Friday, August 31, 2012

The Heavy Give Irving Plaza a Glorious Show

Music is great to listen to on vinyl or the radio or your iPod, but it's meant to be heard live.  Going to concerts has been a passion of mine since my very first one, almost twenty years ago.  I love live music, and I want more people to hear what I'm hearing out there, which is why this blog has become so focused on concert reviews recently.  If you solely listen to the recorded output of an artist, you're experiencing only one facet of the band.  And as evidenced from last night's show by the Heavy at Irving Plaza, the energy of a live performance can not only improve the songs, it can create euphoria.

Fresh off a spot at Afropunk Festival, the Skins opened, and I had a chance to check out their Bandcamp page before the show.  Made up of three siblings and their two friends, the Skins are decidedly influenced by '70s hard rockers Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, both of which they covered at Irving, including the set-closer "How Many More Times."  The androgynous, multiethnic teens that make up the band could have been extras on Skins, and I didn't realize how young they were until they took the stage.  So young that they attempted to lead a chant of "Hide your wife, hide your kids" from "Bed Intruder Song"... without irony.  "Do you guys like Kanye West?  'Cause we do!" shouted lead singer Bayli Mckelthan before they launched into a cover of "Mercy."  While I can't stand Kanye, it was at least interesting to discover this other side of the band.  The in-between-song banter needs improvement ("I would like do something with all of you guys," said Bayli on the attractiveness of the audience.), but after doing a little more research, I found out that the drummer is only 14, so they are literally children.  In a few more years, they could be a force to reckon with if they don't all go to different colleges. 

On record, British rockers the Heavy are a strange brew of the Black Keys, marching band, old soul, and horror movie soundtrack, with most of their lyrics focusing on the macabre.  But when performing live, the group unleashes their inner animal (likely a wolf), infusing their style with so much moxie, all the songs can be heard in a different light.  They were actually the first band David Letterman ever asked to perform an encore on his show.

The quartet took the stage with its crew swollen to incorporate a keyboardist, four backup singers (two male, two female) from Georgia, and introduced as the Dirty Three, a three-piece horn section including Dap-Kings trumpeter Dave Guy.  The audio from the trailer of '60s monster film The She Beast crackled out of the PA, signaling "Can't Play Dead," the first of many tracks to be played off their new album, The Glorious Dead.  Impish lead singer Kelvin Swaby's suit jacket stayed on for exactly one song before he stripped down to a wifebeater.  After charging through some older tunes like the reggae-tinged "Cause for Alarm" and the spaghetti western-inspired "Short Change Hero," Swaby informed the crowd he wanted to play some more songs from The Glorious Dead.  "Curse Me Good," the LP's most melodic number, started the sequence.  A live staple for years, "The Big Bad Wolf" followed it like Little Red Riding Hood, but this wasn't the sneaky trickster from the children's tale.  This was a fucking monster.  With the crowd howling and screaming, "What you say!" it was incredible to realize that I was in a room full of adults singing along, "I'm gonna huff and puff, and blow your house down!"  It was going to be hard to top it, so Swaby walked us through a dry run of the lyrics to the new single, "What Makes a Good Man?"  And then they completely killed it!  The shriek of the horns, the propulsive drums, and the combined shouts of the crowd and backup singers took this one to a whole new plain.  It was during this song that I realized this might've been the loudest concert I've been to in years.

Swaby instructed the crowd for "Same Ol'" next, but may have taken the whole singalong act too far when he wanted us to sing back the words of a song that didn't make it onto the record, "A Lesson Learned."  His banter was that of a cocky person who feigns insecurity: "I'm feeling like New York City loves the Heavy, right?"  While this got old fairly quickly, no one seemed to mind.  Looking around me during the show, everyone was grinning the whole time.

For the encore, the original quartet performed "Girl," a mostly spoken word piece in which Kelvin proposed, "I think all the girls at the Irving Plaza should come back to our hotel room for some tea."  After a useless "Happy Birthday" dedicated to the keyboardist, the band started vamping while Swaby parted the crowd down the middle like Moses, only to do a "Which side of the room is louder?" shtick like at a Universal Studios stunt show.  This didn't accomplish much except to reorganize the crowd before the final song of the night, "How You Like Me Now?"  Used in several commercials and TV shows, it's the song everyone knows, and the crowd went buckwild.  At the song's end, Swaby expressed his gratitude and said, "You made me bust out my ass and everything," revealing that the seam on the back of his trousers had split wide open.

They missed out on an opportunity by not selling any merch.  I would've bought every album on vinyl.  But it's not about the records; it's about the live show.  I stepped out onto Irving Place with my ears ringing and my vocal cords stretched, recalling the concerts I attended when I was the age of the Skins.  So get out there and see a show.  You owe it to yourself to smile for over an hour straight.

THE HEAVY – 08.30.12 – IRVING PLAZA (1 hour, 17 minutes)

Can’t Play Dead / What You Want Me to Do? / Sixteen / Cause for Alarm / Short Change Hero / Curse Me Good / The Big Bad Wolf / What Makes a Good Man? / Same Ol’ / A Lesson Learned / Don’t Say Nothing / Blood Dirt Love Stop / Just My Luck

Girl > All Day & All of the Night (tease) > Hello, I Love You (tease) / Happy Birthday / Brukpocket's Interlude / How You Like Me Now?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Afropunk Sunday: Better Without Gym Class Heroes

Last August, Hurricane Irene rained out the Afropunk Festival at Brooklyn's Commodore Barry Park.  This year, the weather was absolutely perfect, and I was able to make it for most of Sunday's lineup.

I arrived at the park just in time for Gordon Voidwell's set.  Dressed in three different floral patterns, the sunglassed Voidwell laid down some Prince-inspired vocals over the electronic funk of his band.  While the Prince comparisons are justifiable, Voidwell has an undeniable talent for amalgamating different genres into his songs so smoothly, you don't even notice what he's doing.  I'm pretty sure he even snuck a cover of One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful" into his set without anyone catching it (Correct me if I'm wrong.  I googled lyrics when I got home, and only One Direction came up.).  Though his keyboardist was stuck in traffic for most of the set, she was able to make it for the final song, "Ivy League Circus," which I've probably listened to 7 times today, not including the live rendition.  You can hear it on his Voided Checks mixtape, and be sure to check out his latest Cody Chesnutt-reminiscent mixtape, Malcolm XXX McLaren.

After Voidwell, I ventured across the park, through the pushy activists ("Sign this!"), to the skatepark and other stage, where Bad Rabbits were playing to quite a large group of fans.  While I wasn't exactly loving the music, the singer impressed me, his voice alternating from George Clinton bark to Maxwell caramel, often within the same couplet.  I was distracted during most of the set by a remote-controlled camera that was flying through the air on six propellers.  It seemed like a neat, cheaper alternative for aerial shots than renting a crane or (eek!) a real helicopter.  That is, until it crashed and fell on an innocent crowdmember, whose back was sliced to shreds.  I bought the Bad Rabbits CD for $5, and flipped it over only to be disappointed that Travie McCoy was featured on a track.  (That loser and his band didn't even have the nerve to show up for their 6:20 slot.)

I went back to the main stage where Body Language were playing.  Supposedly, it's important to pay attention to body language... unless it's a shitty band.  I decided to grab a lemon poppyseed donut from the Bed-Stuy-based bakery Dough.  To drink alcohol at Afropunk, you had to stay penned in an area where you could not see either stage, so I just bought a water from the vendors with a sign reading, "Every time you tip, a Justin Bieber fan dies."

Reggie Watts was up next and I got a good spot in the center.  The actual show started at 5:46, but Reggie entertained the crowd while setting up, miming the keyboard parts to "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and "I Just Can't Get Enough" as they played over the PA.  Technical issues prevented Reggie from creating his first loop, so he performed a song at his keyboard while the stagehand attempted to fix the problem.  He returned to his looping station, only to find it still fucked up.  "Let's do a diagnostics," Reggie offered to the sound team, walking them through each pedal and getting laughs.  Discovering that the mic stand made a sound when moved, he banged it on the stage to create a beat for his next number.  Going to what he called "Plan Z," Reggie hooked up his system in the simplest way he could, and the sound was fine for the rest of the set.  Most of his songs' lyrics drew from the tech mishap, including the difference between a passive and active DI unit.  When a nearby ambulance impeded a song, Watts seamlessly added the words, "And the sirens at your back," like a pro.  "May this night be the greatest of your life," he sang in the final tune.

My location was so prime that I decided to stay put for Toro y Moi.  While I was surprised to find their music tolerable, they were completely lacking in stage presence.  That didn't stop the bearded fan with the shaved head, save for a pizza slice of curly hair, from going HAM on every song.  (Side note: Afropunk Festival could also be called Crazy Hair Festival.)

After seeing TV on the Radio for the first time at Catalpa, I was pumped to see them again.  And this time: fourth row, center.  W. Kamau Bell introduced the band, and they walked onto the platform.  "Every beautiful person in the borough is here right now," claimed Tunde Adebimpe.  "Every ugly person in the borough is here right now," added Kyp Malone.  "Every fair to midland person..." Tunde laughed.  The jokes stopped there, and they detonated "Halfway Home," complete with trombone blasts from the Christlike (in appearance) Dave Smith.  The song, followed directly by "The Wrong Way," whipped the crowd into a frenzy that would remain feeding for the entire performance.  I can't wait until they finally release a live album because their wall of sound approach is so drastically different from the delicate nuances you'll find on their records.  They closed with "Wolf Like Me," Malone playing guitar with a towel over his head.  I didn't expect an encore because it was 9pm, but they came out and dedicated "Satellite" as "a song for Brooklyn."

While it wasn't the greatest night of my life, it was certainly a fun time.  My $5 donation at the gate was earned, and I am excited to see what's in store for Afropunk Festival 2013, barring any hurricanes.


I Don’t Need Your Digits / I Just Wanna Be Your Man / What Makes You Beautiful > Sidewalk Safari / Cloud 9 Vertigo / White Friends / Ivy League Circus


Rose Quartz / All Alone / Talamak > New Beat / Studies / How I Know > Grown Up Calls / Still Sound / Low Shoulder


Halfway Home / The Wrong Way / Caffeinated Consciousness / Second Song / Dancing Choose / Staring at the Sun > Young Liars / Repetition > Wolf Like Me


(If you think the setlists have any errors, as always, please let me know.)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

2 Skinnee J's Jet Back to Willy B, Gangnam Style

Last night's concert at Music Hall of Williamsburg marked my tenth 2 Skinnee J's show, and my first in their homebase of Brooklyn.  A live band that never disappoints (Well, more on that in a bit...), 2SJ are hard to define to your friends.  "They're rap but with rock music."  "Like Limp Bizkit?"  "No."  Not only is their music more inspired by power pop than metal, their scholarly lyrics reference Shakespearean sonnets and name-check Eugene V. Debs, Socialist Party candidate in the early 20th century.  They also have three songs dealing with Star Wars.  If that sounds too nerdy to you, go listen to Rick Ross and Lil Wayne.  You don't deserve the J's.  But if you're willing to take a listen and see one of their epic live shows, replete with choreographed dance moves, roadies dressed as bunnies, and enough fist-pumping to give you tennis elbow, you're in for a real treat.

Unfortunately, after being jerked around by their label, the band gave it up in 2003, embarking on the "Fuck You, We Quit!" Tour. I saw them twice on this farewell journey, including the quintessential show at the Norva in Virginia, forever immortalized on the Enter the Gold Hat DVD.  The boys put away their microphones, Stevie Spice auctioned his keytar on eBay, and the band that had rocked scores of educated fans in the Mid-Atlantic region for over a decade, were done.

A reunion show, sans Spice, occurred about a year later, on a cruise in NYC.  In 2005, they reunited again, Spencer Albee on keys, for the Five Nights of Fury Tour, where they became the only band I've had the pleasure of seeing perform two shows in one day: outside at Artscape and then indoors at Sonar (Download the show here.).  In 2008, they did a two-night run at the Fillmore NY.  2010 saw them stripping down to an acoustic act, doing a Q&A in between songs.  A pattern had been established: 2 Skinnee J's will come back every few years to "show up, set up, get up, and rock spots."

So when the J's announced they were doing a pre-apocalypse-themed tour for 2012, I was not surprised.  I bought tickets for the Irving Plaza show on May 19th the day I found out. What was different was that these tickets cost over $30, a rarity for a 2SJ concert.  I had no problem forking it over, the eight amazing shows under my belt justifying the inflated price tag.  But when I arrived at the venue to find it not sold-out and the scalpers having trouble pushing tickets, I realized something was off.  Maybe the tickets cost too much?  Perhaps too much time had gone by without new music (Aside from a rarities disc in 2008's box set, the last album was released in 2003.)?

When the lights dimmed for the pre-show video announcing the Mayan Judgment Day, and that by attending the concert, we would be boarding a spaceship bound for a never-ending party (à la Scientology), I was super-pumped.  The video urged us to make noise...louder...I can't hear you!  And then the band drifted onto the stage instead of erupting with a rager.  "It's been a long time," remarked J Guevara with a smirk.  With a crash of Andy Action's cymbal, they stumbled into the "big green bus" intro to "The Best."  Arguably my favorite 2SJ song, it was too soon in the set and lacked the raucous energy it   typically has.  But wait a second!  Where the fuck was Stumpy (A.J. "Stumpy" Johnson, the band's owner and spiritual advisor)?  He was in the video intro.  Maybe he'd come out later?  But he never did.  Despite excellent performances of "Pluto" and "The Whammy," the show didn't really reach classic 2SJ proportions until "BBQ" fifteen songs in; not exactly the dizzying, hard-hitting set in a maelstrom of green balls from four years earlier.  Finishing the encore with "Sugar & Candy," which has never been my favorite song, gave the band a chance to space out at the end without torrents of rhymes overtop, but I was left in a weird place.  I brought friends so I could show off one of my favorite bands, and I found myself making excuses.

When they revealed one more date at the end of the summer at Music Hall of Williamsburg, I was skeptical.  Would the show just be a repeat of Irving Plaza?  Would Stumpy even show up?  With the revelation that they'd be shooting HD video of the performance for a DVD, I decided I didn't want to let the Irving gig to be my final 2SJ show.  I'd never seen them in Brooklyn before and this was their chance to dispel the slightly sour taste from May.  

I got to the venue at 9pm when opener, Exes of Evil, were to start.  The crowd was barely twenty people, so they delayed their set until more showed.  An electronic pop band, EXOE's songs' subject matter reflected the group's name.  They were decent enough to watch because they so genuinely believed in their tunes, despite their superficial lyrics.  Sadly, a laptop played all the infectious synth parts, while the lead singer remained curiously instrument-less.  If he can learn to play keyboards and vary his songwriting a little, they'll definitely improve.

Burlesque act, the Wau Wau Sisters, came next, moseying onto the stage in matching cowgirl outfits.  The beer-swilling ladies belched, "You may have heard we're dirty.  
We're fucking filthy, y'all."  Incestuous double entendres and yeast infection jokes abound, the Wau Waus had the crowd laughing from the start.  Over my left shoulder, the guffaws were coming from Special J and J Guevara.  The sisters claimed they were an "acroband" and sang irreverent country ditties while one would balance the other on her legs, sort of like playing "airplane" but with a guitar in your hands.  After dressing two male members of the crowd in their cowgirl garb, they even lifted them up with their legs, one dude weighing upwards of 250 pounds.  The girls ventured into the crowd to have audience members disrobe them, revealing black panties reading "FUCK" and "YEAH" stretched across their toned asses.  The two women climbed onto a solo trapeze hanging from the proscenium and proceeded to do an awe-inspiring gymnastics routine to the tune of "Welcome to the Jungle."  See them.

As they came down from the bar, the crowd roared.  J Guevara laughed nervously, "We have to follow that."

After the same video introduction from May, 2SJ made their way to the stage, with Stumpy in their ranks.  Donning a getup resembling Sacha Baron Cohen's in The Dictator, Stumpy took his place house left.  How much difference does it really make to have your manager onstage, standing there, stone-faced, only moving to drink from a beer bottle?  Apparently a lot, because the J's totally made up for the disappointing May show.

J Guevara's worries about succeeding the Wau Wau Sisters ("Dial that energy back to about a 6.") were assuaged almost immediately as the band propelled into "Pluto."  "Friends Don't Let Friends Listen to Rap Metal" (I guess they had trouble with the Limp Bizkit thing too.) started off the medley that most have come to call the "Force Trilogy," the three songs that sample sound effects from Star Wars.  As the cream of the cookie sandwich, "Irresistible Force," came to its close, the J's shouted "Gangnam Style," and leaped into the ridiculous Korean dance craze that was reprised four times throughout the evening.  After riding their invisible ponies, it was time to finish it off with "Mind Trick," right?  Wrong.  They surprised everyone by forgoing the end of the trio, instead segueing into "The Best."
These were the J's I was looking for three months ago!  By the time the band got to "Loud Neighbors," the crowd was going nuts, throwing cups full of beer around the room, and cheering at the sequence where the whole band mimes the slow-motion antigravity of the moon.  And Stumpy was there, so we got "Smack That Ass, Stump," although a relatively tame version where none of the band members got in on the spanking, only rabbit roadie butts.  I didn't see any video cameras, so I think they ditched the whole DVD plan, but controlled the projected images on the screen behind them with her keytar.  While new keyboardist Cassius J is no replacement for Stevie Spice, if you had a nickel for every time a member left 2 Skinnee J's you could probably buy a ticket to the show.  For the encore, the band had us crowdsurf a "slow children at play" lawn ornament shaped like a young boy (They stole him from outside someone's house and are mailing back photos of him in debaucherous situations.), as they picked up the lost member of the trilogy, "Mind Trick."  Segueing into the Brooklyn anthem "(718)," I pretty much lost it.  I don't remember the last time I fully jumped into the air at a concert, but I'm pretty sure it was 7.18.08 for the J's.  "Think of Us" finished it out, the band letting us know, "We'll miss you," as they shot confetti cannons at us.

But why must they miss us?  Why must we wait so long between shows?  One of the rewards for the Kickstarter for the DVD is free tickets for life, but what's that: eight shows every three years?  Perhaps this is the reason it has yet to reach its goal.  I understand J Guevara lives in Spain now, but he even he expressed his uncertainty with the euro crisis before launching into "Sgt. Stiletto."  How about coming stateside and making some new tunes?  Aside from the addition of "Science," from the aforementioned rarities disc, the setlist would've contained the same songs in 2003.  They could be content as just a revival act, but with almost ten more years of knowledge inside their skulls, just imagine what the J's are capable of.  Now, there's even a genre of music called nerdcore, of which they are the unmistakable pioneers.  And their issues with labels are now moot, with today's technology allowing the recording and distribution of music to fall into the hands of the artists.  So 2 Skinnee J's, if you're up for it, it's time for a grassroots comeback.  Eugene V. Debs would be proud.


Ahh > Cheater Cheater / Die Alone / Satellite / Crazy / Do You / Take My Number / Come Back

2 SKINNEE J’S – 08.24.12 – MUSIC HALL OF WILLIAMSBURG (1 hour, 32 minutes)

Pluto / Friends Don’t Let Friends Listen to Rap Metal > Irresistible Force > The Best / Wild Kingdom / Pass the Buck / One Summer / Deal of the Century / Loud Neighbors / In the Clutches of the Diabolical Sgt. Stiletto / Big Beat Evangelists / Girl with the World in Her Eyes / Science / The Good, the Bad, & the Skinnee / Get in the Van > Smack That Ass, Stump > 3 Minutes / Riot Nrrrd > BBQ / Sugar & Candy

Mind Trick > (718) > Think of Us

2 SKINNEE J’S – 05.19.12 – IRVING PLAZA (1 hour, 31 minutes)

The Best / Friends Don’t Let Friends Listen to Rap Metal > Irresistible Force > Mind Trick / Organic Machine / Get in the Van > Wild Kingdom / Pluto / Girl with the World in Her Eyes / Big Beat Evangelists > You’re a Champion / The Whammy / Deal of the Century / One Summer / BBQ / Science / The Good, the Bad, & the Skinnee / Loud Neighbors > In the Clutches of the Diabolical Sgt. Stiletto / Riot Nrrrd

(718) / Sugar & Candy

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Evening Dispatch

I won't be able to make it, but I figured I'd pass along the word that Dispatch are playing an impromptu acoustic set in Washington Square Park at 6pm tonight.  Their new album Circles Around the Sun was released today.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sharon Jones and the Daptone Family Come Home

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings treated a hometown Brooklyn crowd to funky free show at Williamsburg Park on Saturday night.  Afrobeat-revivalists Antibalas and the Latin funk of the Electric Sound of Johnny Arrow were perfect appetizers to the main course: different flavors, but complementary.

I showed up about a half-hour before doors to take my spot in a line of maybe a thousand people.  My friend and I grabbed a nice spot in the center and sat upon a cloud that felt a lot like concrete.  A minute after 6pm, the Electric Sound of Johnny Arrow took the stage.  Led by the Dap-Kings' baritone sax player, Cochemea Gastelum, and filled out with various members of both the Dap-Kings and Antibalas, the Electric Sound crafted some Latin jazz-inspired grooves that travelled easily on the summer breeze.  The band played 44 minutes of what Gastelum repeatedly stressed was original music.  Someone must've gotten on his case about being too derivative.  Having very limited knowledge of Latin jazz, I didn't hear anything I'd heard before, but oh well.

Keeping the majority of instruments onstage, there was a quick turnover before Antibalas.  Opening with "Dirty Money," the single off their brand new self-titled album, the band laid down a churning chowder of Nigerian funk for face-painted singer Amayo to shout his cautionary lyrics over.  With a 7-piece horn section that included the Daptone Horns, they followed with two more new tracks, "The Rat Catcher" and "Him Belly No Go Sweet," before launching into one of the best live Marley covers I've ever heard, "Rat Race."  Antibalas stripped the song of its reggae properties, and like Marcus Garvey, took it back to Africa for a fiery Afrobeat version.  Serving as the pit band for Fela!, the members of Antibalas are no strangers to the music of Fela Kuti, and excited the crowd with their take on "Opposite People," a song not in the musical.  Amayo remarked that real Afrobeat to him "makes me want to rip my clothes off, get naked, and dance."  While both he and the crowd remained clothed, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that this was real Afrobeat.  They dedicated the show to Pussy Riot and another pussy, a recently departed cat named Igor.
While the concert could've ended there and still impressed everyone, the sparkly letters on the backdrop that had been taunting us all night, "SJDK," foretold of a headliner that always commands the crowd's full attention: Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings.  The suited members, many of whom had been seen earlier in the evening, took their places and started pumping out the shuffling introduction music as Binky Griptite stepped up to the microphone.  After leading the group through Dyke & the Blazers' "Broadway Combination," Binky welcomed the Dap-Ettes, Saundra Williams and Starr Duncan, who flaunted their vocal talents with covers of "You Can Run But You Can't Hide" and "Stop."  Based on range alone, either woman could front the Dap-Kings, but only one woman has the attitude necessary to get what she wants from the boiling funk of her band and the audience, and that woman is Sharon Jones.

Jones tried to sneak onto the stage from the right side, and even though she's small, her canary yellow dress ("I call this dress Vitamin C.") gave her away.  But of course, it's all part of the show that is a Sharon Jones concert.  I've seen Sharon Jones three times now (All for free I might add.), and while I knew the show would be a fun time, I was worried that it would fall into scripted territory too easily.  But releasing Soul Time!, a collection of rarities, earlier this year, refreshed the setlist, as well as the addition of three new songs to be featured on an upcoming album.  Sure, the requisite dance lesson in "When I Come Home" was there, but Jones skipped the usual pull-a-good-looking guy-from-the-crowd-to-sing-to-on-"My Man is a Mean Man"-bit in favor of coaxing solos out of each bandmember.  With both the touring and session bands onstage, it took a while to get through the extended Dap-King family, but it never got boring.
Some slight missteps were a not-so-memorable cover of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" and new song "Calamity," which steals its phrasing from "I Will Survive."  However, an awesomely drawn-out rendition of "100 Days, 100 Nights" made up for it and stole the show, Jones admitting, "I don't wanna go.  That's why I'm trying to stall on this song a bit."  But the curfew prevailed, and Binky Griptite began his outro, Sharon dancing her way offstage.

With musicians shared between groups and their relatives watching just offstage (including little ones in hearing protector earmuffs), it was clear that Daptone isn't just a label, but a family.  The multiethnic bands of Daptone Records, with members of varying age, prove that music can unite people.  The multiethnic audience, with members of varying age, proved that.

ANTIBALAS – 08.18.12 – WILLIAMSBURG PARK (1 hour, 16 minutes)

Dirty Money / The Rat Catcher / Him Belly No Go Sweet / Rat Race / Battle of the Species > Beaten Metal > Battle of the Species / Opposite People / Dreaming* / Sáré Kon Kon

SHARON JONES & THE DAP-KINGS – 08.18.12 – WILLIAMSBURG PARK (1 hour, 26 minutes)

Introduction > Broadway Combination / You Can Run But You Can’t Hide > Stop > Introduction > I’ll Still Be True / You’ll Be Lonely / When I Come Home / The Game Gets Old / Retreat / I Heard It Through the Grapevine / Longer & Stronger / He Said I Can / My Man is a Mean Man > I Learned the Hard Way / Calamity / 100 Days, 100 Nights

Friday, August 17, 2012

Jimmy Cliff Busts Open the Bandshell (Part 2)

Jimmy Cliff opened this year's Celebrate Brooklyn Concert Series in Prospect Park.  Relive the magic by reading my coverage of the event, and listening to the entire concert here on NPR.

Upcoming concerts:
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings @ Williamsburg Park
2 Skinnee J's @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
Matt Embree @ Mercury Lounge

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

First in a Pair of White Denim

White Denim played their first night of a Monday-Tuesday run at Brooklyn Bowl to a crowd of curly-haired whiteboys.  After having my coworker talk my ear off about them for weeks, he offered me a ticket to the show.  I definitely liked them more than I thought I would, but I'm still not a diehard like most of their fans.  They play rock music, but within that genre umbrella, incorporate several styles from prog to garage to country.  While some would consider them a jam band due to their songs usually flowing seamlessly into each other, they subvert that classification as well.  Their playing seems too calculated to be jamming, making them not spacey enough for drug-taking and fairly un-danceable.  So what do White Denim fans do at a concert?  They stand there, bob their heads, and wait to see what song will come next in the medley.  They are a jam band for people who don't like jam bands.  In other words, they could be way more fun.
What it comes down to is engagement.  Bands are best when they are connecting with each other and the audience.  Unfortunately, the members of White Denim spent too much time watching themselves play their own instruments instead of looking around to see where the journey could go.  When they did make eye contact, the most inspired music flowed out.  Aside from guitarist Austin Jenkins, who is the newest member of the group, the other members rarely smiled.  There is such a spirited energy that comes off a band when you can tell that they're having a good time.  I found my eyes drifting to Jenkins for much of the show for this reason.  The members of White Denim don't solo much.  They play like a math equation, constantly reciprocating each other as a unit, so there aren't many times for them to feel the appreciation from the crowd, especially with so few breaks.

If it sounds like I'm trashing the band, I'm not, and I'm sorry if it comes across that way.  When I listened to samples of the band that my friend played me, I was not impressed by singer James Petralli.  Seeing him live changed that for me.  At his best moments, he recalled Dan Auerbach.  At his worst, he was still much better than the snippets I had heard before.  The musicianship was excellent, and the guitar tone on "Keys" even reminded me of the Grateful Dead.

I bought D on vinyl after the show, considering they played every song from it.  When I get some time to drop the needle, I want them to assuage my doubts.  As with any band, I hope that I can become a dyed-in-the-wool fanboy... enough that not going tomorrow night would devastate me.

WHITE DENIM – 08.13.12 – BROOKLYN BOWL (1 hour, 27 minutes)

Anvil Everything > (Mystery Song) > Bess St. > Shake Shake Shake > River to Consider / Street Joy / If You’re Changing > Mirrored & Reverse > Drug / Is & Is & Is > Keys / Syncn / Tony Fatti / I’d Have It Just the Way We Were > Don’t Look That Way at It > Paint Silver Gold > It’s Him! > Burnished > At the Farm > Say What You Want / All Consolation > El Hard Attack DCWYW > I Start to Run

Mess Your Hair Up

(As I mentioned, I don't know much about White Denim, so I'm pretty sure there was a song between "Anvil Everything" and "Bess St." that I missed.  Any help is appreciated, especially if I forgot something else too.)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Free Fun in Williamsburg (Part 2)

Remember when I saw Fun perform for free at Music Hall of Williamsburg?  Well, Walmart and T-Mobile have teamed up to post video of 5 songs from the set and an exclusive interview right here if you wanna check it out.  Definitely don't miss the stellar rendition of "We Are Young."

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Jacksons Compete with Fireworks in Coney Island

It was a beautiful Saturday night in Coney Island for the Seaside Summer Concert Series to continue with the Jacksons, making a free appearance on their Unity Tour.  There was a solid setlist and the musicians were top notch, but the show was incredibly disorganized.

When I arrived at the venue, it was quite clear this thing was a clusterfuck.  Greeted with a confusing maze of barricades going the entire length of the block, it wasn't obvious where anyone was supposed to go.  "This is the line to pay," said an employee.  I thought it was a free concert, but you could pay $5 for a seat.  If you brought your own chair, you could be penned into another area.  If you wanted to stand, you had to stand way the fuck in the back.

We got there in time to hear misogynistic warm-up comic Artie Fuqua delivering some groundbreaking comedic material: the difference between men and women.  A 
dick-sucking parade for borough president Marty Markowitz followed.  As Marty began trotting out a list of sponsors so long it seemed as if every Brooklyn business was represented, and then asked the audience to contribute money to the men going around with blue buckets, it became increasingly obvious that they didn't have the funds to pay for the show.  Or at least for a decent sound guy.

The Jacksons started things off with "Can You Feel It," which would've been more appropriately titled, "Can You Hear It," the bass and drums creating a nasty muck that the vocals and guitars couldn't cut through.  Amazingly, the sound wasn't fixed for the entirety of the show, and it really put a damper on what could've been an excellent concert.  Jermaine, Marlon, Tito, and Jackie blazed through a mix of Jackson 5 and Jacksons' songs, and even five of Michael's solo efforts.  Three Jermaine Jackson tunes, including my favorite, "Let's Get Serious," were performed, likely a contractual obligation, considering his refusal to join the Jacksons when they signed to CBS.
A hokey scripted segment where the Jacksons sat on stools and recounted the first time they went to Detroit to meet Berry Gordy accompanied a video slideshow of Jackson 5 photos from the '70s.  As they finished up "Time Waits for No One," fireworks from the Cyclones game at neighboring MCU Park lit up the night sky, the explosions ricocheting off the surrounding buildings.  "Heaven Knows I Love You, Girl" was completely obscured by the cacophony, and many audience members shifted their eyes to the pyrotechnics to the right.  Following a tribute to Michael of "Gone Too Soon" by Jermaine, they finally went off-script, asking with a chuckle, "Did you enjoy the fireworks?"  At least they could laugh about it.

A rushed medley of Jackson 5 hits including "I Want You Back," "ABC," "The Love You Save," "Never Can Say Goodbye," and "All I Do is Think of You" snatched back the crowd, everyone's hands swaying during the mélange's finale, "I'll Be There."  After the one-two MJ punch of "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" and "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," they rocked the crowd with an extended "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)" and danced their way offstage.  Marty Markowitz got on the mic and asked for more money.  No "Dancing Machine?"  The sound crew's paychecks should all go into the blue buckets.


Can You Feel It / Blame It on the Boogie > I Wanna Be Where You Are / Rock with You / Show You the Way to Go / Lovely One / Lookin’ Through the Windows / Time Waits for No One / Heaven Knows I Love You, Girl > Push Me Away > Man of War / Gone Too Soon / I Want You Back > ABC > The Love You Save > Never Can Say Goodbye > All I Do is Think of You > I’ll Be There / Dynamite > Let’s Get Serious / Do What You Do / Can’t Let Her Get Away / This Place Hotel / Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ / Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough / Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

StePhest Colbchella '012 Throws Fans for a Loop(apalooza)

After frantically refreshing the Colbert Nation website for two weeks, I successfully got a ticket to StePhest Colbchella '012: Rocktaugustfest.  The sequel to last year's concert, which featured acts like Talib Kweli and Bon Iver, StePhest '012 included Grizzly Bear, Santigold, Fun, and the Flaming Lips, all aboard the decommissioned aircraft carrier, the USS Intrepid.

The forecast called for thunderstorms, so I bagged my valuables and crossed my fingers that we wouldn't have a rerun of last week's Lollapalooza evacuation.  The sun shone brightly as I ran up 12th Ave from 34th St, fearing a massive line.  After checking in and receiving tickets to be exchanged for beer and food, I took advantage of a free scoop of
Stephen Colbert's very own Ben & Jerry's flavor, Americone Dream.  My friend Carrie (who took all the photos) joined me as we made our way up more than a few sets of stairs to the flight deck of the ship.  The stage was set up on the starboard side, flanked by screens and underneath a set of flashing lights reading, "COLBERT."  We used our drink tickets to grab some Heinekens (Guy behind us: "Which has more alcohol: Budweiser or Heineken?"  Trick question.  They both don't have any.), and settled in for the show.

With the stage manager directing us to cheer, the opening graphics for The Colbert Report illuminated the screens, and out came a swashbuckling Steve spinning a captain's wheel and brandishing a sabre.  Following some quips about the sewage spill in Tarrytown, Colbert played a game of life-size Battleship with Jon Stewart, putting a gigantic red peg into the stage.  He then instructed the crowd to keep the energy level up because they had to tape the opens for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  Billed as a festival, this came as a surprise to most of us.  I don't get cable, so perhaps if I had seen last year's week of shows, I would have expected a show-taping environment instead of spending the past week reacquainting myself with the entirety of the Flaming Lips' catalog to be prepared to see them for the first time.
Colbert returned thrice more, putting a different spin on his pitches for sponsor, Pepsi.  First identifying their slogan as "Put it in your mouth," he later inserted a comma into their actual slogan: "Live, for now.  Because we're all going to die someday."  He also introduced his first mate, Grandmaster Flash, although their awkward repartee suggested that the two had never met before.  Colbert closed his final intro with an impromptu duet of "The Star Spangled Banner" with the stage manager.
Fun took the stage shortly after 9:30, and burst right out with current hit "Some Nights."  The sound sliced right through the humid, body odor-laden air, and the crowd sang along happily.  "Carry On" followed (Next single, maybe?) and "We Are Young" was the obvious closer.  A short set, but this wasn't a festival; it's TV.

Grizzly Bear hadn't played a concert in two years, but they assembled onstage to support Shields, which drops on September 18th.  They started things off with the heavy-on-harmonies "Two Weeks" off their album Veckatimest.  While not exactly a rager, the song didn't get the reaction from the crowd that the producers of the show had wanted.  It was time for a do-over.  Speaking as someone who works in television, this is a fairly common occurrence.  But to the mass of people who came to see a concert, it was a letdown.  After being part of a crowd on a TV show, you learn how to move your hands more, how to exaggerate your side-to-side movements, how to imitate a bobblehead.  But some folks didn't want to deal with multiple takes, and began making their way back to shore.  The live debut of "Yet Again" had to be rebooted after some technical difficulties with frontman Ed Droste's equipment, and there was even more resistance from the crowd.  Colbert came out to make amends, offering, "As an impartial observer, allow me to say that the second time you play a song, it's even better."  Once GB got that song in the can, they finished it out with another new one, "Sleeping Ute."

Grandmaster Flash provided the music between sets, but sadly spent most of his time spinning current radio hits. One break featured "Hip Hop Hooray," "Jump Around," and "Let Me Clear My Throat," recalling elementary school dances at the Sunset Room, but shockingly Flash's own classic cuts like "White Lines (Don't Do It)" and "The Message" remained absent.

When Stephen announced that he was going to take some time to record the goodnight tags, groans issued from the crowd.  That is, until he descended into our ranks, only to be hoisted above by eager concertgoers, to deliver his lines into the jib camera.  With those fans expecting a typical concert rapidly departing, Colbert nobly turned to the role of pacifier.  He did everything he could to keep us entertained, from singing "Happy Birthday" in Latin to a crowdmember to joyously dancing to Rihanna's "We Found Love, a snippet of which can be seen below.

Santigold surprised me, as I had written her off as a M.I.A. clone (and I don't like M.I.A.).  Her stone-faced backup singers, doing choreographed routines with a variety of props including briefcases and umbrellas, had me laughing out loud.  And the dub-like sounds of "Disparate Youth" had me legitimately dancing, not just hamming it up for the cameras.  But alas, the perfection necessary for TV struck again.  After guitar and monitor issues required both "The Keepers" and "Disparate Youth" to be repeated, I remarked to the Santigold fan next to me that she could've gone to the bathroom as she had wanted to, and not missed a thing.

The show now running late, the sense of urgency was apparent, with Michael Ivins and Steven Drozd tuning their own instruments.  Wayne Coyne took the reins on pumping up the crowd, and the Lips launched into "Ashes in the Air."  A bizarre marijuana PSA from Coyne flowed into "Drug Chart," which had him shaking a maraca with a face, and obscuring his own visage with a foil cape.  As they broke into "Do You Realize??," I realized how strange it was to see the Lips in the year they became world record holders for the most concerts performed in 24 hours, likely playing to their smallest crowd since 1994.

No Flaming Lips show is complete without Wayne jumping into a space bubble and hamster-wheeling his way above the crowd.  Wayne and Colbert climbed into their spheres and set out onto our bed of hands, so Stephen could deliver his final goodbye.  It was a little surreal to know that as they passed above us in their space bubbles, while the Lips played the theme to The Colbert Report, just to our left, in an even bigger bubble, was the space shuttle Enterprise.
I guess we'll see next week how it all comes together on TV.  Well, those of us with cable.

FUN – 08.10.12 – STEPHEST COLBCHELLA ‘012, USS INTREPID (14 minutes)

Some Nights / Carry On / We Are Young


Two Weeks / Two Weeks / Yet Again (aborted) / Yet Again / Sleeping Ute


The Keepers / Disparate Youth / The Keepers / Disparate Youth / Go!


Ashes in the Air / Drug Chart / Do You Realize?? / Charge (tease) / The Colbert Report Theme

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Cookies at the Knitting Factory

When I moved back from California in 2010 and found out that the Knitting Factory had moved to Brooklyn, I was appalled.  Fortunately, the venue has redeemed itself over the years by housing Hannibal Buress' free comedy show every Sunday and continuing to open its doors to lesser known and unsigned bands like the original Knit.  Good acoustics don't hurt either.

Last night's show consisted of Dead Leaf Echo and Work Drugs, with Cookies in the middle, like a reverse ice cream sandwich.  Can you guess the genre of opening band Dead Leaf Echo just from their name?  If you guessed shoegaze, you're correct.  I don't usually listen to the ambient rock music unless I'm depressed or doing my taxes (like I said, depressed), so I really wasn't in the mood last night.  Dressed mostly in white, they projected inky black and white images onto themselves, as they played songs that felt too confined by their genre.  Had I not seen the funk revival band, the Stepkids, do the projection bit to its fullest (We're talking all white clothes and all white instruments!) earlier this year, it probably would've been a little cooler.  The blasts of color on the Stepkids were admittedly more thrilling to watch than the static on Dead Leaf Echo, where only a few reds and yellows found their way onto the palette.

Work Drugs hail from either the Florida Keys (like they claimed) or Philadelphia (like their website claims).  They categorize themselves as "sedative-wave/smooth-fi," which I suppose means "pleasant enough, but all the songs sound the same and don't go anywhere."  They have released something like 5 albums in the past two years (When I say released, it means burning a CD, putting it in a slim jewel case, and calling it a limited edition.), but they should really slow down and try to experiment a little more on their next one.  You're not really being prolific if you make the same song fifty times.  Good name, though.

I went to the show to see Cookies hopefully tear it up and buy their two 10" singles.  I got both.  If Cookies are just a dessert to you, here's some backstory.  When Mobius Band disbanded in 2010, they split into three groups.  Noam Schatz went the full-blown electronic route with LOLFM.  Peter Sax enlisted his wife to make baroque pop as Ladies & Gentlemen.  Ben Sterling put weird guitar sounds, synthesized drums, hard-hitting keys, and female vocals into the oven and baked up Cookies.  (Click any of the links to listen and download for free!  I'll even put the video for "Boycrazy" below.)

As the opening sirens of "Boycrazy" transitioned into Sterling's happy strumming, I knew I was in for a treat.  Even though he was slightly annoyed he didn't get the chance to soundcheck, Sterling pulled out the stops with his guitar, at times banging on its strings with a drumstick.  But how would the live vocals of Melissa Metrick, formerly of Reina del Camino, compare to her sexy legs?  They complemented each other nicely, especially on new songs "Piano Jam" and "Go-Getter," where she proved her range, belting out the lyrics like a soul singer, in sharp contrast to her usual breathy parts.  The playful interplay between Sterling and Metrick was fun to watch, especially when trading barbs on "Wilderness Tips" like "Little girl, you're mean; it took you 6 months just to fit in those jeans."  I long for the day when I can go to a Cookies show and the crowd yells the "yeah"s of the chorus.  When the propulsive bass of "Crybaby" punched itself into the song's end, I smiled, knowing that if they continue to get out there and play, the band's following will swell to at least that of Ben's previous band.  Then we'll get to have our Cookies at the end, like mom always said.


Boycrazy / Face Down / Wilderness Tips > Crybaby (A) / Piano Jam / Go-Getter / 1,000 Breakfasts with You / Summer Jam

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Blogger, Meet Tumblr

I figured it was time you guys met each other.  I have a Tumblr, How Am I Supposed To Drink Without A(, where I attempt to write a joke every day.  The Tumblr is the first place the jokes are published; I don't post any jokes after I've already told them onstage.  I don't always do it every day, but it usually comes in streaks.  Right now I'm actually doing an Olympic-themed joke each day for the duration of the Olympics.  So join in as I comment on the absurdity of the opening ceremony and piss off equestrian fans.