Inventive singer-songwriter and guitarist Emma-Lee Moss has been a part of London’s anti-folk movement for close to a decade, performing with Noah and the Whale and Lightspeed Champion, and doing her own thing as Emmy the Great. Her debut full-length, First Love (stream it below), written on the heels of a breakup, came out in 2009 to some considerable plaudits. According to Drowned in Sound, “Emmy the Great’s debut is a triumph, with a maturity beyond her years, and with a humor no less enjoyable for being subtler.” Virtue (stream it below) arrived two years later, again following a breakup—this time the dissolution of an engagement. And again critics were impressed. BBC Music labeled the LP “a dense, accomplished set of songs” and “an extraordinarily confident work, shaped by confusion and turmoil.” Emmy the Great (above, doing “Paper Forest: In the Afterglow of Rapture” for Amazing Radio) recently returned with a new EP, S (stream it below), about a month ago. Per Drowned in Sound, “This is the richest, most musically complex she has ever been…. Even that voice has learned tricks, becoming jazzier and more experienced sounding. It’s quite something.” Of course, Emmy the Great is quite something when performing live. And you can catch her doing just that tomorrow night at Mercury Lounge. Electro-pop duo Clementine and the Galaxy opens the show.
Tags: Clementine and the Galaxy, Emma-Lee Moss, Emmy the Great, First love, Lightspeed Champion, Mercury Lounge, Noah and the Whale, Preview, S, Video, Virtue
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Helmet, the local alternative-metal quartet, are heading out on the road in celebration of their acclaimed 1994 album, Betty, playing it in its entirety each night—plus another set spanning their entire catalog. They hit The Bowery Ballroom twice this week, tomorrow and on Saturday. Each show is sold out, but The House List is giving away two tickets to see Helmet on Saturday. Want to go? 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 (Helmet, 2/21) and a brief message explaining your favorite Betty tune. Eddie Bruiser, who’s currently wearing eight layers of clothes, will notify the winner by Friday.
Phox – Union Transfer – February 13, 2015
It should be difficult for an audience to trust a band. There are reasons to be skeptical. Despite the usual assurances that band X is happy to be performing at venue Y and loves city Z, audience members ought to understand that touring is a grind. It can’t be the case that every show is the best show or that every city is the best city. Still, it’s an act of faith that keeps concertgoers going to shows, to see bands they love or those that intrigue them.
On Friday night at Union Transfer, Phox proved to be truly genuine. The six-member band from Baraboo, Wisc., walked onstage, illuminated by four marquee letters spelling their name. Lead singer Monica Martin stood in the center, surround by the band’s five male members. She nervously cracked her knuckles and fidgeted before diving into the first song, singing with natural confidence. Maudlin and mid-tempo, at first it seemed out of place, as the guitarist in a pink blazer failed his arms, imploring the drummer to play more aggressively, but it was also quintessential Phox: outwardly confident yet inwardly insecure. The songs ache.
Martin gestured to the significance of the night, Valentine’s Day eve. In her typical humorous yet painfully self-aware stage banter, she mentioned how the third song was about “homeboy walking away,” but circled back, saying, “Happy Valentine’s Day is what I’m trying to say.” And then, midway through the set, Phox made an unexpected decision. They stripped away the electric instruments, grabbed their acoustics, huddled around Martin and played songs just like they “did in the living room.” It was an intimate moment and hard to believe it was unscripted. Still, that was Phox. At another point in the show, they called up multiple friends and the opener, Field Report, to sing “You Are My Sunshine.” It was achingly cute and reminiscent of a Gap ad, but it would be wrong to think poorly of such a sincere moment. They earned the audience’s trust and, in doing so, gained their admiration and respect. —Jared Levy | @Playtonic
Sturgill Simpson – Music Hall of Williamsburg – February 12, 2015
Without notice, a new honky-tonk opened on a stretch of N. 6th in Williamsburg near
the East River. Or maybe it just felt that way last night as the Music Hall hostedt to a rollicking set of country music courtesy of Sturgill Simpson and his excellent band. The room was as packed as it’s ever been, the crowd was hitched up and ready to go, and Simpson seemed larger than life onstage, delivering a dominating performance from start to finish. His sound owes much to the outlaw country greats of yore—Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash quickly come to mind—but Simpson proved throughout the show that his is an evolved country for the modern day.
To listen to Simpson sing songs from his best-in-genre 2014 release, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, is to listen to someone born to play this kind of music. His voice was like a fine Kentucky bourbon with a blend of flavors deserving of its own language to describe: oaky with hints of smoke and cinnamon, maybe. The set built like a good whiskey buzz, the aroma, the bite of the first sip on songs like “Long White Line” and “Voices,” the taste turning into a warm sensation in the belly. With each succeeding song, the sensation moved to the head and then a whole-body experience, alternating between soulful introspection and shoe-stomping fun. Much of that giddy feeling was due to Simpson’s stellar backing band, led by Laur Joamets on guitar, who seemed to contain all of country guitar playing in his single Telecaster. He impressively alternated between lightning-fast picking, beautiful slow-and-steady slide guitar, which often took on shades of a steel guitar, and then swirling galactic twang.
As the show built a head of steam, the crowd followed along in their gleeful whiskey drunk, chattering and jostling back and forth to the bar became dancing, whooping and hollering. The second half of the show was an avalanche of superlative country music. “It Ain’t All Flowers” had the packed house shouting along before opening up into one of several belt-hitching rock-out jams that seamlessly transitioned into the quieter “The Promise.” Next, “Railroad of Sin” reached the night’s most frenetic moment, with Joamets, Simpson, Kevin Black on bass and Miles Miller on drums as a locomotive in danger of hopping off the tracks, the dance floor exploding with a manic energy. After a triumphant, cathartic take on his self-professed favorite song on the new album, “Just Let Go,” Simpson’s voice as strong as it had been all night, the show closed with a crowd-pleasing sing-along on “Turtles All The Way Down,” leaving everyone feeling boozy and elated and wondering if there was still time for one more shot before hitting the road. The band obliged the thunderous ovation with two fingers of Simpson spirits, a soulful crooning of “I’d Have to Be Crazy” (“for the ladies”), his voice nearly channeling Otis Redding, and finally a cover of the Osborne Brothers’ “Listening to the Rain,” which opened into a full-fledged T. Rex cover before looping back around to finish out in didn’t-think-it-could-be-topped fashion. Simpson and Co. exited the stage to more raucous applause and then, the strangest thing, that new honky-tonk disappeared. —A. Stein | @Neddyo
Tags: Johnny Cash, Kevin Black, Laur Joamets, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, Miles Miller, Music Hall of Williamsburg, Osborne Brothers, Otis Redding, Review, Sturgill Simpson, T. Rex, Waylon Jennings
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Father John Misty – Rough Trade NYC – February 12, 2015
Because his larger-than-life persona isn’t well suited for paraphrasing, it seems the only way to write about Father John Misty is in long form. And while it might be impossible, here’s an attempt: Father John Misty, real name Joshua Tillman, was raised in a strict ultra-Christian household in Maryland, left it behind for Seattle, worked menial jobs, wrote songs as J. Tillman, started drumming for Fleet Foxes, went to California and ate some mushrooms, had a revelation, moved to L.A., traded the name J. Tillman for Father John Misty, wrote a killer album, married a photographer who has a sweet Tumblr, bought a house in New Orleans, won over David Letterman, wrote another killer album, trolled the Internet with an intentionally shit-quality stream of it via a make-believe streaming service. And as tempting as it is to go into further detail about any of these things, we need to save some real estate here to talk about his performance last night at Rough Trade NYC.
Father John Misty knows how to perform. He’s the craftsman of tunes grandiose in theme, scope and sound, and it takes a grand performer to own them onstage. Father John Misty and company came out with musical guns blazing, performing “I Love You, Honeybear,” blowing through every single page in the Key to Great Rock Performances playbook, all within the first song: Standing on top of the bass drum, holding the microphone stand over his head, walking out into the audience, snaking his way back up onstage, twirling once around the microphone stand. It’s worth noting that Tillman’s a lanky six feet, which adds drama to his every move. Standing on the bass drum, he was eye level with the balcony, an imposing presence dominating the small venue.
“We have gathered here today in this place of commerce,” said Father John Misty. His performance hit just about every song he’s recorded, each featuring its own theatrics. For the bridge of “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow,” Tillman threw back his head like his own song had shot him, falling to his knees and hitting the floor. “Funtimes in Babylon” came with a gorgeous tinge of country, peppered with a meandering slide guitar. At some point, stage banter became a free-flowing Q&A session before Father John Misty walked out into the audience, hugging people one at a time during the set-ending “Holy Shit.” For the encore, the audience covered the canned laughter at the “punch lines” of “Bored in the U.S.A.” And Tillman sang, “I never liked the name Joshua, I got tired of J,” on the night’s final song, “Everyman Needs a Companion.” But as it turns out, no one is tiring of Father John Misty. —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks
Take Me to the River – Brooklyn Bowl – February 11, 2015
Last night Brooklyn Bowl hosted a celebration of the rich musical history of Memphis, Tenn., in conjunction with Take Me to the River, a new documentary that traces the roots of the incredible blues, soul and R&B that originated in the city and shows how new generations of artists are carrying on and reinventing this musical legacy. That legacy was on display last night, beginning with the Hi Rhythm Section—musicians who once backed Al Green among many others—performing as the house band for the night.
With expert style, the Hi Rythym Section treated the crowd to a wide range of Memphis music history, as a rotating cast of multigenerational performers took the stage. Otis Clay, who was celebrating his 73rd birthday, performed a soulful rendition of “Precious Precious,” while later Bobby Rush, in a crisp white suit, looking (and sounding) great at 81, performed the Stax Records hit “Push and Pull” alongside rapper Frayser Boy (of “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” fame). Later, William Bell worked his magic on a cover of “Knock on Wood” before enlisting rapper Al Kapone to help perform “I Forgot to Be Your Lover,” a smooth new song featured in the film. In addition to the foundational and contemporary Memphis performers who came together last night, the show featured some very up-and-coming young musicians from the Stax Records Academy, a music school that mentors and trains the next generation of Memphis musicians.
By night’s end, there was really only one natural choice for the finale: So all of the performers crowded onto the stage to collaborate on a rendition of the Al Green version of “Take Me to the River,” joined by Jerry Harrison, of Talking Heads (whose popular cover of the song is yet another example of the impact and power of Memphis music). It was a joyful, freewheeling, inclusive sing-along—a nice distillation of the spirit of Memphis, now and then. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK
Tags: Al Green, Al Kapone, Bobby Rush, Brooklyn Bowl, Frayser Boy, Hi Rhythm Section, Jerry Harrison, Otis Clay, Review, Stax Records, Stax Records Academy, Take Me to the River, Talking Heads, William Bell
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Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Brooke Fraser began making a winning brand of folk pop in 2003 with the release of her debut full-length, What to Do with Daylight (stream it below). But it was actually her third album, the universally acclaimed Flags (stream it below)—out in 2010—that made a name for her outside of her native New Zealand. Glide magazine called it “a wonder … drenched in beauty,” claiming that she “is not just another in a long line of pop singer-songwriters who get by on their looks and marginal talent. Her observations alone about the human condition cause this collection of songs to rise above the efforts of many of her contemporaries, and her rich vocals combine with the plethora of piano pop-rock sounds and sometimes otherworldly accompaniments to make the whole experience even more impressive.” In the time since her previous release, Fraser (above, performing “Kings & Quesns” live) has moved in a different musical direction, as evidenced by last year’s Brutal Romantic (stream it below). Per AllMusic, “An acoustic songbird trying on an edgier pop sound isn’t necessarily a revolution, but this sea change still feels pretty dramatic.” Witness it for yourself when Fraser plays The Bowery Ballroom tonight and Music Hall of Williamsburg tomorrow. L.A. artist Nick Long’s Dark Waves opens both shows.
Brother and sister Theo (a onetime House List writer) and Sasha Spielberg began making music as Wardell several years ago in Los Angeles. Influenced by the disparate likes of Led Zeppelin, Fiona Apple, the Strokes and Joni Mitchell, the bicoastal (he in New York City, she in L.A.) indie-folk duo put out their aptly named debut EP, Brother/Sister (stream it below), in 2013, with Sasha on vocals and Theo handling the instrumentation. Afterward, they really began to work on their sound while performing live, including a plum gig opening for Vampire Weekend and Haim at last year’s SXSW. Today, Wardell (above, doing “Funny Thing” and “Love/Idleness”) see the release of their debut full-length, the charmingly easygoing Love/Idleness (stream it below). And they celebrate its release tonight at Mercury Lounge. Bushwick dream-pop four-piece Arc Waves open the show.
Tags: Arc Waves, Brother/Sister, Fiona Apple, Joni Mitchell, Led Zeppelin, Love/Idleness, Mercury Lounge, Preview, Sasha Spielberg, the Strokes, Theo Spielberg, Video
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While studying graphic design, Tom Vek also spent years writing and recording in his parents’ London basement, but his hobby paid off and became his profession. Vek’s debut album, We Have Sound (stream it below), came out in 2005. Critics mentioned Beck and LCD Soundsystem, and AllMusic called it a “brash mix of indie rock and dance,” further proclaiming that the singer-songwriter “manages to make this fusion of styles sound organic instead of opportunistic.” His follow-up didn’t arrive until 2011, but Leisure Seizure (stream it below) turned out to be well worth the wait. NME rang in with a rousing review: “Vek truly exploits the benefits of being in a one-man band: all instruments and ideas can be used as often or as sparingly as he likes…. Vek may be out of time but he’s also out of this world.” Fortunately, Vek (above, performing “Sherman (Animals in the Jungle)” in studio for KCRW FM) didn’t disappear nearly as long before his third album, Luck (stream it below), came out last year. Per the Guardian, “A six-year gap divided his debut and 2011’s Leisure Seizure, and though his third arrives comparatively promptly, every lurching guitar line and electronic squiggle sounds like it was planned with meticulous care. That could be a problem, leaching Vek’s offbeat pop of energy and life, but the more he works dissonant elements into these songs, the more thrillingly unbalanced they feel.” See him tomorrow night at Rough Trade NYC, when he will feature the more electronic side of his repertoire and reimagined versions of songs, accompanied with synchronized visuals showcasing the strong graphic design that accompanies his releases.
Before heading to Canada and then across the Atlantic to Europe, Father John Misty lands in New York City this week to play Rough Trade NYC on Thursday and The Bowery Ballroom on Saturday. Both appearances sold out well in advance, but The House List is giving away two tickets to Thursday’s show. Want to go? 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 (Father John Misty, 2/12) and a brief message explaining why you think Valentine’s Day is terrific—or why you don’t. Eddie Bruiser, who’s in the latter camp, will notify the winner by Thursday. Good luck.