Tag Archives: Neil Young

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North Mississippi Allstars and Anders Osborne Put on Marathon Show

February 27th, 2015

NMO – the Space at Westbury – February 26, 2015

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It was a night of beginnings at the Space at Westbury on Thursday. With a stage packed with two drum kits and more guitars than fingers to count them with, the marathon show officially began with Luther Dickinson and Anders Osborne as a duet, playfully matching slide guitars in each other’s faces, singing “Let It Roll.” As the two hugged and Osborne left the stage to applause, Dickinson announced the evening as the “North Mississippi Anders Osborne Experience” before inviting his “brothers,” Cody Dickinson and Lightnin’ Malcolm, to kick off things once again with a few North Mississippi Allstars songs. But things didn’t really get rolling until Luther coaxed everyone out of their seats, filling in the space in front of the stage and in the aisles while the trio matched the energy with their bread-and-butter material, including “Shake ’Em on Down,” “Drinking Muddy Water” and “KC Jones (On the Road Again).” The trio flexed their Delta blues–rock muscles with Luther strutting his superlative slide playing and Cody shuffling along in time.

Throughout the night, one song’s ending was another’s beginning, and as the NMA mini-set closed, the entire trio banging away on a drum as Osborne and the rest of his trio—Carl Dufresne and Brady Blade—hopped onstage with their own percussion in hand, Cody Dickinson got the party started, singing “Granny Does Your Dog Bite” and getting the audience to sing along. Before long, the six musicians were on the floor marching through the crowd like New Orleans was on Long Island. Again, it felt like things were coming to an end, but the night was just pushing off from shore as NMA ceded the stage to Osborne and with a soulful moan in his voice and his slide, he took the helm. It seemed like the volume was raised a couple of clicks for this portion of the show with Osborne’s trio in fine form. Antics and marching bands are all in good fun, but the audience certainly was hungry for some red-meat rock and roll, which Osborne delivered. The highlight of the night featured his band rounded out to a quartet with Luther on acoustic guitar for a bang-bang-bang stretch of “Mind of a Junkie,” “Back on Dumaine” and “On the Road to Charlie Parker.” Again, each tune bubbled up out of the predecessor’s ending. The first featured a narcotic Neil Young–esque slow-burn guitar jam with Osborne as soulful as ever. “Dumaine” dissolved into a hair-raising improv with Osborne’s guitar channeling Jerry Garcia and Luther matching with an almost-Latin flair of acoustic guitar picking. Finally “Charlie Parker” was a powerhouse of New Orleans–infused rock and roll that easily could’ve ended the night, but, naturally, they were still just getting going.

From there, it would take a slide rule and a spreadsheet to properly keep track of the permutations of musicians and instruments. There was a trio version of the classic “Junco Pardna,” the Dickinson brothers and Osborne doing justice to the source material. Oh, did they mention that they have a new album out together? Finally, after about 90 minutes of soul-warming Southern rock, they got around to playing material from the new release, Freedom & Dreams, like everything else leading up to it had been a rehearsal. Combined as a massive six-piece, looking and sounding a bit like an updated version of the Allman Brothers Band, NMO proper began their night. “Back Together” stood out here, featuring count-’em three overlapping and interweaving guitar solos. Before the night came to a real, honest-to-goodness close, Cody Dickinson took a washboard solo, complete with wild flashing white lights that seemed to turn the band inside out, Malcolm ending up on the drums, Dufresne on the guitar and Luther on the bass. At one point earlier in the two-plus-hour show, Osborne mentioned the writing of a new song, “Westbury Blues,” joking it wasn’t ready … but maybe for the “next album.” From the sounds of it, for NMO, this is only the beginning. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

(North Misissippi Allstars and Anders Osborne play the Capitol Theatre tonight.)

 

 

 

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A Top Five Look Back at 2014

December 31st, 2014

Colourful 2014 in fiery sparklers

Top Five Albums
1. The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream
2. Total Control, Typical System
3. Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels 2
4. Coldplay, Ghost Stories
5. Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal —Charles Steinberg

Top Five Memorable Shows
1. Feist, Tarrytown Music Hall, 4/10
When I heard Feist was doing a tiny solo acoustic tour, I forked over ducats for this one. There were bits of stand-up-like banter with the audience as she stripped down the material. But what really made the night was a mini-reunion with former bandmate (and ex) Kevin Drew as they dueted on the Broken Social Scene classic “Lover’s Spit.”
2. (tie) Rhye, Webster Hall, 2/21
This performance was a bit misleading because although singer Milosh and producer Robin Hannibal are the members in Rhye, the latter member doesn’t tour. But Milosh’s ethereal voice really is the heart and soul of the pair, and it shone greatest for the hit “Open.” His deceptively androgynous voice sounds at times like Sade or even Antony Hegarty.
(tie) Max Richter, The Bowery Ballroom, 12/7
When I saw that the German-British composer was playing Bowery, I had to hop to it. As Richter usually plays symphony concert halls, it was an interesting choice to play such a smaller venue. The Ballroom felt like a recital hall with the audience entranced. What can I say: I’m a sucker for artists playing unorthodox venues.
3. Glass Animals, The Bowery Ballroom, 7/7
I was recently reminded of this concert when my yoga instructor played “Gooey” in class. Pretty fitting, right? In addition to infectious dance melodies, frontman Dave Bayley’s gangly limbs flayed erratically that evening, bringing to mind another dude named Thom Yorke. The two lads have great music and dance moves to boot. Coincidence? I think not.
4. Phox, Knitting Factory, 7/22
The buzz swirling around this Wisconsin band post-SXSW had me tuned into their album all spring and into the summer. Frontwoman Monica Martin was definitely a bit tipsy, but that didn’t detract from her lush vocals or onstage camaraderie. (Check out Schuyler Rooth’s review of their Mercury Lounge gig.)
5. (tie) Mr. Little Jeans, Rough Trade NYC, 5/10
Opening for Sohn, Norwegian singer Monica Birkenes, aka Mr. Little Jeans, overshadowed the headliner for me. It’s rare when that happens, but this lady has a knack for übercatchy dance-pop songs that streamed through my head all summer. She mentioned how she often came here as a child and was really craving a good slice of pizza. What’s not to love?
(tie) Alvvays, Rough Trade NYC, 7/28
New York City summers are packed with free outdoor gigs throughout the boroughs, but this in-store performance with Alvvays stood out amongst the rest. Their infectiously happy songs illuminated the dark back room of Rough Trade but had folks departing into the night with an extra bounce in their step. —Sharlene Chiu

Top Five Just a Man and His Guitar Solo Sets (chronological order)
1.
Dustin Wong (opening set), The Bowery Ballroom, 4/21
2. Plankton Wat, Trans Pecos, 5/8
3. Steve Gunn, Mercury Lounge, 5/18
4. Willie Watson, Mercury Lounge, 5/21
5. Leif Vollebekk (opening set) The Bowery Ballroom, 11/21 —A. Stein | @Neddyo

Top Five Memorable Shows
1. Sylvan Esso, Rough Trade NYC, 9/11
Both my favorite album and my most memorable live show of 2014 came from Sylvan Esso. Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn possess unwavering emotive energy, and every single lyric and beat has sunk into my psyche . I saw the duo perform live twice this year, most recently at their headlining show at Rough Trade NYC. The duo’s erudite electronica boosted the audience as they performed the entirety of their self-titled debut album plus and few clever covers.
2. Broods, Mercury Lounge, 3/3
Comprised of New Zealander siblings Caleb and Georgia Nott, Broods blend melodic melancholia with sparkling synths and glitchy beats. After getting wrapped up in their self-titled debut EP, I simply had to see them live. Broods played their first NYC show to an incredibly enthusiastic sold-out crowd at Mercury Lounge.
3. Hozier, The Bowery Ballroom, 5/13
Hozier’s rich voice and ardent lyrics sit front and center in his compositions. When he headlined The Bowery Ballroom back in May, he was flanked by equally talented musicians who created dazzling harmonies with choral echoes and rock hooks. Hozier and his bandmates mesmerized the audience, including me.
4. Dan Croll, The Bowery Ballroom, 4/17
Dan Croll’s brand of pop is highly addictive, and his live show is equally intoxicating. He fuses lilting pop, wonky electronica and tribal beats and tops it all off with clever lyrics and airy vocals.
5. Kishi Bashi, The Bowery Ballroom, 6/4
Kishi Bashi has what so many musicians seek, and that is an astounding live presence. It’s as if this guy belongs onstage. Kishi Bashi played back-to-back sold-out New York City shows this past June and stunned audiences with his whimsical finesse and astute lyrics. This picture and my review prove that Kishi Bashi’s live performance is one big euphoric dream sequence. —Schuyler Rooth | @Schuylerspeak

Top Five Albums
1. Under the Pressure, the War on Drugs
Channeling Dylan and Springsteen beneath Adam Granduciel’s vocals and personal struggles to stunning effect, this Philly six-piece put out, for me, far and away the top album of the year.
2. Benjamin Booker, Benjamin Booker
From the very first listen, Benjamin Booker’s self-titled debut sounds familiar, not like you’d previously heard its influences, but rather you’d actually already heard this album. The music is lived in and alive and a joy to listen to again and again.
3. 77, Nude Beach
Eighteen songs that sound like the love children of late-’70s Tom Petty and Elvis Costello. You’ll smile the whole time you listen to it.
4. Dancin’ with Wolves, Natural Child
Recording for the first time as a five-piece, and moving away from gritty garage rock to
a more full-band bluesy country sound (with a side of boogie), these Nashville boys took a huge step forward.
5. Morning Phase, Beck
Six years removed from his previous offering, Beck’s slow-building emotional relative of Sea Change captures you from the very first note. —R. Zizmor | @Hand_Dog

Top Five Memorable Shows
1. Pearl Jam, I Wireless Center (Moline, Ill.), 10/17
Playing a small (for them) venue (for the first time) on a Friday night in the middle of nowhere, Pearl Jam put on the best show by any band I’ve seen in the past four years. They performed No Code in its entirety and covered Pink Floyd, John Lennon, Van Halen and Neil Young. Frontman Eddie Vedder put it best, comparing the appearance to a blind date: “You get there and she opens the door, and it’s like, she’s hot!”
2. My Morning Jacket, One Big Holiday (Riviera Maya, Mexico), 1/29
I could’ve chosen any of MMJ’s performances from this run, but the last night was the longest show and it particularly stood out thanks to the perfect weather, the we’re-on-vacation-in-the-middle-of-winter party vibe and carefully chosen covers (including Jim James singing, “Something, something, something” in “Rock the Casbah.”)
3. the War on Drugs, The Bowery Ballroom, 3/20
I absolutely loved, loved, loved Under the Pressure and was extremely excited to hear it live. The War on Drugs did not disappoint, plus they even threw in a stellar rendition of “Mind Games” to boot. (As an added bonus, the night began with Drive-By Truckers at Terminal 5 and closed with green sauce and salt-baked goodness at New York Noodletown.
4. Jonathan Wilson, Music Hall of Williamsburg, 2/14
It was a Friday night and Valentine’s Day. But if you were expecting something quiet and romantic, you’d have been way off. Jonathan Wilson and Co. delivered 16 jammed-out (but not self-indulgently) songs over the course of two-and-a-half hours.
5. Deer Tick, Allen Room, 3/6
As part of the American Songbook series, Deer Tick played an incredibly intimate, seated show in front of a wall of windows revealing Columbus Circle below. It was one of those moments that makes you grateful to live in New York City. —R.Z.

 

 

 

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Daniel Lanois Headlines Impressive Lineup at Masonic Temple

November 7th, 2014

Prior to launching a solo career, crafting lush, ambient classics like “The Maker” and many more, Daniel Lanois was best known as a producer extraordinaire, working with the likes of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris—and perhaps most notably for teaming up with Brian Eno on several U2 albums, including megahit The Joshua Tree. But in the present, Lanois’ most recent album, Flesh & Machine (stream it below), came out last week, and PopMatters says, “This is ambient music with the capacity to excite, engage, and evoke.” Additionally, “The real Flesh and Machine visual component that sounds extraordinary will be Lanois’ live shows in support of the release. Each night, Lanois, along with bassist Jim Wilson and drummer Brian Blade, will sample, dub and process in real time on stage each night, making for a singular performance on each date of the tour, never to be recreated.” And when Lanois and Co. (above, performing “Opera”) appear at the Masonic Temple in Brooklyn on Monday, it will be for Antithesis, “an evening of electrified shimmy and sonic wonder curated by Daniel Lanois,” featuring a full set each from Lanois, Mali desert-blues outfit Tinariwen and Brooklyn dream-rock trio the Antlers, plus a special appearance by “outsider artist” Lonnie Holley. This is one of those special shows you don’t want to miss.

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Conor Oberst and Dawes Play SummerStage Tomorrow Night

July 28th, 2014

He’s known for his trembling voice, fine acoustic-guitar playing and evocative storytelling, and on his sixth and most recent solo release, Upside Down Mountain (stream it below), Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst is in as fine form as ever. Perhaps thanks in part to coproducer Jonathan Wilson, the LP takes Oberst (above, doing “Time Forgot” for WFUV FM) in a newish direction, delving into that ’70s AM rock made most famous in Laurel Canyon. Per Rolling Stone’s David Fricke: “A sumptuous immersion in ’70s California folk pop, it is the most immediately charming album he has ever made,” further adding, “but Like Neil Young’s Harvest and Jackson Browne’s Late for the Sky, this is dreaming stalked by despair, then charged with rebound.” Now out on the road in support of Upside Down Mountain, Oberst is playing live with Dawes, the modern California four-piece closely associated with that Laurel Canyon sound (perhaps unfairly). And tomorrow night at SummerStage, Dawes open the show and then perform a set with Conor Oberst.

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An Evening with Sun Kil Moon Tomorrow Night at Town Hall

July 23rd, 2014

Singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek formed the dreamy, melancholic band Red House Painters 25 years ago in San Francisco. The group put out six full-length albums, but when a series of label mergers led to a three-year delay in the last one’s release, Kozelek began working on more accessible folk-influenced music under the name Sun Kil Moon (the name is a tribute to a South Korean boxer). The group’s first album, Ghosts of the Great Highway (stream it below), came out in 2003, earning comparisons to Neil Young. “His basic sound hasn’t changed much: Ghosts of the Great Highway still highlights Kozelek’s angst-ridden voice and his slow-flowing interplay of folky acoustic guitars and thick, scorching electric guitars,” per the A.V. Club, “but the album drops the abrasion level to near-zero.” And now 11 years later, with the release of the raw and personal Benji (stream it below), Kozelek (above, performing “Carissa”) is still getting just as much critical love: Pitchfork calls the album “astonishing,” while PopMatters opines, “One of modern music’s master storytellers has returned with the nostalgic and intensely personal Benji.” Do yourself a favor and head to Town Hall tomorrow night for an evening with Sun Kil Moon.

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Smoky Troubadour Jolie Holland Plays Music Hall of Williamsburg

June 23rd, 2014

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jolie Holland grew up in Texas with an affinity for folk, blues, jazz, country and rock. Her debut studio album, Escondida (stream it below), arrived in 2004 and it did not go unnoticed. It was a blend of genres held together by Holland’s smoky vocals. AllMusic said the album gives listeners an “experience that is singular, startling and soulful.” Over the ensuing years, she continued to record, tour extensively and collaborate with others. But, inspired by the live-studio recordings by the likes of Neil Young, the Rolling Stones and the Velvet Underground, Holland (above, her video for “Waiting for the Sun”) sought out a different sound on her newest full-length, Wine Dark Sea (stream it below), which came out last month. “The approach on this album is more about bandleading than anything else. On past albums, I couldn’t get people to do what I wanted them to do. More volume helped; getting more people onstage and not being polite,” she tells Mother Jones. Wine Dark Sea leans less on folk and country acoustics while embracing grungier guitars. Per AllMusic, “It’s a raw, often raucous presentation, balanced by Holland’s mature poetic vision and her continued exploration of American musical forms. She effortlessly links them, one source to another, as seemingly disparate performance styles are filtered through a universal language, the love song, and all 11 tracks here are just that.” See Jolie Holland play Music Hall of Williamsburg tomorrow night. Shy Hunters, a Brooklyn pop duo, open the show.

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Anders Osborne Heats Up Brooklyn Bowl

December 16th, 2013

Andes Osborne – Brooklyn Bowl – December 13, 2013


Friday night was one of those cold December evenings best for curling up cozy in front of the fireplace. But if you happened to be at Brooklyn Bowl instead, you got to see Anders Osborne perform as a human fireplace, ablaze with soulful songs and burning-hot jams. With a warm-you-up warm-up of “Black Tar,” the band—Carl Dufrene on bass, Eric Bolivar on drums and NYC go-to-guy Scott Metzger sitting in the entire night on guitar—was good and ready by the second tune, “Had My Reasons.” A long noodling introduction eventually moved into the song proper, Osborne blisteringly belting out “My sweet Mary!” before leading the band into a smoking climax.

The rest of the marathon show was one slow burn after another, the musicians playing off one another perfectly, in no hurry to get anywhere. On “Sarah Anne,” Metzger played a crackling solo over a bouncing reggae-tinged beat, and then Osborne zoned into a Grateful Dead–esque theme, with Bolivar and Dufrene supplying the kindling for another long jam. Osborne took the metaphor to heart mid-set with the highlight of the night, “Burning on the Inside,” which began innocently in his signature New Orleans–flavored blues rock. But after a couple of verses, the temperature spiked, and the band went totally molten, oozing into a gorgeous ambient section full of exploratory interplay that expertly flowed back into “Burning.” Tony Leone came out on drums for a medley sandwiched around a rollicking cover of “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” with plenty of audience singing and Metzger and Osborne matching solos.

There was still plenty of heat left in the coals when the set closed, so Osborne threw another log on the fire for the encore with a better-have-your-extinguisher-ready cover of Neil Young’s “Cowgirl in the Sand.” With each verse making way for a far-reaching guitar jam, he curled up around his guitar with such energy that Osborne seemed in danger of keeling over completely, but the quartet was able to pull back each time. It was a monster bonfire of an ending—so much for a cozy evening at home. —A. Stein

 

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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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Blitzen Trapper Mean Business

October 4th, 2013

Blitzen Trapper – Music Hall of Williamsburg – October 3, 2013


Watching Blitzen Trapper, dressed to a man in coats and ties, take the stage last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg to the Knight Rider theme (!) playing over the PA, I could think but one thing: These guys mean business! Despite a great new album to work with, the Portland quintet opened with the first track off their seminal Furr album, “Sleepy Time in the Western World,” and despite some technical difficulties handled with humor and grace, you could tell from the start they had brought their A game. The second song, “Thirsty Man,” off the new VII record, wrapped up the Trapper sound—glorious and groovy countrified Southern rock by way of the Pacific Northwest. It went full exploratory with a spaced-out, double-guitar-and-keys jam that reached some nice places.

The show proceeded through several movements, the band pushing the boundaries of what their Americana roots could do while maintaining their unique crunchy sound. The new material fit in perfectly with the old, wolf in sheep’s clothing ready to devour the crowd, lots of teeth-bared moments. Small tweaks of instrumentation—acoustic guitars, harmonica, dashes of electric piano and organ—provided a lush soundscape on songs like “Valley of Death.” Midway through the set, just like on the album, the band delved into a manic movement, Eric Earley switching to electric banjo for the wild, almost experimental pairing of “Heaven and Earth” and “Neck Tatts, Cadillacs.”

Zipping through the set like pros, they followed that with a fantastic three-song stretch of pro’s-pro songsmanship, Earley and Co. pairing delicious imagery with gorgeous melody and perfect execution on “Black River Killer,” “Astronaut” and the sing-along-inducing “Furr.” The set’s final section was throw-the-hammer-down Southern rock highlighted by a two-guitars-are-better-than-one take on “Fletcher.” Jackets off and ties plenty loosened by the time the encore rolled around, Blitzen Trapper put in some serious overtime, playing a hefty six more songs. These included a positively Neil Young–like solo performance from Earley on “Stranger in a Strange Land” and the honoring of a couple audience requests like “Country Caravan,” off 2007’s Wild Mountain Nation. After 90 minutes of nose-to-the-grindstone rock and roll, they finally punched out their time cards with a Skynyrdesque rock out in “Big Black Bird.” Some serious business, indeed! —A. Stein

 

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See Futurebirds Tomorrow at The Bowery Ballroom

May 30th, 2013

Rising up from the musical hotbed of Athens, Ga., where it can be difficult for a band to stick out, Futurebirds have combined their penchant for twangy instruments, like the banjo and mandolin, with a solid dose of heavy reverb to forge a cool sound uniquely their own—a sort of psychedelic country, if you will. Their first full-length, Hampton’s Lullaby, which Aquarium Drunkard glowingly likened to “a synthesis of the two extremes of Neil Young’s yin and yang,” came out in 2010. Touring in support of it, Futurebirds (above, performing “Ski Chalet” at Bonnaroo) immediately began to draw in an audience, thanks to their high-energy shows. Last month the quintet put out their second album, Baba Yaga (stream it below), which aptly captures their live sound, about which Pitchfork says, “You feel the energy, forgive any flubbed notes, and soak in the past-midnight revelry.” Of course, you really can feel their live energy tomorrow night at The Bowery Ballroom.

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One of Those Nights

May 20th, 2013

The Staves/Escondido – Mercury Lounge – May 17, 2013

The Staves

Late night at Mercury Lounge on Friday found the room sold out for two great sets of roots music. First, Escondido, a country duo from Nashville, began with a handful of nice, pretty country songs ably handled by Jessica Maros and Tyler James and backed by James’s brother on bass and keys. Both members looked resplendent in amazing retro all-white suits, James’s with silver metal buckles and trimming, and Maros’s a full white country-and-western jumpsuit with two-foot tassels lining the sleeves. Halfway through, the music caught up with the duds, “Rodeo Queen” being a minor-key highlight. After a short trumpet-and-guitar interlude of “Tennessee Waltz,” Escondido were joined by a full band of NYC ringers, including Scott Metzger on guitar and Tony Leone on drums. With the extra oomph, the band went “full Nashville” with songs like “Don’t Love Me Too Much.”

Between sets, Neil Young’s entire Harvest Moon played over the PA, and the headliners took the stage to “Walk On”—off another Young album, On the Beach—which may have been the best walking-on music I’ve witnessed in a while. The Staves, a trio of sisters from Watford, England, singing folk harmonies very much in the style of Crosby, Stills & Nash, but better looking and with just the right level of sardonic British wit. (My favorite line, regarding the show not starting until after midnight: “…had to be careful not to get smashed beforehand.”) Singing songs like “Gone Tomorrow” and “Icarus” with just a single acoustic guitar, the beautiful harmonies seemed to shock the audience to silence. Bass and drums joined in to heft up songs like “The Motherlode” and “Tongue Behind My Teeth” (“about someone we hate”).

The dynamic range of the music was awe-inspiring: from a single voice, to three-part harmonies overlapping with acoustic guitar, to getting loud with the full band and additional banging on a floor tom. As the set continued, the Staves loosened up with banter about the playful comedy of three sisters spending life together on the road. The best was saved for last, the Staveley-Taylor sisters around a single microphone singing “Wisely & Slow” in absolute gorgeous harmony before the song transformed into a rocking section with drums and handclaps. The encore featured the first song they’d written together, when they only knew the bottom two strings of the guitar, the title track of Dead & Born & Grown, before finishing with the last song on that album, “Eagle Song.” The latter tune used all six strings and featured a dreamy middle section, literally a pitch-perfect ending to a night filled with them. —A. Stein

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Matthew E. White Quietly Delivers

May 14th, 2013

Matthew E. White – The Bowery Ballroom – May 13, 2013


What is it that Teddy Roosevelt said? “Speak softly and carry a big stick”? Well, Matthew E. White sings softly and carries a big stick, namely his backing band. It’s hard to call a six-piece outfit a small band, but for Virginia Beach, Va., native White, who’s played and recorded with literally dozens of musicians at a time, the sextet he played with at The Bowery Ballroom last night was a decidedly slimmed-down affair. Still, when you’ve got a guy who’s equally up to playing some delicious countrified pedal steel as he is a rollicking piano, and a bass player who grooves like he backed Herbie Hancock in his Headhunters prime, in addition to the drummer, percussion and keys players locked into your sound, six is a big enough stick.

The group walked out to Stevie Wonder’s “Jesus Children of America” which, on Wonder’s birthday, seemed plenty deliberate for White, who matches soul with a Wonder-esque funkiness and whose music is accented by his personal faith. The set got moving with “One of These Days” and the ultragroovy “Steady Pace,” from last year’s Big Inner. These were prime examples of White’s style: soft, heartfelt vocals that melted into a steady buildup by the band, typically climbing to a surprising, ecstatic off-center climax. The band’s country-funk chops were on full display in a perfect cover of Neil Young’s “Are You Ready for the Country,” featuring the highlight pedal steel playing in a set filled with them. Although his vocals sounded great, White confessed it was a heavy dose of steroids that were keeping his sick throat up to the task and warned the side effects included extreme crankiness and irritability. Of course, he said this in his sweet, give-me-a-hug demeanor. It seemed perfect that White’s self-proclaimed “drinking song” was called “Hot Toddies” and featured a gorgeous, quiet minimalist section before a punchy finale. This is a groovy party band almost in spite of itself.

The heaviest hitter of the set was “Big Love,” a White masterpiece, mixing all the elements, in one high-energy heart-pumper, the band playing it loose, showing the clear comfort of musicians who know they’ll all get back to the same place, regardless of the different paths they take along the way. The set closed with a powerful one-two whack from the stick—“Gone Away” and “Brazos,” the latter a 10- minute mountain of a song that built upon a percolating bassline that appeared to lack a beginning or an end. It’s one of those songs that seems fit for a hundred musicians in a church in Virginia to do its climactic coda justice, but on a Monday night in NYC, White and his band were plenty big. —A. Stein

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Interpol Drummer Sam Fogarino’s EmptyMansions at Mercury Lounge

April 26th, 2013

Sam Fogarino is best known as the drummer for NYC’s own Interpol, but while they were touring in support of their 2010’s self-titled album, he was plugging away, writing songs that revealed his many influences—in literature, TV and especially music (like Neil Young, Stones, Pixies). Fogarino ended up recording the material with guitarist Duane Denison (of Tomahawk, among others) and producer and multi-instrumentalist Brandon Curtis (the Secret Machines), who handled bass, keys and backing vocals. The end result was the noise rock–filled Snakes/Vultures/Sulfate (stream it below), out earlier this month. The trio kicked off a tour in support of it earlier this week, which brings EmptyMansions (above, their video for “That Man”) to Mercury Lounge to play the early show tomorrow night.

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The Men Captivate The Bowery Ballroom

March 8th, 2013

The Men – The Bowery Ballroom – March 7, 2013


Capping off a big week that included gracing the cover of The Village Voice and releasing their fourth full-length album, New Moon, Brooklyn band the Men performed a sold-out show at The Bowery Ballroom last night. The five-piece have been lauded for their ability to blend elements such as Dinosaur Jr. levels of feedback and distortion and vigorous punk riffs with Neil Young– and Tom Petty–inspired crooners, often with surprising flourishes of harmonica or saxophone. In the capable hands of the Men, this confluence of disparate retro influences comes out sounding both familiar and wholly unique.

Band members traded off on vocal duties as they ran through songs from the new record as well as 2012’s Open Your Heart. The dirty and rough surface of their sound often belies the polish and precision beneath it, and although the Men may not seem to bother with details like perfectly tuned guitars, they took care to fine-tune their instruments as they readied to play “Turn It Around,” admitting, somewhat bashfully, “Gotta get it right, you know.”

As they played, band members at times turned their backs on the audience completely— riding a melody, lost in a guitar solo, perhaps simply having bounced, swayed or shredded a bit too heartily. However, rather than seeming disconnected, the band’s focus and intensity while playing created a natural magnetism, allowing the postures of conventional stage presence to remain an afterthought, captivating through authenticity. —Alena Kastin

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Two Bands Worthy of the Hype

March 1st, 2013

Unknown Mortal Orchestra/Foxygen – The Bowery Ballroom – February 28, 2013

Unknown Mortal Orchestra

The first time I saw Unknown Mortal Orchestra (or UMO) a couple years back, they were a support act you could just tell wouldn’t be an opener for too much longer. So it felt like no coincidence that their big sold-out headlining show last night at The Bowery Ballroom would feature an opening band riding an acclaimed debut album and the justified hype to sold-out headlining gigs of their own before too long. That band, Foxygen, took the stage in a blaze of manic energy and echo-reverb ooh la la’s, twitching their way through pretty much all of their new We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic album. Those recorded tracks come off as retrofitted rock gems, but live they were a delightfully jagged and ragged set. Untethered from the studio, the sound felt like 1960s rock and roll in a blender: a juicy cocktail of Jagger’s vocals, McCartney’s bass, Morrison’s lithe, wild-eyed stage presence, the Who’s bombastic energy, an occasional dash of Dylan’s off-kilter harmonica, topped off with Neil Young’s hat. It was a delicious brew that the expectant crowd guzzled down happily, highlighted by whiplash versions of “On Blue Mountain” and “No Destruction.”

If Foxygen offered a look back for Unknown Mortal Orchestra, UMO returned the favor. Riding on a next-step sophomore album, simply titled II, the Portland, Ore., trio crackled with the confident, cohesive energy of a band in control. On paper, UMO are a standard power trio—guitar, bass and drums—but their sound has a subtle surrealistic edge. This is a power trio as painted by Salvador Dali, melting over the limbs of trees and walls in a distorted reality. They opened with a splash of older material, centered on the catchy, off-center “Thought Ballune,” every bit of music crunched through just the right amount of distortion. From there, they unveiled track after track from the new album, the heavy-hitter middle section of the show characterized by a nonstop, groove-rock bass playing from Jake Portrait, which propelled along each tune. Frontman Ruban Nielson, looking downright wizardlike in poncho and hat, took over from there, leading the band through the set’s final third, which seemed to get better with each passing riff. Centered on a surprising sing-along version of “From the Sun,” Nielson fit powerful guitar solos into perfectly orchestrated pieces, with each sound from the pummeling drumming of Riley Geare to Nielson’s vocals locked into place. That tune relented into a wonderful Frank Zappa section, which kept at it through the remainder: The band sounding as if Zappa were leading Zeppelin as a power trio through an updated psychedelic catalog.

While the late-night packed crowd thinned out a bit around midnight, those who remained to the end seemed to hear pretty much everything from both albums by the end of the night, from the just-weird-enough “Ffunny Ffriends,” off the self-titled debut to the soulful “So Good at Being in Trouble,” off II. I was struck by how much better the already-darn-good band had gotten since that opening hit, getting me to already contemplate their next time through town, as well as what the future brings for Foxygen. And of course, most important, who will be opening for them when they’re playing their big sold-out headlining show. —A. Stein