Rural Alberta Advantage – The Bowery Ballroom – November 13, 2014
Rural Alberta Advantage singer Nils Edenloff never makes anything look easy. The veins in his neck bulge as he reaches for his upper register, a frequent move in the arrangements of his band’s emotive acoustic pop. Often as early as a melody’s second or third note, Edenloff’s raspy tenor nears the top of his range, rattling away like a charming, reliable, old bucket-of-bolts car, possessing a mixture of utility and worn grace. The overwhelming sense of watching him perform his craft, a painful high-wire act, is that he may well be damaging himself for your benefit. If it isn’t guilt you’re feeling, it’s something like indebtedness. So it was theatrically painful pathos—along with their most bombastic studio album to date, Mended with Gold—that the Rural Alberta Advantage brought to The Bowery Ballroom on a blustery Thursday evening.
The RAA opened with “Stamp,” “Muscle Relaxants” and “Don’t Haunt This Place,” all songs from their first two records. The opening sequence reminded a New York City audience that hadn’t seen the band since January that their catalog runs deeper than just a new LP. Paul Banwatt, one of the best-period-drummers-period-in-rock-music-period, wailed away on the same beat-up drum kit he’s used for years. The My Old Kentucky Blog sticker on the side of one of his tom drums dates the kit back to an era when music blogs helped rocket the band out of the open-stage night in Toronto where Edenloff and Banwatt first met. The band, too, felt older, more methodical, moving with deliberate if not frenetic pacing. The riffs exploding from Banwatt’s drums supported Edenloff’s raspy vocal when the band switched to material from Mended with Gold, pounding out lead track “Our Love…,” the snare hits arriving with the same inhuman effort as the melody.
Edenloff reminded fans that although the band is from Toronto that he was originally from Alberta and that many of the songs regarded his native province. With the always delightful Amy Cole—backstage sticker affixed to her bare right arm—leaning on the backing vocals, the RAA played “Runners in the Night” and “Vulcan, AB.” On the latter, Edenloff sang into a modified telephone-receiver microphone. It was a call from far away, a Canadian prairie hymn shot through with human suffering and effort. Outside, the first snow of the season was rumored to be only hours away from dusting Delancey St., a bit of the frontier carried in a gravelly vocal, an old drum kit and Cole’s Swiss Army ebullience. It was anything but easy. —Geoff Nelson | twitter.com/32feet
Before going solo, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Sallie Ford (vocals and guitar) fronted the retro-flavored Sound Outside. Eventually she just wanted to do something more contemporary and different, so she’s teamed up with Cristina Cano (keys), Anita Lee Elliott (bass) and Amanda Spring (drums). “I found my new band because I asked my friends in the [Portland, Ore.] music scene to suggest any cool female musicians they knew of to play with,” the big-voiced Ford told PopMatters. Under the name Sallie Ford (above performing “Coulda Been”), the foursome put out the full-length Slap Back (stream it below), produced by the Decemberists’ Chris Funk, a month ago. AllMusic says, “Slap Back sounds like a fresh and satisfying new beginning for Sallie Ford,” and Paste opines that the album “is a solid extension of Ford’s well-noted laissez-faire disposition, even while invoking equality empowerment with a quiver of raucous, garage-y rock tunes about love, sex and everything in between.”
Eric Bachmann (vocals and guitar) served as the Archers of Loaf frontman for most of the ’90s, but when they broke up near the turn of the century (they’ve since reunited), he shifted his efforts toward the solo project Crooked Fingers (above, playing “Bad Blood” live in studio for KEXP FM), trading in the former band’s edgy, noisy sound for something more melancholic. His sixth and most recent Crooked Fingers album, Breaks in the Armor (stream it below), came out in 2011. And it’s safe to say Consequence of Sound was impressed: “This is a set of dynamic, well paced and beautifully rendered rock music…. Bachmann’s voice is virtuosic here, soaring high above gorgeous, finger-picked acoustic guitar, screeching electrics, weighty piano, vital percussion, bells, chimes, static, muffled audio samples and lovely female backing vocals.” And tonight at Rough Trade NYC, Sallie Ford and Crooked Fingers team up for a terrific double bill. And the Kids, and their “accessible unconscious existential indie glitter popsicle crisis music,” open the show.
Tags: Amanda Spring, And the Kids, Anita Lee Elliott, Archers of Loaf, Chris Funk, Cristina Cano, Crooked Fingers, Eric Bachmann, Preview, Rough Trade NYC, Sallie Ford, Slap Back, Sound Outside, the Decemberists, Video
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Caroline Smith (vocals and guitar) leads the Minneapolis folk band Caroline Smith and the Good Nights. But after releasing a few well-regarded albums, she decided to go solo, in name at least—she’s still joined by Arlen Peiffer (drums) and Jesse Schuster (bass), and also performs live with additional vocalists, keyboardists and guitarists. The soul- and R&B-inflected Half About Being a Woman (stream it below), which showcases Smith’s big voice, came out last year. But her new music all comes together live, and you can see Caroline Smith (above, performing “Half About Being a Woman” for Audiotree Live) tonight at the late show at Mercury Lounge. Arrive early for the psych-pop band Lip Talk.
Caroline Rose grew up in an East Coast seaside town with a restless spirit, which perhaps led to her feeling comfortable on the road. But traveling across the country wasn’t just good for her soul, it’s also helped form her music. Mining the rich terrain of rockabilly, blues and country, Rose’s 2014 release, I Will Not Be Afraid (stream it below), impresses upon its very first listen. “Along with her powerful, smoky and soulful voice, Rose’s songs are bursting with personality,” according to Glide Magazine. “Her range is wide here, and it does not go unnoticed. She injects a sense of humor into her singing, utilizing her voice to its full potential.” Rose (above, doing “America Religious” for Ear Candy) records and performs with multi-instrumentalist Jer Coons, guitarist Brett Lanier and bassist Pat Melvin, and you can see them live tonight at Mercury Lounge. Wild Leaves, a psych-folk five-piece, open the show.
As a supremely talented singer, songwriter, guitarist, poet, label head, entrepreneur, activist and all around D.I.Y. queen, Ani DiFranco has been making her own music on her own terms for nearly twenty-five years. During that time, she’s covered a variety of musical genres, including punk, blues, folk, jazz and electronic-tinged rock. Her 18th studio album, Allergic to Water (stream it below)—recorded while she was pregnant in her adopted hometown of New Orleans—came out last week on DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records. The Guardian calls it “funny and furiously energetic.” And AllMusic says, “DiFranco’s mix, for all its space and texture, is one of tasteful restraint. It allows melodic and rhythmic invention to shine through, underscoring the skill in her composing and the quality of the instrumental performances. In a catalog that contains over 20 studio albums, Allergic to Water is exemplary for its craft.” Out on tour, DiFranco (above, performing “Allergic to Water”) plays Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday night. Jenny Scheinman, who played the violin and provided backing vocals on Allergic to Water, opens the show.
After forming in Toronto in 2005, the Rural Alberta Advantage—Nils Edenloff (vocals and guitar), Paul Banwatt (drums) and Amy Cole (keys and vocals)—began releasing emotional folkish music, which led to a fair amount of Internet intrigue. Their debut full-length, Hometowns (stream it below), came out in 2008 (and was rereleased a year later). AllMusic rang in: “With a name like the Rural Alberta Advantage and a debut album called Hometowns, one would hope for an unpretentious collection of amiable indie pop tunes filtered through the wistful lens of a Wes Anderson film, and that’s exactly what you get.” The band followed that in 2011 with Departing (stream it below), and PopMatters was impressed: “The Rural Alberta Advantage have delivered a rarity: An album that remarkably stuns, even though its world view is largely seen from a car stuck in the middle of snow bank on the side of the road.” The Rural Alberta Advantage (above, performing “Terrified” for AudioTree Live) returned this year with their third album, the terrific Mended with Gold (stream it below), about which Consequence of Sound says, “The band is in a groove, churning out good to great songs with a distinguishable aesthetic.” Despite their impressive recorded work, RRA are best experienced live. See them tomorrow and Friday at The Bowery Ballroom.
Tame Impala – Beacon Theatre – November 10, 2014
What is it they say about Broadway, something about how there’s always magic in the air? Australian rockers Tame Impala made the move uptown this week to the Beacon Theatre, playing the second of two-sold out shows last night and there was plenty of magic in the air as the five-piece proved that they’re a perfect fit for a show right there on Broadway. After a mesmerizing set of instrumental guitar music from Delicate Steve, the Perth quintet took the stage as the electronic drums of “Be Above It” set the tone, green oscilloscope lights on the backdrop twinkling in time to the beat. As Kevin Parker’s zone-out vocals echoed, the sights and sounds grew more chaotic, the band arching orbital sounds through the venue.
The tone firmly set, the rest of the show was a majestic 80-minute psychedelic rock–and-lights masterpiece: immersive and transforming. On a day when many in the music world were discussing a new Pink Floyd release, on songs like “Solitude Is Bliss,” Tame Impala felt like the real thing at their peak, mixing prog and psych, groove and full-throated rock outs while every color of the rainbow zapped through the room in time to the music. In working through most of their 2012 LP, Lonerism, they showed there’s plenty of life in slow, otherworldly groovers like “Why Won’t They Talk to Me?” and big time arena-rock bliss in “Elephant.” There was one moment during “Endors Toi” when the group seemed to make science, ’70s prog rock and the slow clap seem cool again in one single passage, the crowd holding the beat, the band tripping hallucinogenic in synth and guitars and the backdrop going full on mathematical. Keeping with the theme, in the intro to “Mind Mischief,” Parker turned to face the screen behind him as it buzzed into shapes following his distorted guitar solo, like he was painting psychedelic patterns with his music, science meets art in Technicolor.
Of course, there were plenty of bits of esoteric instrumentals and extended jams throughout the performance, but they felt earned, part of the journey and not the destination itself. The growing entropy of the show met its end with the set-closing “Apocalypse Dreams,” the oscilloscope imagery a Crayola box of squiggles seeming to rush out at the geeked audience while the band built to a final climax. With a crowd-pleasing, sing-along encore of “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” it appeared that what they say about Broadway, at least as far as Tame Impala are concerned, is true after all. —A. Stein
Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott were each playing in different Detroit bands when they first met. But soon after, they began recording together in Zott’s suburban basement. It’s a Corporate World (stream it below), their first LP, which deftly combines Beach Boys-esque harmonies (they do a mean rendition of “God Only Knows”) and electronics, came out in 2011, but even prior to that, the two, performing as Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., became known for their high-octane live performances. In the spring of 2013, the Motown duo—above, performing “If You Didn’t See Me (Then You Weren’t on the Dancefloor)” on Conan—put out their third EP, the catchy, dance-heavy Patterns (stream it below), before releasing their second full-length, The Speed of Things (stream it below), last fall. Filled with dense electronic pop, rich melodies and pulsing beats, the album received a fair amount of praise. Paste effusively declared, “Epstein and Zott have concocted an album that will ultimately elude the dreaded ‘sophomore slump’ tag. They have stuck to a formula that worked on their debut but have taken it a step further. And while the album bolsters the band’s brand of sound rather than showcasing any significant amount growth in writing and arrangement, The Speed of Things is an exercise in consistency and accessibility. It’s refreshing.” They arrive in New York City for a pair of shows this week, on Thursday at Music Hall of Williamsburg and on Saturday at The Bowery Ballroom. L.A. trio Mini Mansions and Nashville singer-songwriter Madi Diaz open both nights.
Tags: Beach Boys, Bowery Ballroom, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., Daniel Zott, It’s a Corporate World, Joshua Epstein, Madi Diaz, Mini Mansions, Music Hall of Williamsburg, Preview, The Speed of Things, Video
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One of the founding members of the Smiths—and a member of several other bands—Johnny Marr released his second solo album, the acclaimed Playland, last month. This month, he kicks off a North American tour in support of it. And this week, he plays Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday night. The show is sold out, but The House List just so happens to be giving away two tickets. If you want them to be yours, try to Grow a Pair. Just fill out the form below, making sure to include your full name, e-mail address, which show you’re trying to win tickets to (Johnny Marr, 11/15) and a brief message explaining which Playland song you like most. Eddie Bruiser, who’s listening to the album right now, will notify the winner by Friday. Good luck.
Childhood sweethearts Austin Garrick (multi-instrumentalist and producer) and Bronwyn Griffin (vocalist) met when they were in sixth grade. They began dating two years later and eventually formed Electric Youth in 2009. The synth-pop duo teamed up with the French electronic musician College on the single “A Real Hero,” at least in part about Captain Sully Sullenberger. Its inclusion on the Drive soundtrack in 2011 earned Electric Youth (above, performing “A Real Hero” for Secretly Canadian Live Sessions) some acclaim, and Rolling Stone dubbed the tune “pretty much the greatest closing-credits song in modern history.” After putting out several more singles, the Toronto twosome released their debut full-length, Innerworld (stream it below), six weeks ago. Per PopMatters, “The cool, dreamy Innerworld is a sweet and shiny synth-pop sparkler, lovingly crafted with refreshing sincerity and warmth. A loving spoonful antidote to much of 2014’s salacious ’n’ shameless pop. It’s revivalist yet box fresh, with not an ounce of knowing kitsch, arched cynicism or winking irony, which makes it all the more endearing.” Catch Electric Youth when they kick off their new tour tomorrow night at Music Hall of Williamsburg. Another electronic duo, Midnight Faces, opens the show.
Tags: Austin Garrick, Bronwyn Griffin, Chelsey Sullenberger, College, Electric Youth, Innerworld, Midnight Faces, Music Hall of Williamsburg, Preview, Video
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The Dismemberment Plan – The Bowery Ballroom – November 8, 2014
“We’re the Dismemberment Plan from Washington D.C.” I’ve never seen this band introduce themselves any other way, and it’s as good a starting point as any. This is a rock band from D.C., America’s most political town that took punk rock in the ’80s and evolved it, kept it great. In some future book about D.C. punk, their chapter will probably follow Fugazi’s and will say a lot about the late ’90s and early Aughts, when they made a legacy for themselves. Here’s the band that took post-punk technicality, added in a synth where applicable, surrounded themselves with a community of devoted fans, and in many ways kept a scene alive. They were an indie band that flirted with a major-label career, one with Interscope Records that gave them the resources to record a near-perfect record, Emergency & I, only to see the relationship dissolve before it was ever released. After some breaks, the band seemed to be back for good as of 2010, even releasing some new material in 2013 with Uncanney Valley. But this latest tour comes on the heels of the vinyl rerelease of Change, their 2001 record that most at the time assumed would be their last. In short, they’re the Dismemberment Plan from D.C. One thing to add: They’re incredible live. That observation inevitably follows their introduction.
If it’s possible for a band to be tighter live than on record, the Dismemberment Plan are. They wouldn’t function without perfect drumming, which they get from Joe Easley. He doesn’t so much lead the band as he pushes them all into the same rhythm. Fun fact: His day job is programming robotics for NASA. Those two jobs are definitely related. Look at New York City from a distance and you may see the place pulsing with an almost mechanical life force, pushing its millions of inhabitants through their lives, creating some large-scale sense of order with a mind entirely of its own. The first few bars of “The City” distill that feeling into the song’s rhythm. Lead singer Travis Morrison’s plainspoken lyrics sit comfortably atop all of this, feeling like real-time narration for the world the song represents. For “You Are Invited,” nothing but a synth skeleton of a beat makes up this world, but when Morrison breaths humanity into the scene he’s setting and responds to it, the band jumps in for the chorus. “You are invited by anyone to do anything/ You are invited for all time.” The sudden change really does make the chorus feel like you’re being extended an invitation to belong in a world that seldom feels welcoming. And it’s certainly an invitation to sing along.
Some of Dismemberment Plan’s lesser-known songs become highlights when performed live. “Dismemberment Plan Gets Rich” almost seemed like the whitest rap song ever written. For seven seconds, the frantic noisy song fell unexpectedly into an out-of-nowhere funk groove for the line “Joe got caught aboard a boat with seven tons of opium,” the most pleasant of sonic surprises for those not anticipating it. “Girl O’Clock” felt like a panic attack in music form, with Morrison thrashing onstage toward his synth, falling over, convulsing through stuttered lyrics about how if he doesn’t have sex soon he’ll die. His self-deprecating banter between songs was almost a show in and of itself. Two songs in, his failed attempt to drink beer soaked the stage. When someone came over with a towel, the frontman remarked, “This is like James Brown with the cape except really pathetic.” The incident provided commentary for the rest of the night, complete with zippy cup jokes, pulling up the beer-soaked set list and other jabs at his own expense. As is customary for Dismemberment Plan shows, about half the venue joined the band onstage for the mighty sing-along that is “The Ice of Boston.” Morrison allowed everyone to stay for the final song of the night, providing the opportunity to “commit to Andrew W.K.–style head banging” through “What Do You Want Me to Say?” They complied. —Dan Rickershauser
Tags: Andrew W.K., Bowery Ballroom, Change, Dismemberment Plan, Emergency & I, Fugazi, Interscope Records, James Brown, Joe Easley, Review, Travis Morrison, Uncanney Valley
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