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LCD Soundsystem Leave Them Wanting More at Brooklyn Steel

December 20th, 2017

LCD Soundsystem – Brooklyn Steel – December 19, 2017


James Murphy and his LCD Soundsystem lot are all too aware of the hype that surrounds their live performances. The collective that has reemerged from their “breakup” in 2011 in much the same arrangement, and with the addition of some new blood, recognizes the buildup prior to when everyone takes their positions onstage in their stacked pyramid instrumental setup that surrounds the spotlit Murphy, the master of ceremonies. They recognize the level of great expectation and with the poise of players in long-run theater, unflinchingly rise to the occasion. Murphy has essentially admitted that he was fooling himself to think that he could walk away from the life of making music and performing it with LCD Soundsystem. As evidenced at Brooklyn Steel last night throughout the seventh show in a run of 10, he needs that outlet. It’s too much of what he is. As you find yourself moved by the power and grace of his singing voice over primal dance grooves that don’t feel as if they have a discernible beginning or ending, it becomes clear that he was too much of a comet to hide for too long and the crew of old friends are the players that form around him like a solar system.

Putting on a good show is about reps. Any performer would tell you that. To go along with this year’s new album, American Dream, LCD Soundsystem have been getting plenty of them, having put on strings of consecutive shows that have become residencies at their new Brooklyn home. What’s so rewarding is that they have risen to that rarified place of performance where you know what songs are coming and yet when they’re played with that special mix of timepiece precision and instinctive improvisational flair sprung from the raw energy of the moment, you feel like you’re experiencing a favorite song for the first time, like what it felt like to walk through the woods stoned for the first time. Therein lies the unique magic of an LCD Soundsystem show, and why it never loses its vitality even after the second, fifth or seventh time you’ve seen it. The second-nature orchestration of playing parts all churning in sync is well oiled at this point and just takes off. It’s hard to imagine a better tone-setter to begin a night with than “Yr City’s a Sucker.” It holds that raw NYC cold-steel break-loop groove, priming everyone for the party that’s about to ensue.

The sequence of hits that followed was kind of mind boggling: “I Can Change,” absolutely resplendent live, “Get Innocuous,” “Tribulations,” “You Wanted a Hit” all unravel and ascend to their own euphoric peaks, and you’re so wrapped up that you don’t even realize songs like “Someone Great,” “Dance Yrself Clean” and the dizzying rapture of “All My Friends” are still ahead. Tracks from the new album are sprinkled in almost inconspicuously as the ’80s synth romanticism of “Oh Baby” drops the energy down into a beautiful lull. It was one of those shows that still makes you feel cool that you could get into and no matter how big the group’s become, they still extend meaty-jam grooves like basement bands that don’t know how to stop. They are a unique combination of musicians who understand how and when to give the crowd exactly what they’ve come for, a release into the frenzy of their extended plays. Almost right away, you see what all the fuss is about. LCD Soundsystem are the kind of band that snaps you out of the conversation you’re having with the person you invited to get to know, and suddenly you’re both dancing irresistibly with broad smiles. And when you walk away with that buzz that rolls on like one of their live songs, you know it’s an experience you’ll go back for as many times as you can. —Charles Steinberg | @Challyolly

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com

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Kevin Devine Plays Two Albums at His Last Local Show of the Year

December 18th, 2017

Kevin Devine – Music Hall of Williamsburg – December 16, 2017


The end is near—of 2017, at least. People are preparing treks to see family or readying their own home to be visited. At the same time, they’re also reflecting on a year that many of us would probably like to move past. And Kevin Devine’s final hometown 2017 show, at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday night, felt like the perfect coda. He put two albums on display, one that worries about where we’re headed and one that helps tell us how we got here. He began with the former, Instigator. Released a month before the 2016 election, it’s a loud, nervous record with a clear vision about the battles America is fighting, will fight and those already won or lost. While Devine is often flanked by a half dozen or more band members, he played this album as a trio. It was written that way, he says, and that raw sound only amplified the tension and the terror of lyrics in songs like “Both Ways” (“Our destiny, made manifest/ Oblivion and its endlessness/ Imagine our surprise when/ We actually had to pick up the check!”) or “No History,” a recalculation of 9/11’s impact on the country and its people through the hazy lens of our current troubles (“The blood and money didn’t fix anything/ We’ve grown accustomed to the depths of the danger/ This is the future/ Severe and always happening”).

While it’s all a bit dour, it’s a cathartic album to hear played live. Devine, though, seemed to rush through it the way one speeds through hard holiday conversations with family so they can get out and see old friends. No surprise, because he then moved on to the second album, 2006’s Put Your Ghost to Rest. For this one, he was joined by that ensemble of usual suspects, the Goddamn Band, as the shifting group of friends and musicians has always been called. The lyrics, written during—and often about—the Bush administration, were still challenging and surprisingly relevant. But the music grew more lush and beautiful, with violin and keyboard and shakers filling in the gaps that Instigator purposely leaves bare. Devine trades in hindsight and foresight, but he’s also a jester. He splashed the three-hour set with jokes and stories between tunes. Some were about why certain songs exist, and others were small nostalgic anecdotes he almost sounded embarrassed to share. Across the night, it was clear Devine is relieved to have survived 2017, is mourning those who haven’t, and is worrying and wondering about what 2018 will bring—just like the crowd of fans before him. —Sean O’Kane | @Sokane1

Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane | seanokanephoto.com

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Leif Vollebekk Chats and Tells Stories at Rough Trade NYC on Friday

December 18th, 2017

Leif Vollebekk – Rough Trade NYC – December 15, 2017


Leif Vollebekk has a lot to say. At times during a snowy Friday night at Rough Trade NYC made warm by the cheer brought by the Ottawa, Ont., native’s visceral and fatty folk cuts, he seemed more eager to talk to the audience than to play the songs that framed his tangents. But this is simply because Vollebekk’s rich organ-and-guitar-laden outpouring is so effortless. Song is his first language and its communication seems like second nature. His is the kind of voice that makes you let down your guard. Once his country-boy rasp reaches you, you allow it in because it speaks of travels you’ve taken or have dreamed of taking and so many of the relatable feelings of living through them.

Vollebbekk is a torchbearer for the original soul and folk artists of the 20th century, those who we can now only listen to through earphones. This is why seeing him channel artists like young Dylan and Jeff Buckley live is such a thrill. This year’s Twin Solitude augmented Vollebbekk’s authentic, personal songwriting with a more sensual production and many of its songs filled the room on Friday. “Vancouver Time,” “All Night Sedans,” “Elegy,” “Big Sky Country,” “Michigan” and “Telluride” were played with unforced measure, inviting you into his narrative visions, moved along by the slow vibrations of bass guitar and brushed drum strokes behind him. Vollebekk’s 2014 breakout album, North Americana, was visited as well, with “Off the Main Drag” freezing people in their place.

One thing you walked away thinking, back out in the snow, slowly coming to from the trance Leif Vollebekk’s soulful potions had put you in is that he’s a good hang. His music can bring a smile and an upwelling of humanity from the stiffest and most repressed, which is why we need to keep encouraging his likes to play for us, to show us how to take a long look around and take it all in. Performances like his remind you that in the midst of the overload, earnest storytelling through sweet sound is something to slow down and stop for. —Charles Steinberg | @Challyolly

Photos courtesy of Charles Steinberg | charlesosteinberg.com

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SZA Proves She’s Worth the Hype on Sunday at Brooklyn Steel

December 11th, 2017

SZA – Brooklyn Steel – December 10, 2017


The newly minted five-time Grammy nominee SZA has had a great 2017. Her response to her nominations on her Instagram account tells it all: “This entire thing puts my wildest dreams to shame. I️ dunno what to say cause I️ dunno how to accept its even happening to me lol ? I’ve never won anything in my life even until this week (THANK YOU SOULTRAIN AWARDS!!) it all just feels strange somehow BUT IM SO OVERWHELMINGLY GRATEFUL FOR THIS STRANGENESS!!” The singer only released her debut album, Ctrl, back in June, and it’s since gone gold, with two platinum-selling singles in tow. She performed both of them on SNL the evening before her very sold-out concert at Brooklyn Steel last night.

Jaunting onstage with a bright pink puffer coat, SZA opened the performance with “Supermodel.” She called upon a choir to join her, exclaiming that they might look familiar from their Saturday night debut. The singer then tossed off her coat to reveal a cropped tank, which, paired with yellow parachute pants, brought visions of TLC’s Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes. The discarded clothing was perfectly timed with the lyrics of “Drew Barrymore,” “Warm enough for ya outside baby, yeah.” After the first snowfall of the holiday season just the day before, the song resonated especially.

Prefacing “Normal Girl” with a poll of whether people in the audience knew they were popular in high school, SZA admitted she was not and that she tried to just be “normal.” The songwriter had an easy rapport with the crowd, even offering the front row bottled waters. The best were saved for last with SZA’s two platinum singles, the timely “The Weekend” and an extended version of  “Love Galore.” She capped off the night with the melodic lullaby “20 Something,” which was the age range of the majority of the folks piled into the former manufacturing plant. On the cool, crisp evening, fans flooded out onto Frost Street with an uplifted spirit from a truly gifted performer clearly at the cusp of breaking wide open. —Sharlene Chiu


Photos courtesy of Pip Cowley | pipcowleyshoots.com

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St. Vincent Shines Bright at Kings Theatre on Sunday Night

December 4th, 2017

St. Vincent – Kings Theatre – December 3, 2017


It’s been a decade since Annie Clark, better known by her stage name St. Vincent, released her debut album, Marry Me. In the span of 10 years, she’s released four more albums, not including Love This Giant, the collaborative record with David Byrne. Her latest, Masseduction, has St. Vincent revealing what she’s admitted is her most personal work, “I told you more than I would tell my mother.” After a breakup with model Cara Delevingne, Clark confessed she is in “deep nun mode,” focusing her energies into work promoting the album and touring. The enigmatic artist played the second of two sold-out shows at Kings Theatre on Sunday night.

Clark’s short film, The Birthday Party, precluded the performance, as a breadcrumb to the evening’s unveiling. The cinematic piece is all about the reveal. Beginning with “Marry Me,” Clark took her position to the left of stage with the curtain drawn ever so to the right. With each passing song through her back catalog, the curtain slowly opened to fully showcase a V-shaped setup with the singer at its center. The audience rose to their feet on “Cruel,” and remained so for the entirety of the show. The singer really seems to have found a home in New York City, and offered “where all the freaks come to be alright” to the crowd before barreling into “Digital Witness.”

There was a brief interlude for a wardrobe change and for a platform to be added to the stage before the latest album was played in order. Clark traded in a hot pink patent-leather bodysuit with matching thigh-high boots for a silver dress and sea-foam green armbands. Recent singles “Pills,” “Los Ageless” and “New York” commanded the strongest response, especially for the latter. Clarke personalized lyrics for Brooklyn, singing “Brooklyn isn’t Brooklyn without you, love/ Too few of our old crew left on Flatbush/ And if I call you from Graham Avenue.” Imposing video footage largely curated by collaborator Willo Perron framed the guitarist throughout the evening, further highlighting her command of the stage as unparalleled. No band. Just her. On the evening of the supermoon, it was arguable what shown greatest. —Sharlene Chiu


Photos courtesy of DeShaun Craddock | dac.photography

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Spoon Deliver Career-Spanning Set at Brooklyn Steel on Tuesday Night

November 29th, 2017

Spoon – Brooklyn Steel – November 28, 2017


Few bands have been as consistently great for as long as Spoon have. It was a claim music critics might have made maybe five years ago, and Spoon have since released another classic album and another one after that, too. Last night the Austin, Texas, group sold out Brooklyn Steel for their first New York City show since the release of the much-acclaimed Hot Thoughts. Their set list could have pulled from any Spoon era and the energetic crowd would’ve been satisfied. Instead, fans got a career-spanning set, a welcomed reminder for Spoonheads that this band’s catalog is now a very deep well.

The performance kicked off with the Hot Thoughts banger, “Do I Have to Talk You Into It,” with the bouncy synth and keyboard arpeggios welcoming Spoon to the stage. They were backlit with intensely bright colors reminiscent of the Hot Thoughts album cover, alternating between warm and cool tones to match song spirits. For “The Beast and Dragon, Adored” the stage turned a hellfire crimson red. “I Turn My Camera On” began with an epic jam featuring some wobbly guitar harmonics. It had the song feeling almost like a reimagined early era Modest Mouse number (think “Dramamine”). Frontman Britt Daniel faced some sound issues with his guitar mid-set but they made the best of it. If nothing else, it provided the rest of the band ample time to mutate the typically classic-sounding rock jam “Don’t You Evah” into an all-out noise-rock jam.

“The Underdog,” a clear fan favorite, might be the closest thing we’ll get to a Spoon theme song. For a band cast aside by their major label early on, only to have a long career championed by indie labels, lines like “You got no fear of the underdog/ That’s why you will not survive,” sound like an epic FU to the major labels blindsided by the music era in which Spoon have flourished. Their encore kicked off with Daniel alone on guitar singing “I Summon You” followed by the early career favorite “Metal Detektor” off 1998’s A Series of Sneaks. They ended the night with “Hot Thoughts” and “Rent I Pay.” One more thing worth noting is the greatness of drummer Jim Eno, a man who doesn’t get enough credit. In a live setting, it’s striking how many Spoon songs are carried by an on point Eno rhythm. He’s a drummer in the spirit of Ringo Starr. In a way he’s the band’s ethos personified—nothing too flashy or over the top, just always on point, on rhythm and, well, consistently fucking great. —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks

Photos courtesy of Adela Loconte | adelaloconte.com

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Lukas Nelson Goes Real and Raw at Music Hall of Williamsburg

November 21st, 2017

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real – Music Hall of Williamsburg – November 20, 2017

Lukas Nelson, yep, Willie’s son, mmm hmm, sounds remarkably similar in voice, yada yada yada. We get that out of the way because it’s a little cliché by now, although Nelson certainly had to know what he was signing up for in the wake of his dad’s more-than-60 year career as a legend of country and popular music—and sounding a little, or a lot, like dear old dad ain’t exactly something to sweat. But the even better news is that Lukas is doing a damn fine job carving his own path while staying true to his pedigree: His music goes deep, sounds great loud or soft, tugs at downright Willie-like strands of universal truth and heartache, and is a rollicking good time, through and through.

Nelson and his stalwart band, Promise of the Real, closed a slam-bang tour last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg, showing he and they have learned a lot from two musical fathers, Willie, of course, and also Neil Young, whose been backed by Promise of the Real off and on for the last two years. But the takeaway is that Lukas isn’t the second coming of either Willie or Young so much as the first coming of Lukas Nelson. His was a gutsy, emotional, genre-hopping set, heavy with material from Promise of the Real’s outstanding eponymous 2017 album, and full feeling at just over an hour and a half. Behind the throttle of a six-piece band that incorporated soulful keys as often as it did gnarly pedal steel, it was possible to call this good-time rock and roll without further pinning it down, although the show had everything from country and soul to ragged blues and bar-band boogie.

“Set Me Down on a Cloud” soared like a gospel tune, while “Four Letter Word” and “Die Alone” were roughed-up rock, sometimes in an early ’70s Stones vein. “Fool Me Once” was a Lukas tune that seemed to straddle honky-tonk and R&B, shot through with gorgeous organ. “Just Outside of Austin” sounded like Willie, but perhaps even more like Glen Campbell, unpretentious and introspective. Throughout, Nelson and team showed a knack for set-list composition, including a mid-show acoustic set and also throwing in some Tom Petty (an acoustic, slow-swinging “Breakdown” with superb crowd accompaniment and a thrilling “American Girl”), and, in perhaps an early Thanksgiving nod to The Last Waltz, the Band’s “Up On Cripple Creek” and Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” with opener Nikki Lane and members of her band. If there was a standout, it might have been the stand-back-or-get-bowled-over “Forget About Georgia,” which sounded like what old Willie might if he were in a howling mood and fronting Crazy Horse. It began as a bleary-eyed honky-tonk croon and, over 10-plus minutes, mutated into a wailing guitar squall. It was raw and real, no promises needed. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

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

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Ron Gallo and Naked Giants Blur Lines at Rough Trade NYC

November 20th, 2017

Ron Gallo – Rough Trade NYC – November 19, 2017


Sometimes it’s best to start with the end and work your way back to the beginning. Such is the case with the show at Rough Trade NYC last night, which closed in burn-the-house-down fashion, Ron Gallo and his band joined by opening band Naked Giants, two power trios banging around onstage, at least half of the six musicians having removed their shirts, the sweat a couple of hours of no-garage-can-contain-this rock and rolling. The Naked Giants guys had already been onstage for three songs to close out the set, at one point joined by Dr. Dog’s Eric Slick as well, playing both sides of their split 7″ single and culminating in a frenzied cover of the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter.” Apparently they’ve been performing it together all along their tour, but when they played it in Brooklyn last night, it not only was an appropriate show closer, but also unwittingly, and perhaps unintentionally ironically, marked the passing of Charles Manson.

The packed house had been bouncing and percolating to both bands all night, but by this point, the energy from front to back was combustible, bodies slamming into one another and carelessly bounding up and down. Whatever the opposite of “quiet Sunday evening at home” is, this was it. The preceding set from Gallo and his trio had been an exercise in blurred boundaries, playing songs from their appropriately titled Heavy Meta record. The demarcation between headliner and opener seemed fluid, at one point midway through, after singing a song apparently about two headlining bands, the Naked Giants guys came on and swapped instruments, allowing Gallo and his group to hop into the audience to rock out with the crowd. Indeed the fourth wall between the performers and audience was as equally dynamic throughout, Gallo not only coming down off the stage on multiple occasions, but also chatting and bantering with folks in the audience, and the musicians mimicking the propulsive dancing of the crowd. At one point Gallo was able to merge all of the audience requests into one surreal medley, blowing into his trumpet and then threading together a few seconds of an unintelligible “Free Bird” with “Fight for Your Right to Party” and, of all things, “One of Us.”

The boundary between rock and roll show and performance art also disappeared, stretching back to the opening moments of Gallo’s set, when he played a little trumpet and then read a prepared introduction statement from a piece of paper seemingly channeling Christopher Walken. At other points, Gallo played his guitar with and on a skateboard. But for all the shenanigans, his set was a rage of rock and roll, channeling the great trios like the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream along the way. With Joe Bisirri on bass and Dylan Sevey on drums, the three-piece was greater than the sum of their parts, breathing fire into the material from the beginning. And as we continue to work our way backward through the night, we once again find Seattle’s Naked Giants. Seen from the end, their set was a bit of foreshadowing—their intense and thoughtful guitar-bass-drum rock a perfect tee up for the night. Their songs seemed to have a mind of their own, losing themselves in the middle to stray here or there in is-this-another-song fashion before hitting the head and drawing to a close. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

Photos courtesy of Silvia Saponaro | www.saponarophotography.com

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Broken Social Scene to the Rescue at Brooklyn Steel on Wednesday

October 5th, 2017

Broken Social Scene – Brooklyn Steel – October 4, 2017

In “getting the band back together,” the siblings in The Blues Brothers are compelled to get all of the original members, no less will do, in order to rekindle the old magic. I imagine Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning going through similar adventures every few years as they search Toronto to round up Andrew Whiteman, Charles Spearin, Justin Peroff and the rest of Broken Social Scene. In the movie, the reunion is to save an orphanage, and while now there’s no orphanage to save, per se, it does lately feel like our collective national psyche has been orphaned—and who better to save it than these guys? Or, as Drew put it midway through their sold-out show at Brooklyn Steel last night: “When your country gets fucked up, Broken Social Scene shows up … that’s what we do.” And show up they did, delivering a powerful, jubilant, cathartic set, the band, indeed back together.

The healing vibes were flowing from the beginning with a punchy opening one-two of “KC Accidental” and “7/4 Shoreline,” guitars layered upon guitars and then, at just the right moment, a blast of horns materializing to provide the exclamatory oomph. “We’re not a rock band, we’re a family!” proclaimed Drew later in the night, putting to words the unique, sibling-love energy coming from the stage. Even when squeezing two, three and sometimes four guitar parts into their songs, the sound was big and loving without getting too messy. A mid-set pairing of “Stars and Sons” and “World Sick” showed off the ensemble’s range: joyous, raucous bounce followed by more subtle, heartfelt rocking, the latter lingering with beautiful cascades of guitar in both the intro and outro.

While it’s been a few years since Broken Social Scene’s last proper tour—and the band and crowd were both filled with nostalgia last night—plenty of new material still seamlessly fit into the set. “Skyline,” dedicated to Tom Petty, felt especially purposeful and charged, quietly building to another horn-led climax. The new record is titled Hug of Thunder, and that’s exactly what the show felt like, an emotional release in voluminous guitars, bass, drums and more. During the encore, the hugs became literal, Drew dropping down into the crowd to sing “Lover’s Spit” and giving a genuine embrace to as many people as he could along the way as he sang, sincerely, if not reassuringly, “Making it work takes a little time.” —A. Stein | @Neddyo

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com

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Patti Smith Celebrates and Pays Tribute at SummerStage on Thursday

September 15th, 2017

Patti Smith and Her Band – SummerStage – September 14, 2017

“Most of these songs I wrote for Fred, with Fred or about Fred,” said Patti Smith last night on Central Park’s SummerStage. It would have been the 69th birthday of Fred “Sonic” Smith, Patti’s late husband and the father of her two children, Jackson Smith and Jesse Paris Smith. Patti Smith has been part of New York City royalty for decades now, her role in the art world, contributions to music and writing, her ability to find herself by chance in the midst of history’s cool and famous since she first stepped foot here in the late ’60s. But the intimate knowledge of her personal life is relatively recent news for her fans. Smith’s memoirs, Just Kids and M Train, share stories about the love and loss of her best friend, Robert Mapplethorpe, and her husband. They also let in the world on the person behind the art, her uncanny ability to find the sacred in everything and even just a good cup of coffee in a local diner. Knowing this is how she experiences the world made a noteworthy performance to honor and remember her late husband all the more special and intimate.

With her son on guitar and daughter on keyboards, Smith played through a catalog inspired by or written with her husband, gone since 1994 but an inspiration ever since. “Fred, this is the product of many day dreams,” she said as an introduction to “Because the Night” (written with Bruce Springsteen). Smith shared how “Looking For You (I Was)” was penned for their anniversary, a love song written for the city of Detroit, her home in the early years of her married life, written while she was in NYC. The show was full of memorials for others, too. Smith dedicated “Ghost Dance” to the activists who took a stand at Standing Rock; “Dancing Barefoot” to Amy Winehouse, who would have turned 34 on Thursday; “Peaceable Kingdom,” to Hüsker Dü’s Grant Hart, who passed away earlier in the day; “Pissing in a River” dedicated to legendary writer Sam Shepard, a close friend who passed away earlier this year. Despite all of these memorials, the performance never stopped feeling like a celebration. Messages sprinkled throughout were delivered with a sense of urgency: “We are free!” and “The people have the power!” Later, triumphantly holding aloft her guitar, Smith yelled, “This is the only fucking weapon we need!”

These are the messages Patti Smith was born to spread. Joined by her now adult children, she  took some moments to try to embarrass them a little, noting her daughter’s willingness to always give her mom her bobby pins. She’s also still wickedly funny, ending some stage banter with: “What am I talking about? I just turned 70. You know when you turn 70 your mind works … in mysterious ways.” But she remains the no-bullshit punk rocker she always was, bringing out the rock and roll animal inside her to dominate the stage for the set-closing “Land.” Even when performing other people’s songs, like Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World,” the message felt as much hers as theirs. R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe, a longtime fan and friend, joined Smith to sing happy birthday to Fred and also to close the show with “People Have the Power.” It was a perfect way to end a night that remembered a powerful artist and reminded everyone there of the most powerful message of all—delivered by the woman he loved. —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks


Photos courtesy of Silvia Saponaro | www.saponarophotography.com

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Vulfpeck Fly Funky Flag Friday Night at Brooklyn Steel

September 11th, 2017

Vulfpeck – Brooklyn Steel – September 8, 2017


Funky times call for funky tunes. And while it seemed on Friday night like half of the country was on fire and that the other half was staring down a massive hurricane, Ann Arbor, Mich., band Vulfpeck landed in Brooklyn to plant their funk flag and fly it high—the first of thee booty-shakin’, sold-out Brooklyn Steel appearances in a row. “And just like a sporting event, there will be a palpable drop in energy after the introduction,” jokingly said Jack Stratton as a means of introduction.

The whole thing felt like a funky circus troupe, with at one point 11 people onstage, each switching instruments, more than half of them in gym gear straight out of a ’70s phys ed class, and Stratton leading dance moves and sing-alongs—the rhythm never falling out of time. “New York, can you sing this bassline?” asked the frontman as an intro to “Fugue State,” and the crowd happily obliged. For “El Chepe,” Stratton led the audience through a dance called the Choo Choo. R&B singer Antwaun Stanley joined the band for the set’s middle third, and everyone else in the room joined him on the chorus for “1612.”

The love Vulfpeck have for’60s and ’70s classics is evident in their sound. They paid homage with Stevie Wonder and Al Green covers, but there were audible traces of the era flowing into every tap of the drum. A raging brass section helped, too, with guest Elizabeth Lea, of Tedeschi Trucks Band, tearing it up on the trombone on several songs. And “Back Pocket” featured some elaborate audience participation, in three-part harmonies no less. But the show wasn’t over until “Outro” was played with the saxophone blaring, a song so perfect as a finale that it was the last one played at my own wedding. And with my 30th birthday on Friday night, it’s now also closed out my twenties. A true funkin’ coincidence if there ever was one. —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks

Photos courtesy of Mike Benigno | mikebenigno.com

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The Brian Jonestown Massacre Deliver What They Do Best in Brooklyn

September 6th, 2017

The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Brooklyn Steel – September 5, 2017


Anton Newcombe will go down fighting the good fight. Since 1991 he has maintained a laughably prolific pace of releasing music with his band, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, that’s mined the depths of early-’60s British rock and Haight Ashbury psychedelia. A true believer and uncompromising musical mastermind, Newcombe has remained one of underground music’s biggest cult artists. But all of his acclaim and adoration from fans has been hard won over years of touring the globe and tinkering in the lab. Along the way, he’s built up the reputation of being one of rock’s most eccentric yet volatile personalities. Ondi Timoner’s classic documentary Dig! shows Newcombe both at his most erratic and brilliant. With the release of this year’s Don’t Get Lost, the Brian Jonestown Massacre brought their tour to Brooklyn Steel last night and were welcomed by a packed house of eager fans waiting to see which side of Newcombe they would get. And for those who were lucky enough to purchase tickets, he did not disappoint.

The experimental group Chui Wan, from Beijing, opened the show, easing the crowd into the night with a loose yet moving set of mind-bending textures and cascading melodies. Once they had finished, the stage was quickly turned around for the headliners. Dressed in matching white linen with a long flowing scarf draped around his neck, Newcombe stepped onstage backed by the six-piece band that makes up the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Including Newcombe, there were three guitarists, a bassist, keyboardist, drummer and longtime tambourine player and mascot Joel Gion, whose lackadaisical presence at the center of the stage drew impassioned “Joel, Joel, Joel” chants from the crowd.

For more than two hours, the Brian Jonestown Massacre delivered what they do best. Each song blasted out of the gate with the force of a desert hallucination as the band treated fans to selections from across their massive 17-album catalog. Newcombe was in great spirits throughout, and he took to the microphone for multiple hilarious tangents. “Do you think that Korean guy Lil’ Kim liked the Beatles?” he asked at one point. And then: “Do you think he watched Yellow Submarine as a kid? How could he and the act like this? I don’t get it.” The group mixed in some newer material from over the past decade alongside such fan favorites as “Anemone” and “Servo,” from their classic run in the ’90s. And by the time the Brian Jonestown Massacre put down their vintage teardrop guitars and that last rattle of the tambourine was heard, everyone who had packed into Brooklyn Steel on Tuesday night knew that they had been treated to one of rock and roll’s last great torchbearers. —Pat King |@MrPatKing

Photos courtesy of Adela Loconte | adelaloconte.com

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Sylvan Esso Triumphantly Return to Celebrate Brooklyn

July 27th, 2017

Sylvan Esso – Celebrate Brooklyn at the Prospect Park Bandshell – July 26, 2017


(Sylvan Esso play My Morning Jacket’s One Big Holiday on 3/2-6.)

Killer squirrels be damned, last night Sylvan Esso returned to Prospect Park, almost two years to the day since they’d last performed there. Not even signs around the park warning of our now infamous and unusually aggressive squirrel with a taste for human flesh could tamp down the mood of an otherwise beautiful night for music. “We had a lovely weekend in your city. Last night we saw Phish. It was my first time,” said singer Amelia Meath. “And my 22nd,” added Sylvan Esso producer and beat-master Nick Sanborn. “I get it, I got it, I got it. I think I got it,” said Meath, referring to the Phish “thing.”

For anyone unfamiliar with a Sylvan Esso live show, it’s important to note that Meath can fucking dance. “Man, she’s GOING for it,” said a woman next to me two songs into the set. Slithering, snaking her body through a web of beats, whipping around a ponytail, Meath can make a big stage seem somehow not big enough for two people: They own it. Outdoor shows can make everything seem bigger, but providing the backdrop for this dance-y performance mutated their bedroom pop songs into downright pop anthems—and they’re pop anthems the world seems to need right now.

“This song is about feeling good and making yourself feel good. Whether it’s in your own skin or your mother-fucking country, we stand with you everyday,” said Meath introducing “Dress.” Something about this musical duo has made sense from Day One. Meath’s silky smooth voice contrasts beautifully against Sanborn’s choppy, scattered beats. “Signal,” maybe the craziest beat of any of their songs, had Meath’s voice split into octaves harmonizing with itself. Their megahit, “Coffee,” came out as the mid-set stimulant, complete with “get up, get down” sing-alongs. Just two albums in and Sylvan Esso already have an impressive roster of insanely catchy songs, like “Just Dancing,” “Hey Mami” and “H.S.K.T.” The twosome closed the set with their first single off their second album, “Radio.” It’s a huge amount of pop songs to be written by a duo. Most other pop acts get, at best, a few singles off each album, worked many times over by massive teams of the world’s most renowned producers in music. But Sylan Esso are a David in a world of pop Goliaths, and Goddamn can that David dance. —Dan Rickershauser |@D4nRicks

Photos courtesy of Pip Cowley | pipcowleyshoots.com

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Elvis Costello Mesmerizes Packed SummerStage Crowd

June 16th, 2017

Elvis Costello & the Imposters – SummerStage – June 15, 2017


Elvis Costello is a writer’s rocker. David Lee Roth put it best when he said, “Music journalists like Elvis Costello because music journalists look like Elvis Costello.” I would take offense to this statement, but after sneaking a glance at myself in the mirror, I think Diamond Dave might be onto something. Costello knows where his strengths are because as a self-proclaimed music nerd (check out his old Sundance show, Spectacle, if you need any more convincing) he can tell when an album or piece of art should be looked upon in reverence. That is precisely why for his current tour with his longtime backing band, the Imposters, he’s playing his 1982 classic, Imperial Bedroom, in full. Upon its release, the LP wasn’t as big of a commercial success as his previous albums, but it was a breakthrough moment for Costello as an artist. Following up the recording of his country-covers album, Almost Blue, in Nashville, Tenn., with famed producer Billy Sherrill, Costello hooked up with Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick to explore the furthest reaches of the pop landscape to create Bedroom, and it’s since remained his most expansive and rewarding record. The tour rolled into town Thursday night for a packed show at Central Park’s SummerStage.

With no opening act, Elvis Costello & the Imposters began promptly at 7:30 p.m. as fans were still making their way into the venue from a line that zigzagged through the park. The band immediately dove headfirst into a ripping version of “The Loved Ones” and from then on we were given a tour of Bedroom with few detours in between. The projection lit up behind them took each of Costello’s album covers and obscured them with art in the style of Barney Bubblesartwork for Imperial Bedroom. At one point Costello explained the original abstract work by saying that he told Bubbles to listen to the album and just paint what he felt the overall theme of the record was. After listening, the artist then produced the piece he titled “Snake Charmer and Reclining Octopus” to which Costello thought, “Fuck me, what did we make?” The show was filled with hilarious banter from Costello, and his band was as sharp as their leader’s deadly wit. With original Attractions members Steve Nieve on keys and the incredible Pete Thomas on drums, the band was rounded out with Davey Faragher on bass and Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee on backup vocals.

It was a great to see them include obscure Imperial Bedroom songs like “Human Hands,” which would normally be left off of the set list. Costello clearly loved this trip down memory lane as he dug deep into an extended guitar solo during the album’s climactic “Beyond Belief” that launched the caustic track into pandemonium. They did find the time to dig out classics from other albums like “Accidents Will Happen,” “Clubland” and a raucous version of “Watching the Detectives,” which had Costello creating piercing feedback through his guitar with a megaphone siren that soared out of control and into the New York City sky.  The main set ended with the Bedroom Highlight “Pidgen English” before the band left and returned for an encore. More like a second set, Costello treated the audience to 12 more songs that not only finished his obligation to play Imperial Bedroom in its entirety but also treated his fans to some of the hits they had been craving. For the first song, he yelled, “Now for the original heartbreak song!” before launching into the My Aim Is True classic “Alison” with his two backing singers providing sweet harmonies to its chorus. After running through some more tunes, including the Imperial Bedroom standout “Man Out of Time,” Costello treated the audience to a brand-new number called “American Mirror.” He described it as a plea for a return to decency that could be called “British Mirror” or “Russian Mirror.” They ended the night out with a one-two punch of “Pump It Up” and his version of Nick Lowe’s timeless anthem, “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace Love and Understanding” that seemed as meaningful and prevalent as ever. After Costello and his band bid goodnight, the crowd flooded into the city streets, mesmerized by one of today’s greatest living showmen and songwriters. —Patrick King | @MrPatKing

Photos courtesy of Dana (distortion) Yavin | distortionpix.com

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The Avalanches Throw a Dance Party at Music Hall of Williamsburg

June 14th, 2017

The Avalanches – Music Hall of Williamsburg – June 13, 2017


Over the past 17 years, the Avalanches have carved out a strange and mysterious world for themselves. The Australian DJ collective appeared out of obscurity in 2000 with their classic album, Since I Left You, and it’s remained a gold standard in the world of sampling. The album brimmed with ideas in the same way as Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique or DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing—and it still sounds just as fresh today as it did upon its release. The band remained silent to their fans as the years went by and their legend only grew larger and larger. That all changed in 2016 with the release of their highly anticipated follow-up, Wildflower. It was well worth the wait. With the group’s core lineup now down to the two principal members, Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi, Wildflower is packed with the same mosaic sample style and emphasis on old school drum samples that made Since I Left You such a cohesive masterpiece.

The Avalanches made their long-awaited return to New York City during Governors Ball a couple of weeks back, but decided to add a last-minute stop to Music Hall of Williamsburg last night to return the love. To no surprise, the show was sold out and the room was packed with eager fans not willing to miss out on seeing them. After all, who knows when the next Avalanches album might come out? The anticipation in the moments before they took the stage could be felt in the room like the heavy air outside. Everyone knew this was going to be special and, man, did they deliver. Di Blasi and Chater ran through the hits off of Since I Left You and Wildflower with the help of a dynamite band consisting of Paris Jeffree holding the groove on drums, singer Eliza Wolfgramm covering the hooks and MC Spank Rock taking care of the guest rap spots. They moved from song to song with an insane amount of proficiency that barely gave the audience time to settle down in between tracks. Di Blasi stuck to the electronic triggering of the songs with a huge smile plastered on his face for the entire show, and Chater mainly played guitar jumping up and down during each tune like the rhythm guitarist in a pop-punk band.

The joy coming from stage was infectious and the crowd gave it back tenfold as Music Hall was transformed into one massive dance party. Wolfgramm’s soulful support on the hooks was impeccable and even more impressive was how she danced around while wearing a neck brace for most of the show. It didn’t slow her down for a second and she led the crowd through a fantastic cover of the Clash’s classic “Guns of Brixton” while swinging a baseball bat over her head like a slow-moving helicopter blade. MC Spank Rock did the material justice as well as he easily covered the wide variety of guest rappers’ styles. He was even able to imitate Danny Brown’s verse on the Wildflower track “Frankie Sinatra,” which is no small feat. The biggest reaction of the night came from the Avalanches’ biggest hit, “Frontier Psychiatrist,” its patchwork samples and blasting operatic chorus sounding larger than life. The band played a two-song encore, ending on Since I Left You’s title track. It’s refrain “Since I left you/ I found the world so new” took on a new meaning as much has changed in the world since most of us had last seen the Avalanches in action, but the world seems a little better having them back. —Patrick King | @MrPatKing

Photos courtesy of DeShaun Craddock | dac.photography

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