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A Raucous 40th-Anniversary Party at Music Hall of Williamsburg

December 1st, 2017

L.A.M.F. 4oth Anniversary – Music Hall of Williamsburg – November 30, 2017


There’s a lot of talk about how the Lower East Side is not same as it used to be. Hell, the name of The Bowery Presents hearkens back to the glory days of the late ’70s when a few bands set the town—and the world—ablaze with a new kind of fury that hadn’t been witnessed before. Bands like Ramones, Television and the Patti Smith Group all turned rock and roll in on itself, showing how bloated it had become. This new class would behead bands with 100-piece drum kits and 15-minute flute-driven epics about mystical creatures to bring the genre back to its sneering basics. Punk made the Bowery famous worldwide, and one of its hometown heroes was Johnny Thunders and his band the Heartbreakers. With their seminal trash-rock opus, L.A.M.F., Thunders and his band were probably the most rock and roll out of any of the ’77 class. They stuck to the same basics that had been taught to millions by Chuck Berry while adding some of the era’s reckless abandon. (The band also took advantage of their junk-saturated environment more than their peers, and Thunders passed away in 1991.)

Last year, keeper of the NYC rock flame, Jesse Malin, assembled an all-star tribute to play the L.A.M.F. record in full. Needless to say it was a boozed-up blast. This year marks the album’s 40th anniversary and they pulled out all the stops to do it again at a sold-out Music Hall of Williamsburg last night. With a lineup of original Heartbreaker guitarist Walter Lure, Blondie drummer Clem Burke, Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock and Social Distortion singer-guitarist Mike Ness, the band ripped through the full LP, trading off vocal duties throughout. Malin (who also opened the show) joined them for a few numbers but seemed to know his place and cleared the stage so these punk legends could hold court.

The band was loose and some numbers ended in charmingly sloppy ways. You could tell this was getting Burke a little agitated, but in defense of the Heartbreakers’ reckless spirit, Ness said that no one cared if the songs came out perfect. The band left the stage once they completed the album and came back to do an encore of Heartbreakers rarities and even a couple of Thunders solo tunes. Malin returned to sing “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory,” from So Alone, and Ness took on that album’s slow-brooding title track immediately afterward. The show ended with Lure singing the Heartbreakers song “Too Much Junky Business.” It was a great night that transported everyone to a more dangerous and unpredictable era of rock and roll. —Pat King | @MrPatKing

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The Barr Brothers Delight Sold-Out Sinclair with New Music

November 30th, 2017

The Barr Brothers – The Sinclair – November 29, 2017


(The Barr Brothers play Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday night.)
 
The Barr brothers are a pair of siblings, of course—guitarist Brad Barr and drummer Andrew Barr—but the Barr Brothers is also a band, a fabulously shape-shifting one that operates in a unique middle ground made possible only by the combination of the unique talents in the group. The band has a new album out, The Queens of the Breakers, and their supporting tour brought them to a sold-out, mid-week show at The Sinclair in Cambridge, Mass., the Boston area being a sort of midway point between the Barrs’ hometown of Providence, R.I., and their current base in Montreal. Before they even took the stage, the packed room already warmly resonated with the sight of the instruments onstage: so many strings, a more-than-can-count-on-one-hand amount of guitars and basses, all bracketed by the looming harp on one side and a pedal steel guitar on the other.

The brothers and band took the stage to a hearty cheer and immediately opened with the new record’s title track, finding a quick ease with one another and the crowd. That mid-range sound was established right away, depending on the angle you took, it was folk or rock or even jazz. Brad Barr opened on an acoustic guitar, accentuated by the harp and steel on either side and then switched to a 12-string on the following “Hideous Glorious,” the ensuing coda of “Part 2” giving Sarah Pagé a chance to indulge the audience with twinkles from her harp. But it wasn’t just the guitars that changed for every song, each tune featured a brand-new combination of instruments, the music morphing and evolving in significantly new directions each time. At some point I finally lost count of the different instruments, but there were a dobro and banjo and at least one I-don’t-know-what-that’s-called instrument.

Ukulele, harp, pedal steel and upright bass created a dreamy soundscape atop hypnotic rhythms on “Look Before It Changes,” like some sort of jazz from the future. Another highlight was “Maybe Someday,” the bass and drums revealing a slinky groove that seemed to extend infinitely in all directions. Later Brad Barr and Pagé played an extended two-person intro, combining to sound more like sitar and tabla than slide guitar and harp. Playing pretty much all of the new album through the night, the Barr Brothers managed to work in some older material, punctuated by the crowd favorite “Beggar in the Morning” in the encore. As they did a few times during the set, the group appropriately sang it from the middle of the stage, brothers and band around a single microphone in their happy medium. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

 

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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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Twiddle Need No Introduction at the Space at Westbury on Wednesday

November 27th, 2017

Twiddle – the Space at Westbury – November 22, 2017


At some point, up-and-comers on a hot streak don’t just keep coming up—they arrive. And in the past two years, that’s happened to Twiddle, the Vermont quartet that through aggressive touring and a relentless, old-school, word-of-mouth approach to fan-base cultivation, has earned a place in the conversation of groups that define this next generation of jam bands. They may not be for everybody, as someone once said about another Vermont foursome heavy on improvisational chops, left-of-center songwriting and a constellation of influences. But they do what it is they do in earnest, and what they do is take quirky, friendly rock, funk, reggae and boogie tunes—written with both a free-associative innocence and a knowing wryness—and stretch them wide, wringing out their jammy possibilities, whether that takes five minutes or 45.

And man, Twiddle are infectious: Singer-guitarist Mihali Savoulidis, keyboardist Ryan Dempsey, bassist Zdenek Gubb and drummer-percussionist Brook Jordan are obviously having so much fun together that you get the sense they’d be doing this regardless of whether crowds showed up. As it happens, crowds do show up, and the Space at Westbury’s packed assembly was a typically lively one on Wednesday night, the first of three local Thanksgiving shows to close Twiddle’s fall tour. The band was smiley and loose—are they ever not smiley and loose?—and indulged one long, shape-shifting headliner set like they had all the time in the world. Shows like Twiddle’s are defined by ephemera—this moment, these players, played like this, with these progressions, asides and hairpin turns, and all in a way that by definition will never happen the same way again.

Twiddle built their Space at Westbury set around two expansive suites, one involving the exhilarating jam vehicle “Amydst the Myst,” and the other around fan favorite “Doinkinbonk!!!,” allowing all four members ample room to stretch out over Gubb’s roiling bass in a series of chameleonic jam segments. The band customarily threw in some guests too, including guitar prodigy Brandon “Taz” Niederauer, a frequent Twiddle-in–New York sit-in, who stepped out for a shredding “Syncopated Healing,” and keyboardist Josh Dobbs, of local favorites Cats Under the Stars, for the Beatles’ “Rocky Raccoon.” Twiddle have hit a point now where any show they play is a good introduction, and this was a fine specimen. But based on the roars of appreciably larger crowds, we’re past the introduction stage. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

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Lukas Nelson Goes Real and Raw at Music Hall of Williamsburg

November 21st, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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Ron Gallo and Naked Giants Blur Lines at Rough Trade NYC

November 20th, 2017

Ron Gallo – Rough Trade NYC – November 19, 2017


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

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

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

Photos courtesy of Silvia Saponaro | www.saponarophotography.com

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Bully Ratchet Up the Energy at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Monday

November 14th, 2017

Bully – Music Hall of Williamsburg – November 13, 2017

(Photo: Andie Diemer)

In an era when we’re all coming to realize that women have a million reasons to angrily shout, Bully frontwoman Alicia Bognanno might just rock one of the best screams in all of rock music. Her vocal chords come with a built-in distortion pedal. It’s a slight miracle she can tour playing night after night with her gravely scream on full blast. At other times her voice is filled with tenderness—it takes a certain chorus or bridge to flick a switch then suddenly the same voice isn’t just cutting like a knife, it’s cutting you open. “I am trying to stay focused,” screamed Bognanno on repeat at a fever pitch for the final lines of “Focused,” each refrain ratcheting up the energy levels at Music Hall of Williamsburg, far higher than you’d think possible on a Monday night.

Not all of their songs hit so heavy: “I Feel the Same” came with a bouncy feel to it, with Bognanno flanked on both sides by pogoing guitarist Clayton Parker and bassist Reece Lazarus. The latter dedicated the set to two friends in the audience celebrating their two-year anniversary. “I don’t want to sing the saddest song we have after that. I’ll jinx this,” said Bognanno leading into “Blame.” But it was easily one of their best songs of the night, oscillating between soft contemplation and fury-filled choruses. “Milkman” one of their first-ever recorded tracks, had the whole band packing serious punch, with Lazarus’ thudding bassline doing the walloping. The show ended with “I Remember,” a tight number already trimmed of any fat whatsoever, played in warp speed. No better way to end the night than with a knockout blow. —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks

 

 

 

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A Sunday Sing-Along with the Mountain Goats at Brooklyn Steel

November 13th, 2017

The Mountain Goats – Brooklyn Steel – November 12, 2017


John Darnielle might be the hardest-working man in indie rock. This is not to say he comes from the same school as Bruce Springsteen—playing epic four-hour shows every night with sweat soaking through his American flag bandanna. But as the singer-songwriter of the beloved band the Mountain Goats, he’s consistently churned out a thoughtful and varied body of work at such a dependable pace that you might take him for granted. While other prolific artists may have a high volume of toss-away moments in their catalogs, Darnielle’s lyrics have always seemed intensely labored over and essential. Once called “America’s best non-hip-hop lyricist” by The New Yorker, he’s able to cover an impossible amount of ground from verse to verse, all while releasing albums with the band and somehow also managing to write two critically acclaimed novels. How about that for work ethic?

The band’s latest album, Goths, was released this year, and the Mountain Goats’ tour brought them to town for a packed show at Brooklyn Steel on Sunday night. The LP explores Darnielle’s early ’80s teen fascination with this genre in the same way that 2015’s Beat the Champ paid tribute to his heroes of professional wrestling. In pure Mountain Goats fashion: always sincere and never with irony. Mothers, out of Athens, Ga., opened the show with a brief yet powerful set. Afterward, fans roared as Darnielle and Co. walked onstage. Backed by longtime bassist Peter Hughes, multi-instrumentalist Matt Douglas and indie-rock drum royalty (and half of the comedy duo Scharpling & Wurster) Jon Wurster, the band leaned heavily on Goths, pulling off the new songs’ complex instrumentation with finesse. As this material is much more layered than the Mountain Goats’ usual bare-bones acoustic-punk material, Darnielle mostly stuck to playing the tunes on a Rhodes keyboard while Douglas would fill in the space with reverbed-out flourishes on either tenor sax or flute, eliciting huge crowd reactions in response. It was a thrill to watch the band gracefully pull off these new tunes live.

Some of the best moments of the night, however, were when Darnielle picked up his acoustic guitar to dust off some of the old sing-alongs from the band’s long career. Songs like “This Year” and “Against Pollution” had everyone at Brooklyn Steel singing in unison with Darnielle as he marched back and forth across the stage like an unplugged Angus Young. For the final number of their second encore, the Mountain Goats played a full-band version of the All Hail West Texas masterpiece “Best Ever Death Metal Band out of Denton,” with its rallying cry of “Hail Satan” filling the rafters and the hearts of everyone in the room. —Pat King | @MrPatKing

 

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David Bazan Goes Deep at Rough Trade NYC on Thursday

November 10th, 2017

David Bazan – Rough Trade NYC – November 9, 2017


The opening verse of “Magazine” pretty much sums up the inner conflict that singer-songwriter David Bazan—of the beloved indie-rock outfit Pedro the Lion—has been struggling through his entire career. Once an evangelical Christian, he’s challenged his faith with each release in a way that never pulls any punches. After four full-lengths and five EPs, Bazan decided to retire the band name in order to go solo and explore his relationship with faith without the religious baggage his old band carried. Any longtime fan of his songwriting would be able to tell you that his relationship to the church was never an issue. As a lyricist, Bazan has always been able to pull apart the complex equations that everyday people spend their entire lives trying to solve. In the years since Pedro’s demise, he’s remained prolific, releasing albums and singles under his own name as well as launching many different side projects (his group Lo Tom, played Rough Trade NYC over the summer). Last month, Bazan announced that he would be reviving Pedro for a string of reunion shows this winter as well as plans to record and tour again as a working unit.

But before he can get to work on that, Bazan is finishing up promoting his most recent solo album, Care, which brought his tour to Brooklyn to play Rough Trade NYC last night along with singer-songwriter Michael Nau of Page France. Nau set the tone with a short set of laid-back songs accompanied by a lead guitarist, upright bassist and a drum machine that he’d program in between numbers. His material took on a trance-inducing quality that recalled Lambchop at their most ethereal with lyrics that seemed heartbreakinghly personal. Shortly after, Bazan took the stage backed by a three-piece. And for the most part, he and his band kept it “strictly business” as they plowed through material from Care and his 2016 LP, Blanco, with little talking in between songs, aside from a brief intermission when he took questions from the crowd. Both albums had been a slight sonic departure for Bazan, as they each strictly used synths and drum machines—so it was great to hear these songs getting the heavier band treatment live. He delighted the crowd with a few old Pedro songs, like “When They Really Get to Know You They Will Run” and “Penetration,” and even dusted off the old Headphones tune “Gas and Matches.”

For the encore, Bazan took questions for the second time of the night. As expected, most of them had to do with the Pedro reunion, and he was frank and honest with his answers, explaining that the decision was made in order to tour and record music “as a band” again and to bring his music to a much larger audience. For a sometimes frustratingly overlooked force in the world of indie rock, it’s hard to blame him. He also assured the crowd that the Pedro tour would make its way to New York City in the future but would have to keep us in suspense as to when. He and his band then closed with the opening song off of Pedro’s final album, Achilles Heel, “Bands With Managers,” which had everyone singing along in unison. —Pat King | @MrPatKing

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Grizzly Bear Dazzle Hometown Crowd at Brooklyn Steel on Saturday

November 6th, 2017

Grizzly Bear – Brooklyn Steel – November 4, 2017


The draw to go see Grizzly Bear in concert runs parallel to the argument to watch a film by Christopher Nolan or Quentin Tarantino on the big screen. In both cases you’re not only experiencing art in the form that conveys its native impact, but you’re also most fully absorbing the styles, angles and dimensions that gloriously distinguish the artist. Such opportunity was afforded on Saturday at Brooklyn Steel, where Grizzly Bear played the last of three sold-out shows marking their return home to the borough where they were born—and their symbolic return to the contemporary music landscape. While the current tour is no doubt in service of their first new album in five years, Painted Ruins, that focus was discreetly carried home by integrating the long-player’s songs into the rest of Grizzly Bear’s 13-year catalog. Outlined by the magical confines of translucent gauze like fabric that formed a celestial cave dwelling, band members Ed Droste, Daniel Rossen, Chris Tyler and Chris Bear expounded upon a career-spanning set list curated with the narrative and stylistic arc that distilled Grizzly Bear’s significance and contribution to a field of music they were responsible for expanding.

As such, the fantastic show was sort of like a retrospective exhibition. Songs like “Yet Again,” from 2012’s Shields, were played with defiant bluster, as if Grizzly Bear wanted to convince you of the album’s overlooked merit, while “Ready Able” and “While You Wait for the Others,” off their essential 2009 album, Veckatimest, pulsated through the room, heightening and transforming the atmosphere, one of the band’s instinctive abilities. It was clear that any rust that had developed over their individual detachments from playing music in the last five years has already disappeared. Rossen’s guitar strumming still had that irresistible surf-rock dissonance that sucked you into that familiar Grizzly Bear place, and Bear’s drumming still held rhythm and threw fills with jazzy soul. During the levitating rendition of “Fine for Now” the vocal interplay between Rossen and Droste effortlessly combined into two-note harmony. Even something like “Two Weeks,” which we’ve all heard countless times, became irresistible again, revived by a live thrust that had everyone bopping along. When new songs “Mourning Sound,” “Three Rings” and “Four Cypresses” were played, it was only then you realized there were glowing new colors that all blend seamlessly into the Grizzly Bear repertoire.

One thing the performance pushed through in myriad ways and with resonance was how integral this band has been in the past decade of alternative rock. And even though they have become universally respected recording artists, the members still carry themselves like your friends who are thrilled to put on a show at a local bar, which only adds to the warm enchanted feeling you get when seeing Grizzly Bear live. During the set, original founder of the band, Droste, expressed his gratitude for the turnout: “Thank you for welcoming us back to where we started.” Grizzly bear were quite welcome on a night when it became so clear how far they’ve come. —Charles Steinberg | @Challyolly

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Hamilton Leithauser Returns Home to Play Brooklyn Steel

November 2nd, 2017

Hamilton Leithauser – Brooklyn Steel – November 1, 2017


Out of all of the musicians who had made a splash in the turn-of-the-century New York City rock scene you could argue that Hamilton Leithauser has aged more gracefully than the rest of the pack. Once the fiery-eyed frontman of the beloved indie-rock band the Walkmen, he’s made the transition toward more of a classic crooner as a solo artist. After the band went on hiatus in 2013, he released his elegant debut solo album, Black Hours, which owed as much to balladeers from the early ’60s as it did to the Walkmen’s post-punk and garage-rock roots. Things really began to gel on his most recent release, a collaborative album written with former Vampire Weekend multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij called I Had a Dream That You Were Mine. Every song is a winner and mixes Hamilton’s influences with Rostam’s orchestration and production work effortlessly. Initially, Leithauser’s voice was one of the things that set apart the Walkmen from all of the other indie rock bands of their day. It was a force to reckon with at a packed Brooklyn Steel last night, with fans eager to hear him in all of his ragged power.

There’s a part in the documentary Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)? when Monty Python’s Eric Idle compares the late singer’s vocal stylings to the routine of trapeze artists. Nilsson would reach for these death-defying notes and you never knew if he was going to pull them off or fail miserably. When watching Leithauser sing, you can’t help but see him in a similar way. Only with Leithauser, a daredevil jumping a motorcycle over row of burning cars is a more fitting metaphor. When he’s about to belt out some of those death-defying notes, a part of you thinks it might go horribly wrong but he always seems to stick the landing.

Leithauser proved this over and over again on Wednesday. He and his band ran through all of I Had a Dream That You Were Mine and also treated the crowd to a few songs from Black Hours. On the majority of the material, Leithauser would bang out chords on his 12-string acoustic or delicately pick on his nylon-string guitar for the somber ballads. But he really shined when putting them aside in order to play the role of frontman, thanks to his distinct stage presence. Squeezing the microphone like the leader of a hardcore band, head tilted facing the sky, with his other hand either flung back or punching emphatically into the air. Opener Courtney Marie Andrews came out to duet on two songs, I Had a Dream’s beautiful fever dream of a closer, “1959,” and the newly released duet with Angel Olsen, “Heartstruck (Wild Hunger).” Their voices harmonized beautifully, and it was absolutely breathtaking when she took the lead on the latter number.

Leithauser was thankful to be back in Brooklyn and was conversational with the adoring hometown crowd. He treated the room to the piano ballad “Proud Irene,” off of a limited vinyl-only release, Dear God, which Leithauser would personally hand-deliver to people in the neighborhood. As he introduced the song and explained the release, you could tell there were a few people in the front row who had purchased it. For the encore, the band played through his first-ever collaboration with Rostam, “I Retired,” off of Black Hours, which Leithauser claimed was the best recording he’s ever been a part of. The performance ended with I Had a Dream’s “Peaceful Morning” and then a solo cover of Palace Music’s “Trudy Dies.” He then left the cheering crowd with a wave, joyfully exclaiming, “I’m Hamilton Leithauser. I live down the street.” —Pat King | @MrPatKing

 

 

 

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A Willie Watson and Colter Wall Sing-Along at Rough Trade NYC

October 26th, 2017

Willie Watson and Colter Hall – Rough Trade NYC – October 25, 2017


Sometimes at a concert you get a real feel for what things were like back when. Sometimes it’s because of the room: Walk into Carnegie Hall or Village Vanguard and you are transported back through decades of New York City live-music history. Other times it’s the performers themselves who seem to transport you back to a past heyday. Last night at Rough Trade NYC featured two such performers who transported the crowd back in time, evoking a country and folk music of another era as if it were brand-new today.

Colter Wall is a Canadian singer from Saskatchewan who evokes a country music of a time gone by. He began his set solo, with just enough croak in his vintage voice and acoustic guitar, singing, “If I’m being truthful, I only live at night” and covering Woody Guthrie’s “Do Re Mi” like he’d written it on his way from Canada. He was joined by a band—mandolin, dobro, bass—and continued to mix old-school covers by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Hank Williams with originals from his self-titled debut that evoked the same spirit with a little updating along the way. A cover of Blaze Foley’s “Oval Room,” perfectly fit into the set and had the crowd whooping and hollering. Audiences will clap or sing along and this one did that aplenty, but the stomp along is a bit rarer and felt natural at several points during Wall’s performance—you could imagine yourself back when in a barn somewhere hearing murder ballads like his “Kate McCannon” and stomping along.

Willie Watson has a voice and a love for folk music and, let’s face it, a name that makes it easy to imagine sitting around a campfire or revival tent hearing gospel numbers and old-timey songs mixed with storytelling and off-center humor. He opened with “Take This Hammer,” his voice infused with a slight warble as he stretched out syllables, letting them fill the room. “If you know this one, sing along” seemed to be implied from the start of his set, and the crowd joined in as he worked his way through a musical time warp. Watson has been playing and touring and recording these old folk songs for years—his new album is simply and aptly titled Folk Singer Vol. 2—and he sings them possessed of their original spirit. Tunes like “Samson and Delilah,” “Gallows Pole” and “Midnight Special” in their original form before they were turned into modern-day rock songs were stripped to their original bare essence in Watson’s hands. Switching between guitar and banjo (giving the audience what he referred to as a proper dose of “vitamin B”), the set was both raucous and poignant. Like any good folk show, there were sing-alongs, like “Stewball,” and murder ballads, like “Frankie and Johnny,” and, of course, songs about the feats of John Henry. Through them all, Watson’s love for the music and performing it shined through, taking the audience to way back when for just one night. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

(Tonight’s Willie Watson and Colter Hall show at Mercury Lounge is sold out.)       

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Elvis Perkins Celebrates an Album Milestone at Rough Trade NYC

October 23rd, 2017

Elvis Perkins – Rough Trade NYC – October 20, 2017


Family reunions can be planned or impromptu, times of joy and nostalgia or pain and remembrance, barbecues or funerals. Elvis Perkins’ music has always been a mix of melancholy and jubilance, and so it was perfect for a “reunion” on Friday night in Brooklyn at Rough Trade NYC. The appearance was one of two anniversary shows (the other in L.A.) celebrating the 10th anniversary of Perkins’ breakout album, Ash Wednesday. For the show he assembled most of the original musicians and more, musical cousins and brothers and sisters joining together once again to make music and share memories and maybe make some new ones as well.

Like the album—and, really, like most gatherings of old friends—the show began with its most powerful, emotional moment. “While You Were Sleeping” started, as it always has, with Perkins solo, singing, “Time flew, the phone rang/ There was a silence when the kitchen sang/ Its songs competed like kids for space/ We stared for hours in our maker’s face.” One by one the musicians came onstage and began playing, bass and drums and backup singers and then horns and a four-piece strings section, the family together again and a wave of emotion swelling inside the room. To me, the album was always one of the more poignant responses to 9/11, but its happiness-from-sadness energy resonated just as strongly on Friday. The full complement of strings seemed to generate much of the emotion, at times eerie or chilling or sobbing.

With the massive band and the range of feelings coming from the stage, the centerpiece was still Perkins’ songs—lyrics as poetic and meaningful as ever—like “It’s Only Me”: “The white noise falls away to reveal the perfect day/ Where roses bloomed out of thin air and music rose from down the buried stairs.” After closing with a penetrating version of “Good Friday,” Perkins introducing the full band, goodbyes imminent, they added an encore of “Doomsday” from the Elvis Perkins in Dearland album, an unplanned moment, perhaps not everyone knowing the song but happy to linger and enjoy one another’s company for just a bit longer. Like most reunions, the event felt all the more significant by the uncertainty of when we all might meet again. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

 

 

 

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Anders Osborne and Jackie Greene in Perfect Balance at the Space

October 23rd, 2017

Anders Osborne and Jackie Greene – the Space at Westbury – October 20, 2017


Jackie Greene and Anders Osborne met through Phil Lesh, of whose Phil Lesh & Friends lineups they’re both alumni. They’ve since each gone on record to say they were simpatico from the beginning, and that isn’t surprising: Both musicians write Americana-driven rock and pop songs with healthy undercurrents of blues and psychedelia. Greene, in recent years, has gone in more of a blues-rock direction from his original folk-pop beginnings. Osborne, still best known for the roiling guitars and ragingly cathartic jams of his electric band, has gone quieter and more introspective with his last few albums. Both artists are as different as they are similar, but you can easily understand the admiration for each other’s material and the kinship they found.

In this setup—which Greene and Osborne have tested and now fashioned into an actual tour—the two are a mostly acoustic duo. Sing some songs, pluck some strings, tell some stories, bathe it all in a winning mojo. At the Space at Westbury on Friday night, they alternated lead vocals, more or less, for a 90-minute set that drew heavily on their respective catalogs and included not only guitars but keyboards, harmonica and touches of banjo. The concert had a relaxed, hootenanny feel: Listen to songs of uplift, some tales of woe, reflections from a learned place. Laugh a little, or laugh a lot, and pass round that whiskey. That it was a folksy gathering—not a smoothly packaged concert presentation—was precisely the point. The deeper appeal of this format is that both musicians agree to play with and play off each other, but take it a level beyond that, investing in the other’s music beyond just accompanying and waiting for the next lead vocal.

Greene added just-right keys to tender Osborne tunes like “Burning Up Slowly,” and with crackling guitar, Osborne scuffed up “Gone Wanderin’,” “Modern Lives,” “Tupelo” and other strong examples of Greene’s pensive/cynical narratives. Their give-and-take worked, again and again. Greene’s “I Don’t Live in a Dream,” in this format, sounded like Bill Withers on the back porch, while Osborne’s “It Can’t Hurt You Anymore” went deep for pathos and Greene’s accompaniment went right along with it. Osborne’s rollicking “Lafayette” was the best of a lot of things, with Osborne, Greene and guest Cris Jacobs having a three-way acoustic-slide summit. The three also picked through the Grateful Dead’s “New Speedway Boogie” at a boozy, laid-back tempo—yet one more simpatico moment. “Fuckin’ Deadheads everywhere!” exclaimed Greene to crowd roars. Yes, including on the stage, but everyone sure felt welcome. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

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A Margo Price Storm Blows Through Rough Trade NYC on Thursday

October 20th, 2017

Margo Price – Rough Trade NYC – October 19, 2017


Predicting the next big music star is just about as easy as predicting the weather. Even with a lifetime of knowledge and the best instruments, you still get it wrong just as often as you get it right. But sometimes the barometer, thermometer, hygrometer and the Doppler radar all point to one obvious conclusion: It’s gonna rain. And for the crowd lucky enough to make it in for her All American Made album-release show at Rough Trade NYC last night, there was no doubt about the forecast, that’s Margo Price coming over the plain, a drought-killing downpour of talent and charm. Opening with “Nowhere Fast,” she perhaps subtly, perhaps subconsciously, was dressed as the Woman in Black, a modern-day outlaw country, with a more-than-meets-the-eye mix of soul, gospel, blues and funk to go along with the band’s considerable honky-tonk roots.

Price led her secret-weapons-grade band through the new album, the track order shuffled expertly to maximize the live-show experience. Pedal-steel-infused boot stompers like “Weakness” mixed in with gorgeous ballads. “Learning to Lose” hushed the hepped up crowd to near silence with Price’s voice filling the room, complemented by pretty guitar and pedal steel solos. She sneaked in the caveat that it was the first time playing a lot of the material live, but there was little sign of tentativeness or rust, quite the contrary. The songs showed off a bit of depth, both in sound—“Cocaine Cowboys” was as much Little Feat as Willie Nelson and “All American Made” was as much in the tradition of Neil Young as Loretta Lynn—and subject matter, songs about love lost and found replaced by deep storytelling with some social commentary proudly thrown in.

The band picked up steam and Price’s voice gained some extra torrential-rain power as they built the set to a head, finishing the album material with strong versions of “Loner” and the title track and then offering some crowd-pleasers to the already-quite-pleased sold-out crowd in “Tennessee Song” and “Paper Cowboy.” Here the band really flexed their muscles, drums and bass providing the thunder and lightning in a set-closing maelstrom, Price leaving the stage to applause while they rocked out for several minutes, just in case you hadn’t already appreciated their effort throughout the performance. That storm had passed as quickly as it had come, but for Margo Price, it’s easy to predict that it’s still just getting going. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

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