Tag Archives: Review


Reigning Sound Bring New Tunes to The Bowery Ballroom

August 29th, 2014

Reigning Sound – The Bowery Ballroom – August 28, 2014

There’s a theory that some people have that the mountain of great music to come out of America—or more specifically the South—has a lot to do with the Mississippi River. That massive flowing body of water just puts a spell on people, and from that spell comes the great genres of American music: blues, soul, gospel, rock and roll. The river is merely a natural world muse for the region and its artists. A part of me believes this. And it would help explain Memphis-born Greg Cartwright, the lead man behind Reigning Sound with an uncanny knack for pumping out songs that fit so nicely into the canon of American music. Almost all of his material comes with a dash of soul, a sprinkling of gospel and a nice healthy dollop of classic rock and roll. Few people are this good at it. (Perhaps Alex Chilton, another Memphis native, who was once wade deeply in the mighty river.)

Cartwright’s on-again-off-again career with Reigning Sound has most certainly switched back to on as of late. Having just released one of the year’s best albums, Shattered, Reigning Sound came to Bowery Ballroom last night to play through almost the entire LP. Their set kicked off with the album opener, the fiery upbeat “North Cackalacky Girl.” Given the newness of the record, the new songs played live came out sounding incredibly polished. Their set even got some assistance from a violin and cello player to fill out the gorgeous backings of the mournful “Never Coming Home.” Cartwright has a long history of working in punk bands, most notably the Oblivians. And if you listen closely, you can hear it influencing Reigning Sounds’ … well, sound.

Although not a band that falls into the punk category, there is certainly a punkish energy behind some of Reigning Sounds’ earlier songs, especially “Reptile Style.” That tune still sticks out crystal clear in my mind when I first heard the band opening for the Hives in 2004. That they weren’t overshadowed opening for a group Spin magazine dubbed “the best live band on the planet” that year, certainly says something. That the latest iteration of Reigning Sound some 10 years later plays that song even better than when I first heard it says something, too. Their band name is fitting, I’ll leave it at that. —Dan Rickershauser



Rubblebucket Are a Force to Reckon With

August 27th, 2014

Rubblebucket – Mercury Lounge – August 26, 2014

Rubblebucket – Mercury Lounge – August 26, 2014
A name like Rubblebucket might conjure up a mishmash of musical nuggets, which is exactly what the seven-piece outfit creates. Anchored by a strong horn section, a flurry of explosive synthesizers creates melodies that range from indie pop to dance funk. The band began with leader Alex Toth meeting Annakalmia “Kalmia” Traver at the University of Vermont, and from there the bond has spanned nearly a decade. Slowly building a fan base on the festival circuit, the Brooklyn band has garnered a healthy following, including NPR Music’s Bob Boilen. On the night of their third full-length album release, Rubblebucket played a sold-out Mercury Lounge christening their latest, Survival Sounds.

A setup of a tarp backdrop and strobe floor lights hinted at the night ahead as the troupe took the stage that seemed barely big enough to contain them. “My Life,” off their latest, opened the set to a sea of adoring fans. Traver exclaimed that it was Survival Sounds day and expressed that she was feeling crazy this evening. The septet rippled through old and new material, following up the opener with “Silly Fathers,” off Omega La La, and brought out the flutes for “Sound of Erasing.” Toth and trombone player Adam Dotson provided some choice backup dance moves behind the eccentric Traver on lead vocals. Throughout the evening, the band employed stage effects like a confetti cannon, balloons released from a black trash bag and a long panel of fabric, which stretched close to the end of the venue—creating a billowing tent over half of the audience.

Toth descended into the crowd for “Came Out of a Lady,” sending many into uproarious cheers. The tempo mellowed for “Young and Old,” but that didn’t last long as the group continued playing new material, including the clap-happy “Origami,” a crescendo-heavy “Hey Everybody,” crowd-favorite “Shake Me Around” and the upbeat, jazzy “Rewind.” On the latter, Traver invaded the floor to start a Soul Train line, with fans eager to join. As the show’s end neared, the single “Carousel Ride” built up the energy as everyone sang a chorus of  “round and round.” Following the final song, “Pain from Love,” everyone in the band jumped off the stage to march through the audience and into the front bar, but not before they’d proved that Rubblebucket are a force to be reckoned with, from their fierce music to their showmanship. —Sharlene Chiu

Photos courtesy of Mike Benigno | mikebenigno.wordpress.com

(Rubblebucket play Rough Trade NYC tonight.)


Frontier Ruckus Answer the Question at Mercury Lounge

August 20th, 2014

Frontier Ruckus – Mercury Lounge – August 19, 2014

Frontier Ruckus – Mercury Lounge – August 19, 2014
“What’s the song about?” For many singer-songwriter types, that’s probably an annoying question to answer. Sure, sometimes it’s easy (I, like, love you very much!), but I imagine for Frontier Ruckus, with their word-dense, evocative, nonlinear songwriting, it’s usually more complicated than that. That being said, last night’s late set at Mercury Lounge featured plenty of explanations. So we had a number of introductions from frontman Matthew Milia like “this song is … vaguely about finding a stash of porn behind a Taco Bell” and “about getting drunk at your enemy’s wedding” and “winter in Michigan” and “on the surface, this is a breakup song.”

But when these tunes were played, dense forests of language with layers of lyrical fauna and flora, it was clear that they were much more than the descriptions offered. Part of the joy of listening was trying to grasp and digest these bits of imagery before the next one quickly came along. Of course, Frontier Ruckus are more than just lyrics, and the band was in fine form for their first of two area shows. To describe their sound, you need only know that in addition to the folk-rock staples of acoustic guitar, bass and drums, they feature a banjo player, David Winston Jones, and one of those Swiss Army knife guys who does a little bit of everything. This was Zachary Nichols, who rotated through keyboards, melodica, tuba, trumpet and the freakin’ saw, oftentimes all in the same song.

The set featured older material, songs from their excellent Eternity of Dimming album
as well as a healthy highlight of their soon-to-be-released, Sitcom Afterlife, which, ever with the wordplay, is both their fourth and forthcoming album. Highlights abounded: “Dealerships,” nominally about Michigan winters, punctuated with nice trumpet and banjo; the instrumental banjo-meets-saw duet of “Moon River”; the audience-requested “The Tower,” another duet with Milia again backed by Nichols on the saw; and the set-closing, long-player, “Adirondack Amish Holler,” with enough musical and lyrical twists and turns to fill at least a month of Tuesday nights. What’s the song about? That’s a good question! —A. Stein

Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane | seanokanephoto.com

(Frontier Ruckus play Rough Trade NYC tonight.)





Music as Medicine on Saturday Night at Rough Trade NYC

August 18th, 2014

Bobby Long/Dawn Landes – Rough Trade NYC – August 16, 2014

It had been one of those weeks when upsetting news and disturbing images across the world seemed to fill an even greater percentage of our consciousness than usual—the kind of week that requires some good, honest music to remind you that there are still beautiful things out there. And thankfully, on Saturday night, Rough Trade NYC hosted a bill filled with acts that were just what the doctor ordered. A band to keep your eye on, Brooklyn upstart Bird Dog, opened the show with intelligent songwriting and innovative genre blending. The band hopped among styles easily: a close approximation of a country honky-tonk, a Latin groove machine and a radio-ready pop group in quick succession. And terrific guitar playing and touches of violin impressively punctuated great songs like “Holiday Season” and “Read My Letter.”

Dawn Landes, a one-woman prescription for whatever ails you, played the middle set. Her newest album, Bluebird, comes off like a newly found timeless classic, filled with golden-era country-inflected folk songs. As luck would have it, Robert Ellis, who also has a best-in-class album out this year, joined her. With Landes leading the way with her sweet-tea voice and easy-to-love charm and Ellis chiming in with an occasional harmony and quick acoustic-guitar fills, the duo melted away worries and evaporated strife. The set was full of highlights, from the cover of the sweetly humorous John Prine/Iris Dement duet “In Spite of Ourselves” to the gorgeous trio (with friend Lauren Balthrop singing harmony) on “Twilight.” But my favorite moment was when Landes sang the new album’s title track, a few minutes of perfection.

Bobby Long, who is from NYC by way of London, closed out the night singing folk the old fashioned way—just a man and his guitar onstage. With hair covering his eyes and a heavy dose of Brit humor, Long was introspective with his music. Songs were introduced with quick jokes and “true story” anecdotes, but seemed to grow in his playing, with vivid emotional imagery and broader themes. Singing solo allowed Long to expand his vocals, repeating choruses each time with different emphasis, filling in nicely with bits of fingerpicked guitar. I thought the set highlight was “Kill Someone”—about “fucking assholes”—which was prefaced with a description of Long’s sister’s ex-husband. His jokey introduction of “serious song, no clapping” made way for a piece with real anger that gave it a lively energy. Long described it as “hitting him with lyrics” as opposed to the real-life swing and a miss that his dad tried to lay on the jerk. That song might have had much more of an impact, but when passionately sung by Long it was a damn good one regardless, which counts for something. If only all the world’s problems could be solved with a great song. —A. Stein


Agnes Obel Proves to Be Worth the Wait

August 15th, 2014

Agnes Obel – The Bowery Ballroom – August 14, 2014

Unusual for the popular music vernacular, Danish singer-songwriter Agnes Obel floats through a landscape of pop divas and indie bands. She trained in classical piano at a very young age and was ensconced in a house filled with music, including a mother who was a talented pianist and father with a habit of collecting instruments. Her current residence in Berlin houses not one, but two pianos—a Grotrian-Steinweg and a Berdux. As if the pair weren’t enough, she’s also got a vintage house organ for good measure. Obel released her sophomore album, Aventine, last fall following the success of her debut Philharmonics. Although she was slated to play The Bowery Ballroom this past March, visa delays prevented her from arriving Stateside, but not to fear as she returned for a small three-city tour, which concluded last night at a sold-out Bowery Ballroom.

Clad in an iridescent and sheer black shirt, Obel took her seat behind a black Steinway as she opened with “Louretta,” an instrumental piece worthy of a period drama musical score. A river of trembling keys introduced “Fuel to Fire” before the Dane produced Kate Bush–like choral cooing. The pianist apologized to those March ticket holders and promised a special evening. Cellist Anne Müller later confessed that she was the one who hadn’t gotten her visa to travel to the United States. All was forgiven as the trio, completed with violinist Mika Posen (Timber Timbre), effortlessly weaved through both albums.

From the fluttery keys on the song about a bad temper, “Beast,” to a waltz of title track “Philharmonics,” the women hovered amongst the delicately played pieces to the joy of fans. Obel saved the best for last, offering crowd-favorite “Riverside,” as well as the new love song “Words Are Dead.” Although “The Curse” closed out the set, the three returned to encore with a pair: the vocally requested “Pass Them By” and a reimagined cover of folk blues singer Karen Dalton’s “Katie Cruel.” —Sharlene Chiu



Wildcat! Wildcat! Charm Mercury Lounge

August 14th, 2014

Wildcat! Wildcat! – Mercury Lounge – August 13, 2014

Wednesday nights at Mercury Lounge can begin slowly. But last night’s late-show crowd was mesmerized early on as multi-instrumentalist Marley Carroll took the stage. He kicked off things by songs filled with sharpshooting synths and airy vocals. Initially, the crowd shied away from dancing due to the set’s slow, ambient beginnings, but Carroll’s fast-morphing samples and rhythmic bass quickly took hold of everyone. Based in Asheville, N.C., the producer has a knack for melding effervescent pop stylings with eerie electronic elements to create a gorgeously sleek sound. A pair of tracks from his 2013 album, Sings“The Hunter” and “Speed Reader”—anchored his impressive performance.

Grinning ear to ear, the four Wildcat! Wildcat! bandmates wove through the dense crowd and onto the stage. In town for a second night, the inventive indie rockers were more than happy to have another keen New York City audience. They opened with “Tower,” the first song off of their debut full-length album, No Moon at All, which came out just last week. A longstanding friendship among the three core Wildcat! Wildcat! members explains the organic camaraderie that radiates from them onstage. There’s a lot of humor and exuberance at play in their material, and while these elements could easily make their music float aimlessly into the realm of sugary synth pop, introspective, desire-filled lyrics and beguiling harmonies root the crafty Los Angeles outfit’s music firmly in its own little plot of land somewhere in the Venn diagram overlap of dance, pop and rock.

“Hero,” “Circuit Breaker,” the playful-yet-somber ballad “Mr. Quiche” and “The Chief” (complete with a very clever sax solo) stood out. And the entire show proved that Wildcat! Wildcat!’s songs are built for live play. With the memory of last night’s sparkling performance still clear in my head, I’ll happily put No Moon at All on heavy rotation and surrender to the band’s ever-vibrant charm. —Schuyler Rooth




A Modest Mouse Lovefest at the Capitol Theatre

August 6th, 2014

Modest Mouse – Capitol Theatre – August 5, 2014

(Photo: Andie Diemer)

(Photo: Andie Diemer)

A love for Modest Mouse is one that runs deep. My own unscientific assessment of this leads me to believe that an unusually high percentage of the band’s fans also have Modest Mouse tattoos. And at the earliest indicators that the group was about to take the Capital Theatre stage last night—as the road crew wrapped up tuning guitars, the house lights dimming—just about everyone in the building screamed at the top of their lungs. That screaming would carry on for the rest of the night. Most artists tend to see their muse as something external, but Isaac Brock’s seems to live in his belly. It’s as if he’d swallowed his muse whole many years ago, and it’s been trying to fight its way out ever since. It’s a battle that seems to take place as he performs: As “King Rat” began, Brock countered with his signature howls of “Well!” like the muse was acknowledging its creation.

It’s been five years since Modest Mouse have released new music, and while there were some new songs sprinkled into the two-hour set (previously played “Sugar Boats” and “Lampshades on Fire”), the night was mostly a nonstop Modest Mouse retrospective. With a touring band up to eight, possibly nine members, songs weren’t spared a single sonic embellishment. Some even ended up sounding more polished than when they were first recorded. With three people covering percussion, “Bukowski” took on an almost-marching-song tempo. An added string arrangement on “Cowboy Dan” made an already epic song that much more colossal.

The set featured practically the entirety of Good News for People Who Love Bad News, in addition to old favorites like “3rd Planet,” “Out of Gas” and “A Different City.” At about the moment when you might have thought, “Have they left any time for an encore?” the band left the stage but returned to play through six more, “Black Cadillacs,” “Wild Pack of Family Dogs,” “Broke,” “Paper Thin Walls,” “Fly Trapped in a Jar” and “Spitting Venom,” with hardly any breaks between them. With too many great songs to choose from, Modest Mouse did their damnedest to squeeze in as many as possible. How they’ll pull this off when a new album is added into the mix will certainly be a challenge, so better see them before it comes out. Or just see them then, too. A Modest Mouse love knows no bounds. —Dan Rickershauser




A Modern Band with a Throwback Sound at Rough Trade NYC

August 4th, 2014

U.S. Royalty – Rough Trade NYC – August 1, 2014

U.S. Royalty – Rough Trade NYC – August 1, 2014
After first hearing U.S. Royalty, you might wonder exactly which decade they were popular in and why you’d never heard of them before. Not long after that, you’ll realize that they aren’t a band from the past, but rather, they are just making out-of-this-time rock music while touring the country—in this millennium. The Washington, D.C., foursome brought their throwback sound to Rough Trade NYC on Friday night and dazzled the crowd there for an hour with an excellent blend of songs from their 2011 release, Mirrors, and their new record, Blue Sunshine. And while they might still be a band trying to make a name for themselves, they are certainly worth your time.

Most touring bands with a few years behind them boast a tight musical performance, but U.S. Royalty’s live show was impeccable. Singer John Thornley’s seemingly effortless voice (no easy feat considering some of the high notes he hits), led the way for the beautifully fuzzy melodies backed by lead guitarist Paul Thornley. When bassist Jacob Michael wasn’t keeping the rhythm with drummer Luke Adams, he was way up the neck of his bass, adding in musical touches that most bands would hire another guitarist to pull off.

Some of U.S. Royalty’s catchiest songs, like “Only Happy in the Country,” make you wonder why you at least haven’t heard this band in commercials. Throughout the set they skimmed the waters of psychedelic rock with the rip-roaring set closer “The Desert Won’t Save You,” glam rock with the Garland Jeffreys cover “Wild in the Streets,” and just about every other classic-rock iteration in between. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine them opening for anyone from Gary Clark Jr. to Portugal. The Man and fitting right in. And while their music might seem more at home surrounded by the crackle of aged vinyl, it’s a very good thing that they’re here with us now. —Sean O’Kane

Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane | seanokanephoto.com


A Little Bit of Everything with Conor Oberst and Dawes

July 30th, 2014

Conor Oberst and Dawes – SummerStage – July 29, 2014

Conor Oberst and Dawes – SummerStage – July 29, 2014
Going into last night’s Conor Oberst show, I really had no idea what to expect. I hadn’t seen him perform since 2005 at Webster Hall, when he was feverishly touring behind the concurrent releases I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. Would last night’s SummerStage crowd be made up of the same sort of screaming diehards who used to fill venues for his shows? Or would it be people who had found out about him later in life, perhaps just fans of his solo career? Turns out, those in attendance, much like the hour-and-a-half set they witnessed, were a refreshing mix of everything.

Backed throughout the night by the terrific opening band, Dawes—and occasionally some auxiliary members—Oberst began the set with “Time Forgot,” the opening track from his newest album, Upside Down Mountain. The song set the tone of much of what was to come, with Oberst strumming the rhythms (often on an acoustic guitar) behind his still sometimes trembling voice while lush melodies were sung and played behind him by the shape-shifting band. Considering the effort some other artists put into separating their solo careers from the bands that made them famous, I was surprised by how much of the set was filled with Bright Eyes songs. Oberst didn’t just play the obvious ones, like “Lover I Don’t Have to Love,” either. Early on, the crowd gleefully sang along to “We Are Nowhere and It’s Now” and “Hit the Switch,” each from those 2005 releases, and deeper cuts like the cheeky “Bowl of Oranges.” The expanded sound benefitted many of his more folkie songs extremely well, adding bounce to the already bouncy “Danny Callahan” and nearly turning the encore-capping “Another Travelin’ Song” into a soul revival with horns shouting over the tune’s furious pace.

The night’s most poignant moment just might have been the slow-burning country ballad “Poison Oak,” which began with just Oberst and Dawes’s Wylie Gelber and Taylor Goldsmith before it blossomed into a raging full-band sound as the song crested. Throughout all of this, the crowd hung on every moment. Fanatic adoration still pays a big part in the dynamic of Oberst’s performances, with concertgoers shouting at nonsensical moments, or loudly professing their love for the man while loosely mouthing the lyrics. But last night’s show proved that many of his fans have come a long way since the days of Bright Eyes—just as Oberst has. It’s a progression that’s stark when viewed after nine years of missing out, but it’s still just as rewarding to see. —Sean O’Kane

Photos courtesy of Mina K


Braid Take a Look Back and Step Forward in Their Triumphant Return

July 28th, 2014

Braid – Music Hall of Williamsburg – July 26, 2014

Braid – Music Hall of Williamsburg – July 26, 2014
“We’re a band called Braid,” singer Bob Nanna happily but unnecessarily informed the packed crowd at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday night, midway through his band’s set. Just three short years after the ’90s-emo patriarchs reunited for a run of shows that featured full performances of their 1998 classic, Frame & Canvas, the foursome have returned with their first LP since that milestone release. The new album is called No Coast, and based on their reactions, fans are more than happy that this is the way the group has finally returned. And although the new music has been well received, testing it live in front of concertgoers hungry for nostalgia is always a different story.

Braid began the show with “Bang,” the new album’s first-released track, before going right back to Frame & Canvas with “Killing a Camera” and “First Day Back.” That oscillation between old and new got the crowd moving, and it was immediately clear that this mix of throwbacks and new tunes was going to work just fine. The loudest reactions were reserved for staples like “The New Nathan Detroits” and “A Dozen Roses,” which were also some of the few songs that inspired moshing and crowd surfing.

While Braid are no longer playing sweaty sets in low-capacity rooms like they were when they got their start in the ’90s, their sound remains as loud and sharp as ever, with Nanna and guitar player Chris Broach’s vocals leading the way through jut about every song. Nanna, who has notoriously kept detailed records of every show Braid show, reminisced about one of their first New York City performances at the now-closed Brownie’s “to like 5 people.” “We’re from Chicago but we’ve played … everywhere,” he quipped early in the set. And judging from the reception on Saturday night, Braid’s newest effort is a sign that they’ve still got plenty of miles left to travel. —Sean O’Kane

Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane | seanokanephoto.com


A Late Night with Phox at Mercury Lounge

July 24th, 2014

Phox – Mercury Lounge – July 23, 2014

Phox – Mercury Lounge – July 23, 2014
Mercury Lounge filled up quickly last night for electric rockers Trails and Ways, out of Oakland, Calif., and the Wisconsin folk-pop outfit Phox. Trails and Ways, up first, are four friends who self-identify as a bossa nova dream-pop act. They played from their debut EP, Trilingual, including the effervescent tune “Nunca,” and shared a few new songs.

Clearly giddy to be playing in New York City, Phox’s six members took their posts on the tiny stage and launched right into a material from their self-titled debut album. The band’s size doesn’t faze them one bit. Their onstage chemistry is due in part to the fact that they grew up together, attending the same high school in a very small town. So what could easily be a tumble of clumsy fingers on instruments is instead a web of warm harmonies, clever strings, quiet keys, bold beats and even the occasional trumpet. Suffice it to say, there is an undeniable kinship here. Singer Monica Martin’s airy, lilting vocals were front and center, and her fellow bandmates took turns playing sparkling solos.

“Noble Heart,” “Kingfisher” and “Slow Motion” showcased Phox’s flare for sneakily swelling harmonies. Anecdotes from Martin—whose idiosyncrasies are downright charming—peppered the set. The band brought up a friend, John Cameron Mitchell, who sang a gorgeous rendition of “Why Try to Change Me Now” (made popular by Frank Sinatra) with Martin as the two sipped martinis. Although the show ran late and the crowd trickled out around 1 a.m., it was well worth burning the midnight oil to see two truly talented teams of musicians work their magic. As far as live performances go, Phox and Trails & Ways are the cream of the crop. —Schuyler Rooth

Photos courtesy of Adam Macchia | www.adamkanemacchia.com


Not Coasting By on Their Reputation, Neutral Milk Hotel Deliver

July 23rd, 2014

Neutral Milk Hotel – Celebrate Brooklyn at Prospect Park Bandshell – July 22, 2014

Neutral Milk Hotel
In the glow of the so-called magic hour before sunset in Prospect Park last night, Neutral Milk Hotel appeared onstage before a sold-out crowd as part of the Celebrate Brooklyn summer-concert series. They have something of a magical status of their own these days, after their seemingly permanent hiatus miraculously came to an end about a year ago. Everyone from the original lineup that appeared on the band’s heralded 1998 album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, was onstage together last night, along with supporting musicians helping to round out the songs with violin, trombone, accordion and more.

Of course the main attraction (aside from Julian Koster’s impressive singing saw) was Jeff Mangum, the frontman whose name over the past decade was most often preceded by words like enigmatic, reclusive, mythical and just about any other melodramatic adjective describing his retreat from the public eye as a performer. As a lyricist, Mangum has crafted much-revered songs like “Holland, 1945,” “Two-Headed Boy” and Aeroplane’s beloved title track, all of which elicited extreme reactions from last night’s crowd—from tears of elation to exuberant, completely un-self-conscious dancing and singing along.

Because the sacred aura that hovers around Neutral Milk Hotel and Mangum’s return is so prevalent, it’s worth noting that the live band does not simply coast by on their reputation. Neutral Milk Hotel delivered a solid, joyful performance of the songs that garnered them such a loyal fan base, with Mangum’s distinctive voice clear and powerful on songs like “Ghost,” “Oh Comely” and “King of Carrot Flowers (Parts 1, 2 & 3).” His stage presence was understated and humble, and he proved a naturally compelling performer—hopefully no longer a myth or mystery to so many fans, just a real person, a talented musician, whose songs have come to life on stage once again. —Alena Kastin

(Neutral Milk Hotel play Celebrate Brooklyn at the Prospect Park Bandshell tonight.)




Camera Obscura Charm Music Hall of Williamsburg

July 17th, 2014

Camera Obscura – Music Hall of Williamsburg – July 16, 2014

Camera Obscura – Music Hall of Williamsburg – July 16, 2014
There’s something to say about bands that have stuck together for nearly two decades, as have the Scottish troupe Camera Obscura. Helmed by Tracyanne Campbell and her sweet vocals, the band released their fifth studio album, Desire Lines, last summer while touring in support of She & Him. Obvious comparisons to countrymen Belle and Sebastian are inevitable, especially when that band’s frontman, Stuart Murdoch, produced Obscura’s first LP. From album to album these Glaswegians have found the perfect balance of indie-pop melodies and bittersweet lyrics. Bringing their blend of heartbreak masked behind ’60s-influenced sensibilities, Camera Obscura charmed a sold-out crowd last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg.

Performing before a backdrop of their previous album cover, the Scots opened the show with “Break It to You Gently,” from Desire Lines. Much of the set was comprised largely from that album and their 2009 effort, My Maudlin Career. In her infectious Scottish brogue, Campbell exclaimed, “Hellllo, how’s it going? What a beautiful evening! Exciting!” And then the rotating disco ball sparkled as they broke into the rollicking “Let’s Get Out of This Country” before the horn-heavy “Honey in the Sun” drew cheers for more trumpet upon its conclusion. Fan-favorite “French Navy” elicited a sing-along from the audience: “I was criticized for letting you break my heart/ Why would I stand for disappointed looks?/ I’m fully grown, but I’m on tenterhooks/ Ooh with the looks, on tenterhooks/ Ooh with the looks, the looks, the looks.”

Handclaps introduced “If Looks Could Kill” just before a pair of older tracks, “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken” and “My Maudlin Career,” closed the set. But not wanting to leave their admirers brokenhearted, Camera Obscura returned to the stage to encore with “Come Back Margaret,” “Books Written for Girls” and “Razzle Dazzle Rose.” The “midweek New Yorkers” who made the evening feel like a Saturday night enamored the frontwoman, and those same New Yorkers were equally enamored with Campbell and her band. —Sharlene Chiu

Photos courtesy of Mike Benigno | mikebenigno.wordpress.com


Iron & Wine Play Career-Spanning Show at the Space at Westbury

June 27th, 2014

Iron & Wine – the Space at Westbury – June 26, 2014

When you go see Iron & Wine, you know what you’re going to get but also don’t know what you’re going to get. Of course, there are going to be great songs, lots of them, overflowing with unique lyricism, imagery and melody, and you know you’ll have Sam Beam there to sing them to you. What you don’t always know is who will be playing with him, which will set the tone and style of the show. In past years, the sound has followed as Beam has toured with horns or backup singers or a stripped-down band. On Thursday night at the Space in Westbury, Beam played what he thought was his first show on Long Island proper, backed by a steady-as-she-goes roots-rock band that might be equally comfortable backing Bob Dylan these days, and the music followed suit.

The show opened with a terrific set from the Secret Sisters, out of Alabama, their vocal harmonies resonating to almost cosmic effect, while their backing band rumbled with soulful blues rock. The voices, the music, the set—which ranged across multiple styles of rock and roll, including covers of Hank Williams and their take on an unfinished Dylan piece—and the Sisters’ Southern charm easily won over the crowd. Beam and his band opened their career-spanning headlining set with a high-energy folk-shuffle version of “Boy with a Coin.” Banjo, acoustic guitar, organ, bass and drums nicely accented Beam’s agave-nectar natural-sweetener voice. The band flipped among instruments to widen the sound, Jim Becker moving from banjo to mandolin to acoustic-wired-electric guitar; Rob Burger moving from organ to Rhodes. Songs of exquisite beauty, like “House by the Sea,” with some nice double-acoustic guitar picking, led up to some momentum-building blues rock on songs like “Freedom Hangs Like Heaven.”

And while the band nicely worked the material, the set’s highlight was at the halfway point when Beam cast aside the extra musicians, first with a gorgeous duet with Burger on “Joy,” off his most recent album, Ghost on Ghost. This was followed by an all-request group of solo songs that stole the show. The enthusiastic crowd was up for the task, asking for some A-list material. All were great, but two songs stood out: First, Iron & Wine’s made-it-his-own, pure-light-and-good version of the Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights,” which certainly took away the breath from even the most cynical curmudgeon in the room. The poetic “Flightless Bird, American Mouth,” was second, Beam’s voice shocking the not silenced easily audience into a silence beautiful in its absoluteness. The remainder of the show was a cascade of hits, featuring great versions of “Woman King,” “Rabbit Will Run” and the dark, slow build-to-climax encore of “Lovers Revolution.” It was a reminder of how many great songs Beam has to choose from, but really, no surprises there. —A. Stein





Tune-Yards Close Out Tour at Webster Hall

June 24th, 2014

Tune-Yards – Webster Hall – June 23, 2014

New Yorkers, if you haven’t had the chance to catch Tune-Yards yet you’ve missed your chance this time around. The band ended their U.S. tour in New York City last night, giving locals three different chances to see them over the past couple of months, first playing a show at Rough Trade NYC in May and ending it with two more at Webster Hall, including last night. The show began with the venue practically already at capacity for Sylvan Esso’s opening set. The band featured the wonderfully charismatic singer Amelia Meath, with equally impressive dance and vocal moves, backed by Nick Sanborn’s dance-mandatory electronic music. With its repeated chorus of “heads, shoulders, knees and toes,” the song “H.S.K.T.” felt like a request to move all of the following. Watching Meath do so unabashedly onstage made it easier for everyone else at Webster Hall to follow. It was a set that could leave one thinking, “Why isn’t this band bigger?”—a question more likely than not to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Behind Sylvan Esso was the backdrop for Tune-Yards. The Peptmo Bismol–colored pink curtain covered in giant UFO-looking iridescent eyes offered a taste of what was to come. Tune-Yards have grown for this tour to include a handful of backing dancers and singers. It’s a welcome addition for the new Nikki Nack songs, much more percussive and rhythm-based, which even had Merrill Garbus on the drums for most of the night. With the backdrop, dancing, backup vocals and neon costumes perfect for a backlight, things kicked off in a maximalist way, offering something for every sense.

In comparison, “Gangsta” felt distilled down to its chaotic essence, held together at times only by its intermittent police-siren-sounding wails. Garbus brought ought the ukulele for “Powa.” Just the sight of it elicited a noticeable cheer from the audience, but the highlight of the night was “Bizness.” The song kicked off with the backing singers impressively covering the harmonic hoos usually done by Garbus and a loop pedal. As the tune reached its triumphant peak, Sanborn from Sylvan Esso jumped out of nowhere to crowd surf over the dancing audience. This moment, as well as the rest of the night, felt like a celebration of a U.S. tour well done. —Dan Rickershauser