Tag Archives: Aaron Stein


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

March 23rd, 2017

Wilco – Beacon Theatre – March 22, 2017

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



Leif Vollebekk Investigates the Blank Spaces at Mercury Lounge

March 1st, 2017

Leif Vollebekk – Mercury Lounge – February 28, 2017

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


Ryley Walker Doesn’t Waste Any Time at Rough Trade NYC

January 27th, 2017

Ryley Walker – Rough Trade NYC – January 26, 2017

(Art: Brian Blomerth)

(Art: Brian Blomerth)

Near the beginning of Ryley Walker’s show last night at Rough Trade NYC, he explained/joked/warned that half the price of the admission went toward getting to watch his “mental breakdowns.” The whole night was definitely a more-than-you-bargained-for show, but in altogether good ways. Things got started with J.R. Bohannon, who was referred to throughout the evening as “J.R.,” “John” and “Ancient Ocean.” Bohannon played both solo and accompanied by a mandolin player, using six-string and 12-string guitars as well as what I want to call a Dobro, to create gorgeous, amorphous instrumental exotica. Off-center tunings and doses of dissonance gave an otherworldly feel to the music, the guitars often feeling like ancient Asian equivalents. The middle set went to Sam Kogon who featured mostly material from his recently released Psychic Tears album. The set seemed like a musical time traveler, opening with an updated ’50s doo-wop and bouncing through the decades, offering up distorted ’80s New Wave and ’00s arty indie along the way. Propelled by the rhythm section, Kogon and his band built momentum, carving out their own musical space.

Opening with a long, fantastical jam equal parts airy and aggressive, Walker, backed by a second guitarist and a drummer, wasted no time finding the sweet spot. His playing had an avalanche effect: Each note seemed to chaotically gain more until an exponential torrent of acoustic guitar overwhelmed the room, Walker getting more out of his instrument than he seemed to be putting in. The opening half of the set featured multiple instrumental excursions, expertly centered on tour-tested songs, like “Primrose Green,” which served as an introduction to a furious guitars-and-drums rock-out. At one point, drummer Ryan Jewell moved to tablas, Walker moved to electric guitar, prompting a glorious drone raga with off-planet melodies striking the awestruck audience at oblique angles.

That jam eventually morphed into a free-ranging version of “Sullen Mind,” off last year’s Golden Sings That Have Been Sung. The second half of the set focused on newer material, in between bouts of brutal hilarity from Walker, which helped the lyric “It’s not very fun being a fun person” pop out to me. He finished the night with a couple of solo acoustic numbers, reminding everyone that beneath the mind-bender guitar jams, is an accomplished songwriter. “Halfwit in Me” closed out things, feeling lush and complex, multiple melodies and structures layered on top of one another to create new patterns of guitar and voice. Much more than the audience had bargained for. —A. Stein | @Neddyo




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

January 17th, 2017

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

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


The Bad Plus Sound Right at Home at Rough Trade NYC

November 22nd, 2016

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

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



Jim James Takes Terminal 5 to Church on Sunday Night

November 21st, 2016

Jim James – Terminal 5 – November 20, 2016

Jim James – Terminal 5 – November 20, 2016
We sometimes elevate our favorite musicians, overestimating their power to that of “spirit guide” as opposed to “just great at making music.” But sometimes that pedestal feels warranted. Last year around this same exact time, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James led the Beacon Theatre crowd in a moment of silence for victims of the Paris rock-club shooting that was as deep and meaningful as any I’ve witnessed. James was back in town, appropriately on a Sunday, playing with his solo band at Terminal 5 and in a much more understated way, was equally as moving. Halfway through the set, he spoke of the rally he attended at Adam Yauch Park and urged everyone in the crowd, really everywhere to “come together.” But beyond that, there was a spiritual feeling to the whole show, a message of, as he said, “Peace, love and understanding” in the music.

After a lengthy instrumental introduction, James and his band—two drummers, keyboards, guitar and bass—opened with “Hide in Plain Sight,” his vocals worked through some effects to give a voice-of-God sound basked in blues and purples. The stage was filled with sets of three LEDs that often gave an almost votive-candle look to the room, as James, microphone in hand, ranged from one side of the stage, like a preacher, often closer to talking than singing. The start of the show felt simultaneously subdued and groovy, heavy on synth-and-drum funkiness on “Know Til Now” and “In the Moment.” James’s guitar waited on a stand at the front of the stage, a sacrificial offering awaiting its fate, and when he finally grabbed it, like on “The World’s Smiling Now” and “We Ain’t Getting Any Younger,” the pensive building to raging, two guitars bouncing between two drums, the mood in the room was fiery.

In between, there were more instrumental bridges, keyboard grooves as group meditations. The show ended appropriately with one of these, James leaving the stage after “Eternally Even,” the title track from his newest album, the band following one by one as ethereal melodies lingered in the room. The encore seemed to sum up James’s brand of spirituality as he sang songs from his other side projects, including the Monsters of Folk’s “Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)” and “Down on the Bottom” (“No place to go but up”) from the New Basement Tapes. The night ended with “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.),” another slow build, each verse taking on more emotional weight until another explosion of guitar, the lights flickering through a pastel rainbow and the lyric “the power’s going out” taking on multiple meanings in its repetition. When the lights came on and the church of Jim James turned back into Terminal 5, the mood did not disappear, and the crowd filed out of the room to John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.” —A. Stein | @Neddyo

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com


El Ten Eleven Are Anything but Accidental on Saturday Night

November 14th, 2016

El Ten Eleven – Music Hall of Williamsburg – November 12, 2016

(Photo: Rozette Rago)

(Photo: Rozette Rago)

Was it an accident that the lights went down at Music Hall of Williamsburg for Saturday’s El Ten Eleven show at exactly 10:11? Maybe yes, maybe no, but with those guys, it doesn’t feel like anything is an accident. For Kristian Dunn on basses and guitars and Tim Fogarty on drums, precision is key. Their songs are constructions of riffs and loops and samples and beats, and in many ways it’s as much math and engineering as anything else. Within the first two songs, Dunn dazzled with complicated double taps on his double-neck guitar-bass, utilized an EBow, expertly layered multiple sampled melodies and had Fogarty bang out a riff on his bass with drumsticks. But as the show progressed, it was clear that there was an emotional core to that precision, that the serious gear and the serious talent made it possible to make inspired music that was fun to dance to.

“Living on Credit Blues” about “how annoying it is when you’re poor,” according to Dunn, found a moving melody, a humanity in the how’d-they-do-that playing. “Disorder,” a Joy Divison cover, exhibited a lyrical beauty in its instrumental El Ten Eleven form. “Fanshawe,” off their self-titled debut album, was a gorgeous piece of bass playing. Throughout the set, Dunn was a Seurat of the strings, a musical pointillist creating awe-inspiring artwork out of large numbers of individually expressed notes. The band sounded great, their constant touring and a genuine love of what they’re doing shining through. They also looked great, with their own onstage rig providing dramatic multicolored backlighting and atmospheric smoke to enhance the music. The middle of the set was dedicated to several yet-to-be-named new pieces, one feeling like the theme song for a video-game villain, another had light-touch six-string guitar notes melting in a floor of low-end drum-machine furnace that vibrated the room.

Somewhat unexpectedly, the band brought out Emile Mosseri from the Dig to sing vocals, quite possibly an El Ten Eleven first. Mosseri’s gliding falsetto worked almost perfectly with Dunn and Fogarty’s sound, pointing to perhaps a new direction for the veteran duo. The latter portion of the show was consumed by old “hits”—including “I Like Van Halen Because My Sister Says They Are Cool,” “Connie” and “My Only Swerving”—that had the crowd giddy at each ecstatic climax. When Dunn announced that they had reached the end of the show, it was a bit of a pump fake as they delivered three more songs, with the show-closing “Transitions” a lengthy, multipart composition that delivered on several levels, ultimately peaking at just the right moment, which was, I am sure, no accident at all. —A. Stein | @Neddyo


Thee Oh Sees in a Sweat-Lodge Hallucination of Garage-Rock Glory

November 14th, 2016

Thee Oh Sees – The Bowery Ballroom – November 11, 2016

Thee Oh Sees – The Bowery Ballroom – November 11, 2016
Catharsis? Many people were looking for an emotional release at the end of last week, and the sacred haven of a rock club was as good a place as any to find it. As if by fate, Thee Oh Sees were in town for three sold-out performances, and their show on Friday night at The Bowery Ballroom was the kind of shared experience that can renew your faith a little bit, even if it’s only for one night. John Dwyer took the stage with his band and offered, “Good luck the next four years,” before kicking off a set filled with flashes of anger and euphoria. Thee Oh Sees, the band with an extra e in their name, also bring a little bit extra to their live show, with one extra drummer, Dwyer backed by seemingly one too many amplifiers and the band as a whole delivering an extra bit of oomph into every morsel of their set, but, as always, it ended up being the perfect amount.

The performance covered Dwyer’s extensive and constantly growing and evolving repertoire, although it felt less about which songs were played and more about that they just kept coming without rest. With those two drum kits front and center—both literally onstage and musically—offering a constant pummeling of ready-to-explode rhythmic energy, there was little for the audience to do but relent to the music. Barely one song in, the show felt like a communal experience, some friends, mostly strangers. No matter how you tried, if you were on the floor, you were making contact with other like-minded human beings. By the time Thee Oh Sees busted into the crowd-pleasing rage of “Toe Cutter/Thumb Buster” early on, there was real physical contact: Whether you were slamming your body into others in front of the stage or just bumping into the guy next to you as you each contorted and flailed, song after song, room-piercing guitar riff after guitar riff.

That contact, the flesh and blood of the humans around you, heightened the energy in the room. Watching Thee Oh Sees channel all of that felt somehow biological: the sweat of the musicians, the pure kinetics of the nonstop drummers, the limits to just how hard you can flail your head back and forth in ecstatic dancing before you get dizzy, the tingling hairs on the back of your neck when Dwyer finally slowed it down for the psych-prog of “Sticky Hulks.” The set ended with an older piece, possibly “Warm Slime,” what he promised to be a “long song” ended up being a 25-minute sweat-lodge hallucination of garage-rock glory. Dwyer seemed oblivious to the outside world and took the rest of us with him. Bouncing from one cathartic melody to the next, it just kept going as if to make sure that everyone there had enough to get to that deep-inside place before walking out the doors to face the world again. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

Photos courtesy of Silvia Saponaro | www.saponarophotography.com


Portugal. The Man Are Well Worth the Wait at The Bowery Ballroom

November 8th, 2016

Portugal. The Man – The Bowery Ballroom – November 7, 2016

Portugal. The Man – The Bowery Ballroom – November 7, 2016
It’s been a while since New York City has gotten a proper headlining show from Portugal. The Man. While there have been some coheadlining bills to keep their fans (slightly) satisfied over the past couple of years, the packed house at The Bowery Ballroom last night was justifiably antsy awaiting the Portland, Ore., band. That wait was filled with a psychedelic variety show of openers from stand-up comedy to German rappers. PTM have filled their tour with an upside-down assortment of friends, giving the entire affair a family feel that extended to the sold-out audience. Indeed, to be a fan of the group has a part-of-the-club feel and the room felt filled with diehards hoping their heroes would deliver.

Not to worry: Portugal. The Man’s set was well worth the wait. They opened with the title track to their 2007 album, Church Mouth, which hasn’t been in their repertoire for many years but still sizzled with up-to-date energy. The even older “Chicago”—its frenetic blasts of punk-prog, frontman John Gourley singing, “Burn this motherfucker down”—followed, and it was clear that this was a PTM that NYC hadn’t seen for quite some time. The rest of the set list was an expertly designed back and forth through the Portugal. The Man songbook, old and new, alternating from beautiful to cathartic to pure evil accompanied by unique bulbous lights, spheres of colors giving the effect of a sci-fi rock show. The crowd reveled in the invigorated set, the band artfully stringing together multiple songs, finding new places to insert extra guitar excursions and strobe-light climaxes.

“All Your Light” has long been a set centerpiece, but last night it seemed to realize its full potential as a triumphant suite with multiple bass-drum-guitar-keys rock-outs, eventually peaking with the outro to the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” feeling very much like it could have been a PTM original. Along the way, they still managed to hit all the beloved sing-alongs and pretty much all of their most recent Evil Friends album, although with plenty of impressive reinvention throughout, stretching the set well past the 100-minute mark. They finally finished with an expert pairing of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” with their own “Purple Yellow Red and Blue,” everyone in the crowd triumphantly singing, dancing and waving their hands in the air, hoping it won’t be too long before the next one. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

Photos courtesy of Pip Cowley | pipcowleyshoots.com


Damien Jurado Mesmerizes The Bowery Ballroom on Sunday Night

November 7th, 2016

Damien Jurado – The Bowery Ballroom – November 6, 2016

Damien Jurado - The Bowery Ballroom - November 6, 2016
Somewhat quietly, Damien Jurado has put out some of the best albums (in my opinion) of the past few years, and just as quietly, he took the stage at The Bowery Ballroom on a somewhat quiet Sunday night to run through a bunch of his songs. This time around he was performing solo, just his voice and an acoustic guitar. But before he began playing, he told the crowd he was “very relaxed right now,” and that more or less set the stage for a mesmerizing set of music. The show went through several phases: The short opening portion, set off by “Working Titles,” with Jurado singing, “Many nights you would hide from the audience,” was very introductory. His mellow, deadpan chitchat evoked a slightly hipper Steven Wright as Jurado explained that he hadn’t put on his “show clothes,” looking quite indie folk in ripped jeans and a Sub Pop sweatshirt. The next section was punctuated by vivid colors from the overhead lights, each song gaining an aura from the hue—heavy orange adding a glow to “Kola” as Jurado evoked imagery of “your name across my smile,” and a cosmic blue for “On the Land Blues.”

As the crowd fell into a pensive silence, the music picked up a hallucinogenic halo, Jurado’s vocals hazy with a natural reverb and his guitar crackling with a percussive energy. “TAQOMA,” off his latest album, Visions of Us on the Land, basked in orange and lime green, a transporting psychedelic sunshine. For the next phase, Jurado pulled back, almost channeling an alternate universe Neil Young, the songs almost playing themselves, intense and at times personal. The crowd loosened up toward the latter part of the show, somewhat emboldened by the relaxed atmosphere and the honesty from the stage, and the final portion felt like a conversation between Jurado and the audience, an extended back and forth bounced from daylight savings to New York City to unique kid names to Seattle and maybe back again. A request for “Rachel and Cali” was quickly granted and proved to be a highlight bathed in pinks and blues. The encore included “Everything Trying” with another stunning image of “I’ll be Sailing on your deep blue eyes,” and Jurado responding once more, quietly exclaiming, “We’re all so weird, isn’t it great?” —A. Stein | @Neddyo

Photos courtesy of Mike Benigno | mikebenigno.com


Pond Heat Up Music Hall of Williamsburg

October 27th, 2016

Pond – Music Hall of Williamsburg – October 26, 2016

The overnight temperatures have taken a turn toward downright chilly lately, the first sign that winter will be here soon. Of course, in Australia, the opposite is true: Summer is on its way. Indeed, walking into Music Hall of Williamsburg for the Perth band Pond last night, it felt like going from winter into summer, the globe flipping upside down, cold was now hot, dreary was now Technicolor. By the time the band took the stage, the room was packed and ready and the music delivered from the beginning, Pond’s mix of psychedelic throwback and danceable grooves.

Don’t look now, but what originally felt like a side project several years back, Pond now have three albums to their name and more new music on the way. The set list drew from all angles and eras, with large doses coming from 2015’s Man It Feels Like Space Again and 2013’s Hobo Rocket. “Giant Tortoise” showed off the band’s modern-day powers, Pink Floyd disco with a swirl of heavy-throttle guitar and dreamy pop. Songs like “Don’t Look at the Sun or You’ll Go Blind” were equal parts soaring guitars and deep synths, giving everyone in the audience a choice of clapping along or letting their minds swirl. Meanwhile, colorful images flickered on the stage backdrop, combining with Pond’s goofy banter to give the impression that they were performing in some old school Saturday morning cartoon.

At one pause, was that a sly little Yes tease I heard? Yes, Pond’s prog roots still show, “You Broke My Cool” feeling like a modern-day Bowie with a quick, ecstatic guitar jam. The set ended with a monster 15 minutes of nonstop music, starting with “Man It Feels Like Space Again” with a deep space funk and soaring guitars, ending up, I think, in “Midnight Mass,” but feeling like a continuation, an emotive liftoff. The band left the stage to aural ghosts panning left and right across the PA, before returning for a multipart encore, a high-energy left-of-Jupiter excursion with crowd surfing and heavy boogie and one last dose of that devil-may-care, party-all-night summer spirit. —A. Stein | @Neddyo 


Lucy Dacus Leaves No Room for Debate at Mercury Lounge

October 20th, 2016

Lucy Dacus – Mercury Lounge – October 19, 2016

It was debate night in America on Wednesday, but there was little debate necessary for the late-show crowd at Mercury Lounge because it was quite clear that on at least one stage last night there was a woman—Lucy Dacus—kicking butt. She came out solo to open with “Historians,” a power move, the full room’s chitchat immediately silenced by her voice, a preview of a unique point of view and lyrical prowess. The rest of the band then joined Dacus to get the show going proper with “Troublemaker Doppelganger,” a blast of Richmond, Va., rock and roll, chunky and funky, the singer-songwriter in fine form, rhyming magazines and peonies, in a world where she can leave her “doors wide open.”

Dacus’s voice and demeanor gave the impression of an uneasy balance of vulnerability and strength that carried over into her music. Working mostly from her acclaimed album, No Burden, she began many songs with just her voice before unleashing the band into an agitated state of guitars, bass and drums. With songs like lead-single “I Don’t Want to Be Funny Anymore” and lyrics like “Oh please, don’t make fun of me,” there seemed to be a running theme of the lingering, all-too-real pains of adolescence. Occasionally, Dacus would even pull the guitar close to her chest, almost as if she were tightly holding books in a high school hallway, fighting to be both noticed and not to be noticed.

A couple of newer songs were the most musically interesting, one in which she sang about being “as good as anybody” kicked off as a sultry, jazz lounge–blues thing before Dr. Jekyll-ing into something more fanged and angry. Another began, again, with Dacus solo and exposed, stripped down emotionally but with a hidden compositional complexity, the band finally kicking in for some of the heaviest rocking of the night over several distinct sections. After announcing a next-day departure for their first Europe trip, a step to likely bigger and better things, the quartet finished with “Pillar of Truth,” a build-to-climax closer and a powerful summation. No burden and no debate. —A. Stein | @Neddyo


Julien Baker Silences a Sold-Out Music Hall of Williamsburg

September 26th, 2016

Julien Baker – Music Hall of Williamsburg – September 24, 2016


There was an excited squeal from the crowd when the lights finally went down and Julien Baker took her place, alone at the front of the stage at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday night. It was a collective, naked, anticipatory “Oh, my God!” that potentially foreshadowed a night filled with passionate song requests or those “I love you!” proclamations that an overjoyed sold-out audience might not be able to restrain. Instead the next hour was filled with silence—an amazing and deserved silence, a combination of awe, reverence, respect, barely a sigh or a throat-clear. It’s kind of hard to stand so still in a crowded room and not make a noise for an hour and yet it felt absolutely required: Baker and her music, songs of palpable, soulful depth, demanded nothing less.

Operating with just a guitar and a microphone, she worked her way through most of her breakthrough album, last year’s Sprained Ankle. You really wanted to hear every word Baker sang, each song had a lyric or an image that seemed to punch through and linger in the air. When she sang, “Feed me to the wolves tonight,” in “Blacktop,” the show opener, the tone of fear and uncertainty was in sharp contrast to the warm love she was getting from the audience. Maybe more revealing was when Baker wondered, “I hear there’s a fix for everything/ Well why then not me?” in the newer “Sad Song #12.”

Baker’s use of dynamics while singing felt like a unique channel of her inner state: She sang quietly most of the time, close in to the microphone, while occasionally raising her voice in anger or catharsis—like in “I know myself better than anybody else”—but tilted her head away from the microphone, so that the volume remained steady even while the emotional wallop hit the air. A cover of Death Cab for Cutie’s “Photobooth” felt like a perfect fit in the set. Baker’s guitar playing revealed subtle secrets as well, reverb, echo and the occasional loop found comfort in the quiet stillness of the room. Between songs the silence broke for a moment, the crowd releasing in enthusiastic, heartfelt applause and maybe a bit of that pent-up feeling the music inspired. —A. Stein | @Neddyo


A Psychedelic Saturday with Mystic Braves at Rough Trade NYC

September 19th, 2016

Mystic Braves – Rough Trade NYC – September 17, 2016

Brooklyn got a glimpse of two sides of Los Angeles on Saturday night with an entertaining bill at Rough Trade NYC. After a warm-up from local rockers the Colorines, the crowd was treated to Jeffertitti Moon’s new project, the Dream Ride. He self-describes the music as “electro-magnetic dream-disco,” and I don’t think I could improve much on that. The set felt like listening in on dance music from the very near future. Style was as important as sound, Moon dressed in a bedazzled white suit, tie-dyed sci-fi images projected on the screen behind him. With a drummer and dueling keys/synth players, and Moon’s vocals getting a dose of reverb and digital effects, the music had a funky warmth. He revealed they had been detained at the Canadian border, indeed thrown in a cell, and joked that they wrote a couple of songs while locked up, which turned out to be covers of “Crimson and Clover” and later a fun take on Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.”

I was surprised to learn that his backing band featured members of the headliner, Mystic Braves, when he introduced them. That gave the between-set transition an almost Clark Kent–in-a-phone-booth feel as the deep synth transformed into the Mystic Braves unmistakably throwback ’60s psychedelic palette. There are many bands working with in this sound, but typically there is some qualifier, some update or twist. With these Angelenos, the only qualifier is that you didn’t need to invent a time machine to hear it. With shaggy haircuts, beautiful vintage guitar and basses, and songs like “Desert Island,” the quintet was a perfect simulacrum of a summer-of-love rock band, nailing the surf-psych-garage sound to exhilarating effect.

Each song featured almost constant guitar-noodle rips, packing a wealth of notes and layers of sound into each without meandering or lollygagging. The set picked up steam as it went along, hitting on material from all three of their releases, the influences of the Beatles and the Byrds on, for example, “Spanish Rain,” eventually providing a launching point for more psychedelic explorations. The final half of the show was filled with musical twists and turns, the after-midnight crowd finding their dancing feet. “Cloud Nine” was a centerpiece, with a central-casting organ whirl and a double-time guitar solo folded in the middle. The show culminated in a raucous full-band jam to close out “Bright Blue Day Haze,” a final glimpse of days long gone and a small slice of L.A. —A. Stein | @Neddyo



Car Seat Headrest Prove Why They’re a Hot Ticket

September 16th, 2016

Car Seat Headrest – The Bowery Ballroom – September 14, 2016

Car Seat Headrest – The Bowery Ballroom – September 14, 2016
Playing the first of two sold-out shows in New York City this week—with a breakout album in tow—Car Seat Headrest are certainly a band of the moment. Before they got a chance to show the Thursday night Bowery Ballroom crowd why they’re a hot ticket right now, something that might be “what’s next,” in the form of Lucy Dacus and her band, got the evening going. Hailing from the recent hotbed of great music and indie-rock personalities, Richmond, Va., Dacus combined her unique voice, terrific songs and musicians with the propensity to kick out the rock. Songs from her own breakout album, No Burden, like “I Don’t Want to Be Funny Anymore” and “Troublemaker Doppelgänger,” took new life onstage to the audience’s delight.

After a quick changeover, the room now filled to capacity, the headliners began with frontman Will Toledo solo on “Way Down,” a two-chord-ish slow-burner with a repeated chorus. The opener’s simplicity was a bit of a tell on the rest of a set filled with songs that seemed straightforward punky lo-fi on the surface but proved to be filled with interesting complications and fun developments. Indeed, when the band joined in for what Toledo later described as a “reinterpretation” of “Cosmic Hero,” off of Teens of Denial, there was plenty more than met the eye. The tune flitted through multiple sections of varying intensity, Ethan Ives’ bass crunching throughout, eventually coughing up a single, almost perfectly realized chorus of the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” midway through.

“Fill in the Blank,” up next, was all it took to completely enrapture the crowd, which exploded in a full-throated sing-along and pogoed with bounding energy that reached to the back of the room. The band successfully brought down things a couple of times, like on “Maud Gone,” but they were at their best on numbers like “Destroyed by Hippie Powers,” with its two-guitar mayhem and cross-rhythmic drumming. Between songs, Car Seat Headrest returned a few times to a fun “ask the band” shtick, answering questions posed to them online such as “Why does [drummer] Andrew Katz like toilet humor?” The set ended as it began, Toledo solo with just his voice and guitar, a subtle punctuation to close out a wonderfully rambling paragraph of a set. Returning for an encore, they finished with another rager. It was called “Something Soon,” but Car Seat Headrest are undoubtedly something right now. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

Photos courtesy of Charles Steinberg | charlesosteinberg.com