Photos courtesy of Joe Papeo | www.irocktheshot.com
Having been on the wrong coasts at the wrong time, I missed seeing Sylvan Esso live all of last year, which was a major downer since their self-titled album was one of my favorites from 2014. I’d been a fan of Amelia Meath from her time with Mountain Man, and I’d seen Nick Sanborn perform with Megafaun. But what they create as a pair far exceeded anything I could have imagined and fueled many a late summer night—pairing simple but dang catchy synths with Meath’s vocal dance and bounce from beat to beat. This past Friday night at a sold-out Terminal 5, I rectified last year’s elusion.
Ensconced in darkness, Meath and Sanborn descended onstage with minimal equipment, only the synth station and microphones. Barreling into “Could I Be,” the sound gave out midway to the surprise of the duo. Not to miss a beat, Sanborn stated, “This has never happened before.” Those in the crowd weren’t worried as the band quickly took it back to the top before Meath playfully announced, “Once more with feeling.” The pint-size singer in platform shoes commanded the stage with intricate dance moves that could give Robyn
a run for her money. I’m not sure if it was the java scent stuck on my clothes from an earlier Cafe Grumpy run, but I was abuzz for “Coffee” and so were the fans cascading to the lyrics “get up, get down.”
The hostess of the night led the crowd in pre-howls on “Wolf” as Sanborn infused pulsating beats. Not stopping there, he delivered a heavy helping of drum and bass for “H.S.K.T.” Then, after a quick exit, Sylvan Esso returned to encore with a new song that they joked would be on a future album, Bangers with an s. Take that, Miley Cyrus. Meath called “Come Down,” the finale, a “slow one” before crooning to a packed Terminal 5, still reeling from the high-energy show. As folks filed downstairs, I heard multiple proclamations of “best show ever” and “aren’t they the beeest?” Needless to say, everyone was thoroughly entertained. —Sharlene Chiu
Christmas arrived about two weeks later for local Dr. Dog fans. With the city now covered in sad, discarded Christmas trees and dirty days-old snow, Dr. Dog began their long stretch of New York City shows, eight to be exact, with four at Music Hall of Williamsburg and then four at The Bowery Ballroom. According to the band, there’s a pool of 700 songs to choose from, giving those fans attending each show with something new every night. Dr. Dog’s set on Saturday at Music Hall covered the fan favorites and dug deeper into their catalog, leaving everyone with a handful of new ones to adore. In my case, “Be the Void,” off the Wild Race EP. (How could I have missed this song?)
Dr. Dog adapt their live show to their recordings, not the other way around, which is impressive when you consider the complexity of their harmonies. Take “The Breeze,” with its harmonic breakdowns reminiscent of the Beach Boys’. Most would hear that recording and assume Dr. Dog wouldn’t even attempt it live, never mind the fact that they could make it sound even better onstage—and they do. It certainly helps that Toby Leaman and Scott McMicken, who share lead-vocal responsibilities, have complementary singing voices. The two have been writing music together since early adolescence, which probably helps with their harmonizing. If you had to distill Dr. Dog and their live experience down to one word, it’d be: fun. And or the sake of not having to look up synonyms, I’ll just keep repeating the word. “That Old Black Hole” makes for a fun band’s most fun song. Their cover of Architecture in Helsinki’s “Heart It Races” takes someone else’s fun song and makes it even more fun.
After finishing “Lonesome,” Leaman ended up crowd surfing alongside seemingly everyone else in the building. Not in the punk-rock, jump-off-the-stage-in-a-spur-of-the-moment way, but more in a gradual collapse into the audience, as if the crowd had swallowed him whole, a funny gesture considering he’d just sung about being lonely. Delicate Steve’s Steve Marion came out for a guest appearance to rip a massive guitar solo, leaving just him and the drummer while the rest of the band sneaked off, returning in full force for a blazing rendition of “These Days.” If you missed this show, there’s still a chance to catch Dr. Dog on Monday. And if you miss that … well you had eight other chances, so get your shit together. —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks
Tags: Architecture in Helsinki, Beach Boys, Bowery Ballroom, Delicate Steve, Dr. Dog, Music Hall of Williamsburg, Photos, Review, Scott McMicken, Steve Marion, Toby Leaman, Wild Race
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Future Islands’ own expectations are a motivator, fueling their quest to connect with people through their music, pushing them through gutting recording sessions and endless stretches of performances. From their listeners’ standpoint, expectations are confronted—and subsequently suspended—upon taking in a Future Islands album or live show. In essence, this duality of expectations is what’s made this Baltimore band the attraction they now are. And that phenomenon was on full display last night at a sold-out Terminal 5, the group’s biggest headlining appearance to date. “Let’s bring a little sunshine to this room,” said frontman Sam Herring. “It’s fucking cold outside.”
Future Islands’ passion comes across so strikingly that as the audience was swept up by the synth-propelled rhythmic progressions, animated by Herring’s flair and multifaceted vocal dimensions, thoughts of categorizing the music, or the swirling, kinetic atmosphere surrounding it, gave way to an irresistible visceral sensation. But one thing’s for sure: There is a dark beauty formed by their sound that has a paradoxical aching forward motion to it, like a wounded bear not stopping to rest. Plus Future Islands’ material hits on every level of what make humans respond to great music. And when all of these zones are stimulated, it’s a high particular to music—the animal that wants to pounce and flail while the sentimentalist wants to ponder.
Future Islands create the lush landscape of dance-inducing sounds, and Herring travels over and through it, providing the story as its narrator and its protagonist. He’s the chief of the campfire, telling his story, gathering everyone closer. Herring’s dancing and gesticulations somehow emphasize his voice. Prowling the edge of the stage, bowing his head and looking for faces to make eye contact with, he plead his case by singing, like someone trying to impress something deeper upon the listener than what seems to have gotten through. Herring is saying, “No, I want you to really feel what I’m talking about, beyond your indifferent nods of acknowledgement.” He’s looking for a hallelujah. And judging by the rapt exuberance of the dancing crowd looking on, his service was heard loud and clear. —Charles Steinberg
Ahron R. Foster, Charles Steinberg, Gregg Greenwood, Jeremy Ross, Joe Papeo, Mike Benigno and Sean O’Kane
If Deer Tick have proved anything over the past 10 years, it’s that they don’t need an excuse to celebrate: Their shows are always equal parts rock concert and private party. So when there really is a reason to throw a bash, like, say, their 10-year anniversary this month, well, they really go all out. Sunday night found them halfway into a six-night New Year’s run at Brooklyn Bowl, each date featuring special guests and album covers and plenty of surprises. Last night’s first set was Deer Tick’s take on Meet the Beatles, an interesting selection to say the least. Wearing matching custom bowling shirts commemorating the anniversary, they got things moving with spot-on renditions of the opening one-two of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” McCauley’s Providence, R.I., growl provided a Deer Tick warmth to the well-known songs. He joked that he would sing the Lennon parts, Ian O’Neil would sing the McCartney parts, but they had no George Harrison, so they invited the night’s first guest, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, to sing “Don’t Bother Me.” His manic presence on vocals loosened the band a little. Later the Felice Brothers’ James Felice played accordion to the same effect, punctuating a set that was equally fun for the band and packed house alike.
Following a short break, just McCauley and Goldsmith returned to play as “Little Brother,” performing material from the Middle Brother collaboration they were involved in a few years ago. The audience went quiet at once, savoring the special treat while the duet spun a stellar four-song mini-set that included “Daydreaming,” “Thanks for Nothing” and “Million Dollar Bill,” the stage dappled in colored lights adding to the special feeling in the room. By the time Deer Tick proper took the stage to play their own material, it felt like we’d already been treated to a celebration worthy of 10 years, but of course the guys had plenty more in the tank, pulling out rarities like “Hand in My Hand” and crowd-favorite sing-alongs like “Main Street,” which anchored the strongest stretch of the evening.
Just when things felt like they were winding down, Deer Tick brought out the Replacements’ Tommy Stinson to lead a couple of songs, including a barn-burning version of the Who’s “The Kids Are Alright” that had Dennis Ryan impressively going all Keith Moon behind the kit. It didn’t seem possible to top that, but Deer Tick had no problem trying, bringing about a dozen guests onstage, including Stinson, Goldsmith, Felice as well as Robert Ellis and opener Joe Fletcher, all in their own bowling shirts, I might add. They led the crowd in a rousing version of “Goodnight, Irene” that was appropriately epic to end a weeklong celebration. But it really only marked the midway point of the week and, who knows, maybe their career. But one thing’s for sure, Deer Tick are just getting started.
—A. Stein | @Neddyo
Tags: Beatles, Brooklyn Bowl, Dawes, Deer Tick, Dennis Ryan, Felice Brothers, George Harrison, Ian O’Neil, James Felice, Joe Fletcher, John Lennon, Keith Moon, Meet the Beatles, Middle Brother, Paul McCartney, Photos, Review, Robert Ellis, Taylor Goldsmith, the Who, Tommy Stinson
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