Tag Archives: Review

cat_reviews

Phox Say Goodbye (For Now) at Music Hall of Williamsburg

January 30th, 2017

Phox – Music Hall of Williamsburg – January 28, 2017

(Photo: Sharon Vanorny)

(Photo: Sharon Vanorny)

Amidst an indie-pop music landscape saturated with bands, the Wisconsin-based Phox spent half of a decade delighting fans with their whimsical melodies. Ascending a stage at a local festival, Boo Bash, the members played for the first time in May 2011 for what they thought would be a one-off performance. From there they became the darlings of Baraboo, Wisc., releasing the Confetti EP in 2013 and then their self-titled full-length, recorded in Justin Vernon’s studio the following year. Last fall the band announced that members had agreed to take a “hiatus” to allow for other creative pursuits, from film to graphic novels. For the occasion, the quintet embarked on their Goodbye (For Now) tour, which rolled into a sold-out Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday night.

Taking the stage to an opening composed by guitarist Matthew Holmen, the five-piece filed in with their phoxy lead singer, Monica Martin, clad in a shoulder-baring black top and high-waisted acid-washed jeans. She quickly began with the breezy “Leisure,” and keyboardist Matteo Roberts offered his vocals on the opening of “1936” before Martin took back the reins. The crowd participated in a chorus of “Wah oh oh” on “Evil,” which wouldn’t be the only time audience erupted. A cadence of claps was inevitable during fan-favorite “Slow Motion,” and many joined in, singing, “Everything I do, I do in slow motion.” The evening spotlighted Martin, who recently recorded the hypnotic “Equal Powers” with Jeremy Larson’s Violents.

A solo section showcased new material, including a ballad entitled “Make Believe,” and another song served as a cautionary tale about road trips with strangers. The little-sung “Laura” was hard to perform in the past Martin confessed because it was about the relationship with her mother. Saving the best for last, Phox covered the rhythmic chords of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” and Holman offered a blistering guitar solo on “Noble Heart” to punctuate the set’s end. The band would return to encore with another cover. This time it was Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody.” The bittersweet farewell ended with “Espeon” dedicated to Martin’s younger sister in the audience. And as it neared midnight, fans left dreaming of Phox’s swift return in the (hopefully) near future. Sharlene Chiu

cat_reviews

Ryley Walker Doesn’t Waste Any Time at Rough Trade NYC

January 27th, 2017

Ryley Walker – Rough Trade NYC – January 26, 2017

(Art: Brian Blomerth)

(Art: Brian Blomerth)

Near the beginning of Ryley Walker’s show last night at Rough Trade NYC, he explained/joked/warned that half the price of the admission went toward getting to watch his “mental breakdowns.” The whole night was definitely a more-than-you-bargained-for show, but in altogether good ways. Things got started with J.R. Bohannon, who was referred to throughout the evening as “J.R.,” “John” and “Ancient Ocean.” Bohannon played both solo and accompanied by a mandolin player, using six-string and 12-string guitars as well as what I want to call a Dobro, to create gorgeous, amorphous instrumental exotica. Off-center tunings and doses of dissonance gave an otherworldly feel to the music, the guitars often feeling like ancient Asian equivalents. The middle set went to Sam Kogon who featured mostly material from his recently released Psychic Tears album. The set seemed like a musical time traveler, opening with an updated ’50s doo-wop and bouncing through the decades, offering up distorted ’80s New Wave and ’00s arty indie along the way. Propelled by the rhythm section, Kogon and his band built momentum, carving out their own musical space.

Opening with a long, fantastical jam equal parts airy and aggressive, Walker, backed by a second guitarist and a drummer, wasted no time finding the sweet spot. His playing had an avalanche effect: Each note seemed to chaotically gain more until an exponential torrent of acoustic guitar overwhelmed the room, Walker getting more out of his instrument than he seemed to be putting in. The opening half of the set featured multiple instrumental excursions, expertly centered on tour-tested songs, like “Primrose Green,” which served as an introduction to a furious guitars-and-drums rock-out. At one point, drummer Ryan Jewell moved to tablas, Walker moved to electric guitar, prompting a glorious drone raga with off-planet melodies striking the awestruck audience at oblique angles.

That jam eventually morphed into a free-ranging version of “Sullen Mind,” off last year’s Golden Sings That Have Been Sung. The second half of the set focused on newer material, in between bouts of brutal hilarity from Walker, which helped the lyric “It’s not very fun being a fun person” pop out to me. He finished the night with a couple of solo acoustic numbers, reminding everyone that beneath the mind-bender guitar jams, is an accomplished songwriter. “Halfwit in Me” closed out things, feeling lush and complex, multiple melodies and structures layered on top of one another to create new patterns of guitar and voice. Much more than the audience had bargained for. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

 

 

cat_reviews

Cate Le Bon Shows The Bowery Ballroom a Good Time

January 27th, 2017

Cate Le Bon – The Bowery Ballroom – January 26, 2017

vpSFTBcw
Welsh musician Cate Le Bon has a unique sound—a voice not unlike the rich throb of Nico’s, with the addition of some amped-up exuberance and a penchant for jangly guitars. Last night at The Bowery Ballroom, Le Bon and her band brought a focused energy to their performance, highlighting songs from 2016’s Crab Day, as well as crowd-pleasing material from its predecessor, Mug Museum.

Le Bon and her band’s precision and cohesion came through in particular during their version of Crab Day’s “How Do You Know?” a song that culminated with the singer-songwriter staring out at the crowd, rhythmically nodding her head, almost robotically, to the beat, as she and her bandmates strummed a repeated riff, slowing down bit by bit. As the speed decreased, so too did Le Bon, mimicking a machine shutting down and eventually stopping, head and body limply hunched over her guitar. Moments later, she was suddenly upright again, launching into the jaunty “I Can’t Help You” and even letting out a few excited yelps at the end.

After performing some new material and bringing out the night’s opener (and Le Bon’s frequent musical collaborator), Tim Presley, to accompany the band on a few songs, Le Bon treated us to Mug Museum’s “Are You With Me Now?”—an eminently catchy crowd-pleaser that featured lovely backing harmonies from the band. It was a sweet nightcap, and if I had to answer the song’s question based upon crowd response, I’d give it a resounding yes: We are with you, Cate Le Bon. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK

 

 

 

cat_reviews

Kyle Morton Goes Solo at Rough Trade NYC on Friday Night

January 23rd, 2017

Kyle Morton – Rough Trade NYC – January 20, 2017

83-atlg
The path from band member to solo career can often lead to a clear separation from the former, but Kyle Morton of Typhoon has managed to avoid that divide. Rather his solo album was birthed while he was working on the group’s next major release. It’s not surprising that Morton had qualms touring alone when there are 11 members in Typhoon. In an interview, Morton confessed his nervousness of going it alone: “I’m learning a lot more self-reliance, since I’m out here traveling by myself. I never really wanted to tour by myself because it seemed kind of daunting. But there’s something kind of nomadic and cool about it.” And so the frontman arrived solo onstage before a welcoming crowd at Rough Trade NYC on Friday evening.

Covering a large portion of his debut album, What Will Destroy You, Morton expertly mixed new material with Typhoon fan favorites throughout the set. His singing cadence, which resembled Conor Oberst’s on “Poor Bastard,” was especially punctuated by the morbid, melancholic lyrics. The crowd quickly joined in on the Typhoon track “Belly of the Cavern” by stomping along to provide percussion before echoing the refrain “I will be good though my body be broken” on “Common Sentiments.” Morton joked that one really only had to sing that bit to be part of the band, which endeared him to the audience even more. The mention that his wife, Wild Ones lead singer Danielle Sullivan, was in attendance served as a teaser for an inevitable duet.

Before she would take the stage, Morton sweetly dedicated “My Little Darlin’ Knows My Nature” to Sullivan. Shining a new light on the familiar “Artificial Light” and “Prosthetic Love,” the stripped-down Typhoon songs highlighted the painstaking lyrics that can get lost in the hefty band’s weight. When the words “last song” provoked grumbles, the songwriter discarded the pseudo exit of an encore to remain onstage, calling upon his wife to join him on a new Typhoon song. And if that weren’t enough to appease the crowd, the pair covered the John Prine and Iris Dement duet “In Spite of Ourselves” to cap off the night. —Sharlene Chiu

cat_reviews

Mild High Club Bring Hazy, Good Times to Rough Trade NYC

January 17th, 2017

Mild High Club – Rough Trade NYC – January 14, 2016

live-music-mild-high-club-14-january-new-york_img-870104
The band name Mild High Club might resemble something you could find searching for #fakejambands on Twitter, but it turns out to be an apt title for Alex Brettin’s L.A.-based slack-rockers. Their show at Rough Trade NYC on Saturday night got rolling with a palette-priming set from Brooklyn’s Pavo Pavo. Filled with arty permutations of synth, guitars and bass, they got the sold-out crowd moving with songs off their newest album, Young Narrator in the Breakers, and featured a few new songs for the last time live before bringing them into the studio.

Mild High Club kicked off their set featuring double twelve-string guitars, one of which Brettin said was brand new. The resulting dreamworld created by those guitars defined the show’s sound. Playing mostly songs off their 2016 Skiptracing album, like “Homage” and “Tesselation,” the band defined a music space evocative of the hazy feeling between a waking stupor and full-fledged REM sleep, a buzz not too extreme in either direction.

The slack-psych kept the audience spellbound, often crossing over into an almost smoke-filled jazz-club feel on “Head Out” or the bossa nova underpinnings of the album’s title track. Many of the songs oozed short-lived instrumental outros, floating dust motes of lingering melodies, ethereal and engaging and then fading to nothing. The set maintained the laid-back vibe of a cozy couch sit for a solid hour and then Brettin muttered, that mild buzz reaching its natural end, “I guess that’s it.”—A. Stein | @Neddyo

cat_reviews

Big Thief Play Sold-Out Hometown Show at The Bowery Ballroom

January 9th, 2017

Big Thief – The Bowery Ballroom – January 7, 2017

72-atxl1
With the release of their well-received first album, Masterpiece, last year, Brooklyn’s Big Thief had a big 2016. On Saturday night, the band played a hometown show at The Bowery Ballroom, treating the sold-out crowd to well-loved songs from their debut as well as new material from a second record that Big Thief frontwoman Adrianne Lenker said is “close.” In a word, Big Thief’s music might best be described as emotional—Lenker channels a great deal of feeling through her evocative voice, ranging from sweet and delicate to plaintive to a near-shout or wail. Songs like Masterpiece’s “Real Love” and “Parallels” each illustrated this emotional landscape, with moments of sadness, anger and yearning simmering beneath Lenker’s voice and lyrics. The new material lingered in the same satisfying emotional sweet spots.

Big Thief also treated the crowd to a performance from special guest Sharon Van Etten, who knows a thing or two about emotional melodies herself, and who joined to sing on some of the new material, beautifully weaving her voice around Lenker’s. At various moments throughout the show, Lenker poked fun at her own guitar-tuning perfectionism, taking short pauses between some songs to ensure she had it just right. But despite her self-awareness, this attention to detail served Big Thief well: Their warm, spare instrumentation, the vivid lyrics and the conviction behind each verse and chorus are what have drawn admirers to them, and why the new album on the horizon stands to resonate with fans once again. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK

 

cat_reviews

A Lenny Kaye Birthday Party with Patti Smith at The Bowery Ballroom

December 28th, 2016

Patti Smith and Her Band – The Bowery Ballroom – December 27, 2016

(Photo: Dina Regine)

(Photo: Dina Regine)

Lenny Kaye has worn many hats over the course of his impressive career, including guitarist, songwriter, producer and author—but he is best known for being a founding member of the Patti Smith Group. In tribute to their long and fruitful partnership, they threw Kaye a rocking 70th birthday party last night at The Bowery Ballroom, featuring Kaye and a slew of fellow musicians and friends performing for a sold-out crowd.

Kaye laughed with a sense of disbelief as he prefaced a performance of his song “Crazy Like a Fox,” with the fact that he’d recorded it 50 years ago. As he and the rotating backing musicians, including Tom Clark and Tony Shanahan (also of Patti Smith Group), tore through a set of nostalgic cover songs and originals, Kaye reminisced about growing up in New Jersey, his love of the Lower East Side and his fondness for the opportunity to work with a variety of different artists and genres during his days as a record producer.

Smith later joined the band to perform songs like “Free Money,” “Pissing in a River” and “Mercy Is,” lending her powerful stage presence in tribute to her longtime friend and collaborator. “Hey, Patti,” yelled someone in the crowd. “Tell us a story about Lenny from the old days.” Without missing a beat, she retorted, with a wink, “Those were the new days, these are the old days.” But judging by the great music and big smiles onstage from Kaye and Smith (who turns 70 herself in just a few days), the “old days” seem quite promising. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK

cat_preview

Low Cut Connie Cut Loose at The Bowery Ballroom on Friday

December 5th, 2016

Low Cut Connie – The Bowery Ballroom – December 2, 2016

Low Cut Connie – The Bowery Ballroom – December 2, 2016
Low Cut Connie’s Adam Weiner cut his teeth performing solo with his piano to some of New York City’s toughest crowds, gay bars, dive bars, restaurants, any number of other venues with an audience there mostly for something other than the music. But the end result today is that he’s one hell of a live performer—although Low Cut Connie’s classic rock and rolling chutzpah definitely helps too. “Are you guys here, are you guys ready to get weird, are you guys ready to make a baby tonight?” Weiner asked the lively crowd at The Bowery Ballroom on Friday night.

Piano-fueled rock is rare these days, and Low Cut Connie’s particular strain harkens back to the days of Little Richard, with Weiner’s piano in the opener, “Back in School,” chugging along in the background like a runaway train. That piano, affectionately called Shondra (named “for a beyond-middle-aged dancer from Atlanta’s Clermont Lounge”), sure knows how to take a beating, with him standing on its bench, standing on the piano itself, slinking beneath it and banging keys with his hands, feet, the microphone stand, whatever the situation calls for. If there was a moment when his hands were free, Weiner was pointing out into the audience or shaking his behind. The second tune brought along the barn-burning drinking sing-along “Boozophilia,” a favorite song of President Obama’s.

The band also paid tribute to one of Weiner’s home-state favorites, New Jersey’s recently reunited Misfits, with a piano-y cover of “Where Eagles Dare.” Weiner pointed out several in the crowd he thought were from Jersey, asking, “What exit?” “Shake It Little Tina,” an homage to Tina Turner, began with a teasing, lulling beat before building up to dancing chaos, with Weiner venturing out far into the audience by the song’s end. The band teased a new album, promised to be out early next year, with three new tracks, “Dirty Water,” about rock and roll, and one sung and written by guitarist James Everhart. The show ended with a fast-moving five-song encore, closing out with a rambunctious cover of Prince’s “Controversy.” —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks

Photos courtesy of Silvia Saponaro | www.saponarophotography.com

cat_reviews

Metric Play Intimate Hometown Show at Music Hall of Williamsburg

November 30th, 2016

Metric – Music Hall of Williamsburg – November 29, 2016

12360136_10153372505829370_8175766526495732104_n
Before the 21st century, a musical collective out of Toronto formed by the name of Broken Social Scene and spawned such acts as Feist, Stars and Metric. The environment was a supportive one, nurturing a space where each band could thrive. The founding duo of Metric, Emily Haines and James Shaw, moved to New York City in the late ’90s and recorded early demos that would provide material for their first studio album. Fast-forward a decade and some change, the indie-rock band released a sixth studio album, Pagans in Vegas, last fall. And last night they returned to Brooklyn for a sold-out Music Hall of Williamsburg show as part of the Steve Madden Music series.

Fashioning a black cap, the lead singer took center stage kicking off the evening with a rousing rendition of “Speed the Collapse,” followed by the up-tempo “Youth Without Youth” as guitarist Ward added Auto-Tuned choruses. Haines had a few wardrobe changes, with the most notable being a luminescent cape that glowed against the black lights. (Added kudos to the lighting tech for her mastery of the syncopation of pulsating white shocks to several songs.) For crowd favorite “Dead Disco,” Haines turned up the showmanship, thrusting her fist and engaging the crowd from right to left. Bassist Joshua Winstead drove in the throbbing introduction to “Front Row,” as Haines took over with her melodic chants of “Burned out stars they shine so bright.”

The frontwoman noted that it was a hometown show for the band and great to “rekindle memories of North 6th.” A lot has changed since Haines and Ward moved here and shared a Williamsburg loft with soon-to-be members of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars and TV on the Radio. As the singer stripped down “Combat Baby” to a shortened a cappella interlude, I couldn’t help but relate the lyrics to a recent presidential candidate’s resilience. Following up that with “Gold Guns Girls” seemed to emphasize the formation further with Haines donning a guitar to jam with Winstead and Shaw, who closed out the song with an electrifying solo. The evening came to a close with singer and guitarist paired for a stripped-down “Gimme Sympathy,” before Winstead and drummer Joules Scott-Key rejoined the band for the finale, “Breathing Underwater.” —Sharlene Chiu

cat_reviews

The Moth & the Flame Light Up Mercury Lounge

November 30th, 2016

The Moth & the Flame – Mercury Lounge – November 29, 2016

12804749_1076485552373455_3459158980738797748_n
An upside down ampersand symbol lit up Mercury Lounge last night as the Los Angeles quartet the Moth & the Flame set up onstage. Brewing a melting pot of alternative-rock sounds, they began their performance with tracks from their second full-length album, Young & Unafraid. Ranging from slow, thoughtful songs like “Wishing Well” to energetic numbers like “Red Flag,” the Moth & the Flame take you through a roller coaster of emotions. There were certain moments when the bassline was pure perfection and the drums echoed through the mesmerized crowd.

There’s something about how singer Brandon Robbins’ voice hits a low pitch and then rises higher, like on their most popular song, “Young & Unafraid,” a bittersweet tale of youth and taking risks. As the crowd loudly sang along, the ampersand changed colors. Young & Unafraid was made with the help of Tony Hoffer and producer-mixer Peter Katis—best known for his work with bands like Interpol and the National. It’s no wonder why the Moth & the Flame lit up Mercury Lounge on a rainy night. —Karen Silva | @ClassicKaren

cat_reviews

The Bad Plus Sound Right at Home at Rough Trade NYC

November 22nd, 2016

The Bad Plus – Rough Trade NYC – November 21, 2016

home
Over the course of their 15-plus-year career, the Bad Plus have played in nearly every conceivable New York City venue: the Village Vanguard and the Jazz Standard, sure, but also The Bowery Ballroom and Prospect Park Bandshell among many others. So, although you don’t often see a grand piano, let alone many jazz trios, at Rough Trade NYC, it’s not surprising that the Bad Plus eventually were slotted to play there. Coming off their recent album, It’s Hard, consisting entirely of cover songs, many of them from the contemporary rock and pop canon, seemed like a good time to start. Their two-set show on Monday night stood on four tentpoles from the new LP—four covers that showed the range and creativity that would shine through in any setting.

The Bad Plus take a cover song like a blank sheet of paper and start making cuts into it to create an elaborate, unique snowflake. For one group to adequately cover music as varied as Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” Barry Manliow’s “Mandy,” Kraftwerk’s “The Robots” and Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps” would be very impressive. For a piano trio playing a rock club to do it, all the more amazing, each song recognizable only in its base parts, the group otherwise tearing at each composition’s fabric, finding patterns and beauty where it didn’t seem to exist in the original, often to stunning effect. But if the covers were paper snowflakes, the original Bad Plus material was some sort of four-dimensional origami, intricately folded artworks, dynamic and shape-shifting. The opening “Prehensile Dream” was a subtle slow build, pianist Ethan Iverson repeating a beautiful riff until quiet became loud and pretty became intense, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King providing an awe-inspiring crescendo.

The highlight of the first set came with the closing “Seven Minute Mind,” complicated rhythms hidden beneath an undeniably funky bass riff that may have required basic calculus to follow completely. “Keep the Bugs Off Your Glass and the Bears Off Your Ass” was rollicking blues that revealed multiple parenthetical diversions, eventually giving way to a great tangential bass-and-drum solo. Each song had its own unique feel and sound, all tied together with the band’s wit, talent and strong emotional core. The respectful but enthusiastic crowd was treated to one more cover for the encore, Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line,” which, under the eager scissors of the Bad Plus, became a thrilling exercise in rhythmic experimentation. For one night at least, for the Bad Plus and the roomful of fans, Rough Trade NYC felt just like home. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

 

cat_preview

Jim James Takes Terminal 5 to Church on Sunday Night

November 21st, 2016

Jim James – Terminal 5 – November 20, 2016

Jim James – Terminal 5 – November 20, 2016
We sometimes elevate our favorite musicians, overestimating their power to that of “spirit guide” as opposed to “just great at making music.” But sometimes that pedestal feels warranted. Last year around this same exact time, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James led the Beacon Theatre crowd in a moment of silence for victims of the Paris rock-club shooting that was as deep and meaningful as any I’ve witnessed. James was back in town, appropriately on a Sunday, playing with his solo band at Terminal 5 and in a much more understated way, was equally as moving. Halfway through the set, he spoke of the rally he attended at Adam Yauch Park and urged everyone in the crowd, really everywhere to “come together.” But beyond that, there was a spiritual feeling to the whole show, a message of, as he said, “Peace, love and understanding” in the music.

After a lengthy instrumental introduction, James and his band—two drummers, keyboards, guitar and bass—opened with “Hide in Plain Sight,” his vocals worked through some effects to give a voice-of-God sound basked in blues and purples. The stage was filled with sets of three LEDs that often gave an almost votive-candle look to the room, as James, microphone in hand, ranged from one side of the stage, like a preacher, often closer to talking than singing. The start of the show felt simultaneously subdued and groovy, heavy on synth-and-drum funkiness on “Know Til Now” and “In the Moment.” James’s guitar waited on a stand at the front of the stage, a sacrificial offering awaiting its fate, and when he finally grabbed it, like on “The World’s Smiling Now” and “We Ain’t Getting Any Younger,” the pensive building to raging, two guitars bouncing between two drums, the mood in the room was fiery.

In between, there were more instrumental bridges, keyboard grooves as group meditations. The show ended appropriately with one of these, James leaving the stage after “Eternally Even,” the title track from his newest album, the band following one by one as ethereal melodies lingered in the room. The encore seemed to sum up James’s brand of spirituality as he sang songs from his other side projects, including the Monsters of Folk’s “Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)” and “Down on the Bottom” (“No place to go but up”) from the New Basement Tapes. The night ended with “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.),” another slow build, each verse taking on more emotional weight until another explosion of guitar, the lights flickering through a pastel rainbow and the lyric “the power’s going out” taking on multiple meanings in its repetition. When the lights came on and the church of Jim James turned back into Terminal 5, the mood did not disappear, and the crowd filed out of the room to John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.” —A. Stein | @Neddyo

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com

cat_reviews

Ours Mix New and Old at The Bowery Ballroom on Saturday

November 21st, 2016

Ours – The Bowery Ballroom – November 19, 2016

53-atxl1-1
Known for its classy, sultry aesthetic, The Bowery Ballroom was perfectly suited for the amazing talents of Zane Carney and the incredible Ours on Saturday night. Ours, the headliner, are fronted by New Jersey native Jimmy Gnecco, a force to be reckoned with best known for his multioctave vocal range and taking personal experience and raw emotion to create meaningful songs. He introduced Hannah Gernand to accompany him on a new song from their forthcoming album due next spring. And earlier, she beautifully sang Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’s “Pure Imagination” with a modern rock twist.

Ours performed an array of new songs mixed with older stuff like “Bleed.” Their magnetic stage presence transcended beyond words with loud-as-hell drums and guitar riffs. Each member—Static (guitar), April Bauer (piano), Chris Goodlof (bass), Race (guitar and keys) and Shane Rozum (drums)—brought something special. And despite some interpreting their lyrics as despondent, the band’s songs speak of everyday situations everyone can identify with. Ours are the charismatic alternative rockers you can see hundreds of times live and each show is something different. With a vast catalog of impressive songs, they passionately prove that anything can be accomplished. —Karen Silva | @ClassicKaren

cat_reviews

Chris Robinson Brotherhood Take Their Time at the Space at Westbury

November 21st, 2016

Chris Robinson Brotherhood – the Space at Westbury – November 18, 2016

(Photo: Jay Blakesberg)

(Photo: Jay Blakesberg)


I’ve seen the Chris Robinson Brotherhood do their pie-eyed, soulful thing plenty now, and the word I keep going back to is unhurried, which doesn’t mean slow, for this band can cook up a good old rock and roll, blues or country racket when called for. But that does mean you go at their pace: a deliberate, expansive set or two of deeply fleshed out and not-a-little-cosmic Americana that insists you groove in its orbit or that you politely leave the rocket ship. It may not be for everybody, but in every year since the band’s 2011 inception, yielding to what the CRB does has been rewarding for the willing listener.

Robinson and his band of aces—guitarist Neal Casal, keyboardist Adam MacDougall, bassist Jeff Hill and drummer Tony Leone—throw back to a time when rock, blues, country and folk were painted with Day-Glo and didn’t mind a layer of stardust. Their music feels nostalgic but embraceable and honest. Those wistful moments that might sound sad or might sound accepting depend on how a guitar string is plucked, meshed with those more celebratory, up-tempo, let’s-kick-it type of songs. They can be short statements or long statements or really long statements, protracted with jam segments that can veer toward an ambient soundscape or burn with the gnarly guitars of a Tuesday night at the roadhouse.

They’re encyclopedic too, and that reach goes wide and deep. This two-setter at the Space at Westbury on Friday featured songs by Hoyt Axton (“Never Been to Spain”), Jackie Moore (“Precious Precious”), Bob Dylan (“It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”) and New Riders of the Purple Sage (“Last Lonely Eagle”) tucked between CRB originals and songs from Robinson’s previous associations given new life by this band (“I Ain’t Hiding,” came from the Black Crowes while “Tumbleweed in Eden” and “Train Robbers” drew from the brief, turbulent life of Robinson’s 2002-2004 era band, New Earth Mud). None of those felt out of place, but rather they were bent to the groovy CRB m.o. such that a well-trodden tune like “Baby Blue” had a livelier, hootenanny feel than the regretful folk sound it’s most often associated with. Robinson was as ever the band’s centerpiece. He’s still the charismatic hippie-with-an-edge howler he always was leading the Crowes, and with Leone and Hill keeping things humming—and from veering off course—Casal and MacDougall become its painters, working with a significant range of tones and colors both earthy (Casal’s paint-peeler slide guitar) and spacey (MacDougall’s spattering psych-out effects).

Together, the fivesome offered a few hours of vignettes: the mournful then defiant narrator of “Train Robbers,” which began as spooky country before erupting into vocal howls and volcanic guitar, the vicious rock and roll of “I Ain’t Hiding” (“Ain’t your saint, ain’t your enemy/ I’m a long shadow on the highway”), the big dreams and tortured realities of “Forever as the Moon” and “Star or Stone,” plus the drunk-on-life rambling in “Rosalee,” which began and ended the second set as effectively one long sandwich. And if there’s a newer song from the band’s rapidly growing catalog that takes its place among its best and most complete statements, it’s “Narcissus Soaking Wet,” which on this tour has been a second-set showpiece, getting really cosmic and Dead-y, a lengthy tale of myth. It’s a song to get lost in from a band really good at making them. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

cat_reviews

Caspian Find Their Mark at Music Hall of Williamsburg

November 18th, 2016

Caspian – Music Hall of Williamsburg – November 17, 2016

tumblr_inline_o2g4086EHy1rq5hu4_500
Coming out of a Caspian show, you feel roughed up and blown out, but in a good way. The post-rock band’s (mostly) instrumental sound seems to build from somewhere far away, encroaching gradually until it’s totally taken over, swarming you with a hail of guitar and other effects, roiling the floor with pummeling rhythms, pushing you over an abyss or up into a heavenly resolution of chords. It’s exhausting, cathartic and mighty dramatic—but that’s the point. You’re enthralled by the layers of sound and it’s kind of alarming, but you feel it build and build in tension, then give way to explosive release, whether on the back of a high-stacked triple-guitar melody or something more latent that takes longer to reveal itself. Dust and Disquiet, as Caspian’s 2015 release was named, and very much so.

Caspian were a buzzed-about curiosity in Massachusetts and in post-rock circles for long enough that when they finally began to mount national tours, the crowds were there to greet them. Their sound can be dense—you’re entering a sonic thicket and it’s easy to get lost in it—but the band also prioritizes melody. They’re accessible and not given to long stretches of ambient goo or merely retreading a crescendo-and-explode-over-elaborate-orchestration format. The five-piece found their mark early and often last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg, with a cinematic hour-plus set of selections that focused on but didn’t limit to Dust and Disquiet material. Some songs, such as “Rioseco” and the old Caspian favorite “Some Are White Light,” favored the long build, with layer upon layer of guitar swells crashing against a wall until they broke through, washing the senses. “Arcs of Command” and “Echo and Abyss” veered toward prog-metal, doped on guitar syncopation, letting crashing cymbals and electronic loops overwhelm the audience with inspired clangor.

They’re not all dark-night-of-terrors songs, though. Many Caspian tunes go for ominous uncertainty—inchoate guitar tones wandering around one another in a maybe-spooked, maybe-blissful haze—or for unbridled, bust-out joy, with massive builds that sound like blasts of light through a darkened tunnel look like. This is not an easy feat. Too much indulgence into a sound like this means lots of sculpted noise and guitar hail with little to hang on to. Too much composed orchestration, however, and the feeling in the music goes away—it becomes antiseptic, a tasteless recital, especially for those who’ve already taken the ride with the band. So credit Caspian for infusing so much heart into a genre that can sound remarkably numb. This is a rock-your-face sound you want to lean toward, rather than resist. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson