Friday, December 12, 2008

Love Is All w/ Crystal Stilts @ Bowery Ballroom, December 7th 2008

I don't completely understand all the buzz about Crystal Stilts. Yes, they have "Crystal" in their name, which apparently makes any band name awesome. And there's that reverb-drenched throwback 60's psych sound with a touch of New York modern-rock jadedness, that's so popular with the hipsters these days. But there's something missing from their sound that just doesn't inspire me. I mean, you're playing the Bowery Ballroom to an almost sold out crowd with a bunch of your friends, at least pretend to have a good time! C'mon people! On the flip side, Love Is All remains a consistently fun and entertaining live band. I used to party with these guys back at NYU, so maybe I'm a little biased... but I think their music stands up for itself. They played mostly songs off of their well-regarded debut LP "Nine Times That Same Song," with a few songs thrown in there off of their latest release "A Hundred Things Keep Me Up At Night" for good measure. Hi-lites for me included "Busy Doing Nothing" and "Make Out Fall Out Make Up" which was their last song before the encore, and played just when I wanted to hear it.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Blip Festival 2008 @ The Bellhouse, Saturday December 6th, 2008

Did I just see that girl crowd surfing to Nintendo music...? Yes I did! But that's to be expected at the sold out Blip Festival 2008, the third annual nerd cultural event celebrating all things 8-bit and modded. Granted, most of the musical acts tonight sounded like Nintendo-based techno, which doesn't really do it for me (although the guy with glow-sticks seemed to be enjoying it!). The visuals were much more impressive, VBlank uses real hacked Nintendos to create some glitched-out, seizurey graphics which he manipulates in real time to the music (see example below). My favorite band of the night, Sulumi, came all the way from China to bring it's own unique brand of synchronized 8-bit fury. Blip beep bloop.

Hospitality @ Mercury Lounge, Friday November 21st, 2008

Hospitality is yet another lovely young indie band from Brooklyn. And I don't like them just because their bass player (Brian) is a former member of Shitstorm (although all former members of "the Storm" hold a special place on my iPod ;). They sound kinda like if Destroyer were fronted by a twenties-something young lady, a mix of folk and indie-rock aptly balancing that fine line between positivity and melancholy, with songs that quietly build in intensity and emotion, and yet stay firmly in the realm of melodic singer-songwriting. Lots of potential here... again lovely.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Neil Halstead @ Mercury Lounge, November 11, 2008

While I'd probably give my left foot to see Slowdive, the seminal British shoe-gaze pioneers, since that's not an option, it's nice to know that I can still see founding member Neil Halstead do his bare-bones acoustic singer-songwriter thing to a packed, mesmerized new york city audience on a chilly Tuesday night. To say this was an intimate show is an understatement. You could hear every lyric (which is in direct opposition to how his former band used to sound). Neil opened the show with a few solo acoustic songs, and then was joined by "his mates," a bass player and a lead acoustic guitar player who also sang background vocals. Some of songs were truly captivating, with the same emotive melancholy that made Slowdive so charming. Hi-lites included a sardonic version of "Sometimes The Wheel," which bashes door-to-door Bible salesmen and the Mojave 3 song, "Trying to Reach You," which was played spontaneously by request. While I admit that at times I lost interest during the almost hour-and-a-half long set, I could listen to Neil's cool, relaxed, British-accented stage banter all day. Like once, during a lull in the music due to technical difficulties, someone in the audience yelled, "I don't think I can make it Neil!" And he responded, "just keep paddling dude." Now, that's good advice for us all.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Myles Turney @ The Trash Bar, CMJ 2008, October 25th

I usually don't fall for singer-songwriter types (they usually can't hold my interest for an entire set), but there was something honest and immediate about Myles Turney that won me over. He plays a southern style of bluesy acoustic folk with a mixture of finger-picking and slide guitar over sharp, witty, dynamic vocals. He had a way of completely getting lost in the moment of each song, that reminds us of the power that a single musician can have in conveying an idea or emotion with just a guitar and voice. Hilites included a ballad that he apparently wrote "3 weeks ago," and also a mccain-palin-bashing political rant that was both entertaining and timely. Keep up the good work Myles.

Dungen @ Music Hall Of Williamsburg, CMJ 2008, October 24th

I'm always tempted by a Dungen show. I love how nobody in the audience knows any of the lyrics or what they mean (because it's all in Swedish), but it doesn't matter because the music is sooooo good. Their lead guitarist, Reine Fiske, is one of the best out there today, with an all-vintage set-up, and some outstanding chops (and i'm usually perched right next to him front row, to catch every lick). Their drummer is also pro, probably jazz-trained with a good ear for fills, pattern and groove. This one may not have been their best set, since it was just the start of their tour and they were still working out the kinks. But they still had one or two jams that were just awe-inspiring. Go. See. Them.

The Muslims @ Music Hall Of Williamsburg, CMJ 2008, October 24

The Muslims are one of this year's CMJ "buzz bands." And while I get what people like about them, with their retro-modern-post-punk attitude, they just didn't quite win me over in the originality department. Still, they closed their short, 25 minute set with a "Spacemen 3" cover of "Walkin' with Jesus", which was pretty awesome.

Marissa Nadler @ Music Hall of Williamsburg, CMJ October 242008,

I guess this was kind of an off night for Marissa Nadler. I think she has a lovely voice and style, but technical difficulties with her guitar and restarting a song half way thru sort of ruined the vibe for me.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Misson of Burma @ Music Hall of Williamsburg, CMJ 2008, October 24

Maybe it's just me, but it's kinda weird to see Mission of Burma rock out. I mean there's no doubt they still have the chops. And they play LOUD. But I'd say the average age of the audience was twenty years younger than the average age of the musicians. And this is kind of a weird dynamic. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who felt this way, and watching them, I couldn't help but imagine how amazing it would've been to see them during their artistic prime. I mean, they still have their edge and drive (no doubt), and it's a testament to the longevity of their music that they're still innovative and can command a sold-out crowd at a fairly large New York venue 20 years after their critically acclaimed peak. But I'm still left asking, what are they looking to accomplish now? And where do they go from here, in this, their middle-aged renaissance?

Photo courtesy of Carl Robinson.

Friday, October 24, 2008

King Kahn & BBQ Show @ Music Hall of Williamsburg, CMJ 2008, October 23

Alright, so King Kahn & BBQ Show is definitely a weird band. I mean one of them is wearing a thong and the other guy has a turban. Whatever floats your boat. If you can look past that, some of their music is actually pretty good and has this sweet style of 50's pop-soul that you don't see much of anymore. But then again I only liked maybe 1/3 of the songs, and the rest was just too weird and out of tune, so it's a hard sell and I probably won't be seeing them again.

The Dutchess and The Duke @ Music Hall Of Williamsburg, CMJ 2008, October 23

The Dutchess and The Duke were a breath of fresh air last night. Finally a band at CMJ that was not trying to rock my face off. With minimalist percussion (just one tom and tamborine), George Harrison-esque lead guitar lines, male/female vocal harmonies, and great lyrics, the Dutchess and Duke would feel right at home in the 1960's San Francisco folk-psych scene.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ringo Deathstarr @ Knitting Factory, CMJ 2008, October 22

Ringo Deathstarr. Best band name ever. Pretty good band too.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart @ Knitting Factory, CMJ 2008, October 22

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart. This is Kip's band. He's a nice guy. He used to work with some of the blue album group dudes back at Insound. So they love this band. Also, the drummer in this band is the lead singer in The Depreciation Guild. See, it's a big happy family. Also, they sound kinda like if The Promise Ring played happy music, or at least that's what came to mind last night. Their record sounds like a more shoe-gazey Belle and Sebastian. Either way, pretty good.

The Depreciation Guild @ Knitting Factory, CMJ 2008, October 22

The Depreciation Guild plays sexy Nintendo shoe-gaze. I love that this genre exists.

Crystal Antlers @ Knitting Factory, CMJ 2008, October 22

Fuck you. Why isn't this band more popular? Alright, their myspace page doesn't do them justice. You have to hear the whole album. Also, the screaming-stoner-psych thing isn't very popular right now. But shit, this was the only band I wanted to see at CMJ. And they SMOKED. A Sunny Day In Glasgow was playing downstairs at the same time, and I peeked my head in, but it was no contest. Crystal Antlers by a landslide. Now if only Obama could do that...

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Morning Benders @ Bowery Ballroom, October 16th 2008

The Morning Benders put out one of my favorite albums this past year, and I've been looking forward to checking out their live show for some time. They did not disappoint, opening their set with a cool, slower, more "psychy" version of "Patient Patient". Lead singer and guitarist Chris Chu carries the band with his sweet and charming voice, but really I think their drummer is the secret weapon, effortlessly guiding the band through a slick set of throwback 60's pop (think of the lead singer of The Shins jamming with The A-Sides and you're almost there). My one criticism for the Benders would be the stage banter... Frankly, less is more when it comes to band members chit-chatting with the audience. But that can be fixed in time, and I'd recommend checking them out now, while they're still young and playing in a small venue (to be honest the Bowery was a little too big for them at this point, but it won't be long until they have to play this size venue). They closed their set with "Waiting for the War", another of my favorites. Man, can this band write a bad song?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Atlas Sound @ South Street Seaport, July 25th, 2008

The stripped down atmospheric psych of Atlas Sound is the perfect companion on a warm summer evening. Mr. Sound put on a luscious free solo set at the seaport, and made up for his lack of bandmates with an even greater reliance of heavily effected vocals, hypnotic drum machines, and layers of acoustic guitar. I even shot a nifty video of this one, but the sound came out crappy cuz I was right up front (and it was pretty loud!) Gorgeous stuff tho...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Times New Viking, A Place To Bury Strangers, The Warlocks @ The Whitney Museum, South Street Seaport, Mercury Lounge, June 27th, 2008

Yikes. Three shows in three different venues in one night! I guess I needed to rock out pretty bad last night, after a week of staying in. Can you blame me? I haven't seen any of these bands before, and their set times were perfectly aligned, and two of the shows were free, so why not!? Try to keep up...

My buddy Dave convinced me to join him to see Times New Viking play a free early show at The Whitney Museum of American Art mostly because he'd heard they put on a great live show, and it's an interesting venue to see a band. They were good, in that "we-sound-exactly-like-our-album" way, but because there was no stage and tons of people in front of us, we couldn't see a thing! Lame. You lose interest pretty quick when all you can see is the back of some brah's head, and half of a guitarist (who wasn't even singing). I don't think I even saw two or three people in the band. But at least I got to check out the latest exhibits at the Whitney, including some cool 70's Polaroids by Mapplethorpe (see sample above).

A Place To Bury Strangers were great, continuing the tradition of amazing free summer outdoor shows down at the Seaport. They build and design their own guitar pedals, so they have truly crafted their own sound. They remind me of other stoner pop bands like The Ponys and The Black Lips, but maybe with more of a psych background. They killed. Plus, the seaport was a great place to watch the waterfall off of the brooklyn bridge.

Well, this was the only show I payed money to see, which probably says something, although $15 bucks is a bit much to see a band like The Warlocks. I am a fan, but sometimes their music can be a bit of a downer. You gotta be in the right mood for it, which I was last night. I just love the sound of this band, very drony, yet also intense, with a good vocalist and a great fuzz guitar. I wanted them to play "Surgery," which they didn't, but they did play a sing-along version of "Come Save Us" which felt good. Check 'em out, if you're in the mood...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

These New Puritans @ Music Hall of Williamsburg, Sunday June 8th, 2008

My new English mate Jim insisted that I come check out this band from near his hometown, These New Puritans. They were pretty good, with the right mix of psychedelic/electronic samples, overlapping vocals, and just pure rocking out. I can definitely see the Bloc Party/Wire references, although TNP are younger, more-artsy/less-poppy, and want it all a little more. You can't really tell what lyrics they're saying, except for snippets during the chorus, but this isn't a problem in their recordings. I like how the lead singer wears an old-school chain-mail vest at their shows. Is this a new English fad? It's like watching Joan of Arc front a post-rock band. Nice ax work, Joan.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Woods + New Bloods + Power Douglas @ 234 Wythe, Brooklyn. May 27th, 2008

There's something so nice about going to an underground show. You know, where the venue doesn't technically have a name, and asks you to be quiet when you smoke outside, so that the cops don't come, and the bar consists of just a couple of haphazardly thrown together cheap bottles of booze, and you've never heard of any of the bands, but you don't care because they all have the right spirit, and you end up blogging about it when you're slightly inebriated at 2 in the morning. =)
I originally came to this show to see Woods, but since they were playing last, I killed some time at Monkeytown with some cheap wine and pleasant company before heading over to the nondescript club known only as 234 Wythe. The first band I caught, Power Douglas, played an energetic and heavily distorted punk set with only drums, bass and delayed vocals. They had a memorable finish, when the singer repeated the mantra, 'love is indestructible' over and over again. True that. The second band, New Bloods, could only be conceived in 2008, a three-piece all-girl punk band with bass, drums, and violin. They held it together surprisingly well, given the sparse instrumentation, and I left impressed, although I bet they make a better impression live than on record... Finally, Woods came on and delivered a psychedlic folk set that is distinctly louder live than on record. But what they lack in dynamics, they more than make up for in originality, which is what really draws you into the band from the get-go (notice the band member using his headphones as a microphone for background vocals, wow!). Regardless, they played 'Night Creature' exactly when I wanted them to, which pretty much sold them for me. Like I said, sometimes you can't beat a night in the underground...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Doomstar w/ Shitstorm + Whistlejacket @ PA's Lounge, April 18th, 2008

I promised I wouldn't blog about myself, because that's kinda like tootin' your own horn (if you know what i mean), but Doomstar was just so damn good I had to give them some internet props. Holy Coooooooooow. They destroyed. I was expecting a pretty sick set, but this was disgusting. There was no slowing down. They jumped right in and started rocking large and didn't let the energy drop until the very end. They've got a very simple three man set up with guitar, bass and drums, but they manage to have a huge tight sound that stays interesting for the entire set. Phew. I wish more bands were this good (plus they're super-nice guys, and friends of mine, so double bonus). Oh yeah, and my band Shitstorm also played an ambient psych freakout set in the grand new tradition. The shit clocked in their longest set yet at 25 swirly, samply, mind-blowing minutes! For some reason we just can't seem to break a half-an-hour live, and yet in practice we can play endlessly - go figure. I think it has something to do with intense level of concentration needed to make this type of music. But still I think people left satisfied, and whatever, leave them wanting more right? Whistlejacket opened up the show and has this great singer-songwriter voice that sounds like a cross between Neil Young and Doug Martsch, very nice indeed. I'll have to check him out a bit more...

Parts & Labor @ Studio B, April 16th 2008

I arrived in the middle of Parts & Labor's raucous set at Studio B and was definitely impressed with their indie-rock energy and sound (not to mention the lead singer's shoulder-length beard), but was surprised at how flabbergasted the audience looked. They just stood there not rocking out, like they'd never seen a rock show before. All they needed was one dude in the front row to raise his fist and jump around a bit to get the crowd going (usually that would be me, but I had not yet had any cocktail inspirations ;) Maybe they were all fans of the headliner Yacht, who was so awful I literally had to go in the other room and cry a bit by myself just for the fact that some people consider this a kick-ass live show. Not that they weren't nice people, I just don't like going to a show and watching people sing over a pre-made beat on a laptop. What is this, Karaoke night? Btw, they mentioned that they just finished touring with Vampire Weekend and the crowd all booed. I guess the cycle of the buzz band is now shorter than ever.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Nina Nastasia w/ Jim White / Phosphorescent @ Bowery Ballroom, April 7th, 2008

Last night, Nina Nastasia gave one of the best female artistic performances I've ever seen. Her songs have an earthy, timeless charm that recall heartbroken, sleepless nights and their long, often painful recovery. Stylistically she reminds me of Marissa Nadler, but more confident and weathered, with her emotions riding closer to the surface. Her voice is gorgeous, consistently in tune, with a wide dynamic range, whether playing a sweet and soft ballad, or a strong and bitter reproof. I don't know how she did it, but her acoustic guitar sounded wonderful, with the perfect amount of bite, and a rich, round, all-natural chime. The talented Jim White supported her, filling out her sound during the more intense moments, and instinctively laying out during the quieter, personal moments. She closed her set with a lovely version of "That's All There Is." Here are some of the lyrics:

"But that's all there is/
So stop all your dreaming/
It makes me so sad/
Let's keep what we had"

Btw, Phosphorescent opened the show, but I won't mention too much about them (see post below for more info), except that I enjoyed their smaller, intimate set at the Mercury Lounge more than this one at the Bowery Ballroom.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

World's Greatest Dad @ Knitting Factory, March 15th, 2008

My friend Dani came down from North Hampton last weekend with her band World's Greatest Dad. They play what I like to call "Renaissance Psych," a mixture of the psychedelic sounds of the 60's with Renaissance music of the 16th century. This was their first show. It featured two acoustic guitars, a violin, a flute, a clarinet, a sweet sounding omnichord, and a bold front-man. So fun! I tell ya, all the best new musical trends originate in Canada, make a pit-stop in North Hampton for a year, and eventually reach the Big Apple. We're at least two years behind. But hopefully by 2010 there should be a huge Renaissance revival in the city, with everyone painting frescoes, wearing pointy shoes, and playing the mandolin. Works for me!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Frog Eyes @ Mercury Lounge, March 12, 2008

I wasn't even planning on going to this show. But I happened to be walking by the Merc 20 minutes before the Frog Eyes set and I couldn't resist... I'm glad I went! Frog Eyes is another talented Canadian Indie-Rock band with the ability to capture the anxieties of modern life in a unique and aurally pleasing way. You can definitely hear the Spencer Krug/Sunset Rubdown influence in the sound (or is it the other way around with Spence ripping his sound from Frog Eyes?). Either way both bands have a similar sound with Sunset being a little more controlled and emotional, and Frog Eyes being a little more wild and stream of consciousness. Front man Carey Mercer can really rip on the guitar and has a pleasing, whimsical voice and a relaxed stage persona, telling a bunch of jokes in between songs. They weren't hilarious jokes, but worthy of a sarcastic "Ha Ha." (right Keith?) Of course that's not why people came to the show. It's the music stupid!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Phosphorescent w/ The Acorn, Bowerbirds @ Mercury Lounge, February 29th, 2008

Phosphorescent has a lot of heart. They're also dead sexy, in that lonesome-cowboy-just-hold-me-before-i-have-to-hit-the-trail nobody-can-understand-my-pain sort of way. Lead singer, Matthew Houck, besides being the principle source of the sexiness, also has one of the smoothest voices out there, kind of like a softer, sadder Band of Horses. Their piano player, also quite good, plays some strenuous double octave lines with both hands, wow! I couldn't really hear the lead-guitarist with the sweet mustache, cuz he was on the other side of the stage, but I think he was good? my only complaint would be the drummer, who wasn't always playing the fills exactly how i wanted to hear them, but overall it didn't subtract too much from the performance. I thought that "Wolves" would be my favorite song live (cuz it's my fav on record), but surprisingly "My Dove, My Lamb" and "A Picture Of Our Torn Up Praise" came out really nice last night. If you can, go check 'em out...

Sometimes it's nice to see a really forlorn and heart-broken lead vocalist. It reminds you that not all music is being made just for some sort of vacuous goal of fame and fortune. Openers, The Acorn play sad acoustic indie-folk, with nice vocal harmonies and multi-layered classical and acoustic guitar parts. The lead vocalist was a little too hot in the monitors for me, so at times I would be turned off by his vocal part, but the harmonies provided by the bass player, who sang almost every word, were quite nice and kept me from being turned off prematurely. Speaking of maturity, they seemed a bit young, and could use a little more time to marinate in ye ole rock-and-roll oven, but they are definitely heading in the right direction. A little more experimentation, and maybe even an overdrive or delay pedal somewhere in the mix, might give what they lack...

Closers, Bowerbirds, were pretty good, doing that girl/boy everything is lovey-dovey harmony stuff. Sometimes it felt a little sparse though, and their songs could use another instrument. Just my opinion dudes.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Atlas Sound @ Music Hall of Williamsburg, February 24th, 2008

After a long weekend of debauchery in western mass, I wasn't too keen on seeing a show sunday night, but since I had already bought the ticket, and have been quite impressed by the free music on their their blog, I knew I had to go. Atlas Sound is the spin-off band of Bradford Cox, who needed another avenue to quench his insatiable creative musical energy. Now, I've seen Deerhunter, and was never really blown away by them live, mostly because their heavy-stoned-psych sound has been done a thousand times before, but Atlas is a different animal. Much like Spencer Krug with his spin-off band Sunset Rubdown, Mr. Cox seems much more comfortable and enthusiastic about playing in the Sound than with his original group. As for the music, when they play classic Atlas tracks, it sounds gorgeous, with all the shoegazey dreaminess we know and love (they tried to improvise a couple of covers, specifically a Blue Oyster Cult song, that didn't come out too well -- you have to practice that shit first dudes!!). Anyway, one advantage to seeing Atlas live is that you can hear all the lyrics, which are excellent, and can get buried in effects on record. Mr. Cox must've been in a good mood because he was practically doing stand-up between songs, bouncing around the stage. His stage banter is unique to say the least. I didn't quite understand what he meant when he asked bandmate Adam Forkner to "take us to the field of gated reverb and shoot us in the back of the head," but it accomplished the desired artistic effect. For their encore, the entire band came out on stage topless (even the lady bassist with all boobs-a-flyin') just to make sure everyone blogged about the show the next day. I was going to anyway dudes, you guys rule! I even bought a shirt. =)