team Jess,” but it was the sisters’ critical takes on the character Rory as “a nause” (an English term of annoyance) that elicited cheers. Vernon’s influences were obvious once everyone was in the right place and Camilla created an echo chamber with a series of vocal loops on “Train Tracks,” similar to those on Bon Iver songs. The skip-hop cadence of “Black & White” perked up fans and grew for the anthemic “Tired as Fuck” as crowd members clapped along to Camilla’s languid delivery. An encore was inevitable and Davis returned again for a dreaming acoustic cover of Sufjan Steven’s “Chicago.” Jessica prefaced the final song, “Mexico,” with “Don’t build walls, let’s build bridges.” —Sharlene Chiu

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Jesca Hoop Proves to Be a True Original at Mercury Lounge

March 9th, 2017

Jesca Hoop – Mercury Lounge – March 8, 2017

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Jesca Hoop was once a nanny to Tom Waits’ kids, and she’s worked with everyone from Blake Mills and Stewart Copeland to Sam Beam, with whom the singer-songwriter released a gorgeous duets album in 2016 and subsequently toured. Hoop has signed to Sub Pop, and she’s a touch mystical—a vocalist and soothsayer from some faraway, possibly not terrestrial place—but she can tell a bar joke with the best of ’em. She’s accessible and impenetrable at the same time. An artist like that, you’d think, would be someone more written about than listened to, but listening to Hoop’s music is only the beginning of the larger embrace. Live, she’s quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) devastating. She formed a deep and detailed bond with an audience over the course of a 75-minute set at Mercury Lounge last night, framed by the recently released Memories Are Now, a collection of new Hoop songs that reveal more with each subsequent listen.

What do we call this? Hoop arrived as part of a four-piece band that included drums, bass, harmony vocals and other effects. Her music could sound trance-folkie, as in the opening one-two of “Songs of Old” and “Animal Kingdom Chaotic.” It could sound bittersweet and kind of country, as in “Peacemaker.” It could creep up and then, well, overcome you, as in “The Coming,” which thanks to some spectral-sounding guitar in its intro sounded distant and then was upon you. It’s cinematic—panoramic even—as Hoop created little worlds out of lyrics. “I refuse to think that my best friend’s going to hell anymore” is what might be called a classic Jesca Hoop line. So is “And now you gotta get it with what you’ve got/ With what you’ve been given or not” (from the late-in-set standout “Born To”). And so is “You say it’s impossible/ But your dumb computer says no.”

Hoop’s an artist in whom you can hear what you want to in her forbearers and potential influences. The mind drifts to Laurie Anderson, Kate Bush, Björk and plenty of others. When the mind settles, however—and you can really pause to hear and absorb the nuances when in the thrall of Hoop and band in the live setting—you feel like you’re hearing a true original. No one else quite sounds like this, and you’re thirsting for more when an unhurried set still goes by like a finger snap. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

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Leif Vollebekk Investigates the Blank Spaces at Mercury Lounge

March 1st, 2017

Leif Vollebekk – Mercury Lounge – February 28, 2017

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Leif Vollebekk opened his performance at Mercury Lounge on Tuesday recalling an earlier trip to NYC when his show sold exactly one advanced ticket and was canceled. That seems highly unlikely to happen again as Vollebekk and his trio kept the roomful of paying customers rapt and enthusiastic for the better part of 80 minutes last night. The set opened with “Vancouver Time” off of his just-released-album, Twin Solitude. Backed by just a bassist and a drummer, the band playing together for the first time in a crowded Mercury Lounge, doing brand-new songs, you could forgive him for being a bit nervous, but Vollebekk sounded at ease, beginning on the electric piano, his words taking center stage from the start. Throughout the night there were almost too many great lyrics, each song crammed with several phrases you just wanted to write down. The opening number featured lovely imagery, like “buffalo clouds over the plain,” and real emotions, like “I’m only leaving because I can’t stay.”

Often when songwriters are capable of delivering lyrics like Vollebekk can, the tendency is to cram as many words into a line as possible. But he is the opposite: His songs are filled with pauses, the blank spaces allowing the words to linger and to let the music seep in to accentuate, drums and bass adding weight while Vollebekk added electric piano or guitar or harmonica. He was equally adept at filling the spaces between songs, joking around and drawing in the audience with his banter, endearing himself to the room. A riff about Neil Young’s tuning became an impromptu half cover of “Cowgirl in the Sand” that actually sounded like it might have legs for a bit.

The set was mostly anchored by the new material and was better for it. The theme of many of the songs seemed to be that of place, not just the settings—Vancouver, Michigan, Telluride, Colo.—but of the coming and going to each. In a way, it was road-trip music, not necessarily music for listening to in transit, but more about it, the gaps and empty spaces to fill with thoughts and images and music. Vollebekk sang the word “Telluride” almost like it was three—“Tell you right”—and on “Michigan,” he sang, “You and me, Robert, we ramble on,” which I want to believe is a Zeppelin reference as well as the snow piling up behind him in the rearview mirror. The trio encored with “Into the Ether,” Vollebekk picking up a violin to add some atmospheric loops, the spaces between lyrics filled to capacity, the room equally so. —A. Stein | @Neddyo