Tag Archives: Joni Mitchell

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Catch Weyes Blood Tonight at Music Hall of Williamsburg

March 30th, 2017

Natalie Mering’s arresting voice doesn’t sound as if it’s emanating from a person as much as from a lineage. As Weyes Blood, she even looks the part of the “atemporal” enchantress—to use the description of her record label, Mexican Summer—whose songwriting has an “ancient resonance,” almost as if she were passed into this time through the wardrobe door. And there’s as pretty of a sadness you’d ever want to hear generating her songs. Something transformative took hold of her sound on last year’s exquisite Front Row Seat to Earth (stream it below), her second proper Weyes Blood full-length. Reiterations of Judy Collins, Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell were elevated to a contemporary clarity, as if their classic folk songs of longing had undergone inventive remastering. On the closing of “Be Free” (above, performed live for Issue magazine) the eerie and delicate lift of Mering’s voice in slow waltzing lockstep with forlorn trombones makes you want to give her a grateful hug. And when “Generation Why” transforms from a somber piece of folk into a rising futuristic star with undercurrents of Enya and Giorgio Moroder and Klaus Doldinger, there’s a realization of being in the presence of something beautifully strange. Mering cherishes the art form while seizing it for her own design. Along with her latest recordings with Ariel Pink (including Myths 002, stream it below) to add to her discography, Weyes Blood has plenty to draw from for prime performances that may exist only in the timeless vacuum of Mering’s exposition, to which she has extended invitation. Essentially, it’s those artists like Weyes Blood who keep the lifeblood of alternative music pumping, so it hovers in mist over the high frequency electric bandwidth of excess, just above the glow of the streetlight, which is comforting to know. Walk into the dark of a park and you can reach up and touch it. And you can do the same when Weyes Blood plays Music Hall of Williamsburg tonight. Big-voiced singer-songwriter and guitarist Julie Byrne opens the show. —Charles Steinberg | @Challyolly

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Julie Byrne Celebrates New Album Tomorrow at Rough Trade NYC

January 26th, 2017

Singer-songwriter and guitarist Julie Byrne gets around: She grew up in Buffalo and at 18 moved to Chicago and then to Seattle with stops in Pittsburgh, Northampton, Mass., New Orleans and Lawrence, Kan.—plus plenty of time performing on the road crisscrossing the country—before landing in Brooklyn last year. Who knows how long her NYC stay will last, but Byrne’s made time to work as a seasonal park ranger in Central Park when she’s not touring. Byrne (above, playing “Natural Blue” for the Line of Best Fit) returned home—not just to Buffalo, but to the house she was raised in—to record the follow-up to her terrific psych- and folk-filled debut, 2014’s Rooms with Walls and Windows (stream it below), which earned her frequent comparisons to Joni Mitchell. Not Even Happiness, which Stereogum calls “a top-shelf winter album,” arrives tomorrow on Ba Da Bing. “We can think of few better ways to treat your mind and soul than with Not Even Happiness,” according to NME. Decide for yourself tomorrow night at Rough Trade NYC. Infinity’s Song and Suno Deko open the show.

Five Questions with … Robert Ellis

June 17th, 2016

Singer-songwriter Robert Ellis is known for a terrific voice, for fiery live performances and for expertly mining country and folk on his recorded work. His fourth studio full-length, a self-titled album (stream it below), came out last week to rave reviews. And touring behind it, Ellis (above, doing “Sad Songs and Waltzes” for Live at Paste Studios) lands in New York next week for a pair of shows, on Monday at Garcia’s and on Wednesday at The Bowery Ballroom. (“When we booked this tour, and I saw the Bowery was on there, I was like, fuck yeah. It’s a step in the right direction.”) Out on the road, he rang up The House List from a van somewhere between Cleveland and Pittsburgh to answer Five Questions.

So your new album came out last Friday and is getting some rave reviews. Does that mean anything to you? Do you pay attention to reviews? No. It’s great. I’m glad people like it, but, no, I don’t read that shit. There’s some stuff that I see, stuff on my Facebook, because I post on my Facebook. The nasty stuff that people say is definitely irritating and hurtful, but sometimes I think the good stuff is just as bad.

While you’re known predominantly as a country artist, your music obviously has a wider range of influences. Which non-country musicians do you find yourself listening to these days? I don’t even listen to country music, so that’s a really long answer. We listen to everything from jazz to electronic music to—I love pop, ’70s pop music, like Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon and shit like that, I really love. But, really, everything. I mean, I really like music in a really big way. And I love to listen to it, and I don’t have any aesthetic requirements for what that is. It’s not like a fashion thing to me. And I think for a lot of people music is about fashion. It’s about whatever clothes they want to wear. So to answer your question: God, we listen to everything, as long as it’s interesting.

For some performers, life on the road is like working on a traveling theater piece—the set list stays primarily the same but the musicians are aware of the different nuances every night. While for others, each night has a different set list and every show is a wholly different experience. Where do you land in that spectrum? I would say every night’s completely different. A big part of what we do is improvisation. And that ranges from more collective improvisation, like a solo section, to completely free improv, just listening and making noise with one another. And the set list is kind of the same way. I think about a year ago, there was one show when I tried to write a set list out before the gig. And we got offstage and I was just like, “That felt wrong.” And since then, we never use a set list. I just call tunes as we go.

The new album, from a listener’s standpoint, seems to be based on you. So my Almost Famous question is: Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song? Is a song better when it really happened to you? No, I don’t think so. I mean, I think that you have to have experienced love to write a love song. And I don’t think that if you have no empathy for your characters that you can effectively write something that moves people. But I think to the contrary actually: Good writing is about being able to step away from it, in a way. Use your experiences, but then also use your craft to create something bigger than what’s happening to you. So, no, I don’t think you have to be depressed. And I don’t want to live my life like that. Sounds awful.

When you write songs, like “Perfect Strangers” or “How I Love You,” do they ever take on any new life when you perform them live? Or is it like the recorded version is how it remains? No, we don’t play stuff like the record really. I mean, some stuff we do. We try to communicate the emotional information and the melodic information but we don’t necessarily do that with the same instruments all the time. Last night, we were in Cleveland, and I played the song “Couples Skate” on piano, and I’d never once played it on piano. I wasn’t even certain I knew how to play it all the way through. But I just counted it off and we played it. I like to keep myself on my toes and improvising. And I like for everyone to be listening to one another. I just never want to feel like we’re going up there and pressing a button. —R. Zizmor | @Hand_Dog

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Natalie Prass Comes to Music Hall of Williamsburg Tomorrow Night

November 9th, 2015

Natalie Prass grew up around Virginia Beach with an affinity for music and art, which led to her attending the famed Berklee College of Music. But it didn’t exactly take, so she left Boston and ultimately settled in Nashville. Music City ended up being the perfect home for the singer-songwriter, who, while biding her time, had ample opportunities to work on her craft. She’s previously hit the road backing Jenny Lewis, but back in January, Prass (above, performing “Why Don’t You Believe in Me” at SXSW for WFUV FM) saw her long- awaited, acclaimed self-titled debut full-length (stream it below) on Matthew E. White’s Spacebomb Records—although the album was actually finished in 2012. (Prass and White were childhood friends.) Despite the wait, critics have been absolutely knocked out. Pitchfork gave the LP its Best New Music label, and Paste magazine declared, “Over nine songs, Prass shows a range in songwriting, from anthems to confident R&B burners to whimsical prairie folk to theatrical grandeur. It is the debut of a songwriter not struggling to find a voice, but fully formed and confident as all hell. She makes knowing nods to Joni Mitchell, Lesley Gore, Diana Ross and Joanna Newsom, all while seeming natural and instinctual. She is the product of her influences and still original.” Currently winding down her most recent tour, Natalie Prass plays Music Hall of Williamsburg tomorrow night. Loamlands, out of Durham, N.C., open the show.

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Wardell Celebrate a New Release Tonight at Mercury Lounge

February 11th, 2015

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.

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Natalie Prass Brings Acclaimed New Music to Rough Trade NYC

February 5th, 2015

Natalie Prass grew up around Virginia Beach with an affinity for music and art, which led to her attending the famed Berklee College of Music. But it didn’t exactly take, so she left Boston and ultimately settled in Nashville. Music City ended up being the perfect home for the singer-songwriter, who, while biding her time, had ample opportunities to work on her craft. She’s recently been out on the road backing Jenny Lewis, but even more currently, Prass (above, performing the catchy “Bird of Prey”) saw her long-awaited, acclaimed self-titled debut full-length (stream it below) arrive last week on Matthew E. White’s Spacebomb Records—although the album was actually finished in 2012. (Prass and White were childhood friends.) Despite the wait, critics have been absolutely knocked out. Pitchfork gave the LP its Best New Music label, and Paste magazine declared, “Over nine songs, Prass shows a range in songwriting, from anthems to confident R&B burners to whimsical prairie folk to theatrical grandeur. It is the debut of a songwriter not struggling to find a voice, but fully formed and confident as all hell. She makes knowing nods to Joni Mitchell, Lesley Gore, Diana Ross and Joanna Newsom, all while seeming natural and instinctual. She is the product of her influences and still original.” In a couple of weeks, she’s off to Europe, but you can still catch her tomorrow night at Rough Trade NYC. Lady Lady and Small Wonder open the show.

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James Blake Melts a Sold-Out Music Hall of Williamsburg

December 2nd, 2014

James Blake – Music Hall of Williamsburg – December 1, 2014

James Blake – Music Hall of Williamsburg – December 1, 2014
James Blake is like a fine wine: His live performances get better over time. Last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg, the English singer drew complete silence as he opened the show, his entrancing hum casting a spell over the audience, making anyone in the room with testosterone turn all gooey on the inside. I have boobs, so I’m already made that way, and as a result, I completely melted all over the floor.

In case you’ve forgotten what it’s like to feel a full range of human emotions, witnessing James Blake live will remind you. It’s a psychological roller coaster of feels, from the pure joy of hearing his crystallizing vocals to the overwhelming sadness of his slow-burning piano ballads. Blake’s soul-crushing rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” still jerks a tear (or 50) from my eyes every time I hear it, damn it. Then there’s the part when you feel anger, jealousy and spite, because seriously, how can one human be that talented?

Blake showcased his diversity as a producer and as a singer-songwriter while bouncing across genres, from deep house into trap before whipping into piano solos on “Limit to Your Love,” “A Case of You” and “Overgrown.” One of the best things about the show was seeing the enjoyment on Blake’s face, resonating throughout his performance. But the night’s real highlights were “Retrograde,” which had the entire crowd humming and cooing, and then the encore of “The Wilhelm Scream,” leaving everyone on a total high. —Pip Cowley | @PipCowley

Photos courtesy of Charles Steinberg

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Influential Indie Rocker Thalia Zedek Plays Mercury Lounge

December 11th, 2013

Thalia Zedek was born in Washington, D.C., but her music career didn’t take off until she moved to Boston in 1979 and became part of that city’s fertile underground-rock scene. The singer-songwriter-guitarist was part of several bands before she made the move to go solo in 2001, releasing Been Here and Gone on Matador Records to some considerable acclaim. Said Pitchfork: “A long way from her days spent with Come, Uzi, and Live Skull, Been Here and Gone seems the mature and reminiscent record of an aged career, like Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now or Neil Young’s Harvest Moon.” Eschewing quantity for quality, the brooding rocker put out her fourth solo album, Via (stream it below), earlier this year. PopMatters says Zedek (above, performing “1926”) “has given us another rumbling, sweet, muscled set of tunes, as resilient as they are beautiful, and showed us that just because you’re in between, doesn’t mean you’re on the fence.” See her play the late show tomorrow night at Mercury Lounge.

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Terminal 5 Fits James Blake’s Music Like a Glove

November 7th, 2013

James Blake – Terminal 5 – November 6, 2013


As the stage lights began to blaze last night at Terminal 5, James Blake strolled out with a pair of bandmates. Fresh off winning the 2013 Mercury Prize for best album with Overgrown, he had a comfortable, confident air about him. The crowd fixated on the talented electronic-music producer and top-notch singer-songwriter as he and his band slid into a haunting rendition of “I Never Learnt to Share” and flashbulbs ignited the stage. “Life Round Here” followed with sirenlike sound effects and howling synths. “Hello, how you doing? Good to be back,” said Blake with a grin between songs. “We’re here for the same reason you are.” Mystery is the name of the game when it comes to his music: Sparse lyrics, distorted vocals and entrancing beats cast a veil of lulled intensity over cavernous Terminal 5 throughout Blake’s entire set.

“To the Last,” “CMYK” and “Overgrown” electrified the air with lush synths and resounding beats. Blake pulled back for a subdued, almost whispered version of “I Am Sold.” “Digital Lion,” a track Blake created with Brian Eno’s help, came next, filling the air with writhing drumbeats splashed with hallowed, melancholic vocals. The lullaby-esque “Our Love Comes Back” and a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” followed—and then “Lindisfarne I” and “Lindisfarne II,” both off Blake’s self-titled debut album, featuring the sparse, distorted vocals of his upper range. Masterful live takes on “Limit to Your Love” and “I Mind,” which alternated steadily between subdued crooning and exuberant beat-making, got the audience gyrating. Next, Blake introduced live looping with a sultry version of “Retrograde,” filling the room with love-struck lyrics.

“The Wilhelm Scream” closed the set, and Blake and Co. took polite bows before exiting the stage. But the crowd was determined to hear an encore, and cheers swelled steadily until Blake returned alone to perform “Measurements.” Before recording the live loops that would build the foundation of the gospel-inspired song, he entreated everyone to be as quiet as possible. And slowly but surely, all of Terminal 5 hushed as the sound of Blake’s voice filled the newly silent void. The loops continued and his vocals faded into the darkness as he made another humble exit to uproarious cheers from the crowd. Blake certainly knows how to cast a spell over a live audience and make even the largest venue fit his melancholic music like a glove. —Schuyler Rooth

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com

(James Blake plays Terminal 5 again tonight.)

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Glasser Headlines Stacked Showcase Tonight at Music Hall

October 15th, 2013

As Glasser, singer-songwriter-producer Cameron Mesirow makes dreamy, folk-tinged synth pop that’s earned her comparisons to the Cocteau Twins and even Joni Mitchell. Her debut full-length, Ring, was released to a fair amount of acclaim in 2010. In grading it an A-, the A.V. Club said, “It’s an ambitious, perhaps even hypercompositional debut, one whose strange beauty demands attention.” Glasser (above, doing “Treasury of We”) then took those tunes on the road, touring with the xx and Sigur Rós. But now she’s back with her recently released sophomore effort, Interiors (stream it below). It’s a more personal album—dealing with love and anxiety—about which NME notes: “Mesirow is in confident control of an inviting world that’s all her own.” See her, along with a stacked lineup of Kelela, Empress Of, Kirin Callinan and Lil’ Jabba, tonight at Music Hall of Williamsburg.

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From the Wilderness of Manitoba to the Wilds of the Lower East Side

March 20th, 2013

The Wilderness of Manitoba – Mercury Lounge – March 19, 2013


What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. OK, so it’s not exactly Shakespeare, but the outfit known as the Wilderness of Manitoba hails from, you guessed it, Canada. Not Manitoba, but Ontario, and more specifically Toronto, although you couldn’t tell from their roots-y compositions that conjure up images of campfires and log cabins, not to mention the group’s three- and four-part harmonies harkening back to the age of Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Playing from a yet-to-be-released EP, The Leslieville Sessions, the group offered sunnier compositions that were a welcome distraction from the chill outside of Mercury Lounge. Opening appropriately with “Summer Fires,” vocalist and guitarist Will Whitham warmed the audience. He and his band drew quite a bit from their previous release, When You Left the Fire, even playing a harmonica for “Hermit.” They followed with newer material offering the peppy call for spring in “Echoes” and “The Aral Sound/Southern Wind.” Whitman sang, “Freeze our grasses green until the winter’s gone/ And the smoke melts away the drown of fears/ While the sun is the golden hand holding everything dear.” Now that just might be seasonal Shakespeare.

Following the new tune “Chasing Horses,” violinist Amanda Balsys took the lead with the bluesy torch song, “Carolina,” from her former band, the Gertrudes. And to fans’ satisfaction, the Wilderness of Manitoba showcased their harmonies for old favorite, “Orono Park,” and ended the set with the rollicking “In the Family.” As a special treat, the band returned to encore with a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me.” The evening was a fitting precursor to the first day of spring. Now let’s hope Mother Nature cooperates. —Sharlene Chiu