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River City Extension – Rough Trade NYC – April 19, 2015
River City Extension are the kind of band you imagine never stops touring. Most of their songs sound like they were written while speeding down a highway, with a mix of rolling drums and cyclical guitar strumming, plus approachable gang vocals. Hell, lead singer Joe Michelini even has a pearly mountain range inlay on the neck of his guitar. Recently, that assumption about how often they play has been right—last night’s show at Rough Trade NYC capped off a 33-show tour that began in March and took them from the Jersey Shore all the way to Seattle. But before that, Michelini was holed up with lead guitarist John Muccino and keyboardist Patrick O’Brien recording the band’s newest album, Deliverance.
Last night’s show was a homecoming of sorts for the New Jersey band, whose fans clearly spent the last month digesting the new songs and fresher sound, giving the room an incredible vibe. “I kind of want to draw this one out. Milk it,” said Michelini. That they did: The band played for more than an hour, and they showed off polished performances of new songs in between rearranged versions of their older tunes.
River City Extension used to be very much led by Michelini’s acoustic guitar, which made them easy to peg as folkie. But their new sound is more expansive than it’s ever been, with dreamy interludes and ’70s-style rock and roll breaks. The band comes off as more mature, no surprise considering their core has survived a number of lineup changes and, recently, a tragic loss. But through it all, the fans keep coming, and after last night it appears that the band is ready to lead them down a whole new road. —Sean O’Kane | @Sokane1
The London Souls – The Bowery Ballroom – April 7, 2015
The London Souls used to be a trio, so I have to admit I was a little nervous when they showed up to The Bowery Ballroom last night without a bassist. But the duo put on a set massive enough that you could have sworn you were watching them at a summer festival. The hometown show was in celebration of the long-awaited release of the band’s second LP, Here Come the Girls, an album that was written years ago but was delayed as singer and guitarist Tash Neal fought back from a near-fatal car accident.
Neal isn’t the still, silent type, like Gary Clark Jr. He emotes as he plays—every note Neal sang or strummed was accompanied by a lip curl, a head shake or an eyebrow raise. His body swayed with each bent string or blue note. It’s the kind of thing that makes you feel the emotion behind the music rather than interpreting it in your mind. Chris St. Hilaire’s drumming was sort of the opposite of that, machine-like and furious but a loose style that doesn’t sacrifice precision. He almost didn’t move above his shoulders—if your view was blocked, he could have been typing an essay or knitting a scarf for all you knew. But from the shoulders down, he was a blur of sticks, wrists and elbows.
St. Hilaire struck his drum set hard enough that it sounded like we were listening to a rhythm from a different decade. It was proof that his drumming is the reason (as much, if not more than Neal’s abilities) that the band draws comparisons to Zeppelin, Cream and the Experience. That’s just a few ways of saying that even as a duo, the London Souls still rock harder than most bands you hear. Their now more unapologetic sound is tailor-made for their louder tracks, like “Steady Are You Ready,” but even their more melodic tunes, like “When I’m With You,” still hold up. The duo might sound a little cleaner when they’re accompanied by a third musician onstage, but a clean sound is overrated. Two is all they need. —Sean O’Kane | @Sokane1
Jessie Ware – Terminal 5 – April 2, 2015
“Mazel tov!” shouted Jessie Ware to the man and woman—who had just gotten engaged in front of the sold-out Terminal 5 crowd—she invited onstage last night. Yes, it should come as no surprise that the artist who has penned dozens of lovelorn, yearning pop songs (and was recently married herself) is a romantic at heart, beaming at the newly betrothed couple before serenading us with “You & I (Forever),” a perfectly fitting song for the moment. “That was so much better than my husband’s proposal,” joked Ware.
The surprise engagement was one of the night’s many high points, as Ware performed songs from her new album, Tough Love, and from 2012’s Devotion, opening the show with “Running,” a sleek, Sade-esque number punctuated by understated flashing lights. “Champagne Kisses,” a new song as light and bubbly as the titular beverage, and tunes like “Kind of … Sometimes … Maybe” and “Sweetest Song” kept the mood bright and dreamy, while others, like “Tough Love” and “Wildest Moments,” carried more emotional heft, with Ware abandoning the cool and collected restraint displayed on the previous songs for a more raw, direct approach.
The London singer-songwriter closed the show with “Say You Love Me,” a powerful number that manages to stand out in a catalog full of songs about love and all of its complexities. Without holding back on the emotion or the vocal delivery, Ware belted out the tune’s velvety melody, enlisting the crowd to join in and sing along, a nice show of solidarity for the joys and agonies of love. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK
Alt-J – Madison Square Garden – March 30, 2015
Conquering the shores of America has never been easy for most British bands. Sure there are the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Radiohead, to name a few, but on the whole, it’s not a simple feat. And now, Alt-J have not only conquered the States but they’ve also played the legendary Madison Square Garden. NPR has lauded the band with high praise: “No one else is making music like this. This is an original, innovative band with a brilliant present and a brighter future.” And with only two albums to their name, the four-piece—including Cameron Knight, who’s replaced one of the founding members, Gwil Sainsbury, on bass and sampler—conquered a sold-out MSG last night.
I’ve often shied away from arena shows, longing for the ambience of a smaller, more intimate venue, but I wouldn’t let myself miss another chance to see Alt-J live. The crowd rumbled into applause and cheers as the house lights dimmed to welcome the quartet to a backlit stage. Lead vocalist Joe Newman creeped into “Hunger of the Pine” to kick off the set, however the performance was largely a trip down memory lane with the bulk of the set list comprised of material from their debut album, An Awesome Wave, and fans joined in to sing along to favorites “Fitzpleasure” and “Matilda.”
Leaving the music to speak for them, Alt-J didn’t utter much more than a few thank-yous and some genuine appreciation to be in New York City, playingt their biggest local venue to date. And as a nod to their own hometown, the band pulled out “a really old song,” “Leon,” from their Leeds days. Newman’s and keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton’s choral-like vocals rang across the cavernous building as drummer Thom Green pounded the skins, particularly shining on the encore’s closing song, “Breezeblocks.”
Despite my qualms about seeing Alt-J in such a large venue, their music seemed to transcend space, transporting me back to my days of hitting festivals in the UK while still enclosed in hallowed MSG. I couldn’t help but join in for the final serenade of “Please don’t go, please don’t go, I love you so, I love you so” because the audience and I didn’t want the show to end. The lads from Leeds have certainly won over New York City, if not America. —Sharlene Chiu
Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com
Tags: Alt-J, An Awesome Wave, Beatles, Cameron Knight, Gus Unger-Hamilton, Gwil Sainsbury, Joe Newman, Led Zeppelin, Madison Square Garden, Photos, radiohead, Review, Thom Green
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