Tag Archives: Paul Simon


Alone & Together Win Over Music Hall of Williamsburg

December 18th, 2017

Alone & Together – Music Hall of Williamsburg – December 15, 2017

Sometimes you hear or read about an impromptu jam session—a bunch of musicians get together for a friendly set of music in a studio somewhere—and you think, “Man, I wish I could’ve been there to see that.” Of course, it would be a rare treat to get to peek in on such a gathering, but that’s just what it felt like at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday night when Sam Cohen, Eric D. Johnson, Elvis Perkins, Josh Kaufman and Joe Russo, performing under the Alone & Together moniker, could’ve as easily just been some friends hanging out in a basement somewhere. The central concept of their show is that they play one another’s songs, so at the outset Perkins sang one of Cohen’s tunes and then Cohen sang “So Long” by Johnson’s band, Fruit Bats.

This led to some interesting dynamics among the musicians and with the crowd. I imagine it might be pretty weird to sing backing harmonies on your own tune if not feel like an out-of-body experience, to see your musical self from the outside. Similarly, depending on their familiarity with the original version of each song, audience members might’ve had a uniquely personal appreciation of each performance. Regardless, the spirit was one of camaraderie, of friends who are also huge fans of one another’s creative output. While the idea behind the show may sound like a bit of a gimmick, albeit one that works quite well, as the set went on, that central concept felt less and less important. The players sang some of their own songs—Perkins doing “Doomsday,” Johnson singing “Humbug Mountain Song”—and with their looseness and the lead-the-way rhythm section of Kaufman and Russo, these actually felt more like covers than the songs they’d swapped. The band made small changes in instrumentation that brought out subtle shifts in sound and energy, particularly from Cohen, who swapped between pedal steel and electric guitar throughout the night, pushing each song to its musical limit.

Regardless of who was singing with whom, it was the songs that were always in the spotlight. There was an understated political thread weaved through the evening on tracks like “Doomsday,” and toward the latter third of the two-hour show, when Kevin Morby, who has also toured as part of the group, came out for a guest appearance highlighted by his “Beautiful Strangers.” It was felt most strongly during a brand-new song from Perkins, “There Go the Nightmericans,” which was a powerful opus of our current political state. The set closed with a rollicking take on Johnson’s “When U Love Somebody,” with lead vocals from Perkins punctuated by Russo’s handclap percussion. In a show filled with what might technically be called covers, there were true covers as well, selections from Willie Nelson and Paul Simon that fit in with the general songs-first spirit of the night. The three-song encore closed with a joyous take on George Harrison’s “Awaiting on You All.” The long set seemed to have flown by, but that’s what usually happens when you’re having fun hanging out with friends. —A. Stein | @Neddyo





Extend the Weekend with Beaty Heart at Mercury Lounge on Sunday

June 24th, 2016

Deftly mixing world music and electronic pop, London’s Beaty Heart—Josh Mitchell (vocals, guitars and electronics), Charlie Rotberg (drums and electronics), James Moruzzi (drums, vocals and electronics) and Thomas Gunning (drums, electronics and vocals)—have been making their own cool take on Afrobeat since forming in college as an audio-visual art collective six years ago. Their debut full-length, Mixed Blessings (stream it below), which earned them comparisons to Talking Heads, Vampire Weekend and Graceland-era Paul Simon, arrived in 2014 to a fair amount of acclaim. AllMusic called it “an arty, psychedelic pastiche of world music, Afro-pop and indie-electronic sounds.” And furthermore, “Beaty Heart make music that’s all neon colors, bubbling percussion, stitched-together sampled sounds, peppy backing vocals, snapping fingers, whistles and very light guitar.” It’s a happy noise. Find out how it all comes together when Beaty Heart (above, performing some of their new tunes), who have a new album coming out next month, play Mercury Lounge on Sunday night. Matt Koenig’s the Undercover Lovers open the show.

Five Questions with … Robert Ellis

June 17th, 2016

Singer-songwriter Robert Ellis is known for a terrific voice, for fiery live performances and for expertly mining country and folk on his recorded work. His fourth studio full-length, a self-titled album (stream it below), came out last week to rave reviews. And touring behind it, Ellis (above, doing “Sad Songs and Waltzes” for Live at Paste Studios) lands in New York next week for a pair of shows, on Monday at Garcia’s and on Wednesday at The Bowery Ballroom. (“When we booked this tour, and I saw the Bowery was on there, I was like, fuck yeah. It’s a step in the right direction.”) Out on the road, he rang up The House List from a van somewhere between Cleveland and Pittsburgh to answer Five Questions.

So your new album came out last Friday and is getting some rave reviews. Does that mean anything to you? Do you pay attention to reviews? No. It’s great. I’m glad people like it, but, no, I don’t read that shit. There’s some stuff that I see, stuff on my Facebook, because I post on my Facebook. The nasty stuff that people say is definitely irritating and hurtful, but sometimes I think the good stuff is just as bad.

While you’re known predominantly as a country artist, your music obviously has a wider range of influences. Which non-country musicians do you find yourself listening to these days? I don’t even listen to country music, so that’s a really long answer. We listen to everything from jazz to electronic music to—I love pop, ’70s pop music, like Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon and shit like that, I really love. But, really, everything. I mean, I really like music in a really big way. And I love to listen to it, and I don’t have any aesthetic requirements for what that is. It’s not like a fashion thing to me. And I think for a lot of people music is about fashion. It’s about whatever clothes they want to wear. So to answer your question: God, we listen to everything, as long as it’s interesting.

For some performers, life on the road is like working on a traveling theater piece—the set list stays primarily the same but the musicians are aware of the different nuances every night. While for others, each night has a different set list and every show is a wholly different experience. Where do you land in that spectrum? I would say every night’s completely different. A big part of what we do is improvisation. And that ranges from more collective improvisation, like a solo section, to completely free improv, just listening and making noise with one another. And the set list is kind of the same way. I think about a year ago, there was one show when I tried to write a set list out before the gig. And we got offstage and I was just like, “That felt wrong.” And since then, we never use a set list. I just call tunes as we go.

The new album, from a listener’s standpoint, seems to be based on you. So my Almost Famous question is: Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song? Is a song better when it really happened to you? No, I don’t think so. I mean, I think that you have to have experienced love to write a love song. And I don’t think that if you have no empathy for your characters that you can effectively write something that moves people. But I think to the contrary actually: Good writing is about being able to step away from it, in a way. Use your experiences, but then also use your craft to create something bigger than what’s happening to you. So, no, I don’t think you have to be depressed. And I don’t want to live my life like that. Sounds awful.

When you write songs, like “Perfect Strangers” or “How I Love You,” do they ever take on any new life when you perform them live? Or is it like the recorded version is how it remains? No, we don’t play stuff like the record really. I mean, some stuff we do. We try to communicate the emotional information and the melodic information but we don’t necessarily do that with the same instruments all the time. Last night, we were in Cleveland, and I played the song “Couples Skate” on piano, and I’d never once played it on piano. I wasn’t even certain I knew how to play it all the way through. But I just counted it off and we played it. I like to keep myself on my toes and improvising. And I like for everyone to be listening to one another. I just never want to feel like we’re going up there and pressing a button. —R. Zizmor | @Hand_Dog


Natalie Prass Dispells Notions at The Bowery Ballroom

July 14th, 2015

Natalie Prass – The Bowery Ballroom – July 13, 2015

You might see Natalie Prass’s slight figure as a delicate, fragile thing. But you’d be only half right. Sure, many of the songs she played last night at The Bowery Ballroom had a breakable, porcelain exterior, but beneath that shell, Prass proved to be a powerful force with the potential and momentum of a wrecking ball. She dispelled any dainty notions the moment she took the stage. Approaching the microphone, she got a loud zap of static and feedback that nearly bowled her over, prompting her first words to be paraphrased as “What the [bleep]ing [bleep]!” The ice properly broken, she opened with “Your Fool”—off of her acclaimed self-titled debut album, released earlier this year—her voice shimmering with sweetness throughout the room. She sang “It Is You” as a serenade to New York City, a sort of lounge-jazz ballad featuring a pretty guitar solo from Trey Pollard.

The first few numbers lulled the crowd into an eager submission, the audience falling rapt to her music and between-song antics. Prass explained that she was on antibiotics, perhaps making an excuse for her funny, flirty banter with the sold-out crowd (not that it was needed), working the room like a pro. She mixed in new songs with the album material, each tune displaying a different side of her genre-spanning sound. “Last Time,” with two guitars and the drummer using mallets to create a beautiful, moody piece, showed that the quieter things got, the more intense Prass became. “Bird of Prey” was a grooving Southern-guitar disco while “Christy” was a dark, dreamlike sojourn. And while Prass was the star of the show, her centerpiece wouldn’t be quite what it was without her excellent backing band. Led by Pollard, the three musicians had a chance to shine individually, but did their best work as a unit, alternating among sexy slow jam, pretty pop and deep grooves.

As things got looser on the stage—at one point, Prass was tossing bananas into the crowd as if she had come to gawk at us gorillas—the music followed. Sounding like a Paul Simon B-side, with its Afropop guitars and rhythms, “Jass” was both a change-of-pace highlight and a peak at things to come. She ended strong with a trio of tunes from the album. “My Baby Don’t Understand Me” was a powerful, climactic number with everyone hitting their marks to dramatic effect. The reprise of “Your Fool” had the band leaving larger-than-life shadows behind the stage as the audience stood quiet and attentive in awe of Prass’s vocals. And then “Why Don’t You Believe in Me” closed the set with her unique rocking groove putting a final exclamation point on the night, that fragile exterior left in shattered bits on the stage floor. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

(Natalie Prass returns to NYC to play Music Hall of Williamsburg on 11/10.)


Dan Croll Plays Music Hall of Williamsburg on Sunday Night

June 13th, 2014

He may be young, but there’s no doubting 23-year-old Dan Croll’s talent. The English singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist mashes together folk sensibilities, electronic beats, sweet melodies, African rhythyms and a healthy dose of guitar hooks to make his own brand of smart synth pop, featured prominently on Croll’s debut album, the vibrant Sweet Disarray (stream it below), which came out earlier this year. The LP has earned him comparisons to Paul Simon and Vampire Weekend, and AllMusic hails Croll (above, doing “From Nowhere” on Jimmy Kimmel Live!) for his songwriting chops and “forward-looking experimentalism.” See him perform live on Sunday at Music Hall of Williamsburg as part of Northside Festival. I Am Oak open the show.


Robert Ellis Plays Against Type at Mercury Lounge

February 19th, 2014

Robert Ellis – Mercury Lounge – February 18, 2014

To look at them take the stage at Mercury Lounge last night, Robert Ellis and his band had all the markings of a good country music band. There was a pedal-steel player there; the tall, thin bass player was dressed all in black except for the white cowboy hat; and Ellis’s guitar strap was embroidered with his name in big blue letters. And, yes, they were pretty darn good playing country-flavored rock and roll, but time and again throughout the show, they played against type and transcended genre altogether.

They opened with “Westbound Train,” Ellis’s voice prominent in the mix before the entire band kicked in. From there, most of the set highlighted songs from Ellis’s new album, The Lights from the Chemical Plant. One thing that became clear is that the material is not very happy. “Good Intentions,” about infidelity, featured angry overlapping guitar solos, a short and snappy argument while the steel guitar sadly moaned. The mix of two guitars and a pedal steel seemed to offer an array of sounds and emotions from which to draw. “Pride” had a jazzy bridge with each guitar adding small, melodic pieces to the overall whole. Ellis proved himself to be proficient at both the singing and the songwriting, one of those rare talents blessed with a distinctive voice and the knack for penning songs to perfectly match it. This was apparent on tunes like “Steady as the Rising Sun” and later his solo take on “The Tour Song”—his vocals like sweet syrup to pour over a stack of pancakes.

Still, throughout the night, Ellis went out of his way to highlight his excellent band, particularly Kelly Doyle on Telecaster, who matched Ellis leading the band through several surprising musical twists. “Only Lies” bounced on a shuffle from drummer Dennis Ryan (from Deer Tick) while Ellis and Doyle showed off some deft guitar playing. The highlight of the night was probably “Houston,” which began as another emotional melody and then flipped into an up-tempo jam, guitars and steel expertly zigging and zagging. The end of the show finally strayed from the new album as the band loosened up even more with “Pitching,” an instrumental written by Doyle that was more jazz rock than anything you’d hear in Nashville, and two covers—a perfect take on Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years” and a high-energy romp on Richard Thompson’s straight-country “Tear Stained Letter”—that displayed the band’s breadth and skill. The show concluded with what Ellis called a traditional bluegrass tune about growing up in the Bible Belt, “Sing Along.” I don’t know what kind of bluegrass Ellis is used to, but his version opened with several minutes of atypical noise jamming before careening into another genre-busting song. Yeah, I guess for Robert Ellis, that’s what passes for traditional. —A. Stein




Two Big Local Bands Take the Stage at Barclays Center

September 19th, 2013

Earlier this year, art-punk trio Yeah Yeah Yeahs—frontwoman Karen O, drummer Brian Chase and guitarist Nick Zinner—released their fourth full-length, Mosquito (stream it below). The album includes production work from LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy and TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek among others, and in praising it, the A.V. Club says the album “takes a much more open-ended, and less studied, approach to Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ electric eccentricity.” Of course, Yeah Yeah Yeahs (above, performing “Sacrilege” on Late Show with David Letterman) are most known for the fiery live performances, and you can see these hometown musical heroes tonight at Barclays Center. But do yourself a favor and get there early enough to see Har Mar Superstar.

Another big local band, Vampire Weekend—college buddies Ezra Koenig (vocals and guitar), Chris Baio (bass and vocals), Rostam Batmanglij (keys and vocals) and Chris Tomson (drums)—also put out an acclaimed new album this year, Modern Vampires of the City (stream it below). The band’s much-praised third LP is a bit of a departure, abandoning the post-college themes of their previous work, but gaining plaudits in the process, with Rolling Stone winningly comparing the quartet’s new tunes to Paul Simon and Tom Petty. But, like Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Vampire Weekend (above, doing “Diane Young” on Saturday Night Live) are best experienced live. And alongside Solange and Sky Ferreira, they play Barclays Center tomorrow night.


A Wild Night of Music at Mercury Lounge

July 3rd, 2013

Noah and the Megafauna/Jenny O. – Mercury Lounge – July 2, 2013

What do you call the Tuesday night of a three-day workweek? Regardless, it can throw the week off-kilter a bit, which is fine, because the music onstage last night at Mercury Lounge was also slightly off-kilter, in a very good way. Noah and the Megafauna headlined the early show, bringing to mind some sort of biblical flooding and pairs of animals crammed onto a boat. Well, there was plenty of cramming going on, with 10 musicians onstage, including a pair of guitars, a violin and a three-person reed section. The musical mix was about as motley as the ark must have been, a salad of gypsy jazz, Dixieland and baroque pop, surprisingly swinging and lots of fun. Definitely not the kind of sound the Merc is accustomed to, but maybe that was the point. Probably those left off the ark would’ve enjoyed it best. This was a set of songs for sinners, like “Moan All Night” with a dark, Arabian energy featuring solos from pretty much everyone. In between songs, the eponymous Noah sipped beer with one hand and did shots with the other, running the band like a mishmash jam session at a house party in ’30s Paris. After one slowed-down song in the middle of the show, things picked up with a series of exotic grooves, the band clicking on “On and On” amongst others.

The late-show headliner, Jenny O., is from Los Angeles by way of the “tri-state area,” which I believe is a euphemism for Long Island. Her music was a mélange of influences and styles, evoking Fleetwood Mac, Edie Brickell and Creedence Clearwater Revival throughout the set. She opened with “Learned My Lessons,” featuring a Simon & Garfunkel–feelin’ groovy vibe and followed it up with the dreamy, twangy title track off her wonderful new album, Automechanic. Jenny O. had a two-shots-and-two-tokes kind of giddiness going on, teetering a bit at the start, whether part of her thing or not. The band, dubbed the High Society, kept that precipice-dangling energy and focused it admirably. I was absolutely flummoxed when she announced a few songs later that this was actually her first time playing with them—and that they had only met a few hours earlier.

As the set unfolded, mostly with material off the new album, Jenny O. sharpened considerably, switching to electric guitar for some added ferocity. After a couple of solo acoustic numbers, including a cover of the Whigs’ “Rock and Roll Forever,” the show really got moving. “Come Get Me” was high-energy fun with a rocking guitar solo, and “Lazy Jane” was a highlight, the band tight as a veteran touring act and Jenny O. sounding like a slow-burning Stevie Nicks. The singer-songwriter’s voice was like a chameleon, her banter flavored with a mix of Southern, Los Angeles and New York accents, and her singing almost beautiful but absolutely enchanting. When the band exhausted all their prepared material, she returned for a solo encore, fulfilling the request for “Won’t Let You Leave” with her strongest vocal performance of the night and adding an unwound cover
of Paul Simon’s “Peace Like a River,” perfectly capping off this rare Thednesday night. —A. Stein


The Life-Affirming Power of Lord Huron

February 25th, 2013

Lord Huron – Music Hall of Williamsburg – February 23, 2013

The expansive, hazy mountain range painted on the backdrop that decked the stage for Los Angeles band Lord Huron’s sold-out show at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday night perfectly set the tone for the band’s performance. The types of big thoughts that can pass through one’s mind when looking at such a perfect panorama—life, death, love, the wonders of nature—are all themes that pervade the five-piece’s sentimental debut album, last year’s Lonesome Dreams.

Full of jaunty, layered guitars and vocal harmonies, Lord Huron at times evoked the uplifting alt-country of My Morning Jacket or the Afrobeat fusion of Paul Simon’s Graceland, along with slow-building cinematic swells and joyful moments begging to be clapped along to. Although Lord Huron’s recorded music doesn’t shy away from the understated and mellow, the live version of numbers like “She Lit a Fire” and “The Problem with Your Daughter” had a much sharper bite than their album counterparts, while meditative number “The Ghost on the Shore” was wisely left in its minimal state.

The group’s lone cover of the night, “Strangers” by the Kinks, fit in well with the reflective, exploratory theme of the show, and its lyrics “If I feel tomorrow like I feel today/ We’ll take what we want and give the rest away/ Strangers on this road we are on/ We are not two we are one” seem indirectly referenced in the sentiment of Lord Huron’s lyric: “Out there’s a world that calls for me, girl, heading out into the unknown/ Well if there are strangers and all kinds of danger, please don’t say I’m going alone,” which singer Ben Schneider contemplates on “Ends of the Earth.” Lord Huron’s combination of contagious melodies with the lyrical voice of a philosophical and wonder-filled world traveler clearly resonates with crowds, and as everyone sang and danced along, the vibe inside Music Hall of Williamsburg was as positive and life-affirming as it might be around a campfire, if those misty mountain ranges in the background were real. —Alena Kastin

Photos courtesy of Mike Benigno | mikebenigno.wordpress.com

Exclusive Video: Alt-J Perform in a Button Shop

October 18th, 2012

In a short time, Alt-J, four lads from Leeds, have become known for their layered, folk-influenced dub music called folk-step. In an Upper East Side button shop, Joe Newman and Gus Unger-Hamilton perform “Ripe & Ruin” for The Bowery Presents Live channel on YouTube. The song is an a cappella interlude from their debut album, An Awesome Wave, which BBC Music says, “spans every workable idea, genre and influence that can be crammed under the guitar-music umbrella, yet it never feels disorientating.”

While riding around in a van, the quartet discuss listening to Spice Girls, Eurythmics and Paul Simon as kids, who got them into music and how their band’s formative moments happened in a college laundry room. Watch the interview: http://tbp.im/QuNe7J. And subscribe to The Bowery Presents Live to watch more performances and interviews like these, and the latest info on our upcoming live-streaming shows.