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They Might Be Giants Close Out Weekend in Williamsburg

January 26th, 2015

They Might Be Giants – Music Hall of Williamsburg – January 25, 2015

(Photo: Andie Diemer)

(Photo: Andie Diemer)

At this point, They Might Be Giants’ career is long enough that it’s become near impossible to paraphrase. It also doesn’t help that their fans, including me, are nerdy and devoted enough to yell at you for leaving out anything. So here goes nothing. They Might Be Giants consist of mainstays John Flansburgh and John Linnell, plus a backing band that’s been with them since the late ’80s, when they got their start playing around New York City. In local papers, They Might Be Giants promoted their Dial-a-Song service, hooking up an answering machine to a telephone line that played a song with each call. Some have counted upward of 500 original songs through the service. Flood, out in ’89, went platinum and featured the megahits “Birdhouse in Your Soul” and “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).” They were ahead of their times poking fun at the all-seeing-eye that is the NSA, before the Snowden leaks even came out. They’ve done a lot of kids music, a handful of theme songs including ones for Malcolm in the Middle and The Daily Show. I’m just scratching the surface here but you get the idea.

They Might Be Giants’ musical output exists as a galaxy entirely of its own creation, somewhere in the universe alongside Ween, Frank Zappa or Weird Al Yankovic. Their latest venture is version 2.0 of Dial-a-Song, with the band releasing a new tune every Monday at midnight through a phone number (844-387-6962) and Web site. Last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg, They Might Be Giants featured several new numbers, including this week’s Dial-a-Song, “Music Jail Pts. 1 & 2,” plus last week’s “Madame, I Challenge You to a Duel,” loosely based on Oliver Reed and Shelley Winter’s appearance on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. Outside of the new stuff, it seemed like a handful in the audience knew every word sung. There was the start-and-stop concept song dedicated to the marching on of time, appropriately titled “Older.” There was “Fingertips,” which saw everyone in the venue waving arms in unison.

The horn section came out blaring in full force for “Call You Mom” and “Authenticity Trip.” In a robot voice, Flansburgh took time to explain to all the truth about the Patriots’ Deflategate. And They Might Be Giants played tribute to recently departed Joe Franklin, who, on one of their appearances on his television show, leaned over to tell them, “If you ever win a Grammy, thank me.” They missed their chance but thanked him last night to make up for it. Trusted classics like “Birdhouse in Your Soul” and “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” appeared toward the second half of the set. The momentum built up through two encores, before finally ending things with “Ana Ng,” off Lincoln. For They Might Be Giants diehards, the band returns next month to play their first album in its entirety. Until then, they’ll be releasing a new song every Monday at midnight through Dial-a-Song. Time marches on, and They Might Be Giants continue to grow their galaxy. —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks

(They Might Be Giants play Music Hall of Williamsburg again in February, March, April and May.)

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Sylvan Esso Amaze Terminal 5 with a Dazzling Show

January 26th, 2015

Sylvan Esso – Terminal 5 – January 23, 2015

Sylvan Esso – Terminal 5 – January 23, 2015
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

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com

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A Fun Night at Music Hall of Williamsbrug with Dr. Dog

January 12th, 2015

Dr. Dog – Music Hall of Williamsburg – January 10, 2015

Dr. Dog – Music Hall of Williamsburg - January 10, 2015
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

Photos courtesy of Mike Benigno | mikebenigno.wordpress.com

(A few tickets remain for tonight’s Dr. Dog show at Music Hall of Williamsburg. All four nights at The Bowery Ballroom are sold out.)

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Willie Watson Sells Out Rough Trade NYC on Friday Night

January 12th, 2015

Willie Watson – Rough Trade NYC – January 9, 2015

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Sellouts are always special, but there was something even more rewarding about the packed house for Friday’s Rough Trade NYC bill. That a guy like Willie Watson with a guitar and a banjo, playing a set of songs that had been around longer than everyone in attendance had been alive—numbers that felt older than dirt—could draw such a large, spirited crowd to Williamsburg was emblematic of something. It said something about the timelessness of the music, of course, the folk tradition that will outlive us all, but it was also indicative of the guy playing them: He looked the part and sounded the part. Watson doesn’t just play these songs, he breathes life into them.

Following a raucous, raunchy, keep-your-eye-out-for-this-one opening set from Elle King, Watson took the stage, banjo in hand, wearing a denim shirt and jeans and a hat that added the perfect look to the sounds he was about to make. He opened with a one-two hootenanny of “Georgia Buck” and “Free Little Bird,” which put him in league with Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson respectively. The audience was transported, stomping the floor in time, evoking a barn dance more than a rock club.

Watson pulled some of the songs from last year’s Folk Singer Vol. 1, but mostly he seemed to be reaching back in time, the entire Americana songbook at his disposal. Highlights included Blind Willie McTell’s “Rollin’ Mama Blues” with some nice hand-shucked guitar picking, and an excellent version of a “new one,” Reverend Gary Davis’s “I Belong to the Band, Hallelujah.” Wrapping up a stellar night of singing and dancing, Watson capped the set with Lead Belly’s “Midnight Special” before an encore of traditionals, “Good Old Mountain Dew” and “On the Road Again.” You get the impression that a campfire, a bottle of whiskey, Willie Watson and his guitar would be just about a perfect Friday night. Who knows? He might even be able to sell out a gig like that. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

 

 

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Future Islands Impress in Their Biggest Show to Date

January 9th, 2015

Future Islands – Terminal 5 – January 8, 2014

Future Islands – Terminal 5 – January 8, 2014
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

Photos courtesy of Greg Pallante | gregpallante.com

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An Impressive First Night of PhilRAD at the Capitol Theatre

December 30th, 2014

PhilRAD – Capitol Theatre – December 29, 2014

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About 80 minutes into their first set last night at the Capitol Theatre, PhilRAD finally paused and the audience let out a collective sigh that was easily translated to “What just happened!?” The band—consisting of four-fifths of the upstart Grateful Dead cover outfit Joe Russo’s Almost Dead with Phil Lesh leading the way on bass—had just opened their sold-out three-night run with a twisted jam-filled expedition that on paper looked like “Truckin’”“Jack Straw” > “Estimated Prophet” > “Eyes of the World” > “Crazy Fingers” > “King Solomon’s Marbles.” It was like watching a kid get a new bike with training wheels for Christmas and in the course of an hour or so go from wobbly beginner to look-ma-no-hands to X Games medalist. The stretch was full of highlights: Russo on drums cracked open the jam in “Truckin’” like an egg as Tom Hamilton and Scott Metzger played a runny-yolk two-guitar jam; Marco Benevento led a glorious jam in “Jack Straw” on the grand piano; five guys seemingly played at five different tempos but all somehow fit together in a feeling-out-each-other-moment in “Estimated”; Metzger crafting a peak-upon-peak solo in “Eyes”; and, of course, Lesh playing the adult in the room with his beautiful, exploratory bass playing. If it was sloppy at times, the music seemed to benefit: This material longs for looseness and the surprises that come with imperfection.

Everyone had a moment to shine, individually and in the group dynamic. Russo was in fine form, a firm hand on the back of the bicycle seat that knew exactly when to let go and when to rein in things. A first-set highlight was the jam out of “Crazy Fingers,” which under Russo’s guidance went free then beautiful then funk-rave until finally crashing into “King Solomon’s Marbles.” The crowd reveled in each moment that was half nostalgia, half groundbreaking. There were sing-alongs for their old favorites and revelations at new discoveries in decades-old material that lurked unknowingly beneath the surface.

The second set, which alternated between straight-up guitar rocking, out-there space-drifts and shall-we-dance? grooving, was somehow even looser, and the surprising second song could sum it up. “Throwing Stones” formed out of a free-flowing underwater jam lead by Benevento that finally coalesced around the up-tempo theme. Metzger, sounding every bit like Bob Weir on vocals, led the crowd in a fist-pumping sing-along before turning in on Russo for a climactic, crowd-pleasing guitar solo. After another verse, Lesh and Hamilton bounced on a theme that as much Sly and the Family Stone as the Dead, which Russo somehow brought back for a short bit before things went into space-funk-fusion for an unexpected segue into “Dark Star.” That tune was a platform for some of the most inventive exploring of the night, ceding way to a raging-under-the-red-lights cover of “All Along the Watchtower,” plus a jam-fueled “The Wheel.” Sure, they occasionally lost track of where they dropped the breadcrumbs along the way, but that was OK, Lesh or Russo eventually brought them back to where they began. PhilRAD rounded out the superlative set list with “Terrapin Station” > “I Know You Rider” before encoring with a heavy-boogie version of “Shakedown Street,” white lights whirling around the Cap like the band had set off a fire alarm. As great as the show was, there was a definitive just-getting-warmed-up feeling in the room. Two more nights of jams, surprises and, I’m sure, people in the crowd looking at each other wondering, “What just happened!?” —A. Stein | @Neddyo

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Deer Tick Don’t Need a Reason to Throw a Party

December 29th, 2014

Deer Tick – Brooklyn Bowl – December 28, 2014

Deer Tick – Brooklyn Bowl – December 28, 2014
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

Photos courtesy of Joe Papeo | www.irocktheshot.com

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The Bogmen Celebrate Christmas at The Bowery Ballroom

December 22nd, 2014

The Bogmen – The Bowery Ballroom – December 19, 2014

(Photo: Dan Rickershauser)

(Photo: Dan Rickershauser)

If you’ve already heard of the Bogmen, then you probably love them. They had a short but sweet run through the mid-90’s, which included getting signed to the major label Arista for the release of their two albums. But in the pre-Internet days, when music discovery was left to happenstance, the Long Island group never broke huge. So instead of being liked by all, they remain loved by the select few in the know. The Bogmen dissolved with the ’90s but have reunited occasionally for charity shows, like their appearances at The Bowery Ballroon on Friday and Saturday. Their fans are still rabid, and anyone who saw them on Friday night has the beer-shower stains to prove it. (For those wondering if The Bowery Ballroom has the structural integrity to sustain a sold-out crowd of rather large men jumping in unison, the answer is yes.)

Their stage had all the glitz and glamour of a true Christmas spectacular, complete with a silver-streamer background and Christmas lights–lit microphone stands. The band wore all white outfits with wonderful accents of Christmas tree garland, and lead singer Billy Campion sported a tie made entirely of Christmas ornaments. With your eyes closed once the music started, you’d have thought this was a band playing shows on a regular basis. Dance friendly polyrhythmic grooves reminiscent of Talking Heads carried “Big Burn.” “Dr. Jerome (Love Tub, Doctor),” with its chorus of “Dr. Jerome, love tub doctor!” sung in unison by all, as loud as possible. Campion, who’s had vocal-cord issues in the past, powered through the vocal-straining “It’s a Fast Horizon,” noting that it was the first time he was able to sing it live, declaring his voice, at 43, the best it’s ever been. “Suddenly” came complete with a live rendition of the back-and-forth breakup phone call, with the original line declaring that the ’90s would be all about love replaced with “the ’90s, they’ve come and gone/ And now I don’t know what’s going on/ But I’m loving it!”

With a point, a nod or a smile, over the course of the night, band members acknowledged a number of faces in the crowd—a healthy mix of friends, fans and family. Opener Julia Haltigan joined the Bogmen for their encore of a stirring rendition of the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York,” complete with dancing around a stage crowded with band members. Someone dressed as Santa eventually made his way onstage. Or, if you believe in miracles, maybe it was Kris Kringle himself, taking off time from his busy schedule. After all, the Bogmen don’t perform very often, but when the opportunity arises, you take it.
—Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks

 

 

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Trombone Shorty Keeps It Funky at Terminal 5

December 11th, 2014

Trombone Shorty – Terminal 5 – December 10, 2014

Trombone Shorty – Terminal 5 – December 10, 2014
It’s become something of a routine—the weather turns cold, December rolls around and Trombone Shorty returns to New York City to play Terminal 5. The New Orleans native is now so popular here that his shows have become something of a can’t-miss seasonal staple. Despite being extremely funky, Shorty and his excellent band, Orleans Avenue, often oscillate into the territory of jazz and soul during their performances. They aren’t afraid to embrace pop or rock either, and last night’s show featured renditions of Green Day’s “Brain Stew” and even Limp Bizkit’s “Rollin’”—the latter being a cover you can only get away with if you have a crew that has as much fun onstage as this one did.

The focus, of course, is on Shorty himself. He’s been a stellar frontman for a while now, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t gotten better. It was fitting that the band took the stage to James Brown’s “Make it Funky” because Shorty increasingly shows more and more of the Godfather of Soul with each passing show. His stage presence was already great, but it’s becoming the stuff of legend, on a bother-your-friends-who-don’t-like-funk-until-they-see-him kind of level. Orleans Avenue are made up of five seriously impressive musicians, and their skills were often featured throughout the set.

When Shorty wasn’t tirelessly tearing up the stage on trombone or trumpet, he parked right next to whichever bandmate had a solo going. Like Hendrix appeared to be coaxing spirits from a burning guitar, Shorty swayed back and forth and waved his arms next to each musician, like he was trying to help him get every ounce of funk out of his veins. Like the inevitable changing of the seasons, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue will be back again before you know it. And that next time he returns, tell everyone you know it’s a can’t-miss show. —Sean O’Kane | @Sokane1

Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane | seanokanephoto.com

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Landlady Holiday Spectacular: Great Night of Music for a Great Cause

December 9th, 2014

 The Landlady Holiday Spectacular – Mercury Lounge – December 8, 2014

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I walked into Mercury Lounge last night to a festive holiday party already in progress. There were blinking lights, multiple trees and decorations throughout the room, a jar labeled FREE CANDY offered candy canes, and Santa Claus had just hopped off the stage to lead the room in “Silent Night.” Far be it from me to call Santa a liar, but the Landlady Holiday Spectacular would turn out to be anything but a silent night. In fact, with a makeshift second stage set up on the side of the room, there was almost no pause in the music for three-and-a-half hours, with brass bands big and small to indie-rock quartets to bluegrass trios, folk duos, large Afrobeat ensembles and almost anything else you could imagine. The sets were quick: two to four songs each, so if you didn’t like what you were hearing, you didn’t have to wait long, but that was rarely the case. It would take too long to even try to list the proceedings, probably about a dozen bands played in all, but there were Zula mixing Latin rhythms in an indie rock thing, the Westerlies adding Christmas songs to originals arranged for two trombones and a trumpet, the avant drum-and-guitar duo Star Rover expertly going post-post-rock, and Zongo Junction getting everyone boogieing down with their big, funky Afrobeat.

The audience constantly rotated between the front and the side, where little impromptu groups would spring up in between the more established ones, like when Rubblebucket’s Kal Traver joined the man of the hour, Adam Schatz, on a nice bluesy sax-and-vocals duet. Although the room was full, at times it felt like there were more musicians in the crowd than paying customers, a constant stream of saxophones and guitars fighting their way one of the stages. If this party were a movie, Schatz, who amazingly made the evening work while sitting in on sax with almost everyone, would’ve filled the director, producer and lead-actor roles. Still, by the time his band, Landlady, took the stage there was a risk that it would be anticlimactic after all that had already come. Not to worry, there wasn’t a chance of that happening. They opened with “Under the Yard,” off their new album, Upright Behavior, and raised the energy a few notches, mixing harmonies and offbeat rhythms with Schatz’s unique songwriting. The music was a groovy, progressive New Wave, a Talking Heads for the 21st century, with Schatz gesticulating lovingly at the front on keyboards. But even as he led Landlady through their repertoire—the title track and “Dying Day” were early set highlights—he was directing the show, prompting a horn section on the side stage to enter the fray at just the right moment.

Of course, with so many friends in the house, you had to expect even more collaborations, guests and permutations, and Schatz quickly ceded the stage to Jared Samuel (leading the band in a nice cover of George Harrison’s “Awaiting on You All”), Sam Cohen, Xenia Rubinos and Luke Temple. This highlight stretch turned Landlady into an expert house band primed for late-night talk shows, slipping between genres as easily as flipping through LPs at the record store. As if to punctuate the point, Landlady invited pretty much everyone onstage for a closing climactic one-two punch of covers by Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love” and Funkadelic’s “I Got a Thing.” With horns, guitars, drums and what seemed like the whole room singing along, spectacular doesn’t even begin to describe the festivities. It should also be noted that the whole night was a benefit for the Bushwick School of Music, which provides music education to kids who wouldn’t otherwise receive it in school. It was a worthy cause, indeed. Guys like Adam Schatz just don’t appear beneath the Christmas tree, you know. —A Stein | @Neddyo

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The Bowery Ballroom as a Recital Hall for a Night

December 8th, 2014

Max Richter – The Bowery Ballroom – December 7, 2104

Max Richter – The Bowery Ballroom – December 7, 2104
Renowned composer-producer Max Richter graced New York City for a rare performance of his soundtrack for HBO’s The Leftovers, paired with his classic album, The Blue Notebooks, last night at The Bowery Ballroom. Richter’s music should resonate with cinephiles as his compositions have accompanied such films as Waltz with Bashir, Stranger Than Fiction, Prometheus and Shutter Island. It’s no wonder that HBO tapped the German-born British composer to score The Leftovers. The show’s producer Damon Lindelof (Lost) and director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) sought out Richter after hearing his score for a Broadway production of Macbeth.

Last night the esteemed Lower East Side venue was filled with melodious harmonies seeping into the crevasses that are normally reserved for rock and pop outfits. Clad in a black turtleneck, Richter took his place behind the piano as the American Contemporary Music Ensemble filed onstage. Opening the evening with “The Leftovers Piano Theme,” the band played the entire soundtrack. All in all the audience was rapt on the sumptuous notes. Through the set, uncertain applause was offered, as folks were not completely sure when pieces concluded. There was no doubt when the crescendo of strings came to a halting stop on “Afterimage 3” for an uproar of claps to follow. Richter confessed he never thought he’d perform the soundtrack live, but he was happy he had.

The performance of The Blue Notebooks was in honor of the album’s 10th anniversary. Tilda Swinton read the excerpts from Franz Kafka’s and Czeslaw Milosz’s works on the original recording. But at The Bowery Ballroom, Sarah Sutcliffe did the honors as Richter dabbled with sound effects on his iMac. Despite bows from the composer and ensemble upon the album’s conclusion, they returned to encore with “Autumn Music 2.” This unorthodox evening turned the venue into a concert recital hall, leaving fans with an indelible music memory. —Sharlene Chiu

Photos courtesy of Charles Steinberg 

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Yo La Tengo Celebrate Their 30th Anniversary at Town Hall

December 4th, 2014

Yo La Tengo – Town Hall – December 3, 2014

Yo La Tengo – Town Hall – December 3, 2014
Thirty years ago a little band named Yo La Tengo played their very first show, at Maxwell’s—in their hometown, Hoboken, N.J. Their very first song was a cover of the Urinals’ “Surfin’ with the Shah.” Three decades later, and the band began their encore with that very same song, this time joined onstage at Town Hall with more than 15 fellow musicians, friends and ex-band members all playing along. Other bands take note: This is how you celebrate a band-iversary.

It says something about Yo La Tengo that they’re still friends with former band members, which is a pretty rare thing. Sure it might make for a boring episode of Behind the Music, but it also means that they were able to reach far back into their catalog last night, pulling out songs like “Tried So Hard” and “Can’t Forget,” off their 1990 album, Fakebook, alongside the old friends who helped record them. For Yo La Tengo diehards, this was the show to see them bring out everything they’ve got. As frontman Ira Kaplan explained, they are celebrating the release of their “brand new 21-year-old record,” the expanded rerelease of Painful, but beyond that, the performance was a rare chance to pull from anywhere in the band’s discography. There were tender songs on acoustic instruments, like the opener, “My Little Corner of the World,” sung beautifully by drummer Georgia Hubley. There were blisteringly loud squealing Kaplan guitar solos, an all-body attack on the instrument that came out for the likes of “The Story of Yo La Tengo,” “Blue Line Swinger” and others. Very few bands do loud so well, or soft so well, and very very few bands can do both.

The night was filled with many little special moments. It’s easy to forget that at the heart of this band is a husband-and-wife duo (plus bassist James McNew). When they wrapped up “Nowhere Near,” Kaplan remarked how it felt like just yesterday that he’d first heard Hubley play the song for them, kind of like an older couple looking at each other and asking themselves, “Where does the time go?” A good concert is one remembered fondly by the audience, but a truly great show is equally special for the band. And last night was special for all. So expect great things for their 50th anniversary, because if any band can make it there, it’s Yo La Tengo. —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks

Photos courtesy of Ahron Foster | ahronfoster.com

(Tonight’s Yo La Tengo show at Town Hall is sold out.)

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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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L.A. Trio Wildcat! Wildcat! Make a Home at The Bowery Ballroom

November 25th, 2014

Wildcat! Wildcat! – The Bowery Ballroom – November 24, 2014

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Despite taking their name from a reference to Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums, Wildcat! Wildcat! don’t sound anything like that film’s soundtrack, but rather they produce hazy tracks perfect for long drives around their home city, Los Angeles. Bassist Jesse Taylor, keyboardist Michael Wilson and drummer Jesse Carmichael garnered plenty of buzz for their early releases, a sold-out 7″ and a self-titled debut EP. And following a busy 2013 touring and supporting Alt-J and Portugal. The Man, the lads released their first full-length album, No Moon at All, this past August.

On an unseasonably warm Monday in New York City, the sunny tracks provided a perfect (if temporary) send-off to the autumn chills. Southern Californians turned The Bowery Ballroom into a party beginning with the slow burner “Tower // W.O.H.L.” Its quiet, starry intro burst into a kaleidoscope of dance beats and an echo of “put your head down low.” The vibe continued with the glimmering guitar lines against floating falsetto on “Garden Grays.” Although they almost played their album in its entirety, Wildcat! Wildcat! made sure to pepper the set with tracks from earlier in their catalog to delight fans.

Notably, Taylor admitted that they hadn’t played “The Chief” in some time, but those in the audience couldn’t tell a bit. Having dropped a cover of Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” on Baeble Music earlier in the day, the trio played their rendition live for the first time. And on a night when Carmichael hacked through not one but two sets of drumsticks, it seemed like nothing could limit the exuberance in the crowded room. Wildcat! Wildcat! ended the show and their tour with an encore of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” —Sharlene Chiu

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Interpol Play with a Purpose on Their Home Turf at Terminal 5

November 25th, 2014

Interpol – Terminal 5 – November 24, 2014

Interpol – Terminal 5 – November 24, 2014
Image always matters in popular music, perhaps more than it should. So when Interpol emerged in 2002, pouncing like a fenced-in Doberman onto New York City’s then indeterminate alternative-rock scene, they evenly struck the balance between style and substance with impact. Theirs was a convincing symbiosis. The music was at once emphatic and intricately textured, catchy yet with cerebral and ambitious arrangements, and their image of midnight coolness mirrored it effortlessly, lending the mystique and credibility to a style of rock that was commanding and often imposing. Their debut album, Turn On the Bright Lights, was the soundtrack to Friday nights in NYC, with all of its promised deviousness to be found in the shadows and around corners.

Twelve years—and four albums, including the freshly released El Pintor—later, and Interpol return for a homecoming, beginning on Monday a sold-out three-night run at Terminal 5. With the glimmering bravado underlying the elegance of a veteran band, they played with the purpose of cementing their legacy. Armed with a classic like Turn On the Bright Lights makes it easier to throw around your weight, and an abrupt announcement of their stature was delivered with the opening statement, “Say Hello to the Angels,” a stalwart number off their first record. An assertive turn into new material, like “Anywhere” and “Everything Is Wrong,” was deftly interwoven with the invigorating “Take You on a Cruise” and the crowd-pleasing “Evil,” with its whimsical flavoring of ’50s-era Jerry Lee Lewis rock and roll over their trademark rhythmic surge. Quite suddenly, the divide between stage and audience disappeared like a bridge in the fog as Paul Banks’s haunting, serpentine vocals took turns with Daniel Kessler’s shimmering guitar chords, elevating the icy operative-like persistence of Sam Fogarino’s drumming.

Ruminative pieces “Lights” and the “The Lighthouse,” pulled along by the Kessler’s sultry strumming, echoed just long enough amidst the black sea of currents projected behind them, before giving way to the climactic flourish that everyone knew was coming: The show culminated with “PDA” and its wondrous cascading finale. By night’s end, Interpol had left no doubt of their authority. Somehow, they represent how the smart, artistic post-graduates living in the city want to come across, and their tensely dramatic rock songs have always been in sync with their collectively pounding pulse. Listening to Interpol brings with it a rush, like stepping out into a biting, blustery winter wind from somewhere safe and warm. —Charles Steinberg

Photos courtesy of Joe Papeo | www.irocktheshot.com

(Try to Grow a Pair of tickets to tomorrow’s sold-out Interpol show at Terminal 5.)