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Bonobo Dazzles a Sold-Out Terminal 5 with Wide-Ranging Sounds

May 1st, 2017

Bonobo – Terminal 5 – April 28, 2017

(Photo: Dan Rickershauser)

Simon Green, better known as Bonobo, has always dealt in big sounds. His musical universe seems to expand with each new release, and it now includes full string sections, brass sections, guest vocalists, even guest entire other bands. So how do you tour to meet the demands of such a maximalist sound? (Even the Beatles gave up on touring for Sgt. Pepper’s.) The answer is you bring everyone along for the journey.

Friday’s show—Bonobo’s second sold-out appearance at Terminal 5—featured a stage full of widely talented musicians, all finding a home in Bonobo’s world. Szjerdene’s soulful voice smoothed out the electric arpeggios of “Towers.” Nick Murphy, the artist formerly known as Chet Faker, made an appearance to sing “No Reason,” his reverb-y vocals carrying through the cavernous venue. The sound mix was perfectly layered with the many rich textures of Bonobo’s sound, not an easy feat on a stage filled with as many as 11 musicians playing at the same time.

The swirling string orchestrations of “Kiara” were loud enough to drive the song. The bass never managed to drown out a flute part, the brass band cut through electronic haze like the stage lights through the smoke-filled venue. Grey Reverend mellowed the night for the slow-building burn of “First Fires” before the Morroccan band Innov Gnawa came out to kick off “Bambro Koyo Ganda” with their harmonizing chants. The set ended with the frantic “Kerala,” followed by an encore that included the infectious polyrhythms of “Know You.” —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks

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A Frenzied Thursday Night Goldfrapp Dance Party at Brooklyn Steel

April 28th, 2017

Goldfrapp – Brooklyn Steel – April 27, 2017


For well more than a decade together, Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory have crafted a lineage of dance music heavily drenched in synth pop. And their seventh album, Silver Eye, is no exception. “Silver Eye’s tracks have a sincere, blunt-force feeling that’s new and closer to the actual core of their musical identity. It’s like Kiss taking off the makeup, but, you know, good,” cleverly positioned Pitchfork. Goldfrapp followers are aware of a past that floated from disco beats to romantic pastoral hymns, but even more memorable are Goldfrapp’s performances donning a Marlene Dietrich look to dreamy frocks paired with long curly locks. For the group’s second performance at the barely month-old Brooklyn Steel, she graced the stage with an appropriately metallic ensemble.

A pair of tracks from her debut album, Felt Mountain“Utopia” and “Lovely Head”—had longtime fans in early elation before a survey of the latest album. Her newer pieces were nicely adorned with visuals ranging from the celestial for “Anymore” to ocular rings on “Ocean.” There was a fair amount of warning about strobe lights before going through the doors, and that was for good reason as the singer was backlit the entire evening with pulsating lights to animate her frenetic dancing. Goldfrapp paused the set to exclaim, “I’ve been here a week and love it. I wanna move here.” Yes please! A continuation of newer material rounded out the second half of the set with the robotic “Everything Is Never Enough” and tribal distorted voices on “Become the One.” The warehouse erupted for the recent single “Systemagic” as the sea of bodies pumped to heavy bass and were quickly lulled to a dreamy sway for oldie “Number 1.”

Despite a botched wardrobe change due to her current outfit being “stuck on,” the best was saved for last as Goldfrapp returned to encore with a quartet of fan favorites starting with the intoxicating “Black Cherry.” A keytar emerged on “Shiny and Warm,” and iPhone lovers held up their phones high for “Ooh La La,” which was featured in one of the product’s commercials. “Strict Machine,” with its thumping reverb, capped off the night sending a frenzied audience out onto the streets of East Williamsburg. —Sharlene Chiu

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Of Montreal Make Weird Normal at Music Hall of Williamsburg

April 28th, 2017

Of Montreal – Music Hall of Williamsburg – April 27, 2017

You’re weird! When you were a kid, that would’ve been a put-down, but nowadays, in some circles, the greater sin is being normal. No worries for Kevin Barnes, the lead genius behind Of Montreal, who showered a sold-out Music Hall of Williamsburg with their Day-Glo, bizarro resplendence last night. With a later start time, the set was the kind of happening that transpires when the normal folk are sleeping, a giant dreamlike hairy beast, a yeti in Brooklyn, marching across the stage as the band wound up “Gratuitous Abysses,” before Barnes had even taken the stage. The cosmic doo-wop sounded like eight genres mashed together, or maybe more like flipping among them so fast that it felt that way, a good primer for the sight-and-sound feast of a show that followed.

At times watching Of Montreal go through their set, many songs accompanied by a traveling troupe of performers acting out a hallucinogenic scene, each difficult to describe in words, was like watching a Saturday morning cartoon, the band maybe splitting time between their deeply psychedelic grooving and, at any moment, hopping off in a multihued van to go fight crime somewhere. The opening stretch was heavy on the synth and disco whorls, but a few songs in, Barnes picked up his guitar and the sound worked more toward a funked-up glam. The audience continuing to push closer to the stage to get into his orbit, whooping at each wardrobe change, Barnes working a new look at each third of the night.

The set list folded selections from Of Montreal’s vast and varying catalog, “Different for Girls” fueling a front-to-back dance party, “Bunny Ain’t No Kind of Rider” getting everyone to sing along in collective glee, “Gronlandic Edit”—with Barnes singing about “all the party people dancing”—was explosive fun of room-rattling bass. The last third of the performance was a nonstop blast of crowd-pleasers, with enough “Is that what I think it is, WTF?” moments mixed in to get most people in the room shaking their heads almost as much as they were shaking their bodies. The set closed, appropriately, with “The Party’s Crashing on Us,” off 2005’s The Sunlandic Twins album, which goes to show how long Barnes has been infectiously bounding around a stage with Chinese dragons and the like, in a hot-pink number, or with little clothing on at all, for that matter, as normal as can be. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

Photos courtesy of Silvia Saponaro | www.saponarophotography.com

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Marty Stuart Pays Homage to California Country at Bowery Ballroom

April 27th, 2017

Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives – The Bowery Ballroom – April 26, 2017


Marty Stuart is old school country good—it’s right there in the title of his band. Raised in Mississippi, entranced with the likes of Buck Owens and Marty Robbins, Stuart came to renown as a guitarist with Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash before he broke out as a solo artist, favoring a high-energy country, roots and Americana sound that feels classic but not overly nostalgic. The essence of his 18th album, the outstanding Way Out West, is also right there in the title: Stuart loves the mythology of the American West, the panoramic dreams and wide-open-desert terrors it can evoke and the range of moods that music flavored with these things can inspire.

Lest it seem like Stuart and his crackerjack band will get lost in the cinematic sweep of things, however, they definitely don’t: They’re as fun, foot-stomping and down-to-earth good a country band as any New York City can attract. Over an hour and a half at The Bowery Ballroom last night, they plumbed the best of Way Out West and served up hefty helpings of Stuart chestnuts and roots-music staples, from ancient stuff like “I Know You Rider,” “Orange Blossom Special,” “Country Boy Rock & Roll” and Robbins’ “El Paso,” to ripping, surf-leaning instrumentals like “Mojave” and “Torpedo,” newer tunes like the honky-tonk “Whole Lotta Highway” and Stuart classics like “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’.” They’re storytellers, string-benders, good-time Charlies who can acquit a twangy reworking of Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream” and make it feel like a deep cut from a Best of the Bakersfield Sound compilation.

Stuart is the proverbial “name on the door,” but it’s the Fabulous Superlatives who get at least as much of the spotlight, claiming at least one solo vocal or instrumental performance apiece. Among them, Kenny Vaughan, Harry Stinson and Chris Scruggs (yep, grandson of Earl) cover guitar, bass, drums and plenty of other things, but, like Stuart, are best described as multi-instrumentalists for how seamlessly—and how musically—they inhabit whatever they’re playing or singing. That’s key: Beneath the wisecracks and convivial joy, the foursome exhibit a deep trust and abiding gratitude for this music and their ability to play it so magnificently. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

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Violents and Monica Martin Bring Their Dream Pop to Brooklyn

April 27th, 2017

Violents and Monica Martin – Rough Trade NYC – April 26, 2017


Collaboration (noun): the action of working with someone to produce or create something. Jeremy Larson is a master collaborator and the man behind the indie collective Violents. The multi-instrumentalist not only plays all the music he has composed, but he also writes all of the lyrics. The hitch is that he partners with a female vocalist to bring each of these pieces to fruition. Previous collaborators have included Stacy King (Eisley, Sucre), Olga Yagolnikov (Kye Kye) and Nashville, Tenn., singer Annie Williams. For the first full-length record, Awake and Pretty Much Sober, Larson enlisted Phox frontwoman Monica Martin to flesh out his compositions with her sultry vocals.

Two days before the release of the album, Violents and Monica Martin played their first performance during an afternoon session at the Paste Studios before gracing the stage of Rough Trade NYC last night for their debut concert. Accompanied by the string quartet Rootstock Republic and a drummer (Joe), the duo opened with the glittering “Equal Power,” the first of four tracks released prior to the album. The performance would debut six additional songs, from the come-hither lullaby “Line Lie” to the trip-hop groove of “It Won’t Stop.” Throughout the set, clips of cinematic scenes played, including the iconic dance sequence from House Party providing the backdrop for “Hue.”

Midway through the show, Larson told the story of how the partnership formed after being a long admirer of Martin’s. He confessed he was a little cocky writing songs especially meant for her to sing before ever meeting the vocalist. Luckily a mutual friend got them connected and the rest is history. Martin added that a “shared insecurity” manifested with her singing lyrics she hadn’t written and Larson relinquishing vocal duties. As if new songs weren’t enough to satisfy the crowd, Martin proceeded to cover Frank Ocean’s “Self Control.” The evening was a reverie of dream pop that concluded with the title track and the apt closer “How It Left.” —Sharlene Chiu

 

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Overcoats Sound Right at Home at Sold-Out Rough Trade NYC

April 21st, 2017

Overcoats – Rough Trade NYC – April 20, 2017

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Sisterhood runs deep between best friends Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell, a bond so strong it’s birthed a band, Overcoats. The New York City–based duo’s debut, Young, is a reverie of R&B soul folktronica coproduced by Nicolas Vernhes (Daughter, Torres, Dirty Projectors, Cass McCombs) and fellow singer-songwriter Autre Ne Veut. NPR’s Bob Boilen recently described the record as “driven by ambition and passion, not craft … the emotion in their harmonies and the space they give each other is filled with compassion.” Last night, the inseparable pair graced a sold-out Rough Trade NYC on the eve of their new EP’s release, donning white jumpsuits and silver platform boots. Microphone stands adorned with flowers and garlands of cameo silhouettes set the stage as their first headlining tour opened with the rhythmic “Smaller Than My Mother.” The crowd swayed to the lullaby of “Hold Me Close” before Elion exclaimed, “We are so fucking excited to be here.”

Covering the entirety of their album with the exception of one track (“Father”), the kindred spirits garnered much love from fans as the mutual admiration between each singer was palpable. They embraced often in between songs and danced side by side without a care in the world. When introducing the debut single “Little Memory,” Elion confessed it was the first one the girls had written together. The duo covered Hozier’s “Cherry Wine” midway through the set. Elion laid her head on Mitchell’s shoulder to preface “Siren,” as she proceeded to sing, “I feel many weights of many worlds on my shoulders.” In a speech that was carved out on the set list, Mitchell offered their gratitude to touring drummer Joao Gonzalez, Andy on sound and their agents. An overwhelming acknowledgement of the upcoming year ahead left the women truly humbled before an encore of the hymnal “Mother” and the rollicking “Leave the Light On” concluded the performance with a fever pitch of participatory claps. —Sharlene Chiu

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The Decemberists Drop In on New Venue Brooklyn Steel

April 18th, 2017

The Decemberists – Brooklyn Steel – April 17, 2017

image(The Decemberists play Brooklyn Steel again tonight and tomorrow.)

Not to show my age or anything, but (I looked it up), the first time I saw the Decemberists was at the relatively intimate Mercury Lounge nearly 14 years ago. Back then it was as equally inconceivable that a venue like Brooklyn Steel could exist where it now does as it was that the Decemberists might headline one of its first run of shows. The Decemberists were “Portland” before “Portland” was a thing—or “Williamsburg” was a thing for that matter—and still have the same magic today that they did back then. Kicking off the first of three shows in the brand-new room, they felt like an old friend stopping in for a visit. Before we get to their set, though, I have to spare a sentence or two for Julien Baker, who induced chills in the opening slot, reducing the large venue with just her guitar and voice, commanding the place as if holding a heart-to-heart in a living room. If you’re going to one of the next two nights, don’t miss her.

The Decemberists took the stage to a literal fanfare over the PA, frontman Colin Meloy announcing, “Welcome to Night One,” not even waiting until the first song to play with the crowd, joining in on drummer John Moen’s intro to playact lifting up the audience. By the time “The Infanta” began in full, the band and audience were already locked in for a long night of Decemberists-induced fun. With Meloy’s judicious use of the dramatic pause and the lights momentarily catching the disco ball, bathing the crowd in stars, Brooklyn Steel was immediately transformed. Without a new album to promote, the band was free to play from across their vast catalog, and it only took a couple of songs to realize that you could fill quite a few sets with “greatest hits,” things rolling with “We Both Go Down Together” (introduced as Donald Trump Jr. fan fiction) and a sing-along “Down by the Water.” With slight tweaks on their instruments, like guitarist Chris Funk moving to pedal steel or Jenny Conlee picking up her accordion, the band transformed their sound, gypsy swing to fantastical prog rock, all while Meloy sang his pitch-perfect songs, usually of woe, creating new worlds within the greater Decemberists universe.

Olivia Cheney came out to guest on a debut song from a reported fuller collaboration with her, which stretched that universe even more, the band becoming backing musicians as she sang and played harpsicord-esque runs on the keyboard. Another new tune, introduced as “about the state of the union,” centered on the joyful phrase “everything is awful,” but it was actually a rather exultant number, easily inducing the audience to sing along with the chorus. The show closed with more well-worn, well-loved Decemberists material—too many songs to list—including an extended mini-suite from the more-than-10-years-old-but-still-feels-new album The Crane Wife and a fun version of “Chimbley Sweep” complete with a guitar-accordion duel that played like a short skit. Meloy was, as always, equally adept with between-song banter. I mean, who throws out the phrase “conviviality of a campfire” in casual conversation? But the evening did have that intimate feeling, just another evening with old friends. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

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Chaz Bundick Meets the Mattson 2 Provide Easter Treats

April 17th, 2017

Chaz Bundick Meets the Mattson 2 – The Bowery Ballroom – April 16, 2017

Chaz Bundick Meets the Mattson 2 – The Bowery Ballroom – April 16, 2017
Chaz Bundick, performing as Toro Y Moi, plays a palette of dyed-egg pastel colors: yellows, pinks and muted purples of groove. Twin brothers Jared and Jonathan Mattson, performing as the Mattson 2, are an oversized, slightly psychedelic rabbit of instrumental music. Together, they’re appropriately called Chaz Bundick Meets the Mattson 2, and they proved to be a perfect Easter treat last night for a sold-out Bowery Ballroom. More or less playing from their recently released album, Star Stuff, the trio met somewhere in the middle of their styles, which turned out to be a rather large and fertile musical space.

Although Bundick provided vocals on several songs, the set felt largely like instrumental music, relying more on mood than lyrics. And for the most part, that mood was decidedly jubilant. The stage was lit like a dance club—shafts of color through clouds of smoke, and the music pulsed with that energy. Bundick swapped between his synthesizer and a Hohner bass pretty much every other song, creating a checkerboard of sound, a playful push and pull between styles. That space between Bundick and the Mattsons was filled with modern jazz, Santana disco, drum-heavy free-form, psychedelic boogaloo and power-trio rage.

Every show has an arc and Sunday night was a one-way trajectory, each song sounding more focused and better than the previous, a constant build to an ecstatic conclusion, the album tracks thoughtfully arranged to optimize the live performance. When the end was finally reached, Bundick announcing, “No encore, we mean it,” they’d pretty much played it all, there were no Easter eggs left to uncover. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

Photos courtesy of DeShaun Craddock | dac.photography

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Maggie Rogers Returns to The Bowery Ballroom as a Performer

April 12th, 2017

Maggie Rogers – The Bowery Ballroom – April 11, 2017

Maggie Rogers – The Bowery Ballroom – April 11, 2017
When Pharrell takes an eye to an artist (and I’m not talking about his stint on The Voice), ears perk up. The celeb producer was enchanted by American songwriter Maggie Rogers’ track “Alaska” while teaching a master class at NYU last summer. Her anticipated EP, That the Light Is Fading, released back in February layers Rogers’ folk sensibilities with newly examined dance tempos she acquired living abroad. Rogers has the swagger of an Amelia Meath (Sylvan Esso) and the hymnal quality of Florence Welch (Florence and the Machine). Last night at The Bowery Ballroom, the first of two sold-out New York City shows, the singer-songwriter took center stage donning a custom white denim suit designed by Christian Joy. The room was filled with the chirping of crickets as Rogers opened with “Color Song” and her frenetic dance moves were unleashed.

After the dance-pop track “Dog Years,” the recent graduate offered a slow jam written for a crush entitled “Say It.” Wise beyond her years, Rogers pensively acknowledged not only how much has changed for her in the past year, but also the world itself. “Global grief hangs heavy as summer heat,” the first lines of “Hashtag,” rang especially true for the sunny front earlier in the day and the current political climate. She revealed that “Little Joys” was the first song she wrote in NYC and admitted the opening was inspired by Sharon Van Etten. Light on the material, a cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” was reimagined with dance beats ebbing and flowing into the folk-rock classic.

Before the final song, Rogers became teary and choked up recounting the times she had previously been to The Bowery Ballroom as an audience member. She pulled herself together, saying, “I really love making music,” and culminated the evening with the track that had left Pharrell virtually speechless. No longer a fledgling songwriter, the world awaits the next chapter of Ms. Maggie Rogers. —Sharlene Chiu

Photos courtesy of Pip Cowley | pipcowleyshoots.com

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Son Volt Bring a True Sound to The Bowery Ballroom on Friday Night

April 10th, 2017

Son Volt – The Bowery Ballroom – April 7, 2017

Son Volt – The Bowery Ballroom – April 7, 2017
The Bowery Ballroom was packed on Friday night as fans eagerly waited for alt-country pioneers Son Volt to take the stage. Jay Farrar and Co. were in town for two sold-out weekend appearances supporting their new album, Notes of Blue, which finds the band mixing their rough-around-the-edges heartland anthems with a more bluesy sound. Opening the show, singer-songwriter Anders Parker eased the crowd into the night with a set of slow-burning ballads and fiery rockers. He said that a new album called The Man Who Fell from Earth arrives this week, describing it as a somber affair with Parker backed by just a pedal-steel guitar and a string trio. But he and his band opted to put some muscle behind the new material live, suitably spreading out the songs with guitar solos reminiscent of Neil Young in all of his ragged glory.

When Jay Farrar walked onstage and stepped up to the microphone to sing, “Today’s world is not my home” in his whiskey-soaked croon there was no mistaking what he meant. Ever since the dissolution of his partnership with Jeff Tweedy in the seminal alt-country band Uncle Tupelo in the mid-’90s, Farrar has been making records with Son Volt that strive for a similar gold standard: records that seem like they’ve been etched into stone and remain timeless if not out of step with the times. The new album was given the lion’s share of the set, but Son Volt managed to weave in some old favorites including the majority of their classic debut album, Trace, which, two years ago, was reissued for its 20th anniversary.

The band’s encore found them reaching deep for some Tupelo classics and Trace’s opening track, “Windfall,” which inspired the biggest crowd sing-along as the chorus “May the wind take your troubles away” rang crystal clear from the choir of flannel-clad fans raising their drinks toward the sky. Just when we thought it was over, and the audience began to thin out, the band returned to the stage for one more encore and played an exuberant cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Happy.” It was a real cherry on top of an already perfect night of rock and roll. —Patrick King | @MrPatKing

Photos courtesy of Marc Millman Photography | www.marcmillmanphotos.com/music

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Chicano Batman Make Good on Expectations at The Bowery Ballroom

April 3rd, 2017

Chicano Batman – The Bowery Ballroom – March 31, 2017‪‬

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Friday night at a sold-out Bowery Ballroom: The lights go down, the audience goes wild, music plays over the PA for a minute or two. Finally, the band appears, all dressed in identical suits. A bit dramatic, don’t you think? When that band is Chicano Batman, a Los Angeles quartet overflowing with energy and personality, it’s not clear that it’s dramatic enough. The four-piece and their music and the packed house were a clichéd melting pot, a bilingual diversity of sound and talent that bowled over the crowd from start to finish.‬

‪The set opened with “Angel Child,” off of the recently released Freedom Is Free. Backed by sequined singers from soulful opening act 79.5 (whose members rotated onto the stage all night), the band looked good and sounded even better. Within the first three songs, Chicano Batman had traversed as many styles, genres, tempos and deep strata of groove as could be dreamed up. Zappa-esque prog dropped into funk into soaring soul and then back again. The audience hollered an almost teenybopper scream of recognition and adulation at the start of each number, and song after song, the band made good on the expectation.

Chicano Batman played almost all of the new album as well as favored material from their back catalog, each number leaping in multidimensional energy in the live show, as if the songs themselves yearned for the energy in the room. The politics were implicit, the new record’s title track feeling like an appropriate new national anthem, balancing pessimism and optimism with a serious backline-beat boogie. The encore began with a somewhat triumphant take on “This Land Is Your Land” before devolving into an anarchy of Spanish and English, of rock and funk and beyond, of a leaping quartet onstage and a roomful of fist-pumping, smiling, jumping dancers on the floor below. Never has a melting pot been so much fun. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

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Lambchop Paint a Pretty Picture at The Bowery Ballroom

March 31st, 2017

Lambchop – The Bowery Ballroom – March 30, 2017

Lambchop – The Bowery Ballroom – March 30, 2017
There’s a deep reverence fans have for Lambchop—you can hear it in the silence that takes over the audience right before the band begins to play. Last night at The Bowery Ballroom, this silence left nothing but the sounds of Delancey Street traffic and bartenders shaking up cocktails in the few seconds Lambchop’s music began to fill the void. Frontman Kurt Wagner treats his music the way a painter would: Each album is a chance for reinvention, with different media opening up the possibilities of what fills the canvas. For the latest Lambchop album, FLOTUS, the new medium is electronic beats and vocal effects, splintering Wagner’s gentle yet husky baritone voice into a full landscape of melody.

On the set-opening “NIV,” Wagner’s voice sounded almost alien, grounded only by the song’s gentle arpeggios. Taking a page out of the book of their friends in Yo La Tengo, Wagner knew that if he could milk the power out of a song’s quieter moments, it would only feel more powerful as the song grew louder. On “The Hustle,” this slow build from powerful soft to powerful loud happened slowly yet still managed to somehow catch concertgoers off guard. These new sounds they’re playing with at this point in their long career blow sonic possibilities wide open. “Directions to the Can” was almost like trip-hop and had Wagner full-out dancing by the track’s conclusion. “In Care of 8675309” featured a refrain that sounded like it was trying to break free from the song after each verse.

“This next song Kurt wrote while we were playing the last one,” said the always-wisecracking keyboardist Tony Crow as he introduced “The New Cobweb of Summer.” Crow’s stage banter is the stuff of legend, itself worth the price of admission. “It’s not as hard as it looks, Kurt. A lot of things are harder,” he added after Wagner introduced him, going on to list a series of activities that included kayaking and cooking. Lambchop finished with the delicately acoustic “My Blue Wave” and a gorgeous rendition of Prince’s “When You Were Mine,” the song sounding next to nothing like the original. Consider it a painter’s take on the landscape before him with the supplies at hand. Lucky for Lambchop fans, Wagner’s art supplies seem endless. —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com

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Wilco Are Reliably Terrific in Closing Out a Four-Night Run

March 23rd, 2017

Wilco – Beacon Theatre – March 22, 2017

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There is plenty of debate these days about what makes America great, but for some things there is no argument, no matter what you believe. There is greatness in American monuments and symbols—Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty and, of course, rock and roll. Over the past couple of decades, few bands have been able to claim the mantle of the “great American rock band” quite like Wilco have. Last night at the Beacon Theatre, Jeff Tweedy and Co., closing out the last of four sold-out shows, proved that they certainly belong on the Mount Rushmore of present-day American rock bands.

Trees painted on either side and rolling hills behind, the stage evoked a rustic setting, a bucolic countryside scene, even though the band and audience were smack dab on Broadway in one of the busiest cities in the world. Wilco’s sound captured this all-American city mouse/country mouse vibe from the start, alt-country meets explosive rock and roll. Early on, Tweedy’s voice was front and center, the crowd hanging on each syllable, while he sang material from the band’s newest, Schmilcolike “Normal American Kids,” while guitarist Nels Cline danced Garcia-esque licks into the packed venue. A few songs in, however, the band picked up steam, drummer Glenn Kotche and bassist John Stirratt chugging alongside Cline and Tweedy’s guitars, a pair of tractor trailers plowing down the open road of the U.S. Interstate on rockers like “Side with Seeds” and “At Least That’s What You Said.”

A Wilco show is as reliable as another American landmark, Old Faithful. You know the eruption is coming, but that doesn’t it make it any less impressive when it arrives, like clockwork. Wednesday night, as is often the case, the pressure-relief came during “Impossible Germany,” Cline gushing geothermal guitar licks, while the audience looked on in awe. Still, perhaps the set’s all-encompassing highlight may have been “Via Chicago,” Wilco channeling the great American poet, Whitman, very large and containing multitudes, overlapping Tweedy’s own soft-sung poetry with a barbaric yawp of guitars and drums. Before the set ended, they made sure to serve up their version of the all-American diet of meat and potatoes in the form of crowd favorites “Heavy Metal Drummer” and “I’m the Man Who Loves You.” The 30-plus-minute double encore was an almost let’s-play-two run-through of the band’s history, songs old and new, including, naturally, “Red-Eyed and Blue.” Preceding the end of the set, Tweedy, who was relatively quiet with the banter all night, said, “We’ve got no time for fucking pessimism.” And it doesn’t get much more American than that. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

 

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Jens Lekman Offers an Antidote to NYC’s Winter on Saturday night

March 20th, 2017

Jens Lekman – The Bowery Ballroom – March 18, 2017

(Photo: Andie Diemer)

(Photo: Andie Diemer)


(Jens Lekman performs live at Rough Trade NYC tonight.)

Given New York City’s week of Swedish weather, with gray days and precipitation falling within the never land between rain and snow, it must have felt like home for one of Sweden’s great pop troubadours, Jens Lekman, who, before returning to Europe, ruled the weekend here in the city, playing The Bowery Ballroom on Saturday and Music Hall of Williamsburg on Sunday—plus he’s at Rough Trade Trade NYC tonight. His Saturday show began with just him and an acoustic guitar, performing “To Know Your Mission” and “Evening Prayer,” off his latest album, the fantastic and much-acclaimed Life Will See You Now. The latter track was particularly Jens-ian, a tender yet optimistically upbeat tune about worrying and carrying for a friend going through chemotherapy.

“Who here is seeing Jens Lekman for the first time tonight?” asked Lekman to a handful of cheers. Going back all the way, he then went through every one of his local shows, even asking who was at his 2005 Mercury Lounge appearance. “I like growing older with you guys. I want this thing to last forever,” he said. The rest of the band then joined him onstage for “What’s That Perfume That You Where?” about memories triggered by a scent. After an amp malfunction that cut the song short, Lekman began again, playing through on acoustic guitar, somehow sounding even better the second time around: Nothing can hold back those danceable Lekman grooves. There’s a heartfelt warmth to his music that even permeated how he performed. For the end of “The Opposite of Hallelujah,” Lekman pantomimed the xylophone notes in front of him like falling snowflakes.

He introduced “I Know What Love Isn’t” as something he wrote during a cynical time of his life, but even this song brought forth a sense of cheeriness. Perhaps cynical New Yorkers have our taste for cynicism skewed too far to recognize the finer nuances of Scandinavian cynicism. Lekman introduced “Dandelion Seed” as the last song, realizing as he said it that the audience wouldn’t let things end there. The band returned for Lekman classics “Maple Leaves” and “A Postcard to Nina.” And when even that wasn’t enough, the affable performer returned solo yet again for “I Want a Pair of Cowboy Boots” and “Pocketful of Money.” “I’ll come runnin’ with a heart on fire,” sang the packed crowd with Lekman repeating the chorus over the audience, delivered like a high-pitched plea. There’s no better antidote to the dregs of a New York City winter than huge moments like these. —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nricks

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The Staves Build Bridges at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday

March 13th, 2017

The Staves – Music Hall of Williamsburg – March 10, 2017

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As youngsters in England, Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor learned guitar from their father and sang heavy folk melodies at the local pub, which has bloomed into something bigger. Their sweet sisterly harmonies have earned the Staves opening slots for the Civil Wars, Bon Iver and Florence and the Machine. The siblings formed such a strong friendship with Justin Vernon that the Bon Iver frontman produced their last album, If I Was. Playing at Music Hall of Williamsburg Friday night, the first of two sold-out weekend shows in Brooklyn, the sisters were a lovely respite after the morning’s snowfall. Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” introduced the ladies—and drummer Dave Power—to the stage. The show began with Camilla on ukulele for “Blood I Bled,” while Jessica, on guitar, and Emily, behind keys, offered backing vocals.

Opener Mikaela Davis added harp on the breakup song “No Me, No You, No More” as Jessica’s elfin vocals rang across the room. Midway through the set, when Emily and Camilla needed to swap stage positions, Jessica stalled with some light conversation about Gilmore Girls, which the band had been watching on the bus. This sent the crowd into a tizzy with shouts of “Team Jess,” but it was the sisters’ critical takes on the character Rory as “a nause” (an English term of annoyance) that elicited cheers. Vernon’s influences were obvious once everyone was in the right place and Camilla created an echo chamber with a series of vocal loops on “Train Tracks,” similar to those on Bon Iver songs. The skip-hop cadence of “Black & White” perked up fans and grew for the anthemic “Tired as Fuck” as crowd members clapped along to Camilla’s languid delivery. An encore was inevitable and Davis returned again for a dreaming acoustic cover of Sufjan Steven’s “Chicago.” Jessica prefaced the final song, “Mexico,” with “Don’t build walls, let’s build bridges.” —Sharlene Chiu