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The War on Drugs Are in Fine Form at Brooklyn Steel on Sunday Night

April 9th, 2018

The War on Drugs – Brooklyn Steel – April 8, 2018

Photos courtesy of Mike Benigno | mikebenigno.com

While Adam Granduciel described the show as a sort of one-off warm-up for Coachella, the War on Drugs played their sold-out Sunday show at Brooklyn Steel with a Saturday ferocity and the confidence and skill of a band at the end of a long tour. Granduciel asked if “Everyone’s feeling good?” before launching into an opening set of songs—“Brothers,” “Pain” and “An Ocean in Between the Waves”—that interlaced stoner-poetry lyrics with crackling guitar rock-outs. The recent Grammy winners brought best-rock-album energy to the show, often lit by bright white shafts of light that added an arena-strength visual to the set. For a while it seemed like each tune would top the last, longer jams and more of them.

Midway through, Granduciel promised a “big reveal,” a special guest, after a couple of songs that had the crowd buzzing with who-could-it-be? anticipation. Finally, they brought out Craig Finn, who shared vocals, leading the War on Drugs through a cover of Warren Zevon’s “Accidentally Like a Martyr,” which shifted the tone and gave the band a new space to work out figure-eight excursions. After Finn left the stage, the energy shifted in a more exploratory direction with a powerhouse stretch that stitched “Holding On,” the ambient space-out “The Haunting Idle” and “In Reverse” into a single psychedelic medley, the mood enhanced by beams of pastels swirling around the stage. The encore opened with an not-played-too-often cover of Tom Petty’s “Time to Move On,” a perfect fit for the time, place and band as the War on Drugs head out West, probably not needing it, but indeed, fully warmed up for Coachella and whatever else lies ahead. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

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Ought Find Magic at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday Night

April 9th, 2018

Ought – Music Hall of Williamsburg – April 6, 2018

Photos courtesy of Charles Steinberg | charlesosteinberg.com

Montreal’s Ought still feel like the kind of band that’s this wonderful secret you can’t wait to tell someone about. Their fans, who have gradually grown in number and in their affections since the quartet’s 2014 debut, More Than Any Other Day, all seem to share that sparkle of knowing about greatness yet to be widely discovered. As it turns out, there are a bunch of those fans in New York City, as evidenced by Ought packing them into Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday night. “Into the Sea,” off Ought’s latest and most impressive album, Room Inside the World, sent an instant jolt into the air with its churning, essentially post-punk bassline that implored the bodies in the room, helpless to its charms, to bounce and sway. That energy kept mounting as the show continued in a blissful blur, picking up steam with other striking post-punk-revival delights off the new album, like “Disaffectation,” “These 3 Things” and “Take Everything.”

To bring heart rates down some, the bluesy gospel stride of “Desire” provided respite. For a song recorded with and carried by a 70-piece choir, the live rendition was still decidedly full and radiant, due to precisely synced musicianship and frontman Tim Darcy’s sonorous bellow. His stage presence was also undeniable. It’s meant as a great compliment to describe him as a grown and elongated version of the boy protagonist of Moonrise Kingdom, Sam. (Ought are also clearly influenced by Wes Anderson favorites like the Velvet Underground, the Clash and the Ramones, to name a few.) As he swung a guitar around in awkward angularity, occasionally flipping back his hair with a quick on-beat head shake, Darcy easily won over everyone in the crowd.

Of course, the music took care of that, too, thanks to the band’s consummate professionalism. Behind Darcy, bassist Ben Stidworthy, keyboardist Matt May and drummer Tim Keen played so fluidly as to sound like the music wasn’t being performed with effort and strained focus, so much as it was imagined into existence in the way the group ideally wanted it to sound. No beat was skipped or note rushed as songs from earlier records populated the back half of the show, some stretched and probed in extended forms, as if searching for a bit of ephemeral magic. There was plenty to be found, especially on the irresistible grooviness of “Habit.” By the encore, it felt like the room was in a collective trance and the very gracious Ought happily played a few more for an audience not shy in showing appreciation for them. And dancing loosely with a grin, you kind of thought that Ought were a secret you wish you could keep. —Charles Steinberg | @Challyolly

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Yo La Tengo Satisfy a Sold-Out Brooklyn Steel with Two Sets on Friday

April 9th, 2018

Yo La Tengo – Brooklyn Steel – April 6, 2018

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com

Not too many rock acts out there even attempt to play two full sets of music every show, filling a set list with different songs from across their catalog each night. Even fewer do it after almost 35 years as a band and rarer still that such an outfit would do so while also promoting a brand-new album that’s as strong and vital as any of the newest music being put out today. All of which makes Yo La Tengo a unique band. The trio has played something like 10 shows in New York City over the past year—from a free-jazz freak-out to their free-form Hanukkah shows to a free show in Central Park. They seem to invert everything about rock and roll, just playing a regular old club gig is the rarity. But that’s where Yo La Tengo found themselves, in the middle of a regular old tour, playing a sold-out gig at Brooklyn Steel on Friday night. The date happened to fall on the venue’s first birthday, one year since opening its doors, which somehow felt appropriate—as NYC’s live-music landscape changes with each passing year, Yo La Tengo have been a constant.

That consistency was on full display throughout their show. The eight-song first set played like a single entity, a group meditation that held the audience in complete attention. The band—Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew—moved around the stage to different instruments, a ballet of guitars, bass, drums and keyboards. Regardless of who was playing what at any time, the mood was one of utter relaxation, the music alternating between Zen loops, crunchy guitar melodies and whispered singing. Quietude was the overarching theme and the crowd followed along: A huge rock club in complete silence is the rarest of all things, but with Yo La Tengo leading along on songs like “She May She Might” and the lovely “Ashes,” it felt completely natural. Everyone was happy to luxuriate in the peace the band was offering. The real joys were found in between the songs, the veterans lingering on interstitial themes and setting up new ambient spaces in the segues.

The second set quickly flipped the script: “Flying Lesson (Hot Chicken #1)” unleashed Kaplan’s guitar into a gesticulating chaos while McNew and Hubley chugged along. The restraint of the first set dissolved into a host of rock-outs, building to a peak in “Ohm,” which found Kaplan passing his guitar into the crowd, held aloft like a rock star, feedback filling the room. The set-closing “Pass the Hatchet I Think I’m Goodkind” was a patient jammer, epic in length and intensity, Kaplan soloing and singing while lying on the stage. A Velvet Underground–cover-heavy encore showed off other facets of Yo La Tengo’s upside-down rock and roll and kept their local and loyal fans satisfied until the next encounter. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

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The Strypes Do Their Part to Keep Rock Alive at Rough Trade NYC

March 28th, 2018

The Strypes – Rough Trade NYC – March 27, 2018

Photos courtesy of Silvia Saponaro | www.saponarophotography.com

During the initial explosion of British rock bands in the early ’60s, it was pretty common for young groups to begin as carbon copies of the influences they were desperately trying to emulate. The first few Stones records, after all, leaned heavily on Chicago-blues covers, and the majority of the Who’s first album was a love letter to Motown. Each of these bands had templates they referenced before they mastered their crafts and created something completely different. The Strypes, out of Cavan, Ireland, started similarly. They experienced early success thanks to their throwback style that owed a huge debt to the early British pub-rock scene that predated the punk explosion of ’77. Bands like Dr. Feelgood, Nick Lowe and Dave EdmundsRockpile, and Graham Parker and the Rumour were all the template for them—and what made it most impressive was that these kids were all in their early teens. And man could they play.

Their newest album, last year’s Spitting Image, finds the Strypes expanding their sound a little bit more with a focus on lyric-heavy pop-conscious songcraft—not unlike their heroes Lowe, Parker and Elvis Costello. And it brought them to Rough Trade NYC last night in Williamsburg. To put it lightly: I was not prepared for what I was about to witness. The band tore into their set by absolutely pulverizing the classic blues standard “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.” They’re such a tightly wound force with drummer Evan Walsh thunderously dismantling his kit with each hit, bassist Peter O’Hanlon constantly pacing and jumping all over the stage, lead guitarist Josh McClorely stoically unleashing one perfect solo after another and lead singer Ross Farrelly—clad in a workman’s jumpsuit and big black sunglasses—commanding the crowd with a calm and cool I’ve-seen-it-all demeanor. The Strypes had it down, an image they could present and the skills and tunes to back it up.

The set flew by as they played material from across their catalog. You could tell each era of the young band’s career was specifically defined, as the pop hooks of new songs like “Behind Closed Doors” jumped out in the middle of their older bluesy rave-ups. The Strypes played for about an hour and a half before coming out for a brief encore that began with an incendiary version of Nick Lowe’s “Heart of the City.” If you are familiar with the Rockpile’s live versions of this song, then you know that I am not saying it lightly that the Strypes did it justice. The final number of the night was their early hit “Blue Collar Jane” before the band bid Brooklyn goodnight and turned off their blazing hot amplifiers. Maybe rock isn’t dead after all? —Pat King | @MrPatKing

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Mike Gordon Dazzles Brooklyn Steel with Two Sets on Saturday Night

March 12th, 2018

Mike Gordon – Brooklyn Steel – March 10, 2018


Photos courtesy of Dan Salimbene | northfieldproductions.com

A happy byproduct of Phish’s now-nine-year 3.0 incarnation is that the mighty band’s resurgence has left enough creative fuel in the tank to support other projects too. Trey Anastasio, Page McConnell and Jon Fishman have all been busy—or will be, as the case may be—with non-Phish projects, but the band that really became a band in this era is Mike Gordon’s group, which played two sparkly weird and high-energy sets Saturday night at Brooklyn Steel. His solo compositions tend to step up to and peer down the rabbit hole, just short of falling down it. They’re a little—OK, a lot—quirky and often free associative, but they’re not often big, psychedelic, nebulous maybe-statements so much as they’re left-of-center pop and indie-rock tunes, delivered compactly.

OGOGO, which arrived last fall as his fifth solo album, has some angst to even out its breezier, groovier tracks. Gordon doesn’t mind things a little heavy—he’s a bass player after all, and not a shy one—and it comes through in tunes like “Victim,” “Crazy Sometimes,” “Marissa” and “Steps,” without weighing down their bendy, bug-eyed cool. Live, however, is when these tunes come delivered with some muscle—sinewy jams that pull at their already loose edges and drive the band into downright Phish-y territory at times, and into Brooklyn-y indie-rock crew with a synth-guitar-jamming jones in others. Almost every tune Saturday landed at that balance, from the opening “Victim” and an audience-participation oddity called “Trapezoidal Sunshine” to crowd-stoking versions of Phish’s “Destiny Unbound,” Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion,” and, in a nicely explored veer into left field, Fiona Apple’s “Sleep to Dream.”

The band is the not-so-secret ace, and Gordon’s been telling us that all along. He yields often to guitarist, singer and longtime partner-in-crime Scott Murawski (still going strong in Max Creek and other bands) and/or to keyboard professor Robert Walter, who picks his spots in this band and, among other highlights, turned the first set’s “Got to Be More Careful” into a showcase of whirling organ. And that’s before you get to the drums-and-percussion corps—John Morgan Kimock and Craig Myers—who have a lot of firepower between them and, you soon come to realize, are asked for all of it in the span of a Gordon show. Each was doing his thing and doing it well, all night, and in the end of the first set came “Tiny Little World,” about as good a capture of what Mike Gordon’s band sounds like these days. All the parts working, Gordon at the center playing stabbing bass, singing about how “nothing’s making sense/ So I shake and make it saucy.” It’s a fun world to visit. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

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Jawbreaker Take No Prisoners at Brooklyn Steel on Tuesday Night

February 28th, 2018

Jawbreaker – Brooklyn Steel – February 27, 2018


Photos courtesy of Greg Pallante | gregpallante.com

Out of all of the beloved disbanded cult groups of the ’90s, Jawbreaker seemed like the last ones holding out on a reunion. But that all changed last summer, as the influential Bay Area punks reunited to headline Chicago’s annual Riot Fest to thousands of fans, many of them not even alive during the band’s initial tenure. In their absence, Jawbreaker’s legacy as one of punk’s most sacred best-kept secrets has grown into monolithic proportions. If you bring up their names in conversation, chances are the person you’re talking to has either never heard of them or they are that person’s favorite band. A friend of mine once drunkenly declared that Jawbreaker’s chief songwriter, Blake Schwarzenbach, was his Dylan.

Prior to Riot Fest, Schwarzenbach hinted that there was a 90-percent chance the band would be playing NYC after the festival. And so tickets went insanely fast once this three-night run at Brooklyn Steel was announced, as fans from all over hoped to flock to see the Jawbreaker reunion no one ever thought would happen. Tuesday was their second night in Kings County, supported by local comedian Clare O’Kane and a “surprise guest,” which turned out to be Waxahatchee, a perfect fit, as singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield has always had the same kind of world-weary emotional detail to her lyrics as Schwarzenbach does. Along with a four-piece band, including her sister Allison on guitar and keyboards, they played a short set running through most of last year’s great Out in the Storm.

A giant Jawbreaker banner was raised, and eager fans could finally rest assured that this was all really happening, as Schwarzenbach, bassist Chris Bauermeister and drummer Adam Pfahler walked onstage. The sold-out crowd, bathed in the house lights, exploded as Schwarzenbach strummed the opening riff to the classic single “Boxcar,” and from then on, the band took no prisoners. The set was mainly comprised of songs from their two best-loved albums, 24 Hour Revenge Therapy and their one dance with major-label success, Dear You. Jawbreaker sounded fantastic as they ripped through songs like “Save Your Generation,” “Jinx Removing” and “Sluttering (May 4th),” like they were long-lost anthems from a parallel world where there was a healthy sense of justice. Schwarzenbach joked throughout that they were filming the show as a “Netflix comedy special,” and with how funny some of his banter was, it didn’t seem too unrealistic.

Jawbreaker closed the main set with a blistering version of “Condition Oakland” and returned to play a couple more. They opened their encore with one of their earliest songs, “Want,” which had the entire crowd singing it’s “Ay-yay-yay-yay I want you” chorus in complete unison. The band then closed out the performance with their brilliant ode to drunken, unrequited love, “Kiss the Bottle,” with Clare O’Kane resurfacing from backstage to crowd-surf on top of the passionate audience. When it was all over, fans poured out onto the streets still amazed by what they had just seen. —Pat King | @MrPatKing

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Frightened Rabbit Celebrate a Milestone Anniversary in Williamsburg

February 26th, 2018

Frightened Rabbit – Music Hall of Williamsburg – February 24, 2018

Photos courtesy of Silvia Saponaro | www.saponarophotography.com

After their first LP, Sing the Greys, didn’t make a lot of noise, Frightened Rabbit’s breakthrough release, The Midnight Organ Fight, arrived a decade ago as a low-key masterpiece of a breakup album. Without any marketing push, its tales of love lost, failure and self-loathing slowly spread by word-of-mouth. Each song a lonely, emotional gut punch that doubles as a catchy, danceable earworm. The raw, vulnerable words sound so intimate through headphones in a solitary listen but when heard live bloom into a big communal catharsis amidst a flurry of guitars and onlookers belting out dark lyrics—like “I think I’ll save suicide for another day” or “It takes more than fucking someone you don’t know to keep warm”—like they’re the only ones in the room.

Celebrating The Midnight Organ Fight’s 10th anniversary, the Scottish five-piece—Scott Hutchison (vocals and guitar), Grant Hutchison (drums and vocals), Billy Kennedy (bass, keys and vocals), Andy Monaghan (guitar and keys) and Simon Liddell (guitar and keys)—rolled into Brooklyn on Saturday to perform it in order. But first they did four songs from other albums, including The Winter of Mixed Drinks“Swim Until You Can’t See Land,” which earned the night’s first hoots and hollers. The loud crowd eagerly sang along to Organ Fight’s opener, “Modern Leper,” drinks held aloft at “You must be a masochist.” The affable frontman’s Glaswegian-accented banter had everyone listening with rapt attention between songs, and at times he conducted the crowd with his hand and guitar. “You guys are fucking great. Thank you for this. It’s amazing how happy a sad album can make you,” he said, laughingly adding, “but to each their own.”

After spirited takes on “My Backwards Walk” and “Keep Yourself Warm,” plus the album’s second short instrumental, “Extrasupervery,” done in darkness onstage, the singer did a solo take on the evocative “Poke” with everyone in the room singing at full volume. The full band returned for “Floating in the Forth” and “Who’d You Kill Now?”—“In a normal live show we wouldn’t be so stupid as to put these songs together,” said Scott—to finish The Midnight Organ Fight. After a short break, they returned for a three-song encore, capped off by The Winter of Mixed Drinks“The Loneliness and the Scream” and its stomping, clapping, sing-along finale. It was the kind of shared personal experience you hope for every time you leave the house to see a band. —R. Zizmor | @Hand_Dog

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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