Tag Archives: Geoff Nelson


Wet Deliver Passion and Pain at Rough Trade NYC

February 1st, 2016

Wet – Rough Trade NYC – January 29, 2016

Although it wasn’t exactly “Frank Sinatra has a cold,” “Kelly Zutrau is losing her voice” rippled through the sold-out audience at Rough Trade NYC on Friday night. It was obvious even before Zutrau—Brooklyn three-piece Wet’s lilting, brilliant singer—confessed, “I’m losing my voice, I have to tell you. I might need your help singing along” after gamely making her way through the opener, “All in Vain.” The crowd emphasized, singing loudly on the next song, “Deadwater.” Wet, touring behind their debut LP, Don’t You, have collected Zutrau’s aching lyrics into a compendium of downcast R&B compositions. Her public pain is part of the record’s pleasure, the same sort of pop schadenfreude that makes the Postal Service work.

On Friday, the audience received an unexpectedly visceral performance of the album’s emotional landscape—these painful songs performed by a physically pained singer. If Zutrau’s agony and vulnerability are part of Wet’s charm, so too is her bravery in the face of it all. The Rough Trade NYC crowd didn’t know the future, that Wet would cancel the next night’s show in D.C. due to Zutrau’s rapidly deteriorating voice. And running through songs like “Move Me,” as she implored, “Save me or move me,” the rhythm section was tight and together, even their singer struggled against herself.

The pain of the performance folded in on itself as Wet played “Body,” Zutrau nearly wilting into lyrics like “No one said it would be easy/ But I never knew I’d get so lonely.” Songs from the band’s early work, including “Don’t Wanna Be Your Girl” and “You’re the Best,” filled the middle of the set, leaving more recent singles “All the Ways” and “Weak” for the end. Those in the crowd seemed to know what they were watching, a strange inversion of a set building to a climax as Zutrau sonically deteriorated onstage, struggling the best she could. The collision of the lyrical content and an impassioned but painful performance clearly left her spent, but the collected audience didn’t seem to mind, singing when Zutrau couldn’t, making her pain theirs for a moment. —Geoff Nelson | @32feet


Built to Spill Arrive at The Bowery Ballroom with Nothing to Prove

September 24th, 2015

Built to Spill – The Bowery Ballroom – September 23, 2015

To say Built to Spill, ensconced in their third decade, arrived at the stage of The Bowery Ballroom with nothing to prove would be stating it far too simply. Doug Martsch, the band’s creative life force, sporting his trademark aesthetic dilapidation, opened the first of three Bowery Ballroom shows with understatement that belied the tension in being both a musician touring behind his most recent LP—the band’s eighth studio album, Untethered Moon—and his position as something of a living rock icon. But Martsch is no relic or golden calf, enjoying neither the iconoclasm nor the media coverage granted to other titans of early ’90s independent rock, like Malkmus and Brock. Instead, Martsch’s enduring image is the one he brought to the stage last night: Eschewing the spotlight, workmanlike in his approach, still as committed to his craft as one of the great guitar players in rock, remarkably uninterested in whatever else comes with a career of his size and scope.

Appropriately, Martsch sported a black T-shirt and jeans, said little besides a mumbled “thanks” between songs and spent much of the evening with his eyes closed. Even as fans punctuated the moments between songs with shouts of “I love you, Dougie!” and “Play whatever you want,” Martsch appeared unfazed. He and the band, a new lineup for Built to Spill, played songs from across their catalog, opening with “The Plan,” “Living Zoo” and “The Wait.” The inimitable frontman remained largely impassive, demure even, as he thrashed through spot-on guitar solos. Like the line in his beard where the gray descending from his temples meets the brown hair of his jowl, resembling an inverted Black and Tan, Doug Martsch is these two things at once: young and old, roaring and contemplative.

The band then played “Three Years Ago Today,” “I Would Hurt a Fly” and “Sidewalk,” songs from 1993, 1997 and 1999, respectively. As Martsch moved into more recent material, “Goin’ Against Your Mind,” a lyric from “The Plan” emerged as prescient. Martsch had begun the evening singing, “This history lesson doesn’t make any sense/ In any less than 10,000 year increments.” A longer view of history was exactly the remedy for a set that whipped through the past, only sometimes chronologically. While Martsch appeared to care little for posterity or celebrity at The Bowery Ballroom, he held an intimate and hard-won sense of time—its pliability and its indifference.
—Geoff Nelson | @32feet

(Tomorrow is sold out, but you can see Built to Spill tonight at The Bowery Ballroom.)



Death Cab for Cutie Rise from Mercury Lounge to the Garden

September 14th, 2015

Death Cab for Cutie – Madison Square Garden – September 12, 2015

Death Cab for Cutie – Madison Square Garden – September 12, 2015
Hundreds of bands pass through Mercury Lounge each year. It is the lonely and unsexy work of being a small touring act, playing small rooms to a bouquet of strangers. Only a select few can say, as Ben Gibbard and his band—Death Cab for Cutie—did Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, that they have traveled the 34 blocks and five avenues from one of Manhattan’s smaller venues to its largest. Gibbard, in a blue dress shirt and a pair of black jeans, didn’t miss the power of the moment, marveling to the crowd about his group’s first show at the Merc 15 years ago, pausing a bit to gaze out at the thousands of strangers assembled in a basketball arena, remarking, finally, “This is really a mind fuck.”

Despite the wheeling career vertigo, Death Cab, in this post–Chris Walla iteration, sounded polished and tight, opening with “No Room in Frame,” from their most recent long-player, Kintsugi. Gibbard drew the album’s title from the Japanese art of piecing pottery back together with gold. The allegory is a one-to-one: His marriage to Zooey Deschanel imploded, his cofounding bandmate left the band. This record, like his life, would be mended with gold, and few people do the beauty of devastation better than Ben Gibbard. Enjoying the broken decadence of the new album on Saturday night, Death Cab played about half of its contents—songs like “Black Sun,” “Little Wanderer” and “No Room in Frame” acting as both elegy and rebuke to the pain of the past few years.

Gibbard worked Death Cab’s classics into a capacious 22-song set. The crowd joined in on the predictable power of the band’s most well-known ballad, “I Will Follow You into the Dark,” and alighted to the power of long jam “I Will Possess Your Heart” and deeper cuts like “The New Year” and “Company Calls.” The night’s penultimate song, “Marching Bands of Manhattan,” was one of those moments when even a rock star like Gibbard revealed New York City’s outsized place in his—and our—cultural imagination. “If I could open my arms and span the length of the isle of Manhattan” framed a grammatical conditional now seemingly outdated. And for a night, Gibbard held more of New York than he ever could have imagined. —Geoff Nelson | @32feet

Photos courtesy of Joe Papeo | www.irocktheshot.com


Aurora Stuns Rough Trade NYC with Gracious Talent

May 28th, 2015

Aurora – Rough Trade NYC – May 27, 2015

If one word were to come to mind upon seeing Aurora play her first headlining NYC show, it would be precocious. And if two words were to come to mind, they’d be Kate Bush. Four words: Florence and the Machine. The 18-year old wunderkind, Aurora Aksnes, who goes simply by her first name, brought all the trappings of youth beyond its years—her excellence both uncanny and inexplicable, begetting manifold musings of what the hell it was you were doing at that age, how little you knew or could do then, how little you know or do now. Of course, youthful talent does this to us all, reminds us of our irrelevance, our incompetence. The audience arrived at Rough Trade NYC last night to witness an event, surely, but also to experience the grave and exciting shame that it is to see an 18 year old peek from beneath her blonde hair at a room filled with strangers from across the world.

Opening the show with her arms crossed in front of her torso, Aurora cast the figure of a daunted farm girl, belying her intensity. Relying heavily on water imagery, the vagaries of symbolic suicides, Aurora and her band played “Runaway” and “Awakening,” the latter of which must hold a Kate Chopin reference point. But it wasn’t all fatalism. The singer looked out into the stage lights, expressing her gratitude, saying, “It’s quite weird to play in the States—having people come to your show—it’s quite nice.” The crowd hushed to the sound of Aurora’s dulcet and powerful vocals as she sang a cover of “Mr. Tambourine Man” accompanied only by an acoustic guitar.

The set’s closing movement contained her best songs, “Under Stars,” the stunning “Running with the Wolves” and an untitled one that sounded so much like first-album Florence and the Machine that it should warm the hearts of Aurora’s label, Glassnote. She closed her set with a shivering rendition of Bowie’s “Life on Mars,” and a member of the audience summed up what everyone else felt with an audible and breathless “Oh, shit” at the song’s conclusion. Aurora had suitably embarrassed us all, willingly, graciously. —Geoff Nelson | @32feet


On Saturday Night Broncho Were the Best Band in the World

May 18th, 2015

Broncho – Rough Trade NYC – May 16, 2015

For just less than an hour on Saturday night at Rough Trade NYC, Broncho, the Norman, Okla., four-piece, were the Best Band in the World. It is one of those titles that hold the subjective and superlative ephemera that made Zane Lowe’s Hottest Record in the World so satisfying. It was destined to be a passing one but the feeling was unmistakable as two fans climbed onstage near the end of the set during “I Don’t Really Want to Be Social,” the more committed of the two grabbing the microphone and screaming, “Broncho is the shit.” Unscientifically, shit said in this fashion was more like shiiiiiiiit. And as much as judgments like these can be, she was right, and the growing mosh pit proved it.

Broncho opened with a run of songs largely from their excellent 2014 record, Just Hip Enough to Be Your Woman. Sounding a bit like a lost Cars album, lead singer Ryan Lindsey mumbled his way through a good Ric Ocasek impression, riding downstroke guitars on “Kurt,” “It’s On” and “What.” The band then played the middle section of Just Hip Enough in order, running through “Deena,” “Stay Loose,” “NC-17,” “I’m Gonna Find Out Where He’s At” and “Stop Tricking” in succession. The crowd crested, creating a mid-’90s mosh pit in the middle of the floor, suggesting a hint of entropy conspicuously absent from so many New York City rock shows. The band appeared to play harder in response, Lindsey’s sweaty, stretched gray T-shirt occasionally slipping off his left shoulder.

Broncho closed with their most marketable song, “Class Historian,” one of those should-be-a-hit jams still waiting for its moment of mainstream recognition. The energetic audience told the tale, too. There was no better band than this one on Saturday night, the special union of a crowd and the performers recognizing a brief, discrete and passing moment. The girl who’d earlier screamed Broncho’s ascendancy from the stage, ended the night high-fiving anyone in sight, the inevitable afterglow of a moment in a band’s career had, lost and had again. —Geoff Nelson | @32Feet