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At Brooklyn Steel, Not Much Has Changed for Portugal. The Man

February 21st, 2018

Portugal. The Man – Brooklyn Steel – February 20,2018


Somewhere in the middle of last night’s set at Brooklyn Steel, Portugal. The Man frontman John Gourley sang, “We won’t sell you nothing you can’t use” as part of “Modern Jesus,” which just about perfectly summed up a show that had so much coming at those in the sold-out crowd: lasers and other assorted psychedelic imagery, an onstage dance duo, a Grammy-winning song, deftly placed covers, cheeky humor projected on the backdrop and as much guitars, bass, drums, keys and vocals as the room could handle. Portugal. The Man served up quite a bit over the course of the show and yet, for everyone in attendance, there was nothing there that wasn’t put to good use.

By the time they had gotten to “Modern Jesus” so much had already transpired. With both “Don’t Sleep Till Brooklyn” and “Unchained Melody” playing in full over the PA before the band even took the stage, and then a lengthy hard-core opening jam that weaved through Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall,” the opening “Purple Yellow Red and Blue” already felt like an explosive release for the audience. The song’s title used to accurately describe their show’s visual color palette, but Tuesday the display featured lasers of nearly every hue bouncing over the heads of the crowd. Even with the success of an all-timer breakout hit, not much has changed for PTM.

In fact, it was less surprising that they had a Grammy-winning song to anchor the midpoint of the set than the fact that it fit right in with some of their most far-reaching material, transitioning directly with little distinction into “All Your Light,” which, in recent years, has swallowed some of their oldest jams and repurposed them for the big rooms. Alternatively, “So American” and “People Say” both drew a powerful response from the audience and felt just as award-worthy. By the time the band reached the too-soon encore, “Holy Roller” encompassed it all, laser-abetted Floydian-freak-outs and chest-thumping metal meltdowns that still, somehow, perfectly accommodated breakdancing onstage. It’s a formula that keeps working for Portugal. The Man, as Gourley also sings in “Modern Jesus”: “The only faith we have is faith in us.” —A. Stein | @Neddyo     

 

 

 

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First Aid Kit Have Love in the Air at the Beacon Theatre on Tuesday

February 14th, 2018

First Aid Kit – Beacon Theatre – February 13, 2018


It was the night before Valentine’s Day and love was certainly in the air inside the Beacon Theatre for First Aid Kit’s sold-out show. The sister duo of Klara and Johanna Söderberg took the stage to a heartbeat rhythm from their band and kicked off the set with “Rebel Heart,” the opening track off their just-released album, Ruins. On cue, the stage backdrop was immediately illuminated with floating animated hearts to match the icon on the bass drum as the sisters’ voices paired with pedal steel to fill the historic venue. Throughout the show the love came in all varieties, but first and foremost it was those two voices. Separate, they were quite lovely, but for much of the show, they came together, as if their own thinking entities, deeply enamored with each other, creating an explosive chemistry on new songs like the country-ish instant-classic “Postcard,” pastel imagery and blue sky lights enhancing the gorgeous soundscape, and “Ruins,” accompanied by kaleidoscopic animations to bring out the singing’s hallucinogenic effects.

The Söderbergs’ vocals also brought out love from the band. Pedal steel, keys and drums, with occasional bouts of trombone and electric guitar, all helped carry those harmonies into every corner of the room. But most of all, the full house was clearly, deeply enamored with the music being made. Whether spontaneously jumping out of their seats to move their bodies or impromptu mid-show standing ovations were the norm throughout the show. Random shouts in response to banter or requesting songs were done out of pure, can’t-help-myself affection, and when the sisters asked for clapping or, as on the older “Emmylou,” help singing along, there was not a hesitant man, woman or child in the audience.

Ironically, the songs were typically not of the loving variety, and a highlight stretch in the middle began with “Stay Gold,” moved through a gorgeous ambient segue into a snarling “Lion’s Roar” and ended downright angrily with “You Are the Problem Here,” followed by a passionate monologue on the current state of women speaking out and taking control … which the audience uniformly loved. Of course, Valentine’s Day means hearts, and what better than an actual Heart cover? The whole band rocking a perfect rendition of “Crazy on You,” about which there was little not to love. During the encore, they brought out opener and good friend Van William to play “Revolution,” which features First Aid Kit on his album and also, coincidentally or not (I vote not), opens with the lyric “Lost my Valentine.” They finished with “My Silver Lining,” a victory lap for those lovely voices and pedal steel, keys and drums: so much to love. —A. Stein | @Neddyo 

 

 

 

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Rock Out with J. Roddy Walston and the Business on Wednesday Night

February 6th, 2018

Finally off the road after touring behind Essential Tremors (stream it below) for two-and-a-half years, raucous blues-rock four-piece J. Roddy Walston and the Business—J. Roddy Walston (vocals, piano and guitar), Billy Gordon (guitar and vocals), Logan Davis (bass and vocals) and Steve Colmus (drums)—had to figure out what came next: “When we got back it was just like, ‘Alright, we gotta really pump the brake here,” Walston told Billboard. “There was no plan. There was no direction. There was nothing. It was just like, ‘Let’s start writing a record.’ Which was really freeing, but also pretty daunting.” So they converted an old grenade factory at home in Richmond, Va., into a studio to focus on writing and recording at their own pace. “Loud rock and roll music has become less relevant because it’s just been on a loop,” said Walston to American Songwriter. “If there was any rule on this record, it was, let’s be a part of music right now. I want to be part of living music in this moment.” The result is something a little bit different, but a smashing success nonetheless. Their fourth studio album, Destroyers of the Soft Life (stream it below), came out last September to raves. “They set out to create a massive record, one that would transform their raucous, Southern barroom boogie into anthemic arena rock, brimming with vocal hooks and sporting crystalline production to match,” said Billboard. “Indeed, Destroyers of the Soft Life sounds like an honest album—but it also sounds like a modern album, one that fleshes out the band’s hard-rocking roots with elements of country, soul and straight-up pop.” Not to be outdone, “Walston and company have made another major stride forward in redefining their sound as well as the conventions of what Southern rock is supposed to sound like,” gushed PopMatters. “It serves as a message to the South and to rock music in general that renovation and modernization can lead to something dynamic and beautiful.” And live, J. Roddy Walston and the Business (above, doing “The Wanting” live on Conan) still continue to put on a ripper of a show. See them headline Brooklyn Steel on Wednesday night. Chicago DIY psych five-piece Post Animal open.

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Typhoon Make Sold-Out Music Hall of Williamsburg Feel Intimate

January 29th, 2018

Typhoon – Music Hall of Williamsburg – January 27, 2018


“My friends, how are you?” inquired frontman Kyle Morton of the Music Hall of Williamsburg audience as Typhoon took the stage. The outsize band with an outsize sound before a sold-out room on a Saturday night somehow immediately turned the show small and intimate. That was the mood of the evening, big swells of sound coupled with moments of quiet introspection. To pull it off, the sound needed to be just right—each lyric as important to hear as the swaths of violin and guitars winding their way through an ecstatic two-drummer rhythm section. With their dedicated sound system taking up valuable real estate in the middle of the packed room, this was not a problem. So when they opened with “Common Sentiments,” off the 2013 release White Lighter, lines like “I began hearing these voices in the dial tone” were as clear as Shannon Steele’s emotive violin playing, with the crowd already singing along to make the band feel even bigger.

At times Typhoon felt like a big folk band that had fallen, comic book–style, into a vat of acid, taking on superhuman strength in the process. “Hunger and Thirst” was explosive in its two-guitar-two-drummer chug. Other times, they were more like a prog-rock band with plainspoken, poetic lyrics, complex orchestral dynamics paired with a heavy dose of humanity. Despite a brand new album, Offerings, just a few weeks out of the bag, the set list was democratic in its selections from the band’s history. Regardless of new or old, the audience was eager to participate, dancing, singing and clapping along at the right moment, calling out requests in anticipation of the next song.

The band goofed on starting “Possible Deaths” over and over again throughout the set, half tease and half prank as a nice change of pace for a group whose music feels quite serious all of the time. The set found its powerful climax with “Empircist,” off the new record, everything about the preceding set, rolled into one piece. Morton and Co. paired quiet and loud, big and small, heavy rock with beautiful violin melodies and moved through multiple sections, each their own composition, the crowd singing along at times, at others taking in lyrics like “So blow out your past lives like they’re candles on the cake” clear and as intimate as a “How are you?” from a friend. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

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Tennis Show Off Their Full Power at a Sold-Out Brooklyn Steel

January 24th, 2018

Tennis – Brooklyn Steel – January 23, 2018


A few years ago, I saw the newish band Tennis play the Bowery Ballroom. The material was there and the show was good, but it wasn’t, in my opinion, necessarily “They’re going somewhere!” good. But fast-forward to last night’s sold-out show at Brooklyn Steel, featuring a confident band in complete control of their four-LP catalog and the sizable room, and I couldn’t have been more wrong about that. They took the stage to the theme to the original Star Trek playing over the PA, an introduction that seemed a little incongruous at first. As the set unfolded, Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley leading the band with their retro-futuristic sound—what one might have imagined pop music would sound like in the future 30 years ago, maybe the “to boldly go …” part made sense … a little.

Every live show has its own arc, and for Tennis last night it mirrored their own career arc: each song seemingly a little better than the previous. Leaning heavily on material from last year’s Yours Conditionally, the band was immediately in a pulse of guitar-synth groove, the room awash in jelly-bean lights. The theme of the night was Moore’s near-death brush with the flu, the performance filled with anecdotes and one-liners about her steroid treatment making her extra sexy and, rather hilariously, passing out in a Whole Foods. While Moore’s voice did strain at moments, the additional crackle in the vocals was a welcome one. By mid-set, things were in full swing, the giggling energy of Riley’s guitar finding intricate melodies to explore and the bass a thick molasses of funk.

The stage bathed in blue beams, Moore’s voice on “Timothy” seemed to multiply magically, whether by backing tracks or perhaps real magic. “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar” dedicated, with a slight swipe at Bono, to the “feminization of rock and roll,” was a late-set highlight, a bitchin’ funk, Tennis showing their full power and exactly why they sold out their self-professed “biggest show of our lives.” The three-song encore ended with Moore sitting at the stage’s lip, accompanied only by a quiet guitar from her husband, singing “Bad Girls,” savoring the moment as she sang, “If it were physical it would show, if it were spiritual I would know.” —A. Stein | @Neddyo

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Calpurnia Leave Them Screaming for More at Rough Trade NYC

January 16th, 2018

Calpurnia – Rough Trade NYC – January 12, 2017


If you’re Finn Wolfhard, life is pretty great. From playing Mike Wheeler on the Netflix binge-worthy series Stranger Things to a starring role in last summer’s cinematic reboot of Stephen King’s It, the 15 year old is riding high, but it doesn’t stop there. Boy signed a deal with Royal Mountain Records in late November for his band, Calpurnia. As they’re currently recording their debut EP, what they played at a sold-out Rough Trade NYC on Friday night was an evening of surprises. To fully set the scene, a gaggle of preteen girls lined the entrance to the performance space in the back. When the doors opened to the stage, the screams were palpable and would go on throughout the short, yet varied set. Although bassist Jack Anderson and rhythm guitarist Wolfhard took the lead addressing the crowd, lead guitarist Ayla Tesler-Mabe stood out thanks to her impressive prowess. Her look and skills had me thinking she could be the new baby Haim sister.

The Vancouver, B.C., quartet debuted material from their forthcoming EP, including the punky “Wasting Time,” and played a slew of covers. The Velvet Underground’s “Here She Comes Now” was dedicated to Lou Reed and Hulk Hogan. I doubt half of those in attendance knew who Reed was. Certainly not the young ladies in the front swooning over the actor-singer, but perhaps their supportive parents in the back. Wolfhard confessed Calpurnia’s shared love for Twin Peaks before the band honored their label-mates with a take on “Butterfly.” The crowd sang along to Pixies“Where Is My Mind” in between extended squeals, of course. And Anderson throbbed the bass on a rendition of Weezer’s “El Scorcho” to close the set. A resounding “one more song” chant called the young band back to the stage to encore with a new original tune. Oh, what it’s like to be a teen again. —Sharlene Chiu

 

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The Killers Don’t Skip a Beat at Barclays Center on Tuesday Night

January 10th, 2018

The Killers – Barclays Center – January 9, 2018


Longevity in the music industry isn’t guaranteed, nor is a song that stays on the charts 13 years after its release. The Killers“Mr. Brightside” was the track that remained on the U.K. charts, and Noisy hypothesized a few theories why that might have been. It’s no surprise that frontman Brandon Flowers cited the U.K. as what broke their band during a time when the Strokes and the White Stripes ruled America. After more than 15 years of music together, the Las Vegas band released their fifth album, Wonderful Wonderful, last year to the glee of longtime fans. With guitarist Dave Keuning and bassist Mark Stoermer taking time off touring for family and to finish up college, longtime collaborators guitarist Ted Sablay and bassist Jake Blanton entered the lineup in their stead. Despite the change to the original quartet, the Killers didn’t skip a beat at a sold-out Barclay Center last night.

The stage converted into mirrored pyramid screens resembling an open shell perfectly displaying the band for the opener, the new LP’s title song. The staging played a big part in the performance with pink confetti showering the crowd during “The Man,” as old-timey neon Vegas signage projected in the backdrop. Flowers seamlessly weaved old favorites “Somebody Told Me” and “Smile Like You Mean It” among more recent hits “Run for Cover” and “Shot at the Night.” He reminisced on the passing of the 10th anniversary of Sam’s Town, in which the Killers played to 1,500 people at the hotel/casino that provided the album’s name. The quartet covered Dire Straits“Romeo and Juliet” as an interlude before the appropriately paired “Runaways.”

Throughout the show, I marveled at hit after hit, especially my favorite, “All These Things That I’ve Done,” which I dare anyone to not chime in on the infectious chorus, “I got soul, but I’m not a soldier.” Flowers returned to the stage having changed into a gold suit and matching boots, as if channeling Elvis himself. With a recorded opening monologue by Woody Harrelson, the ageless singer climbed the stairs encoring with the downtown romp “The Calling.” It would not end there, rather deep cut “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine” and the rousing “When You Were Young” were played before the closing song. You guessed it: the hit that managed to top the charts for over a decade. —Sharlene Chiu

 

 

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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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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

 

 

 

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Ted Leo and the Pharmacists Close Out Tour Sunday in Williamsburg

December 11th, 2017

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – Music Hall of Williamsburg – December 10, 2017

(Photo: Mindy Tucker)

Ted Leo has always fought the good fight. After grinding away in hardcore bands for years and then fronting the underrated Mod-revival band Chisel, his politically charged brand of folk meets punk (or the other way around) with his band, the Pharmacists, has always had a little more tenderness and grace than the rest of his peers. His records cover a lot of ground as his style owes as much to the brash angular sound of Revolution Summer–era Dischord Records as much as they do to both the Jam and Thin Lizzy. As a songwriter, Leo takes the same “the only road is the high road” approach as Billy Bragg, with lyrics that shed light on global injustice and as a plea for understanding in uncertain times. With the release of The Hanged Man, after a seven-year absence, Leo has covered new ground by turning his lyrics inward to wrestle with some of his own personal demons. The LP is his first proper solo album and finds him entering new musical territory that he may have never tried with a backing band written next to his name down the spine of the record.

He and the Pharmacists rolled into town for two packed nights at Music Hall of Williamsburg to treat fans to both new songs and classics from his long career. Hometown garage-rock heroes Big Huge opened the second show last night, electrifying frontman Dan Regelski making it his sole mission to shake the sleepy crowd out of their Sunday comas. The band released their debut album, Cruel World, on Don Giovanni Records over the summer and sounded as great as ever. Next time you see their name listed on a marquee, make sure to check them out.

For longtime fans of the Pharmacists, this current lineup is a little more special than previous iterations of the band. With the addition of keys, saxophone and a third guitar player, the band was able to pull off The Hanged Man’s rich layers as well as add more firepower to some of Leo’s older material. On the last night of their tour, Leo was as hilarious and charismatic as ever, taking sips from a Dixie cup of whiskey and telling stories in between songs. With one of the strongest catalogs in indie rock, Leo and Co. treated the crowd to a review of such old favorites as “Where Have all the Rude Boys Gone,” “Parallel or Together,” and “The Angels’ Share.” It was a marathon set that highlighted the best of what makes Leo such a hero in this tiny corner of the indie-rock world. For the encore, the Pharmacists left the stage for the beginning of the Tyranny of Dissonance classic “Timorous Me,” only to return to finish it with full-band force. The show closed with “Little Dawn,” from Shake the Sheets, which had fans still singing along following the band’s nearly two-and-a-half-hour set. It was a welcome return for Ted Leo and the Pharmacists and one that made you never want to take them for granted again. —Pat King | @MrPatKing

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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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Chad VanGaalen’s Unique Voice Is in Fine Form at Rough Trade NYC

December 7th, 2017

Chad VanGaalen – Rough Trade NYC – December 6, 2017


Since 2004, Canadian singer-songwriter Chad VanGaalen has been churning out records on his own terms. He generally plays all of the instruments, records the songs and even does the artwork for his albums. In fact, he may be more well known for his art as he is an award-winning illustrator and has animated all of his own music videos, plus some for other bands like J Mascis, Timber Timbre and Love as Laughter. Both VanGaalen’s music and his artwork take on a morbid sensibility as you can spot one of his songs right away from its detuned guitars, homespun recording quality and his high voice that often quivers like Neil Young’s ghost haunting an off season waterpark. He is truly a unique voice in today’s indie-rock scene and has put out a tremendous body of work that deserves more recognition. Playing New York City is generally pretty rare for VanGaalen, so his sold-out stop at Rough Trade NYC last night seemed all the more special.

The soul and post-punk fusion group Un Blonde opened the show, led by the eccentric guitarist and singer Jean-Sebastien Audet, who would stop his band at the drop of a dime with a single gesture and could ring out every ounce of soul from each song’s melody. They were extremely tight and VanGaalen even joined them toward the end of their set on flute for an extended free-jazz jam. And as soon as he returned for the headlining set, you could tell VanGaalen and his band were there to have fun. “We went to an arcade and got fucking wasted,” he joked with a playful smirk on his face. “We didn’t even play pinball! So is it cool if we just chill out?” From that declaration, it would be safe to think that this might be an off night for VanGaalen and Co. As It turned out, it was anything but.

The band played loose and heavy giving his bedroom DIY songs Sonic Youth–styled makeovers. VanGaalen’s voice was also in tremendous form, eliciting chills when he hit the height of his register. The singer-songwriter treated the crowd to much of his new album, Light Information, as well as career-spanning hits like “Clinically Dead” and “Heavy Stones.” VanGaalen’s main set ended with an extended noise jam during the Diaper Island track “Peace on the Rise,” which felt transcendent and inspired. For the encore, he played two numbers off his 2008 album, Soft Airplane, “City of Electric Light” and “Rabid Bits of Time.” The latter’s chorus, “No one knows where we go/ When we’re dead or when we’re dreaming,” sounded more triumphant than on record and was a truly powerful way to end the night. —Pat King | @MrPatKing

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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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