JezebelMusic.com @ Bruar Falls
April 29, 2010 | Little Women, The Suite Unraveling, Abacus, Strong Look
One of the best things about New York City is the way in which it can take art and music that would be the nichiest of the niche in other cities and support it to the point where, say, four acts based around noisy minimalism and free jazz-derived improvised music can pack a bar to sweat-inducing levels on a Thursday night. It’s seriously inspiring to know that there are so many other weirdos out there, and that some of them can become rock stars (sort of).
First act Strong Look seemed to be a playful, one off, guitar/sax/drums collaboration, and they reminded me of why music that draws from experimental improvisation and esoteric modern composition is both wonderfully weird (a song based off the rhythms of instructions for how to prepare leeches that involved repeated chanting of phrases like “disposable bottle of sterile water”) and tiresome (what felt like 20 minutes of free jazz over a series of deconstructed disco beats). Many of their pieces were extended explorations of one idea, like displaced quarter notes, and they tended to either fail or succeed depending on the strength of that idea, but they held my interest consistently until that disco jam, and one slow piece involving a lot of dreamy guitar loops and some mantra-like harmony singing was delicately beautiful and quite moving.
Strong Look’s quarter note piece made me think of minimalist composer Arnold Dreyblatt, and the next band, the appropriately named Abacus, only reinforced that connection. Composed of a drummer, bassist, guitarist, and two keyboardists (one of whom played saxophone occasionally) all clad in thrift store lab coats, the band’s entire set consisted of unbelievably complex rhythmic patterns (I say patterns but they were more like anti-patterns, striving for complete unpredictability and the absence of repetition) played in tight unison and with a complete lack of tonality. It was exciting at first to hear something so complicated and so definite, but the atonality (one entire song involved a keyboardist mashing his palms on the high and low ends of the organ in precise rhythms) and volume wore on the ears quickly, and despite the theatrical touch of the lab coats the band members were so buried in their sheet music that they never even looked up, though they did sweat with the effort of staying together through the bands rhythmic minefields. By the end of the set it started to get funny, everyone hunched over their instruments, biting their lips in concentration or counting silently, all in order to make this music that probably would have washed over us the same way even had it been one third as complex.
May 3, 2010
JezebelMusic.com @ Death by Audio
May 1, 2010 | Light Asylum
If you’re hunting for dark, queer electro bands in Brooklyn, Light Asylum should be flashing on your radar. Loosely associated with other electronic locals like Mirror Mirror and Omega Jarden, the duo Light Asylum are industrial house veterans, having been involved in many NYC musical ventures, such as !!! and Telepathe.
I strolled into Death By Audio on Saturday wearing my reflective bike vest and headlamp, which was fortunate fashion for a Light Asylum gig. Instead, had I not dressed for darkwave, I could’ve picked up a glow stick crucifix from the Light Asylum merch table.
A musty crowd bounced on its heels as lead singer Shannon Funchess took precise swings at an electronic drum pad and alternated between singing long, low vibrating notes and quicker bullets of verse. Funchess’ band mate Bruno Coviello activated drum fills and samples on his two tier electronics station and played what looked like a Prophet ’08 synth. The set was tight and had no gaps, samples bled between songs, and there was little talking to the crowd.
JezebelMusic.com @ Union Pool
April 20, 2010 | Ava Luna, Air Waves, Total Slacker, Your Nature
Aside from Ava Luna, who’d sparked my interest in the first place, I’d purposefully gone into Tuesday night’s Union Pool show blind so as to keep myself from harshly prejudging bands based on the first ten seconds of the first song on their Myspace page, as we are all wont to do in this internet age. So, while openers Your Nature set up a forest of guitar pedals and tweaked their vocal mic echo effects, I eyed their tie-dye and wide open collars (like, wisps-of-chest-hair open) and began to worry about the next 40 minutes of my life. After a minute of guitar-pedal noises and nearly inaudible, reverb-soaked vocals I was ready to call it a loss, and then they blindsided me with an entire set of fantastic, well-written 1970s-heavy rock songs, loaded with buoyant high vocal harmonies, agile guitar leads, and even some prog rock touches like long forms, odd meters and non-diatonic harmony, which they pulled off effortlessly. The tightness and skill with which they executed their songs was a perfect contrast to their low-key, silly stage presence (they looked like your little brother’s high school band circa 1973 and had stage banter to match, complete with 4/20 jokes and a Hawkwind mention), and the room warmed up instantly in their capable hands.
April 3, 2010
JezebelMusic.com @ The Bell House
March 6, 2010 | Califone, Sonoi
On a rainy Tuesday night at 8 PM The Bell House back room was nearly deserted (I was chased out of the cozy front room by a heinous comedy night), and I began to have apocalyptic thoughts: if even Califone can’t pack the Bell House on a Tuesday, what is the music world coming to? Then I remembered that I’m the only jerk who shows up at eight o’clock for an “eight o’clock” show. By the time opening act Sonoi went on (nine), the house was filling up with an appreciative and slightly older crowd (median age 28 or so, but I overheard a greying dude talking about his midlife crisis beard, so there was a nice range and diversity). The audience was less fidgety and less chatty than most rock crowds, appropriate to the dusty morbidity of the headlining act.
JezebelMusic.com @ Bowery Ballroom
March 6, 2010 | She & Him, The Chapin Sisters
It was a rainy and totally miserable Tuesday. So unexpectedly rainy, in fact, Zooey Deschanel of She & Him, had to buy rain boots earlier in the day. Such was her quiet, rambling between song banter at She & Him’s second sold out performance at The Bowery Ballroom. Thankfully, She & Him, with The Chapin Sisters, said rain be damned and offered up a pretty sweet and sunny show.
Opening for She & Him were The Chapin Sisters, Abigail and Lily (sans sister Jessica Craven who is on a maternity leave). Ethereally costumed in flowing white, the Brooklyn born sisters, who now reside in L.A., exuded legit Monterey hippie chic. I felt like I could have been at any assortment of gatherings in the mid to late 60s, waiting for Bob Dylan and Joan Baez to jump on stage. That being said, The Chapin Sisters are neither campy nor outdated. Their lyrics are intelligent and I was into their acoustic vibe, not to mention long blonde hair. Their gorgeous harmonies took over the ballroom, making me wonder if they actually needed the backing band briefly joined them onstage. Granted the band does flesh out some of their more folky tunes, and made for some more up tempo moments, but the Sisters truly shine on their own. Premiering a lot of new material, at one point Lily traded in her guitar for a banjo because, as Abigail commented, “Who doesn’t love a banjo?” Word, sister.
JezebelMusic.com @ Music Hall of WIlliamsburg
March 6, 2010 | Nada Surf
It’s safe to say that the Music Hall of Williamsburg and it’s sold out crowd were thoroughly soaked in nostalgia on this particular evening. At the request of Nada Surf, Sea Wolf front man Alex Brown Church kicked off the night. Admittedly nervous without his usual backing ensemble, Church strummed through a set of bare bones folk/pop songs. The droning minor chords and his sublime tenor invoked the feeling of autumns past. After a few botched chords and false starts, Church met the crowd with a capricious smile that certainly matched the atmosphere. Things began to pick up a bit when Nada Surf front man Matthew Caws joined Church on stage for the Sea Wolf favorite, “You’re a Wolf”. Overall it was an enjoyable and intimate performance by an established indie rock front man.
JezebelMusic.com @ Glasslands
March 6, 2010 | We Are Country Mice, Dragon Turtle, ARMS, Tall Firs
I had never seen a show at Glasslands prior to this Saturday, and have to say, despite its somewhat abandoned location, I was enchanted. As I sipped my beer, waiting for the show to start, I took the time to appreciate the excellently haphazard and whimsical space, hoping the music would follow suit. Supported by an energetic coterie of glow necklace adorned fans, openers We Are Country Mice were by far the highlight of the evening. Brooklyn-based, but mid-country reared, their sound is honest and refreshing. Sometimes twangy, sometimes vaguely surf, they’re just plain fun. They won me over with “The Ballad of John,” a gorgeous, harmonious country-esque rambler that breaks out into a crashing, cathartic rock song. “A Good Old-Fashioned Barn Raising” is a lot less creepy live, and come on, who doesn’t love to see a megaphone appear onstage? Drummer Kurt Kuehn looks like he’s having an absolute blast, as they all do. Between a xylophone cameo and some inherent scrappiness —lead singer Jason Rueger smilingly manned their merch table all night — We Are Country Mice, are for sure at the top of my small-indie-bands-I’m-rooting-for list.
JezebelMusic.com @ The Knitting Factory
March 15, 2010 | Brooklyn Vegan Pre-SXSW Show
Banjo Or Freakout is a bedroom recording project recently turned live band that sounds a lot like, well, a bedroom recording project recently turned live band. It has the flaws you’d expect: the band is competent but slightly uncertain, the vocals falter and slip out of tune in a way that does not sound intentional or stylistic, most of the songs pick one rhythmic and melodic idea and just hit it on the head for about five minutes, the whole set is smothered in synth washes and reverb that hide all the melodies, no one really moves around much. This last was especially surreal at the Knitting Factory, given the generous size of the stage and the absolute swarm of photographers pacing the front with bizarre, spiderlike stabilizing contraptions and poking their lenses out from behind the amps. The obsessive documentation seemed to call for a little bit more than Alessio Natalizia and company were willing to give us, a fact that crystalized in the moment when I saw the videographer do a dramatic zoom in on the hands of the bassist as he played the same single note he’d been playing for about three minutes. Then the three Londoners in The Wave Pictures came on and obliterated the entire Banjo Or Freakout set with one blistering guitar lick.