Tag Archives: Aaron Stein

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A Double Shot of Portugal. The Man at Terminal 5 This Week

June 5th, 2017

Next week, Portugal. The ManJohn Gourley (guitar and vocals), Zachary Carothers (bass and vocals), Kyle O’Quin (guitar, keys and vocals), Eric Howk (guitar) and Jason Sechrist (drums)—will release their newest album, Woodstock, which features, among others, Richie Havens, Son Little and Fargo’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead. It’s the band’s eighth long-player, but their first in more than four years. And while four years might not feel like too long, in Portugal. The Man years, it’s close to a geological epoch. With the lead single, “Feel It Still” (above, performed live on KEXP FM), already making waves—its soulful psych-pop working it to the top of the alt-rock charts and its politically charged video drawing the ire of certain media types—the anticipation for Woodstock is high. New York City will get an extra-special preview of songs new and old when Portugal. The Man stop by for two appearances at Terminal 5 this week, tomorrow and Wednesday. (L.A. duo Electric Guest and the Bronx’s own Kemba open each night.) PTM shows are always don’t-miss affairs, combining sing-along hooks, dense, Pink Floyd-ian space-outs and usually a surprise or two. So do yourself a favor: Don’t miss. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

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Kevin Morby Sells Out The Bowery Ballroom Ahead of New Album

May 25th, 2017

Kevin Morby – The Bowery Ballroom – May 24, 2017


Kevin Morby’s upcoming album, City Music, is an ode to this country’s metropolises, especially New York City. Fulfilling a “dream come true,” he played a packed Bowery Ballroom on Wednesday night, featuring many songs from the new record and filling them with the tangled, contradictory energy of the city. Morby opened with the title track, singing, “Oh that city music, oh that city sound,” two guitars jostling like taxis down an avenue, the music setting the audience in that liminal space between sway and dance before finally kicking into a double-time, double-energy finish that pushed things over the edge. The rest of the show seemed to teeter like this, Morby and the band itself like a city between night and day, romance and stoicism, dreams and reality.

Morby got his start in Woods and it felt appropriate that his band was made up of musicians who either came from other groups or are on their way to solo careers, including Nick Kinsey (Kinsey) on drums, Meg Duffy (Hand Habits) on lead guitar and Cyrus Gengras on bass. Together they were formidable, as equally comfortable creating hypnotic soundscapes as they were unleashing full-on guitar jams. The highlights featured all facets and more, like “Destroyer,” “Harlem River” and “I Have Been to the Mountain,” each opening into a variety of surprises, funky or thoughtful or full-on psychedelic. As inspired as the band was, Morby’s songs stood on their own and “Beautiful Strangers,” played solo “for Manchester,” resonated with every lyric.

I couldn’t have been the only one in the sold-out room who picked up on shades of Bob Dylan and Lou Reed in Morby’s songwriting and voice as he sang songs about New York City, like “Parade” and the album-closing “Downtown’s Lights,” in New York City. So, it was not a surprise, but no less satisfying when he covered a song by each, closing the set solo on a Dylan-birthday tribute of “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You” and finishing the three-song encore with a cover of Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll.” For the latter, Morby brought out Sam Cohen on third guitar, creating an appropriately city-sized noise to end the night. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

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A Laid-Back Sunday with Real Estate at Brooklyn Steel

May 22nd, 2017

Real Estate – Brooklyn Steel – May 21, 2017


There are few bands with a sound and vibe as laid-back as Real Estate. They give the impression of having just stumbled upon themselves and their music with little effort or plan. Of course, that’s not the case, two sold-out shows at Brooklyn Steel don’t just happen on their own, although playing a sold-out, two-night run on two nonconsecutive nights, as they just did on Wednesday and then last night, is the sort of shoulder-shrug, yeah-why-not? move that befits the band.

“We’re back,” announced bassist Alex Bleeker as if he weren’t quite sure himself. They opened with “Stained Glass,” off their new In Mind release, lead singer Martin Courtney singing about “the days are slowing down” as their harmonies and Beatles guitar eased into the room. “Darling” featured skip-rope bass from Bleeker as the venue dappled in blues and purples. Seeing them live, one can fully appreciate how many great songs Real Estate have—they seem to play themselves, relaxed and effortless, like sinking down into a comfy couch. “It’s Real” revealed fun little games with tempo and “Talking Backwards” was naturally pure sine waves of melody.

As the set unfolded, Real Estate did as well, spinning out extended band-fully-clicked daydreams of guitar, bass, drums and keys. The reverie coming to an end when Courtney announced they had a couple songs left, “and by couple, I mean just one,” and then proceeded to play two songs’ worth of music, “Beach Comber,” its country hop opening up into the long instrumental outro of “Two Arrows,” with its dreamy-but-intense drum-addled jam. The encore featured three more songs to round it out, including a guest appearance from the members of Frankie Cosmos, who opened the show. Real Estate finished with “All the Same,” Courtney reminding us that “It’s alright, it’s OK,” an appropriate mantra for the truly laid-back. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

Photos courtesy of Nick Delisi | www.nickdelisi.com

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Of Montreal Make Weird Normal at Music Hall of Williamsburg

April 28th, 2017

Of Montreal – Music Hall of Williamsburg – April 27, 2017

You’re weird! When you were a kid, that would’ve been a put-down, but nowadays, in some circles, the greater sin is being normal. No worries for Kevin Barnes, the lead genius behind Of Montreal, who showered a sold-out Music Hall of Williamsburg with their Day-Glo, bizarro resplendence last night. With a later start time, the set was the kind of happening that transpires when the normal folk are sleeping, a giant dreamlike hairy beast, a yeti in Brooklyn, marching across the stage as the band wound up “Gratuitous Abysses,” before Barnes had even taken the stage. The cosmic doo-wop sounded like eight genres mashed together, or maybe more like flipping among them so fast that it felt that way, a good primer for the sight-and-sound feast of a show that followed.

At times watching Of Montreal go through their set, many songs accompanied by a traveling troupe of performers acting out a hallucinogenic scene, each difficult to describe in words, was like watching a Saturday morning cartoon, the band maybe splitting time between their deeply psychedelic grooving and, at any moment, hopping off in a multihued van to go fight crime somewhere. The opening stretch was heavy on the synth and disco whorls, but a few songs in, Barnes picked up his guitar and the sound worked more toward a funked-up glam. The audience continuing to push closer to the stage to get into his orbit, whooping at each wardrobe change, Barnes working a new look at each third of the night.

The set list folded selections from Of Montreal’s vast and varying catalog, “Different for Girls” fueling a front-to-back dance party, “Bunny Ain’t No Kind of Rider” getting everyone to sing along in collective glee, “Gronlandic Edit”—with Barnes singing about “all the party people dancing”—was explosive fun of room-rattling bass. The last third of the performance was a nonstop blast of crowd-pleasers, with enough “Is that what I think it is, WTF?” moments mixed in to get most people in the room shaking their heads almost as much as they were shaking their bodies. The set closed, appropriately, with “The Party’s Crashing on Us,” off 2005’s The Sunlandic Twins album, which goes to show how long Barnes has been infectiously bounding around a stage with Chinese dragons and the like, in a hot-pink number, or with little clothing on at all, for that matter, as normal as can be. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

Photos courtesy of Silvia Saponaro | www.saponarophotography.com

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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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Chaz Bundick Meets the Mattson 2 Provide Easter Treats

April 17th, 2017

Chaz Bundick Meets the Mattson 2 – The Bowery Ballroom – April 16, 2017

Chaz Bundick Meets the Mattson 2 – The Bowery Ballroom – April 16, 2017
Chaz Bundick, performing as Toro Y Moi, plays a palette of dyed-egg pastel colors: yellows, pinks and muted purples of groove. Twin brothers Jared and Jonathan Mattson, performing as the Mattson 2, are an oversized, slightly psychedelic rabbit of instrumental music. Together, they’re appropriately called Chaz Bundick Meets the Mattson 2, and they proved to be a perfect Easter treat last night for a sold-out Bowery Ballroom. More or less playing from their recently released album, Star Stuff, the trio met somewhere in the middle of their styles, which turned out to be a rather large and fertile musical space.

Although Bundick provided vocals on several songs, the set felt largely like instrumental music, relying more on mood than lyrics. And for the most part, that mood was decidedly jubilant. The stage was lit like a dance club—shafts of color through clouds of smoke, and the music pulsed with that energy. Bundick swapped between his synthesizer and a Hohner bass pretty much every other song, creating a checkerboard of sound, a playful push and pull between styles. That space between Bundick and the Mattsons was filled with modern jazz, Santana disco, drum-heavy free-form, psychedelic boogaloo and power-trio rage.

Every show has an arc and Sunday night was a one-way trajectory, each song sounding more focused and better than the previous, a constant build to an ecstatic conclusion, the album tracks thoughtfully arranged to optimize the live performance. When the end was finally reached, Bundick announcing, “No encore, we mean it,” they’d pretty much played it all, there were no Easter eggs left to uncover. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

Photos courtesy of DeShaun Craddock | dac.photography

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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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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

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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

 

 

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

January 17th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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The Bad Plus Sound Right at Home at Rough Trade NYC

November 22nd, 2016

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

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

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

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

 

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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

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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

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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