Tag Archives: Review

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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.)

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TV on the Radio End Tour at Home at Music Hall of Williamsburg

November 24th, 2014

TV on the Radio – Music Hall of Williamsburg – November 22, 2014

TV on the Radio – Music Hall of Williamsburg – November 22, 2014
There was a time when Williamsburg was still an affordable place to live, before New York City’s music scene exploded with a handful of bands that would go on to define indie-rock music at the turn of the millennium—the Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol and TV on the Radio. That last group had their gestation period take place in Williamsburg, so it makes sense that they’d wrap up their latest tour in their home base. Still absolutely adored here, the band easily sold out three local shows (plus a free in-store appearance at Rough Trade NYC), with their final appearance taking place at a packed Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday night. The performance kicked off with one of TV on the Radio’s very first songs, an unraveling expansive soundscape that slowly evolved its way toward the introductory vocal coos of “Young Liars.” Its energy notched up incrementally until dissipating into the taut funkiness of “Golden Age.”

Singer Tunde Adebimpe was a stage-performing spectacle. Whichever hand wasn’t holding his microphone was almost always miming out the song, sometimes reaching out to the audience as if to lend them a hand into the tune. “The age of miracles/ The age of sound/ Well there’s a Golden Age/ Comin’ round, comin’ round, comin’ round,” Adebimpe sang in “Golden Age,” spiraling his hand in the air before extending it out to the audience: Grab my hand, hop on board and let’s check it out. Then there was the near constant harmonizing with Kyp Malone, and if there’s one thing that’s instantly recognizable as TV on the Radio, it’s the two of them singing together, with Malone always several octaves higher in the highest of falsettos. It splits the expressive possibilities of their songs in half, and in it’s best moments the two of them sing the same lyrics with different emotions. On “Careful You,” off their new album, Seeds, one seems to be singing a statement and the other a plea.

The older numbers had a more abrasive edge than the newer ones. “I Was a Lover,” with all its jittery, stuttering rhythm, encapsulates the Bush-era anxieties of the mid-’00s as well as any other song of that time. On “Wolf Like Me,” the band made things as loud as possible. Dave Sitek even brought out a four-foot wind chime, rattling the hell out of it as the song finished. Contrast that with the new tune that followed, “Trouble,” and its reassurances in the chorus of “‘Everything’s gonna be OK/ Oh, I keep telling myself, ‘Don’t worry, be happy’/ Oh, you keep telling yourself.” TV on the Radio’s encore kicked off with “Forgotten,” off Nine Types of Light, Adebimpe leading the audience in chanting, “Light,” to combat life’s darkness. The set closed with “Staring at the Sun,” their first single, the perfect finish to a tour-ending show in their hometown, where once upon a time it had all begun. —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com

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The Barr Brothers Bring Their Beautiful, Exotic New Music to the LES

November 24th, 2014

The Barr Brothers – The Bowery Ballroom – November 21, 2014

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If you got to the Barr Brothers show at The Bowery Ballroom a little early on Friday night like I did, you were greeted by a stage filled with instruments. Music makers of all sorts crammed every corner of the space: at least half a dozen guitars including some D.I.Y. thing that looked like an old lunch pail with strings, a harp, a pedal steel guitar, a couple of keyboards, drums (is that a bicycle wheel?!) and at some point around a zillion I lost count. It was a sight to behold and foreshadowed the music to come. At least a couple of those instruments belonged to the opener, Leif Vollebekk, who mesmerized the early birds with a solo set of folk-centric music, the perfect palette cleanser between the workweek and the weekend. He packed quite a bit into his 30 minutes, playing two different guitars at multiple tunings each, an electric piano, a harmonica and a violin he had hidden off to the side. The highlight was “When the Subway Comes Above the Ground,” a long, Dylan-esque number with wonderful imagery and acoustic guitar playing to match. Vollebekk finished with a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.”

By the time the Barrs took the stage, the room was filled with decidedly high spirits. The band, the brothers Andrew and Brad Barr plus four, began things, naturally, all with an instrument in hand, including Sarah Page, holding what I guess I’d call a mini harp, and Andrew on banjo. The music was beautiful and exotic, a sound greater than the contributions of each musician and instrument. Songs like “Wolves” and “Love Ain’t Enough,” off their new album, Sleeping Operator, or the excellent “Beggar in the Morning,” from their 2011 self-titled debut, deliciously blended pedal steel–meets-harp in ethereal melody. Along the way, all those instruments onstage—and more hidden from sight—made an appearance in fascinating permutations, Brad Barr performing with each different guitar like a musician showing off a how’d-he-do-that trick. The sounds were dense and often unexpected, I kept craning my neck to see who was playing what and how and usually gave up. While Brad led the way and proved his mastery on guitar, Andrew held things together and set the tone, at one point simultaneously singing and playing drums and banjo. At different times the music felt African and heavy blues and art-folk-pop or genres still to be determined, everything made to fit together snug by the brothers Barr.

Following a lengthy set, the Barr Brothers encored with “Cloud (For Lhasa),” which seemed to encompass and summarize the whole night at once—beautiful songwriting augmented by masterful guitar playing, distinctive harp plucking, pedal steel (played with a bow for good measure), Andrew playing drums and xylophone, Leif Vollebekk returning to add some violin, not to mention great keyboard and bass playing, and to top it all off, Brad Barr taking a lengthy solo that brought him down into the crowd. Quite a way to end quite a set. Good thing too … if they had kept playing, they might have literally brought out the kitchen sink. —A. Stein | @neddyo

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Thee Oh Sees Chase Away Cold Weather at The Bowery Ballroom

November 19th, 2014

Thee Oh Sees – The Bowery Ballroom – November 18, 2014

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The reasons to stay home last night were there for the taking: It was the first “damn, it’s cold outside!” night of the season, late start on a Tuesday night, etc. No one’s blaming you if you skipped out on the Thee Oh Sees at The Bowery Ballroom. But John Dwyer and his bandmates are a center of gravity, and judging from the jubilant packed house, few, if any, were able to withstand its irresistible pull. Opening with “Tunnel Time,” off last year’s Floating Coffin, Dwyer was a lesson in classic physics—pure kinetic energy, object-in-motion-tends-to-stay-in-motion conservation of angular momentum—and pretty much kept it up the entire set. The band mixed songs off their newest album, Drop, with plenty of older barn burners, but it wasn’t so important which tunes they played as how they played them, and how they played them was like a powder keg with a very short fuse.

Here’s what you don’t get at a Thee Oh Sees show: fancy lights, digital projections or witty banter … or any banter for that matter. They pretty much employed the Bowery’s basic lights, eschewing the modern color palettes and designs available and sticking mostly to red, yellow and blue. This was primary-color rock, stripped down to its bare essentials: guitar, bass and drums operating as a single unit, a shot of punk adrenaline with a garage-psych chaser. Which isn’t to say that Dwyer’s music is simple. Songs were stretched out just long enough, Tim Hellman on bass and Nick Murray on drums matching his blistering, never self-indulgent guitar with propulsive melodic rhythm.

On some songs Dwyer used a 12-string guitar to add a little flavor, other times playing a few riffs through a small synth to good effect, but mostly he was pounding away at his guitar, half singing/half shouting his lyrics, everything punctuated by one big Sans Serif exclamation point, if not two or three of them. The crowd kept up with the band, bouncing and moshing with the occasional stage diver taking a ride on the bubbling audience. It was hard to not get sucked into the high-energy fun. For all their great studio tracks, Thee Oh Sees proved that they are best experienced live in the raw and that this was live music in its purest, distilled form … well worth getting off the couch. —A. Stein | twitter.com/neddyo

(Thee Oh Sees play Warsaw on Friday.)

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Lucinda Williams Rises to the Challenge at the Beacon Theatre

November 18th, 2014

Lucinda Williams – Beacon Theatre – November 17, 2014

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Lucinda Williams celebrated her new LP, Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, with a spirited performance at the Beacon Theatre last night. For many artists, creating a double album of almost completely new and original music might be a bit daunting, but Williams’ musical output in recent years has been ambitious and inspired, and perhaps this is the new normal for her—the fans would certainly not complain.

With her leather jacket and confident, wide-legged stance, Williams commanded the stage, as usual, combining new songs—like “Protection,” the moody “Burning Bridges” and the bluesy “Something Wicked This Way Comes”—with material from back in the ’80s (“Side of the Road”), the ’90s (“Pineola,” “Lake Charles,”) and of course, a great deal from her prolific songwriting period during the Aughts. With a natural ability to give a strong sense of atmosphere with just a few well-chosen details, she’s always been an excellent storyteller. But during last night’s show, Williams prefaced another new song, “Compassion,” by saying it was especially challenging to write. It was the first time she attempted to put one of the poems by Miller Williams, her father, to music. She spoke about his insistence that songs and poems are “two different animals.”

Yet Williams rose to the challenge, and the resulting song was something of a departure from much of her lively, roots-y material, a stark, melancholic piece of music that seemed to wrap itself around the lines of the poem, allowing the rhythm of the words to inform the melody. The result was both arresting and refreshing, an interesting look at an artist seeking to keep exploring and challenging herself, while continuing to make and perform the music that has always spoken to her. —Alena Kastin | twitter.com/alenak

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Come On, Get Happy with Ani DiFranco at Music Hall of Williamsburg

November 17th, 2014

Ani DiFranco – Music Hall of Williamsburg – November 14, 2014

(Photo: Charles Waldorf)

(Photo: Charles Waldorf)

One word that kept popping up during Ani DiFranco’s set at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday night was happy. Whether it was her performance of “Happy All the Time” or her anecdote about an early MTV appearance when Kurt Loder described her as “alarmingly happy,” there was no mistaking the word’s presence in the room. But even her most casual fans know that in DiFranco’s universe words have meaning, have consequence. So while happy made its presence felt, happiness itself, that most sought after of emotions, was in overabundance from the moment DiFranco took the stage. By the time she played the first notes of the show-opening “Not a Pretty Girl,” singing, “I ain’t no damsel in distress,” the audience was drowning in unadulterated joy: screaming, singing, dancing, shouting and, of course, smiling.

DiFranco has that effect on people, and while her own smile was positively beatific, she seemed used to such a reaction. Watching her perform, it’s little surprise that DiFranco pours more emotion and energy into a single chord of her acoustic guitar and wrings more rhythm and soul out of a phrase-turning lyric than you would think is possible. Even her between-song banter was the stuff of Zen poetry: her apologies for new material to come after the old “lulls you into a false sense of security,” and an anecdote about her daughter’s favorite “mommy song” (“Rainy Parade”), and the description of taking a very old song, “Itch,” and turning it into something new. While the old numbers elicited the most enthusiasm from the audience, it’s saying something that some of the best moments came from the new stuff. And there was plenty, whether a generous helping from her new album, Allergic to Water, or the song she wrote a couple of weeks ago or the one that she was working on the previous evening that may or may not be finished, DiFranco proved herself to be dense with songs that are dense with musical ideas and notes and imagery.

As always with DiFranco, part of her show’s magic was the chemistry of the band: Todd Sickafoose on bass, Terence Higgins on drums, and about half the set with Jenny Scheinman on violin and backing vocals. The group was part folk-rock band, part country ensemble, part jazz quartet. The portions with Scheinman (who played an excellent solo opening set) were arguably the strongest, her kindred-spirit playing and singing providing valuable, dimension-expanding counterpoint to DiFranco’s frantic musicianship. The four of them performing “Tis of Thee” was chills-inducing good, a happy-making highlight in a show alarmingly full of them. —A. Stein | twitter.com/neddyo

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A Taste of Alberta Lands on Delancey St.

November 14th, 2014

Rural Alberta Advantage – The Bowery Ballroom – November 13, 2014

Rural Alberta Advantage – The Bowery Ballroom – November 13, 2014
Rural Alberta Advantage singer Nils Edenloff never makes anything look easy. The veins in his neck bulge as he reaches for his upper register, a frequent move in the arrangements of his band’s emotive acoustic pop. Often as early as a melody’s second or third note, Edenloff’s raspy tenor nears the top of his range, rattling away like a charming, reliable, old bucket-of-bolts car, possessing a mixture of utility and worn grace. The overwhelming sense of watching him perform his craft, a painful high-wire act, is that he may well be damaging himself for your benefit. If it isn’t guilt you’re feeling, it’s something like indebtedness. So it was theatrically painful pathos—along with their most bombastic studio album to date, Mended with Gold—that the Rural Alberta Advantage brought to The Bowery Ballroom on a blustery Thursday evening.

The RAA opened with “Stamp,” “Muscle Relaxants” and “Don’t Haunt This Place,” all songs from their first two records. The opening sequence reminded a New York City audience that hadn’t seen the band since January that their catalog runs deeper than just a new LP. Paul Banwatt, one of the best-period-drummers-period-in-rock-music-period, wailed away on the same beat-up drum kit he’s used for years. The My Old Kentucky Blog sticker on the side of one of his tom drums dates the kit back to an era when music blogs helped rocket the band out of the open-stage night in Toronto where Edenloff and Banwatt first met. The band, too, felt older, more methodical, moving with deliberate if not frenetic pacing. The riffs exploding from Banwatt’s drums supported Edenloff’s raspy vocal when the band switched to material from Mended with Gold, pounding out lead track “Our Love…,” the snare hits arriving with the same inhuman effort as the melody.

Edenloff reminded fans that although the band is from Toronto that he was originally from Alberta and that many of the songs regarded his native province. With the always delightful Amy Cole—backstage sticker affixed to her bare right arm—leaning on the backing vocals, the RAA played  “Runners in the Night” and “Vulcan, AB.” On the latter, Edenloff sang into a modified telephone-receiver microphone. It was a call from far away, a Canadian prairie hymn shot through with human suffering and effort. Outside, the first snow of the season was rumored to be only hours away from dusting Delancey St., a bit of the frontier carried in a gravelly vocal, an old drum kit and Cole’s Swiss Army ebullience. It was anything but easy. —Geoff Nelson | twitter.com/32feet

Photos courtesy of Mike Benigno | mikebenigno.wordpress.com

(Tonight’s Rural Alberta Advantage show at The Bowery Ballroom is sold out.)

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Tame Impala Lay It Down on Broadway

November 11th, 2014

Tame Impala – Beacon Theatre – November 10, 2014

SwFNceWCEg-39M-6eaLmGM1RUUQeEzLOdaOmq8EzDGMWhat is it they say about Broadway, something about how there’s always magic in the air? Australian rockers Tame Impala made the move uptown this week to the Beacon Theatre, playing the second of two-sold out shows last night and there was plenty of magic in the air as the five-piece proved that they’re a perfect fit for a show right there on Broadway. After a mesmerizing set of instrumental guitar music from Delicate Steve, the Perth quintet took the stage as the electronic drums of “Be Above It” set the tone, green oscilloscope lights on the backdrop twinkling in time to the beat. As Kevin Parker’s zone-out vocals echoed, the sights and sounds grew more chaotic, the band arching orbital sounds through the venue.

The tone firmly set, the rest of the show was a majestic 80-minute psychedelic rock–and-lights masterpiece: immersive and transforming. On a day when many in the music world were discussing a new Pink Floyd release, on songs like “Solitude Is Bliss,” Tame Impala felt like the real thing at their peak, mixing prog and psych, groove and full-throated rock outs while every color of the rainbow zapped through the room in time to the music. In working through most of their 2012 LP, Lonerism, they showed there’s plenty of life in slow, otherworldly groovers like “Why Won’t They Talk to Me?” and big time arena-rock bliss in “Elephant.” There was one moment during “Endors Toi” when the group seemed to make science, ’70s prog rock and the slow clap seem cool again in one single passage, the crowd holding the beat, the band tripping hallucinogenic in synth and guitars and the backdrop going full on mathematical. Keeping with the theme, in the intro to “Mind Mischief,” Parker turned to face the screen behind him as it buzzed into shapes following his distorted guitar solo, like he was painting psychedelic patterns with his music, science meets art in Technicolor.

Of course, there were plenty of bits of esoteric instrumentals and extended jams throughout the performance, but they felt earned, part of the journey and not the destination itself. The growing entropy of the show met its end with the set-closing “Apocalypse Dreams,” the oscilloscope imagery a Crayola box of squiggles seeming to rush out at the geeked audience while the band built to a final climax. With a crowd-pleasing, sing-along encore of “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” it appeared that what they say about Broadway, at least as far as Tame Impala are concerned, is true after all. —A. Stein

(Delicate Steve play Mercury Lounge on 11/20.)

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The Dismemberment Plan Deliver Live at The Bowery Ballroom

November 10th, 2014

The Dismemberment Plan – The Bowery Ballroom – November 8, 2014

the-dismemberment-plan
“We’re the Dismemberment Plan from Washington D.C.” I’ve never seen this band introduce themselves any other way, and it’s as good a starting point as any. This is a rock band from D.C., America’s most political town that took punk rock in the ’80s and evolved it, kept it great. In some future book about D.C. punk, their chapter will probably follow Fugazi’s and will say a lot about the late ’90s and early Aughts, when they made a legacy for themselves. Here’s the band that took post-punk technicality, added in a synth where applicable, surrounded themselves with a community of devoted fans, and in many ways kept a scene alive. They were an indie band that flirted with a major-label career, one with Interscope Records that gave them the resources to record a near-perfect record, Emergency & I, only to see the relationship dissolve before it was ever released. After some breaks, the band seemed to be back for good as of 2010, even releasing some new material in 2013 with Uncanney Valley. But this latest tour comes on the heels of the vinyl rerelease of Change, their 2001 record that most at the time assumed would be their last. In short, they’re the Dismemberment Plan from D.C. One thing to add: They’re incredible live. That observation inevitably follows their introduction.

If it’s possible for a band to be tighter live than on record, the Dismemberment Plan are. They wouldn’t function without perfect drumming, which they get from Joe Easley. He doesn’t so much lead the band as he pushes them all into the same rhythm. Fun fact: His day job is programming robotics for NASA. Those two jobs are definitely related. Look at New York City from a distance and you may see the place pulsing with an almost mechanical life force, pushing its millions of inhabitants through their lives, creating some large-scale sense of order with a mind entirely of its own. The first few bars of “The City” distill that feeling into the song’s rhythm. Lead singer Travis Morrison’s plainspoken lyrics sit comfortably atop all of this, feeling like real-time narration for the world the song represents. For “You Are Invited,” nothing but a synth skeleton of a beat makes up this world, but when Morrison breaths humanity into the scene he’s setting and responds to it, the band jumps in for the chorus. “You are invited by anyone to do anything/ You are invited for all time.” The sudden change really does make the chorus feel like you’re being extended an invitation to belong in a world that seldom feels welcoming. And it’s certainly an invitation to sing along.

Some of Dismemberment Plan’s lesser-known songs become highlights when performed live. “Dismemberment Plan Gets Rich” almost seemed like the whitest rap song ever written. For seven seconds, the frantic noisy song fell unexpectedly into an out-of-nowhere funk groove for the line “Joe got caught aboard a boat with seven tons of opium,” the most pleasant of sonic surprises for those not anticipating it. “Girl O’Clock” felt like a panic attack in music form, with Morrison thrashing onstage toward his synth, falling over, convulsing through stuttered lyrics about how if he doesn’t have sex soon he’ll die. His self-deprecating banter between songs was almost a show in and of itself. Two songs in, his failed attempt to drink beer soaked the stage. When someone came over with a towel, the frontman remarked, “This is like James Brown with the cape except really pathetic.” The incident provided commentary for the rest of the night, complete with zippy cup jokes, pulling up the beer-soaked set list and other jabs at his own expense. As is customary for Dismemberment Plan shows, about half the venue joined the band onstage for the mighty sing-along that is “The Ice of Boston.” Morrison allowed everyone to stay for the final song of the night, providing the opportunity to “commit to Andrew W.K.–style head banging” through “What Do You Want Me to Say?” They complied. —Dan Rickershauser