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Rural Alberta Advantage – The Bowery Ballroom – November 13, 2014
Rural Alberta Advantage singer Nils Edenloff never makes anything look easy. The veins in his neck bulge as he reaches for his upper register, a frequent move in the arrangements of his band’s emotive acoustic pop. Often as early as a melody’s second or third note, Edenloff’s raspy tenor nears the top of his range, rattling away like a charming, reliable, old bucket-of-bolts car, possessing a mixture of utility and worn grace. The overwhelming sense of watching him perform his craft, a painful high-wire act, is that he may well be damaging himself for your benefit. If it isn’t guilt you’re feeling, it’s something like indebtedness. So it was theatrically painful pathos—along with their most bombastic studio album to date, Mended with Gold—that the Rural Alberta Advantage brought to The Bowery Ballroom on a blustery Thursday evening.
The RAA opened with “Stamp,” “Muscle Relaxants” and “Don’t Haunt This Place,” all songs from their first two records. The opening sequence reminded a New York City audience that hadn’t seen the band since January that their catalog runs deeper than just a new LP. Paul Banwatt, one of the best-period-drummers-period-in-rock-music-period, wailed away on the same beat-up drum kit he’s used for years. The My Old Kentucky Blog sticker on the side of one of his tom drums dates the kit back to an era when music blogs helped rocket the band out of the open-stage night in Toronto where Edenloff and Banwatt first met. The band, too, felt older, more methodical, moving with deliberate if not frenetic pacing. The riffs exploding from Banwatt’s drums supported Edenloff’s raspy vocal when the band switched to material from Mended with Gold, pounding out lead track “Our Love…,” the snare hits arriving with the same inhuman effort as the melody.
Edenloff reminded fans that although the band is from Toronto that he was originally from Alberta and that many of the songs regarded his native province. With the always delightful Amy Cole—backstage sticker affixed to her bare right arm—leaning on the backing vocals, the RAA played “Runners in the Night” and “Vulcan, AB.” On the latter, Edenloff sang into a modified telephone-receiver microphone. It was a call from far away, a Canadian prairie hymn shot through with human suffering and effort. Outside, the first snow of the season was rumored to be only hours away from dusting Delancey St., a bit of the frontier carried in a gravelly vocal, an old drum kit and Cole’s Swiss Army ebullience. It was anything but easy. —Geoff Nelson | twitter.com/32feet
J. Roddy Walston & the Business – Stage 48 – November 7, 2014
The energy in the room at Studio 48 on Friday night was of the school’s-out-for-summer, Friday-before-a-three-day-weekend, they-don’t-rock-’em-like-they-used-to variety. Thankfully, the soundtrack matched the mood with Fly Golden Eagle opening the night and J. Roddy Walston & the Business bringing it home. There was something universal about Fly Golden Eagles’ set, the kind of rock and roll that made the bar back on his way to get more ice stop and play air guitar and those lucky to be there early to revel in the band’s slinky grooves. The short-but-sweet set bounced around straight funky blues riffs, prog-y instrumental interludes and blasts of dry heat rock that were reminiscent of the night’s headliners—no doubt a band to keep your eye on.
After a short intermission, which saw pretty much every empty space fill up with people eager to rock, J. Roddy Walston & the Business took the stage and pounced on an opening “Don’t Break the Needle,” off their 2010 self-titled LP. To say the room exploded at the opening riffs would somehow be an understatement. The audience’s reaction was like that of a bunch of people who had never experienced rock and roll before, which is the way Walston plays it. By the time the set’s third song, “Take It as It Comes,” reached its first chorus, everyone in the crowd wasn’t so much singing along as screaming as if their lives depended on it, not so much dancing along, but flailing as if possessed. And really, things stayed at that level the rest of the set: the audience dry kindling soaked in gasoline, the Business shooting off sparks of guitar, piano, bass and drums and watching the combustibles before them burn, burn, burn.
Between songs, Walston would banter with a wink: “Here’s another rock and roll song” and “You guys want to keep on rocking?” Almost a tease, except that they kept delivering, Walston bouncing and boogieing and gesticulating all the while, right through the closing “Midnight Cry.” A fireworks display like that required a big finale, and the band delivered with an encore of “Sweat Shock”—Walston sounding every bit like the second coming of Robert Plant as the Business brought arena riff rock into the 21st century—and then “Heavy Bells,” which was somehow impossibly bigger, louder and badder than everything that had preceded it. —A. Stein
PUP/Chumped – Mercury Lounge – November 7, 2014
Two of the best young bands in the punk scene tore up Mercury Lounge at Friday night’s late show. It was the second-to-last date of a tour that has taken what were separately two already must-see acts and turned them into a double bill that fans will talk about for years. Chumped—a Brooklyn pop-punk group playing to many hometown fans, family members and friends, who couldn’t stop hurling empty beer cans and plastic cups onstage— performed first. According to the four-piece, it was the their biggest show to date. They ripped through a huge chunk of their growing discography and delighted the crowd with their loud and speedy (yet still melodic) sound. Chumped moved at such a quick pace that fans couldn’t help but move along to it, smiling all the way. Luckily for New Yorkers, the band has an LP about to be released, so they will be easy to find in the coming months. But on Friday, their fast and furious set was the perfect primer for the mayhem that followed.
If Chumped are made for dancing, PUP are made for moshing. “It’s easy to like New York but it’s not easy to like shows in New York,” said singer Stefan Babcock midway through the set. “But you guys made it easy.” That’s probably because no one in the crowd stopped shouting every lyric right back at the Canadian indie-punk band. For an hour, they were no longer a four-piece because the entire room became PUP. Babcock was sweetly engaging when the band wasn’t shredding, but during songs he furiously paced the stage like a lion waiting to roar. Every time he returned to the microphone, lyrics were sung with an incredible force and were always backed by the synchronized thrashing of his bandmates.
PUP’s sound ranges from pure shout-along songs like “Guilt Trip” (perhaps the first song I’ve ever heard people shout “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6” along to, thanks to its time signature) to “Yukon,” a moody tune that seethes during each verse before it explodes into the chorus. Regardless of tempo, audience members and the band fed off one another’s wild behavior. Fans crowd surfed, so Babcock did the same. Fans shouted as they leaned over the stage, Babcock and the band got right back in their faces. All this resulted in one hell of a messy conclusion just as PUP covered the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” and Babcock was once again hoisted above the crowd, a fitting end to the band’s first-ever sold-out headlining show in New York City—but most certainly not the last. —Sean O’Kane
Benjamin Booker – Mercury Lounge – November 6, 2014
There was little known about Benjamin Booker, a one-time aspiring music journalist, his last time through town to play Mercury Lounge in April. He had just a few singles, a minimal Internet presence and a pretty short bio: “Benjamin Booker is a young New Orleans–based singer-songwriter. He is influenced by the Gun Club, Blind Willie Johnson and T. Rex.” Since then, his sensational self-titled debut full-length was released to near unanimous praise and his profile has risen dramatically, thanks in part to an opening slot on tour with Jack White, fiery festival performances at Newport Folk Fest and Lollapalooza, and a national TV appearance on Letterman. So in some sense, seeing him last night at Mercury Lounge was like catching Alabama Shakes and Gary Clark Jr. there four days apart in December 2011—watching a musician play a room he’d already outgrown.
Booker’s debut LP showcases an evocative, whiskey-soaked voice that belies his young age. (Based on what he sounds like, you almost expect him to appear live in sepia tones or black and white.) Released this past August, it’s obviously a modern album, but from the very first listen, the punkish, soulful bluesy garage rock sounds familiar, like an unearthed gem from the past—not like you’d previously heard its influences, but rather you’d actually already heard this album. Performed live, alongside a pair of talented musicians, drummer-mandolinist Max Norton and bassist-fiddler Alex Spoto, songs like “Violent Shiver,” “Have You Seen My Son?” and “Old Hearts” grew into something more than their recorded versions, Booker’s raw, raspy vocals blossoming onstage as the trio jammed their way between tunes, often making a lot more joyful noise than your typical three-piece.
While incredibly expressive, Booker, who began performing live just two years ago, wasn’t particularly chatty. “It’s nice to be back at Mercury Lounge. We played here earlier in the year. It’s one of my favorite rooms. Here we go,” he said just before they lit into “Kids Never Grow Older,” a sweating Booker quietly barking out the opening stanza in a whispered snarl. Alternating between standing still with his left leg twisting in place and hopping across the stage, belting out distorted guitar riffs, he appeared to be every bit of a star in the making. No more so than as the show concluded with him, his guitar strap broken, shredding from his knees at center stage. Booker still has room—and time—to grow, and even despite singing, “The future is slow coming” in “Slow Coming,” in some ways, it feels like it’s here now, and Benjamin Booker has already arrived, fully formed. —R. Zizmor
Rubblebucket – Stage 48 – November 5, 2014
While their tour might not yet be over, Rubblebucket returned home last night with an excellent performance at Stage 48, still glowing from showing off the music from their newest full-length album, Survival Sounds. They played to a crowd brimming with excitement to welcome home the band, so much so that Rubblebucket didn’t even make it past one song before lead singer Kalmia Traver had to take a moment to shake hands with and high-five most of the front row of fans.
If you’ve never seen (or heard of) Rubblebucket, that’s a problem that needs to be quickly remedied. They’re a band that’s been around for a while now, having cut their teeth playing all sorts of small-time jam-band festivals with long, loud and messy sets. But today’s Rubblebucket are a refined version with melodic pop influences, which means most all of their recorded tracks are certified earworms. And in a live setting, they’re even better. Traver is a total force, the kind that’s hard to write about because she’s what everyone can’t help but focus their attention on every time the band is mentioned.
Rubblebucket’s live setup usually involves two horn players (or flutes or both, depending on the song), a guitarist and bassist, a drummer and a synth player who does just about everything else as well. And despite all these moving parts, the band is almost impossibly tight, so the lush music sounds bigger and brighter than that of almost any other live act. And they do this all with a ton of action onstage and a smile on every face. They’re the kind of band that makes you realize how boring even some of your favorite groups can be with their live shows, but you’ll only be able to thank them for that. —Sean O’Kane
Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane | seanokanephoto.com
Tags: Adam Dotson, Alex Toth, Darby Wolf, Dave Cole, Ian Hersey, Jordan Brooks, Kalmia Traver, Photos, Review, Rubblebucket, Stage 48, Survival Sounds
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Mac DeMarco – Terminal 5 – November 4, 2014
Mac DeMarco is one charismatic, goofy fella. Give it a year or so and the gap-toothed rocker from Bed-Stuy by way of Canada will probably have his own show on Vice or something, and lots of people will say, “I definitely saw that coming.” The cheers began at Terminal 5 last night as soon as he came out to set up the stage, getting his equipment together alongside some skeletons and Egyptian sarcophagi. There was either an after-holiday deal at a Halloween pop-up store or DeMarco just can’t bring himself to let go of the holiday. First he tried to walk around the stage unnoticed and shush the crowd, but the already packed venue was going nuts, shifting as one giant blob from left to right.
As inconspicuously as they could, the band climbed onto the Egyptian-themed stage, dimmed the lights, accompanied by the anthem from Top Gun, and popped back out of the sarcophagi, to the surprise of no one. DeMarco yelled, “Hey, guys, that cost us hundreds of dollars!” as the band jumped into “Salad Days.” Don’t let the second-rate theatrics mislead, the main event was definitely the music. In a relatively short amount of time, DeMarco’s put out three great albums of seemingly effortless catchy and jangly rock, each better than the one before. The songs check off just about everything that makes rock music fun in a live setting: relatively lighthearted, easy to sing along to, even easier to mindlessly groove along to with tasteful smatterings of perfectly catchy rock riffs.
“Cooking Up Something Good,” “Let Her Go,” “Ode to Viceroy,” “My Kind of Woman” all carried with them easy rockin’ vibes, with just a taste of some unexpected little jams, adding flavor to the songs like a dash of curry. As DeMarco tuned his guitar between songs, his bassist, Pierce McGarry, jumped into impromptu covers of Coldplay’s “Yellow” and Sisqó’s “Thong Song.” Their set ended with DeMarco jumping into the crowd, surfing all the way to the back of the venue, climbing up one of the columns to the second floor, dropping back down into the audience and getting carried back to the stage. Rock and roll! The band didn’t seem set on doing an encore, but when the sold-out crowd asked for it, they kicked off one in the best way possible, with DeMarco telling the crowd, “You guys are going to hate this” before launching into an extended (more than 10 minutes) rock out on the Top Gun theme. —Dan Rickershauser